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Premier League season review: Norwich, Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland


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By Oli Coates

Saturday 17 May 2014

Norwich


Premier League: 18th


FA Cup: Third round


League Cup: Fourth round


Norwich


Not many were tipping Norwich City for relegation at the start of this season. Chris Hughton was held in high regard, and in their third season back in the Premier League the Canaries were looking to improve on their previous showings. But it was the summer recruitment that proved costly.


Finishing 12th two years ago and 11th last time around, it was expected that the Canaries would push for a place in the top half on the back of what were thought to be some decent signings. However, the glaring failure of £8.5 million striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who managed just a solitary goal all season, epitomised Norwich’s season, replacing as he did former fans’ favourite Grant Holt, who managed almost a goal every other game during his Carrow Road career.


Gary Hooper couldn’t find the goals required for safety, registering just six times in 32 league appearances, while Nathan Redmond did not light the blue touch paper in the manner that was anticipated. Leroy Fer put in some encouraging performances, yet featured in less than half of Norwich’s league games due to a troublesome hamstring. If he can be convinced to stay this summer he could prove key to an immediate return to the top flight.


Player of the season: Robert Snodgrass was one of the few that performed well all season, chipping in with his share of goals. His desire to be the hero that kept Norwich in the Premier League was not realised; perhaps he can avenge this next season if he stays. Highlights included the winner against Tottenham and a superb free kick against West Ham.


Best moment of the season: February’s goalless draw at Carrow Road against a Manchester City side that annihilated them earlier in the season was followed up by victory over Tottenham in the next home game. It gave the Canaries real hope that they could beat the drop, but they went on to claim just five points out of a possible 33 remaining.


Worst moment of the season: The 7-0 humiliation against Manchester City was painful, but it was perhaps Manchester United that delivered the telling hammer blow at the end of April. A trip to Old Trafford result in a 4-0 reversal, and was the fifth defeat in a row at a crucial period of the season - a period that also saw manager Chris Hughton sacked.



Southampton


Premier League: 8th


FA Cup: Fifth round


League Cup: Fourth round


One of the few sides in the league that fulfilled the expectations that were held for them, although in finishing as high as 8th perhaps Mauricio Pochettino’s men outperformed themselves this season.


Much was expected of the Saints following their impressive return to the Premier League last time around, which culminated in a credible 14th placed finish. A push for the top half was therefore predicted after some big summer signings that saw over £27 million spent bringing in Victor Wanyama from Celtic and Dani Osvaldo from Roma.


While the latter recruit was something of an explosive error, it was perhaps Dejan Lovren, the Croatian signed from Lyon, who has proven to be the biggest success on the south coast to date. The centre back has been an assured and calming influence on a defence that has seen a quarter shaved off its goals against column. The emergence of talented left back Luke Shaw has helped, too.


Shaw’s England colleague Adam Lallana continued his progress with the contribution of plenty of goals and assists, while Rickie Lambert makes up the unlikely trio that heads to Brazil with the international team. Keeping hold of Shaw and Lallana may prove impossible, as may retaining the services of Pochettino. Saints fans will be hoping the vibrancy around the club translate to the summer spending.


Player of the season: Fending off competition from a number of candidates including Lovren, Shaw, Lambert and Morgan Schneiderlin, Adam Lallana’s 15 goals and assists give him the edge. Providing a constant menace in and around the box, his guile has been key in Saints’ disposition for attractive football.


Best moment of the season: Beating Liverpool at Anfield was a real high and a sign of things to come, but having a trio of players named in England’s World Cup squad was an even greater accomplishment. Playing in the Championship just a couple of years ago, Southampton have returned to the big time with a bang.


Worst moment of the season: There was uproar when Pochettino named a weakened side in the FA Cup fifth round against Sunderland. The cup represented an opportunity for Saints to taste success, especially considering it was finalists Hull that knocked Sunderland out at the next stage. It could also have provided a route to Europe, which would seem to suit Southampton’s style of play.



