As we now approach the final few weeks of the Premier League season, the very real possibility of relegation is starting to loom that ever closer for teams at the lower end of the division. Wolverhampton Wanders 2-0 defeat at the hands Manchester City on Sunday sealed their fate as they became the first side to be officially relegated and end a three year period in the top flight. This however was no surprise as it had been on the cards for weeks. Terry Connor had no chance, the Wolves board including Chief Executive Jez Moxley and Chairman Steve Morgan must take some blame due to their sacking of Mick McCarthy and the handling of finding a replacement. As I said in my article at the time, I thought they were going down due to that sacking. Their hopes before it were slim, however Mick McCarthy is a fighter and a leader, so with him they had a chance, without him relegation was inevitable. Anyway this still leaves two unfilled places in the relegation zone. There are 5 candidates for two places but who will it be?
Which fans will face the heart-ache of relegation this year?
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Firstly the team who currently lie second from bottom in the Premier League, Bolton Wanderers. The key for Owen Coyle's men is the 33 games played. All of the teams around them have played 34/35. One of these games in hand is tonight as they take on Aston Villa, another one of the candidates to go down. This is a massive game and one which I can see Bolton winning. This is my mid-week bet, Bolton to win. Bolton have had a very tough year, losing the American attacking midfielder player Stuart Holden, a player I rate, and speedy South Korean winger Lee Chung-Yong for the whole season was a major blow. Obviously of late they have also had the terrible incident involving Fabrice Muamba, who is now thankfully ok. However for me they are struggled because key players have not been replaced.
Elmander's absence has been greatly missed
The key to any survival hope is that of goals. Last season Bolton had Daniel Sturridge and Roderigo on loan from Chelsea and Benfica respectively as well as Johan Elmander (right). Of these three Sturridge (8 goals in 12 games) and Elmander (10 goals) were key. Sturridge only came in january although helps Wanderers to a top half finish. In the summer Sturridge returned to Chelsea and Elmander left for Galatasaray. Neither have been replaced properly. It has shown this season. On saturday I saw them play Swansea in which they were very lucky to get a point. However having said this I still expect Bolton to survive. The game tonight is a must win, no doubt. The other game in hand on Tottenham, is also winnable given their recent form. In the other games Sunderland have nothing to play for and have been playing of late as if they are already on holiday, so chance. West Brom and Stoke again, points are there to be won. The key to this is that Bolton must attack each game. I have yet to see a real hunger and desire in a Wanderers perform of late. Players such as Chris Eagles, Martin Petrov, Mark Davies and Kevin Davies will be the key, they must raise their game and perform. Although I see Ivan Klasnic as the man to fire Bolton to survival. I expect an all out onslaught against Villa, who have been so poor of late and lack goal-scorers or any class. A win here will I think be the springboard to survival.
Bolton Wanders run in: Aston Villa (A), Sunderland (A), Tottenham Hotspur (H), West Brom (H) and Stoke City (A)
Points Prediction: 40
SkyBet odds: 5/4 to stay up --- 4/7 to go down
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Secondly we have Blackburn Rovers. I have a lot of respect for manager Steve Kean (left). All year he has put up with non-stop, 'Kean out' chanting and banners. Yet the man has remains dignified and calm. I do think he has made some errors this season no doubt however he has not had much to work with and the constant depression around Edwood Park has not made this any easier. For me Blackburn are down. The key games for me were against Bolton when they needed to win and were on a good run, and the game against Liverpool. If anything the comical game against Liverpool stuck out for me. Liverpool have been poor and were there for the taking. Even after a dire start in which they found themselves 2-0 down they were handed a glorious oppotunity. Red card for Doni and a penalty. Yakubu missed from the spot and despite a spirited comeback they lost 3-2. Now I can not doubt nor knock the passion, energy and effort of the Rovers players that night, however the lack of quality was galling. In the second half Blackburn barely created a chance in open play and this was against 10 men. For me this lack of quality really showed why Blackburn are where they are, and to be honest they deserve to be there. The only hope for Rovers is that of Junior Holliett and Yakubu. These two are the key to their success having both scored in the weekends 2-0 win over Norwich. Although when you look at the games to go, two away trips to Tottenham and Chelsea, I can not see them getting anything here. The home game to Wigan is winnable and think that they might win this one, although it will not be enough to see them survive.
