I Can See Clearly Now
Football can be so infuriating at times, can’t it? On Saturday, I noted that Arsenal’s imploding season has given Bolton Wanderers a unique opportunity to steal the last Champions League place. This afternoon, they dropped another two points, with a desperate 0-0 draw at Newcastle, but Bolton failed to take advantage – they were held 1-1 at home by Everton. I can’t help but think that Arsenal are going to hold on and snatch fourth place with a massive slab of luck for the second season in a row. Still, I wouldn’t put it past this current Arsenal team to drop further points this season, so there is still hope.
At the bottom of the Premiership, the annual undignified rush for TV money has begun. Manchester City are probably safe after winning 3-1 at Fulham, who are continuing to slide towards the foot of the table. Watford are still in with a mathematical shout after beating Portsmouth 4-2 at Vicarage Road, although, with the others starting to pick up points, it seems like little more than a postponement of the inevitable. Portsmouth appear, with that result, to have blown what little chance they had of making the UEFA Cup next season, though I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that they’ll be interested in the Intertoto Cup should the opportunity arise. Portsmouth supporters should probably wait until the end of the season before booking their summer holidays. If West Ham can pick up another couple of wins, we’ll still be looking at two from Sheffield United, Wigan, Charlton and Fulham to drop with Watford. At the exact time of writing, Charlton are holding Reading at The Valley with twenty-five minutes still to play, which confuses the issue still further. I suspect that this will run to the last day of the season.
In The Championship, things are finally, finally starting to take shape, though more surprise results meant that it’s still anyone’s game. Sunderland finally went to the top of the table with a 2-1 win at Southampton (I can’t see them losing top place for the remainder of the season), and Derby County were held 1-1 at home by Coventry City. The Derby result should have given Birmingham City an ideal chance to close the gap at the top, but Birmingham slipped up, losing 1-0 at Barnsley. Just below these three, the chasing pack have all been dropping points, which has left the race for play-off places wide open. West Bromwich Albion won at Norwich this afternoon, and Wolves, who had slipped out of the top six on Saturday, leapfrogged back into fifth place with a 3-1 win against Hull City. Even with only four matches left to play, anyone down to Sheffield Wednesday in eleventh place could theoretically sneak into the last play-off place if they win all of their remaining matches but, of these teams, Stoke City are in decent form and could surprise the top six by coming up on the rails. At the bottom, Leeds are back in the bottom three after Barnsley’s win and their own defeat at Colchester United. Luton aren’t actually relegated yet, but it is surely now just a matter of time after they went down 3-2 at QPR. It does rather make you wonder why the teams at the bottom don’t play like this all season – Southend won at promotion-chasing Preston, meaning that it’s still two from five to go down, with Leicester having been unexpectedly been drawn into the battle at the bottom with another defeat, this time at Plymouth. I suspect that this one will run and run, too.
All the talk of Scunthorpe United’s imminent promotion seems to have finally got to the players. They slipped up at mid-table Northampton Town this afternoon, but were done a huge favour by their nearest rivals, neither of whom could pick up a win. Bristol City lost at Gillingham, allowing Nottingham Forest a chance to close the gap between second and third place, but they were held at home by the almost relegated Rotherham United. At the bottom of the table, Brentford became the first club to be mathematically relegated with a 3-1 defeat at Crewe, and with Rotherham almost certain to follow them, there are two places still to fill. Bradford City are likely to join them after failing to beat Oldham at Valley Parade this afternoon, and then it’s one of Leyton Orient, Chesterfield, Cheltenham Town or Bournemouth to join them. Still too close to call.
Wales is in serious danger of losing one-third of its Football League clubs, after this afternoon’s results. There are now three points between second-bottom Wrexham and the rest after Boston thrashed Macclesfield this afternoon, whilst Wrexham themselves lost ground after losing at home again, this time against Notts County. One more defeat will end League football in Torquay after exactly eighty years. At the top, Hartlepool United and Walsall need a point and a win respectively from their remaining four matches to guarantee promotion whilst Swindon Town are still likely to join them in first place. They beat Torquay, whilst Franchise lost again. It may require some sort of ouija board to prevent Franchise from going up through the play-offs, but I’m sure that, if they do get to the play-offs, their opponents will, for a couple of matches at least, be somewhat more popular than they usually are.