When I last reported in with the Salut Sunderland relegation watch we had had some recent wins but were still in the relegation zone, along with Swansea and Hull. (Swansea weren’t one of the clubs chosen in our start-of season poll but I included them in December on the grounds that some people did vote for “another club” and they had begun to fit that bill after a decline).
That was only a month ago, just after the transfer window closed, since when new signings have had time to settle and new managers to generate – but maybe not sustain – a bounce. With a cup weekend giving most of them a breather we have another chance to review the situation.
But before I do, I have to congratulate West Bromwich Albion, who passed through our metaphorical barrier with ease. Would that we could reach such heights.
For a few months we’ve had three groups of clubs under relegation watch. The bottom group were usually Sunderland, Hull and Swansea.
A top group comprised WBA, Watford and Bournemouth, who were were well clear of trouble and more or less safe, although Bournemouth, on a long downward slide, were mirroring their 2015-16 season and no doubt giving their fans sleepless nights.
That left a middle group, comprising Burnley, ‘Boro and Crystal Palace. All were getting points here and there but weren’t doing enough to guarantee safety and I hazarded a guess that at least one of them would be
“plodging in the clarts come the end of the season, and those clarts might be thick and deep enough to suck any errant club down:”
And, sure enough, those clarts made things a little bit sticky. First Palace slipped into them, only to stage a recovery of some sorts under a new manager. Then Boro’ picked up too few points to prevent the cold damp feeling of relegation oozing over their welly tops.
But what was surprising was that an honoured guest, Leicester, threatened to joined them, so much so that I put them onto the chart by which I’m measuring progress – or the lack of it – towards safety.
This can be seen on the graph below, which shows how our chosen clubs have fared in their quest for 39 points.
At the start of the season every club needed to average 1.03 points per game to get to 39; with every game played this average changes. Consistent losers will find they need to average more and more per game; once they pass the 3 mark there’s no way back, unless by the judicious use of parachute payments.
The uppermost line belongs to West Brom, who passed the zero points stage while I was watching us being outplayed at Goodison. I never could understand why anyone would have chosen West Brom, given their manager, but some 200 people thought them worth a punt.
Then we have Burnley and Watford, some distance lower on the graph but sitting pretty in mid-table. Eight points to go in 11 games, surely that’s not beyond them.
Burnley and Watford were being tracked by Bournemouth, who have now become detached from them. Bournemouth still look safe, they are on a par with rising Leicester and Swansea, but all need to be careful. Of the three I’d now take Bournemouth to finish the lowest. Despite a decent point against Man Utd they haven’t yet pulled out of their slump, whereas Leicester have regained some of the form that saw them win the League just a few months ago and Swansea are going great guns. New managers have the clubs, and I expect the fans, bouncing.
Crystal Palace, too, have bounced a little recently, and have become detached from the bottom three. Not enough for safety, but they have something to build on and a new manager to give them hope.
And that leaves a bottom group of three. Hull were recovering but have stuttered recently, which begs the question “Has their bounce ended?” and puts their game this weekend into paramount place. ‘Boro seem to be short of ideas and Sunderland are hoping desperately that injured players will come back in time to make a difference. Will any of them climb out of the pit? Six-pointers are coming up so anything’s possible and the trendlines – dodgy territory but strangely compelling, offer the possibility of survival. Not because any of the bottom three are good but because more than three clubs aren’t:
Even so, we are favourites to go down, we’re worse off than we’ve been in previous seasons, and it’s looking very grim.
But we’re keeping the faith, aren’t we?