Will Ian Holloway be smiling come 6pm this evening?
By Laurie Fitzgerald
Tomorrow sees the climax to what has been an enthralling 2010/11 Premier League season.
Fans up and down the country have witnessed one of the most hard-fought campaigns since the inception of the league in 1992.
Going into the final day much has already been decided, with Manchester United winning their 19th title, becoming the most successful domestic team in the history of English football.
The top four has already been declared with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City making up the English representatives in next season’s Champions League.
There is still the issue of who will grab the final Europa League spot between Tottenham and Liverpool.
However, there is no doubt what end of the league the biggest drama will come from this afternoon.
Five teams are separated by just one point at the foot of the table, as we await which two teams will join West Ham in relegation to the Championship.
Blackburn Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Blackpool and Wigan Athletic will be fighting for their top-flight lives today.
With four games deciding the fate of those involved, there are set to be plenty of twists and turns over a frantic couple of hours.
Shouts from the stands looks at those trying to avoid the Premier League trap door at the final hurdle:
Blackburn – 40pts, Goal difference -14: Rovers go into the final day knowing they are the best-placed of those still in danger.
Steve Kean’s men travel to Wolves where three points will ensure their status as a Premier League club next season.
Not only do they have more points than most of their rivals, but they also have a far superior goal difference which could prove crucial.
The players have stepped up to the task in recent wins, with crucial draws at West Ham and at home to Manchester United, as well as a priceless 1-0 win over local rivals Bolton.
Those five points have put them in the driving seat, but Kean and his men will know that a huge test awaits them at Molineux.
Key Player: Christopher Samba – the giant centre-half has lived up to his stature in the run-in, constantly putting his body on the line and delivering some towering displays.
Samba produced one of the best defensive performances of the season against West Ham a fortnight ago, and another game like that today will go a long way to keeping Rovers up.
Wolves – 40pts, -19: Mick McCarthy‘s side face fellow strugglers Blackburn with destiny in their own hands.
They sit in 16th place knowing that a win against Rovers will guarantee survival whatever happens elsewhere.
If they perform anything like how they have in the last few games, then the supporters will have nothing to worry about.
Seven points in their last three games, including back-t0-back wins over West Brom and Sunderland, have dragged Wolves out of the bottom three.
One more big effort will surely secure their third consecutive season in the Premier League for the first time.
Key Player: Jamie O’Hara – The on-loan Spurs midfielder has revitalised a Wolves side that was in desperate need of inspiration at the turn of the year.
The 24 year-old has delivered some outstanding performances in the heart of the side to help push the Midlands club to the brink of safety.
If Wolves do go on to stay up, it will surely be only a matter of time before the club try and tie up a permanent deal for O’Hara.
Birmingham City – 39 pts, -20: If there is one team that can be deemed more vulnerable than the others at the wrong end of the table it’s the Blues.
Just one point from their last five games means Alex McLeish‘s side only sit outside the relegation zone by a better goal difference of just one goal.
Last week’s 2-0 defeat at home to Fulham showed how the players are struggling to cope with the pressure.
Their final game sees them travel to White Hart Lane to take on a Spurs side that have lost just once at home all season.
But Birmingham know that with tough away trips for Blackpool and Wigan, a point may just be enough to survive.
Key Player: Ben Foster – The former Manchester United goalkeeper has come of age since making his move to St Andrews last summer.
The 28 year-old has produced a string of fine displays to have filled the hole left by Joe Hart in the Birmingham goal.
With a difficult final game in store, it seems likely that Foster will be called upon during the course of the 90 minutes at the Lane.
The former England stopper (temporarily at least) could be the difference between City staying up or going down.
Blackpool – 39pts, -21: When you need a result to stay in the top-flight, the last fixture you want is at Old Trafford.
However, it would be a fairytale way of securing a survival that only dreams are made of.
Nobody gave Blackpool a chance of survival at the start of the season, but Ian Holloway has inspired his troops to go into the final day with a fighting chance.
Those battling qualities have been demonstrated in their last two games with an impressive draw at Spurs followed by a thrilling 4-3 win over Bolton at Bloomfield Road.
With Manchester United set to field a weakened team on the eve of their Champions League final, the Seasider’s chances are greatly improved.
Key Player: DJ Campbell – Man United have scored in every home game this season, so it’s likely Blackpool will have to score to get a positive result.
Thankfully, in Campbell they have one of the top-scoring English strikers in the Premier League this season.
Only Darren Bent has scored more than Campbell’s 13 goals in the league, and his efforts in front of goal have given the team a chance of survival.
The 29 year-old grabbed a brace in last week’s win over Bolton, and is set to play a big part once again this afternoon.
Wigan – 39 pts, -22: At 5pm last Sunday, Wigan were in serious danger of ending their six-year stay in the Premier League.
Two goals behind at home to West Ham, it looked like Roberto Martinez was going to be planning for life in the Championship.
But the Latics were given a reprieve thanks to a wonderful comeback inspired by winger Charles N’Zogbia.
The Frenchman’s two goals helped give Wigan a 3-2 win that relegated the Hammers and give Martinez and his players the chance to fight another day.
A tough trip to the Britannia awaits them as they take on a Stoke side still reeling from their agonising FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester City last weekend.
Wigan will feel confident with the knowledge that although their two closest rivals also have away games, it is to teams higher than Tony Pulis’ side.
Key Player: Charles N’Zogbia – Who else? The 24 year-old winger has almost single-handedly kept the Latics survival hopes alive.
Having scored four goals in his last three games that have given Wigan five points, N’Zogbia will be relied on to reproduce his recent magic once again at the Britannia today.
So what do you think? How will the final day of the season pan out? Who will avoid the drop and who will fall into the Championship? Let us know your thoughts.