Stoke


Premier League: 9th


FA Cup: Fourth round


League Cup: Fifth round


Despite being tipped for relegation at the start of the season, new manager Mark Hughes guided Stoke to their best ever Premier League finish, and the first time the club has finished in the top half of the table.


This achievement has gone hand in hand with an departure from the style of football that was synonymous with the Potters under Tony Pulis, with Hughes able to get his players moving the ball around on the deck with greater accomplishment. Marko Arnautović was the only attacking player that was brought in over the summer, but the existing squad members have been equipped with the tools to play with more confidence through Hughes’ training sessions, with Ryan Shawcross a notable beneficiary of this.


The Britannia Stadium has once more become a place to fear for visiting sides, with just three defeats all season, and two of these against Liverpool and Spurs. More impressive however were the victories over Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, while Manchester City were held to a draw. A continuation of this strong home form will be central to Hughes’ plans for next season - as, you might expect, will be the acquisition of more ball-playing recruits.


Player of the season: Starting all but one of Stoke’s Premier League fixtures, Ryan Shawcross has really grown into the role of captain at the Britannia. Big and imposing, he leads the backline in a manner that’s allowed Hughes to get his troops playing better football. Unlucky to miss out on England’s World Cup squad considering the weaknesses in central defence.


Best moment of the season: Beating Chelsea for the first time in the league for almost 40 years was achieved with a quite spectacular moment. Oussama Assaidi’s stunning curler from outside the box in the last minute of a captivating encounter secured a 3-2 victory and sent the Britannia into raptures.


Worst moment of the season: Less than three weeks after the exhilaration of victory over Chelsea came the doldrums of a 5-1 hammering at St James’ Park. Mark Hughes was sent off in between Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson receiving their marching orders, reducing the Potters to a managerless nine men before half time en route to the pasting.



Sunderland


Premier League: 14th


FA Cup: Sixth round


League Cup: Runners-up


Where to start at the Stadium of Light? This season was nothing if not fascinating for Sunderland, with a managerial change, near-relegation, a cup final and a plethora of arrivals and departures. And that’s not even mentioning Paolo Di Canio’s name.


The eccentric Italian brought in no fewer than fourteen new players, nearly all of which have completely bombed, and which inspired the Black Cats to an inauspicious start that saw them take just one point from their opening eight fixtures. In the midst of this run, Di Canio lost his job through squabbling and in-fighting, to be replaced a few weeks later by Gustavo Poyet.


The Uruguayan somewhat stopped the rot, and the improved morale was clearly beneficial, with the club putting together a stellar League Cup campaign. They eventually finished runners-up having knocked out Southampton, Chelsea and Manchester United to reach the final against Manchester City. However the Wembley showpiece preceded a shocking run in the league, with five consecutive defeats that looked to have guaranteed relegation.


Yet in the face of adversity, Poyet inspired his men to a 2-2 draw at the Etihad to stop the rot, followed by memorable victories at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford that helped secure survival.


Player of the season: Veteran defender John O'Shea was tasked with captaining a side full of new faces in the face of the adversity brought about by managers and managerial changes. He performed the role admirably, and put in some huge performances in the run-in, with his partnership with Wes Brown enabling players such as Connor Wickham to grab the headlines.


Best moment of the season: Going to Old Trafford and securing a comfortable victory was a real achievement. Despite the troubles Manchester United experienced all season, there was a renewed optimism around the club with Ryan Giggs taking the reins, but Poyet’s men ran out deserved 1-0 winners. A great result and performance that epitomised their end-of-season surge.


Worst moment of the season: Beaten at home by Everton in mid-April, it was the fifth successive defeat for Sunderland and seemed to have condemned the north east side to relegation. With six games remaining and trips to Chelsea and both Manchester clubs on the cards, salvation seemed an impossible dream following defeat to the Merseysiders.



See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG


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