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Nic Ladds 21st May 2009 - 17:23

What if...

Over the years on the last day of the season as the relegation cast face the gallows I'm often drawn to the words of the great Rudyard Kipling.

"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone".

Why? Because as negative results from other matches reach touchlines and supporters in the crowd, transistors and mobile phones clutched to their ears, heaving out groaning sighs, it is often striking the palpable effect that it has on the players.

When fate is out of their own hands, how many times have we seen the adverse news from a relegation rival winning elsewhere trigger a negative response from the team in question? Concentration is lost, despondency sets in and our 20 quid on the "fighters" in question goes down the Trent and Mersey Canal.

I suppose it is natural instinct for heads to drop but if only all footballers were made of the stuff Kipling wrote about. This is something punters must bear in mind when weighing up the match betting merits of the Premier League stragglers this weekend.

There's the philosophy bit out of the way, in a vain attempt to sound deep and meaningful, now lets have a look at the tremendous Premier League Relegation market William Hill are offering.

In order of clear and present danger, Middlesbrough 32pts (1/100 to be relegated), Newcastle 34pts (4/7), Hull 35pts (13/8) and Sunderland 36pts (8/1), are all potentially staring a league trip to Peterborough next season right in the mush.

To put you in the picture here are Sunday's fixtures featuring what we'll call the "Fearing Four".

West Ham 5/4 v Middlesbrough 2/1, draw 5/2
Aston Villa 5/4 v Newcastle 2/1, draw 5/2
Hull 2/1 v Man Utd 5/4, draw 5/2
Sunderland 11/4 v Chelsea 19/20, draw 5/2

Uncannily, the odds gurus at William Hill list identical odds for the first three matches.

West Ham have lost three of their last four games so may normally be vulnerable but opponents Boro have drawn one and lost three of their last four. I can see that ending in a draw or even a win for the Hammers - especially if bad news comes in from games featuring relegation rivals.

Forget about it Boro are gone. But I don't have a hundred million pounds to turn into a million.

Newcastle have not won away from home since the start of February (at West Brom) so there wont be too many fancying them to end that streak at Aston Villa. It could be argued that Martin O'Neill's side don't win often enough in front of their home fans but they don't lose many either.

The best result I can envisage for the Toon Army is a point, which would leave them on 35 - the same as Hull City.

The Tigers entertain Manchester United at the KC Stadium, or should it be renamed the KFC given the number of times they have been deep fried since their barnstorming Premier League start.

A key question is what kind of side will Sir Alex Ferguson field? With next week's Champions League final against Barcelona in mind the answer is very straightforward - a severely under strength one.

Hull have been pretty awful for a long time now but they showed enough fight in securing that vital point at Bolton that they can outmuscle and graft an ugly point against Fergie's fledglings. Expect some beefy early Hull challenges and 36 points come late afternoon.

Sunderland will probably get beaten by Chelsea - that 19/20 looks an absolute corker - but the Black Cats will be safe due the incompetence of the sides below them.

Did you hear the joke about which is the most popular side in the North East?

Not Newcastle, Middlesbrough or Sunderland.

It's West Brom because thanks to the hapless Baggies it means only two of them are going to get relegated.

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