Just as you love it when a good plan of your own comes together, sometimes you have to find amusement when the plans of others go awry. Not long ago no doubt Sky et al, having obliged us to get out of the sack at an indecently early hour on Saturday, were licking their lips at the prospect of a hair-raising final round of Championship games, with effectively four teams battling to the last seconds for the two automatic promotion spots, at least four (possibly more) scrapping for the last two play-off places, and two of those games involving teams at the bottom desperate for a last-match reprieve. Now, if Bournemouth win tonight and Rotherham tomorrow, the only remaining issues will be whether we and Middlesbrough can between us conjure up a 16-plus goals turnaround to deny Bournemouth, and whether Ipswich and Derby can get at least the draws they need to cement their top-six places.
Not exactly the stuff of pay-per-view nirvana. Perhaps if Bournemouth and Rotherham do the business they might then relent and switch all the games back to a 3pm start, to allow for normal body-clock pre-match alcohol consumption. I know, I live in cloud-cuckoo land.
For me, all that remains of this season is to enjoy the trials and tribulations of others outside of the Championship, wonder what transgression needs to be dreamt up to dock Palace the points necessary to send them down, be there to give Kermorgant the welcome back/bon voyage he so richly deserves (with respectful applause for Francis and Arter), and to keep an eye out for Lyon Duchere, who thanks to a weekend win have moved out of one of the three relegation spots in CFA Groupe C but still have work to do with six games left.
As for us, dreams of finishing ninth above Blackburn have now gone out of the window (albeit in a noble cause) and it's a case of holding onto tenth (courtesy of Leeds' surprise win at Sheff Wed) or potentially ending up fourteenth. Provided Bournemouth get their victory tonight, surely it's not beyond the wit of captain JJ to get in touch with Kermorgant to sort out an amicable 2-1 win for us to send everyone back to the pub happy (I'm sure the Cherries will be ready to forego their outside chance of the title of champions in return for our assurance that a one-goal victory will be plenty good enough for us, plus a few good bottles thrown in for good measure).
In the greater scheme of things of course finishing tenth or fourteenth is going to mean nothing; we will remember the season for the three distinct phases it contained and overall be a good deal more relieved that a relegation fight was avoided rather than look wistfully at a play-off place that was never in our grasp. In general, with the obvious exception of the Millwall game, I think Luzon and the players have made a reasonable fist of seeing out the season when there has been only pride (and in some cases contracts) to play for.
Understandably, the thoughts of some are turning to ambitions for next season and associated with that who stays/goes, what we need to keep/build on and where we need to strengthen. Equally unsurprisingly, some have been suggesting that after a (probable) top-half finish progress has to mean a real tilt at the top six. In normal circumstances, I might be inclined to join in the speculation. Fact is, what happens come August is entirely down to the goals/priorities/whims (and to be fair the chequebook) of one man - and on that front, as from the start, we're just guessing.
We've been told that Duchatelet's twin objectives are to get us promoted and to break even. We know that those goals are incompatible. We've been assuming that the medium-term plan has been to benefit from the fair play rules creating a more level playing-field as regards finances and for the benefits of the consortium approach to then shine through. We should by now know that, whatever people think of FPL - I'm still in the camp that regards it as well-intentioned nonsense which will end up having little material impact even if not thrown out in the courts; for example if my understanding is correct there is nothing to stop any Championship club racking up whatever loss it wishes as long as there is sufficient fresh investment rather than just accumulated debt on the books, largely to the owner(s) - the former is pretty much a pipe-dream.
That all suggests to me that our owner has a fundamental decision to make: keep the losses within acceptable boundaries (ie pretty much around current levels, with no realistic prospect of materially increasing revenues outside of player sales) and accept that this probably means the main objective being to stay in the Championship (of course you can never rule out more or less), look to cut losses through player changes and by implication at least take a risk in that the chances of a relegation battle increase, or set the stall out to go for promotion and make the increased investment that this implies. Sure, it's not that simple, but the broad guidelines are fairly clear.
Absent some U-turn on communication with supporters as regards the balance of priorities going forward from the one person that matters, we are going to be left drawing inferences from player ins and outs. Even then it probably won't be easy. If for example we end up selling Gomez for a decent price (no doubt we won't actually know the fee if that happens, at least not at the time), it would remain to be seen whether the proceeds go towards strengthening in other areas or to redressing the books (or of course a mix of the two).
Accepting a decent offer for a player from a Premiership club (especially if he wants to move on) wouldn't exactly be new for us, or in itself grounds for criticism. I think I've seen the lot, from fire-sales to pay the wages/keep the club going (Paul Walsh/Paul Elliot, even Robert Lee), through reasonable acceptance of a fair offer for a young player (Jenkinson, Shelvey) to pay the bills and to bring in others. We hardly welcomed but accepted such sales as necessary evils. It is somewhat different now as to the best of our knowledge our owner doesn't have cashflow problems but rather has to judge on his own priorities/interests what level of losses are acceptable. This time around, if it happens, I merely would hope we get an honest explanation, even if that were 'the player was sold to contain losses'.
For sure none of us want to see Gomez, or Berg Gudmundsson (or for that matter Cousins, Watt or Vetokele) get sold, and rejecting any offers would be a very encouraging statement of intent. If we were to start the next campaign with those five still with us, plus Henderson, Solly, Wiggins/Fox, and enough others (Jackson, Buyens, Bulot, at least three centre-backs, plus Diarra), and perhaps an addition or two to replace some that might go, we could I feel reasonably expect to at least hold our own and to have hopes that with good fortune a stab at the top six is possible (depending probably on how the teams coming down from the Premiership and those that miss out on going up this season trim their sails). At this stage of the game, we simply cannot know.