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Iwobi and Dennis face pivotal weekends in the battle for Premier League survival

4:21 pm AEST 30/4/22
Dennis, Iwobi 2021-22
With the season now in its denouement, the Nigeria pair look to preserve Everton and Watford’s top-flight statuses

Nothing epitomises a relegation six-pointer more than Watford’s clash with resurgent Burnley this Saturday, with the outcome of the encounter at Vicarage Road having ramifications for both Premier League sides.

The Hornets are second-bottom, a staggering nine points back of the side they host this weekend knowing full well they are running out of games if the ambition is to end outside the bottom three.

Their assignment with five games remaining is straightforward: defeat the Clarets to have any chance at all of surviving.

Maximum points for the Hornets see them reduce the gap on the side in 17th to six. However, a significantly inferior goal difference means they not only need a six-point swing but a collapse of epic proportions by Mike Jackson’s men to stay in the division if both teams end level after 38 games.

That eventuality could have materialised before Sean Dyche was jettisoned, with the Clarets seemingly in freefall having lost five of six league games.

Since the 50-year-old’s dismissal, they have secured seven from an available nine and may well feel it should be nine from nine had Maxwel Cornet not missed a 45th-minute penalty at West Ham United with Burnley 1-0 up at the time.

Jackson’s men could make it 10 from a possible 12 with a victory at Watford, a result that Emmanuel Dennis and his teammates will dread.

The frontman has had a tougher second half to the campaign than he had in the first, with the goals and assists few and far between since the turn of the year. Only three of the Super Eagle’s 16 goal involvements have come in 2022, although the latter pair elicits optimism heading into the final five gameweeks in 2021/22.

A brilliant equaliser from an improbable angle against Brentford seemed to have secured the Hornets a point against the Bees, only for Pontus Jansson’s goal at the death to sting the Hertfordshire outfit.

Last week’s assist in the 5-1 rout by Manchester City may not have moved the needle but registering goal contributions in consecutive fixtures for the first time since October had to have offered assurances to the club’s fans, albeit little.

For months they hoped to see the decisive forward whose goals and assists gave them hope that safety was a realistic target. Both may have dried up since the backend of 2021, but an in-form Dennis gives the Vicarage Road faithful a fighting chance of doing the impossible.

The magnitude of that ambition is further understood when their recent form on home turf is repeated. 10 successive defeats have equalled the worst home top-flight record, another reverse on Saturday will be Watford’s 11th on the trot, seeing them set an unenviable record in top-flight history.

Victory, however, means the final four rounds of matches carry extra expectations even though jeopardy equally lurks.

Indeed, an in-form Dennis means the Hornets head into these games with added belief.

Everton, despite their game outstanding, are the other side locked in this battle to beat the drop and last week’s outcome is starting to show that relegation from the Premier League is undoubtedly a possibility.

Observers previously reckoned the Toffees were ‘too good to go down’, but the absence of results on their travels and Burnley’s mini resurgence is causing panic to spread at Goodison Park.

Alex Iwobi has been one of the shining lights under Frank Lampard’s management and the in-form midfielder, who strangely received criticism in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Liverpool, has remained bullish.

“There is a lot of belief in the squad, we are ready to fight,” the ex-Arsenal man told the club’s website.

“My focus now is on these six ‘cup finals’, then we can think about next season. Our problem has been a lack of consistency and, more recently, little mistakes have cost us.

“But the fans have been excellent and if we continue giving everything, especially the way we feel at Goodison, we will pick up the points we need.”

In truth, Everton have a right to be confident heading into Sunday’s game with Chelsea. 10 of the 18 points the Merseyside club have picked in the new regime have come at Goodison with the resurgent Iwobi directly contributing to that 1-0 success over Newcastle United last month.

Sunday’s visitors are winless in the corresponding fixture for three years running, giving Lampard’s men the motivation to make it four straight wins over one of the best sides in the land.

With Everton’s game to come a day after Watford host Burnley, the Merseyside club will know where they stand before kick-off. A victory or draw for the Hornets will cause a few sighs of relief, whereas success for the Clarets means they could be five points clear by the time Thomas Tuchel takes his team to Goodison.

Indeed, Iwobi and Dennis will hope to come up trumps in this three-way battle that is likely to go down to the wire.