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Premiership Review
by Mark Hayton
Issue 15
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Arsenal (4th)
Well, in Arsenal's last season at Highbury it is fitting that the historic ground not only saw the Premiership's golden boot every other week, but also the most goals; sixty-one in total. The Gunners notched up forty-eight goals at Highbury, including a golden boot hat-trick on the final day, which secured Champions League qualification over local rivals Tottenham.

In truth, Arsenal's season began sluggishly, after Patrick Vieira left for Juventus last summer the midfield looked severely weakened. In stepped young Cesc Fabregas and for the beginning of the season, until after the Christmas transfer window, he spent most of his time being soundly kicked around by pretty much anyone in the Premiership with studs. As the season drew to a close, however, the young Spaniard spent his time toying with the departed Vieira and most other midfields in Europe. A repeat of Liverpool's Champions League heroics last season was unfortunately beyond both him and the golden boot.

Ask a Finn: ½ Finn, ½ Swede Rami Shaban made it through the Arsenal youth system this season, but never played…he's only half Finnish, but there are still more Finns to come through Arsenal's youth system than Brits!

Aston Villa (16th)
August 2005 was a bright and cheery time for Villa fans, a parade of new signings turned up to Villa Park and David O'Leary talked of European qualification. June 2006 is, by comparison, a dark, dark time for David O'Leary and his men, and after a troubled season that saw O'Leary bring in more new faces than league victories. Now, all David O'Leary leaves us with is his assurances that his future lies with Villa, well we all believed him when he talked about European qualification…right?

Ask a Finn: Aston Villa's biggest problem is that they have too many ordinary players, JP Angel, Kevin Phillips, Milan Baros and Stephan Moore, but no real 'big' players and no goals.

Birmingham City (18th)
Steve Bruce was another manager who talked of European qualification in 2005, but unlike David O'Leary most of us took him seriously. However, devastating injuries to key players saw 'Brum' slip and slide, recording only eight wins all season and scoring only nine goals away from St Andrew's. In the Christmas transfer window Birmingham looked to secure more goals, eventually deciding to try to solve their goal drought by signing Chris Sutton…enough said. Worse may still be to come for the Midland's club as eight regular first team players become free agents in the summer.

Ask a Finn: I am so sad for Forsell, by the time he got even close to the pitch it was clear that they were beyond saving. I hope he returns to the Premiership, one way or another.

Blackburn Rovers (6th)
It is fair to say that Mark Hughes' Blackburn is one of this seasons success stories. At the end of 2005 Blackburn were in the bottom half largely thanks to Graham Souness, but, as it turned out, the Scott would be this season's saviour; a next to nothing fee was arranged for Newcastle's displaced Craig Bellamy, who went on to net more than 20 times in total this season. Blackburn were guaranteed European football before the season drew to a close and finished only four points from a Champions League place notching up 51 goals in the process.

Ask a Finn: Shefki started 31 times this season, I think that's phenomenal, he is a really big part of the team and he works well with Bellamy…also as Brad Freidel gets older we've got chances to see Peter Enckelman a lot more next season.

Bolton Wanderers (8th)
Bolton was pipped to the European post by a resurgent Newcastle on the last day of the season. Bolton are a strange beast, for the first half of the season they were playing in the UEFA Cup and looking 'dead certs' to repeat the feat this time around. However, after Christmas the Bolton players had a great number of worries, paramount of which was the future of their inspirational manager Sam Allerdyce. A gruelling European campaign also took its toll and the tired Bolton outfit that took to the pitch on the final day of the season did their job, only an unexpected Newcastle victory over Champions Chelsea keeping them out of Europe.

Ask a Finn: Bolton only conceded 13 at home and Jussi Jaaskelainen is an ever-present at the back for them, Europe was beyond them and, in the end, I think it proved too much for them to handle.

