It's official: the relegation axe has fallen on the first team this season, Derby County. All in all, we knew it was coming, and now it is mathematically impossible (bar three teams being deducted 10 points each, of course) for the club to stay up.
So the question now is: who is going to join them? And which of the ten (yes, ten) Championship sides is coming up?
First to the relegation favourites: Fulham are first on my list, and despite having some very good players in Danny Murphy and Brian McBride, haven't for me, the depth of squad to win any of their remaining matches. I stand by this despite their draw against dismal Derby yesterday.
Bolton squandered a 2-0 lead over Arsenal yesterday that would have brought them within one point of safety, instead they lie, 18th and 4 points adrift of Birmingham, another of the relegation candidates. When you consider that Wigan are on 31, and Newcastle with Reading on 32 points, the only guaranteed relegation remains Derby County.
Looking at the teams these six teams have to play (in my opinion, Wigan's run is hardest because they have more teams in the top half to play than bottom half), it doesn't look good for any of those six teams, and I seriously question how many points each of them can pick up. Bolton, like Newcastle, still have to play Chelsea, Birmingham have Liverpool still to play, but Wigan Athletic still must play both Chelsea and Manchester United, and will play fellow strugglers Reading and Birmingham in their run, and those two matches are crucial as they are almost guaranteed to loose 3 points more out of their run than the rest of the relegation fighters.
Verdict: Fulham and Wigan Athletic to join Derby County in the Championship. I am not, however, ruling out Birmingham, Reading and Newcastle entirely, as they have played some dreadful football and I have no exepectation that this will change.
Now for the championship: any teams down to 10th place (I fear my own team Charlton may be out of it after a 2-3 loss to Wolves yesterday - well done Wolves, by the way, a great match to watch and some stunning goals from the boys in orange), however, at a glance, I think I know the two teams to be promoted automatically, and those who'll fight it out in the play-offs.
Promoted: Bristol City as Champions, Stoke City in second place. Hull are currently in the ascendancy, but looking at their squad against the two other cities, I have to be honest and say I can't see them continuing this fine form into the last five games. Feel free to prove me wrong!
Playoffs: Hull, West Brom and Watford are definites for me. However that last play off place, potentially, could go to any of four other teams, and the team for me, is Ipswich Town. They have impressed me with their frankly beautiful football all season, and even though I can be gracious enough to say that Wolves were the better team yesterday, I don't think their football has been as consistent or as hard hitting as Ipswich Town's has been.
So, to conclude:
Relegated: Derby County, Fulham and Wigan Athletic
Promoted: Bristol City, Stoke City, and any from Hull City, West Brom, Watford and Ipswich Town from the play-offs, with West Brom edging out the other teams, despite an FA cup distraction.
All in all, it's going to be an interesting last few weeks. Feel free to give B/R your views on the ups and downs of the football league.