Last on MOTD: Home discomfort in Bolton

I’VE never quite viewed football punditry in the same light since the episode of Fantasy Football in which Frank Skinner bet Alan Hansen £50 that he couldn’t crowbar the word ‘rounding’ into his Match of the Day analysis.

(Hansen won the bet by using the phrase ‘rounding the goalkeeper’ while analysing a Blackburn goal against Arsenal – even though the scorer hadn’t really rounded the keeper at all.)

And I haven’t viewed footballer interviews in quite the same light since the England World Cup squad amused themselves at France 98 by dropping song titles into their little chats with Des Lynam, Ray Stubbs and Gary Newbon – again for a bet.

(Sadly, the ruse was rumbled before Alan Shearer managed to respond to a question about Glenn Hoddle’s tactics by referring to an Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini formation.)

I’m not saying that there was any funny business on last night’s Match of the Day. But what’s this sudden obsession with home form being crucial to Premier League survival? It seemed as if everyone was falling over themselves to talk about it last night.

Last night’s final match: Bolton 1 Stoke 1
Commentator: Ian Gwyn Hughes

Actually, I really don’t think there was any funny business on MOTD last night. I just think that the phrase “home form keeps you in this league” has become this season’s “if you make mistakes at this level, you get punished”.

I caught the observation being made four times during the show. The first one came from Mark Lawrenson after Burnley’s win over Sunderland – “Burnley’s home form will be crucial this season.”

Then came two in quick succession as Hull lost at home to Birmingham, whose manager Alex McLeish said during his post-match interview: “Winning your home games keeps you in the league; precious away points can take you up the league.”

That was quickly followed by Hansen telling us that Hull really can’t afford to be losing at home to teams such as Birmingham.

And then, during the final game on MOTD, commentator Ian Gwyn Hughes remarked over a shot of Bolton manager Gary Megson: “He will feel his team really should be winning home games against the likes of Stoke.” (Right on cue, Dave Kitson scored to give Stoke the lead. Matt Taylor equalised with a late penalty, but Bolton only got a draw.)

Two things. Number one: Surely home form is important in any division. I can’t imagine, for instance, that Gareth Southgate emerged from the dressing room at the Riverside after Middlesbrough’s 0-5 tanking against West Brom yesterday to tell reporters: “This defeat means nothing. Home form in the Championship is as irrelevant an indicator of success as horoscopes, tarot cards and other fortune-telling practices. I shall pay no attention to our home form for the rest of the season.”

Number two: The team with the worst home record in the Premier League last season was Hull City – and they stayed up. In terms of points gathered, the team with the second-worst home form in the Premier League last season was Sunderland – and they also stayed up.

Some people would have you believe that no one ever won away in the Premier League. And yes, of 380 top-flight matches last season, just under half – 173 – were home wins. But 110 – more than a quarter – were away wins. And every Premier League team picked up at least one victory away from last season. Hull picked up five, and that was effectively what kept them up.

But no, I don’t think that anyone’s having us on this time. I don’t think there’s been some kind of secret agreement between pundits, managers and commentators to bang on about the importance of home form as much as possible.

(If Lineker, Hansen and Lawro really wanted to mess with our heads, I reckon they would do something much more leftfield, such as try to slip entire passages from A Clockwork Orange into their analysis. Christ, Lineker managed to get a reference to his own recent wedding into the intro to last week’s show – so goodness knows what he might be capable of.)

Instead, I just think that “home form keeps you in this division” has somehow become the Premier League pundit’s new mantra. If a football-loving colleague repeats it to you at work over the next few days, my advice would be to look wistfully into the distance and respond with a hearty Ron Manager-style “Marvellous”. I reckon they won’t notice you’re taking the mick.

1. West Ham: 2
(GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
2=. Wigan: 2
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
2=. Stoke: 2
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
4. Gubba: 1
(GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
5. Blackburn: 1
(GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
6. Bolton: 1
(GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
7. Wolves: 1
(GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
8. Birmingham: 1
(GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
9=. Fulham: 1
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
9=. Portsmouth: 1
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
11. Hull: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
12. Sunderland: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
13. Chelsea: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
14=. Arsenal: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
14=. Aston Villa: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
14=. Burnley: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
14=. Everton: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
14=. Liverpool: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
14=. Manchester City: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
14=. Manchester United: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
14=. Tottenham: 0
(GD: 0. 2L: 0.)

GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last
(Last night’s penultimate match was: Hull 0 Birmingham 1.)

(NB. Teams will receive one point for every time they appear last on MOTD. Appearances on MOTD2 are not included. Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference – the number of times a team is on last with Tony Gubba commentating. Teams still level will then be separated by the number of times they appear second last on MOTD.)


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