Saturday's slate of EPL action may have been a bit light on elite clubs, but several teams had plenty to play for in terms of positioning within the Premier League table.
Some of those squads made the most of their opportunities by solidifying their status, while others put themselves in nearly impossible situations with the end of the season coming fast.
Putting together a strong and consistent overall campaign is important in the EPL, but teams generally want to be at their best in the closing weeks. Here is a closer look at some of the squads that are either rising up or falling down the standings through EPL Matchday 34.
Everton have been trending toward a potential Champions League berth over the past several weeks, and they took another step toward that fate on Saturday by dispatching Sunderland 1-0. With that victory, the Toffees surpassed Arsenal for fourth place in the EPL standings and even pulled to within four points of Manchester City, although the Citizens have two games in hand.
Sunderland gave Everton everything they could handle, though, and it took a bit of luck to put one in the win column. Sunderland defender Wes Brown accidentally put a Gerard Deulofeu cross into his own net, and that was ultimately the winning margin, as reported by NBC Sports Soccer:
Some might argue that Everton wasn't particularly impressive against the Premier League's worst team, but manager Roberto Martinez knew going in that it would be a challenge. Per Agence France-Presse (h/t NDTV.com), Martinez warned his team that Sunderland would play with reckless abandon:
You get to a point in a relegation battle where you've got nothing to lose. Sunderland are in a position now where they have got seven finals and they are going to approach it in that manner. ... That's going to make it a really exciting and tense game. The small margins are going to be vital, so we need to recover well.
Sunderland were very nearly able to spoil Everton's trip to Stadium of Light, but the Toffees did what they had to do and escaped with three points. Now that Everton have reached their desired spot in the table, the true challenge will be remaining in it for the rest of the campaign.
Newcastle have been nestled firmly in the upper-middle part of the table for much of the season, but their grip on that position has been loosening significantly as of late. The Magpies had been outscored 11-0 in three Premier League matches prior to Saturday's contest against Stoke City. While Newcastle didn't suffer another blowout loss, it was a defeat nonetheless by a score of 1-0.
It seemed as though Stoke defender Erik Pieters intended for his strike toward the Newcastle goal to be a cross, but it found its way past goalkeeper Tim Krul for the first goal of Pieters' EPL career, according to the Premier League's official Twitter account:
Seemingly everything has gone wrong for the Magpies as of late, and Murphy's Law reared its ugly head once again on Matchday 34. They had nobody to blame but themselves, though, as they put just one shot on target and didn't show a threatening attack at any point during the match.
Newcastle technically didn't move in the standings, as they are still in ninth place, but they squandered an opportunity to move past Southampton and allowed the Potters to move within three points of them.
It wasn't long ago that the Magpies were in the mix with teams like Manchester United, Everton and Tottenham, but they are crawling to the finish line. Early returns suggested that Newcastle were trending in the right direction, but Magpies fans have to be left shaking their heads as another disappointing year reaches its conclusion.
There was a great deal of excitement surrounding Crystal Palace's foray into the EPL this season, but most figured that they would be battling to avoid relegation. That was the case for much of the year, but the Eagles have been on an absolute tear that continued on Saturday against Aston Villa.
Crystal Palace won their third EPL match in a row, and they continued their unlikely ascent in the standings. The Eagles came through with a 1-0 win, as midfielder Jason Puncheon scored yet again. Puncheon has been one of the main catalysts behind Crystal Palace's run, which is ironic since his place on the roster was questioned early in the season, per former English footballer Kenny Sansom:
The large majority of Palace fans where slating Puncheon not so long ago. Saying he was a waste £. Funny that.— Kenny Sansom (@KennySansom3) April 12, 2014
That victory allowed Crystal Palace to break a tie with Aston Villa in the standings and move past Hull City as well into 12th place. The Eagles are also tied with West Ham United and could potentially overtake them in the coming games.
Relegation is no longer a concern for Crystal Palace, so they can afford to gamble and play spoiler to other teams while improving their status in the process. They showed how dangerous they can be when they beat Chelsea on March 29, and they aren't done with their assault on the Premier League by a long shot.
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