OWEN Coyle is expecting the nail-biting battle for Premier League survival to go down to the wire.
As Wanderers prepared for today’s showdown with bottom-of-the-table Wolves at Molineux – a third successive six-pointer – the Reebok boss believes his players’ confidence is encouragingly high after the recent home wins against fellow strugglers QPR and Blackburn Rovers.
But, although a win today would lift the Whites even further clear of the relegation zone, he believes the pressure will continue right up to the final throes of what has already been a testing season.
And he anticipates Wolves being as determined as the rest to fight their way out of trouble.
“We’ve been involved in a number of those games (six-pointers) recently – against QPR and Blackburn – and in a football context, it’s a huge game,” Coyle said.
“It gives us the opportunity to open the gap on Wolves to seven points with a game in hand. But they will be looking at it as a means to close the gap.
“We go into it in good fettle in terms of confidence and how we’ve been playing. We’ll go there to be positive and try to win the match, knowing we’re in for a tough test.
“Wolves are in the mix the same as everyone else, including ourselves. I think the battle will go all the way.”
With just six points separating the bottom five – from Wolves at the foot of the table to Blackburn in 16th position – the battle to avoid being in the bottom three at the end of the season could hardly be more keenly contested with few daring to even predict how many points will guarantee survival – Coyle included.
“I’m no different to anyone, I look ahead and know everyone else’s fixtures,” he added. “But the only points target I’m interested in is making sure we’ve got one more than the three teams below us.”
Although disappointed their interest in the FA Cup ended with a 3-1 defeat at Tottenham in Tuesday night’s quarter-final, Wanderers have shown they have the stomach for the fight to retain their Premiership status with the character of their last two performances.
They underlined both their ability and their resolve with successive 2-1 wins – first when they took advantage of a favourable refereeing decision to beat QPR then winning the emotion-packed derby duel with Blackburn that was played while Fabrice Muamba was still in intensive care following his cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane the previous weekend.
They are the qualities Wanderers must continue to display in their nine remaining games if they are to secure a 12th successive season of Premier League football. And, although Muamba’s well-being will continue to be on their minds, Coyle suggested his players would not get by on emotion alone and needed to not only give their team-mate the time and space he needs to continue his recovery, but also to give themselves the scope they need to get on with thejob in hand.
“Hopefully the players are already doing it for themselves and for the football club and everything it stands for,” the manager said.
“There’s no doubt the circumstances of the last two weeks will have taken their toll physically and mentally, but football-wise this game should take care of itself. There’s never a second that one of us isn’t thinking about Fabrice’s recovery.
“What we have to do now is give him time and space.
“The doctor speaks to the consultants every morning and we were there physically this week.
“We give updates but I think it’s important that the family get that time and space to help Fabrice get better.”