The battle to survive in the Barclays Premier League has just been as intriguing as the title chase and any two of five teams can still be relegated on the final day of the season.
For the fans of Wigan Athletic, Blackpool, Birmingham City, Wolves and Blackburn Rovers, it promises to be a nail-biting day for those fans. I am probably not the only one who cannot call which two teams will join West Ham in the nPower Championship next season.
A couple of weeks ago, we had people writing off Wigan and Wolves. Yet Wigan find themselves in the relegation zone only on goal difference and Wolves have won their last two games which has seen them move out of the bottom three.
Birmingham appeared to be safe with three/four weeks of the season to go. But this years Carling Cup winners are only above 18th placed Blackpool on goal difference with one game of the season left.
Before I go onto preview Survival Sunday, I want to put forward my views on what proved to be a disastrous season for West Ham United.
The 3-2 defeat at the DW sent the Hammers down despite being 2-0 up at half-time. Two goals from Demba Ba in the first 45 put West Ham in cruise control.
But West Ham were the architects of their own downfall and their sloppiness in the second half cost them dearly. For me the Hammers only have themselves to blame for the way their season panned out. Avram Grant also has to take full responsibility for West Ham’s relegation to the second tier of English football.
It seemed Grant was set to be sacked after West Ham lost at home to Arsenal and we also saw him throw his scarf into the crowd at the end of the game. But for some reason, the Israeli remained manager until the Hammers relegation to the Championship was confirmed after the away game at Wigan.
You look at what West Bromwich Albion did in February. Roberto di Matteo was relieved of his duties after the club was in freefall. This decision shocked many people including myself. Roy Hodgson then came in and look at where West Brom are now.
Had West Ham sacked Grant in January/February, I reckon West Ham could have survived. And to be honest I do not see why Grant was sacked just after the Wigan game when he should have been sacked earlier in the season.
There will no doubt be a player exodus at Upton Park and the likes of Scott Parker, Robert Green and Carlton Cole will probably leave the club. You look at West Ham’s squad and on paper they should not have been anywhere near the relegation zone.
But at the end of the day, the players did not perform well enough on the pitch and West Ham were not able to close out enough games when they were in winning positions. Without Parker, the Hammers will have been relegated three/four weeks ago.
Football is a results business and West Ham were simply not good enough this season and the table does not lie.
So who will join West Ham in the nPower Championship? I really don’t know. The four main fixtures in the weekend will be Wolves v Blackburn, Man. Utd v Blackpool, Spurs v Birmingham and Stoke v Wigan.
All the teams who are involved in the relegation scrap will need to focus on what they have to do on Sunday. But then again at the back of the players minds they will want to know what is happening in the other games that will have an affect on their team.
Two wins on the spin and Wolves have dragged themselves outside the bottom three. Mick McCarthy’s side looked dead and buried before the home game against local rivals West Bromwich Albion.
But by beating Albion and Sunderland, Wolves have given themselves a golden opportunity to survive. What a time to secure back to back victories. Wolves’ destiny is in their own hands and if they were to beat Blackburn on Sunday then their survival will be confirmed.
Steven Fletcher has stepped up to the plate in recent weeks and his goals may well be crucial come the end of the season. There is no denying Wolves have had many highs and lows.
The Molineux outfit have been able to beat the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Man. City but have struggled against the teams in and around them. That has been the one frustrating thing for Wolves and their fans.
If Wolves remain in the Barclays Premier League come 5pm on Sunday, then it will be a case of job well done and mission accomplished. But Wolves will then need to kick on and make sure their third season is not another relegation struggle.
The media and the fans have questioned Mick McCarthy’s decisions throughout the season but if McCarthy does keep Wolves up, then the fans will be happy and they cannot complain.
Blackburn are not out of the relegation picture either. They got a decent point at home against Champions Manchester United but Rovers like Wolves are only a point above the bottom three.
I still maintain getting rid of Sam Allardyce was the wrong decision and the Indian owners would rue that come the end of the season if they were to get relegated.
