This Week In: English Football – Reading and QPR Relegated, Watford and Hull Aim To Take Their Place

Reading and QPR will face each other again next season at a lower lever
Reading and QPR will face each other again next season at a lower lever

The goalless draw between Reading and Queens Park Rangers last Sunday was a result that confirmed both teams would be demoted back down to the Championship for next season, a fitting way for the two sides to bow out, as they have been by far the worst in the Premiership this year.  When Harry Redknapp took over as QPR’s manager in November, he was quick to point out how hopeless their chances of survival were, as they had taken just four points from their opening twelve fixtures.  Nevertheless, during his time in charge, Redknapp has achieved victories in just 19% of league matches, the lowest percentage of any QPR manager in the Premiership, despite having paid more than £20m for Loic Remy and Christopher Samba in the January transfer window, as well as bringing in other players such as Jermaine Jenas and Andros Townsend.  Reading also made a change in the dugout during the season, replacing Brian McDermott with Nigel Adkins – who had done a good job with Southampton in the first half of the campaign and was unlucky to be looking for work – but their relegation always seemed inevitable and was only delayed because of some late goalscoring heroics in several matches by Adam LeFondre.  The 0-0 bore draw between the teams was more than enough evidence that neither QPR or Reading will be missed when the Premiership returns in August.

As two of the three teams to be demoted to the Championship have been determined, alongside Manchester United’s early clinching of the title, only two races are left – the battles for fourth: from top, to qualify for the Champions League; and from bottom, to avoid being the third team relegated.  At the moment, that slot is occupied by Wigan, who were denied a much-needed win over top four chasing Tottenham last weekend, by a late Emmerson Boyce own goal, which resulted in a 2-2 scoreline.  Roberto Martinez’s men are now five points away from safety, as Aston Villa racked up a 6-1 home victory against Sunderland on Monday night, with Christian Benteke netting a second half hat-trick, moving them level with the Black Cats on 37 points.  Newcastle United now find themselves just above the drop zone on the same number of points as Villa and Sunderland, as they were beaten 6-0 at home by a Liverpool team who were without their top goalscorer, Luis Suarez, who was serving the first of his 10 game ban for biting Bratislav Ivanovic.  Stoke eased their relegation fears with a 1-0 home victory over Norwich, a defeat that leaves Chris Hughton’s side looking nervously over their shoulders as they sit six points above Wigan, but having played a game more.  At the other end of the table, both Arsenal and Chelsea remain on course to qualify for the Champions League once again: the Gunners earned a valuable point with a 1-1 draw with title winners, Manchester United, though they did have to watch their former star, Robin Van Persie, convert a penalty on his return to the Emirates; and the Blues beat Swansea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, including a goal from the penalty spot by Frank Lampard which took his total for the club to 201, one behind the all time record holder, Bobby Tambling.

The other Premiership matches last weekend saw Everton, who still have an outside chance of qualifying for the Europa League at the expense of Tottenham, win 1-0 at home against Fulham; West Brom beat Southampton 3-0 at St. Mary’s; and Manchester City earned a victory in their first match since losing their crown of champions, as they defeated West Ham 2-1.  This weekend, the headline games were supposed to be on Sunday, but there is very little riding on the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton; and, although Chelsea need three points in their chase for a top four finish, their fixture with Manchester United is less compelling now that the Red Devils have already secured the title.  At the bottom, if either Norwich or Aston Villa can emerge victorious from their encounter in Norfolk, they will be justified in feeling safe from relegation; Wigan need to beat West Brom away to keep their own hopes of survival alive; Newcastle travel to West Ham; and Sunderland, who have failed to win any of their last 17 Premiership matches played on a Monday, face Stoke on that day of the week.  The demoted duo of Reading and QPR play Fulham and Arsenal respectively, while Gareth Bale will face his former club as Tottenham take on Southampton.  In midweek fixtures, Spurs have a make-or-break away encounter with Chelsea; Wigan play their game-in-hand against Swansea; and outgoing champions, Manchester City, take on West Brom.

For the early kick off time of 12:45pm BST on Saturday, the Premiership will take a back seat as all 24 Championship clubs will play their final fixture of the season (except for the four who make it into the playoffs).  With Cardiff’s promotion to the top flight confirmed a few weeks ago, this weekend sees the last remaining automatic spot is a battle between Watford and Hull, with the latter having a point advantage and they face the Welsh team at home, with the Bluebirds having failed to with either of their two matches since their ascension to the top flight was secured.  However, the Hornets are the form side and have made up 5 points on Hull in the past two weeks and beat Leicester last Friday, with their second goal being a cracker from Nathaniel Chalobah, who is currently on loan from Chelsea.  If Watford can get a better result in their game with Leeds than the Tigers do against Cardiff, then the Vicarage Road faithful will be able to celebrate a return to the Premiership for the first time since 2006/7, otherwise they will be in the playoffs alongside Brighton and two out of Crystal Palace (who need just a point to secure their place), Bolton Wanderers, Nottingham Forest and Leicester City.  At the bottom, Bristol City are already relegated and Wolves are almost certain to join them – which would be two successive demotions as they fell from the Premiership last year – but the last remaining spot could be taken by any of Barnsley, Peterborough, Sheffield Wednesday, Millwall and Huddersfield (barring a massive swing in goal differential, Blackburn Rovers are safe).

Predictions

Last week, 5-5; Season, 158-176

Saturday

Fulham vs Reading – Home win

Norwich vs Aston Villa – Draw

Swansea vs Manchester City – Away win

Tottenham vs Southampton – Home win

West Brom vs Wigan – Away win

West Ham vs Newcastle – Home win

QPR vs Arsenal – Away win

Sunday

Liverpool vs Everton – Home win

Manchester United vs Chelsea – Draw

Monday

Sunderland vs Stoke – Draw

Tuesday

Manchester City vs West Brom – Home win

Wigan vs Swansea – Draw

Wednesday 

Chelsea vs Tottenham – Home win

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