The feeling when the final whistle went at Wembley and we’d secured our place in the Premier League was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It was electric. It was euphoric. But most of all it was deserved.
For the ten-or-so seasons leading up to that moment we could feel something was building, and we knew that we were heading towards something big. The work paid off, and we had seven seasons in arguably the biggest league in world football.
This time, heading into the play-offs after a seemingly impossible turn of events, I think even the most optimistic of us knew deep down that we weren’t ready – certainly not like we were the last time.
Of course given the choice I’d pick promotion every time. Even doing a Derby and coming back down with a record-low points tally would still have given us a hefty sum of money to work with.
But with that option off the table, what we do have is the opportunity to think long-term.
If all goes well over the summer, we’ll still have some talented young players at our disposal – the likes of Grimes, Roberts, and Rodon have already proven themselves at this level, others like Cabango and Kalulu clearly have talent, and with youngsters like Cullen knocking on the first team’s door we have a lot of potential to work with.
I think Cooper has proven he can nurture talent – Brewster has been a stand-out performer, particularly since the restart, but players like Guehi and Gallagher have also shown lots of promise under Cooper’s coaching. If we can channel that coaching talent into the potential we have in the squad already, we have the beginnings of something exciting.
We’ll need to replace – the loanees will return to their clubs, and there are doubts over the futures of some of the more senior squad members. But given who he brought in this season, that’s where I think Cooper could really shine given some trust, and more importantly some time.
We’re under no illusion that we’re going to be busy over the summer. But that’s only really a concern if we want an instant response.
Instead, thinking long-term and going for young, talented players with potential – a strategy that has served us very well in the past – could be a shrewd move. Yes, it’ll mean a few seasons of mid-table obscurity, but I’d happily sit through a few 15th-place finishes if it means we have the time we need to rebuild.
Cries of “get your chequebook out” might feel right in the moment, and nobody can deny the excitement a new signing brings. But there’s always the risk of being trigger-happy and getting it wrong (David N’Gog, anyone?), which can make things worse.
Of course it’s easy to say all this from the sidelines. But who knows – with enough time, enough patience, and enough support from us fans, not going up could turn out to be a blessing in disguise…