Big Sam’s brand of football is not a favourite with many football fans but Allardyce has had a habit of keeping clubs up. Look at what he did with Bolton.
Steve Kean and his side have struggled this year and fail to beat Wolves on Sunday; it could be Rovers who fall through the Premier League trap door.
Roque Santa Cruz has not set the world alight since his return to Ewood Park and Blackburn’s big players have not stepped up to the plate on most occasions in 2011. The first half of the season went well and Rovers were comfortably in mid-table. But since then things have gone downhill.
Chris Samba was immense against West Ham at Upton Park and all 11 players on Sunday will need to be at their very best if they are to avoid relegation. A point against Wolves could be enough to keep Blackburn up but they do need to try and win the game on Sunday if they can.
Well where do you start with Blackpool. Ian Holloway’s side have been a breath of fresh air to the Premier League and they certainly have entertained us this season. Many neutrals would love to see the Seasiders survive and I am one of them.
Defensively Blackpool have been at sixes and sevens but going forward they are a real threat. The likes of Charlie Adam, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell have all played a part in giving the Tangerines a chance of stopping up.
Even if Blackpool go down, the fans and Holloway should be proud of what his side have achieved this year. But if Blackpool were to survive, this would be one of the biggest ever shocks in Premier League history. Day one of the season they were written off and yet with only one game to go, the Tangerines are only in the bottom three on goal difference.
But they have a very tough game on Sunday as they travel to Old Trafford to take on this years Premier League Champions. With United set to name a reserve team for Sunday, this could play in Blackpool’s favour. It will be a tough game for Blackpool make no mistake but don’t underestimate Holloway’s side. They could still yet pull off the impossible.
The one team I fear for is Birmingham City. I fancied the Blues to get at least one win from their last two home games that would have guaranteed their survival.
About four/five weeks ago we thought Birmingham would have no problems in staying up and they would not be dragged into a relegation dogfight. But Blues are currently 17th in the league and are only above Blackpool and Wigan on goal difference. It could be the case that it comes down to goal difference in deciding who will be relegated and who will survive.
I suspect Blues’ Carling Cup run has had an impact on the Birmingham players but scoring goals has been a major problem for Alex McLeish’s side this season. They have not got someone who can at least bag them 15-20 goals a season.
Losing Scott Dann was a major blow for Birmingham and they have a difficult game against Spurs on Sunday. Spurs themselves still have something to play for and they will be looking to finish 5th ahead of Liverpool.
From a West Midlands perspective, I want to see Birmingham and Wolves survive but at the minute I do fear for Birmingham more than I do for Wolves. Birmingham were simply shocking against Fulham and the performance against Spurs needs to be ten times better. Fate is still in Birmingham’s hands but Blues need to put in battling performance on Sunday and make sure they do not get beat.
And finally we come onto Wigan. How big a win was that on 15th May 2011 for Wigan against West Ham? 2-0 down at half-time and it seemed to be curtains for Wigan and their Premier League future.
But they battled hard in the second half and scored three priceless second half goals. You could argue West Ham gifted Wigan all three of their goals and were the architects of their own downfall.
Charles N’Zogbia once again was instrumental and what a time for Connor Sammon to score his first goal for the club. Wigan for sure will head to Stoke with plenty of belief and believe they have a real shot at staying up.
Stoke will be hoping to end their season on a high after the disappointment of the FA Cup Final and of course losing 3-0 to Manchester City in the league on Tuesday. Stoke have had a terrific season and I’m sure they will want to win their final game of the season for the fans.
Going to the Britannia Stadium at any point of the season is a daunting prospect but Wigan will believe they can get a result at Stoke after their spirited second half performance against West Ham.
Two/three weeks ago, Wigan appeared to be dead certs to go down along with Wolves. But both sides have given themselves hope and the Latics like Blackpool are in the bottom three only on goal difference.
It promises to be an intriguing day on Sunday and the fans of those teams involved in the battle to survive will be biting their nails. I cannot call who will go down but come 5pm on Sunday we will. It is going to be a roller coaster of a day.