The season of goodwill is upon us and the football managers of the West Midlands would have penned their Christmas wish-lists for Santa Claus a long time ago but have they been good boys this year?
The fortunes and ambitions of all of this region’s clubs may be vastly different but those in charge will all hope to find something special in their stocking on Christmas Day morning.
I’ve attempted to second guess what Saint Nick may bring down the chimney in two days time by predicting what Messrs O’Neill, McLeish, Mowbray and McCarthy might unwrap this yuletide.
MARTIN O’NEILL – A dose of reality
Like drunken aunts slobbering the cheeks of an uncomfortable nephew during a festive family knees-up, Aston Villa are beginning to attract over-the-top praise and attention for their recent Premier League exploits and given the nature of their manager, then that is something that will be starting to make O’Neill feel uncomfortable.
The Ulsterman was right to question whether one TV interviewer had been drinking when he asked if Villa could be Premier League title contenders after Saturday’s victory at West Ham but that is exactly the sort of exaggerated plaudits his team is beginning to attract.
Deep down O’Neill may be delighted with Aston Villa’s progress but he is still a realist and that is exactly what he will be attempting to get across to his squad at the moment. Third in the league they may be but as things stand Villa just don’t have the strength in depth to sustain that for the rest of the season, as proven by their second string’s performances in the UEFA Cup in recent weeks.
ALEX MCLEISH – A giant pack of Alka-Seltzer
Judging by Birmingham City’s recent results, it appears that they are already suffering with the traditional Christmas hangover. So McLeish will be eager for his side to clear their heads and return to winning ways for the Boxing Day trip to Ipswich Town.
It was never going to be plain sailing to automatic promotion but the recent defeat to rampant rivals Reading will have given the Blues an almighty kick in the never regions. The sooner Birmingham put the past two defeats to bed the better because while the two-point gap between them in third place and Reading in second may now seem like a small hurdle, it could just as quickly turn into a mountain.
TONY MOWBRAY – Kevin Phillips
The West Bromwich Albion manager may fume at questions about him and probably switches off the television when he sees his smiling face celebrating another goal but Mowbray craves a striker in the mould of Phillips. With a right-place, right-time sort of forward amongst their ranks, the outlook wouldn’t be so bleak for the Baggies at the moment.
So Albion managed to end that depressing run of winless games on Sunday but when it comes via your striker closing his eyes and jumping in faint hope that the ball will bounce off any part of his head and into the net then it hardly augurs well for the future.
While Phillips wouldn’t have been able to fill his boots in the top flight as much as he has done in the Championship, a poacher of his ilk is needed at The Hawthorns.
MICK McCARTHY – A summer holiday
How much must the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager suddenly wish that football followed a calendar, rather than seasonal, year? If the Championship finished on New Year’s Day then McCarthy would have thrown those crutches away and been leaping around a long time ago.
Wolves look unstoppable at the top of the Championship but when McCarthy scans down the forthcoming fixture list for 2009, he must already be dreaming of sun, sea and sand in the summer months. Blips are usually inevitable in all levels of football and although they’re going great guns at the moments, Wolverhampton still have a long, long way to go.