Football

Five teams battle to avoid drop from Premier League

Steve Bruce's Hull City occupy the third relegation spot going into the penultimate round of games in England's Premier League.
Steve Bruce's Hull City occupy the third relegation spot going into the penultimate round of games in England's Premier League. Reuters/Andrew Yates

With Queens Park Rangers and Burnley losing their fight last weekend to survive another season in England's Premier League, second division football looms for one from a number of clubs.

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With two games remaining of the 38 match English Premier League season, five teams are mathematically involved in the scrap to avoid the third relegation place.

Aston Villa, Leicester City, Newcastle United, Sunderland and Hull City are potential companions for Queens Park Rangers and Burnley in the voyage to the Championship - the second tier of professional football in England.

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Of the gaggle Aston Villa are the most favourably placed to escape the indignity. They are four points above the drop zone and travel to Southampton on Saturday.

Newcastle United have taken one point out of a possible 27 in a spectacular slump since the departure of manager Alan Pardew. He was unpopular with the fans for apparently lacking the backbone to stop the sale of the club's best players. Pardew left in January to take charge of a struggling Crystal Palace side.

When he arrived in south-east London, Palace were in the relegation zone having taken just 17 points from 20 games.

Two weeks ago Palace crossed the River Thames for the derby at Chelsea. Palace had played 34 games and collected 42 points. They were far from canon-fodder, losing 1-0 as Chelsea secured their first title since 2010.

Palace are in mid-table and it is Newcastle who are under threat, though, having gained their first point in nine games last weekend in the 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion, they should be able to wrest some kind of result from a dilapidated Queens Park Rangers who were dispatched into oblivion after a 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City.

The intriguing tie pits Sunderland against Leicester City. Leicester have surged towards safety with a sequence of six wins in their last seven games. Their only defeat was against Chelsea on 29 April as the west Londoners bore down on the title.

Leicester have bounced back from that defeat with victories over Newcastle and Southampton. Sunderland also approach the encounter at the Stadium of Light with a bonny mien after taking maximum points in the games against Southampton and Everton.

With Sunderland to face Arsenal and Chelsea in their final two matches, the fixture against Leicester is, on paper, their most winnable game.

Jonathan Wilson, editor of the football magazine The Blizzard, is a Sunderland fan.

"It's between Newcastle, Sunderland, unfortunately, and Hull for the last relegation place," he told RFI. "I was at the game between Hull and Burnley. Hull were pretty awful and lost. Hull have got to go to Tottenham who haven't been playing that well recently. But, if Hull play as badly as they did against Burnley, they will lose and Hull have got to play Manchester United on the last day of the season."

With Hull occupying the final relegation place, Saturday's trip to Tottenham takes on a critical hue.

"It's entirely possible that Hull won't pick up another point this season," Wilson added.

Hull boss Steve Bruce says his team will fight until the end. "There's still a lot to play for," said the former Manchester United defender. It looks like it's going to go to the wire. I wouldn't be surprised if it did. And we've got to be ready for that."

Bruce's manager at Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, once described the end of the season run-in for the title as "squeaky bum time". It somehow seems more apt for the fight at the bottom.

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