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Promoted clubs braced for survival battle

sports Updated: Aug 12, 2009 07:47 IST
AFP
Promoted clubs braced for survival battle

Most of the pre-season attention is focused upon potential champions yet recent history suggests the most tense - and financially damaging - competition will be at the other end of the Premier League table.

Around 40 million pounds is the estimated cost of relegation for the three clubs who finish at the foot of the standings and this season, as in most, the three promoted sides are also hotly-tipped to return directly to The Championship.

Wolves, as champions, Birmingham City and play-off winners Burnley are the clubs who graduated to England's top-flight and all face a monumental task in consolidating their new found status.

A key factor in being able to stave off a swift relegation is the calibre of players recruited by a newly-promoted club and, consequently, Wolves and Birmingham will perhaps feel more confident than Burnley, even though all three have broken their transfer records this close season.

Wolves have brought in players such as the experienced forward Kevin Doyle, a record 6.5 million capture from Reading, as well as midfielder Nenad Milijas from Red Star Belgrade and goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, also from Reading.

It is the combination of experience and new-found enthusiasm that is so often the key factor in a side managing to stay up, as Hull City proved with their impressive opening to the campaign 12 months ago.

Equally, Birmingham have so far recruited eight new players, which is firstly a tacit admission that their Championship squad was not big or talented enough to survive the rigours of the Premier League and also suggests they believe their stay in the top flight is a long-term venture.

Attracting players such as Lee Bowyer, Joe Hart, on loan from Manchester City, former Scotland captain Barry Ferguson and nine million signing Christian Benitez will all significantly strengthen the west midlands club and they will be quietly confident they can avoid the fate of relegation, which they endured in May 2008.

Burnley have spent significantly less than their promotion partners, primarily because more money simply does not exist.

Manager Owen Coyle has admitted he has just 16 million to spend on both transfers and wages, with the three million invested in Hibernian winger Steven Fletcher his largest investment.

As a result, the Lancashire club has an almighty mountain to climb, not that Coyle himself is too concerned.

"In terms of Premier League salaries, we will be the lowest payers, but equally, they will still be good salaries in life, so players have to be aware of that," he said.

"We were one of the smaller clubs in terms of finance in the Championship, so small fry does not even sum it up when it comes to talking about the magnitude of the Premier League."

However, it is not all gloom for the new sides.

All three will take huge spirit from the fact that last season, two of the promoted teams - Stoke City and Hull - both managed to keep a foothold in the Premier League while two supposedly more established clubs did not, in the forms of Newcastle United and Middlesbrough.

Very few people backed north-east giants Newcastle for relegation 12 months ago, nor were their near neighbours Middlesbrough favourites for the drop, underlining how much predicting survival is an inexact science.

This year, Bolton Wanderers, whose manager Gary Megson can still not win the fans over, could be a strong candidate.

Portsmouth are racked by financial troubles and an unhappy squad which could also be an issue and both Stoke and, especially given their second half to last season, Hull will again face seriously challenging seasons as they look to survive.

Wigan Athletic could be an outside choice to struggle as they head into the season with a new manager, Roberto Martinez, who has never managed at this level while West Ham and Fulham will only feel comfortable once safety is a mathematical certainty.

Paul Jewell is one of the game's most experienced managers in life at this end of the table, having steered Bradford and Wigan to safety and taken Derby County down into the Championship in his career.

He has no doubt that it will be a major surprise if, as has happened only once before in Premier League history, all three newcomers survive.

"When you have spent a while in the Championship, operating on simple budgets with no big benefactor, making that leap into the Premier League is massive and you don't have to be a genius to work out why new clubs fail," said Jewell.

"It is luck if one survives, incredibly unusual if two do and it will be a miracle if all three make it."