Premiership Countdown: 18 Days to Go.
It’s a sad reflection of the Premiership’s plight, but this season — in my humble opinion — there are six teams in the top flight that are candidates for relegation. While the cream rises to the top in the Premier League, that creamy layer is becoming thinner as each passing season goes by.
It means is that the battle for relegation in the Premiership is much more open than the battle for the ultimate trophy. We’ve seen this in the past couple of seasons where teams have escaped the drop within the last few games of the season (Portsmouth) or the very last 90 minutes (West Brom).
Alas, before a ball is even kicked, here’s my list of clubs that are in peril this 2006/2007 season:
Aston Villa: Trouble off the field could endanger this club that’s steeped in history. Gareth Barry, for example, has publicly stated his desire to leave. However, the Villans have done very well in their pre-season friendlies, albeit against weaker opposition such as Wolves and Walsall.
Charlton Athletic: I’m not convinced that Iain Dowie has what it takes to motivate his new side to achieve success. Furthermore, I feel the club will find it very difficult to overcome the legacy that Alan Curbishley instilled in the side. Darren Bent has signed a new four year contract, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has joined the side. But I predict trouble in the valley.
Fulham: I feel the Cottagers have what it takes to avoid the drop, but depending on the form of key players and whether injuries occur, the team could find itself in trouble. Jimmy Bullard from Wigan was a key signing in midfield, while Franck Queudrue from Middlesbrough will add much-needed class to this workmanlike side.
Middlesbrough: Gareth Southgate is untested as a manager although he is Boro through and through. However, the only signing of note for Middlesbrough is Julio Arca, who failed to impress me while at Sunderland. Although they did well in Europe last year, I’m concerned that many players are past their prime on this side including Mark Schwarzer, Mark Viduka and Yakubu.
Reading: If their manager wasn’t Steve Coppell, I wouldn’t worry so much. But the former England legend has had a poor track record of taking sides down such as Crystal Palace (twice) and Brighton. The Royals could be this season’s cinderella team, but the team lacks experience and world-class players.
Sheffield United: Neil Warnock is the type of rare manager who is worth several points in the Premiership. The fire in his belly will keep his side focused, which will earn the side points by grinding out wins or draws where other managers would fail. Nevertheless, the club is in trouble despite the signing of Rob Hulse from Leeds who will give the side much-needed firepower.
“On The Brink”: In my opinion, some people may pick the following clubs to be included in the above list, but I feel they have the tactics, managers and drive to keep them flying high, including a surprising Watford who will be this year’s Wigan, I believe. The teams are Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, Man City, Newcastle, Portsmouth, and Watford.