The Premiership

Monday 8 April 2002

From Ian McCulloch

Saturday's Premiership results provoked an unbelievably mixed reaction in both fans and media alike. Ipswich's 4-1 defeat at Bolton sparked messages of delight on the website proclaiming "the Whites are safe", sentiments rivalled only by the doom and gloom brigade who have been proclaiming Fulham's demise for months now and continued to do so.

The Press on the other hand, while uniform in their forecasts that Ipswich will now join Leicester and Derby for the drop, in other parts of the same papers confidently predicted that Fulham were also going to fall through the trap-door, that Tigana was going to walk out in a huff and that Mohamed Al Fayed was going to get bored and find some other past-time to keep himself occupied.

It's hard not to get the impression that there are going to be some very unhappy journalists out there if all or some of the above don't actually happen. More worryingly, and assuming that not all of the negative postings on the message board are from Chelsea fans trying to wind us up, it does seem as though a lot of Fulham fans are only going to be really happy when disaster and catastrophe actually strikes.

The reality of the situation is, of course, that anything can still happen. Ipswich might be favourites for the drop, but if anyone suggests that it is beyond the realms of possibility for them to pick up the required number of points from their remaining games, the they haven't ever watched much football. Middlesbrough at home is winnable for them, especially with the Teesiders' involvement in the Cup, but the other three are just about as tough as you can get: Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool. In theory that should guarantee no further points for the Tractor Boys.

But when was the last time that you could say with one hundred per cent certainty that the better team would definitely win a football match. It will happen more often than not, but it's uncanny how often the results go against form on the really critical occasions. Nerves and jangling expectations play a big part in deciding crucial contests, and all of those teams mentioned will have something to play for.

There are quite a few teams that seem to be congratulating themselves that they have done enough to ensure visits to Old Trafford and Anfield next season, but a couple of wins for Fulham and Ipswich and the likes of Bolton, Everton and Sunderland will find themselves right back down in it again. And don't forget that a lot of the teams at the bottom still have to play each other, so there are a few massive six-pointers still to come.

And then there's Blackburn, seemingly ignored by the media because of their two games in hand. They should have enough matches left to pick up the required points, but who knows? And what a dilemma for Fulham fans on Wednesday when Rovers entertain Chelsea. Who do we root for? We want Blackburn to lose of course, but we sure as hell don't want Chelsea's confidence boosted by a emphatic victory just before the semi-final. Perhaps the best option would be for a game in which Blackburn run the Blues ragged but go down to a sloppy own goal in injury time. Chelsea are played off the park and have to rely heavily on good fortune to get the win. Their players finish up exhausted after the match, suffering from a myriad of hamstring pulls, groin-strains and shin-splints that set them up nicely for Sunday!

Whatever. There's a lot that can happen between now and the end of the season, and the likelihood is that Fulham will have to pick up some points of their own along the way and not rely entirely on Ipswich falling apart in the same devastating fashion as the Whites have done themselves. Whichever way you look at it, it ain't over yet.

The Fight For Survival

Everton
Apr 13 v Leicester City (h)
Apr 20 v Southampton (a)
Apr 28 v Blackburn Rovers (h)
May 11 v Arsenal (a)

Bolton Wanderers
Apr 20 v Tottenham Hotspur (h)
Apr 23 v Fulham (a)
Apr 29 v Arsenal (h)
May 11 v West Ham United (a)

Sunderland
Apr 13 v Liverpool (h)
Apr 20 v West Ham United (a)
Apr 27 v Charlton Athletic (a)
May 11 v Derby County (h)

Fulham
Apr 8 v Newcastle United (a)
Apr 20 v Leeds United (a)
Apr 23 v Bolton Wanderers (h)
Apr 27 v Leicester City (h)
May 11 v Blackburn Rovers (a)

Blackburn Rovers
Apr 10 v Chelsea (h)
Apr 20 v Middlesbrough (a)
Apr 23 v Newcastle United (h)
Apr 28 v Everton (a)
May 5 v Liverpool (a)
May 11 v Fulham (h)

Ipswich Town
Apr 21 v Arsenal (a)
Apr 24 v Middlesbrough (h)
Apr 27 v Manchester United (h)
May 11 v Liverpool (a)

Derby County
Apr 13 v Newcastle United (h)
Apr 20 v Liverpool (a)
Apr 27 v Leeds United (h)
May 11 v Sunderland (a)