For virtually all of this season, Aston Villa have provided succour for every other struggling side in the Premier League.
They pretty much had their place in next season’s Championship booked months ago, leaving everyone else with just 18th and 19th positions to evade.
Newcastle United are beginning to fall into the same category. They may overtake one club, Sunderland, but it’s difficult to see how they will overtake two. As always, their difficulties are compounded by delusion – and not just from the fans.
Following their latest execrable offering at Southampton, defender Jamaal Lascelles made some peculiar comments about his colleagues.
Unwisely comparing Leicester City’s team to Newcastle’s, he reckoned: “You wouldn’t switch one of their players for any of ours.”
I don’t know who “you” referred do, but I suspect this person may disagree.
There is no ready explanation as to why players like Wes Morgan, Danny Simpson, Marc Albrighton, Robert Huth, Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Drinkwater and others have become so effective; but effective they are and it should be accepted.
They may only play at their present level for one season, but any one of them would have no difficulty in making Newcastle’s XI and to suggest otherwise is an insult.
Without a responsible adult to stem his yap, Jamaal unfortunately continued: “On paper our team is ridiculous.”
It looks quite outlandish on grass too. What is the basis for this commonly expressed notion that Newcastle United has an abundance of playing talent that just hasn’t quite become what it “should”?
This is a club where Jack Colback is apparently undroppable. If he’s available, he plays. I always thought he was a decent player and a good pro at Sunderland. No more, no less. But I have no recollection of anxiety preventing sleep when he was injured. Indeed, a sizeable minority of supporters just didn’t rate him.
Then there is Steven Taylor, an incredibly bad player, who once memorably said when asked the (joyously) hypothetical question about ever signing for Sunderland: “I would rather go and collect stamps than stick on that shirt.”
Philately’s loss is Sunderland’s gain. No one can imagine him playing for Sunderland, it’s just that no one knows why he plays for Newcastle either.
Sunderland have shown the door to Sebastian Coates, Santiago Vergini, Carlos Cuéllar, Modibo Diakité, Matthew Kilgallon and other central defenders who weren’t good enough. But they were all better than Steven Taylor: the Andre Marriner of centre-backs
After conceding a particularly dreadful goal during a pasting at Chelsea in February, Steven could be seen in the immediate aftermath, slapping the pitch in frustration. This rather sums him up; he might be rubbish but by God he cares.
Then there is Coloccini, Anita, Cissé, Mbemba, Mitrovic, Dummet, Janmaat, Thauvin and possibly others I have quite understandably forgotten about? Is there a queue of other Premier League clubs with jealous designs on them? If there is we hope Sunderland are at the back of it.
Andros Townsend is gifted, but inconsistent. Jonjo Shelvey can play much better, but was released by Swansea for a reason and two good goalkeepers are injured.
But this “good side on paper” stuff is a myth. Both Sunderland and Newcastle are in the bottom three because they don’t have enough good players.
Sunderland have the slight advantage of having worked this out.