Not our Club. Not our problem: 2014/15’s Relegation Dodgers.

A Gooner’s View Of Other Clubs Of The 2014-15 Season Part 2

by Timothy Hargreaves

Hi everyone. This is part two of my series of blogs about the status of the Premiership Clubs of the 2014-2015 Season following the conclusion of the League season. In this, the second part of the series, I’ll be focusing on the three clubs which narrowly escaped relegation from the Premier League, namely Aston Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle United.

Of course, all of this is my own opinion, so feel free to disagree and debate!

Aston Villa

What a season it was for Villa! Dreadful league form was compounded by terrible luck with injuries and a terrific run all the way to the Final in the F.A. Cup. Initially, under Paul Lambert, Villa played drab, uninspiring football being desperately short of creativity. The appointment of Tim Sherwood was a step in the right direction but Villa must maintain this to progress.

A Gooner in Birmingham

A Gooner in Birmingham

Unsurprisingly, the only team that scored less than Villa this season was Burnley – Sunderland equalled Villa’s tally of 31 league goals but conceded 4 less. Villa’s defence was the third most porous in the division, behind only Q.P.R. and Newcastle United.

Many Villa players had injuries this past season, which exacerbated their issues – Nathan Baker and Libor Kovacs being the most unlucky of those, with Ciaran Clark close behind- injuries also befell Christian Benteke, who missed large portions of the season too. All of those players would either be starting or on the bench. Villa’s best defenders in my opinion were Vlaar and Clark, so Clark’s injuries were a blow to their fortunes. Villa were very slow starters in matches too – only 4 goals scored in the opening 15 minutes of their matches, a stat which needs to be improved upon next season.

Off the field, Villa was also a mess. The owner and current Chairman, Randy Lerner, has been looking for a buyer for the club for some time and, unless one is found, I can’t see Villa making the progress that they should. Villa urgently need some creativity in midfield – Tom Cleverly started to show improvement after Sherwood’s arrival, but Carlos Sanchez, who had a good World Cup, was probably their biggest disappointment, often drifting in and out of games. There is talk that a new contract has been offered to Benteke – it is essential that they try to keep him, as he is probably their most consistent forward in terms of goals scored over the course of the season.

Ron Vlaar: he may not be pretty, but he's also not staying at Villa....

Ron Vlaar: he may not be pretty, but he’s also not staying at Villa….

However, the Villa captain Ron Vlaar, who played in the 2010 World Cup Final for the Netherlands, will most likely leave, which will be a massive blow to Villa, so a suitable replacement will have to be sought quickly, something that may be difficult to achieve with the lack of funds available to Tim Sherwood at present.

For Villa to really progress, a buyer with deep pockets is needed. Villa need reinforcement at several positions, including goalkeeper, central defence, left and right full-backs (every Villa fan can agree that Cissokho is mostly awful and Lowton lacks quality), at least 2 creative midifield players – Joe Cole hasn’t really worked out due to injuries and no form to speak of, while N’Zogbia has been average to awful this season, which has piled pressure on the young but very talented Jack Grealish

A striker may also be a good buy for a new owner, due to injuries this past season to Kovacs and Agbonlahor and the lack of consistency from Andreas Weimann. Kieran Richardson also impressed me when he played and was probably Villa’s best player in the F.A. Cup final, making a number of key blocks off the line despite full-back not being his first-choice position.


Sunderland are one of those perennial strugglers in the Premier League who always seem to escape relegation by virtue of three or four teams being worse than them. They were masters of the draw this season, obtaining 17 draws over the course of the season – on some occasions, they were simply unlucky, while on other occasions, like the match vs, Arsenal, they simply set up to park the proverbial bus while looking to nick a late goal (14 goals of theirs were scored in the last 15 minutes of their matches in the Premier League).

Sunderland's best signing, Patrick von Aanholt. That's not saying much.

Sunderland’s best signing, Patrick von Aanholt. That’s not saying much.

As such, I have little sympathy for this club, who routinely spend massive amounts of money on average players, managing to find little quality despite their expenditure on transfers. This season was had some exceptions to that rule, though. Gus Poyet brought in Liam Bridcutt at the start of the season, who was probably their worst player and possibly most baffling signing, as he was a defensive midfielder unproven in the Premier League who was coming in to a team who needed a more experienced campaigner due to their inevitable struggles. John o’Shea was unconvincing as always, being occasionally very poor (I’ve never liked o’Shea as a player so I may be a bit biased). Probably their best player over the season was Patrick van Aanholt, the former Chelsea youth and reserve team left-sided full-back, who impressed both defensively and offensively for Sunderland in his first season there – definitely their best signing recently. I think they overpaid for Jermaine Defoe, who did by all rights work very hard as a wide left-sided forward, but didn’t score much after his arrival from FC Toronto in the January transfer window.

Ellis Short, the Sunderland chairman, will provide funds to Dick Advocaat, should he stay – hopefully, he will use it wisely and is a much more experienced manager than what Sunderland have had recently, so he is likely to have a far deeper scouting network than Poyet or di Canio for unearthing talent.

