Who’s Going Down?
Whilst for a lot of us, the day’s greatest tribulation involved lumpy gravy, this Sunday was particularly cruel for West Ham. After getting themselves into a position where even the most pessimistic of Hammers fans must have been thinking the great escape was on, the collapse came and the trap door has opened under them in spectacular fashion. The club that makes events in Dream Team look plausible and Harchester United like a tranquil and well run club will play in the Championship next season and unless they manage a quick turnaround, they’ll have the millstone of a 20% full Olympic Stadium around their neck for some time to come.
Almost instantly the ‘too good to go down’ clichés were being tarted up and wheeled out, but I’ve seen West Ham a few times this season and rarely could the words ‘too good’ be used to describe them. They’ve done it in patches, probably best exemplified by the Jekyll and Hyde display against Man Utd a couple of months back. At one stage they had shown flashes of ruthlessness and flair to snatch a surprise lead, but by the end they looked like a rogue pub team who’d earned their place in the Premier League owing to some outlandish clerical error. The blame attributed to Avram Grant by certain sections of the football world has bordered on racist and although unemployment is never fun, he’s probably best out of the bizarre and at times toxic environment at board level around Upton Park.
5 teams, 2 relegation places, 1 point and a handful of goals separating them all – we’re in for a final day that may well match the drama the Sky Sports’ hype machine always predicts. The conspiracy theories are already out in force. ‘Sir Alex is close to McLeish due to their Aberdeen days so he won’t let Blackpool win’ was one of the best. Anyone who’s seen Sir Alex operate over the last 25 years should know that when it comes to football, the only person Sir Alex looks out for is Sir Alex. Those in need of a rest ahead of the Champions League Final will be rested and those in danger of seizing up will get a run-out. Either way he’ll want and fully expect a win – even against a bunch of highly motivated players fighting for their Premier League survival and in turn their free entry into Spearmint Rhino. Ian Holloway has to be commended for letting his players play with such freedom over the course of the season, but you’d have to wonder what the situation might now be if there was a touch more discipline to their performances. It’s a bit of a pointless argument and you wouldn’t give them much of a chance of out-slugging Man Utd at Old Trafford.
Having had the minor advantage of kicking off early on Saturday, Wolves were delighted with their win at Sunderland, but as the results rolled in over the weekend, the ecstasy waned. If the scowl had lifted off Mick McCarthy’s face for a few hours, it was surely back with vengeance as Wigan snatched their late winner. The saving grace is they’ve got home advantage on the final day of the season, but the concern is they’ve got a team they’re expected to beat coming to town. Wolves’ problems this season are largely down to their inability to beat the teams around them. They’ve amassed an impressive collection of big team scalps this season, but squandered points to rivals directly involved in the relegation battle. They’ve combined style with strength and actually played a nice brand of football this season, but there’s a real reliance on a few key players and injuries have shown the lack of depth to the squad. I always expected Blackburn to drag themselves out of the scrap, but it hasn’t happened and although watching a Sam Allardyce team week in week out isn’t appealing, watching Blackburn in the Championship is going to be a whole lot worse.
For the last couple of weeks, Harry Redknapp has been making noises that suggest he’d welcome a visit from the tax inspector more than Europa League football, but if he wants to keep his star players, it’s better to have it than not. Although the run to the quarter-finals of the Champions League was impressive, Spurs won’t be at the party next season and Europa League football would at least suggest they’re not far off a return to the Champions League. Birmingham’s lack of goals is the reason they’re in this mess and whatever happens on the last day of the season, they’re likely to finish the season as the lowest scorers in the Premier League. With Tottenham’s attacking prowess, you’d think they’ll manage at least one and it’ll be difficult for Birmingham to pull three points out of the bag from there. It’s a shame, but the pursuit of the Carling Cup has taken it’s toll and they’re in serious danger of going down, despite playing some good football at various times this season.
Wigan aren’t exactly the type of hoof-merchants you expect to see in the battle to beat the drop either, but they’ve done something to merit being in the midst of scramble for safety. They won’t get anything easy from Stoke, but after a long season and the anti-climax of the FA Cup Final, it’s only natural if a few minds start to wander to the beaches of the world. Claiming a point is certainly within their capabilities and if Stoke spend too long day-dreaming, they’re well equipped to capitalise.
Final day predictions:
Wolves 2-1 Blackburn
Stoke 1-1 Wigan
Man Utd 3-1 Blackpool
Tottenham 1-1 Birmingham
It’s skin of the teeth stuff, but I reckon Wolves, Blackburn and Birmingham will be safe, with Wigan and Blackpool going down: