Lee Dixon: McCarthy and Martinez show survival skills but I fear for Blackpool and the Hammers

The Weekend Dossier
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The relegation battle at the bottom of the Premier League is boiling down to three clubs from four.

It has been such an unpredictable season that anything could still happen, and Blackburn and Birmingham are not totally out of it. But it does look like being a straight fight between West Ham, Wolverhampton, Wigan and Blackpool, with the prize for the winner being another season in the Premier League.

I fear for West Ham and Blackpool. I don't think either of them will be able to pull away from the bottom three at this late stage of the season, which leaves Wigan and Wolves fighting it out to avoid the drop. Wolves' victory in the derby game over West Bromwich last weekend was a fantastic result for Mick McCarthy's side. It lifted them out of the bottom three and will give them belief they can pull it off in their final two games – away to Sunderland today, and then Blackburn at home next Sunday.

That's all that the manager can ask: that they have it in their own hands going into the last two games. And, to be honest, if you could pick one game to play away from home, then it might be Sunderland, who have huge injury problems, have nothing left to play for, and until last week's win at Bolton were on a terrible run of form. Wolves will be hoping that some of the Sunderland team might already be on the beach in their minds.

Wolves have been guilty of giving away a worrying amount of poor goals, and that remains a concern for McCarthy. One of the positives however remains the manager, who is someone I have a lot of respect for. He is the perfect man for the job, because I am sure he can get that extra one or two per cent from the team. I would certainly try my absolute hardest for him because I'd be scared stiff of him. He is a very honest guy, who thinks about the game and then says it how he sees it. At this stage of the season it is important to keep directions simple for players and I don't see Mick allowing things to get too complicated.

Ian Holloway's Blackpool side have been brilliant this season because of the refreshing way they have taken to the Premier League. There is always a great deal of excitement and goals in their games and I certainly have really enjoyed watching them. At times they have shown naivety, but that in itself is refreshing and not something they should be criticised for. They have given people a lot of pleasure this season but I am certain Ian would swap that for a few more points right now.

People have worked them out, though, and in the second half of the season they have been found wanting. I think Ian recognised that and tried to change the way they play but then they started losing game after game and went into freefall. Now I think he realises the players are not really adapting all that well and have not been able to focus on a different way to play.

They have an uphill battle now against Bolton at home, and then Manchester United away next weekend. There is a suggestion that United will pick a second-string side, which could give Blackpool a chance, but if Sir Alex Ferguson's team get the point they need tomorrow to win the title, then there will be a really positive atmosphere at Old Trafford next week ahead of the Champions League final. Either way, I can't see Blackpool getting anything from that game.

Wigan's biggest asset at the moment is manager Roberto Martinez. I've been really impressed with him every time he speaks and he seems to have the respect of the dressing room. The trouble for Martinez is that his team have drawn too many games. There is little to choose between the teams at the bottom, so the influence of a manager like Martinez could make all the difference between staying up and going down. He has kept a cool head in what has become a real relegation dogfight and seems to have kept the dressing room together. It is hard to judge from the outside but from what I have seen of Wigan I can pretty much guarantee that their players are listening to what the manager says, and I cannot be sure that is the same at all the other clubs at the bottom of the table.

Wigan have drawn their last two games, against Aston Villa and Everton, so they are in decent form. They host West Ham today, and then travel to Stoke next weekend, who will be getting over the FA Cup final, so they have a decent chance of picking up some points.

You look at the spine of West Ham's team, with England internationals in Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole, and wonder how on earth they are at the bottom of the table. I have to admit I don't have the answer. Collectively, West Ham have not played well enough and deserve whatever happens to them. You could blame those four for not trying hard enough, but perhaps it is more the case that the other players in the team are not up to the required standard.

The management also have to take some of the blame. When I saw a training session recently, as I wrote about last week, there was a malaise and a sloppiness about their work that I found shocking. It's at times like this that players will be looking to the manager, or someone else, to give them some inspiration but I don't see that coming at West Ham.

Five Asides

1. Walking out on your country is not the way

The news that Ben Foster is taking a break from England was bad enough, but now it seems fellow goalkeeper Robert Green might follow him.

Given that Paul Robinson has also retired recently, it suggests that the communication between manager and players is at an all-time low. That players should feel so negative about representing England means something is really, really wrong.

But that still does not explain why a player should quit playing for his country. In my book you should never retire from playing for England, no matter how bad your relations with the manager.

2. Lennon deserves praise for tolerating madness

It beggars belief the way Neil Lennon is being treated as Celtic manager. Football is being dragged through the gutter by this kind of behaviour and I just cannot understand how and why people do it.

How Lennon manages to work under those conditions is beyond me.

3. Clarke was the start of Dalglish's revival

Nice to see Kenny Dalglish finally get the Liverpool job permanently, along with his assistant Steve Clarke. The former Chelsea and West Ham coach was the man Kenny wanted as soon as he got the job of caretaker, and it was the first of many important decisions Kenny has got right.

4. Sad news part 1: the death of Weylandt

My other sport is cycling and I was appalled this week at the tragic and shocking death of Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

5. Sad news part 2: losing the awesome Seve

I was also saddened by the death of Seve Ballesteros last weekend, who was one of my childhood heroes. I know a few golf professionals and they were all in awe of him.

Lee Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action

Blackburn Rovers vs Manchester United

Dixon's verdict: United need just a point at Ewood Park to claim that 19th title and I think they will get more than that. How City will hate their limelight being taken away by their neighbours.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Highlights BBC 1, 11.35pm)

Prediction: Away win

Blackpool vs Bolton Wanderers

Dixon's verdict: Blackpool jumped out of the relegation zone for a day last week before Wolves' victory and they may come to rue Jermain Defoe's late equaliser. Bolton have one win in four but they have enough to win here.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Highlights BBC 1, 11.35pm)

Prediction: Away win

Sunderland vs Wolverhampton Wanderers

Dixon's verdict: You never know what to expect from a Sunderland side that still has massive injury problems. It was a great win at Bolton last weekend but Wolves are fighting to stay up and will take a point.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Highlights BBC 1, 11.35pm)

Prediction: Draw

West Bromwich Albion vs Everton

Dixon's verdict: Everton are in fine form, losing just one of their last 10 matches, while West Bromwich, for all their good play in patches, have won just one of their last four. An away win for David Moyes' side.

Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Highlights BBC 1, 11.35pm)

Prediction: Away win

Chelsea vs Newcastle United

Dixon's verdict: Newcastle prevailed at Stamford Bridge in the Cup earlier this season but they will not come anywhere near repeating that feat tomorrow, especially with Kevin Nolan and Cheick Tioté missing.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Prediction: Home win

Arsenal vs Aston Villa

Dixon's verdict: Arsenal underperformed again on the road last week but remain in supreme form at home, unbeaten in 18 games. The returns of Thomas Vermaelen and Cesc Fabregas will show what might have been.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Prediction: Home win

Birmingham City vs Fulham

Dixon's verdict: Fulham did well on their travels last time out but had a horror show against Liverpool this week. Birmingham have a couple of key players out so a draw could be the most likely outcome.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Prediction: Draw

Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur

Dixon's verdict: How these teams' fortunes have differed this year. Spurs have been on a shambolic run of form, while Liverpool have surged up the table and Kenny Dalglish's side will confirm fifth with victory tomorrow.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Prediction: Home win

Wigan Athletic vs West Ham United

Dixon's verdict: West Ham have a good recent record at Wigan and could welcome back Scott Parker but that may not be enough in what is a must-win game. Wigan are much improved and should take the points.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Prediction: Home win

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