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Last Updated: Friday, 9 February 2007, 14:19 GMT
The relegation 18-pointer

By Charlie Henderson

THE FIXTURES
West Ham, Charlton and Watford
Saturday 10 February
West Ham v Watford
Saturday 24 February
Charlton v West Ham
Saturday 3 March
Watford v Charlton

Three matches over three weekends will go a long way to determining who stays up and who goes down from the Premiership.

It is an equation that puts the traditional six-pointer in the shade as the trio of clubs in the relegation zone meet each other on successive weekends.

A few weeks ago pundits and punters alike were trying to perm three from as many as seven for the drop.

But now West Ham, Charlton and Watford are up against it and come the end of this run Graham Taylor predicts two of that trio will be all but condemned to the drop.

"Two of the managers, whatever they say publicly, will know that their chances of getting clear of relegation will be almost zilch," said the former England and Watford boss.

BBC Sport gauged the opinion of Taylor, former Charlton striker Mark Bright and Hammers stalwart Julian Dicks to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the three teams going into this potentially season-defining spell.

THE MANAGERS - GRAHAM TAYLOR

Graham Taylor
It may seem strange to say it bearing in mind Watford's position, but West Ham's Alan Curbishley has the biggest problem of the three managers.

He is at a club that expects to be in the top six and he is the one that has spent the money.

West Ham have really gone for it in spending on fees and salaries and, after 16 years of over-achieving at Charlton, the accusation now is that Alan doesn't know how to spend. Until his team start winning there will be criticism of him.

The main thing for a manager, especially in the modern game with all the cameras on you, is your body language, and not just in matches.

If you're seen to have the whole world on your shoulders, you're snapping and you don't look positive, players will pick up on it and read your mood in training.

You have to make sure you're mentally strong and in control all the time. It's not easy, but you have to be in control of yourself before you can expect to be in control of your players.

REVERSE FIXTURES
19 August 2006
West Ham 3-1 Charlton
22 August 2006
Watford 1-1 West Ham
21 October 2006
Charlton 0-0 Watford

Every day someone will want an interview, a quote, they will focus on the position you're in, the next game, the relegation battle as a whole. There's only so much you can say and you can get cheesed off.

All three men have to try to rise above that.

Watford's Aidy Boothroyd is by nature a positive person, but he's only in his second season, this is his first experience of a relegation battle and he needs to learn to find the balance.

Alan Pardew at Charlton is bright, confident and handles himself very well and has started to pick out the crucial games, of which these ones coming are vital.

And then there is Curbishley.

He has tremendous experience, but he also has the hardest job in maintaining confidence, belief and body language after that spending spree.

THE ATTACKS - MARK BRIGHT

Mark Bright
It is all about strikers. If you're going to survive you've got to score goals.

Look at the stats for those teams struggling down at the bottom and they make grim reading.

They have all scored less goals than games played, which is unbelievable.

Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United have each scored more goals than Watford have managed this season!

If you cannot average a goal-a-game you are always going to be in trouble as any goal conceded makes it immediately less likely you can win.

Those are the basics of football.

ATTACK - THE FACTS
West Ham
Goals scored: 18 (H14:A4)
Goals-per-game: 0.69
Top scorer: 6 - Bobby Zamora
Charlton
Goals scored: 20 (H11:A9)
Goals-per-game: 0.77
Top scorer: 8 - Darren Bent
Watford
Goals scored: 14 (H10:A4)
Goals-per-game: 0.56
Top scorers: 3 - Ashley Young & Hameur Bouazza

While West Ham and Charlton have got goalscorers, you look at Watford and ask yourself who's going to score the goals?

Marlon King's a strong lad and could have been a force so his injury has been a massive loss for the club. In his place Darius Henderson has struggled and there's not much experience among the January arrivals.

Like Watford, West Ham's campaign has been seriously hit by the loss of a player through injury in Dean Ashton. One player doesn't make a team, but he can make a difference.

But the Hammers have a massive squad and plenty of options in attack. All Alan has to do now is work out the best one.

Having seen Kepa Blanco's goalscoring debut against Liverpool I'd go for him plus AN Other - he looks calm, doesn't look under pressure and has clearly been bought to the club for a reason so give him a chance.

