With West Ham’s descent into the Nationwide Championship already sealed, we’re now left with five possible teams to join them in the two remaining relegation spots. The battle to stay in England’s top flight is regularly more entertaining than the fight at the top of the table. The league champion is usually decided prematurely, or at best includes two or three teams in the mix if you’re lucky. At the opposite end of the table, we usually need to keep our eyes on several matches simultaneously, adding an extra dimension to the desperation, and consequently, the desire to win. Thus is the story of 2011.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but sadly it’s Saturday and this year’s relegation participants have not yet been announced. As a result, the order in which candidates will feature in this article will be from most likely to go down to whom I think will stay up. The operative word there being ‘I think’. So in advance, if anyone doesn’t like me doubting their team, I apologize.
Blackpool have had one of the most admirably dismal second halves to a season a team could possibly have. Ian Holloway being mainly responsible for this, he would also deserve an accolade. Something along the lines of ‘Most unanimously loved manager of a relegated team’ would probably do the Bristolian justice. Some would argue that the Tangerines deserve better out of their first Premier League season in 40 years.
However, the team’s season was turned on its head after December. Taking only 14 points from a possible 66 is never good for a team in the Premier League, and it doesn’t look to get any better on Sunday, as they go head to head with this year’s crowned champions. The only comfort ‘Ollie’ can take is that Manchester United will be fielding a weak team at Old Trafford, with the Champion’s League final on their minds.
Alex McLeish is another manager who doesn’t fit the relegation formula. Winning the Carling Cup shows squad improvements and again, it seems inconsistency is the culprit to blame for their current predicament. A lacklustre second half to the season has seen too many points lost away from home, but also points lost at St. Andrew’s to opponents they perhaps should have done better against. The latest of these is Fulham who beat the Midlands outfit on Sunday, and were reportedly ‘dismal’ at the back. Somewhat out of character, as Roger Johnson and Ben Foster are big summer transfer targets.
Now, although Birmingham City aren’t in the drop-zone, they feature above Wigan Athletic simply based on their Sunday opponents. While Birmingham are facing possible Europa League qualifiers Tottenham, Wigan have the slightly easier task of picking up points against Stoke. Wigan are also the more in-form relegation zone team. They’ve picked up 8 points out of their last six games, which may not sound great, but is admirable amongst their surrounding teams.
The only advantage Blackpool hold over Wigan is that they’re one goal better off in the goal difference. However, I think results and not goal difference will decide the teams relegated this season, simply based on the difficult oppositions relegation teams are facing. Should Roberto Martinez’s men get anything out of their trip to the Britannia, a modest point could be miraculous.
The last of our featured teams shall be ‘taken out with one stone’ as it is. 15th placed Blackburn face off against 16th place Wolves at the Molineux. Steve Kean also falls under the ‘bad second half’ category as Rovers look to cling on to Premier League football based solely on a decent August-January campaign. Blackburn have picked up an abysmal 10 points since the beginning of February. Wolves have had a slightly opposite story, and have actually been in admirable form of late, clinching 8 points from the last 6 games, and will be favourites leading into this matchup, as the home team.
Both of these clubs find themselves on 40 points and a win for either would assure survival. However, both should be safe unless Blackpool and Birmingham can stage surprise victories over their higher-quality opponents. Birmingham will be looking to grab a point at White Hart Lane and should Blackburn lose by more than one goal, Alex Mcleish will be the one celebrating survival.
All the clubs involved in this year’s relegation tussle have fought hard to stay in the top division, and arguably deserve it. Only Roberto Martinez has gotten bad value for money, while Ian Holloway has coped fantastically with low expectations, and Steve Kean struggled to take over a team mid-season. Needless to say, any supporters of these teams could be in tears come Sunday afternoon, and radios-a-plenty will be in action nationwide.
My selection to see the drop: Blackpool and Birmingham City