They did not quite cut each others' throats but Wigan Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur inflicted surface wounds at the DW Stadium in playing out an entertaining draw when each team required a win. So both stay one place lower than they need to be to achieve their differing ambitions – and although every remaining game is clearly important, one fixture on each list jumps out.
On Wednesday week Spurs, currently fifth, visit Andre Villas-Boas's former club Chelsea; on the final day of the season Wigan are at home to Aston Villa, the team immediately above them in the bottom four, whom Roberto Martinez loyally declined to join last summer. It is all very well taking one game at a time, focusing only on the next one and other assorted clichés, which for Wigan means away to West Bromwich Albion and for Tottenham at home to Southampton on Saturday. For once, however, players and managers were prepared to allow thoughts to drift further ahead.
"We have to go to Chelsea, so that could be the decider really," said Spurs midfielder Scott Parker of his team's Champions League ambitions. "There are still four games and we have to keep battling. We have a tough game against Southampton now but it looks like the Chelsea game is going to be a pivotal one. I'm sure there will be some more twists and turns and we just need to keep maintaining this and hopefully this point will be big."
Historic rivalry apart, the fact that it could be Chelsea and Arsenal denying them a place among the European elite for the second year running has had some Tottenham followers looking on the dark side. Parker insists the players are not similarly afflicted. "I don't think it comes into your thinking," he said. "It's never been mentioned. I think we just know what we need to do, and that is winning games. It sounds easy, but at times it's difficult. The Champions League is where everyone wants to be; it will be massive for us as a club and as players."
Villas-Boas added: "Chelsea still have to go to Old Trafford. It can be that our game [against them] is a decider; we don't know but at the moment, we have to wait and see."
If previous failures may have a negative influence, however subconsciously, on Spurs, Martinez believes Wigan's previous great escapes can only benefit them while Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland are less familiar with the pressure. "Other clubs have not been fighting relegation before this season. They have been in a safe place. That can be difficult for them," the Wigan manager said.
For Martinez's side the talk is of four cup finals either side of, well, the FA Cup final. Maynor Figueroa, carried off on Saturday with a groin strain, is likely to miss all of them but midfielder James McArthur said: "It's still in our own hands. We need to try and win our last four games, so we're all switched on for the rest of the season. Wherever it take us, we'll just try and get as many points on the board as possible."
McArthur was full of praise for team-mates Callum McManaman, who has shrugged off unwanted headlines after his ghastly tackle on Newcastle's Massadio Haïdara to score crucial goals in the FA Cup and now against Spurs, and James McCarthy, one of few opponents to have tamed Gareth Bale this season.
McManaman said: "It's scary what I've been a part of." So is the potential importance of that Aston Villa game on 19 May.Reuse content