The bottom five: Who is going down?

 

With 10 games left in the season, five teams are struggling to avoid filling the bottom three places in the Premier League. As the battle against relegation begins in earnest, Jack Pitt-Brooke runs the rule over the form, fitness and fighting spirit of each of the basement boys

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Wigan

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Where did it all go wrong?

Two summer departures were costly: Charles N'Zogbia joined Aston Villa and Hugo Rodallega lost his hunger. The result is that Wigan have spent all season struggling to score. Two of their centre-forwards, Franco Di Santo and Conor Sammon, are not close to the required standard and Wigan have scored 24 times in 28 league games. Manager Roberto Martinez prizes possession and passing but you sometimes wonder if a more direct approach might help.

Reason to be confident

Wigan recovered from a similar position last season. With 10 games left they were second-bottom and with six games left they were bottom, but they won three and drew two of their last six. A stoppage-time defeat of West Ham and a win at Stoke in their last two matches completed a survival mission few would have counted on. If that experience can somehow be harnessed, Wigan might just be able to do it again.

Reason to be pessimistic

Not once this season have Wigan looked like a team who might stay up. They have rarely seemed anything other than flat, limp and unwilling to do much to change their likely fate. They have to play Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in consecutive games next month and it is possible that they might lack the fight for Blackburn and Wolves in May.

 

Wolves

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Where did it all go wrong?

Wolves were struggling before it but their February panic might be fatal. A 5-1 home defeat by West Brom led to Mick McCarthy's dismissal. Fair enough – providing there was a new man lined up. But there wasn't and a desperate search ended in the promotion of the long-standing assistant Terry Connor. Wolves have taken one point from three games since then, including a home defeat to a relegation rival, Blackburn. That is unforgivable in this sort of fight.

Reason to be confident

In Steven Fletcher, Wolves have the best centre-forward among the threatened teams. His touch and intelligence could make the difference in games against the Norwich, Bolton and Wigan. But Fletcher, unlike most of his team-mates, is not playing for his Premier League future. He will attract offers this summer.

Reason to be pessimistic

Momentum is often decisive – since August, Wolves have won only three league games. Furthermore, since mid-December they have won one of 14. Connor might have the skills required to restore confidence, but we have no evidence that is the case.

 

QPR

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Where did it all go wrong?

An absence of long-term planning did not help: Neil Warnock marshalled a thrown-together squad very well but the summer additions did not contribute much. When Warnock was dismissed in January, a new manager and more new players came in. QPR are now even less of a cohesive unit and they are very obviously less well organised than fellow promoted sides Norwich or Swansea. A spate of silly red cards tells of a lack of discipline.

Reason to be confident

More so than their rivals, QPR have the players to do it. Djibril Cissé and Bobby Zamora are top-flight strikers. From midfield, Adel Taarabt, Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips provide goals and assists, if they are channelled in the right way. Nedum Onuoha is a good addition in defence, although bedding in a centre-back is not easy at this time of year.

Reason to be pessimistic

Their run-in is horrific: they host Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham and travel to both Manchester sides and Chelsea. QPR have played most of their winnable games, and not won them. Swansea and Stoke at home might be beatable but the other games look like very rocky ground indeed.

 

Bolton

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Where did it all go wrong?

Bolton have never fully recovered from their 5-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat by Stoke last April. Owen Coyle's side lost 18 of their next 22 league games, going on runs of five and six consecutive defeats this season. Of course, losing Johan Elmander and Daniel Sturridge last summer cost them goals – injuries to Stuart Holden and Lee Chung-yong cost imagination.

Reason to be confident

They might have more winnable games left than any rival. Blackburn, Fulham and Swansea have to come to the Reebok and have won seven away games from 42 between them. Trips to Villa Park and Molineux are not the most intimidating, while West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City have probably played their way into mid-table relaxation by now.

Reason to be pessimistic

Although Bolton won their last game, against QPR, they have followed all but one of their seven league wins this season with a defeat. Only twice have they gone two games unbeaten. So why should March, April and May prove to be different from the rest of the season? The games might be winnable but if Bolton haven't put together a string of good results at any time since August, why would they do so now?

 

Blackburn

Form WLWDLLWLDW

Where did it all go wrong?

The appointment of Steve Kean halfway through last season was unpopular and a late surge was needed to keep them up. They entered this season with no direction, confidence or purpose and Phil Jones led a series of departures. A bad start led to fan protests: a lack of response from the owners and an upturn in form has quietened such discord a little.

Reason to be confident

A three-point cushion to 18th place drastically improves their odds. They also have momentum on their side. Since a Boxing Day draw at Anfield, Rovers have won as many as they have lost and they have taken a respectable 15 points from their last 11 games. If those are not enough, the goal threat of Ayegbeni Yakubu (above) and Junior Hoilett is more than most of their rivals can offer.

Reason to be pessimistic

Their most-winnable games are probably Norwich and Wigan at home and a few bad results between now and then could produce more anxiety and unpleasantness at Ewood Park. Although the players have managed to focus on their football relatively well, if Premier League survival is at stake, and the crowd offer them no support, they could lack something crucial when it matters most.

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