Aston Villa’s victory over Tottenham saw them move on to 32 points for the season, leaving the dimensions of the 2014/15 Premier League relegation battle more clearly defined that at any previous point in the season.
Three points adrift of Tim Sherwood’ men and with just four more separating Leicester in 20th with Sunderland in 16th, the bottom quintet, which also include Hull, Queens Park Rangers and Burnley look certain to decide matters between them.
With six remaining games of potential sustenance available to all of them bar the game-in-hand-boasting Foxes and the one-in-arrears R’s, predicting which trio will ultimately meet their top-flight makers looks a fool’s errand akin to staring at the sun or attempting to draw a perfect circle.
Enter the news.bwin.com writers, with their idea of the pick of the bets in bwin’s Premier League relegation combination tricast market.
James Middleton – QPR/Burnley/Leicester to be relegated @ 5/2
Despite only two points dividing 18th-place QPR from 17th-dwelling Hull, the same trio currently harboured in the relegation zone will still be banished to second-tier waters following the conclusion of game 38.
The Tigers and Sunderland both have desperately unfortunate run ins, but each have get-of-jail-free home games against Burnley and Leicester, respectively.
Nigel Pearson’s men have shown some form at the right time, but their season has been punctuated by lengthy losing streaks broken up with short patches of success.
Burnley play at home just twice more this term, while the sum total of QPR’s resurgence equals four points from a possible 24.
Given the calibre of the chasing pack, a win and a draw for Sunderland and Hull could easily ensure survival, especially if they don’t lose those games against those below them.
Thomas Reynolds – Hull/QPR/Sunderland to be relegated @ 6/1
Having tipped up the Tigers at 3/1 for the drop more than a month ago due to the sadistic nature of their run-in fixture list, there’s little reason to spare them now, with main goal threat Nikica Jelavic’s injury return still more than a month away.
Sunderland’s remaining games are just as bad, with visits to four of the division’s most formidable homesteads; Stoke, Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea among their six remaining chances of points.
As such all three of last season’s promoted clubs have a chance to avoid the plughole.
A game in hand (two on QPR) and a handsome helping of home games gives a never-more-confident Leicester every opportunity of doing so, while Burnley’s excellent organisation suggests they can claim points against moderate remaining rivals, despite a criminal lack of creativity in midfield.
That leaves the Super Hoops, who, having played 33 games already, have less rope than their adversaries and trips to Man City, Liverpool and the Foxes still to come.
Iain Houten – Hull/Leicester/Sunderland @ 16/1
Both the Tigers and the Black Cats have spiralled into a feline relegation maelstrom from which there seems no escape; taking just six points from their past 12 Premier League games combined, two of them off each other.
Steve Bruce’s side have Crystal Palace, Liverpool, Arsenal, Burnley, Tottenham and Manchester United to come, while the Wearsiders’ run isn’t much better, with Stoke, Southampton, Everton, Chelsea, the Gunners and the Red Devils on the horizon.
It’s conceivable that Hull and Sunderland won’t even do as well in their last six games as they managed in their previous six. The second-tier writing is on the wall for both.
Leicester are suddenly fancied for the great escape after two triumphs on the bounce, but Nigel Pearson’s men managed four victories in six all-competition fixtures between December and January, then picked up just two points in their subsequent seven Premier League games.
The likes of Swansea, Chelsea and Southampton are to come at home, and the Foxes are still three points off safety. Crucially, they must still travel to Burnley and host QPR on the last day of the season.
With the Hoops and the Clarets showing admirable consistency of late, in their performances if not results, Leicester are the odd team out.
Matt Christian – Leicester/QPR/Sunderland @ 7/1
This selection is built on the belief that Sunderland are doomed. They’ve taken five points in their last eight games, scoring three despite facing only one top-seven side. Their sole win during that spell came against the one team out-underperforming them at present, Newcastle.
Four of their final six fixtures are away, and three of their opponents are in the top five. That might have worked in their favour last season, but there is no reason to believe that it will happen again.
QPR have played too well too often recently without winning to escape unpunished and Leicester have been fed false hope after being gifted two of the Premier League’s most out-of-form sides in successive weeks (West Ham and West Brom).
Burnley are just two points from safety, have a match more than QPR with which to make up the distance and, most enticingly of all, they don’t have a single top-eight club left to play.
Craig Kemp – Burnley/Hull/Sunderland @ 16/1
Momentum can mean a lot in football and back-to-back victories for Leicester puts confidence at a seasonal high. Five of their last seven matches are at home too and this gives them every chance of arguably the greatest escape ever.
Two points from six games and a run in that includes Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and trips to Crystal Palace and Tottenham is far from enticing for Hull. They look in trouble.
Sunderland have to travel to Chelsea Arsenal, Stoke and Everton, which doesn’t promise many points. A home game with Leicester is pivotal, but they have shown already difficulties coping with pacey attacks. The Black Cats have already used plenty of lives.
This leaves QPR and Burnley. Burnley’s fixtures are slightly easier, but four of these are away and they are seriously struggling for creativity and goals. QPR have no such problems, but trips to Man City and Liverpool are off-putting.
It’s almost a coin flip and so I’ll take the value punt on Burnley’s relegation, as QPR, Hull and Sunderland going down is a much shorter 6/1.