As the domestic UK domestic season enters its final sprint many players in the English Premiership are making their final claims for a place in their country’s World Cup squad for June. Unfortunately, for players North and South of Ireland this will not be the case. Rather, having put the disappointment of the playoffs behind them, there are a number of our representatives who will instead be doing their all in a relegation battle and perhaps looking toward their future beyond the end of this season.
Newcastle United (12th)
Newcastle are currently 7 points clear of the relegation spots which is a reasonable margin at this late stage of the season and they should be very confident of their top flight survival. Goalkeeper Rob Elliott was the Magpie’s stopper of choice for 16 games this season but eventually replaced by Slovakian loanee Martin Dubravka. Ciaran Clark has not featured for Newcastle since early February and rumours of a summer move have gained traction.
West Ham United (14th)
West Ham’s season has been bleak on and off the pitch with a recent angry demonstration by fans against their owners being the latest bad news item for the Hammers. 19 year old Declan Rice has grown in stature this season making 19 appearances with 8 of them as a starter, recently making his Ireland senior debut against Turkey. 5 points from the drop zone, West Ham and Rice should be confident if they can just find some stability in their final run in.
Mauricio Pellegrino was replaced last month by the evergreen Mark Hughes in the dugout in a bid to stop the Saints from marching out – a task that seems evermore a tall order! Northern Ireland’s midfield metronome Steven Davis has found himself displaced from the Southampton squad since a brief 10 minute appearance against Liverpool in early February, there were whispers of a possible return to Rangers next season but it may be wishful thinking for some. It hasn’t been a happy season for Shane Long either with only 12 starts and 11 appearances from the bench – an average of less than an hour per appearance for the man from Tipperary. Those 23 appearances have only managed to yield a solitary goal.
West Bromwich Albion (20th)
When Tony Pulis was relieved of his duties in November, it was good old Alan Pardew who stepped up to the plate. Many will be wishing that hadn’t been the case as ‘Pards’’ ill fated spell ended amidst (later confirmed) rumours of dressing room dressing downs from his players and allegations of unfair treatment of younger squad members. Derry man James McClean has been restricted mostly to another season of substitute appearances and appeared to be disappointed when a mooted January move to Derby County failed to materialise, a summer move seems likely for a player too good to warm a spot on the sidelines. 38 year old Gareth McAuley has struggled with injuries this season and will not want one of his last top flight contributions to end up as being part of a relegated squad, however the big centre back looked faultless in his recent international display against South Korea. Chris Brunt was the man at the centre of the furious post-match outburst after defeat by Huddersfield, still considering his international future but he has a big job to do in motivating his teammates at this season’s end. Jonny Evans was the talk of the January transfer window as rumoured moves to Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester Untied failed to be finalised. With rumours of a minimal buyout clause should the Baggies get relegated, which seems the most likely scenario, those same clubs and others will be ready to pounce should the seemingly inevitable occur.