EPL: Relegation Battle Heats Up on Tuesday with Two Crucial Matches

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2012

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MARCH 24:  Jamie Mackie of Queens Park Rangers holds off John O'Shea and Craig Gardner of Sunderland during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers at Stadium of Light on March 24, 2012 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

When the 2012-13 season ends and the three relegated clubs are decided, Tuesday may be one of the keys in the schedule that is looked back upon as a date that helped decide the relegation race.

There are only two fixtures on the EPL schedule on Tuesday, but to the four clubs playing in those matches, winning against a rival is vital in the battle for survival. 

The first match to kick off takes place at the Stadium of Light, where 16th-place Sunderland hosts last place Queens Park Rangers in the first match of the Harry Redknapp era at QPR.

Redknapp took over at QPR for the sacked Mark Hughes over the weekend, and is looking to make his mark immediately on the EPL.

The R's have just four points this season, and are the only club still in search of their first win. 

Redknapp has admitted in the press that this is his toughest challenge as a manager, with the club already seven points adrift of 17th place—the spot in the table they need to achieve in order to avoid relegation to the Championship. 

In their match with Manchester United on Saturday, QPR held the league leaders to no goals in the first half, but then failed to hold on for a point in the second half as they fell 3-1 at Old Trafford. 

The mix of EPL veterans and journeymen from the lower tiers of English football at the club have been told by their new manager that they have to improve or they will be dropped from the squad.

While QPR will be looking to impress their new manager in his first match in charge, their hosts on Tuesday are struggling to find any type of good form under manager Martin O'Neill.

The Black Cats have lost three of their last four matches, and have only won one of their five home matches at the Stadium of Light this season. 

Currently, O'Neill's squad sit in 16th place with 12 points, and are in danger of falling into the bottom three if they do not turn around their season quickly. 

Despite reports swirling in the press about O'Neill's possible resignation after Saturday's 4-2 defeat at home at the hands of West Brom (such reports have proven to be false), the beleaguered Sunderland manager needs a victory at home to quash the rumors about his sacking for the time being. 

There is no doubt that the Black Cats have quality in their team, with summer signing Steven Fletcher leading the club with six goals up front, as well as midfielders Sebastian Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon in the starting XI on a consistent basis. 

Larsson and Sessegnon have enough quality in the midfield to produce, but the two have failed to show up for most of the club's matches this season. Both clubs are in search of a win, and they need better performances from their star players in order for that happen. 

As for the other relegation clash—taking place at Villa Park on Tuesday between Aston Villa and Reading—a win for either club would boost them out of the bottom three. 

Paul Lambert's Villains have only won one of their last nine matches, and are struggling to find a consistent goal scorer. The Villains are tied for last in the EPL with QPR and Norwich in goals scored, with just 10. 

Lambert continues to bench his best goal scorer, Darren Bent, even though his replacement, Christian Benteke, has only scored two goals in eight starts. 

However, Villa do come into Tuesday's home match with some positive momentum after a 0-0 draw with Arsenal at home over the weekend. 

The next two matches are crucial for Lambert's young side, as they play QPR on the road on Saturday after their clash with Reading on Tuesday.

Successful results against two relegation contenders will take the pressure off of the Villains for now, but they will be involved in the relegation discussion for most of the season.

Reading come into Tuesday's match at Villa Park in 19th place with only nine points, but Brian McDermott's side have improved their form after an abysmal start to the season. The Royals have earned six points in their last five matches, which includes a 2-1 win over Everton two weeks ago.

McDermott's Royals have been an exciting side to watch over the past few weeks, and they have proven that they can score goals, as their last five matches have all come down to the wire.

Their recent run of form started with a 3-3 draw at home with Fulham on October 27th, when the Royals equalized twice in the final five minutes to earn a point. 

On Saturday, the Royals lost their first league match—a 3-2 loss against Wigan—since an October 20th defeat at Liverpool.

The loss was arguably the best match out of a group of lackluster fixtures over the weekend, and even though they lost the match, the Royals' fighting spirit once again showed itself. 

If there is a club that shows plenty of promise to escape the relegation zone in the next few weeks, it is Reading.

The Royals are a club that are able to score goals, and they have a favorable schedule in December that includes Southampton, Sunderland, Swansea and West Ham. 

Tuesday's matches may not decide the final fate of all four of these clubs, but it will give a good gage of where each of the four clubs stand in regards to competition against their relegation rivals.