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The frustration of mid-table mediocrity: How the Premier League quickly loses its novelty

Martyn Cooke

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Premier League
Photo: Reuters

When Stoke City were first promoted to the Premier League a decade ago, I distinctly remember a conversation that I had with aMiddlesbrough-supporting colleague about what life in the top flight would be like.

He explained to me that the first few years would be enthralling and exciting, facing the elite of English football, watching your team test themselves in the so-called ‘best league in the world’ and being a regular fixture on Match of the Day.

However, he also warned me that the novelty would soon wear off, the stadium would become a corporate shell without an atmosphere and that the monotony of being stranded in mid-table below a glass ceiling would become frustratingly boring and predictable.

Much of what he said has come to be true.

It may seem somewhat bizarre to other supporters of the 72 Football League clubs that a fan should bemoan his team’s place in the Premier League, but the reality is that Stoke, like a host of other mid-table clubs, are simply there to make up the numbers.

The glass ceiling

Stoke City supporters will look back on this last decade as a golden era in the club’s modern history.

Since achieving promotion in 2008 the Potters have established themselves as a top-flight club and cemented their place as one of the top-teams in the country after securing three consecutive ninth-place finishes. Throw in an appearance in the FA Cup final and one subsequent prolonged Europa League journey and it is clear to see that there has been plenty for supporters to enjoy in recent seasons.

However, the Premier League has well and truly lots its novelty for many fans and this is distinctly demonstrated in the drastic decline in atmosphere at the Bet365 Stadium. During those formative years in the top-flight a visit to the Potteries was an unattractive prospect for opposing teams, with the ground often being turned into a cauldron of noise that was as intimidating as it was inspiring.

That atmosphere is now long gone, barring the add occasion, as the predictability of mid-table mediocrity has set in.

The novelty of the Premier League is now long-gone. The Bet365 Stadium now resembles any other sporting stadium in the country and the lack of atmosphere leaves you longing to stand on the terraces of the old Victoria Ground. Stoke are consistently near the bottom of the table for the number of televised games and regularly feature as little more than a two minute highlight package squeezed in at the end of Match of the Day.

On the pitch the club are stranded in limbo. The financial power of the so-called ‘big six’ clubs means that there is a definitive glass ceiling that mid-table clubs like Stoke cannot move beyond unless significant investment is made in the playing squad.

Leicester City’s title triumph remains a once in a lifetime event whilst Burnley, despite their early season success, will still ultimately finish outside the top six. This simply leaves the vast majority of mid-table clubs prioritising survival over everything else as they desperately attempt to retain their place on the financial gravy train.

Barring a run in one of the domestic cup competitions or the odd upset against one of the ‘big six’, supporters of clubs like Stoke have little to look forward to in the limbo of mid-table.

Stranded in limbo

So is the Premier League really all that it is made out to be?

The answer to that question probably depends upon the club that you support and how long the team have retained their place in the top flight. However, the reality is that the Premier League is not the best league in the world nor is it the most competitive – since its inception in 1992 only six clubs have ever won the title, making each season relatively predictable and the only excitement for many clubs comes when the threat of relegation becomes a reality.

The Championship is everything that the Premier League claims to be, but is not. It is unpredictable, exciting and any one of a large number of clubs have the potential to achieve promotion or reach the play-offs when the season enters its closing stages.

Not that any Stoke supporters would want to see their side demoted to the second tier. Relegation is a long, drawn out and painful experience that results in the departure of good players and club employees losing their jobs. Whilst The Championship may be exciting and unpredictable, there is no guarantee that a club will immediately bounce-back and achieve promotion at the first time at asking whilst the financial rewards are significantly lower.

Top-flight clubs like Stoke are stranded in limbo: fearful of relegation and yet with no realistic possibility of breaking through the glass ceiling. Cup competitions can provide a brief respite, but early exits only enhance the sense of frustration generated by mid-table mediocrity.

My Middlesbrough-supporting colleague was correct in his predictions about life in the top flight, although it remains to be seen whether Stoke have the ambition or finances to make the Premier League experience interesting for their supporters once more.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

FA Cup

Three musts for Tottenham to achieve victory in their FA Cup semi-final

FA Cup success will be key to Tottenham’s season.

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Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur face off against Manchester United in a high-profile FA Cup semifinal on Saturday, undoubtedly marking their biggest match of the season.

Here are three things Spurs must do to secure their place in the May 19 final.

Get Eriksen involved

Christian Eriksen has perhaps been Spurs’ standout player this season, delivering consistently superb performances and chipping in with crucial goals.

In order for Spurs to gain the upper hand against the Red Devils, the Danish midfielder must control the game and be at the heart of every Spurs attack.

If Eriksen is at his unplayable best, he can combine effortlessly with the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli, and break down the United backline with ease.

Keep Lukaku quiet

Romelu Lukaku presents United’s most potent goalscoring threat, and with 27 goals to his name this season, is enjoying a career-best year.

