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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 07:47 GMT
West Brom face battle against history
By Caroline Cheese

FESTIVE STRUGGLERS
West Brom manager Bryan Robson
16. Blackburn 15
17. Norwich 15
-------------------------------
18. Crystal Palace 14
19. Southampton 13
20. West Brom 10
This season it falls to West Brom to try to reverse a trend that has seen the club bottom of the Premiership on Christmas Day relegated in May every season since the top-flight relaunched.

Even without the knowledge of that horror statistic, Baggies' fans could hardly have been hopeful.

Their side have won once all season, are yet to manage a victory under new boss Bryan Robson and their goal difference of -21 is the worst in the Premiership by some distance.

On the plus side, only five points separate them from 17th-placed Norwich and if they are to make Premiership history, the festive period is likely to prove crucial.

It begins with a tricky home encounter with Liverpool but Robson will be eyeing potential points in successive away fixtures against Manchester City and struggling Bolton.

If things look rather bleak for West Brom, there is reason to cheer for second-from-bottom Southampton.

In 2002, Bolton were in 19th but a win over Newcastle on Boxing Day lifted them out of the bottom three into 17th - where they eventually ended the season.

West Brom
Next three games: Liverpool (h), Man City (a), Bolton (a)
Last three games: Arsenal (h), Man Utd (a), P'smouth (a)
Southampton
Next three: Charlton (h), Liverpool (a), Man City (a)
Last three: Norwich (h), C Palace (a), Man Utd (h)
Crystal Palace
Next three: Portsmouth (h), Tottenham (a), Fulham (a)
Last three: Newcastle (a), Southampton (h), Charlton (a)
And two years earlier, Middlesbrough found themselves perched above bottom spot but a 26 December win over Liverpool inspired them to go on an unbeaten run until February and they finished the season in mid-table.

If history is to repeat itself, Saints' home game against Charlton on Boxing Day looks like a key date as Harry Redknapp attempts to keep them in the Premiership.

And what of those clubs, like Norwich and Crystal Palace, hovering in and around the danger zone?

Managers hoping to keep their club in the Premiership often talk about reaching the 40-point mark - but in reality, they should be setting their sights a little higher.

The average total needed to finish one point above the Premiership relegation zone is in fact 40.75, an unpleasant statistic for West Ham fans whose team famously accrued 42 in 2003 and still went down.

Ominously, neither Palace, on 14 points, nor Norwich, on 15, are even halfway towards that total.

At the other end of the Premiership, surely Chelsea fans can relax and enjoy Christmas, basking in the glow of their five-point lead over Arsenal?

Chelsea
Next three games: A Villa (h), Portsmouth (a), Liverpool (a)
Last three games: Bolton (a), Charlton (h), Newcastle (a)
Arsenal
Next three: Fulham (h), Newcastle (a), Charlton (a)
Last three: West Brom (a), Liverpool (h), Birmingham (a)
Everton
Next three: Man City (h), Charlton (a), Tottenham (a)
Last three: Fulham (a), Newcastle (h), Bolton (a)
Well, not exactly.

The stats reveal that the chances of them still being there at the end of the season are slim.

On only three occasions in 12 Premiership seasons has the team leading on 25 December gone on to lift the trophy - Manchester United in 1993 and 2000 and Blackburn Rovers in 1994.

The most spectacular slump came from Kevin Keegan's Newcastle in 1995, who frittered away a 10-point lead.

The game that sparked their collapse was a 2-0 defeat to eventual champions United just two days after Christmas.

The Magpies did at least manage to hold on to second place which is more than can be said for Christmas 1997 leaders Aston Villa who had fallen to sixth by the end of the season.

But if the omens are not so bright for Chelsea, they are not much better for Arsenal.

Teams second at Christmas have only finished top of the Premiership on three occasions - Manchester United (1995, 1999), and Arsenal (2003).

Perhaps, then, it is time for third-placed Everton fans to stop dreaming, and start planning the Premiership title celebrations?





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