The Party's Not Quite Over
Thoughts after a difficult trip to Dirty L**ds

Whilst the defeat at L**ds hasn’t brought the curtain down completely on our season it has almost certainly ended any lingering hopes we harboured of a late push for the play-offs. At the start of this season I wrote that we were a mid-table team that had an outside chance of the play-offs, if we had luck with injuries and the form of key players. After climbing to 6th in the table under JL none of us saw coming the implosion that occurred after young players started to struggle and team confidence drained away. When these factors were made worse by JL’s stubborn refusal to play Westwood and Hutchinson, we were in real trouble and looking like potential relegation candidates at one point. It is a mark of great credit to the post JL regimes that the defence has been shored up, spirit and pride has been restored, and confidence boosted so that we now look like upper mid-table play off challengers – albeit ones with insufficient games left to make that tell. Our future now lies in the Championship and we have to plan for that accordingly.

I am not that upset about a Championship future – I quite like it really and it’s much more interesting than being in the PL which only really has the money and avoiding relegation in store if your club is not one of the so called ‘Big Six’. But the malevolent influence of the PL is still felt in the Championship and the wider EFL.  In return for the small amount of ‘solidarity payments’ the EFL is expected to dance to the PL tune by receiving clubs from PL relegation with parachute payments and higher allowable FFP losses that then distorts the Championship. And from next season onwards ‘solidarity payments’ to League one and Two clubs are being reduced. If EFL clubs were prepared to establish the EFL as a good quality league in its own right that didn’t have promotion to or relegation from the PL, and that marketed the Championship effectively, what would the PL clubs have? A moribund league that would only exist to be a training ground for the Big Six and their European ambitions – 14 clubs would have money but little to play for with nothing they can win and no relegation to fight against. How many fans and clubs would want to put up with that for long? The EFL would have a good league pyramid structure that is interesting and competitive. I believe the EFL clubs have a strong negotiating hand to get a better deal if they could only find the confidence and common cause to do it. Hey ho.

In the mean-time FFP rumbles on and we recently got a much better sense of how Championship punishments for breach of the P&S regulations will play out with Birmingham City’s case being determined in March. The Disciplinary Commission decision is very interesting reading, but simply for being £10m over the £39m limitation for 15/16 – 17/18 Birmingham were deducted 7 points, this was reduced by 1 point for the club admitting the offence, but this was increased by 3 for not controlling the expenditure. We don’t actually know what our position will be for the 16/17 -18/19 period, although DC said at the last Fan’s Forum that our FFP problem was 8 figures. Will there be a rabbit of out DC’s hat? I certainly don’t favour a Derby style sale and lease back of Hillsborough – a football club being separated from the ownership of it’s ground never appears to be a positive. If we have to sell players to avoid a transfer embargo and/or points deduction that that is what we should do as it was signing players and not selling them that got us into this position in the first place.

All that of course will help to influence one factor that SB has to take into account in his summer squad overhaul. Those factors are:

  • Finances – what we can afford in the context of our FFP position?
  • Any transfer embargo limitations
  • Reducing the overall age of the squad by bringing in some younger players
  • Reducing the size of the squad – the club website lists 43 players, if you take out 9 that are under-23 players that is still 34 when the first team squad probably needs to be 25 in size
  • Introducing more pace into the squad
  • Tackling the fitness and resistance to injury problem in the squad

Given the position the club is in and the challenges we face SB and fans can’t be emotional about this – if players need to go, they need to go, if loanees can’t stay, they can’t stay. I am just pleased that SB is in place to handle all this – his experience, knowledge and contacts will be invaluable. We simply have to trust him. You can see though why he wanted to strengthen the recruitment department at the club and given the scale of the issues that has to be the best use of resources. Of the ten players out of contract I think Westwood and Palmer have done enough to merit a new contract the rest are in the mixer for me. But even that may have to be tempered with what we can actually afford – can a deal with Westwood be made for instance? Given there are so many unknowns it is impossible for fans to state a case on who should go and who should stay really. That list of out of contract players includes Kieran Lee and Gary Hooper who have been great servants to the club but given the factors above they may not be able to stay, even if they want to. It would be good though if any difficult decisions that have to be made are made early so that we can have our chance to say any emotional farewells on 5th May at Hillsborough, which would be right and proper.

We have 4 games left to try to gather as many points as we can and finish as high as we can, and hopefully end up with a positive goal difference. Given where we were at Christmas that’s not a bad outcome! Come on Wednesday!

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