With the Premier League looking relatively wrapped up at the top of the table, drama is expected more than ever at the bottom where seven teams face the fight for survival. Just eight points separate the teams heading into the end of the season which all but ensures a final day battle.
Sitting in 14th position at this time of the year shouldn’t seem too much of a worry, but having lost their last three games West Brom find themselves very much in the dog fight. Manager Tony Pulis admitted that his side are not yet safe following their 3-2 home defeat to bottom of the table Leicester, a game in which West Brom lead twice. A win in that match would have opened up a ten point gap from the relegation zone, all but securing Premier League status for next season. However, as it stands they are just seven points from safety. Adding to the Baggies’ woes is the fact that four of their last six games include Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and a last game of the season fixture away at Arsenal—the hardest run in of the teams below them. Although they are not too far above safety, West Brom should have enough to stay up.
Since Tim Sherwood was appointed manager in late February, Aston Villa have won four out of their last nine games—as many wins as Paul Lambert managed all season. The return to form of Belgian striker Christian Benteke—who has scored eight goals in his last six matches compared to his two goals pre-Sherwood—is a huge positive for everyone at Villa, with the manager insisting there is more to come from him following his winner at Spurs and hat trick to draw 3-3 with fellow strugglers QPR. That upset win at Spurs was vital for their fight for survival; Sherwood coming back to haunt his ex-club who controversially sacked him. A semi-final appearance in the FA Cup against Liverpool may stretch their relatively short squad but winnable fixtures in May against Everton, West Ham and Burnley on the last day of the season should be enough to keep them well above relegation.
After Jermain Defoe’s thunder strike winner against fierce rivals Newcastle at home looked to have strengthened their fight for survival, Sunderland have once again shot themselves in the foot. A huge 4-1 loss at home to Crystal Palace thanks to a Yannick Bolasie hat-trick proved to be too much for many fans. Many were seen, and understandably so, flooding for the exit well before the final whistle. With over 800 games as a football manager, the Black Cats will be hoping that Dick Advocaat’s experience will pay well to keep their side up after he took over the managerial seat from sacked Gus Poyet. Only one win out of the last nine is another worry for struggling Sunderland and the six pointer on the 16th May at home to Leicester will be crucial in deciding whether they will stay up. If they don’t win there, they’ll be relying on spoiling Chelsea’s party on the last game of the season; which could be very do-able given Sunderland’s record at Stamford Bridge.
Last year’s FA Cup runners-up are really struggling at the moment. Hull’s last win came at home to QPR on February 21st: a worrying statistic for under pressure manager Steve Bruce. The Geordie does believe, though, that his side will do enough in their remaining home games in their fight for survival. Defender Paul McShane recently came out to the press saying that the Premier League relegation battle is too close to call. Hull will be looking at last season’s 3-1 win against Liverpool at home to give them inspiration to repeat it again this year but their fixture against Arsenal will be too much. Following this is a pivotal six pointer against Burnley at home on the 9th May. If they lose this, Hull will look destined for championship football with their following games being away at Spurs and home to Manchester United. And sadly for Hull fans, it looks as though this will be the outcome.
The surprise departure of Harry Redknapp at the start of February left QPR in more turmoil than what they already were in. Since Chris Ramsey took over as manager, they’ve just picked up seven points out of a possible thirty, making them one of the favourites to go down. One man who will need to carry on his form if the Hoops are to have a chance is Charlie Austin; already scoring seventeen times. Last time out QPR put up a sterling performance against Chelsea and looked on course to earn a valuable point. But Rob Green’s mistake led to Cesc Fabregas scoring a winner in the last few minutes of the match, adding more gloom to QPR’s fight for survival. They will have to pick up all three points in a home match to West Ham on the 25th April with away trips to Liverpool and Manchester City following. QPR’s away record is appalling and all this added to a tricky six pointer against Leicester City on the final day of the season will surely see them playing Championship football next season.
What Sean Dyche has done for Burnley is unquestionable. On a tight budget he got the Clarets promoted and all season they have looked decent competitors, especially against big teams. Their recent home win over Manchester City all but ended their hope for a consecutive Premier League title. But Burnley haven’t managed to replicate this performance since, only picking up one point in their last three matches; albeit against top teams. The ‘Ginger Mouinho’ says his side still have belief heading in to the fight for survival and this will have to be shown on the 25th April at home to Leicester. Following this, they face a trip to Hull on the 9th May whilst on the last day they again travel to Aston Villa; all six pointers. With the joint fewest wins with Sunderland, Burnley will need to pick up maximum points from these matches to avoid the drop but it looks too much for their tiring side.
That 5-3 win over Manchester United which took Leicester seventh in the league seems a long time ago. Playing well all season but not getting the results is something Nigel Pearson has complained about all season, but the Foxes have hit form at just the right time. Maximum points from their last two outings have given them a real hope of achieving something only West Brom and Sunderland have managed to do, which is to avoid the drop having been bottom at Christmas. On paper, the game in hand isn’t as good as it looks as it comes against Chelsea, but on the 25th April comes a huge six pointer away to Burnley. If that wasn’t enough, Leicester face a six pointer away at Sunderland on the 16th May. Every Leicester City fan and their dog would take their fate to be decided on the final day against QPR at the King Power Stadium in what looks to be the decisive match and a win here could secure a Great Escape.
Final day fixtures: Saturday 24th May 2015