Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Premiership: Endgame III

To the darkest pits of doom, then! Hear the screams of the damned, writhing in the agony of perpetual Championship football! See how they wail in torment at the loss of lucrative Premiership television revenues!

Ah, the benefits of Catholic education.

First into the fiery depths are Watford. Aidy Boothroyd's battlers are one side who will accept relegation manfully, completing as it does a trajectory that seemed unlikely when the manager took over in March 2005.

The then 34-year-old and utterly unheralded former Leeds first team coach saved the club from relegation to the third rung in his opening weeks in the job - achievement enough, thank you very much - then took the side on an extraordinary odyssey that culminated in a promotion play-off win over Leeds.

To be fair, Watford have rarely looked like a Premiership club, especially following the sale of Ashley Young in January. Their football has been more Turf Moor than Old Trafford, for one thing. But the Hornets have never been easily beat, which, considering they've lost on 18 occasions, suggests an almost superhuman stubbornness, and a fair portion of spirit. They will brush relegation off easier than others.

West Ham could learn a thing or two about boring old things like spirit and character from Watford. For most of this season they have been a profound disgrace, poster boys for the worst of modern football culture. That any hopes of their redemption were sparked by an Argentinian who has not the foggiest idea what any of his teammates are saying to him seems strangely apt.

They had embarked on a three-game winning run prior to last Saturday's loss to Sheffield United, but, as Alan Curbishley sighed, "the vital games we have had since I came to the club we have lost. We have not done enough against the teams around us. That's been our big problem." The 1-0 win over Arsenal was of less value than a win over Sheffield United would have been.

West Ham's five remaining opponents are Chelsea, Everton, Wigan away, Bolton and Manchester United. The most boundless East End optimist would struggle to find much more than three or four points out of that lot, far less the nine or ten they would need to survive.

Four others cower grimly in avoidance of the remaining bullet: Charlton (32 pts), Sheffield United (34), Fulham (35) and Wigan Athletic (35). At this stage we look for the teams that have imbibed Doctor Redknapp's Patented Rejuvenating Momemtum Potion. Of the last six games played by all four, Charlton appear to have the greatest semblance of a head of steam, with eight points won.

Fulham only took 3 points from the 18 on offer, which puts huge pressure on manager Chris Cole- oh, you got there first Mohamed. On the other hand, Sheffield United are the only side of the four to have recorded a win in their last three games, that being the comprehensive beating of West Ham last Saturday.

Neil Warnock has the look of a man who'd enjoy the bare-fist brawl of a relegation battle, and the Sheffield United's remaining four fixtures including three games against fellow strugglers (Charlton (a), Watford (h), Wigan (h)) and one against midtable autopilots (Aston Villa (a)). It might be tighter than an unemployed steelworker's g-string, but they'll be alright.

Wigan too should just about make it, if they beat West Ham at home on April 28th and get a point out of their other fixtures (Liverpool (a), Middlesbrough (h) and Sheffield United (a)).

That leaves Fulham and Charlton. It may go down to goal difference, but, if he keeps the Fulham job, Lawrie Sanchez should be seeing plenty of his Northern Ireland charges next season - in the Championship.



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