On Monday Morn` I put out a tweet, genuinely wondering where on Earth we`d amass enough points from our remaining 8 games in order to ensure Premier League survival. On current form that`s a hard puzzle to solve, but nevertheless I`ve decided to give it a whirl.
Traditionally, 40 points is the survival target, meaning that from our final 8 games we`d need three wins and a draw, or two wins and four draws. That`s if we need 40 points mind you; other teams may have fallen by the wayside before such a tally is required.
Here`s my thoughts on the remaining fixtures for what has overall been quite a sorry campaign:
Ah, our old pals from the `85 Milk Cup final. There`ll be no niceties this time around and no talk of any friendship trophies though. Speaking of cups, Sunderland are an interesting proposition in the survival scrap this year by virtue of their games in hand through their Capital One Cup spree. Personally I thought they put in a good shift last weekend against Crystal Palace even if they didn`t get a goal, so I think ultimately they`ll just about keep their heads above water.
Although all the games are “must-win” now, this is a golden opportunity to beat a team in and around our position. Victory here for Sunderland when they`ll still have games in hand even after this fixture would be a hammer blow to our own chances. That said, it`s a winnable game and our home form looks ok, whilst the Black Cats have struggled away of late.
Prediction: WIN (Just)
With Michael Laudrup gone, Gary Monk has had a mixed run since taking over the reigns. They hammered Cardiff in his first game at the helm, and despite going out in Europe they put in a good showing against a strong outfit in Napoli. But questions are being asked after their league form hasn`t drastically improved, and more questions will be posed of their temperament in relegation six-pointers after they blew a lead against fellow strugglers West Brom at the weekend.
Our away form means we`ll always be the underdogs, and this will be massive test of the mental attitude of both of these sides. But ultimately, Swansea at least have one or two players who know where the net is, even if they haven`t been as prolific this season as we might`ve initially expected. I`d fight fire with fire here and have the likes of Hoolahan and Redmond free to roam and be creative.
Prediction: DRAW (Both sides to fluff chances and keep looking nervously over their shoulders)
WEST BROM (H)
Last season`s home game with the Baggies remains of the few highlights of Chris Hughton`s tenure. The 4-0 win on that day secured Prem survival and lifted the gloom amongst the place in the face impending doom. We`ll need a similarly stirring performance his time around, and it`s another one of those games that you`d normally fancy us to do well in, against a fellow struggler and on our own patch. We did beat them away from home earlier this term too, but they`ll be buoyed by their recent win at Swansea. Tough call.
As stated in the Swansea part of this column, West Brom showed real character in their last away outing and that`ll be a big confidence booster for them the next time they get on the coach and wrack up some mileage. Has new boss Pepe Mel finally discovered the winning formula that will rescue the West-Midlands outfit? I expect this to be scrappy and not so easy on the eyes.
Prediction: DRAW (West Brom are a bogey side, we`re stuffed if we don`t attack)
Away, at Craven Cottage? Think I`ll pass on this one.
Prediction: LOSE (Hammering)
Just when you thought you couldn`t meet the likes of Luis Suarez at a worst possible time (in light of his free-scoring frolics against us), we`ll now be facing a Liverpool challenging for the League title all of a sudden. Defensively we`ve actually improved somewhat on home soil, so that means we might at least keep the score down if nothing else. But it`s going to be an absolutely mammoth task and on their form probably the hardest test during the whole run-in.
Barring a miracle, I can`t see us having much to crow about here. Even if Liverpool`s backline have an off-day, we don`t have the quality to punish them up front, so the most we could possibly hope for is a draw and a world-beating display from John Ruddy to deny the likes of Suarez & Sturridge amongst others. They`ll almost certainly win a penalty as well if Bassong gets anywhere near one of them in the box.
It`s all gone horribly wrong for the new regime, and David Moyes is probably second-guessing his decision to move on from Everton to take on a job of this size. To be fair it was always going to be a difficult task, but with every passing game he just seems to look more and more out of his depth, and the players just aren`t clicking with one-another whatsoever. Is United`s domination of English football finally over?
There has to be at least ONE big surprise from these last four games, and we may not have a better chance than this game to get three points. Manchester hasn`t been a happy hunting round for us in recent seasons, but with United falling so spectacularly from grace lately and Old Trafford not being anywhere near the fortress it once was, we might just have a chance of what would still be a huge upset when we need it most.
Another title challenger. But unlike Liverpool, Chelsea have been showing a couple of cracks of their own of late, ala their performance away to Aston Villa, which showed a distinct lack of discipline late on. Still, at home you fancy them to sweep all before them as they take the 2013/14 title race right to the wire.
This is another one of those games where I think a combination of our away form and lack of firepower will leave us as lambs to the slaughter. The only saving grace we may have is Chelsea getting a bit over-zealous and trying to rush things depending on how the table looks at that time. Also, if our situation is alarmingly desperate and all of those previous elements come together, that gives us a chance of sneaking a draw at the most. My heart says a draw, my head says a loss. (We`ll probably win now I`ve said that).
The final day, and what game to have at a time like this. First, let`s hope that Arsenal don`t suddenly have a late surge and are still in the title hunt by then, because if they are I`d write it off immediately. Even with Arsenal struggling to keep the pace recently in that regard, when push comes to shove they`ll be firm favourites to win this one. Speaking of hope, lets hope our fate is already sealed and there`s no final-day survival-Sunday hype, for better or worse. My heartstrings couldn`t handle it.
Well, we beat them last year so anything is possible. If Arsenal are out of the title picture and we are still needing a point, you never know, we might just manage it. It`ll either be a glorious day where we finally have something to chirp about, or it`ll be like going to a funeral. Tough call, so I`ll play it safe, say we`ll hold out for a draw and then it`s come what may depending on the teams around us.
Total: 9 (38 points overall)
So, would 38 points be enough? Personally, I`m not so sure, especially when you look at our goal-difference. Make no mistake, if we`re going to maintain our status at English football`s top table, we`ll have to play our best football of the whole season, shattering our previous record of form, lack of consistency and lack of goals. Can we do that in 8 games when, in 30 games previous, we`ve struggled to do all of those things?