What a difference a game makes. Before last week there was a storm up into the top half of the table, the possibility of sneaking into Europe via the Fair Play spot, some great performances from all of the players and a huge burst of optimism surrounding the end of the season. Then came those manager-and-left-back-stealing reds.
So where are we now? Well, we dropped three points and suffered a humiliating defeat. To add injury to insult, Simon Davies suffered an injury and Bobby Zamora has another small niggle, this time in his groin, so they might not feature. I do wonder if Zamora might have been rushed back too soon. I hope not, but at least we’re coming up to the summer when he can have a proper rest. Because that’s the other thing, with five yellow cards and a pending charge for Baird over obscene gestures to the referee, we may not be needing our passports next season. In some respects this is a good thing – if we qualify for the Europa League through the Fair Play route, we’d have to play in June around three weeks after the end of the Barclays Premier League season. It also allows for a full summer and pre-season ready for our onslaught on the league and domestic cups next season. Ahem.
But the season isn’t over yet. We’ve got two more matches. Birmingham away and then we host Arsenal at Craven Cottage on the last day. Be honest, how many points do you think we’ll take from the possible six? Three weeks ago, I’d have said zero, but now we’ve another away win under our belt and the players need to make up for a pretty shoddy performance last Monday so, together with Birmingham’s form this season, I’m reasonably optimistic about taking something from St Andrew’s tomorrow. What will be interesting is what team Mark Hughes puts out. We’ve issues at full back with Baird’s suspension and Salcido’s inconsistency, and I’ve heard a few people question whether Schwarzer should feature after his impression of Heurelho Gomes last week. Harsh maybe, and I can’t see him being dropped, but I do like Stockdale and would like to see him get more playing time.
The injury to Simon Davies means we may get another chance to see Gael Kakuta who seems to have impressed since joining us on loan from them up the road and after opening his Fulham account (even if it was slightly fortunate) at the Stadium of Light, it would perhaps be harsh for him to be overlooked. Or we may have a rare sighting of Zoltan Gera. Rumoured to be going just about everywhere else except staying in SW6 this summer, Gera is fit and could feature. Hughes has been reported as saying he’d like to keep the Hungarian captain at Craven Cottage next season but Zolly doesn’t seem to figure too highly in Hughes’ plans. Perhaps tomorrow will be a opportunity for him to change that. Sidwell continues to look good in midfield and although Etuhu has improved this season, I think we need Sidwell’s intelligence and speed in the centre of the park. Plus he’s not afraid to have a shot occasionally. Upfront we’ve a few options and I like that Hughes has been rotating the strikers. It’ll keep them all on their toes. Moussa Dembele seems to work well with whoever he’s playing with and I think that’s a strength we should definitely use to our advantage. I have my doubts about Gudjohnsen and I think I need to accept that my bet with Gatesy that AJ will score 8 goals this season simply isn’t going to happen, but we are still getting some goals in and that’s what matters. I couldn’t care less who scores them.
So, my XI for tomorrow assuming Davies and Zamora are unavailable; Stockdale, Briggs, Hangeland, Hughes, Kelly, Gera, Sidwell, Murphy, Dempsey, Dembele, Kakuta.
Do you agree? Who would you play?