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Lanny Short

Mar 072013

englishflag Barclays Premier League Week 28 Wrap up

Chelsea 1 – 0 West Bromwich Albion

Demba Ba saves Rafa Benitez’s job for one more week.  It was a routine win for the Blues at Stamford Bridge during a week that was anything by standard.  Losses to WBA had been the catalyst for Roman Abramovich to fire Andre Villas-Boas and Robert Di Matteo.  There was some hope from some Chelsea fans that a similar loss on Saturday would see Benitez go away and he was feeling the heat.  His mid-week press conference was almost as bad as Arsene Wenger’s the week before as he ranted about his dislike of the title of “interim manager” and fans constant booing of him.  The match itself was a bit boring as West Brom haven’t won at the Bridge in the last 35 years and were never likely to reverse that trend.  The one good thing for the Blues has been the acquisition of Ba and he grabbed the inevitable goal for the Blues in the 28th minute when David Luiz headed Oscar’s cross over to Ba who swept it in for the score.  The rest of the highlites of the match were listening to the crowd invent new and entertaining chants to voice their hatred of Benitez.  They had been banned from displaying any sort of banners that disrespected the Spaniard, but clearly they are hoping that the “interim manager” is on his way by the end of the season.

Everton 3 – 1 Reading

The Toffees get three goals to heap more misery on the Royals.  UEFA Champions League qualification for next year is still the goal for boss David Moyes and they set about toward making that goal happen on Saturday.  There was an interesting wrinkle in this match as both starting goal keepers, Tim Howard for Everton and Adam Federici for Reading, did not play due to injury.  Jan Mucha took Howard’s place and Stuart Taylor was on goal for the Royals.  Nikica Jelavic had an opportunity to test Taylor in the first minute of the match but his header missed off to the left of goal.  Most of the first half was pretty evenly fought until the 41st minute when Seamus Coleman’s cross was smashed home with a powerful header from Marouane Fellaini.  Fellaini was the architect of Everton’s second goal in the 58th minute when he put Steven Pienaar in on goal and the winger was able to get around the defense and hit a lethal strike into the top corner of the goal.  Pienaar was able to work some expert passing with Kevin Mirallas that was finished off by Mirallas poking home into the bottom left corner of the goal to make it 3 goals for the Toffees.  The Royals did manage to get a consolation goal in the 83rd minute when Hal Robson-Kanu headed home Ian Harte’s cross.  The final whistle left Reading in deep trouble as they are second from bottom of the table.

Southampton 1 – 2 Queens Park Rangers

QPR gives their boss Harry Redknapp a great birthday present.  It doesn’t get them off the bottom of the table, but it could serve as a start to saving their season.  QPR seemed to have been inspired on Saturday and they got the first goal in the 14th minute when Junior Hoilett sent a great through ball over to Loic Remy who was able to poke it home.  Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettion, who was also celebrating his birthday, was not amused with how easily his side gave up the goal.  His side have also been struggling a bit, but his mood lightened right at the interval when Gaston Ramirez was able to poke home a rebound from Jay Rodriguez shot.  QPR keeper Julio Cesar’s save landed at the feet of Ramirez and he was able to equalize right before the half time whistle blew.  Such a goal has usually finished off QPR this season and assured that at some point they would get discouraged and lose.  But that didn’t happen Saturday.  When the second half started, QPR fought resolutely to keep the Saints from scoring.  Cesar was again the master of his goal.  The one thing that has been a problem for QPR in their relegation fight has been getting wins and this match had all the makings for another draw.  But in the 76th minute, midfielder Ji-Sung Park delivered a cross that Jay Bothroyd was able to put home to put the visitors ahead.  That was all QPR would need as they were able to put the bow on Redknapp’s 66th Birthday Present.

Stoke 0 – 1 West Ham

Jack Collison’s half time strike helps end the Hammers’ run of five straight league defeats.  This one was a bit dull and the Hammers had to make two substitutions in the first 11 minute when Matt Taylor and Joe Cole each had to go off injured.  Taylor took a Peter Crouch boot to the face defending the striker’s overhead kick attempt.  Collison came on for him in the 10th minute.  Cole pulled up lame in the 11th minute and had to be replaced by Ricardo Vaz Te.  The lone goal came right as the half-time whistle was about to blow.  Vaz Te was able to get through the Stoke defense by working a one-two with Andy Carroll.  He then poked in a pass for Collison who was able to turn and drill his shot past Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic.  When the second half started, Stoke had a penalty appeal denied when Cameron Jerome went down under Joey O’Brien’s challenge.  The referee saw nothing wrong and waved play-on.  That was about all there was to this match until deep into stoppage time when the Potters had another penalty shout ignored when Guy Demel appeared to handle a ball in the Hammers’ area.  The loss was only their second at home this season and moves the Hammers one place below them in the BPL table.

Sunderland 2 – 2 Fulham

The Black Cats snatch a draw versus the Cottagers.  This is a match that Cottagers’ boss Martin Jol will not be happy about.  If there was any hope of qualifying for any of the European places next season, the result from Saturday put a hole in them.  They had started out so well when they were awarded a penalty kick in the 16th minute.  Craig Gardner was judged to have tripped Ashkan Dejagah inside of the area and Dimitar Berbatov cleverly put the spot kick home to give his side the lead.  Things almost got worse for the Black Cats in the 25th minute when Dejagah got in behind the defense and put his shot just to the left of goal.  But the home side did go down another goal in the 35th minute.  The visitors were able to effectively launch a counter attack after defending a corner kick and Dejagah got in on goal again.  His shot was parried by keeper Simon Mignolet, but Sascha Reither was able to put the rebound home to make it two for the visitors.  Sunderland were given a lifeline in the 37th minute when Fulham defender Philippe Senderos was penalized for his challenge on striker Danny Graham.  Craig Gardner score the spot kick and gave some renewed vigor to his team.  They nearly equalized right at the stroke of half time when Stephane Sessegnon’s shot was saved by saved by Cottagers’ keeper Mark Schwarzer.  One of the characteristics of a Martin O’Neill team is the “never say die” attitude.  That was present in the Black Cats on Saturday as they continued to fight for the equalizer which finally came in the 70th minute.  Sessegnon was able to pounce on a loose ball in the Cottagers’ area and drill it past Schwarzer.  Berbatov nearly got his side back into the lead a short while later when Mignolet was able to get off his line and block the Bulgarian’s effort on goal.  There would be no break thru for either side but the result saw the Black Cats ending their run of three successive league defeats.

Swansea 1 – 0 Newcastle

Luke Moore’s late goal helps the Swans win over the Magpies.  The Welsh side might have been a bit guilty of over celebrating their Capital One Cup trophy coming into this match.  But they have done a wonderful job representing Wales this season.  The Magpies have an awful away record this season, having once in their travels and they never looked like they were going to make any sort of effort to improve that record on Saturday.  Miguel Michu, who has been one of the stars for the Swans this season, nearly got things started in the ninth minute.  He was able to get behind defender Rob Elliot and set up Ashley Williams for a simple finish, but the Welsh captain scuffed his shot and Magpies’ keeper Steven Taylor was able to clear it off the line.  The home side thought they had a penalty claim a little while later when Steven Debuchy had the ball strike his hand after an aerial challenge with Ben Davies, but the referee judged that it was not deliberate and waved away any appeals.  As the match wore on, tempers got shorter as each side struggled to mount any sort of attack on goal.  As the referee signaled for half time, Leon Britton and Papiss Cisse had a bit of an argument as they walked into the tunnel.  Magpies boss Alan Pardew unwisely got in the middle of the scrap and had to be restrained by his players.  The second half saw more of the same and it looked like a draw was eminent.  But in the 84th minute, Luke Moore was able to get around Yohan Cabaye and hit his shot beyond Taylor to cap a wonderful week for Swansea and their fans.

Wigan 0 – 4 Liverpool

Luis Suarez gets a hat trick as the Reds deliver a face punch to the Latics.  This was an easy one for the Reds.  It wasn’t much of a contest and it was pretty much over in the second minute when Stewart Downing headed home Phillippe Coutinho’s cross for the opening goal.  Wigan just had no answer at all for Liverpool as they attacked at will.  Any attempts by the home side were easily dealt with by keeper Pepe Reina.  Suarez got the second goal for the visitors in the 17th minute when he bundled home Coutinho’s perfectly weighted pass.  Gerrard nearly scored the third for the Reds when he was found by Coutinho’s pass over the top.  Suarez got his second goal in the 33rd minute when took a brilliant free-kick that deflected off Shaun Maloney and eluded keeper Ali Al-Habsi desperate grab, bounced off the post and into the net.  Suarez capped off his hat trick just after the half time interval when winger Glen Johnson made a fine surging run down the right and made a great pass for the Uruguayan tap home.  The win gives the Reds a chance to get themselves into the European places and Suarez’s performance makes him the top scorer in the BPL.

Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal

Goals from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon lift Spurs over the Gunners in the North London Derby.  Boss Andreas Villas Boas had a great day on Sunday.  He was able to beat his North London rivals and crap third place away from his former employers Chelsea.  It was an interesting match and the Gunners had the first chance in the 6th minute when Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris was forced into a save from Olivier Giroud off of Jack Wilshere’s corner kick.  Of course no London contest would be complete unless there was at least one booking and Emmanuel Adebayor got the first in the 18th minute when he made a dumb challenge on Aaron Ramsey in the middle of the park.  Jan Vertonghen obliged ten minutes later when he was judged to have made a dangerous challenge on Giroud.  Aaron Ramsey went into the referee’s book in the 29th minute when he brought down Aaron Lennon in the Gunners defensive third.  Gareth Bale finally took charge of things as he has done all season long and got the opening goal in the 36th minute.  He was able to get in behind the Gunners defense and poke his shot past keeper Wojciech Szczesny.  What was so significant about the goal was the ease with which the Welshman was able to cut through the Arsenal defense.  Aaron Lennon was able to do it again in the 38th minute when he took Scott Parker’s pass and eased through the defenders and past Szczesny to tap the ball into the empty net.  Halftime could come soon enough for the visitors and whatever was said in the locker room inspired the Gunners who had a goal back five minutes into the second half.  Per Mertesacker was able to head home Theo Walcott’s corner kick and the match became a contest again.  Walcott nearly leveled soon after when his own header went over the bar.  Spurs had a bit of a setback when Adebayor was stretchered off in the 63rd minute with an apparent knee injury.   But they should have gotten their third goal in the 70th minute when Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had made an amazing run though the Gunners defense, chose to square the ball across instead of shooting on goal.  But the Gunners never really came close to getting the equalizer and the final whistle saw them fall five points behind the UEFA Champions’ League places.

Aston Villa 0 – 1 Manchester City

Carlos Tevez’s first half goal is enough to see three more points to the Champions.  Things are a little tense at Citeh lately.  There are only 10 matches remaining and they don’t have a good grip on their BPL trophy at the moment.  There is still time for a repeat of their classical miracle from last season, but boss Roberto Mancini knows that something really special is needed, especially after their last BPL performance in which they looked absolutely ordinary at Southampton.  There’s also the sound of footsteps behind them as Spurs are making a great finishing run and sit only five points behind in third place.  Villa on the other hand look like they’re going down.  They just aren’t playing well and although they’re tied with Wigan on points, their goal difference is not good.  So this match started out a bit slow as neither side wanted to give anything away.  The Villains’ keeper, Brad Guzan, made several great saves as the visitors began to shake off their bad playing form.  It looked like the Villains had gotten better at defending as the first half wore on and even managed a chance or two.  A draw would have done them a world of good, but alas, it was not to be.  Ciaran Clark got caught in possession by substitute Edin Dzeko who then threaded a precise pass over to Tevez.  The Argentinian then calmly cut back inside the box and poked his shot past Guzan right at the half time interval.  The hosts seemed to wilt afterward and the Champions knew the points were safe.  The second half was little more than a training ground exercise.  But Mancini is still hoping that this is the start of the revival that will keep the Premiership on the “Blue Half” of Manchester.

Barclay’s Premier League Round 27 Wrap-Up

 Posted by on February 27, 2013 at 2:23 am  England, EPL
Feb 272013

tumblr m64m76KJ5c1qlviot Barclays Premier League Round 27 Wrap Up

Fulham 1 – 0 Stoke City

Dimitar Berbatov’s volley in first half injury time is good enough for the win at Craven Cottage.  This match was a bit boring for the most part.  Neither side had a whole lot to play for as both sides are secure in the middle of the BPL table.  The Cottagers did their usual home possession domination but just couldn’t find a good way to trouble Potters’ keeper Asmir Begovic.  Midfielder Bryan Ruiz was able to put the ball into the visitors’ net in the 11th minute, but the referee caught him clearly using his hand to control Damien Duff’s free kick and booked the Costa Rican international.  The visitors were lucky not to have had Steven Nzonzi sent off when, after taking a blow to the face from a collision with Berbatov, shoved Ruiz in the face.  The midfielder was only cautioned for his unsporting conduct, meanwhile Giorgos Maragounis’ strike of the resulting free kick forced Begovic to tip the ball over the goal.  That was about all there was to the first half until Ashkan Dejagah and Sascha Riether combined to move down the left and Riether’s cross was headed into Berbatov’s path by Stoke’s defender Robert Huth.  The Bulgarian’s volley into the top left corner of the goal was a shot of true quality.  Ten minutes into the second half, the visitors had a chance to equalize when winger Brek Shea, making his debut for his new club, hit his cross and Dejagah blocked it with his arm.  Jonathan Walters stepped up to take the resulting penalty kick, but it was easily saved by Cottagers’ keeper Mark Schwarzer.  That’s as close as the visitors would come to getting any sort of equalizer.  The win sees the Cottagers take 10th place and the Potters take 11th place in the BPL table.

Arsenal 2 – 1 Aston Villa

Santi Cazorla’s brace sends the Villains back down to the bottom three.  Gunners’ boss Arsene Wenger scared a lot of fans at his press conference earlier in the week when he went on a very weird rant.  His side had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn and had also been humiliated by Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions’ League.  Many fans were thinking that it was time for Wenger to move along down the road and retire.  They weren’t too convinced given Arsenal’s performance for much of the match on Saturday.  The boys were sloppy in possession quite a few times and looked far too loose in defense.  There was a bit of relief at Emirates Stadium when Cazorla was able bundle home Jack Wilshere’s centering pass into the Villains’ area for the open goal in the sixth minute.  But alas, Arsenal just couldn’t seem to put together anything more but neither could Villa as they went into the interval still down a goal.  The Gunners did try to pick up the pace a bit as the second half started.  But in the 67th minute, they were vulnerable to a Villain counter-attack as Andreas Weimann was able to take advantage of Carl Jenkinson’s failure to properly deal with a Brad Guzan down field punt.  The Swedish forward was able to make a 40-yard run before poking a mediocre shot past keeper Wojciech Szczesny to level the score.  That got a lot of the home crowd quite angry and one could hear some of the responses when Christian Benteke nearly got the visitors into the lead a couple of minutes later.  Per Mertesacker was able to get in front of the Belgian and prevent him from getting his header on goal.  Giroud rescued the match in the 86th minute when he has able to meet Nacho Monreal’s cross and put the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal.  Although they managed to squeak out a win, the consensus seems to be that the Gunners season will be another disappointer.

