Tuesday 23 January 2018

Logic has no part to play in battle for survival


After the giddy excitement of Tottenham's win at San Siro, followed by Arsenal turning out to be the best team in the world after all, it is a bit of a comedown to discover that the league that spawned these slayers of giants has only one fixture to offer this weekend. Not to worry though, because Mick McCarthy has billed it as the biggest game of the season.

The visit of Wolves to West Bromwich Albion today may look like a relegation encounter, and a fairly dull one at that, but when you are bottom you take a different perspective, especially when you are bottom despite recording victories over Chelsea, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs, which is the ludicrous position in which the Wolves manager finds himself.

Clearly, McCarthy's side can play a bit but, as he knows better than just about anyone else, survival is normally achieved by beating the teams around you, not the ones on the sunlit uplands in the distance.

Wolves have not been doing that, hence their plight. McCarthy feels they had better start now: "What we do against West Brom and Blackpool will define our season."

He could be right. Wolves still have to play the Baggies once more after today, as well as Blackpool at home on Saturday, so that is a possible nine points to aim for against sides who have spent the past couple of months dropping to the wrong end of the table.

Logically, if Wolves can beat the defending champions and the current leaders, they ought to be able to take points from teams in the bottom quarter, though logic is rarely a useful ally in a relegation dogfight. Were it simply a matter of logic, Roy Hodgson would now be telling his new charges that they are extremely lucky, because they still have to play the bottom side twice and six points would take them half-way up the table.

Logic also suggests that no one in the bottom half can be declared safe just yet -- not even Everton or Aston Villa -- yet the way the four Ws have made the bottom places their own in recent weeks offers the possibility of a rerun of last season.

Everton may be playing without confidence and having the worst season David Moyes can remember; Birmingham and Villa may still be in danger of being plunged into the bottom three by a couple of wins from Wigan or West Brom; but the chances are it will not happen. Wigan, for instance, have never won two successive games under Roberto Martinez and they have United and City coming up next.

What happened last year was that four teams failed to reach the nominal safety target of 40 points but still ended up secure because none of the bottom three managed to collect more than 30. While the situation at the bottom is much tighter this year in terms of points and no one is yet adrift it still seems likely that failings just above the relegation zone will end up being forgiven due to the identity of the bottom four not changing significantly between now and May.

That is to say, it would be a surprise if at least two teams beginning with W did not go down and not much of a shock if all three bottom places were taken by clubs with the same initial.

Which W will survive is almost impossible to guess but as well as factoring in a new manager (West Brom), some recent signs of improvement (West Ham), a record of unlikely escapes and surprise wins against bigger clubs (Wigan) and several notable results this season (Wolves), it is also necessary to recognise that the Blackpool rollercoaster is on a longish downward stretch and that Ian Holloway's side now look for the first time as if they could interrupt the alphabetical purity of the bottom three. Victory against Spurs on Tuesday could dispel these thoughts and propel the Seasiders back up to half-way but in taking

four points from nine matches this year Blackpool have recorded only one win, against a Liverpool side still to be revitalised by Kenny Dalglish.

My prediction at the start of the season was that Blackpool, Wigan, and West Ham would go down -- the last two after a fight, the newly promoted club nailed to bottom position, obviously. It has not worked out quite that way. Blackpool have been brilliant, though to survive they need a second wind. They need a win from somewhere.

After bottom beating top just a couple of weeks ago Blackpool helping save themselves at Spurs' expense would be a towering achievement, the ultimate tangerine dream. It may not happen. But it probably beats West Brom v Wolves as game of the season.


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