The relegation dogfight is one of the biggest highlights of the Premier League, every season. A multitude of relatively weak times put in desperate efforts in their remaining fixtures, to ensure they remain afloat in England’s top league and avoiding the ignominy of being demoted to the second division. Last season threw a shocker at football followers, as Newcastle United, a club with a tradition and a sizeable fan following, were relegated along with Middlesbrough and West Bromwich – a testimony to the uncertainty surrounding the chances of the bottom placed teams to escape relegation. This season witnesses the closest fight for survival yet, involving as many as eight teams; the next two months will demonstrate the ability of these parties, to show that they have got what it takes to stay clear of relegation.
With a mere four points separating the 15th placed and 19th placed teams, anything is possible as the season titters to a close. TheHardTackle analyzes each of the relegation threatened clubs and their chances of avoiding a humiliating descent to the lower divisions.
Portsmouth: This season is turning out to be a nightmare for Pompey. The financial debt which Portsmouth was mired in left the club in embarrassment, with their players and staff not receiving wages for two consecutive months. The sale of several key players to bring in funds, the takeover of the club by four different owners this season, the replacement of Paul Hart by Avram Grant, the temporary transfer embargo imposed during the winter transfer window, and the club’s entry into administration – all marked the chaotic state of the club, and took away the spotlight from their poor performance on the pitch. With only five wins and four draws so far in the league and further points being docked due to administration, they are guaranteed to go down this season. The only consolation for the Pompey fans is the team’s progress to the semifinals of the FA cup, but this will mean nothing to the club in the entire scheme of things.
Form guide: DWLWWL
Upcoming matches: Liverpool(A), Hull City(H), Chelsea(H), Tottenham(A), Blackburn(H)
Hull City: The Tigers managed to escape relegation last season, only because of other results on the final day of the season. However, this season does not seem to be as fortunate for them; with just five wins in the campaign so far, they will have to fight really hard to catapult themselves to safety. Despite the return of the influential Jimmy Bullard to the side, and the tenacious efforts put in by the rest of the players, Hull have mustered only one win in their last fifteen league games. Phil Brown has been sacked after Hull suffered their fourth successive defeat in the league and the task for the new manager maybe enormous but the objective is simple – win as many of the remaining fixtures, and hope the other teams drop points. The next match against fellow relegation candidates Portsmouth should serve as a starting point for the Tigers to roar back into contention. Hull can hope that the new manager syndrome strikes the club to give them vital points in the relegation battle.
Form guide: LLLLWD
Upcoming matches: Portsmouth(A), Fulham(H), Stoke(A), Burnley(H), Birmingham(A)
Burnley: A relatively solid start to the season, which included inspired victories over Manchester United and Everton and a draw with Arsenal,all at Turf Moor, seemed to indicate that the Clarets were set to remain in the first division. But Owen Coyle had other plans, taking up the Bolton manager job in January, much to the dismay and shock of the Burnley players and fans. Under his replacement Brian Laws, Burnley were unable to repeat their home advantage; the team has already suffered eight losses in the last ten matches, winning once against West Ham and drawing Stoke City at home. Unless the players gather their act together, and manage to cope with the loss of Coyle, the new entrants to this season face the imminent prospect of going back to where they came from – the football championship.
Form guide: LDLLLL
Upcoming matches: Wigan(A), Blackburn(H),Man City(H), Hull(A), Sunderland(A)
Wolverhampton Wanderers: The Wolves, one of the oldest clubs in England, were back in the premier league after being relegated in the 2003/04 season. Mick McCarthy signed players like Kevin Doyle and Marcus Hahnemann, who possessed premier league experience, and also acquired Chelsea’s Michael Mancienne on a season-long loan; this signified their primary intent to stay in the league. The Wolves secured a double over Tottenham and Burnley, and picked up wins against other bottom table teams like Wigan and Bolton. However, they were unable to prove themselves against the tactically and quality-wise superior teams, and continually found themselves in and out of the relegation mire. A vital win over Burnley propelled them to one place above the relegation zone, but they will be on their toes continually, as they have a tough string of fixtures coming their way. With only Portsmouth and West Ham being the relegation threatened teams Wolves have to face, they have a very huge mountain to climb if they wish to fight among the big boys come next season.
