Contenders for EPL drop

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PREMIER League managers usually trot out the line "40 points and we're safe" when it comes to relegation. Six teams have achieved that but, with a dozen games remaining, a clutch of clubs are straining to haul themselves out of the danger zone.

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My picks to go down are Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves - but keep an eye on Aston Villa, who sit precariously above the struggling quintet.

This is how the bottom six teams stack up after 26 games:
15. Aston Villa - 29
16. Wolves - 22
17. QPR - 21
18. Blackburn - 21
19. Bolton - 20
20. Wigan - 20

Two days ago Villa announced a loss of £54m in the year from 1 June 2010 to 31 May 2011. There are problems on the pitch too. Darren Bent is out for three months, and will probably miss the Euros after rupturing ankle ligaments, while Richard Dunne is also sidelined with a shoulder fracture.

There will be a sense of déjà vu for manager Alex McLeish, who experienced relegation with Birmingham a year ago. His team then were actually one point better off with twelve games left to play than Villa are now.

The Birmingham side is a huge club. Selling Ashley Young and Stewart Downing has shifted more pressure onto the likes of youngster Marc Albrighton. Players are causing a stir as they sit uncomfortably close to the trapdoor. Charles N'Zogbia tweeted, then deleted, "First time in my life I'm not happy playing football" following his substitution against City two weeks ago.

The teams below Villa are terrible right now, but that isn't to say a few of them can't make a late burst in the face of desperation and climb above McLeish's team.

QPR are having serious disciplinary problems. Samba Diakité was the latest to take an early bath when he was sent off against Fulham. Five Rangers players have received their marching orders this season - an issue Mark Hughes needs to address quickly if they are going to retain their Premiership status.

Whether Wolves stay up over a team like Bolton could very well depend on controversially-appointed Terry Connor. A virtual no-name to Wolves outsiders, Connor seems to have the support of the squad but he faces the challenge of a lifetime. When managers are sacked with over half of the season played, it's not a case of solidifying or building for the future. It's purely to galvanise a group of players who have so far failed to fire.

Sometimes it works, other times you get a situation a la Newcastle and you find out the hard way that Alan Shearer is not the messiah, just a very dry Match of The Day pundit.

It's not too late for other clubs to follow Wolves' move and try to find their own saviour. If you've had enough of watching the Manchester clubs squabble over first place, the battle for survival will hopefully be just as ferocious.

Topics:  english premier league



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