Premier League report card: 11th to 20th
How did the season play out for the bottom half of the Premier League table? Our club-by-club reviews below tell the story of clubs that put in a consistent shift and clubs that barely stayed up. And then, of course, there was the train wreck that was QPR. Sorry, 'Arry.
For our top-of-the-table reviews, click here.
Season in short: Got it right.
There were suspicions that Chris Hughton was on a hiding to nothing at Norwich and they seemed to be confirmed on the opening day of the season when his new team were crushed 5-0 by Swansea. Replacing Paul Lambert -- the Scotsman who had led the Canaries to two consecutive promotions and an impressive debut season in the Premier League -- was never going to be easy. It took Hughton seven attempts before he racked up his first victory, but from there the points flowed nicely. A shock 1-0 win over Manchester United came in November, with three successive victories the following month.
Perhaps Norwich might have had enjoyed a less anxious season if first-choice goalkeeper John Ruddy hadn't lost five months to injury. Norwich certainly missed him, picking up just two wins in 19 games. But there were other problems, too. Hughton's preference for a prosaic style and a single striker has brought the goal tally down to 41 from last season's 52, and made many matches as enjoyable a spectator sport as intercontinental solitaire. On the other hand, Norwich's 10 clean sheets hint at a solid base on which to build. A last-day win took Norwich all the way to 11th when they'd battled relegation all season, so regardless of the lack of thrills, this is most definitely a mission accomplished.
Best player: Robert Snodgrass.
Snapped up from Leeds United in the summer, Robert Snodgrass has made the step up to the Premier League in style. A technically accomplished player, it's not just his eye for goal that has earned him his place in the affections of the Norwich fans. The Scotland international loves to cut in from the flank and crack off a shot, but he's a tireless runner as well, helping out all over the park. A relatively late arrival to the top flight, he's taken it all in stride.
Worst player: Grant Holt.
The hero of last season, striker Grant Holt immediately blotted the good will by asking for a transfer to Aston Villa. His request was denied and he eventually signed a new contract, but the damage was done. In the dressing room and in the stands, his popularity waned, and Hughton's decision to leave him alone up front left him chasing scraps all season. Visibly unhappy and already having sent his young family back to the north of the country, it seems certain that he'll leave the club in the summer.
The future looks: Bright.
Norwich are a sensibly run club, but they're not so cautious that they're going to stash all of the new TV money away for a rainy day. Almost £9 million already has been earmarked for Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel and that's unlikely to be the last of the spending. Hughton has built a solid, well-drilled defence and has a good squad of hard-working players. More class is required, but the future looks bright, especially given that their youngsters beat Chelsea this month to win the Youth Cup. (IM)
Season in short: Underachieved.
For much of this campaign, it seemed that Fulham might match last season's excellent ninth-place finish. Then, without warning, the wheels fell off in April and they careered into the final weeks of the season with their Premier League status in doubt. Having hit the 40-point mark that usually signals safety, the Cottagers simply ground to a halt. A last-day win gave their campaign a shine it didn't really warrant. To gain just a single point from the previous eight games was an appalling run.
It's a far cry from the opening day of the season, when they annihilated QPR and looked set to pick up where they left off. They lost the next three games, but stabilized nicely and played some very attractive football at times. Fulham are hardly one of the Premier League's big hitters, and every season in the top flight should be seen as a success of sorts, but this was a quite unexpected collapse in form.
Fulham's biggest result of the season was chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed's decision to convert the money he had loaned the club to equity, thereby wiping out a £193 million debt and allowing the club to operate in the black. But financial benevolence is not the reason that small children fall in love with the game. Fulham need to do more on the pitch.
Best player: Sascha Riether.
The Fulham players voted Sascha Riether as their player of the year, an astute and deserving choice and one that it's very hard to disagree with. The German full back brings consistency and competence, shoring up the right flank and providing width on the break. It's hard to believe that German side Cologne only wanted £1 million for his signature. Manager Martin Jol has received criticism for some of his signings, but this is certainly one of his success stories.
Worst player: Bryan Ruiz.
Two years after his £10.6 million transfer to Fulham, and Bryan Ruiz is yet to convince the supporters that he was worth the outlay. He's a wonderful footballer, there's no doubt about that, but he rarely provides the consistency required at this level. Jol has defended him publicly, claiming that he needs help from other players, but with Dimitar Berbatov already receiving assistance, the question has to be asked: Can Fulham afford to support two luxury players?
The future looks: Iffy.
Fulham insist that Jol will remain in charge next season and if that's the case, he'll have some work to do this summer. On an aging squad, there are 10 players whose contracts are set to expire. He needs to overhaul the team quickly. Jol used loan moves to shore up the roster in January, but with the books cleared, he needs to be able to spend money. The fees generated by the sale of Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey haven't been spent yet, and there's an awful lot of TV money to play with as well. It's time to go shopping. (IM)
Season in short: Underachieved.
