Battle at the bottom

February 26, 2007
(Archive)

It's getting towards the business end of the season and for the clubs at the business end of the table, there's a lot at stake.

Paul Jewell's recent rant over referees' decisions was grounded in an element of truth. The difference between a £50million stay in the Premiership and a less lucrative stint in the Championship really could hinge on a single decision.

As Wigan found to their cost against Arsenal, one referee or assistant has the potential to decide a team's chances of survival at this stage; but it is the below-par performances throughout the season that have landed the teams in trouble.

With ten games to go things at the bottom have already taken shape, especially after the weekend's results, and it's a battle between six. So who has the best chance of staying up?


SHEFFIELD UNITED
•  Next 10 Games

•  March 3 - Everton (h)
•  March 17 - Chelsea (a)
•  March 31 - Bolton (a)
•  April 7 - Newcastle (h)
•  April 9 - Man Utd (a)
•  April 14 - West Ham (h)
•  April 21 - Charlton (a)
•  April 28 - Watford (h)
•  May 5 - Aston Villa (a)
•  May 13 - Wigan (h)

Firstly, Neil Warnock's newboys, Sheffield United. Most would have put the Blades in their potential relegation candidates at the start of the season; but having recently found their feet, and embarrassed the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham, they are seven points clear of the zone and looking good for their place in the top flight.

They still have to go to Chelsea and Man Utd, but importantly they host three of their fellow strugglers at Bramall Lane before the season ends, and their home form should be good enough to keep them up. Add in the fact they have bought in £5million worth of new players like Jon Stead, Matthew Kilgallon and Luton Shelton, and they may even have a chance of staying up next season as well.

VERDICT: 16th - Just keeping their heads above water


MANCHESTER CITY
•  Next 10 Games

•  March 3 - Wigan (h)
•  March 17 - 'Boro (a)
•  March 31 - Newcastle (a)
•  April 7 - Charlton (h)
•  April 9 - Fulham (a)
•  April 14 - Liverpool (h)
•  April 21 - Watford (a)
•  April 28 - Aston Villa (h)
•  May 5 - Man Utd (h)
•  May 13 - Tottenham (a)

No matter how hard they try, Man City just can't escape the relegation fight. Boasting the talents of Joey Barton, Micah Richards, Sylvain Distin and Darius Vassell, the Blues have the potential to do a lot better (as their 8th place in 2004/05 showed), but have yet to unlock it this season.

Having started the season brightly under the enthusiastic Stuart Pearce, City have a tough run-in in the final five games, which could see them dragged further into the mire. Pearce will be combining the England U21 post with his City commitments, so expect fur to fly if there is another season of nail-biting for City fans. With their hottest prospects likely to leave in the summer, the future doesn't look bright, but they're surely safe enough this season.

VERDICT: 15th - Safe by a long way


WIGAN ATHLETIC
•  Next 10 Games

•  March 3 - Man City (a)
•  March 17 - Fulham (h)
•  March 31 - Charlton (a)
•  April 7 - Bolton (h)
•  April 9 - Aston Villa (a)
•  April 14 - Tottenham (h)
•  April 21 - Liverpool (a)
•  April 28 - West Ham (h)
•  May 5 - 'Boro (h)
•  May 13 - Sheff Utd (a)

Not many would have predicted the kind of free-fall that has befallen Paul Jewell's Wigan side this year. They were always going to suffer after selling the likes of Jimmy Bullard, Pascal Chimbonda and Jason Roberts, and it was a dreadful run of eight consecutive losses that saw them slide from 8th in November to 17th in January.

Perched precariously on the edge, and only six points from the drop zone, there are some very important games coming up for the Latics. Notably against Man City, West Ham and Sheffield United - get a result in a few of those and Wigan will be safe. The win over Newcastle was a massive boost, but it'll be close. Charlton on the 31st may help to decide the final place.

VERDICT: 17th - Just safe, after picking up some vital points


WEST HAM UNITED
•  Next 10 Games

•  March 4 - Tottenham (h)
•  March 17 - Blackburn (h)
•  March 31 - 'Boro (h)
•  April 7 - Arsenal (a)
•  April 9 - Chelsea (h)
•  April 14 - Sheff Utd (a)
•  April 21 - Everton (h)
•  April 28 - Wigan (a)
•  May 5- Bolton (h)
•  May 13 - Man Utd (a)

Takeover talk, managerial merry-go-rounds and a 'Baby Bentley' mentality have scuppered West Ham's Premiership run this season. The team that finished 9th and made the FA Cup final last term doesn't look remotely similar to the one struggling now.

The Hammers may have Carlos Tevez, Lucas Neill, Matthew Upson, Nigel Quashie and Luis Boa Morte in their new-look squad, but it hasn't helped much and they have to contend with Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd too. With nine points needed to catch Wigan, West Ham can ill-afford to go down, despite the contention from Eggert Magnusson that they have the funds to 'go straight back'. After defeat to Watford and Charlton and toughest run-in, it's all over for the Hammers.

VERDICT: 20th - Nothing Curbs can do to halt the Hammers slide.


CHARLTON ATHLETIC
•  Next 10 Games

•  March 3 - Watford (a)
•  March 17 - Newcastle (h)
•  March 31 - Wigan (h)
•  April 7 - Man City (a)
•  April 9 - Reading (h)
•  April 14 - Everton (a)
•  April 21 - Sheff Utd (h)
•  April 28 - Blackburn (a)
•  May 5 - Tottenham (h)
•  May 13 - Liverpool (a)

After their own version of 'Manager-Swap' with West Ham, Alan Pardew has seemingly instilled some more belief in a Charlton side who rely too heavily on Darren Bent's goals - even if they have lost twice already this month to United and Chelsea. The win against West Ham was crucial, but it won't be enough.

The side have been virtually rock-bottom since October and even with the January acquisitions of Madjid Bougherra and Ben Thatcher, the Addicks look dead and buried as far as Premiership survival goes. There are some 'must-win' games against the bottom sides, but they'll have to rely on others dropping points first. Think where they'd be if they didn't have Scott Carson (who will be on his way to another club in the summer) in goal and you may get a glimpse into the future.

VERDICT: 18th - Pardew tried hard, but it was just too late.


WATFORD
•  Next 10 Games

•  March 3 - Charlton (h)
•  March 17 - Tottenham (a)
•  March 31 - Chelsea (h)
•  April 7 - 'Boro (a)
•  April 9 - Portsmouth (h)
•  April 14 - Blackburn (a)
•  April 21 - Man City (h)
•  April 28 - Sheff Utd (a)
•  May 5 - Reading (a)
•  May 13 - Newcastle (h)

Newly promoted Watford would have been many peoples pick to finish 20th as the season began, and indeed they are fulfilling that prophecy. Dogged by bad luck, and only three wins in the season, Aidy Boothroyd has his work cut out if they are to avoid the inevitable.

The possibility of picking up points against the likes of Charlton, Man City and Sheffield United remain their best hope of staying up, although with a ten point haul to overcome it may be a bridge too far. Another team with an excellent on-loan goalkeeper, you have to wonder where they would be without Ben Foster between the sticks - although seeing as they're bottom of the league already, it couldn't get much worse.

VERDICT: 19th - Down after a brave fightback


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