Another weekend of tantalising Premier League football concluded with champions Chelsea traveling to Bolton Wanderers on Monday night having won just one of their last six away fixtures. Fortunately The Reebok Stadium has been a successful hunting ground for the Blues, who had won each of their last seven visits without conceding and this run was extended in emphatic style as Didier Drogba’s wonder strike epitomised a confident performance that ended in a repeat of last seasons 4-0 victory for Ancelotti’s title-holders.
Making this result all the more impressive was the absence of Frank Lampard. Earlier information suggested that John Terry may also be left back in London but the influential captain was present to lead the side out, much to the delight of his teammates; especially those with attractive girlfriends.
On Saturday, the weekend schedule began with an equally one-sided demolition as the lunchtime fixture saw Liverpool travel to Wolves, where Fernando Torres put on a goalscoring exhibition fit for a King with a brilliant brace. However, it was Liverpool’s second that rightfully drew the plaudits as Raul Meireles hit a thirty yard volley that Kenny himself would have been proud of. It was the first victory under the second Dalglish era that the Anfield outfit will look to use as a platform as they aim to push on into European contention.
Whilst a Europa league spot may still be achievable , a title-challenge will have to wait until next year at least. So too will Tottenham’s, as they travelled to Newcastle hoping to keep their Championship dreams alive. Alas, if you allow Fabricio Coloccini to score against you then you probably don’t deserve to lift the title come May. Aaron Lennon’s late equaliser did ensure that the North Londoners didn’t return home empty handed but a singular point probably means that it’s all over for ‘Arry’s aspirations, even if a certain Mr Beckham does eventually receive the green-light from parent club LA Galaxy.
Even if Golden Balls doesn’t add to his Premiership appearance’s tally he seems to be thoroughly enjoying his stay. The record-breaking England star was spotted at the home of Tottenham’s arch rivals as an inspired Robin Van Persie netted three times , despite missing a second-half penalty, as Arsenal continued to show their title credentials in a 3-0 victory over lowly Wigan. Following the recent announcement that he and wife Victoria are expecting their fourth child, David’s constant smile needs no explanation. Posh meanwhile threats at the prospect of ballooning to a size six.
That result moved Arsenal into second behind only Manchester United , who needed just 95 seconds to open the scoring against a woeful Birmingham City who perhaps fell victim to having one eye on Wednesday’s all important Carling Cup Semi Final second leg against West Ham.
Dimitar Berbatov showcased the midas touch to score what was incredibly his third hat-trick of the season as Sir Alex’s men responded to Wenger’s mid-week condemnation of United’s “lucky” title-favourites in impressive fashion. Fergie’s only cause for concern is Wayne Rooney’s continued drought in front of goal as the England striker missed a header that even Ronnie Corbett would’ve expected to convert.
Possibly even more satisfying for United fans was Manchester City’s slump at Villa Park as , inevitably, record signing Darren Bent rose to the big occasion with an 18th minute winner to inflict a defeat on Mancini’s big-spenders that Meanwhile Houllier’s Aston Villa climb to the dizzying heights of, ahem, sixteenth.
As for Bent’s old team, Sunderland, it was a trip to Bloomfield Road and after scoring both his first and second goals of the season Kieran Richardson must have felt as though he was stood atop Blackpool Tower. The ex-England man , and ponytail enthusiast, helped cement his sides sixth place position in the table but not after a nervy finish after Charlie Adam’s consolation briefly ignited Tangerine hopes; a goal the captain celebrated with delight just forty-eight hours prior to handing in a transfer request.
And cynics say that modern footballers don’t really care.
If it’s passion that the fans want then West Ham’s Freddie Piquionne displayed his as the Frenchman partied with the away supporters at Goodison Park after his 83rd minute strike momentarily lifted Avram’s army off the bottom. Unfortunately Freddie’s foolishness cost him , and indeed his side, dearly as his decision to jump the advertising hoardings earned him a cheap second booking. With the numerical advantage Everton clawed a point from the jaws of defeat as Marouane Fellaini’s injury time finish restored parity.
It was a goal that would have angered Upton Park’s vice chairman (person), Karen Brady. But not nearly as much as the comments of Sky’s Andy Gray and Richard Keys who unleashed an unjust, uncalled for, but equally comical attack on female linesman (person) Sian Massey. Whilst the very capable Massey decided not to call any extra attention to the situation by honourably concentrating on her job , Brady predictably found necessity in lambasting the Sky pair in the Monday tabloids.
Personally, as a West Ham season-ticket holder, I’d rather she stuck to more important issues like trying to secure Premier League survival. Then again, amidst reports regarding the sentbox of Bradys mobile, perhaps it is best she preoccupies herself with the trivial issues. I’m a believer that women do have a place in football, amongst the catering staff. No, seriously, gender equality in football is important and there is no reason why women shouldn’t have an opportunity to succeed but Brady abuses this right.
As for Massey, her conduct can only be applauded and she also gave a brilliant account of herself at Molineux. That’s not to say it was a weekend free of refereeing blunders. Sunday’s only match-up saw Blackburn Rovers run out two-nil victors against a slightly unlucky West Brom side who were left astounded by Mark Clattenburg’s decision not to award the Baggies a penalty after Peter Odemwingie was fouled inside the box. Instead the ‘wa..lly with the whistle’ awarded a free-kick much to the anger of the travelling support. Steve Kean’s men were largely outplayed but took their chances in front of goal including a screamer from Canadian David Hoilett.
Last but not least, Clint Dempsey’s two-goal haul completed Fulham’s double over Stoke following December’s corresponding fixture which saw Chris Baird also score a brace. The win moves the Cottagers up to fourteenth while the Potters finish the weekend in ninth place due to the extent of Bolton’s defeat.
It’s been yet another enthralling week of football both on and off the pitch and continue midweek with three matches taking place in addition the Carling Cup Semi Finals, which see Birmingham take on West Ham and Arsenal take on Ipswich with the away sides both holding slender one-goal advantages from their respective first legs. And the cup drama continues at the weekend all FA Cup fourth round matches taking place, including mouth-watering ties for Notts County and Southampton who each host one of the Manchester big boys.
I’ll be back next week with a special FA Cup Weekly Wind Down, which will hopefully involve a lot more transfer news from a January window that so far, Bent and Dzeko aside, has been frustratingly unfulfilled. Here’s hoping for some last minute drama.
Until then, here’s my awards for the week:
Goal Of The Week: Raul Meireles hit a stunning volley that even King Kenny would’ve been proud of as the Anfield outfit stormed to a resounding 3-0 triumph at Molineux.
Fans Of The Week: Despite falling behind as early as the second minute against league leaders Manchester United, the Brummie faithful weren’t to be deterred from enjoying their day out and were in fine spirits throughout Saturdays 5-0 hammering. In the second half, each Birmingham corner was greeted with a cheer that would rival the one that will undoubtedly echo throughout St Andrews should the home side defeat West Ham in Wednesday’s Carling Cup Semi Final.
Hero Of The Week: Sian Massey performed exceptionally in front of the television cameras, proving women do have a place in football. Narrowly beating Ryan Giggs’ who even outshone hat-trick hero Dimitar Berbatov during Man Utd’s 5-0 drubbing of Birmingham.
Villain Of The Week: Karen Brady hands down. Tries her hardest to justify discrimination towards women in football.
Team Performance Of The Week: Having lost top-scorer Darren Bent this week as well as Danny Welbeck to injury, Sunderland still found a way to overcome shock-package Blackpool at Bloomfield Road to preserve their bid for Europa League football next term.