Charlton Athletic (13th)
The strange thing about Charlton is that it took Alan Curbishley a couple of seasons to change Charlton from a 'yo-yo team' to a Premiership regular, but in the last six or seven seasons they've never jumped anywhere too far away from mid-table. This season the FA interviewed Curbishley for the England job, and then he decided he wanted to take a break from football, but he has been linked with the West Ham job in the last couple of weeks. The outgoing Alan Curbishley finished up with 729 Charlton games under his belt, but his Charlton side have been as distant as he had intended to be in the latter half of this season.

Ask a Finn: Man, you guys have gotta be the only country in the world that doesn't have your leading domestic striker at least in the national squad…I don't get it!

Chelsea (1st)
The last team to win the title with eighteen out of twenty home wins in a season was Newcastle United in 1927, and there the comparison ends. There was still a very small, mathematical chance that Manchester United could win the title when Jose Mourinho's Chelsea took to the pitch against United at Stamford Bridge, but, away from mathematics, the competition both on and off the field was already over. Mourinho will, of course, declare himself 'dissatisfied' but that is his way, Chelsea were, in honesty, out played by Barcelona and tactically outclassed by Liverpool in the FA Cup, but as far as the Premiership is concerned, even a half convincing Man Utd resurgence didn't change the pre-season prediction that they'd walk it. Schevchenko and Ballack on the way… I guess that's why they call it 'the blues'.

Ask a Finn: Elton John…oh man that's bad! Shaun Wright-Phillips has hardly kicked a ball all season, the move to Chelsea took his World Cup place from him; it has been the worst move of the season.

Everton (11th)
At the beginning of the season, nothing at Goodison Park seemed to work, while at the back end of the season the Toffees won only one in eight. Thankfully, in between, the likes of Beattie, McFadden and even the retiring Duncan Ferguson managed to impress. At the very beginning, Everton may have become entangled in the dogfight, so Everton fans may feel lucky. In the middle of the season they could have found themselves on a path to Europe, so they may also feel disappointed, but in the end though, they were never really in danger of either; at least they had their ups and downs.

Ask a Finn: Everton…hmm, that's a toughy. Everton are a good team, but they're far off being a great team, sad to see 'Drunken Duncan' retire, although it is time.

Fulham (12th)
Similar to Everton, Fulham had the kind of season that dabbled with the dogfight, but never really threatened. Chris Coleman and his side did their level best to be mediocre. The problem is that if the Premiership were played at Craven Cottage, Fulham would be in Europe. In contrast, their away form is the worst in the league, picking up only seven points on the road, worse than record breaking Sunderland, who managed eight away from home. Only a win and four draws away from home for Chris Coleman, but it's been nice and cosy at the Cottage.

Ask a Finn: Well, Fulham are a good team, Antti Niemi only joined them recently from Southampton. I think that next season they'll improve at the back if Antti plays regularly, don't know if they're strong enough for Europe yet though.

Liverpool (3rd)
At the end of the Premiership season, Rafa Benitez and Liverpool will have every reason to feel disappointed. They finished with eleven consecutive victories but missed automatic Champions League qualifications to Manchester United by a single point. However, when the Liverpool faithful look back at this season, they will see a shiny FA Cup sitting in their cupboard. Next September, when Liverpool (touch wood) make it through to the Champions League proper, no one will remember 2nd or 3rd, but I bet they could still tell the difference between the FA Cup and that other cup that changes its name every other year.

Ask a Finn: Oh God, I think everybody connected to football sends their thoughts out to Djibril Cisse, whatever anyone thinks of him as a player, he has now broken both his legs, and to do it one game before the World Cup finals is horrific…I am so sorry for him.

Manchester City (15th)
Had there been three places up for relegation this season, the run in may have been extremely interesting indeed. As it stood, Sunderland remained rooted to the bottom of the table throughout, but the likes of Man City, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough lost form towards the end of the season and just drifted, secure in the knowledge that this season, they weren't in any danger of the drop, in spite of City finishing with only 43 points. Stuart Pearce's men did start well, like Bolton, and after the FA farcical England manager selection, plus Joey Barton deciding he wanted to leave, everyone seemed to just loose focus at the City of Manchester Stadium - David James jokes at the ready. Positive points for City are that they are yet to spend large parts of the fee received for Shaun Wright-Phillips a year ago, Stuart Pearce is a good manager and tomorrow is another day.

