LONDON, December 31- The chill winds of relegation anxiety have blown across the Premier League ahead of Thursday’s New Year’s Day programme, with a burst of managerial comings and goings ushering in 2015.
A week ago, all 20 managers who had started the season were still in place, but two clubs approach the new year without a manager, while Newcastle United are poised to lose Alan Pardew.
Crystal Palace were the first club to press the panic button, firing Neil Warnock the day after a Boxing Day defeat at home to Southampton that saw the south London club slip into the relegation zone.
Pardew is in line to return to Palace, where he spent four years as a player, after being given permission to speak to his former club by Newcastle.
Palace visit Aston Villa on Thursday and Keith Millen, who has been placed in charge on a caretaker basis, has called on the club to appoint a successor to Warnock swiftly.
“You’d think that it would cause a lot of unrest among the players, but they have coped unbelievably well,” said Millen.
“But you wouldn’t want it to continue for weeks on end, because that’s when I think the lads want some guidance on where the club’s going. So hopefully this can get solved pretty quickly.”
Two days after Warnock’s sacking, West Bromwich Albion announced the dismissal of Alan Irvine following a return of one win from nine games that has left the Midlands club just a point above the bottom three.
West Brom, who have reportedly opened talks with Tony Pulis and Tim Sherwood, travel to West Ham United on Thursday.
While Palace and West Brom are desperate for points, Newcastle are in a position of relative prosperity, having climbed to 10th place in the table after Sunday’s 3-2 win over Everton.
But although many Newcastle fans will not mourn Pardew’s exit, they will be wary of a downturn in fortunes ahead of a home game against Burnley, who fought back to draw 2-2 at champions Manchester City last weekend.
With Pardew apparently heading for the exit, assistant coaches John Carver and Steve Stone will take charge for the match against Burnley.
– Drogba braced for battle –
Bottom club Leicester City kickstarted their fight to beat the drop by winning 1-0 at Hull City on Sunday, which left them three points from safety.
Leicester visit improving Liverpool on Thursday, while Hull, who are above third-bottom Palace on goal difference alone, host out-of-form Everton.
City’s slip-up against Burnley meant that Chelsea preserved their three-point lead at the summit despite being held to a 1-1 draw at Southampton on Sunday.
But Jose Mourinho’s side face a taxing trip to a Tottenham Hotspur team who have moved to within two points of the Champions League places after a five-game unbeaten run.
“I think it’s going to be tough. We knew it was not over,” said Chelsea striker Didier Drogba of the title race.
“A few years ago, I think we were 11 or 12 points in front of Man United and then they won the league. So eight points or nine points — I don’t know how many points we had on top of Man City — I think it is not enough.
“At that time of the season, it was too early, but I think now we start again a new championship. I think the game is on.”
City will also be seeking to return to winning ways when they host Sunderland, while third-place Manchester United, who drew 0-0 at Spurs on Sunday, raise the curtain on 2015 with a match at Stoke City.
Perhaps the most intriguing contest of the weekend takes place at St Mary’s, where fourth-place Southampton host fifth-place Arsenal with a berth in the top four at stake.
Arsenal gained ground on the teams above them with a 2-1 win at West Ham at the weekend, but Southampton, who they trail on goal difference, have now gone three games unbeaten following a run of poor results.
“You give your best and if there is a weakness in front of you, you want to take advantage of it,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Thursday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Aston Villa v Crystal Palace, Hull City v Everton, Liverpool v Leicester City, Manchester City v Sunderland, Newcastle United v Burnley, Queens Park Rangers v Swansea City, Southampton v Arsenal, Stoke City v Manchester United (1245 GMT), Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea (1730 GMT), West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion