Saturday, May 21, 2011

EPL Relegation Battle:Blackpool and Birmingham to go Down On Survival Sunday

As "D-Day" or "Survival Sunday," depending upon which broadcaster you watch, looms. There are no less than five teams involved in the relegation scrap at the bottom of the Premier League.

Sorry West Ham United have already taken the dreaded plunge into the Championship after last weeks capitulation against Wigan Athletic and with just goal difference and the odd point separating five teams, two from Wigan, Blackburn, Wolves, Blackpool and Birmingham face the very real prospect of financial ruin and relegation.
Heading into the last day of the season, things have never been tighter.

Wolves and Blackburn, who face each other, have 40 points each while Blackpool, Birmingham, and Wigan all sit on 39.

The permutations are many, so vast in fact that scientists are still scratching their heads trying to work out how different score-lines and points tally will affect each team. But in short, each team needs to win to stay up.

The first place to start is with Blackburn travelling to take on Mick McCarthy's Wolves.

Both teams sit just outside the drop zone but need to win to guarantee safety. Even if they draw, both teams can still be relegated so this game is huge in terms of the Premiership and all the trappings that go with it.

Blackburn have turned something of a corner since the end of February - even if their results don't show it. Their run of form during that period has seen Steve Kean's side develop a mean streak that has made them very tough to beat with a record that reads W-1 D-5 L-3.

All three of their defeats have been been fought against tooth and nail with the exception of an off day against Everton when they were outplayed but in each of the other seven matches they have proven very difficult to break down.

During the same period, Wolves have racked up a record of W-3 D-3 L-3. It has conceivably been their best run of the season and they seem to be hitting form at just the right time.

The problem with Wolves is that they struggle against lower Premier League opposition but somehow raise their game against teams in the top six where they have enjoyed some great successes this year.

This game should be tight and only goal will separate these teams if the needs arises. It wouldn't come as a surprise to see  these teams find out the results elsewhere and then kick the ball around for the last 20 minutes.

For me, Blackpool and Birmingham have no chance of survival and are really relying on heavy results elsewhere going their way. Ian Holloway's side travel to the last place you would ever want to go needing points, Old Trafford.

Even if Manchester United field a weakened team as expected against Blackpool, the Tangerines are just far too open to keep a clean sheet and with the quality that the Red Devils possess they should win comfortably, consigning Holloway and his team to life in the Championship next year.

Before I go on, credit where credit is due. Blackpool have been a breath of fresh air for the EPL this season. Only the top five teams in the league have scored more than the Seasiders and going forward they are very attractive. However, defensively they are awful and it is a major surprise to find that their survival fight has gone down to the final game of the season.

For Birmingham, they also travel to one of the last places you would want to go. Spurs have only lost one game at home all season and that was in their opening fixture against Wigan.

It is worth noting though, that Harry Redknapp's team will set a new Premiership record if they draw today, it would be their 10th home draw of the season.

Despite having quality spread right across midfield, Tottenham's biggest problem this year has been hitting the back of the net. Only Rafael van der Vaart has managed to hit double figures and it now almost seems a weekly ritual for their fans to see their team create numerous chances without scoring.

This might actually be Birmingham's best route to victory.

Spurs have struggled to break down teams who come to White Hart Lane looking to nick a win and with Birmingham's lack of striking options they may be forced to play 11 men behind the ball and then look for a set piece to score from.

The problem with this tactic is that Spurs will retain possession and with players like Luka Modric, Sandro, and Tom Huddlestone in midfield, it is only a matter of time before they create a sure fire goal scoring chance.

Expect a fired up Spurs to dominate and win, thus relegating the Carling Cup champions.

Wigan travel to the Britannia stadium to take on a Stoke City team that have become part of the furniture in just three seasons in the Premier League. Unbeaten at home in 11, the Potters will not be an easy place to go.

In reality, Birmingham and Blackpool should be relegated before Roberto Martinez's team will be forced to come out of their defensive shell. A draw will be good enough for the Latics but it won't come as a surprise to see them nick a break away goal as the game fizzles out.

The Last Word-

Blackpool and Birmingham are doomed. The great thing about the Premier League is that 38 games does not lie and while both teams may have picked up new fans after winning the Carling Cup and through their adventurous football, they will deserve to go down because they have not been good enough.