Villa, Bolton, QPR, Blackburn or Wigan: Who will join Wolves in the Championship?
With seven games remaining the fight to remain in the Premier League looks like going right down to the wire. A few weeks ago it looked as though QPR and Wigan were dead and buried and Blackburn had managed to pull off the Great Escape II. However, going into the Easter weekend, it’s Mark Hughes’s men of 2012 who have their head above the parapet and Blackburn and Wigan are going down on goal difference.
Wolves have given themselves far too much to do and only the most optimistic Wolves fan can see a favourable outcome for the Molineux men this season. So that leaves Wigan, Blackburn, QPR and Bolton battling it out to avoid joining Wolves in the Championship next season. But let’s not rule out Aston Villa just yet. They may be five points above the drop zone but Alex McLeish has horrendous injury problems and the ghosts of last season’s relegation with Birmingham must be hovering over him.
Here I’m going to take a look at the remaining seven fixtures – eight for Bolton and Villa – and predict who will be celebrating come May and who will be crying into their beer.
Here is the table as we enter the weekend fixtures.
Aston Villa travel to struggling Liverpool and everyone is expecting Kenny’s charges to come out of the blocks all guns blazing following stinging criticism after losing to Newcastle. Only Manchester United have lost fewer games on the road this season than Aston Villa and the Villains have won four times at Anfield over the Premier League era, but how will they cope with so many key men out injured. On the same note, how will Liverpool fare without Pepe Reina in between the sticks? Forecast: 1-1.
Bolton host Fulham at the Reebok and Owen Coyle’s men now seem to have the momentum in their sails. Three wins on the spin have seen them escape the drop zone but QPR, Blackburn and Wigan are only a point behind. They can ill-afford any slip ups. Their home form this season hasn’t been great but Fulham have never been great travellers. But in saying that, Fulham have won one and drawn two of their previous three visits up north and with Clint Dempsey in the form of his life, Fulham could well put a stop to the Wanderers march up the table. Forecast: 1-1.
QPR take on Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday and Mark Hughes’s men go into the game full of confidence. They’ve beaten Liverpool and Arsenal, why not Manchester United? However, goal difference could be crucial this season. They must not concede too many or they will be back in the bottom three. Forecast: 3-0.
Blackburn visit The Hawthorns on Saturday and the Rovers have only lost there once in the Premier League. The Baggies haven’t won in their last four outings and have lost nine at home this season. Rovers will fancy their chances of getting back to winning ways. Forecast: 1-2.
Chelsea host Wigan Athletic and the Latics have only got the better of the Blues once in league history. Roberto Martinez’s men are on the up and have lost just once in the past eight meetings but I think Chelsea will be too strong for them here. Forecast: 3-1.
Wolves head to Stoke for a fierce Staffordshire derby but if they defend like they have done recently then it will be another defeat for Terry Connor’s men. Forecast: 2-1.
On Easter Monday Bolton head north to Newcastle United and the Wanderers will be hoping to end their barren record on Tyneside. They’ve managed just one win at St James’ Park in the past 50 years. Alan Pardew’s men have Europe in their sights. I can’t see them dropping points here. Forecast: 3-1.
At the same time Villa host Stoke City and the Villains have only defeated the Potters once in Premier League history. The visitors have only scored 10 times on the road this season so I can see this being a tight affair. Forecast: 1-1.
Blackburn welcome Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool to Ewood Park on Tuesday but Lancashire has not been a happy hunting ground for the Reds in recent seasons. They’ve managed just three wins at Blackburn since the turn of the millennium and Steve Kean’s men can taste blood. Forecast: 2-1.
Wigan host Manchester United the following night, the same team that they have never managed to take a point from. They haven’t scored in their past five meetings, conceding 21 in the process. Forecast: 0-4.
At the same time Wolves host Arsenal. Forecast: 1-2.
And QPR host fellow promoted side Swansea City. The Swans have done ever so well this season but they have never won at Loftus Road and have yet to win in the capital this season. Forecast: 2-1.
The weekend of April 14/15 sees some interesting games as Blackburn travel to Swansea. Rovers beat the Swans at Ewood Park 4-2, but the Liberty Stadium has been a fortress for the Welshmen. Can Rovers get a result in Wales? Forecast: 1-1.
Wolves head north to take on Sunderland. Forecast: 3-1.
QPR take on West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. The Baggies are unbeaten at home against the Hoops since 1999 and on their day can be deadly. But QPR know what they need to do to stay up. Forecast: 2-1.
On the Sunday, Aston Villa head to Old Trafford. The Villains left there with all three points in 2009 but the chances of Alex McLeish getting a similar result this time are slim. His former boss at Aberdeen is looking for United’s 20th league title and there will be no time for sentiment from Fergie. Forecast: 2-1.
The following day Wigan travel to the capital to take on Arsenal. The Latics have frustrated the Gunners on numerous occasions over the past few years and now Arsene Wenger has the ideal opportunity to get revenge. A top four place is far from secure for the Gunners so they will want to spank Wigan. Forecast: 3-1.
On April 21, Aston Villa welcome former boss Martin O’Neill back to Villa Park with his Black Cats. He will be desperate to get one over his former club and Alex McLeish, who was his sparring partner in Glasgow. The visitors have won two of their previous three meetings and I can see Sunderland maintaining the upper hand in this fixture. Forecast: 1-3.
Blackburn host Norwich City and Steve Kean will fancy taking all three points here. The Canaries have been phenomenal this season but their Premier League status is safe and they haven’t beaten Rovers since 1994. I can see Rovers picking up their win bonuses here. Forecast: 3-1.
