Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Fair play to the lads

After my recent fit of pique at the Liverpool performance where I felt so let down by the team, I have just been left with this gnawing irritation with myself for letting it get under my skin. It must be something to do with my Manchester upbringing that gives me this gut dislike for the Pool - it's not healthy, I really must shake it.
Anyway, to my great surprise, England have qualified for the extra fair play European spot. I would have thought the spate of red cards in Europe for Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham would really have put paid to that route into Europe.
And, gratifyingly, well-behaved Fulham are in a good position to take that spot. This is assuming that Tottenham beat lowly Birmingham at White Hart Lane on Sunday. 3 points for the Spurs would guarantee them fifth place in the Premier League and a 'proper' Europa League spot. If they are pipped to fifth by Liverpool, who are playing away at Aston Villa, then Spurs are more likely to snaffle the Fair Play entry. So what's Tottenham's motivation to beat Brum then, given they are more or less guaranteed European football regardless? How about an extra month's holiday? Fair Play entrants are placed in the First Qualifying round of the Europa Cup, which starts on June 30, fifth placed finishers drop in at the play-off stage on 18 August, by which time the Premier League season has started anyway.
Looking over the recent matches for Fulham, it woudl seem the club is also eyeing that extra holiday given that the club has attracted 10 yellow cards in the past two matches when previously they only attracted 40 yellows in 35 games. To shoot up from an average of 1.14 cards per game to 5 cards per game has left many very suspicious that the team is trying to avoid fair play qualification, which would leave the door open for Blackpool to qualify instead, so much so that Mark Hughes has been forced to come out and say that he wants it. The Fair Play Table is not just judged on cards though, there are all kinds of intangibles marked such as respect to the referee and 'positive play', so it'll be pretty tricky to predict which team will prosper.
Surprisingly Fulham could once again achieve 7th place in the league (by beating Arsenal and hoping Chelsea turn Everton over at Goodison Park - a 15/2 double), equalling their highest ever perch and the position they last qualified for Europe in sparking last season's epic trip to Hamburg. However with the final in Bucharest 1,600 miles away, a road trip this time is not an option, so if Fulham do get the fair play spot it might be worthwhile for fans to place a sneaky each way bet on Fulham to win the competition to cover any potential trip to Romania.

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