Meanwhile in the Premier League 21st & 22nd January

We’re well and truly into the second half of the Barclays Premier League season now and things are starting to heat up at the top of the table, and the bottom, as we round up all the action from match-day 22. Tottenham Hotspur emerged from the weekend’s fixtures as the big losers at the top of the table, as the Manchester clubs were the only two winners out of the top ten clubs going into the weekend. At the bottom, Bolton and Q.P.R. did themselves a favour, whilst Wigan were cut further adrift and Wolves slipped into trouble.

We begin at the Etihad for Sunday’s early kick-off, Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur. Roberto  Mancini’s men were looking to extend their perfect home league record against a Spurs side,  just five points behind them, in third place.  The first half was evenly contested, two strong teams, with mutual respect, sizing each other up, attacking with the occasional flurry and then retreating back to  covering positions. City had marginally the better of the attacking play in the opening period, Aguero causing Spurs the odd headache, especially in tandem with Silva, however, for the most part, Tottenham’s extra man in midfield enabled them to snuff out City attacks before they developed.

This game of chess was turned on its head in ten explosive, second half, minutes. City took the lead on 56 minutes when Samir Nasri latched onto David Silva’s perfectly weighted through-ball, and lashed a first time effort well beyond Friedel’s reach. Two minutes later, Lescott doubled the Sky Blues’ advantage, bundling the ball home after Dzeko had flicked on Nasri’s corner.

For a moment it seemed as if City were going to steamroller their opponents, but only for a moment, because within a minute Spurs had a goal back. Savic, misjudging a back-header, allowed Jermain Defoe, in for the ineligible Adebayor, a free run on goal. Defoe beat Hart to the loose ball, rounded the City keeper and slotted the ball into the empty net from a tight angle. Game on, and Tottenham brought the game to the home side; attacking with pace and purpose,  the visitors got their reward in the 65th minute, Gareth Bale with a sumptuous first time finish into Joe Hart’s top left corner, from Aaron Lennon’s pass. 2-2, and Spurs looked the more likely, the atmosphere in the Etihad had turned from jubilation to trepidation.

Mancini responded, Balotelli on for Dzeko, unsurprisingly, the Italian’s first contribution was to get himself booked, and before long, he would be embroiled in further controversy. Tackled by Parker, in the midst of shooting, Balotelli’s left leg made natural contact with the Englishman’s chest, however, as he pivoted, Balotelli appeared to stamp his right leg down, in a deliberate action, very close to Parker’s head.

Referee Webb, putting in yet another poor performance, claimed  not to have seen the incident and therefore did nothing, leaving Balotelli free to continue up front. Into stoppage time, Gareth Bale broke free for Tottenham, outpacing Lesott, he put a low ball across the box towards Defoe, Hart was removed from the equation by the precision of the cross from Bale, but Defoe, who had checked his run slightly in the build-up, couldn’t quite make up the ground, and, at full stretch, watched as his finish squirmed agonisingly wide.

Then, with the final attack of the match, Balotelli broke into the Tottenham area, as  he shaped to shoot, Ledley King  panicked, uncharacteristically, and brought him crashing to the ground, conceding a last gasp penalty. Balotelli himself stepped up, and, again unsurprisingly, dispatched the spot kick with the utmost of ease, giving Friedel no chance.  3-2 City, Mancini elated, Spurs and Harry Redknapp left outraged. Balotelli has since received a four game ban for his actions, but that will not get Tottenham their point, nor lose City their three, the match itself, however, one of the best so far this season.

A trip to the Emirates for Sunday’s late kick off, where once again  North London was pitted against Manchester  in a must win game for both clubs. Arsenal were looking to capitalise on some poor results by the other teams around them in their quest for the fourth Champions’ League spot, whereas Manchester United, aware of the final score at Eastlands were desperate for the three points in order to  maintain the pressure on Manchester City.

This game did less to live up to expectations, especially after the freak 8-2 scoreline when the teams met at Old Trafford earlier in the season. The opening half was tentative, neither side really hitting their stride early on. Arsenal struggled to get their passing game going, and Djourou, playing at right back, had problems, defensively, dealing with Nani and Evra getting forward.

After a quiet 45 minutes, Djourou gave Giggs too much time on the ball, the latter produced a perfect cross for Valencia to head home at the far post, 0-1 to United at halftime. The second half produced much more by way of spectacle, the home side upped the tempo of their game, and the quick, fluent passing of Arsenal returned; Rosicky set up van Persie, who, having seemingly done all the hard work, lashed the finish wide from eight yards.