Ask a Finn: You got to give it to Stuart Pearce…I've watched a load of their games and more often than not its an individual mistake that costs them the game, but Pearce never blames them…and he should, "NO! DAVID, WHY??!"

Manchester United (2nd)
On all accounts Manchester United have had a good season. Wayne Rooney has looked sensational, a number of Ferguson's 'New Batch' namely Richardson, Rossi and Fletcher have looked impressive and they finished with 83 points in total, equalling their title win in 2003 and beating their totals in '96, '97, '99 and 2001. Oh, and they won a cup. On the other hand, Roy Keane walked, and will retire at the end of the season. Ruud was shown the door, probably never to return, and for 90% of the season the Red Devils were involved in no more than a race for second place, after being dumped out of Europe.

Ask a Finn: If you look at the league this season, but take out the 'Abramovic Effect' then it would have been an exciting season and it would have been Man Utd's, but hey, out of all the ones that didn't win Man United were the best. Fact.

Middlesbrough (14th)
After long deliberation and being rejected by almost every foreign and available manager in the world, the FA finally decided to bump up Steve McClaren to England manager after the World Cup. Before the World Cup though, Middlesbrough and Steve McClaren have looked unimpressive. In fact, there were five teams managed by Englishmen that finished higher than Middlesbrough this time around. Yes, the 'Smoggies' had to get through a demanding 64 games and, on the last day of the season, fifteen of the players were 'local', although the Academy is Dave Parnaby's job; Steve McClaren is about victories. Boro only got twelve in the league all season, and in the UEFA Cup final against Sevilla, Middlesbrough were truly out-classed.

Ask a Finn: "Will you be England manager? Will you be England manager? Will you be England manager? Will you be England manager? Will you be England manager? No, no, no…yeah, but no…oh God, anything to get me out from the wife. They were truly outdone in the UEFA Cup final.

Newcastle United (7th)
In August 2005, the Geordie faithful were looking forward to Alan Shearer's final season with hungry anticipation. Michael Owen was on his way, Albert Luque had arrived and Graham Souness had assured us all that the 'kinks' had been all worked out. Now, Albert Luque has netted only once, Michael Owen has played less than thirty minutes since Christmas and, as ever, Kieron Dyer has an attendance record at St. James' comparable to Peter Reid's. On the other hand, Glenn Roeder turned up, Shola Ameobi started scoring and Newcastle beat the champions on the last day of the season to make it into Europe…just another typical Newcastle season then. Please spend a minute's silent reflection for the now retired, but always magnificent, Alan Shearer.

Ask a Finn: I don't care what they say, ending your career by scoring in a big defeat against your oldest rivals ain't a bad way to go.

Portsmouth (17th)
When Harry Redknapp returned to Fratton Park earlier in the season to try and save the south coast club some Pompey fans declared that they would never sing Harry Redknapp's name after his betrayal to Southampton. It's as everybody says: Harry is a bit of gambler; he probably put money on the fact that they would. At Christmas he essentially bought a new team and he got a good deal too. Harry and the new Portsmouth managed to take 20 points out of the last nine games in spring, doubling their points total from the other three quarters of the season, saving Pompey a week before the end of the season. If we could ignore the first twenty-nine games, Portsmouth could have been in the Champions League. Just imagine what Harry could get for that amount of money.

Ask a Finn: The great escape. 20 points from the last nine is unbelievable, I think Harry Redknapp is a genius, but I think he'll have to do the same next season.

Sunderland (20th)
Sunderland was the worst team in Premiership history. I am sorry for those of you who think this is strongly worded, but it's a fact. The Stadium of Light enjoyed only one league win this season and those beloved mackems conceded one less than a goal every game. We all know what happened to Sunderland this season, and for those who don't, hearing the tale will certainly not enrich your football understanding.

