It may only be mid-January but a quick glance at the bottom of the Premier League table shows a five-way survival struggle is already well underway.
Wolves head the bottom five in 16th but are now five points behind 15th placed West Brom. Wolves fans will take heart from their great escape last season and the fact that experienced manager Mick McCarthy and many of their players have been in this position before. Striker Steven Fletcher is scoring goals and new arrivals Emanuel Frimpong and Eggert Jonsson will strengthen the squad. But a tough trip to high-flying Tottenham this weekend will make it extremely difficult for them to improve their league position, which has been described as “unacceptable” by club chairman Steve Morgan.
QPR are level on points with Wolves but the club has been boosted with the appointment of Mark Hughes as manager and the promise that money will be spent in the transfer window. Hughes has a track record of establishing struggling Premiership sides in the top half (Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham) but interestingly has only managed a 30% win record in the first six months of each of these jobs. Will this be enough to keep them up? QPR face Newcastle at the Sports Direct Arena today, where they destroyed Manchester United 3-0 last week.
Wigan are one point behind Wolves and QPR, but have managed only three points from their last five league games. Midfield enforcer Mohamed Diame will be missed whilst playing in the African Nations Cup, and they will need Victor Moses to continue his recent fine form. Hugo Rodallega scored his first goal of the season against Sunderland and will need to keep scoring to heave them out of the bottom three. Wigan will have a clearer picture of their league position by the time they face Manchester City at home on Monday.
After a strong start to the season, Bolton have gone on to lose fourteen league games. Injuries to key men Stuart Holden, Sam Ricketts and Lee Chung-Yong have contributed, and the imminent departure of captain and star player Gary Cahill will weaken their squad further. They lie only two only two points from safety but travel to Manchester United today and must also play Liverpool and Arsenal in a tough run of January fixtures. Owen Coyle must quickly invest money from the Cahill transfer into the squad if they are to stand any chance of avoiding the drop.
Of the five struggling teams, Blackburn’s prospects look the bleakest as they sit-rock-bottom, a point behind North West rivals Bolton. Fans are currently staging a 24-hour protest outside Ewood Park and the fans’ constant barracking of manager Steve Kean is affecting their home form. If this continues they may be forced to collect points on the road and they’ve shown this is possible by drawing at Liverpool and beating Manchester United at Old Trafford. But star players Chris Samba and Junior Hoilett could leave the club in January, and their Indian owners are showing no signs of giving Kean any money to spend. They play Fulham at home today in a must-win game.
There are still eighteen games to play this season and many points to fight for. But May comes around quickly, and it is incredibly likely that three of these five teams will be playing in the Championship next season.