The Mark Douglas Column

Monday 08 April, 2002

This poor season in Division One

Among all the Football League baiting, hopelessly blind optimism and traditional light blue arrogance on show at Maine Road on Saturday, there was one man who was stood out like a beacon of sanity: Joe Royle. His message was clear and simple: this has been a poor season for Division One, and Manchester City have won it because there was little quality in evidence over forty odd games.

How true. What better evidence for that than us? Eleven gutless home defeats, punctuated by truly inspired performances like Saturday's win against Wimbledon, and we've still strolled to safety with a few games in hand. Thanks to a division bereft of real opposition City's transitional side has survived perhaps the most difficult test of Geoffrey Richmond's stewardship: steady the ship with the poorest pool of talent in recent memory.

The good news is that Division One will be weak again next season. Leicester City, already relegated and perhaps the closest parallel to City's own disastrous second season in the Premiership, will not make the same impression that Manchester City have. They have few players capable of making an impression on a mediocre division, and the likes of Muzzy Izzet and Robbie Savage, dictated by ego alone, will not kick off 2002/2003 in the Nationwide. Derby have some class, but questions abound over their ability to adapt to the more physical Nationwide game. On recent evidence Ipswich have barely improved from the side that City edged out in our promotion year, and could face a similar talent exodus. And Digital-gate will ensure that even the richer clubs in the division will not be able to pay extortionate wages for Premiership players, as Birmingham, Wolves and Watford have in the past. In short, the playing field will never be so even again.

So, Geoffrey has a chance to light the blue touch paper and spark another era of Bantam Progressivism. Unlike last time, Richmond doesn't even have to break the bank to keep up with our ambitious rivals. Sensible investment over the summer should answer his critics and give us real hope for next season. Without it another season of mediocrity, or worse, is inevitable. The time is right, but the question remains: are City?

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