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Tough luck, Ukraine. Harry Redknapp, in the end, turned down the big hryvnias in order to make a much-welcomed return to his natural habitat of the English top flight. It turns out that our beloved ‘Arry (or real Christian name Henry, as only his mother would call him) was hankering for a meatier challenge than trying to guide a middling national team through a quagmire of a World Cup qualification group. That’s more Roy Hodgson’s bag.
In any case, challenges do not come much more meaty at present than the one that befalls the former Tottenham gaffer at Loftus Road, where his job description entails attempting to persuade a motley bunch of former Champions League, Serie A and Premier League winners to try and give at least half a toss on a mere few hundred thousand quid a month.
That at least in theory should be the hard part as in Queen’s Park Rangers Redknapp has a squad at his disposal which is easily good enough to finish in one of the top seventeen positions, and some of the fighting spirit which would be needed to overhaul their seven-point defecit from safety was exhibited in the first hour or so of their admirable yet ultimately fruitless performance at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The good news is that as baptisms of fire come, there are not many more lukewarm than the Stadium of Light as of currently. Just when it looked like the Black Cats’ season would ignite (enough of the lumination references methinks) with victory at Craven Cottage the weekend before last – with someone other than Steven Fletcher or his precocious strike partner Own Goal getting on the scorescheet – a home pasting against a superbly organised West Brom outfit brought expectations crashing back down again.
Martin O’Neill has had to scotch quit rumours, there is still a painful lack of peneration on the wings or concentration at the back, and a QPR side who have not been embarassed by anyone on their travels this season (five of their six away defeats have come against sides currently ensconced in the Premier League top seven) and their more illustrious players, who would have been treated to a few days ego-massaging by their new boss, can spark the dying embers of their season (sorry) with a first win of the campaign at Sunderland.
QPR WIN BEST ODDS 29/11 PINNACLE.
In the other Tuesday night Premier League encounter, the eyes of the world will surely be trained on Villa Park as the Sky cameras rock up at the second city for what can only be described as, erm, Aston Villa vs. Reading. You can imagine them staying up late in the Far East for this one. Or maybe not.
Anyone in downtown Bangkok or Manila who may be fanatical – or insomnia-ridden – enough to take in this basement battle live on satellite television may want to look up their native translation for the phrase ‘six-pointer’ as both these sides would dearly love a win to stave off the very real threat of the dreaded relegation. The Royals have yet to keep an away clean sheet, but they are gradually tightening up defensively since losing 7-5 to Arsenal at tennis last month.
It would have been four matches unbeaten had it not been for Jordi Gomez completing his hat-trick deep into stoppage time on Saturday, but Reading have shown great mental strength time and again this season and it would be no surprise to see Brian McDermott’s men bounce back with a point for their troubles against a toothless Villa that haven’t notched in nearly four hours of football. Goalless draws have been few and far between this season, but I reckon this match fits the bill.
VILLA VS READING NO GOALSCORER BEST ODDS 12/1 SKYBET.
On to Wednesday’s matches, and new Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez had his preparations for his first West London derby against Fulham interrupted by an offer from the Conservative Party to sit on the front bench during Prime Minister’s Questions in order to make David Cameron and George Osbourne look more popular. Frankly, Rafa hasnt got many friends around Stamford Bridge and can desperately do with a victory over the Blues’ Thames-side rivals in order to whip up some fresh support early into his seven-month seat-warming excercise.
Martin Jol’s side, however, are unlikely to oblige easily, and Benitez would have surely noticed the Cottagers impressive goalscoring exploits so far this campaign. 25 goals in 13 games is an excellent return for a once goal-shy outfit, and a healthy portion of those onion-bag rippers have come from headers. Couple that information with Benitez’s tendency to send out his sides to mark zonal at set-pieces, along with the abscence of defensive organiser John Terry and a significant prescence of height in the Fulham side even without the suspended giant Brede Hangeland, and a decent betting opportunity may just well be in the offing.
FIRST GOAL TO BE SCORED FROM A HEADER BEST ODDS 17/4 BETVICTOR.
A cornucopia of differing playing styles, manager’s outfits and sartorial choices clash head-on when Merseyside meets North London in a pair of matches that may go a long way towards deciding in what order the teams in question will finish between 4th and 7th place in the Premier League… and not much else. Arsene Wenger bemoaned a lack of freshness in his players due to formidable opponents in ten men of Tottenham and an insipid Montpellier, both at the Emirates, being a major contributing factor towards his side’s dull-as-ditchwater 0-0 effort at Villa Park on Saturday.
Everton, with a physical frontline chomping at the bit to get at Arsenal’s weaker links, and an added eagerness to get back to winning ways following a defeat and draw in their last two matches, will not be sympathetic to Wenger’s woes. Cross-Mersey rivals Liverpool have shown improved form – and performances – of late yet senior players and manager Brendan Rodgers alike have admitted that the current Reds squad is largely a work in progress.
