Pressure tells at business end

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What was the overriding feeling from the weekend's Premier League action? Have Manchester City surrendered the initiative in the title race? Can Newcastle United finish in the top four? Are Wolverhampton Wanderers doomed to be relegated?

While these questions are unlikely to be answered for a few weeks still, what was apparent is with the most crucial period of the season on the horizon, teams are starting to feel the strain.

Errors at this stage of the season are accentuated, with trophies and survival potentially turned on a goal or a mistake. And players throughout the Premier League were clearly aware of the significance this weekend.

First it was Wayne Hennessey and Roger Johnson who had to be pulled apart as they went to blows over a defensive error, before Peter Odemwingie and Ben Foster argued over the Nigerian's tracking back.

Finally, at the Etihad Stadium, the shy Mario Balotelli decided to grab the headlines once again, arguing with Aleksander Kolarov over a free-kick as City clawed their way back against Sunderland.

All three incidents, although over something different on each occasion, proves that the pressure building late on in the season can often spill over.

It's an indictment of the quality and competitiveness of the Premier League, even at this late stage of the season and while La Liga's finest are cool, clam and collected, English football's stars wear their heart on their sleeve.

While no supporter is likely to be questioning the commitment of their players, possessing unity while a team's form mightn't be the best can be the difference come the end of the season. It's perhaps no coincidence that while there wasn't a great deal wrong with the performances of the three teams concerned, all dropped points amid their in-fighting.

So come the climax of the season, those who can unite together are likely to be successful rather than those who rant at team-mates, or even play the best football.

This is far from the time of the season for fanciful football, squeaky bum time asks for initiative. A united front can result in a winning front.

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