April 27, 2012
This is not a good time of the season to extend a sequence to one win in thirteen games, but following Tuesday’s defeat to Bolton, Aston Villa have simply been left hoping that none of the sides below them continue to pick up unexpected points, as their own confidence seems shot to pieces. They certainly can’t rely on managerial skill to arrest their slide, as Alex McLeish is not the type to inspire greater effort from his demoralised players, and has certainly never had the trust of the club’s fans. What had seemed a straightforward task to gather the three or four points needed to secure safety now looks hugely difficult, and once again we have been left with a thoroughly fascinating battle at the bottom to keep us entertained right up to the final fixtures.
Let’s start our look at this weekend’s fixtures with a nothing game at Goodison:
1)Everton v Fulham: As is customary for both of these sides, there is little to play for at this stage of the season, but that didn’t stop both of them keeping up to their tasks right up to the final whistle last weekend. Fulham’s struggle to score away from home (just 11 so far) could cost them in this encounter though, particularly as Everton have been very miserly at home recently, and only Man.City have conceded fewer goals than the Toffees’ 14 on their own patch. Indeed, they have conceded just once in their last six home League matches, and should be capable of another shutout to help them on their way to an unbelievable twentieth consecutive home League win over Fulham.
2) Stoke v Arsenal: Despite meandering towards the finish line somewhat, Stoke’s home form has been pretty impressive recently, as only Man.City have managed to take as much as a point at the Britannia in the last four matches. Arsenal don’t usually relish a trip to Stoke either, with only one League win there in the last thirty (yes, thirty) years. I do fancy them to gain a point this time around with a score draw, but some of you may wish to put Stat of the Week to some use at the bookies, as four of the last five meetings between these two in League and Cup have ended with a 3-1 scoreline. 3-1 to Stoke is available at 40/1 with stanjames.com, while 3-1 to Arsenal is a rather more conservative 14/1 generally.
3) Sunderland v Bolton: Bolton took a bit of a battering in the first half at Villa Park on Tuesday, but some stern words and a tactical change from Owen Coyle saw them gain a vital three points in the end. Their cause on Saturday will be assisted by the facts that Sunderland haven’t scored in their last four games, and haven’t won in six, but I’m not convinced that Bolton have it in them to gain another victory this weekend. They have also recorded just one draw and six defeats from their last seven matches against Sunderland in League and Cup, and as I can’t see the home side’s goal drought continuing much longer, I think the best that Wanderers can hope for is a draw here.
4) Swansea v Wolves: A terrible run of two points from eleven games has confirmed the inevitable for Wolves, and they have three tough games remaining to try and at least rescue a little pride from a disastrous season. I can’t see them gaining anything from this match though, although it does promise to feature plenty of goals, given that the last three meetings between these sides in Swansea have yielded an impressive 16. 4-1.
5) West Brom v Aston Villa: Not a good time to face a local derby. Having already seen off Wolves, there is nothing that West Brom would like more than to send Villa closer to the drop as well, and they have shown no signs in recent weeks that they are ready to take their foot off the pedal just yet. Three wins to nil in the Baggies’ last four games will have Villa very concerned heading into this match, as will their home defeat to West Brom earlier in the season. Stat of the Week part II informs us that the last five meetings between these two have ended with a 2-1 scoreline, so it’s worth noting that 2-1 to West Brom is available at 17/2 with Stan James, while a 2-1 win for Villa is a general 11/1. I fancy the former myself.
6) Wigan v Newcastle: Wigan, like fellow strugglers QPR, have shown a remarkable recent ability to topple the big boys, but find things a little tougher against less fancied opposition. Having said that, do we count Newcastle as one of the big boys now, or still as a comfortable mid-table side? A tricky question, but six consecutive victories with only one goal conceded is hugely impressive nonetheless. Last season’s 1-0 win at the DW ended a shocking run of five consecutive defeats in League and Cup for Newcastle at Wigan, and I just fancy them to sneak another narrow win this time around.
7) Norwich v Liverpool: Norwich looked like they were resting on their laurels during a tame performance in a 2-0 defeat at Blackburn last weekend, but even a similarly tame performance on Sunday could be enough to see off a terribly out-of-sorts Liverpool side. There is every chance that the Reds could actually finish in the bottom half of the table this season, as they focus their minds on an FA Cup Final appearance next month, and if Norwich were a more focussed side themselves at present, I would be going for a home win here. As it stands though, I’ll plump for a score draw.
8) Chelsea v QPR: Chelsea’s record in London derbies in the League this season doesn’t feature a single win from seven matches, and this will be their last chance to put that right. On Sunday, they will face a Jekyll and Hyde team shorn of Adel Taarabt due to suspension following Rangers’ eighth red card of the season, which is just one short of Sunderland’s Premier League record set in 2010. With the fallout from these sides’ acrimonious meeting back in October still not having been dealt with by either the FA or, outrageously, by the courts, there is sure to be an unpleasant atmosphere in the ground, and Chelsea’s bid for revenge for the battle of Loftus Road should provide them with a narrow victory that would extend Rangers’ run without a League win at Stamford Bridge to nearly thirty years. The most notable aspect of the game for neutrals could be trying to work out the lyrics to the new John Terry songs which may spring up as a result of his suspension for the Champions League final. Should be a fun afternoon all round!
9) Tottenham v Blackburn: Just one win in nine League games for Tottenham, who became the latest high-profile side to crumble under the venomous conditions at Loftus Road last weekend. This match represents the second of three consecutive matches against sides battling against relegation, and judging by last week’s performance, Spurs are in real danger of suffering another defeat. They have won their last five meetings with Blackburn, but they really are a side with little confidence and very few fit defenders, so this may represent a good opportunity for Blackburn to help themselves to a desperately needed three points.
10) Man.City v Man.U.: Monday night’s fixture promises to be a tense encounter, and one which would return City to the top of the table if their manager decided to let his players loose and play their natural game against United. However, I’m not sure that will be the case, and Mancini’s lack of enterprise may well result in City reverting to the sort of form that has seen them score just once during United’s last five League visits across Manchester. These sides have shared 17 goals in three meetings this season, but I have a feeling that this will be a far less open and entertaining game than Sky would have us believe, and that United may well emerge with at least the point that they require to stay at the top.
This week’s four selections for your accumulators are Swansea, Southampton, Carlisle and Crawley. If all of them win their matches, a £10 four-timer with Victor Chandler would return £48.68. bet365 are actually offering slightly better odds, but if, like last week, just one selection lets you down, Victor Chandler kindly returns your stake up to a maximum of £50. As we are getting close to the end of the season, you could also try going out with a bang and adding Everton and Newcastle to the other four sides, in which case a successful £10 stake would return a whopping £219.05.