QPR released accounts this week that showed their wage bill had doubled to £56million in the year to May 31, 2012. They have since strengthened further with a number of high-earning players brought to Loftus Road, including Loic Remy and Christopher Samba in January. The outlay has yet to reap its rewards with QPR bottom of the Barclays Premier League with 10 games remaining.
It wasn’t a great win, but after scoring two absolutely spectacular goals, Manchester United maintained their twelve point cushion at the top of the Premier League. While making his 999th senior appearance for Manchester United, Ryan Giggs guaranteed a victory for the Red Devils after Rafael Da Silva’s spectacular 20-yard strike had given the visitors a first-half lead. But with ten minutes left to go, with United looking collectively tired and slightly the worse for wear and tear, with Sir Alex Ferguson pacing nervously on the edge of the touchline, Giggs was played onside by Clint Hill, allowing him to run onto a Nani pass, cut hard left into an obtuse angle and then fire a brilliant chip over an advancing Júlio César. Brilliant for the full 90 minutes, Giggs, on the cusp of 40-years-old, made it seem all too easy over a team that just didn’t own the quality to mount even the barest challenge against United’s solid, relaxed back defensive line.
Giggs, who is the most perfect example of professionalism in the sport, led the way, but much credit is due to the ever-improving Rafael Da Silva. His 23rd minute volley–exquisitely executed with both of his little feet off the ground–came off a superb Julio Cesár save of a Robin Van Persie pile-driver. It was a spectacular goal and reminded this decrepit old fart of the good old days of Bobby Charlton when fans made the error of taking them for granted. We-ell, happy days are here again! Thus, on a dream night at Loftus Road, while his twin brother, Fabio, on loan at Rangers, watched from the bench, the tough, sturdy young Brazilian right back mastered Jamie Mackie, a winger who has previously given him much difficulty and made a spectacular effort to clear a Chris Samba header off the goal line. With Rafael so dominant, Harry Redknapp attempted to confuse the issue by interchanging his wingers Mackey and counterpart Andros Townsend, but neither one was fully effective, even against United’s weakest link. the aging left back Patrice Evra
Bottom of the league QPR had difficulty keeping the ball and building up any kind of tempo throughout. Completely dependent on the leadership and industry of the taleted-but-erratic Adel Taraabt, Rangers simply offered no bite. Indeed, the only time David De Gea was truly challenged in the match was in the 78th minute when the Spanish custodian saved a Loic Remy pile-driver. Both Danny Welbeck and substitute Wayne Rooney, back from a severe sinus infection, came close to making it a much more substantial victory late on, but each missed narrowly. Indeed. Welbeck, who missed a series of sitters, was once again a conundrum wrapped in a gob-smacking conundrum.
Now anchored seven points from safety, Harry Redknapp’s Queen’s Park Rangers look to be truly in need of some mode of divine intervention. Meanwhile, Manchester City, who beat an almost equally abject Chelsea on Sunday at the El-Etihad, still need some magic of their own to catch United with just 12 games remaining. United’s only blip of discontent could come as a result of its talismanic striker, Robin Van Persie, being injured after accidentally sliding into a T.V. camera pit and injuring his hip. Will he be fit to play at home in the E.C.C. against Real Madrid? Fingers crossed!!!
Manchester United 3-1 Queens Park Rangers
More nail-biting thrills and white knuckle theatrics are beginning to turn this year’s Manchester United defensive soap opera into possibly the club’s greatest drama ever. Since the beginning of the Premier League United fans have thrilled to the Cantona karate kick. The treble. The celebrity era of David Beckham avec entourage and his sale to Real Madrid. The sticky end of Roy Keane. The shocking sale of Jaap Staam. The training ground war between Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo, which led to, first, the exit of RVP; but, inevitably, the sale of Ronnie to Real Madrid. There is more. Too much more to go over in the here and now. Yet the one we have now, even though the problem is sort of abstract and involves far more than one or two players could turn out to be more circuitous, scandalous and full of oo-ah than a DVD boxed-set of Coronation Street shenanigans.
