Back in January we looked at the relegation picture and how the season may be shaping up. Now, with less than 10 games to go for most teams, and a couple of managerial causalities later, we take a look at the situation at the foot of the table once more. We looked at Crystal Palace, Everton, Aston Villa, West Brom, Sunderland, Burnley, Hull, QPR and Leicester, all as possible relegation candidates. Whilst these nine teams still make up the bottom nine of the league right now, the relegation picture has become somewhat clearer.
Alan Pardew has got Crystal Palace playing much better football than they had been playing under the leadership of Neil Warnock. Back-to-back wins in his first two games set the tone and a convincing 3-1 win over QPR at the weekend put Palace on 33 points with 9 games remaining, meaning they are all but safe. Likewise, the appointment of Tony Pulis at West Brom gave them a much-needed lift. Along with the emergence of record-signing Brown Ideye, who has formed a successful strike partnership with Saido Berahino, the Baggies too have 33 points with 9 games to go and one cannot see them being too involved in any relegation scrap come May.
Everton have had a miserable season in the league but they were always considered just ‘too good’ to ever get seriously dragged into the mire, however up until last weekend the threat of relegation still hung over them. A 3-0 success against Newcastle has lifted them 6 points clear of danger and one suspects they will kick on from here and look to see out the rest of the campaign in mid-table obscurity. Unmentioned in January’s article, Newcastle seemed destined to a solid yet unspectacular season, just the type Mike Ashley likes, however since the departure of Alan Pardew they have struggled. Having said that, their tally of 35 points could be enough to keep them up even if they were to lose every remaining game and as such, they too are considered safe. So, here are the remaining candidates and how things may pan out:
In the news for other reasons this week, Hull City are still in the midst of a highly competitive relegation battle. A horrible injury crisis saw a terrible run of form which lasted through all of November, and lasted up until the start of February. In that time the Tigers took pick up 5 points from a possible 30. At the end of January, Steve Bruce recruited the services of Mike Phelan and Dame N’Doye. Phelan replaced the departed Steve Agnew as assistant manager and N’Doye took a pay cut to join from Lokomotiv Moscow and answer Bruce’s attacking woes. Both seemed to make an instant impact, a draw at Man City was followed by back-to-back wins and N’Doye scored 3 in his first three starts.
However, players were rested for the Tigers trip to Stoke and it showed. A dreadful performance saw Stoke run out 1-0 victors. The next two games against Sunderland and Leicester both ended in draws. One way of viewing Hull City’s recent results would be only one defeat in their last 6 games with the team looking solid at the back whilst still creating chances. Another would be to say they have missed two huge opportunities to win which would have given them some breathing space ahead of a very tricky run-in. Of Hull’s remaining fixtures, only Burnley leaps out as clearly ‘winnable’. Their fixtures are below:
CRYSTAL PALACE A
MAN UTD H
Aston Villa looked hopeless towards the end of Paul Lambert’s reign. Defeat to Hull was the final straw and Tim Sherwood took over as Villa manager. Back-to-back defeats did not represent the ‘new manager bounce’ that the fans may have been hoping for but in the last three games Villa have looked a different animal. Sherwood has taken the shackles of a Villa side that many felt were too strong to go down. Certainly, the attacking capabilities of the side should not have managed a meager return of eleven goals, as they did under Lambert. A brace for both Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor at the weekend is hopefully be a sign of things to come for Villa.
Whilst many have been quick to regard Villa as a new team who will pull clear of the drop over their last 9 games, the picture may not be quite as clear as it seems at first glance. Sherwood’s men face trips to Tottenham and Manchester City, either side of an FA Cup semi-final tie at Wembley. Such commitments could drain some of the life out of a revitalised Villa side who are heavily reliant on pace. Sherwood will be keen to ensure that the team creates something of a buffer between themselves and the bottom three ahead of their FA Cup commitments. Villa’s remaining fixtures are as follows:
MAN UTD A
MAN CITY A
WEST HAM H
Gus Poyet was sacked as Sunderland manager following the 4-0 humiliation at home to Aston Villa and Dick Advocaat has been chosen as the man to replace him, on a temporary basis at least. With a CV boasting the likes of Zenit St Petersburg, PSV, the Netherlands and Russia, Advocaat is certainly experienced after 35 years in football management. However, the Dutchman has never managed in the Premier League and with little time to adapt, that could prove an issue for “The Little General”, as he is affectionately known. One could draw similarities between his appointment and that of Felix Magath at Fulham last year, who had an equally impressive track record but little time to implement his own ideas and no Premier League experience.
