Premier League Survival of the Weakest

by Ger McCarthy

The final Sunday of the domestic English Premier League season is almost upon us and BackPageFootball’s Ger McCarthy looks at the battle for survival in one of the closest relegation tussles for many years.

Next Sunday sees the conclusion of the 2011 Barclays Premier League season. West Ham United are already down whilst bottom three placed Blackpool and Wigan Athletic are fighting for the lives with Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Wolves looking over their shoulders just above the drop zone.

West Ham United’s season was best encapsulated during an awful second half performance against Wigan Athletic last Saturday. 2-0 up and playing relatively well the Hammers somehow managed to throw away their lead before eventually capitulating 3-2 in injury time. Robert Green has been one of West Ham’s most consistent performers throughout a torrid season yet was at fault for Wigan’s winning goal by allowing Charles N’Zogbia’s speculative effort to squirm under his body and over the line.

The former England international goalkeeper’s face said it all as a look of utter bewilderment and astonishment looked helplessly up into the stands. It was hard luck on Green who had earlier thwarted a succession of Wigan attacks with some solid goalkeeping but as with his team when it mattered most the Hammers switched off and allowed an eminently winnable game to slip away.

22 points have been squandered this season from winnable positions so West Ham have little choice but to look at themselves when it comes to reasons for relegation.

Whatever about the look on Robert Green’s face it paled in comparison to the doleful appearance of permanently sad looking Avram Grant on the touchline. The West Ham manager didn’t have too long to feel sorry for himself as he was apparently relieved of his duties in the tunnel underneath the DW Stadium shortly after the final whistle blew.

The Gold, Sullivan and Brady Directorship (or should that be dictatorship) has proven a complete disaster. These three individuals are responsible for hiring Grant in the first place despite the fact he led Portsmouth into the Championship the previous year.

Scott Parker was the one shining light in an otherwise forgettable season for the Hammers. It appears highly unlikely the player of the year will be plying his trade at Upton Park next season while the likes of Demba Ba, Robert Green and Thomas Hitzelsperger will also be most likely sold.

As if things weren’t bad enough an aeroplane flying over the DW Stadium displayed a a banner eulogising Avram Grant as a Millwall supporter ahead of an unwanted London derby for United in the Championship next term. Of all the sides to go down the fact Wet Ham possessed such (on paper anyway) a talented squad must be most galling for Hammers’ fans this week. It is going to be a long summer for West Ham United.

Ian Holloway’s Blackpool produced a heroic performance to defeat Bolton Wanderers 4-2 at the weekend and give the Tangerine army an outside chance of avoiding the drop. Blackpool go to Old Trafford where Manchester United’s reserves await a final game of the season Blackpool simply have to win to have any chance of staying up. Holloway tends to polarise opinion as either a loud mouthed manager of a talented coach who cares deeply about the game and capable of keeping a rag-tag squad such as Blackpool’s in the Premier League.

Whatever your opinion the Tangerines are unlikely to get the result they need despite United having one eye on the upcoming Champions League decider with Barcelona. On the contrary Sir Alex Ferguson will use the final league encounter as a motivational tool for peripheral squad members to stake a place for the Champions League final team so expect a United win and Blackpool to go down.

The contrast between the managers at the final whistle of Wigan and West Ham’s game at the weekend could not have been starker. Roberto Martinez’ s decision to gamble on introducing Victor Moses and Conor Sammon at the interval had the desired effect and Athletic turned a two goal deficit into a 3-2 win. That victory gives Wigan a fighting chance of avoiding the drop provided they get something from their trip to the Britannia Stadium against a Stoke City side already qualified for Europe.

Results will also need to go their way in other grounds but Wigan possesses the necessary firepower and a renewed belief to eke out an unlikely result.

The trouble is that even if Wigan win I still expect Birmingham – despite their dire form – to get a draw at White Hart Lane and Wolves to overcome Blackburn Rovers in a real relegation six pointer at Molinuex. These combined results would see Martinez’s side drop into the Championship despite their late season surge. Overall it has been a pretty poor Premier League season with the standard of football in the bottom half of the table extremely poor. Inconsistency is the one element that annually dogs the EPL and prevents it from being recognised as one of the best leagues in the world in terms of quality.

The two sides I expect to be relegated – Wigan and Blackpool – along with West Ham have enjoyed fleeting moments of form during 2010 – 2011 but the old adage that the League table never lies was never more apt as Roberto Martinez and Ian Holloway’s clubs prepare for life in the Championship.

Who do you think will go down? Leave your feedback in the space provided below and I promise to take the piss out of every comment posted.

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