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It’s crunch time, now. With only four rounds of matches to go, the most ardent of fans have begun losing hope, preparing themselves for the future – a future in the championship next season. One season in the Barclays Premier League for a relegation battling side’s supporter is a season full of emotions – one day you are doomed, the other day you are given hope, only for the same hope to be stolen from you the very next day.

This season has certainly been special – in terms of the number of clubs that have been sucked into the relegation battle, in terms of the number of league positions being separated by barely a point and in terms of the unpredictability of the relegation battle.

The season has seen the might of Liverpool spend some quality time in the relegation zone, as well. It has also seen Aston Villa, with its vastly talented squad, flutter with danger. And now, finally, with four games left in the season, we can perhaps for the first time this season segregate the relegation battlers from the bottom half of the table.

WEST HAM UNITED

League standing: 20th (last)
Points tally: 32
Fixtures: Man City (A), Blackburn (H), Wigan (A), Sunderland (H)

Avram Grant’s West Ham conceded three goals in each of their first four league fixtures and that set the tone for the rest of their season. Although they have managed to beat Liverpool and Tottenham at home, things have never looked up for the London club. In a relegation battle, it is essential for the team to pick up a point, here and there, and avoid going on long barren runs. The Hammers never actually managed to do that, often going on more than four games without a win.

West Ham have been a funny side. They’ve always looked to be on the verge of kick-starting their season and climbing out of the drop zone, but have always failed in their endeavours. Injuries have definitely troubled the London outfit, who have been forced to use the most players this season among all Premier League clubs. Carlton Cole and Frédéric Piquionne have been West Ham’s top scorers but Scott Parker has been the real engine that has driven the Hammers this season. And it was a pleasure to see that his efforts in what could be a lost cause did not go unnoticed, either. He was awarded the Football Writers’ player of the year.

Scott Parker has been immense all season

The Hammers are in dreadful form, right now and will miss another key player – Mark Noble – in the run-in. They will go into the final four matches on the back of four defeats – the most crucial and damaging of which was Aston Villa’s turn around at Upton Park. Avram Grant had set a nine-point target for his Hammers a couple of weeks ago and the odds of that happening are really slim right now. Now, one can understand the incentive of giving a certain points target to his team, but it has backfired. The players will now go into the last matches thinking they need three wins out of the last four matches.

The Hammers are unlikely to get any points from their visit to The Eastlands. Against Wigan, it will be a tasty relegation six-pointer, and the home team are usually favourites in such fixtures. So, this implies West Ham must win both their remaining home fixtures – a feat they have achieved before when they knocked off Liverpool and Stoke in successive home fixtures.

However, if you are a man of superstitions, you wouldn’t bet on West Ham. After all, even Fernando Torres couldn’t not score against the Hammers!

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: RELEGATION

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS

League standing: 19th
Points tally: 33
Fixtures: Birmingham (A), West Brom (H), Sunderland (A), Blackburn (H)

Wolves are a mystery that Sherlock wouldn’t have dared touch. Of course, half the reason for that would be to deal with Mic McCarthy’s accent but that is not the reason we are focusing on. Wolves are known as the giant killers. They were the club that ended Man United’s unbeaten run and have also defeated Chelsea and Liverpool this season; and were unlucky not to beat Spurs, as well. That means nine points from teams that should ideally yield zero. Thus, to earn only 24 points of the remaining matches against lesser teams is quite amazing.

Wolves were stuffed 3-0 in midweek at The Britannia, which dented their last minute revival hopes. Their win at Villa Park, a few weeks back, looked to have been the perfect tonic for a dash at the home stretch. However, the Midlands club has only managed a point from the last four matches.

While McCarthy has been saving Jarvis like he was the world’s best player, he will find it hard to keep him if they go down. He has been Wolves’s main man and will be their key player in the run-in. Wolves’s next two games will decided their future in this league. They cannot afford to lose either of the two matches against fellow relegation-strugglers Birmingham and West Brom. It is likely that Wolves will have to win one of the two games to follow and at least draw the other, to keep themselves in the hunt in the final match against Blackburn; and hope they would be within striking distance that day. Wolves v Blackburn on the final day is likely to be a play-off to decide relegation.

Perhaps, Wolves were better off with a run-in featuring Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea? Only time will tell.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: SAFE, JUST.

WIGAN ATHLETIC

League standing: 18th
Points tally: 34
Fixtures: Everton (H), Villa (A), West Ham (H), Stoke (A)

It’s a pity that their stadiums aren’t full because at times, Wigan’s football is quite breathtaking. However, it is centred around the amazing Charles N’Zogbia and an inconsistent Hugo Rodallega. If Wigan were given points for the number of times Roberto Martinez has been ‘pleased’ with his side’s display and has focussed on the fact that his side created chances but not converted them, they would have been in the title race by now.

