As we get older the mind can start to play tricks. But it looks as if relegation battles can play tricks as well on commentators, pundits and bloggers.
How else can you explain so many people telling us that we are going into the final Sunday of the season with the closest relegation battle ever in Premier League history?
One point separate five teams which certainly make things tight but West Ham have already been relegated.
We have Wigan, Blackpool and Birmingham all of 39 points and Wolves and Blackburn both on 40 points. Cutting to the chase it means that three of these five teams will survive.
That gives a survival rate of 60% which is pretty decent odds. I think a case can be made that the last day of the 2004/05 season was just as tight, perhaps more so.
Cast your mind back just six years – it really is not that long ago.
With one game remaining the bottom of the Premier League looked like this.
Crystal Palace 32
West Brom 31
Three of the 4 teams were going to be relegated while only one would survive. If you were in that sort of situation what survival odds would you prefer – 60% (2011 season) or 25% (2005 season)?
Not difficult is it.
The final games took Norwich to Fulham (mid-table), Palace to the Valley to play Charlton (mid-table), Southampton hosted Manchester United (3rd) while West Brom was at home to Portsmouth (16th but safe).
Norwich were considered to be favorites to survive given that a win ensured another Premier League season.
Southampton were next as far as the odds makers were concerned although it was complicated. They needed Norwich and West Brom not to win and to match Crystal Palace’s result as long as it was at least a draw.
Survival in such a scenario would come from goal difference – a margin that could have been as slim as one goal.
Crystal Palace needed to win and to hope other results went their way. Meanwhile West Brom had no other option but to go for a win and to hope that Norwich would lose while Southampton and Crystal Palace do no better than draw.
As it turned out things turn ugly very early for the favorites. Norwich went 1-0 down to an early Brian McBride goal and by half time they were 2-0 down and by full time it had turned into a 6-0 rout.
Reality quickly dawned and Norwich’s hopes of another Premier League season now depended on West Brom not winning and both Southampton and Crystal Palace losing.
A draw for either Palace or Southampton would not help Norwich on account of a vastly inferior goal difference.
Southampton had been buoyed by a John O’Shea own goal early in the game but Darren Fletcher equalized before 20 minutes were up.
News from the Valley was better as Charlton lead 1-0 and it was good from the Hawthorns as well with West Brom and Pompey scoreless.
However, it did not take long for things to take a turn or two for the worst for Norwich and their fans.
At the 58th minute of two games Dougie Freedman equalized for Palace while Geoff Horsfield gave West Brom a 1-0 lead. If these results held Palace would be safe.
Palace were offered a margin of safety when Ruud van Nistelrooy scored what would be the winner for United at Southampton. It was a result that sealed Southampton’s fate.
But in the space of four minutes things changed again. Fortune equalized for Charlton while Kieran Richardson doubled West Brom’s lead.
Now West Brom would be the unlikely survivor although 15 nerve racking minutes remained.
Despite the pressure there were no more goals at the Hawthorns or the Valley and West Brom’s 13 points from their last 9 games of the season secured them another season in the top flight.
Here courtesy of youtube is how things unfolded at three of the relegation matches on the last day of the 2005 season.
Fulham v Norwich
Charlton v Crystal Palace
West Brom v Portsmouth
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