Last weekend's Premier League action started off with a bit of a damp squib. These teams combined had earned a grand total of three points out of a possible 24, so neither had really been setting the league ablaze. West Ham in particular have been miserable all season, losing each of their matches, including an embarrassing 3-1 reverse against Bolton at Upton Park. Their form hasn't been helped by goalkeeper Rob Green's ever-growling collection of howlers, and he added two more glorious mistakes against Stoke, first dropping the ball onto Robert Huth's foot and then misjudging a cross and leaving Kenwyne Jones with a free header. Fortunately for West Ham, only one of those clunkers led to a goal, and by the time Jones had netted for Stoke the Hammers had already scored at the other end. In fact, they could have had more than just Scott Parker's bundled effort - Frederic Piquionne's shot rocketed off the crossbar shortly after the West Ham captain had opened the scoring - but if Stoke had lost they would have felt highly aggrieved, having hit the woodwork no less than three times over the course of the match. It was perhaps an unearned draw, but with West Ham desperate for points wherever they can find them, unearned draws are more than welcome. Meanwhile Stoke will be ruing their chances to make it two wins on the trot, as well as worrying about their medical situation: Jermaine Pennant and Kenwyne Jones were both forced off with injuries late in the match.
"Nice one Greeny, nice one son, nice one Greeny, let's have another one."
-Stoke fans chanting to Robert Green.
As long as he never plays for England again I'm all for it.
Coverage: 7500 to Holte (Villa)
Aston Villa continued their run of poor results with a disappointing home draw against Bolton. In Stephen Ireland's first match since the Newcastle debacle, the hosts wasted Ashley Young's excellent opening goal with some shoddy defending. Villa's back line repeatedly failed to clear the ball, allowing Kevin Davies to nip into the area, bring the ball down, turn, and send a gorgeous shot into the roof of Brad Friedel's net. Stiliyan Petrov, Richard Dunne, and Luke Young were all at least partially at fault with the goal, and only Dunne can offer any excuse - he ended up leaving the match at half time with what seemed to be a back complaint. The second half was pretty quiet, with Villa edging play. They had several chances on the break, but young winger Marc Albrighton was in one of his wasteful moods, and managed to quit thoroughly halt any momentum Villa were building whenever he ended up on the ball. For their part, Owen Coyle's men gave the home side a couple of scares, but a few late corners aside failed to trouble Villa for most of the half. Gerard Houllier will be managing Aston Villa the next time they play a league match, and he's inheriting an extremely talented team with the consistency of runny porridge. It'll be interesting.
"[Houllier will] know there is something to work with."
-Aston Villa caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald
I think Mr. MacDonald is confusing 'something' with 'many things' and 'with' with 'on'.
Coverage: Cottagers Confidential (Fulham)
Blackburn split the points with Fulham at Eward Park with plenty of help from the referee. Without Bobby Zamora and holding an away record that might make Wigan fans kill themselves, it's a little surprising that Fulham managed to claw their way back into the game after Blackburn scored a goal on a play which would have been illegal in ice hockey. Goalkeeper Paul Robinson punted a free kick long down the field, El Hadjii Diouf flattened Robinson's Fulham counterpart, Mark Schwarzer, and Chris Samba headed the ball into the empty net. Last I checked, it was illegal to treat goalkeepers as though they are the ham to Sam Allardyces's appetite, and everyone but the Blackburn players seemed equally flummoxed. Fulham equalised half an hour later when Clint Dempsey rose above the defence to power a Carlos Salciedo cross home, sending Mark Hughes into an elaborate jig on the touchline. Fulham were full value for their point, while Blackburn were, as usual, rather boring.
"The hardest thing to do is getting a lead, the easiest thing to do is maintain that lead, or should be."
-Sam Allardyce, slayer of ham
You mean the easiest thing to do is coach Real Madrid, right? I hear that's pretty easy, Sam.
