Premier League Relegation Battle: Who will survive and who will fall?

With just five games remaining in the 2014/2015 Premier League season, the fight to stay in the top flight looks set to go down to the wire in what promises to be a dramatic climax. Aston Villa’s shock victory at Tottenham has not necessarily secured their safety, but up to five teams find themselves in a much more precarious situation at the wrong end of the table. There are a number of potential six-pointers left on the fixture list that could make all the difference in deciding who survives and who falls, and with just three points separating the five beleaguered teams, every goal matters. Predicting who will go down is anyone’s guess, but while the three teams who do perish may bounce back at the first attempt, the Championship is an unforgiving league in which there is no guarantee of returning to the top flight.

Burnley (26 points)

Burnley would most certainly be top if the Premier League was based on teams who show the most commitment and determination for the cause, with Sean Dyche’s side showing a superb account of themselves all season. However, consecutive defeats have seen them slide to the foot of the table, with a poor run of four games without scoring illustrating that Burnley may ultimately lack the firepower to survive. They have three six-pointers in which to save themselves against all odds, with fixtures against Leicester, Hull and Aston Villa standing out as now-or-never moments in Burnley’s season.

Queens Park Rangers (26 points)

It could be argued that Queens Park Rangers have considerably under-achieved this season for a team who have the seventh highest wage bill in the Premier League. They find themselves in a precarious position in 19th, and while Charlie Austin’s goals may be their only saviour, they face a tricky run-in that might be their downfall. Fixtures against West Ham, Leicester and Newcastle present wonderful opportunities to pick up three points, but trips to Liverpool and Manchester City limit their survival bid to just three games.

Leicester (28 points)

One considered dead and buried, Leicester have seemingly resurrected their chances of Premier League survival following a run of three consecutive victories. Nigel Pearson’s side have arguably performed better than their current league position suggests, but they now have the momentum and belief that may carry them over the line. Facing Burnley, Newcastle, Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers on the final day of the season could be the fixtures that Leicester target to pick up three points in, with games at the King Power Stadium against Chelsea and Southampton posing much tougher tests.

Hull (28 points)

Two wins in their last twelve Premier League fixtures have sent Hull into freefall, with Steve Bruce’s side going from relative mid-table security to the edge of the relegation trap door. Their remaining fixtures do not favour either them, with tough games against Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United providing limited opportunities for three points. The penultimate game of the season against Burnley at the KC Stadium could be their best chance of securing three points, although Hull cannot afford to rely on other results to go their way in their current predicament.

Sunderland (29 points)

Dick Advocaat has been tasked with the responsibility of saving a capsizing ship, with one win in their last ten games putting Sunderland in real danger of relegation. Their 1-0 derby win against Newcastle should have been the springboard for survival, but the dramatic 4-1 collapse against Crystal Palace sent them back down to earth with a bump. Sunderland’s run-in may not fill their fans with confidence either, with their game against Leicester at the Stadium of Light standing out as a realistic chance to pick up three points. Facing the likes of Arsenal, Everton, Southampton and Chelsea are not the type of fixtures that any team who are just one point above the relegation zone would want in the remaining weeks of the season, with Sunderland needing a repeat of last season’s great escape to secure their Premier League status.

 

Five unmissable UK football tours and tournaments for 2015

The combination of football and holidays is an irresistible one for many young players and fans, and even though the UK seems unable to land the World Cup it is undoubtedly one of the top soccer nations in the world. From stunning new grounds such as the Emirates and Wembley to classics like Anfield and Molineux, the British football enthusiast is spoilt for choice.

The legendary players who have graced these grounds started at tournaments as seven and eight year olds, testing their skills at holiday resorts and leisure centres across the country before taking their talent to the big leagues. Thankfully trophies and festivals are also within reach for those who don’t or didn’t make it to the professional ranks from the many great tour organisers, including Duke’s Sports.

Here are five top choices for football tours and tournaments for 2015 for young and older alike.

North West Trophy, May 22-25

Pontins Holiday Park in Southport is the venue for accommodating one of the largest youth tournaments in the UK, which usually attracts more than 100 teams.

The footy action itself caters for boys and girls from the ages of U7 through to U18s, and is now in its 12th year. Part of the reason for its longevity is the combination of sport and entertainment, with an indoor pool, go-karts, a climbing wall and other activities setting up players for the evening entertainment.

SCI-football Festival, Torquay.

Coastal locations lend themselves perfectly to football tournaments, and none better than a town known as part of the English Riviera alongside the beautiful Brixham and Paignton.

Torquay is a beautiful backdrop for the May-day weekend SCI Football Tournament. Almost 50 sides took part last year at the event, which costs £65 per person for the entire weekend. Last year former England and Liverpool hardman Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock dished out the prizes – as well as the Fair Play Awards!

The 2015 Nottingham Football Festival

Nottingham Forest remains the only club to have won the European Cup more times than the English league title, while Notts County is the oldest football league club. So a football tournament in Clough and Collymore country needs to be a decent one.

Thankfully this annual football festival from May 23 to 31 for players of all categories is one to savour. As well as matches for boys and girls there’s also 11-a-side fare for men (including two veteran categories) and the Robin Hood Cup on the final two days.

Best of Britain tour

The Goliath of UK football tours: this takes small teams to Scotland, Manchester, Wales and Dublin in nine days, with a Scottish Premier League game, coaching clinics, matches against locals and a visit to the Old Trafford Museum thrown into the mixer. Truly one for the football disciple.

Leicester City Cup/Foxes Cup

Two separate festivals organised by ESF, these gigantic tournaments attract more than 400 teams and celebrities including Stuart Pearce, Casey Stoner and Ian Rush among others to Butlins Skegness.

