The award for underwhelming press conference of the weekend goes to Tony Pulis. West Brom fans must have been beside themselves when their boss was falling over himself lauding an Aston Villa team that has got to rank amongst the worst the Premier League has ever seen . On the back of a 0-0 draw at home to the team rock bottom of the league, without registering a shot on target, Pulis seemed positively delighted with the point. “Villa have got £84m worth of talent and they’re not that bad. They have got some good players, but we’ve now taken four points off them.” Well roll out the red carpet, Tony, and dust off that open top bus. This is a Villa team that has won 13 points from 23 games this season. Gratefully accepting a point at home to that team is tantamount to killing any ambitions fans may harbour for the season. It is this attitude that may be Pulis’ downfall.
A club like West Brom is in danger of becoming stale in the modern premier league. Without the resources to consistently
trouble the top half, they become settled in lower mid-table mediocrity. The problem with this constant safety is that fans start to get bored. West Brom are in their seventh consecutive Premier League season. The fans realise they can’t challenge for the top 8 regularly, so what becomes increasingly important? The quality of football. Pulis is walking a dangerous line by taking such a negative approach at The Hawthorns. The fans will tire of the monotony and demand a change of style to substitute the highs and lows that gave them their ‘boing boing’ nickname. They have already started to vote with their feet with average attendances down significantly on last year. Tony Pulis may guarantee safety but he needs the right club at the right time, in order to be a popular manager. West Brom are currently at a crossroads and the manager is in danger of losing his way.
Looking at the other end of the table, Arsenal were beset by an all too familiar foe at the weekend. Diego Costa was calling the shots once more as the Gunners fell to Chelsea and Arsene Wenger didn’t take it well. “Is the decision right or wrong? I don’t know. That is a fact, without accusing him of anything,” was Wenger’s response when quizzed on the red card for Per Mertesacker. A rather confusing statement from the Arsenal manager that sought to dilute his earlier comment that Costa had now got Arsenal players sent off on two occasions this season. This is an anxious defence from the Frenchman. Mertesacker clearly brought down Costa as he was clean through on goal; a red card. Yet Wenger knows that if Arsenal do not win the league this season, he will never have had a better chance. This Chelsea game was a chance for them to stamp an authority on the premier league that no other team has done this campaign. Albeit against a fading Chelsea side, Wenger’s men could have banished some doubts with a positive, front foot performance. That they didn’t could be telling by the end of the season.
On the other side of the fence though, things were getting slightly delirious. On the back of their victory against ten men, members of the Chelsea camp started making noises about the top four. Having been told that John Terry had claimed the top four was now within reach, interim boss, Guus Hiddink, started to get sucked in. Having initially laughed at the suggestion, the Dutchman said, “When the captain says that then I will follow the captain. It is a gap and the Premier League is competitive with all teams whether you are down at the bottom or higher in the rankings. If the captain says ‘yes’ we will follow the captain.”
As fans we understand the need for players and coaches to take the positives out of a situation and aim high but every now and then a respectful dose of realism would be welcome. Chelsea aren’t going to finish fourth. They are 14 points and 24 goals behind the current occupants, Spurs and would require a mammoth run, totally out of keeping with their form this season, and many other teams to self-destruct to even get near the champions league places. Yet Hiddink’s willingness to play along with the outlandish claims of his captain shows a weakness that means Chelsea won’t pull off that miracle. He seems to be hoping that the players will lead Chelsea out of the mess they are in, off their own backs, as they did in his first spell in charge. But Terry is the only leader of that generation left. He won’t be able to carry the team on his own, as a string of draws has shown since Hiddink returned in December. The Chelsea boss will need to find some steel and inspiration of his own if Chelsea are to end the season respectably. Who thought we would be saying that this time last season?
Michael Creane – Follow Michael on @MichaelCreane