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 just before Christmas, not long before the transfer window opened, and just around the time struggling clubs might decide a new manager might help them take advantage of it. Now, with all that business done (free agents notwithstanding) it’s time to take stock before we head to the end of season crunch games, six pointers and desperation sackings that define the struggle for 39 points.
At that point, late December, our relegation favourites had sorted themselves into three groups.
You know the bottom three; I’ve already told you who they were. Besides, where else would we be at Christmas?
WBA, Watford and Bournemouth were well clear of trouble and more or less safe.
That left a middle group, comprising Burnley, ‘Boro and Crystal Palace. All were getting points here and there but 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, seven games later, those clarts are being plodged. Palace have slipped from the relative safety of the middle, ‘Boro aren’t far behind them. What’s more, an honoured guest has joined the melee and can feel the metaphorical squidginess between their metaphorical toes.
The graph below shows how our chosen clubs have fared in their quest for 39 points (with diamonds where managers have changed). 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 and any club getting to the stage where they need more than 3 points per game are going to be looking for them in the Championship ‘cos the only way is down:
The uppermost line belongs to West Brom, who are well out of it. Three draws or one win and they will be at 39 points.
Then we have Watford, some distance lower on the graph but currently sitting pretty in 10th place in the league with 30 points. Next come Burnley, who are inconsistent but have points on the board and impressive home form. I can’t see them slipping up now. They are followed by Bournemouth, who have fallen into the middle group and are now in a lower position than Burnley. Bournemouth still look safe but do need to be careful. They had a monster slump in the second half of last season and they have yet to win in the league this year, so while I’m sure they’ll be OK I’m equally sure their fans will be nervous for a while yet.
And that leaves an expanded bottom group. It had three clubs, now it has six. Not only have Palace and ‘Boro joined Hull, Swansea and Sunderland, so have Leicester, who have gained only one point this year.
These groups can be seen clearly if we simplify the graph by using trendlines:
I haven’t been compiling data for Leicester but have managed to put a short trendline in based on their last five Premiership games. I thought about leaving it out as only five data points leaves a lot to be desired but that short trendline serves as a useful illustration of Leicester’s predicament. With only 1 draw in their last five games they do appear to be heading downwards much faster than ‘Boro and Swansea, who also need 1.29 points per game but are picking them up, in Swansea’s case by the bucketful.
Indeed, as ever, I have to offer a caution over the casual use of trendlines, especially as they don’t cope well with changes in trajectory, but I do think these (Leicester’s apart) tell a story. The top four lines are heading upwards, the other six are heading downwards and their gradients aren’t that different. I can say West Brom, Watford, Burnley and Bournemouth will be safe, barring catastrophe, but I couldn’t identify three winners and three losers from that bottom group and nor could anyone else.
Perhaps in March, when new managers have had their bounces – or not – and new players have bedded in – or not – we’ll have another look at the lines and see where they are going.