The league champions box can usually be ticked long before the season ends, but relegation tends to be a last-day affair. Permutations make math geeks of us all and no matter where our allegiances lie; we usually have some sort of sentimental stake in the fall of the axe.
This season, just 10 points separate 20th and 10th, with a further 11 points between 10th and 9th. There is no middle ground in 2014 and for most of the bottom sides, they’ve 10 games or less remain to turn their fortunes around.
Fulham bring up the rear with 21 points, having just appointed Felix Magath – noted escape artist – to stop the rot. Sunderland aren’t far ahead with 24 points, but they have suffered a fixture squash due to their League Cup exploits and have three games in hand over Fulham and their relegation zone bedfellows Cardiff.
Cardiff are level on points with West Brom but the Baggies have a far superior goal difference.
Can Fulham mount a resurrection charge? Will Sunderland overcome fatigue and secure survival? Are Cardiff’s issues bound to weigh them down? And can the teams above them avoid slipping down the ladder and into Championship ignominy?
Here’s a few tales of endurance against the odds to give them a boost.
Fulham were dying. Their Premier League life as they knew it flashed before their eyes. Twenty minutes remained on the clock and Manchester City were leading the match 2-0. A loss would see them six points adrift of safety with only two games to go.
Suddenly, Diomansy Kamara supplied what could’ve been a mere consolation. Nine minutes later, Fulham are awarded a penalty. Danny Murphy’s shot is saved but he somehow manages to score the rebound. Kamara scored another in the last minute. Could it be…?
Fulham still had work to do, mind. They beat Birmingham at Craven Cottage the following week. On the last day, they secured the win away at Portsmouth that would see them live on due to goal difference, sentencing Reading to the drop. So no need to fret, Felix – it’s been done before.
West Ham United, 2006/2007
Carlos Tevez is usually the villain in any story, but for West Ham that season he was directly related to their potential demise. And directly responsible for their eventual survival.
The Hammers started the season in high spirits having somehow manoeuvred the signings of Tevez and his Argentine compatriot Javier Mascherano. When something looks too good to be true, the caveat is that it usually is, and that was very much the case. The deals violated Premier League rules and West Ham were fined £5.5m.
They somehow escaped without a points deduction (much to the dismay of eventual losers Sheffield United). Even still, in March 2007, West Ham were 17 th and 10 points behind Manchester City.
Big wins against Blackburn, Middlesbrough and Arsenal saw them claw their way up, but then they fell to Sheffield United and Chelsea in quick succession. They responded well, winning the following three games, and it all came down to a decider at Old Trafford.
United had already been crowned Champions and Fergie played a weakened squad. Still, it was win or bust for the Hammers and few thought that they would manage it. One Carlos Tevez goal and a 1-0 win later, they were set to live in another season in the Premier League.
West Brom, 2004/2005
West Brom spent the 2004/2005 season in its entirety rooted to the bottom of the table. They were 20th on Christmas day and were on a 15 game win-less streak when they finally defeated Manchester City at the Hawthorns in late January.
They managed wins against Birmingham, Charlton and Everton and draws against Manchester United, Spurs, Villa and Blackburn but they needed a miracle to survive on the last day. Beating Portsmouth and winning the permutations lottery was their only hope.
They delivered a 2-0 win on the final day and the other fixtures extraordinarily went their way. They stayed up, at the expense of Southampton, Crystal Palace and Sunderland. Between their lowest ebb, at the end of February, to the day in May when their continued Premier League existence was sealed, they had collected 16 points.
West Brom’s survival made them the only team in Premier League history to be bottom at Christmas but eventually beat the drop (a ray of hope for Sunderland, who were 20th on December 25) and it was also the only season when all three relegation places were decided on the last day of the fixture calendar.
Southampton were in deep trouble with eight 8 games remaining of the 1996/1997 season. The bottom 3 was tight but Southampton were bottom and four points shy of 17th place safety. Enter Mickey Evans; a Football League recruit who joined the Saints in March and scored four critical goals in Southampton’s survival push.
Four wins and three draws in the following seven fixtures were enough to ensure that Southampton were home and dry even despite losing to Aston Villa on the last day. Saints fans would credit Evans with the feat, but no doubt they had luck on their side as well.
Oldham Athletic, 1992/1993
Back when the season was 42 games long, Oldham pulled off a daring escape in the first relegation battle of the Premier League era. Thirteen games remained in February 1993; Oldham were bottom and four points adrift of 19th.
Their only defeats came on the road against Norwich, Spurs and Liverpool. Boundary Park became a fortress. Six wins, three draws and three losses later and Oldham faced Southampton at home knowing that just to have a chance at staying up.
They would need to win, hope Crystal Palace were beaten by Arsenal at Highbury, and that they could overcome Palace on goal difference.
Arsenal won 3-0. Oldham were leading Southampton 4-1 until 2 goals from Matt le Tissier threw the fans into an anxious frenzy. Oldham ended up surviving by a whisker, two goals better off than Palace.