Charlton have proven goalscorers in Darren Bent, another really relaxed character who is almost fit to return from injury, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and that is the partnership that could prove the difference.

THE DEFENCES - JULIAN DICKS

Julian Dicks
Pretty football doesn't matter now.

These teams are defending for their lives, they have to scrap for absolutely everything and give the proverbial 110%.

But the simple fact is that any slip up can result in a goal and you do not want to be that person who makes that mistake.

When your strikers are not scoring there is huge pressure to keep a clean sheet just to get a draw, but you've got to attack as a team and defend as a team - especially now.

What is not in doubt is that West Ham have the best squad and the better individuals. They have also had the worst luck.

Just as with Ashton in attack, their defence has been beset by problems most recently with Lucas Neill and Matthew Upson getting injured just after joining the club.

They are both strong no-nonsense players who can make a real difference when they are back and centre-half is a strength for West Ham, but the players there should start dictating play.

DEFENCE - THE FACTS
West Ham
Goals conceded: 41 (H16:A25)
Goals-per-game: 1.58
Clean sheets: 4 (they have won 10 points when not conceding)
Charlton
Goals conceded: 45 (H17:A28)
Goals-per-game: 1.73
Clean sheets: 6 (14 points)
Watford
Goals conceded: 37 (H14:A23)
Goals-per-game: 1.48
Clean sheets: 6 (6 points)

The problem for Curbishley as I see it is that his full-backs are not getting on the overlap and getting enough crosses in for the forwards. That is an Achilles heel.

Pardew seems to have instilled some real belief in the Charlton backline which wasn't there under Iain Dowie and Les Reed.

That togetherness is vital and any belief and confidence could be crucial for them, particularly as it seems to be something West Ham just do not have.

As for Watford, I'm not surprised to find them struggling at the wrong end of the table.

Their defence has actually let in less goals than either West Ham or Charlton, but they haven't got a big squad and, let alone the multi-million pound players, they can't attract the quality to help them out of this hole.

THE VERDICT

Graham Taylor:
I'm going for three home wins, but I could be completely wrong - I have been before!
Predictions:
WEST HAM v Watford
CHARLTON v West Ham
WATFORD v Charlton

At the moment you cannot discount Wigan and Sheffield United, and the team that could sink quickly is Manchester City - they're not scoring and are going the wrong way.

But I have a feeling it's the bottom three who will go down. It would be a footballing miracle for Watford to escape.


Mark Bright:
That second one is hard to call, really tight, but Charlton will just about sneak it.
Predictions:
WEST HAM v Watford
CHARLTON v West Ham
Watford v CHARLTON

If West Ham pull it off after Portsmouth's great escape last season they will have rubber-stamped the blueprint to spend for chairmen at the bottom in January.

But money only gets you so much. All these teams at the bottom have to pull in the same direction and, it's not just because of my association with the club, I have a feeling Charlton are in the best position to get out of trouble.


Julian Dicks:
Nerves will come into that second game which will be really tough. It'll be a draw.
Predictions:
WEST HAM v Watford
Charlton v West Ham
Watford v CHARLTON

Watford are down, to be perfectly honest.

It is going to be tough for West Ham and Charlton, but I'd expect the Hammers to get out of it - so long as they can suck another club into the danger zone. It will go to the wire!



Barclays Premier League Table
01 February 2010 22:00
    P GD PTS
1 Chelsea 23 38 54
2 Man Utd 24 36 53
3 Arsenal 24 32 49
4 Tottenham 24 20 42

5 Liverpool 24 16 41

6 Man City 22 14 41
7 Aston Villa 23 13 40
8 Birmingham 23 -1 34
9 Everton 23 -1 32
10 Blackburn 24 -15 28
11 Fulham 23 -2 27
12 Stoke 22 -7 26
13 Sunderland 23 -10 24
14 Wigan 22 -23 22
15 West Ham 23 -9 21
16 Bolton 22 -15 21
17 Wolverhampton 23 -21 21

18 Burnley 23 -23 20
19 Hull 23 -26 20
20 Portsmouth 22 -16 15




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