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Thursday 24 April 2014

The battle to avoid relegation: A look at the rival teams

Premierleague.com looks at run-ins of clubs involved in the fight to stay in Barclays Premier League

  • Andy Carroll's West Ham are not yet safe from the drop

  • Aston Villa cannot fall back on Christian Benteke's goals this time around

  • Wilfried Bony's form provides cause for optimism for Swansea fans

  • Can Fabio Borini's knack of scoring in big matches help Sunderland in the run-in?

As the end of a remarkable  2013/14 season draws near we are still no closer to knowing who will win the Barclays Premier League nor which teams will finish in the bottom three on the final day.

Indeed so tight is the struggle to avoid relegation that, as things stand, nine teams cannot be assured of avoiding relegation at 5pm on 11 May.

With that in mind here is a brief glimpse of which teams are still in the shake-up at the bottom of the table, their end-of-season run-ins and the reasons for their fans to be cheerful and fearful for their clubs' Barclays Premier League status.

Relegation run-in
  P GD Pts Run-in
12 West Ham 35 -10 37 WBA (a), TOT (h), MCI (a)
13 Swansea 35 -4 36 AVL (h), SOU (h), SUN (a)
14 Hull City 34 -9 36 FUL (a), AVL (a), MUN (a), EVE (h)
15 Aston Villa 34 -14 35 SWA (a), HUL (h), MCI (a), TOT (a)
16 West Brom 34 -13 33 WHU (h), ARS (a), SUN (a), STK (h)
17 Norwich 35 -28 32 MUN (a), CHE (a), ARS (h)
18 Cardiff 35 -34 30 SUN (a), NEW (a), CHE (h)
19 Fulham 35 -42 30 HUL (h), STK (a), CRY (h)
20 Sunderland 34 -24 29 CAR (h), MUN (a), WBA (h), SWA (h)

West Ham United

Remaining fixtures: 26 Apr WBA (a) ; 3 May Spurs (h): 11 May Man City (a)

Reasons to be cheerful: Manager Sam Allardyce is a relegation antidote having never been in charge of a club who have been demoted. The Hammers are six places above the drop zone and need just three points to mathematically secure their top-flight status.

Reasons to be fearful: West Ham have been deemed too good to go down in the past and suffered final-day agony. In 2011 Avram Grant's team squandered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at Wigan Athletic and in 2003 a side including Paolo Di Canio, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe succumbed when failing to beat Birmingham City. They have just one home match remaining, against Spurs, whom they have beaten only once in their last seven attempts at the Boleyn Ground.

Swansea City

Remaining fixtures: 26 Apr Aston Villa (h); 3 May Southampton (h);
11 May Sunderland (a)

Reasons to be cheerful:  Swansea have arrested a six-match winless sequence with two victories from their last four matches, with striker Wilfried Bony on target four times in his last six outings. A home win against Aston Villa on Saturday will all but secure their safety.

Reasons to be fearful: Two of the three teams they must play are also battling for survival, last season's scoring sensation Michu remains sidelined with an ankle problem and Garry Monk has masterminded just three victories since taking over as head coach.

Hull City

Remaining fixtures: 26 Apr Fulham (a) ; 3 May Aston Villa (a); 6 May Man Utd (a);
11 May Everton (h)

Reasons to be cheerful: Steve Bruce's side are just four points from safety and boast the seventh-best defensive record in the Barclays Premier League. They have benefited from the goal threat provided by January arrivals Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long, who have scored six goals so far. They have enjoyed the confidence boost of an FA Cup run that has taken them all the way to a Wembley final and they also have a match in hand over Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham.

Reasons to be fearful: Hull have the joint-third worst away record in the top flight and three of their four remaining matches are on the road. Those trips consist of visits to fellow relegation strugglers Fulham and Aston Villa as well as Manchester United.

Aston Villa

Remaining fixtures: 26 Apr Swansea (a); 3 May Hull (h); 7 May Man City (a); 11 May Spurs (a)

Reasons to be cheerful: Aston Villa were in a similar position last season but won twice in a row to pull five points clear of trouble. They are a point better off than they were after the same number of matches last season and have a match in hand over Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham.

Reasons to be fearful: This time last year Villa could call upon Christian Benteke's hat-trick heroics to get them out of trouble. But with the Belgium striker out for the season Villa's record of having won just one of the eight Barclays Premier League matches that Benteke has missed this season may cause disquiet among the Villa faithful. Three of their four matches are away from home and their last victory on the road was as far back as New Year's Day.

West Bromwich Albion

Remaining fixtures: 26 Apr West Ham (h); 4 May Arsenal (a); 7 May Sunderland (a);
11 May Stoke (h)

Reasons to be cheerful: West Brom have experience of masterminding great escapes, having become the first team, in 2004/05, to avoid the drop after being bottom of the Barclays Premier League at Christmas. The Baggies have also been scoring goals of late, finding the target eight times in their last four matches, and have been strong at home, losing just once in nine meetings at The Hawthorns, where they will host West Ham and Stoke before the end of the season.

