Outside the Box: New year, same old problems for Wolves, Wigan and Wham

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The Independent Football

It is rare for a final table to give such an accurate guide to performance the following season as was the case over the course of 2010. West Ham, Wigan and Wolves, the three clubs closest to relegation last May, have spent much of this season in the bottom three, while the same five teams who finished at the top have been there again. Our overall League table for 2010 therefore has a familiar look to it. Manchester United have 80 points, Chelsea 75, Arsenal and Manchester City 70 and Tottenham 66. West Ham's full haul from the 12 months was a mere seven wins and 34 points, behind Wigan, Wolves and the underachieving Birmingham, all on 37, then Fulham with 38. Clubs promoted from the Championship played three or four more games, which gave Newcastle 73 points at an average of 1.78 per game, fractionally less than Spurs. Unexpectedly, the biggest falling away compared to the second half of last season was Everton's, from 39 points with only two defeats between January and May, to 22 and only four wins this season. The relegated teams, Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth, have all sat around halfway in the Championship this season and are bunched together above the bottom five in our table.

Hornets' season of goodwill

A fine festive gesture from Watford, one of the country's most outwardly looking clubs; they have agreed to donate their profit from gate receipts at the FA Cup third-round tie with Hartlepool to Marie Curie Cancer Care, the Football League's official charity partner for this season. Watford's players will also waive their appearance fees should they fail to win.

Port Vale head for the Pacific

Port Vale may be in the middle of a possible takeover by a local businessman and have lost their manager Micky Adams to his boyhood favourites Sheffield United; but for a League Two club they have an exotic summer tour to look forward to. In the past the Potteries club have been to Ireland, Scotland and the south-west of England to prepare. In July 2011, however, whether or not promotion has been achieved, they will play three matches in the Pacific North-west area and one in Canada. Opponents are SeaWolves, a new club from Washington State, plus Tacoma Tide, Kitsap Pumas and then Victoria Highlanders in the splendidly named Bear Mountain Stadium in British Colombia. Having agreed to finance the tour themselves and take a cut of gate receipts, Vale will have to hope they are as big an attraction as they are being billed. Tacoma Tide, for instance, averaged crowds of 201 in the USL Development League (the fourth tier of the US soccer pyramid) in 2010. The Kitsap Pumas' website, meanwhile, proudly announces Vale's visit as "the first by a major European club to our community".

Swift End to Ferguson's help

Oh dear. Preston North End really should have known that sacking their manager Darren Ferguson was not going to improve his proud father's mood the day before Sir Alex's birthday on New Year's Eve. The club's chairman, Maurice Lindsay, a former Wigan rugby league supremo, seemed quite surprised when two players on loan from Manchester United, Ritchie de Laet and Joshua King, were suddenly recalled with immediate notice after Preston had expected to have them available for matches against Derby County and Crystal Palace. Ferguson Jnr joined Preston a year ago, when his first home game was a high-profile FA Cup tie in which PNE lost 2-0 to Dad's rivals Chelsea. They finished 17th after one win in 10 games and have recently been bottom.