By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Fingernails will be bitten to the quick on Sunday as Everton, Leicester City and Leeds United make a dash for the last remaining seat on the Premier League lifeboat.
While the title and most of the other issues have been resolved ahead of final day, the relegation survival battle will provide the most absorbing viewing — for neutrals at least.
For the clubs, and fans, involved the 90 minutes on Sunday may feel like an eternity.
Southampton were long ago cast adrift and will already be planning for life in the second-tier Championship, but the other two relegation places are still to be decided.
Everton at least have their destiny in their hands as they seek to extend their unbroken 69-year stay in the top flight.
Victory at home to Bournemouth on Sunday will render anything Leicester and Leeds manage at home to West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur redundant and ensure the Toffees another great escape to rival the two they pulled off in the 1990s.
Everton are currently on 33 points and with Leicester and Leeds on 31 they could even lose and still stay up if the other two fail to win – a scenario that would break a Premier League record for the least points required to ensure safety, currently the 34 West Bromwich Albion accumulated in 2005.
It may sound straightforward, but final day survival battles usually have numerous twists and turns and Everton’s task was made more complicated by Leicester hanging on grimly for a 0-0 draw at Newcastle United on Monday.
That point lifted Leicester above Leeds on goal difference and meant Everton will begin against Bournemouth without the cushion of being able to draw to stay up, as Leicester have a superior goal difference.
“If somebody had said we’ll take it to the last game, I’d have taken that, but I’d rather us have the say on whether we stay up or not,” Leicester’s interim coach Dean Smith said.
“It’s out of our hands but we have to go out to get the win and hope Lady Luck shines down on us.”
Relegation would have seemed unthinkable just a couple of seasons ago for Leicester when they won the FA Cup by beating Chelsea, five years after winning the Premier League title.
Leeds really do need all the cards to fall in their favour. To avoid a return to the championship after a three-season stay in the top flight they must beat Tottenham by any score, then hope Leicester fail to win and Everton lose.
There is also another survival scenario for Leeds in which they beat Tottenham by at least three goals, Leicester fail to win and Everton draw, in which case Leeds would stay up on goal difference, or if that is level, courtesy of having scored more goals.
Leeds beat the drop on the final day of last season by winning at Brentford, but even Sam Allardyce, the renowned escape artist who answered Leeds’ SOS call in May, sounded pessimistic after last weekend’s loss at West Ham.
“It was difficult for him, coming in at this stage with this many games left,” former Leeds great Eddie Gray said. “You don’t get a real opportunity. It’s a difficult situation for everybody. But the club probably had to try something to try and get us out the situation.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)
Leave a Reply