Battle to avoid the drop is now the main focus

Northampton Saints are the bookies' favourites to go on and win the Aviva Premiership Grand Final
Northampton Saints are the bookies' favourites to go on and win the Aviva Premiership Grand Final

Most major issues at the top of the Premier League table have effectively been settled.

But, at the bottom, the battle to avoid the last relegation place looks set to go right to the wire.

Sunderland and Leicester both gave themselves every chance of survival last weekend as they picked up crucial victories and, as a result, the winner of the pair’s crucial Stadium of Light showdown will be as good as safe.

Bookies believe the game is on a knife edge, but the consensus appears to be that the Black Cats’ home advantage just about trumps the Foxes’ incredible form so Dick Advocaat’s men are the narrowest of favourites.

BetVictor rate them at 17/10 to grab a vital three points while Ladbrokes rate Nigel Pearson’s troops at 15/8 to register a remarkable seventh victory in eight attempts.

However, the pair could cancel each other out on Wearside, where Stan James’ 23/10 about an inconclusive affair possesses plenty of appeal and the visitors, in particular, would be pretty happy with that outcome given that they finish the season on their own patch against relegated QPR.

In a fixture that’s 5/6 at bet365 to see both teams find the net, the same bookmaker’s 7/2 about a score draw represents decent value, alongside BetVictor’s 6/1 for it to finish one apiece.

Alternatively, price the teams at 4/1 to be inseparable at the end of each half and in terms of goals, the eye catching candidate is Sunderland frontman Jermain Defoe, a 15/8 chance at Paddy Power to strike at any time.

Staying at the foot of the table, Hull are now in desperate trouble and aren’t expected to ease their relegation fears as they travel to White Hart Lane to face Tottenham.

Bet365 chalk the Tigers up at 15/4 to grab a maximum haul in north London, where Spurs are betway’s 8/11 jollies but Mauricio Pochettino’s team have taken their foot off the gas a touch as their season fizzles out so City aren’t without hope.

They might be worth an interest then at 5/2 in bet365’s ‘Draw No Bet’ market or for the more cautious Hull are 21/20 (Stan James) to avoid defeat.

Newcastle stopped the rot last weekend, ending a run of eight straight defeats by earning themselves a share of the spoils against West Brom but they’re just two points above the bottom three and desperate for a success at relegated QPR.

With more to play for, the Magpies are William Hill’s 7/5 favourites but they’re defensively frail and their form makes them far from trustworthy so a better wager could be Skybet’s 4/5 about the match producing three or more goals.

At the other end, Manchester City are 7/10 (BetVictor) to stay in the driving seat in the battle for second place by prevailing at Swansea but the South Wales side are in buoyant mood after edging out Arsenal on Monday and they can frustrate the visitors. Stan James’ 3/1 for a stalemate stands out then at the Liberty Stadium, where BetVictor quote a score draw at 9/2.

Also set to be inseparable, at odds of 5/2 (Ladbrokes), are Manchester United and Arsenal, who face-off at Old Trafford, make Southampton and Aston Villa 13/5 to take home a point apiece from their clash and it’s 9/4 via Paddy Power for Burnley to share the spoils with Stoke.

Finally, at Anfield, Stan James go 1/2 about Liverpool seeing off Crystal Palace, champions Chelsea are 21/20 courtesy of Skybet to overcome West Brom and West Ham (9/5, BetVictor) can edge out visitors Everton.

The regular season in the Aviva Premiership comes to a close on Saturday and thereafter the teams in the top four will be contesting the play-offs with a view to reaching the Grand Final.

Table-topping Northampton Saints are Skybet’s 13/8 favourites to emerge as overall victors which makes sense given that they’ve proven themselves the strongest side over 22 games while betway’s 2/1 shots Bath are expected to be Saints’ main challengers and Saracens haven’t been ruled out at 4/1 (bet365).

Leicester (9/1, Paddy Power) and Exeter (12/1, BetVictor) complete the line-up of teams that could be in the play-offs but neither are fancied to challenge.

In Rugby League, the Challenge Cup takes centre stage this week and there are three matches for punters to get stuck into.

Tonight (Friday) Ladbrokes rate Wigan at 10/11 to overcome Hull KR by at least 16 points, Leeds are 10/11 at William Hill, when starting six points adrift of Huddersfield tomorrow and Sunday’s clash sees Leigh given a two-point cushion by bet365 at 10/11 as they travel to Wakefield.

Bet of the week: Northampton to win the Aviva Premiership Grand Final – 13/8 (Skybet).

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