This afternoon we welcome Sunderland who have raised the profile of their club so well in the last few seasons. With their wonderful Stadium of Light, the 'Roker Roar' now seems an indelible memory.
Under Peter Reid's guidance they have shown a great team spirit and they have proved, without doubt, that you can produce a relatively successful team with shrewd buying and good management. The partnership of Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn has been particularly effective up front and I believe that the former has been very unlucky not to gain a regular England place.
Injuries have taken their toll recently and it seems only yesterday that we had an empty treatment room! Hopefully Sol Campbell, Mauricio Taricco, Ben Thatcher and Sergei Rebrov will return quickly to give us some added strength. Our two Scandinavians, Steffen Iversen and Oyvind Leonhardsen may take a little longer. Meanwhile it is important that we do no lose home points.
Another important Scandinavian who has captured the headlines is Sven Goran Eriksson. He has made a name for himself with Gothenburg, Benfica, Roma, Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Lazio and his intelligent coaching has proved very successful.
It seems rather strange that four current Premiership managers - Alan Curbishley, Peter Taylor, John Gregory and today's manager Peter Reid - have been mentioned as forming a back-up group of coaching material. But I know from experience how quickly people move in this game, in and out of appointments. What happens next season or the season afterwards if they are no longer the manager at their clubs? Who will be flavour of the month then?
I was surprised that people like Joe Royle and Willie Donachie, who have done well over the years, and coaches like Ray Harford, Dario Gradi, Howard Kendall, Steve Coppell and Danny Bergara amongst others hardly rated a mention when the Press and F.A. were sitting in the dark. Where is the incentive if the trend continues for managers like Steve Parkin and Ray Graydon?
Coaching and management are vastly different. Ask Ricky Hill, now at Luton, and, indeed, Alan Smith at Palace who came out with a drastic article prior to his team's draw at Bolton. Alan was suggesting that the players of today are irresponsible, lack moral fibre and are over-paid. Only a few months ago Alan berated me for suggesting that only a small proportion of YTS boys have the determination and the knowledge to continue further education outside football. Most managers agree with me that their education should be furthered but outside of 'coaching time'.
Indeed with the current difference in international standards it is more important than ever that we give Howard Wilkinson's new Academy charter a chance to succeed but we will have to challenge the rules regarding the PFA-inspired time spent on further education. Alan Smith knows the harsh realities of management which are different to enjoying the wonderful satisfaction that can be gained on the coaching field by working with a group of players and seeing the fruits of your efforts on a Saturday.
One of our younger players, Mark Gower, has spent a week at Wigan with a view to maybe a loan. Mark, without any opportunities in the last two years, has not advanced his career and we recently turned down an enquiry from Barnet.
Obviously smaller clubs are also feeling the draught caused by the uncertainty over the EU transfer ruling. However, any brave lower league club could certainly pick up some bargains from the likes of the current big four clubs in the country, who have some very good young players who desperately need first team opportunities.
The club are hoping to have a Fans Forum within the next few weeks, probably prior to the AGM.
Our next four opponents all stand above us in the League and the away games at Villa and Manchester United will be significant as it appears to get more difficult in the Premiership to take points away from home. Indeed, last Saturday every home team in the Premiership won except Bradford who failed by 10 minutes to record a victory against Leeds.
Let us hope we can record a home win today.
Enjoy the game.
PS: We have been reminded by the football authorities that any encroachment on the pitch by supporters could result in a heavy fine or a loss of points. Please remember this.
No-one can deny that Tuesday's game with Birmingham City was an embarrassment. Our aim must be top six but it cannot be achieved unless we have a big team effort. We are under the microscope.