It seems churlish to criticise Tony Pulis' reign at Stoke, given everything that he has achieved. Having taken over in the second flight in 2006, the Welsh manager has taken the Potters up, kept them up, led them to an FA Cup final and played in the Europa League. But the sad truth is that the club has stagnated this season and something has to change.
Stoke started poorly, grabbing their first win in the seventh attempt and having to wait until mid-November before securing their second. The standard of football was poor, and while it's easy to joke that this has always been the case under Pulis, it's not strictly true. There was a period in 2010-11 when his use of wingers had -- while not quite turning them into Barcelona -- at least made them easier on the eye. This season, they scored just 34 goals, and between Boxing Day and mid-April, they won just a single match.
Stoke do not operate on a shoestring budget. Propped up by the Coates family, they pay good wages and high transfer fees, but neither the owners nor the supporters have been getting value for their money of late.
Best player: Asmir Begovic.
It's been a poor season for goalkeepers in the Premier League. With the exception of Manchester United's David de Gea, few of the stoppers at the big clubs have enjoyed any kind of consistency. That's made men like Asmir Begovic stand out on their own. The big Bosnian is the complete article, an excellent goalkeeper, and his performances have alerted the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal. For now, he's said he's happy to stay at Stoke, but he's also hinted that he wants to play at the top level at some point in his career. That doesn't bode well.
Worst player: Michael Owen.
It would have been better if Michael Owen had retired after leaving Manchester United. Injury-ravaged and stripped of pace, no one would have blamed him for bowing out. Instead, he moved to Stoke and barely appeared. He did at least score a goal, a late header in a 3-1 defeat, but during his time with the club, he made such a minuscule impact that when he finally called time on his career, it barely made a ripple. Most people assumed he'd already retired.
The future looks: Uncertain.
If Pulis is to stay at the club next season, he'll need to make dramatic changes to the way he operates, both in terms of tactics and his focus on the youth team. He no longer has the staunch backing of the supporters. They've made it clear that they expect more than a physical rear-guard action and a volley of howitzers up to Peter Crouch. If Pulis can change, he's certainly done enough in the past to warrant another season. If he can't, then Stoke may deem it prudent to make their change during the summer and allow a new manager to take them to the next level. (IM)
Season in short: Overachieved.
The Saints' season turned in January when the beatific Nigel Adkins was ruthlessly dumped as manager. The transition proved as inspired as it was unsentimental. Adkins had achieved back-to-back promotions. Though his buccaneering team were brave, their Premier League naïveté marked them as relegation candidates. Incoming manager Mauricio Pochettino fused a steely pressing game with the team's attack-minded philosophy, and his players pulled themselves out of the mire.
Forward Jay Rodriguez was among those who benefited most from Pochettino's arrival. His inventive movement provided the perfect complement to the stealthily prolific "Super" Rickie Lambert's relative immobility. Young talents Jack Cork and Luke Shaw also thrived.
The end of the campaign was soured by a breaking boardroom drama in which the club's controversial executive chairman Nicola Cortese threatened to resign. Southampton fans eager to think happier should savor Jason Puncheon's cheekiness as he marked a strike by commemorating his infamous televised toilet break against Everton -- surely the goal celebration of the season.
Best Player: Morgan Schneiderlin.
The 23-year-old Frenchman dazzled in midfield and is now coveted by Arsenal.
Worst Player: Vegard Forren.
Much was expected from the Norwegian international when he arrived in January, yet he mysteriously failed to play a single game.
The future looks: Bright.
Pochettino was hired with loftier goals in mind than merely avoiding relegation. With a talented young core, and time to inculcate his trademark brand of aggressive football, a sense of ambition next season would not be misplaced. (RB)
Season in short: Got it right (just).
Aston Villa gambled this season and won ... but only by the skin of their teeth. Manager Paul Lambert elected to prune the squad of its high earners, turfing out established Premier League players and replacing them with young, hungry chancers from the lower leagues. It had to be done: Villa's escalating wage bill had left the club only slightly more stable than the Cypriot economy. But it was a risky policy that nearly cost the club their top-flight status.
As it is, Villa will go into next season with a group of players who have passed through the flames and survived unscathed. The experience will do them no harm whatsoever, even if it looked quite the opposite back in the bleak midwinter.
After a poor start, Villa appeared to have turned a corner before Christmas, going six games without defeat in all competitions. It was a false dawn. They were crushed 8-0 by Chelsea, lost the next two games 4-0 and 3-0, crashed out of both domestic cups in the same week and entered February with all the style and grace of a crash test dummy going through a windshield. But just as hope was packing her bags and checking the train timetables, form returned. Five wins in their last 10 games saved them from the drop.
Best player: Christian Benteke.
