English Premier League. Season 20.
Who gets the boot this time? Who suffers the ignominy of relegation, gets sent to the nether worlds of the lower leagues, at the cost of £75 million, the amount pundits estimate will cost the relegated teams in revenue?
There are five candidates.
Three will go down, and three will come up from the dark waters of the underworld.
None of the five candidates—QPR, Bolton Wanderers, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic—will go down without a fight.
In fact, expect much kicking and screaming as Charon rows towards shore to claim his prey and spoils.
There will be blood, for sure, and expect the following:
Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
Accents of anger, words of agony,
And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,
Made up a tumult that goes whirling on...
Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.
It is a quote I have used before, and it is the reaction of those Charon comes to claim for the lower regions.
Charon ferrying the dead across Styx. Alexander Litovchenko.
Bolton and QPR
Bolton Wanderers and QPR took to the battlefield first to decide who ends up where on the table after match day 28.
The two teams showed us why they are at the lower end of the table. It seems to me that Bolton don't care whether they stay up or not. They played without imagination, without cutting edge.
They won. But nobody said anything about not winning. When mediocre teams meet, someone will prove more or less mediocre.
Controversy was not lacking though.
The ball crossed the line and into the Bolton goal from a QPR header, but Adam Bogdan got a hand to it, enough contact to cause a rebound onto the crossbar and out of the Bolton goal.
A still TV image of the QPR goal that wasn't given.
QPR felt undone, and then some sense of injustice before the halftime break, when Bolton took the lead, and when eventually QPR lost the match 2-1.
Although talks will focus on this incident, which the linesman says he didn't see because a couple of players blocked his line of vision, what will be forgotten is that QPR themselves scored their equalizing goal, just after break, from an offside position.
In my opinion, this balances their disallowed goal.
QPR won't care that their own goal, scored by Djibril Cisse, seen here delighted by the goal, was from an offside position. Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.
The result from this match leaves Bolton Wanderers hovering over the relegation zone, just a point better than either QPR and Wolves, points Wigan will match if they win their encounter against Norwich City on Sunday.
The moral here is twofold.
No tales or agitations of sack come from Bolton, despite a run of 19 losses this season. This is unusual in an atmosphere where sacking managers, when things don't go right, is the order of the day.
Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, doesn't seem necessarily bothered by the real possibility of relegation.
It is strange, but it is a welcome change from the usual drums of war that sound in situations like this.
Owen Coyle whispers something to the other embattled manager. Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images.
The other moral is that QPR sacked Neil Warnock after a really commendable achievement of bringing the club up from the Championship to the Premier League. He was suddenly not good enough.
The following record is posted on ESPN's Soccernet website:
It is Mark Hughes' record at QPR after eight matches in charge of the side, following the departure of Neil Warnock, whose record after 20 matches was four wins, five draws and 11 losses.
Hughes is hardly an improvement over Warnock, and that on top of the fact that he has been allowed to spend money to sign new players.
Blackburn and Wolves
It is safe to say Wolverhampton Wanderers are in a crisis after the charade of the Mick McCarthy sack.
After the sack, the Wolves management could not find a replacement for the departed McCarthy, so they were forced to give the job to Terry Connor, McCarthy's assistant.
Wolves have lost two of their three matches since. This is, of course, is not an indictment of Terry Connor, whose position in the situation is somewhat impossible.
What is sure is that the sacking of McCarthy is unlikely to help Wolves stay up in the Premier League.
The 2-0 defeat against Blackburn leaves them second from bottom on the table after earning just 22 points after 28 matches. They are without a victory in 13 league games.
Terry Connor might be better served showing his players a thumbs down sign, given the way their season is going. Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images.
After 28 matches, Blackburn's stats are thus: six wins, seven draws and 15 losses. They hover three points above the relegation zone. Steve Kean, their manager, has endured an unending barrage of abuse from his own fans.
Although Blackburn pulled off one of the season's surprises by beating Manchester United 3-2 at Old Trafford, their inconsistent form means they could end the season in Charon's boat on a journey for a season in the lower leagues, however long that might then turn out to be.
As we know, you can't assume you'll make the journey back the next season.
In the Wolves match, Junior Hoilett relieved the pressure just a little by scoring a brace.
Junior Hoilett sank Wolves with two to help Blackburn keep their head above water for a week at least. Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images.
Wigan Athletic are rooted at the bottom of the table and look like their going down this season is a sure thing. They survived last season by a hair's breadth.
Will they stay up or will they not?
A victory for Wigan over Norwich on Sunday will earn them three points, but it will not be enough to lift them above the relegation zone.
Wigan will require consistent positive results in the remaining 11 matches to ensure they don't go down this season, after two seasons of near misses. It is a battle with death, if relegation can be called that.
For me £75 million sounds near enough.
Roberto Martinez needs to do more deep thinking to ensure his side don't go under this season. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images.