x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Premier League: 'Six-pointer' can reprieve or relegate

Aston Villa and QPR are both coming off a win but it will be a battle for survival when the two sides meet at Villa Park on Saturday, writes Richard Jolly.

If manager Harry Redknapp, right, can lead the Queen Park Rangers to a win on Saturday, they will vacate the Premier League basement. Glyn Kirk / AFP
If manager Harry Redknapp, right, can lead the Queen Park Rangers to a win on Saturday, they will vacate the Premier League basement. Glyn Kirk / AFP

The prospect of relegation to the Championship provokes extreme reactions from football clubs.

It led Reading to sack the popular and long-serving Brian McDermott on Monday.

At Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers, it took them still further down paths they were already travelling in January.

Come May, the final league table will probably offer vindication for one and certainly bring condemnation for the other. At least one controversial policy will be branded a costly failure.

Villa manager Paul Lambert's preference for the young and untried was already apparent before a transfer window when his arrivals inspired quizzical looks.

Simon Dawkins, 25, a Tottenham Hotspur winger who had never appeared for Spurs, was not on most people's radar, but he was borrowed by Villa.

Nor was Yacouba Sylla, the midfielder from French second-division club Clermont, a household name.

Yet he made his maiden start in last week's 2-1 win at Reading, inadvertently helping to seal the unfortunate McDermott's fate.

Lambert may have a low-profile, low-cost approach. QPR take the opposite attitude.

It has brought criticism when, after wanton, almost random, spending, they still propped up the Premier League.

Their wages-to-revenue ratio was over 90 per cent, and unhealthy in the extreme, even before the last two transfer windows brought another 16, often hugely well-paid, players to Loftus Road.

They are no models of how to run a business. But as a football club, spending has given them renewed hope.

All three scorers in last week's 3-1 win over Sunderland – Loic Remy, Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas – were January recruits. Remy also struck in the victory at Southampton seven days earlier.

Christopher Samba, the £12.5 million (Dh69.5m), £100,000-a-week centre-back, defended doggedly in both games.

For the first time since 1995, the Rangers have back-to-back victories in the Premier League.

For the first time this season, they have stopped being the butt of jokes.

"People wrote us off a few weeks ago, so we're coming from a situation where we were no-hopers, but now we're back in there with a shout," manager Harry Redknapp said.

Their revival means they have become a threat: to Villa, Reading and Wigan in particular, and possibly to Southampton and Sunderland too.

They are belatedly playing to their potential and exposing the paradox of their position.

A side with the personnel, man for man, to suggest they are capable of a top-10 finish are hauling themselves off the bottom of the table.

Yet Villa, too, have the ability to be higher. If Remy is not the finest striker in the lower half of the league, the imposing, intimidating Christian Benteke may be. QPR showed devastating speed on the counter-attack in their last two games.

With the quartet of Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Charles N'Zogbia and Andreas Weimann, it is also Villa's greatest asset.

But errors borne of inexperience account for their troubles and some of their worst days have been at Villa Park.

"They are a massive club with a young team," Redknapp said. "The pressure of the home crowd can affect performances."

In particular, it would seem, Villa's defending can be still more nervous.The difference lies at the back, where Redknapp has made a concerted effort to tighten up.

They have only conceded nine times in as many league games. Villa, their generosity summed up by Nathan Baker's own goal at Reading, have let in 30 goals in 12 matches. Now a clean sheet and a victory has never been more important. This is dictionary definition of a six-pointer.

Win and Villa will have a six-point cushion over the bottom three, if only for 24 hours, providing Reading do not win at Old Trafford.

Lose and QPR will hoist themselves off the bottom of the Premier League table.

"It would make a difference to how the league table looks on Sunday morning," Redknapp said.

That is an understatement.

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