On the day that Wolverhampton Wanderers clinched their return to the Premier League, Middlesbrough were left looking doomed to relegation after they failed to beat Fulham at the Riverside.
A goalless draw left Gareth Southgate's second-from-bottom side three points adrift of safety with five games left to play, the first two of which are against Arsenal and Manchester United. "We've got two incredibly difficult fixtures coming up and everyone will write us off," Southgate admitted. "But we are still fighting and we will know at the end of the season if today was a crucial point gained or two dropped."
Wolves ensured they would be playing Premier League football for the first time since 2004 by beating Queens Park Rangers 1-0 at Molineux, courtesy of Sylvan Ebanks Blake's 25th goal of the season. The win ensured Mick McCarthy's side are guaranteed to take one of the two automatic promotion places in the Championship and, with a six-point lead over second-placed Birmingham, they are virtually certain of going up as champions.
Middlesbrough's woes were compounded by the fact that fellow strugglers Sunderland, Stoke and Portsmouth all claimed precious 1-0 victories which leave them close to securing their top flight status for another season. It was however another frustrating afternoon for Aston Villa, whose dream of securing a place in next season's UEFA Champions League now appears to be over after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to West Ham.
Emile Heskey's close-range conversion of a James Milner cross after 11 minutes gave Martin O'Neill's side a half-time lead. However, a late header by Diego Tristan earned the visitors a point and left Villa seven points adrift of Arsenal, the side occupying the last Champions League qualifying spot.
Nwankwo Kanu was Portsmouth's hero as the south coast club moved to the brink of safety with a 1-0 win over Bolton. A grimly combative encounter had appeared destined to end in a stalemate before the veteran Nigerian playmaker glanced in a 78th-minute corner to leave Pompey one win away from the 40-point mark that is usually enough to ensure survival. The celebrations at Fratton Park were muted however with key midfielder Niko Kranjcar having suffered an apparently serious injury just before Kanu claimed the winner.
Stoke are just one point away from that tally after Liam Lawrence's 75th-minute strike settled their contest with Blackburn, who will drop into the relegation zone if Newcastle beat Tottenham on Sunday. "It is an enormous win against a team that is down there and scrapping for their lives," said Stoke boss Tony Pulis. "But we are not safe yet. I still think you have to get into the 40s (points) because teams can go on a run."
Hull are also in deep trouble after a single goal defeat at Sunderland in a match they dominated for long periods. Sunderland had needed a fantastic save from Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon to avoid falling behind before Djibril Cisse got his head to an Andy Reid cross to claim the decisive goal just before half-time.
Hull, who won six of their first nine matches in their first season in the Premier League, have now won only once in 17 games, but manager Phil Brown was encouraged by Saturday's display. "We deserved to get something from the game and if I get that kind of commitment over our last five games, then we'll be OK," he said.