Nerves jangle as the moment of truth arrives for five managers facing the drop

The relegation battle has gone to the wire. Who will survive tomorrow? By Ian Herbert

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The Independent Online

It is the thought of George Owen that really puts it all into perspective this weekend. He is the Wigan Athletic fan for whom the sight of Gary Caldwell's misplaced 83rd-minute pass, during the frenetic pursuit of a winner against West Ham United last Sunday, proved too much for his weak heart and caused his collapse in the DW Stadium's East Stand.

Roberto Martinez thought he knew everything about relegation but not this. "In our lives nothing gets your emotion and passions touched like football does, and that's a responsibility we've got," the Wigan manager reflected yesterday, declaring a desire to receive the retired electrical engineer at the club's stadium in August for another Premier League game. Life, just like football, is rarely a fairytale, of course, and Mr Owen remains seriously ill in Wigan Infirmary.

Martinez has a tall order on the pitch – his side are bottom of that band of five clubs on 39 and 40 points fighting for their Premier League lives – as they head to Stoke's Britannia Stadium. Wigan have, in many ways, become the romantic's choice to survive, by virtue of their indefatigability and Martinez's insistence on passing their way out of this storm.

The managers of the five sides have cut an extraordinary sight over the past 72 hours, each trying in his own way to display grace under pressure and some managing better than others. There was Blackpool's Ian Holloway reaching for the umpteenth metaphor from his season of verbal gymnastics (this time casting himself as Crocodile Dundee), Mick McCarthy displaying gruff fatalism at Wolverhampton, Alex McLeish looking like the tired, worn man Carson Jeung's ownership of Birmingham has turned him into, and Steve Kean proving as delusional as ever about Blackburn's plight.

Martinez's programme notes end with the words "No fear" and he practises what he preaches. "I don't believe in managing by fear," he said. "I believe in doing it by aspiration. When you manage by fear, the moment you turn around, the players do what they want."

Wigan's £40m annual wage bill would be severely cut in the Championship, and the road back would certainly be much tougher for them than for Blackburn who, despite a wage bill of around 80 per cent of turnover, can hope for the resources of Venky's to help propel them back – though manager Kean's decision to spend part of this fateful week in India asks some questions about his judgement. Kean was generally unconvincing in his discussion of the trip to Wolves – "We're targeting a top-10 finish next season," he said – and it was left to defender Michel Salgado to talk sense. "The mistake was for us to talk about [signing] stars like Ronaldinho and [David] Beckham [in mid-season]," the Spaniard admitted. "We have had to come back down to earth."

The word "tired" has become an increasing part of McLeish's lexicon, with his players' late-night drinking on Monday not helping his humour yesterday. "You've got to believe. If you don't, then you might as well be chucking it in just now," McLeish said yesterday. The state of Yeung's finances offer little sense of how Birmingham might bounce back.

Relegation would be least disastrous for Blackpool, whose modest wage bill means a drop would take them to a Championship level befitting their commercial set-up.

A curiously small number of these managers are putting their jobs on the line. Martinez, "the best manager in Europe" according to chairman Dave Whelan, will stay; McCarthy and Kean have been offered the same assurances and Holloway will decide his own future. But that doesn't change how some will feel by 6pm. "Relegation?" said Holloway. "It will be the end of the world."

premier league

       P        W       D        L        F        A        Pts       

Blackburn       37       10       10       17       43       57       40

Wolves       37       11       7       19       44       63       40

Birmingham       37       8       15       14       36       56       39

Blackpool       37       10       9       18       53       74       39

Wigan       37       8       15       14       39       61       39

West Ham (R)       37       7       12       18       43       67       33

* What they need to do tomorrow

Steve Kean's side will be relegated if they lose at Wolves and two from Birmingham, Blackpool and Wigan win. A draw would send Blackburn down if Birmingham, Blackpool and Wigan all win their matches.

* Form LLWDD

* Most valuable asset Phil Jones (£10m)

* Wage bill£47m

* What they need to do tomorrow

A win at Spurs will keep them up, providing both Blackpool and Wigan do not win by wider margins. A draw would be enough if both Blackpool and Wigan fail to win, while defeat could keep them up, if Blackpool and Wigan lose by the same or more.

* Form LLDLL

* Most valuable asset Roger Johnson (£4m)

* Wage bill £38m

* What they need to do tomorrow

Will be safe if they win at Stoke by a bigger margin than Blackpool and Birmingham manage, or if Wolves draw with Blackburn and Blackpool or Birmingham drop points. A draw is enough if Blackpool and Birmin-gham lose or Wolves lose by four.

* Form WLDDW

* Most valuable asset Charles N'Zogbia (£10m)

* Wage bill £39m

* What they need to do tomorrow

Three points at Old Trafford will be enough, providing their victory margin is the same or better than any Wigan win. A draw would only save them if Wigan are beaten and Birmingham lose or Wolves lose heavily to Blackburn.

* Form LDDDW

* Most valuable asset Charlie Adam (£12m)

* Wage bill (2009-10 figures) £13m

* What they need to do tomorrow

A win against Blackburn will keep them up but a draw would be enough to relegate Wolves should two of Birmingham, Blackpool and Wigan win. A heavy defeat to Rovers could send them down even if two of the above only draw.

* Form DLDWW

* Most valuable asset Matt Jarvis (£8m)

* Wage bill £30m

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