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Stuart Dalgleish 2nd Aug 2009 - 15:30

Brown faces one Hull of a job keeping City up

In a league that is severely lacking in depth the battle to beat the drop is set to be the most competitive it's been for years.

Exactly half of the teams in this season's Premier League can be backed at odds of less than 10/1 to get relegated to the Championship, incredible for the league that's supposed to be the best in the world.

You could argue that the poor quality in the second half of the table makes for a more interesting finish to the season, with teams doing as badly as Derby did two seasons ago surely a thing of the past because so many of the struggling sides will be able to take points off each other and not just find themselves marooned at the bottom of the table.

Certainly last season's relegation battle had us all interested right to the wire (although it looked pretty obvious that Middlesbrough and Newcastle would go down) with West Brom in particular putting up a really good fight but just leaving their run too late, the Baggies played some attractive football but shipped far too many goals to give themselves a chance of survival.

So who are the likely candidates for the drop this season?

One team who I think will be in for a really tough season are Hull (5/6 to be relegated, 10/11 to stay up) The Tigers were absolutely awful in the second half of the season - winning only once in their final 21 games - and can thank Newcastle's inept performance at Villa Park for one of the main reasons why they stayed up.

For Phil Brown to sing to the crowd after losing to Manchester United's 3rd team was one of the most embarrassing moments I've witnessed in a long time, yes Brown will be happy that his team stayed up but it wasn't from his doing, thankfully for The Tigers nobody else on 'Survival Sunday' looked bothered about retaining their Premier League status and I hope Brown sent a big thank you card to Martin O'Neill for helping his side stay up.

One of the main problems for Hull last season was the lack of goals, the club's leading scorer Geovanni (250/1 to be the top Premier League goalscorer) only notching eight times in the Premier League, Daniel Cousin (150/1) and Marlon King made the most starts for The Tigers out of the recognised strikers but could muster just nine goals between them out of a combined 37 starts.

Hull have attempted to address this problem by putting in a bid for Bobby Zamora (who scored two goals in 35 games for Fulham last season and is a 100/1 shot to be top Premier League goalscorer) but they'll need a lot more than him to make an impact this time around, especially if creative midfielder Jimmy Bullard can't find his way back to full fitness.

In addition to their attacking woes, Hull will also be light at the back as they have sold one of their best defenders from last season - Sam Ricketts, the Welsh full-back signing for Bolton (6/1 to get relegated, 1/12 to stay up) for around £2 million.

Phil Brown will certainly have his work cut out trying to repeat last season's 17th place.

Out of the newly promoted teams Burnley (4/7 to go down, 5/4 to beat the drop) look to be ones with the hardest task of staying up.

After their marathon season came to a close with victory over Sheffield United at Wembley, manager Owen Coyle all of a sudden became the country's hottest managerial property. Celtic, West Brom and Wigan (4/1 to get relegated, 1/7 to stay up) were all rumoured to have shown an interest in filling their relative vacant manger's spots with the Scottish-born boss.

In the end Coyle signed a contract to stay at Turf Moor until the 2012-13 season, much to the relief of Clarets fans everywhere.

Burnley have plenty of experience, which is vital at this level, but the size of their squad could stretch them at times over the season, The Lancastrian outfit used the lowest amount of players in the Football League last season and a whole host of those players featured in over 50 games.

The evergreen Graham Alexander played in every game for Burnley last season and he'll be determined to be an ever-present in the Premier League as well but Coyle has bought in a few defensive options to cover the Scottish international should he tire.

Brian Easton, Richard Eckersley, David Edgar and Tyrone Mears have all signed contracts with Burnley as well as striker Steven Fletcher (100/1 top PL scorer) who arrives from Hibs, where he formed a good partnership with Derek Riordan - Coyle will be hoping he can do the same with Martin Paterson (125/1).

Fletcher and Paterson will be fed balls from the tricky midfielder-forward Robbie Blake, who's played in the Premier League with Bradford and Birmingham (4/6 to go down, 11/10 to stay up), and I don't think they'll struggle to score goals, but the aforementioned defenders are hardly going to scare the likes of Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba which is where I think will be Burnley's downfall.

Portsmouth (3/1 to go down, 1/7 to survive) are another team who I think could be up against it this season, with international stars like Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson departing in big-money moves and Sean Davis moving on to pastures new the South coast side will have massive gaps to fill if they are to achieve safety for another year.

Pompey shouldn't be too bad at the back, even without Johnson, David James will be supported by new signings Steve Finnan and Aaron Mokoena as well as experienced pros like Sylvain Distin and Hermann Hreidarsson.

But, Paul Hart somehow needs to find a striker that will get him 10-15 goals in the season because I don't think Nwankwo Kanu (200/1 top PL scorer), David Nugent (200/1) or John Utaka will fit that bill, easier said than done of course.

If they can get a striker and maybe a creative midfielder to cover the injury prone Niko Kranjcar they might just about have enough to survive but without any great flair to speak of they might find themselves struggling to grind out wins.

These are my three choices to go down, but as mentioned at the start the quality of the teams in this season's Premier League is poor and a lot of teams could be in for a tough campaign.

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