Yes! It is that time of year again. Clubs at the bottom end of the table, battling it out for another crack at the Premier League. But come the last few games of the season, who will be fighting for safety? Who will stay up and who will face the drop?
QPR and Reading – Two clubs I believe to be out of the running are Queens Park Rangers and Reading who both sit 19th and 20th in the League on 24 points. Many have said the QPR manager, Harry Redknapp, is the man with the experience to guide the Hoops to safety, having done so with West Ham and Portsmouth. Many have even labelled him as ‘Harry Houdini’ suggesting that he can achieve anything. With him at the helm, and quality players such as recent signings Andros Townsend and Loic Remy in the squad, there is an outside chance of survival. However, I believe it to be too little too late for QPR and Redknapp, and I believe QPR along with Nigel Adkins’ Reading, will be relegated come May 19th.
Wigan Athletic – The Latics are currently sitting 18th in the table, on 31 points. Since being promoted to the Premier League in 2005, Wigan have been in relegation scraps with other clubs at the bottom but they have not been relegated since their promotion. Therefore they have gained a reputation in which people expect them to survive. The spirit showed season after season to avoid the drop seems to be a reoccurring theme, although this year it will be an extremely hard task as it is very tight at the bottom of the Premier League. Key players such as Arouna Koné, Shaun Maloney and in form youngster Callum McManaman will be instrumental in guiding Wigan to safety. One man used to an end of season relegation scrap is Maynor Figueroa, who will bring experience to the squad having been involved in a many of these scraps with Wigan. Many have tipped Wigan to again, defy the odds and guarantee another year in the Premier League. With their track record, I can see Wigan staying up for another year.
Aston Villa – At the start of the year many questioned if Paul Lambert and his young guns could be successful in the league this year. With the season drawing to an end, it has not been a brilliant season for Villa. Currently sitting 17th in the Premier League on 34 points, Aston Villa are in a relegation battle. It is an unfamiliar sight for Villa fans, who have spent over 100 seasons in the English top flight. After inconsistent performances and poor defensive displays, Aston Villa are amongst many in the relegation brawl. Conceding 60 goals so far this season, the second highest in the League, many can see where Villa have been weak this season. Giving away cheap goals and silly mistakes at the back have seen win only 8 games this season. Can they survive? They have the talent to. Players like Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor have the ability to keep Villa up, but a youthful defensive line seems to let Villa down. If they can tighten up at the back, they should survive. However the inexperience in the team is a real worry for Villa fans, and I can see the claret and blue being relegated this season.
Stoke City – The boisterous club from the Staffordshire area have been a breath of fresh air in the Premier League since being promoted in 2008. The Potters have a reputation within the game for achieving solid results with bullish tactics, and refer to their stadium as a fortress. Much of this is down to their Manager Tony Pulis, who has used long throw-ins or the long ball style of play throughout his managerial career. Having cemented themselves as a Premier League club, this season has been a very poor one for Stoke. Sitting in 16th place with 34 points, they have a lot of work to do to survive. Having only won one game since the start of the year, things are looking bleak for the Potters. On the other hand, Manager Pulis and many other players have a vital attribute when handling the worry of relegation; experience. They have been in this situation before and have come out on top. Can they survive for another season? I am on the fence. They have the experience to do so, but recent performances have suggested otherwise.
Sunderland – It has been an up and down season for the Black Cats this year. Some brilliant wins against Manchester City and most recently Newcastle United have been overshadowed by many crushing defeats. This seems to be the main factor in Sunderland sitting 15th in the table on 34 points. A string of dismal draws and defeats this year saw Martin O’Neil sacked as manager, and Paolo Di Canio hired as his replacement. Di Canio seems to have revived a spiritless Sunderland side, and last weekend’s 3-0 victory against North-East rivals Newcastle, showed his passion and desire to keep his team in the Premier League. He celebrated Adam Johnson’s fabulous strike by sliding along the dugout on his knees, punching the air with delight. It was a joy to behold for any Sunderland fan, as it was their biggest win against Newcastle since 1979. After this win, the pendulum seems to have swung in the favour of Sunderland. However, the Black Cats are currently only 15th on goal difference, meaning the pendulum can quickly swing back out of their favour. The momentum seems to be with Sunderland, and with Di Canio at the helm I can see them avoiding the drop.
Norwich – Unpredictable Norwich have been exactly that this season. Although they haven’t won since mid-February, Norwich’s early season wins at home to the likes of Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham have been important to their position in the table. The Canaries currently sit 14th in the table on 35 points and as it is one of the closest relegation scraps in the history of the Premier League, one slip up could send you down to the Championship. Norwich have been in poor form of late and many are questioning if Chris Hughton’s men have enough quality and experience to avoid the drop. With five games to go, I can see Norwich being in real trouble and they will have to recapture the form from early on in the season to stay up.
Newcastle – The Toon faithful have had a pretty dismal season. From the high of finishing 5th and qualifying for European football last year, to the lows of this season; another possible relegation looming over them. It hasn’t been all bad for Newcastle. They have had a successful run in the Europa League this year, reaching the quarter-finals of the competition. Domestically they have been in poor form, losing games they shouldn’t be losing, especially at St James’ Park. It is almost as if Alan Pardew and Newcastle have focused all their attention on Europe and after going out of the Europa League last Thursday night, the following Sunday’s derby defeat against Sunderland seems to have brought the Toon to an all-time low for this season. They currently sit in 13th position on 36 points and with 5 games remaining; they will have to pluck up the courage and determination to string together a decent run of results in order to survive the drop. The Toon certainly have the talent, with players like Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse, who could be the difference between 0 points and 3. Despite a bad season for the Magpies, I cannot see them being relegated again. A couple more wins for them and they will surely be safe.