Meanwhile in the Premier League 31st March-2nd April

Stiliyan Petrov

Stiliyan Petrov: We Wish You Well!

We start this week by wishing Aston Villa captain and Bulgaria international Stiliyan Petrov a speedy recovery, after he was diagnosed with acute Leukemia last week. Get well soon Stan, our thoughts are with you. Now to the football, and after a  couple of relatively low scoring match-days in recent weeks, the Barclays Premier League exploded into life in the final third again last weekend. In total there were 36 goals across the ten fixtures played, an average of 3.6 per game, making it one of the most high-scoring weekends of the season, and making this the longest “Meanwhile”  of the season so far.

We begin at the Etihad, where Sunderland dealt Manchester City’s hopes of winning a first Premier League title a massive blow, by putting an end to their 100% home record this season. Despite a spirited comeback, the Citizens could only manage a 3-3 draw, a result that means Manchester United are now five points clear at the top of the table, after their victory at Ewood Park on Monday Night.

City started the game lethargically, not playing at their usual high tempo or with their trademark energy in midfield.  Sunderland, on the other hand, were right up for this one; having beaten their opponents at the Stadium of Light when the sides met earlier in the season, The Black Cats began confidently, and it wasn’t long before they had the lead. Sessegnon’s dynamic burst forward allowed the Frenchman to feed Larsson, and his right footed shot from 20 yards found Hart’s bottom left corner with immaculate precision.

City were back in the game soon afterwards via controversial penalty award. Edin Dzeko advanced into the box from City’s left side, when faced-up by Craig Gardner, the towering striker leapt into the air and went sprawling to the turf. There was, as many have reported, contact between the two players, however, replays clearly show that the minimal contact occurred after the Serbian had left the ground, in other words, it was a dive. Furious Sunderland protests were waved away, and Mario Balotelli, as ever from the spot, scored with aplomb.

Stung by the injustice, Sunderland came up with an immediate response, and were back in front before half-time. With Mancini’s men displaying less than 100% concentration from a free-kick, Sessegnon was allowed to get down the right-hand side and cross from Bendtner, with the latter’s header beating Hart and finding the corner.

Ten minutes after the break, things got worse for the title hopefuls. Sessegnon showed strength to hold off Yaya Toure in his own half, getting away from the Ivorian, he played a perfectly weighted ball for the run of Niklas Bendtner. Bendtner then slid a fabulous ball across the box, for the arriving Larsson to smash home from six yards; a classic counter attacking goal.

Manchester City looked dead and buried, Balotelli’s spat with Kolarav over the taking of a second-half free-kick, seemed to typify a disorganised and lacklustre performance, however, the enigmatic Italian was to inspire an unlikely revival. Five minutes from time, Balotelli received the ball on City’s left side; cutting in across the box, the front-man unleashed a thunderbolt from his right boot, which flew past Mignolet before he could see it, leaving the Belgian rooted to the spot as the net behind him rippled. Just a minute or so later City had rescued a point, Balotelli’s opponent in the earlier scuffle, Kolarov, slammed in a low left-footed drive from the edge of the box.

3-3 the final score, and a remarkable match it was. Sunderland put in the best performance of their season so far, both players and manager Martin O’Neill, were left scratching their heads in puzzlement at just how they had contrived not to win the game. Manchester City were poor on the day, looking jaded and unsure of themselves for the most part, but their miraculous recovery will give them and manager Roberto Mancini hope. For my money though, and I could yet be proved wrong, Saturday was the day that Manchester City lost the Premier League title.

As mentioned above, Manchester United secured a five point lead at the summit of the table by defeating Blackburn Rovers in Monday evening’s game. Steve Kean’s Rovers caused a major upset when they defeated the Premier League Champions 2-3 at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day, buoyed by that result, and their relatively good overall record against Ferguson’s men, the Ewood Park outfit made life incredibly uncomfortable for the visitors in a hard fought encounter.

In a game in which United dominated possession for periods, Alex Ferguson was left praising David De Gea for his side’s victory. The young Spaniard made several top drawer stops in the first half, the pick of which, somehow denied Martin Olssen’s half volley from the edge of the area, just the faintest of touches enough to take the ball over. From the resultant corner De Gea again reacted athletically to turn over Grant Henley’s header.

