I give up.
For the first time this season I no longer believe that we will finish in the top six of a division that we spent seven years playing above.
Blame is irrelavent, but right now I just can't believe how far we have fallen. I also, suddenly, have genuine concerns for next season, and more worryingly the one after that.
Pardew has (all be it after raising £20m from sales) spent something like £12m and has five players on loan from Premier League teams. Of those five one has been here all season, and I haven't included Danny Mills, who started nineteen league games for us. In fact, for whatever reason, of that circa £12m of 'talent', of which I'm only including the twelve that we have paid fees to sign, they have made an average of just over nine starts each up to and including the defeat at Burnley.
With all of Dowie's signings now gone there are (Reid and Mills excluded) eleven players that have started fifteen or more games this season. Of those eleven a massive five were signed by Curbishley. Pardew has brought in twenty-one players in a little over a year, yet only six of the eleven (thirteen if you include Reid and Mills) that have started fifteen games or more, were signed by him.
A cynic would make the following two claims:
1> Most, if not all, managers of Championship clubs would promise their board that they would win promotion if they were given £12m to spend. I suspect that many of them would deliver too.
2> Pardew's claims all season that he would expect his team to be better in the second half of the season, then for the run in, when January and February yielded poor results, could have been nothing more than a way to keep the pressure at bay, while he gambled on successive loan deals hoping to 'stumble' upon the right eleven/formation/squad, that would save his blushes. Whilst all the time actually having no idea what his best team or formation was.
I'm not a cynic, so I'm not necessarily suggesting the above, but the facts cannot be denied. Pardew was lucky to take West Ham into the playoffs in their second season out of the top flight. Had they failed he would, it was rumoured, have been sacked, but either way they would have had to sell players as their parachute money had run out. He also managed Reading and despite his successes there he never managed a season like the one where they literally ran away with the league title.
I'm not convinced that Pardew will be unable to take us up this season, or next, but I am now beginning to think that he is never going to manage a team to have the sort of season that Curbishley did in this division the last time we were here. That run of twelve wins has never looked like happening this season.
I am concerned that we have wasted a large chunk of that circa £12m, especially as some of the players have made literally no impact. Just how many times did a club representative, let alone Pardew himself, see the likes of Racon, Sinclair (Dean), McLeod, Christensen or Mou2 play in the flesh? I only mention them as they cost circa £2.4m and none of them have started more than seven games for us this season, with Mou2 being the only one to have started more than 2. I have nothing against buying in for the future, but at a time when we couldn't afford to keep the women's team as they were costing circa £100k a season £2.4m seems reckless to me.
I understand that we played better today than at Burnley, where we were better than the home game with Preston, but to be honest we shouldn't be in a position where losing at Ipswich leaves us in ninth place with Wolves needing one win out of two games in hand to drop us to tenth with seven games to go.
If we don't go up next season, and on current form I'm not inspired to believe that we will, the club will be in a real mess. The directors can (will) only bank roll the club for so long. I have found myself questioning Pardew's ability to lift the players and, indeed, the quality of his signings for more than a few weeks now. I believe that this last hurrah with Sinclair and Lita (not to mention Gray, Cook and Halford) has backfired at a time when his tenure as Charlton Manager could ill afford for it to do so.
The pressure on Pardew and the team must now be massive. If we fail to finish in the top six (likely) and Pardew is 'let go' I doubt that he will pick up another job within a fortnight like he did when he left West Ham. Many of the players that he signed must now be resentful towards him as he has clearly not played them as much as they would have expected him to - possibly as much as he promised to. Thus I suddenly doubt if they care too much about his career prospects and with the crowd at The Valley becoming more and more hostile I'm not sure they will have the attitude required to lift us back into the play off places.
This all sounds gloomy I know but that is how I feel right now. A draw today would have left us above Palace on goal difference, and one point behind the team in sixth. We could reasonably have expected Plymouth to fail to win at Bristol City too, which would have left us in sixth place. Today, for the first time in weeks, the other results went against us. I guess it had to happen in the end.
As it is we are only two points away from Plymouth and have to play them in a few weeks. It's not all over by any stretch of the imagination. Seven wins (77 points) could potentially still secure second place, even though I wouldn't put £100 minimum bet on at a million to one. Ok I might, but not £1,000 at 1,000 to 1.
Sixth place is, however, still in our hands. We now need to beat Wolves and Plymouth (back to back games) and probably need to win three of the other five games left. So all our home games and Plymouth away. As that might not be enough we may have to win or draw one of the other two away games. It's possible, just very unlikely.
Despite my refusal to give up, and to accept that we are a mid table Tier Two team it is beginning to look like that is what we are now. Those wins at Anfield, Highbury and Stamford Bridge look a long way behind us now. A very, very long way behind us.