The penultimate week of the Barclays Premier League was once again full of high drama at both ends of the table.
In two others we saw teams relegated, and at Old Trafford a Sunderland team desperately clinging on to survival.
|Aston Villa vs. Hull City||3-1|
|Everton vs. Manchester City||2-3|
|Manchester United vs. Sunderland||0-1|
|Newcastle United vs. Cardiff City||3-0|
|Stoke City vs. Fulham||4-1|
|Swansea City vs. Southampton||0-1|
|West Ham vs. Tottenham Hotspur||2-0|
Sunderland vs. Manchester United
Out of all of Saturday's results, the one at Old Trafford was probably the most surprising.
Even taking into account that Sunderland had already beaten Manchester United there earlier this season in the Capital One Cup, only the most fervent supporter would have gone to the Theatre of Dreams believing that Gus Poyet's side could get a result.
But belief is exactly what Sunderland showed, and it left United shell-shocked. Interim manager Ryan Giggs noted what was missing from his side via the official Manchester United Twitter account:
Ryan Giggs on #mufc's defeat to Sunderland: "We’re obviously disappointed. Our concentration and quality just weren’t there today."— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 3, 2014
Sunderland took the spoils thanks to a Sebastian Larsson effort on the half-hour, but it could, and probably should, have been worse for the Red Devils. Fabio Borini was unlucky to see his shot cannon back off the bar in the second half, the second time the woodwork had been rattled.
Per WhoScored.com, United comfortably had the lion's share of possession, but even with the introduction of Adnan Januzaj, Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie in 15 second-half minutes, it still wasn't enough to penetrate a solid Black Cats back line.
Stoke City vs. Fulham
Manager Felix Magath certainly pulled no punches in his withering assessment of the defeat at the Britannia Stadium, per Barclays PL News:
'We cannot run, we cannot pass, we cannot play' - Felix Magath says Fulham lacked fight: Fulham boss Felix Mag... http://t.co/Sh5SCbacOC— Barclays PL News (@BarclaysLeague) May 3, 2014
Stoke is always a difficult place to play at the best of times, let alone when you need a result to retain an interest in Premier League survival. Add ex-Fulham and now Stoke boss Mark Hughes into the mix, and we already had quite a recipe pre-match.
Unlike Sunderland, Fulham's play suggested that they had already accepted the inevitable, and in a game where they needed to take the fight to their opponents, 36 percent possession, per WhoScored.com, is just unacceptable in a game of such magnitude.
Once Peter Odemwingie had given the home side the lead on 39 minutes, you sensed that there might not be any way back for the Cottagers.
So it proved within nine minutes of half-time as Marko Arnautovic doubled Stoke's lead. By the time Kieran Richardson had struck for the away side, Fulham had already conceded another, and to compound their misery, Jonathan Walters added a fourth late on.
Newcastle United vs. Cardiff City
Such poor form should at least have given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men something to think about as they lined up before the game.
Both teams employed the same 4-4-1-1 formation, and aside from an early Shola Ameobi strike, there was nothing in the game to write home about.
Possession was virtually equal as was shots on goal, per WhoScored.com, and once the home fans started to get on manager Alan Pardew's back and head for the exits early in protest, the negative attitude on the terraces transmitted to the players.
Cardiff, for once, gave their all for their manager but still ended up with an unwanted footnote to their game, per Match of the Day:
Cardiff became the 28th team in Premier League history to be relegated the first season after being promoted. pic.twitter.com/OISO2AwLpV— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) May 3, 2014
Two goals in the last three minutes from Loic Remy and Steven Taylor put the gloss on a performance that was barely deserving of the 3-0 scoreline.
The Welsh side can feel particularly hard done by on the day, but has let itself down in recent weeks.
Everton vs. Manchester City
The game of the day surely came at Goodison Park, where Everton were hoping to secure a European place.
Once Ross Barkley had put the home side ahead with a stunning 11th-minute strike, Manuel Pellegrini's side sprang into life and began to show what it was made of.
Sergio Aguero's equaliser was no more than it deserved, and the game developed into a real seesaw battle.
Edin Dzeko, so often the early season fall guy, has once again shown in the latter part of the campaign his worth to the Citizens.
Two goals in five minutes either side of half-time, including a towering header, put the ball firmly in City's court and really began to ask questions of Roberto Martinez's young side.
Despite a significantly lower shot count, per WhoScored.com, the Toffees dominated possession, and an 89 percent pass completion rate is evidence of the good work Martinez is doing on Merseyside.
Despite the loss, Sky Sports' Geoff Shreeves noted why Everton fans shouldn't be too downcast:
They might not have made top four but Everton have had a fantastic season. Roberto Martinez deserves real plaudits for record points total.— Geoff Shreeves (@GeoffShreeves) May 3, 2014
A fifth-placed finish was surely beyond most Evertonians' wildest dreams, but a Europa League spot now presents more challenges for Martinez.
Given the right backing in the transfer market, there is no reason why Everton shouldn't build on this success next term.
As for the likes of Cardiff and Fulham, stability must be key now. If both Magath and Solskjaer are willing to finish what they started, then they should be allowed to go about their work, build a team to their own specifications and look at bouncing straight back up again.
Sunderland's fate is now in their own hands, and a win at home to Swansea City on the final day will see only the second escape from bottom-of-the-table-at-Christmas to survival in Premier League history.