Forget the title race, the relegation battle is where it’s at. While all the Premiership relegation candidates involved have inherent weaknesses, with the end of the season fast approaching, most are also just a couple of wins away from safety. It’s close at the bottom and most of all unpredictable. For example, Aston Villa have had a decent last five games, winning three and drawing one of their games, but Villa fans are perhaps more pessimistic now, than what they were five games ago. Wigan fans too, are now thinking, perhaps their seasonal resurrection may not be enough this year. Yet, the improvement in fortunes of these two teams have drawn a handful of other teams into the mix. The five teams immediately above the bottom three could each realistically be in for the drop.
Below, we’ve decided to omit Reading to the Championship already, while giving the benefit of the doubt to QPR, due to the Houdini powers of Harry Rednapp. Next to the club’s name is their decimal odds of being relegated.
QPR – 1.01
‘Arry Houdini and a bunch of new signings have made little impression on the fortunes of the team, as their relegation fate is pretty much sealed. Many expected Rednapp’s midas touch to be enough to rescue the ‘R’s’, but their approach of buying their way out of trouble with a team of high-wage B-list mercenaries has come up short. Proof that the modern game’s solution of waving the cheque book at your troubles doesn’t always work. QPR could win their remaining five games and still get relegated on 39 points. Realistically though, QPR’s only real remaining contribution to the relegation battle is to at least beat Stoke on Saturday on route to the Championship.
Wigan – 2.37
Yes, Wigan’s form kicks in when the first of the spring daffodils flower and then they can match any team until the end of the season, but they’ve never been in an FA Cup final before. Didn’t the FA Cup used to be at the end of the season? Well, Wigan probably wished it was this season. Yes, reaching the final will give them a confidence boost, but having a cup final to play in the middle of two vital Tuesday evening league games will seriously test their mettle and focus. Player’s focus will surely waver, as will their commitment; 50-50 challenges… you don’t want to be injured and miss the final, do you?
Wigan have pulled off miracles before, including winning seven of their last nine games, one season to survive, but as well as focus issues this time, do they also have the legs with the pile-up of their fixtures in the final month? For example, in the important final match of the season against Villa that could decide their fate, Lambert’s players will have a full extra three days rest and preparation before the game.
Aston Villa – 3.75
Villa’s young team have found some form just at the right time, but have they got the know-how and belly for the high-pressured battle ahead? Remember the Christmas period crumble? Or, more poignantly, the League Cup? Where Villa showed enough exuberance and endeavor to get to the semi-final, but when mettle and experience was needed to deal with the plucky and stubborn lower-league Bradford City, Villa’s young lions came up short. There is a reason why experience is a valuable ingredient for a football team in such times. Villa, who are very much a work-in-progress, will hope they can they make up for a lack of it in other ways.
Stoke – 5.00
Two words – lead ballo0n. The worst performers in the Premiership in 2013. Toothless in attack (despite having Crouch and Owen on the bench) and with their bully-boy persona not scary anymore, it suggests Pullis has been found out by opposition managers. Is it too late to check their downward spiral? Maybe. Their fate is very much in their own hands though, as in their next three games, they play three other teams mentioned in this article. Many people’s new favourites for the drop (Villa fans at least), the illusion that Stoke are a mainstay Premiership team could be about to be popped (Stoke have only been in four of the completed 20 Premiership seasons). Stoke’s boldness on spending high wages on ‘named’ players in recent years maybe about to come back and haunt them, with the players seemingly lacking in motivation for the fight.
Sunderland – 5.50
A couple of weeks ago, people were talking about Sunderland as they are referring to Stoke now. Martin O’Neil had them in freefall, but then Di Canio got an instant response with a freakish 3-0 win at Newcastle. Hard to tell if it’s the start of a proper revival, but their home tie with Everton will provide further clues. Then, their clashes away at Villa and at home to Stoke will ultimately decide their fate. Losing your main source of goals in Steven Fletcher isn’t exactly a big help.
Norwich City – 10.00
For a team who it’s hard to predict wins for, they do have some resilience, although their lack of real fire power could be their undoing. Second only to Stoke in terms of Premiership teams with the poorest form in 2013, the question is whether they’ve done enough in the first half of the season? If they don’t beat Reading this weekend, then they could be in big trouble. With Stoke and Villa coming straight after, the Canaries will pretty much know if things will get real messy in three games time.
Newcastle – 21.00
The Toon’s exploits in the Europa League have largely drained their league efforts and now the question is, are they running on empty? Newcastle have three games away out of their next four fixtures, before they entertain Arsenal on the last day of the season. While they have a classy continental midfield most of the teams in the relegation mire, would swap theirs for, do they have the guts for a gritty English style relegation battle? Losing their decent keeper Tim Krul for the rest of the season won’t help. Outsiders for the drop, but it might be worth putting a tenner on them at 20/1!
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