Newcastle United defeated Fulham 1-0 this weekend, bringing their point total to 36 and giving lots of Toon supporters room to breathe ahead of Sunday's Tyne-Wear Derby. For some reason (probably because they jumped two places),five points clear of the drop zone seems infinitely further away than three points away does. But have Newcastle done enough?
Part of me says yes. Since the Premier League was reduced to 20 teams in 1994, no team in 13th place or higher (where Newcastle sit now) with 6 matches to go has been relegated, and only two in 14th place at that point have taken the plunge. In 2008, Reading had 32 points through 32 matches, managed just 4 points afterward, and were relegated on goal differential when Fulham won their last three matches. Just two years ago, Birmingham sat in 14th with 38 points at this point of the season, but their five point margin would not be enough. Their sole point from the last 6 games came against Wolverhampton Wanderers, who would eventually top them by one point to survive.
So, history appears to be on Newcastle's side, though Birmingham's story is a bit scary. There's also this: According to our table, 38 or 39 points appears to be the target for 17th place. If Aston Villa, Sunderland, and Wigan Athletic all continue to score and concede goals at their current pace, they will likely finish in that range. It's possible, maybe even likely, that one of those teams will fall off the pace, but one should never count on his opponent's failure. Newcastle appear to still have a bit of work to do. One win, perhaps against a certain team in 17th place, would probably be enough. Then again, every time I feel like I'm on the verge of never having to worry about this feature ever again, it becomes abundantly clear that I was indeed wrong.
Are Queens Park Rangers and Reading dead? Just about. Neither will have their official funeral for a couple of weeks at least, but too many things have to go just right for them to even think about having a chance on the last day. The race to avoid 18th is much more interesting. Last week we characterized it as a four-team race between Newcastle, Aston Villa, Wigan, and Sunderland, but it appears as if Stoke City and Norwich City are in the thick of things as well. Wigan do have a match in hand, and they'll have their extra opportunity to earn points when they host Swansea City on 7 May. Other than that, their best shot is to be in position to have that final match with Aston Villa mean something. For their part, Villa are in fine form, and they'll have to continue to earn points against fellow bottom-dwellers t ostay above the fray. Stoke are in free fall and Norwich have been playing above their station all along, in my opinion. When they play each other on 27 April, there could be a lot at stake. Or not. Things change a lot in two weeks.
Then, there's Sunderland. Sweet, sweet Sunderland. Their offense is inept and their form dreadful. Their "new manager bump" was a Matthew Kilgallon own goal. None of that matters this weekend. Newcastle have a grand opportunity on Sunday to keep them stuck in the relegation mire. There's no time like the present to hit that 39 point target.