For so much of this Premier League season there has been little clarity regarding the three teams that will go down. Slowly but surely, however, a clutch of teams are looking much more likely than the rest to depart the league.
Despite there still currently being only seven points separating the drop zone and Newcastle United in ninth place, the fact that the bottom five are consistently failing to pick up points makes it clear which teams have the most to do over the next four or five games. On Saturday, four of the five from 16th to 20th played and not one picked up points.
Of the four, both Wolverhampton Wanders and Blackpool showed fight at home, but both were fixtures their supporters would have highlighted as must-wins in the rapidly dwindling list of fixtures, against Fulham and Newcastle United respectively. The other two, Wigan and West Ham, both fell apart away from home at the hands of Sunderland and Chelsea respectively, while Blackburn face Manchester City on Monday night. Blackpool have plummeted since the turn of the year, but will draw encouragement from the energetic draw with Newcastle that they can beat both Stoke and Bolton at home, with their away fixtures, Tottenham and Manchester United, providing very little room for optimism.
Wolves, despite being on the back foot for much of the game against Fulham, showed fight and a cutting edge that might stand them in good stead for their remaining five fixtures, of which all but one are against teams in the bottom half of the league, just as Fulham are. They face Blackburn on the final day at Molineux with the other home match coming on May 8 against fierce rivals West Brom. Winning both might not even guarantee survival, but with the improvement shown since the Everton performance Mick McCarthy will be expecting all six points, as well as something in the three away from home.
Wigan, who have now conceded four or more goals 11 times in two Premier League seasons, were run ragged by Steve Bruce’s Sunderland, who themselves until today were in real danger of dropping into the mix. Roberto Martinez’s players will need to improve at the back away from home with tricky ties at Aston Villa and Stoke to come in the next month. The two goals, however, will be encouraging for a side that has struggled to score but now has five in two league games. Wigan’s penultimate game sees them face bottom-of-the-table West Ham at home, who eventually succumbed 3-0 to Chelsea on Saturday.
The Hammers, as well as the trip to the DW Stadium, go to Manchester City next, and without an away win since February 2 must surely be looking at the games at home to Blackburn and Sunderland as must-wins if they are to survive. With 18th and 20th facing each other, there may well not be room for both unless the points required come from elsewhere.