What a remarkable first half of a season we have just witnessed! It’s been nothing short of incredible hasn’t it?
I feel as if I’ve been reawakened, I really do. After spending the last few years distinctly uninspired by the predictable fare served up by the have’s and have-not’s of the Premier League, this season’s unusual goings-on have perked me up more than a fruitily fizzy glass of Berocca first thing in the morning.
Let’s talk about the excitement we are about to witness in terms of the relegation battle….
It’s not going to be much fun for fans of the 14 clubs separated by just ten points but for the rest of us it’s going to be a thrilling ride. From Wigan in seventh place down to West Brom no one is safe and they won’t be for a good while yet if the last 18 games are as unpredictable as the first 20 have been.
Personally the three things I tend to look out for among sides in for a struggle are character, stability and poor goal difference. So with that in mind, who do I think are least well equipped for the run-in?
Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and West Ham.
I could make a case for every single team outside of the top six to go down but if I supported one of these three clubs I’d be worried. I’m not saying they will all go – in fact I’d be astonished if Pompey, Boro and the Hammers were ALL playing Championship football next term but I sense they will all go very close to the drop.
Well, Portsmouth are really struggling. Tony Adams isn’t inspiring confidence in or outside the club, their key players don’t want to stay, the club is skint — and despite sitting in mid-table they are currently minus 12 on goal difference. If Crouch and/or Defoe leaves the club in January who is going to help them get that back towards zero?
Much of the same can be said about Middlesbrough. Stewart Downing’s recent bombshell is just one example of the problems that lie within. They are a team of hard workers no question but they are young and heads could go quickly if results continue to slide. And where are their quality match-winners, aside from Tuncay? They too, have a shocking goal difference which will be hard to revive.
Finally I come to West Ham, a team in the midst of an excellent run at the moment. They should survive no question but there is something not quite right at Upton Park at the moment. Word on the street suggests they will have to offload too many players this month, such is their financial plight — and if they do I fear it could be curtains for them.
Gianfranco Zola is a lovely guy whose influence is starting to show in terms of the football they play but does he have the players capable of playing the beautiful game? If they sell two or three of their star men during the transfer window he won’t have many of them left!
Remember this; West Ham went down with a side that contained Defoe, Kanoute and Di Canio. Does anyone actually believe the Hammers are safe if Bellamy goes and Ashton remains injured? They will have to play the last few months with a strike force of Cole, Di Michele and Sears….and there is talk that they will sell their best two defenders Upson and Neill too.
All three of these clubs lack stability right now — yes, even Middlesbrough — and that is crucial when it comes to a fight. The financial plight of Pompey and West Ham allied with their managers’ lack of experience should cause alarm. Middlesbrough are backing Southgate but for how much longer?
2009 could be a long, hard struggle for these three clubs….
This article was previously published at 4sportsake.com.