One down, two to go: who'll join the Hammers in the Championship?

Sunday will see one of the most exciting Premier League final-day relegation battles in years. Tim Rich assesses the five clubs hoping to stay up.
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The Independent Football

Premier League's danger zone

Wigan Athletic: away to Stoke City

After Charles N'Zogbia's 94th-minute winner against West Ham, Wigan possess what every side requires going into the final weekend – momentum. The belief when the final whistle went at an unusually raucous DW Stadium was tangible. Manager Roberto Martinez has no serious injury worries and they are in reasonable form, having taken eight points from their last five matches. Wigan have also known for some time that it would go down to the wire, which might give them a psychological edge.

Although they are in the relegation zone, it is untrue to say that Wigan's fate is out of their hands. Because two of the five threatened teams, Wolverhampton and Blackburn, face each other, victory at Stoke will guarantee a seventh season in the Premier League. There are parallels with 2007 and a showdown with Sheffield United in a rainstorm that saw Wigan come through and relegate Neil Warnock's side on the final afternoon.

However, winning at the Britannia Stadium is something Wigan have done only once, and never in the Premier League. They have won only once away from home since Boxing Day and that was at Blackpool, the team in the country most unlike Stoke.

Nevertheless, Stoke are rather more fallible than they have been in previous seasons at the Britannia – Fulham and Blackpool have won there – but a draw, something Martinez has overseen 15 times this season, would be enough if Tottenham beat Birmingham at White Hart Lane and Blackpool lose.

If both Blackpool and Birmingham are beaten decisively then Wigan may stay up with a narrow defeat. If they go down 1-0 at Stoke and Birmingham and Blackpool each lose 3-0 at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford, then Wigan will remain in the Premier League on a combination of goals scored and goal difference. They probably shouldn't make this Plan A.

Score in reverse fixture: Drew 2-2
Last victory v Stoke: 1-0, Nov 2004
Form: WLDDW (most recent on right)
Away form: LLWLD
Top scorer: Charles N'Zogbia 7
Odds to go down: 4-6

Blackpool: away to Manchester United

They will be every neutral's choice to stay up, the club that will be most missed from the Premier League after a season as giddying as any ride on the Pleasure Beach.

Sod's Law means Blackpool are the least likely of the five to survive. The 4-3 victory over Bolton at Bloomfield Road, exactly replicating the score of the Matthews final on Cup final day, was a reminder of what they have brought to a very swell party.

However, it is the three that Ian Holloway's side conceded, rather than the four they scored, that will thicken the cloud cover over the Fylde coast – not to mention the identity of their opponents.

Yes, they have momentum but it is the kind of momentum a go-kart possesses as it speeds downhill towards a juggernaut. Not since December 2009 have Manchester United failed to score in a league game at Old Trafford and Holloway's fine away record is also something of a distant memory; their 1-1 draw at Tottenham on 7 May was Blackpool's first away point of 2011.

Holloway has set much store by the fact that Manchester United will be deep into their preparations for the European Cup final in six days' time and will field something of a reserve side. This is certainly true, but it was also true in 2009 when a Manchester United "reserve" team went to Hull and won comfortably 1-0. However, two years before they also fielded a weakened side against West Ham and, to Sheffield United's cost and fury, lost. That is the hope Holloway and his side must cling to.

Their survival options are the same as Wigan's but the degree of difficulty is much higher. Blackpool's last spell in the top flight ended in 1971 against Manchester United, although they would take the 1-1 draw of 40 years ago.

Score in reverse fixture: Lost 3-2
Last victory v United: 1-0, Sept 1963
Form: LDDDW
Away form: LLDLD
Top scorer: DJ Campbell, 13
Odds to go down: 1-3

Birmingham City: away to Tottenham Hotspur

Relegation after winning the League Cup would not be a unique achievement – it was a fate embraced by Norwich in 1985. Birmingham may have lifted their first serious piece of silverware since Kennedy was president but they have been crippled by injuries and have no momentum to speak of, having lost four of their last five matches.

Sunday's insipid defeat by Fulham, soft in defence, softer in attack, was typical. Alex McLeish had called on his team to be "rottweilers" in their final game at St Andrew's but they behaved with the kind of courage under fire Scooby Doo used to display.

Although the defender Liam Ridgewell and midfielder Craig Gardner will return from suspension, McLeish saw four players injured against Fulham – Alexander Hleb, Lee Bowyer, Stuart Parnaby and Martin Jiranek. A groin injury to the giant Nikola Zigic means Birmingham's attack will be spearheaded by the older, smaller and wiser Kevin Phillips.

