A Premier League relegation battle that's raged on throughout the second half of the campaign captured its first two victims on Saturday. Losses by Fulham and Cardiff City ensured those clubs would finish in the bottom three for the 2013-14 season.
The Premier League confirmed the impending exit of both sides:
Fulham were giving Stoke City a strong fight on the road for most of the first half. Peter Odemwingie scored for Stoke a handful of minutes before the break, however, and that seemed to take the wind out of the Cottagers' sails.
The Potters stretched the lead to 3-0 after halftime before Kieran Richardson finally got Fulham on the board with about 10 minutes to play. It was too little, too late as Stoke scored a few minutes later to squash any comeback hopes and seal their opponent's fate.
Freelance writer Andy Glockner said Fulham getting relegated wasn't just one bad season, but rather three years of mistakes catching up with the club:
I'll have more thoughts at some point, but Fulham deserved this. Three years of poor execution and the bill finally came due.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) May 3, 2014
With the possibility of relegation looming earlier in the week, Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail passed along comments from Cottagers manager Felix Magath, who said he would be sticking around to rebuild the club regardless of the outcome:
There is no doubt about my future. I am coming here to build up a new team.
I know the situation, it is a wonderful club that has problems at the moment—that has problems with the first team—but a good youth academy.
After the loss to Stoke, BBC Sport noted he said his team was probably doomed from the start:
Fulham boss Felix Magath apologises for 'not managing the situation' & says his side 'had no chance from the start.' http://t.co/sFCSDA6udk— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) May 3, 2014
Cardiff are also on their way down after a 3-0 loss to Newcastle. The Magpies, who have struggled during the latter stages of the campaign, jumped out to an early lead thanks to Shola Ameobi and put the defensive clamps from there before adding a few more goals late.
It was the type of performance that confirmed the Bluebirds probably deserved to go down this season. That doesn't make it any easier to accept for the club and its supporters, though. Ian Darke of BT Sport summed up the thoughts of outside observers:
Feel for fans of relegated Fulham and Cardiff. But what a win for Sunderland !— Ian Darke (@IanDarke) May 3, 2014
Which club will make it back to the EPL quicker?
Both clubs have one more match to play to close out the campaign. It's for nothing more than pride, though. Soon the focus will shift to reshaping the roster with hopes of only spending one year in the Championship before returning to the top flight.
It's a process that starts by figuring out which players, if any, don't want to stay with the club following relegation and filling those holes. Then they can emphasize trying to find some players on the rise who are looking for a stepping-stone opportunity.
A journey down to the Championship is one clubs fear when the Premier League season begins. Now Fulham and Cardiff have to focus on making it as short of a journey as possible.