Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Relegation Dogfight

Four games to go, five for Wolves and Blackburn and the battle for survival is well and truly on. In reality, everyone up or around the forty point mark is still in danger but the picture is looking clearer with each result and the trap door beckons in earnest for several now.

West Ham sit marooned at the foot of the table after yet another capitulation, this time an expected one at the hands of a Chelsea side making a late but probably futile title challenge. West Ham's tale is a familiar one, a talented side 'too good to go down' but the reality is they look ill equipped to navigate the next few weeks and Avram Grant seems to be lacking the motivational skills required to rouse the team from the general malaise it has suffered from this season. For all the endearing qualities of the Hammers as a club, no one will shed a tear for Sullivan, Gold and Brady, three of the more acquired tastes in footballing circles. They are next up at Champions League chasing Manchester City and then come the proverbial six pointers against Blackburn and Wigan, it could all be over by the time they play Sunderland on the final day although this season gives the impression that all matters at both ends could go to the final day.

Of the next two candidates, Wigan look the most brittle whereas Wolves seem ready for the scrap, built in the image of their manager Mick McCarthy. For all the bullish rhetoric from the adopted Irishman however, his record at Premiership level is extremely poor and both sides look in extreme danger of dropping to the Championship. Both have tricky but winnable fixtures to come and the margin for error will be perilously thin.

Blackpool are for everyone not involved in the scrap their biggest hope to stay up. Like Wigan, Blackpool have tried to play their way through the season. Holloway is to be admired to a large degree for his outlook and tactics as well the sense of fun he brings to matters, that being said however he knows the squad he has is not good enough to shut up shop during games either. So being the intelligent man that he is - certainly more calculating this season than many realise - he knows that if he is going to lose a large percentage of games then he may as well do it playing positively as that will bring far more plaudits. Other than a final day trip to Old Trafford, Blackpool also have winnable fixtures and one must hope that they can find a way to stay up although it is potentially a bridge too far.

If the neutrals are in Blackpool's corner, then they are certainly not in Blackburns'. Their new owners came in mid season with little or no idea how to run a football club with much trumpeted nonsense about signing Ronaldinho. Sacking Sam Allardyce - the perfect man to keep a poor team in the division - without any real cause or without any forward thinking was entirely foolish and whilst it is not the fault of the fans, the owners' stupidity and arrogance is deserving of relegation. Football clubs, especially ones with such strong community links should not be rich mans' play things. Blackburn also have two 'six pointers' and a game against ManYoo, it will be a tough ask of their squad and their inexperienced manager but it is not impossible.

Birmingham, Stoke and Fulham should be good enough to get the one last win that will probably ensure their safety for another season, Those on forty points or above would need the Gods to conspire against them seriously to see themselves sucked back into trouble. That being the case we are looking at the current bottom five to provide the final bottom three.

Blackburn have a point or so head start and McCarthy has hopefully finally gained enough Premiership experience to lift Wolves out of the mire, that being the case this blog picks West Ham so seemingly unequipped for the battle, Wigan so lacking any backbone and Blackpool who have lost all momentum as the unfortunate three. We would however hope that Blackpool can somehow pip Blackburn to 17th place, it would be a great end to a highly exciting season - No Nonsense.