More midweek action in from the Barclays Premier League, as the second round of fixtures in the Easter holiday, double header were completed before the weekend. Last time on “Meanwhile” we did the equivalent of paying out on top spot for 2011/12; was that a little premature? Probably not, however the results in midweek have certainly made the “two horse race” a little more of an exciting prospect over the remaining weeks.
Manchester City cut the difference between themselves and, leaders, Manchester United to five points, with a commanding 4-0 victory over, Roy Hodgson’s, West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad on Wednesday evening. City, whose recent poor form had seen them slip to eight points off the pace, and prompted manager Roberto Mancini to declare the title race “over”, were never in trouble, against an Albion side who have punched above their weight at times this season, but were a little short on this occasion.
Sergio Aguero gave the home side the lead after just six minutes, smashing a shot past Ben Foster from the edge of the box. Although City created a couple more chances and were fairly dominant in the first period, they had to wait until ten minutes after the break to get their second; Aguero again on hand, this time to slide home from Nasri’s through-ball. Seven minutes later and it was another Argentine who extended the Citizen’s lead to three goals. Yes, you guessed it, Carlos Tevez, making his first start since his much covered “sabbatical” from the club, popped up to scuff home a deflected effort from just inside the area, having been found by Aguero; the celebrations around the Etihad summed up just how fickle football fans can be.
Tevez was hauled off shortly after scoring, his point having been firmly made, but the goals didn’t stop there. Man of the Match Sergio Aguero was, again, involved in City’s fourth goal, shifting the ball to David Silva, and the Spaniard, whose shown signs of fatigue in recent weeks, got himself back in goal-scoring form, by netting the goal of the night; a delightful chip from a tough angle. Final score 4-0, City are re-discovering their confidence.
The result at the Etihad was likely never in doubt, only the manner of City’s victory perhaps, however, both took on added significance because of the news filtering through from the DW Stadium where, bottom three mainstays, Wigan were playing host to Manchester United. The home team were, somewhat surprisingly, on top in the first period and were denied a goal by some overprotective refereeing; Victor Moses’ header disallowed for a supposed push on David de Gea by Gary Caldwell. Very generous indeed, needless to say the decision left Roberto Martinez incensed.
Five minutes into the second-half and the Latics had the reward that their fine play deserved, ex Celtic and Aston Villa striker Shaun Maloney curled in a beauty from twenty yards, and Wigan had the lead. Manchester United were poor on the night, perhaps all the talk in the press about the title race being over had gone to their heads, Alex Ferguson signalled his displeasure at his team’s performance by taking Wayne Rooney off with over twenty minutes remaining, and United chasing a goal.
As the visitors pushed for a late equaliser, it was Wigan’s turn to benefit from the officials, this time it was something they’d missed rather than something they’d seen. With 72 minutes gone Figueroa seemed to play Phil Jones’ cross with his hand, however Phil Dowd waved play on, much to the disgust of the United bench. Al Habsi had to be on hand to save from Welbeck, but at the other end Victor Moses was unlucky not to get on the score-sheet with two good efforts. Final score 1-0, a great win for Wigan, as their Houdini act gathers momentum yet again; as for the title race, wide open again? Probably not, United should still have enough to see it through, but it just got a whole lot more interesting.
To a remarkable match at Ewood Park on Tuesday night; Liverpool the visitors for a Blackburn side who’d seen themselves slip right back into trouble after three consecutive defeats. Liverpool’s poor league form has been well documented, and they were as keen as Steve to get three points on the board and close the gap on Merseyside rivals Everton.
Liverpool started the game at pace, and found themselves 0-2 up within 16 minutes, through the irrepressible Maxi Rodriguez. The intelligent, veteran Argentine made a lung busting dash, through the centre, to keep up with Craig Bellamy, after Skrtel’s contender for pass of the season had found the Welshman on the right-wing. Bellamy’s cross was perfectly weighted, and Maxi tapped in from close range (13).
Three minutes later Jonjo Shelvey, expertly robbed David Dunn of the ball, turned and carried the ball to the edge of the Rovers area. With defenders backing off, the teenager was encouraged to shoot; Robinson got down well but could only push the ball to Carroll, the no. 9 had his shot blocked, but the rebound fell to Maxi who hit a controlled volley into the empty net.
Just minutes later a terrible back-pass from, youngster, Jon Flanagan, in the side due to injuries, allowed Hoillett to advance on Doni; the Brazilian brought down the frontman, resulting in a red card, and a penalty. Flanagan was sacrificed for Brad Jones, Liverpool’s third choice keeper, his first task was to try to keep out his former Boro team mate, Yakubu, from the spot; he succeeded. Yakubu wouldn’t be denied for long though and levelled things up with a well-placed header (36), from David Dunn’s free-kick.
More goalkeeper drama just 15 minutes after the break; this time Jones allowed his clearance to be charged down by Yakubu, the Australian keeper flapped when he was given a chance to claim, and ended up shoving Yakubu, who was going away from goal at the time. That fact, and the proximity of Coates, saved Jones from a red card; Yakubu however, didn’t miss his second penalty, 2-2.
