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9 maggio 2009

The Premier League relegation battle

All eyes may be on Manchester United and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League but at the bottom something equally as interesting is happening. On Monday May 11 Newcastle face Middlesbrough at St James’ Park and the loser will almost certainly be playing their football in the Championship next season.

To add extra spice to the occasion it is also a local derby and there will be a lot of tension in the North East on Monday night. They played out a very dull 0-0 draw at the Riverside earlier in the season but we should see a better game this time around, or at least a few goals. Neither side can afford to draw to be honest and they should both risk throwing men forward.

It is a little surprising to see Newcastle in the situation they’re in to be honest. At the start of the season I doubt many would have offered betting advice on a team with Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen and Mark Viduka in the side being in the relegation dog-fight. However, Martins has suffered various injuries through the season while Owen and Viduka have looked shadows of their former selves and have failed in front of goal.

Boro did ok last season but they let key players go and didn’t replace them. The biggest mistake was not finding a replacement for keeper Mark Schwarzer when he moved to Fulham and trusting youngsters Brad Jones and Ross Turnbull to step-up to the starting eleven. Both look capable keepers but they’re not top-class as Schwarzer was and that is a major reason why Boro are where they are. They also seem to have no quality up front despite spending a massive £12million on Afonso Alves from PSV. The Brazilian just hasn’t delivered though and he has only found the net seven times this season – a very poor return for such a high price.

It is a very tight game to call but I’m going to go against the Premier League betting odds and suggest Middlesbrough should win this one. They’ve played the better football over the past few weeks and will know this is their best chance to get out of trouble. Newcastle’s preparation has also been disrupted by in-fighting with midfielder Joey Barton being suspended by the club. Whatever the outcome, it should be a great game and it will be played like a cup-final.

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