England's relegation run-in begins
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With the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers in hiatus until June and international football absent until the end of the English Premier League season, attention turns to the job at hand for its clubs – which for half the division is dodging relegation.

Everyone in the bottom half still has a very real chance of being dragged out of the league by the final game, with only seven points separating 17th and 11th. With up to 27 points on offer between now and 19 May, plenty can happy to these ten sides as they try to stay out of the bottom three. FIFA.com assesses the teams’ chances at avoiding the drop.

Main candidates

Queens Park Rangers
Position: 20th
Games played: 30
Points: 23
Goal difference: -22

Despite two big wins in March, a barren spell through much of January and February – where QPR accrued just four points following their surprise 1-0 win at Chelsea – has left them mired in trouble. Were it not for a late Christian Benteke goal against fellow strugglers Aston Villa in a 3-2 defeat, they’d have lifted themselves off the bottom of the table for the first time since Boxing Day. However, with six of their last seven goals being scored by January signings, there’s hope that the great escape could be on.

“There’s eight games and we need to go win five, probably. It’s not impossible, while there’s hope you’ve got to keep believing and keep trying.” Harry Redknapp, manager

Reading
Position: 19th
Games played: 30
Points: 23
Goal difference: -22

After a string of five defeats, manager Brian McDermott’s spell at the club came to an end. At the start of February things had looked on the up, with ten points from a possible 12, but from being two points clear of safety they are now seven from it. Five points away from home all season has not helped either. Nigel Adkins, just a couple of months since being sacked by Southampton, needs to reverse the momentum. His second game in charge, against his former club, gives him a great opportunity.

“Can we dare to dream that we're going to win the amount of games that we've got to go and accumulate the points? We've got to.” Nigel Adkins, manager

In danger

Wigan Athletic
Position: 18th
Games played: 29
Points: 27
Goal difference: -21

It would be no surprise if there are plenty of optimists at the DW Stadium, despite currently sitting three points short of safety. They’ve avoided relegation from similar positions in the last three seasons and, having collected 21 points from their last nine games in 2011/12, Roberto Martinez knows better than anyone that it’s an achievable task. With experience on their side – and a game in hand – they have every chance, but, having reached the FA Cup semi-final, they are one of only two teams with commitments that could take their eyes off survival. 

“We have shown in the last few games that we can win games in this league, and we must keep that up if we are to move away from the bottom of the table.” Antolin Alcaraz, defender

Aston Villa
Position: 17th
Games played: 30
Points: 30
Goal difference: -2

Back-to-back victories – both coming from behind – have seen Aston Villa shoot up the form table, seeing them become the most successful side in the bottom half over the last six games. However, it’s the first time since May 2011 that they’ve managed to put together consecutive league wins and they have a long list of injuries which threaten their run. However, in Benteke they have one of the year’s most in-form strikers, bagging eight Premier League goals in 2013, a tally only bettered in by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.

“Were certainly playing very well at the moment, so if we can keep that level of performance up, then hopefully we’ll be ok.” Paul Lambert, manager

Southampton
Position: 16th
Games played: 30
Points: 31
Goal difference: -10

Results have been mixed since manager Mauricio Pochettino arrived in mid-January, featuring impressive home wins over Manchester City and Liverpool. However dropped points against Wigan, Newcastle United, QPR and Norwich City arguably count for more at this stage of the season. They host Chelsea this weekend, but their match a week later against Reading – as well as three further games with bottom-half sides – will more likely be what decides their fate.

“[Pochettino’s] had a massive effect on us. The belief we’ve got is fantastic. We press high, we don’t give anyone respect. We’re more than good enough to beat any team.” Jay Rodriguez, forward

Sunderland
Position: 15th
Games played: 30
Points: 31
Goal difference: -9

With just two points from their last six games, Sunderland sit bottom of the form table and have dealt a further blow to their confidence with top scorer Steven Fletcher being ruled out for the season. With games against four of the top six to come, there’s real pressure on their remaining four games – including a key Tyne-Weir derby with Newcastle.

"It’s been a tough season, but I knew it was going to be a tough season for us from August time.” Martin O’Neill, manager

Not yet safe

West Ham United
Position: 14th
Games played: 29
Points: 33
Goal difference: -11

Currently at their lowest position of the season, West Ham have slipped considerably since occupying sixth in mid-November, suffering seven defeats in their last ten games. They have a game in hand over most of their rivals, but against run-away leaders Manchester United it’s far from guaranteed points. However, playing five of the teams below them in their remaining games, they may have a big say in the survival of others, as well as their own.

"It’s disappointing that we haven’t secured safety already with our concentration and sometimes lack of goals. We want to get it out of the way and look at next season.” Sam Allardyce, manager

Newcastle United
Position: 13th
Games played: 30
Points: 33
Goal difference: -11

Inconsistency has dogged Newcastle in recent weeks; over the last six games they have alternated between morale-boosting wins and frustrating defeats – with all but one being won or lost in the final 12 minutes. Depending on perspective this can be viewed positively or negatively, but a tough run-in, UEFA Europa League participation and some key injuries mean there is still work to do for last season’s fifth-place finishers. It remains to be seen if they regret selling top scorer Demba Ba to Chelsea in January.

“The Premier League is so, so different to any other league in the world. Any team can win four or five games and get out of it, so that's what we will aim to do and then we will be safe.” Cheick Tiote, midfielder

Norwich City
Position: 12th
Games played: 30
Points: 34
Goal difference: -18

The division’s draw specialists, equal with Stoke City on 13, and with the worst goal difference outside the bottom four, both attack and defence can reasonably accept criticism for the club's current predicament. With top scorer Grant Holt only netting five times, only QPR lack a more prolific goalscorer. However, they are difficult to beat at home, which could be enough for survival with Swansea City, Reading, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion to come at the Hawthorns.

"Two more wins should definitely do it. It's a big ask for the teams below us to get to that 40-point mark.” Russell Martin, defender

Stoke City
Position: 11th
Games played: 30
Points: 34
Goal difference: -8

With just four points gained in 2013, Stoke have by far the league’s worst return this year. As a result they have been dragged back into sight of the bottom three, having been ranked eighth, and 12 points clear of the drop zone, on New Year’s Eve. However, with five games against the current bottom half of the table to come, they are in a strong position to write their own destiny.

"It's important we just keep getting good results, go from there and not worry about who is behind us." Andy Wilkinson, defender

Key fixtures
30 March
Wigan – Norwich

6 April
Reading – Southampton
Aston Villa -Stoke

7 April
QPR – Wigan

13 April
Southampton – West Ham

14 April
Newcastle – Sunderland

20 April
Norwich – Reading
QPR – Stoke
West Ham – Wigan

27 April
Stoke – Norwich

28 April
Reading – QPR

29 April
Aston Villa – Sunderland

4/5 May
Norwich – Aston Villa
Sunderland – Stoke
West Ham – Newcastle

12 May
QPR – Newcastle
Sunderland – Southampton

19 May
Wigan – Aston Villa
Southampton – Stoke
West Ham - Reading