Relegation Royal Rumble



As we hold our noses and plunge into the murky Autumnal waters of October, firing the starting pistol on the relegation race may be slightly premature. However, if we're trying to pin down the likely occupants of the league's proverbial parachutes-filled-with-cutlery, then it's pretty difficult to look beyond the current bottom six of Aston Villa, Wigan Athletic, Southampton, Norwich, Reading and Queens Park Rangers.

Like some sort of overweight 90s boyband tossed into a bottomless sea of custard in an ultimately fatal attempt to raise money for charity, these six have begun to sink quicker and faster than the panicking members of the St John's Ambulance could ever hope to deal with. Three of them will mercilessly use the others to claw their way back to the surface, leaving the rest to be pulled motionless from their yellowy graves and condemned to the sporadically-televised purgatory of the Championship.

Already letting their lungs fill with doom are Mark Hughes' Queens Park Rangers, who've amassed a measly 2 points from their opening 5 fixtures. After a summer of almost comically haphazard investment that saw them buying every player whose agent had their mobile number publicly listed, the likes of Granero, Park and Hoilett have mustered them just two goals to offset the eleven that Nelsen, Bosingwa, and everyone's favourite flapping garden gnome Robert Green have allowed in.

Whilst very few teams will take points from a run of games that includes Spurs, Chelsea, and Man City, it's the limp performance against fellow strugglers Norwich and the utter pasting at the hands of Swansea that will have set alarm bells ringing. Their manager is a man whose strength lies in solidity, but with 22 first team players arriving at the club in the last year or so, it's little wonder he's yet to establish any. They're 4.50 to go down, and the longer it takes them to find a rhythm and style that suits, the better those odds look.

Also on a mere deuce of Premier League points is Reading. Whilst they've also had a tough opening bout of fixtures, spirited performances against both the reigning European champions and last season's surprise package Newcastle have shown it's not a lack of heart that's seen them fail to pick up a win yet. Rather, it's a lack of quality and nous at this level, with only a handfull of their squad bringing that all important top-level experience to the table.

But between now and Christmas the Royals will play every one of their relegation rivals, and a gutsy go-for-broke attitude could be their saving grace. However, if results don't go their way, their inability to throw money at their shortcomings could see them in more trouble than a hat stall in a strong gale come January, showing precisely why they're already priced at a relatively short 1.62.

Still reeling from the departure of Paul Lambert are Norwich City, now under the stewardship of Chris Hughton. After making his name by quickly turning a fractured and panicky Newcastle into a solid and hard-working side, Hughton looks to have a similar job on his hands at Delia Smith's condiment emporium. Grant Holt appears to have his wish of a summer move, albeit from the first team to the bench, and their defence has been allegedly strengthened with the arrival of Steven Whittaker, who has floated downstream from sinking wreck of Rangers.

Much like QPR though, a clear strategy has yet to be settled upon and they've spent their opening five games caught between a desire to let the creative players create, and the bad habit of letting liability players liabilitise (it's a word now). However, with no major exits from last season's determined squad and a boss who relishes a challenge, the 1.65 available on them to go down might be a tad harsh.

Finally we come to a team with a win under their belt. Despite a run of four straight losses at the start of the campaign, Southampton notched a full three points with a drubbing of Aston Villa. They've not been shy in spending either, with highly-rated Championship players like Nathaniel Clyne and Jay Rodriguez being joined the frankly baffling signing of Gaston Ramirez, whose acquisition must have involved the use of a heavy brown bag, a club to the head, and stern instructions of “silencio!” when they landed at Dover.

For all their frailties and shortcomings, they've been terrific to watch and have already bloodied the noses of last season's top three teams. Only once this term have they failed to find a goal from somewhere. It's at the back where they've got problems though, with goalkeeper Kelvin Davies often looking like a novice Call of Duty player who's respawned right in the middle of an enemy birthday party. Allegedly there's money there, though, and if they can keep things together until January, a fresh injection of talent (and most likely a change of manager) could see them cling to the rim of the division with some very nicely decorated nails. They're currently at 1.85.

The drop zone's surprise package thus far has been Wigan, who have failed to capitalise on the good form they produced to keep themselves in the picture toward the end of the last campaign. With both Victor Moses and Hugo Rodallega heading off for pastures new, a lack of proper replacements has meant that the burden of goalscoring is falling on otherwise unfamiliar shoulders. Arouna Kone is already creaking more that the pier he'll probably never visit under the strain of expectation.

It's hard to really find any positives for Wigan. The players who essentially kept them up a few months ago have gone, and those that are left probably won't be inspired to superhuman feats of footballery by their average attendance of 17 people and a border collie. I'm sure Roberto Martinez is a nice man, but that's sadly not worth any points. Take them at 2.60 and run.

Which finally brings us to everyone's favourite retirement home for players who thought they had a “big move” left in them, Aston Villa. After releasing Emile Heskey back into the wild, Paul Lambert decided to combat the obvious goalscoring chasm this would leave by throwing almost £24million around in the summer.

No, really. Aston Villa spent £24million this summer. On players. Me neither.

If that wasn't enough of an alarm bell for the club, then their alleged season-starting win over Swansea was promptly followed up with that aforementioned defeat to Southampton, and yesterday's thoroughly predictable trip to the dentist that was the Midlands derby. Mind you, their previous tactic under Alex McLeish - crawling into the foetal position straight from kick and hoping their opponents would just feel uncomfortable and leave - has gone. They might be fielding a team of Football Manager regens, but they've at least got some guile about them. Mind you, there's that stat about only having won once in their last 400 games or something, so taking them at 3.75  might not be the daftest bet you've ever put on.