Five clubs face fight for Premier League survival
Relegation from the Premier League on Sunday would complete a whirlwind 12 months for Birmingham.
A year ago, the club was celebrating its highest topflight finish in 51 years. And in February, a 48-year trophy drought ended with a shock victory over Arsenal in the League Cup final, securing a place in the Europa League next season.
But since Obafemi Martins’ Wembley winner, Birmingham has won just two of 11 Premier League matches.
Going into the final match of the season on Sunday at Tottenham, Alex McLeish’s side is only out of the relegation zone on goal difference ahead of Blackpool and Wigan, who are also locked on 39 points.
"It will take away the glory of the Carling Cup if we go down," Birmingham striker Kevin Phillips said. "Our bread and butter is the Premier League. It’s not just for the club it’s for every individual and it’s for their careers.
"I’ve been relegated twice from the Premier League and it’s not nice. It can have a major effect."
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn are the other clubs hoping to avoid filling one of the other two relegation places alongside already-demoted West Ham.
To be sure of staying up, Birmingham must beat Tottenham with a high enough scoreline to stay above its relegation rivals.
"There is no need to panic," Phillips said. "We are not relegated yet. We are not in the bottom three. There are some tough games for everyone Sunday but we ultimately believe we can get a result at White Hart Lane.
"If we don’t believe that, there is no point getting on the bus and going down there."
In the heady early days of Blackpool’s first season back in the topflight since 1971, a top 10 finish looked possible before Ian Holloway’s team ran out of steam.
A 4-3 victory over Bolton last weekend, however, ended a nine-game run without a win and gave Blackpool fresh hope of a late lifeline.
But just like in the ill-fated 1970-1 season, Blackpool must end the season against Manchester United.
Blackpool could be helped this time around by United fielding an under-strength team, having already secured the Premier League title and with the Champions League final against Barcelona to prepare for the following Saturday.
However, United is unbeaten in the league at Old Trafford, where West Bromwich Albion is the only team to deny the hosts maximum points when it grabbed a draw.
"It’s an understatement to say it won’t be easy, but at least we’re still in it," Blackpool striker D.J. Campbell said. "It doesn’t mean as much to them and they may rest a few players for the Champions League final, so maybe that will work in our favor."
Wigan kept alive its survival hopes last Sunday – while killing off West Ham’s – by recovering from two goals down to win 3-2. Roberto Martinez’s side needs the same fighting spirit at Stoke on Sunday.
Wolves and Blackburn meet each other on Sunday, knowing that survival is guaranteed to the victor on Sunday evening, leaving the loser vulnerable to being sucked into the drop zone.
The focus is on the relegation scrap after the top four was settled more than a week ago. All that is left to be determined is whether Arsenal can dislodge Manchester City from the third automatic Champions League qualification spot rather than having to go through a playoff for the group stage.
Arsenal, which lost 2-1 at home to Aston Villa on Sunday, ends a sixth consecutive trophy-less campaign at Fulham, while Man City is at Bolton.
Runner-up Chelsea is at Everton in what could be Carlo Ancelotti’s last match as coach after two seasons in charge.
Fifth place and Europa League qualification is still up for grabs. Tottenham will stay there by beating Birmingham regardless of whether Liverpool can win at Aston Villa. Tottenham is a point ahead of Liverpool.
Also Sunday, Newcastle and West Brom will be celebrating surviving their first season back in the Premier League when they meet, but West Ham will be bidding farewell to the elite with a home match against Sunderland.