Saturday 31st January
15.00 Crystal Palace v Everton
Wow, what a difference a change of coach can make. Since Palace decided to ditch the bridge troll, sorry, Neil Warnock, they have soared to the heady heights of 12th in the table. Prior to Pardew’s appointment as boss, Palace had won only 4 games out of 23 in all competitions this season.
They now have three wins on the bounce, including in their last match against Burnley where they rallied against a two goal deficit to take the win. Now, is this bounce merely a bubble or are we seeing genuine signs of an upsurge.
It is difficult to say with any real clarity. Yes, it was Pardew who instigated a winning run at his previous club, Newcastle, which saw him lift the Manager of the Month award in November. But it was also the same manager who subsequently oversaw a slip back down the table. Standard and Poor’s would have a difficult time pinning a rating on him. Still, when one considers how well Tony Pulis worked with them in the second half of last season, it seems there must be a good group of players there and, given the right direction, they might well pull another latter-half-of-the-season-rabbit-out-of-a-hat trick. Luckily for them, they face a floundering Everton team who are in serious trouble of pining for the good ol’ days of Davey Moyes.
Far from the warm and fuzzy joy of last season, Everton have to face the reality that this year they have fallen way off the pace with one miserable win to their name since the end of November. The previously Teflon-coated Martinez is starting to hear the murmurs of the mob and, if results don’t pick up, should expect to see flaming torches and pitch forks any week now. Let’s give Palace the win and let’s go with Betvictor and his 21/10 for that result.
15.00 Liverpool v West Ham
This is a huge match for both these teams given that only a single point separate’s them in the table. Much has been made of the strides West Ham have taken this season and the much-maligned boss, Big Sam Allardici (or something like that), must take some of the credit. Many were quite condescending when news broke that Andy Carroll was fit and ready to stake his place in the first team – Look at him, the big lug. Once back in the starting line-up, Big Sam will revert to hoof & hope approach, yada yada.
However, the rampant rogue has been banging them in; headers, smashed finishes, poaching and the sublime. Carroll and teammate Stewart Downing collectively cost Liverpool about €50 million a few years back and were roundly considered to be failures. And yet here they are, prospering in a team that currently sit above their previous pay-masters.
Big Sam has his players playing to their strengths and doing so consistently. Liverpool, on the other hand, after a disasterous first few months to their campaign, have finally found some form and consistency. With Sturridge still out of action and Balotelli being ignored, like a farter in a lift, Raheem Sterling has been re-modeled into something of a withdrawn striker which has once again allowed Liverpool to stretch defences with speed and purpose and use the space therein to create opportunities, something neatly illustrated in the second half against Chelsea midweek. They are still a good deal away from the team that exhilarated all (most) last season but they seem to be moving in the right direction.
Liverpool are strong favourites here but this column can’t discount West Ham so easily and thinks the draw a likely outcome, especially given that the Liverpool defence is due a brainfart with Andy Carroll a likely benefactor. 888.sport have the draw at 3/1.
15.00 Sunderland v Burnley
If this column was asked to recommend a match to a football novice, something that would illustrate the skills and beauty inherent in the game, rest assured that this would not be it. Sunderland are doing their best to rival Aston Villa in the mediocrity stakes, their faithful fans party to a single home win in the league this season. Six draws and four losses pad out the rest of that sorry statistic. True, they’re scoring the odd goal (unlike Villa) but rarely enough to collect much by way of points.
Will the signing of Jermaine Defoe from big-hitters Toronto FC bring the change in front of goal they’re looking for? One somewhat doubts it. They presently find themselves languishing in 16th, level on points with their visitors this week, Burnley. Sean Dyche’s men blew a two-goal lead over Crystal Palace last week. Was this as a result of burn-out on the part of a first eleven that is rarely changed or substituted or, as maybe Dyche would hope, a simple case of coming up against better team on the day?
One thing is for sure, recent loss aside, Burnley have been performing admirably in the league of late and a win against Sunderland would not constitute a huge surprise. Boylesports has 3/1 for the Burnley win.