The Weekend Wind Down

by Liam Newman

Following a week break due to the FA Cup the Barclays Premier League returned with a bang as Saturday’s fixtures prompted for Sunday’s papers to contain the term ‘smashed’ on a basis that even surpasses a Richard Keys outburst. However, on this occasion it was a far more innocent word, often preceded by ‘record’.

The evening game at Molineux saw leaders United take on rock-bottom Wolves, a game largely regarded as a formality prior to kick-off. And the home sides fears were realised when after just two minutes Nani’s near post effort found a way past Wayne Hennessy. But this is the most exciting Premier League season ever and Mick McCarthy’s men not only drew level through powerhouse George Elokobi, they then took the lead before half time when Kevin Doyle’s header beat Van Der Sar in the United goal. In spite of scoring what turned out to be the winner, Doyle’s celebrations were somewhat hampered as a result of Elokobi’s belief that it was he who had made the final touch. I for one did not envy the big Irish striker at that particular moment as the pair argued the toss but come full-time all that mattered to either player was that their team had achieved something that no other team has so far in defeating Fergie’s title favourites; and the Molineux faithful let their appreciation be heard by their heroes on the pitch.

The Doyle/Elokobi goal was incredibly the league’s 41st of the day, a new high. But even before the late kick-off records had been demolished. Seven penalties were converted during the 15:00 matches, two of which coming in an extraordinary game at St James Park.

Ten minutes in, Arsenal had already sealed the three points by scoring as many goals and when the Gunners added a fourth before half-time it was curtains. Or was it? Spurred on by a controversial dismissal for Diaby, the Magpies took the game to Arsenal and made in roads thanks to a Joey Barton penalty. When Leon Best pulled back a second with fifteen minutes to play, the inconceivable was suddenly possible, even if that possibility remained slim. But the home fans looked on with delight as Barton added a second penalty before a strike of pure quality rescued a point for Alan Pardew’s men; Tiote the hero. If ever the old cliché ‘a game of two-halves’ was invented for a one-off moment, this was it.

Another game blessed with eight goals took place at Goodison Park, but this time neither team scored four, although a player did. Louis Saha, take-a-bow. The Frenchman’s scintillating display ensured Everton’s victory despite the fact they’d conceded three to suffering Blackpool. At 3-2 up Ian Holloway, not for the first time season, put another of footballs long living cliches to the test and proved once and for all that ‘attack is the best form of defence’ , unless you actually want to retain the lead that your team has installed. I fear that their free-flowing philosophy will ultimately cost Blackpool their place in the division.

Beckford’s winner came with just ten minutes to go but at White Hart Lane Spurs left it even later.

With the score deadlocked at one goal a piece, Tottenham hopes of a top-four finished hung precariously in the balance. Daniel Sturridge’s second goal for loan club Bolton had canceled out Van Der Vaart’s spot-kick. The Dutchman guilty of missing a potential second from twelve yards, a miss that appeared to have cost the home side two precious points against one of the seasons surprise packages. But cometh the hour, cometh the man and substitute Niko Kranjcar duly obliged as he popped up with the all important winner that keeps his side within touching distance of the other Champions League chasers. Spurs had eventually grasped victory at the death but it had been a nervy afternoon for all those packed into White Hart Lane; some sources even claim to have seen Harry Redknapp twitching on the side lines throughout.

At Eastlands, Manchester City continued their push for a top-four position (and possible title challenge) with a routine victory over lowly West Brom. With each passing game it seems increasingly likely that the Blue side of Manchester will push their bitter rivals all the way and the minimal expectation must now surely be to grab a place amongst Europe’s elite next season. It was ‘captain fantastic’ Carlos Tevez yet again who supplied the goods, with a hat-trick that included a pair of first half penalties. The Argentine forward has now amassed eighteen league goals this term and all for just two-hundred grand a week. Cheap labour in football is a serious problem, no wonder he wants out. One man who actually has departed company with his employers is Roberto Di Matteo. It’s arrivederci to the man who steered the Baggies to promotion last term, is there still a Ray Wilkins shaped hole to be filled at Stamford Bridge?

Another Lancashire club to score three times on Saturday were Blackburn. Unfortunately for Rovers, they also conceded four. It was a huge three points which Wigan had warranted and James McCarthy’s man of the match performance was capped with two goals, a feat earlier matched by Stoke’s Robert Huth in the lunchtime fixture. The big German’s late double moves Stoke into 9th and the Potters are now seriously contending with opponents Sunderland, amongst others, for Europa League qualification. Meanwhile, Keiran Richardson will be doubly disappointed as not only was his latest goal scored in vain but he was also overlooked by Fabio Capello as the Italian picked his latest squad. One man who did force his way in though was Aston Villa’s Kyle Walker.

His 72nd minute screamer from thirty yards put Houllier’s steadily improving side a goal to the good. However, their hopes of victory were shattered just six minutes later though when Clint Dempsey restored parity, earning Fulham a share in the spoils. More importantly though, Dempsey’s equaliser prevented me from winning over £400 on an accumulator. Coupled with the goal he scored in Rustenberg on June 11th – a game I was at – the American has established himself as one of my most hated Premiership players in spite of the fact I very much rate him.

Sunday’s football saw only two goals added to Saturday’s record breaking tally. The first came at the game I was at, as Nikola Zigic picked up from where he left off in the Carling Cup against West Ham by scoring the only goal at Upton Park. That goal aside there was very little for either set of supporters to get excited about. In truth, the match was a stark contrast of the previous days showing.

The biggest match, at least in terms of media coverage, was the Sunday contest between Chelsea and Liverpool. In addition to the animosity arising from recent encounters between these two both domestically and in the Champions League, the arrival of Fernando Torres to Stamford Bridge threatened to set tempers flaring. Almost inevitably though, El Nino’s debut didn’t plan out how the Shed End had envisaged. But one man’s anti-climax is another’s ecstasy, as exemplified by Raul Meireles who pounced to take full advantage of some truly shocking Petr Cech indecisiveness to continue his rich vein of form in front of goal and stretch the Anfield outfits good run to four wins on the spin. The King Kenny factor has now seen the Reds climb to sixth and that time spent in the lower reaches of the table earlier this season now seem a lifetime ago.

Overall it’s been a hugely entertaining week in the worlds most exciting division. There have been highs, lows, and terrible officiating in almost every game. You can’t help but love it. Selecting the recipients of this weeks awards was as hard as choosing my favourite Page 3 model but after much consideration I’ve finally decided. It’s Rhian, from Manchester.

I’m off to Copenhagen on Wednesday but will be back next week with a review on the weekends matches which include the Manchester derby! Until then…

Goal Of The Week: A thirty-yard screamer by Kyle Walker worked wonders for the on-loan youngster who cemented himself as Fabio Capello’s latest addition to the England set-up.

Fans Of The Week: Newcastle Untied fans would have been excused for having abandoned all hope as early as ten minutes into their first half battering but the Milburn Stand were left in raptures after seeing their heroes somehow turn it around.

Hero Of The Week: Louis Saha. Four goals. Enough said.

Villains Of The Week: This week the award is shared amongst all match officials. Not a single game this weekend passed without poor refereeing decisions. On the other hand, these errors create the talking points that will dominate Monday morning banter between men (and women) across the country.

Team Performance Of The Week: An extremely tough call with both Wolves and Newcastle staking their claim for the honour. But in similar fashion to Rhian, The Magpies just edge it with their incredible performance up-top. Despite only earning the singular point, as their phenomenal comeback epitomised everything we love about the beautiful game.