Saturday February 28th
12.45 West Ham v Crystal Palace
Well well, things have certainly gone awry for the self-confessed “most sophisticated manager” in the league, Sam Allardyce, or, as he has wittily referred to himself as, Allardici.
That’s the trouble when one’s haughty high horse eventually takes a tumble (and they always do), everyone is waiting with big foam fingers to point and laugh when you fall. Since their spectacular and unheralded form in the first half of the season, their record since Christmas reads – W4 L4 D6. The last of those wins was over a month ago.
They’ve lost two matches since, one of which was a severe trouncing at the hands of West Brom. Happily for Big Sam, his West Ham side are facing a Crystal Palace who themselves are coming in off the back of two losses. Having said that, both defeats were against in-form Arsenal and Liverpool teams and their form before that had been impressive enough to drag them from a relegation battle to a more comfortable lower mid-table position. Crystal Palace may just have enough verve and confidence to take advantage of West Ham’s current dip in form.
There’s not much difference in the prices offered for a draw and a Palace win with Betfred offering 5/2 for the former and Boylesports 3/1 for the latter. Take your pick.
15.00 Manchester United v Sunderland
This match could well be the lame duck of the weekend. Both teams seem to be caught up in a weird competition to see who can inflict the most monotony on their put-upon supporters. Somewhat miraculously, Sunderland are not in the relegation zone and Utd are in the top four. For those who watched either of these two teams play this season, this is scarcely believable.
Points difference aside, it’s hard to say which one plays the more lifeless form of football. Certainly Utd shouldn’t have that excuse given the richness of their attacking talent and a world-renowned manager at the helm. It seems that one of the Neville brothers (can’t remember, don’t care) has come out to say that Utd shouldn’t sack LVG if they don’t make the Champion’s League, that he needs more time yada yada. If supporters in the press are coming out in defence of the manager and his team, it’s safe to say that things aren’t all too rosy. Which, given their current standing in the league table, borders on the side of cognitive dissonance and subsequently makes this column want to take an afternoon nap.Much like the match likely will.
Sunderland are Sunderland. Supporters aside, who else cares? Utd have to be favourites but can you be sure that the 2/5 from Stanjames for that result is at all reasonable? For a couple of quid, a draw might be the only thing that can inject any interest in this match, Betfred are offering 9/2 for that.
15.00 Newcastle v Aston Villa
One doesn’t need to have any particular allegiance to Newcastle to feel some measure of sympathy with one of the best supported teams in the league. As has been noted on these pages before, this club suffers terribly at the hands of its owner, the avuncular Mike Ashley. This is a man who is happy to let his play thing be cluelessly driven by a man who would struggle to find work as a manager in League 1 because, astute businessman that he is, Ashley has no doubt figured that Newcastle should be able to pick up the ten or so points that would be required to both keep them in the top division and far away from the ‘threat’ of a Europa League place.
What a life it must be for a Newcastle supporter. They were well and truly walloped by Manchester City last weekend and have recorded just one win since the turn of the year. Chances are they won’t be so-trounced by Villa this weekend but they do offer new Villan’s boss, Tim Sherwood (speaking of manager’s being out of their depth in this league…), his first proper chance of a win. Sherwood is a proper football man, which is to say he’s a consciously limited dullard who makes a lot of noise but not a lot of sense.
The one tool in his armory (apparently) is his ability to motivate players, to get the best out of them, to basically run around a lot. Blindingly original as this approach may be, it certainly can’t harm a largely moribund Villa team who look like they’ve lost all sense of purpose in life. Given the tactical fortitude possessed by both managers, chances are the team that runs the most will win. Tim and his charges may well come out on top in this battle of the titans. Betvictor have the Villa win at 18/5.