It looks as though Advocaat will have the services of Adam Johnson to call upon, as the club lifted the suspension originally placed upon him. January signing Jermaine Defoe has failed to have quite the impact Sunderland may have hoped since returning to the Premier League, although the service to him has been poor. Advocaat will be hoping to better utilise arguably their most potent attacking force. Following a drubbing at the hands of Villa, Advocaat, a disciplinarian, is likely to drill the team into far more solid shape ahead of the run-in, and he may view the derby game with Newcastle as a potential springboard as the team look to avoid the drop. Sunderland’s last nine games are below:
WEST HAM A
CRYSTAL PALACE H
Burnley were possibly the least fancied of the promoted teams when they came up, but heading into the last 9 games of the season they appear the best equipped to avoid a dreaded return to the Championship. A superb victory over Manchester City at the weekend which saw the Clarets take 4 points off the champions this season, has given Sean Dyche’s men a real fighting chance of staying up this season. Whilst QPR, Leicester, Villa and Sunderland have all appeared dejected and forlorn at times this season, Burnley always seem to play with a desire and hunger which seen them grind out 25 points so far this campaign.
It is no secret that Dyche’s men lack to the quality of a number of other sides but have looked to compensate through sheer effort and at times, have succeeded. The retained the services of Danny Ings in the summer and will be hopeful his goals could prove telling come May. Summer signing George Boyd whose Premier League opportunities appeared to be limited at Hull has proved to be an inspired deal and it was his goal that gave Burnley all three points in the tie against Manchester City. Their run-in is as so:
WEST HAM A
ASTON VILLA A
Tony Fernandes said he felt he had his perfect man lined up following the departure of Harry Redknapp, although things did not materialise and Chris Ramsey was the man tasked with keeping Rangers in the Premier League. Ramsey oversaw QPR’s first away win of the season over relegation rivals Sunderland as well as a number of credible performances which did not yield points. However, last weekend’s game against Crystal Palace is one Ramsey would rather forget about and quickly. His team looked void of any attacking threat and defensively shambolic, if it weren’t for a Matt Philips wonder goal they would have been beaten 3-0, which, in truth, would not have been harsh on them.
Charlie Austin has been Rangers saving grace this season and his goals mean they go into the last nine games with at least a glimmer of hope. Joey Barton showed his ill-judgement once more with a ridiculous red card at Hull and Ramsey will need to see a little more leadership and a little less stupidity from his captain if he is to steer them to safety between now and the end of the season. QPR’s remaining fixtures are:
WEST BROM A
ASTON VILLA A
WEST HAM H
MAN CITY A
It is difficult to see any chance of the Foxes surviving this season. Manager Nigel Pearson described last weekends game against Hull as ‘must-win’ and one tended to agree with him. Despite Hull being reduced to 10 men, Leicester failed to win the game, leaving them 7 points adrift of safety. Leicester did not strengthen a great deal ahead of this season and with hindsight, that appears to have been poor judgement on both the owners and managers part. Esteban Cambiasso has had a very good season for the Foxes, but there’s only so much a 34-year-old holding midfielder can do.
Record signing Andrej Kramaric has impressed sporadically, without making a real telling contribution. Nigel Pearson’s recent 5-4-1 approach seems better equipped to avoid thrashing’s than to ever win a game and so it has proved. The Foxes do actually have a rather favourable run-in but much like Arsenal in the Champions League, one suspects they have left themselves with simply too big a challenge to ever overcome. It would take a turnaround of Herculean proportions for Leicester to avoid the drop. Their remaining fixtures are:
WEST HAM H
WEST BROM A
Back in January I predicted Leicester, Burnley and QPR would go down and I’m sticking to it. Leicester one can be reasonably confident about, and QPR’s performance last weekend suggests they too are fairly likely to go. There is then four teams battling to avoid 18th place, and it is not easy to predict who will lose out. Villa are scoring again, and that is massive. If Sherwood can stop the FA Cup becoming a distraction and keep the pace and intent of his side they will be more than okay. Advocaat is something of an unknown quantity in this league and Sunderland really did look a team in disarray against Villa, but a derby win could give everyone at the club a lift and give them the boost they need to beat the drop once again. Hull have a horrible run-in but have played much better football since the end of January, Mo Diame and James Chester are both set to return and I think they will just grind out enough points to keep their heads above the water. Burnley have performed admirably this season and no doubt the neutrals will be cheering them on, they gave themselves a fighting chance with that result against Manchester City but I’m predicting final day heartbreak, and defeat to Villa seeing Burnley join QPR and Leicester, relegating all three promoted sides for the first time since the 1997/98 season.
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