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May 062013

Fulham 2 – 4 Reading

The Royals deliver a face-punch to the Cottagers on their way down to the Championship.  They might be relegated, but the Royals decided to leave the BPL with a win to remember on Saturday.  To be fair to Fulham, the really didn’t have anything play for and their mid-table position assured them safety for BPL next season without the bother of European football.  So the neutral observer could understand why the home side seemed to be going through the motions all through the match and why the home fans were not happy about it.  The rout started in the 12th minute when Hal Robson-Kanu was awarded a penalty after being fouled by Fulham defender John Arne Riise.  Kanu took the spot kick to give the visitors the good start.  As the match wore on, one couldn’t help wondering where on earth the home side’s players were.  The second half was not much better and Kanu put the visitors up by two in the 62nd minute when he poked home Garath McCleary’s pass.  Bryan Ruiz did get a goal back in the 70th minute for the Cottagers after he was set up by Hugo Rodallega.  But substitute Adam Le Fondre restored the visitors’ lead in the 75th minute when he took hold of Jem Karacan’s cross and, after dribbling around goal keeper Mark Schwarzer, poke home a fine finish.  Ruiz tried to rescue the Cottagers again in the 77th minute when he headed home Alex Kacaniklic’s cross.  But any thoughts of a comeback by the home side were dispatched in the 82 minute when Karacan fired home from Adam Le Fondre’s set-up pass.  The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough for Fulham and the fans let their players feel their displeasure as they booed them off.  The loss is the fourth in a row for Martin Jol’s side and it was not a good match to lose.

Norwich 1 – 2 Aston Villa

Villa grab three more valuable points at Carrow Road.  You really have to hand it to Aston Villa, they are not going down without a fight.  Villa boss Paul Lambert knows that winning matches like this is the key to a successful BPL survival fight.  It was a hard fight for the visitors as the Canaries have made a habit of tough to beat at home.  In fact, Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass were quite dangerous down the flanks for much of the match.  To complicate things for the visitors, Matthew Lowton had to go off injured in the 27th minute, to be replaced by Eric Lichaj.  The visitors were nearly broken in the 39th minute when keeper Bradley Guzan was forced to make a fine save from Pilkington.  But both sides held firm and the score remained at zeros at half time.  Right from the kick-off, the visitors pressed hard to score and Christian Benteke nearly did so but his shot was saved by keeper Mark Bunn.  Benteke tried a shot from distance in the 47th minute that went just wide of the goal.  Villa finally did get the goal they had been pushing for in the 55th minute when Gabriel Agbonlahor made a fine solo effort to cut through the Canaries defense after grabbing a loose ball in the midfield.  The England midfielder was able to surge forward and unleashed a bullet from 25 yards out that finished in the bottom corner of the goal.  Perhaps some of the players were thinking this would be another rout like Monday’s match had been.  But Norwich were not going away quietly and they were awarded a penalty kick when Joe Bennett made a bad challenge on Snodgrass in the Villains’ area.  Grant Holt slotted home the spot kick to level the scores and it looked like Villa would have to settle for a draw.  But Ashley Westwood found Agbonlahor’s run into the area and he was able to poke home the finish that secured the vital win for Aston Villa.  They have now hit the magic 40 point goal that usually means BPL safety.  The loss for Norwich means that at 38 points, they’re now caught up in the relegation fight with four other teams.

Swansea 0 – 0 Manchester City

A boring draw in Wales as Citeh save it all for next week’s FA-Cup final.  The Swans haven’t won in their last seven BPL matches and they felt like they got screwed by the referees in the first half when Matiha Nastasic appeared to bring down Miguel Michu in the Citeh penalty area.  It was clear that Citeh were more concerned with their only chance for silverware this season.  Although boss Roberto Mancini replaced a lethargic Yaya Toure with Edin Dzeko, they just did not look like their hearts were in the match.  They had their own penalty claim waved away when Chico Flores appeared to foul Dzeko in the Swansea penalty area.  The draw secures second place in the BPL for the team from the sky blue half of Manchester.  While that ensures UEFA Champions’ League qualification for next season, Mancini knows that to keep his job, he’d better bring home the FA-Cup.

Tottenham 1 – 0 Southampton

Gareth Bale does it again.  What on earth is there that can be said about the PFA Player of the Year that hasn’t already been said?  Once again he grabs his team, hoists them on his shoulders and carries them on to victory.  The match had been delayed for some traffic fun outside of the stadium.  When things started a half-hour late, Jermain Defoe nearly scored in the fifth minute when he made a fine run though the Saints’ defense, but his shot went into the side netting.  The Saints had an opportunity in the 10th minute when Rickie Lambert sent Nathaniel Clyne through with a very clever chip over the Spurs defense, but Clyne’s volley was just wide of the goal.  Lambert was creator supreme again a bit later when he put through Guly Do Prado, but the cut-back pass was cleared by Michael Dawson.  Spurs suffered an injury blow in the 35th when Mousa Dembele had to be replaced by Lewis Holtby.  For most of the match Bale was watched quite closely by the Saints defense.   In fact the Welsh midfielder hardly had a touch in the first half.  The second half saw the visitors come the closest at the start as both Lambert, missing the upper left corner of the goal, and Jay Rodriquez, who had his header blocked, nearly put the Saints into the lead.  Not even Emmanuel Adebayor, brought one for Aaron Lennon in the 60th minute, could find any break through and it looked like Spurs would have to settle for the draw and concede Champions’ League qualification to their London rivals for the second consecutive year.  But in the 86th minute, Bale nicked the ball off Holtby and made one of his trade mark runs forward before unleashing his shot past keeper Artur Boruc.  The result means that the race for third place in the BPL is back on again.  Things should be fun at Stamford Bridge next weekend.