Lee Cattermole - The Master Of Suspension

Lee Cattermole – The Master Of Suspension

Sunderland are likely to need two new centre-backs (o’Shea and Brown are aging and somewhat injury-prone), a new full-back or two on either side, a defensive midfielder (Cattermole gets suspensions and Bridcutt is simply not good enough) and at least one more creative midfielder and a striker who can regularly hit the net. A big ask, but I’m sure Ellis Short will scrape together funds for at least some of their targets.

Newcastle United

What can we really say about the Geordies? Alan Pardew got an awful lot of abuse from fans, despite the decent run before Christmas and his longevity in the Newcastle hotseat (2nd longest serving manager in the Premier League at the time of his departure behind Le Boss), so Pardew promptly went off to Crystal Palace in January as soon as they came knocking.

If Palace doesn't work out for Pardew, there's always darts...

If Palace doesn’t work out for Pardew, there’s always darts…

I can’t blame him really – Mike Ashley is a terrible Club owner who looks to only benefit his already well-filled pockets. Due to Mike Ashley still being present as the owner at this time of writing, and with John Carver’s departure confirmed on Tuesday, along with first-team coach (and former Notts Forest player and England international) Steve Stone also leaving, I think Newcastle will struggle to attract a good manager.

The name being bandied around is Steve McLaren, someone I’ve never rated as a manager due to an awful spell in charge of England and a very average one while at Middlesbrough – it’s due to that Middlesbrough and Manchester United connection that I can’t see McLaren faring well on Tyneside. He will have a struggle on the pitch too, as Newcastle had the 2nd worst defence in the division and struggled with defensive and attacking discipline in matches, often missing key players through suspension and injuries (e.g. Papiss Cisse, Steven Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Cheikh Tiote, Gabriel Obertan and others) and other players generally having poor form (e.g. Riviere) – Obertan’s injury came at the worst time as he had just started to find some form.

Paul Dummett - A shining light in the coal mine that was Newcastle's 2014/15 season...

Paul Dummett – A shining light in the coal mine that was Newcastle’s 2014/15 season…

Newcastle’s shining lights were Paul Dummett (statistically their best defender, which was a surprise to some!) and Ayoze Perez, who had some very good showings in his first season in England. Some good moments came from Moussa Sissoko and Remy Cabella, but they were few and far between. Jonas’goal in what proved to be his final appearance on the last match day due to his cancer treatment concluding and him finally finding match fitness was probably their best moment of the season and was understandably well-received by the Geordie faithful. Unfortunately, he was promptly released by the Club, a decision that I think they will come to regret. Davide Santon has also left Newcastle to go back to Internazionale, where he spent the past season on loan and where he played a lot of his youth football – that’s a blow for Newcastle as Santon was probably their most talented full-back, despite having not appeared this past season for the club.

Mike Ashley. Enough said.

Mike Ashley. Enough said.

Newcastle United, above everything else, need to find a new owner who will not simply use the club as a cash cow for his other business ventures. Unfortunately, Mike Ashley has placed the club’s value at a price that will ward off prospective buyers and he will likely provide very low or no funds at all for purchasing new players, so I do not envy the new manager’s job there at all. The only way that Newcastle United will change is if the fans vote with their feet and not go to matches, but that goes against the die-hard Geordie mentality, or if there is a consortium of buyers who will meet Mike Ashley’s inflated asking price (somewhere around 250 million Pounds).

Agree? Disagree? Let me know! (I may be slow to reply but I always try to read every comment and reply when I can!)

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11 Responses to Not our Club. Not our problem: 2014/15’s Relegation Dodgers.

  1. Luke June 11, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

    Unless you’re being highly, and way-too-subtly, sarcastic, I’m guessing you believed that a fee was paid for Defoe? It was a straight swap, and seeing as he scored more league goals (essentially playing left back for half of his handful of games) than the bafflingly underperforming Jozy Altidore did in two seasons, I’d say he represented value. And this park the bus stuff? Of course Sunderland played on the break in the penultimate game of the season when they needed a point. And Arsenal arguably should have lost. I know it’s an Arsenal blog, but you should be more objective – or at least comment with some of the basic salient facts to hand.

  2. Gary H June 11, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    Sunderland fan here, as much as I want to I can’t really pick fault with your analysis of our club, we have seemingly ghosted into the position of perennial relegation battlers in recent years and as fans we look up the table enviously at such “giants” as Stoke and Swansea. Here’s to our own “boring” 10th placed finish under Big Dick next season.

  3. Bob Scratchit June 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

    Can’t for the life of me work out how you can say von aanholt is our best buy from last season, ok he is quick and does get forward but everyone knows he too easily loses his target at left back, and we have let in quite a number of goals as a result. By far our best signing last season was Costel Pantillimon, the giant Romanian proved he’s a number one premier league goalkeeper, another season like the last one and we’ll be lucky to keep hold of him much longer.

