What did you make of our first four games back after the Premier League returned?
Meirion Williams: In the words of Frazier from Dad’s Army, a reference that only those of a certain age will understand, I thought we were doomed. There was no ambition and no desire in those first two games. Then what happens? We played a blunder against Chelsea and deserved the win. We never gave up. As for Newcastle I was fearing the worst after they put Bournemouth to the sword but I felt optimistic going into that game. I have now gone from believing that relegation is a certainty to now having hope, damn you West Ham.
Lucy Woolford: To be quite honest, I missed the first one but gathered how it went. The Spurs game was disappointing in effort and result, but it’s fair to say Chelsea made up for both of them. It felt like the game that reconnected me with football, without wanting to be too over-dramatic! Overall it’s been a mixed bag, so it’s like any other season really.
Greg Richardson: I echo what Meirion says. Wolves and Spurs was all the evidence I needed that we were going to go down and most likely not pick up another point. We were that dire. Then Chelsea happened and it gave me hope. I suppose maybe I should have viewed it with some perspective that three of our games were against top six sides, but it’s the hope that kills you.
David Blackmore: Ignoring the performances against Wolves and Spurs, four points from those four games isn’t to be sniffed at – especially with those below us not picking up points. Like the rest, I did worry where our next goal was coming from – let alone our next win – before the Chelsea game. While we defended deep and let Chelsea dominate possession, we took our chances well, and against Newcastle I liked how positive we were going forward. Long may that continue.
What have you made of our tactics, substitutions, and individual performances? And how do you solve a problem like Anderson?
MW: How do you solve a problem like Anderson? I guess try and get as much for him in the next transfer window. Occasionally he looks like a world beater, but that’s the key word ‘occasionally’. That’s something that we cannot afford a player to be. As for the tactics, I guess it showed our fragility up front. It seems that every game we cry out for a forward and we get one but no back up. Antonio is a key player but he is not a natural forward. Rice is a real captain in the making. I do find the fact that Moyes does not always use his substitutes to be a bit bizarre particularly when we are losing games.
LW: Meirion is spot on, the only way to solve the Anderson issue is to sell. He’s got massive potential but doesn’t seem to have the desire or energy to fulfil it. It’s a shame, but he has to go and the club has to learn from the error. I’d agree to a certain degree that Moyes could make more of his subs’ bench, but it’s not always that inspiring, and that’s not his fault. Turns out bringing on Yarmolenko against Chelsea was a masterstroke though!
GR: The one thing we can say is that at least Moyes has been consistent in his tactical setup since the restart. He isn’t chopping and changing every week, which in theory means the players should all know their roles and responsibilities. A midfield three of Rice, Soucek and Fornals is probably the base to build from. Anderson is now a sub who has to do something akin to what Yarmo did against Chelsea to get back in contention.
DB: For most of our games against Wolves, Spurs and Chelsea, I was critical of our 4-5-1 formation. Antonio was isolated for long periods, our packed midfield was carved open so easily, and our defenders struggled to grab a breather or even manage to get close to the halfway line. But there were periods against Chelsea and Newcastle where you could see players around Antonio and some nice link-up play. As for Anderson, I disagree with Meirion and Lucy, he’s not the player you need for a relegation scrap. Keep him and give him the chance to shine once we start the season again.
Have you been enjoying watching more Premier League games than you usually would?
MW: I hate canned laughter so I always watch games without the crowd noise. Maybe the fact that I like the squeal when someone is tackled hard is a bit macabre. As for hair cuts, I love the state of the presenters more than the players. Roy Keane’s barnet is inspired. Mind you, I wouldn’t say that to his face. As for Declan, he is unrecognisable.
LW: I wouldn’t say I’ve enjoyed watching it more, but it’s quite an interesting time to be observing. I feel like I’m watching more intently, keeping an eye on fitness, positioning and movement. I keep the crowd noise on for most games, especially the derbies like Spurs and Chelsea. It helps me feel more like it’s an occasion. I think from now forward, knowing how intense the final few weeks will be, I’m going to be gripped.
GR: I do a bit of coaching so it’s been interesting to hear all the players and managers shouting at each other. Declan’s trim is definitely better post lockdown. But in general having no fans definitely takes away from the spectacle.
DB: Unlike Lucy, I’ve only been able to watch games without crowd noise. Yes, it was surreal but it was great to hear the noise from the players. They were certainly louder against Chelsea than they were against Wolves and Spurs. But for the Newcastle game, I was lucky enough to watch it with the crowd noise on and it was a much better experience.
Based on what you’ve seen from our lads as well as the other teams in this relegation fight, will we survive? Who will go down?
MW: Norwich and Bournemouth look doomed which then leaves one of four, those four being ourselves along with Villa, Watford and Brighton. I hope we are clear before that last game against Villa. If we are not then I fear for our safety. Villa have the worst run-in of all those teams and if they survive until the last day, I fear they will have momentum behind them. Ask me the Saturday before that big final game and I will have a better answer!
LW: Having looked at everyone’s fixtures, I think we might just keep afloat but I don’t think we’ll hit 40 points. We seem to need ‘big’ teams to get a performance and we’ve got very few of those to get revved up for. I can see us needing results from Man United and Villa. I’m nervous because Meirion’s right, a bit of momentum for Villa will be bad news for us.
GR: I think if we beat Watford and either Norwich or Villa (ideally both) that gives us the points to stay up. As Meirion says, I hope it doesn’t go to the last game; I wouldn’t fancy our chances and there would be something ironic about us going down in an empty 60,000 seater stadium that so many fans feel has killed the club they love.
DB: Right now, I can’t see Norwich, Villa or Bournemouth getting enough points from their remaining games to survive. But two of them are playing against us – could they win and in turn surpass us? I think Brighton are safe and it’s just Watford left. On paper, Watford should have enough to stay up – and they’re playing us so I feel like that’s a guaranteed three points for them!
Assuming we survive, does Moyes get your vote to carry on as manager next season?
MW: Sadly he does not. He simply does not inspire me as a manager. We all know that he is with us come what may next year but I like to think that the manager who will take us to the next level is still out there.
LW: If I was his employer I’d keep him on, yes. Since when is succeeding in your job twice a sackable offence? I’m not saying he’s the most exciting manager but it’d be farcical to sack him if he keeps this team up. There are certainly better managers out there, but the club needs a major reshuffle and a long term plan before we start thinking about the next level.
GR: I personally would like to see him moved upstairs and become the Director of Football the club desperately needs. He has spoken a good game (Red Bull model, attacking football, raiding the Championship for younger players) and has the experience of building a competitive side on a budget, I just think he is out of his depth with modern players and tactics.
DB: Assuming we stay up, he has to get the job – and I like that Nolan is his number two. I think if we can get a few fresh faces in August, we will have a squad capable of a mid-table finish next season. Does Moyes inspire me? No. Not really. But I think he deserves a fair crack at shaping a team and squad in his vision.