Richard Bates - Premier League relegation battle set for unmissable climax
Published: 21 Mar 2011 - 09:25:13
The Premier League relegation battle is intensifying. In what has been one of the most unpredictable seasons the top flight has witnessed in some time, just three points separates 13th position from the foot of the table.
As the pressure begins to mount, teams involved in the scrap become edgy. Survival is paramount for all concerned. Slipping out of the highest tier of English football means a huge loss in TV revenue, attendances falling and players seeking pastures new.
Two clubs who have been in freefall of late, Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool, shared the spoils in a tense 2-2 draw at Ewood Park on Saturday. Having climbed to seventh after beating West Bromwich Albion on 23 January, Rovers have only picked up two points in their past six games. When Indian poultry giant, Venky's, seized control of the club back in November, they were looking for a 10th-12th place finish. While Rovers are currently sat only one spot below that target, manager Steve Kean will be wary of the precarious position his side find themselves in.
Blackpool boss Ian Holloway will be feeling just as uneasy. The Seasiders completed a league double over Liverpool at the beginning of January, leaving them in eighth with a couple of games to spare on a fair few teams above them. From that victory onwards the team have faltered greatly. Out of a possible 30 points, the Tangerines have picked up just five. The rate of their descent is alarming and can be partly attributed to the fact they are no longer seen as a surprise package, with opposition outfits making sure they don't underestimate them.
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Another side struggling for form is Aston Villa. Gerard Houllier clearly doesn't have the backing of the Villa faithful, while his players are plain underperforming. On a recent team bonding trip, defenders Richard Dunne and James Collins insulted some of the coaching staff as well as fellow squad members. Evidently, there is a lot of disharmony in the ranks at Villa Park. Considering they finished 6th in the last campaign, it is hard to believe the decline they have suffered. As it stands, the Villans don't seem to be up for the battle.
In contrast, West Brom, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United do possess the necessary fight to climb out of trouble. While the Hammers and the Baggies are unbeaten in five matches, Wolves haven't lost in four.
The arrival of fresh blood has seen all three teams perk up. Avram Grant and Mick McCarthy have both made a few additions to their respective sides, whereas Albion replaced manager Roberto Di Matteo with Roy Hodgson. These are the three teams carrying real momentum, something which is vital as the business end of the season approaches.
Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic are the two other clubs deep in the heart of the skirmish at the bottom. Playing each other at the weekend, a last-gasp goal from Maynor Figueroa allowed the Latics, who prop up the table, to snatch a precious three points. In the process, Roberto Martinez's men dragged Blues down into the mire. Alex McLeish has real cause for concern. His team still appear to be in the middle of a terrible hangover following their Carling Cup triumph. Unless they snap out of it, Birmingham could well be playing Europa League football as a Championship side during the next term.
Even Sunderland, Stoke City, Newcastle United and most certainly Fulham will still be looking over their shoulders. Undoubtedly, this is going right down to the wire. With so many teams in the mix, you can guarantee there will be twists and turns aplenty before the season's end.
So, sit back and enjoy. That is, of course, if your team isn't involved.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:Richard Bates
- Richard Bates is a clued-up, forthright and candid football writer. Every Monday, he’ll be devoting his Football.co.uk column inches to the most talked-about Premier League issues. A West Ham United season-ticket holder, Rich has been accused in the past of having a somewhat blinkered perspective when it comes to his beloved Hammers, but he’ll let you be the judge of that. Follow Richard on Twitter @richardbates_89
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