Norwich City 2 –1 Everton

Grant Holt’s stoppage time winner gets three badly needed points for the Canaries.  They hadn’t won a match since mid-December and for most of time, it looked like they wouldn’t win this one either.  They did create the first chance in the fifth minute when Wes Hoolahan played Robert Snodgrass into the Everton penalty area, but Sylvain Distin was able to block Snodgrass’s shot on goal. But the Toffees had the better of the play in the first half.  Marouane Fellaini should have scored in the 25th minute but his shot from outside the Canaries penalty area went over the crossbar.  The Belgian was involved in a bit of a scrap in the 32nd minute when he and Bradley Johnson got in each other’s faces.  Bradley had made a rough challenge on Fellaini that left him with a cut on his knee that the referee did not see.  The referee did see Fellaini retaliate against Bradley, but the end result was just a free kick to the Canaries.  But they went behind when Leon Osman headed home Leighton Baines 38th minute cross and that goal looked like it would be good enough for the visitors to claim victory.  But as the match wound down, substitute Kei Kamara was able to head in the equalizer from Snodgrass’s corner kick.  That goal inspired the Canaries to attack for all they were worth and it finally paid off when Russell Martin’s cross was nodded on by Sebastien Bassong and the ball landed at the feet of Holt.  The Norwich captain poked home the loose ball right at the end of the match

Reading 0 – 3 Wigan

The Latics haul themselves out of the bottom three by delivering a face-punch to the 10-man Royals at the Madejeski Stadium.  It was just their second win in 14 matches and it was just the sort of momentum starter that boss Roberto Martinez hopes will help the Latics save their season.  Most of the first half was a very boring affair as neither side really tried to create any real chances.  The Royals controlled the possession for most of the match and should have opened the scoring inside of 10 minutes when Hope Akpan headed Jem Karacan’s cross over the bar.  But just when it looked like the half would end goalless, Maynor Figueroa took a shot that would take a lucky deflection off Arouna Kone’s back and into the goal to give the Latics the lead in the 43rd minute.  Two minutes later, Jean Beausejour nicked the ball from Sean Morrison and made a wonderful pass that hit Kone on the run.  The striker was able to chip over the keeper Adam Federici to put the visitors up by two goals right at half time.  Figueroa scored the third goal right after the start of the second half when he and Franco Di Santo made the Reading defense look foolish and Figueroa was able to poke his shot though Federici’s legs and into the net.  Things went from bad to worse for the home side when Pavel Pogrebnyak was sent off for stamping on Figueroa’s ankle.  That pretty much sealed up the match although Di Santo nearly scored the fourth goal when he narrowly missed a cross from Beausejour.  By the time the match ended, the Madjeski Stadium was nearly empty.  And so the relegation battle begins.

West Bromwich Albion 2 – 1 Sunderland

Romelu Lukaku’s brace lifts WBA to their first home win in two months.  The magic number for survival seems to be 40 points or better this season and WBA hit that magic number on Saturday.  Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, has scored 12 goals this season and has become a fan favorite over want away striker Peter Odemwingie.  Lukaku’s first goal was scored from the penalty spot when Craig Gardner was penalized for a hand-ball in the area.  That’s how the score stayed for much of the half as Sunderland just couldn’t get a foothold in the match.  Lukaku made it 2-0 when he was able to block a clearance from keeper Simon Mignolet.  Stephane Sessegnon was able to get a goal back for Sunderland in the 78th minute, but Black Cats’ boss Martin O’Neill will not be happy with his team’s form of late.  They’re not in trouble yet, but they could find themselves dragged into the relegation fight if they’re not careful.

Manchester City 2 – 0 Chelsea

The Champions return to winning ways as the get two past the Blues.  The wheels were really starting to come off the Citeh band wagon.  They hadn’t been playing very well of late and came into this match 15 points behind their neighbors.  Boss Roberto Mancini was starting to feel the heat a bit and knew a win over the Blues would get their efforts to retain the Premiership back on track.  The first half was a bit dull for both sides.  Sergio Aguero came the closest to breaking the deadlock, but Chelsea keeper Petr Cech was able to keep the net empty throughout the entire first half.  Rafa Benitez, probably the most unpopular manager in England, decided to start Demba Ba ahead of Fernando Torres.   The move looked like it would work when, in the 51st minute, Ba was brought down in the Citeh area by keeper Joe Hart.  Hart, who has had his starting job threatened by Mancini, was lucky to not have been sent off for the foul.  So as Frank Lampard stepped up to take the spot kick, Hart knew that he had to come up big.  And that’s exactly what he did.  That save inspired the Champions and they began to play with a bit more intensity.  It finally paid off for them in the 62nd minute when David Silva was able square a pass across the area to Yaya Toure and the Ghanaian midfielder scored the goal.  With the Champions in the drivers’ seat and bossing the match, Benitez tried changing things by taking off Lampard and Eden Hazard and replacing them with Oscar and Victor Moses.  When that didn’t work, he later brought on Torres for Jon Obi Mikel.  But alas, that still didn’t work and they went further behind in the 84th minute when substitute Carlos Tevez hit a great shot from outside the penalty area into the top left corner of the goal.  So Chelsea were left singing the blues and now look like they might not automatically qualify for UEFA Champions’ League next season.  I wonder who Roman Abromavich is going to find to coach Chelsea now?

Newcastle 4 – 2 Southampton

The Magpies end a great week with an emphatic win over the Saints at St James’ Park.  They had gotten themselves into the last 16 of the Europa League and so were flying really high coming into this match.  Morgan Schneiderlin brought everyone back down to earth when his third minute goal put the Saints into the lead.  But Newcastle shook off the effects of that early goal and nearly leveled in the 15th minute when Papiss Cisse set-up Moussa Sissoko that Saints’ keeper Artur Boric had to push wide of the goal.  Cisse had another chance three minutes later when Yoan Gouffran’s shot fell nicely to his feet, but his turning shot was sliced well wide of the goal.  Sissoko did get the equalizer in the 33rd minute when Gouffran found him with a telling cross that the striker poked home.  Newcastle when ahead when keeper Rob Elliot’s long clearance was gathered by Cisse who then hit a fantastic long range goal in the 41st minute.  The Saints’ started out the second half in the same fashion as they started the first and Rickie Lambert got them the equalizer in the 49th minute when he put home Adam Lallana’s cross.  They nearly went ahead three minutes later when Lambert headed another Lallana cross, but this time wide of the goal.  The home side get their lead back, albeit in controversial fashion in the 67th minute when midfielder Mathieu Debuchy’s volley shot hit Saints’ defender Danny Fox on the arm just inside the Saints’ penalty area.  The referee just that to be hand-ball and Yohan Cabaye scored the spot kick.  Newcastle got the fourth in the 79th minute when Danny Fox whacked Davide Santon’s cross against Saints’ defender Jos Hooiveld and the ball trickled into his own net.  The win sees the Magpies steer themselves away from the relegation fight and helps the Geordie fans feel better about boss Alan Pardew.

West Ham 2 – 3 Tottenham

Gareth Bale’s stoppage time wonder strike caps off a thrilling match at Upton Park.  It was a day to celebrate the life of Hammers Hero Bobby Moore.  What a better way to celebrate than a London derby between bitter rivals?  There were some nice pre-match ceremonies as the players were led out by Moore’s grand kids.  That was followed by a minutes round of applause and the Hammers’ fans singing their famous “Forever Blowing Bubbles” song.  The whole thing was actually respected by the opposing Spurs fans, which was a nice thing to see, given the static that brewed up when the teams first met earlier in the season.  But once the opening whistle blew, all niceness was set aside as the two sides set about getting into each other.  It didn’t take long for the first booking of the match as Mousa Dembele saw yellow for a nasty foul on Hammers’ captain Kevin Nolan.  Bale, of course, got Spurs on the score sheet first in the 13th minute when he went on a rampaging run through the Hammers’ defense and fired a past keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.  In the 25th minute, the home side were granted a penalty kick when striker Andy Carroll was tripped in the area by ex-Hammer Scott Parker.  Carroll was able to get up, dust himself off and put the spot kick past Spurs Keeper Hugo Lloris to level the score.  That goal and the occasion seemed to inspire the home side and their fans and they increased pressure on the Spurs goal.  That pressure nearly paid off in the 38th minute when Hammers’ midfielder Matthew Jarvis’ goal-bound shot was blocked by Kyle Walker.  Upton Park was truly alive with so much energy at half time and when the second half resumed, the home side were boosted by that energy.  The place went wild in the 57th minute when West Ham ole boy Joey Cole was able to make a fine run into the area and poke his shot past Lloris to put the home side into the lead.  Jaaskelainen then put on an inspiring goal keeping clinic when he made two wonderful saves from Bale and Steven Caulker.  Taylor could have made the result safe for the Hammers in the 74th when his shot was saved by a fine effort from Lloris.  That proved to be crucial as Spurs were able to equalize two minutes later when substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson took advantage of West Ham’s failure to clear Bale’s free kick and poked home the loose ball underneath Jaaskelainen.  But the Finland keeper, proved to be West Ham’s Man of the Match when he pulled off two more top-class saves to deny Emmanuel Adebayor and Sigurdsson.  But just when everyone thought a draw was eminent, Bale received the ball from substitute Tom Carroll and unleashed a 25-yard heart crushing shot that beat Jaaskelainen into the top tight corner of the goal.  The win puts Spurs above Chelsea into third by two points in what should prove to be an interesting race for the last automatic qualifying place for the UEFA Champions’ League next season.

Barclays Premier League Round 26 Wrap-up

 Posted by on February 13, 2013 at 12:09 am  England, EPL
Feb 132013

Tottenham 2-1 Newcastle

Gareth Bale’s brace lifts Spurs over the Magpies.  Spurs boss Andre Villas Boas might be finally winning over the White Hart Lane faithful.  During an interview this week he pointed out that Bale, by far Tottenham’s best player, was very similar to Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.  While Bale’s sense of fashion and hair style to not compare to the Portuguese super star, the Welsh international is clearly the catalyst for his side in much the same fashion.  He opened the scoring in the fifth minute when his 25 yard free kick beat Magpies’ keeper Tim Krul into the bottom right corner of the net.  The one thing the Welshman does better play defense and in the 12th minute he proved it when he cleared a corner kick taken by Yohan Cabaye.  But there was nothing that anyone could do in the 24th minute when Yoan Gouffran’s shot from just inside the penalty area deflected off defender Michael Dawson.  The score remained deadlocked for the rest of the half despite Spurs having to penalty shouts turned down.  The first happened when Aaron Lennon’s shot seemed to strike Santon’s outstretched arm, but the referee ruled it was ball-to-hand rather than a deliberate hand ball.  The second happened when Bale’s volley appeared to brush defender Mathieu Debuchy’s shoulder, but replays showed that no contact was made.  After the break, the visitors seemed to take more if the initiative and in the 50th minute Bale again had to rescue his side by clearing a Cabaye corner kick.  There was a pause in the 57th minute when Gouffran had to be stretchered off injured and replaced by Sylvain Marveaux.  The break seemed to benefit the home side as it slowed the visitors’ momentum a bit.  However it really wasn’t until the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor in the 68th minute and Benoit Assou-Ekotto in the 74th minute were Spurs really able to press the Magpies.  Their pressure finally paid off when Newcastle defender Stephen Taylor was pressured into a mistake trying to pass to Fabrico Coloccini and Bale grabbed the loose ball and cut through the defense and was able to fire through Krul’s legs to put his side into the lead.  Bale nearly had his hatrick sometime later when Krul made a wonderful fingertip save after the Welshman got on the end of a long punt and fired a powerful volley at goal.  In the seven added minutes of stoppage time, Newcastle nearly equalized through Shola Ameobi, but Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris was able to make the save and ensure the win for Tottenham.

Swansea 4-1 Queens Park Rangers

Michu’s brace puts QPR into further relegation trouble.  This was a really bad day for QPR.  The one thing that has plagued them all season was their slow starts to matches.  This time it bit them on their backside and they were behind in the eighth minute when Nathan Dyer was given too much room to shoot and QPR keeper Julio Cesar gave up the rebound to Michu.  It was the Spaniard’s first goal in six matches.  The second goal came about from more slack QPR defending as Wayne Routledge was able to play in Angel Rangel into plenty of space behind the visitors and the fullback calmly slotted home into the left corner of the goal.  QPR boss Harry Redknapp was not very happy by the half time interval came about because he thought bad defending was a problem he had already solved.  He did make a couple switches when the second half resumed.  Esteban Granero came on for Shaun Derry and Bobby Zamora replaced Jamie Mackie.  The switches seemed to work as Zamora was able to pull a goal back for QPR in the 47th minute when he poked home the rebound from an Adel Taarabt shot.  But any thoughts of a miraculous QPR comeback were killed off when Michu was able to put through Pablo Hernandez.  He was able to score past Cesar to make the score 3-1.  Hernandez returned the favor in the 67th minute to help Michu get his second and Swansea’s fourth to pile more misery on the visitors.

Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal

The Gunners win one in the old fashion way: “One-Nil to the Arsenal”.  It wasn’t one of the Gunners’ better performances.  In fact they were a bit boring at times.  Trouble was that the Blackcats weren’t much better.  This one had all the earmarks of a yet another draw written all over it.  That was the last thing that boss Arsene Wenger needed as he side started out the match outside of the European places.  But as ineffective as the Gunners have been this season in front of goal, Theo Walcott was able to provide some sort of spark up front and in the 35th minute he provided the attack through the Blackcats’ defense that allowed Santi Cazorla to grab the goal.  In the old days, that was all Arsenal would need as they could just sit and defend for the rest of the match while the opposing fans would howl things like “Boring, boring Arsenal” and other derisions.  Saturday, the Gunners would have to defend with their lives because they were reduced to 10 men in the 62 minute when Carl Jenkinson was sent off for his second bookable offense for fouling Stephane Sessegnon.  But hold on the Gunners did as keeper Wojciech Szczesny made save after wondrous save to keep the home side off the score sheet.  When the final whistle sounded Arsenal had fought their way back into contention for one of the European places.

Stoke 2-1 Reading

Robert Huth and Cameron Jerome end the Royals good run at the Britannia Stadium.  It’s been a while since Tony Pulis’ boys had registered a win.  They hadn’t gotten three points since Boxing Day and it looked like they were going to be forced into yet another draw when Huth broke the deadlock in the 67th minute when he headed home Glenn Whelan’s cross.  Jerome scored the second from a nice trap-and-turn move in the 81st minute.  Reading to their credit, fought until the end.  They got a goal back through Adrian Mariappa’s header from an Ian Harte cross.  But they just could find that final effort to grab an equalizer and their unbeaten run was halted.  They’re now in the bottom three and part of what will prove to be an interesting relegation battle as we go through the last half of the BPL season.

Norwich 0-0 Fulham

It was a dull stalemate at Carrow Road as both sides were more interested in safety.  The Canaries extended their winless run to nine matches and they’re sliding down the table a bit.  Their new signing Luciano Becchio came the closed to scoring in the fifth minute, but shot straight at Cottagers’ keeper Mark Schwarzer.  Steve Sidwell came the closest for the visitors when he missed from 20 yards out.  But boss Martin Jol can take heart in the first clean sheet for his side in 12 matches.  Both sides are secure at the middle of the table at the moment, but will want to give their fans a bit more to cheer about in the future.

Chelsea 4-1 Wigan

Frank Lampard scores his 198th goal for the Blues as they smack down the Latics and secure their hold on third place.  One would think that Blues boss Rafa Benitez would have figured out by now the best way to get the fans on his side would be to offer Lampard a new one year contract.  There is a reason why the fans love him so much.  “Super Frank” is their leader and is now within four goals of Blues legend Bobby Tambling’s record of 202 goals.  The Latics, with the loss, now find themselves back in the bottom three and they were never in the match for very long.  After all, Chelsea always dominate at Stamford Bridge and they did so on Saturday.  Ramires got the scoring started in the 23rd minute when Fernando Torres met David Luiz’s pass and hit a first time pass for the Brazilian’s run down the right channel.  Raimires was able to chip the ball over on rushing keeper Ali Al Habsi into the net.  They should have had the second goal in the 32nd minute as Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross for Torres was saved by Al Habsi.  The Blues did get their second in the 55th minute.  Gary Cahill’s free kick was met by Azpilicueta and he cut inside the defense and rolled a pass over to Eden Hazard. Hazard struck the ball first time and found the bottom right corner of the net.  The home side got a bit complacent in the 57th minute and the visitors took advantage.  Shaun Maloney was able to beat Chelsea’s offside trap to meet James McArthur’s cross for the goal to halve the deficit.  The Latics tried to press for the equalizer but just couldn’t make any significant headway.  They thought they had a penalty shout when a Ronnie Stam shot appeared to hit Ashley Cole’s arm before the ball fell to Arouna Kone.  But no decision was given and Kone’s shot was easily saved by Cech.  Lampard ended all further hope of any sort for the Latics in the 85th minute.  Hazard was able to drive down the left and hit a square pass across the edge of the Latics’ penalty area.  Juan Mata stepped over the ball and left it for Lampard and the England international smashed it into the goal in his customary fashion.  New guy Marko Marin got the fourth goal and his first as a Chelsea player when he poked home a loose ball.  Deep into stoppage time, Torres tried to get in on the late match scoring fun, but his shot was saved by Al Habsi.

