Hull City v Burnley
Come the end of the season the Premier League will consider whether to extend parachute payments from two years to four years, a move that may well find favour with Hull and Burnley.
The concern for both though is that neither will be eligible to vote. The loser this afternoon at the KC Stadium, particularly if it is the visitors, will be in imminent need of a parachute.
The payments for those who drop down to the Championship are due to rise from £12m to £16m this summer anyway. The doubling of the period will also soften the landing – it is one of several options the Premier League are to consider and needs agreement from the Football League as well – but not by much. Relegation will hurt.
For Burnley the pain seems certain to come sooner rather than later and already speculation is swirling around Brian Laws. The wrong result today and his hold on the manager's job will be notably weakened.
"For me it's just chip paper," said Laws of reports that he is soon to be dismissed. "We're an easy target. The bad news is at the bottom end of the Premier League, the good news is at the top end."
The bad news for Burnley is that they are four points from the safety of 17th place, currently occupied by West Ham, with just five games to play and three of them are away from home. That well-documented away record still stands at a total of one point.
If they appear doomed, the prospect for Hull is a little brighter. They have a game in hand on West Ham and have four of their six remaining games at home. A win today combined with a West Ham failure to beat Sunderland would lift them out of the drop zone for the first time since February.
"You can use any adjective you like – humungous or colossal – because the importance of this game is scary," said Iain Dowie, Hull's manager, who, like Laws, was belatedly parachuted into the job in a desperate bid to keep the club up.
"It can fundamentally put a lot of things in our hands. This is the type of fixture that can shape our season. We said it before we beat Fulham two weeks ago because I felt we had to win that one or we could have become detached from other teams near the bottom. Now we are in the shake-up and other sides are within touch. All of a sudden, if we win this match and with the game in hand we have got on our rivals, it can make a huge difference. Burnley will be hurting badly after losing like that [6-1 at home to Manchester City last Saturday] and we have beware the wounded animal."
If Hull can win, then their thoughts will immediately turn south to the events at Upton Park. "We're starting to look at results elsewhere, of course we are, we're just like fans after a game," said defender Andy Dawson.
West Ham v Sunderland
West Ham's fans have not been happy after the last three games at Upton Park. Defeats by Bolton, Wolves and Stoke saw Gianfranco Zola's team jeered off the pitch and a repeat today would leave the natives very restless indeed. Where it would leave the Davids, Gold and Sullivan, and their already fractured relationship with Zola remains to be seen.
Last Sunday's draw at Goodison was as important for the side's – and perhaps the manager's – self-belief as the hard-won point it delivered. It also stopped a run of six straight defeats. The next two games at Upton Park are likely to settle West Ham's fate, against Wigan in two weeks and first Sunderland today. "The players know the importance so if I use the right words the rest will take care of itself," Zola said. "They just need to be reminded."
They will have to do without the influential Scott Parker today. The midfielder has been easily their best performer throughout a troubled season, but starts a two-game suspension after being booked at Everton, "What Scott does on the pitch only Scott can do," admitted Zola.
Wolves v Stoke City
Wigan, who have a win's worth of breathing space on the bottom four and Bolton, a point better off, have to wait until midweek for their next assignments. Wolves have the easiest run-in of the relegation rivals and victory against Stoke tomorrow would just about allow Mick McCarthy's side the luxury of stowing their parachutes and enjoying the remainder of the top-flight campaign. "Keeping a club up, if you get promoted, is one of the great achievements as a manager," said Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager. "I am sure Mick will enjoy his summer."
Wolves: Tomorrow Stoke (h); 17 Apr Fulham (a); 24 Apr Blackburn (h); 1 May Portsmouth (a); 9 May Sunderland (h)
Bolton: Tues Chelsea (a); 17 Apr Stoke (a); 24 Apr Portsmouth (h); 1 May Spurs (a); 9 May Birm'ham (h)
Wigan: Wed Portsmouth (h); 18 Apr Arsenal (h); 24 Apr West Ham (a); 1 May Hull (h); 9 May Chelsea (a)
West Ham: Today Sunderland (h); 19 Apr Liverpool (a); 24 Apr Wigan (h); 1 May Fulham (a); 9 May Man City (h)
Hull: Today Burnley (h); 17 Apr Bir'hm (a); 21 Apr A Villa (h); 24 Apr Sunderland (h); 1 May Wigan (a); 9 May Liverpool (h)
Burnley: Today Hull (a); 17 Apr Sunderland (a); 24 Apr Liverpool (h); 1 May Birmingham (a); 9 May Spurs (h)Reuse content