Whatever happens over the next few weeks, thank God for the Championship promotion battle. In contrast, the battle for supremacy in the much-vaunted Premier League has been as dull and dry as a box full of cream crackers.
Chelsea have had that sewn up for months now without barely having to break sweat. It’s a pity that they couldn’t have done it with more style and swagger befitting of a squad composed of some of Europe and South America’s top talent.
It has been slightly more entertaining down the bottom end but with a bleak portent – the three promoted clubs occupy the bottom three and have done all season. Is that what we or five other teams have to look forward to should they make it to the Promised Land? Probably.
So, cheers Jose for squeezing any sense of excitement and anticipation from the Premier League over the past few months. Still, at least his tedious tactics and increasingly tedious mind games got their comeuppance on the European stage.
Truly great managers are not bankrolled by oil barons. The coaches I admire dragged unfashionable clubs in provincial towns from the lower leagues to league titles and European glory nights. And they did it by playing exciting football. Stand up Brian Clough and yes… Bobby Robson.
I guess Alex Neil partly fits that bill for his transformation of Hamilton. I wonder if he’d have taken them to the Scottish title at Celtic’s expense and then onto Madrid and Munich? Thankfully for Norwich fans we’ll never know the answer to that one.
I’d like to see Jose give up the glitz and glamour and pick up the reins at Hartlepool or Accrington Stanley and make them a footballing power on the European stage. Now that really would be an achievement and, let’s face it, Jose doesn’t need the money.
From that angle, I hope Bournemouth secure one of those precious automatic spots. A young English coach with a squad full of journeymen who have stuck together from the darkest corner of the footballing bowels. And they’ve played the game in the right way.
Their story warms the cockles even amidst the caveat of a Russian billionaire chairman.
Middlesbrough’s Aitor Karanka seems to have been made very much in the same mould as Mourinho but of course with a much smaller budget to work with. Not surprising really as he learned his trade next to Mourinho at the Bernabeu.
But full credit to his Boro side for ‘doing a job’ on us last Friday night. They started brightly, defended manfully and carried a threat on the break. Going behind so early to the side with the best defensive record in the division was always going to be the worst case scenario.
One could accuse them of dirty rotten tactics – maybe true if a little trite. A lucky goal? Yep, but as the film mogul Samuel Goldwyn wisely declared, “the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Boro worked that bit harder for the points if the truth be told.
After three games in six days at the end of a brutal season our boys just couldn’t find their ‘A’ game to respond and we shouldn’t be too harsh in judgement.
It did help that for Boro, three out of their four previous games were at home while for us, three were away with two of those were up North. While travel may broaden the mind it also drains the energy.
For Rotherham away, there is no excuse… except maybe for the fact that with a three point deduction hanging over their heads, three points off us may decide whether the Millers stay up or plummet. There’ll be no flip flops and sun-cream attitude from them.
And then of course then there’s Fulham.
As things stand, after a narrow win for Watford and a shaky point for Bournemouth, the holy grail of a top two place is now down to a four-horse race with City firmly on the tails of the three in front. Having done the double over Watford (a 6-0 aggregate), it’s galling to see them in prime position but they are probably playing the best football of anyone right now.
Only a miraculous chain of favourable results will get us away from a play-off bash in May. We may well get a third crack at breaking that Boro defence but it’s looking like Derby are our most likely semi-final opponents.
Alex Neil knows how to win a play-off, albeit at a level a few rungs below the Championship in quality. He has an aura of impenetrable self-belief a bit like Jose maybe, but thankfully minus the suntan and the Mediterranean swagger.
We’ve always bounced back from a loss under Neil and hopefully that ‘bouncebackability’ and steely Scottish resolve that’s been so evident since his arrival will gird the loins of our bushed boys for what is likely to be a nerve-jangling May experience.
An East Anglian head-to-head at Wembley is still a distinct possibility. Great for the region I suppose but if a Play-Off Final isn’t enough of a trauma…
But as Mourinho lifts the Premier League trophy aloft, Neil will be plotting a course through choppy waters, hopefully toward a glorious summer.