Premiership Preview Part Three: Relegation Candidates

By Huw Silk

In the final part of our Premiership Preview series, it’s time to take a look at the likely relegation candidates.

Last season, Wolverhampton Wanderers escaped the drop by a single point; with just three minutes left of the season, a Stephen Hunt goal clawed Mick McCarthy’s men out of danger by virtue of goals scored at the expense of Birmingham City (though a later goal conceded by the Blues gave Wolves their final one point cushion). This campaign, Wolves have been bolstered by the acquisitions of Jamie O’Hara and the solid Roger Johnson, and if they can both build on a number of impressive results that they achieved last time out (beating all of the top three at Molineux as well as Liverpool at Anfield) and eliminate the errors that cost them a more comfortable league position, they should be able to wrap up survival before the final day.

Wigan, another club that at various stages of last season looked prime candidates to be playing Championship football this year, before engineering a spectacular escape from that fate in the dying weeks of May, taking eight points from their final four games, and six from their last two. Roberto Martinez relied mainly on players such as Ali Al-Habsi, Charles N’Zogbia and Hugo Rodallega, but with N’Zogbia having left the DW Stadium, Martinez will be short of a key playmaker. In James McCarthy, they have arguably one of the best young talents in the league, but a general lack of class might make this an even tougher season than last term.

One of the bigger transfers in the league this season was Manchester United’s purchase of young Blackburn Rovers centre back Phil Jones for £16.5m. A price that Rovers could hardly have turned down, it has seemed to some that the club has cashed in the player while it still retained the bargaining position of a Premier League place, and, indeed, Blackburn are among the favourites for the drop this term. To date, their only signing of note has been Dundee United’s exciting striker David Goodwillie, but whether his addition will be enough to rejuvenate a time that looked prime Championship stock last season is open to debate.

Bolton Wanderers, a relatively unfashionable – but often effective – club, will be looking to consolidate last season’s lower mid-table finish, and looking to break into the top ten. They have lost some key players from the last campaign – Johan Elmander and Matty Taylor have both left while Daniel Sturridge has returned to Chelsea after his loan spell at the Reebok Stadium. In addition, South Korean winger Lee Chung-yong, among the most impressive performers for the Trotters over the past few months, will miss nearly the whole campaign after breaking his leg in pre-season. Owen Coyle remains a highly rated manager, but has barely added to his squad over the summer. This could prove to be a difficult season for Bolton, and it would be no great surprise to see them dragged down as far as the relegation mix.

Swansea City, last year labelled by some the ‘Barcelona of the Championship’, make far more passes on average each game than any other team in England’s top four divisions. Under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, they finished third in the second tier last year, and secured promotion via the play-offs – sealed with a thrilling 4-2 victory over Reading at Wembley. As with most Premier League novices, they are among the favourites to go straight back down, but an excellent team spirit at the Liberty Stadium is complemented by the signing of last season’s top scorer in the Championship, Watford striker Danny Graham. It will be a tough season for the first Welsh team to reach the Premier League, but as Hull and Blackpool have proved in recent seasons, albeit before both teams faded, smaller teams do have the element of surprise.

Queen’s Park Rangers, who romped to the Championship title last season, are relishing their return to the Premier League for the first time since their relegation in 1996. They have one of the second tier’s top performers in 2010-11, Adel Taarabt, but question marks remain as to how he will fare in the more physical top flight. However, Neil Warnock – whose position as manager at Loftus Road has looked somewhat precarious during the off-season – has bought astutely over the summer, signing Cardiff striker Jay Bothroyd, West Ham duo Danny Gabbidon and Keiron Dyer along with Blackpool hitman DJ Campbell. QPR fans would be content with survival, and Rangers’ squad are surely capable of achieving that. Even so, with the majority of the players Premier League novices, Warnock must hope that his squad can quickly adapt to the division.

In August 2009, two Norwich City fans made headlines after running onto the field, tearing up their season tickets during a 1-7 opening day defeat to lowly Colchester United. Two years – and two promotions – later, the Canaries have made that pair look somewhat sheepish, as they prepare to welcome Premier League football back to Carrow Road. Manager Paul Lambert is treated as something of a hero in Norfolk, but he will be more than aware of the challenges that lie ahead for his side. His players are not what might be regarded as typical top flight players – indeed, only a handful have played in the division before. Norwich will be reliant on striker and captain Grant Holt, who was as prolific last year as he was in League One the previous season. His form will be crucial to Norwich’s success – but even if he is relatively successful, it is difficult to see anything but a relegation struggle for his side.

Relegation prediction:

Blackburn Rovers

Norwich City

Wigan Athletic

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