It’s that time again in England. Cold winter is preparing to leave and football fans holding their pulses for a nerve wrecking finale. Who cares what’s going on in Europe? For a couple, living in Whitmore Reams, their day probably starts and ends with prayers for Wolves’ survival.
The dining table gets a round-table discussion of what tactics should be used to get a precious away point. Mini-Martinez exists within those households. Few will smile, few will shed tears while few will suffer sleepless nights – relegation battle and the prospects of survival are now running through the veins of many in England.
More than half of the season has gone. We now have a fair idea which teams are going to find their fate on the last day of the season. Hang on. We haven’t. This is the Premier League, a pseudonym of ‘unpredictability’. This season you might as well expect the unexpected.
Wigan, Bolton and Wolves are battling it out for survival and are miserably placed in the death-zone. Blackburn, QPR, Aston Villa and West Brom are equally flirting with danger and any slip-ups from now on can prove to be catastrophic.
Sitting 20th in the league with a goal difference of negative 27, you can put your money on for the Latics to get relegated. Would you? Five teams are separated by only two points and at the end of the season, Roberto Martinez and his boys can come victorious if they pull out some of the performances similar to the ones against Liverpool and Chelsea.
The brand of football Martinez wants to play is admirable, but the players implementing those are simply not good enough. Then, there is a deep crisis of economy. Few days back, the club recorded a net loss of £7.2M.
But, will they survive this term? The problem for Wigan is that they need goals. Di Santo, Gomez and Watson are top scorers for the club with only 4 goals each. But, if they can accumulate points like they did against Bolton, then surely there is light at the end of the tunnel. They must get something out from their fixtures at home.
Teams which are more or less similar to their calibre should be their prime targets like Aston Villa, Swansea, and West Brom. They have a hellish month of March-April and if they don’t take advantages of these games mentioned above then heaven forbid, Wigan may find new life in a league below their current status.
Liverpool, Stoke, Chelsea, Man Utd, and Arsenal – all await Wigan in the penultimate month. If they get their grounds ready till April, they would enter a do-or-die knockout punch with Blackburn and Wolves in the final two games. Anything, and yes, anything can happen. But message for them is “Make hay, while the sun shines.”
Pluck fruits of optimism for Owen Coyle from any gardens of Eden. He needs it, and Bolton need it. The team that was supposed to be in top half of the table as suggested by any pundits is languishing in the bottom.
Pundits like Alan Hansen on BBC Match of the Day urged fans not to judge Bolton manager after their tough opening fixtures. They felt Coyle will turn things around.
Situation hasn’t changed and this team currently lacks conviction and confidence. Losing Gary Cahill to Chelsea is a major blow, but they were not left with any other alternatives either, were they?
At least, Wigan are showing a fighting spirit for survival. The Trotters were ridiculously poor against Wigan and conceded soft goals. If they continue to play like that day, one can’t see them climbing up the table at the end of the season.
They have a relatively tricky fixture list from now on, till the end. Apart from odd tough games like Chelsea, Spurs, Man City and Arsenal they have to pick up maximum points against other relegation contenders during March. They will play QPR, Blackburn and Wolves in March and if they want to survive, they will have to win all these matches.
Ideally you would like to think a team having quality players like Jarvis, Fletcher, O’Hara, Doyle et al should take Wolves to safety. But, they are digging their own graveyard.
The timing of sacking McCarthy was perhaps not right. He did his best to keep Wolves in competitive shape for so long. Last season, he guided the club to safety on the final day. But the club hasn’t improved under his regime. After a good early start to the season, they find themselves at wrong end of the table.
Stagnation is unhealthy for a club and may be the club need newer ideas but is it the time to find a new face when everyone within the club should stick together and rally for survival?
Alan Curbishley is likely to take the hot seat. He has a great CV but taking charge at such a time is equivalent to stepping without shoes in a boiling cauldron. This is the time when a team should focus on how to gain maximum points and achieve safety. Instead, they are searching for new bosses while the club is in mire. Losing to West Brom 1-5 doesn’t boost their morale either.
They have the players to take them above the relegation zone and they don’t have tough run-ins either but can the new boss guide Wolves to safety? Big questions with lots of answers yet to be seen.
Blackburn, QPR and West Brom
Bottom three will be severely challenged by two teams who are knocking on the corridor of uncertainty. Blackburn and QPR’s futures are also hanging in the balance, while there is an outside chance that West Brom can join the list of relegation nominees.
Blackburn Rovers have seen everything this season. Vitriol atmosphere at the Ewood Park demanding the head of their boss, a clueless owner showing naivety, fighting spirit displayed against Arsenal, Liverpool and United, and and pessimism reaching its nadir against Bolton.
Blackburn could well go into the Championship next season. The owners have shown great persistence with Steve Kean and he must repay the faith now by guiding the team to safety. They have managed to keep Christopher Samba and should fight tooth and nail to avoid the drop.
Blackburn’s final game is against Chelsea. That match could decide the fortune of both the clubs in a different sense – Chelsea fighting to finish within the top four. However, crucial for Rovers is the month of March – Villa, Wolves and Bolton. If they can get at least six or seven points out of nine, then it will be a giant leap coming into the month of April.
Likewise, QPR have taken a strong decision by appointing Mark Hughes. He is a very good manager and will be backed by wealthy benefactors. Hughes will induce discipline and work ethics into the team. Unlike Norwich and Swansea, the other two promoted clubs this campaign, QPR haven’t struck the right chord of progress. This is coupled with a long off-pitch racial row saga involving John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. Hughes must get the best out of Barton and Taraabt, the two towering figures who can guide the club to a new height.
West Bromwich Albion are riding on a safety car with 29 points. But they have dangerous run-ins from the month of March till the last day of the season. In March, they will face Chelsea, Man Utd, Wigan (away), Newcastle and Everton (away). Likewise in April, they will play relegation contenders Blackburn and QPR, title contenders Man City, UCL spot chasers Liverpool at Anfield and struggling Aston Villa. While, in May, they will finish the season with a visit to the Reebok and at home to Arsenal.
These are all the dices thrown on the table. Only the fittest will survive. Who will it be? Smiles and heartbreak looms large while we can only keep our fingers crossed…