Relegation contenders

Posted by John Brewin

Hull manager Steve Bruce celebrates while Sunderland boss Gus Poyet looks on.GettyImagesHull manager Steve Bruce and Sunderland's Gus Poyet are in a battle.

If the race for the title is as open as it has ever been in the history of the Premier League, then the relegation battle is little different. Five points separate 10th to 20th. All 11 hold genuine fears of the drop. ESPN FC examines the credentials of the endangered.

HULL CITY

What takes them down: They average less than one goal per game. The plan has worked so far, but how long before the rest work them out?

What keeps them up: Steve Bruce’s experience as a manager, and a willingness to spend on strikers in the January transfer window.

X factor: Continuing civil war over the proposed "Hull Tigers" name change may derail spirits.

Relegation possibility: 5/10

ASTON VILLA

What takes them down: They have won just two home games all season. That is not nearly good enough.

What keeps them up: Should the attacking trio of Christian Benteke, Andreas Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor hit form then there should be little problem. There’s Grant Holt now, too.

X factor: Villa already have far more points than they did in the battle for safety this time last year.

Relegation possibility: 5/10

STOKE CITY

What takes them down: That midfielder Charlie Adam is top scorer with a mere five goals tells the story of Stoke’s failings.

What keeps them up: Few teams in the division are as capable of the physical approach that can retain a team’s fighting chance. It may have to be revived in the latter stages of the season.

X factor: Mark Hughes has not locked down the defence like Tony Pulis could. They are joint-second in conceding goals.

Relegation possibility: 6/10

SWANSEA CITY

What takes them down: Swansea have an overworked, careworn look to them. There is a sense that the rest of the Premier League now knows how to play against them. Michael Laudrup, at times, has exuded a distracted air.

What keeps them up: Should star men such as Michu and Ashley Williams recover their form, then they have enough quality to negotiate their way to safety.

X factor: Once their Europa League adventure ends -- likely against Napoli -- then they should be far less fatigued.

Relegation possibility: 5/10

Pepe Mel is unveiled at West Brom.GettyImagesPepe Mel has a chance to turn things around at West Brom.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

What takes them down: A clever-clever management structure may well have overwrought itself. Last summer’s odd transfer dealings were not helpful and now a head coach with no Premier League experience, Pepe Mel, is in charge.

What keeps them up: The Baggies may well only be saved by there being far worse contenders around.

X factor: Mel has a reputation for playing an exciting brand of football. But does he have the players to make that work? He doesn’t have much time.

Relegation possibility: 8/10

NORWICH CITY

What takes them down: The division’s second-lowest scorers (17 so far). Their final four matches are Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, which may make this a 13-game chance to stay up. Spirits are flagging to the point of expiration.

What keeps them up: They need their summer’s expensive signings -- 24 million pounds worth -- to fire. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Gary Hooper and Leroy Fer need to find their feet.

X factor: "We would not contemplate relegation at our club," chief executive David McNally said. "In a sporting sense, it's worse than death.” Watch out, Chris Hughton.

Relegation possibility: 9/10

FULHAM

What takes them down: Craven Cottage was once a fortress, but has proved far too welcoming for its visitors this season.

What keeps them up: Even if Dimitar Berbatov leaves, there is quality among their forwards with Clint Dempsey, Adel Taarabt and Darren Bent. Defensive rock Brede Hangeland is back, too.

X factor: Rene Meulensteen is a greenhorn working amid a “three wise men” arrangement alongside veterans Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins. It all seems rather confusing.

Relegation possibility: 7.5/10

Ole Gunnar SolskjaerGettyImagesOle Gunnar Solskjaer: A new hope for Cardiff seems to have faded out.

CARDIFF CITY

What takes them down: Unfamiliarity may prove their undoing. They are new to the division and with an even newer manager. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not have too much time to sort this out.

What keeps them up: Solskjaer is a far more progressive coach than Malky Mackay’s practicing of pragmatism. They have scored just 15 goals all season and that needs to change.

X factor: There is no greater variable in English football than the madcap whims of owner Vincent Tan.

Relegation possibility: 8/10

WEST HAM UNITED

What takes them down: If injury problems at centre back and centre forward continue then the outlook is bleak for West Ham. Questions of team spirit also have been raised by twin cup-exit humiliations.

What keeps them up: Striker Andy Carroll is back, and the team finally have a focal point. How long he remains fit is the key issue.

X factor: Sam Allardyce is not popular among fans, to say the least. He is here to stay, say the owners, but that resolve may yet be tested.

Relegation possibility: 7.5/10

SUNDERLAND

What takes them down: The start of the season may prove their undoing. Only one team (WBA in 2004-05) have escaped relegation after being bottom at Christmas.

What keeps them up: From the wreckage of the Paolo Di Canio era, Gus Poyet seems to have located drive and determination. Much depends on the veteran defensive duo of John O’Shea and Wes Brown.

X factor: It is hugely difficult to predict which Sunderland turns up to each match. Adam Johnson can be both match winner or utterly invisible.

Relegation possibility: 8/10

Crystal Palace's Jason Puncheon reacts to his penalty miss against Tottenham.AllsportCan Tony Pulis turn Crystal Palace into more than just a Championship team?

CRYSTAL PALACE

What takes them down: This is a group of Championship players performing above their level. They may have already been sunk by a disastrous start to the season under Ian Holloway.

What keeps them up: There is no better organiser of lesser players than Tony Pulis. It will not be pretty but where once all was impossible, there is genuine hope of safety.

X factor: Pulis’ acumen in the transfer market may locate him some gems. Beyond that, unrelenting commitment will have to do.

Relegation possibility: 9/10

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