In last week’s column, Steve Neville talked about how close things are in the Premier League tilt for the title and the battle for fourth. This week we flip things around and look at the bottom end of the table.
At times, the relegation battle can dull but at other times it is incredibly entertaining. In seasons gone by we have had the heroics of Roberto Martinez and Wigan escaping the drop three years on the bounce and even last season we had Paolo Di Canio lead Sunderland away from the drop zone at the death.
This season things are even more exciting at the bottom. At the turn of the year, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Sunderland were stuck in the bottom three. Fast forward to today and things are different. Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham now make up the drop zone, showing just how unpredictable things are down there.
Between Hull in 13th and Fulham in 20th there are only seven points separating the teams. And if we take into consideration Swansea in 12thon 27 and Aston Villa and West Ham in 11th and 10th both on 28 points it only eight points separate the bottom club and the club right in the middle of the table.
No one in the bottom half of the table can say with certainty they will be safe this season. Has there ever been that much excitement in a relegation battle?
At the moment Cardiff look in the most danger. New manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn’t seemed to turn things around. A few new signings on loan in the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Fabio don’t look like they will have enough to guide the Welsh side out from the clutches of relegation and a hard fight awaits in the remaining games.
Fulham have endured a torrid season but after a spirited 2-2 draw at Old Trafford and a few signings since January it would be foolish to bet against them. Lewis Holtby and Clint Dempsey were two of the players to get on board and throw into the mix the Premier League experience of Steve Sidwell, Brede Hangeland, Scott Parker and Damien Duff they shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Sunderland who spent the first half of the season rooted to the bottom have clawed their way into 18th with a game in hand over 17th place West Brom. Thanks to the form of Adam Johnson and new manager Gus Poyet has seen the club look like staying up is achievable. Three wins on the trot before a loss to Hull last weekend has seen a remarkable turnaround from a club who looked to be in an unending downward spiral.
West Brom are currently 17th after a spirited draw against Chelsea but results haven’t exactly been excellent since the sacking of Steve Clarke. One win against Newcastle since Pepe Mel was installed as top dog has left them in a dangerous position with Man City and Arsenal still to play. Nicolas Anelka has been more trouble than he’s worth lately and a lack of serious investment in January may stand against them. They take on Fulham at the end of February which is a massive six pointer for both clubs.
Of all the teams fighting relegation the special mention has to go to Crystal Palace. The decision to appoint Tony Pulis has been a master stroke by the Palace board and it has proven Pulis’ credentials as a top manager. Since taking over at Selhurst Park in November the Eagles have gone from 19th to 14th in an impressive turnaround. January signings Tom Ince, Joe Ledley and Scott Dann have improved the side with the former two scoring on their debuts last weekend. Many of the leagues neutral fans will have a lot of good will for Pulis’ Palace and hope they stay up.
West Ham are another side to have vastly improved. The return of Andy Carroll from injury seems to have inspired the side. Ten points in the last four games have catapulted the side to 10th, a remarkable feat considering many tipped them to go down not so long ago. Once Carroll returns from suspension he should aid the cause and he has already showed his quality against Swansea. Hull too look to be in good shape and should avoid going straight back to the Championship. Their new signings Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic are already showing signs of a good strike partnership.
Of the rest Stoke should have enough experience with the likes of Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross to keep them up but Norwich are at a tipping point. If results go against them they could easily find themselves in the red with only a point separating them from 18th. Chris Houghton will be relying on Robert Snodgrass and Nathan Redmond to lead the team up the table.
An exciting finish remains for the lower clubs and it is certain there will be a few more twists and turns before the end. The teams in the drop zone will dare to dream of escaping and look to the turnarounds of Crystal Palace and West Ham for inspiration. The rest will be constantly looking over their shoulder, never knowing how safe they are until the curtain comes down in May.
Pundit Arena, Steve Neville.
Featured Image By Ben Sutherland (Flickr: DSC03803) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.