United had had chances of their own, particularly Hernandez, who made a mess of an early chance when picked out by Rooney, and had then been out of luck, hitting the post from close range before Robinson gratefully grabbed the loose ball. Valencia was a constant thorn in Blackburn’s left side, and his cross gave Phil Jones the chance to net against his former club, the latter, however, headed well wide.

The second-half produced more of the same, chances at both ends with United shading the possession. Rovers had the ball in the net mid-way through the half, a rocket of a shot by Pederson, however N’Zonzi’s great work in the build-up was undone when the midfielder allowed the ball to just run out of play before he was able to cross. United’s desire threatened to boil over as Paul Scholes unleashed a verbal tirade against, referee Howard Webb, over what he felt was a soft free-kick award, the veteran midfielder somehow escaping a yellow card for his trouble.

It was with just ten minutes remaining on the clock that United finally broke the deadlock, and with it, Blackburn and Manchester City hearts. Antonio Valencia, one of the players of 2012, broke again down the right-hand side, upon reaching a crossing position, the Ecuadorian smashed a low shot with the outside of his right boot, across the goal, and into Paul Robinson’s far corner. There were question marks raised as to whether Valencia was crossing or shooting, but from the manner of the effort, and the celebration that ensued, it seemed fairly clear that the winger knew exactly what he was doing.

Five minutes later the points were sealed. Ashley Young received the ball on the edge of the area, with his back to goal; in a flash the England man had rolled the defender and thumped a right-footed shot, low into goalkeeper’s bottom left hand corner, leaving Robinson no chance at all. 0-2 Manchester United, who are now in their most familiar position with just seven games to play. Blackburn slip back into the bottom three on goal difference, but should take great heart from their performance; I’d expect them still to just about stay up.

We begin the round up at the DW Stadium, where Wigan Athletic, for so long rooted to the bottom of the table, made it back to back wins, defeating a Stoke City side, that have little left to play for, 2-0. The home side had had the better of proceedings in the first-half, but it was beginning to look like deja-vu as they were again finding it difficult to score, Beausejour fluffing their best chance.

The wide man made amends in the 54th minute though, when he crossed invitingly for Alcaraz to power home a header from fourteen yards. Beausejour  missed another great chance before Victor Moses made the points safe for the Latics in the ninetieth minute. A great win for Wigan, who’d have been out of the bottom three for the first time in a long time, had other results been a little more favourable; as it is they stay 19th, but now just one point behind Bolton in 16th.

Bolton themselves, condemned Wolves to almost certain relegation, by eventually coming out 2-3 winners at Molineux on Saturday. Wolves took the lead, not for the first time in recent matches, but then collapsed, allowing their fellow strugglers to take all three points. Michael Kightly gave Wolves the lead early in the second half with an excellent finish, but a controversial penalty award ten minutes later, took all the wind out of their sails.

Referees seem to be getting increasingly easier to con, and Mark Davies managed to expertly pull the wool over Jonathan Moss’ eyes, when he went tumbling over Roger Johnson, with replays confirming that there was next to no contact made. Petrov converted the penalty (63) to draw the visitors level, and after Jarvis had missed a sitter for Wolves, Alonso gave Bolton the lead from close range(80) after Ngog’s header had hit the bar. Four minutes later Kevin Davies made it 1-3 and, by the time Jarvis had pulled one back for the bottom club (88), their fate was sealed.

Newcastle fans had the last laugh over, former manager, Kenny Dalglish on April Fools’ Day; the Geordies running out 2-0 winners against the Anfield side, who’ve been struggling for league form of late. Andy Carroll should’ve put the visitors ahead early on, but after doing all the hard work to create the chance for himself out of nothing, the tall front-man inexplicably went to ground when all he had to do was roll the ball into an empty net; he was booked for his trouble. The officials didn’t cover themselves in glory here either, both missing a blatant handball on the line by Danny Simpson; his actions prevented Liverpool taking the lead and, if seen, would have certainly resulted in a red card for the Newcastle defender, early in the game.

