The stakes are raised higher every year. For those scrapping for survival, the Premier League is a dream they cling to with alacrity; for those vying to enter England’s top flight, the glitz is a dazzling prospect.
Manchester City’s relentless march to the title has made the relegation dogfight the most intriguing narrative of the season. Perhaps the most fiercely contested scrap in Premier League history, this year has had myriad twists and promises more.
The Championship breeds competitivity. Wolves have led the table since Christmas, but Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Fulham all have their sights set on an automatic spot.
With this in mind, we asked our writers to condemn three teams to relegation and single out two teams geared for automatic promotion.
Alan Pardew’s struggling Baggies were the unanimous tip for relegation, with the midlands club experiencing a torrid season – one punctuated by feckless performances and errant taxis…
Here’s what our writers had to say
Emmot Leigh – former Print Sports Editor
“They’re too far adrift and if you can’t beat Huddersfield at home, you’re not getting out of trouble”
Luke Clarkson – incoming Digital Sports Editor
An initial upturn in performances greeted the arrival of Paul Lambert, who took over from Mark Hughes, but results were not forthcoming. Yet the Potters’ find themselves second from last and staring demotion down the eye.
Harry Jones – Sports writer
“Well, Stoke have only managed one win in their last ten league games and are desperately short of goals. To make matters worse they have a really tricky run in with Everton, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool still to come. Plus Paul Lambert is an absolutely hopeless manager”
Ben Hart – incoming Digital Sports Editor
“Normally when teams sack a manager mid-season they hope for an immediate impact. Stoke have won just one league game since Lambert took over in January. To add to their worries their top scorer is Shaqiri and he’s so inconsistent and unreliable that Stoke can’t solely rely on him for goals. They don’t have a prolific frontman either that the likes of West Ham do in Hernandez.”
The decision to sack Claude Puel continues to look a bizarre decision with each demoralising, flaccid and blunt performance under Mauricio Pellegrino. The Saints were our final pick for relegation and the arrival of Mark Hughes has done little to alleviate pessimism.
James Chisnall – Sports writer
“There is no one singular talent at Southampton that offers the spark needed to mount a run at survival. With players like Shaqiri, Zaha and Arnautovic at the clubs around them offering that hope; I don’t know where the goals will come from for the Saints with an out-of-form Gabbiadini and a still-injured Charlie Austin. The sacking of Pellegrino may result in a less boring approach but it could prove too little too late.”
Ben Bampton – Sports writer
“I’m not going to get any plaudits for this back home, but Southampton have been way too mediocre all season. Years of being a feeder club have taken their toll, and since Mauricio Pellegrino came in, they’ve lacked direction (not the combination of Poch and Pellegrini his name promised). I can’t remember a game this season where Saints have really hit top gear, and reckon their lack of firepower will see them drop below Palace into the bottom three”
Wolves have topped the table since Christmas, their financial flexing in the summer returning dividends. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men play an attractive, expansive and fashionable style of football and have often blown opposition away this season.
Finlay Simmonds – Sports writer
“A nice blend of youth and experience, headed by the classy Nuno Espirito-Santo should see Wolves go up. Obviously, they’ve been helped by the owners’ links with super-agent Jorge Mendes who has been integral in the signing of top quality personnel”
Mark Taylor – Sports writer
“They’ve been fantastic all season both at the back and going forward, I can’t see that changing soon. They won’t be caught and will go on to win the title.”
Tom Murphy – Sports writer/outgoing social secretary
“Undoubtedly, Wolves have been the Championships best and most consistent team this season. Recent blips against fellow automatic promotion hopefuls Fulham and Villa aside, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have been dominant. With European talents like Diego Jota and Ruben Neves, they have the best squad in the league and should top the table come the 6th of May.”
Luke Clarskon – incoming Digital Sports Editor
“Wolves will come top of the championship for me. Despite the recent losses to Fulham and Aston Villa, they have too much quality in their side and a decent gap to third which should prove enough to see them back in the premier league.”
This year’s surprise package – there is always one in the Championship – Cardiff have a compelling blend of steel and flair. Neil Warnock’s shrewd management has galvanised a club threatening mutiny. The Bluebirds have fought off competition from Villa and Fulham to get our second pick. Here’s why…
Charlie Morgan – Sports writer
“After league leaders Wolves were thrashed by Aston Villa at the weekend, Cardiff’s 6 wins in a row puts them as the form team in the automatic spots. They’ve got a tough run-in, with away trips to Hull and Brentford tomorrow looking particularly challenging, but Neil Warnock has the experience and his players have the momentum to hold off their challengers.”
Ben Grant-Foale – Sports writer
“Think Warnock’s experience will be key in the play-off run in. He’s got the best out of players with his effective man management. Also, they’ve got great team spirit. Good old Warnock.”
Michael Jones – outgoing Digital Sports Editor
“Cardiff are capable of grinding out ugly victories – much to the delight of Warnock – yet also storming their way to three points. Joe Ralls has emerged as a stylish and forceful dictator in the middle of the park, but it is City’s defence that has provided the platform for their promotion charge. The Bluebirds are on a roll, and who would back against Warnock gaining a historic eight promotion?”