While the battle for a top four finish in this year’s Premier League continues to change shape and leave neutral observers wondering exactly which team will finish where, the relegation scrap looks to be a lot clearer following results this weekend.
QPR’s expensively assembled team have failed to amount to the sum of their parts, while also displaying a lack of togetherness and passion for the club along the way. QPR have tried to move on too quickly and the speed at which managers and players have entered and left the club have have too much of a negative effect on the harmony and rhythm that every club needs to succeed. Losing one of their remaining home games to Everton on Saturday was a huge blow and leaves them with little opportunity to build the points needed to keep afloat.
Stoke City lost to Manchester United today in dismal fashion and now only have five games left this season to find more points than Aston Villa, Sunderland or Wigan. Stoke suffer badly from the lack of a deciding factor that each of their competitors possess.
Aston Villa have a team of tidy and skilled players, but they lack the guidance and determination that comes from having experienced players throughout the first team squad. However, they do have goals in the team, with Christian Benteke on 19 for the season. Goals tend to equal points along the way and Villa are finally looking like they can produce good performances and create chances.
Following Sunderland’s uplifting 3-0 win against Newcastle yesterday, it seems difficult to resist the thought that Paolo Di Canio will drag his team, kicking and screaming if need be, over the finish line and to safety.
Wigan fans will be wary of making the mistake of thinking that another late surge will happen automatically with Roberto Martinez in charge, but with two extra games in hand on Stoke, Wigan have extra cards in their hand to play.
The one element that Stoke used to have in their favour was the energy created by their fantastic home support and the unity and work ethic that the first team have built upon since they entered the Premier League in 2008. Stoke only have two more homes games however, with one of them against the League’s away day specialists, Tottenham. Even more worrying is that Stoke boss Tony Pulis has struggled to galvanise his troops this year and his position is undermined by unrest within the fanbase.
The momentum that Stoke’s relaegation competitors have is now flowing against them and without a magic ingredient that they can call upon to save them, they are looking the team most vulnerable to joining QPR and Reading in the bottom three places come May.