Premier League teams' fight to stay up too close to call

Several clubs could face relegation, including Blackpool, Blackburn and Aston Villa.

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Nearly six weeks ago, Blackpool executed one of their trademark victories - thrilling and nervy, improbable but exhilarating - to overcome Tottenham Hotspur. Afterward, Ian Holloway produced one of his typical news conferences.

Yet among the strange and surreal comments came a pertinent piece of analysis.

As his side reached 32 points with three months of the campaign remaining, the Blackpool manager said: "Last season, that would have kept us up."

Not this year. Three games and one draw later, Holloway's team are a solitary point clear of the relegation zone. They have company, too, with only goal difference keeping them beneath Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa.

With the bottom eight teams separated by just three points, a congestion charge in the bottom half of the table would be hugely profitable.

It amounts to the most unpredictable battle at the bottom in Premier League history.

This is a contest that takes in a side with three successive top-six finishes and an £18 million (Dh105.8m) striker, in Aston Villa, and the greatest outsiders in years, in Blackpool, whose annual wage budget is some way short of Darren Bent's transfer fee. It includes the Carling Cup winners, in Birmingham City, and a team who have beaten four of the top six, in Wolverhampton Wanderers.

It features a side whose owners were targeting a top-five finish, in Blackburn Rovers, and one who are unbeaten under their current manager, in West Bromwich Albion.

The club who have propped up the table for much of the campaign, West Ham United, are in the best form of any of the stragglers, while just when the current basement dwellers, Wigan Athletic, appeared dead and buried, they conjured an injury-time winner in their last game, against Birmingham.

As it is, their total of 30 points is the most mustered by the bottom side in the league after 30 games of any top-flight season.

When a last-minute equaliser can take a team up four places, as happened to Blackburn two weeks ago, context is everything.

"I've got more points than this time last year," said Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager.

But then West Ham, Wigan and Wolves finished with 35, 36 and 38 points, respectively, and stayed up. Record the same tally and each could be a Championship club come August.

"I still think 42 will be required," Blackburn's Steve Kean said.

That would equal the current record managed by a relegated team in a 38-game season, achieved by West Ham eight years ago.

With the top teams proving more fallible and points being distributed more democratically around the division, it is evident why a numerical improvement is required.

The consequence is that April has arrived and 60 per cent of the division are threatened as even Fulham, Newcastle United, Stoke City and Sunderland are not safe yet.

As each has a goal difference that effectively equates to another point, the likelihood is that all will survive. For the teams below them, the first 30 games are effectively irrelevant: each is in an eight-game season now. And the longer it stays as tight as it is now, the bigger the stakes get.