The fourth and final bunch of mid-season reports and grades features Sunderland, Spurs, West Ham, Wigan and Wolves:
SUNDERLAND (11th, 23 points from 20 games)
Made a storming start to the campaign but an injury to key midfielder Lee Cattermole in October took the wind completely out of their sails. Since then their form has been patchy at best, but with Cattermole now back in action alongside the excellent Lorik Cana, and Darren Bent still pushing hard to catch the eye of Fabio Capello, things are looking up again and I expect them to finish in the top ten.
Gold star: In his first season in England, Lorik Cana has looked to the manor born. His physical style is made for the Prem and it’s no wonder that Steve Bruce gave him the skipper’s armband. Darren Bent must also be mentioned for bouncing back so well from his Spurs nightmare.
In detention: Fraizer Campbell has struggled to make any sort of impact in the league.
TOTTENHAM (4th, 37 points from 20 games)
Wildly, gloriously inconsistent. Home defeats to Stoke and Wolves were low points but there have been huge highs, such as the 9-1 thrashing of Wigan – a freak result, admittedly – and the opening-day win over Liverpool. I’m not quite sure how Spurs find themselves in a top-four spot, especially as they have lost exactly a quarter of their games, but it’s been a fun ride all the same. A lack of draws (none at home) and the indifferent form of their title rivals – joke: Spurs can’t win the title – have helped keep Arry’s lads in the hunt.
Gold star: Aaron Lennon is beginning to fulfil his immense promise, while Wilson Palacios has shored up Spurs’ wimpish midfield. Jermain Defoe is shooting his way into England’s World Cup squad.
In detention: Robbie Keane: party planner off the pitch, party pooper on it.
WEST HAM (17th, 18 points from 20 games)
Never let Franco Zola walk your dog – he can’t hang on to a lead. If Zola wasn’t such a lovely little chap, he’d have been sacked weeks ago, as I suspect he’s not quite up to the job. Better for him to learn his trade at a Championship/League One club than drag West Ham under, as seems increasingly possible. It’s crucial that the club hangs onto its best players for the second half of the season, especially the key quartet of Scott Parker, Rob Green, Matty Upson and Carlton Cole.
Gold star: Scott Parker has been awesome at times, a one-man midfield dynamo. Carlton Cole has improved hugely. Zavon Hines is one for the future, whilst I’ve enjoyed Alessandro Diamanti’s emotional cameos.
In detention: Will the real Julien Faubert stand up?
WIGAN (16th, 19 points from 19 games)
Along with Spurs, Bobby Martinez’s Wigan are vying for the ‘Most consistently inconsistent team’ award – they beat Chelsea and Aston Villa, but lost to Portsmouth. Go Figueroa. At least they try to play decent football. And whilst I get the impression that not many neutral fans would miss – or even notice – if Wigan weren’t in the Prem, it’s reassuring to have them around; who else is going to scout hitherto unknown South Americans for the bigger English clubs to poach?
Gold star: Maynor Figueroa has made everyone sit up and take notice, not only for his stunning goal against Stoke, but for the quality of his general play. How much longer can Wigan hang on to him? Antonio Valencia, Wilson Palacios… Figueroa will surely be next to move onwards and upwards. Honourable mentions for Charles N’Zogbia and Hugo Rodallega, both of whom are a lot of fun to watch.
In detention: Olivier Kapo has failed to impress. Likewise Jordi Gomez.
WOLVES (15th, 19 points from 20 games)
In October, I put a tenner on Wolves to go down. Since then they have scraped a few wins and dragged themselves out of the relegation zone. Typical. Still, I have no doubt that they will be fighting the drop at the business end of the season – there simply isn’t enough quality in Mick McCarthy’s squad for them to rise much further up the table. Passion and work rate can only go so far, and I fear that for all Mick’s efforts (I applauded his strategic decision to rest key players at Old Trafford), Wolves face yet another spell in the Championship.
Gold star: Go Jody Craddock, goal machine!
In detention: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake has found life very difficult in the top flight.
Agree/disagree with our grades? Let us know what you think…