Premier League: The battle for survival is just as hot as the title race

The Stadium of Light

While all of the talk in the Premier League is of who will win the title, the battle to avoid relegation is just as hotly contested.

Three teams will be relegated into the Championship at the end of the season, and six or seven teams are doing their damnedest to make sure they aren’t one of them.

Unfortunately, when a team finds themselves in a relegation scrap their best efforts to win games often go to waste, with the losing mentality taking its toll on a squad of demoralised players.

Once the losing starts it is hard to stop it. Just ask Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham.

Norwich started the season reasonably positively, but in the last few months the Canaries have been in freefall down the league, losing seven of the last nine games.

Sacking manager Chris Hughton earlier this month has done nothing to halt Norwich’s slide, losing the three games since.

Fulham have also sacked their manager this season, twice. Martin Jol was given his marching orders in favour of former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen.

But when Meulensteen couldn’t reverse the fortunes of the Cottagers, owner Shahid Khan brought in former Bayern Munich manager Felix Magath. Performances under the German have improved, but Fulham keep on dropping points regardless.

And Cardiff will want to put this season behind them as quickly as possible, and in all likelihood they will be licking their wounds in the Championship next year.

It was another weekend of mixed results for those teams at the bottom with Gus Poyet’s Sunderland continuing their great escape, thrashing Cardiff 4-0 at the Stadium of Light. It was Sunderland’s first home league win since January 29, but it could not have come at a better time for the Black Cats, jumping from 20th (bottom) to 17th (one place above the relegation zone).

Their win will be of particular discomfort for Fulham, who threw away a two-goal lead at home to Hull City to ensure that they remain in the thick of the relegation battle.

For the neutral fan this relegation scrap is a decision of who you like less.

Cardiff, Norwich and Fulham have all been terrible for long parts of the season, while Aston Villa have hit a patch of appalling form at just the wrong point of the season and find themselves in real danger.

Sunderland, meanwhile, have recovered from their terrible start under the dictatorial Paolo Di Canio and have actually played some very good football in a few games this season.

For me, even though they have been in the bottom four all season, Sunderland are the team that deserve to stay up and have another shot at Premier League football next year.

The final few games of the season promise to be enthralling at both ends of the table.

Watch out for a possible Cardiff upset away at Newcastle to boost their survival chances. And Crystal Palace v Liverpool on May 5 could well decide where the title will end up.

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