10:02am Tuesday 21st January 2014
HOW insane is it that by August, Newport County AFC might be only one division below being the top side in Wales?
The media positively relished the funny stat in the summer that 10% of the Premier League was now Welsh, but that status is in considerable danger.
Could we even have dreamed then, with Cardiff the Championship champions and Swansea ready for a European tour, that just over six months later, both are facing a true battle to remain in the top tier of English football?
That is the very real prospect for South Wales fans to be contending with in what is now, officially, the most exciting Premier League since its inception.
I know that for some of our younger readers, football was in fact created in 1993 with the advent of the Premier League, making Richard Keys, Andy Gray and the Amstrad bloke off the Apprentice key figures in football’s rich history!
However, for those of us old enough to remember the now obsolete ‘Division One,’ and the crazy notion that the bottom placed Premier League team shouldn’t be rewarded with a sum of money that would make Dr Evil in Austin Powers blush, the Premier League is what it is.
There are major benefits and major drawbacks to the financial vacuum that is English football’s top tier, but whatever your views on the benefits and/or ills of what football in England has become, no one will dispute the Premier League is the place to be.
It’s the place you have to be, frankly. The financial rewards of just a single season in the Premier League could shape the future of any Football League club.
However, for the two current kings of Welsh football, there are ominous signs that the wheels are falling off and that the Championship beckons.
That isn’t hyperbole and it isn’t me stirring the pot. Cardiff are bottom of the league and Swansea haven’t won in eight and have, over the last 40 Premier League games, exhibited relegation form. They have, in short, fallen apart at the seams since winning the Capital One Cup.
The Swans are a mere three points outside the bottom three (indeed, three points off bottom) in the most unique relegation battle in Premier League history.
Incredibly, just six points separates the team in 11th (Aston Villa) and the team who are bottom (Cardiff).
And both Cardiff and Swansea fans should be worried. Any Swans supporter who still believes they are too good to go down is in denial.
I had a front row (literally) seat to their clash with Tottenham on Sunday and the Swans were a pale imitation of the side who have so impressed me under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup (I didn’t much care for the Paulo Sousa season).
The ethos of the club, the fact that they have adopted a playing style reminiscent of Barcelona and have stuck with it rigidly, is a huge, huge credit to them. In most ways, Swansea are a shining example of how you should run a football club.
But the failure of Laudrup to find anything resembling a plan B in terms of their playing style is to their detriment.
The Swans probably should’ve led Spurs on Sunday by the time they went behind, but by half time Tim Sherwood’s side should’ve been two or three clear and by the time Wilfred Bony scored a consolation, Tottenham might’ve had six.
Similarly, Cardiff haven’t heeded the warning signs. This was always a season where finishing 17th was more than acceptable, but foolishly; the board haven’t seen it as such.
The pantomime that has seen the removal of Malky Mackay has derailed the form on the pitch completely.
And while it is all well and good for new boss Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer to talk of a top ten finish and sign skilful players from his native Norway, are they really what is required ahead of a desperate relegation dog fight?
Cardiff’s lack of top flight experience, their lack of nous in a battle, should be alarming their supporters. The West Ham defeat, rather than the Man City one, is a true cause for concern.
However, for those of us who don’t wear a Cardiff or Swansea hat, the relegation battle truly is a wonderful spectacle.
The progression of Sunderland and Crystal Palace (see panel) has meant the battle that looked likely to be one side going down from four or five with the aforementioned duo essentially already gone, is now a genuine three from ten scenario.
It’s fantastic for the neutral, but Cardiff and Swans fans will be forgiven for spending the next five months biting their nails and enduring sleepless nights.
Because relegation for both is more than possible.
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