West Ham United assured themselves of relegation today by losing to Wigan Athletic, 3-2, ending their 5-year run in the Premier League. Following the loss, Avram Grant was sacked in the tunnel. Poor guy couldn't even get back to the locker room.
West Ham strikes me as a team that will have a hard time gaining re-entry into the top flight. They'll face the usual defection of players (Carlton Cole, Scott Parker, Robert Green, and Matthew Upson are among those already rumored to be jumping ship), and they must deal with a £21 million loss posted last year while in the Premier League. The financial struggles will only worsen in the Championship, making promotion difficult.
Replacing West Ham and the other two clubs due to be relegated will be Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City, and one of Swansea City, Cardiff City, Reading, and Nottingham Forest.
So who will be dropped along with the Hammers? There are five candidates:
Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers each have 40 points and play each other. A win for either side guarantees safety, and a draw suits Blackburn better as they hold the goal differential tiebreaker. One point won't be enough in the unlikely event that all three teams below these two win, but that is possible as none of them play each other.
Birmingham City, Blackpool, and Wigan Athletic each have 39 points, and are separated in goal differential by 1 goal at each step. Garbage time goals could make a world of difference in each of the three fixtures, none of which are very favorable. The Latics have arguably the easiest opponent in Stoke City, but they're no pushovers. Meanwhile, the Blues will square off against Tottenham Hotspur while the Tangerines have the unenviable task of taking on league champions Manchester United.
It will all make for an interesting slate of matches, as all of the fixtures take place at the same time (4:00 PM GMT on Sunday) per tradition. Who are you backing to gain safety, and who would you like to see promoted in the Championship playoff?