by Liam McConville
We’re approaching the business end of the season and as usual the Premier League has split into a series of mini-leagues. There is the two Manchester clubs competing for the title in a fight which may well go down to the wire. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and even Newcastle are all in with a shout of securing the final Champions League spot with Spurs looking settled in third place. Following this are numerous clubs squabbling over positions in mid-table, too far back to land a European place and a comfortable enough gap on the bottom three so that only a dramatic capitulation will lead to relegation.
Finally there is the bottom five clubs who will be scrapping for survival: Wolves, Bolton, Blackburn, Q.P.R. and Wigan. There is a certain familiarity with these clubs and brushes with relegation, indeed Wolves, Wigan and Blackburn only stayed up last year on the final day of the season. However this will be a relatively new experience for Q.P.R. and Bolton who will be feeling particularly gloomy at the moment given the financial implications that relegation will cause. Q.P.R. in particular will be feeling rather twitchy given their abundance of overpaid stars such as Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
All five of these teams are at the bottom of the table because they deserve to be; all of them are averaging well below a point a game and that frankly is not good enough. In any other season they would probably be in even bigger trouble, but as it is only two points separate them giving all five a chance of getting out of the mire. Embattled Bolton and Blackburn have chosen to stand by their manager despite there being persistent pressure to make a change. The clamour at Ewood Park to remove Steve Kean (from a position many supporters believe he never should have had) has been overwhelming at times.
Blackburn do have a major advantage over their relegation rivals as they have a proven hitman in the mercurial Yakubu. The Nigerian already has fourteen goals this season and if he continues to deliver Rovers can beat the odds to survive for another season. Steve Kean has shown great resilience in standing up to the barrage of abuse hurled at him by the Ewood faithful but will continue to be fully tested and come the end of what has been a hugely stressful season may want to quit regardless of Blackburn’s fate.
With twelve games to go it is these five clubs that look set to contest Sky Sport’s much hyped ‘Survival Sunday’.
Bolton are perhaps the one club out of the five who would not expect to be in the precarious position that they are currently in. Although they fell away towards the end of last season they showed enough progress to give fans false expectations that Coyle’s charges have failed to meet. They have never recovered from a difficult start but will feel they have just enough quality to avoid dropping into the Championship.
Wolves and Q.P.R. chose to axe the men who brought them back to the top flight. Neil Warnock may have been slightly naïve in some of his decisions at Loftus Road but had earned a chance to turn it around. However new owner Tony Fernandes felt that a bigger name was needed to motivate a group of players who probably should be doing better. Mark Hughes stepped forward and has so far been unable to arrest a worrying slide.
Mick McCarthy felt the fury of the Wolves faithful on a number of occasions this season who felt that the club should be progressing beyond another season struggling to stay up. The move to sack McCarthy seemed almost inevitable after a 5-1 mauling at Molineux from midlands rival West Brom. However debacle followed as numerous candidates distanced themselves from the club. With the situation close to becoming a farce, McCarthy’s assistant Terry Connor was given the job until the end of the season. A 2-2 draw at Newcastle was a promising start for Connor but there is much work still to do if Wolves are going to escape the drop once again.
Roberto Martinez has not been subject to the same pressure as his counterparts simply because Wigan has been punching above their weight for years now. Martinez is a popular man at the DW stadium after his long service as both a player and as manager. The Latics have been treading water in the Premier League for the majority of the time since their promotion in 2005. Given their stature in the game and their budget, survival would be a good achievement, with relegation not being the unmitigated disaster that it would be for most.
Any club who has Franco di Santo as their main frontman needs to take a serious look at themselves.
So with twelve games to go it is these five clubs that look set to contest Sky Sport’s much hyped ‘Survival Sunday’. It is certainly plausible that come the final day of the season, all three spots for relegation will still be undecided.
That said I’m still prepared to stick my neck on the line and predict who will be the unfortunate three who are destined for the drop.
To Stay Up:
Bolton- the Trotters should have just enough about them to survive as long as they turn around their disastrous home form.
Wolves- Terry Connor has the unenviable task to steering this sinking ship back to safety. However Wolves will be able to draw on their experiences from the past two seasons and stay up. The goals of Steven Fletcher and Kevin Doyle will be vital.
Q.P.R. – A fractious dressing room packed full of big egos does not bode well for Mark Hughes who may be left to rue his decision to leave Fulham. A lack of discipline and a tough run in may be the final nails in Ranger’s coffin.
Blackburn- After a tumultuous season that has seen Rovers experience the highs of winning at Old Trafford and the miserable lows of a home defeat to Bolton leaves them teetering. The Venkys have not provided the money they promised and without the recently sold Christopher Samba, Blackburn’s defensive woes look set to continue.
Wigan- the Premier League’s modern day version of Coventry may well run out of luck this time. Although they have a knack of grinding out results when they need them most, a severe lack of goals may come back to haunt them. Indeed any club who has Franco di Santo as their main frontman needs to take a serious look at themselves.
Whatever happens nerves will be shred and tears will be shed. But most of all it will be very exciting to watch (as long as you’re a neutral).