1. West Brom have a lot of faith in Shane Long
THE FORM OF Romelu Lukaku and at least in the earlier part of the season, Peter Odemwingie, meant that Shane Long hasn’t always been an automatic starter for West Brom this year.
Yet despite these challenges, his performances have still been impressive enough for him to be linked with moves to both Lazio and Liverpool in the summer.
And he was given a vote of confidence on Saturday against Arsenal, as he was chosen to lead the line ahead of the equally impressive Lukaku, perhaps owing to his considerable work-rate and defensive usefulness.
The striker was, however, forced to feed on scraps, as is usually the case when the Baggies come up against superior opposition.
But he toiled away nonetheless, and won the penalty for the goal that still wasn’t enough to earn them a point against an unusually resilient Arsenal, who held on for a 2-1 win, despite Mertesacker’s sending off with 20 minutes remaining for the infringement on Long.
2. Reading and QPR in need of a miracle now
(Wigan’s Shaun Maloney scores from a free-kick during the Barclays Premier League match at Loftus Road – Sean Dempsey/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
Two of the three relegation places appear to have been effectively decided by now.
While QPR and Reading still have a mathematical chance of survival, they’re now seven and eight points away from survival respectively with six games to play.
Shaun Maloney’s last-minute free-kick today seemingly ensured that even someone with Harry Redknapp’s managerial track record, of pulling off near-miracles in similar circumstances, can do little to aid the situation.
For Wigan meanwhile, the point could prove crucial come the end of the season, as they vie with several sides down the bottom, who are each competing to avoid finding themselves in the dreaded 18th spot come May.
3. Tottenham are reverting to type
Today, Tottenham had a chance to prove they could make do without Gareth Bale.
Yet playing against formidable opposition in Everton, the game only served to reiterate how integral the Welshman’s presence in the side is.
Spurs were also missing Aaron Lennon, who along with Bale provides them with some much-needed balance on the flanks, and therefore is arguably of similar importance to the ex-Southampton man.
The absence of these two pivotal players meant Tottenham could only muster up a 2-2 draw at home against Everton, owing to a late Gylfi Sigurdsson goal.
While AVB’s men are still in fourth, two points ahead of Arsenal, their London rivals have a game in hand, and the White Hart Lane outfit have some tough games against the likes of Manchester City to come.
Over the years, Tottenham have acquired somewhat of a reputation for crumbling when the pressure mounts at key points in the season, and with only four points from their last four games, it appears to be happening again.
Spurs are at least still well in contention for a top-four spot though, yet the Toffees now seem certain to miss out on Champions League football as a result of their failure to secure maximum points this afternoon.
4. Liverpool falter, as Suarez has rare off day
(The Liverpool players observe a minute silence before the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield – Martin Rickett/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
After a run of good form, Liverpool have demonstrated some bad habits of late, particularly in their recent 3-1 defeat by Southampton.
Therefore, it was a somewhat ominous sign when their best player, Luis Suarez, started the game against West Ham poorly today, misplacing some routine passes amid an undistinguished opening.
Liverpool and Suarez, however, improved in the second half, and the 0-0 result was more down to a brave defensive performance from the Hammers rather than their ineptitude.
And while any game where Suarez doesn’t score now seems noteworthy in itself, so phenomenal is the attacking prowess that the striker has displayed on a consistent basis this season, Liverpool will remain safe in the knowledge that they are going in the right direction under Brendan Rodgers.
The 0-0 draw consequently is likely to represent a minor blip in their journey, and it was a game in which they could have won with a little more luck.
5. Rafa rewarded for his gambles
Chelsea faced a Sunderland side with renewed hopes following the arrival of Paolo Di Canio as manager in a game that was key to the former side’s Champions League aspirations.
And the Spaniard left himself open to severe criticism had they failed to garner all three points, having left both John Terry and Frank Lampard out of this big game.
Nevertheless, while it may have been less than convincing at times, the hosts got the desired result, with a 2-1 win at least temporarily silencing his many critics at Stamford Bridge.
The result also now leaves Chelsea in the best position of all three teams who can realistically qualify for the Champions League.
They are level on points with nearest rivals Spurs, but have a superior goal difference and a game in hand on their London neighbours, as well as an ostensibly easier run-in.