With the European Championships coming up I thought I would base my first post on the great tournament. Years of hurt and disappointment have finally resulted in England having no pressure on them whatsoever for what seemingly is the first time ever, at least since I’ve been alive. There was always that expectation, in a major tournament, for England to reach the semi final stage at the very least. After failing to qualify for the last European Championships in 2008 and performing poorly in the last World Cup (and the one before that, and the one before that one and so on) it seems that everybody expects England to do very little over the next few weeks.
Now it seems a little naive to make such a comparison, but look at little Wigan Athletic ‘punching above their weight’ once again, confirming their stay in the Premier League for an eighth successive season by producing some sensational performances in the final third of the season. However, this only came after an extremely poor showing in the first two thirds of the season. Every game in January came in the shape of an L on the form board. This included an embarrassing FA Cup exit to then League 2 side Swindon Town, losing 2-1 at the County Ground. This meant that Wigan sat at the bottom of the Premier League, accumulating just 3 wins and 6 draws from 23 games. 40 points is the general target for clubs trying to steer away from Premier League relegation, Wigan had just 15 points with 15 games to go. February was a turning point for Wigan as they appeared to pick up a bit of form going into the final straight, drawing both home games to Everton and struggling Villa and beating local rivals Bolton away. Losing the first game in March at home to Swansea courtesy of an inspired Gylfi Sigurdsson performance did not seem to faze supporters, the majority remaining optimistic from the unbeaten run in February. However, you only had to glance at the fixture list to make you wince at the prospect of some of the beatings that the Latics should have succumbed to in the final 11 games. Wigan faced the unenviable task of picking up points against teams like Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle United. A change of tactics and the introduction of Shaun Maloney (I’ll go into that another time) proved crucial, aiding Wigan to unbelievable victories over all the teams aforementioned besides Chelsea, who scored two offside goals to beat Wigan 2-1 at Stamford Bridge (that’s for another time too). The Latics ended the campaign brilliantly, securing 15th position with 43 points on the board.
What I’m trying to get at is, Wigan, like England had no expectations to do well in their respective competitions. When pressure is lifted, confidence is usually boosted and a more relaxed approach is taken when going into games. This can only mean good things, can it not? Well, that’s up to the England squad that will play in the Euros. Whilst a lot of pessimism surrounds the England team, I do feel quietly confident. I don’t think England will win the tournament but I am of the belief that England will not do half as badly as expected. Personally, I think the European Championship is a three-way battle between the Netherlands, Germany and the current holders Spain. Maybe, just maybe, we can go all the way. There are major setbacks with the injuries of Gary Cahill, Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry along with the suspension of Wayne Rooney and the exclusion of Rio Ferdinand. There is unquestionable talent in those five players. This also means that the questionable talent that has been drafted in to replace the injured players have a chance to shine and have no pressure when they are potentially called upon. Unless they have to take a penalty to seal a win, that is. No more ‘England expects’. Let’s get behind the players, Hodgson and all the backroom staff. Let’s get behind England!