Survival Sunday: Five into two won't go

Black day in store for Pool and Birmingham, while Wigan, Wolves and Rovers can pull off the great escape
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The Independent Football

Blackburn Rovers (away to Wolves)

Position: 15th. Points: 40. Goal difference: -14

Strengths Steady defence inspired by Christopher Samba has tightened up over the past two months. Confidence growing.

Weaknesses Scoring as few as they are conceding.

Key men The powerful Samba must control Steven Fletcher today. Junior Hoilett, also fit, is a lively attacker.

Form Won only one of last 13 but picked up six useful draws. Modest away record with 12 defeats in 18.

Manager Steve Kean has been thrown in at the deep end of a relegation struggle in his first few months as manager.

What he says "We are going to Wolves with a very strong squad at our disposal. We are upbeat and very confident and every player is keen to go there and get another positive result."

Today Involved in the only game against fellow strugglers, whom they nevertheless beat 3-0 at Ewood Park in December to go 10th. Sam Allardyce was sacked little more than a week later after losing at Bolton. Away record is a handicap but their great advantage is having by far the best goal difference. Can only go down if they lose while Wigan and Blackpool both win.

Prediction May well lose and still stay up.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (home to Blackburn)

Position: 16th. Points: 40. Goal difference: -19

Strengths Good home record in front of a passionate crowd. Striker Steven Fletcher is on a run of five goals in five games.

Weaknesses Can be undone at the back by silly mistakes. On a bad day they are inexplicably bad.

Key men Fletcher has kept Kevin Doyle out despite the latter's return to fitness. Jamie O'Hara from Spurs has been an outstanding loan signing in midfield.

Form Only one defeat in five games and two successive 3-1 wins have dragged them out of bottom three.

Manager Mick McCarthy is the unflappable sort who has seen all the highs and lows and treats them just the same.

What he says "We all want to be in the Premier League next season but two of the five will go. Staying up now will be like winning the Championship and we all know how we felt when we did that."

Today As McCarthy has emphasised, it is all in their own hands, and they need to go out and win without worrying about other results. Should they only draw, then two of the other strugglers would need to win to leave Molineux in misery. With one of the worst away records, they will be grateful for a final fixture on their own patch and against modest opposition.

Prediction Can beat Blackburn to reach position of safety for second successive year.

Birmingham City (away to Tottenham)

Position: 17th. Points: 39. Goal difference: -20

Strengths Plenty of old heads in the team and Carling Cup winners should not be affected by the occasion.

Weaknesses In a generally high-scoring season, they are the only club to average less than a goal per game, no striker having managed more than five in the League. Confidence must be low after recent results.

Key men Ben Foster, a hero in the Carling Cup final, will have to be at his best. Craig Gardner owes them after a silly suspension.

Form Since success at Wembley, they have won two out of 12, sliding from 14th place. Only two away wins.

Manager Alex McLeish has abundant experience of the big occasion from his time in Scotland and last season steered Birmingham to their highest position (ninth) since 1959.

What he says "There have been many memorable games, and performances and results, but in a hugely competitive Premier League, three teams are going to go down. They probably won't deserve to be relegated. But that's the way it is."

Today Any away match would be a trial given the Blues' poor record on the road and they are unfortunate that Spurs, having won at Liverpool last weekend, seem to be going for fifth place after all. Keeping a rare clean sheet against them would seem unlikely, while goalscoring has almost dried up. A better goal difference, just, than Blackpool and Wigan is one of the few positives.

Prediction They lose and are overtaken by Wigan for a third relegation in six seasons.

Blackpool (away to Manchester United)

Position: 18th. Points: 39. Goal difference: -21

Strengths Terrific team spirit, making most of the underdog mentality, and a refreshing willingness all season to have a go in a bold 4-3-3.

Weaknesses If the chances they make are frittered away, lapses in midfield and defence tend to be punished even more harshly, often by a swift counter-attack.

Key men Charlie Adam, for his passing and shooting, especially from set-pieces; and the experienced defender Ian Evatt, who must keep Manchester United at bay.

Form Three gritty draws and then last week's thrilling 4-3 home win over Bolton have kept them hoping.

Manager Ian Holloway had his team peaking at the right time in the play-offs last season and needs one more huge effort from them.

What he says: "We have got to go to the champions and beat them. Even that might not be enough, but it makes for an exciting day. I look at the last game we played and the tempo and my players look really good. It's some place to win it, but West Ham did it when Carlos Tevez scored, so you never know."

Today The fact that United won the title last weekend and are effectively concentrating on Saturday's Champions' League final is a huge bonus, though they cannot simply go through the motions and will have players competing for a place at Wembley. Blackpool will attack them as they did in building a 2-0 lead in the home game but a similar outcome must be feared, in which case their only hope would be that Wigan and Birmingham lose more heavily.

Prediction Narrow defeat not quite enough for salvation.

Wigan Athletic (away to Stoke)

Position: 19th. Points: 39. Goal difference: -22

Strengths Good combination of grit and ability. Keep going until the last minute, as West Ham found out.

Weaknesses One clean sheet since before Christmas illustrates fallibility of defence.

Key men Charles N'Zogbia may still wish to leave but has scored four invaluable goals in three games. Goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi is occasionally unpredictable and needs to have one of his best games.

Form Only one defeat in five games, including the epic last-minute win over West Ham a week ago.

Manager The urbane Roberto Martinez remains calm and insists his team keep playing football.

What he says "We started the League with minus 10 goals from the first two games and we've been catching up since. We were 2-0 down last Sunday, and you feel it's an impossible task, and then the quality and result we had gets me excited. Our focus goes to performing well and trying to win the game. After that it's not in our hands."

Today Tony Pulis has insisted Stoke will pick up in front of their own crowd but there must still be lingering disappointment from the two defeats by Manchester City in a home side with little to play for. Confidence from recent away performances at Chelsea, Blackpool and Villa will persuade Wigan's players they can avoid defeat, which would be sufficient for survival as long as Blackpool and Birmingham lose.

Prediction Can achieve the draw that keeps them up.

Odds to go down: 1-3 Blackpool, 8-11 Wigan, 8-13 Birmingham, 8-1 Wolves, 12-1 Blackburn