Entering the penultimate weekend of the Premier League Season, the battle to avoid relegation between Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland is finely poised.
Following Newcastle’s recent resurgence under Rafa Benitez, the Magpies have climbed out of the relegation zone, after collecting 8 points from the last available 12. That excellent run of form, beginning after a 3-2 defeat away to Norwich, has been inspired by the outstanding play of Andros Townsend and far improved defensive performances, directed by stand-in goalkeeper Karl Durlow.
Ironically since then the Canaries have lost each of their previous three games to slide to 19th place in the table, one below Sunderland who recently defeated Alex Neil’s side 3-0 at Carrow Road.
Subsequently the Black Cats have maintained their survival prospects by earning two creditable draws at home to Arsenal and away to Stoke.
Jermain Defoe’s last minute equaliser at the Brittania Stadium moved Sam Allardyce’s men to within a point of their fiercest rivals Newcastle as the battle for Premier League Survival intensifies.
Although this weekend none of the three sides involved can either secure safety or be relegated, the outcome of the fixtures will go a long way to determining the team who is to continue playing in the top flight next season. The reward – along with the prestige – of doing so is estimated to be at least £100m.
In the ascendancy to earn that are Newcastle, who travel full of confidence to Villa Park to face already relegated Aston Villa. Victory for the Magpies is vital in their efforts to survive, since they have played a game more than both Norwich and Sunderland, who host Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.
As previously mentioned contrasting to Newcastle’s recent upturn in form, Norwich have lost 3 consecutive games, whilst Sunderland have collected only 5 points from their last available 27.
The Black Cats are well versed in finishing seasons strongly, as they have done in each of the past three seasons, and will require to do so again to retain their Premier League Status. Ironically following tomorrow’s fixtures their remaining two opponents are the same as those of Norwich – mid-table Everton and Watford.
St James’ Park will be the venue for Newcastle’s final game against runners-up Tottenham, a week on Sunday, when the outcome of the battle for survival will be determined. Should the Magpies emerge from that triumphant, then Mike Ashley’s decision to replace Steve McClaren with Rafa Benitez at the beginning of March will undoubtedly prove to be one of his best as Newcastle owner.