The relegation battle has made the Premier League season interesting (at last)



Start pricing barbecues and somewhere, just on the horizon, jet-black rainclouds with eyes only for your flip-flops will begin to gather with intent. Start eyeing up some sort of treat for yourself because, gosh darn it, you've been so good this month, and a gas bill will drop through your letterbox harder than a bouncer through a hangman's trapdoor. Dare to imply that this season of the Premier League has been a tad on the boring side and, sure enough, players start biting each other and a Geordie punches a horse in the gob.

Last season spoiled us. The most will-they-won't-they title race ever, Peter Crouch managing to make a ball orbit the moon before dropping over Joe Hart's head, Arsenal losing 8-2 at Old Trafford, literally everything that Mario Balotelli did, Blackburn fans throwing chickens on the pitch, Gervinho's forehead... it had the lot. I didn't dream it: 2011/2012 was one of the most entertaining chunks of sport that these eyes have ever seen. A packet of unpronounceable gourmet crisps to the soggy salt'n'shake we've been served this season.

I'm not being unreasonable. The title was wrapped up the moment Arsene Wenger ran his eyes over the fax that read “£25 million for the Dutch lad? SAF x” and QPR and Reading both resigned themselves to a quiet and early relegation, not even having the common courtesy to implode in a shower of on-field histrionics and comically ill-thought-out tweets. I told you we'd all miss Joey Barton.

But the universe isn't just ever vigilant to things like these, it also likes a challenge. Just as we all thought the season was drawing to a spluttering and wheezing end, up popped a few stunning results and all of a sudden we've got eight teams all wondering how on earth they've allowed themselves to get sucked into the yawning vortex of the relegation battle.

While those nearer the top peer cautiously over their shoulders, the sides at the bottom of this pile are all seemingly on some sort of bizarre upward surge. Paolo Di Canio's Sunderland looked to have hauled themselves clear, but then found themselves at Paul Lambert's equally troubled Villa with their pants around their ankles watching the finish line roll perilously away from their grasp. Newcastle too, after spending the last few months with their minds elsewhere, have been awoken at the wheel to find themselves teetering over a ravine.

By far the most bizarre amongst the group is Wigan. We've come to expect their normal no-fuss relegation escape act over the last couple of years, but after being no higher than 17th since New Year it looked as if they'd finally decided to stop sending flirty text messages to the Championship and actually commit to it properly. Dead and buried a few weeks ago, picking up points in five of their last seven games means they've now got their surprisingly warm hands through the top soil and around the ankles of those just above them.

Even Stoke, Norwich, Southampton and Fulham - all of whom had apparently 'done enough' since the turn of the year - now probably all need at least one result to make absolutely sure. Stoke go to Sunderland tonight, then have Southampton on the last day, who themselves have a trip to the Stadium of Light before the season's out. Newcastle head to QPR, Norwich travel to the Etihad, and on the very last day Villa meet Wigan. This is precisely the sort of edge-of-your-sofa drama we've sat through all those Brendan Rodgers interviews for.

It might have taken the league some 36 rounds of matches to get going, but it appears that we might finally have the climax we deserve. Which I'm sure will be of huge consolation to the managers involved as they sit forlorn at their kitchen table, sharing a bottle of cooking cherry with the dog and wondering how on earth this has happened to them all.

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