Back in March, my fellow blogger Scarf produced a fine analysis of the clubs pushing for a place in the Championship this season, a situation which, at the time of writing is still some way from resolution. Apart from Norwich, the identity of the second automatic promotee is still anyone’s guess. Leeds had a chance to build an unassailable advantage on Saturday but toppled to a miserable defeat at Priestfield. The ease of producing a fine run when there is no pressure can swiftly turn to a wobbly nervousness when the box seat is occupied, as both Swindon and Millwall can testify.
But three newcomers from below will also be joined by three from on high. I now switch my attention to those who could enter the Championship from above. As regards already demoted Portsmouth, there is little more to say about that shower, and we shall assess their prospects once their little date at Wembley is fulfilled; suffice to say, the exemplary Two Hundred Percent has provided pithy ponderings on the Hampshire club’s predicament on more than one occasion. For now, we’ll look at those who still have hope of a little Steve McQueen action:
It’s said that the Clarets imposed a wage cap of £15,000 a week for their first ever Premier League season and for that reason, we root for them to climb out of the mire. The strategy has been conservative and it’s the players who fired their unlikely elevation last May who have been most consistent again this term. Graham Alexander is evergreen and ever unerring from the spot (as shown in the recent pasting of rivals Hull) and Wade Elliott has grabbed a long deserved opportunity to dine ravenously at the top table. An early red letter day at Red Devils’ expense gradually made way to some less impressive outings, although keeping Owen Coyle would probably have made the crucial difference. That they not only failed to hold on to the Scot, but replaced him with the out of his depth Brian Laws signalled the death knell.
VERDICT: A run in featuring clashes with Liverpool and Spurs awaits. Prediction: Relegated
Hull are currently a similar sized club to Burnley and one that has taken a different approach to fiscal policy. Whilst the Lancashire folk have applied monetarist tightening, the East Ridingers have plumped for Keynesian investment. This high risk policy was cruelly beset by football fate when prize asset Jimmy Bullard was struck down with injury last season. The tangled haired tyro’s form on returning has been effervescent but Hull are still masquerading as a Premier League concern. Rumours of a wage bill placing them in a top 10 of EPL clubs are astounding and despite continued healthy crowds at the Sunshine Band Stadium, that evocation of the Battle of Wakefield against Burnley was plain horrible.
VERDICT: I for one am quite surprised that Hull’s Championship place is yet to be confirmed after their 2008-9 slide, but if matches against Sunderland and Wigan look winnable, they don’t if you have a habit of throwing away leads at Pompey. Prediction: Relegated
West Ham United
A large body among us will still view West Ham’s most recent escape from relegation as ill gotten even if Gianfranco Zola challenges Nick Clegg in his garnering of universal love. I still resent their illegal shoehorning of Sheffield United back into the second flight in 2006 and the way the London media closed ranks on the whole affair. The Hammers are portrayed as universally popular and yet the reality is that they are widely hated, not only down Cold Blow and White Hart Lanes, but across the country. That those lovely ex-Birmingham folk are now in charge hardly lends them more appeal and a straightforward mauling by Liverpool at Anfield this week will leave them with the jitters. Still, a gutsy 2-2 draw on the other side of Stanley Park recently was the type of result it is inconceivable Hull City could ever achieve.
VERDICT: Three points at home to Wigan on Saturday will provide the required breathing space. Prediction: Escape without honours
Three stalemates versus Everton, Stoke and Fulham and an unfortunate single goal defeat at the Emirates have underlined Wolves’ progress on an encouraging return to the upper orders. The Old Golds never looked a vintage winner of this league last season and one did fear for them, but the experience of Marcus Hahnemann and Jody Craddock has provided justification for Mick McCarthy’s no nonsense methods. Up front, Kevin Doyle’s industriousness has supplied a constant outlet even if his own scoring record has been comparatively modest and Michael Mancienne and Matt Jarvis are others who can feel proud of a campaign that has been underrated by the media. Wolves will relish a double header with Baggies in 2010-11.
VERDICT: A six point cushion this late into April provides cause for belief and the trio of remaining opponents are equally cosy. Prediction: Escape and the potential to rise a few places.
With a last day visit to the Bridge on the horizon, Wigan Athletic will have been looking worriedly over their shoulder. They’ll therefore give thanks to Åukasz FabiaÅ„ski and company for pretty much ensuring another year up top. That’s not to take anything away from Roberto Martinez who has rebuilt his side with patient judgement. Ditto Owen Coyle: cross Lancashire love rat he may be, but that Matty Taylor double on Saturday probably ensures the lengthening of Bolton Wanderers’ unlikely spell as an upper tier club.