Barclays Premier League relegation battle

Last updated : 25 April 2011 By Daily Mail

Despite the hours spent on the training ground over the course of a season and the afternoons sat in front of tactical DVDs, football can revert to its simplest form when the spectre of relegation looms.It does, after all, remain a fundamentally straighforward game.

At this time of year, when failure stares a team in the face, coaches and managers wonder less about what their players can do with their feet and more about what is going on in their minds.

Down in the dumps: Charlie Adam has a job on his hands if he is to help Blackpool survive

Former Bolton and Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce said: 'If you can open the dressing room door, look around and see a group of players who care as much as you and have the courage and mental strength to do what is required then you are part of the way there.

'On on the other hand, if you see the wrong type of expressions looking back at you, then you can be in big trouble.'

Relegation. It's possibly the most feared word in football. Some managers refuse to talk about it.

Others never seem to stop.

Former Wimbledon, Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest manager Dave Bassett once put it well. He said: 'Relegation? It's the word that wakes you up in the? middle of the night.'

It is hard to imagine Avram Grant, Roberto Martinez, Steve Bruce, Mick McCarthy and Steve Kean slept very well on Friday night. As for Blackpool manager Ian Holloway, it's hard to believe he closes his eyes for long anyway.

Bruce summed up the stresses of a relegation scrap.? Predictably, so did Holloway.

It emerged that Blackpool may yet earn a place in the Europa League next season as the two English teams ahead of them in the Fair Play table ? Tottenham and Chelsea may qualify for European competition through more traditional means.

That means nothing to Holloway, though, a manager who saw his team capitulate at home to Wigan? a week ago and must hope for something rather better when Newcastle come to the Lancashire coast.

'All I have done is create a monster this season,' said Holloway. 'If we stay up, we have to stay up again next season. Otherwise, I am a loser. Rubbish.

'And if we go down then I have got to get them up again, otherwise I am not as good as I was the year before. I am in the ****.'

It was typical Holloway rhetoric in that it was colourful yet pertinent, striking a note that others would recognise. For no matter how unlikely an achievement it is for teams like Blackpool, Wigan and? Blackburn to be in the Barclays Premier League at all, expectations can change very quickly.

'This (staying up) would be a? bigger achievement than getting promoted in the first place,' stressed Holloway.

'If we stay up we will have a big party. I will be flat on my back with exhaustion.'

At this stage of the season, fitness of key players can be crucial. What is arguably more important, though, is momentum, a precious commodity.

Eight years ago, Allardyce kept Bolton up with victory over Middlesbrough on the final day. However, what is forgotten is that it was the final result in a sequence that saw Bolton lose only one of their last nine games.

'It was only our second season in the top league and was so important because once we had got up we had to stay up,' he recalled.

'It was essential. Otherwise all our hard work could have disappeared.'

Momentum and its importance at this time of year is why we fear for Blackpool with just one win in 13 games and indeed for Blackburn, sinking like a stone under the uncertain stewardship of rookie manager Kean.

Ahead of Monday's clash at home to Manchester City, Kean's team have not won for nine games.?

On the up: Wigan celebrate during their 4-0 win over Blackpool

Elsewhere, Martinez's Wigan team are out of the bottom three after their 3-1 win at Blackpool and? suddenly have reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

Two of their final five games pit them against immediate rivals in Sunderland and West Ham. One feels they will shape their own destiny.

Martinez believes 41 points will be enough to keep Wigan up. Last season, 10 points fewer would have kept a team in the Premier League, such were the inadequacies of Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth.

Last season, West Ham were the chief beneficiaries of the bottom three's limitations, staying up in 17th with 35 points. This season, their race looks all but run. Grant's team have an amenable run of games to finish, facing Blackburn and Sunderland at home and Wigan away.

Unfortunately for them, they have to play away at Chelsea and? Manchester City before all of that, meaning they could already be adrift by the time those fixtures come around.

There will be little sympathy for the Hammers if they do go down. Many clubs still remember the way that Carlos Tevez kept them up four summers ago despite being illegally registered.

Some of West Ham's Premier League rivals believe, quite frankly, that their demise if it comes is long overdue.

Whatever the outcome and whoever the fallen transpire to be, there will be tears and there will be drama. Holloway tried to lighten the mood yesterday but he was fooling nobody.

'We are lucky to do what we do and we should be grateful,' said the Blackpool manager.

'We have been out in the sun all week. So what stress have we got other than carrying a town's hopes and dreams on our back?'



Source: Daily Mail