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Wednesday, 04 May 2005

1966: Premiership: Only an idiot wou

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by : Chris Sherrard

It’s a dangerous game, making predictions. I know only too well how easy it can be to be made to look stupid by sticking your neck on the line. The easy path to take is always sit on a nice, cosy fence and watch everyone else fall off. But that wouldn’t be much fun now would it?

So, with the biggest remaining question mark of this domestic season hovering over the issue of who will fall through the relegation trap door, who better to make a complete fool of himself and venture where few others will go? That’s right - not me.

I’d love to be able to gaze into a crystal ball and tell the world (or at least this keyboard) who is going to be avoid the drop. It would save a lot of people a lot of sleepless nights between now and the season’s conclusion. It would save a fair few nails from obliteration, too. And it would make me a fair bit of money, into the bargain.

But that’s not what football’s about. It’s about drama, unpredicatability, bouncebackability and any other made-up word you can summon from your stomach. It’s about who has got the most guts for the fight, and who has got the most luck.

Each of Southampton, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City and Crystal Palace have given us memorable moments this season. They have shown that the Premiership is absorbing and fascinating far beyond Chelsea’s predictable march to the title. This season wouldn’t have been the same without the bottom four.

And I don’t mean that in any patronising manner. Truly, what would the season have been without Iain Dowie and his fresh, intelligent approach to the game? Would it have been the same without Delia’s half-time War Cry and Norwich’s credible attempt to play their way through the campaign? And it wouldn’t have been the same excitement without Harry and Robbo bringing all their harnessed, battling qualities to the division.

So while it’s necessary to tip our hats to Jose’s champions, lets hear it, too, for the lesser lights who have been every bit as entertaining. Their Premiership seasons, unlike Chelsea’s, is coming to the boil in the next two weeks. The nature of competitive football is, and always be, that for every winner there must be a loser. And that is an even more prevalent point in this instance as only one team from the bottom four can stay up. For the other three, it’s Championship football next season and a new set of very different challenges.

Everyone is pointing to Norwich’s remaining fixtures – Birmingham and Fulham if you’re asking – as the easiest run-in. But Nigel Worthington knows only too well that the script goes flying out through the window at this time of the season. On paper the Canaries should have been heavily beaten by Manchester United and Newcastle in recent weeks while Palace should have fallen to Champions League challengers Liverpool.

We all know that set of circumstances didn’t transpire. So, while West Brom go to Old Trafford in one of their last two games you wouldn’t rule it out as a potential upset. And you wouldn’t rule out Southampton getting a similar result against Manchester United in their final game of the season.

You simply wouldn’t rule anything out at this stage. It is one of the tightest relegation battles in years. Seldom are none of the relegation spots filled by this stage. And none of the teams in the fight are sinking like the proverbial stone, as is usually the case. All have shown decent form of late and, yet, all are capable of slipping up.

Even the normally brave bookmakers don’t want to call this battle just yet. Nobody does. And for very good reason.

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