Monday, May 09, 2011

Relegation or not, Blues fans need to be realistic

In May 2009 we returned to the Premier league for the second time in three years. Our previous four-year stint in the top flight was long forgotten - only one senior player remained from that period. We were a yo-yo club, and the likelihood is that we'd be relegated again come May 2010.

You'll know that didn't happen: Blues finished ninth, their best finish for over 50 years. We have no top-flight pedigree to speak of: a handful of top ten finishes in our history, culminating with a sixth-placed spot in 1956, the year we last contested (and lost, of course) a major Wembley final.

If a promoted side bucks the trend in its first season in the top flight, it's guaranteed to struggle in its second, which more often than not ends up in relegation. These days, most promoted sides have half a good season before sliding into trouble.

So, any Blues fan who expected us to cruise this season was kidding themselves, and ignoring the sad realities of the Premier League, where financial muscle still means so much. We've had a few setbacks too: transfer deals that came close, but were derailed, and major injuries to key players like James McFadden and - much later - Scott Dann.

We also won a major trophy. Still doesn't quite sit right, but there it is: after finishing ninth, we went and beat Arsenal to win the Carling Cup, our first major success in 48 years (and that's assuming our original League Cup win counts as a major success).

We're now two games from the end of the season, three points above the drop zone. For the first time since, well, our first season in the Premier League, 38 points looks like not being anywhere near enough to stay up. We're on 39. If you'd offered Blues fans this scenario - you'll win a Cup and be three points clear of the drop zone with two games to play - in May 2009, surely every right-minded fan would have taken it? After all, "you'll win a Cup" was in there, not "you'll reach yet another Cup final, but we're not guaranteeing you a win because we like watching you lose vis-a-vis 1931, 1956, 1960, 1961 and 2001".

And yet, here we are, with fans falling over themselves to criticise the manager, our most successful manager ever, for his negative approach to games. Of course we'd like to be more attacking, of course we'd like to score lots of goals, but we don't have the personnel to do that. Half of our attacking force is injured, the other half have proved they can't be trusted in the system the manager has chosen. Result: we're frustrating to watch, but would Blues fans really accept us taking the approach Blackpool have? They've been great fun to watch, but they're three points behind in the relegation zone. When we have opened up in games, we've usually lost (West Brom at home after the Carling Cup Final, Bolton at home in the FA Cup).

Fact is, rightly or wrongly, the manager has chosen a system that works with the limited resources he has at his disposal. Whether we'll have serious funds in the summer to compete and improve is another argument entirely, but once again fans are expecting us to spend impossible sums of money on players while complaining about the financial situation at the club on the other.

At the end of the day, relegation will be a massive disappointment, of course it will. But we've been relegated before, and will be again. It's not every day you win a major trophy. It's just a shame some Blues fans can't see the reality of the situation, get behind the team on Sunday and drive us on to getting the point - maybe three - that we need.

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