By Brian Sears
3 February 2011
What do West Ham, Wigan and Wolverhampton all have in common aside from all beginning with the 23rd letter of the alphabet and all being current occupants of the Premier League’s relegation zone?
They are also the only three Premier League sides so far unable to muster a point per game on average this this season. However, all three are only one win away from having achieved that feat – and therefore get back on course for the target that generally signals safety. (See table at bottom)
West Ham host Birmingham on Sunday, with Wigan hosting Blackburn on Saturday before Wolves are fed to the Manchester United on their own ground at tea-time the same day.
The value of a point per game should not be under-rated. Over a whole season, it has become almost the guarantee of retaining Premier League status, and in recent years it has become more and more likely that a club with a point per game will stay up. It was not always so.
At the beginning of the Prem era, a point per game left sides more often than not dispatched from the top table. Indeed in the inaugural season, Crystal Palace managed as many as 49 points from the 42 games but were still dismissed back to the Football League. In the first six seasons as many as nine sides were relegated even though they managed at least a point a game.
In the 12 completed seasons since 1997-98, only two sides have been relegated having achieved a point or more per game. West Ham were the unlucky club in 2002-03, going down with as many as 42 points from 38 games. And in 2006-07 Sheffield United were relegated with exactly a point per game whereas Wigan on the same number of points escaped relegation by the most slender of goal difference.
Last season, 38 points would have secured 15th place in the table. After 25 games last season, Burnley and Hull had 23 and 24 points respectively – exactly the same as Wigan and West Ham this time round. But Burnley only collected seven more and Hull six more in their last 13 games. Unlucky. A mere 31 points last season was enough to avoid the dreaded drop.