Hull and Swansea in two-horse race to avoid Premier League trapdoor
On a night that saw Arsene Wenger plunged deeper into an interminable crisis, Crystal Palace's emphatic 3-0 win over his Arsenal side on Monday also made a few more things clear in the Premier League.
The Eagles might just have flown clear of the relegation zone once and for all. Following the lead of Leicester City, West Ham United and Burnley in finding crucial victories at just the right time, a six-point lead over the bottom three has an insurmountable feel for Sam Allardyce's in-form side.
If Sunderland and Middlesbrough are already beginning plans for life in the Championship, that just leaves Hull City and Swansea City battling to avoid that third and final relegation spot. Others might crack or be resurrected but this has surely become a two-horse race.
Just two points split the two cities -- Hull and Swansea -- with six games to play. Goal differences are almost identical and their two run-ins even have similarities. Both must play Stoke, Watford and Sunderland and just one top six team. There will be ample chances for victories between now and May 21.
Marco Silva and his side are the ones currently in pole position. The slender advantage built up by those back-to-back wins against West Ham and Middlesbrough means they are the ones with momentum, unlike Swansea, who have now taken just one point from their last five games.
The Tigers began that slide with a 2-1 win over Paul Clement's side at the KCOM Stadium last month and they must hope the damage done since has taken its toll. It has certainly looked that way. A stomach-churning 3-1 defeat at home to Tottenham was recorded on the same night Hull City were climbing out of the bottom three for the first time since October. The contrast in fortunes was stark. Both have since lost on their travels but a 3-1 loss at Manchester City was easier to take than Swansea's timid setback at West Ham. None of the 1,500 travelling fans inside the Etihad Stadium had come expecting much and left knowing there are now three far more inviting away games to target.
As well as visiting Southampton on April 29 and Crystal Palace on May 14, Saturday's trip to Stoke offers Silva his best opportunity yet to halt a dismal run of away form that has seen City lose 13 of 14 Premier League games outside of East Yorkshire.
Much of this wretched run was overseen by Mike Phelan and included some grim defeats at places like Middlesbrough and Sunderland. Silva, by contrast, has had it much harder. Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City have all been among his first away assignments as a Premier League boss and even the one fixture against a relegation rival was awfully timed. Leicester City, the fallen champions, had just begun to ignite under Craig Shakespeare when winning 3-1 last month.
The Tigers have been rank outsiders on every occasion but these last remaining away games have to be targeted. Although Stoke were comfortable and deserved winners at the KCOM Stadium back in October, they host Silva's men on the back of four straight defeats.
City have already won once at the Bet365 Stadium this season -- albeit fortuitously -- in the EFL Cup third round and in theory they ought to be the side carrying greater confidence. A point would certainly suffice but a victory is hardly beyond Silva and his side.
And what an enormous afternoon that could make it. With home games waiting around the corner against Watford and Sunderland, winning at Stoke might eventually become the difference between relegation and survival.
Three wins from these last six games would take the Tigers up to 39 points and, more importantly, ask Swansea to find at least 11 points from their 18 left up for grabs. For a side that has taken 28 points from 32 games up to this stage, that would be an almighty challenge with the pressures rising. Less might be needed for City to survive but that has to be the aim; three wins from the last six games to stay in the Premier League.
City's red-hot home form gives them the chance to do it all at the KCOM Stadium but none want this battle to go down to the final day visit of Tottenham. Returning home from Staffordshire with a point or three might prove decisive in this two-way battle with Swansea.
Philip Buckingham is ESPN FC's Hull City blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @PJBuckingham.