There is always one club that falls late and unexpectedly into the mire, is unprepared for the scrap and suffers accordingly. In 2009 it was Newcastle, this time it is Birmingham, a club that three years ago were also unable to save themselves.

This time around, McLeish's problems have been a chronic lack of goals – fewer than any other Premier League team, and they will probably need to score at White Hart Lane. A draw will probably be enough, unless Wigan win at Stoke or Blackpool triumph at Old Trafford and McLeish is under no illusions: "It will be a tough task for us to go to Spurs and win, but we have done it before," he said. Indeed they did but it came in the season of their relegation and five of their six most recent journeys to Tottenham have been lost.

Score in reverse fixture: Drew 1-1
Last victory v Spurs: 4-1, March 2008
Form: LLDLL
Away form: LDLLL
Top scorer: Craig Gardner 7
Odds to go down: 4-5

Wolverhampton Wanderers: home to Blackburn

There are many reasons why you would want to be in Mick McCarthy's trainers rather than those worn by, say, Alex McLeish or Ian Holloway, and it is not just because he has one more point than either of his rivals. Of the frantic five, Wolves are the only team playing at home on the last day of the campaign, which traditionally is a significant advantage. Molineux is already sold out.

For a side in danger of relegation with one match to play, their home record is very good. They have won as many matches at Molineux as Tottenham have at White Hart Lane or Everton at Goodison Park. Wolves have overcome both Manchester clubs and Chelsea, although as McCarthy would laconically point out, they have sometimes been dreadful against the sides everyone expects them to beat.

Nevertheless, it was his decision to prefer Stephen Hunt, who had been relegated with both Reading and Hull, to his England international, Matt Jarvis, which sparked a dramatic upswing.

McCarthy described keeping Wolverhampton in the Premier League last season as his greatest moment in football and a repeat would be no small achievement given that they have been in the relegation zone for the majority of the season.

Because Wolves have a worse goal difference than Blackburn, only victory would guarantee their future. Should they draw, then if both Wigan and Blackpool win, they'll go down.

McCarthy always expected to have his club's future at stake on the final afternoon. However, after what appeared a fatal run of two points from five fixtures, Wolves have timed their surge in to form perfectly with successive wins, first in the Black Country derby and then at Sunderland, where he failed to oversee a home win in the Premier League as that club's manager. It would not be too much to expect a third successive victory and then a very hard-earned lap of honour.

Score in reverse fixture: Lost 0-3
Last victory v Blackburn: 2-1 Apr 2000
Form: DLDWW
Home form: WDLDW
Top scorer: Steven Fletcher 10
Odds to go down: 10-1

Blackburn Rovers: away to Wolves

Will Blackburn regret settling for a draw with Manchester United as the two teams passed among themselves on Saturday afternoon? Probably not. Of the five clubs in danger, Blackburn are the safest. They are the only ones who know that a point will virtually guarantee survival.

To be relegated, they require a defeat at Wolves plus a combination of the slightly unlikely and the wildly improbable – Wigan to win at Stoke and Blackpool to overcome Manchester United. Given the affection Sir Alex Ferguson felt for Steve Kean's deposed predecessor, Sam Allardyce, this might amuse the Manchester United manager, although he never sends out a side to lose.

However controversial his appointment was and however indifferently they have performed since, Kean is taking Blackburn to Molineux in reasonable shape, although they are jogging rather than sprinting. After the Manchester United game, one that Blackburn probably deserved to win, he pointed out that six of their last eight fixtures have yielded "positive results".

Nevertheless, five of those were draws, and their last away win came on 28 December at West Bromwich. Kean may be without centre-half Chris Samba, who threw himself at West Ham's forwards in the 1-1 draw at Upton Park earlier this month, and Junior Hoilett, who excelled against Manchester United.

One of their greatest advantages in Sunday's melee is their goal difference, which at -14 is smaller than any of their rivals. This is why only a defeat at Molineux, something Blackburn have experienced in only one of their last five visits to Wolverhampton, plus wins for Wigan and Blackpool, could possibly relegate them. That is why they passed among themselves on Saturday afternoon. They knew it was almost certainly enough.

Score in reverse fixture: Won 3-0
Last victory v Wolves: 3-0, 2010
Form: LLWDD
Away form: LLDLD
Top scorer: Nikola Kalinic, 5
Odds to go down: 11-1

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