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Burnley exit with their heads held high, QPR relegated with disdain

Matchday 36 of the Premier League is all but in the bag, so it's time to run the rule over the Heroes and Villains of the weekend...


He called himself the best coach in the league and you all laughed, but it's John Carver who's laughing now. Sure, a draw at home to West Bromwich Albion isn't quite worthy of an open top bus ride through the city, but it's a crucial point at a crucial time and that will do fine for Carver. Last week, there were genuine concerns that the players might not even let him on the bus home. A combination of a damn good talking-to, an open letter and the realisation that no-one comes out of relegation looking good, might just save Newcastle yet.

It has taken two and a half years, but Danny Graham has finally scored a goal for Sunderland. He chose his moment well. The outlook was bleak in the second half as Everton piled the pressure on Sunderland, but a counter-attack, a wayward shot and an ungainly flick of Graham's leg brought an unlikely conclusion and laid the foundations for an enormous result. If Sunderland had lost this one, they'd be in all sorts of trouble right now. In a team of misfiring, misbegotten chancers, Graham's work-rate has stood out of late. He deserved this goal.

Humble pie all round for those who doubted Tim Sherwood's abilities. Six wins from their last 10 games have propelled an Aston Villa side that looked doomed to the heady heights of 14th place. They can secure their safety with another win, but they probably won't need to. If Hull lose just one of their last two games, Villa are clear anyway. Throw the small matter of an FA Cup Final into the equation and it's hard to think of any managers who've ever had such a positive impact at such at a late stage of the season.

A first win in three months gives some muscle to Aston Villa's push for Premier League survival.
Tim Sherwood can be justifiably happy with the impact he has made at Aston Villa.

No one doubts Nigel Pearson's abilities. Not out loud. No one even dares think negative things about Pearson on the off chance that he has found a way to monitor your inner monologue and is now plotting a gruesome revenge. But why would they? Never mind escaping the drop zone, six wins from seven games is title winning form. Like a hack writer -- and this column knows what it's talking about here -- Leicester have left everything until the last minute and are now glugging coffee and powering through to meet deadline. And it's working.

We salute you, Burnley. In a rare departure for the newly promoted unfashionable club, they resisted the temptation to spend like a drunken sailor, accumulating an array of expensive, unsavoury and ultimately disappointing mercenaries, before vanishing down the plughole with ludicrous debts. They fought hard, they fought smart and they were very rarely outclassed. Burnley now plan to reinvest their Premier League earnings into their infrastructure, expanding their training ground. If they can keep hold of Sean Dyche, we may see them again before too long.


What on earth went wrong for Hull City? A chance to get back to winning ways at home against an almost relegated team that hadn't scored since the 1980s and they turn their nose up at it? Madness. Something was profoundly wrong at the KC Stadium. It didn't matter what formation Steve Bruce used, there was no improvement and the players weren't helped by a subdued support that bickered among themselves over the long running name change controversy. Hull's only saving grace is that Tottenham, next week's opponents, seem to have gone on holiday.

They need to do some serious thinking at Everton this summer. The spectre of relegation has been banished, but even a late run of form can't hide the fact that this has been a hugely disappointing season for Roberto Martinez. The Blues were booed from the pitch after losing to Sunderland in a game they dominated. They have to find a way to convert their possession into goals. It's all very well looking pretty, but you have to score goals as well. There were hopes of Champions League football in the summer. They haven't even come close.

Tottenham really didn't enjoy the Europa League this season, did they? They seem to be doing their best to avoid qualifying for it as the campaign draws to a close. An insipid performance at Stoke, a team that has had nothing to play for since Blackburn Rovers knocked them out of the FA Cup in February, led to yet another defeat. Since losing to Manchester United in March, Spurs have only beaten Leicester (just) and Newcastle. They've downed tools. The only problem is that apparently so have Southampton.

Chelsea are the best team in the Premier League, but their fans' banner game needs some work.

It's hard to say precisely what makes a good banner work, but it's very easy to say what makes a bad one fail. Traditionally, Liverpool and Manchester United have always had strong banner game. Chelsea... not so much. Not only did some of their fans recycle a year old 'Gerrard Slips' meme, not only did they remain ideologically welded to A4 paper, but this year they reproduced and laminated their work. They laminated it. They actually went to a laminating place and laminated it. Who laminates their banners? Imagine being a normal, well-adjusted Chelsea fan and having to accept these people as your brethren.

Burnley went down with dignity, Queens Park Rangers went down with disdain. With a wage budget that could sustain a Champions League side, they slipped into the Championship with barely a whimper, thrashed 6-0 by Manchester City. Their demotion looked obvious from day one. For all their millions, they could assemble only a fractured and ageing squad, incapable of surviving in the top flight. Interim manager Chris Ramsey is blameless. The fault lies with those above him and those who preceded him. What a waste of money. And how much more trouble will they face with the Football League for breaching FFP?

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.


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