Another week, another weekend of Barclays Premier League action; rivalries, fall-outs, apologies, managerial sackings and loads of goals, as we bring you all the drama from two days of frenetic football from England’s top league.
We’ll kick-off at Old Trafford with, arguably, the biggest fixture in the Premier League season. Liverpool were the visitors for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, keen to beat their fiercest rivals in order to help themselves in the race for fourth. Manchester United, lying second in the table needed to take all three points to move ahead of Man. City, albeit briefly, at the top of the league. The encounter was always likely to be overshadowed by the ill-feeling surrounding the Suarez/Evra incident, which had been festering since the match at Anfield earlier in the season. Sure enough, the press got their story as the two players concerned declined to shake hands before the game. It wasn’t clear who refused whose hand at the time, the post-match interviews were heated to say the least. However, since the game, Luis Suarez and Kenny Dalglish have issued apologies, and, thankfully, both clubs have now vowed to put the last four months behind them and move forward, although, for the fans, that will be easier said than done.
So, to the football. The match itself, much like the previous two meetings this season between these bitterest of rivals, didn’t provide too much attractive, open and attacking play. Liverpool started the better of the two teams, and Glen Johnson had two good, early chances to notch for the Reds, however he was unable to find the target. Manchester United came back into the game, Valencia was causing Enrique problems down the United right, much like he had in the F.A. Cup tie a fortnight ago. As United improved, they fashioned a great chance, Giggs cross from the left picked out Scholes, however the veteran midfielder headed straight at Reina from five yards.
Just before the break came a massive decision for Phil Dowd. Suarez looked to latch on to a through-ball, he arrived at the same time as Rio Ferdinand, who put a tackle in, touching the ball but failing to dispossess the Uruguayan. Suarez had the ball under control as Ferdinand followed through with his challenge and brought the Liverpool front man down. Phil Dowd saw nothing wrong with the incident, waving away Suarez’s and Liverpool’s furious protests, however, in real time, and having seen the replay on numerous occasions, the decision could certainly have gone the other way, meaning a sure red card for Rio Ferdinand; it didn’t however.
Manchester United flew out of the blocks after the break, all but winning the game with two goals in the first five minutes. Wayne Rooney much improved his scoring record against the Anfield side by netting both; the first a close range volley on 47 minutes, after Jordan Henderson’s flicked header from Giggs’ corner, inadvertently set up the England man. The second, just three minutes later, gobbling up Valencia’s pass after Spearing had given the ball away in a dangerous area for Liverpool. Liverpool, stunned after the two quick goals, struggled to get back into the game, even after Carroll and Bellamy were introduced for Downing and Spearing, they only threatened sporadically.
The Reds finally got themselves back into the game in the 80th minute, and it was Suarez who scored the goal, pouncing on a Rio Ferdinand mistake to prod home from six yards. 2-1 it stayed. At the final whistle, Evra chose to celebrate the win by jumping up and down and cheering the fans right in the face of Luis Suarez, causing fractious scenes between both sets of players as they cleared the pitch. This was the uglier side of the English game, perhaps, in the interest of even-handedness, Evra should have been asked to apologise for his actions upon hearing the final whistle.
Manchester City went back to the top of the table on Sunday evening, following their 0-1 victory at Villa Park. The Villains looked to contain City, and defended bravely for the most part, however, Joleon Lescott’s close range strike in the 63rd minute was enough to hand Mancini’s team all three points. Villa tried to get back into the match after the goal, and it was a nervous last fifteen minutes for City, both Carlos Cuellar and Darren Bent had good chances to level things up, but their finishing wasn’t good enough.
Arsenal gained ground in the race for fourth place, as they were the only team from that mini-league to take any points from the weekend’s victory. The Gunners turned the game round at the Stadium of Light, to put the brakes on Sunderland’s ascent of the table under Martin O’Neill. James McClean put the Black Cats 1-0 up in the 69th minute, with a crisp low drive across Szczesny. Arsenal were level inside five minutes, Aaron Ramsey netting from the edge of the box, shortly after coming on as a substitute. The match seemed destined for a draw until, in the 92nd minute, the other two Arsenal substitutes combined; Arshavin clipped in a delightful cross between two defenders, and Thierry Henry ghosted into the middle to apply the finishing touch. Henry leaves for the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, and what better way to say farewell to the Premier League, again, than by scoring another vital goal for Arsenal, his third of a very productive short-term loan spell.
