English Premier League: Ranking the Contenders for the Drop in 2012
As we enter the festive period, the games will come thick and fast, as they always do.
As a result, this time of year can be crucial at both ends of the table.
A string of good results can leave you in a strong position to go and claim your spot in next years' English Premier League season, with the opposite potentially starting a tense relegation battle with the teams around you.
Here's a list of who I think will be down there come the end of the season, and who from the current incumbent of the Premier League should be asking for a few good results from the "Big Man" this Christmas.
The only reason the Black Cats have made this list is because of the work of recently departed boss Steve Bruce.
Sunderland's white knight arrived only four days later in the form of Martin O'Neill, and the Northern Irishman kicked things off with a last gasp victory over fellow strugglers Blackburn.
However, a weekend loss to Tottenham meant any momentum was squashed.
With winnable games against QPR and Everton next, O'Neill will be hoping the next few weeks are a season of good cheer for the Northerners.
There is no doubt in my mind that O'Neill will turn round the fortunes of Sunderland. In the long run he will do what he did with Villa; make them a stable top half team, pressing for the top six. And in the short term, he will keep them in the league.
Owen Coyle's Bolton find themselves in a poor league position—with bad results against West Brom and Fulham—highlighting their plight.
They have, however, played all the so-called "Top 6" already and have a string of games coming up that the Trotters ought to be winning if they're aiming for another mid-table campaign.
A win against Blackburn has taken them off the foot of the table, but they're still a long way to go before they're safe.
I firmly believe Coyle will turn around Bolton's early form and lead them out of relegation contention. It will be interesting to watch Bolton in the January transfer window, as Coyle has stated in the past that he needs to strengthen, particularly in the forward department.
Queen's Park Rangers, despite a positive start now find themselves in a spot of bother, following three defeats in the past four matches.
Neil Warnock's men have been up and down all season and the weeks to come could be telling in their first campaign back in the top flight.
Viewed by many as the strongest of the three promoted sides, QPR have ties with Sunderland, Swansea and Norwich over the next two weeks, all of which are matches a relegation avoiding side should be winning.
Like I've said before, I firmly believe all the three promoted sides will stay in the league for the 2012-2013 season. If this comes true, it will be only the second time it has happened in Premier League history, and the first time since the 2001-2002 campaign. However, for this to happen QPR must trust Warnock and his signings' abilities and everything will be fine and dandy.
Roberto Martinez's Wigan have avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth for two consecutive seasons now, but will the Premier League's perennial limpet be able to hold on for another year?
With the three promoted sides looking far stronger than their counterparts from seasons past, the Latics will need to up their game if they are to stay in the league for the seventh time running.
Having lost eight games in a row already this season, things aren't looking good, and with Man U and Stoke away, as well as Liverpool at home before the turn of the year, Wigan could be further into the murky waters of the bottom three come January.
I can see Wigan being down there come the end of the season. Whether they will go down or not will hang in the balance, and it could go down to the last day just like last year.
For Wigan to be safe, Martinez needs to buy or loan in some players in January that can make the difference, but I doubt that will happen.
Much like Wigan, the Wolves survived by the narrowest of margins last year, needing a last-minute goal from Stephen Hunt to preserve their Premier League status.
But surprisingly, boss Mick McCarthy still doesn't have the full backing of the Wolves' supporters, or so chants of "you don't know what you're doing" would seem to indicate.
However, Mick's men sit just outside the bottom three and without a great deal of financial clout behind them, December and January will be important months in the long run.
I fear for Wolves. They don't have the strength in depth of their counterparts, and they will unquestionably be in a relegation battle come April/May.
Blackburn's troubles are piling up.
Fans who detest the manager, and owners who arguably don't know what they are doing.
Only two wins from 17, lying bottom of the table, and suffering from a pandemic of low morale, this festive season could be anything but joyful for Rovers.
With matches against Liverpool and Man U to come before January, Steve Kean's fate will surely be sealed before the new year.
I am hesitant to jump on the 'Kean Out" bandwagon, but it has to be done. The man is hopelessly out of his depth and appears to exercise no power or respect whatsoever over his players ("The Yak" aside), and for Rovers to have any chance of challenging for 17th, the Scot needs to go.