Battle to stave off relegation

WHEN Roy Hodgson said following Watford’s 0-1 loss to Crystal Palace last Sunday, “[We] fought until the last minute,” that’s hardly any consolation.

The loss to Crystal Palace confirmed that even with three matches left in the 2021-22 Premier League season, Watford will be relegated to the second division. The Hornets have a 6-4-25 record—second worst to Norwich’s 5-6-23.

Everton, with five matches left, is holding on for dear life as it is currently in the relegation zone with a 9-5-19 record.

Leeds United, with only one more match played than the Toffees, is in 16th spot, and is also in danger of being demoted after spending these last two seasons in top flight football.

The teams that are relegated stand to lose a lot of sponsorship and television money. Although there is the parachute scheme to help teams financially, it isn’t enough and many squads lose their best players. That means they need to start building a team that can get them back to top flight football.

And it isn’t easy or even automatic.

Some teams take years to recover from relegation. Leeds is one example.

After it was relegated following the 2003-04 season, it stayed down for 16 years before it returned for the 2020-21 season.

In that 16-year span, Leeds also spent three seasons in the third division before moving back to the second division.

Leeds surprised in its first season back during the 2020-21 campaign but midway, everyone figured the team out. And whatever magic then manager Marcelo Bielsa had has since dissipated. He was first mid-way through this difficult season.

Sunderland, which was relegated from the Premiership it the end of the 2016-17 season, had sunk even lower. It has been in the third division for the last four years. It’s fifth in a league of nine squads.

I keenly followed the two seasons of Sunderland on Netflix titled, “Sunderland ‘Til I Die,” and even if I do not root for the Black Cats as they are nicknamed, I feel for them.

Of that squad that was relegated in the 2016-17 season, only one player remains to this day–midfielder Aiden McGeady who previous to moving to Sunderland, was with Everton.

Two of his more prominent teammates on the Black Cats that season—John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole—have since retired.

Last Friday, the Black Cats looked to further their escape from League One (third tier of English Football) after a 1-nil win over newly relegated Sheffield United.

If you saw the travails of Sunderland’s fall from the PL, it is heartening for any Black Cats fan to see how they have consistently drawn over 30,000 fans in 23 matches this season.

While that helps financially, it will take them a while to build a team to get them out of where they are.

Both Norwich and Watford were promoted to the Premier League after the 2020-21 season. Brentford, the third squad promoted, is at 12th spot, and safe from any relegation.

Watford has spent six of the last seven years in the Premier League and will be going down for the second time in three seasons.

Norwich has spent six of the last 11 years in the PL, but like Watford, will go down for a second time in three years.

And should Everton join Norwich, it will be the first time for the team to be relegated in its 144-year history.

Its final fixtures include Watford on the road at Vicarage Road after which the team goes home to play Brentford. It defends home turf once more against but this time against Crystal Place then travel to London to play Arsenal in the final game of the season.

At home in Goodison Park last October 23, the Toffees got waxed, 5-2. Brentford held serve at their Community Stadium for a 1-nil win last November 28, 2021. Everton lost to Crystal Place, 3-1, last December 13.

It managed to chalk up a 2-1 win against Arsenal at Goodison in December 7. All four matches were played under a vastly different mindset—they weren‘t in the relegation zone then—and under a different manager in Rafa Martinez.

While the battle for the Premiership still isn’t decided, the relegation battle is just as interesting. Save perhaps for the four clubs in question.