Relegation is the one chapter that all teams in the Premier League want to avoid being written into. However, three clubs and their supporters will have to suffer the anguish of being banished to the Championship – for one season at least. It seems as though each season is getting harder to judge and with unpredictability becoming predictable, I try to predict who will be this season’s losers. Do you agree with me?
SUNDERLAND – After a disastrous start to the season under former manager Paolo Di Canio, the ‘Black Cats’ find themsleves languishing at the bottom of the table. There was talk of dressing room revolts and over-dramatised reports of Di Canio running a Mussolini-type regime at the training ground. Gus Poyet’s arrival as manager has seen an upturn in the fortunes of Sunderland. Having taken just one point from their first eight matches in the league, they looked down and out but now they are fighting on thirteen points. Their latest positive result was inflicting a first home league defeat on Everton in 2013 which included their third league clean sheet in a row. However a poor disciplinary record continues to cause major problems for their Uruguayan manager.
They are going well in the Capital One Cup having just knocked out Chelsea to reach the semi-finals and I think they will just about avoid relegation. They have a very positive manager with Gus Poyet and Sunderland have always backed their managers well in the transfer market, which I am sure they will do again in January. Their spirit was also apparent when they came back from two goals down in the last ten minutes today.
WEST HAM UNITED – West Ham have had an indifferent first half of the season yet they find themselves second bottom. Luck has not been with Sam Allardyce (or Sam Allardicci as he referred to himself in his slightly xenophobic remarks a few weeks ago). Without their main striker Andy Carroll, they have had to cope with minimal striking options and have, in some games, decided to play without one – which paid off in their 3-0 away win over Spurs. This was their most eye-catching performance to date in what has been an unexciting season for the ‘Hammers’ that has gone by without incident.
They have lost their Allardyce-style threat from set-plays and have been particularly vulnerable from them. Just on Thursday they allowed Theo Walcott to score his first ever headed goal. If they regain both their aerial prowess and key players back from injury they will comfortably survive.
FULHAM – Another club that have undergone a change of manager. Sacking Martin Jol had to come after a run of six straight defeats in all competitions. More of a surprise was the appointment of Rene Meulensteen; vastly experienced as a coach but an amateur manager. He has been given the task of keeping an ageing, unworkmanlike squad in the Premier League. With the worst defense, by a long way, in the division I think that there may yet be another managerial change at Craven Cottage before the season is finished.
It will be in vain though as I can only see Fulham’s long run in England’s top competition come to an end come what May. New owner Shahid Kahn doesn’t appear to be forthcoming about spending in January but that is what is needed if Fulham are to have any chance of rebalancing their squad to form a credible escape campaign. Their shocking 6-0 defeat to Hull today sums up the task facing Mr Meulensteen.
CRYSTAL PALACE – When I was watching the play-off final between Crystal Palace and Watford I thought then that whichever team won the game, would have to improve monumentally in order to survive in the Premier League. It turned out to be Ian Holloway who had that task. They lost their star man Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United, who has since been busier off the pitch than on it. A poor start to the season combined with Holloway’s frustrations in the transfer window saw him part company with Palace, allowing Tony Pulis to launch his revival of the club. They too, like Sunderland, looked down and out but Pulis has done an exceptional job in improving performances and more importantly, getting points on the board.
I dislike the man and his deliberately violent tactics, deployed at Stoke in particular, but he has never been relegated as a manager and for this reason I think they will go down. Scoring goals has been their problem and they don’t have the funds to go out and buy a top striker in January. I just think that a manager as basic as Pulis can’t go through an entire career without relegation.
CARDIFF – Another promoted team here. In the summer, I saw the enthusiasm of their manager Malky Mackay and the signings that they had made which showed a real intent to make their mark. A sweet start has now turned into a sour few weeks with off-the-field problems visibly spilling over into performances. The very public rift between the owner Vincent Tan and the manager ultimately meant that Mackay’s position was untenable when performances and results became victims. Cardiff have lost a great manager and I doubt that they’ll be able to get someone who can improve on what has been done. Having said that, a great but disturbed squad has been left behind for someone to come in and pick up the pieces.
For his own foolishness and stupidity, Tan deserves to be relegated at the expense of Cardiff City supporters and the city as a whole. His antics have let many thousands of people down and for a team that I thought would push on and possibly make the top half, I now only see being relegated.
HULL CITY – Soon to be Hull Tigers because that will apparently be a more attractive name to global supporters. I’m sorry, but if people choose to support a team because an animal is in their name I don’t think they are football supporters. Maybe a safari park would be a more appropriate place to spend their time. Anyway, Steve Bruce has done a brilliant job in avoiding the arguments between chairman and fans and in doing so has managed to do a brilliant job in picking up points. They are seven points clear of the drop zone at the moment and have performed admirably throughout the campaign. Their latest win, 6-0 against Fulham, was very impressive and it proves that they can score goals despite struggling to finish so far this season.
I can see that there may be a sticky patch towards the end of the season but with the quality and team spirit that Hull have, I can see Steve Bruce still being a Premier League manager next season … with Hull of course.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION – This was a tough call to leave them out of my predicted relegation zone but West Brom have a very good squad with exceptional players. They have struggled to score without both Odemwingie and especially Lukaku this season and the exceptional Steve Clarke lost his job for an apparent poor start to the season. Yes, they were on a difficult run but Steve Clarke had done and was doing outstanding work on the pitch and in the transfer window. For me it was a strange decision to sack him. There must have been issues behind closed doors that the public aren’t aware of.
Without a permanent manager for the moment, they will struggle but ultimately survive this season. I do feel they will miss Steve Clarke and next season may be very difficult for West Brom.
NORWICH – Norwich had a very proactive summer, especially in bringing in forwards to the club. Their squad started to look exciting with the arrivals of Fer, Van Wolfswinkel, Hooper and Elmander. The pre-season optimism didn’t translate to games and soon there was mounting pressure on the shoulders of Chris Houghton from fans and the press. I don’t think even Chris can argue that it wasn’t deserved. Their defense looked shambolic and their attack looked less potent than Piers Morgan facing Brett Lee in cricket nets.
Houghton has survived so far and is a good manager so I think Norwich will live to fight another season. It may be without Chris Houghton though.