Before the game, the press did some phony hand-wringing about the sad fate of United’s ex-striker, Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes, fired after collecting only four points since the beginning of the season by Q.P.R. Shed no crocodile tars for this perfidious prevaricator. Having repeatedly failed to undermine the Gaffer as boss of our Abu Dhabian crosstown rent boy rivals, Manchester City before getting fired, Sparky quit on Fulham–a club he was certain ‘had no real future,’ at the behest of his Persian hustler agent Kia Joorabchian. Having wasted Q.P.R.’s billionaire owner Tony Fernandes’ money, the sack was inevitable foe Sparky. Spending the rest of his lfe coaching the Welsh natonal team now seems apt; well, short of a spot managing in Dubai!
Anyway, to be sure, United’s defense has been as porous as a rice paper colander all season. In match after match the pattern has been set. United begin the game abysmally, fall behind 1-0 or 2-0, pull their socks up, usually late into the second half, and begin a comeback. Our brilliant front line of Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck or Javíer ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez usually arrives like the cavalry and saves us. Well, there were a couple of occasions, against Spurs and Norwich City, when the blueprint didn’t work, but the fact that we’re at the top of the league by two points must count for something! This time, having been more or less dreadful for app. 62 minutes, United exploded into passionate action for ten marvelous minutes before returning to a state of vegetation. Indeed, had Rangers’ caretaker manager Mark Bowen not chosen to bring on Anton Ferdinand for Armand Traoré this comeback might not have flourished for the ten minutes it did.
For Sir Alex Ferguson, perhaps still basking in the joy of having a statue dedicated in his honor on the day before the match, it was a day for a Stoic With Paul Scholes usually dexterous sense of synchronicity way off, he was an angry firecracker, missing with too many passes and seemingly bound and determined to cull a yellow card from an empathetic referee after at least half a dozen dangerously mistimed tackles. Time is clearly catching up with both Scholes and his longtime colleague Ryan Giggs. Had Jamie Mackie not scored in the 52nd minute and then Scholes not committed a foul born of frustration following it, Ferguson might not have brought on Anderson which altered the match completely. Conjecture is weird, isn’t it?
“We have to be concerned at the number of times we are giving teams leads,” Ferguson said. “Though you have to say we fought back with great determination. For 15 minutes we were terrific, but that was all. For the rest of the game we were lethargic, a bit careless with our passing, and the game was slow. We’re better than that, as we were finally able to show. Once we started to play there was no question who was going to win.”
The first half was a plain dreadful. The soul glimmer of light early on was Jamie Mackie run onto a sweet Djibril Cisse cross that he was very unlucky to be judged offside upon. after heading past a stranded Anders Lindegaard. Lethargic throughout, United looked like a jaded team who wanted to go behind, just for the sheer kick of it. Woeful, United have never looked as flat as they were at Old Trafford on Saturday since the dull dull days of the late, but little lamented, Dave Sexton.
Neither a bored Ashley Young nor Danny Welbeck could make it out from behind Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Scholes, Young, Welbeck and Rooney made attempts at a slovenly Julio Cesar (another aging master whose reflexes appear to have slipped). It was simply more of the same in the second half. Five minutes in, Rangers won a rare corner and a Kieron Dyer shot was only softly finger tipped away by a slow Anders Lindegaard, and an unmarked Mackie was a waiting by the goal line to push the loose ball in
Wasting no more time, Ferguson brought on Anderson and Javíer Hernández in place of Scholes and Young. The game wastransformed immediately, with Welbeck heading down a high twisting Rooney corner which Evans calmly nodded home. Five minutes later, it was bang! bang! Ronnie’s next corner was an exquisitely hit bit of business for Darren Fletcher to hammer home with his head from the six-yard line. Then, three minutes after that, the stadium went into Theater of Dreams-mode as Fergie’s two subs combined. Substitute Javíer Hernández then ensured a United victory, racing at a high canter on to a through ball from Anderson and completely fooling a clumsy Julio Cesar before firing home.
“We only played for 10 minutes and those 10 minutes were brilliant. The crowd got up and I thought Anderson changed the game for us,” Fergie said after the match. “We expected an improved performance from Q.P.R., it always happens when a side loses their manager. They fought very hard and had some good counterattack play.
