It's impossible to predict the Prem's relegation fight

Posted by Ian Darke

Relegation is a dirty word. It is humiliating. It costs clubs millions of dollars, leaves fans in despair and managers and players wondering about their future. In a remarkable battle to avoid the drop from the Premier League, no fewer than eleven teams are involved. Only four points separates Swansea in 10th to Sunderland lying 18th.

Gus Poyet's team along with West Ham and Crystal Palace have all enjoyed mini-revivals but they are not out of trouble.

Poyet has done superbly restoring sanity and stability up on Wearside after the volcanic reign of Paolo Di Canio. His biggest achievement has been conjuring a career revival from the enigmatic but dangerous winger Adam Johnson.

Elsewhere chairmen are panicking, particularly bottom club Fulham's Shad Khan. He's onto his third manager of the season, the no-nonsense hard-liner from Germany, Felix Magath.

Magath started by cancelling the players' day off and making them work. Stories abound of his brutal training regime but he says "It is OK. Nobody died." But is fitness Fulham's problem? No, it is a leaky defence and shaky confidence. Magath says they need six wins to stay up. That means doubling the number of victories so far. Good luck with that.

- Smith: Predicting the relegation race

Cardiff got rid of the man who took them in to the Premier League, Malky Mackay, and decided to take a punt on the popular former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Ole is a noted student of the game and did very well in Norway with Molde, but he is being asked to turn water into wine at Cardiff, where goals are in short supply.

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesHull are relying on goals from new signing Shane Long in order to stay another year in the Premier League.

Likewise, West Bromwich Albion have gone for a manager in Pepe Mel with no experience of the special demands in England's top flight. We are told Mel writes a mean novel in his spare time, but the decision to dispense with Steve Clarke (eighth last season) might leave the Baggies wondering what is on the last page this season.

Norwich fans are rightly anxious, knowing that their last four games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. The Canaries are a spirited bunch but need some points on the board ahead of that nightmare finish.

Under Mark Hughes, Stoke seem to good to go down playing a more progressive style this season -- but they cannot seem to win away or drag themselves clear.

Hull started well but faded. Their hopes of avoiding an instant return to the Championship are pinned on new strikers Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic improving the club's record of under one goal per game.

Aston Villa's problem has been their home form -- three wins and eight defeats at Villa Park. The big improvement predicted this season by Paul Lambert has not really materialised, although they have the pace to trouble any defence on their day and should be okay.

Considering the above, it is interesting that two of the Premier League's most experienced old sweats, Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis, are the ones doing best.

Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty ImagesOne of the Prem's most experienced managers, West Ham's Sam Allardyce, is faring much better than the league's new faces.

Allardyce's West Ham were crippled by injuries before Christmas but with important players like Andy Carroll and Winston Reid fit again and Kevin Nolan returning to form, they are winning and keeping clean sheets. The Hammers could even end up equalling last season's 10th place finish.

Palace's decision to appoint Tony Pulis looks the best by any team in the relegation dogfight. The former Stoke boss inherited a team who simply did not look good enough for the Premier League and the transformation has been remarkable. Pulis has them tough and well-organised, also adding extra quality -- most notably in young Tom Ince.

Which leaves Swansea, who probably made the right move in replacing Michael Laudrup. The word was he was leaving at the end of the season anyway, and the players had lost their edge as a result. It is evident that long-serving Gary Monk has re-energised the club and you would expect that they would have too much ability to fall any nearer to trouble.

So what we have is an astonishing game of musical chairs between all these teams, all jostling to avoid being in the fateful bottom three when the music stops in May.

At this stage, I would be most fearful for Fulham, Cardiff and Norwich. But in reality, it is a battle that defies confident predictions.


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