Why five into two won’t go…..

by Sean Bell

Monday, May 16th, 2011

And so the attention on the final weekend of this season’s Premier League will (with all due respect to the struggle to avoid Europa League qualification) be upon the battle to avoid the dreaded drop into the Championship. This weekend’s results could not have been scripted better with five clubs now separated by just one point.

Blackburn’s draw with Manchester United may look an excellent result on paper but Steve Kean’s side may yet rue their failure to hold on for victory. Martin Olsson’s header which struck the United woodwork on sixty-five minutes would have almost certainly guaranteed his side the three points, and made Paul Robinson’s challenge on Javier Hernandez ten minutes later less costly. The two sides then played out time in a manner reminiscent of the Austrian-German Anschluss in the 1982 World Cup, and whilst Blackburn are still confident of survival, they face a tricky trip to Moulineux for their final game.

Indeed Wolves look the most likely survivors of the five, buoyed by two successive excellent victories over WBA and Sunderland respectively, and with Kevin Doyle fit and available for selection again. By stark contrast their Midlands neighbours Birmingham City look in freefall and their 2-0 home defeat to Fulham looked like the performance of a relegated side. I expect their Carling Cup hangover to continue into next season’s Championship.

That leaves the two sides currently occupying the relegation zone with already-doomed West Ham. Blackpool have arguably been the most entertaining side in the division this season and most neutrals will hope that Ian Holloway’s side can pull off a miracle and win at Old Trafford on Sunday. In their favour is the fact that United have already won the title and are preparing for the Champions League Final at the end of the month. West Ham pulled off a similar feat four seasons ago, and one thing can be guaranteed – Blackpool will give it a go and won’t die wondering.

Wigan Athletic face a tricky trip to Stoke City. Yesterday’s match with West Ham was the best that I’ve watched all season, no doubt helped by both sides’ defensive frailties and their collective urgency to win┬áthe definitive six-pointer. Roberto Martinez is a refreshingly uncynical character whose philosophy on football is as admirable as it is naive. One fears for his defence against the power play of Stoke but Wigan’s best hope is that the Potters’ minds will already be on the beach after their F.A. Cup defeat. Having the F.A. Cup Final a week before the end of the season may yet prove to be a critical and deciding influence upon the relegation battle.

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