Relegation battles abound as Tim Sherwood makes Aston Villa bow
The relegation landscape could be set to change this week, as new Aston Villa coach Tim Sherwood takes over the reins at Villa Park in hope of transforming what has been a turbulent term so far.
Villa and their new boss will welcome Stoke City, but will surely have an eye on their relegation rivals’ fixtures as well. Gus Poyet and Sunderland will be hungry to take three points from a resurgent West Bromwich Albion, while Hull City and QPR’s clash could also prove key.
Aston Villa v Stoke City
All eyes will be on how Sherwood sets out his stall against Stoke, with Villa available at a superb 7/4 with Coral to claim the injury-plagued Potters’ scalp.
Sherwood’s influence has already been felt at Villa Park, with an FA Cup fifth round victory against Midlands rivals Leicester City last time out attributed to the former Tottenham coach’s impromptu half-time team talk.
Christian Benteke should benefit from Sherwood’s attacking tactics, and the Belgium frontman is 5/1 to find his form and fire home first with a fresh start afoot, while youngsters such as Jack Grealish could also flourish.
The Villans have already beaten their visitors at the Britannia stadium this season and Manchester City-owned Scott Sinclair’s trickery should prove a challenge for the Potters’ depleted defence.
Stoke have suffered lately, conceding eight in their last two outings, due to the absence of key players such as Bojan Krkic and skipper Ryan Shawcross.
However, Hughes has stated that his side will visit Villa with “all guns blazing”, so back biggest goal threats Peter Crouch (11/2 to net first) and Jon Walters (12/5 to score anytime) to make an impact.
Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion
Poyet is the latest Premier League manager to come under intense scrutiny but, after being scalped by League One side Bradford City, Sunderland are 6/4 to steady the ship with a home win.
Being two points above the drop zone and with just two triumphs in their past eight outings across all competitions, the Teesside team need points.
The Black Cats and Baggies have split the spoils on 41 occasions and also ended on even terms earlier in this campaign, so odds of 23/10 for a draw are favourable.
However, Albion, who are tough to beat on their travels, have lost just once in eight under Tony Pulis and will be feeling bullish for victory at 7/4.
Top striker Saido Berahino is back in the fold and a cool 9/1 to bag a brace or better after striking twice against Sunderland at The Hawthorns. In-form Brown Ideye is also 7/4 to continue his transformation by netting anytime.
The home team, meanwhile, will have to hope Jermain Defoe (11/2 to draw first blood) or Connor Wickham (15/8 in the anytime market) can step up.
Hull City v QPR
Can QPR continue to claw their way out of the relegation scrap? A point will not suffice for either team, with both dangling perilously over the drop zone.
As hosts, and having defeated the Hoops once already this season, Steve Bruce’s side are understandably 11/10 favourites to snatch victory, with new boy Dame N’doye 5/1 to score first.
However, QPR boast superior firepower, and will be buoyed by prolific marksman Charlie Austin’s mooted return. The Hoops hitman is 2/1 to be on target anytime, while recent goal hero Bobby Zamora is 6/1 to net first.
One win in their last eight games across all competitions makes poor reading for Hoops fans, but that victory came under interim coach Chris Ramsey, who will be hoping to inspire his side to their second success on the trot. Back him at 13/5 to help QPR take all the spoils.