West Bromwich Albion 2 – 3 Wigan

Could the Latics escape relegation again?  We’ve seen this before.  After a season of mediocrity and underperformance, Roberto Martinez waves his magic wand and the Latics pull off a miraculous escape from relegation.  This time they have a bit more to play for as they face Manchester City for the FA-Cup final later this month.  So Martinez had a bit of a dilemma on Saturday at The Hawthorns Stadium.  Does he put the focus on BPL survival, or does he focus on winning silverware?  That must have been on his mind when Shane Long grabbed the first half lead for WBA in the 29th minute.  The Latics came back in the 38th minute when Arouna Kone headed home Jean Beausejour’s cross to make the score 1-1.  WBA get the lead back in the 49th minute when Gareth McAuley headed in Graham Dorrans’ free-kick.  But the Latics equalized once again in the 58th minute when James McArthur out jumped everyone to head home from Shaun Maloney’s cross.  WBA seemed like they were satisfied with sharing the points with the visitors, but in the 80th minute Callum McManaman put the Latics into the lead when he finished off Shaun Maloney’s free kick.  From there it was all hands to the pump to defend the advantage and assure the win.  Although the Latics, at three points behind their fellow strugglers, are still in the relegation zone, they still have a match in hand.  That match goes off at home on Tuesday versus Swansea and should be exciting to watch.

West Ham 0 – 0 Newcastle

The Magpies are still in trouble as they fail to score at Upton Park.  There is a distinct possibility that Newcastle could be headed back to the Championship again.  At 38 points and a -23 goal differential, they sit one place above Wigan who have a match in hand.  It may be possible that they lost their mojo when they got gob-smacked last week.  But their performance Saturday was simply awful.  Papiss Cisse came the closet to scoring when he had his first half shot cleared off the line by Winston Reid.  The match itself was dull both ways since the Hammers are already safe and have nothing to play for and the Magpies, quite simply, are struggling for form.  They still have a chance to fight for their place next week when they face relegated Queens Park Rangers.  Alan Pardew had better hope his boys do better in that part of London.

Queens Park Rangers 0 – 1 Arsenal

The Gunners take care of business early in this match.  Theo Walcott sealed the victory in the first 20 seconds of this match and put pressure on the other London rivals for third place.  It was easy to see that QPR weren’t really interested in this match as they seemed to go through the motions.  Loic Remy came the closet to getting a goal for the home side, but keeper Wojciech Szczesny was more than able to keep the clean sheet as Arsenal eased their way to their fifth consecutive away win.  No doubt the Gunners will be watching the Wednesday London Derby between Chelsea and Tottenham with interest.  They have the easiest end of season run-in as their opposition are in the bottom third of the BPL table.

Liverpool 0 – 0 Everton

It was a very boring Merseyside Derby on Sunday.  It had been 14 years since Everton had won at Anfield.  At sixth place in the table and five points ahead of their neighbors, the Toffees had every advantage over their rivals.  But alas, the only real high light of this match happened in the 20th minute when the Everton fans set off a smoke bomb and the blue smoke blew back into their faces.  This fixture is usually filled with lots of angst and drama, but only chances in the whole match fell to Marouane Fellaini in the first half and to Steven Gerrard in the second half.  Fellaini volleyed his close-range shot wide of the goal, while Gerrard had his shot cleared off the line by Sylvain Distin.  This match was a real test of the Suarez-less Reds and they struggled without his creative genius.  And so the 220th version of the Merseyside Derby was quite forgettable.  The result sees Everton secure their ticked to Europa League football for next season.  Incredibly, Liverpool could also qualify for the Europa League via the UEFA Fair Play rule.  Yeah, I couldn’t believe that one either.

Sunderland 1 – 1 Stoke

John O’Shea rescues a precious point for the Black Cats.  The visitors took the lead in the ninth minute Jonathan Walters was the first to pounce on a loose ball from a Charlie Adam corner and poke it home.  Things have gotten a bit stormy for Paolo Di Canio lately especially after their butt-whipping last week by Aston Villa.  The storms got rougher in the 32nd minute when Craig Gardner was sent off for a bad studs-up challenge on Adam.  Steven Nzonzi was lucky not to have been sent off himself for a dangerous tackle on Alfred N’Diaye in the 43rd minute.  When the second half started, Stoke brought on Geoff Cameron for Marc Wilson and the American almost gifted a life line to the Blackcats when he made a real meal of an easy play and horrible clearance.  But James McClean couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.  Cameron almost made amends for his mistake in the 58th minute when his shot was blocked by O’Shea.  The one thing that O’Shea has been throughout his career is “Johnny on the Spot”.  He was for Cameron’s shot and he was in the 63rd minute when he prodded home Seb Larsson’s corner kick for the equalizer.  Increadibly it was 10-man Sunderland who nearly stole the match when Danny Rose’s 80th minute shot from outside the area bounced off outside of the post.  The result has Sunderland, at 38 points, two places above the drop zone ahead of both Norwich and Newcastle.  The final run-in for the last relegation place should be interesting to watch.

Lanny Short

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