The Championship Play-Off Final is billed as the ‘£170 million match’ due to the riches on offer to the winning team, so perhaps we can call Wednesday’s Premier League games featuring Norwich and Sunderland something similar.
For those two sides, victory in their game in hand over Newcastle could propel them to safety; defeat could see them suffer the same fate as Aston Villa and lose out on the huge Premier League bounty.
Norwich welcome Watford to Carrow Road, while Sunderland host a beleaguered Everton outfit. Now here comes the permutations: if Norwich win they will draw level with Newcastle and could go above them if they clear the two-goal swing, while a point – although probably not going to be above – would at least give them a chance heading into the final day of the season.
Sunderland, meanwhile, know that a win would confirm their Premier League status for the 2016/17 campaign, while even a draw would send them two points clear of Tyne & Wear rivals Newcastle with a game to play. The Black Cats are in the boxseat then.
Norwich vs Watford
Realistically, Alex Neil’s side need to tame the Hornets on Wednesday evening to have any hope of escaping the dropzone, and at least they have home advantage to count on. Alas, at Carrow Road they have won just five of eighteen matches this term. We can take such stats in isolation given that this is essentially a one-off ‘cup final’, but that lack of form at home does not bode well.
The good news, and its straw-clutching time, is that Watford are reasonably poor on the road having lost 50% of their matches (nine of eighteen) on their travels. Defensively they are on the rocks too having conceded twelve goals in their last six outings.
The bad news is that Norwich haven’t scored since April 2 (four games ago), and with just two victories in their last eight matches – plus four defeats on the spin – it looks like the Canaries could be slipping through the trapdoor come Wednesday.
Unfortunately, there’s no real value in backing Norwich to go down at 1/8, but we do like the look of a stalemate in their contest with Watford at 9/4.
Sunderland vs Everton
Big Sam Allardyce must be rubbing his hands together with glee knowing that his side only really needs a point against Everton to all-but-secure their top flight status.
This is an Everton side, remember, that is dogged with off-the-field problems, with speculation continuing to mount over the security of Roberto Martinez’s tenure as manager. A gutless performance at Leicester on Saturday was representative of their problems, and they are likely to struggle against an equally ‘up for it’ Sunderland on their home patch.
These two sides’ form couldn’t be any more contrasting. The Black Cats have made a mockery of their league position in recent weeks by avoiding defeat in seven of their last eight outings, with points taken against Chelsea, Arsenal and Stoke indicative of their current confidence levels. Their last eight home matches have yielded ten points; not mind-blowing by any means, but more than Chelsea, Stoke and Watford have earned.
Everton are something of a curate’s egg when playing away from home. They have won just 2/8 on their travels, and yet across the campaign they have tasted defeat just four times on their travels; less than Man City, Liverpool and Southampton. It is the draws that are holding them back though – nine of eighteen – and that leads us nicely to Wednesday’s encounter with a Sunderland side that has taken a solitary point from five of their last eight.
So, a draw appears on the cards, doesn’t it? You’d suggest that Allardyce’s men would be happy with that, so it is well worth investing in the 3/1 on offer for the stalemate at the Stadium of the Light.