There are plenty of interesting developments to monitor in the English Premier League table following Saturday's fixtures. The race for the league trophy coming down the stretch of the 2013-14 season is heating up, and Everton remained steady in the top four with a 1-0 win over lowly Sunderland.
That keeps Sunderland at 25 points and at the bottom of the table, and the race to relegation has become its own subplot amid a tense chase for the trophy, as the Associated Press' Mattias Karen observed:
The Premier League relegation battle promises to be every bit as interesting as the title fight after today's results.— Mattias Karén (@mattekaren) April 12, 2014
The Toffees' triumph on Saturday was one of six hotly contested league matches. In fact, five of them were decided by 1-0 scores while Tottenham Hotspur salvaged a 3-3 draw with a goal in extra time versus West Bromwich Albion.
Let's take a closer look at the updated EPL standings, along with analysis as to what transpired on Matchday 34.
|11||West Ham United||33||10||7||16||37||44||-7||37|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||33||6||15||12||40||51||-11||33|
Analyzing Notable Developments from Matchday 34
As mentioned before, Everton averted disaster by emerging with a clutch three points, thanks to an own goal by Sunderland's Wes Brown in the 75th minute. Shaky as it was, the Toffees will take it, because they jumped past Arsenal for fourth in the standings.
The BBC's Guy Mowbray noted that Everton still deserves credit for winning their seventh game in a row against an opponent battling to stave off relegation in the EPL cellar:
There's a lot going for Everton right now. Won thanks to stroke of luck today - but you make your own over time. 7 wins in row isn't lucky— Guy Mowbray (@Guymowbray) April 12, 2014
West Brom is just three points ahead of Fulham on the bottom-three bubble, but they will be disappointed to not secure victory over Tottenham. The Spurs were blitzed by two goals in the first four minutes and trailed by as much as 3-0.
Instead of laying down and chalking it up to a poor effort, Tottenham responded to salvage a point, courtesy of Christian Eriksen's equaliser in the 94th minute in what was among the most epic comebacks in recent memory. ESPN Stats & Info noted the historical significance of Spurs' rally:
Tottenham tied West Brom 3-3 after trailing 3-0 today. 2nd time Tottenham has ever gotten a point in a PL game after trailing by 3 goals.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 12, 2014
This could be a devastating blow for Albion as they try to recover and remain in the EPL. Three points would have gone a long way in distancing themselves from the unenviable relegation race.
Speaking of which, Cardiff City distanced themselves from Sunderland by pulling off a massive 1-0 upset over Southampton. A letdown was perhaps inevitable for the Saints, who trail Manchester United by nine points for seventh place and have little but pride to play for. The hungrier Bluebirds capitalized on the situation and took a step toward staying in the league.
Despite those circumstances, Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino was not pleased with his side's effort, per BBC Sport:
We are disappointed. If you analyse the game we didn't deserve to lose but it is a learning curve. In football it's not just enough to play well. You have to be more clinical and aggressive and that is what we lacked. We were dominating the game but in final third we were lacking the attacking edge we needed and their keeper was also making some outstanding saves.
Fulham (18th in the table) made a big move following their 1-0 victory over 17th-place Norwich City. That puts the Cottagers just two points away from their Saturday foe and thus on the brink of getting out of the relegation cluster.
Goalkeeper David Stockdale was thrilled with how Fulham fought—with Hugo Rodallega's goal in the 40th minute being the winner—per the Premier League's official Twitter account:
Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale: “It’s unbelievable. The lads fought so hard. You can see how much it means to us." #FULNOR— Premier League (@premierleague) April 12, 2014
Just four points separate Fulham from Aston Villa, who remained stuck after a 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace that broke a tie in the table between the two clubs. Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph believes the time has come for a regime change at Villa Park:
So Fulham and Crystal Palace have done the double over Aston Villa. New owner, chief exec and manager required at Villa Park. Embarrassing— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) April 12, 2014
Which club is likeliest to face relegation?
Stoke City's 1-0 triumph over Newcastle United was essentially a battle of league mediocrity, so it doesn't have much bearing on anything in the table. All the other matches from Saturday, though, had major ramifications as the season winds toward its conclusion.
Everton deserves a massive amount of credit because they could have given up long ago after consecutive one-goal losses to Tottenham and Chelsea. Instead, manager Roberto Martinez rallied his club and now has the Toffees positioned well entering a Week 35 showdown with Manchester United.
But the biggest story of the day came from the suspense that will follow in the final month of the season, as the teams toward the bottom of the standings scratch to stay in the Premier League. This compelling race to avoid relegation is unique in that it heightens the stakes and incentive to keep competing and winning whereas other major sports reward losing late in the season through draft processes.
Despite the fact that few of the marquee clubs in the EPL were in action Saturday, there was still a ton of drama. That's one of the many elements that makes this particular brand of world football so exciting and captivating.