Everton turned up the heat on Andre Villas Boas by beating Chelsea 2-0 at Goodison Park on Saturday. Another returning Premier League “prodigal son” got the Toffees off to the best start possible, Steven Pienaar racing on to a bouncing ball to thump a half-volley past Cech after just five minutes. Chelsea aren’t firing at the moment, and though they had periods of control, their final ball or finish consistently let them down; Fernando Torres, amongst others including Lampard, had a poor game, his only meaningful contribution was to pick up a yellow card. Everton were relatively comfortable and scored again to secure the points in the 70th minute, Denis Stracqualursi with the finish, after Chelsea had been sliced open in the build-up. Troubling times for Villas Boas, just 2 league wins in 11 games, stretching back to December 17th, more crisis talks with Abramovich await.
There were two massive “six pointers” at the bottom of the table on Saturday, Bolton took on Wigan at the Reebok in the first of these encounters. It was the Latics who came out on top, narrowing the gap between the two clubs to just one point, running out 1-2 winners. Goals from Gary Caldwell and James McCarthur, sandwiched Mark Davies 67th minute screamer, to leave Bolton boss, Owen Coyle, reeling. Blackburn defeated Q.P.R. at Ewood Park in the second of these basement battles. The home side were 3-0 up at half-time, goals from Yakubu, N’Zonzi and Junior Hoilett, putting Rovers, seemingly, out of sight at the break. Rangers rallied in the second period though, and did manage to pull a goal back through Jamie Mackie in the 71st minute, Mackie’s second of the afternoon came too late to be anything other than a consolation however, arriving in the 91st minute. 3-2 Rovers.
Two Barclays Premier League sides smashed five goals past their opponents over the weekend, namely, Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion. Spurs welcomed boss, Harry Redknapp back to White Hart Lane in triumphant fashion, destroying Newcastle United by five goals to nil. Redknapp, who’d spent the start of last week beating tax evasion charges in court, and the end of it fielding questions about the vacant England managerial post, watched as his team ran riot on the pitch. Spurs were 4-0 up by the 34th minute, Assou-Ekotto opened the scoring, with Saha adding a brace on his home debut, before Kranjcar notched the fourth; Adebayor, who’d claimed all four assists for the first half goals, added a fifth goal in the 64th minute. Newcastle were blown away. Albion thumped Wolves 1-5 at Molineux on Sunday, ushering in the end of Mick McCarthy’s reign as Wolves’ boss. McCarthy watched on in astonishment and disgust as his side conceded four goals in 25 second-half minutes, crashing to their sixth home defeat in seven games. Odemwingie opened the scoring, but Stephen Fletcher had Wolves level on half-time; Olsson, Andrews and a brace from Odemwingie, to complete a hat-trick, sealed Wolves’ and McCarthy’s fate.
Fulham’s great home form continued on Saturday, as they cruised to a 2-0 lead over Stoke City within half an hour. New signing Pavel Pogrebnyak opened the scoring with a smart finish on 16 minutes, before Sorensen, unluckily, deflected Dempsey’s shot into his own net after it had come back off the bar. Fulham were sloppy after the break, and allowed Stoke back into the game, Shawcross with a header just over ten minutes from time, but 2-1 was how it finished. Finally, Norwich defeated Swansea 2-3 at the Liberty in a great game between the newly promoted teams. The Swans took the lead after 23 minutes through Danny Graham and it stayed that way until half-time. Norwich took control of proceedings in 18 second-half minutes, a Grant Holt double, either side of Anthony Pilkington’s goal put the Canaries 1-3 up. Norwich should have gone on to score more, but some heroics by Vorm kept the Swans alive. They nearly capitalised on this, pulling a goal back from the spot in the 87th minute, again through Graham, and in the frantic finale both Graham and Steven Caulker had good chances to snatch an unlikely point, it wasn’t to be however.