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Drama unfolds for relegation battlers

FOX Soccer: Preview of Saturday's Premier League action.
FOX Soccer: Preview of Saturday's Premier League action.
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Manesh Upadhyaya

Manesh Upadhyaya is an editor and contributing writer to FOXSoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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RAW DEAL

FOX Soccer's Patrick Barclay explain why Martin O'Neill's exit from Stadium of Light signals panic at Sunderland.

It's getting closer to that time of the season when the juice starts following. The bottom end of the Barclays Premier League table gets just as exciting, or heart-pounding, as what's going on at the summit.

Queens Park Rangers and Reading still have an outside chance of staying in the top flight, but realistically both clubs need to start preparing for life in the Championship. QPR's wage bill has to be addressed and you can bet some big players will be sold, possibly Christopher Samba and Loic Remy who were brought in on big money and huge expectations.

Reading could have had a better run of form of late if the Royals had kept their popular boss Brian McDermott, who is now at Leeds. Nigel Adkins is a good manager, but with so few games remaining in the season, the odds are clearly against him in keeping the Berkshire club in the Premier League. Saturday's clash at Norwich City (live, FOX Soccer 2Go, Saturday, 9:50 a.m. ET) will be important for both clubs, as the Canaries want to avoid being sucked into a relegation dog-fight.

"These things take time, we are looking forward to challenge of changing the way we play and moving forward as a club," goalkeeper Adam Federici told Reading’s official website. "We'll continue to work hard every day and I'm sure we will move forward. Every manager has their own philosophy - the manager wants to pass the ball and we're looking forward to adapting to it."

Meanwhile in London, QPR hosts Stoke City at Loftus Road (live, FOXSoccer 2Go, Saturday, 9:50 a.m. ET) in a game that carries much significance. April was Rangers' best shot at staking their claim for survival, yet they only picked up four points in five matches. Rangers are in dire need of points, but unlike the Potters have a much tougher schedule in May. Tony Pulis' men have only one win in their last 14 games, so if QPR were to put a nice run together, a win at home to Stoke would be a good place to start.

"Every game is a must-win but we need to win four games somehow for us to have any chance (of avoiding relegation)," QPR boss Redknapp told reporters before Saturday’s clash against Stoke. "It's not going to be easy to do but while there's games left, you've got to believe that it can happen."

The same could have been said about Wigan Athletic earlier this week. The Lactics had the chance to climb out of the drop zone during midweek, but it was always an uphill task playing at Manchester City where the visitors held their own against their FA Cup final opponents, until they conceded a late goal from Carlos Tevez. Thankfully for the Premier League strugglers, it's worth noting they have a game in hand at home to Swansea City.

SLIM MARGINS

Tension mounts as Premier League top four race heats up.

Roberto Martinez's side travels to West Ham (live, FOXSoccer 2Go, Saturday 9:50 a.m. ET) hoping to secure vital road points. It's possible they can pick up something, but the Hammers will be high on confidence after their 2-2 draw with Manchester United. The game at Upton Park should be an enthralling affair.

Paolo Di Canio's first two games in charge have been entertaining - both from the point of view of the players' performances and the antics of the manager. The derby win at St. James Park could be the springboard needed to lift Sunderland's spirits and push them closer to safety. The loss of Steven Fletcher was a big blow, but Di Canio's presence can definitely liven the mood. They face a home clash against an Everton side (live, FOX Soccer, Saturday, 9:30 a.m. ET) who are still in the hunt for a Champions League spot. You can be sure David Moyes' players will carry the same bite with them as was on show at the Emirates on Tuesday.

"There is still a chance [to finish in the top-four], which is important - I think that is the main thing that we still have a chance with five games to go," Everton fullback Seamus Coleman told Sky Sports. "We are underdogs for that position, which I suppose is right given the resources other teams have - but at the start of the season if with five games left we knew we had a chance, then we would have taken that."

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Paul Lambert's Aston Villa visits Manchester United (live, ESPN 2, Monday, 3 p.m. ET), though many expect United to take three points at Old Trafford. It’s hard to imagine Villa getting any type of result in this match considering the mood Sir Alex Ferguson's players will be in after the result at West Ham. Any points against United will be seen as a bonus, so after Monday, Villa have to focus on Sunderland and possibly Wigan on the last day of the season.

"We're playing well, the feeling is good, the positivity is good, and the way we're playing we're certainly capable of hurting teams," Lambert said following Aston Villa’s draw to Fulham on Sunday. "We've been down there most of the year and the situation isn't new to us.”

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