We’re not that far short of Easter, but the Sussex coast didn’t feel very much as if it was heading towards the summer this weekend. Even driving rain, however, couldn’t dampen the spirits of the supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion yesterday after their team beat bitter rivals Crystal Palace at home for the first time since Boxing Day 1988. This wasn’t just a result which pressed all the right buttons in terms of local rivalry for Brighton, either. Defeat at Barnsley in the Championship last week had thrown their chances of scraping a way into the play-offs into some considerable doubt, but on a Sunday lunchtime in the rain Crystal Palace were swept aside by one of Brighton’s finest home performances in recent years, all of which was played out in front of a record crowd for The American Express Community Stadium of almost 28,500 people. Brighton & Hove Albion remain, however, just outside the play-off places in the Championship, in seventh position in the league table, a point behind fifth-placed Leicester City and only separated from sixth-placed Nottingham Forest – who are undoubtedly the form team out of the top six or seven cor so clubs in this division – on goal difference.
As frequently seems to happen at this time of year, however, nerves are starting to kick in at the top of the Football League Championship. Cardiff City won two-nil at Sheffield Wednesday, but four of the five clubs immediately below them in the the table all lost. Hull City were beaten at home by Nottingham Forest, while Leicester City lost at Derby County and Watford were beaten at a now officially “resurgent” Barnsley. Cardiff are now seven points clear of the chasing pack with a game in hand. It now seems almost certain that the Redbirds will be playing Premier League football. The rest of this league table, however, has a faintly chaotic look about it, with only ten points separating Leeds United in tenth place in the table from Wolverhampton Wanderers in twenty-third place. In the big match at the bottom of the table, Wolves beat by Bristol City with two goals in three second half minutes, but theoretical anybody in the bottom half of this table could yet find themselves being dragged into the battle to avoid the drop into League One.
A week of European football meant that the Premier League’s weekend was divided up over two days. It was not a good weekend for Manchester City, who started the weekend off with a two-defeat at Everton which knocked the final nails into the coffin in which their championship ambitions lay. Manchester United beat Reading by a goal to nil in the Saturday evening match,a result which extended their lead at the top of the table to fifteen points, with nine matches left to play. The result of the weekend in the Premier League, however, was chalked up by Fulham, who also won by a goal to nil on Sunday afternoon at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hostpur. Spurs stay four points ahead of Arsenal in that race for fourth place in the table, but Arsenal have a game in hand and, whilst Everton’s win on Saturday lunchtime leaves them in with an outside chance of snatching fourth place themselves. One team that can probably be ruled out of a return to the Champions League, however, is Liverpool, who were comfortably beaten by Southampton on Saturday afternoon. They are now nine points off fourth place with eight games to go, which is likely no to be too big a gap to be able to make up.
At the bottom of the Premier League table, however, things are starting to look a little more clear. Queens Park Rangers’ recent revival came to an end at the most inconvenient of times, with a defeat at the hands of fellow relegation candidates Aston Villa. They led twice at Villa Park before eventually losing by three goals to two, but the result was given an added layer of significance on Sunday afternoon when Wigan Athletic beat Newcastle United. Wigan remain three points behind Aston Villa, but with a game in and a superior goal difference. Reading and Queens Park Rangers, meanwhile, are now both seven points from fourth from bottom place in the table, and with only eight matches left to play it is starting to look like it will require something amazing to keep either of these two clubs in the Premier League for the start of next season. Just above the bottom four meanwhile, none of Southampton, Sunderland, West Ham United or Newcastle United can consider themselves to be completely safe just yet.
Finally for this week, the biggest celebration of the weekend came north of the border, where St Mirren were the winners of the 2013 Scottish League Cup after a three-two win against Hearts at Hampden Park in front of a crowd of over 44,000 people. If we set aside the 2005 Scottish Challenge Cup as not falling within our definition of what constitutes one, this was the Buddies’ first major trophy since winning the Scottish Cup twenty-six years ago. Esmaël Goncalves, Steven Thompson and Conor Newton scored the three goals that won the match for St Mirren, who are in second from bottom place in the Scottish Premier League at the time of writing but did also beat Celtic by three goals to two in the semi-finals of this year’s competition. Not an insubstantial achievement for the Paisley club.
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