Blackburn Rovers run in: Tottenham Hotspur (A), Wigan Athletic (H), Chelsea (A)
Points Prediction: 34
SkyBet odds: 11/4 to stay up --- 1/4 to go down
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Thirdly Wigan, the team with the experience of the relegation dogfight. They are my favourite of the five to stay up. Wigan chairman Dave Whelan deserved some credit for having faith in manager Roberto Martinez (left) even when they went 9 games without a win earlier in the year. Despite last weeks defeat to Fulham they have shown that they have enough to survive. High flying Newcastle United travel to the DW this weekend and that will be a very tough one for them I think, even though Newcastle are the form side. I have been very impressed by Wigan of late with wins over Manchester United and Arsenal. The performance against Arsenal was particular terrific being away from home. The way Wigan are playing is unlike any of the others at the bottom. They seem to have a confidence when they play. It is almost as if they are so confident of staying up. They also have players who can hurt the opposition. In Victor Moses they have a player with real skill and speed. Also if they can manage to get Hugo Rodellega fit, he also presents a threat and without doubt and game-changer. For me they are one win from safety and the final day game against Wolves will provide that win.
Wigan Athelthic's run in: Newcastle United (H), Blackburn Rovers (A) and Wolves (H)
SkyBet odds: 1/7 to stay up --- 4-1 to go down
Queens Park Rangers
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The key to QPR's hopes of survival is that of their home form. Mark Hughes' men have picked up most of their points at Loftus Road. Recent home victories over Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham mean that for me they are like Wigan in the respect that they are one win away from safety. This win will have to come in their final home game against Stoke. The two away games they have left I can not see them getting anything from either of them. Away at Chelsea, it is a local derby but Chelsea will be too strong and Manchester City, well it depends if the title is on the line, but even if it is over I can not see Manchester City not winning this one. Also in players such as Adel Taarabt (right), Jamie Mackie and the returning Djibril Cisse are all match-winners. QPR will be hoping that Adel Taarabt is back from suspension for the Stoke game after his silly red card against Tottenham.
Queens Park Rangers run in: Chelsea (A), Stoke (H) and Manchester City (A)
SkyBet odds: 4/9 to stay up-- 13/8 to go down
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Finally poor Aston Villa. I have said for weeks that I thought Aston Villa were the outsider to go down. I said a few weeks back that 12/1 was a stunning price. One which I took. Villa have been dire of late, in fact for me they have been poor all season. You look at the Villa team and there is nothing there. In goal they have the great Shay Given, however he is past his best of 5 years ago when he was at Newcastle. Elsewhere all they have is Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor. With Darren Bent being injured they are toothless. Manager Alex Mcleish (left) is looking a very worried man, and it is easy to see why. Aston Villa are for me one win away from safety however, unlike QPR and Wigan I can not see them getting it. The game tonight is for me their last chance. They are at home to Bolton Wanderers, and this is the only game for me they even have a chance of getting anything. Away at rivals West Brom they have no chance. A derby and West Brom will enjoy beating them and sending them towards relegation. Tottenham's can not keep under performing and not getting the luck. Villa will get nothing here and the final day away at Norwich is very tough. The main reason I do not think they will win this one is goals. Norwich score goals and will against Villa no doubt, although the maximum Villa will score in 1. If Villa do indeed go down, surely Mcleish must be the first ever manager to take two different teams down from the Premier League in consecutive seasons.
Aston Villa's run in: Bolton Wanderers (H), West Brom (A), Tottenham Hotspur (H) and Norwich (A)
SkyBet: 10/1 to go down --- SkyBet website currently does not offer a price. (Will do after tonights defeat).
My view is that the two to join Wolves with be Blackburn and Aston Villa (tonight game key to Villa, as a win will probably see them safe). But what do you think? Comments welcome.
Although past experiences tell me that anything is possible in the Premier League and that is why it is the best league in the world.