Gameweek 29 had the look and feel of a momentous one as far as the battles at both ends of the league table are concerned, and not even the Beast from the East could waylay forward progress.
Manchester City essentially confirmed their title by beating Chelsea – who now have their work cut out in securing a top four finish, while at the other end of the table Swansea flew up the table courtesy of their win over West Ham. Southampton and Stoke, playing out a tepid 0-0 draw, did not.
We’re into the final straight of the Premier League campaign now, so who were this week’s big winners and losers?
Winner: Sean Dyche
For the past five Premier League seasons, a points tally of 40 has been enough to stave off relegation and secure top flight status.
Burnley reached the magic mark courtesy of a 2-1 win over Everton, and once again that affirmed the staggeringly good job that Sean Dyche is doing at the club.
With the seventh smallest budget in the division – up from the second smallest last season, Dyche has secured forward progression – the Clarets are just five points adrift of Arsenal in sixth – despite being just one of five managers to record a positive net spend in the summer transfer window, i.e. recoup more money than that spent.
In 2016/17, Burnley tailed away after a fine start and Dyche will be keen to avoid a repeat of that scenario, but anything inside the top-10 is a huge achievement for a club continuing to punch above their weight. The vultures will be circling for the talented manager soon enough.
Loser: Sam Allardyce
Everton’s 1-2 reverse at Turf Moor was their fifth straight away defeat in the Premier League and their sixth loss in nine anywhere, and in this modern ‘no patience’ age of football fandom already the boo boys are howling their distaste in Sam Allardyce’s direction.
In truth there was a section of Toffees support who didn’t want Big Sam at the helm in the first place, and his own indifference towards us – particularly his sneer when asked about the boos following the Burnley match – will not ingratiate him any further.
In Oddschecker’s betting market for ‘Next Premier League Manager to Leave Their Post’, Allardyce is already listed as fifth favourite despite only taking over at Goodison Park in late November.
He will be given time to repair the damage caused by Ronald Koeman and David Unsworth before him, but the pressure is really on Allardyce to deliver in the last nine rounds of Premier League action.
When you looked at the Premier League fixture list, Gameweek 29 always looked likely to prove telling in the race to avoid relegation.
Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Huddersfield were playing Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham respectively, and the upshot of that is that with those sides likely to drop points the onus was on those around them to make something positive happen.
So fair play to Swansea then, who were thumped 1-4 by Brighton last time out. They entertained West Ham on Saturday knowing that a huge opportunity was available to them….and boy did they take it.
A 4-1 victory in front of their own fans saw the Swans take flight up the Premier League table; starting the day in immediate jeopardy, they are now as high as thirteenth in the table, and while the margin of safety is just three points at least there are sides beneath them in more obvious danger right now.
Credit again has to go to Carlos Carvalhal, who somehow managed to maintain positivity in the camp in the wake of last week’s mauling at the hands of the Seagulls.
Losers: Southampton and Stoke
While Swansea took full advantage of the opportunity afforded to them, neither Southampton or Stoke showed enough quality to ease their own furrowed, relegation-threatened brow.
The Saints were the better side for large periods of the game but simply could not fathom a winner; they will be desperate to get Charlie Austin fit and firing before their position in the top flight becomes untenable.
As for Stoke, they have now lost just one of their last six league matches under Paul Lambert – albeit with just one victory to their name. At least they have some kind of momentum, but they could have done with all three points here to make life that bit rosier.
Winner: Chris Hughton
The focus of attention following Brighton’s 2-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday will naturally be Arsene Wenger’s surely terminal position as Gunners boss, and rightly so after the week from hell for the Frenchman.
But how about a bit of praise for Chris Hughton, the unassuming Seagulls’ manager who is doing an outstanding job on the south coast.
Brighton are up to the dizzying heights of tenth after a run of three wins from four, and they’re actually just six points adrift of Sean Dyche’s Burnley, so more affection for the work of Hughton should be forthcoming.
He has turned his side into a formidable outfit, particularly on home soil, and has transformed Lewis Dunk into a defender knocking on England’s door for a call-up, has turned Glenn Murray – who wouldn’t beat your nan in a 100m dash – into a genuine Premier League striker, and in Pascal Gross made arguably the best low-key signing of the summer.
Hughton is a talented, young English manager….and one who is flying sadly under the radar.