Congratulations are in order for Darren Fletcher for his full return to the Premier League. Yet despite some fine tackling and linkup play, the Scotland captain still shows the same gut-wrenching tendency that led to Sir Alex Ferguson’s fatal in-house fight with Captain Roy Keane seven seasons ago. His repeated habit, that of recovering the ball with fine footwork followed by a panic attack as he takes a single touch and then repeatedly passes to the opposition, must stop. And although the back four tend to make an equal number of mistakes, Fletcher’s job as defensive fulcrum does not allow for the same number of mistakes to take place. Will a consistent Darren Fletcher please step forward?
Swansea 3 – 0 West Ham
Could Swansea be a contender this season? Well, it’s a bit early for that conversation, but Michael Laudrup has Swans flying high at the top of the BPL table. Now they have played two of the lesser London sides in QPR last week and West Ham on Saturday. They’ve look great doing it last week and they made it look easy against West Ham. Now here is the weird part, they’re doing it by scoring lots of goals. They’ve score the most goals of all the teams so far this season with eight goals in two matches. Last season, they were one of the least goal scoring teams with 44 goals in 38 matches. What’s the difference? Miguel Michu. The man is the engine for Swans. He was instrumental in winning the ball in the midfield and creating the Swans’ attacks. But it was a fluke goal from Angel Rangel in the 19th minute that opened the scoring. Rangel was put into the area by Michu who then dribbled wide toward the goal line. He then hit a blind square ball that bounced off keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen and into the West Ham net. The rest of the first half saw the Irons chasing Swans’ shadows with Michu dominating play. He got the second Swansea goal in the 28th minute when he latched onto a very loose back pass from Irons’ defender James Collins. The second half was more of the same domination and Wayne Routledge, in the 60th minute, made a telling pass to Danny Graham who then scored the Swans third goal to secure the match. If West Ham intend to stay in the Premiership, they will need to do more than blow bubbles.
Aston Villa 1 – 3 Everton
Oh man, I would hate to be an Aston Villa supporter just now. They haven’t started well at all and got humiliated by three first half Everton goals in front of their home fans at Villa Park. Boss Paul Lambert could end up being as hated as former boss Alex McLeish if he can’t get the Villains back to winning ways. The match went downhill for the Villains early in the 3rd minute when Steven Pienaar hit a superb strike for the first goal of the match. Steven Naismith, just signed from Glasgow Rangers, made a great cut-back pass and Pienaar hit a great curler past Shay Given into the top right corner of the net. The Toffees laid siege to the Villain goal all day and the in the 31st minute a Shay Given error allowed Marouane Fellaini to grab the second goal. Toffee captain Phil Neville almost got the third shortly there after when his shot went high and wide of the Villa goal. Leighton Baines’ cross from the left found an unmarked Nikica Jelavic in the 44th minute and Jelavic grabbed the third goal. The second half saw more Everton dominance and Pienaar twice carved up the Villa defence and made opportunities for Naismith and Jelavic. Only the intervention of defender Nathan Baker on both occasions prevented further humiliation. In the 58th minute, the Villains were reduced to 10 men when Claran Clark was sent off for bringing down Jelavic and, as the last defender, stopping a goal scoring opportunity. Villa did manage to get a consolation goal in the 75th minute when Karim El Ahmadi’s long shot managed to get past Tim Howard. Substitute Andreas Weimann hit the post in stoppage time, but Villa were never really in this match. I think it’s safe to say that the Villains will be one of the sides fighting relegation this season.