Reasons to be fearful: Albion lie just three points above danger zone, have mustered just two wins from 14 matches and must go to UEFA Champions League-chasing Arsenal and relegation-imperilled Sunderland before the season is out. Their inability to hold a lead at The Hawthorns – they led 3-0 against Spurs and 2-0 against Cardiff before drawing both 3-3 – will inevitably make the home crowd nervous.

Norwich City

Remaining fixtures: 26 Apr Man Utd (a); 4 May Chelsea (a); 11 May Arsenal (h)

Reasons to be cheerful:
Norwich have played with more attacking freedom since Neil Adams took charge and gave Liverpool a scare on Sunday when rallying to lose 3-2 against the favourites for the Barclays Premier League title. This was only the second time they have scored more than one goal in the past 10 Barclays Premier League matches so maybe they have found their scoring boots. They can also take comfort from the fact that Robert Snodgrass has been in excellent form of late and hope that Manchester United will be a side in transition with the departure of David Moyes.

Reasons to be fearful: Norwich have scored the joint-fewest number of goals of any side in the top flight this season and the teams they must seek to reverse this trend against represent unenviable opponents. Chelsea boast the best defence and Arsenal are highly likely to have a top-four place to fight for on the final day at Carrow Road. Before those two heavyweights, Manchester United await the Canaries at Old Trafford, where they have never lost to Norwich in the Barclays Premier League.

Cardiff City

Remaining fixtures: 27 Apr Sunderland (a); 3 May Newcastle (a); 11 May Chelsea (h)

Reasons to be cheerful: A win at Southampton and a draw with in-form Stoke will have given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's charges cause for optimism. In theory, the Norwegian might consider his side's run-in to be less daunting than Norwich's and must hope that if they can get something from their two visits to the north-east (and they won at St James' Park in the FA Cup in January) they might be able to conjure a last-day miracle at home to a Chelsea side who have succumbed to Sunderland and Aston Villa this season.

Reasons to be fearful: They are in the bottom three, only Norwich and Crystal Palace have scored fewer goals than the Bluebirds this season. Most damaging of all, however, is that four of their eight rivals have a match in hand, which means they will almost certainly need other results to go their way. The present unbeaten run of two matches has only been bettered once this season, between Matchweeks 2-4.

Fulham

Remaining fixtures: 26 Apr Hull (h); 3 May Stoke (a); 11 May Crystal Palace (h)

Reasons to be cheerful: 
Fulham have been gathering a head of steam over recent weeks with three wins in six matches having lifted the Cottagers off the foot of the table. Felix Magath has a reputation for saving clubs under threat of demotion from his time in the Bundesliga and has revitalised Hugo Rodallega, Steve Sidwell and Lewis Holtby. The west Londoners will fancy their chances against Hull, Stoke and Crystal Palace and can also turn to recent history when a remarkable late run under Roy Hodgson in 2008 brought about another miraculous escape.

Reasons to be fearful: Like Cardiff, Fulham have played one match fewer than their immediate rivals and therefore need not only to take control of their own destiny but hope other results go their way. Saturday's defeat by Spurs may also have dented confidence ahead of the final knockings. Only twice this season have Fulham gone unbeaten for more than one match.

Sunderland

Remaining fixtures:  27 Apr Cardiff (h); 3 May Man Utd (a); 7 May WBA (h);
11 May Swansea (h)

Reasons to be cheerful: Belief will be coursing through Black Cats veins following a momentous few days in which Manchester City were held to a 2-2 draw at Etihad Stadium and Chelsea were beaten at Stamford Bridge. With Connor Wickham in goalscoring form (three goals in two matches) Sunderland no longer have cause to fear anyone. This, after all, is a team who have beaten Man City and Everton this term and done the double over Newcastle. They also have a match in hand over Norwich and Cardiff, which is against West Brom and could make all the difference in their survival bid.

Reasons to be fearful: For all Sunderland's ability to turn over the top-eight teams the Barclays Premier League table does not lie. They are propping up the rest of the division with four matches to play largely because of failings against teams in and around them. They have won only two matches this season against sides in the lower half of the division, who represent three of their four remaining fixtures.Sunderland have taken only eight points from 15 fixtures against teams in the bottom half of the table, 10 fewer than any other side. They have scored just one goal in six home matches against the teams currently in the bottom half. Gus Poyet's side need to make the fact that three of their final four matches are at home an advantage. But at the Stadium of Light, they have won 12 points this season, compared with 17 on the road, and have won only once there in the past 10 matches.

  • Robert Snodgrass's displays have been a ray of light this season for Norwich

  • West Brom have acquired a disturbing habit of letting a lead slip in recent matches

  • Jordon Mutch's attacking threat will be needed by Cardiff

  • Steve Sidwell has returned a best-ever seven Barclays Premier League goals for Fulham

  • Diomansy Kamara (left) celebrates after helping Fulham evade relegation in May 2008

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Key Points

  • Premierleague.com looks at the relegation battle this season
  • There are reasons to be cheerful for the teams occupying the last nine Barclays Premier League places
  • But there are also reasons for the team to be fearful of relegation