Football Comment: Relegation battle alive but I fear for Burnley, QPR and Sunderland

 
Trevor Steven
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QPR’s defence has been a weak point in a difficult season
THE BEAUTY of this season’s battle to avoid relegation from the Premier League is that no team is adrift. With one win any of the sides scrapping for survival could take a big step towards safety.

I think Newcastle and Aston Villa are safe, and that it’s between the bottom five. The Magpies have lost six in a row but I think they’ll get the one win they need from their remaining five games, while Aston Villa look to have rediscovered confidence and form at just the right time. Tim Sherwood has done tremendously well since taking charge, and I think that reaching the FA Cup final will only lift them, rather than acting as a distraction.

That leaves Sunderland, Hull, Leicester, Queens Park Rangers and Burnley and, having gone through each of their remaining fixtures, I am fairly confident in predicting who will drop into the Championship.

Leicester have transformed their fortunes with three successive wins, and I put that down to the us-against-the-world mentality that manager Nigel Pearson seems to have instilled. Goals and wins save you, and the fact that they’ve scored and won more than most of their direct rivals is a good sign. I can see them taking nine points from their six remaining games, which would be enough to stay up.

Boss Sean Dyche has done a super job considering they have spent very little, and they have been a credit to themselves this season, but I fear Burnley will go down. They are bottom, form has been patchy, and I can’t see them taking more than six points from their five fixtures. For all their great attitude, they haven’t scored enough and it could cost them.

I think the Clarets are well placed to bounce back next season, but QPR, on the other hand, could find themselves in big trouble if they are relegated, with the prospect of a huge fine from the Football League over financial fair play. Rangers have just conceded too many goals and, though they have a fighting chance and should beat West Ham on Saturday, I don’t see them getting much else and it looks like they’ll go down.

That leaves a straight fight between Sunderland and Hull. Both have pretty horrific run-ins, with the former finishing with trips to Arsenal and Chelsea, and the latter still to face Liverpool, the Gunners, Tottenham and Manchester United.

You have to wonder whether Sunderland made the right call in replacing manager Gus Poyet with Dick Advocaat. They might have beaten Newcastle but that is no great feat at the moment and they seem to have lost support from their fans. When supporters walk out it is horrible for players to endure.

I’m not sure Advocaat has the personality for a relegation battle. That’s not his speciality, whereas it’s exactly where you’d expect Hull boss Steve Bruce to thrive. If anyone’s going to muster something from this situation, you’d back it to be him. I fancy both to take four points from their last few games, but for Sunderland’s poor goal difference to be the deciding factor and send them down.

Trevor Steven is a former England international who has played at two World Cups and two European Championships. He now works as a media commentator.

HOW TREVOR CALLS IT

■ SUNDERLAND (29 points)
Stoke (h) L; Southampton (a) W; Everton (a) L; Leicester (h) D; Arsenal (a) L; Chelsea (a) L = final points: 33

■ HULL (28 points)
Crystal Palace (a) D; Liverpool (h) D; Arsenal (h) L; Burnley (h) W; Tottenham (a) L; Man Utd (a) L = final points: 33

■ LEICESTER (28 points)
Burnley (a) D; Chelsea (h) L; Newcastle (h) W; Southampton (h) D; Sunderland (a) D; QPR (h) W = final points: 37

■ QPR (26 points)
West Ham (h) W; Liverpool (a) L; Man City (a) L; Newcastle (h) D; Leicester (a) L = final points: 32

■ BURNLEY (26 points)
Leicester (h) D; West Ham (a) D; Hull (a) L; Stoke (h) W; Aston Villa (a) D = final points 32

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