Manchester United 3 – 2 Fulham
Robin Van Persie, Shinjin Kagawa, and Rafael Da Silva finally get the Red Devils march started, albeit with a stutter step or two. The make shift United defense still has holes in it and Damien Duff found one in the third minute as he got past Rafael to grab the opening goal. But United got going when in the tenth minute Patrice Evra put over a fine cross which Van Persie met and put away with a wonder strike. Then he and Kagawa began linking up in really fine fashion and put the Cottager’s goal under great pressure. Kagawa got his first goal as a Red Devil in the 35th minute when he latched onto keeper Mark Schwarzer’s rebound from Tom Cleverly’s hard distance shot on goal. Kagawa later hit the post and Rafael had a goal disallowed for offside, but the right back later scored in the 41st minute when he headed home Ashley Young’s left wing cross. Fulham could have pulled one back right before half time when United keeper David De Gea turned back Mladen Petric’s shot onto the bar and Brian Ruiz fired the rebound over into the crowd. United should have marched on for an easy win, but once again the Red Devils took the foot off the gas pedal and in the 64th minute a mix-up between Nemenja Vidic and De Gea saw Matthew Briggs’ cross rebound off Vidic’s foot and into the United goal. That inspired Moussa Dembele who started driving hard through the United defense. De Gea was forced to make two fine saves from Dembele and stop a late Ruiz header. Vidic also made up for the own goal with a fine block from Hugo Rodallega. The win was dampened when Wayne Rooney was stretchered off in the 83rd minute after receiving a horrible gash after Rodallega caught his cleats on Rooney’s thigh. Reports are that Rooney will be out for at least four weeks. And so the growing injury list has a lot of Red Devil fans worried. Maybe this early injury bug will turn out to be a blessing as it is happening at the beginning of the season and not at the end?
Norwich 1 – 1 Queens Park Rangers
The Canaries and Rangers each get their first BPL points in a draw at Carrow Road. While it’s not a complete recovery from their respective beat downs that each suffered last week, it will do for a start. The Canaries took the lead in the 11th minute when Anthony Pilkington’s cross has headed in by Simeon Jackson from point-blank range. Eight minutes later, new Canary signing Sebastien Bassong was judged to have tripped Djbril Cisse in the penalty area. Replays of the incident made the referee’s decision appear to be a bit harsh as Cisse looked like he had fallen on his own. But a penalty kick was awarded. Cisse took the spot kick, which was saved by keeper John Ruddy. But the rebound was put home by Bobby Zamora. But replays of the kick showed that Zamora was in the area well before the kick was taken. The second half saw a bit of controversy when Robert Green appeared to handle the ball outside his area. The referee saw nothing wrong and play went on. Both sides pressed for and advantage, but the Canaries should have scored as Pilkington made great crosses for Robert Snodgrass, who headed his attempt over the goal, and Chris Martin, whose headed attempt rebounded off the cross bar. But on the whole, Canaries boss Chris Hughton and Rangers boss Mark Hughes should be satisfied with the recovery of each of his respective teams.
Southampton 0 – 2 Wigan
The Latics get two past the Saints weak looking defense. The crowd at St. Mary’s stadium saw their get off to a decent start and they controlled much of the early match. In the 14th minute, Adam Lallana had his shot from 25 yards out saved onto the crossbar by Latics keeper Ali Al-Habsi. Jay Rodriquez ad Danny Fox both had efforts blocked as the Saints continued to press the Latics. And then the rain started. The match got a bit scrappy when the second half started but livened back up when the Latics got a 51st minute lead. It started when keeper Al-Habsi made a great save from a looping, goal bound Rickie Lambert header. The Latics countered and Maloney played Di Santo through onto the Saints goal and Franco Di Santo smashed the ball into the top right-hand corner. To their credit, the Saints tried to immediately respond, but Al-Habsi was equal to the 25 yard volley from Daniel Fox. But the Saints gave the ball away a lot and we all know that is something that you cannot do if you intend to stay in the Premiership. Wigan secured the win when defender Jose Fonte lost the ball to Arouna Kone, who then ran the the length of the pitch and calmly slotted past keeper Davis. There was some question as to whether Kone had tripped Fonte to get possession, but the referee refused to hear any appeals from the Saints. Lesson for the day: if you cherish your place in the BPL, you’d better cherish the football.
Sunderland P – P Reading
Umm… It rained a bit and the pitch got waterlogged. This one got postponed.
