If there’s one advantage of the season coming towards a close (or climax) it’s that suddenly all the permutations narrow and everything becomes simple. It’s even possible to do the BBC points calculator to a conclusion without totally losing touch with reality. And for us there can be little doubt: four games, four wins needed. Win them all and we should (according to my calculations) make it to the lottery, perhaps even edging Hull out to get fifth (West Brom and Stoke going up automatically, with Bristol City third, Watford fourth). Three wins and a draw could be enough, but it’s more likely to let Wolves in. Anything less and we can almost certainly forget it.
So, as usual, let’s think positive (you may notice that there’s no mention of Palace in the above calculations; that’s because despite total impartiality I have them finishing ninth; pity really as trouncing them at Wembley would have ensured that the world is back in its proper state). Beat Southampton and it’s definitely on, which will of course leave us all with nothing much to say. Lose and the stream of posts on player ratings for the season, who we should dispose of and bring in, and the sack the manager calls can begin. All points to a draw really doesn’t it? Just to prolong the agony.
As said on other blogs I think the team for tomorrow pretty much picks itself once the choice is made by Pardew between Elliot and Randolph. The time for turning away from Halford and Thatcher and back to Moutaouakil (who has in any case blotted his copybook with the red card for the stiffs) and Youga has passed for now at least; Pardew made his decision and so be it. With Sodje now out it has to be McCarthy and Bougherra – probably our best combination in any event, provided they are both fit - in central defence. Iwelumo and Lita together actually look like a partnership and have to be retained, while Holland is a shoo-in in any event. That only leaves the other central midfield slot and the two wide berths. I would opt for Zheng over Semedo (especially as after quizzing a Chinese colleague I know how to pronounce his name: apparently it’s supposed to sound like Jung Ger), unless Pardew feels he wants Zheng to play wide. Thomas, Cook, Ambrose and Varney compete the options.
I shall be out of my seat to applaud Jason Euell on his return to The Valley. I don’t know who finally persuaded him that he was a midfielder rather than a forward, but I still think of it as a mistake. And I don’t know what induced Curbishley to publicly blame him for a defeat against Man Utd. Before he fell out with Curbs he always seemed to me to give of his best (after their rupture it was a different matter).
Finally, while travelling around for the past week I thought more on the fact that we are, for good reason, proud to be Charlton fans – or rather which teams I would be most upset to be supporting (assuming that most real fans don’t really choose who they follow). Let’s leave Palace and Millwall aside as they are obviously off the scale. So, who and why.
Man City. If I supported them I would have to occupy the same world as their deluded fans. If they go on to win the Champions League five years running, provide the entire England squad, play to crowds of millions, and are brought in by the United Nations to solve the Middle East situation their fans will continue to bemoan the fact that their club’s status does not reflect their true worth. Much the same applies to supporters of Newcastle and a few others, although I usually find that Newcastle fans at least pay lip-service to the idea that they need to have a decent team on the pitch before they can reclaim their ‘rightful position’.
Aston Villa. I have never met a happy Villa fan. Perhaps it’s just the area they inhabit but I think it’s because they have reached one stage beyond Man City fans in their level of awareness. They feel their club to be ‘big’ but unlike City fans realise they will never achieve that status. They should be applauded for their self-awareness, but pitied for the fact that it leaves them so bloody miserable. Maybe that's why god gave them that accent.
Arsenal (and very soon at least one of Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd). All that expectation and now only failure. What a way to end a season. But for these teams every season is like that. I’m not sure they can really enjoy success.
Milton Keynes Dons. Not for the obvious reason. Unlike everyone I know I don’t feel any sense of sorrow for true Wimbledon supporters, or outrage at their club’s relocation. It was unfortunate for them that they made it to the top flight before that brought the riches it does now, but there were just never enough of them to retain that status. It could have been us. They still have a team to follow. US-style franchising of football clubs is just not a threat here – as long as daft ideas such as allowing a team based in Ireland to play in an English league or letting in Celtic and Rangers continue to be rejected. Instead I would feel sorry to be a Dons supporter just because, truly, no-one else likes them, for the above reasons – and seemingly never will.
Notable omissions from this list include Derby. However humiliated they may have been, getting promoted was still the best thing that’s happened to their club in many years – just as we are in no position to think about not wanting to go up. In an ideal world we would have another season in this division and get promoted in better shape. But the risks are just too great. There is still an opportunity and we have to do all we can to take it.