When I began researching this game, I did so expecting to confirm a suspicion that the prices are correct in making Norwich marginal favourites in a hard-to-call contest on the grounds that they're at home. However, closer inspection reveals information which I think makes the hosts worth a good bet at close to 6/4. For all the praise Southampton have received both before and since the departure of Nigel Adkins, they're won just two of their last 13 games in all competitions. That one of those was a superb 3-1 dismissal of current Premier League title holders Manchester City explains the media admiration for a side whose overall form doesn't entitle them to be just 2/1 to win at Norwich. Of particular concern to supporters must be Saturday's defeat to QPR, but the concession of four goals to Newcastle prior to that also rates a worry and Norwich have enough about them to contain easy-on-the-eye Southampton before pouncing for three points. The Canaries have played 11 Premier League games at Carrow Road since losing 5-2 to Liverpool in September, and they've won six of them. Yes, most came during a fine winter run but a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Everton last time could provide the platform for another. In addition, even when they've failed to win Norwich have still impressed, with narrow defeats to the likes of Chelsea and Man City plus a draw with Spurs. Put simply, over the last three months if you'd backed Norwich in games like this you'd be well in front and there's no reason not to do so at the price.
Verdict: Norwich 2 Southampton 0
Hope springs eternal at Loftus Road after last weekend's 2-1 win at Southampton, but that result will have been rendered close to futile if it's not built upon with at least a point here. The layers were impressed enough to make Rangers favourites to see off Sunderland, but the problem backers face is that this is a side with one home win all season, one which came back in December. With that in mind, and the fact that the Black Cats are fully 10 points further up the table, there's no temptation whatsoever to take 11/8 about the home side. Can we back the visitors? Not with any great confidence. Martin O'Neill keeps praising his side's performances but while they've been very competitive of late, winning still isn't coming easy. A 3-2 victory at Wigan means there's something in the form book that makes 9/4 look fair, but I have this down as a low-scoring draw. No side in the division have shared the spoils at home more often than QPR, while Sunderland's 23 goals conceded on the road is a record beaten by just three sides outside the top six. For those looking elsewhere, Craig Gardner is 13/2 to find the net despite having done so in three of Sunderland's last six games. He has relied on penalties, but five of Sunderland's last seven games have seen at least one awarded so there's reason to expect another.
Verdict: QPR 1 Sunderland 1
A familiar set of prices show Reading as marginal favourites despite three Premier League defeats on the bounce at the loss of eight goals, in another game which will shed further light on the relegation picture. The Royals enjoyed a terrific start to 2013 and had gone unbeaten in five at home prior to a 3-0 defeat to Wigan. If we can isolate and ignore that display, 11/8 looks a fair bet but it was a performance which set alarm bells ringing. Brian McDermott went with just one in attack and his side looked tentative in what was a massive game, allowing their opponents to exploit defensive frailties with incredible ease. For all Villa's struggles, they do possess attacking quality and they'll fancy their chances of getting something here. Interestingly, so far this year they've not yet been beaten by more than a goal in the league - that's despite facing Everton, Arsenal and Man City - so there are big clues that they've become a solid side despite an obvious lack of experience, and if they show attacking intent from the off this is a game they can win. They have picked up victories at Sunderland and Liverpool so far this campaign and won the reverse fixture 2-1, and at around 2/1 I'm tempted. However, for all that Villa get a marginal vote, this is a game whose outcome may depend on who gets the breaks at the right time and I'm inclined to take a back seat.
Reading 1 Aston Villa 2
The Baggies are another side who tend to be hard to beat. So far in 2013, they've played 10 games, winning just two and drawing a further two, but all six defeats have been by a solitary goal. However, Swansea are clearly of a similar nature and it was impressive to see them beat Newcastle on the back of that superb Capital One Cup victory, due reward for a fantastic few years. They've won all three meetings with West Brom in the Premier League and will carry confidence into this fixture, despite having failed to win an away Premier League game since December. One would anticipate a close game but two home draws for West Brom tempers enthusiasm in backing a stalemate, and to be frank there's no easy angle in here. Instead, I'm inclined to take 6/1 about Michu scoring first. The logic is relatively simple, in that he's had an outstanding season that shows no sign of slowing down and has scored with frequency at home and away. The key, though, is that West Brom have scored the first goal in just one of their last eight home games and that suggests that the Spaniard can capitalise early on.
West Brom 1 Swansea 1