I was keeping an eye on the score in the Bournemouth v Leicester game the other evening on my phone. I saw that Leicester had taken a 1-0 lead and then I started to view the game on TV early in the second half to hear the commentator confirming that Leicester were cruising and that Bournemouth were devoid of ideas. Shortly after I began to watch Leicester had a goal kick. And from that moment when Schmeichel fluffed the kick I witnessed one of the greatest implosions from a football team that I have seen for a very long time. And to think that the side from the lockdown city were supposedly trying to cement a place in the Champions League next season! Their performance in that final half an hour or so was woeful. The Bournemouth victory gave them confidence for their visit to the Etihad on Wednesday, where although they were outplayed, they could easily have gained another point in their desperate fight for survival. With two games to go they will probably need to win both of them to stand any chance of staying up. But they do still have an outside chance, and their odds to be relegated eased from 1/16 to 1/12.
Earlier that day I wasn’t at all surprised that Villa picked up their first three point haul for some time by disposing of a Crystal Palace team that already seem to be on the beach. By losing the game, Palace joined Norwich as the only side to fail to pick up a single point in the last five games. I wish that we had them to play in one of our final fixtures. Villa played away at Goodison Park on Thursday evening. What a boring game of football that was that highlighted both teams weaknesses in front of goal. 24 shots between them, and only one on target each. Fortunately Everton’s late equaliser denied Villa a victory.
Both West Ham and Watford will be thankful for their victories last Saturday, which meant that the four teams realistically involved in the relegation scramble (of course Brighton are not yet mathematically safe) collected 12 points between them in the round of matches scoring 12 goals and conceding just 2. While Antonio became the first West Ham player since David Cross many years ago to score four goals in an away fixture, Watford came from behind to beat Newcastle with two penalties.
That sets it up nicely for the relegation “six-pointer” this evening. It is hard really to assess our form and you can only beat what you are up against, but to be fair Norwich were awful. We played pretty well and could have had an even more emphatic victory with more care. It was good to see Mark Noble proving what I have always believed and written about in previous articles. He is still a very good player against the lesser sides. Whilst the pace of the top teams highlights his lack of speed, he can still play an important role when we are facing sides outside the top eight or so. If selected he will be making his 500th appearance for the club, which is really quite a milestone in the modern game. He has also scored three goals in his last two appearances against tonight’s visitors.
A win for either team tonight will mean that the winning team are virtually safe barring a remarkable turnaround in the goal difference situation, and a draw may not be a bad result for both teams. Sky TV would love to be able to show a last day showdown between ourselves and Villa, but hopefully that will not happen.
Apparently we have no fresh injury concerns after the Norwich game, and both Anderson and Snodgrass have returned to training giving even more strength to the bench, not that it is usual for our manager to utilise as many substitutes as he is allowed. I fully expect him to go ahead with the same starting eleven that began the Norwich game, and if he does it will probably be the first time this season where I have correctly predicted the team! But we shall see.
We are favourites to win the game with the bookmakers, but the draw at 2/1 is as low as odds usually go for a drawn match, with many expecting that to be the convenient outcome for both sides. The correct score market has a 1-1 draw as strong favourite at 9/2. Will 35 points be enough to ensure that both teams will be playing Premier League football next season? If the game does end level then Bournemouth and Villa will need to win both of their last two games to survive to overtake ourselves and Watford if neither of the teams playing tonight fail to pick another point. A win and a draw wouldn’t be good enough as it would only take them up to 35 points, which wouldn’t be enough without a significant win to boost their goal difference. The Hornets would be the most vulnerable with an inferior goal difference to ourselves.
After tonight there will be just two games left for each of the teams still involved. Villa have a home game against a seemingly improving Arsenal side before visiting the London Stadium on the final day. Bournemouth face Southampton at home in a South Coast derby before visiting Goodison Park on the final day. Watford have two tough fixtures at home to Manchester City and then away at Arsenal. We visit Old Trafford for our penultimate game before facing Villa to conclude the longest season in history.
A win tonight will almost certainly be enough to guarantee that we remain in the top flight for the next campaign, and a draw wouldn’t be the worst result either. However I don’t expect that either team would be entirely happy if the spoils are shared, and expect both to be going all out for the win.