Call offs only heighten drama in scrap for Premier League survival
Headlines hailing this season as having the tightest relegation race ever are commonplace, but there is a more of a kernel of truth in that assertion. Six points separate second-bottom Cardiff, odds-on at 8/11 for the drop, from their bitter south Wales rivals Swansea, who are 10th and 11/1 outsiders to be relegated yet hardly what you’d call comfortably mid-table.
Nobody in the bottom half of the Premier League is anything like safe, with just under a third of the campaign to be completed. Basement club Fulham are in the most dire straits.
Rene Meulensteen’s men are four points from safety, odds-on 1/3 favourites to go down and also even-money leaders in the Coral market to finish the season bottom. Capital One Cup finalists Sunderland currently complete the bottom three, but are 4/11 to stay up.
Many things can influence the outcome of a Premier League team’s destiny – sendings off, offside decisions, controversial penalties, disallowed goals, and now even the great British weather.
Two matches fell foul of stormy conditions, which have the potential to shape who remains in the top-flight and goes down.
Crystal Palace’s trip to Everton and Sunderland going to Manchester City in a dress rehearsal for the Capital One Cup final in early March were postponed.
It is easy to question the significance of these fixtures because they pit relegation-threatened outfits against current top-six sides but, as these have yet to be played, there’s always the possibility of an upset.
Gus Poyet’s Black Cats, in particular, have been a bogey team for 11/10 Premier League title favourites City in recent years. Sunderland’s head coach also believes nothing will be decided in the relegation race anytime soon.
“I think it’s going to go to the wire and I’m not just talking about us,” Poyet said. “There are six teams that are going to be fighting right to the end, to the last one or two games.”
In the thick of that battle to avoid demotion to the Championship are Palace and West Brom. These two sides recently met, with then-Eagles debutant Tom Ince largely being the difference between them.
Improving Palace should have real belief they can defy history under Tony Pulis now. Coral remain wary of that ‘never stayed up’ record in the Premier League era, however, and punters can get 7/4 on the Eagles making an immediate return to the Championship.
The Baggies, meanwhile, have yet to taste victory under new head coach Pepe Mel, but battled back to hold table-toppers Chelsea in their last outing. A point from this fixture has moved them out of the relegation zone on goal difference, yet Albion are the Premier League’s draw specialists with 12.
Should that inability to win continue under Mel, odds of 11/4 look highly attractive on West Brom dropping into the second-tier. Norwich, meanwhile, have a different problem – scoring.
Chris Hughton’s Canaries have scored just twice in their last six top-flight outings. They are 6/4 to end a three-year Premier League stay by dropping out of the division.
Aston Villa (10/1 to go down), Hull (11/2) and West Ham (8/1) all have their heads above immediate water because, like Swansea, their goal differences are all better than five of the current bottom-six. Stoke do not share that, but join these four as relative outsiders at 8/1 for the drop.