Lukaku came off the bench against Bournemouth on Wednesday and slotted home an assured finish, marking his eighth goal in his last ten appearances for club and country.

The Belgian’s red-hot form will give Tottenham’s centre-backs cause for concern, but his Belgian international teammates will have to be more than up to the fight to nullify Lukaku.

Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld will know Lukaku’s strengths all too well and must be strong and resolute to deny the striker any whiff of goal.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Stop the feared United comeback

If Spurs end up taking the lead at Wembley, they must be vigilant of letting Manchester United back into the match.

The Red Devils have shown an incredible knack for getting back into matches; their 3-2 come-from-behind win at the Etihad is a prime example of that. United have also recently beat Crystal Palace after trailing 2-0, and clearly never consider themselves out of a match.

Tottenham must be mindful to not let their concentration slip when ahead, as Manchester United will surely make them pay.

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Bournemouth

Can Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe become Everton’s next ‘David Moyes’?

Eddie Howe could follow in the footsteps of former Toffees boss David Moyes.

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Eddie Howe
Photo: Getty Images

On Wednesday night, Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side were unlucky to fall to a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United, as the Premier League 11th ranked club gave the Red Devils a torrid time.

The remarkable success of the young English manager at Dean Court bears an uncanny resemblance to the career path of David Moyes. Just like Moyes, Howe would be a perfect fit at Goodison Park.

In 1998, Moyes began his managerial career at the tender age of 34 at Preston North End, who were then struggling at the foot of the third division of English football. The Scot proceeded to engineer a fantastic turnaround at the club, avoiding relegation in his first season and achieving promotion just two years later.

Moyes brought Preston within inches of promotion to the Premier League the very next season, but the Lilywhites were defeated in the play-off final by Bolton.

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League

(Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images)

In 2002, the Merseyside club came knocking, signing Moyes in March with the club in the relegation dogfight. The Glaswegian kept the Toffees up that season, and the rest is history.

11 years at Goodison Park brought unprecedented success, with Champions League qualification, a string of top-seven finishes, and even finishing above dreaded rivals Liverpool on occasion.

Just like Moyes, Eddie Howe started his career in coaching in his early thirties, and has enjoyed immense success in lifting a lower-league club up the English league system.

Howe took over at Bournemouth when he was 31, steering them clear of the League 2 relegation places in 2009, gaining promotion to League 1 in 2010, going up to the Championship in 2014, and reaching the Premier League in 2015.

If anything, Howe has experienced more success than Moyes before joining Everton, as his Bournemouth side have tremendously overachieved in the top flight and look set to secure their Premier League status for the third consecutive year.

Everton would do well to acquire the services of the youthful English manager in the summer, as his arrival just might spark a similar revival to that of David Moyes.

With his incredible knack of getting the best out of his players, Howe would revitalise the Toffees and breath fresh life into a directionless club; just like the Scot did 16 years ago.

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Burnley

Sold by Everton in January, Aaron Lennon is enjoying resurgence with Burnley

The 31-year-old has quickly adjusted to life at Turf Moor.

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Photo: Getty Images

In Thursday night’s tightly-fought Premier League match between Burnley and Chelsea, the Clarets came within touching distance of eclipsing Arsenal in sixth position.

It has been a remarkable charge up the table for Burnley, and their stunning season is mirrored by the transfer of Aaron Lennon from Everton to Turf Moor.

The 31-year-old winger left Goodison Park in search of regular playing time, and has since slotted into a squad far more ambitious than Everton.

When Lennon was bought by the Clarets in late January, Burnley were just three points ahead of the Toffees. But after Thursday’s match against Chelsea, Burnley now sit in seventh position, a massive ten points in front of Everton.

It is clear that Lennon made the smart move in the winter when leaving struggling Everton for buoyant Burnley.

The ten-point gap between the two sides is due mainly to a superb five-match winning run engineered by Burnley. Lennon had started all five of those matches, contributing two assists along the way along with a host of bright, attacking displays.

(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Cruelly for the Merseyside club, Burnley’s scintillating spell was kickstarted by a 2-1 win over Everton, in which Lennon played all 90 minutes and earned an impressive WhoScored match rating of 7.3.

To make matters worse for Everton, Lennon’s match rating eclipsed both Theo Walcott’s and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s, both players who were preferred in front of the 31-year-old at Goodison Park.

Although Burnley’s fine spell was narrowly ended by Chelsea in a 2-1 defeat, the club still harbours an outside chance at an audacious sixth-place finish. Burnley faces three sides in the bottom half of the table in the form of Bournemouth, Brighton, and Stoke City, as well as a massive match at the Emirates to face Arsenal.

With Arsenal enduring a terrible run of form in 2018, Burnley will fancy their chances away at the Gunners, and former Everton winger Aaron Lennon will surely be at the heart of their lethal attack.

If Lennon can achieve a record-sixth placed finish with the Clarets, he will show the Everton hierarchy just how wrong they were in letting him leave in January.

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