The truth is that Martinez’s tactics leave too much for the above-mentioned duo to do on their own in every match. N’Zogbia and Rodallega are the top scorers with only six and eight goals, respectively. Scoring goals has been a huge problem for the side and might eventually lead to the downfall of the club. However, Wigan have been picking up wins here and there and one more crucial win can be worth its weight in gold.

Wigan are unlikely to pick up points from their two away fixtures and their only hope would be the two remaining home fixtures. One is against an in-form Everton this weekend and the other against fellow desperate relegation battlers West Ham. In neither of the matches can Wigan guarantee a win, but they’ll have to dig deep to ensure survival.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: RELEGATION

BLACKPOOL

League standing: 17th
Points tally: 34
Fixtures: Stoke (H), Tottenham (A), Bolton (H), Man Utd (A)

The Tangerines had become the darling of the Premier League with an exceptional display of offense. Bold in their approach of deploying an attacking 4-3-3, the newly promoted club occupied the Champions League spot once this season. It has been all downhill lately, though. After dropping two more points against Newcastle in a game that merited a Blackpool win, they have gone deeper into the relegation turmoil.

Blackpool’s season has been like this kid’s hair – two completely different halves

Charlie Adam and D.J. Campbell have been among the Blackpool players that have caught the eye of other managers and these two will be the key to keeping their club up next season. Blackpool have picked only two points from the last six matches that included a damaging defeat to Wigan Athletic at home – the club they are currently tied with.

With tough visits to White Hart Lane and Old Trafford in the next four weeks, Blackpool’s season-defining fixtures will be at home to Stoke City and Bolton. Ian Holloway’s side haven’t won in their last four home fixtures and they need to rectify that or risk giving one of West Ham, Wolves and Wigan a lifeline in the Premier League.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: RELEGATION

BLACKBURN ROVERS

League standing: 16th
Points tally: 35
Fixtures: Bolton (H), West Ham (A), Man Utd (H), Wolves (A)

Ryan Nelsen’s injury, which means he is out for the season, could be fatal for Blackburn. It has been an astonishing 10 league matches since the Yorkshire outfit tasted victory. They have been dragged into the relegation slowly and steadily and are one of the top contenders to drop to the lower division.

Although there was grit in the way they held off City for so long, Blackburn’s play did not suggest they have something extra in the bag to save themselves. Blackburn’s top scorers have nothing to write home about and it speaks volumes of their struggles this season.

When Bolton visit this weekend, Blackburn must win. Following the Bolton fixture is a visit of Man United, sandwiched between two relegation six-pointers. Does Steve Kean have enough presence in the dressing room to motivate his players, though? The only positive Blackburn can take from recent performances is that they have always been at the end of hard-fought, narrow wins. Perhaps, a change of luck can settle their season.

We reckon a draw and a win for Blackburn would be enough, but all will depend on the final fixture away to Wolves.

TheHardTackle’s Verdict: SAFE, JUST.

OTHERS

There are a few other clubs that may require a couple of points more to guarantee safety or else they will be sucked into the last day battle to avoid the drop. However, these clubs are virtually safe as it is highly improbable that sides below them will gain enough points to catch up.

Birmingham City are one such club sitting just four points above the relegation zone. They could virtually seal Premier League status for next season by defeating Wolves this Sunday. However, a crazy passionate derby can throw up a lot of surprises. Although Birmingham’s usual grit and stubbornness was not seen when they were routed at Anfield, they are quite capable of digging in and picking up crucial points. And they should pick up enough points in their other fixtures at home to Fulham, away to Newcastle and away to Spurs. Their current form shows defeat in the last two, but those defeats came against Liverpool and Chelsea.

Remarkable Roy!

Newcastle, Sunderland, Aston Villa are currently on 41 points and can be considered all but safe. These clubs have done enough to secure Premier League status next season. A point below them is West Bromwich Albion. One of the stories of the season has been the The Baggies’ revival under Roy, having gone unbeaten in his first six matches to lift the Midlands club to safety. Their 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane proved that West Brom have enough to go upwards in the table, rather than mix up in the relegation battle again. Avoiding defeat away to Wolves will mean Roy will have a job in the Premier League next season. And why shouldn’t he? The man specializes in great escapes.

One club’s prize will come at the expense of another. So, let there be joy.

And let there be tears!