Liverpool, though stunned, kept pushing for a winner, as did the Blackburn with both sides desperately needing the points. For one team, and one man in particular, there was to be a fairy-tale ending. Coates’ high ball into the box was headed across goal by Agger, and, Andy Carroll (90+2), the much maligned Liverpool striker, rose to power in the winning goal, leaving Paul Robinson no chance. Final score 2-3; Carroll elevated! Blackburn devastated! Liverpool rejuvenated?
Liverpool’s F.A. Cup semi-final opponents stayed one point in front of their rivals in the Premier League, by recording a 4-0 victory over Sunderland at Goodison Park. David Moyes rested key players ahead of that Wembley date but his fringe players’ second-half performance was far too hot for O Neill’s Black Cats to handle.
Gueye put the Toffees 1-0 up (52), before Stephen Pienaar (75) and Leon Osman (76), made sure of all three points. Pienaar was excellent again for the Blues, and David Moyes must be gutted that the South African will be ineligible for Saturday’s showdown, his goal was typically classy, a right foot curler from the edge of the box, a feat mimicked almost exactly by Osman. Victor Anichebe made it four (81), his shot deflected in off Jack Colback, with the nature of Everton’s final goal rather summing up Sunderland’s afternoon.
Newcastle overtook Chelsea on goal difference in the race for the European qualification spots at the top of the league. A fabulous, solo goal from Hatem Ben Arfa (73) finally broke Wanderers’ resistance, and ten minutes later, Papiss Cisse notched another, rather less spectacular, finish to condemn Bolton to another Premier League defeat. Final score 2-0, and if Newcastle keep this level up, Champions’ League football is a distinct possibility, especially given the stuttering form of Tottenham, and Chelsea’s European and F.A. Cup commitments. Bolton are in real trouble at the bottom, it’s win or bust time for them, for the remainder of the season.
Elsewhere Tottenham lost again in 2012, going down 1-2 at White Hart Lane against a Norwich side happy to get back on track after some patchy form themselves. The visitors took the lead through Anthony Pilkington (13), and should have had the chance to go 0-2 up from the spot after Grant Holt was hauled down. Michael Oliver seems to have a phobia of awarding penalties, denying clear cut spot-kicks at Old Trafford, Anfield and now White Hart Lane in recent weeks. Jermain Defoe levelled things up with a neat finish (33), but the Canaries were the better team, and got their winner courtesy of Elliott Bennett’s twenty yard strike (66), after some indecisive Spurs defending. Final score 1-2, Norwich mid-table berth consolidated, Tottenham can’t buy a win at the moment, leading some to ask: is it the end of the road for this Tottenham team?
Arsenal made short work of, bottom club, Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on Wednesday. The home side were reduced to ten men in the ninth minute, Bassong bringing down Walcott in the area, and from the moment van Persie’s cheeky spot kick hit the back of the net, the game was over. The Gunners immediately added another through Walcott (11), with Yossi Benayoun closing the scoring in the second-half (69). Arsenal look safe in third, an excellent return for Arsene Wenger given the problems that he faced earlier in the campaign; Wolves, on the other hand, should never have sacked Mick McCarthy, since that date, their Premier League days have been numbered.
Queens Park Rangers recorded an all-important 3-0 victory over Swansea City, as they continue to fight for their top flight lives. The Swans enjoyed by far the best of the possession, but lacked a cutting edge up-front. Joey Barton’s goal right on half-time gave Mark Hughes’ team a crucial advantage at the break, and they capitalised on that lead in the second half with goals from Jamie Mackey(55) via a deflection, and Akos Buzsaky (67), moving them two points clear of the drop-zone.
Fulham came from a goal down to draw with, West London rivals, Chelsea at Craven Cottage on Monday. The Blues were handed the lead by Mark Clattenburg, when the referee decided that Danny Murphy had fouled Kalou; needless to say in the current climate, replays suggested otherwise. Frank Lampard scored from the spot (45). Clint Dempsey rescued a hard earned point for the home team, when he rose to head in a corner eight minutes from time. Fulham’s decent run continues, Chelsea slip up in the race for fouth.
1-1 was also the score at Villa Park on Monday, as, relegation threatened, Aston Villa could only muster just another single point at home. Andreas Weimann, Villa’s Austrian U-21 international, bent home a tremendous strike to give his team the lead (32), but McCleish’s charges failed to build on that advantage and were pegged back in the second-half. A familiar route to goal for the Potters, as Robert Huth got up well to meet Jemaine Pennant’s cross with a trademark bullet-header (71). Stoke remain safe, as they have been all season, but watching Villa under McCleish just now is akin to watching somebody stumbling backwards in slow motion towards the edge of an abyss. They need a helping hand from somewhere, before it’s too late.
Image by Illarterate – Dan Farrimond