Andy Townsend's Boot Room: Relegation, panic and sleepless nights
23 May 2009 12:47
With so much at stake at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League tomorrow, I have invited my mate and fellow Sportsmail columnist Jamie Redknapp into the Boot Room to discuss the big issues of the final day of the season.
Hot under the collar: Shearer
Which team is best equipped to stay up?
Andy: Hull. They have the points on the board, they are playing at home and I don't care what anyone says, when that Manchester United team sheet drops, if there is no Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nemanja Vidic or Edwin van der Sar it will give them a shot in the arm. Hull need big performances from players such as Geovanni. He's their top scorer on eight, which tells you why they are in trouble, but the situation might just inspire one of his wicked free-kicks.
Jamie: The team with the most points, Hull. They can afford to lose and still stay up. Newcastle have the hardest game. Aston Villa will want to send their fans off happy for the summer and that's bad news for Newcastle.
Is Fergie right to play an under-strength team at Hull and do Newcastle have any right to question it?
Jamie: Fergie can pick whoever he likes.
Andy: One way of changing all this is to make clubs name their Premier League squad at the start of the season, of say 30 players. Then they couldn't play a few kids from the ranks in pivotal games like these.
Jamie: Newcastle only have themselves to blame for their predicament. There have been mistakes from top to bottom there.
Andy: It's laughable that teams at the bottom might question Manchester United. The simple solution? Win a few more games. The blame rests at Newcastle's dressing-room door, that's true.
Have you ever been relegated, and what were your emotions?
Andy: I came close one year when Aston Villa had to get a point at Norwich. It was Villa against Crystal Palace for the last place and it was a horrible experience. Great matches, like World Cup games, have tension mixed with excitement. These relegation deciders are haunting. You feel a panic in the days leading up to the game, you can't sleep and then when you walk out on the pitch, your boots are filled with concrete and you're running through treacle.
Jamie: It was the last game of my career, my dad was the manager, my family were in the stand. I was playing for Southampton against United and they sent out a weakened team. They still beat us and we were down. I came off the pitch feeling sick: for myself, for my dad and for the supporters. I thought it wouldn't happen to me, but fate has no respect for reputations.
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What will Alan Shearer say to Newcastle's players before they go out?
Andy: I didn't listen very much to what managers had to say! Jack Charlton would always tell us to play with our heads, not with our hearts. Alan will be asking his team to stay cool, because one reckless tackle can cost you an injury or a red card. Before Villa beat Manchester United in the League Cup final, Ron Atkinson asked Stan Boardman to come in and tell a few jokes to lift the anxiety. He was still following us down the Wembley tunnel at 10 to three; we couldn't shut him up.
Jamie: It's not about the manager, it's about the players and the most important player for Newcastle tomorrow is Nicky Butt. He has played in high-pressure games, he will deliver the messages out on the pitch. They will need him to lead, to stay calm and keep his head when others are losing theirs, if they are to stand any chance. The day Southampton went down, we had an incredible motivational video the best I have seen but it didn't make a difference once we crossed the line.
Who's going down?
Jamie: Newcastle and Middlesbrough. It's sad for the region, but the table doesn't lie.
Andy: I don't think Newcastle have the legs to beat Villa. I've watched them closely recently and they don't get around the ground quickly enough. I expect them to lose at Villa Park and join Middlesbrough and West Brom in the Championship.
Ruthless away form, combined with the unprecedented home record, made us real title contenders early on. However, the defeat against Liverpool showed Scolari to be tactically inept and set the template for his short spell.
Hiddink has been great, emphasising the competitive disciplined side that Chelsea once were, with creative and attacking football. He managed to instill confidence in players.
I am sceptical about Carlo Ancelotti, though. He has won on the big stage, but not consistent enough. He employs a defensive approach to football and is not a fan of young, fresh players just look at the AC Milan squad!