Form guide: WLLLWL
Upcoming matches: Aston Villa(A), West Ham(A),Everton(H), Arsenal(A), Stoke(H)
West Ham United: The Hammers had ended the 2008/09 season on a positive note under Gianfranco Zola, finishing in ninth position. However, they have experienced a slump in the last four months, suffering eight losses with three victories and four draws. Despite having good players like Scott Parker, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble and Alessandro Diamanti in their ranks, the Upton Park outfit were unable to achieve positive results in crunch matches. The fact that Carlton Cole was injury prone didn’t help matters, as Franco and Noble were unable to fill in the big striker’s boots properly. Gianfranco Zola needs to inspire his men to pull off their socks and function as a unit, but this seems easier said than done. The onus is on the Hammers to stem the rot and secure as many wins as possible, but like for Wolves, the upcoming fixtures will prove to be an uphill task for the London team.
Form guide: LWWLLL
Upcoming matches: Arsenal(A), Wolves(H),Stoke(H), Everton(A), Sunderland(H)
Wigan Athletic: Despite being in the 15th position in the table, the Latics are still in the relegation quagmire. The sale of Antonio Valencia to Manchester United and Lee Cattermole to Sunderland brought some much need finance to the club, but it weakened the midfield to some extent. Despite registering surprise wins over Chelsea and Liverpool, they have experienced indifferent form throughout the season, losing by big margins to Manchester United, Arsenal, Bolton, and above all, a 9-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham; such was the humiliation endured by the club that the players offered to pay for the visiting fans’ ticket prices. Roberto Martinez, who took over Steve Bruce as the manager, will be concerned about his team’s seesawing results, such as the victory over Liverpool being followed by a harrowing 4-0 loss to Bolton. The inconsistency of his players, especially Hugo Rodallega, has to be remedied to some extent, and spirited performances like the one against Liverpool need to be repeated in the ensuing matches.
Form guide: LWLLDD
Upcoming matches: Aston Villa(H), Burnley(H),Man City(A), Fulham(A), Portsmouth(H)
Sunderland: With the appointment of Steve Bruce and the signings of Lorik Cana, Lee Cattermole, the Black Cats had a team capable of sustaining in the Premier League. However, like their compatriots at the bottom of the table, they failed to capitalize on a good start to the league, and endured a barren winless streak of 14 matches since their 1-0 victory over Arsenal at home, comprising seven losses and seven draws. They broke the jinx with a resounding 4-0 victory over Bolton, and almost came away with three points against Manchester City, but for Adam Johnson’s last gasp equalizer. If Darren Bent and Kenwyn Jones come good around this period, and receive able assistance from Steed Malbranque and Kieran Richardson, then Sunderland could fancy their chances of increasing the gap between themselves and the lower placed teams. However, the subsequent run of games is not easy, as they still have to entertain the likes of Villa, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United – a daunting task for Steve Bruce to marshal his resources .
Form guide: DDLDWD
Upcoming matches: Birmingham(H), Aston Villa(A),Liverpool(A), Tottenham(H), West Ham(A)
Bolton Wanderers: The Reebok stadium outfit are just one point above Sunderland, but have played a game more than the black cats. Gary Megson was sacked on the basis of his dubious substitution decisions, his negative tactics and a poor run of performances. Under his replacement Owen Coyle, the team has won four times and lost six times in the last twelve games, not much of a significant improvement over the first half of the season under Megson. However, the team is beginning to find its feet, and a 4-0 win over the Latics should provide them with the impetus to remain in the mid table. But once again, the remaining fixtures will have a huge bearing on their aspirations, with five of the top eight teams in the table scheduled to play against them. Owen Coyle seems to have jumped out of the proverbial frying pan into the proverbial fire, and one could debate if Burnley had been in a better position in the table had he remained their manager.
Form guide: LLWWLW
Upcoming matches: Everton(A), Man Utd(H),Aston Villa(H), Chelsea(A), Stoke(A)
Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City are also a mere few points above Sunderland and Bolton. Never before has the race for survival been so tight in a season that even the eleventh and twelfth placed teams cannot be ruled out. The season is heading for a nail biting finish, and the aforementioned teams are aware of the precarious position they find themselves in. They will be treating all upcoming games with utmost urgency and battle desperately for points, in a bid to oust each other for the safety of the lower mid table positions. The team which shows tenacity and character to surmount victories against the bigger opponents will come out trumps in the bid to stay in England’s top league.