The Premier League is one of the tightest leagues in the world. Every year, every team can beat any of the others on a given day and there’s always a battle to be had, either for the title, the European spots or relegation.
There’s always a relegation battle.
Some years you have teams that are adrift at the bottom going into the final few games, and they’re doomed before the stressful final few games. Other years there are teams like Derby who are almost relegated by Christmas. But this season every team looks right in it.
A few weeks ago, Hull were out of immediate trouble. The focus was on Leicester, QPR and Burnley, the three promoted teams looked almost certain to suffer the drop.
Then Leicester picked up a few wins and suddenly Hull were very much sucked into the mire – we all thought that, given their fixtures in the run-in, they’d almost certainly be playing Championship football again next season.
And now they’re four points clear of the final relegation place after having won two games in a row. So that shows just how fickle the league is.
At this time of year it’s not performances, but points that matter. I’d like to think that’s true throughout the season, but we often talk of how a team will not go down ‘if they carry on playing like that’. Or even the reverse – Chelsea were seemingly going through a slump in March when they drew a few games and lost to PSG in the Champions League. Yet the points matter more now. It doesn’t matter how Chelsea get them, just that they do.
For Hull now, it doesn’t matter about performances, just about goals. And they have a man up front who managed to score a few of them last weekend, Dame N’Doye.
If you score goals, you’ll have a good chance of coming away with points. And when N’Doye scores for Hull, they pick up points. He’s scored five times this season for Hull in the league, and each time he scores, Hull pick up at least a point. In the four games in which he scored, Hull won three and drew one.
It’s not that he’s some sort of talisman or lucky charm. It’s simply that when you have a goalscorer you’ll have someone in your team who will take chances, and that’s critical in the Premier League. Liverpool’s Mario Balotelli has his 70 shots this season and managed only three goals. And that’s one of the reasons why Liverpool have struggled for large parts of this season, they’ve missed Sturridge because the back up just isn’t good enough.
We see it year after year amongst the bottom clubs, or even the promoted teams. If you can find a man to score for you regularly then it makes your job much easier.
Christian Benteke banged in the goals for Aston Villa and helped keep them up two seasons ago. Connor Wickham’s goals helped Sunderland complete their great escape last season. This time, Dame N’Doye’s goals could be very useful indeed to Hull as they look to pull away from danger. The Senegal international actually took a pay cut in order to join Hull from Lokomotiv Moscow in january, and it’s that type of commitment that leaves Hull in a good place in this relegation battle.
The Tigers are on 34 points, and reaching 40 points might even be more than enough for safety this season. Some of the teams below them, like Leicester and Aston Villa are on form and could mathematically surpass 40, but it’s hard to see anything more than 37 being too few to stay up.
So Hull could perhaps gamble on needing just one more win to stay up. This weekend it’s Arsenal, then they have Spurs and Manchester United in the final two games of the season too. So the game after next – sandwiched between games against both North London clubs – is huge. Burnley at home.4
Hull could be banking on one more win to keep them safe, and talk about putting all your eggs in one basket. Arsenal, Spurs and United are games where they think, ‘if we get points, great. But they’re just backups’. Hull have one cup final left, and they’ll need the goals of Dame N’Doye to help them stay up. Hull are betting it all on red.