A derby involving the top two teams in the country would normally whet the appetite at this stage of the season, but United’s 15-point-gap is likely to slightly dilute the neutrals’ interest in tonight’s Mancunian derby. And that’s despite Vincent Kompany’s attempts to deflect attention away from this non-event by piloting his team to become “Champions of Manchester”.
Luckily for all us football fans that a weekend without two of the big boys was just as enjoyable thanks to the almighty relegation scrap that is shaping up at the bottom of the table. To some, the Premier League might not be the best league in the world but, to borrow a line from Sky’s sensationalistic vocabulary, “Only the Premier League provides this sort of excitement!” and no one can argue with that.
This isn’t always the case; the thought of sitting through QPR vs Wigan on a baltic afternoon in December struggles to raise the temperature of even the most consuming of football fan, but such a fixture becomes a rather more appetising item on the menu by early April when the threat of relegation is clear and present. Different factors conspire together to make the relegation battle one of the most exciting and watchable parts of the season nowadays.
Firstly, from a neutral point of view, we are subject to the rather perverse sense of curiosity that grasps us when we witness a struggle – a bit like when you see a car accident on the motorway and slow down just to count the number of emergency service vehicles that have attended the scene – there is something wrong about this, but it seems to be human nature.
Throw in to the mix the fact that the teams, or to be more precise their players, are generally so bad that awful football become more entertaining to watch as the pressure mounts (see Chris Samba vs Fulham), relegation battles become compulsive viewing with new heroes and villains being created with every passing (or not as the case maybe) game.
The heroes and villains are just one component in the creation of the storylines that relegation battles seem to create in abundance. Such storylines are made all the better when there is a certain amount of irony involved.
Take this weekend’s results for example. Southampton, a club that many had pinned down as relegation certainties, all but sealed their former’s manager destiny by humbling Reading with a 2-0 victory.
This weekend’s matchup’s created more story lines than an episode of Eastenders. There was more drama that caused more emotion than a soap could ever muster…
What about Aston Villa? A side whose ineptitude at the back has received as much scorn as the welfare cuts, looked to have shot themselves in the foot yet again before Matt Lowton’s superb strike handed them a lifeline, while simultaneously tightening the rope around Stoke’s waist – a grip that could drag Tony Pulis’ side to depth they might not be too willing to explore.
Pulis’ greatest achievement since taking charge of Stoke was the relative ease with which his side seemed to lift above the relegation zone early enough to avoid any late twists. The Britannia crowd, once the 12th man upon which Stoke built their Premier League status, seems to have grown disillusioned with the tracksuit-wearing manager and Stoke’s unfamiliarity with the surroundings of a relegation scrap – and the worst goal return of the bottom six teams – could cause a few nervy moments for their fans.
Wigan, on the other hand, are all too familiar with the aforementioned surroundings and seem to thrive on them. The Latics’ annual spring revival might not have started in thundering fashion as yet, but yesterday’s last-gasp equaliser at QPR proved that Roberto Martinez’s men have nerves in abundance – and a crucial game in hand – a luxury Harry Redknapp’s team could use at this stage of the season.
After their defensive shambles against Fulham, Bobby Zamora thought that getting himself sent off would improve his side’s chances. The plan seemed to have worked brilliantly, until Shaun Maloney’s free-kick – and Adel Taarabt unwillingness to have his perfectly groomed stubble ruined by a football – probably sealed QPR’s fate.
Level on points with Wigan, Sunderland finally saw the politics left to one side and it was back to business, but whilst defeat against Chelsea isn’t end of the world stuff, Di Canio’s comments regarding his players’ fitness sound like an alarm bell ringing in the distance.
Oh, and speaking of fitness, Newcastle bodies were falling like dry leaves from a tree in October, until Papiss Cisse’ late goal provided a much-needed energy boost. Five clear of the relegation zone, the Magpies have a Europa League quarter final to negotiate on Thursday before hosting local rivals Sunderland on Sunday with an eye to push them even closer to the Championship-shaped abyss.
Who needs the title race? We have fireworks aplenty, down here.
Are you enjoying the relegation scrap this season? Or is the battle for the top four where it is at? Let us know below and remember you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook for an update of daily football goodness.