By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Leicester who? Now all that Premier League title nonsense is over, it’s time to get back to the real football – the relegation battle. Norwich City, Newcastle United and Sunderland all find themselves at the wrong end of the table with three (two in the Toon’s case) games remaining and only one team to stay in the league. Their respective seasons will be defined by the next two weeks. Who is going to stand up and be a hero and lead their side to safety? Luckily, I have composed a guide which charts what will definitely, probably, almost certainly, not happen.
The Magpies sacked manager Steve McClaren in March and replaced him with Champions League winning coach Rafa Benitez. It has turned out to be one of Mike Ashley’s better decisions because the Spaniard has led Newcastle out of the bottom three for the first time in two months whilst also giving the team a semblance of organisation and fight that was significantly lacking under McClaren.
The Toon have kept two clean sheets in their last four matches and have gained admirable draws against Man City and Liverpool in that time, both after going behind. They have played one more game than their rivals but they are coming into form at just the right time and have an eminently winnable fixture on Saturday away at Aston Villa.
Verdict: Four points is all I can see them getting at best – probably not quite enough.
One win in nine isn’t exactly survival form for Sam Allardayce’s men, although they have only lost two in that run. However, the Black Cats do have a striker amongst the goals in Jermain Defoe with 14 so far this season. With him in the side and only one point behind fierce rivals Newcastle with a game in hand, anything is possible.
The Mackems play two of their remaining three matches at home which could be pivotal. If they can come away with four points from those fixtures against Chelsea and Everton then they will be in pole position for the final match at Vicarage Road.
Verdict: Seven points from three games is a tough ask, but I think they’ll do it.
Norwich find themselves in 19th position, two points from safety with three games to play. Scoring goals has been their Achilles heel all season – zero in their last three games – and unfortunately I don’t believe that they have enough firepower in their team to turn that around.
Speaking to BBC Sport, manager Alex Neil said “If you start worrying about the maths and what other people are doing then it’ll drive you crazy,” before, rather contradictorily, talking about what other people are doing: “Newcastle are a different kettle of fish because they’ve only two games left but I think it’s unlikely Sunderland will win their three remaining games.” Good to see the manager coping well with the pressure of the situation.
Victories are now imperative for the Canaries but I can’t see them beating Manchester United on Saturday. They may have a better chance at home against a Watford side whose thoughts are drifting towards their summer vacation and Everton, who have been woeful at home all season, but it might be too little, too late.
Verdict: Will put up a good fight but will ultimately come up short due to a lack of quality.