Monday 25 May ~
Anyone watching Sky's "Survival Sunday" coverage yesterday will have anticipated some cringe-inducing scenes after the games were over. They may have been surprised, however, that the worst moments did not involve Newcastle. While the commentator solemnly intoned platitudes about the team's passionate support, the cameras panned around Villa Park in search of sobbing men in black and white shirts but only found a couple; most of the travelling support seemed quietly stoical in defeat. Even Alan Shearer, never an easy person to warm to, may have won some sympathy for his forthright post-match comments, notably for saying that the day's outcome was the culmination of several years of mismanagement.
Instead, viewers were given cause to wince by moments involving the managers of the two teams who stayed up. The criticism that Phil Brown received for his self-promoting public dressing-down of players on the pitch at the Eastlands in December has clearly not sunk in. If it had he would not have made a fool of himself by gormlessly serenading the crowd after his side's defeat. Of course Hull supporters will have been delighted to have stayed up and they have every reason to applaud the team for their cumulative effort since August. But stories leaking out of the club over recent months suggest that the manager's post-Eastlands rift with several of his players played a big part in Hull's headlong slide in the second half of the season. Phil Brown's continued eagerness to hog the limelight suggests that he hasn't addressed this, whatever he might say about "lessons that have been learned".
Brown is still in a job, however, unlike Ricky Sbragia. Sunderland supporters had long since decided that a man known for coaching abilities didn't appear to have what it would take to be a top-level manager. Sbragia himself seemed to concur in an excruciating post-match interview in which he stood along his chairman Niall Quinn and said that it had been agreed that he would step down in favour of a "big name". While Sbragia stared resolutely at the floor Quinn adopted the patrician manner of a feudal lord thanking a faithful servant for his efforts. Sbragia apparently has a "job for life" – but he would be forgiven for telling employer to stick it in the wake of such a patronising performance.
It's not clear whether Newcastle's current manager will still be in the post for the start of 2009-10. It's said that he feels an obligation to stick around, but that may be offset by the fact that he will have to recruit almost an entirely new team on the cheap, with the club having to take whatever it is offered for many of the underachieving millionaires currently on the payroll. There might be worst still to come. If owner Mike Ashley does succeed in selling up in the near future, the most likely new buyers are a group involving former chairman Freddie Shepherd, which would like putting an arsonist in charge of a fire department.