Go on, admit it, you thought our season was over last Sunday afternoon didn’t you? I know I certainly did! for an hour Spurs looked toothless, slack passing, a lack of energy and no punch up front all painted a pretty dismal picture. I found myself shouting at the TV for AVB to take a clearly unfit Bale off and get Defoe on……oh ye of little faith…2 inspired substitutions and 2 moments of magic from the Welsh wizard and in the space of 7 short minutes the world was right again and the top 4 finish was back on.
So, how do this leave the Lilywhites in their pursuit of the Champions League places? well, Chelsea’s slip-up against Liverpool on Sunday has certainly improved our chances but it will all come down to the run-in and who blinks first, so let’s take a look at each team’s fixtures:
Normally three away games would present a big obstacle but Tottenham’s form on the road this year has been decent whereas it’s been at the Lane where they’ve struggled to put teams away. Like any team facing down the barrel of relegation, Wigan this weekend will be no pushover, Spurs have struggled in the past at the DW stadium so they need to stamp their authority on the game early if they want to travel back to London with full points. Southampton look relatively safe and their opening attacking game should provide space for Bale and the (hopefully) returning Lennon to exploit. The big one is the game at the bridge, we all know how appalling our record is there thus we would certainly settle for a point. The Brittania is no longer the fortress it once was for Stoke and they are deep in the relegation mire themselves, again, another tough place to go and get a result. A recently revived Sunderland under the guidance of Di Canio look to be safe after their excellent victory at Everton last week and will hopefully be coming to the Lane in hope rather than expectation of getting a point.
Man Utd (H)
Arsenal have arguably the easiest run-in of the three teams chasing fourth place with United on paper being the only threat. However, if Spurs manage to beat Wigan tomorrow they will overtake their North London rivals and move into third. Although United have the league wrapped up Ferguson and co will still be trying to set a record points tally and there is the small matter of a returning Dutch international who left the Emirates under a bit of a cloud! QPR looked doomed and could already be relegated by the time Arsenal visit Loftus Road, I don’t see them putting up much of a fight. Wigan however will still be fighting for their lives and have a decent record against Arsenal, could they do us a favour? Newcastle should have enough points on the board by the last game of the season, although hot and cold, they can give anyone a game at St. James’ Park.
Man Utd (A)
Chelsea start their run-in at home to a Swansea side still nursing a Wembley hangover, it’s hard to see past the home side in that one. A trip to Old Trafford follows, their games with United are always interesting and I can’t imagine the Red Devils wanting to do them any favours. As mentioned previously, our game at the bridge will be a showdown if ever there was one, it could well be winner takes all. The blues travel next to a struggling Villa who no doubt will still be desparate for points and then it’s home to Everton whose own European dreams look to have ended with defeat at home to Sunderland last weekend.
So there you have it, it would take a brave man to pick the two sides left standing after those fixtures but on first glance, Chelsea look to have the toughest games ahead of them. The fixture list coupled with their ongoing involvement on two cup fronts might just be their undoing but again, our game on the 8th May could tell the tale. Arsenal could find themselves out of the top four by tea-time on Sunday and it remains to be seen if they have the stomach for a tough run-in.
After Sunday I won’t be questioning AVB’s decisions and live in hope that our chances of a return to the Champions League are more than a pipe dream.
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