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May 23, 2009

Final day drama at the bottom

With West Bromwich Albion relegated after losing to Liverpool last week, there are two places left in the relegation zone and four teams still in the mix.

•  LIVE: Premier League table

Below is a rundown of each team's chances of survival and what they have to do to stay in the top flight next season.

SUNDERLAND - 36 points - Chelsea (H)

STORY OF THE SEASON: Tipped by many to avoid the drop, Sunderland have struggled for consistency all season. The departure of Roy Keane before Christmas didn't help stability and, having spent most of the year in lower mid-table, they would consider themselves unlucky to be relegated.

TURNING POINT? By the end of November, Sunderland were 18th in the Premier League, having lost five of their six previous games. Roy Keane stepped down soon afterwards and although Ricky Sbragia looked as if he would turn the club around, a bad March saw them back in the mix.

WHAT DO THEY NEED: Realistically, Sunderland - who are clear of Middlesbrough - can only go down if both Newcastle and Hull win. This is because they have a far superior goal difference to Hull City. If Newcastle win and Hull draw, then Sunderland would only be relegated by losing to Chelsea by at least five goals. If both Newcastle and Hull do pick up three points, Sunderland will be relegated if they do not beat Chelsea.

KEY MAN: Kenwyne Jones has got himself back on the goal trail recently and the club will rely on the powerful striker again. He may leave in the summer, but a good performance could help Sunderland seal survival.


HULL - 35 points - Man Utd (H)

STORY OF THE SEASON: The Tigers have been in freefall since they hit the dizzying heights of third in late October. Pulling off some huge wins against Arsenal and Tottenham and nearly forcing a 4-4 draw at Man Utd; they plummeted with a dreadful run of results in the second half of the season that saw them win just two in 28 games.

TURNING POINT? A 5-1 defeat against Manchester City in December saw manager Phil Brown deliver his half-time talk on the pitch. Hull had already been beaten 4-1 by Sunderland at home the previous week and had won just once in 10 matches prior to visiting Eastlands, but the Tigers would not recover from the humiliation.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? Hull need to at least match Newcastle's result. If the Tigers lose, and Newcastle draw, then the Magpies have a six goal advantage in goal difference and would send Phil Brown's men down. For Middlesbrough to come into the equation, Hull would have to lose to United and Boro would have to win as they are four goals, and three points, behind. Middlesbrough's poor 'goals for' column means a five-goal turnaround would be required from the two matches.

KEY MAN: Geovanni was the inspiration at the start of the season, but defender Michael Turner will be a huge player for them on Sunday as they look to keep a clean sheet against the Champions' reserve team.


NEWCASTLE - 34 points - Aston Villa (A)

STORY OF THE SEASON: Where to start? Newcastle have been through it this season as their hopes of success rested with 'Messiah' Kevin Keegan. However, he fell out with owner Mike Ashley and departed in early September and it was sensationally announced that Joe Kinnear would take over as interim manager at the end of the month. After a brief revival, Kinnear then suffered heart trouble in February and the second 'Messiah', Alan Shearer, took over with eight games left to save their season.

TURNING POINT? Dropping from 5th to 19th in the midst of Keegan's departure, Newcastle never recovered from the turmoil of his decision to quit. Kinnear offered brief hope, amid furious fan protests, but one could argue the turning point for the Toon was when Mike Ashley took over in 2007.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? It's out of their hands in some respects. If both Hull and Sunderland win, a Newcastle victory would be meaningless, but with the Tigers and Black Cats facing Manchester United and Chelsea there is hope. Defeat would seal relegation, but thanks to a superior goal difference, a draw would be enough to ensure safety if Hull lose to Manchester United. If Newcastle beat Villa they need one of Hull or Sunderland to fail to pick up three points.

KEY MAN: Obafemi Martins scored the goal that gave the Magpies hope against Middlesbrough and, with Michael Owen struggling, will look to make an impact with Mark Viduka up front. They need goals and the Nigerian is their best hope.


MIDDLESBROUGH - 32 points - West Ham (A)

STORY OF THE SEASON: A decent start saw Boro beat the likes of Tottenham, Man City and Villa and many thought they would have enough to secure a mid-table finish at the very least. But by January they were languishing in the relegation zone and record signing Afonso Alves has managed just four goals all season. Speculation over the future of Stewart Downing didn't help, but the decision to stick with Gareth Southgate could be the one that hurts them.

TURNING POINT? Mid-November saw their fall. Having spent the first half of the season in a relatively safe position in mid-table, Boro then lost 3-1 at home to Bolton and didn't win again until a shock success over Liverpool 13 games later. It's also arguable that an FA Cup run to the quarter-finals proved something of a distraction to their league campaign.

WHAT DO THEY NEED? A miracle. Essentially, Boro need Newcastle and Hull to lose, while winning against West Ham themselves. Even if that happens they still need to claw back a four-goal difference on Hull - and they don't stand a chance if GD stays equal because their Goals Scored record is the worst in the whole country - that's all four professional divisions. If you are looking for hope, then on the last day of the season last year, they bagged eight goals against Manchester City.

KEY MAN: With Stewart Downing out injured, the club will turn to Tuncay Sanli for inspiration. The Turkish international scored a stunning bicycle kick against Aston Villa last weekend and will lead the line again.

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