Once the players have left the pitch during the May Bank Holiday/May 15-18 they will be gagging to try out the £15m Splash Waterworld and the awesome fairground rides.

Football Rivaries: Newcastle V Sunderland

Newcastle v Sunderland

The North-East of England is known for its passionate football fans and this is based on the intense local rivalry between Newcastle United and Sunderland. For hundreds of years the Mackems and Geordies have collided in derby matches that bring the region to a standstill. The Red and White stripes of Sunderland meeting the Black and White stripes of Newcastle is an annual fixture that fans eagerly anticipate and that always serves us a treat for the neutrals.  Only ten miles apart, the Tyne-Wear derby has a famous history.

The sides first met in 1883 and the passion was evident from the off, taken to a greater extent in 1888 when Sunderland dumped Newcastle out of the FA Cup. Since then the derby has been evenly matched with both teams recording over 50 wins and there being a similar number of ties. The matches themselves tend to be passion filled and unpredictable.

1908 saw a 9-1 victory for Sunderland that to this day is a record in the derby match but Newcastle enjoyed the best of the pre-war period and indeed carried that run into the 1950s. Since then  it has been an evenly matched affair. Legends such as Sunderland’s George Holley, who scored 15 goals in 22 derby matches and Newcastle’s leading derby scorer Jackie Milburn line the history of this game. Shearer being dropped to the bench, the rainy night on which Quinn and Phillips dominated the show at St. James, the 5-1 and the Kerian Richardson free kick all stay firm in the memory.

The rivalry extends beyond the game itself as fans taunt each other over silverware. Sunderland fans point to the 1973 FA Cup victory as evidence of their superiority whilst Newcastle fans can gloat at the runners-up spots in the Premier League and Champions League appearances.  Sunderland fans took great joy in the 2010s when Newcastle found themselves relegated to the lower league but just like the neutrals, part of the Mackems were upset that they would not get the annual joys of derby day.

Players who had crossed the divide are few and far between but the likes of Paul Bracewell, Stephen Caldwell, Titus Bramble and Lionel Perez have been embraced by fans. Time will tell if the latest entry into that list, Jack Colback, will be taken to the Geordie’s hearts.

Newcastle fans will remember the famous afternoon at St James Park when Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan lead the Toon Army to a famous 5-0 victory but lately it is the Black Cats who have had the more to cheer about. Back to back 3-0 away victories, a memorable last minute winner  from Adam Johnson and four wins in a row have made Sunderland the dominant force in the Tyne and Wear derby and with both teams secure in the Premier League it look like we have plenty more action to look forward too.

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What is the A League all about?

A League QuizAs the popularity of domestic football began to grow in Australia, the AFC decided to reinvent the top flight of the club game in the country by launching the A-League in 2004 to replace the National Soccer League. The hope was that the A-League would bring in new fans, players, sponsors and interest. Indeed since that inaugural season in 2005-2006, the A-League has indeed been a success.

Currently, 10 teams compete in the league, 9 from Australia and 1 from New Zealand, and season on season attendance and TV viewers have continued to rise. As well as producing domestic stars the A-League has attracted a range of footballing legends from around the world to ply their trade in the division.

To add excitement up until the final moments, the league involves a total of 27 rounds culminating in a play-off to crown the league champions. Whole cities come to a standstill when their team is involved in the A-League’s premier game and as a result the sport is starting to rival Rugby and Cricket in terms of popularity. With major sponsors on board, including 2015 league sponsors Hyundai, the future for the A-League looks bright!

One of the major attractions of the A-League has been its unpredictability which has resulted in a total of 6 different champions since inception. In 10 years that is an impressive total compared to other leagues ad gives every fan hope that one day their team will lift the crown.

One team has began to stand out in recent years with Brisbane Roar having won titles in 2011,2012 and 2014 but with the likes of Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners with multiple wins between them, the season’s are never over until the final seconds.

Has the A-League though achieved one of its aims of widening the horizon for Australian Football and increasing the global audience? The answer must be a resounding yes. This has been aided by the attraction of players with world class reputations. Alessandro Del Piero came to the league on a multi million dollar deal that made headline sports news across the globe. Dwight Yorke and Emile Heskey swapped the Premier League for the A League and David Villa, whilst still a potent force in world football, swapped La Liga for the A League too! Add in legends such as Romario and Robbie Flower and not to mention the world famous home brewed players including Harry Kewell, Brett Emerton and Joshua Kennedy and it is clear the league has raises its standards. This has attracted TV deals across the globe from major coverage in the UK, USA, Ireland and India. The league continues to grow and the future in terms of a global audience is very bright indeed!

The league, although young, has already established its own legends. Several players have become households in Australia after playing over 200 times in the division. The likes of John Hutchinson, Danny Vukovi, Andrew Durante and Archie Thompson are growing into national icons. Carl Veart is the answers to a common Australian Trivia Question by scoring the first goal in the league for Adelaide United and between them Archie Thompson, Shane Smeltz and Besart Bersiha have broken scoring records time after time.

In essence the A-League is growing into a division worthy of time, respect and attention. Just like in non-football nations such as American and India, the injection of money, sponsors, new leagues and world class players has risen the profile of the game and no one can now ignore the league. Pele once said that a team from Africa would have won the World Cup by 2000. If the A-League continues to develop at this rate, then it won’t be long before the effect of a strong home game has its effects on the national side. Just as the MLS became a major world league attracting talent and attention, the A-League is starting to grow and with highly charged atmospheres, competitive matches and unpredictable outcomes, any football fan will be giving themselves a treat by paying a little more attention to what is going on down under