English Premier League Highlights Week 16

Normal service was resumed by the top four clubs this weekend as they all earned maximum 3 points, although Man Utd did leave it very late against a battling and managerless Sunderland (more later).

We start off this weekend’s action at the Emirates where Emmanuel Adebayor’s early first-half strike handed, what has to be said, a below-par Arsenal, victory against Steve Bruce’s Wigan.  It ended Wigan’s five-game unbeaten sequence.  The two sides met in the Carling Cup last month, when Arsenal’s second team of youngsters ran out 3-0 winners against what was a near full-strength Wigan team.  Arsenal’s first team weren’t nearly as impressive.

Indeed, it was Bruce’s team which came close to opening the scoring when a shot by Palacios was deflected and Almunia in the Arsenal goal pulled off a very good saves.

However, it was Adebayor who broke the deadlock for Arsenal after 16 minutes.  Fabregas produced a beautiful pass for Adebayor who cooly passed the ball into the net past Kirkland in the Wigan goal.  Arsenal could have made the victory far more comfortable when again Adebayor had another shot but this time Kirkland was equal to it and he tipped the ball onto the post.  Then later the Brazilian Denilson also saw a shot cannon back off the goal frame.

At Goodison Park on Sunday there was a dramatic beginning and end to game when Aston Villa and Ashley Young scored an injury-time winner to shatter Everton.  The Toffees had only just managed to get the score back to 2 – 2 moments earlier but still ended up on the losing side again at home.

Steve Sidwell opened the scoring for Villa after he smashed a shot from 20 yards in just the first minute but Everton were rewarded with a well deserved equaliser after Joleon Lescott prodded home after half and hour.

It was clearly not going to be Everton’s day as new signing Fellaini had a header cleared off the line and also hit the bar with another before Jagielka’s woeful backpass allowed Young to slot home.

It was Lescott again who scored with an acrobatic volley in the 90th minute to the relief of all but the Villa fans inside Goodison but it was Young and Villa who had the last laugh snatching all three points when he curled in a shot in the dying seconds.

Chelsea seem to be far more comfortable away from home than they do at Stamford Bridge at the moment and it was Bolton old boy Nicolas Anelka who reinforced this view and returned to haunt his former club with the opener as Chelsea returned to winning ways in impressive fashion at the Reebok Stadium.

The well travelled Frenchman put Chelsea ahead when he headed home Bosingwa’s cross after just nine minutes, and on 16 minutes the game was basically over as a contest as Deco wrapped up the points with a superb scissors-kick.  It was the Portguese playmaker’s first goal for Chelsea since August when he announced himself into the Premiership with a couple of fantastic early strikes.

Chelsea had more chances for a third, but to be fair to Bolton they tried to make a game of it especially late on.  Their best chance was wasted by Cahill but Bolton simply couldn’t break Chelsea down and they paid the price with their lack of quality up front.  The victory meant that Chelsea set a new top-flight record of 11 away victories on the bounce.  It beat the previous record that had stood since the 1960/61 season set  when Tottenham Hotspur won the League Title.

Over on the banks of the river Thames in west London it was a fine low strike from Bullard’s that saw Fulham come from behind and deny Mark Hughes and Manchester City what would have been a rare away victory.

It was Benjani who nodded the visitors ahead when he outmuscled two Fulham defenders to head in Zabaleta’s superb cross from the right.  But Fulham levelled with Bullard following a flowing move which culminated in him smashing the ball past City keeper Joe Hart.

Both sides had chances to win the game.  Fulham came close with both Johnson and Zamora.  Bullard also had a long range free-kick well saved by Hart.  Meanwhile for City, Zabaleta came close with a fierce shot that was deflected just wide.  But I have to say that should City have grabbed all three points it would have been a little harsh on Fulham who, over all, created the games better chances.

At The KC Stadium it was the unlucky Middlesbrough goalkeeper, Ross Turnbull, who scored an own goal (with the ball ricocheting off the post them him) who helped to give the home team there first victory in a while.  The other Hull goal was scored by  Marlon King from the penalty spot after Wheater, the Boro defender was sent off for a tackle in the area.

Wheater’s marching orders were given after he apparently brought down the Brazilian forward Geovanni in the area. Replays show the decision might have been a little harsh, certainly Gareth Southgate, the Middlesbrough manager thought so after the game, but we’ve all seen those decisions given before.

The result was Hull’s first win in six matches and keeps them in the race for Champions League qualification.  Despite the recent slips it is still an amazing start to life in the Premiership for the team, that just ten years ago, were at the very bottom of the whole English leagues, basically they were in 92nd place.

