Barnsley's remarkable 3-0 win at Watford last night provided another unexpected twist in the mad scramble to avoid relegation from the Championship.
With Colchester gone, and Scunthorpe on the brink, it's now a question of whether they will be joined in the third tier by Leicester, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton, Coventry, Barnsley, Blackpool or Norwich.
I mentioned last week that with things so tight it was remarkable that while Southampton were rated 7/4 for the drop, Blackpool were massive 25/1 outsiders. Sure enough, a week later and Southampton have gone out to 10/3, while one defeat for Blackpool has dragged them right back in it and slashed their odds to 7/1.
And if Blackpool are right back in it, where does that leave Norwich, who are two precious points better off but face a tricky run-in? At 25/1, according to some.
Gazing at the fixture lists of all the contenders doesn't actually seem to help a great deal. You can easily make cases for all staying up, or for most going down. For what it's worth I reckon Barnsley now look well-placed to escape – especially if they can capitalise on a forthcoming home game against Leicester.
Sheffield Wednesday are dealing only in draws at present, but with Blackpool, Leicester and Norwich among their final four fixtures they should get out of it. Norwich most certainly will not want to travel to Hillsborough needing a result on the final day of the season, so desperately need to pick up two or three points from their preceding games against Ipswich, West Brom or, most promisingly, QPR.
Leicester face several fellow strugglers but need to actually capitalise on this. Coventry and Southampton both have very tough looking run-ins. But keep watching Blackpool. The nerves must be getting a little frayed at Bloomfield Road right now, and they badly need some reward away to FA Cup finalists Cardiff this weekend. After that they're looking at Sheffield Wednesday (h), Plymouth (a), and Watford (h).
Last week's UEFA Cup Yankee provided a moral triumph, but nothing more tangible, I fear. You may recall I pooh-poohed the notion of an 'enhanced' 9/1 home four-timer on the quarter-final first-leg ties, suggesting that 650-1 on four aways provided better value. In the event I was half-right as there were no home wins in any of the four ties, but only one away courtesy of Zenit St Petersburg, who won 4-1 away to Bayer Leverkusen at handsome odds of 21/4.
Can't say I really fancy another Yankee on tonight's returns although I might be tempted by a modest single on Bayern Munich (Evs) to save their skins by winning away to Getafe. Maybe even doubled with Sporting Lisbon (4/5) at home to Rangers.
The weekend Yankee also failed to end my recent barren trot. Sunderland did the business away to Fulham, but no joy with Birmingham, Leicester or Sheffield Wednesday. Of my other two accumulator choices Southampton were indeed victorious over Bristol City, but Derby could not end their losing streak at Everton, albeit a 1-0 defeat represented a relatively respectable outcome.
Onward and upward, and another weekend of opportunity, and the odd shattered dream, now beckons. Bolton's dream of Premiership survival is looking distinctly fragile after squandering a 2-0 lead at home to Arsenal, and then getting stuffed 4-0 at Aston Villa last week. One suspects that confidence is low, and that should represent an excellent opportunity for Alan Curbishley's West Ham – themselves beaten in five of their last seven matches – to win at the Reebok at odds of 5/2.
Now to the Championship, and back to Barnsley. I must admit I suspected the Tykes might sink without trace following that FA Cup semi-final exit, but the Watford result must have sent fresh confidence surging through the camp. For that reason I'm going to take a punt on them at 11/4 to repeat the dose away to a Preston side which has just about secured survival under Alan Irvine after looking nailed-on relegation certainties earlier in the season.
In the same division Leicester know they simply must win at home to doomed Colchester if they are to climb away from the drop zone. Trouble is, doomed sides have a nasty habit of dragging the nearly-doomed sides down with them. Colchester will not have a care in the world at the Walkers Stadium, and that could be bad news for the Foxes. Back Colchester at 7/2.
We complete the Yankee down in League Two, where a titanic struggle is taking place for the third automatic promotion place behind MK Dons and Peterborough. Two of the protagonists meet as Hereford, with 13 away wins to their name this season, travel to nervy Darlington. On Darlo's current form Hereford look reasonably priced at 9/5.
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