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Thursday, 02 December 2010

Prem Relegation Battle: Could history repeat?

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Not since the 2001/02 season have all three promoted sides from the Championship – or indeed the old First Division - survived the following year playing with the big-boys. So, nearly a decade-on could history repeat?

Newcastle have adapted the better out of the trio and don’t look out of place in the top-half, plucky Blackpool continue to exceed expectation and West Brom have been both brilliant and deplorable in equal measure, so at this stage none of the above are penned-in to drop. 

The Geordies play like a decent Premiership side and in Andy Carroll they possess a striker who is well on his way to 20 goals so it goes without saying, for them, his sustained contribution will be key. 

West Brom flit between dazzling and dismal in the blink of an eye, but from the perspective of a newly promoted club there are worse sides in the Premier League and it remains to be seen if their unpredictability can tip the balance towards survival.  

The Blackpool party bus is yet to run out of gas but pundits continue to say the remainder of the season will see them drift closer to the drop zone than away from it - but they are currently averaging three goals a game - the ability to score with such abundance is a good foundation.

The Tangerines can be likened to the Hull side that came up in 2008-09, they continued to rise to the challenge long after their honeymoon period should have expired – beating Arsenal on the road showcased their spirit – a 17th placed finish saw them survive by a point.

Early days it may be but is it too premature to suggest the three teams going down could be those three ‘W’s who currently sit below that line; Wigan, Wolves and West Ham. 

 The latter are under direction of a manager who steered Chelsea to a John Terry ‘slip’ away from European glory in 2008, although now, questions are being asked if Avram Grant has the stomach for a fight possibly serving up very different permutations.

West Ham battled hard to win Grant’s’ self-acclaimed ‘save our season’ clash against Wigan but the root of their problems were exposed at Anfield the previous week. Is there any other club in the Premier League who rely a single player like The Hammers do Scott Parker? His absence in the league converts them into a side bereft of character, drive and fight. 

He returned to inspire against Wigan but in attaining survival they need more mobility from their strikers away from home - defending from the front is a must when on the road - a trait lacking and thus leaving them exposed at Anfield, Parker’s urgency needs to be allied. 

No one doubts they have a decent enough squad but their demeanour seems way too lethargic for a side bottom of the league.

Dispatching the holders Manchester United in the Carling so emphatically was a great morale boost but it also proved there are other members of this Hammers squad that can shoulder some of Parker's burden, they need to step up to the plate more frequently. 

An interest statistic though sees that Grant has not spent a single day outside of the Premier League relegation zone since taking over at Portsmouth in Nov 2009 - forgiveness should be granted from Hammer’s fans – if we say it doesn’t bode well. 

How Wigan could use someone with Parker’s incessant desire. Captain Gary Caldwell has played just three-and-a-quarter games this season - and what with their main creative force Charles N’Zogbia implying Wigan are merely a vehicle for his career progression - they have big problems.    

With just eleven goals scored - the worst ‘gf’ column in the division - and Hugo Rodallega their only striker to have contributed goals their main problem is evident. 

Epitomised by an opening day four-nil shocker at home to newly promoted Blackpool, followed by a six-nil trouncing - again at home - from the champions, although the table suggests otherwise they are surely the weakest team in the league.

To concede 14 goals in their previous two meetings with Chelsea - one of them on the final day of last season - is quite remarkable. Last year 79 goals conceded and a ‘gd’ of -42 set a new negative record for any team surviving in the Premier League, they cannot continue to set ‘worst’ records and expect to retain Premiership status.

Starting at the end of October, Wolves played the current top-four consecutively in a four-week period. Chelsea laboured to victory at The Bridge, United left it typically late at Old Trafford and Molineux succumbed to an unusually gritty Arsenal pinching three points. 

Wolves’ only success came against a squabbling City side that were undone by a greater desire. From the standard of performances many said Mick McCarthy’s boys should have little problem staying up and that these battling performances resulted in unjust defeats, ultimately against so-called lesser opposition they would prosper. 

They should have taken more encouragement from running arguably the best four teams in the country so close. Instead - until the thrilling win against Sunderland - their mentality had seemingly receded. Their form offers a conundrum for McCarthy. 

Fulham are precariously placed and need their number 25 back so they cannot be ignored, while most expect Everton and Aston Villa to have prolonged winning runs at some stage to avoid being the next side, ‘to big’, to go down.   

In a refreshing Premiership season that defines both weird and wonderful there is much gritty football still left in the Premiership tank, but could the three teams who graduated last-year, face a second term battling it out with the country’s football elite. 

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Paul O'Meara



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