Last weekend, Manchester United edged closer to their 20th league title with a 2-0 victory away at Stoke, thanks to goals from Michael Carrick and a penalty from Robin Van Persie, the first time the Dutchman had found the net in 11 matches. However, on Wednesday they travelled to Upton Park, the ground on which they lost the championship on the final day of the 1994/5 season, when they were held to a draw by West Ham, gifting the Premiership trophy to Blackburn Rovers. Once again, United struggled in East London and were twice behind to strikes by Ricardo Vaz Te and Mohamed Diame. Nevertheless, United left with a point after equalisers from Antonio Valencia and Van Persie – though the latter’s goal should not have counted, as he was in an offside position when Shinji Kagawa struck a shot that hit both posts, before falling into the path of the Red Devils’ top scorer this season. That draw, combined with Manchester City’s narrow – and scarcely deserved – 1-0 win against Wigan in midweek, cut the gap at the top to a mere thirteen points – with Mancini’s men only have 18 left to play for. The title could be decided as early as Monday, should City lose away at Tottenham, then United beat Aston Villa at Old Trafford.
While the Premiership may have gotten away from them, Manchester City still have a great opportunity to claim a trophy for their third successive season, after a drought of 34 years before that, as they progressed to the FA Cup final with a 2-1 win over Chelsea last Sunday. In the Wembley showpiece, City will face Wigan Athletic, who reached the final of the competition for the first time thanks to a 2-0 victory over Championship side Millwall. Roberto Martinez’s side are also now guaranteed a place in the Europa League next season (because the Sky Blues will be in the Champions League even if they prevail in the FA Cup) alongside Swansea – who qualified by winning the League Cup – and the team that finishes fifth, one out of Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton or – most likely – Spurs.
In the battle to avoid the drop, Wigan remain in the bottom three following that loss at the Etihad on Wednesday, three points behind the trio of Aston Villa, who were held to a draw by Fulham at home; Stoke, following their loss against United; and Sunderland, who enjoyed an impressive North-East derby victory away at Newcastle last Sunday, winning 3-0 in Paolo DiCanio’s second match in charge. Southampton and West Ham should both be safe as their shared the points at St. Mary’s last Saturday, but Queens Park Rangers and Reading moved ever closer to the Championship, after a 2-0 defeat against Everton and a 0-0 home draw with Reading respectively. Norwich remain potential candidates for relegation after their 3-1 loss away at Arsenal, with all of the Gunners goals coming in the final five minutes to turn the match around, though their first was a very generous penalty given when Olivier Giroud was holding onto Kei Kamara’s shirt as much as the Sierra Leonean was grabbing the Frenchman’s.
Those three points moved Arsene Wenger’s team up into third place in the Premiership, though they dropped down to fourth in midweek as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Everton at the Emirates, while Chelsea racked up a 3-0 success away at their local rivals, Fulham. Spurs have not had a league fixture in the last two weeks, but they could find themselves five points behind Arsenal in the race for Champions League qualification – albeit with two games in hand – before they take the field against the champions on Sunday, should the Gunners also prevail at Craven Cottage the day before. The other matches this weekend see Norwich host Reading; QPR take on Stoke at Loftus Road; Everton travel to Sunderland; Swansea entertain Southampton; Newcastle have an away game with West Brom; West Ham play Wigan; and Liverpool and Chelsea meet at Anfield.
With the end of the season approaching – and the first newcomer to the Premiership for next season decided – it seems a good time to check in on the other three division in English Football and all of the races to gain promotion, avoid relegation, or make the playoffs.
Promotion: Cardiff ensured that there will be two Welsh representatives in the Premiership next season – as well as more security issues for clubs to deal with for every single one of their away matches – as they drew 0-0 with Charlton to secure a place in the top two. Hull look likely to return to the top flight for 2013/14, as they currently hold a 7 point lead over Watford in third, with the Hornets having just three fixtures remaining.
Playoffs: Alongside Watford – who are almost guaranteed a playoff place – the remaining three spots are almost certainly going to be between Brighton, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bolton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest, with the last two currently a single point outside of the top six.
Relegation: Bristol City will be in League One next season as their demotion is already confirmed. One one point covers the next four sides above them – Barnsley, Huddersfield, Wolves and Peterborough – while Blackburn, Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley all probably still need one more win to ensure they do not drop into th bottom three.
Promotion: With only two fixtures remaining, the two automatic spots are a fight between three clubs – Doncaster, Bournemouth and Brentford – while Sheffield United, who have a game in hand, could also still take one of those places. Doncaster currently are the leaders, three points above third placed Brentford, who are one behind Bournemouth. The south-coast club have had one of the strangest sequences of results in the league – since January 22nd, they won five in a row, lost five in succession, and are now on a run of 7 consecutive victories.
Playoffs: Alongside Sheffield United (probably) and whichever of the other three sides that do not gain automatic promotion, the playoff teams are likely to be Yeovil Town and Swindon, the latter of which currently enjoy a four point gap over MK Dons, Walsall (just a small town in Poland) and Leyton Orient.
Relegation: The four clubs to go down has been all but decided as – although enemies of firewalls everywhere, Scunthorpe could still survive – they are favourites to join Bury, Hartlepool and (QPR fans beware of what Harry Redknapp can do) Portsmouth in the lowest ladder of the English league system in August.
Promotion: Gillingham have already secured their return to League One and they will be joined by two out of Port Vale, Rotherham, Burton Albion and Cheltenham (who have the distinction of being the only side whose stadium I have been to in the whole of League Two – though I did go to the Manor, Oxford United’s old home ground).
Playoffs: The two teams out of the list above who do not gain an automatic promotion spot will at least have a second chance through the playoffs – the other two clubs to make it will be Northampton (almost definitely); Bradford/Exeter (most likely to take the other spot); or Chesterfield/Southend/Fleetwood Town (not mathematically eliminated, but close).
Relegation: This might turn out to be the most exciting race in all of English football as – while Aldershot look all but doomed to drop to non-league status – the other team to join them could be any one of (in order of likelihood): Barnet; AFC Wimbledon (No! Go Grassroots FC!); York; Torquay; Accrington Stanley (who are they?); Dagenham and Redbridge; or Plymouth Argyle.
Last week, 6-5; Season, 148-167
Fulham vs Arsenal – Draw
Norwich vs Reading – Home win
QPR vs Stoke – Home win
Sunderland vs Everton – Away win
Swansea vs Southampton – Draw
West Brom vs Newcastle – Home win
Tottenham vs Manchester City – Home win
Liverpool vs Chelsea – Draw
Manchester United vs Aston Villa – Home win