Monday, November 11, 2013

The bulk of the league performed more or less as expected – traditional mid-table clubs like Middlesbrough, Birmingham City, Norwich City, Coventry City, mixed with teams at different stages of decline – Wolverhampton Wanderers, Chelsea, Derby County, Leeds United – occupied the vast space between 7th and 19th place. Grey area, difficult to judge, because seasonal performance is not a clear indication of long-term stability, improvement, or decline. Aston Villa was slowly rising, for instance, but still was at mid-table level. They finished 8th, and just behind them because of worse goal-difference was slowly sinking Leeds United, still having enough inertia from the good years to stay away from real trouble. Others underperformed a bit – more was expected from Manchester United, but they finished 10th. The most difficult team to judge was Ipswich Town – they had the best and worst in a single year. After years of climbing up and establishing themselves among the top clubs, they suddenly plummeted down. Since the team was pretty much the same as before and not old at all, it did not look right. Was it a case of a team reaching its limits and inevitably sinking? After all, Ipswich played well, but did not become a real title contender. Besides, they had terrible year in the league, but in the same time achieved their greater triumph this very same season too, winning the FA Cup. Tough case... Ipswich did not just drop a few places: they barely escaped relegation. They finished 18th , only 3 points away from relegation zone. Their attack was terrible – only 4 clubs ended scoring less goals than Ipswich. They lost even the battle for 17th place – lowly Bristol City edged them with better goal-difference.

Bristol City came to First Division in 1976 and finished 18th in their first season with 35 points. In 1977-78 they earned again 35 points and finished 17th. Clearly, the only concern of the modest club was hanging in the league, mere survival. It was equally clear they were not going to last for long. And now Ipswich Town was at that level, compared to Bristol? Finishing lower than Bristol...

Yet, Ipswich had much better squad - 18th place looked unreal. And it was – what Ipswich Town suffered was fairly common: a good team, still rising, but getting perhaps too experienced before time and temporarily slipping down. As a reminder, in a sense, that the job was not done yet, that greatness is still out of reach and work is needed. In real time – impossible to be sure of that: after all, Ipswich came dangerously close to relegation – but they recovered quickly. And the season was not lost after all , but what a rollercoaster.