“It is difficult to say what it will be, but I think the lowest point total has been something like 34,” he said. “I don’t think it will be as low as that but it won’t be as high as 40.
I am not British (“Up the rebels!”), and do not (despite having rambled on a bit on the subject) consider myself a soccer expert. But. A quibble:
It is true that the “lowest point total” recorded by a Premier League team that avoided relegation is 34 (West Brom in 2005), but that sort of thing should not be on the tip of a coach’s tongue. Outliers are so for a reason, and you do not have to be a poet to realize that emulating West Brom is not exactly the way forward.
The tricky thing about the way the Premier League table is shaping up is that (as of Saturday night) four teams were in an ungainly clot above last-place Wolverhampton (22 points): Wigan, Blackburn and Q.P.R. (28 points), and Bolton (29 points). That means it is not a target number Hughes should be worrying about — though 38 still sounds good to us — but like a bear-threatened camper in the woods, he should be thinking more about being faster than his slowest friends.
Unfortunately for their tender haunches, Rangers have easily the most difficult remaining schedule — including a grueling three games in the next seven days.
On Sunday, of course, they play league-leading Manchester United (76 points). That is followed quickly by a game Wednesday against fellow newcomer Swansea, a gallingly solid club that is gallingly clear of danger with 39 galling points, and then a regular Saturday morning start against West Brom (39). The rest of the season is more grim: April 21 vs. Tottenham (59), April 29 vs. Chelsea (56), May 6 vs. Stoke City (41) and May 13 vs. Man City (71).
That slate, the astute reader will notice, includes four of the top six teams in the league, opponents with an overall average point total of 54.4. It is no wonder that the odds of Rangers’ dropping have declined steadily from better than 6 to 1 three months ago to nearly even money now. Of their relegation-threatened peers, only Wigan (1/2 to go down) plays more than three of the league’s elite — and it finishes with games against Blackburn and Wolverhampton, potentially the softest landing for any Premier League team.
- Wigan’s last six opponents are, in order, Man United (76), Arsenal (58), Fulham (42), Newcastle (56), Blackburn (28) and Wolverhampton (22).
- Blackburn has Liverpool (43), Swansea (39), Norwich (40), Tottenham (59), Wigan (28) and Chelsea (56).
- And Bolton goes Newcastle (56), Tottenham (59), Swansea (39), Sunderland (42), West Brom (39) and Stoke City (41).
Now, just spitballing here, but let’s half-assedly handicap that. Assuming a win against a top-six team is out of the question, and ties against opponents in that broad, featureless middle ground between 44 points and 39 points are a most likely outcome, 7 points for Wigan seems well within reach. So let’s call Wigan potentially the fastest camper. Blackburn can assuredly hit at least 6 points; of course, that takes 3 away from Wigan, but the point is Blackburn is not the slowest camper. And 4 points seems a fair minimum for sounds-delicious Bolton.
So you are left to conclude that Q.P.R. needs at least 7 points to avoid the grizzly’s steaming maw, and should obviously be aiming for better than that, assuming something goes to hell, like Man United’s laying an egg at Wigan. Because something always goes to hell.
Hughes thinks 12 points will get his club to safety; the question is, where do they come from? The two Manchester dates do not seem likely contenders, and the much-more talented Tottenham and Chelsea are sure to be motivated and still fighting for Champions League money. That leaves Swansea, West Brom and Stoke, three teams with vulnerabilities, probably, but who, definitely, have managed their affairs better than Q.P.R.
Even if you argue that three wins in seven games is Rangers’ best case, that puts them at only 37 points. Still in danger of a slow digestion next season in the Championship stomach.
- Hughes tips Man Utd to win title (bbc.co.uk)