The Gunners were very much in the ascendency though, as Aaron Ramsey fired just over from the edge of the box. Oxlade Chamberlain, in his first Premier League start was seeing plenty of the ball in the second half, and it was his run and intelligent pass which allowed van Persie to equalise with a first time finish, across Lindegaard, into the bottom left hand corner.

Arsenal fans could sense victory, but the atmosphere  quickly  turned sour as Arsene Wenger replaced, the exciting, Oxlade Chamberlain with, the somewhat disinterested and unloved, Andrey Arshavin. The curious move, which visibly displeased van Persie, took the wind out of Arsenal’s sails, and had the knock-on effect of re-vitalising their opponents.

Welbeck came close for the visitors as, latching on to a through-ball, he escaped the rather clumsy attentions of Per Mertesacker and clipped the ball over Szczesny, only to see the big German get back to clear off the line.

It would be United who won the day, and it would be Arshavin who should have worked a lot harder to prevent them, as, after 81 minutes, Valencia picked up the ball on the right and drove at Arsenal. Arshavin tracked the man from Ecuador, however, he failed to make any kind of meaningful challenge, and instead, allowed Valencia to pick out Welbeck, who slammed the ball in from twelve yards to wrap up the points.  Not a classic, but a better second half and a vital three points for Ferguson’s men, Arsenal’s rivals for fourth breathed a collective sigh of relief as their poor results went unpunished.

At the bottom of the table, Bolton picked up only their second home win of the season as they dumped Liverpool 3-1. Wanderers were ahead inside five minutes, Mark Davies with the goal; Reo Coker doubled the lead on 29 minutes before Liverpool responded on 37 minutes through Craig Bellamy.

Any hopes of a second half comeback were shattered within five minutes of the re-start, Steinsson slamming in the loose ball after an early corner. Liverpool’s performance was terrible and caused Kenny Dalglish to come out publicly and criticise his players for a lack of respect. The Reds face a defining week in their season  as they take on Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi-final and follow it up with a fourth round FA Cup tie to Manchester United, both at Anfield. Bolton climb out of the bottom three for the first time in a long time, a great win, but Owen Coyle still has plenty of work to do.

Queens Park Rangers dealt Wigan another blow at Loftus Road on Saturday as they ran out 3-1 winners. Helguson (pen), Buzsaky and Tommy Smith with the goals for Rangers, as they handed Mark Hughes his first Premier League win as boss. Rodallega for Wigan, who are now three points adrift of Wolves at the bottom.

Wolves contrived to lose a hard fought local derby against Aston Villa, having led 2-1 at one stage. Bent opened the scoring for Villa from the spot, however goals from Kightly and Edwards put them in front at the break. Robbie Keane equalised against his former club, and, after Karl Henry was shown a red card for stupidly kicking out at Albrighton, Keane smashed the winner for Villa, in off the underside of the bar from 25 yards. Wolves drop into the bottom thee for the first time this season, a situation that’ll concern Mick McCarthy.

Fulham came from a goal down to thrash Newcastle 5-2 at Craven Cottage on Saturday. Guthrie opened the scoring for the Magpies on 43 minutes, but by the time Ben Arfa scored their second on 85 minutes, it was mere consolation. Clint Dempsey, with his second hat-trick in four  games,  and a Bobby Zamora penalty added to Danny Murphy’s equaliser, also from the spot.

Sunderland got back to winning ways under Martin O’ Neill, seeing off a Swansea side with a poor away record; Sessegnon and Gardner with the goals. The Black Cats up to tenth, the Swans slip to twelfth. Stoke’s recent good form was ended by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday as they held on to record a 1-2 victory. Albion’s decent away form continued, goals from Morrison and Dorrans enough to beat Stoke, who equalised late on through Cameron Jerome. Walters also missed a Penalty for the Potters who, despite the defeat, stay eighth.

Everton’s average form continued as they allowed Blackburn Rovers to come from behind and secure a point at Goodison. Rovers equalised through David Goodwillie and were unfortunate not to take all three points back to Lancashire, having dominated the home side, for whom Tim Cahill opened the scoring with his first goal in 14 months, for periods in the second-half. Finally, Chelsea and Norwich played out a 0-0 draw in Saturday’s early kick-off, both sides had chances, Fernando Torres missing the best of them for Chelsea, as the Blues were frustrated by an excellent Norwich side. Chelsea remain fourth, Norwich, a very respectable, tenth.

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