by Dylan Terry

The relegation race took another turn this weekend as wins for QPR and Bolton moved them out of the bottom three, condemning Wigan to the foot of the table, and dropping Wolves right into the thick of the action. Now, with sixteen games of this league season remaining, the fight for survival is well and truly on.

Wigan went into their game against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, knowing points were desperately needed, because with Tottenham (A) , Everton (H), Bolton (A) and Aston Villa (H) on the horizon, a defeat here could mean the start of a rotten few games. Meanwhile, QPR, with Mark Hughes now at the helm, and in high spirits after a mid-week win over MK Dons, needed to get their new manager off to a winning start in the league they hope to be in come May.

The game was one of spectacular goals. Heidar Helguson opened the scoring from the spot after James McCarthy bizarrely handled from a corner for seemingly no reason to give QPR the lead after just over the half hour mark. Akos Buzsaky, who wasn’t played under Neil Warnock but was brought into the fold for Hughes in his first league game in charge, fired a 25 yard free-kick into the top corner sending the Rangers fans into delirium shortly before the break. Hugo Rodallega brought one back for the Latics with an almost identical free-kick from which Buzsaky executed earlier on. But the points were sealed when Tommy Smith fizzed in a brilliant drive nine minutes from time to give the Hoops a much needed victory and fire them out of the bottom three. As for Wigan, they stay slumped at the foot of the table, and with extremely tough fixtures coming up, the Latics’ PL future looks shaky.

Their hot-headed midfielder Karl Henry decided to give Marc Albrighton a good kick in the sternum and got a red card for his efforts.

Meanwhile, a Wolves side that earned a battling point against an in-form Spurs side last time out, were up against Aston Villa. They knew that a win could propel them up to the dizzy heights of 16th, which, if you ask Mick McCarthy, would be dreamland come May.

However, Wolves started really poorly and didn’t get out the traps against a Villa side who weren’t exploding with quality either.

Christophe Berra created a moment of madness when he simply didn’t get rid of the ball quick enough in his own area and got punished when Bent nicked the ball off him and was bundled over by Berra’s follow-through that was meant for the ball, but instead caught the England striker. Bent cooly sent Hennessy the wrong way to give Villa the lead however a Wolves resurgence sparked two goals in ten minutes. First, Emmanuel Frimpong, who was outstanding for the side in Gold, drove forward from the half way line, gave it to Michael Kightly who cut inside onto his left foot and struck a well-placed effort into the far corner. This was followed shortly after by Dave Edwards turning in a header from six yards out to flip the game on it’s head.

After the break however Villa’s recent loan signing Robbie Keane – a former Wolves player himself – decided to turn things up a notch. A few attacks after the restart and suddenly, having not done much in the game, Keane turned and fired a powerful low drive down to Wayne Hennessy’s right. Unstoppable.

Then came the sucker punch for Wolves. Their hot-headed midfielder Karl Henry decided to give Marc Albrighton a good kick in the sternum and got a red card for his efforts. McCarthy stated his displeasure at the action after the game calling it ‘stupid’.

So, who was going to pop up with the winner? None other than Robbie Keane. This goal was the definition of a bullet. He picked the ball up, with a handful of minutes remaining, and smashed a venomous effort into the top corner, in off the bar. Much like his first, he did not celebrate, out of respect for his former club. It’s a club that looks to be heading for the Championship in a season where a lot of shit sits at the bottom of the division.

Goodision Park has not exactly been a fortress this season and that showed once again.

Blackburn were playing Everton while the two games above were taking place and reaped the rewards of some decent form off the back of wins against Man Utd and Fulham along with a draw at Anfield.

Goodision Park has not exactly been a fortress this season and that showed once again when they started sluggishly against Rovers. As much as Blackburn have been poor this year, and they have, you can’t deny the amount of times they put their bodies on the line. The defensive work put in is encouraging to see. It also shows that the players are willing to fight for Steve Kean even if he is sacked by August next term.

In this encounter, they were unfortunate to go a goal behind on twenty-five minutes when a scramble in the box resulted in Maroune Fellani using his arm to shepherd the ball on for the static Tim Cahill to score his first goal since 2010.

But this is where Rovers are starting to show a little bit more resilience. For the remainder of the first period, they defended resolutely. This grit and determination carried over into the second half and with eighteen minutes left on the clock, they got the reward for some doggish defending. There was an element of doggish-ness to the goal as well. From a set-piece (you could have guessed), Tim Howard was nowhere to be seen and it left the goalscorer Cahill to clear his lines. But all he could do was thump the ball against an on-rushing David Goodwille. The ball struck him on the chest and rolled over the line.

That’s the way it finished. Steve Kean will tick that off as another point gained.

As any educated football fan knows, from just looking at Bolton’s results this season, they need two goals to win a game.

Finally, the late kick-off saw Bolton welcome Liverpool to the Reebok where, like the other four teams scraping around the relegation zone, they knew a win would take them above the dreaded red line that obsesses any manager. I’m sure Owen Coyle would agree.

Liverpool have their own ambitions of a top four place though so it was looking tough for Coyle’s men to get anything.

So, of course, they were going to get an early goal. Just to upset that bloke sitting at home hoping to get his ‘Super 6’ money. Mark Davies spoilt that man’s party with a goal where the Reds defence seemed to part like the red sea. One nil up with five minutes gone. But as any educated football fan knows, from just looking at Bolton’s results this season, they need two goals to win a game (having not kept a clean sheet since the opening day of the season). So, what did they do? They got a second. Chris Eagles chipping a ball into the path for Nigel Reo Coker, who was excellent all game, to control and fire past Pepe Reina to give his side breathing space.

But this was a Liverpool side with attacking quality and they showed incredible pace with Craig Bellamy going through, eight minutes before the first half came to its conclusion. Stripping Zat Knight and David Wheater for sheer speed and cooly placing the ball over Bogdan in goal and into the Wanderers net. Game on.

However, Bolton quickly shut Liverpool fans’ mouths when shortly after the restart, Greta Steinsson peeled off from a knocked down corner and smashed the ball home. A real strikers finish….from a full-back.

The win sends Bolton up to 17th. They’ll  be very satisfied with that bearing in mind the torrid first half of the season they had.

So, below is the table as it now stands. Take your pick. I’m sure your choices will have changed by next week.

16 QPR 22 2 4 5 12 18 3 1 7 10 19 -15 20
17 Bolton 22 2 1 8 14 25 4 0 7 14 22 -19 19

18 Blackburn 22 3 0 8 16 22 1 6 4 17 23 -12 18
19 Wolverhampton 22 3 2 6 16 20 1 4 6 9 20 -15 18
20 Wigan 22 1 4 6 10 21 2 2 7 9 24 -26 15