Tottenham 1 – 1 West Bromwich Albion
James Morrison gets a stoppage time equalizer to deny Spurs and boss Andreas Villas-Boas their first win of the season. Spurs were quire wasteful in this match. Defoe came the closest to scoring at the end of the first half. He was given a neat square ball from Christian Bale, but made a weak attempt on goal that was easily saved by goalkeeper Ben Foster. That’s how it went for most of the match. Bale would do his usual hard running down the Spurs left wing. Crosses would go into the Baggies penalty area, but the finishing just was not there for Spurs. Beniot Assou-Ekotto finally got Spurs a goal in the 74th minute when his 25 yard shot was deflected past keeper Ben Foster. That should have been that and Villas-Boas should have been able to count his first victory as Tottenham boss. But someone forgot to tell West Bromwich Albion. They pressed and pressed for the equalizer. It finally came in stoppage time from James Morrison. The ball kept pinging around Spurs’ penalty area and defender William Gallas managed to clear it off the line. But Spurs failed to clear their lines and Morrison had the ball fall kindly to his feet and he eased it by keeper Brad Friedel for the equalizer. Jan Vertongen thought he had won the match for Spurs when he volleyed past keeper Foster. But the goal was ruled out for offside. It’s a long season and Villas-Boas should be able to get Spurs going. But it doesn’t look good so far.
Chelsea 2 – 0 Newcastle
The Blues made it looks easy as they get goals from Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres and ascend to the top of the BPL table. Hazard looks like a wonderful buy as he constantly exploited gaps in the Magpie defense. It looks like Torres has found the partnership that he’s been longing for since leaving Liverpool. The two of them made a great combination in the 22nd minute and Torres practically walked around defender David Santon who tripped the Spainard in the Magpie penalty area. The resulting penalty kick had some Blues fans a bit worried as the normal penalty taker, Frank Lampard, was on the bench. But Hazard stepped up to the spot and used the occasion to get his first goal as a Chelsea player. The Belgian midfielder was later provider for Torres as he set the Spainard up for his 45th minute wonder strike past keeper Tim Krul. Newcastle almost got one back before the half time whistle blew when Papiss Cisse let loose with a hard shot straight at keeper Petr Cech. To their credit, the Magpies did try to get a goal back after the half-time break. Hatem Ben Arfa an Jonas Gutierrez both put shots wide of the Blues goal and later Cech pulled off a fine save with his legs after Demba Ba made a fine run into the penalty area. But this was one of those matches that make Stamford Bridge the place where opposing teams come away with nothing but misery. So the European Champions were able to cruise to three easy points ahead of their UEFA Super Copa match on Friday.
Stoke City 0 – 0 Arsenal
Yawn. I think we can bring back the old chant of “Boring, boring Arsenal”. The match at the Britannia Stadium was quite mind-numbing affair. I know it’s a bit unfair to expect the Gunners to pick up where they left off last season, but they really are not very easy to watch. Neither are Stoke City and so the Sunday match plodded on and on. The Potters were the first to attempt an effort in the 6th minute when Jonathan Walters had his goal ruled out for offside. New Gunner boys Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski did try to lift the team out of the doldrums, and the Gunners did dominate much of the possession during the match. But they really didn’t look like making any real dent until boss Arsene Wenger put on Theo Wallcot and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Podolski and Gervinho in the 71st minute. The Gunner attack seemed to pick up a bit, but they never really troubled the Potters’ goal. In the post match interview, Wenger moaned that his attack was missing something. Well, yeah Mr. Obvious. Arsenal have not scored yet, so perhaps the attack is missing a goal scorer? Potters’ boss Tony Pulis seemed more than satisfied with the goalless draw, although he was a bit angry when Jermaine Pennant appeared to have been pushed over by Kieran Gibbs in the Arsenal penalty area and nothing was given. Wenger has a lot of rebuilding to do if the Gunners mean to challenge for silverware this season.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Manchester City