  4. Timothy Hargreaves June 11, 2015 at 7:47 pm #

    Luke – SAFC made a MASSIVE loss on Altidore even with the swap for Defoe (they paid $13m for him and recouped maybe $7m with Defoe). Remember when I said they pay over-the-top fees for players? Yup.

    Your comment that “Arsenal should have lost” is utterly ridiculous – did you even watch that match? Arsenal threw everything including the kitchen sink at Sunderland (even Theo came on as sub and did under-perform that match) but Arsenal deserved to win that match due to the sheer effort they put in. Sunderland did not “play on the break”- they didn’t play at all! Sunderland came to the Emirates for a point and did what they set out to do, but Arsenal certainly did not deserve to lose.

    Gary H – 10th would be a great finish for Sunderland as it would represent a proper improvement. I’d be more worried about the long-term future if I was a Sunderland fan, as Dick Advocaat has apparently signed on for only one year? That leaves your club in a bit of a quandary next summer. Did you agree with what I said re. the signings of the recent past? Who, with your club’s finances, would you like to come in to club over the summer? Apparently Brown’s contract has indeed expired but a new deal has been offered – would you rather see a younger player come in for him?

    • Luke June 12, 2015 at 8:08 am #

      “They overpaid for Jermaine Defoe” – I’m not being pedantic. That is an absurd statement. Sunderland took a hit on Altidore, absolutely. But no way on earth, in football economics, does that count as paying a penny for his replacement.
      Your analysis of the match is subjective. The overall opinion in the press the following day was that Sunderland could have nicked the game and were well worth the draw.
      Once again, your understanding of football is questionable – “Arsenal deserved to win that match due to the sheer effort they put in” What? Utter nonsense. Try all you like, but we all know that if Crewe try harder than Barcelona, but lose 10-0, it’s not a crime. (Before you take the analogy too literally, I’m not comparing this fantasy to that game.) Your article was flawed, your defense embarrassing.

  5. Timothy Hargreaves June 11, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

    Bob – just saw your comment after I replied to the last two! I thought van Aanholt looked decent at least most of the time, unlike Billy Jones on the right, who is very average. John o’Shea was also at fault for a number of goals (got lucky with some penalty decisions too!), and Brown got turned more than a few times, so it’s more the whole defensive unit and lack of cover from midfield (with the exception of Cattermole, who works tirelessly) that concedes goals.

    Pantilimon was a decent signing, granted. I should have made mention of him but I was a bit short of space. I seem to recall he had a few positioning issues in some of his matches though. Do you think he will stay for another year with Advocaat staying?

  6. ben June 11, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    Why do people think SAFC spend massive amounts of money? They spent a net total of 300k the season before last, and made one big buy last year costing 10m. Defoe was a swap. No one seems to understand the concept of money being recouped by a club that keeps selling its best players recently – Bent 20m, Henderson 20m, Minguleot 11m, Gyan 12m, Sessengon 6m etc. They’ve frittered money away badly but have spent massively less in net terms compared to the likes of Swansea, Southampton etc.

  7. Colin Randall June 12, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    TImothy: I suppose you can at least place the Emirates, stadium not country, on a map which I suspect is a struggle for some of your millions of supporters. But you got other things wrong; the spellings do not matter much but Sunderland’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal was not just a ‘park the bus’ operation – itself entirely justifiable by need – since all those attempts on goal you had disguise the fact that Fletcher might have had a second-half hat trick. Your real career break is at

  8. Colin Randall June 12, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    You’ll probably disallow it anyway but the link contained poor spelling of my own: should be http://salutsunderland,com

  9. colin randall June 12, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Timothy, as a reader at salutsunderland acknowledges, offers some home truths but his piece is riddled with inaccuracies, among which I include his warped representation of the Defoe deal (and I dismiss his subsequent attempts to justify it). Parking the bus, which was in living memory a Gunners game plan, seems at odds with the reality of a match Sunderland, by common – ie neutral – consent would have won if only Fletcher had been able to take his excellent chances, which occurred long before the end of the game. Defence, as Arsenal fans once argued, is a valid part of the game, and we did it superbly that night while also having opportunities to score. That said, we were utter rubbish last season!

  10. Timothy Hargreaves July 2, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

    Ben – – only for the 2010-2011 season does Sunderland show a profit in transfers (that included the Bent sale you mentioned for 18 million Pounds to Villa). I stand corrected on the specifics of the Defoe deal, but Altidore still cost a lot of money when he moved to Sunderland so surely that has to factor in to your thinking? According to that website, since 1992/1993, SAFC has spent over 300 million pounds and recovered about 160 million – about 2 pounds spent for every 1 recovered.

    Colin – I concede an error in my understanding with the Defoe deal. However, I’d say that the Gunners haven’t parked a bus since Wenger joined in 1996 – that’s nearly 20 years! I’ll grant you that Fletcher was unlucky that match, but it’s also funny how little credit David Ospina received for keeping out those few chances. – those stats tell a similar story to my article re. that match, i.e. one team clearly attacking and one clearly defending. Yes, Sunderland did a great job defending in that match, but to say that Sunderland deserved to nick it is a bit cheeky considering those stats (supplied by

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