Saturday February 21st
15.00 Crystal Palace v Arsenal
This encounter is far more exciting than it would have been a mere two months ago. Love him or loathe him, new Palace manager, Alan Pardew, has managed to inject some league-saving form into a previously spluttering team. Palace sit in 13th, level on points with Everton and five points above the drop zone. With so many teams struggling beneath them, it’s hard to avoid the thought that their safety in the top league is assured for this season.
But Pardew is unlikely to sit on his laurels and will doubtless continue to cajole stirringly effective performances from his charges. Arsenal, too, have been on a decent run of form lately; ‘decent’ is used advisedly, it would have read ‘impressive’ only for the loss they suffered in their last away match (against Spurs) and their arguably lucky escape against Leicester in their last home match. Just when they look like they’re about to go on a run, playing football that would be the envy of any other team in the league, they seem to catch their collective toe in the turf and fall over again.
Palace aren’t averse to scoring a few goals these days and it’s difficult to imagine that Arsenal won’t either. The Gunners are strong favourites but if you fancy playing the rogue, the price of 11/4 for the draw from Betfred sounds alright.
15.00 Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion
Sunderland manager, Gus Poyet, seems to be running out of road and at some speed, too. Only Villa can compete with Sunderland this season in terms of underwhelming, soul-sucking footballing displays. It’s quite possible that the sole reason the faithful Sunderland fans haven’t turned on him yet is due to their regular successes in beating Newcastle under his watch.
Having said that, he did attempt to apportion some of the blame for their loss to lowly Bradford in the FA Cup to the fans as they roared their team on in the second half. Apparently, as manager, he was powerless to stop the team in their attempt to salvage a result. Bloody fans… He is, as one wag put it during the week, a one-man Uruguayan excuse machine. And let’s not forget his generosity, The sword of Damocles is dangling and the man holding that weapon is West Brom manager, Tony Pulis.
Talk about putting teams to the sword, his West Brom side demolished an admittedly largely disinterested West Ham side 4-0 in the FA Cup last weekend. In fact, in addition to the famed defensive resolve which he brings to teams, he now has this West Brom side scoring goals to beat the band. They are the away team but it seems inconceivable that anything other than a West Brom win will occur. That is priced at 2/1 from Betvictor amongst others.
15.00 Swansea v Manchester United
Being honest, this could be an incredibly boring match. Two teams who have, of late, largely disappointed and depressed those unfortunate enough to care about them. Swansea, at one stage shining bright with young, gilet-wearing manager, Gary Monk, leading the way, have hit a pebble-dashed wall. Shorn of lead striker, Wilifried Bony, they can hardly even claim to have flattered to deceive.
They fluked a win against Southampton at the beginning of the month and that remains their sole league win of the calendar year. They have found the back of the net only four times in their last six matches and will surely miss having Bony around to harass whatever erstwhile defenders Utd plan to line up with tomorrow. The media seem to be whipping themselves up into a mini hissy fit about Van Gaal and his tactical chicanery. To call a hammer a hammer, the man doesn’t seem to have a clue what he’s doing.
Yes, Utd are in 4th and stand a good shout to finish in the top four, thus claiming a coveted Champions League place for next season but that is surely the least they should expect after spending so much on players over the summer. It could be that the man is suffering an early on-set of the Trappatoni’s, i.e. a once excellent, even great, manager no longer has the slightest idea what they’re doing and helplessly flaps about beneath the protection that their previous reputation affords them.
Obviously Utd are favourites but, as per the ‘rogue’ call above in the Palace v Arsenal match, those looking for any type of kick from what could well be a cadaver of a match, might fancy sticking two old shirt buttons on the draw with Boylesports lifting their skirt to show a price of 13/5.