Southampton 3-1 Manchester City

The Saints shock the Champions at St Mary’s Stadium.  You would have thought that the score line would have gone the other way on Saturday.  The Champions were looking to kick into another late season run like the one that saw them take the league last year.  What a pressure point it would have been to have closed the gap between themselves and their neighbors down to six points with twelve rounds left.  But alas for Citeh fans, their boys are still unfocused and unable to mesh together.  They were coming up against a Southampton team that had yet to win under new boss Mauricio Pochettino.  The home side had their tails up for this match as they had narrowly lost to the visitors by a goal at the Etihad Stadium on the opening day of the season.  Their hard work paid off in the seventh minute when Jason Puncheon made a great run down the right flank and passed to an unmarked Jay Rodriquez.  Although keeper Joe Hart was able to save from Rodriquez, Puncheon was able to knock the rebound into the bottom left corner of the goal.  The goal illustrated a frustrating tendency for the Champions of late in that their defending has become questionable.  In the 22nd minute the Saints asked another question of the Citeh defense when Rickie Lambert took a shot from distance that should have been easy for Hart to deal with.  Instead the England international let the shot trickle through his legs and Steven Davis was there to poke home the ball to make it 2-0 for the Saints.  With Citeh boss Roberto Mancini fuming on the touchline, the visitors finally seemed to pick up the pace a bit and Pablo Zabaleta was able to get through the home side’s defensive line in the 38th minute and put Edin Dzeko though.  Dzeko made a great chip over keeper Artur Boruc to get a goal back for the Champions before the half time whistle.  One would have expected Citeh to go on and win the match in the second half.  But any hopes of any sort of comeback were killed off in the 48th minute when Gareth Barry, under no pressure, put the ball into his own net.  It was a mystery as to what exactly Barry was thinking as Hart wasn’t calling for the ball and the defender had time to turn around and find a teammate with a pass forward. But that own-goal stopped any hope for the Champions to rescue the match and Mancini is left with the task of trying to get his boys focused on defending the Premiership.

Aston Villa 2 – 1 West Ham

Second half goals from Christian Benteke and Charles N’Zogbia get the Villains a much needed win and lift them out of the bottom three.  This one started out as a really miserable day at Villa Park.  It had been raining all day in Birmingham and the first half was a boring splash fest.  But the second half the rain quit and the match opened up.  The Hammers, playing a bit better since the return of Joe Cole to the side, should have scored when Cole found James Tomkins with his cross, but the shot was blocked by Ciaran Clark.  Five minutes later, Cole’s corner kick had to be cleared away be Fabian Delph.  In the 53rd minute keeper Brad Guzan was called on to save yet another West Ham corner kick, this time from Matthew Taylor.  The Villains made two changes in the 62nd minute when they brought on Darren Bent and Simon Dawkins.  That change seemed to energize the home side as N’Zogbia nearly scored in the 65th minute.  It was N’Zogbia’s efforts in the 73rd minute that got the first goal for the Villains.  As he raced through the penalty area, he was fouled by Mark Noble.  Christian Benteke took the spot kick and the Villain fans began to feel a bit of hope.  They went nuts in the 78th minute when N’Zogbia scored a beautiful free kick in the top right corner of the goal to make it 2-0 for the home side.  But the Villains have had a bad habit of surrendering matches really late and in the 87th minute defender Ashley Westwood, trying to head away a Joe Cole cross, headed into his own goal.  But the closest the Hammers would come to equalizing would be deep in stoppage time when keeper Guzan made a fine save to deny substitute Ricardo Vaz Te.  Could this be the start of a Villa revival?

Liverpool 0 – 2 West Bromwich Albion

Steven Gerrard misses a penalty and the Reds lose a match they should have won.  This was a weird match to watch.  The Liverpool dominated most of the match at Anfield, as they usually do.  They were missing Daniel Sturridge, who was still out injured.  But they were coming off two fine performances against Arsenal and Manchester City, so they should have been more than equal to anything that the Baggies had to offer.  The first half saw the only real chance come from Jonjo Shelvey, on for Sturridge.  Shelvey managed to put the ball into the net, but the goal was correctly not given as he was offside.  The home side should have had a goal right before the half as Steven Reid, trying to cut out a Shelvey cross, nearly put the ball into his own net.  The start of the second half saw the Reds press harder for a deciding goal and but for keeper Ben Foster’s wonderful saves, would have scored several times.  The moment that should have decide things happened in the 77th minute.  As a cross from the right came into the WBA penalty area, Luiz Suarez went down under the challenge from Jonas Olsson and the referee pointed to the stop.  Gerrard’s spot kick was brilliantly saved by Foster and the momentum immediately shifted to the visitors.  They got their first goal when Chris Brunt was able to cut past defender Daniel Agger and find Gareth McAuley who was able to head home from inside the six-yard area.  The second goal came from another break through the Reds’ defense, this time by James Morrison and he was able to pass over to Romelu Lukaku to drive in the goal to secure the win for the Baggies.  So it would seem that if Liverpool has any hopes for European football next season, they’d better win the Europa League.

Barclays Premier League Round 25 Wrap-Up

 Posted by on February 6, 2013 at 11:02 pm  England, EPL
Feb 062013

Arsenal 1-0 Stoke

Lukas Podolski’s deflected free kick gets the Gunners a much needed win.  Man, did Arsenal need this win.  They’ve only gotten five points in their last 5 matches and look like they’re going to be fighting with Everton and Tottenham for the last of the European places.  Arsene Wenger made five changes to the starting lineup including January transferee Nacho Monreal.  The Spanish international, making his debut, replaced injured Kieran Gibbs.  The Gunners tried to start things out right away and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was disappointed to see his first minute effort go just wide of the upper left-hand corner of the Potters’ goal.  It took the visitors 14 minutes to get into the match.  Jonathan Walters shot was gathered by Gunners’ keeper Wojciech Szczesny.   But this match was about as dull as the score line would suggest.  Tony Pulis did his usual “play not to lose” tactics and they seemed to be working as the match ground on.  But in the 75th minute, everything changed.  Andy Wilkinson made a bad challenge on Theo Walcott that produced a yellow card for the defender.  Podolski took the free kick which deflected off defender Geoff Cameron’s heel and past keeper Asmir Beovic.  There was some question as to whether the goal should have counted as Theo Walcott appeared to be offside, but after the referee consulted with his assistant, the goal stood.  A little while later, Santi Cazorla nearly made it two for the hosts when his shot was sent behind the goal by Begovic.  That was the extent of the scoring in this match as Stoke couldn’t make any significant headway through the Arsenal defense.

Everton 3-3 Aston Villa

The Villains lose a two goal lead and a chance at a much needed win.  Poor Paul Lambert, since coming to Aston Villas from Norwich, he has had the worst luck with the Villains.  They’re stuck in a relegation fight and could have used three points on Saturday.  They started out so well.  Christian Benteke grabbed the lead for the Villains in the 2nd minute when he got by defender John Heitinga to put home the pass from Charles N’Zogbia.  Marouane Fellaini nearly equalized in the 4th minute, but his drive from outside the penalty area went just wide of the goal.  The Toffees did equalize in the 20th minute when Victor Anichebe was able to hold off and turn defender Ciaran Clark and fire a left-footed bullet past a sprawling Jeff Guzan’s grasp.  But the Villains were able to get straight back into the lead when Gabriel Agbonlahor was able to head home Ashley Westwood’s cross in the 23rd minute.  Both Steven Pienaar and Darron Gibson had chances to get Everton level toward the end of the first half, but the Villains held firm and were feeling mighty good about their lead going into the locker room.  They were feeling even better when the second half got under way and were ecstatic when Benteke got them a third goal in the 60th minute by slamming home Matthew Lowton’s cutback pass through the area.   That should have been that for the visitors.  But alas, the one weakness that has been killing them all season has been their defending.  Sure enough, they conceded in the 68th minute.  Victor Anichebe was able to keep the ball away from the hapless Villain defenders and find Fellaini’s run and the Belgian midfielder put the ball away into the bottom right corner of the goal to make the score 2-3.  He scored the equalizer deep into stoppage time when he out muscled the defense to head home Leighton Baines corner kick.  So, it looks like Aston Villa will be joining their Birmingham City neighbors in the Championship division next season.

Newcastle 3-2 Chelsea

The Magpies win a close one over the hapless Blues.  It was Demba Ba’s first visit back to St James’ park since he moved to Chelsea in the January transfer window.  The Geordie faithful voiced their displeasure at what they felt was his chase for money and his disloyalty to the club that had done so much for him.  His new employers nearly grabbed the lead in the 15th minute when Frank Lampard blasted Ashley Cole’s pullback over the bar.  Ba nearly scored in the 32nd minute when his shot was saved by Magpies’ keeper Tim Krul. Ba headed the rebound just wide before colliding with Fabricio Coloccini and getting a bloody nose.  While he was off getting treated, Jonas Gutierrez headed Newcastle into the lead by meeting Davide Santon’s cross into the Blues area.  Shortly thereafter, much to the amusement of the home crowd, Ba was substituted for Fernando Torres.  As the second half progressed, Frank Lampard showed his leadership by scoring the equalizer in the 54th minute with a fine shot from outside the area.  The Blues took the lead in the 60th minute when Torres made a perfect lay off for Juan Mata to hit a wonderful curling shot over Krul and into the top corner of the goal.  You would have thought Chelsea would have been good enough to see out the result, but in the 68th minute, keeper Petr Cech made an uncharacteristic mistake with a Yoan Gouffran shot rebound that Moussa Sissoko poked home to make it 2-2.  Sissoko ensured the win for the home side at the end when he and Santon combined to get through the Blues defense and the Frenchman drilled his shot past Cech.  I wonder who Roman Abromavich is interviewing for the Chelsea manager’s job this time.

Reading 2-1 Sunderland

Jimmy Kebe gets a brace as the Royals continue their wonderful start to 2013.  Kebe started the scoring in the sixth minute as he slammed home Jobi McAnuff’s pass from the edge of the Sunderland penalty area.  That looked like it was going to be the only goal of the half until the 29th minute when Sundeland captain John O’Shea was fouled in the Royals penalty area by Pavel Pogrebnyak.  Craig Gardner scored the spot kick and the sides went into half time level.  It looked like that would be how the match ended as both keepers managed to keep their respective opposition from scoring.  But it was an Ian Harte free kick in the 84th minute that did in the Sunderland defense.  The Republic of Ireland international knocked the ball to the back post and Kebe rose the highest to head home for the win.  The victory now sees them out of the bottom three and has Royal fans dreaming of BPL football for next season.

West Ham 1-0 Swansea

Andy Carroll comes back from injury to score for the Hammers.  It was a welcome win for the home side and lifts them up and away from any relegation fight.  Carroll hadn’t started for the Hammers since November and was a greeted with mad cheering from the home side.  His presence fits into boss Sam Allardyce’s tactic of defend first and score second.  The home side managed to hold Michu in check for most of the match, limiting him to one header that he missed over the bar.  Swans keeper managed to keep the visitors in the match by making some fine, important saves from Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te.  But in the 77th minute, Carroll was not to be denied as he out jumped everyone to head home Mark Noble’s corner kick from the left.  The win leaves West Ham in 11th place in the BPL table and that ain’t a bad place to hang around and blow bubbles for a bit.

Wigan 2-2 Southampton

The Latics and the Saints battle each other to a draw at the DW Stadium.  The Latics will not be happy about dropping three vital points in their fight to stay in the BPL.  They took the lead in the 25th minute from a Gary Caldwell header and were happy to take their one goal lead into the locker room at the interval.  But the Saints have proven a hard side to beat with a single goal this season.  They equalized in the 62nd minute when Rickie Lambert finished Jay Rodriquez’s pass.  The energized visitors began pouring on the pressure and the Latics defense cracked in the 84th minute when the Saints broke through on a counter-attack and Mogan Schneiderlin scored from inside the six-yard box.  A late goal like that should have ensured the win for Southampton, but Shaun Maloney managed to poke home a loose ball from a corner kick right at the end of the match to grab Wigan a point.

Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Norwich

Yet another draw for Redknapp as QPR’s fight against relegation continues.  Harry Redknapp spent a lot of money in the transfer window as he works to save QPR’s future in the BPL.  One story during the window was the saga of Peter Odemwingie and the mix-up as he thought he had been transferred from West Bromwich Albion, but transfer actually had not gone through.  But the current priority for Rangers was getting wins.  Midfielder Adel Taarabt clearly the key for any QPR survival, nearly scored in the 10th minute when he drill a hard, low shot just wide of the goal.  A bit later, the Moroccan created an opportunity for Jamie Mackie, but he also shot wide.  Norwich were content to defend and left Grant Holt on his own at the top of their formation.  So it went for much of the match as one side or the other would mount an attack, but couldn’t keep the goal attempt on target.  QPR should have taken the lead in the 61st minute when they were awarded a penalty kick.  Mackie took advantage of some poor Norwich defending and as he got into the penalty area, was tripped by keeper Mark Bunn.  Taarabt took the spot kick that Bunn was able to beat away with a fine save to preserve the draw.  As the match drew to a close, both sides pressed hard for a goal that would never come.  Redknapp has got to know that these draws have got to start turning into wins if QPR has any hope of survival.

West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Tottenham

Spurs secure their place in the top four and threaten Chelsea for third place.  This match turned on a bit of boneheadedness on the part of defender Goran Popov.  The match was an evenly fought affair as WBA were equal to everything Spurs threw at them.  When the two teams went into the half time interval, it looked like the Baggie would be good enough to hold out for the draw.  Then Popov had a major brain cramp.  In the 48th minute, he and Spurs defender Kyle Walker bowed up to each other after fighting hard for possession of the ball.  Then Popov spat in the general direction of Walker and the referee instantly sent off the WBA left back.  After that it was all downhill for the home side as they were put under constant pressure.  WBA keeper Ben Foster was able to keep the visitors at bay as he saved first from Holtby and later a close range effort from Gareth Bale.  But in the 68th minute, the Welsh wingman got a great pass from Walker and unloaded a 20 yard missile that flew past a diving foster for the match’s only goal.

Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool

The Champions drop points to the Reds at the Etihad Stadium.  Well, Mario Balotelli is gone now.  Roberto Mancini’s desire to end off field drama and focus on defending the BPL trophy should have been fulfilled.  After Edin Dzeko had been more than filling the role of second striker with Sergio Aquero.  Joe Hart was still England’s number one keeper.  David Silva was the engine that drove Citeh forward.  All the elements that were needed to string a similar run to the run that won them the Premiership were all in place.  Surely they would be able to run over Liverpool. Dzeko made that prediction seem to come true in the 22nd minute when he scored from close range past keeper Pepe Reina.  But the one great improvement Liverpool has made has been the acquisition of striker Daniel Sturridge.  He got the equalizer for the Reds in the 28th minute, although not without a bit of controversy attached.  Liverpool defender Daniel Agger seemed to have fouled Dzeko to gain possession, but the referee did not award the free kick.  Instead Liverpool made their way forward and captain Steve Gerrard put Sturridge through on goal and the former Citeh man hit a left-footed bomb past Hart.  The visitors were the far better side by the time the half time interval came.  It only got worse for the champions in the second half when, in the 73rd minute Gael Clichy made a poor clearance that went right to Gerrard.  The England captain controlled the ball on his chest and smashed a low, dipping volley that Hart had no chance of getting to.  The Champions did get the equalizer in the 77th minute when Aguero was able to take advantage of a defensive mix-up in the Reds’ defense and hit a fine curling shot from a tough angle to make the scores level again.  But that’s as close as Citeh would come and when the final whistle blew, they found themselves nine points behind their neighbors.

Barclay’s Premier League Round 24 Wrap-Up

 Posted by on February 3, 2013 at 12:03 am  England, EPL
Feb 032013

Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle

Newcastle’s first away win of the season makes things worse for Aston Villa.  If you have any spare change lying around after buying your NFL Super Bowl squares, you can bet on the Villains getting relegated this season.  They looked absolutely clueless on Tuesday.  First Papiss Cisse scored in the 18th minute and Yohan Cabaye in the 30th minute.  Although the Villains did manage to get a 48th minute penalty from Christian Benteke, they looked awful.  Boss Paul Lambert is hoping that his moves in the transfer market will bring a much needed spark to the team.  It will take a lot more than some new players and finger crossing.  Some of the home fans seemed to have given up hope already as the Villa Park was quite empty.  Their home side sits second from bottom in the table and things just don’t look good.  But if past seasons have been any indication, things are never decided until the last ball has been kicked and the last whistle blown.

Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Manchester City

This has to be the surprise of the round.  QPR Goalkeeper Julio Cesar held firm and no goals from the Champions on Tuesday.  It was a chance for Citeh to close the gap between themselves and their neighbors Manchester United to two points.  They were on a four match win streak and looked like they were going to make a run similar to the one that got them the BPL trophy last season.  But Cesar was clearly the Man of the Match and he was tested early in the eighth minute when he had to clear away from David Silva’s corner kick.  Joleon Lescott should have put the rebound in to the goal, but his shot was over the bar.  The Champions had another opportunity from the corner in the 18th minute, but Cesar was again the boss of his area.  Cesar was called on again in the 42nd minute when he had to save Gareth Barry’s 18 yard shot.  The second half was more of the same as the Champions continued to lay siege to the QPR goal.  In the 68th minute David Silva thought he had finally scored in the 68th minute when he broke through and shot from 12 yards out.  But Cesar was equal to it and kept the clean sheet.  Silva tried again in the 84th minute in a match that saw very little in the way of attacking by the home side.  But the Spaniard’s shot was cut out by Cesar.  That was really all the Champions could muster as they shared the points with the bottom of the table club.  Wonder if they miss Mario Balotelli now?

Stoke 2-2 Wigan

Wigan grab a much valued point at the Britannia Stadium.  Once again Potters’ boss Tony Pulis approached this match trying not to lose rather than trying to win.  But then the weather really dictated how this match would be played out as a very heavy rain spell completely soaked the pitch.  It was the home side that got going first and they went into the lead in the 22nd minute when Charlie Adam’s free kick wasn’t properly cleared and Ryan Shawcross was able prod the ball into the net for the goal.  It looked like Pulis’ tactics were going to actually work for a win this time as they kept the opposition at bay for the rest of the half.  They got a second goal in the 48th minute when Peter Crouch was able to pounce on a rebound from Charlie Adam’s shot.  Latics goal keeper Ali Al Habsi was able to save from Adam, but Crouch beat him to the ball and it looked like the home side had done enough to take the win.  But Wigan were able to reply right away one minute later when Roger Espinoza’s through ball was hit home by James McArthur.  Then in the 60th minute Franco Di Santo got the equalizer when he volleyed home McArthur’s header.  Wigan should have stolen the match in the 63rd minute when Asmir Begovic made a great save from James McArthur’s effort.  But, that’s as close as they would come as both sides had to settle for a point.

Sunderland 0-0 Swansea

This would be Danny Graham’s last match for the Swans as he would be leaving for Sunderland on Thursday.  The Welsh home fans were not happy about this move and let him know about it as he went through the pre-match warm-ups.  He didn’t start the match as Leon Britton started in his place.  There wasn’t too much action in this match as the rain that was soaking much of England made its presence felt at the Stadium of Light.  One of the few highlites of the match came in the 74th minute when Graham came on for Britton.  He was applauded by the Sunderland fans and booed by the Swansea fans.  I wonder how the Swans’ fans would felt if his 90th minute shot not been blocked by defender Titus Bramble?

Fulham 3-1 West Ham

The Cottagers get a much needed win over their London rivals.  Boss Martin Jol knew that Fulham needed to get back on the winning track. They had been on a slide after such a bright start to the season.  Dimitar Barbatov got them going in the 10th minute when he headed home Damien Duff’s cross.  There was some suspicion that the Bulgarian was offside as he was marked and nodded home virtually unmolested.  But if Sam Allardyce has done one thing for the Hammers it’s been to keep them fighting, no matter what.  It looked like he reminded them of that fight a bit at half time because they equalized in the 47th minute.  Mark Noble’s quick free kick caught the hosts off guard a bit and Kevin Nolan was able to hit a low left-footed strike past keeper Mark Schwarzer.  But the one weakness the Hammers have had of late is mental breaks and they had one happen one minute later as Duff was able to make a great run down the left flank and hit a cross that Hugo Rodallega headed home ahead of all the West Ham defenders.  Nolan tried to equalize in the 70th minute, but he was denied by a fine save from Schwarzer.  The Hammers’ had a penalty shot denied when Joe Cole went down from a challenge from Brede Hangeland, but the referee wasn’t convinced that a foul had occurred.  Fulham sealed the game in stoppage time when West Ham keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen parried a shot right into Mladen Petric’s path and he poked his shot in off Joey O’Brien for the own goal.

Reading 2-2 Chelsea

Adam Le Fondre’s injury time goal helps the Royals haul themselves out of the bottom three.  I must say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Chelsea faithful so angry about how their team is performing and being run in quite a while.  They drew in their FA-Cup tie at Brentford on Sunday and Wednesday looked like a great chance for the Blues to get their collective thumbs out and open up a six-point over fourth place Tottenham.  I’m wondering if Blues’ boss Rafa Benitez has a started reconsidering taking over the hot mess that is the Chelsea at the moment.  The away fans at the Madejski Stadium let him know their feelings as they chanted “You’re not wanted here” and other fun things.  The visitors started well and they could have had an early penalty when the ball appeared to strike defender Mikele Leigertwood’s arm inside the box, but the referee let it go.  The other Spaniard receiving heckling was Fernando Torres.  He had cut his hair really close and when in the 40th minute he missed a shot horribly wide, the home fans really let him have it.  But he shut them up right at the stroke of half time when he made a delicate chip over to Juan Mata who was able to poke the shot past goal keeper Adam Federici from five yards out.  Frank Lampard made the Blues supporters happier in the 65th minute when he headed home Juan Mata’s corner kick.  While the fans were still shouting for “Super Frank” to be given a new contract, Royals boss Brian McDermott brought on Le Fondre for Jobi McAnuff.  While it took a while for the substitute to make any impact, it finally paid off 86th minute when Le Fondre was able to poke Hope Akpan’s though pass past substitute keeper Ross Turnbull.  They secured the draw when Le Fondre was found unmarked at the back post by an Akpan header across the Chelsea goal.  The striker calmly put the ball home as the fans celebrated to the tune of the theme from the movie “The Great Escape”.

Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool

The Gunners come back from two goals down to secure a point at the Emirates Stadium.  It looks like Champions’ League football may be out of the question for Arsenal this season.  There are even some questions as to whether they’ll even qualify for the Europa League.  They haven’t been playing well of late and the Reds looked to take advantage and move up the BPL table a bit.  They made a really good start when in the fifth minute Jordan Henderson put Luis Suarez in on goal and the Uruguayan put the visitors into the lead.  The Reds needed to find a way to bounce back from their humiliating exit from the FA-Cup on Sunday.  They nearly had their second in the 10th minute as Daniel Sturridge narrowly missed to the left with his shot.  The Gunners had an equalizer attempt from Olivier Giroud blocked by defender Lucas Leiva in the 17th minute as the match kept going back and forth.  Thomas Vermaelen has a shot blocked by Jamie Carragher in the 18th minute and keeper Jose Reina had to save from Theo Walcott’s attempt to poke in the rebound.  So it went for the rest of the first half and the Reds felt good about going into the break with the lead.  They came back out pressing for the second goal and Sturridge again fired wide in the 48th minute.  Jordan Henderson got the second goal for the visitors when he was able to scoot past Andre Santos, and poke home a Sturridge pass into the net.  That goal seemed to be the kick in the pants that the home side needed and Giroud cut the deficit in half in the 64th minute when he headed home Jack Wilshere’s free kick from the right wing.  Theo Walcott got the equalizer in the 67th minute when Giroud turned provider.  It was a shock to the Reds and their defense was found wanting yet again as it had been on Sunday.  But they managed to pull together and neither side was able to break through until stoppage time when Gunners’ keeper Wojciech Szczesny had to pull off a top class save to deny Suarez’s run on goal.

Everton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

Leighton Baines gets two first half goals for the Toffees at home.  His first strike was from the edge of the box in the 28th minute when Leon Osman found him with a pass in the midfield.  The WBA defense didn’t bother to try to stop the Everton defender’s run toward the area, so he took aim and smashed his shot past WBA keeper Ben Foster.  The second goal was from a penalty kick awarded right at the stroke of half time when Victor Anichebe was fouled in the area by substitute Claudio Yacob.  Baines stroked the spot kick easily past Foster and the home side went into the break with a two goal lead.  WBA did manage to get a goal back when substitute Shane Long headed home a Romelu Lukaku cross.  But that’s as close as WBA would come on Wednesday as the Toffees tightened their grip on the last European place.

Norwich 1-1 Tottenham

Gareth Bale’s 80th minute strike rescues a point for Spurs at Carrow Road.  The Canaries were humiliated in the FA-Cup when they went out to non-league Luton.  Boss Chris Hughton wanted his boys to find a way overcome their horrible run of 2 points from a possible 21 in the BPL.  They thought they had the start they needed in the 32nd minute when Wes Hoolahan took Anthony Pilkington’s pass and went through the Spurs defense and poked in the opening goal past keeper Hugo Lloris.  The Canaries had a couple more chances to increase the lead in the first half, but were content to go into the locker room at the break with the one goal lead.  But there’s a reason why Spurs and one the best London teams this season and they set out to prove it in the second half.  Bale nearly equalized in the 51st minute when Norwich keeper Mark Bunn was forced to save the Welshman’s 25 yard shot on goal.  Jermain Defoe was the next one to miss when he got deep into the Canaries area and screwed his shot just off to the left of the goal.  The equalizer did finally come as one would expect from Bale.  He got the ball in his own half and sped by midfielder Alex Tettey like he wasn’t even there, then cut the rest of the Canaries defense apart before hammering his shot past a sprawling Bunn.  Bunn did manage to secure the draw when he saved from first substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson and then from Bale.

Barclay’s Premier League Week 23 Wrap-Up

 Posted by on January 24, 2013 at 12:24 am  England, EPL
Jan 242013

Liverpool 5-0 Norwich

The Reds make mincemeat of the Canaries at Anfield.  I’ll bet that Canaries boss Chris Hughton is running his boys ragged at practice this week.  They were made to look completely stupid from the opening kick-off.  There was a question or two for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool coming off their defeat at Old Trafford in the last round.  Pepe Reina was rested and there was also some doubt that Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez would be able to play together and you would have thought that the visitors would want to avenge previous maulings at the hands of the Reds.  But, it was never a contest as Jordan Henderson put them in front in the 25th minute when Suarez was able to put the midfielder through on goal.  The Uruguayan, who had been condemned for admitting earlier in the week to diving, stayed on his feet despite to hard tackles and set up Henderson’s first time shot that went into the top right-hand corner over keeper Mark Bunn.  The second goal came in the 37th minute from Sturridge’s clever leave of Lucas Leiva’s through pass which allowed the ball to end up on Suarez’s foot and he tucked it into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal.  The second-half saw more the same domination and Sturridge got on the goal sheet himself in the 58th minute when he put home Stewart Downing’s superb cross from the right of midfield.   Not wanting to be left out of the party, Steven Gerrard made it 4-0 in the 65th minute when Glen Johnson made a great run down the left and set up the Liverpool captain to hit from 25 yards out.  Goal number five came when substitute Raheem Sterling made another run through the Canaries’ defense and hit his shot off defender Ryan Bennett.  So the warning to the BPL opposition has been issued, Liverpool have a strike force that has to be reckoned with.  Can we finally say that Luis Suarez ain’t a racist now?

Manchester City 2-0 Fulham

David Silva’s double helps the Champions cut into their neighbor’s lead at the top of the BPL table.  With the news that Mario Balotelli may have played his last match in England, Citeh got off to a great start.  Edin Dzeko, who has won the starting striker’s job over the Italian, was in on goal and allowed to shoot from 25 yards out.  Cottagers’ keeper Mark Schwarzer parried the effort away, but Silva was able to slam the rebound home to give the home side the lead in the second minute.  Fulham have been struggling with their form this season and Martin Jol hasn’t been able to figure out what to do.  This was an easy match for the Champions and they are starting to get their groove back as Dzeko, Carlos Tevez, and James Milner all nearly scored.  Just like he was last season when they put together the run that won them the title, Silva was the man for this match.  There simply was no way through for the Cottagers and the Spaniard end the match as a contest in the 68th minute when Tevez made a brilliant pass for Silva to poke into the bottom right corner of the net.  Some good news for the Champions as Sergio Aguero was able to make an appearance in the 80th minute for Carlos Tevez and it looks like his leg has healed.  Aguero, practicing for more end of season heroics, nearly scored in stoppage time, but he missed off to the left.  But the race for the title is on now and it looks like Citeh have every intention of keeping the trophy safely locked in the cabinet at the Emirates Stadium.

Newcastle 1-2 Reading

An Adam Le Fondre brace gives the Royals a much needed win and puts Newcastle in deeper trouble.  The fans at St James Park are once again angry with their manager.  They were angry when he replaced Chris Hughton, the man who got them promoted from the Championship two seasons ago, but forgave him when he nearly got them into Europe.  But fortunes have changed this season.  Their best striker Demba Ba is gone and they’re back into a relegation fight.  Alan Pardew knew that the Magpies needed a win badly and managed to get his boys to start well.  They laid siege to the Royals goal and were rewarded in the 35th minute when Yohan Cabaye scored a beautiful free-kick from 35 yards out.  They should have had more by half time but that was all they could muster.  Reading came from 2-0 behind to beat West Bromwich last round, so they didn’t panic as they started the second half.  They remembered their lessons from the last match.  First secure the defense and they made the home side’s attack look ordinary.  Pavel Pogrebnyak nearly got the equalizer in the 62nd minute when he hit Jimmy Kebe’s downward header over the goal.  Pardew tried to build up his defense by bringing on James Perch for Sylvain Marveaux.  But, Kebe was able to get down the right of Newcastle’s midfeld in the 70th minute and hit a cross that was not properly cleared.  Le Fondre, on for Danny Guthre was able to put home the goal and the comeback was on for the Royals.  In the 76th minute, it was yet another cross that wasn’t dealt with that finished off Newcastle.  Substitute Hope Akpan was the instigator this time and Le Fondre the beneficiary.    Papiss Cisse and, in stoppage time, Gabriel Obertan tried in vain to get an equalizing goal for the home side who now sit two points and two places off the bottom three.

