The Premier League Relegation Battle: Life And Death At The Bottom
The weekend promised excitement, drama and last-minute heartache with several sides still fighting for survival at the season’s very end. Sunderland, Hull, Newcastle and Middlesbrough were all on the edge of the cliff. Some already hanging off the side. Others teetering on the brink. In the end, four losses would keep all sides in their places. Newcastle and Middlesbrough join West Brom in relegation to the Championship. Sunderland and Hull survive by the slimmest of margins.
Hull City: Early Form Rewarded
Hull’s explosive first half of the season (2o points from their first nine matches) was rewarded yesterday despite a 1-0 loss to Manchester United. The results of Newcastle and Middlesbrough allowed Hull supporters to forgive Phil Brown and Co. for the disastrous spell that eventually displaced their early good form. Hull only won one of their last 22 matches.
The Tigers defied expecation at the start of their campaign, recording wins against Fulham, Newcastle, Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham and West Brom all before the end of October. They dazzled further in November when they scored three goals at Old Trafford. They still lost to hosts Manchester United, but after being 4-1 down at the half, scoring two more goals against the Champs and bringing a point within view, showed the true grit of Hull City.
A lengthy slump aside, Hull deserved to stay up after their fierce start to the season. Now the question is: can they find that form again next year?
Death By Own Goal
One devastating moment from yesterday’s match at Villa Park sums up Newcastle United’s season. Villa’s Gareth Barry took a speculative shot from distance, firing the ball into traffic. United’s Damien Duff stood his ground, but was crushed when the ball ricochetted off his shin and careened into the net.
1-0 was the final score. And since other results meant Newcastle only needed a draw to survive, that one moment encapsulates the pain and frustration forced upon supporters as Newcastle’s latest campaign comes to an ugly close.
The Magpies will go down after 16 years in the top flight. Though they’ve had their rough patches, Newcastle always seemed to climb out of trouble and endure. But too many managerial changes and not investing enough in defense led to the fall.
Shearer should not be criticized. If he’d had more time to work out a system with the players (and if he’d had the brilliant goalkeeping of Shay Given at his disposal), it might have been a different outcome.
Duff, gutted from yesterdays events, vows to stay with Newcastle and fight for their promotion next season. Newcastle faithful wait to hear what Shearer’s plans are.
Gareth Southgate’s Nightmare
Middlesbrough have had their troubles since their last promotion to the top flight in 1998. We smirk when we think of 2006, when a fan stormed the pitch and threw his season ticket at Steve McClaren in frustration. But despite various problems, Boro spent the last ten years making themselves a Premier League mainstay. They usually finished mid-table, but even when they dipped lower, they secured enough points to keep from sweating over the drop.
But this season the problems became insurmountable. Former Boro hitman, John Hendrie blames poor transfer window moves and lack of firepower. Boro were the lowest scoring side in the league. Whatever the root cause, Boro simply could not climb out of the ditch they dug themselves.
But Gareth Southgate is expected to stay on as manager and despite the fear of losing some big players, Middlesbrough should have a good enough chance at returning to the top flight.
The Blackcats put their old yo-yoing ways behind them as they prepare to enjoy a third consecutive season in the Premier League. Despite their survival, manager Ricky Sbragia stepped down after Sunderland’s loss to Chelsea. Read more here. Sbragia took over the post when Roy Keane left in December.
Sunderland announced today they will not be signing 27-year-old striker Djibril Cisse who spend the season on loan from Marseille. It will be intersting to see who Sunderland bring in to manage and play for the next season.
With Boro and Newcastle relegated, Sunderland will be the only side from the north east in the Premier League.
The season was very tight for a long time with many upsets and surprises. It took a while for the European hopefuls to pull away from the relegation zone denizens. Unlike last year, when Derby County clinched relegation early, this season’s bottom teams had their chances going into the final weekends. It is sad to see two mainstays go down, but that’s part of the life-cycle of the Premier League. Wolves, Birmingham and Burnley will come up to try and stake their claim on top flight football. Newcastle, Boro and others will fight in the Championship for a fresh chance to rise.
The rest of us will spend the summer scouring transfer rumors and analyzing friendlies and internationals while we wait for the league action to start anew.