Premier League Relegation: Who's Going Down, Who's Staying Up?
As the Premier League campaign enters its final run of fixtures, several clubs are still sweating on their top-flight status for next season.
Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers and even Aston Villa are still scrapping for survival.
Wolverhampton Wanderers had their fate sealed last weekend when defeat to Manchester City at Molineux saw them relegated after three years back in the top division. Terry Connor was thrust into the job following Mick McCarthy's surprise sacking, but a woeful run of two points from 10 games was not nearly enough to keep them up.
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Current position: 15th, 36 points, -14 goal difference
Remaining fixtures: West Bromwich Albion (away), Tottenham Hotspur (home), Norwich City (away)
How on earth a club the size of Villa have allowed themselves to be dragged into this mess is anyone's guess, but Tuesday's defeat at home to Bolton has left them just three points from safety with only three games left to play.
A record of 15 draws and only seven wins—respectively the highest and lowest in the league this season—pretty much sums up Villa's problem under Alex McLeish. Many fans of the club were dead against appointing the former Birmingham boss last summer, and their worries over his negative brand of football were well-founded.
A Midlands derby at West Brom, a home game against Tottenham and final-day trip to a comfortably mid-table Norwich may all be challenging fixtures, but Villa should be able to salvage enough points from those fixtures to stop McLeish emulating Avram Grant by getting two different teams relegated from the Premier League in consecutive seasons.
Verdict: Staying up
Queens Park Rangers
Current position: 16th, 34 points, -18 goal difference
Remaining fixtures: Chelsea (away), Stoke City (home), Manchester City (away)
It took a while to get going, but after a run of just one league win in his first eight games in charge Mark Hughes' tenure at QPR is finally looking in good shape.
The Rs' run of four straight home wins against Liverpool, Arsenal, Swansea and Tottenham have got the Loftus Road faithful confident of survival.
However, two of their final three games come against two top sides, starting with this weekend's derby trip to Chelsea. Any hopes that the Blues will be tired from their heroic exertions against Barcelona on Tuesday are dampened by the fact that Chelsea have won eight and only lost two of their 11 matches that immediately followed Champions League games this season. In-form attacker Adel Taarabt is also suspended for that game.
A home clash against Stoke comes after that, and then it is a trip to Manchester City on the final day. Even if City's title hopes are ended by that point, can Hughes really hope to score a win against his old club, who are still unbeaten at home this season?
QPR have the worst away record in the Premier League this season, taking just 11 points on the road. With visits to two of the top clubs in the division, their travel sickness could prove their downfall.
Verdict: Going down
Current position: 17th, 34 points, -26 goal difference
Remaining fixtures: Newcastle United (home), Blackburn Rovers (away), Wolverhampton Wanderers (home)
Wigan were rock bottom in mid-March following run of 14 games without a win, and it looked as though their seven-year residence in the top flight was set to end.
No one would have given them a prayer of securing back-to-back wins against Manchester United and Arsenal, but that's exactly what they did earlier this month to help lift them out of the relegation zone at a crucial time. They were brought back down to earth with a loss at Fulham last weekend, but there must be a real belief in the squad that they can replicate last season's escape on the final day.
The Latics have a pretty favourable run of fixtures compared to some of their other relegation rivals. They host Newcastle—who only beat them 1-0 with a late goal at St James' Park back in October—before they make the short trip to Blackburn for a relegation six-pointer and finish things off at home against the already-relegated Wolves.
Key players like Victor Moses and Shaun Maloney are hitting form at just the right time, and the DW Stadium may yet see Premier League football next season after all.
Verdict: Staying up
Current position: 18th, 33 points, -28 goal difference
Remaining fixtures: Sunderland (away), Tottenham Hotspur (home), West Bromwich Albion (home), Stoke City (away)
Bolton's recent results against the teams their fellow relegation fighters have helped give them a great chance of staying up. In March they scored three straight wins against QPR, Blackburn and Wolves, while on Tuesday they claimed a big win at Aston Villa.
They also have a game in hand on all of the teams around them, which will be played at home against Tottenham on May 2. While that may seem like a tough proposition, Spurs have not won at the Reebok Stadium in the league since it opened in 1997.
The rest of their fixtures—against Sunderland, West Brom and Stoke—are all against sides with little to play for other than the odd move up or down mid-table.
As such, Owen Coyle's Trotters have a good prospect of staying up, even if they do currently sit in the relegation zone.
Verdict: Staying up
Current position: 19th, 31 points, -26 goal difference
Remaining fixtures: Tottenham Hotspur (away), Wigan Athletic (home), Chelsea (away)
If it's goals you crave, then Blackburn have been the team to watch this season. There have been a phenomenal 120 goals scored in Rovers' matches this season, more than any other side in the division.
While no one outside the top six has scored more than their 47 goals this season, only Wolves have shipped more than their haul of 73 this term.
And therein lies the problem. Usually having a goal scorer like Yakubu in your ranks would be a crucial advantage in a relegation fight, but with trips to White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge—against two teams still hoping to finish in the top four—the prospects of grabbing any more points on the road look slim.
Sandwiched in between those games is the home clash against Wigan. The reverse fixture saw a dramatic 3-3 draw at the DW Stadium in which Yakubu secured a point with a penalty eight minutes into stoppage time. The rematch promises to be another belter, but even if Blackburn win it seems unlikely they will be able to enough to stay up.
Verdict: Going down
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