NORTHEAST rivals Hull City and Newcastle United face a shootout for Premier League survival this weekend as the 2014-15 campaign reaches its conclusion.
Hull must win at home to Manchester United tomorrow to stand any chance of staying up, but if they succeed, Newcastle will be relegated unless they prevail at home to West Ham United.
Newcastle will begin the day two points above the relegation zone, but Hull’s superior goal difference (-18 to -25) means that if the two teams finish level on points, it is Steve Bruce’s men who will stay up.
The scenario echoes that of the final day of the 2008-09 season, when Hull avoided the drop despite losing 1-0 at home to Manchester United and Newcastle were relegated after going down 1-0 at Aston Villa.
Bruce has never overcome his former club Manchester United in his 17-year managerial career, but he believes the support of the KC Stadium could tip the match in the home side’s favour.
“It’s a big positive that this game is at home,” said the former United captain, whose side have lost their last three matches.
“We’ve got one of the giants of English football coming to us and we hope that with the fans right behind us and the players ready for the challenge ahead, we can upset the applecart.
“We have to believe that there is one final twist in this and it needs to go our way.”
A run of nine defeats and one draw in 10 games has seen Newcastle slide from 11th place to the threshold of the relegation zone ahead of tomorrow’s pivotal encounter with mid-table West Ham.
Newcastle’s fans have stepped up their protests against unpopular owner Mike Ashley in recent weeks and manager John Carver has admitted that he cannot bring himself to contemplate the thought of relegation.
“It doesn’t even bear thinking about, to be quite honest. It’s not something that’s in my mind,” he said.
“I’ve seen what’s happened in the past. It wasn’t nice. If it did happen, it would be unbearable and I don’t know how long it would take to get over it.
“But as far as I’m concerned, let us take care of our business and then when we get to tomorrow, then I’ll have a better idea, as we all will.”
The last day will not be such a nerve-jangling affair for the teams at the other end of the table, with Chelsea having already secured the title and the Champions League places effectively settled.
Deposed champions Manchester City, who host Southampton, are guaranteed to finish second due to their four-point advantage over third-placed Arsenal.
And while Manchester United can mathematically leapfrog Arsenal into third place, it would require them to win at Hull and Arsenal to lose at home to West Bromwich Albion accompanied by a seven-goal swing in goal difference.
Both teams will be celebrating at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea are scheduled to receive the Premier League trophy after tackling Sunderland, who secured survival with a battling 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Wednesday.
The only other issue to be determined is Europa League qualification, with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in contention for the two berths guaranteed to offer a place in the tournament.
Fifth-placed Liverpool and sixth-placed Spurs are in line to qualify as things stand, but seventh place, where Southampton sit, will also yield a Europa League spot if Arsenal beat Villa in the FA Cup final on May 30.
Tottenham visit Everton, who are finishing the season with something of a flourish, while Liverpool travel to Stoke City for captain Steven Gerrard’s 710th and final game for the club before he joins the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The game could also represent a final Liverpool appearance for 20-year-old forward Raheem Sterling, who has rejected a new contract and reportedly expressed a desire to leave.
Crystal Palace, 3-1 winners at Anfield in Gerrard’s final home game last weekend, finish the campaign at home to Swansea City, while Villa warm up for the FA Cup final at home to Burnley and Leicester City celebrate their great escape from relegation by entertaining relegated Queens Park Rangers.
Stoke v Liverpool
Newcastle v West Ham
Manchester City v Southampton
Leicester v QPR
Hull v Man Utd
Everton v Spurs
Crystal Palace v Swansea
Chelsea v Sunderland
Aston Villa v Burnley
Arsenal v West Brom