Premier League relegation drama guaranteed

LONDON: Alan Shearer insists pride and not pound notes will be at stake when Newcastle make one last desperate attempt to avoid the shame of Premier League relegation on Sunday.

Shearer’s side travel to Aston Villa knowing relegation is certain if they lose and even a win may not be enough to save them from second tier football for the first time since 1993. Relegation would cost Newcastle around £60 million in lost revenue but the financial implications mean little to caretaker boss Shearer, who is more concerned at the embarrassing prospect of playing the likes of Doncaster and Peterborough next season instead of Manchester United and Liverpool.

At this moment in time, I am not interested in the cash implications,” Shearer said. “I am not important in this, Mike Ashley is not important in this. What is important is the football club. That will always be bigger and better than any one individual.”

Shearer’s hopes of avoiding an ignominious start to his managerial career have been dented by injuries to Habib Beye and Jose Enrique and a suspension for Sebastien Bassong that leaves him without three of his four first choice defenders. Michael Owen could return however as Newcastle try to overhaul Hull, who are one point above the relegation zone, or Sunderland, who sit two points clear of their local rivals.

After enjoying a fairytale start to the season, Hull’s campaign is in danger of ending with a nightmarish slide back to the Championship just one year after winning promotion to the top-flight for the first time. The Tigers await the arrival of champions United hoping that Sir Alex Ferguson will send out a weakened team ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League final against Barcelona.

Hull boss Phil Brown believes even United’s reserves will trouble his team, but he would be delighted to see Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and the rest missing from Ferguson’s team. Sunderland will kick off in a similar position as they host a Chelsea team with next weekend’s FA Cup final against Everton. Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink insists he will pick a strong team but that won’t guarantee a whole-hearted display from players who will be keen to avoid injury ahead of the Wembley clash. If Sunderland do go down, boss Ricky Sbragia will have few complaints.

Middlesbrough have the least hope of beating the drop as they must win at West Ham and hope Hull and Newcastle lose. Boss Gareth Southgate is planning changes regardless of which division Middlesbrough end up in.

“After our experiences this season, it would be folly to not make wholesale changes,” he said. “We clearly haven’t been good enough this year so even if we stay up we’ve fallen a long way short of where we’re trying to be.” Fulham can clinch seventh and the final spot in the Europa League with a win over Everton.