With the FA Cup keeping many of the big teams occupied this week, focus turned to the Premier League relegation battle and it did not disappoint with priceless wins for Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa making it a bad Saturday for Sunderland, Reading, Southampton and Wigan Athletic, and the relegation odds are tighter than they have been for weeks.
Let’s first deal with the weekend’s big six-point encounter down at the Madejski. Coming into the weekend, Reading knew that victory would have moved them above visitors Villa and out of the relegation zone. But having taken an early lead, Brian McDermott’s side crumbled to a 2-1 defeat which leaves them joint-bottom and, with upcoming trips to Manchester United and Arsenal, solidly favourites for the drop at 9/100, out from 1/5.
Their position was made all the more precarious by QPR’s first back-to-back Premier League wins since 1995, as Harry Redknapp returned to the formula he employed successfully in Portsmouth’s survival campaign by calling on Tottenham loan stars Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas to fire his new team to a 3-1 win over Sunderland.
The victory moved Rangers level with Reading and to within four points of safety as their odds for the drop increased for the third time this week, from 3/10 to 11/25.
One point better off are Wigan, who’s odds fell from 4/5 to 3/4 after they dropped into the relegation zone. However, the Latics unbelievable 3-0 cup success at Everton will surely leave the other sides around them fearing yet another end-of-season miracle from Roberto Martinez’s men, who next host seemingly-safe Newcastle and have a game-in-hand.
The team still most at risk are Lambert’s Villa, who must follow their ‘six-pointer’ win over Reading with another can’t lose game against QPR next weekend. But if the rejuvenated Gabby Agbonlahor and Charles N’Zogbia can continue to support hot-shot Christian Benteke then Villa look to have the fire power to continue increasing their relegation odds, which went from 19/20 from 11/10 after the win just their second win in 12 matches.
More worried should be out-of-form Sunderland, who have slipped back into the mire with their fourth defeat in five against Rangers and would offer real value at 13/2 to go down if they are unable to arrest that slide at home to Norwich.
Another side playing themselves into trouble are Southampton, who needed an Artur Boruc penalty save to avoid a third straight defeat and are now 11/4 with just a four-point cushion over the drop-zone ahead of the visit of Golden Boot-chasing Luis Suarez and Liverpool.