Following on from last weekend’s record-breaking feast of football, there was much expectation for this Saturday’s football to deliver. Manchester derby anyone?
The blue half of Manchester entered this much anticipated clash of the titans knowing that a win would reinstate them as genuine title-chasers. For United, a draw would probably do and this contrast of motives was evident throughout a first half that City bossed. Just two minutes in David Silva really should have given the away side the advantage but screwed his shot wide. In spite of City’s slight dominance it was no surprise when United took the lead through Nani in the closing stages of the opening period; this is the sign of champions.
But City and Mancini were far from done and Silva equalised midway through the second-half when substitute, and expensive January recruit, Dzeko hit a wild effort that cannoned off of Silva’s back and looped in, much to the horror of 70,000 home fans. Fergie’s judgement to leave out the Premierships top scorer in favour of the largely unimpressive Wayne Rooney was being scrutinised until United’s number 10 pulled a rabbit out the hat with a goal that was nothing short of magical. The England man jumped head over heels to meet Nani’s deflected cross with a bicycle kick that will be shown time and time again. Words cannot begin to explain the beauty of the finish. Simply unbelievable Shrekkers. Meanwhile City are now unofficially out of the hunt for Premiership silverware as the banner hanging above the Stretford end ticks over to 35.
So come three o’clock Arsenal were seven points behind their biggest title rivals and so a win was essential to their bid to be crowned champions for the first time since their ‘invincible’ season in 2004. Arsene Wenger’s men hosted the same Wolves side that seven days earlier had quashed any dreams United had of repeating that unbeaten feat and knew they’d have a real test at hand. But they responded in fashion with a comfortable two-goal victory thanks to a Van Persie brace; the Dutchman has been flying since his return from injury with an incredible 9 goals in his last 5 games. Even more pleasing for Arsenal, in light of last weeks four goal surrender, would have been the clean sheet.
Low scoring was a theme of the 15:00 kick-offs. At Ewood Park it was goalless between Blackburn and Newcastle; two teams that last weekend had been involved in seven and eight game goals respectively. At St Andrews it took an injury time winner from Nikola Zigic to break the deadlock. The 6ft 8 striker scoring his second winner in as many weeks, condemning sorry Stoke to their fourth Premier League away defeat on the spin. As for Birmingham, they moved yet another step closer to safety with these three vital points from yet another impressive defensive display.
At the Hawthornes, however, it was goals galore. In the early stages, West Brom showed no signs of mourning the managerial loss of Roberto Di Matteo, the home side stormed into a 3-0 lead at half-time against fellow relegation battlers West Ham. New boss Roy Hodgson would have been delighted as the Baggies raced into a 2-0 lead after just eight minutes thanks to a first goal of the season for Graheme Dorrans to which Jerome Thomas added a second. Winston Reid’s own goal just before the break was the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. But you can’t have your cake and eat it, especially with 45 minutes left to play and the second half was a stark contrast to the opening period.
The Londoners comeback began when striker Demba Ba capitalised on some poor defending to bag his first goal in England in what was his first start. And when Carlton Cole headed from close range just minutes later, both sets of supporters could sense what was coming. It was Ba who would become an instant hero with the Hammers faithful as the new signing took advantage of some sheepish defending to ram the ball home and send the away end into euphoria. In truth a point isn’t really good enough for either manager, as was the case at Bloomfield Road.
Aston Villa were the visitors and took an early lead through a tidy Gabby Agbonlahor finish. The lead did not last long, however, as Blackpool drew level through Elliot Grandin just four minutes later. At 1-1 with 14 minutes gone and the leagues worst defence involved, the neutrals would have been excused for expecting more goal mouth action but it was not to be. That’s not to say there weren’t more talking points to come. With twenty minutes left, Jean Il Makoun was sent for an early bath for a challenge that even his manager couldn’t defend. “Once you have two feet off the ground it’s a red card” Houllier surrendered. He is French.
Another manager offering no excuses for his players was David Moyes. The Scot bemoaned his teams performance on Sunday as ‘one of the worst’ as Everton crumbled at the Reebok. Conversely, Owen Coyle would have been delighted with his Bolton team who moved up to 8th as a result of their two-nil victory in which Daniel Sturridge struck his third in as many games for his loan club. Perhaps parent club Chelsea could have saved themselves £50million. The Champions were held at Craven Cottage by nearby neighbours Fulham on a passionate Valentines Day affair in which no love was lost between these two sides. In fact it was Fulham who should’ve won it in the dying seconds when new boy Luiz conceded an injury time penalty, only for Dempsey to squander the chance. Nonetheless it was another poor performance from the World Cup winner Torres.
As for Liverpool, they’ve adapted to the post-Torres era with relative ease and remain sixth despite dropping two points at home to Wigan. Steven Gohouri’s equaliser on 55 minutes was a massive blow and te Anfield outfit simply could not find a winner, yet the resurgence under King Kenny is clear for all to see. One player relishing his new role is Raul Meireles, the Portuguese midfielder scoring yet again to make it four in five. He is quickly establishing himself as a hero amongst the Kop support.
At White Hart Lane, Spurs also have a new emerging hero in the form of Niko Kranjcar. So far this season the Croat has had to settle for playing second fiddle to the ‘Welsh Wonderkid’ Gareth Bale. But in the last two games the midfielder has stepped out from Bale’s shadow and scored two vital winners, this one being a scorching volley that very much keeps Tottenham in the hunt for a Champions League spot even if a title challenge is a step too far, for this season at least.
This weekend was yet another example of the unpredictability of the Premier League and it really is shaping up to be one of the most exciting conclusions in recent history. Midweek sees the return of the Champions League with both North London clubs in action whilst next weekend we return to FA Cup action before the league returns on the 26th.
For now all that’s left is to award my increasingly frivolous awards. See you in a fortnight. Cheers.
Goal Of The Week: Wayne Rooney’s phenomenal overhead kick won the Manchester derby and come May will certainly be a front runner for the coveted goal of the season award. Roo beauty.
Fans Of The Week: On hearing the news that their match at Accrington Stanley had been postponed, the Southend United fans decided to take a break from League 2 football and watch the scintillating skill of the Premier League for once. Unfortunately for them they chose Ewood Park as their destination and witnessed a dull goalless encounter that probably went by slower then the 200mile coach trip home. Gotta admire the commitment though.
Hero Of The Week: After falling down the pecking order at White Hart Lane Niko Kranjcar came on to score the winner last weekend and was duly rewarded with his first start against Sunderland on Saturday. The Croat repaid his manager’s faith with a wonderfully struck volley to earn the spoils for his side once more.
Villain Of The Week: Liam Newman: inexcusable use of the words ‘sheepish’ and ‘ram’ to describe the Ba equaliser. Already has pub based puns ‘on tap’ in anticipation of his next goal.
Team Performance Of The Week: West Ham’s second half comeback was not quite on the same level as Newcastle’s a week ago but still deserves a special mention. After coming back from three down at half-time the Hammers pushed on in search of a late winner and although it didn’t come their dramatic fightback was truly something special.