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Twists and turns in the relegation dogfight

FAR away from the banner headlines charting David Moyes’s sacking and Jose Mourinho’s latest sulk, the teams more concerned with losing their place in the world’s most lucrative league are providing plenty of drama.

While Liverpool’s extraordinary surge is bringing clarity to the top of the Premier League table, the situation at the other end becomes more confused with every passing match.

With only three or four fixtures still to play, not one of the struggling teams is without hope and not one of the bottom nine dares to relax. There has never been such a nail-biting, unpredictable relegation dogfight in the League’s history.

It wasn’t long ago that Crystal Palace looked absolute certs for the drop; now, under Tony Pulis’s inspired management, they are safe in mid-table and can bank on another avalanche of TV cash next season.

Among the rest, the picture has become a kaleidoscope as the teams veer between seemingly unstoppable tailspins and sudden revivals, ripping up the form books and defeating the odds.

Sunderland are the prime example. Two weeks ago they were adrift at the foot of the table, stumbling haplessly from one defeat to the next and being completely written off. Then they drew with Manchester City, ended Chelsea’s 77-match unbeaten home record and have built the momentum that may keep them up. In the process they have handed Liverpool pole position at the summit.

Cardiff looked a hopeless case until their shock win at Southampton; Fulham secured back-to-back wins; and Norwich found themselves sucked into deep trouble, sacked manager Chris Hughton, and now look very vulnerable.

And all the while, the teams just above the deadly dotted line – West Brom, Aston Villa, Hull, Swansea and West Ham – continue to flounder and look over their shoulders, knowing the trap door could easily swallow them.

It’s hard to say why half the top division’s clubs should be so equally matched this season. Have overall standards slipped or improved, or perhaps is it simply that there are no teams completely out of their depth?

Whatever the reasons, the scramble for survival promises to be compelling viewing right to the season’s final whistle. Along with the goings-on at the top, it means that virtually every fixture has something depending on the outcome.

It keeps the teams honest and competitive and perfectly illustrates why the Premier League is regarded as the best in Europe. There may be more cultured football elsewhere but nowhere produces more start-to-finish, floor-to-ceiling excitement.

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