An exciting draw happened at Ainfield as Liverpool took on the Champions. This one was easily the match of the week. The Reds had a lot to play for as they pressed really hard to overcome the drubbing they got last week. It looked like a disaster for the Reds was coming when Lucas had to be substituted in the fourth minute with an injury. But that didn’t dampen the team spirit. There is a reason why Liverpool are so hard to beat at home and you could see that boss Brendan Rogers and captain Steven Gerrard have picked up the team spirit. Both new boys 17 year old striker Raheem Sterling and midfielder Joe Allen looked good and the Reds dominated much of the match. Martin Skrtel got the Kopp on their feet cheering when he headed home Gerrard’s corner kick in the 34th minute. That should have been the start of Liverpool’s win over the champions, but in the 63rd minute a defensive mix-up in the Liverpool area allowed Yaya Toure to scramble an equalizer for the Champions. But before Citeh fans could really get going singing about “Blue Moon” and start doing their backwards dance, Gerrard got hold of the ball and forced new Citeh substitute Jack Rodwell into a hand-ball gaff at the 66th minute. The free kick was placed about 25 yards from the Citeh goal and Luis Suarez hit an amazing free kick that had keeper Joe Hart clawing nothing but air and the Reds had the lead again. But once again, Liverpool’s defending let them down in the 80th minute when Skrtel went from hero to goat by making a horrible back pass that went right to Carlos Tevez. Tevez easily went around keeper Pepe Reina and slotted home the equalizer. It looked like Citeh were going to steal yet another stoppage time win as they pressed the Liverpool goal. But the Reds managed to successfully shake off the effects of Skrtel’s brain freeze and saw out the draw to claim a much deserved point. One Citeh player who seemed to be missing in action was Mario Balotelli. The Reds successfully kept him in check and never allowed him to do any real damage. Boss Roberto Mancini was really angry when Carlos Tevez’s effort on goal, which bounced off the cross bar and along the goal line, was lamely watched by Balotelli who probably could have hustled to push the ball over the line. Citeh’s comeback seemed to be sparked when Mancini hauled off Balotelli in the 62nd minute and put on Edin Dzeko. Could Balotelli still be a tired from this summer, or will he finally be sent packing?
Arsenal 0 –0 Sunderland
The Gunners were held to a goal-less home draw against the Black Cats and looked bad doing it. There are no questions about the defending and Arsenal did do their usual possession domination. However, one could see that boss Arsene Wenger has a problem. Who will score the goals this season? We all know about last season’s Golden Boot Winner Robin Van Persie’s exit. The Gunners are a disjointed bunch and it showed on Saturday morning. Time after time they managed to work the ball through the Sunderland defense, only to flub in front of goal. The most glaring miss happened in the 82nd minute when substitute Olivier Giroud burst into the area in typical Gunner fashion, and promptly put his effort wide of goal. The Black Cats did hold their own and Stephane Sessegnon and substitute Louis Saha gave the Gunner defense a scare or two. But this should have been an easy three points for Arsenal. If they have any trophy aspirations for this season, they have a lot of work to do.
Fulham 5 – 0 Norwich
Fulham are top of the league with a brilliant home display. And they did it without want-away American striker Clint Dempsey. New signing Mladen Petric looks like a wonderful replacement for Dempsey. He scored a great header from a Damien Duff corner at minute 41st and hit a great 54th minute strike from 25 yards out that deflected in off defender Michael Turner. Duff started the smack down in minute 26 when he latched onto defender John Arne Riise’s through ball and tucked a way a fine finish. The Canaries never really put up any opposition and went further behind when Petric grabbed his brace. Alex Kacaniklic added a fouth in the 66th minute and Steve Sidwell completed the Canaries’ London humiliaton with an 87th minute penalty kick that had been awarded after Hugo Rodellaga had been fouled in the area. Norwich are one of the three relegation candidates for this season and they really looked awful. Cottagers’ midfielders Moussa Dembele and Bryan Ruiz made the Canaries look very ordinary and their influence could be seen as the main contribution for all five goals. While no one in their right mind thinks that Fulham will stay top for long, they gave a great performance on Saturday.
QPR 0 – 5 Swansea
The other beat down of the day also happened in London as the Swans traveled to Loftus Road to deliver a five goal QPR butt whipping. New Swansea boss Michael Laudrup was feeling all kinds of happy watching what looked like a training ground warm-up match. Rangers’ defending was horrible. And that is being kind. Boss Mark Hughes was visibly upset during the whole match as his boys had no answer for new Swansea signing Miguel Michu. Michu got his first in the 8th minute from a 20 yard strike that got under QPR keeper Rob Green. That’s how things stayed until Michu struck again in the 53rd minute and the rout was on. Nathan Dyer scored in the 63rd and 71st minute as the Swans seemed to move the ball around the pitch with ease. Scott Sinclair’s 81st minute score finished off the whipping. So what does Mark Hughes do now? And how does new Ranger siging Park Ji-sung feel about his team?
