George Dearnaley

The season of the underdog

2008-10-08 11:48
Sport24 columnist George Dearnaley (File)
George Dearnaley

I have been doing a bit of football result predicting on TV in recent times and to say I have got it horribly wrong is an understatement. In the last two weeks I have got two out of 12 results right and I need to find some excuses for my disastrous performance on Bobby Skinstad’s new show, LuvSport.

Arsenal at home against Hull. Come on! Who wouldn’t have gone for a home win? The following week I went against form and predicted that Spurs would finally win a game and bring Hull down to earth – wrong! Locally I went with the big boys, Pirates at Bay United – my thinking was that Pirates haven’t had a great start but have enough quality in every position to hold their own against the new boys in the league. Wrong. Bay United won 2–0.

Sundowns, the millionaires of South African football, internationals in every position, at home against Golden Arrows. There are only three options: home win, draw, away win. In all probability, taking all the variables into consideration, Sundowns should win that game nine times out of 10. I just happened to get the one game where it all goes wrong, or right for the opposition. Arrows won 4–2 and yet another prediction went out the window.

Arsenal away to Sunderland. Now I know the north-east of England is not an easy place to go and get a result. I also saw Arsenal destroy Porto (4–0) in the Champions League four days earlier, and after losing to Hull the week before, I really thought Arsene and his boys would collect all three points.  Sunderland actually led 1–0 until the third minute of injury time when Cesc Fabregas rescued a point for the Gunners. Another prediction in the gutter (although I am not unhappy with that result!).

Chance for an upset

Now, in football, there is always a chance for the underdog. That’s one of the ingredients that make it exciting. There’s always a chance for an upset. But the majority of games should go according to quality and form. That’s why over a season the big guns across the world's leagues are always at the top near the end of a season. They will have slipped up here and there, but on the whole will have seen the majority of results go their way.

But this season, I sense there is something different. There’s almost a shift in power, especially in South Africa with some of the underdogs relishing the opportunity of having a go at the title. Maritzburg United, Wits and Golden Arrows are all competing for the PSL title, and although it is early days, they might build up enough steam, and continue with their momentum, if the big guns don’t sort themselves out. 

Chiefs and Pirates have had disastrous starts to their campaigns, and Sundowns have massive internal problems. Wits, Arrows and Maritzburg have consistency, stability and coaches who are not looking over their shoulders all the time – and they each have a core group of players who have a winning attitude.

In England I still think Chelsea, United, Arsenal and Liverpool will end up among the top five positions – but it is exciting to see Hull winning games in London, it’s exciting to see Manchester City putting together a decent squad (and expect more big signings in January), Aston Villa are playing some great football, Portsmouth – despite a 6–0 hiding at City – have found their feet and are also playing some decent attacking football. I think there could be more than a few upset results this season, and already you have Stoke drawing at Anfield, Hull’s wins at Arsenal and Spurs, and Fulham beating Arsenal at Craven Cottage.

The only variable that goes against the underdogs over a season is their lack of depth. As soon as there are a few injuries or suspensions to key players, they lose their momentum. The bigger teams have experienced players on the bench that can just fit into the team and there is no massive shift in playing policy.

I for one would love to see Hull or Maritzburg United challenge for league title honours at the end of the season. I think there is a fair chance of it happening in South Africa, but I can’t see it happening in the UK – not yet.

But what do I know… two out of 12 predictions is not exactly expert stuff!

Disclaimer: Sport24 would like to point out that in Rob Houwing's weekly Football Flutter, so-called soccer expert, George Dearnaley, currently occupies the wooden spoon position... with no sign of improvement.


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