Late winners scored in vital matches, Sir Alex Ferguson saluting fans with triumphant clenched fists, bookmakers paying out on the title early – it must be the time of year that Manchester United are closing in on the Premier League crown.
We’ve seen it all before, of course, so there was little surprise when after 80 minutes of a contest at Ewood Park in which Blackburn Rovers gave as good as they got, United were able to muster a win that took them five points clear of rivals Manchester City with just seven games of the season left.
The gap is by no means insurmountable, especially with the two clubs due to meet at the end of April (although the annoying, bald United-supporting idiot from Manchester who runs that bookies obviously thinks so) but United hold all the aces and with their much talked about experience a key factor from now on, it takes a brave man to suggest the title won’t be ending up at Old Trafford.
It has been noted many times it is not a vintage United crop – their European performances certainly prove that – but as long as Ferguson is there, the will to win can always overpower superior squads (Arsenal in 2003 being the most obvious case in point) and since back-to-back defeats at the turn of the year the Red Devils have won ten of their 11 league fixtures with determination as much as skill and finesse.
Of United’s ten victories since the turn of the year, only twice have they won by more than two clear goals (and it doesn’t count against Wolves, even Liverpool did that) and only two of those games have featured more than three goals.
Nevertheless, Easter Sunday is a pivotal day in the title race, with United having the chance to go eight points clear before Manchester City entertain Arsenal.
Relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers travel to Old Trafford with City hoping their old boss Mark Hughes can do them a favour and take some crucial points off United – points that Rangers themselves are in desperate need of.
I do think United will drop a few points between now and the season’s end, but it won’t be on Sunday. The odds suggest as much – a home win is priced at 4/25, with the draw at 13/2 and QPR rank outsiders at 25/2.
With the exception of doomed Wolves, the teams at the bottom have been picking up points with regularity over the last few weeks so it’s a good job for Hughes that QPR have managed to win two out the last three to climb out of the bottom three on goal difference.
The wins, at home to Liverpool and Arsenal, have been heralded by Hughes (although everyone beats Liverpool these days) and fine victories though they were, Rangers will have to start picking up points away from Loftus Road if they are to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.
It is something Hughes has not yet managed to address. The Hoops have taken just one point from five away assignments since the Welshman’s appointment, conceding 11 goals in losing at Newcastle, Blackburn, Bolton and Sunderland.
With form like that, you can’t give them a hope at Old Trafford, where United have won the last five, conceding just once.
Instead of 4/25, the value could be found in the 23/20 that United win a match that produces under 3.5 goals. It is perhaps surprising that, since United are on such a good run, many of their games have been closer than you might have expected, although that also backs up the theory that this is not a swashbuckling United side.
Of their ten victories since the turn of the year, only twice have they won by more than two clear goals (and it doesn’t count against Wolves, even Liverpool did that) and only two of those games have featured more than three goals.
In their last ten home games, United have scored two or less on seven occasions, and with QPR desperate to keep the score respectable as goal difference could play a part in the relegation issue, the 23/20 could be the way to play.
Recommended bet: Man Utd to win a game of under 3.5 goals @ 23/20
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