Papiss Cisse (19) gave the home side the lead against the run of play, producing a brilliant header to dispatch Ben Arfa’s inviting cross. After the goal Newcastle grew in confidence, and , after weathering a Liverpool storm of sorts at the start of the second-half, they scored again.  Poor officiating here again, as Papiss Cisse was clearly at least two yards offside when the ball was played, and the lack of a touch in the middle as the ball came across goal meant that it was still the first phase of play, and the flag should have been raised the second the Senegalese touched the ball.

Apart from a brief flurry immediately after the second goal went in, which saw James Perch block Suarez’s goal-bound effort, Liverpool looked a team deflated, unable to comprehend their awful fortune, and without any answers as to how to turn their situation around. Andy Carroll showed his petulant side when deservedly substituted ten minutes from time, and Pepe Reina had one of his ,infrequent, red mist episodes, when confronting James Perch shortly afterwards.

The Spaniard reacted to Perch’s “silly” challenge by squaring up to him, when the two touched heads Perch went down crying like a five year old girl, much the same way as Tiote had done to get Sessegnon sent off in the Tyne/Wear derby not too long ago; perhaps Newcastle practice this in training, who knows? Reina received his marching orders, and rightly so, his over-reaction was stupid and unnecessary, and was always going to warrant a red card, however Perch’s play-acting was pathetic! I call again for the F.A. to retrospectively punish those who insist in demeaning the sport by indulging in this type of behaviour.

Due to the fact that Dalglish had just made his last two substitutions, Jose Enrique was forced to don the gloves and take his place between the posts. The game understandably petered out in the last few minutes, but not before James Perch, cautioned for the afore-mentioned “silly” challenge on Reina, should have received his marching orders for clearly pulling back Luis Suarez. Unless the rules have changed (which they haven’t), that type of foul carries a mandatory yellow card, why the referee chose to ignore the law of the game in this instance, is beyond me. 2-0 Newcastle on a day when everything went right for them, they’re now level on points with Chelsea; as for Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish needs to get them back winning, and quickly!

Elsewhere, Q.P.R. stunned Arsenal by running out 2-1 winners at Loftus Road on Saturday. Adel Taraabt scored his long-awaited first Premier League goal to give Rangers the lead (22), before Theo Walcott levelled things up for the Gunners (37). However new signing Samba Diakite got the winner for the home side in the 66th minute, and despite Arsenal’s dominance of possession in the latter stages, they held on for the win fairly comfortably.

Everton recorded another 2-0 victory to move ahead of, Merseyside rivals, Liverpool in the league for the first time this season. An own goal from Gareth McAuley(18), and a cracking second-half strike from Victor Anichebe(68) were enough to give David Moyes’ men the win over a one-paced West Brom. side at Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon.

Chelsea got back to winning ways after last week’s draw by putting four past a youthful Aston Villa team at Villa Park on Saturday. An early goal from Daniel Sturridge(9) set the Blues on their way, before Ivanovic’s goal (53) put them 0-2 up. The home side responded however, and James Collins pulled a goal back thirteen minutes from time. Just three minutes later they were level, American, Eric Lichaj, slotting home Albrighton’s low cross. Chelsea showed their quality though and Ivanovic had the ball in the net again on 83 minutes, before Fernando Torres finally ended his Premier League goal drought with the visitors’ fourth(90).

Tottenham Hotspur beat Swansea 3-1 at White Hart Lane on Sunday evening to go level on points with Arsenal in the race for third place. Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring for Spurs(18) with a classy side-foot finish. Gylfi Sigurdsson fired Swansea level with yet another spectacular away goal, but the Swans resistance was crushed by two headed  goals from Emmanuel Adebayor(73 & 86).

Finally, two very early goals did the damage as Fulham recorded another home victory, seeing off Paul Lambert’s Norwich City at Craven Cottage. Clint Dempsey opened the scoring after just two minutes, following up Bryan Ruiz’s initial effort which had been spilled by Ruddy. Damien Duff scored the Cottagers’ second (13), with a delightful curling effort, having been released by Dempsey’s pass. Aaron Wilbraham’s deflected shot thirteen minutes from time gave the visitors slight hope, but to no avail, final score Fulham 2-1 Norwich City.

Manchester United ~ Rio

United Clear at the Top!

Petrov image by Wonker

United Image by Paolo Camera

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