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Five Reasons to Watch Football This Weekend (May 2/3)

Nigel Pearson dances with madness while Sean Dyche stares into the abyss
Illustration by Sam Taylor


Nigel Pearson's been waiting for this. His inevitable war with the media has come to a head now, with him sensibly having held off until his team are playing quite well. Like the Emancipation Proclamation, it would have looked like the desperate act of a doomed man if he did it while things were going tits-up. I'm not saying that there's an equivalence between ending slavery and ending criticism of Leicester City's battle against relegation in the press, it's just nice to note the similarities.

This did backfire somewhat when Pearson suddenly found himself having to apologise and swallow his bile as Peter Murphy assaulted him with a barrage of insults. Pro-tip: Never bother getting into serious beef with journalists because they never miss a chance to make the story all about themselves.


Maybe it's all a calculated move, designed to foster the much-fabled Siege Mentality. Yet much like Brendan's envelopes, a ruse designed to increase pressure on players is usually best-used like Fergie once did, to iron out the creases of doubt in a winning team susceptible to complacency. Does piling a heap of stress upon desperate jobbers scrabbling for points at the bottom of the table seem like a good idea, really? Does Danny Drinkwater really need this? We'll find out soon enough.


From the outside, one wonders if there's some degree of comfort in supporting a team that just does the same thing every year. Most people don't look forward to derbies, with the misery of defeat far worse than the fleeting glory – uncertainty might be the whole point of playing the game, but it's also the source of all its misery.

Sunderland, however, don't need to worry about derbies. They win late on after appointing a shite manager with a two-month shelf-life, stay up, then repeat the trick the next year. And unlike Arsenal, their contenders for the most predictable team in the league, they end their season on a high point. It must be comforting – the effect of knowing what's going to happen in advance doesn't lessen a triumph as much as coming out of the blue makes a catastrophe so much worse.

This year though, things look a bit different, a bit hairier than normal. Sure, Sunderland aren't that far off and they have a few games left, but their run-in is nightmarish. The advantage for them is that if they do pull it off, with Leicester, Villa and Hull picking up points, they might doom Newcastle in the process. It increasingly looks like an us-or-them situation, and when even fielding an alleged nonce isn't even in the top five subplots, you know things are getting really serious.



Tottenham-Man City. An underrated contender for the shittest fixture between two big teams, this, and plumbing even lower depths of meaninglessness this year. The most memorable game between the two was the Peter Crouch goal that saw Spurs claim fourth place, which turned out to make no difference as City duly stampeded past them in the battle for relevance. This game means literally nothing – we even know that Pellegrini's most likely a goner.

We can lament the likes of Spurs and Southampton not having the talent to exploit a pretty poor season from City and United, and people will point to the vast wealth enjoyed by the other teams as a reason. United are about to buy a player Spurs were forced to sell with interest. And yeah, that's a decent excuse for failure, but it's the way they're failing that's so frustrating.

Look, plenty of people have fought in vain over the years. Robert E. Lee, Imperial Japan. But they at least had the decency to go out in a gallant, balls-out blaze of glory for our entertainment. Erik Lamela might be the only man in the world who can look sexy while giving his ah-fuck-did-you-see-that-lads-I-nearly-scored-there face, but that's not how we want to see this end. We want blood, sweat, tears on the pitch, collapsing in a 4-4 draw. That's the great thing about Liverpool, at least they always fuck up memorably. Spurs used to be like that, but now they've got the worst of both worlds – they still fail, they just so do quietly and uninterestingly.



We really are stuck for inspiration at the end of this season, with even the Championship finale letting us down. Watford and Bournemouth have quietly and forgettably seized the automatic promotion spots, leaving us with… A contest between Brentford and Wolves to see who can gain a playoff place. Who wants to think about Brentford or Wolves if they don't have to?

The bottom brought some mirth with Wigan and Millwall getting relegated, but that too is decided, so we'll have to cast our eye to the playoffs instead. Presumably the support for the neutral will gravitate towards the underdog, which in this case, as always, is Mick McCarthy. As we reflect upon a truly woeful season, we can only, like pagans dancing for rain, seek out supernatural help. It's not a real Premier League season unless we've got some giffable Mick McCarthy moments out of it, is it? His return would surely make for a far better harvest. The man even looks like a totem pole. Get Ipswich up.


Sean Dyche, the Geography teacher in a leather bar, the East Anglia Steve Austin, a man who looks like a cross between a Nuneaton karate instructor and a protagonist fromThe Bill, however you see him, faces one of four days of destiny this weekend. At the moment he looks pretty fucked. Draw and he still looks pretty fucked. Win and he looks a bit less fucked. Lose and he's probably definitely fucked.

The good news for him is that Burnley have by far the easiest run-in of the relegation battlers, and there's no easier game than against a Sam Allardyce side with nothing to play for. The greatest of escapes could still be on. Yet just as certain other characters in this relegation battle are likely to be, well, sent down regardless of what happens on the pitch, Dyche might well find himself staying up regardless. There's more chance of starting a vineyard in Nagasaki than getting a worthwhile squad in Sunderland, but that could be the prize on offer if he can show some basic competence to round out the season. Never let it be said that Premier League football is not a high-stakes game. It's got fuck all else going for it these days.