Managers take centre stage as Norwich, Newcastle and Sunderland prepare for dramatic finale
- Credit: PA
As the Premier League relegation battle takes shape, David Freezer assesses how Norwich City can clamber clear of the top-flight danger zone.
The starting gun has been fired on a three-horse race for Premier League survival – with nine fences of varying difficulty still standing in the top-flight finishing straight.
Norwich City, Newcastle United and Sunderland may not be pedigree breeds but all three have proved they are capable of challenging classier rivals.
Just one point separates three teams who have failed to fulfil their potential this season, with sides above them doing enough to cut the disappointing triumvirate adrift.
Aston Villa can be written off as a crisis club in the midst of a horrendous campaign that leaves them nine points below the survival line.
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With Newcastle losing 3-1 at home to Bournemouth, the Canaries slipping to a 1-0 loss at Swansea and the Black Cats conceding a crushing late goal to draw 1-1 at Southampton, it was a painful weekend for all three.
The eight-point gap to the Swans looks difficult for any of them to overhaul, with attentions now turning to the crunch clashes between the struggling trio.
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The Magpies – who have a game in hand, against title hopefuls Manchester City – and Sunderland meet on Sunday, March 20 at St James' Park before both make the trip to Carrow Road next month.
Should Alex Neil somehow manage to galvanise his out-of-form side to win both of those games, they will still be in with a chance of snatching 17th place and avoiding the drop.
Newcastle also host Swansea and Crystal Palace, as well as make the trip to Villa, before the season is up so can play a major role in shaping the survival picture.
Their fortunes could well still rest on the fate of their manager though, with Steve McClaren, pictured right, widely tipped for the sack following five defeats in six games.
The NUFC Fans' Forum yesterday published an open letter calling for change, stating 'It's time for action, its time for accountability' as they asked why McClaren had not been dismissed. That leaves the former Middlesbrough boss as odds-on favourite to be the next Premier League manager to lose his job.
Owner Mike Ashley could well look at the success local rivals Sunderland have enjoyed in recent seasons, when the fresh momentum brought by a new manager saw Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat inspire survival. The Wearside club made their move earlier this season, replacing Advocaat with Sam Allardyce, inset, in October, following a poor start to the campaign – including a 3-1 home loss to Norwich.
The former Bolton and West Ham chief has enjoyed mixed success but has at least led his side to six wins and four draws in his 21 games.
Calls for Neil to be replaced in the Carrow Road hot seat have been far from overwhelming, in spite of City taking just one point from the last 27 available. The Canaries hierarchy have made clear the Scot is their man, following his immediate success in getting the club promoted, but patience with some fans is clearly starting to wear thin.
As £5billion of broadcast revenue sails into the Premier League harbour this summer, guaranteeing £99m for the team who finish bottom of the table next season, it is a boat which all three clubs will be desperate to scramble on to.
There is little room for error but it is clear where City simply cannot afford to fail again, if they are to pull off a great escape.
Do you think City will survive? Write to Sports Desk, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email email@example.com