Saturday's marquee match featured a serious dilemma for Everton fans. No one wants their team to throw a game, but devoted Evertonians probably won't be too broken up about losing to Manchester City. They needed a miracle to get top four anyway, and now they won't have Liverpool holding it over their heads that they helped the Reds win a Premier League title.
Elsewhere, the Ryan Giggs era at Manchester United is looking a lot like the David Moyes era. They lost at home to Sunderland, who are now all but safe from relegation. We'll talk about their brilliant run over the last few games, but first, let's complain about how boring Sam Allardyce is.
Sunderland's run truly spectacular
by Kevin McCauley
When Sunderland went into their final five games, their task looked daunting. In order to avoid relegation from the Premier League, they were going to need to grab at least four points from their matches away to Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. They got seven.
The Manchester United win is probably the least impressive of the three results, but their performance was by far the best of the three matches. They got lucky against Chelsea and squandered chances against City, but they completely choked off the United attack on Saturday and absolutely deserved their win. And now, barring a complete meltdown and some surprising, out-of-character performances by Norwich, they're staying up.
Don't let the result fool you: Sam Allardyce has hit his ceiling
by Callum Hamilton
There's something deeply hateful about Sam Allardyce in his current mood. Ordinarily it can be quite nice to see managers face their critics head on, defy the odds or whatever, but not like this. In sneering at the fans who had objected to Allardyce's tactics on the grounds that they're utterly horrendous to watch, it's little wonder why romanticism still holds sway.
Just after the debate over José Mourinho's tactics at Anfield, the Chelsea manager felt vindicated by the result, and Allardyce has probably felt the same this season. He appears to class himself in the same league as him anyway, except, of course, that West Ham are scrabbling around in mediocrity rather than battling for the title. There is absolutely no suggestion that Allardyce can ever get the club to do any better.
Much was made of David Moyes' uninspiring battle cries, and while that sort of thing is supposed to be less important at a club like West Ham, can there really be anything more awful than to suggest that the reason the club hasn't progressed is because you haven't drawn enough? Beating a rival is usually a great way to recapture the support of your fans if you're a manager, but the Upton Park crowd will, rightly, sense that there is a much wider and longer-term problem with Allardyce. They have seen the future, and it's exactly the same as this every season regardless of how much money is spent.
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Walkout shows late-season result isn't enough for Newcastle fans
by Ryan Rosenblatt
Newcastle finally won a match! And nobody cared.
It was a strange day at St. James' Park, as the attention focused on Cardiff's impending relegation and the planned walkout of fans. Even when Shola Ameobi scored to put the Magpies 1-0 up, the typical roar was somewhat muted. That was especially true when Loic Remy and Steven Taylor scored late, as thousands of fans had already left the ground in the 69th minute walkout. Some of the biggest cheers of the day came when fans berated Mike Ashley before being escorted out by security.
Newcastle got their first win in nine matches and looked good doing so. They're in the top half of the table, too, but Saturday's match just highlighted how bad things are at St. James' Park. There is a deep contempt of Alan Pardew and Ashley among the supporters and until there is a major change -- or they start competing for a top-four spot again -- that cloud will hang over the club no matter what they do on the pitch.
Fulham's failure to step up expected
by Zach Woosley
Fulham needed to step up. Fulham needed a heroic performance. With relegation staring the Cottagers in the face, they had to defeat Stoke City on Saturday. The team didn't step up, they weren't heroic and they were thrashed 4-1. Now, they're out of the Premier League, heading for the Championship for the first time since 2001. It's not a shocking result, considering how Fulham have looked all season, but you would have liked to have seen more from them with their survival at stake.
The bottom line for Fulham this season is that they're weren't a great team. They struggled all year, and all the management changes probably didn't help. Poor teams have survived before, but Fulham's players simply didn't appear to want it enough when it mattered the most.
Stoke did their job; they took advantage of Fulham's lackluster performance and made sure they are still on track for a top-10 finish. It's also their third impressive offensive outburst over the past two months, scoring four goals in a match for the second time in their last eight matches.
Martinez had the right idea, but not the players (or luck)
by Kevin McCauley
Manchester City regularly play with two strikers, so why don't more teams try playing with a back three or a true back five against them? Roberto Martinez must have been wondering as much, because he threw out three central defenders against Manchester City in a 3-5-2. It made sense: A back three should match up well against City, his fullbacks are good enough to provide all of the width and Ross Barkley is great as the most attacking midfielder in a three-man center.
But there's the problem of Everton's defenders. Phil Jagielka was in his first game back from injury and looked like it at times. John Stones is theoretically a perfect fit for an outside central defender in a back three, but looked lost. And Antolin Alcaraz just isn't that great. On another day, with everyone healthy, this might have worked, but Everton didn't look terribly sharp at the back on Saturday.
It also didn't help that Sergio Aguero picked up a knock, leading to Fernandinho entering as a sub. While that might represent a loss in attacking quality for City, it also meant Everton were no longer well-set-up to match up with what City were doing. And it came as no surprise when they conceded two more goals before switching back to their normal four-man defense.