Young Messers Sterling, Shelvey and Kelly will be long-standing fixtures of the Liverpool – and England – set up for years to come but for the here and now the top four remains a pipe dream and trips to White Hart Lane and the like may well be endured rather than enjoyed. Crucially for Tottenham, Clint Dempsey is showing signs of a wavelength forming with Jermain Defoe through the middle, and with Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon tearing down the wide areas expect dividends to be rewarded immediately and in devastating fashion.
TOTTENHAM AND EVERTON DOUBLE BEST ODDS 53/10 PINNACLE.
It is of this writer’s strong opinion that Manchester United will regain the league title this season, and God bless the Red Devils’ players for trying to instill an extra fun element into their chase for the club’s 20th crown by aiming to go behind in just about every single match they play this season. But note to United players: please stop doing that.
Now West Ham, who are having a fine comeback season in the Premier League under wily old Big Sam Allardyce, have scored first in only one of their last five league outings but have managed to score in their last four away matches. With Nemanja Vidic, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all inching their way back to full fitness United are likely to be susceptible defensively to inferior opposition at this stage of the season, but the important bit is that they’re doing their thing prolifically at the other end.
Besides if you ask anyone what is more likely, United continue scoring bucketfuls, or continue leaking haphazardly, then you know which answer most right-minded people would plump for.
MANCHESTER UNITED TO WIN 3-1 BEST ODDS 10/1 LADBROKES.
Current champions Manchester City are still unbeaten – good – but are drawing rather too frequently especially away from home – bad. Neighbours United may have lost two away but they have only dropped six points outside Old Trafford so far this season whereas City with their four draws have dropped eight points and played a game less away from terra firma. So with another win denied by a dour Chelsea on Sunday, three points would be the order of the day at the DW where Wigan entertain, although it may take a while for the Citizens’ plethora of stars to click into gear against the league most porous home defence.
Over the last six days City fans have had to witness their heroes dredge through draining encounters against Real Madrid and Chelsea, so sharpness may be lacking initially against the Latics until requisite changes are made. A tough December awaits City, so a win is integral in order to stay in touch with United at the table’s summit as the Manc Derby approaches the horizon.
DRAW/MAN CITY HALF TIME/FULL TIME BEST ODDS 15/4 BETVICTOR.
Which team, I hear you straining at the leash to ask, have kept the most clean sheets in the Premier League this season? Why the answer is Stoke Mr. Inquisitive, with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic marshalling his defence to six shut-outs this campaign, and Javi Garcia being the only man in a non-red and white stripey shirt to score at the Brittania so far in 2012/13. Wednesday night’s opponents Newcastle United are suffering something of an existential crisis, seemingly unable to push on from their remarkable exploits of 2011/12.
Three defeats in a row, and the only man to score for the club away in the league since September is Yohan Cabaye. Shame he’s injured then. Along with striking lynchpin Papiss Cisse. And captain Fabrizio Coloccini. The Magpies swept aside Stoke in the corresponding fixture just over twelve months ago, but the atmosphere is different at both clubs at this moment and Newcastle may well settle for a holding job on their Midlands opponents.
STOKE VS NEWCASTLE UNDER 1.5 GOALS BEST ODDS 12/5 BOYLESPORTS.
Ah now, what is this we have here? Two new managers being allowed to get on with their jobs with the minimum of fuss and without fear of early termination of their contracts?! And what’s that, they’re succeeding? Madness man! Steve Clarke and Michael Laudrup may have differing theories on methods of success on the pitch, yet both have taken to the tasks befalling them at their respective clubs with a lack of fanfare yet a multitude of good results, all the more impressive when you consider we’re talking about two newbies to Premier League management.
West Brom are on 26 points already, yet anyone who considers this yield as simply 66% job done towards securing safety is being demeaning at best. The Baggies can make it to Europe, and in Clarke have a man who has taken the best bits from working first hand with managerial giants Mourinho, Robson, Dalglish and, erm, Gullit, in order to mould his own niche in the big bad world of Premier League gaffership.
They can cancel out Swansea, who have recovered to one defeat in their last seven – away to champions City – after plateauing following their explosive 5-0 start at QPR.
SWANSEA VS WEST BROM DRAW BEST ODDS 31/12 PINNACLE.
Southampton are discovering that winning games of football in this division are a whole lot easier to do if you don’t concede at a rate of three goals a game. Influential manager Nigel Adkins would no doubt would have been buoyed by his side’s first clean sheet of the season in their 2-0 triumph over Newcastle on Sunday, and the recent return of key personnel such as Jack Cork would have added to the renewed sense of optimism around St. Mary’s.
Injury concerns over Rickie Lambert can be negated by the fact that goals have been spread around the team, and Norwich, admirable as they were in staying resolute in gaining a point at Everton at the weekend – with Sebastien Bassong exemplary at the back – may not have enough to protect against the numerous focal points of attack which the Saints possess.
SOUTHAMPTON WIN BEST ODDS 6/5 CORAL.
Written by Emelie Okeke
Follow him on Twitter @Emelie_Okeke
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