Roy Hodgson believes this season’s intense Premier League relegation battle is unprecedented as he attempts to steer struggling Crystal Palace to safety.
Palace sit 12th in the table but are among nine clubs in serious danger of the drop, with just four points between them and bottom side Southampton.
The Eagles have plummeted into trouble on the back of 12 top-flight games without victory and are the only team in the top four tiers yet to taste success in 2023.
Former England boss Hodgson, who managed the club between 2017 and 2021, was brought back to Selhurst Park last week to stave off the threat of the Sky Bet Championship following the dismissal of Patrick Vieira.
The 75-year-old acknowledges the division is delicately balanced at both ends but insists he is only concerned by Palace’s fixtures ahead of Saturday afternoon’s meeting with 17th-placed Leicester.
Asked if he had ever known a tighter tussle for survival, Hodgson replied: “No, I think this season is exceptional in that respect.
“You don’t normally have almost a whole bottom section of the table all fighting to avoid relegation and you certainly don’t see so many teams which most people would say, ‘they can’t get relegated, they’re too big a club to get relegated’ (down there). I think that’s unusual in that respect this year.
“We go into the last 10 games with a very exciting scenario at both ends because we still aren’t 100 per cent certain who the champions are going to be and who the top four are going to be, so there’s an awful lot to play for in these last 10 games.
“But I’ve got to say the only games that will really interest me are the ones that we play and maybe watching the games that our opponents play to get some idea of how good they are.”
Hodgson’s first six fixtures back at his boyhood club come against direct relegation rivals, with the visit of the Foxes followed by matches against Leeds, Southampton, Everton, Wolves and West Ham.
Nottingham Forest and second-bottom Bournemouth – the other clubs in the relegation picture – will be the opposition for Palace’s final two home games.
Hodgson feels Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers is in a stronger position than himself going into the run-in due to having had a greater period of time to shape his squad but concedes all managers are under constant pressure.
“He’s been working with them a long time and he’s a good manager and they do have a lot of very good players so it’s unusual to see Leicester City in the position they’re in,” he said.
“I would think that he’s probably able to be more sanguine about the situation than I can be because he must know that with this group of players, with the work they’ve done together, the way they know each other, the clarity they have, what they need to do and are capable of doing.
“I would think it would stop him feeling too much pressure in that respect.
“But at the same time, we’ve seen this year so many managers have lost their jobs in the Premier League.
“Pressure I suppose is there for everybody so I’m pretty certain that it’s easy for me to say what I’m saying about Brendan but it might not be what he’s actually feeling himself.”
Hodgson is boosted by the return to fitness of senior goalkeepers Vicente Guaita (hamstring) and Sam Johnstone (calf) after academy graduate Joe Whitworth played in the defeats to Brighton and Arsenal.
But defenders Nathan Ferguson and Chris Richards have been ruled out by injuries.
In spite of the Eagles’ prolonged wretched form, Hodgson has been pleasantly surprised by the spirit among the squad.
“To be honest, I was expecting more doom and gloom around the place,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.
“Fearful is probably too strong of a word. Apprehensive would be a better word. What are we going to find here?
“But touch wood, so far, we’ve found everything to our satisfaction. But now to get satisfaction, we’ve got to win football matches.”