Vital Baggies Interview
1) How do you feel your season has gone so far and are you happy at the moment with your club?
It's quite easy to be conflicted because we have been predominantly been playing some good stuff all season, but until Hodgson came in we were way too leaky at the back and it was the basics of defending that has cost us a more comfortable season. The ethos of simply outscore the opposition is a good one, but thinking you can do that game in game out - especially when it wasn't working - well the change probably came just in time for most fans to be happy at the moment.
2) How happy were you with Di Matteo being sacked when he got you in the Premier league? Are you sick of being labelled a yo-yo club?
In many ways I'd have preferred him to have learnt and modified the way he wanted to play more so we had the best of both worlds. Hodgson has shown we can still be dangerous and effective going football, but more steally and in many ways more savvy when defending, and don't think that sort of approach is beyond Di Matteo - but whether it was stubborness and pride or simply the dressing room was as lost as it sometimes appeared, again the club can't be faulted for taking decisive action to give us the best shot of staying in the league - even if it was unfortunate given what DM had achieved with us.
The yo-yo element has a big thing to do with it, it no doubt annoyed the club as much as it annoyed fans - and hopefully we'll break it this season and push on properly next time round.
3) With Hodgson now working for a club with lower expectations than Liverpool do you think he will succeed and keep you up?
I wouldn't say we have lower expectations, I think it's more to do with the fact we have more realistic expectations and don't believe as a club we have a God given right to anything just because we believe the hype that says we have a brighter history than maybe we do and that it somehow means we should be challenging for the title by default :-)
I've very confident Hodgson will keep us up, I also think he's more suited in his philosophy to building a club to success rather than taking one that demands instant success.
4) What does he bring to the table and improve you with?
Defensive tactics and the ability to train players to defend as a solid unit, whilst also playing to their strengths in attack. We are far more organised, more disciplined and we don't get caught out in terms of shape or playing wandering from where their colleagues expect them to be as much anymore.
Our change in form over the last few games is simply better organising in defence - it really is as simple as that. Of course player attitudes, the new manager honeymoon period where former out of favour players turn it up a notch has helped, but the players are on the same page when we aren't in control of the ball now...and that makes all the difference.
5) What's your thoughts on Sunderland this season?
You seemed to start quite brightly and had a good shout at Europe and pushing on from the groundwork that you've laid as a club in previous seasons and then you just seemed to explode in January (as you point out) and there's a certain possibility you could have a very edgy finish to the season unless you get yourselves on a run of results.
I don't know whether there's more to the Bent departure than first meets the eye, or whether his transfer covered up problems that were bubbling - but I wouldn't have classed you as a one man team, but he seems to have made all the difference.
In many ways it is a shame, as having a ready stream of challengers to the accepted Top 4/Top 6 sides can only be good for the league in the long run - but it really does seem you may have blown your chance at that for this season at least.
6) Who are you most fearful of facing on Saturday?
I've got to be obvious here and go for Gyan. His pure presence on the pitch will cause us problems, and the fact he doesn't seem the typical 'big man' and one trick pony I can see causing us problems unless we stay tight and frustrate him out of the game. If I didn't have to pick a single player though, you have plenty who on their day are more than capable of winning a match single handedly I think - just depends who turns up and who doesn't.
7) Where do you think we will both finish come mid May?
I'd honestly take a single point above the bottom 3 just as long as we survive and don't have to then go through the disappointment of dropping down to work our way back. Survival at any cost would do and we can rebuild where needed in the summer.
To be honest I can't really see you not picking the points up to stay comfortably 10-12th ish this season now, despite your recent run. Europe is definitely gone but there's too much quality in your team for you to nosedive as far as the relegation places.
8) Prediction please?
We are on a high at the moment and I think that will continue but the game will be tight. I think a single goal will do it one way or another, but I hope we'll nick it 1-0.