With so many teams being involved in the relegation dogfight, the closing weeks of this Premier League season look as if they could be the most dramatic, in terms of relegation, yet.
It looks as if one from Wigan, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Stoke or Norwich will join QPR and Reading in next seasons Championship. Of course neither QPR or Reading are relegated yet but you would have to imagine it would take a miracle for either team to survive being 7 and 8 points adrift respectively with just 6 games remaining.
It must also be mentioned that teams such as Newcastle, Southampton and West Ham are not technically safe yet and a win for Sunderland against their local rivals this weekend could drag the Toon army right back into contention after a disappointing season. Southampton and West Ham should already have enough points and one positive result will see both teams reach the magic 40 points.
All of the teams have to play at least one of their rivals in the run in. The biggest of these games being the match up between at the DW Stadium on the last day of the season as Wigan host Aston Villa. Villa must also travel to Norwich whilst the Canaries have to travel to Stoke. Sunderland are yet to host the Potters. When you assess the run ins, all teams have to play at least one of the big sides too. There isn’t one team where you can look at their fixtures and say they’ve got it easier or harder in comparison to the others.
13th April: Newcastle vs Sunderland
20th April: Norwich vs Reading
27th April: Aston Villa vs Sunderland, Stoke vs Norwich
4th May: Sunderland vs Stoke, Norwich vs Aston Villa
19th May: Wigan vs Aston Villa
The form table doesn’t make good reading for fans of Sunderland and Stoke. Sunderland have picked up just 2 points from their last 8 games. However the recent appointment of Paulo Di Canio to replace Martin O’Neil coupled with a much improved performance away at Chelsea last weekend has given the Black Cats renewed hope. Stoke have picked up just 2 more points in the same period, enough to drag them into the relegation race. In fact Tony Pulis’ side have won just once in their last 13 games, losing 9 on the way. Both teams will need to improve on this form if they want to stay up.
Doing best out of the relegation threatened team in that form table are Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa. 13 points from their last 8 games has given the young squad renewed hope of staying in the Premier League. Continue with that sort of form and they will have nothing to worry about going in to the last game of the season at Wigan.
Southampton have shown that a good run of form can transform a season. 6 weeks ago they looked embroiled in the relegation battle but 14 points from 8 games has elevated them up the table to what looks like a safe position, proving their decision to replace Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino a good one.
Wigan have also picked up their form with their usual end of season spark having picked up 12 points but still find themselves in the bottom 3. The FA Cup semi final against Millwall could prove to be a distraction for Roberto Martinez as Wigan may have to play a possible 2 extra games, both of which will be massive for the club.
Norwich need to stop drawing games. 5 draws in 8 games and 14 all season has slowly dragged the Norfolk club back into relegation contention.
It is hard to establish who is going to be relegated this season. The run ins of each team provide no answers as they all have to play at least one of the other struggling teams in what could be described as ‘6 pointers’. Perhaps the form of the teams provides more answers. Both Sunderland and Stoke fall way behind the other teams but with the pressure beginning to turn up who knows how teams will react to the challenges they face.
West Brom managed to avoid relegation on the last day of the 2004/05 season. The Baggies went into the last game of the season bottom of the table, with Norwich 2 points above them in 17th and Southampton and Charlton filling the other relegation spots. West Brom’s 2-0 win over Portsmouth kept their dreams alive. As news filtered into the Hawthorns about Norwich losing 6-0 to Fulham and both Southampton and Crystal Palace failing to win, West Brom knew they had completed the great escape and at the same time becoming the first team to be bottom at Christmas and avoid the drop.