The bootroom: Survival It's all about nerve now… and Stoke, Norwich and Newcastle must keep theirs
21:30 GMT, 5 April 2013
22:57 GMT, 5 April 2013
Taking it easy: Jocky Wilson relaxes away from the pressures of the oche
The late, great darts legend Jocky Wilson used to recount how pressure could reach out and grab him by the throat. Once that happened, he could do nothing.
Stoke, Norwich and Newcastle must make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to them this weekend.
They are the teams in 13th, 14th and 15th places in the Barclays Premier League, just a few points above the drop zone and all with very winnable home games this weekend.
Stoke, with one win in 12, are at home to Aston Villa. Norwich have won one in 14 and face out-of-sorts Swansea. Newcastle, after returning from Lisbon, hope a fourth successive home win — against Fulham — can pull them clear of danger.
It’s easy to look at those sides and say they’ll be fine but why should they be The bottom of the table is as close as I can remember and if you are one of those teams, you will be nervous.
All these teams are probably a win away from safety. If you can put daylight between you and the bottom three quickly, it’s fine. If you don’t, that win you need becomes harder to come by.
This weekend, Stoke manager Tony Pulis, Chris Hughton at Norwich and Alan Pardew at Newcastle will have pencilled in must-win matches. Of their respective opponents, Villa are deep in trouble, Swansea have lost three in a row while Fulham are safe and have little to play for.
Such is Villa’s and Wigan’s fighting spirit that they are pulling the teams above them into the relegation battle. They worried Sunderland so much that they sacked Martin O’Neill. But all the teams up to and including Southampton will be a bit nervous.
Stoke, more than anyone, might have the outcome of the relegation battle in their hands. After Villa, they play Norwich, QPR, Sunderland and Southampton before the end of the season. Last week against Everton they were poor, Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome especially.
Out of sorts: Stoke lost at Everton last weekend (above), while Newcastle were thumped by Manchester City (below left) and Norwich were beaten by Wigan (below right)
It doesn’t look like Stoke’s players are responding to Pulis as much as they used to and they have failed to evolve as a team. Their passing and style should be better after so many years in the Premier League. And there is the added uncertainty over Pulis’s future, which cannot be helping the players. I didn’t like hearing him talk this week about how many points will be needed to stay up. The focus should be on improving the team, not counting the points and fixtures.
We did that when I was relegated with Aston Villa and it cost us. You must not become obsessed with each and every scenario.
But Pulis is a fighter and has done remarkably well at that club overall. I’m confident he’ll keep them up, even if they have regressed this season.
Norwich hardly concede but they hardly score either. And after losing at Wigan last weekend, the pressure is on a little bit. When you lose to a team below you, it can give you the impression that they are better than you. It will not have inspired confidence. Three wins on the trot against Swansea will give them some belief that they can claim three vital points.
For Stoke and Norwich, staying up is their main aim. Anything after that is a bonus. For Newcastle it is slightly different, although people are realising now just how much they overachieved last season.
The Europa League has not helped them but they haven’t won a trophy for 44 years so they need to take it seriously. It’s just vital that their league form doesn’t dip any more or the situation will snowball.