Swansea 3-1 Stoke

Two Jonathan De Guzman goals in the second half help the Swans condemn the Potters to another defeat.  This was a match Stoke were never really in.  Perhaps it was the Welsh winter weather, but the visitors definitely were the lessor team on Saturday.  After a slow first half, Swansea came out of the half-time interval with a bit of purpose.  They took the lead in the 48th minute when Ben Davis beat defender Ryan Walters to a low pass from Sung-Yeung Ki and out ran the Potters defense before depositing into the bottom right corner of the goal.  De Guzman netted his first in the 57th minute when he hit a wonderful curling free-kick into the top corner over the outstretched fingers of Asmir Begovic.  Danny Graham, a transfer target of several teams came on as a substitute in the 72nd minute for Itay Shechter.  As Graham came on, he couldn’t help but be touched by the fans appreciation chants of “We want you to stay” and he repaid their support as he set up De Guzman’s second goal in the 80th minute.  He got a great ball from Wayne Routledge and placed the ball into the Dutch International’s path for him to lift over Begovic to score the third goal for the Swans.  Stoke got a stoppage time consolation goal when substitute Michael Owen flicked in a header, but that damage had been done.

West Ham 1-1 Queens Park Rangers

Joe Cole rescues a point for the Hammers.  This one’s gonna hurt for QPR fans.  They had gone ahead in the 14th minute when new signing Loic Remy scored in the 14th minute from an Adel Taarabt assist.  They then tried to sit back and defend that goal for the win and should have succeeded were it not for old Hammers’ hero Cole.  QPR did dominate the first half and had several chances to double their lead.  The home side pressed really hard for the equalizer when the second half started but keeper Julio Cesar was more than equal to nearly every attempt.  Until the 68th minute when substitute Carlton Cole’s shot rebounded off Cesar and landed at Coles feet.  The Hammers’ legend put home his first goal for his second spell at the club.  The good news is that QPR didn’t completely collapse like they had done in the past and managed to hold out for a precious point.  But they need to get wins if they mean to stay up.

Wigan 2-3 Sunderland

The Latics lose a close one at home.  They had started so well.  David Vaughan got them the early lead in the fourth minute when he put the ball into his own net.  But luck hasn’t been with the Latics this season and in the 16th minute James McCarthy was judged to have committed handball in their penalty area when he blocked Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick.  Craig Gardner scored the spot kick and three minutes later the Blackcats had the lead.  Alfred N’Diaye made a wonderful cross for Steven Fletcher to put volley home past keeper Ali Al-Habsi.  Fletcher made it three for the visitors in the 41st minute when he was there to press home an Adam Johnson knock-back of a Craig Gardner free-kick.  The home crowd boo’ed  off their team at the half and Roberto Martinez needed to find some sort of inspiration for the next half.  He tried replacing Ronnie Stam with Roger Espinoza and it seemed to lift the side a little.  Shaun Maloney nearly scored for the home side in the 49th minute when his shot was saved by keeper Simon Mignolet.  The Latics thought they had their own penalty claim a bit later when Franco di Santo had a shot blocked in a similar manner to the manner to which James McCarthy had been punished in the first half.  However the referee wouldn’t hear of it.  Substitute Angelo Henriquez did get a goal back for the home side in the 78th when he headed home Maloney’s cross.  To their credit, the Latics pressed hard for the remainder for that elusive equalizer.  But alas, as the final whistle blew, Wigan found themselves back in the bottom three.

West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Aston Villa

Peter Odemwingie’s late second half goal denies the Villains a much needed win.  Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert has received the dreaded confidence vote from the ownership as it looks like their skid will continue for a while.  They needed a win in the worst way and a visit to The Hawthorns stadium might be a way to start something good.  Things really did start out really well for the visitors as Christian Benteke got them on the board first in the 12th minute.  It was his 10th goal of the season and he got it when he was able to take Charles N’Zogbia’s pass and get around defender Claudio Yacob before firing a rising strike past WBA keeper Ben Foster.  It was clear that the Villains had a bit of fight to them coming into this match and in the 20th minute, tempers flared when Gabriel Agbonlahor and Jonas Olsson came together after the former’s cross and the latters’ challenge.  Both players were booked, but an inspired Agbonlahor made it two for the visitors when he took another N’Zogbia pass through the WBA defense and finished under Foster and into the net.  When the half time whistle blew, WBA boss Steve Clarke was not very happy with his team’s performance and undoubtedly let them know about it during the interval.  Whatever he said to them, it worked as they managed to pull a goal back in the 49th minute.  Romelu Lukaku took a Jerome Thomas cross and made a wonderful pass into Chris Brunt’s run so that he could curl a 15 yard strike past Villains’ keeper Brad Guzan.  Perhaps it was the fear of dropping more points, or maybe Villa really are headed for the drop.  But whatever it might be, they slowly lost their grip on the match and it was a matter of time before any hope of three much needed points would be gone.  It happened in the 82nd minute when WBA were awarded a corner kick.  Brunt took the kick and the Villain defense failed to clear, leaving Odemwingie to volley past Guzan’s desperate grasp.

Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal

Two referee decisions help the Blues do the double over their London rivals.  It was not a good week for the Chelsea faithful coming into this match.  They had blown a two goal lead in their make-up match against Southampton on Wednesday.  Their dream manager, Pep Guardiola, had decided to take the Bayern Munich job when it becomes available in the summer.  So, one couldn’t blame the Stamford Bridge faithful for being a little grumpy.  It could have gotten really bad for boss Rafa Benitez had Olivier Giroud not missed his shot in the fifth minute.  Theo Walcott, giddy from his new contract signing, had wiggled through the Blues defense in the fifth minute and set up the French striker who should have scored.  On the counter, Blues midfielder Ramires looked like he had fouled Francis Coquelin and the ball broke to Cesar Azpilicueta.  He hit Juan Mata with a keen cross-field pass that the Spaniard controlled with one touch then smashed it into the top left corner of the goal.  With Gunners boss Arsene Wenger fuming on the touch-line Eden Hazard nearly made it two a short time later as keeper Wojciech Szczesny had to make a diving save.  Wenger was made even angrier in the 16th minute when Ramieres darted into the Gunners’ area and tangled with Szczesny.  The referee pointed to the spot, but replays showed that the winger fell on his own.  The spot kick was taken by Frank Lampard and as the crowd chanted “Super Frank” and “Sign him up”, he hammered the penalty kick home in his usual manner.  The home side dominated the rest of the match as they usually do at Stamford Bridge.  There was a little apprehension when Walcott got a consolation goal in the 57th minute, but there was no way back for Arsenal.  I think Rafa can take some solace in the win and the fact that Wenger is having a much harder time that he is at the moment.

Southampton 0 – 0 Everton

A cold, stalemate is all there was for the hard core fan at St Mary’s Stadium.  This had been a really weird time for the Saints.  Nigel Adkins, the man who got them promoted from the First Division to the Championship Division and then on to the BPL, had been surprisingly fired.  Saint’s fans, fearful that the ownership was repeating the same mistake that Blackburn Rovers made last season, had planned on protesting the new boss, Mauricio Pochettino as he took charge of the team for Monday’s match.  Things were almost called off as a snow storm blew through and dumped several inches of snow throughout the city.  When things got started, it was the home side that seemed to have the better of the play.  Gaston Ramirez and Rickie Lambert both got a chance to start and they wreaked a bit of havoc in the Everton goal in the fourth minute.  A couple minutes later, Jason Puncheon had his shot blocked by defender Phil Jagielka.  There was a penalty shout in the 32nd minute when Saints defender Maya Yoshida went to ground from a Sylain Distin challenge.  But the referee ignored any claims and waved play-on.  Despite the pressure from the home side, that was as close as anyone would come to scoring in the first half.  Everton came out of the half time interval with a little more fire and Saints keeper Artur Boruc and to twice save a sure goal from midfielder Marouane Fellaini.  If the first half had belong to the home side, the second half was owned by the visitors as Nikica Jelavic, Victor Anichibe, and later substitute Kevin Mirallas had their attempts on goal saved by Boruc.  And so neither side could make any breakthrough and the final whistle gave Pochettino his first point as the new Southampton boss.

Barclay’s Premier League Week 22 Wrap-Up

 Posted by on January 16, 2013 at 9:57 am  England, EPL
Jan 162013

Queens Park Rangers 0 – 0 Tottenham

Harry Redknapp’s boys get a home draw versus Spurs.  This was the first time the old Spurs’ manager and his replacement, Andreas Villas-Boas met since Redknapp took over QPR.  There was a bit of anticipation as to whether or not the two managers would acknowledge each other before the kickoff.  But they did embrace and there was little pre-match drama.  The same can be said for the match itself.  There was little drama in this as QPR was able to hold the usually free scoring Spurs at Loftus Road.  There was a bit of drama early when QPR keeper Julio Cesar was able to deny both Jermain Defoe’s and Emmanuel Adebayor’s shots on goal.  But that was as close as anyone would come in this match.  QPR were emphasizing defense first and this was their fourth point in two matches.  It was the first time Spurs have been held goalless in an away match and QPR managed to control both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.  Quite the accomplishment and one more needed step in the “Keep QPR from Being Relegated” campaign.

Aston Villa 0 – 1 Southampton

The Saints win at Villa Park and send Aston Villa into the bottom three.  The Villains are having the worst luck this season and really needed a win against fellow strugglers Southampton in order to stay out of the relegation zone.  They came into this match after losing their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg match to lowly Bradford in mid-week.  So boss Paul Lambert was keen to have his team end their miserable run of one point in the last five BPL matches.  The Villains still have not been able to up their attack, but they seemed to start the first half defending better than they have in a while.  But it was a controversial referee decision in the 33rd minute that would be the Villains’ undoing.  Jay Rodriguez made his way into the home side’s penalty area and appeared to have been tripped by Enda Stevens.  However, replays clearly showed that Stevens did not touch Rodriguez.  But Rickie Lambert scored the spot kick for the Saints and that was that.  Villa did have a late header by Christian Benteke kept out by Saints’ keeper Artur Boruc, but they didn’t ever really threaten the visitors’ goal.  Now Villa are really in trouble.

Everton 0 – 0 Swansea

Swans grab a point from the Toffees at Goodison Park.  Vincente del Bosque showed up at the match on Saturday.  Presumably it was to watch Miguel Michu as he is one of the leading scorers in the BPL this season.  But what he saw was an impressive performance by Chico Flores as his side was able to keep Everton from scoring.  Swans were on a high coming into this match as they had beaten Chelsea in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg midweek.  In fact, they haven’t lost in six matches in all competitions prior to kick-off on Saturday.  Everton, on the other hand, really needed a win if they were going to stay in the top four this season.  They got a boost when they got Leighton Baines in the line-up, having gotten over an ankle strain.  Marouane Fellaini nearly scored from the opening whistle when he broke through on goal.  But his 20 yard shot was comfortably saved by keeper Michel Vorm.  In the ninth minute, Swansea nearly goofed when a poor back pass from defender Ben Davies allowed Everton striker Nikica Jelavic a chance on goal.  But Vorm was more than equal to the shot.  Swansea would come close to scoring in the first half in the 18th minute when Pablo Hernandez hit his shot well wide of Tim Howard’s goal.  But Everton dominated possession for most of the half but just couldn’t seem to dent the determined Swansea defense.  The second half was more of the same as the Toffees kept probing for some chink in the Swans armor.  But there simply was no way through as Flores and the rest of the Swans defenders held firm.  There seemed to be late penalty shout when Jelavic tangled with Swans defender Ashley Williams, but the referee wasn’t interested.

Fulham 1 – 1 Wigan

Franco Di Santo’s second half goal rescues a point for the Latics and hauls them out of the bottom three.  The goal cancelled out a 21st minute goal scored Fulham midfielder Giorgos Karagounis.  It looked like Wigan were going to lose another match and remain in the relegation zone.  They had started well enough and nearly scored in the fourth minute when Shaun Maloney’s shot on goal went just over the goal.  They were the better side but despite their desire and initiative went behind when the Karagounis got on to the ball in the midfield and made a run directly toward goal.  He was able to get around keeper James McCarthy and hit his shot low and off the inside of the post.  The Latics nearly equalized in the 25th minute when James McArthur’s half-volley was saved by Cottagers’ keeper Mark Schwarzer.  They had another chance in the 41st minute when Franco Di Santo met Emmerson Boyce’s cross with a left-footed shot that went over the bar.  The visitors continued to press and a worried Fulham boss Martin Jol substituted Hugo Rodallega for Mladen Petric in the 65th minute.  The equalizer came in the 70th minute when Di Santo was able to drive in from the left flank in towards the edge of the Fulham penalty area, before he whacked a low hard right-footed shot that got past Schwarzer.  Both sides pressed a late match winner that would never come.  The result was enough to steer the Latics out of the relegation zone albeit on goal difference.  Wonder if they’ll be able to stay clear.

Norwich 0 – 0 Newcastle

It’s honors even at Carrow Road.  This one was a bit of a yawn fest.  It was easy to see that Newcastle have lost their scoring punch since selling Demba Ba to Chelsea.  Papiss Cisse was working hard to try to take up the goal scoring duties, but there was no testing of Canaires’ keeper Mark Bunn on Saturday.  The home side lacked their own punch in front of goal.  Captain and leading goal scorer Grant Holt spent most of the match on the bench getting over a leg injury.  There wasn’t much to this match, at that worked out better for the home side, but also ended a four game skid for the visitors.  So the draw leaves Newcastle two spots away from the drop zone so boss Alan Pardew had better be thinking about what activity he needs to do in the transfer window.

Reading 3 – 2 West Bromwich Albion

Pavel Pogrebnyak wins the match for the Royals in stoppage time.  This might be the match that has the Royals on the way to hauling themselves to safety.  It didn’t start well for the Royals as the Baggies dominated the first half.  They got the first goal in 19th minute when Romelu Lukaku put home James Morrison’s close pass in the area.  The two had combined to cut through the Royals defense and Lukaku made scoring the goal look pretty easy.  The Baggies continued to dominate and when half time came, it looked like the Royals were going down to defeat again.  They went further behind in the 69th minute when Morrison and Lukaku cut through the Royals defense again and Lukaku scored again.  Lukaku  had a goal disallowed for offside after he and Morrison continued to wreak havoc on the Royals defense.  But with ten minutes left in the match, the Royals staged an incredible comeback.  It started in the 81st minute when Jimmy Kebe headed in a Garath McCleary cross to give the home fans something to hope for.  The Royals pressed hard for the equalizing goal and in the 87th minute, Baggies defender Jonas Olsson fouled Jimmy Kebe in the area, prompting the referee to award Reading a penalty kick.  Adam Le Fondre scored the spot kick assuring a least a point for the home side.  The winner came in stoppage time when the Royals were awarded a free-kick in the attacking third.  Ian Harte launched the kick into the box, Alex Pearce knocked it down and Pogrebnyak poked it past keeper Ben Foster to send the home fans into a wild frenzy.  If they do survive, they’ll look back at this match with fond memories.

