Monday, January 24, 2011

Going Down

photo by Gideon Tsangvia PhotoRee
Now that the season’s finish line is beginning to hazily appear, as if a mirage still several miles off, it’s time for a semi-famous prediction about how it’s all going to end.  Not for the guys at the top of the table – far too much import in that, and a massive game in hand tomorrow night at Bloomfield Road, which could see United clinging narrowly to a two point lead over the Gunners, or vaulting out to a five point advantage over their nearest rivals.  No, I’m talking about the race for the bottom, for relegation.   It’s just about as interesting, and much more competitive than the race for the title, with arguably as many as ten teams involved.
Let’s start the predictions off with some fireworks: West Ham will not be relegated.   Maybe they deserve to be, and maybe it’s just my latent sympathy for Avram Grant and our farlieonfootie columnist Ian, but I don’t think the Hammers are going down.  And let’s face it: how bold would I really be if I picked the Hammers to fall into the Championship?  If leadership is about having vision, this prediction could look spectacularly good or bad in four month’s time.  In any event, I see the Hammers rallying behind Frederique Piquiounne, Jonathan Spector, and – you guessed it—Scotty Parker to cling, just barely, to their status as a Premier League Club.  This weekend’s draw at Goodison Park was a nice result on the road for West Ham, and their form over their last six matches is actually twelfth best in the league.  Not tops certainly, but not relegation-bound, either.
So now let’s hit on which teams are going down:  West Brom, Wolves, and – drum roll, please – I believe Birmingham will just edge out Wigan in the wrong end of the relegation battle, with Brum going spectacularly down after a better-than-average season last year.   
Roberto Di Matteo's boys started out the season playing well, but more recently have re-discovered the kind of form that saw them get pounded 6-nil by Chelsea.  Having managed a measly three points in their last six matches, I can’t see West Bromwich putting up the kind of scratch-out-the-results type of fight needed to avoid their fate.   
And despite my genuine affection for Mick McCarthy, I don’t see Wolves staying up, either.  There is some true talent on that team – Matt Jarvis, in particular stands out for me – and there have even been some decent efforts of late – a pair of 1-nil wins, over Liverpool at Anfield, and Chelsea at Molineux, but I think it’s all too little, too late.  I don’t see the streak lasting, and I can and do see Wolves being relegated.  Also, with the condition of the pitch on Saturday, their grounds crew should be relegated, as well.  It was an utter disgrace, looking as if it had been maintained most recently by a herd of goats.   
And while Villa were in the race to be relegated, I think they have purchased their Premier League staying power with the addition of Darren Bent.  Love him or hate him, the guy’s a proven goal hound, and I think he’ll add just enough to keep them up, and maybe even elevate them to mid-table status. 

So that leaves me with Wigan and Birmingham City.  It’s less about how I’m thinking Roberto Martinez will know more about surviving a relegation fight than Alex McLeish (although Martinez hung tough in last year’s battle, while it was never really in the cards for McLeish and his boys in Blue), than in how I'm thinking that Birmingham don’t have an offense.  At all.  In fact, they are one of the least offensively talented teams I’ve seen in my years of watching the EPL.  If you’re relying on Cameron Jerome to keep you up, Birmingham City fans, think again.  I think you’re going down.
Of course, all of this is subject to change with the transfer window being open – witness the Darren Bent transfer changing my opinion of Villa’s fate – so I’ll be sure to revisit this column if events warrant.  And it goes without saying that I could be wrong – that’s why they play the games.... 

So enjoy the relegation battle, and buckle your seatbelts.  The ride could – and probably will – get bumpy.
This is farlieonfootie for January 25.

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