For almost this entire decade Aston Villa have struggled to avoid being one of the three worst teams in the Premier League. The teams who get relegated into the Championship never to be heard from again. And this year, particularly, it seemed as if they might succumb under the weight of their own ineptitude.
And while the season isn't over yet, four point over the course of the past week are making us all breathe a bit more easily. Villa fans were also helped by the fat that nearly everyone below us had a bad week too. So, as has become our Monday tradition, let's turn our gaze to the bottom of the table and see what happened in Relegation Land this week. As a bonus for reading, we've added a new visitor!
Points/Goal Difference: 25/-19
This Weekend's result: A 2-3 win at West Bromwich Albion
Next up: Swansea, Saturday, 3 PM GMT
I honestly can't tell how I feel about Leicester City's sudden resurgence. It's obviously bad for Aston Villa in the here and now. I don't think the Foxes will pass Villa, and they may not even survive, but every team that plays poorly below us is more of a buffer between us and the drop. And you can add to the negative feelings the fact that, in a mere three matches this season, I grew to hate Leicester nearly as much as I hate West Brom (more on them shortly).
But that hatred is... fun! That's what sport is about. Loving your team and hating the other. And yes, those matches were tense, but having something to look forward to is always nice. With Villa still firmly in the relegation race, I want Foxes to stop winning immediately. But if we can make ourselves safe, maybe I wouldn't mind a miracle from them.
Points/Goal Difference: 26/-24
This Weekend's result: An 0-1 loss at home to the juggernaut that is Arsenal
Next up: at Everton, Saturday, 3 PM GMT
Poor Burnley. They've been playing so well lately, having beaten Manchester City (but really, who doesn't these days?) and drawing with Spurs (but really, how can a claret and blue team not beat Spurs?). But they ran into a club playing perhaps the best football we've seen all season in the Premier League. That's just not fair.
But the good news for them is that they've been playing well and their fixture list from here out is a breeze. At Everton, Leicester, at West Ham, at Hull, Stoke, and at Villa. If you're an in-form team sitting in the bottom three, that's exactly what you want to see. Maybe both teams can have secured safety by the last day. Wouldn't that be nice?
Queens Park Rangers
Points/Goal Difference: 26/-21
This Weekend's result: An 0-1 loss at home to Chelsea
Next up: West Ham, Saturday, 3 PM GMT
Huh. After scoring seven goals in two road matches, QPR return home and score zero. I mean, sure, it was against Chelsea, but I sort of expected more fight from them.
Regardless of what we expected, they still got a loss. And this weekend's match against West Ham is maybe their easiest one left. Sure, Leicester are a bad team, but a bad team at home fighting for Premier League survival on the last day of the season will be tough to beat. So QPR need to do some work between now and then. Their little run through the West Midlands leaves me entirely uncertain of what they can do, though, so I have no idea if they'll be here or in the Championship next year. I'd be intrigued to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Points/Goal Difference: 28/-16
This Weekend's result: Lost at Southampton 2-0.
Next up: Off this weekend; at Crystal Palace, Saturday April 25, 3 PM GMT
A loss to Southampton is understandable. As would be a loss to suddenly-on-fire Crystal Palace over the weekend. But that's the problem facing Steve Bruce's side: you could easily see and understand losses in all but one of their remaining matches. Their one lone break comes when they host Burnley.
About a month ago I noticed that Hull looked okay then but still tabbed them for the drop because of their fixtures. It's not as if the Tigers are even playing especially poorly right now. But they didn't win the matches they should have (sound familiar?) and they're probably going to pay for it in the stretch run.
Points/Goal Difference: 29/-23
This Weekend's result: A return-to-form home loss to Crystal Palace, 1-4
Next up: at Stoke, Saturday, 3 PM GMT
Last week I wrote: "I sure would love to see the Black Cats finally succumb to their own ineptitude, but their win this weekend puts that a bit in doubt." It's nice to see ineptitude winning out over luck.
And what's worse for the Black Cats is their final run-in. If they're still in the muck by the last week they will host Leicester, travel to Arsenal and then on to Chelsea in the span of nine days. Win now or your players will be too exhausted to get anything then.
Points/Goal Difference: 32/-21
This Weekend's result: A stunning 0-1 win over Spurs at White Hart Lane
Next up: FA Cup Semifinal against Liverpool at Wembley, Sunday, 3 PM GMT
I don't want to say Villa are safe, because they're not. Get another win and I might actually exhale. But this week saw just about everything go as well as we wanted. Sure, the draw to QPR was not what should have happened. But neither was the win at Spurs. If you'd guaranteed me (or most any other Villa fan) four points from the past week last Monday, I would have taken it instantly.
And the clock is running out for a lot of teams below us. Hull are doomed. Sunderland look to be as well. Do we really think that one of Leicester, Burnley, or QPR will close the six or seven point gap? Probably not.
So now we get to take a breath and focus on the FA Cup. Villa get to spend Saturday watching their relegation rivals play and Sunday trying to get one step closer to a trophy. The QPR match had me worried, but this turned out to be a pretty good week.
West Bromwich Albion
Points/Goal Difference: 33/-16
This Weekend's result: a 2-3 home loss to Leicester.
Next up: at Crystal Palace, Saturday, 3 PM GMT
If Villa are still in it, West Brom have forced their way back into the relegation muck too. I'd say that they're probably safe, but they've given up seven goals (at home!) to QPR and Leicester in their last two matches. So who knows? At this point, Villa could easily finish above the Baggies and the Baggies could just as easily death-spiral their way into the Championship. The former is quite possible, the latter is an unlikely dream. But why not hope for the best/worst?