Stoke 0 – 4 Chelsea

Stoke striker Jonathan Walters grabs a brace of own goals as the Blues romp.  Normally the Britannia Stadium is a fortress for Stoke.  They hadn’t lost there since nearly a year ago.  The Potters started out well and should have scored in the seventh minute when Kenwyne Jones missed a sitter to the right of the goal.  They dominated much of the first half and had another chance to take the lead in the 20th minute when Matthew Etherington’s effort from outside the area missed wide.  But as half time approached, the Blues took the lead.  Walters, trying to beat Juan Mata to Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross, headed past his keeper Asmir Begovic.  At the start of the second half, Walters tried to make up for his gaff when he was able to get through the Chelsea defense.  But his shot wasn’t good enough to beat Petr Cech.  Later, Stoke had a penalty shout denied when Matthew Etherington was challenged in the Blues area by Azpilicueta.  Instead the referee awarded the free kick the other way for offside.  In the 62nd minute, it was all over for Stoke.  Chelsea had been awarded a corner kick taken by Juan Mata.  Walters, again trying to do his defensive duty by beating Frank Lampard to the ball incredibly headed into his own goal again.  Things went from bad to worse for the home side in the 65th minute when they conceded a penalty kick.  Mata had managed to get through the Stoke defense and went down from Robert Huth’s tackle.  Lampard scored the penalty kick right down the middle, showing his supporters that he still has some spark left in him despite not being offered a new contract.  The fourth Chelsea goal was a wonderful strike in the 72nd minute taken by Eden Hazard.  He had taken the ball forward and, not seeing anywhere to pass it, hit a wonderful shot into the upper left corner of the goal.  Some more good news for the Blues happened in the 79th minute when their captain John Terry returned from injury and came on for Juan Mata.  But Terry wasn’t quite match-fit as he conceded a penalty of his own when he fouled Walters in the area.  Walters decided to take the kick himself and his awful luck held as he ballooned the shot off the crossbar and into the crowd.  The final whistle saw the Blues take sole possession of third place.

Sunderland 3 – 0 West Ham

The Black Cats get an easy victory over the Hammers.  This was a match that West Ham were never really in.  Perhaps they were thinking about their up-coming FA-Cup match with Manchester United at Old Trafford.  Whatever it was, boss Sam Allardyce was not pleased with the performance of his boys.  They started out really slowly and were punished in the 11th minute when Sebastian Larsson drilled home Adam Johnson’s cross from the right wing.  Matt Jarvis provided the only goal attempt by West Ham when his 20th minute shot was easily saved by keeper Simon Mignolet.  The Black Cats should have gotten their second goal in the 26th minute when Stephane Sessegnon managed to get through the Hammers’ defense.  But he put his shot wide of goal.  Allardyce tried to fix things by introducing Ricardo Vaz Te in place of Jack Collison, but the tactic didn’t really work.  In the 46th minute, Adam Johnson was able to take advantage of the Hammers’ defense’s failure to clear their lines and poked home a loose rebound from deep inside the West Ham area.  Sunderland scored the third goal in the 74th minute when Sessegnon’s scuffed shot rolled over to James McClean and the Ireland international eased the ball into the goal.  The win puts some needed distance between Sunderland and the bottom three as they move to 14th place.

Arsenal 0 – 2 Manchester City

The Champions win at the Emirates for the first time.  I think it may be safe to say that the BPL will be decided between the two Manchester clubs this season.  The Gunners are having a mediocre season and look like they’ll go trophy-less again.  They started out the match in miserable form and things weren’t helped by some pre-match drama outside the stadium when the police had to take care of a security alert.  Right from the opening kick-off Citeh dominated possession and in the eighth minute they were awarded a penalty when Laurent Koscielny was penalized and sent off for wrestling Edin Dzeko to the ground in the area.  But the Champions failed to score as keeper Wojciech Szczesny pulled off an incredible save from Dzeko’s spot kick.  But any hopes of a ten men Arsenal side holding off the Champions was dashed in the 20th minute when James Milner hit an incredible shot into the top left corner from an impossible angle.   The Champions continued pummeling the home side and in the 31st minute went further ahead when Edin Dzeko got himself on the scoresheet.  Carlos Tevez made a fine run into the Gunners’ box and his shot was saved by Szczesny, but Dzeko seized onto the rebound and poked it into the empty net.  That was all the Champions needed to assure the three points needed to keep pace with their noisy neighbors.  There was one last remaining highlite in the match when, in the 75th minute, Vincent Kompany was judged to have tackled Jack Wilshere with a studs up, two-footed challenge and sent off.  The red card would be later overturned on appeal.  Even though both sides would be playing with 10 men for the rest of the match, Arsenal just couldn’t put any sort of attack together and the loss sees them out of the top four again.

Barclay’s Premier League Week 21 Wrap-Up

 Posted by on January 4, 2013 at 11:34 pm  England, EPL
Jan 042013

West Bromwich Albion 1 – 2 Fulham

Alexander Kacaniklic’s second half goal gets a win for the Cottagers.  This was a much needed win for the visitors who had won just one of their previous 12 matches and were looking a relegation fight straight in the face.  They dominated most of the first half and nearly had the opening goal in the 12th minute as Steve Sidwell’s run into the Baggies’ penalty area was relatively unopposed, but his shot was well wide of the goal.  Dimitar Berbatov later got in on goal with only Baggies’ keeper Ben Foster to beat, but he put his shot over the bar.  But finally in the 39th minute, the Bulgarian international put his side into the lead.  Ashkan Dejagah got past Baggies’ defender Liam Ridgewell and squared to Berbatov, who finished in his customary calm method.  The home fans were not happy about what they saw when the half-time whistle blew and they booed off their team as they went off to the locker room.  West Brom got the second half started a lot better and they equalized in the 48th minute when Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku scored from a Billy Jones pass.  Lukaku nearly put the home side in the lead when he beat Aaron Hughes to a loose ball in the Fulham area.  But he hit his shot off the outside of the post.  WBA was inspired as both Zoltan Gera and Lukaku had their shots blocked by David Stokdale.  But just as it looked like the home side were going to press hard enough to score, Kacaniklic put Fulham in the lead against the run of play.  Bryan Ruiz played in a lofted ball into Kacaniklic and he made a brilliant move to check back inside and poked his shot past Foster.  That was all the visitors needed as their defense held the home side to gain three precious points.

Manchester City 3 – 0 Stoke

The Champions make it look easy against the Potters.  Things may not be calm at the Etihad and there may be a player or two who might be moving on during the transfer window, but Roberto Mancini’s boys are still doing what they need to do to stay within striking distance of their neighbors at the top of the BPL table.  And they’re doing it without the services of one Mario Balotelli.  There really wasn’t too much to talk about in this match.  Citeh dominated as they usually do on their home ground and Zabaleta got the first goal in the 42nd minute when he put home James Milner’s cross.  In the second half, Potters’ boss Tony Pulis relaced Kenwyne Jones with Matthew Etherington, but there really wasn’t much of an effect the change made on the match.  Edin Dzeko poked home Sergio Aguero’s offering to make it two for the home side.  His goal celebration was clearly a poke at the Italian striker in whose place he was playing.  He lifted his shirt to show the message “Happy New Year” and posed in “Super” Mario’s “Look at Me” stance.  And he got booked for it like Mario would also.  But it was clear that the Citeh players are prepared to play without the controversial striker and got the third goal in the 72nd when Steven Nzonzi was penalized and booked for fouling David Silva in the penalty area.  Aguero scored the spot kick and the champs kept the gap at the top to seven points.

Swansea 2 – 2 Aston Villa

Danny Graham’s stoppage time goal earns the Swans a draw.  The Villains and boss Paul Lambert are in deep trouble.  They’ve conceded 15 goals and scored zero in their last three matches and Wayne Routledge added to the deficit in the ninth minute when he knocked home Pablo Hernandez’s pass into the area.  It wasn’t the fact that Swans had scored first that was so troubling.  It was how they did it.  They were simply walked through by the home side as if they were not even on the field and keeper Brad Guzan was beaten way to easily.  A minute later Graham went through unmolested on goal, only to hit the post.  Shortly thereafter he again had the Villa goal at his mercy and hit wide from eight yards out.  In the 26th minute, Guzan was again in action as he had to save Miguel Michu’s close shot off the post.  It really looked like Villa were going to get beat down again, but in the 43rd minute, Swans defender Ashley Williams failed to properly clear Christian Benteke’s flick and Andreas Weimann leveled the score.  It was the first goal for the visitors in more than 300 minutes of very futile football on their part.  But it was a much welcome, much needed boost and they started the second half with a fire that had been missing for a long time.  They should have taken the lead early when Benteke nearly got a toe to a great ball across the Swans six yard area by Matthew Lowton.  They even got a bit of luck in the 60th minute when Joe Bennett blocked Angel Rangel’s shot with his hand inside his penalty area, but the referee awarded the free-kick on edge of the box instead of giving the penalty kick.  Their luck got even better when they were awarded a penalty kick of their own in the 84th minute.  From their corner kick, Swansea midfielder Nathan Dyer was able to block Benteke’s shot, but he fouled Weimann in trying to clear the rebound.  Benteke took the spot kick and it looked like Villa were on their way to a much needed victory.  But alas their Achilles Heel, defending, showed itself again as they couldn’t clear Chico’s shot on goal and Graham pounced on the rebound to seal the draw.

Tottenham 3 – 1 Reading

Spurs grab third place as they beat the Royals at White Hart Lane.  I wonder if Spurs fans are starting to warm up to their manager Andreas Villas Boas yet.  I don’t blame them for the cussing and yelling that they were doing in the third minute when Pavel Pogrebnyak pounced on a loose ball from an Ian Harte free kick that had bounced off the cross-bar to put the visitors up 1-0.  But Aaron Lennon got Spurs moving in the right direction when he made one of his trademark attacks and crossed for Emmanuel Adebayor that the Togo striker headed wide.  Spurs were not to be denied and in the eighth minute, they got the equalizer.  From Gylifi Sigurdsson’s corner-kick, Michael Dawson out jumped everyone and headed home from close range.  Sigurdsson, starting for the suspended Gareth Bale, nearly scored a short time later when his deflected shot went wide of the goal.  Royals goal keeper Adam Federici was constantly under fire as Mousa Dembele, Jermain Defoe, and Sandro all threatened to score.  Defoe should have right before half time when he sped past his marker, but his dipping shot was just wide of the goal.  The start of the second half was more Spurs domination and their pressure finally paid off when they went ahead in the 50th minute.  Lennon got past Harte like he wasn’t even there and crossed for the back post.  Adebayor beat defender Alex Pearce in the air and headed past Federici’s grasp as the Spurs fans rejoiced.  Lennon, easily the Man of the Match continued to wreak havoc on the Royals defense and nearly got a goal in the 55th minute when his effort was blocked by Pearce.  Clint Dempsey, on for Sigurdsson, killed the match off in the 78th minute when his long range shot caught Federici off his line and looped into the goal.  So Villas-Boas, content with his side’s seventh win in nine matches, can thumb his nose at his old employers as he sits above them on the table.

West Ham 2 – 1 Norwich

The Hammers beat the Canaires at Upton Park.  This was a much welcome win for the home side as they hadn’t had a victory since December 1.  Boss Sam Allardyce was wanting a bit of momentum ahead of Saturday’s FA-Cup clash with Manchester United and got the start he was looking for in the second minute of the match.  Ryan Bennett was penalized for a shirt pull on Winston Reid in the box and Mark Noble scored the spot kick to put the home side into the lead.  It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Chris Hughton’s side as they had lost three straight matches coming into this one.  They almost went down another goal when Carlton Cole effort from 20 yards was saved by keeper Mark Bunn.  The Canaries had their own chance a short time later when they were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out from goal.  Robert Snodgrass hit a great curler that went over the wall, but rebounded off the post.  Norwich had their own penalty shout when Reid appeared to handle the ball in the area as he challenged Sebastian Bassong, but the referee was not interested.  The Hammers made it 2-0 in the 25th minute.  Norwich midfielder appeared to have been knocked down by Cole and Noble ran into the right side of the visitors’ penalty area.  Although his cutback was intercepted by Bassong, Joey O’Brien hit the loose ball past a sprawling Bunn.  The Canaries, still furious that no foul had been given nearly went further behind when Matt Taylor hit a 25 yard drive that Bunn was barely able to tip over the bar.  The second half saw more injustice for the Canaries as they were denied another penalty shout when Harry Kane was knocked down by James Tomkins.  The replay did confirm that the referee got that decision right.  The day truly belonged to the home side, although they had some hand wringing at the end of the match when Russell Jackson grabbed a consolation goal from close range as he volleyed Simeon Jackson’s cross into the net.  But that was all the Canaries could muster as West Ham went back to winning ways.

Southampton 1 – 1 Arsenal

Yawn.  Boring, boring Arsenal draws with the Saints.  OK, the Saints should have won this one and they did go ahead in the 34th minute when Gaston Ramierez  got ahold of an Gunner mis-clear and scored.  But then Gunner-Star-Wannabe Theo Walcott hit a free-kick that Guly do Prado knocked into his own goal.  Yep, that was it.  That was all there was as relegation threatened Southampton couldn’t mount any significant attack from that point forward, even though they dominated the second half.  Arsenal, whose fans are waiting to see what moves Arsene Wenger is going to make in the transfer window, look like they’re going to struggle to make the European sides as they side in sixth place, two points behind Everton.  They need a spark from somewhere.  The draw does take the Saints out of the bottom three, but they face a hard fight if they’re going to remain in the Premiership.

Chelsea 0 – 1 Queens Park Rangers

Chelsea Ex, Shaun Wright-Phillips helps beat his old team.  In the build-up to this match, most folks were predicting a major goal haul for the Blues.  They were flying high, having won their last four matches in fine spectacular fashion.  There was even talk of Frank Lampard possibly being offered a new contract so that he could retire a Blue.  Fernando Torres was rediscovering his goal scoring form and Chelsea were poised to make a real serious run at the Manchester sides for the Premiership.  That all came crashing to a halt on Wednesday.  Boss Rafa Benitez had dropped Ramieres, Juan Mata, and Eden Hazard to the bench and that seemed like a prudent move to make given that QPR had lost their last three matches and were rooted to the bottom of the table.  The match started with a bit of controversy as Chelsea winger Marko Marin, making his first start, was extremely lucky not to have been sent off for a dangerous challenge on Stephane Mbia.  Marin went into the tackle with his studs up and caught Mbia right on the shin.  Mbia later nearly gifted the home side a goal when his horrible pass was intercepted by Oscar.  However the Brazilian’s pass to Torres was way under hit and QPR escaped any damage.  It looked like bad news for QPR when Junior Hoilett pulled up with a ham-string injury in the 16th minute and had to be replaced by Wright-Phillips.  One of the first things that QPR boss Harry Redknapp typically tried to correct when he takes over a side is the defending and it looks like his corrections were helping as again and again they were equal to anything that the Blues could throw at them.  The closest Chelsea would come in the first 45 minutes would be when Lampard’s shot from outside the area right at the break missed to the left of goal.  The first several minutes of the second half saw Chelsea laying siege to the QPR goal.  After all this was Stamford Bridge and the Blues just do not lose at home.  Luiz, Torres, and Branislav Ivanovic were doing their best to bring that point home to the visitors and when it looked like Lampard had finally poked the ball home, the flag was up for offside.  The Blues just couldn’t seem to get it together and Benitez tried to shake things up by bring on Mata and Hazard for Marin and Victor Moses.  The shock of the day occurred in the 78th minute when a corner kick for QPR landed on Adel Taarabt’s boot and he squared over to Wright-Phillips.  The former Chelsea winger drove an unbelievable shot straight into the bottom left corner of the goal and the QPR fans went absolutely bonkers with joy.  So it’s a good bet to say that Rafa Benitez is back on many Chelsea fans “Dislike” list.

Liverpool 3 – 0 Sunderland

Luis Suarez gets another brace as the Reds thwart the Black Cats at Anfield.  The Reds may have just bought Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea to give Suarez someone to play with up front.  But on Wednesday the Uruguayan striker was absolutely on fire.  The Reds are usually untouchable at home and Raheem Sterling get them going in the 18th minute.  He was found via a lob forward from Suarez and as Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet came out to close down the teenager, he was coolly chipped by the youngster.  The Blackcats did have a chance to equalize from James McClean’s shot, but he missed the target when he had only Reds’ keeper Jose Reina to beat.  That miss proved costly as Suarez got number two for the Reds in the 25th minute.  Steven Gerrard’s pass released Suarez forward and he out fought defender Carlos Cuellar to get into the Sunderland penalty area and drilled his shot through the Mignolet’s legs with the outside of his right foot.  Sunderland had another chance to score in the 34th minute when Matthew Kilgallon’s close range shot was blocked by Reina.  Suarez ended the match as a contest in the 52nd minute when Gerrard, with lots of time and space hit a 60 yard pass directly to his teammate who collected the ball and wrong-footed Mignolet to poke home the third Liverpool goal.  He had a chance to get his hat trick in the 68th minute but he was denied by a fine save from Mignolet.  So the Reds have earned nine points out of a possible 12 over the holidays and sit in eighth place, only seven points behind fourth place Chelsea.