Reading 1 – 1 Stoke City
Reading score a last minute penalty to salvage a draw in their debut return to the BPL. Potter’s boss Tony Pulis must be a little upset about losing three easy points to the newly promoted Royals. The Potters did go into the lead in the 34th minute when keeper Adam Federici handed them a gift wrapped goal from Michael Kightly shot. What should have happen then was Stoke to go on to an easy win and for Reading to wonder how long this stay in the BPL is going to last. But Royals’ boss Brian McDermott was has taught his boys to keep fighting for all ninety minutes of the match. It also helped that Stoke were not playing very inspirational football. The Royals’ hard work and perseverance paid off when substitute Garatth McCleary, in the 88th minute, was able to cut through the Potters’ defense and was fouled by Dean Whitehead in the Stoke City penalty area. The referee paused to see if there was any advantage to be gained, and seeing none, brought play back for the spot kick and Whitehead was sent off for a second bookable offense. Adam Le Fondre took the kick from the spot and the match was all tied up. Reading almost won it in stoppage time when Mikele Leigertwood nearly scored from a free kick. If the Royals can maintain that kind of fight for every match, they stand a good chance of staying in the BPL.
West Bromwich Albion 3 – 0 Liverpool
So King Kenny Dalgish’s replacement Brendan Rogers’ debut as the new Liverpool boss was an absolute bust. I went to the local pub to watch this one. I was expecting to see Liverpool make mince meat of WBA and make the home fans wish for Roy Hodgson to come back from managing England and rescue them. I did not expect the Baggies to pull off the shock result of the week. The match started out in Liverpool’s favor and Luis Suarez showed again why he will always be a handful for anyone defending him. He should have opened the scoring when his 8th minute effort was saved by keeper Ben Foster. Suarez’s next chance came in the 16th minute when his shot was saved again by Foster. New Red’s signing Fabio Borini’s 17th minute effort cleared the Baggies goal and Suarez missed another attempt in the 25th minute. The opening goal of the match was scored in the 43rd minute when Zoltan Gera hit a wonderful effort from 25 yards out into the upper 90 of the Liverpool goal. The “Goal of the Week” came when the Reds clearance from the Baggie corner kick came right to Gera’s feet and he buried the shot with wonderful class. Controversy came in the 58th minute when Daniel Agger was judged to have fouled Shane Long in the Liverpool penalty area. Replays seemed to suggest that the initial foul happened outside of the area. Also, Agger was judged by the referee to have been the last man, so he was summarily sent off. The ensuing penalty, taken by Shane Long was one of the worst penalties that one will see. It was a slow run-up followed by a lame kick and Reds keeper Pepe Reina made easy work of the save. But the Baggies were awarded another penalty when Martin Skrtel got caught dithering on the ball and after losing it to Shane Long, clipped the latter’s heal trying to win it back. This time Peter Odemwingie took the spot kick and made sure work of getting the second goal. The third goal is what should have Liverpool fans worried. The Baggies, on a counter-attack, outnumbered the Reds. Liam Ridgewell was able to pick out an unmarked Romelu Lukaku with an easy cross and Lukaku headed the goal home to secure the win. The Reds host the Champions next week and if they perform like they did on Saturday, they’re going to get a right good hiding.
West Ham United 1 – 0 Aston Villa
The Irons announce their return to the BPL with a win over the Villains. Paul Lambert’s debut as the new boss of Aston Villa was messed up by a controversial decision at Upton Park. The match started nice and even with both sides taking their chances. So things went until the 40th minute when Kevin Nolan scored from a Ricardo Vaz Te cross. Initial video indicated that Nolan may have been offside. In fact the referee’s assistant did put up his flag. But the referee had noticed that Vaz Te’s cross had been headed by defender Kieran Clark and by rule Nolan could not have been ruled offside. So the referee rightly overruled the assistant and awarded the goal. There was more controversy in the second half when Irons striker Carlton Cole seemed to have been pushed over in the Villain penalty area by defender Ron Vlaar. But the referee did not see the challenge as anything illegal and nothing was given. Vlaar did nearly mark his debut with an equalizer but put his 30 yard strike wide. But the bubbles are blowing again as West Ham celebrate their return to the BPL with a win. Can Sam Alladyce keep the Irons up?
