By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
Time is running out for QPR. On Saturday, the Rs slipped to a defeat at Everton so predictable that even Mark Lawrenson got it right. A result that could have been the catalyst for the great escape went awry.
For the 17th time this season, they came away from a league game with nothing and even Harry Redknapp’s ability to ignore the obvious in favour of deluded optimism has run out. In his post-match press conference, Harry Houdini spoke with the resignation of an escapologist who knows this challenge is beyond him, providing one of the bluntest quotes of the season.
I hear that all the time that if they get relegated they want to go because they don’t want to play in the Championship. But if they f*****g played better, then they would not be in the Championship so that’s a load of cobblers
With five games to play, it leaves QPR ten points and a bit of goal difference away from safety. With Reading ten points and a bit more goal difference from safety, we haven’t seen a bottom two so doomed since Sergio Aguero launched himself at David Luiz’s ass cheeks. It looks like they can start planning on which overpaid under-performers to buy with the parachute payments already.
There’s one place up for grabs and several teams showing the incompetence it takes to secure it. There are some strong contenders, but who can up their incompetence level to make it their own?
Wigan – 6/4
Without wanting to rain on their FA Cup Final parade, Wigan are currently the 6/4 favourites. But with games in hand and a welcome streak of bizarre unpredictability, they’ve the right to be more deludedly optimistic than others.
Their run-in is tough with trips to Manchester City, West Ham, West Brom and Arsenal, tricky home games with Tottenham and Swansea followed by crucial final day showdown against Aston Villa. Aside from the trips to the Emirates and Etihad, a lot of the games are marginal calls. You could see them getting something from West Ham, Swansea, West Brom and Gareth Bale-less Spurs, but equally, they could end up with little.
April 17 – Manchester City (a)
April 20 – West Ham (a)
April 27 – Tottenham (h)
May 4 – West Brom (a)
May 7 – Swansea (h)
May 12 – Arsenal (a)
May 19 – Aston Villa (h)
Aston Villa – 11/4
Uninspiring as this season has been, Aston Villa have some things in their favour. They’re 11/4 for the drop – a price based on the three point cushion they currently enjoy over Wigan and the difficulty of the Latics’ games in hand rather than the brilliant football being played by Paul Lambert’s side at present.
They also count as the ‘in-form’ team of all the relegation scrappers, but that’s like saying you’re the smartest member of Jedward. Of the 15 points Villa could potentially get, you’d have to think six of them are very doubtful due to taking on Manchester United and Chelsea in two games, two of them are quite doubtful due to taking on a Sunderland enjoying the benefit of Paolo Di Canio’s frenetic healing hands and a ‘grudge match’ away to Norwich. That leaves the final day showdown away to Wigan. So 11/4 – big odds on something that looks like it could go either way.
April 22 – Manchester United (a)
April 29 – Sunderland (h)
May 4 – Norwich (a)
May 11 – Chelsea (h)
May 19 – Wigan (a)
Sunderland – 4/1
Sunderland aren’t out of trouble yet despite the histrionic prancing of their manager. The derby victory should give them enough confidence to pull clear of the drop zone. Three tricky but winnable home games (v Everton, Stoke and Southampton) should yield enough points to ensure the trip to White Hart Lane doesn’t mean a whole lot.
That depends on how the Di Canio reign continues. Based on the Tyne-Wear derby, it’s the beginnings of a revolution, but as he’s shown before, five games is more than enough time for him to say something mental, alienate half his squad or walk out in a hissy fit over something like the type of detergent used to wash the kits. The Black Cats should get to safety, but much like hoping to appoint a manager with a previously stated fondness for fascism and asking the media to conveniently ignore it, it doesn’t always work out that way.
April 20 – Everton (h)
April 29 – Aston Villa (a)
May 6 – Stoke (h)
May 12 – Southampton (h)
May 19 – Tottenham (a)
Stoke – 4/1
Tony Pulis has turned Stoke into as much of a Premier League staple as the ‘can a middle aged man ever pull off a baseball cap look?’ question I ask myself every time I see him on my television. But their position in the top flight is under greater threat than an opposition playmaker’s shins when he’s running at the Stoke midfield.
They’ve taken just five points out of a possible 39 in 2013 and at 4/1 there’s a temptation to go with the flow that seems to be sucking the league’s most out of form team down the plughole. They’ve got five games still to play and although they’d normally give Norwich and Tottenham a vigourous seeing to in front of the Britannia support, nowadays we’re not so sure. QPR and Sunderland away (not at the same time – that would be hugely unfair) are the crucial games and you couldn’t say with any certainty that they’ll get anything out of those games other than yellow cards and disapproving comments.
April 20 – QPR (a)
April 27 – Norwich (h)
May 6 – Sunderland (a)
May 12 – Tottenham (h)
May 19 – Southampton (a)
Norwich – 9/1
Norwich are a huge 9/1 to go down, which is kind of mental considering they’re only one point better off than Sunderland, Stoke and Villa. At the moment, they’re the main beneficiaries of the ‘lots of crap teams, only one remaining relegation place available’ scenario.
Their habit of putting in valiant performances in defeat may have you thinking they’re safe, but they’re rivaling Stoke purely in terms of woeful 2013 form. But they’re so much prettier. They’ve just one league win to their name since the turn of the year, but they’ve also managed to get a few draws which makes it feel a lot less like a panic situation. That’s deceptive because it kind of is a panic situation. What’s in their favour is a nice enough run-in. They probably won’t get anything off Manchester City on the final day of the season, but they’ve got four winnable games before that, featuring three of them at home.
April 20 – Reading (h)
April 27 – Stoke (a)
May 4 – Aston Villa (h)
May 12 – West Ham (h)
May 19 – Manchester City (a)