Ask a Finn: No…please don't.

Tottenham Hotspur (5th)
At the start of the 2005/06 season Spurs' Martin Joll brought in Edgar Davids and the whole Premiership took notice. Tottenham went from strength to strength, in particular with Egyptian striker Mido becoming very potent in front of goal. Even towards the end of the season Spurs were still in front and favourites to take the final Champions League spot, until a bout of food poisoning took out over half of the Spurs first team on the final day. It was great PR for the Hammersmith deli but only the UEFA Cup for Martin Joll and his men.

Ask a Finn: Teemu Tainio had really solid season this season, he is like a rock and I was really gutted that Arsenal stole it from Spurs on the last day.

West Bromwich Albion (19th)
After last season's great escape, Bryan Robson's West Brom were tipped as likely candidates to escape the drop again. Unfortunately, as Wigan sky-rocketed and it became clear they were not heading for the drop, we all began drawing up the shortlist. After October 2005 we all knew where Sunderland were heading, and after Christmas, it was also clear that this was the season that the Baggies were to loose their bounce. They remained competitive at home but unconvincing away winning only once away from the Hawthorns all season scoring in less than every other away game.

Ask a Finn: Kanu is too old and Ellington isn't good enough. Away from home West Brom never scored and that's why they were relegated.

West Ham United (9th)
Alan Pardew wasn't exactly a household name prior to September 2005. One top half finish and a thrilling FA Cup final has left the happy Hammers firmly restored to England's top flight. Anton Ferdinand, Matt Etherington, Nigel Reo-Coker, Bobby Zamora and Yossi Benayoun have all had impressive seasons and the ever-present Teddy Sheringham is still going strong…well, he's still going.

Ask a Finn: Anton Ferdinand taking a penalty…he looks like he'll be a good player but… everyone who saw the FA Cup final knew he was gonna miss before he even kicked it. No, I'm not gonna mention Sami.

Wigan Athletic (10th)
In 2005 Wigan added their name to the Premiership and it is fair to say that no one, not even Paul Jewell, predicted that Wigan would secure their forty point target for avoiding a return to the Championship so easily. By Christmas it was clear that the JJB Stadium will be hosting Premiership matches in 2007. A large part of this season's success is down to Wigan's defence Stephane Henchoz, Arjen De Zeuw and, in particular, Pascal Chimbonda who all had remarkable seasons and proved very difficult opponents.

Ask a Finn: Where is Wigan anyway? Where did they come from? I wanna say as well, two teams came up, only one of them went back down, that's good management, although I've heard that Chimbonda wants to leave and that would be a big blow to Wigan.

Success stories:
o Glenn Roeder's Newcastle - Newcastle rise from Souness' ashes to make it into Europe by beating the champions on the last day.
o Steven Gerrard's Liverpool - Netting more than twenty from midfield and equalising in the last minute of the FA Cup final with a screamer.
o Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth - Doubling your season's points total in nine games…there aren't many who can claim that now.
o Paul Jewell's Wigan - Part of the Premiership furniture.
Room for improvement:
o Graham Souness - 'knock on wood' will never manage in the Premiership again.
o Didier Drogba - "Sometimes I dive…and handball is ok too!" It's no wonder they're bringing in Schevchenko.
o Shaun Wright-Phillips - a year ago he had a definite seat on the plane to Germany, and now he's managed to effectively take himself out of the equation.
o The English FA - the stadium still isn't ready, we've got a manager at the World Cup who knows he has no future and they've asked every manager in the world to take over, and been rejected.

Fond farewells
Alan Shearer, Duncan Ferguson, Dennis Bergkamp, Roy Keane, Alan Curbishley and Highbury.

'Ask a Finn' was Matti Silvasto, Vantaa.
Final thought: "A good season, but from the very beginning we all knew who'd finish top and bottom; everything else in between was exciting, except Peter Crouch - £8million…I don't get it at all.

Trivia - Which current Premiership player scored in the 2001 Finnish cup semi-final?

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