Bizarrely, there were lots of contenders for this award from the reinvigorated, Gabby Agbonlahor to the increasingly impressive Matthew Lowton, but it's impossible to ignore the goals of Christian Benteke. A £7 million bargain from Genk, the Belgian forward scored in his debut and never looked back. Benteke is so well suited for English football, it's only surprising that Villa got the deal through before anyone else noticed him. They may not get that lucky again. With some of the biggest teams in Europe alerted to his potential, the phone of club chairman Randy Lerner will be ringing off the hook this summer.
Worst player: Darren Bent.
How the mighty have fallen. Darren Bent arrived at Villa Park in 2011 for £18 million, with wages thought to be in the region of £65,000 a week. Now the poor man can barely get a game. In the rare instance that he is granted an opportunity -- and he's had just just eight starts this season -- he generally fails to impress. A decent sort, he's resisted the urge to throw a tantrum in the middle of a relegation battle, but after a campaign this miserable, it seems certain that he'll leave in the summer. At the ripe old age of 29, he hasn't got the time to sit around on the sidelines.
The future looks: Promising.
In spite of everything, Aston Villa should be nicely set for the future now. The wage bill is manageable, there's a good, hard-working squad in place, and a few more shrewd signings during the summer should lift the club back up the table where they belong. Obviously, it would help if they could keep hold of Benteke, but even if he leaves, he'll bring in crucial funds. Lambert has won the trust of the fans, though it should be noted that they remained supportive of him even after Villa's winter nadir, and after a season like this the only way is up. Surely? (IM)
Season in short: Underachieved.
What a difference a year makes. Last season, Newcastle, aka "Nouveau Chateau," were hailed for their Gallic flair. This year, they were derided for relying on 10 French players who neither understood English nor what it meant to wear the shirt. Alan Pardew's squad stumbled through the kind of season Spin Doctors and Hootie and the Blowfish fans know well -- one that could be referred to as "that difficult second album."
Newcastle's lackluster form was variously attributed to the challenge of a thin squad struggling through the treadmill that is the Europa League, a tinkering manager playing talent out of position, and an all-too-real absence of leadership on the field. Yet as the team stumbled from a humiliating 3-0 home defeat against archrival Sunderland to a 6-0 spanking dispensed by Liverpool, a local journalist awarded every player a 0 out of 10 match rating. Only the mercurial Yohan Cabaye was given a sympathetic 1 out of 10.
It was the kind of ghastly run-in form that motivated one frustrated fan to square up to a police horse.
Best Player: Tim Krul.
The doe-eyed goalkeeper was one of the few Newcastle players to cover themselves in glory until a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely.
Worst Player: Cheik Tiote.
Unmotivated and unfocused, he was a disciplinary liability whose play was most often as bad as his haircut.
The future looks: Impossible to predict.
Newcastle are like a footballing pop-up store, in which every season is treated as a singular "limited time only" experience. (RB)
Season in short: Underachieved.
Martin O'Neill arrived at the Stadium of Light as a track-suited messiah. He left 15 months later with his coaching reputation in tatters. A brutal run of eight games that gleaned just two points finished him off in April, with the team plummeting toward the relegation zone.
O'Neill's team had been crippled by injuries to key players Lee Cattermole and Steven Fletcher, yet his dedication to counterattacking football with a team lacking both speed and a goal-scoring punch appeared suspect. A beleaguered O'Neill departed, muttering about the mediocrity of his squad.
Enter Paolo Di Canio, the Italian maverick whose admiration for Mussolini's fascism swathed his appointment in controversy. Winning changed everything. Di Canio was able to reenergize Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson, two big-name players who had underperformed for O'Neill. Cajoling his players with a creative array of backslaps, the Italian led a grateful Sunderland to safety, celebrating every goal with the vampish theatricality last demonstrated by Willem Dafoe during the death scene climax of Platoon.
Best Player: Danny Rose.
Though a Tottenham loanee, Rose often appeared to be the player most committed to Sunderland's cause.
Worst Player: Adam Johnson.
His invisibility after a £15 million transfer was symbolic of Sunderland's transfer market misadventures.
The future looks: Explosive.
Sunderland's squad has been a revolving door the past four seasons. Di Canio was able to give the team a kiss of life, but whether he can create medium-term stability remains to be seen. (RB)
Season in short: Overachieved ... almost.
For the past two seasons, Wigan favored a risky gambit, treating the first 28 games as their preseason and the last 10 as if it was suddenly playoff time. This year, they attempted to ratchet up the skill difficulty on that feat, executing a glorious FA Cup campaign with one hand while attempting to stave off relegation with the other. They did not make it, becoming the first team in the cup's 142-year history to win the trophy and drop out of the top flight in the same season.
