That Was The Easter Weekend That Was
The Easter Weekend traditionally has a cleansing feel about it in as far as the football calendar is concerned but, much as the weather has continued to give off the feel of this new month being an extended hangover from the winter, so it is that Easter has come and gone with very little having been resolved at the top or bottom of our league tables. In previous years, we might have been more diverted by the delayed FA Cup quarter-final between Chelsea and Manchester United. After all, here was a match with plenty of curious subplots, not least of which was Manchester United’s failure to win this trophy since 2005 and a desire to do so this year which seems to have been heightened by the club’s elimination from the Champions League by Real Madrid.
It turned out, however, that 2013 is not going to be Manchester United’s double year after all. Monday lunchtime’s match didn’t produce the sort of fireworks that previous encounters between these two clubs have, but it did produce an exceptional winning goal from Demba Ba and an outstanding goalkeeping performance from Chelsea’s Petr Cech, which allowed Chelsea to hang on for another trip to Wembley, this time to play Manchester City for a place at, umm, Wembley in the final. Considering that Manchester United maintain their monstrous lead at the top of the Premier League, meanwhile, there are unlikely to be too many tears shed in their direction. Still, though, the feeling grows that this season may be something of an anticlimax at Old Trafford, though if that’s the price that Alex Ferguson has to pay for his club becoming the champions of England for the twentieth time at a canter, though, there are unlikely to be too many complaints from the red half of Manchester, at least.
Meanwhile, all else is chaos. The race for third and fourth place in the Premier League took an unusual twist on Saturday when Chelsea lost at Southampton, while Spurs picked up a handy, if nervier than it needed to be, win at Swansea City, whilst Arsenal continued their emergence from hibernation by swatting Reading aside. Defeat for Reading was no great surprise, but their loss did serve as a reminder that two of the relegation places at the bottom of the table are probably filled, with other incumbents of that unwanted honour, Queens Park Rangers, also losing, by three goals to two at Fulham last night. Above those two any one from six could still join them, although things continue to look decidedly grim for Aston Villa, who were beaten at home by Liverpool and find themselves back below the dotted line after the hardiest looking team at the foot of the table, Wigan Athletic, won again. Having said that, however, the clubs above the bottom two seem to be coagulating together into one desperate mess. There’s plenty of time for others to get dragged into this unholy mess yet.
If the bottom half of the Premier League has a disjointed air to it, then words almost fail on much of the Football League at the moment. A very good example of the chaotic atmosphere at the top of the division could be seen at The City Ground on Saturday, where Nottingham Forest and Brighton & Hove Albion traded late goals until the two sides ended up level at two goals apiece. Both stay in the play-off positions, but Cardiff City stay seven points clear at the top of the table after winning yesterday whilst Hull City now have a tiny chink of daylight in second place with a four point gap having opened up between themselves and Watford. At the bottom of the table, meanwhile, Bristol City finally seem to be slipping from view, but the pack seeking to avoid the drop in that division is even more distended than in the Premier League, with just five points separating Huddersfield Town, who dropped into the relegation places at the the weekend, from Birmingham City, who are in eleventh place in the table. It is impossible to say who might be joining Bristol City – for whom relegation is far from rubber stamped just yet – in League One next season.
The bottom two divisions have little more order to them. Doncaster Rovers and Bournemouth still lead the way in League One, but third placed Brentford have games in hand and could yet catch either of them up. The possible escape of the season, however, is at the other end of the division. It says something for Portsmouth’s recent form that they will have considered conceding a late equaliser at Preston North End on Friday night to be something of a disappointment, but they beat Tranmere Rovers at Fratton Park yesterday to cut their gap from safety to just three points. With just four league matches of their season left to play, however, they may have their revival just a little too late. For the club’s long suffering supporters to be witnessing a winning Portsmouth team has an air of novelty about it, though, and they have far bigger battles ahead at the High Court than they could ever face on the pitch at the moment.
A similar log jam still exists at the bottom of League Two, as well. At the top of the table, Gillingham are more or less home and dry, with an eleven point gap between themselves and the play-off places, but the four clubs just below them – Port Vale, Northampton Town, Cheltenham Town and Burton Albion – are separated by just four points. At the bottom of the table, things are starting to tighten up again. York City beat Plymouth Argyle to lift themselves off the bottom of the table, and there are eight clubs within three points of the bottom two places in the division with four or five – depending on which club it is that we’re talking about – matches left of the entire season. So evenly spread is the points distribution at the foot of the table that it is entirely possible that one, or perhaps even two, clubs could be relegated from the Football League having accumulated more than fifty points over the course of the season. There aren’t many matches left to play, but at both the top and bottom of all three divisions of the Football League there is still a long way to go, and we’ll be unlikely to find out exactly who will be in which division next season until the very end of this season.
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