Newcastle 1 – 2 Everton

The Toffees come back from a goal down to beat the Magpies.  Newcastle really needed to win this match as they’re headed in the wrong direction again.  They sit only three places away from the relegation zone and had just sold their best striker Demba Ba to Chelsea.  Alan Pardew’s boys started out the match in the best way possible when Papiss Cisse headed them ahead in the first minute of the match.  They could have had a second goal if Cisse had been able to meet Shola Ameobi’s cross in front of goal.  The visitors finally woke up at that point and began pressing for an equalizer.  Leighton Baines should have gotten it when he took a dipping free-kick that looked like it was going to make it into the net, but keeper Tim Krul managed to get a hand to the ball and keep it out.  In the 24th minute Marouane Fellaini, back after serving a three match ban, had his shot blocked from Davide Santon and Steven Pienaar had his attempt saved by Krul.  Everton finally did equalize in the 42nd minute from Leighton Baines’ wonderfully taken free-kick.  Newcastle had a chance to take the lead in the 48th minute when they were awarded their own free kick.  Sylvain Marveaux took the kick, but hit it right into the Everton wall.  They had another chance in the 58th minute when Ameobi had a chance to beat Everton keeper Tim Howard, but hit is shot just wide of the post.  The visitors took the lead in the 60th minute when Nikica Jelavic eluded the Newcastle defense and found Victor Anichebe whose shot went into the bottom right corner of the goal past Krul.  Gabriel Obertan nearly equalized in the 65th minute when his shot was saved by Howard.  Fellaini had a chance to mark his return with a goal in the 71st minute, but his flick was tipped over the bar by Krul.  The home side had one more chance to equalize in the 83rd minute, but Santon’s shot was saved by Howard.  The win puts Everton in sole possession of the last European place ahead of Arsenal.

Barclay’s Premier League Week 20 Wrap-Up

 Posted by on January 1, 2013 at 1:19 am  England, EPL
Jan 012013

Sunderland 1-2 Tottenham

Spurs make it six out of eight wins as they come back from a goal down at the Stadium of Light.  The Black Cats may have been a little cocky coming into this match.  They had beaten the Champions on Boxing Day, and were on a run of three wins from their last four matches and pulled themselves away from the relegation zone.  But Spurs had delivered a face punch to Aston Villa in their last match and a lot of Spurs fans think that Andreas Villas Boas may have finally found that winning combination.  Spurs should have scored in the third minute when Gareth Bale made another one of his trade mark runs down the left wing.  He then cut back for Emmanuel Adebayor, but the shot was wide of the goal.  The rest of the first half was quite tense as either side kept probing for that opening goal.  Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet, man of the match against Manchester City, proved his worth again when he saved from Raniere Sandro in the 20th minute.  In the 38th minute, Carlos Cuellar nearly got the lead for the home side, but his header from Adam Johnson’s free-kick went over the goal.  They finally did score when John O’Shea, back in the starting line-up after illness, poked home a loose ball that wasn’t properly cleared from a Sebastian Larsson free-kick.  The second half saw the Black Cats nearly double their lead when Johnson was able to get past Bale and cross into the Spurs area.  Luckily for the visitors, Sandro was able to clear the cross.  They then got a bit of luck in the 48th minute when, from a Kyle Walker corner kick, Cuellar headed the ball into his own net to bring the scores level.  The winner came three minutes later when Aaron Lennon’s attempted back pass bounced off O’Shea and back to the Spurs’ winger’s feet.  He then raced in toward the goal past Mignolet and defender Kevin Kilgallon and placed the ball into the Sunderland goal.  Spurs had a chance to make it three in the 60th minute when Bale, who had made yet another one of his trade mark rampages through the opposition’s midfield, found Jermain Defoe right in front of goal.  But Mignolet made another wonderful save to keep the deficit at one.  But alas, his team just couldn’t find the equalizer and Spurs moved back into fourth place on the table.

Aston Villa 0 – 3 Wigan

OK, I think it may be time to panic if you’re a Villa supporter.  What in the world is with their defense?  They have given up 15 goals in their last three matches.  They’ve not scored at all in those matches and the players, especially in the center of midfield and defense act like they simply don’t care anymore.  Owner Randy Lerner has a lot of hard decisions to make if the Villains are to make any pretense at avoiding relegation.  They fell behind in the third minute when Ivan Ramis scored from a Jean Beausejour corner kick.  To be fair, they have a really long injury list and just aren’t the same without Darren Bent, Richard Dunn, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Charles N’Zogbia, and Nathan Baker.  Boss Paul Lambert will need to make some important decisions in the upcoming transfer window and you could see the pain on his face as his side continued to falter at Villa Park.  The Latics really aren’t much better, but they were able to time and again just simple drive through the middle of the Villain midfield and onto the goal.  It wasn’t until the 36th minute that the home side were able to put together any sort of significant attack and when Christian Benteke thought he equalized, the goal was disallowed as Andreas Weimann was caught offside.  Whatever adjustments or words that Lambert gave at halftime had no effect on his team as they started out the second half in the same sluggish manner.  In the 52nd minute, Emmerson Boyce went through the middle of the Villain defense and, after a one-two with Arouna Kone, walked around keeper Guzan to make the score 2-0 to the visitors.  The Latics got their third in the 56th minute when Kone was able to drive through the Villain middle and score past Guzan’s challenge.  At that point, many of the Villain supporters had seen enough and headed for the exits.  Lambert tried to fix things by taking off Steve Ireland, Brett Holman, and Eric Lichaj.  The three of them had been nothing more than spectators throughout the match and were replaced by Marc Albrighton, Jordan Bowery, and Karim El Ahmadi.  But that had little effect as the Latics, with three precious points in their bag, were able to sit back and absorb any pressure.  The final whistle saw Wigan out of the bottom three for the first time in a long time and one place above Villa who are only one point off the bottom three.

Fulham 1 – 2 Swansea

The Swans send the Cottagers closer to the relegation zone.  I think if Swansea wanted to hand out a match ball, they may have considered Fulham keeper David Stockdale.  He was in goal for injured Mark Schwarzer and made two howlers that allowed the visitors to win the match.  And he did it in front of England boss Roy Hodgson.  The first gift was to Danny Graham in the 18th minute.  Swans midfielder Nathan Dyer scuffed a deflected cross towards the corner of the Fulham goal.  The ball should have been easily pushed wide by the keeper, but instead, he knocked it back into danger and Graham hooked it back into the net.  The second gift happened in the 52nd minute when Stockdale’s clearance went straight off Brede Hangeland to Pablo Hernandez to square over to Jonathan de Guzeman to place insde the bottom right corner of the net.  The Cottagers did manage to pull a goal back in the 56th minute.  Dimitar Berbatov’s header bounced off the bar and the Bulgarian’s follow-up was blocked to Bryan Ruiz who hit a point blank shot.  There was some question as to whether Sascha Riether, who was in an offside position, interfered with goal keeper Gerhard Tremmel.  But the referee allowed the goal to stand.  But that was all the Cottagers could muster and they suffered another home defeat.

Norwich 3 – 4 Manchester City

The Champions get a contentious win at Carrow Road despite ending the match with ten men.  They were not happy about being beaten at Sunderland on Boxing Day, so it was no wonder that they came into this match wanting to make a statement about keeping the Premiership.  Edin Dzeko, preferred over Mario Balotelli had them on the score sheet in the second minute as he easily scored from David Silva’s pass into the area.  Two minutes later the Champions doubled their lead when Dzeko was found, this time by Sergio Aquero and the striker finished in the bottom left corner of the goal.  The hosts did manage to get a goal back in the 14th minute when, after awarded a free-kick, Anthony Pilkington hit the kick past Citeh keeper Joe Hart.  The Canaries have not been an easy team to beat this season and they attempted to make a fight of it all through the rest of the first half.  Their job got easier right at half time when Samir Nasri was controversially sent off after he went nose-to-nose with Sebastien Bassong.  Bassong had just committed a really dangerous foul on Nasri and the French midfielder took major exception to it.  The referee separated the two players and after consulting with his assistant, showed Nasri the red card.  Citeh boss Roberto Mancini was not amused as the half time whistle blew.  Neither were any of the Citeh players and when the second half started they went on a rampage that resulted in Sergio Aquero getting the third goal in the 49th minute.  But the Canaries still would not quit and they pulled a goal back in the 63rd minute when Robert Snodgrass and Sebastien Bassong worked a short corner kick over for Russell Martin to head home.  But just as the home fans thought their side would equalize, Dzeko hit a lucky shot off the inside of the post that bounced off Canaries’ keeper Mark Bunn and into the goal.  But there was a bit of hope in the 75th minute when Russell Martin was able to latch onto a loose ball from a corner kick and bring the home side back to within a goal.  But despite their pressure and the home fans willing them onward, the Canaries just couldn’t come up with the equalizer and the Champions were able to stay within seven points of their neighbors.

Reading 1 – 0 West Ham

The Royals climb off the bottom with a win over the Hammers.  I am not sure what Sam Allardyce’s boys were thinking about on Saturday.  Was it possible that they were still blowing Boxing Day bubbles? Whatever it was, they weren’t ready for a plucky Reading bunch who are determined to rescue their season.  Pavel Pogrebnyak, who has been relatively quiet this season, got the goal early in the fifth minute.  He took advantage of poor defensive play by defender James Collins and nicked the goal past keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen.  What was even better for the Royals was the fact that they were able to make that goal stand up in spite of pressure from the Hammers.  It probably also helped that the rain was coming down in buckets and the pitch was a mess.  Carlton Cole and substitute Ricardo Vaz Te came close, but in a match that was a little boring and a total wash-out, the Royals got three valuable points and hope that they could be on the march out of the relegation zone.

Stoke 3 – 3 Southampton

Honors even for the Potters as they comeback at home versus the Saints.  The Potters looked a little bit unsettled at home as Ryan Shawcross and full-back Geoff Cameron were both serving one-match bans for accumulating five yellow cards.  Matthew Upson and Ryan Shotton started in their place and the defense looked vulnerable.  The Saints Rickie Lambert was able to take advantage in the 10th minute when he scored the opening goal from Guly Do Prado’s cross.  Steven Nzonzi should have equalized in the 12th minute when his shot was deflected to Kenwayne Jones, but the striker’s shot went wide of the goal.  He did equalize in the 16th minute when he back-heeled Ryan Shotton’s cross into the net.  Southampton went back into the lead in the 24th minute when Rickie Lambert’s cross was headed off the bar by Robert Huth ahead of his keeper’s grasp and bounced to Jay Rodriquez who put it home.  The hosts went further behind in the 36th minute when Andy Wilkinson, attempting to challenge Lambert, deflected the ball into his own net.  It was obvious at half time that Potters’ boss Tony Pulis was not very happy and one may assume that he let his boys know it during the interval.  They came out with a bit more intensity at the start of the second half.  Pulis made an unusual move in the 56th minute when he brought on Cameron Jerome for Matthew Etherington.  It was a move to add some more attacking punch for the home side and it provided the needed lift.  In the 67th minute they got a goal back when Matthew Upson scored from a loose ball from a corner kick that the Saints’ defense failed to clear.  Stoke’s comeback effort took a real setback in the 71st minute when Nzonzi was sent off for a hard challenge on Saints’ midfielder Jack Cork.  But just when the Saints thought they had the win in the back, Jerome hit what could be one of the goals of the season as his long drive thundered into the top right corner of the goal.

Arsenal 7 – 3 Newcastle

It’s yet another epic collapse for the Magpies as they lose to the Gunners.  OK, if the Gunners do not give Theo Walcott the contract that he’s looking for, then they really are stupid.  Arsene Wenger thinks that he is the next Thierry Henry.  But the England striker still has yet to sign a new deal.  He went a long way toward increasing his market value when he scored in the 20th minute.  Lukas Podolski set him up with a great pass into the area and Walcott put the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal.  Newcastle, to their credit didn’t fold and get their equalizer in the 43rd minute when Gabriel Obertan found Demba Ba with a fine pass into the area which the striker put home.  Arsenal started out the second half with a bang as Newcastle keeper Tim Krul had to save from Kieran Gibbs to keep the scores level.  But Krul couldn’t keep out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 50th minute hard shot from outside the area and the Gunners were back in the lead.  But then the Magpies equalized again in the 59th minute.  This time Obertan found Sylvain Marveaux unmarked in the six yard area and he easily tapped the ball into the empty net.  But then Arsenal went back into the lead five minutes later when Jack Wilshere made a charging run at the Newcastle defense and hit a chip toward the back post.  Carlos Coloccini tried to head clear, but his clearance rebounded off the bar and fell to Podolski to nod home an easy goal to make the score 3-2.  But incredibly, Newcastle equalized again in the 69th minute when Marveaux eluded the defense and hit a cross toward the back post where Ba was able to out muscle Gibbs and put the ball past keeper Wojciech Szczesny.  That should have been good enough for a draw, but then Kieran Gibbs knocked a ball across the Newcastle box for Podolski, but as he missed, Walcott was able to hit the ball into the roof of the goal to make it 4-3.  It was all over from that point on as Giroud made it 5-3 in the 84th minute and 6-3 in the 86th minute.  Walcott got his hat-trick in stoppage time and the win was complete.

Everton 1 – 2 Chelsea

Super Frank Lampard’s brace helps the Blues keep pace with the Manchester teams.  The Blues went down early to a second minute Steven Pienaar strike.   The Toffees are making their own bid for a top four finish this season and David Moyes wanted his boys to show their best in front of the home fans at Goddison Park.  They looked like they would be able to make the one goal lead stand up though out the first half as the Blues couldn’t get anything of significance on goal.  But in the 42nd minute, Ramires was able to get forward into the Everton area and cross for Lampard to head home the equalizer.  A bit of bad news for the Blues as their goal keeper Petr Cech went out injured and was replaced by Ross Turnbull.  Both Turnbull and Tim Howard on the other end were doing their best to deny chances made by each team and it looked like the match would end in a draw.  However, in the 72nd minute, Ramires got forward again and found Juan Mata’s run.  The Spaniard’s shot was saved by Howard, but the ball fell to Lampard on the six yard box and the 34 year old couldn’t miss.  Although he is out of contract in June, he wants to stay at Chelsea and the fans don’t want to lose him.  Maybe boss Rafa Benitez could get some fan favor if he re-signed Super Frank?

Queens Park Rangers 0 – 3 Liverpool

Luis Suarez is back among the goals as the Reds put another nail in the QPR coffin.  Liverpool needed some inspiration after their woeful Boxing Day loss.  Who else to look to than the man that Reds’ fans just can’t get enough of?  The Uruguayan started early in the 3rd minute when he forced a save from restored
QPR keeper Julio Cesar.  One of the things that QPR boss Harry Redknapp has been trying to fix has been the Rangers’ defending.  He hasn’t found the winning formula yet as Reds’ midfielder Jordan Henderson was able to find Suarez in the 10th minute and the striker was able to blow through the QPR defense and strike past Cesar into the bottom left corner of the goal.  He got his second in the 16th minute when he was able to run past defenders in that trademark method of his, run along the byline, then hit a pass across the goal that defender Nedum Onuoha blocked right back to the striker who rolled it into the goal.  Adel Taarabt and Djibril Cisse did try their best to pull a goal back.  But Liverpool, without sick boss Brendan Rodgers, were not going to be beaten on Sunday.  QPR defender Ryan Nelson did stop Suarez from getting a hat trick when he intervened on a low Glen Johnson cross.  But the Reds did get their third in the 27th minute when Steven Gerrard collected a short corner and het a cross to the right that Daniel Agger headed home.  That was all the offense the Reds would need as they finally did a wonderful job of defending and holding QPR goalless.  It has been said that if you’re at the foot of the table by the end of December, it’s a good bet that you’re going to be relegated.  Redknapp has a lot to do if he means to buck that trend.  It doesn’t look good.

