IT’S been a season of unremitting weirdness in the Premier League; one so odd that I suspect it might have been scripted by the Goodies and directed by David Lynch. From the inexplicable late autumn collapse of Chelsea to the sudden ejection of Richard Keys and Andy Gray from the Sky Sports hype-o-craft to the inability of anyone to agree on a player of the year, nothing was ever quite as it seemed.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, amid a barrage of the bizarre and the unexpected, that the relegation picture should change 14 times during the season’s final afternoon. I think that Blackpool and Birmingham ended up being the two teams relegated with West Ham, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone from the Premier League were to pop up some time Wednesday afternoon, having done a recount, and reveal that, actually, it was Wolves and Wigan who finished in the bottom three.
At one stage yesterday, the relegation battle was so tight that it reminded me of that Bury council election from a couple of weeks back in which the two leading candidates had to draw straws to decide who won.
Amid all that uncertainty, thank goodness for some consistency in one area. For the second time in four years, Fulham are the Gubbometer champions. No team has been last on Match of the Day more often than them this season – although Wigan ran them close.
Fulham were last on MOTD 10 times this season, ensuring they reclaimed the Gubbometer title they won under Roy Hodgson in 2009. They had a run of appearances at the tail end of MOTD just after the turn of the year (four in the first six shows of 2011), and that was enough to see off a spirited late Wigan revival. Indeed, Wigan were on last 10 times as well, but Fulham stayed in front as a result of being on second-last more often.
Neither side were anywhere near being shown last on the final weekend, though – Wigan’s survival-sealing win at Stoke was included in the four-way relegation mash-up at the top of the show, while Fulham’s 2-2 draw against Arsenal had a bearing in the chase for third place and automatic passage to next season’s Champions League group stages, and so was pushed in seventh out of the 10 matches shown.
No, the final match involved the team who outdid just about everyone else in the Premier League for weirdness this season – somehow finishing bottom despite having a player of the year in their ranks.
MOTD’s final match: West Ham 0 Sunderland 3
Commentator: John Roder
Scott Parker has been West Ham’s outstanding player this season. At times, it seems as if he’s been their only player. He was a worthy winner of the Football Writers Association’s player of the year award (although he lost out to Gareth Bale for the PFA equivalent, while the Barclays prize went to Nemanja Vidic, who wasn’t even Manchester United’s player of the year – told you it was an odd season). Parker’s achievement was even more remarkable given the dross alongside him week after week. His half-hour appearance as a substitute in an abject home defeat against Sunderland was surely his last in a Hammers shirt.
West Ham were well beaten, and booed off at the end. A team who picked up just one point from their final eight league games, falling to pieces when they had a decent chance of survival, had no right to expect any better a response from their supporters.
Still, yesterday’s performance might at least answer the question: Why did West Ham stick with Avram Grant for so long? On the evidence of the Sunderland defeat, no potential replacement would want the job. The joke doing the rounds is that the Hammers showed more fight at their end-of-season gala dinner last Monday than they did on the pitch yesterday.
That Grant lasted as West Ham’s manager until May, having thrown his scarf into the crowd after a home defeat against Arsenal in January as if to say goodbye, was one of the odder twists of a weird, weird season. Grant, who led Portsmouth to the Gubbometer title last season (oh, and relegation and the FA Cup final too), has passed on that mantle to Mark Hughes.
And the only way the 2010/11 Premier League odyssey of oddity could be topped? If Grant really does end up back at Chelsea before the new season kicks off in August.
Mind you, even that wouldn’t be as weird as Last on MOTD: The musical.
1. Fulham: 10 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 10 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. West Brom: 7 (2L: 8, 3L: 1)
4. Stoke: 6 (2L: 6, 3L: 9)
5. Bolton: 6 (2L: 2, 3L: 6)
6. Everton: 5 (2L: 8, 3L: 4)
7. Sunderland: 4 (2L: 8, 3L: 2)
8. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 5, 3L: 8)
9. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 7)
10. Newcastle: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)*
11. West Ham: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)*
12. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
13. Wolves: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
14. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
15. Chelsea: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
16. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 5)
17. Manchester City: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
18. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 3)
19. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)*
20. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)*
2L=On second last (Newcastle 3 West Brom 3)
3L=On third last (Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 0)
(* Teams separated by drawing of lots at glittering ceremony at the end of the world, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Harold Camping, Tony Gubba and Nostradamus, with music from Blondie.)
Last on MOTD 2010/11: The complete list
May 22: West Ham 0 Sunderland 3 (John Roder)
May 14: West Brom 1 Everton 0 (John Roder)
May 7: Bolton 1 Sunderland 2 (Alistair Mann)
Apr 30: West Brom 2 Aston Villa 1 (Steve Wilson)
Apr 23: Aston Villa 1 Stoke 1 (John Roder)
Apr 16: West Brom 1 Chelsea 3 (John Motson)
Apr 9: Chelsea 1 Wigan 0 (Steve Wilson)
Apr 2: Wigan 0 Tottenham 0 (Steve Bower)
Mar 19: Everton 2 Fulham 1 (John Roder)
Mar 5: Manchester City 1 Wigan 0 (Jonathan Pearce)
Feb 26: Newcastle 1 Bolton 1 (Martin Fisher)
Feb 12: Blackburn 0 Newcastle 0 (Dan O’Hagan)
Feb 5: Aston Villa 2 Fulham 2 (Alistair Mann)
Feb 2: West Brom 2 Wigan 2 (Dan O’Hagan)
Jan 22: Fulham 2 Stoke 0 (Jonathan Pearce)
Jan 15: Wigan 1 Fulham 1 (Martin Fisher)
Jan 5: Blackpool 1 Birmingham 2 (Damian Johnson)
Jan 1: Tottenham 1 Fulham 0 (Steve Wilson)
Dec 29: West Ham 1 Everton 1 (John Roder)
Dec 26: Bolton 2 West Brom 0 (John Roder)
Dec 18: Blackburn 1 West Ham 1 (Steve Bower)
Dec 11: Fulham 0 Sunderland 0 (Simon Brotherton)
Dec 4: Wigan 2 Stoke 2 (Alistair Mann)
Nov 27: Fulham 1 Birmingham 1 (John Roder)
Nov 20: West Brom 0 Stoke 3 (Steve Bower)
Nov 13: Newcastle 0 Fulham 0 (Steve Bower)
Nov 10: Stoke 3 Birmingham 2 (Ivan Gaskell)
Nov 6: Blackburn 2 Wigan 1 (John Roder)
Oct 30: Everton 1 Stoke 0 (Alistair Mann)
Oct 23: Wigan 1 Bolton 1 (John Roder)
Oct 16: Wolves 1 West Ham 1 (Steve Bower)
Oct 2: West Brom 1 Bolton 1 (Steve Bower)
Sep 25: Birmingham 0 Wigan 0 (John Roder)
Sep 18: Blackburn 1 Fulham 1 (Guy Mowbray)
Sep 11: Wigan 1 Sunderland 1 (Alistair Mann)
Aug 28: Wolves 1 Newcastle 1 (Steve Wilson)
Aug 21: Everton 1 Wolves 1 (Alistair Mann)
Aug 14: Bolton 0 Fulham 0 (Steve Bower)