Now to the League leaders and goals from Alonso, Benayoun and Gerrard late on were enough to keep Liverpool top of the table and leave Blackburn and beleaguered manager Paul Ince without a league win in 10 long games

Before Alonso broke the deadlock half way through the second half Liverpool had a great chance to take the lead but Benayoun seemed to hesitate to take his shot which gave former Liverpool defender Steven Warnock that split second to make an excellent tackle and block inside the area.  Then Pedersen had a chance for the home side but could only fire against the crossbar.

After half-time Alonso almost passed the ball sidefooted past Paul Robinson from the edge of the area to open the scoring and not long after Benayoun drove a low shot to double the lead and at that point the game looked well and truly over.

However, a Roque Santa Cruz header with about 4 minutes remaining gave Ince and Rovers a little bit of hope of salvaging a point from the game but Gerrard found an empty net after poor defending from Blackburn with just seconds remaining.

Blackburn manager Paul Ince, who was already under huge pressure before the game, and he had even claimed their was a “witch hunt” against managers such as him and Roy Keane (who had already resigned as Sunderland manager) to get them sacked.  The reason apparently was because they are ex Man Utd players.  I think the pressure might be getting to Ince.  After the game he looked and sounded very much like a man waiting for the white coats to show up to lead him away to his padded cell.  I hope Blackburn stick with him though.  After just 16 games in charge surely that would be too soon to get rid of him.  He’ll hardly have had time to remember where the training ground is.

Blackburn now are second from bottom, just two points above West Brom, and to make it worst, West Brom have a game in hand.

In the late game on Saturday evening at Old Trafford, Man Utd left it somewhat late to finally land all three points against the managerless Sunderland.  It came from an unlikely source too.  It was Nemanja Vidic who scored the injury time winner to claim all three points.

Sunderland were all set to earn a stunning away point after a resolute defensive effort until defender Vidic tapped in after Michael Carrick had hit the post. Sunderland keeper Marton Fulop was in inspired form and United missed a string of chances as they dominated throughout.

Berbatov headed over and Anderson was denied by a last-ditch challenge before Vidic saved the day. His goal came as United looked set to fall further behind their title rivals as they headed for a rare goalless draw at Old Trafford.  I have even read a few comments this morning from Utd fans claiming that if Vidic hadn’t have pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat it might have been all over for them in this season’s title race.  A little premature I think, but still!

At St. James’ Park, Newcastle Utd looked all set to claimed a home win after two trademark finishers from Michael Owen, however a late Abdoulaye Faye equaliser ensured Stoke City came back from 2 – 0 down to secure, what was in the in end, a deserved point against the Magpies.

They left it late mind you, it was the 90th minute when the visitors drew level when Faye tapped-in from a Glenn Whelan free-kick to send the Toon Army into misery.  Especially after the free-kick was a very harsh decision.  It was apparently for a push, although it’s safe to say Newcastle stand in manager Kinnear didn’t quite see it that way and was duly sent to the stands by the referee for complaining.  Not the first time that’s happened to him.

It was only Stoke’s third point away from home and although their search for a first Premier League win away from the Britannia Stadium continues, manager Tony Pulis can take heart from his side’s much-improved second-half display.

Finally we head off to The Hawthorns were West Brom remain bottom of the Premier League after Peter Crouch’s second-half equaliser earned Portsmouth a draw in an entertaining match.

West Brom seem to be sticking to their guns and continue to play attractive football but you can’t help think that it will ultimately be their downfall and see them return to the Championship, which will be a shame.

Anyway, it was Jonathan Greening who gave West Brom what was a deserved lead when a free-kick ricocheted off the bar only for it to land at the West Brom captain and he side-footed in from just six yards out.

Crouch, the tall Portsmouth striker then levelled matters with a stunning 25-yard strike just before the hour mark.  It was a pulsating second half, in which David James saved from Ishmael Miller while Glen Johnson shot wide from six yards.  Then In the final 10 minutes Scott Carson nearly gifted victory to Portsmouth when the West Brom goalkeeper palmed Johnson’s cross towards goal only to recover and scramble to scoop the ball away to safety.

West Brom have now collected just two points from nine games and remain without a victory since their defeat of Fulham on 4 October.  See what I mean about playing attractive football might be their undoing.  Attractive football is great to watch obviously and I congratulate Tony Mowbray and his players for their attitude but, if you can’t stop goals being conceded and not be more potent in attack, the attractive approach play doesn’t win you anything other than admirers.  Unfortunately there are no points on offer for that!