While Fulham and Huddersfield Town Have Long been Consigned to Relegation, the Dogfight to Avoid the Third and Final Relegation Place is set to Rage on Until the Bitter End
Though Brighton will take a three-point lead into the antepenultimate weekend of this Premier League season, the club faces the most daunting run-in possible. With visits to the Emirates Stadium and a home match against Manchester City ending Brighton’s disappointing second season of Premier League action, all eyes will be on the Seagulls’ game against Newcastle on 27th April as the telling factor.
For that reason, Newcastle’s away form will be a major talking point in the coming days, even though Brighton already boast a psychological advantage, having won the reverse fixture up at St James Park. However, Rafael Benitez has stayed true to his tactics in the interim, and the Spaniard is once more justified in his actions, with Newcastle safe for another year.
When playing as visitors, Newcastle are difficult to predict. They proved their ability to upset the odds, grinding out a 1-0 win at Leicester contrary to all expectations through a battling defensive performance. However, the Magpies are far from infallible, with Benitez’ men conceding multiple goals in four of the five league matches that preceded the Leicester trip.
Furthermore, even in the aftermath of a priceless victory, only one of Newcastle’s ten-win tally had been attained after the concession of multiple goals. Ultimately, this implies that two goals for Brighton will guarantee a positive result, but after recent defensive performances, nothing is certain.
Can Cardiff pull it off at Brighton’s expense?
In short, yes. However, anything less than five points from the remaining fixtures is asking for genuine trouble. Nobody can rule out Cardiff City for a shock survival feat, with the Bluebirds all-too-recently considered ‘doomed’ by press, pundits and fans alike.
That is exactly what they would be had their 2-0 win at Brighton earlier in April been reversed, but Neil Warnock and his band of unlikely battlers have chosen to believe in themselves and the club, belatedly developing a vital counter-attacking strategy that could serve them well in the final stretch of 2018/19.
The Cardiff players have clearly been galvanised of late. Although they were outclassed by title contenders Liverpool on Easter Sunday, and saw their own relegation spread values on Sporting Index lower, the club from the Welsh capital has an easier run in than Brighton from here.
Fine Margins to Dictate Cardiff’s Future
While the season finale at Old Trafford has already been dismissed as a dead loss for Cardiff, it is the trip to Fulham and the home closer against Crystal Palace that are expected to decide everything.
Remarkably, Fulham have enjoyed a mini-revival of late, gaining back-to-back shock wins over Everton and Bournemouth, with the latter victory marking Fulham’s first on the road all campaign. Said win also came directly after Bournemouth’s 5-0 dismantling of Brighton at the AMEX Stadium on 13th April, with that result unquestionably serving to give Cardiff a huge boost.
It is clear that Fulham are not to be underestimated, and on the same day as that remarkable result, Fulham pulled of a shock of their own, beating Everton 2-0 in the first of two successive upsets. Brutally speaking though, the Cottagers are not already down for no reason, and prior to their 2-0 win over Everton, Fulham had conceded two or more goals in each of their preceding thirteen league matches.
By the same token, they had not managed two or more goals in nine attempts prior to that win. However, Fulham ended Easter weekend on a high, by beating Bournemouth in their own backyard, and so while there is the nagging belief that Fulham may imminently return to their old ways, it is clear that Scott Parker has belatedly managed to motivate his charges.
Three points are a must from Craven Cottage, and in a perfect quirk of fate, Warnock’s final home match is against none other than former club Crystal Palace. Given the disparity in motivation levels, this is a match Cardiff simply must win, against a Crystal Palace side under no pressure to finish seventh or fight for safety.
Sadly, for Cardiff, Palace have not let their long-attained ‘safe’ status detract from away performances. In a stat which could chill even the most blue-blooded Welshman, Crystal Palace have gone unbeaten in their last five away matches played against teams currently outside the top six, winning four times and enjoying at least a two-goal margin of victory on three occasions.
The general belief is that Brighton will take a maximum of three points from the final three fixtures, while Cardiff have the ability to take six. However, even that will not be enough, barring an unlikely turnaround in the goal difference situation, with Brighton finishing Easter weekend with a significantly better goal difference than Cardiff.
It will be close, but Brighton’s point at Wolves – not necessarily the priceless three points the Seagulls are targeting against Newcastle – might just be the clincher. The reaction from the away section at Molineux, upon the final whistle of Saturday’s 0-0 draw between Brighton and Wolves, appears to firmly back such a belief.