Bolton are also at home, this time against Swansea City. Previous league meetings stand as 10 wins apiece and nine draws. This will be another close game and I can see the Swans getting a point from this. Forecast: 1-1.
QPR entertain Champions League hopefuls Tottenham and you have to fancy the visitors for the win. However, the Rs have done ok against the big boys so this could be another shock. However, Spurs should have too much about them. Forecast: 1-3.
Wigan travel to Fulham but the Latics have taken only four points from a possible 18 at Craven Cottage. Martin Jol’s men have given some teams a real pasting at home this season, but can Wigan sneak a result? Forecast: 2-1.
Wolves host Manchester City so that should be a formality. Forecast: 0-4.
In midweek, Bolton travel to Villa Park for a huge six-pointer. The game was postponed following Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest in the FA Cup tie with Spurs and Owen Coyle will be hoping his players can win it for the midfielder. The Wanderers have defeated Villa just once in their previous 10 league meetings. 2006 was their last triumph at Villa Park. Coyle’s men have won more on the road this season than Villa have at home. I can see Bolton turning the relegation battle on its head here. Forecast: 1-2.
The weekend of April 28 sees Villa, Bolton, Blackburn, QPR and Wolves all face tricky away games. Villa head to West Brom, who would love to send the Villains down. The Baggies have won their last two meetings 2-1. Can they complete their first double over Villa for almost 40 years? Forecast: 2-1.
Bolton are at Sunderland and they have lost their last five meetings against the Black Cats. Forecast: 2-1.
Tottenham host Blackburn Rovers and previous encounters have been action packed affairs. I can see there being goals in this one but I believe Spurs will have enough to get the job done. Forecast: 3-1.
QPR are away to Chelsea, who will be desperate to get revenge following their incident-packed clash at Loftus Road. Forecast: 3-1.
Wolves are at Swansea and I can’t see them adding their name to the list of Manchester United and Norwich to have left Wales with all three points. Forecast: 3-1.
The only troubled side at home this weekend are Wigan Athletic, who host Newcastle United. By my reckoning the Latics will be in dire need of the points at this stage and I can see them springing a shock against the Mags. Forecast: 2-1.
Heading into May, Bolton take on Spurs in their game in hand. Redknapp’s men have already beaten Bolton twice this season but their record at the Reebok is terrible. They have managed just one win at Bolton in the Premier League and went down 4-2 last season. Everyone will be pumped up for this one and I believe the Wanderers’ hold over Spurs will continue. Forecast: 3-2.
Cup final weekend sees most of the fixtures moved back to the Sunday. Aston Villa host Spurs and Redknapp’s men have lost only twice to Villa in their past 15 meetings. Spurs will give McLeish nightmares as it was Spurs who sent him down last season. Can he avoid lightening striking twice? Forecast: 1-3.
Blackburn host Wigan in a huge six-pointer. If my calculations come true – which they probably won’t – then this could be the game that seals their Premier League status and sends Wigan down. The Latics have never won at Ewood Park. If this remains the case then Wigan’s Premier League adventure is over, but it really is now or never for Wigan. Forecast: 1-2.
Bolton entertain West Brom and survival should be in sight for the Wanderers but the Baggies have been good on the road. However, their record at the Reebok stinks. Bolton should get at least a point here. Forecast: 1-1.
QPR host Stoke City and this should be a ferocious game. The Hoops ran out 3-2 winners at the Britannia and Tony Pulis will want retribution. Sending them down would be the perfect result for the Potters but can QPR take it to the final day? Forecast: 2-2.
Wolves host Everton. The Toffees should run out comfortable winners. Forecast: 2-0.
The final week of the season should see all five teams still battling to keep their Premier League status.
Blackburn take on Chelsea at the Bridge, where they haven’t scored in their past five visits and haven’t left victorious since Dwight Yorke and David Dunn scored late on to win 2-1 in 2003. Nobody wants to visit the Bridge needing at least a point to stay up. If Chelsea hit the goal trail early this could spell disaster for the visitors. Forecast: 3-1.
Bolton visit the Britannia Stadium, where Wigan completed their Great Escape last season. Can Bolton seal their top flight status against Stoke? Coyle’s men have beaten Stoke four times in the Premier League, including a thumping 5-0 win at the Reebok in November. I can see the Wanderers getting a point. Forecast: 1-1.
Villa travel to Norwich City and they haven’t lost to the Canaries since March 1993. McLeish doesn’t need to be told how important it is to win this one. Forecast: 1-2.
Manchester City end their season at home to QPR and Roberto Mancini’s men should get the better of their former boss. Forecast: 4-0.
Meanwhile, Wigan host Wolves knowing they must win at all costs to have any chance of beating the drop again. There’s no love loss between these two sides and I can see Wigan ending the season with a 3-0 win. But will it be enough to keep them up? Forecast: 3-0.
Well, that's how I envisage the final few weeks of the season panning out and it means bidding farewell to Wigan, QPR and Wolves and congratulating Bolton, Blackburn and Villa for beating the drop. Of course this is all guess work. If I get this right then burn me at the stake! The likes of QPR and Wigan have already shown that form and the history books count for nothing, it's all about who wants it the most.
I've put my neck on the line with this one. Is there anyone out there brave enough to do the same?
Calling all Villa, Bolton, Blackburn, QPR, Wigan and Wolves fans. How do you see the final few games of the season going? How confident are you of beatin the drop? Who do you think will slip through the trapdoor? Can Wolves shock everyone by returning from the dead or are they down bar the shouting? Whateve your views, we'd love to hear from you.