Dec 272012

Everton 2 – 1 Wigan

Leon Osman and Phil Jagielka score to keep alive the Toffees’ Champions League hopes.  They really have made a good case for a top four finish so far this season and nearly had a perfect start when Nikica Jelavic found Victor Anichebe with his pass and Anichebe’s shot went just wide of the goal in the first minute of the match.  The Latics went into attack a short time later and nearly scored themselves when Jean Beausejour’s cross was nearly bobbled by Everton keeper Tim Howard.  But the half was dominated by the home side as they created chance after chance.  The Latics, who are in yet another relegation fight, did well to turn away each attempt and did well to go into the half time interval without conceding a goal.  The second half saw Everton boss David Moyes substitute Steven Naismith for Darron Gibson and the move seemed to help the home side pick up the pace a bit.  In the 47th minute Thomas Hitzlsperger’s long range shot bounced off the bar and Osman’s move into the area ended in a weak shot that didn’t test Latics’ keeper Ali Al-Habsi.  But in the 52nd minute, Osman got a bit of luck when his shot from 20 yards out struck Gary Caldwell’s arm and trickled into the goal past the wrong footed Al-Habsi.  Wigan did well to respond and boss Roberto Martinez was not happy that Shaun Maloney was not awarded a penalty after going to ground under Osman’s challenge.  Replays showed that the referee actually got the decision correct as Maloney was already on his way down.  Wigan had another chance when Aruona Kone’s 65th minute shot was blocked by Everton captain Phil Neville.  But it was not the Latics’ day as the match was decided in the 77th minute.  Neville received a short corner kick from substitute Bryan Oviedo then made a precise cross for Jagielka to head in from inside the six yard area.  Kone did get a consolation goal for Wigan in the 82nd minute, but there was no late match come back for the visitors.  They’ve been here before.  Can Martinez lead them out of trouble again?

Fulham 1 – 1 Southampton

Rickie Lambert’s late second half penalty earns the Saints a much needed point and continues the Cottagers’ winless slump.  Fulham have badly needed some home cooking for a while.  They have just one win in their last 10 matches and just do not look good at all.  Boss Martin Jol hasn’t yet been able to produce any consistent form and the Fulham faithful are dreading a possible relegation fight.  So there was quite a lot of relief around Craven Cottage when in the eighth minute, Dimitar Berbatov got them into the lead.  Sascha Riether’s cross was spilled by Saints’ keeper Kelvin Davis into the path of the Bulgarian who, after scoring the goal, revealed his undershirt that said “Keep Calm and Pass Me the Ball”.  Berbatov should have had a second goal a short time later when he headed wide from a Alex Kacaniklic cross.  In a half that was pretty much dominated by the home side, Southampton nearly scored in the 20th minute.  Jack Cork hit a hard strike from 25 yards out that Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer did will to keep out of the goal.  With the winter weather in London making the field conditions a mess, it looked like Berbatov’s goal was going to be good enough.  But the one thing that seems to be working for the Saints this season is their “Never Say Die” attitude.  They kept plugging away and nearly had the equalizer in the 77th minute when Lambert’s volley went just over the goal.  In the 85th minute, Southampton earned a corner kick.  Gaston Ramirez’s kick caused chaos in the Fulham penalty area and the Saints were awarded a penalty kick when Chris Baird was whistled for handling the ball in the area.  Lambert took the spot kick to ensure the draw and Fulham’s slide toward a relegation fight.

Manchester United 4 – 3 Newcastle

Javier Hernandez scores the winner in a thriller at Old Trafford.  This was one of those matches that neutral fans love to watch on Boxing Day and that drive supporters absolutely bonkers.  Watching this one, it should have been clear to the Red Devil supporter that the Magpies were never going to be pushovers.  Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young were both scratched due to injury and Danny Wellbeck was ill.  So when Sir Alex Ferguson started the Senior Citizen midfield of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, there was a lot of dread that a collapse at home was about to happen.  It didn’t get any better when, in the fourth minute, midfielder Michael Carrick gave away the ball in the midfield to Demba Ba.  It got worse when Ba’s shot on goal was parried by keeper David De Gea straight to James Perch’s feet and he happily put the visitors into the lead.  Yes, it’s a position that United have been in quite a lot this season and it was of no surprise that drew level in the 24th minute.  They were awarded a free-kick in the Newcastle half and Robin Van Persie’s free-kick was shot on goal by Hernandez.  While keeper Tim Krul was equal to the shot, the rebound was knocked home by Jonny Evans.  But one minute later, he was the center of controversy when the visitors again got through the United defense.  Danny Simpson’s shot was knocked into the Red Devils’ goal by Evans, but the offside flag was up.  Relief around Old Trafford soon turned into distain for the referees when they conferred and decided that Papiss Cisse, who had been judged offside, was “not-active” and therefore the goal was given.  As expected, Ferguson was not too pleased and let the officials have an ear-full right before the second-half kick-off.  The next equalizer came in the 57th minute when Patrice Evra scored from a Van Persie corner kick.  You would have thought that the home side would have been able to go on to win the match from here, but former United winger Gabriel Obertan had different ideas.  In the 67th minute, he made a great run past defender Chris Smalling and made the perfect pass for Cisse to poke home to put the Magpies back into the lead.  But in the 70th minute, Van Persie again proved his worth when he grabbed his 16th goal of the season to draw the scores level again after seizing on Krul’s rebound from his first shot.  It was the proverbial “squeaky bum” time for the remainder of the match.  United had a penalty shout denied when the referee refused to penalize Fabricio Coloccini’s alleged hand-ball in the area.  In the 85th minute, the visitors had a chance to grab the victory when Sammy Ameobi’s effort was misjudged by De Gea, only to bounce off the inside of the post and back into play much to the relief of the United keeper.  Both Hernandez and Van Persie missed chances to score as injury time approached.  Just when it looked like United were going to suffer their second straight draw, Michael Carrick hit a slide rule pass into the area that the Mexican international poked home for the winner.

Norwich City 0 – 1 Chelsea

Chelsea keep up their winning form under boss Rafa Benitez.  Don’t look now, but the Blues are on a bit of a run.  While this Boxing Day match was a little on the boring side, Chelsea have won again and they’ve now closed to within four points of second place.  While most Chelsea fans still can’t stand their new boss, he is still on track to put some silverware in the cabinet this season.  They’re in the quarter finals of the Capital One League Cup.  They have a decent draw for the FA-Cup and should finish in the top four of the BPL.  This match was a very far cry from the Blues’ previous 8-0 romp over Aston Villa, but then not every victory is meant to be spectacular.  The one thing to note was the lack of derision toward the Blues’ interim manager which could be a sign that the fans may give him a chance.  The one significant move he has made, by making Juan Mata more of a leader in the middle of the park, seems to be one of the reasons for the Blues’ revival and his 25 yard strike in the 38th minute was all the scoring that was needed.  So the question for Blues fans is still this: If Benitez manages to grab a trophy or two, will you hate him less?

Queens Park Ranger 1 – 2 West Bromwich Albion

Two howlers from keeper Robert Green condemn QPR back to the bottom of the BPL table.  The kick-off was delayed because the WBA bus couldn’t get through the Boxing Day sales traffic around Loftus Road.  One of the pre-match stories was the poke that Harry Redknapp had given his boys after their under achieving loss to Newcastle in QPR’s previous match.  When the match finally got underway, the West London side seemed to be the better side as Stephane Mbia’s effort on goal in the first minute finished just wide of the goal.  The heavy London rain didn’t seem to bother QPR as they kept pressing and pressing for the opening goal.  Just as it looked like QPR were going to score, it was the Baggies who went into the lead in the 28th minute when Chris Brunt scored from a 30-yard speculative shot after getting the ball from Marc-Antoine Fortune.  Replays showed that Green really should have saved the shot and the goal seemed to take the steam out of the home side.  The second half start saw lead go to two goals right from the start.  WBA were awarded a corner kick and Armand Traore’s attempt to clear looped back toward the goal.  Green should have been able to collect, but Fortune was there to lean on the keeper and caused him to drop the ball in to his own net.  QPR fans were incensed that the referee allowed the goal to stand as they felt that Fortune had impeded Green and replays seemed to back that up.  But the referee refused to be swayed and the goal stood.  Thinking they had the match won, WBA went off the boil a bit and conceded a goal in the 69th minute when Djibril Cisse was found by a Mbia pass and lifted the ball over keeper Ben Foster.  But Foster was able to save from Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie as QPR tried to press for the equalizer that never came.  One wonders if Redknapp can possibly rescue QPR as they’re now six points from safety.

Reading 0 – 0 Swansea

The Royals end a seven match losing skid as they earn a point at home at the Madejski Stadium.  They’re still six points from safety, but they were the only one of the bottom three to get a result and it was a welcome point as their last BPL points were earned on November 17.  Boss Brian McDermott knows that there is still a lot of work to be done, but a point is a point and this one was well earned by the home side.  The visitors were not going to be easy touches for any points as they had stared down Manchester United and gotten the Red Devils to blink.  But the Royals knew that one of the first things they needed to fix was their record of conceding nine goals in their last two home games and the best way to do that was not to concede.  Reading keeper Adam Federici kept the clean sheet as time and again he was tested by the Swans attackers.  His best saves were from Nathan Dyer and Ki Sung-yeung.  They did ride their luck a bit as Swans leading scorer Miguel Michu twice had chances to score in the first half, but the first chance went wide and the next one went over the bar from close range.  But the Royals were able to hold fast and gain the much needed point that lifts them off the bottom of the table.  Clearly this season the relegation fight will be as intriguing as the fight for the Premiership.  That’s what we love about the BPL, isn’t it?

Sunderland 1 – 0 Manchester City

Adam Johnson’s second half goal is enough for the Black Cats to beat the Champions.  When this match started, Citeh were on course to close the gap at the top between them and their neighbors to a point.  They knew it and worked hard to reverse their recent trend of dropping points on Wearside.  They should have taken the lead in the eighth minute when Vincent Kompany’s header rebounded off the bar.  Simon Mignolet then saved Yaya Toure’s follow up shot.  In the 10th minute, Citeh were awarded a free-kick, but David Silva hit it over the bar.  In the 13th minute, Toure had his curling effort saved from off the line by Mignolet.  The Belgian was proving himself to be Sunderland’s man of the match as the Champions kept the home side pinned in their own half.  In the 24th minute Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero combined to put Silva in on goal, but Mignolet was able to block the close range shot.  The first half wasn’t all one way as Citeh keeper Joe Hart had to save Stephen Fletcher’s left-footed shot.  That buoyed the Black Cats’ confidence a bit as Kompany and Matija Nastasic had to rally the Citeh defense to repel efforts from Sebastian Larsson and James McClean and Stephane Sessognon hit his header wide of goal.  The half time restart saw the home side pick up right where they left off as McClean and Johnson, combining with Sessegnon and Fletcher, kept pressing the Citeh defense.  It all paid off in the 53rd minute when the Black Cats scored the lone goal of the match.  Craig Gardner challenged Pablo Zabaleta in the midfield and Johnson picked up the loose ball.  The former Citeh player was able to cut inside and let loose a dipping shot that wrong-footed Hart at his near post and slithered underneath the England keeper into the bottom corner of the net.  The Champions almost conceded again in the 60th minute when McClean found Sessegnon’s wonderful run into the area, but the Benin international squiffed his shot well wide of the goal.  But as everyone remembers, Citeh love to leave things late and as the match wound down toward injury time, they increased pressure on the Sunderland goal.  But, alas, they could not find any way past Sunderland’s Belgium keeper as he made save after save.  After the conclusion of the match, Citeh boss Roberto Mancini, expressing his anger over Gardner’s challenge on Zabaleta that led to the goal, speculated that the referee missed making the call because he had too much Christmas Dinner.  Perhaps he just doesn’t like winter in England?

Aston Villa 0 – 4 Tottenham Hotspur

Gareth Bale grabs a second half hat-trick as Aston Villa’s slump continues.  What on earth is going on with Aston Villa?  They suffered a second humiliation to London opposition after looking so good against Liverpool.  Boss Paul Lambert seems to have lost a lot of belief from his squad as they literally gave up in the later stages of the match.  To be fair, they did really well in the first half in front of their home fans.  They managed to keep Spurs at bay and countered every attack with the organized defending that was so lacking in their last match against Chelsea.  The home fans at Villa Park expected their side to go on and get the win in the second half and it was quite unexpected when Jermain Defoe ran right through their defense in the 57th minute and five-holed keeper Brad Guzan to open the scoring.  That’s when the wheels came straight off the Villain wagon.  In the 61st minute Bale got his first goal after Christian Benteke’s cross was cut-out by the Spurs defense and turned immediately into a counter-attack that went straight through an almost invisible Villain defense.  Joseph Bennett did tackle the ball but it went right to Bale’s feet and he drove right around Guzan and tapped the ball easily into the net.  Bale’s second came in the 73rd minute when he collected Aaron Lennon’s pass in the Villain area and eased it home into the corner.  After that goal, most of the home supporters had seen enough and headed for the exits.  The third was scored when substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson had loads of time to tee-up the ball and the Welshman hit it into the roof.  While it was great to see Bale do so well, it was troubling to watch the Villain defenders body language when the third and fourth goals were scored.  There was very little attempt to prevent Spurs from running straight through them and no one really made any attempt to stop them from scoring the goals.  That is something that must be fixed if Aston Villa hope to arrest this current slump.

Stoke City 3 – 1 Liverpool

Inconsistency bites the Reds again as they go down to defeat at the Britannia Stadium.  It must be a bit painful to be a Reds supporter at the moment.  Brendon Rodgers’ boys did so well in their last match and seemed to have finally matured as a squad.  They started out really well as they were awarded a penalty kick in the second minute when their talisman Luis Suarez was dragged down in the area by Ryan Shawcross.  Captain Steven Gerrard coolly slotted home the spot kick and the Reds looked like they were in business.  But the Potters have the best defensive record in the BPL.  They simply do not lose, especially at home and drew level in the sixth minute when a customary long ball forward was flicked on by Reds’ defender Daniel Agger and Jonathan Walters smashed in his shot past keeper Jose Reina.  They took the lead in the 12th minute from a corner kick.  The Reds’ defense could cope with the taller Potter attackers and Kenwayne Jones was able to head home while being virtually unchallenged.  The closest Liverpool came to getting an equalizer before halftime was when Gerrard hit wide from Stewart Downing’s cut-back pass on the left side.  Rodgers’ tried to shake things up for the Reds by substituting Raheem Sterling for Suso and it should have worked right away when the teenager crossed for Suarez, but the shot went wide of the near post.  Once again the Reds’ defense was found wanting in the 49th minute when Jones was found from a trademark Stoke long throw-in.  He flicked on for Walters who poked past a flailing Reina for the Potters’ third goal.  The rest of the match was a simple matter of the home side doing what they do best, stifling the opposition’s ability to mount any meaningful attack and holding onto what they already have.  So it looks like any talk of a top four finish for the Reds has been put off for the time being.

Arsenal – West Ham

This match was postponed to a later date due to a strike called by the public transportation workers in London.  The official reschedule date has not yet been officially been announced.