Roberto Martinez's squad contained talent. The industrious midfield Jameses, McArthur and McCarthy, excelled behind the underrated Shaun Maloney and Arouna Kone. Yet any team who shipped 71 goals was likely to be weighed down, a fact Martinez recognized when he admitted "we haven't been good enough in the defensive area and that is why we have been relegated."
Wigan fans had to suffer the crushing emotional juxtaposition of FA Cup glory and Premier League relegation within the space of just four days. They disappear below the waterline knowing a trophy is a rare commodity in a town whose other great sporting victor is 34-year-old Martin Clare, gold medalist in the recent World Pie-Eating Championships.
Best Player: Callum McManaman.
Made a name for himself after a horrific studs-first tackle on Newcastle's Massadio Haidara, then quickly refurbished his reputation with a string of bold performances.
Worst Player: Ronnie Stam.
The defender has appeared unsettled and undependable all season.
The future looks: Bleak.
Uncertainty surrounds Martinez's next move, and with a host of first-team players out of contract, and Maloney and Kone among those expected to move on, the squad should look very different by the time the league kicks off next season. (RB)
Season in short: As expected.
Reading was doomed from the start. Owner Anton Zingarevich's refusal to invest intelligently preseason left the squad both toothless and bereft of intelligence. Manager Brian McDermott was unable to shake the stench of death that clung to his club before a ball had even been kicked.
Winger Jimmy Kebe summed up his club's predicament in December, when he witheringly dismissed the team as a "Championship squad, playing Premier League football." McDermott's team huffed and puffed, but only managed to keep five clean sheets all season. Poor at home and the league's worst on the road, they remained impotent, even with relegation looming. They were only able to muster two points in the 10 games that led to their doom at the end of April.
Nigel Adkins' March arrival as manager ultimately was perceived as an acceptance of relegation and a commitment to scrapping it out in the bog of the Championship next season.
Best Player: Adam Le Fondre.
Although Zingarevich's lingerie-model wife Katsia received more media attention than any single Reading player, striker Le Fondre managed 12 goals, claiming the Premier League record as the most productive substitute.
Worst Player: Pavel Pogrebnyak.
Was a shade of the man who bagged six goals in 12 games at Fulham, lolling around the field with neither motivation nor care.
The future looks: TBD.
Adkins is one of the most optimistic managers in football. Reading fans hope his positivity will infuse the locker room, or else the team risk becoming the next Wolves. (RB)
Season in short: Underachieved.
Let's not mince our words. The players in the Queens Park Rangers dressing room should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Recipients of wages far in excess of their talents, they have disgraced themselves from the first day of the season to the last. Despite heavy spending last summer, they didn't win a game until mid-December. Despite further investment in January, they won just three more all season. Did they fight for their survival? Absolutely not. They gurgled around the U-bend, picking up a pathetic two points in their last nine games.
Not all of it is their fault, however. Blame has to be apportioned to Mark Hughes, who assembled most of the squad, and Harry Redknapp, who failed to motivate them after his arrival. Chairman Tony Fernandes is also culpable for sanctioning this irresponsible and reckless spending, though in his defence, his motivations were sound.
But ultimately this a failure of the players. Too many of them joined for the money and were content to drift through games, safe in the knowledge that their paycheck would be waiting for them at the end. Their dismal season will serve as a lesson for future generations: This is how not to do it.
Best player: Slim pickings.
Ha ha ha! Oh, you're serious? Well, put it this way; when the QPR players were asked to vote for their most impressive teammate, they chose to nominate their long-suffering supporters. And by "chose," I mean they "were told to." If we're clutching at straws, you could make a case for hapless captain Clint Hill, who has toiled without reward, or Tottenham loanee Andros Townsend, who added a touch of verve to a limp team, but not with any enthusiasm. Never before in sporting history has so much been spent on so little.
Worst player: Jose Bosingwa.
There are numerous candidates, but one man's attitude marks him out as slightly more feckless than the rest. Jose Bosingwa set alarm bells ringing in September as he trotted out to meet his former club Chelsea. With his teammates wrestling with their consciences, trying to decide whether they should shake John Terry's hand after his race row with Anton Ferdinand, Bosingwa just gave him a big hug. When relegation came at the end of the season, he sauntered down the tunnel with a broad grin on his face. Between those two events, he was consistently useless. He didn't appear to care and seemingly never will.
The future looks: Bleak.
Interviewed by the BBC earlier this year, Fernandes insisted that if QPR went down, they'd "just come back up again," but it's not going to be that easy. They have a squad of disaffected, demoralised mercenaries led by a manager who has taken every opportunity to savage them in the media. They can't be sold because no one will match their wages. They can't be released because they're on lucrative contracts, and they can't be replaced because there isn't much money left. QPR recently took out a £15 million loan, using the assets of the club, including the stadium, as collateral. In the words of Leo McGarry from "The West Wing": "There's no way this ends well." (IM)