Not a lot is certain as the Barclays Premier League approaches its final weekend, much is yet to be decided. With most teams having already played 36 games of the 2011/12 season, some were playing midweek catch-up over the last seven days. All in all there were four Premier League matches in midweek, with implications, not only for the relegation battle but also for the race for fourth place. Here is a brief summary of the results and action.
We start at Stamford Bridge and Wednesday night’s game between Newcastle and Chelsea. The Geordies have had a gravity defying season up to this point under Alan Pardew and were keen to record a rare win in the Capital. With both teams desperate to secure fourth place and a spot in next year’s Champions’ League, Roberto di Matteo’s revitalised Blues would be no pushovers, even with Mata, Lampard and Drogba rested with Saturday’s F.A. Cup final in mind.
Papiss Cisse, Newcastle’s prolific January signing from Freiburg, once again made the headlines with another show-stopping performance. The Senagalese hitman racked up his twelfth and thirteenth goals of an awe inspiring season in just his twelfth game for the club and, what’s more, they were both total stunners.
Cisse’s first came in the nineteenth minute; picking up the ball on the edge of the box, almost with his back to goal, the striker flicked it up with his right foot, half-spun, and lashed a fierce left-foot volley into the far corner, before Cech had time to blink. A truly lethal finish, however, Cisse was not yet finished.
Chelsea were outplayed for large parts of the game, with Newcastle on top and looking hungrier for victory, however, at 0-1 there can never be comfort. Victory was assured for the Geordies in the final minute of normal time and what a way to do it. Receiving the ball from Shola Ameobi, twenty yards out, close to the left touchline, Cisse hit a first time volley with the outside of his right boot and he caught it perfectly. Hit with ferocious power, swerve and dip, the ball arched up and curled right with such pace, before diving like a hawk, over Cech and into the far top corner of the net.A truly stupendous goal, worthy of winning any match!
One small point; Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel can count himself very lucky not to be banned for the last few games of the season. Mikel clashed aerially with Tiote, in a challenge which left the Newcastle player pole-axed and having to leave the field on a stretcher. Replays confirmed that Mikel was the perpetrator of a fore-arm smash into the face of Tiote, something which should have seen him given a straight red card.
Newcastle stay fifth, level on points with Tottenham but move four clear of Chelsea. It now looks like the Blues will have to beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in a fortnight to qualify for next season’s Champions’s League. A tall order indeed!
The reason that Newcastle stayed fifth after their victory was because Tottenham Hotspur made it two wins in four days, by beating Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok on Wednesday night. Fabrice Muamba, who has been making steady progress in his recovery after collapsing on the pitch earlier this season, was in the stands to watch the game and help cheer his Bolton team-mates on, as they tried to claim vital points in their battle to beat the drop.
Unfortunately for Wanderers, Muamba’s presence wasn’t enough to inspire them to victory, as Spurs ran out comfortable 1-4 winners in the end. Luka Modric opened the scoring for the visitors, a thumping strike from a van der Vaart corner, which flew past Bogdan, into the top corner. Controversy though, as Bolton felt, with some justification, that Sandro had handled before the corner had been awarded.
Wanderers gave the capacity crowd something to celebrate when, in the 51st minute, Nigel Reo Coker finished smartly from David N’Gog’s intelligent flick, to restore parity. With the atmosphere at fever-pitch, Bolton looked to capitalise on that goal and, for ten minutes or so, looked by far the side more likely to take the lead.
However, as so often in football, a failure to convert opportunities led to ultimate defeat. Against the run of play, right on the hour mark, Bale picked out van der Vaart with a left wing cross and the Dutchman finished with aplomb. Just two minutes later, Modic found Lennon who, in turn, found Adebayor, who made it 1-3. It was the Togolese who hammered the final nail into Bolton’s coffin on the night, rounding Bogdan and finding the net after Bale had played the striker in.
Tottenham remain fourth and Harry Redknapp will be desperate to make sure that his side can cling onto that position, whilst hoping that Bayern Munich can do them a favour in the Champions’ League final. Bolton, yet again, showed their naivety and defensive frailty and, having lost this crucial game in hand over their fellow relegation strugglers, have it all to do if they’re going to stay up.
Both Merseyside clubs were in action on Tuesday evening, with both teams looking for points to ensure bragging rights over their neighbours for next season. Liverpool, with Saturday’s F.A. Cup final in mind, fielded a much changed and weakened eleven against Fulham at Anfield.
With Gerrard, Suarez, Johnson, Reina, Enrique and Downing, amongst others, missing from the starting line-up, the Reds struggled for fluency and to produce a coherent attacking threat. Fulham went ahead inside six minutes through no small amount of good fortune; Martin Skrtel unable to prevent himself diverting the ball past Doni from close range, after Riise’s cross had been half-met by Kacaniklic.
Liverpool tried to take the game to the visitors; Jonjo Shelvey had an effort cleared off the line by Hangeland, Andy Carroll, the home side’s best player on the night, had an effort saved by Schwarzer and Hangeland, again, saved the day as he managed to prevent Maxi getting a clean strike away when well placed.
After the break however it was Fulham who created the best chances; second half substiute, Frei, hit the post and Doni made a fine save from Dempsey to keep the score at 0-1. 0-1 it stayed, Fulham now level on points with their illustrious opponents, a great seaon for Martin Jol’s men. Liverpool must finish the campaign strongly to avoid an embarassing final berth, nothing short of two victories will do for Kenny Dalglish’s men.
Finally, Everton took on Stoke at the Britannia looking for a win to boost their chances of finishing ahead of their city rivals in the league this season. The Toffees took the lead a couple of minutes before half-time in somewhat bizarre fashion; Tony Hibberts cross struck Marc Wilson, before deflecting into the Stoke net off Peter Crouch.
It was a drab game, with Stoke’s agricultural tactics failing to produce too many moments of panic for the visitors, however, on 66 minutes, manager, Tony Pulis made a treble substitution, bringing on Whelan, Jerome and Fuller and within two minutes, it had paid dividends. In the 68th minute, Cameron Jerome wriggled free just inside the area and finished coolly to level things up, before either Heitinga or Jagielka could get a tackle in.
1-1 was the final score; Everton move three points clear of Liverpool in seventh place, with just two games remaining. Stoke labour on with nothing to play for, having been safe for a long time. What had been an excellent season for Pulis’s men has tailed off disappointingly in recent weeks.
Cisse Image: EA Sports