Newcastle 2 – 1 Tottenham
The Magpies spoil Andreas Villas-Boas’ first match in charge of Spurs. Demba Ba had the best chance in the first half when his left footed strike nearly crept into an open left side of the Spurs net. Villas-Boas’ boys looked really lost without want away midfielder Luka Modric. They also miss last season loanee Emmanuel Adebayor as transfer negotiations with his club Manchester City still have not been finalized. The Magpies went ahead in the 54th minute when striker Demba Ba hit a magnificent curling shot from 20 yards out over keeper Brad Friedel’s left shoulder. Soon afterward, Magpies boss Alan Pardew was sent to the stands after shoving the referee’s assistant in anger after he felt the ball had gone out of play during a Spurs attack that saw Gylfi Sigurdsson shoot wide of the goal. Pardew was really angry when, from his seat in the stands Jermain Defoe grabbed an equalizer in the 76th minute. But Spurs were behind four minutes later when Hatem Ben Arfa brilliantly cut through the defense and was brought down in the Spurs penalty area by a mistimed Rafael van der Vaart tackle. Ben Arfa took the resulting spot kick and Newcastle opened their campaign with a convincing win. I wonder if somewhere on a London golf course Harry Redknapp is smirking a bit?
Wigan 0 – 2 Chelsea
The European Champions start the BPL campaign off in efficient form over relegation candidates Wigan. New Blues signing Eden Hazard was influential in both goals and made a wonderful debut. The first goal came in the 2nd minute when the Belgian midfielder made a very neat turn and sent defender Branislav Ivanovic on a clear run into the box to score. Hazard set up the second goal in the 7th minute when he was fouled in the Latics penalty area by Ivan Ramis. Frank Lampard put away the resulting spot kick and it looked like Chelsea were going to run away with the match. But Blues transfer target Victor Moses nearly scored twice in the first half, with the second attempt saved by keeper Petr Cech after Moses made Ashley Cole look a bit silly. Hazard had to be taken off in the 64th minute still suffering from the effects of a bad challenge from Gary Caldwell that happened in the 10th minute. But the Latics did not really mount much of a threat and if this performance is any indication of how the season will go for them, boss Roberto Martinez will have another bottom of the table struggle on his hands.
Manchester City 3 – 2 Southampton
Boy, do Citeh like end of match drama. I think someone should tell boss Roberto Mancini that he is competing for the BPL Premiership Trophy and not the Daytime Emmys. Did the club get an investment from Oprah Winfrey and she demanded some “Hollywood like dramatics”? This should have been an easy three points for the BPL Champions and they started the match in fine form. They eased the ball around the Etihad Stadium ground with the arrogance that one earns by being champions. But things got shaky in the 14th minute when Sergio Aguero was carried off with an apparent knee injury after a challenge from midfielder Nathaniel Clyne. Things got even shakier for the Champions when David Silva’s 16th minute penalty kick attempt was saved by Southampton keeper Kelvin Davis. But act one of the “Baby-Mamma Drama” was ended when Citeh striker Carlos Tevez finished off a great, low, hard shot in the 40th minute. The second half should have seen Citeh finish off the match, but Gael Clichy, and David Silva both hit easy shots over the bar, Tevez had his shot saved by keeper Davis, and Pablo Zabaleta had his shot blocked. So when Southampton brought on Rickie Lambert for Jay Rodriguez in the 55th minute, the drama really started. It started in the 58th minute when Tevez missed a sure goal and Southampton were able to counter-attack. Guly Do Prado was able to find Lambert who took a great shot from the edge of the area and beat keeper Joe Hart to get the equalizer. The Saints took the lead in the 68th minute from another counter-attack finished off by Steven Davis. Mancini had seen enough and replaced David Silva with Mario Balotelli in the 72nd minute. Shortly afterward, Samir Nasri made a great run along the goal line and was able to find Yaya Toure streaking into the area. Toure found Edin Dzeko with his cross and Dzeko made the match was level. Nasri scored the winner in the 80th minute when he headed in Gael Clichy’s cross and that should have been that. The Saints should have scored the equalizer in the 89th from Steve Davis’ cross, but Pablo Zabaleta made a fine defensive clearance and three minutes into stoppage time (should we now call it Mancini time?) the win was safe and confirmed.