From my Birmingham Mail column Wednesday Dec 5th 2018
As we head towards the halfway stage of the Championship season our teams face the second half of the season in good health but with very different expectation levels.
West Brom sit in 3rd place just 4 points off the second automatic promotion spot and are the league’s leading scorers with 42 goals from their 20 games. There are high expectation levels at the club and on the terraces. This, of course, is due to finance after being relegated from the Premier league last season so it’s understandable that they should be viewed as one of the favourites to win promotion. It’s understandable because they have the benefit of not only the PL parachute payments of 65 millions of pounds over three years but also because they have been able to retain a number of Premier league quality players. This finance and high expectation has allowed them to bring in loan and permanent deal players on big wages.
So it’s easy to see why the Baggies are many people’s favourites to bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt. They are always a threat in attack and create loads of chances. In my opinion if they were as tight in defence as they are prolific in front of goal then they would be clear at the top of the table and absolute certainties.
Villa are 8th 3 points away from the playoff places but as the new manager Dean Smith said recently the top two places are their aim. I am sure they would settle for a playoff place but right now their goal is the automatic places. They are currently 8 points adrift of second placed Leeds United but they score plenty of goals and are second leading scorers in the division with 39 goals in their 20 games so far. Second behind West Brom who they face on Friday in another Ding Dong Derby clash in the West Midlands a mouth-watering game to savour even if the rest of the country are more pre-occupied with London and Manchester derby games. Villa have been revitalised under new boss Dean Smith and are playing open football which at times may be a little to open for his liking. If they are to make a serious challenge for automatic promotion they have to be tighter in defence having conceded 30 goals so far. Maybe the clean sheet at Middlesbrough was the start of that defensive improvement?
Everyone involved with the club be in on the pitch or on the terraces believe the club should be pushing for one of the two automatic promotion places.
Across the city at St Andrews there is a very different level of expectation, Even though they sit just a point behind Villa in 9th place just 4 points away from the playoff places the manager Garry Monk has been careful to remind the supporters that the priority this season was to not be fighting until the last few games to avoid relegation. Something they have done for the past couple of seasons which have nervously gone down to the wire. With nowhere near the strength in depth that the Baggies or Villa have just one or two injuries or suspensions can cause a massive problem for Garry Monk. There is no doubt that they will have to cope with both suspensions and injuries as well as dealing with the EFL’s
“make it up as you go along” mind-boggling way of dealing with any given situation. There is rumour that the disciplinary hearing to decide Blues fate after they reported more than the allowed 39 million pounds aggregate worth of losses over 3 years. The club could face a points’ deduction and depending on the severity of the punishment it could see Blues in mid-table or possibly lower.
Blues don’t score as many as either Villa or West Brom but they are tighter and meaner in defence having let in just 24 goals in their 20 games.
Let’s be honest Garry Monk has done an amazing job under the most difficult of circumstances at St Andrews. He has not been able to strengthen the squad, even though the owners have money to spend, due to the profit and sustainability business plan imposed by the EFL that has restricted the club to bringing in loans and free transfers under an EFL wage cap.
It’s not rocket science if Blues want to be serious promotion contenders then they need to strengthen the squad with better quality players who can make a difference and who give the manager different options however the EFL have put paid to that until the disciplinary hearing has been held. Until that issue is resolved expectations at St Andrews must be kept realistic.
One of the biggest problems at any club is managing expectation levels? Of course part of the football dream is believing your team can overturn the odds that are stacked against them on any given day or in any season.
However, in football supporters and realism are often not compatible bedfellows! Especially when emotion and unconditional love for your club flood your mind with positivity as I know only too well.
This can lead to irrational thoughts and very high and unrealistic expectation levels. Most of us have been guilty of it at times and without doubt it is part and parcel of being a supporter. We are all the same if our team was away at the current Manchester City there are some of us who would be betting on them to win because our over active positivity glands kick into gear. Of course there is nothing wrong with hoping your team wins in fact it’s obligatory as a fan but expecting then to win is when disappointment and anger become the post-match dessert.
Then when our expectations have not been realised some of us look for someone to blame and it’s usually the referee or player but more likely we vent our anger at the manager.
Most managers are reluctant to say anything to reduce expectation levels for fear of it being construed as negative or making excuses.
And of course they just might antagonise owners and directors who don’t want to give supporters any reason for not turning up at matches.
However should we as fans even try to temper our emotional loyalty to a club in the interests of realism when it comes to expectations or is it just a fundamental part of the makeup of being a supporter that everyone has to understand and accept?