So to the last round of pre-Christmas fixtures in the Barclays Premier League, and plenty of action to get through. As we reach this pivotal point in the season, the league table is beginning to properly take shape, with the leaders jockeying for position at the top, and those bringing up the rear, desperate for three points, which might just claw them upwards towards safety.
We begin our round up with a titanic bottom of the table clash, a Lancashire derby between Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, which has taken on huge significance due to both teams’ awful beginnings to the season. Going into Tuesday’s evening kick off at Ewood Park, Blackburn Rovers were sitting one point ahead of Bolton, in 19th position, having amassed just ten points from 16 games. Bolton were rooted to the foot of the table, having lost an incredible, 13 out of 16 games so far this season; a true six pointer, if ever there was one, and possibly, make or break for both managers in terms of keeping their jobs. Unfortunately for Steve Kean, it was the away side that started the game better, and Mark Davies’ 5th minute strike was enough to bring out the boo-boys and the banners around Ewood Park. The Blackburn boss cut a lonely figure in the technical area as the game progressed, and his team piled more misery upon their boss, when lax defending allowed Petrov to pick out Reo-Coker, who made it 0-2 on the half hour. In the second half, Rovers rallied, Junior Hoilett setting up N’Zonzi, who fired just wide, before Hoilett again turned provider; this time releasing Yakubu, who made no mistake. Bolton for their part didn’t buckle, as they have done so many times this season, but hung in determinedly, a fact that must have cheered their under fire boss, Owen Coyle, immensely. Then on 71 minutes, a crucial decision, went Wanderers’ way, Rochina was clattered in the box, for what should have been a Rovers penalty, however the referee missed it, and waved play on. The replay clearly showed that it was a definite foul, and the nature of the tackle, had it been penalised, could very well have led to a sending off. Bolton clung on grimly, and got the three points. Relief for Coyle, who celebrated with the fans at the final whistle; anything but for Kean, who will surely find it close to impossible to survive in his post, given the vitriolic fan protests made against him personally, which are becoming harsher and more widespread every time Blackburn play, particularly at home.
The second of our featured matches was another pre-Christmas cracker, this time at the top of the Barclays Premier League. It featured Tottenham Hotspur, currently riding high in third position, against a Chelsea side who, despite some indifferent form so far this season, were still able to point to fourth spot as a decent return from the season so far. Spurs, playing at home, came flying out of the blocks, really blitzing Chelsea in the opening exchanges, and took the lead at White Hart Lane within three minutes. Gareth Bale lightening pace down the left hand side, allowed him to get in behind the Chelsea back line and fire a low cross in between Petr Cech and his back four, Emmanuel Adebayor arrived in the middle to score his sixth goal in his last six Premier League games, although Cech might have done better, as replays showed that the goalkeeper let the ball go under him. Chelsea responded quickly, Daniel Sturridge missing a glorious chance to equalise, sending the ball over the bar from close range after a mistake by Brad Friedel. Chelsea’s equaliser was somewhat fortuitous, as the ball struck Ashley Cole’s hand in the build-up, it was not deliberate, however, it served as a great advantage to Chelsea because it got Cole in behind Spurs to the bye-line, where he crossed for Sturridge to score again, making him Chelsea’s top scorer so far with nine. Drogba hit the post shortly afterwards, and in the second half the Blues posed the greater threat, with Ramires missing two great chances, including a totally free header from 6 yards out following a great ball by Mata. Despite Chelsea’s pressure Spurs played their part, and threatened on occasion, Sandro and Gallas coming close. Spurs thought they’d scored a second not long into the second half, when Adebayor bundled in from close range, however, it was ruled out for offside, although the replay clearly showed that that was the wrong decision. It was Spurs who finished the match with a flurry, piling pressure on the Chelsea defence as full-time approached, alas, they could not find the winner, the closest they came was Adebayor’s effort which was cleared off the line, with Cech beaten. A thrillingly intense encounter, Chelsea must come out happier as the away side, Spurs will be disappointed, as this is the kind of game they must win if they are going to mount a serious title challenge, as Harry Redknapp believes they can.
We begin our round up of the rest of the matches at Loftus Road, where the Martin O’ Neill effect inspired Sunderland to a 2-3 victory over their hosts Q.P.R.. Bendtner (19) and Sessegnon (53) had given the Black Cats a two goal lead, however two goals in four minutes, the first from Helguson (63), the second, a header, from Mackie (67), looked to be enough to have secured a point for the home side. Former Man. Utd. defender, Wes Brown, had other ideas however, rising to glance home Kieran Richardson’s corner with just a minute to go. 2-3 was also the scoreline at St. James Park, where Newcastle’s indifferent run of form continued. Two goals from hitman Demba Ba were not enough to prevent the Magpies going down to a West Brom. team that made it two wins in four days. Newcastle twice came from behind as first Odemwingie and then McCauley put the visitors in front, however Scharner’s 85th minute volley ensured that the Baggies bagged all three points. The two Manchester clubs kept up the pressure on each other with comfortable victories on Wednesday evening. United beat, a lacklustre, Fulham 0-5 at Craven Cottage, goals from Welbeck, Nani, Giggs, Rooney and Berbatov doing the damage, although United did lose Ashley Young and Phil Jones to what would seem to be medium term injuries. City defeated Stoke 3-0 to keep up their hundred per cent home record, two goals from Sergio Aguero (29) and (54), sandwiching Adam Johnson’s 36th minute finish.
In Tuesday’s other game, Wolverhampton Wanderers twice came from behind to earn themselves a draw with in form Norwich. An end to end encounter saw the Canaries take the lead on 12 minutes through Surman, before Ebanks-Blake scored for Wolves just after the half hour. Jackson again put Norwich in front on 76 minutes, but Wolves manager Mick McCarthy will have been delighted to see his team dig in to earn a draw, and thus put an end to a run of defeats, Zubar the scorer (82). Mark Albrighton of Aston Villa scored the 20,000 th goal since the Premier League began in the 1992/93 season. Unfortunately for him, and for Villa, it came in defeat at the Emirates, where Robin van Persie scored again, to close in on Henry’s record Arsenal goal tally in a calendar year, and Yossi Benayoun scored a rare header to seal the victory for the Gunners in the 87th minute. We finish this time with the Merseysiders. Everton managed to do something that many other teams have failed to do this season, that is, score against Swansea. The Welsh side have been magnificent defensively so far this season, however, Leon Osman’s goal, right on the hour mark, was enough to send Swansea home empty handed. Meanwhile, at the D.W. Stadium, Liverpool tried in vain to collect all three points against a resurgent Wigan side, who have achieved some excellent results in recent weeks. Liverpool controlled the game for the most part, with the exception of a 15 minute spell at the end of the first half, however despite their best efforts, including a Charlie Adam penalty, they could not break the deadlock. Ali al Habsi excelled against his former club, the Wigan keeper picking up the Man of the Match award, but the Reds will be kicking themselves that they have, not for the first time this season, failed to convert superiority into victory.
This article was commissioned by and published on http://www.euro-2012-blog.com/ . First published on 27/12/11.