Our master of the accumulator thinks he’s found gold in the late season scramble
At this time of year it is essential to look out for, and avoid, those teams whose players could well have ‘one foot on the beach’.
By that I mean clubs who have known for some time they are not going up or not going down and are merely jostling with those around them for a mid-table berth – and so plans for what to drink first on the Virgin flight to Orlando may weigh more heavily on their minds than one last ‘shift’.
I am not suggesting that teams stop trying altogether when their hopes of promotion or fears of relegation are over – but as in any walk of life, if your whole year’s targets rest upon the outcome of one afternoon’s toil, you’re far more likely to put your nose to the grindstone than others whose fate has long since been decided.
I worked at one football club where the manager annually drilled his charges during pre-season about the need to reach a required number of points, whereupon they would be safe from relegation. Because survival was generally the realistic limit of their ambitions, it made sense and worked too: every season the club was across the safety threshold well before May. But one season the team far exceeded expectations, and were sitting in the top six at the turn of the year. They reached the usual points target by February, but then, despite the best urgings of the manager, the players could not remove the psychological tendency to collectively relax once they had ‘crossed the line’ and their season then petered out alarmingly.
So, focus on those teams who still have the chance to fill a play-off berth, or who must win in order to be safe from falling through the relegation trapdoor. You can be sure there’ll be no knotted handkerchiefs on heads in those dressing rooms…
Mr Multiple’s Weekend Fancies
With the battle for fourth place almost as intriguing – and lucrative – as that for the Premier League title, I looked at the Sunday home games of both Chelsea and Tottenham as potential bankers in this week’s fourfold. But with the exertions against Barcelona to consider, the Blues are a slightly risky proposition at short odds.
The fact that Harry Redknapp has been quoted as saying his Spurs side must win all remaining games is a clear indication the Lilywhites will be busting a gut over the last few weeks of the season.
That they host a Blackburn side on Sunday which cannot really afford to sit back and hope for a point will surely play into Spurs’ hands – include them at 2/5.
Only one half of Sheffield can join Charlton in the top two, and with United in the box seat, Wednesday may have to win both their last two games to even have a chance. Their form is great (unbeaten in 12), so back them at 5/4 because they visit a Brentford side only just out of the play-off picture. Yet the Bees are without a win in three. That 5/4 about the Owls looks plump to me.
With two short-priced selections, we need something to bump up our potential winnings, and I look to League Two and Crewe, unbeaten in 14 games. They need the points to secure a play-off place, while hosts Torquay are already certain of theirs. Back the Alex at 5/2.
To round off the foursome, back Macclesfield – the team that haven’t won since New Year’s Eve – at evens. There’s method in that madness: if they don’t win this weekend, they could be consigned to non-league football. Visitors Burton have lost ten of their last 14, and conceded 11 goals in their last two games.
Four to win: Spurs, Sheffield Wednesday, Crewe, Macclesfield (21/1)