Crunch time for West Brom and Birmingham
Assuming that two of the three relegation places will be filled by Sunderland and Portsmouth, the favourites to take the unwanted final relegation position are currently Birmingham and West Brom. These two teams face each other at St Andrews in a fortnight, and require a good momentum going into what promises to be a massively significant match.
18th placed Birmingham are six points behind West Brom with a game in hand. Steve Bruce's team has been decimated by injuries, and it is clear that confidence within the club has been shaken by a sense of being in real relegation trouble.
The purchase of the vastly experienced Chris Sutton in the January transfer window is a good one. His partnership with Heskey promises a lot of strength and aerial power, and they are good targets for the wing-play of Pennant. Jarosik also has a big physical presence and is unafraid to effectively support the strikers and get shots in on goal.
With players of this calibre, plus the likes of Melchiot, Upson, Forssell, Dunn, and Butt, there is definite scope for Birmingham to pull out of the relegation zone. But they are leaving it late, and need results now to prevent being stranded. Playing Sunderland at home tomorrow is a MUST WIN game, and with Heskey back after suspension I like their chances to get the win they need to boost their confidence for the upcoming West Brom match.
West Brom are in 17th position. They pulled off a great escape to secure Premiership status on the final day of last season after being bottom for much of the season, so they do have valuable experience of knowing what it takes to beat the drop. Bryan Robson has assembled a hard-working team capable of great results, but they are really inconsistent. I watched them beat Wigan at the JJB and was impressed by their determination and spirit. The next Premiership game, however, they lost at home to bottom-placed Sunderland.
They are at home to momentum-gathering Middlesborough on Sunday, knowing that a win will not only help massively in their cause to hold off Birmigham, but will also see them leap-frog Steve McClaren's team.
In West Brom's favour is they have had a two week break to rest and regroup for a crucial period of the season, while Boro have fitted in three extra matches in the same period. The fatigue factor must be exploited by Robson's side who will have Kanu and Kamara back to boost their goal-scoring potential. West Brom are generally a difficult propostion at home - which as a Gunner I can personally testify too - and I see a positive win for them as Robson will drill into his refreshed side the importance of maintaining their current points advantage over Birmingham.
Weekend score predictions:
Birmingham 2 - 0 Sunderland
West Brom 2 - 1 Middlesborough
P.S. Thanks to the anon commentator who pointed out the error to my previous post!