Newcastle 1-0 Everton
Coverage: Royal Blue Mersey (Everton)
Everton may have scraped a win at home against Manchester United but they couldn't make a last-minute comeback two weeks in a row. Newcastle were comfortably superior throughout the match, and Hatem Ben Arfa's 45 minute goal was well-deserved. Just quite how Ben Arfa went from milling around in front of three defenders to lining up a 30 yard left-footed strike into the top corner within the blink of an eye is a mystery I'll leave to the experts, but it really was an astonishingly good shot from an improbable position. Everton rarely threatened and the visitors might have added to the score if not from some acrobatics from Tim Howard, who was forced into saved from Joey Barton and Cheik Tiote in the first half. The hosts did do some damage, however, but unfortunately it involved Jermaine Beckford colliding into Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper, forcing Harper off the field for the game and near future. Everton were poor throughout and on this form it's hard to see them getting a league win anytime soon.
"I've been saying to them that they're good players and that they're a good team, and maybe I need to change what I'm telling them now."
-David Moyes, Everton manager.
He does rather have a point. Which is more than Everton have had in most of their matches. Zing!
Coverage: Cartilage Free Captain (Spurs)
Wolves were on pace to deal Tottenham their second home defeat in a row before a Rafael van der Vaart penalty turned the tide and Spurs won it with two late goals. Alan Hutton, making his first appearance of the season, was the spark behind the Tottenham surge; it was his run into the area which led to the 76th minute penalty and he also scored in the 90th minute under rather fortuitous circumstances. Spurs were not really good money for their win, however - they spent much of the first half completely penned in by a hard-working Wolves team, and the visiting side were a constant threat on the counterattack. Even after Steve Fletcher had grabbed the opening goal off the cross in the 45th minute, Tottenham were playing like a side bereft of ideas (save for Gareth Bale's rather inspired play, which is becoming typical fare for Spurs). However, one mistimed tackle opened the door for the hosts to make a storming comeback, and they seized the opportunity and earned a valuable three points.
"I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't sitting there thinking we might not get back into this game."
-Harry Redknapp, Jabba the Hutt's long-lost twin brother.
At least that would be better than being a wheeler-dealer, eh, Harry?
The Baggies grabbed three vital points and tarnished Birmingham's unbeaten record with a stirring second half comeback after going down early to Cameron Jerome's headed goal, a simple flick off a long free kick proving enough to unravel West Brom's admittedly shaky defence. The home side responded well and conducted a number of promising attacks, but Birmingham are typically loathe to concede goals and looked in no mood to do so here. The game changed at half time with Roberto di Matteo changing his shape, and it didn't take long before his introduction of playmaker Greame Dorrans paid off. Peter Odemwingie would probably like to take credit for his rather strange 'backheel' flying into the net via Scott Dann after Jerome Thomas did most of the work in getting past Stephen Carr, but the equaliser will go into the books as an own goal. The next goal was Odemwingie's, but City's temperamental Lee Bowyer was the real provider, his backpass sending the Albion striker one-on-one with Ben Foster with predictable results. Bowyer was booked shortly thereafter and hauled off by an obviously angry Alex McLeish, and did himself no favours as he got into a bit of a spat with the home fans. The game was killed off within a few minutes with Jonas Olson's goal courtesy of a good delivery from Chris Brunt, sealing a well deserved victory for West Brom.
"I know there were some people having a go at [Bowyer] from behind the dugout and he was trying to pacify them."
-Alex McLeish, Birmingham manager.
I could see that from Bowyer:
pacify [ˈpæsɪˌfaɪ]vb -fies, -fying, -fied (tr)1. to calm the anger or agitation of; mollify
2. (Military) to restore to peace or order, esp by the threat or use of force (emphasis mine).
Coverage: The Short Fuse (Arsenal)
It's rare to see Arsenal get outplayed in the midfield and rarer still to see Sunderland playing like a coherent attacking threat. But these are strange times and we must accept that sometimes the Gunner will go to the Stadium of Light and be dominated in possession, score a fluke goal, have a man sent off, miss a penalty, and concede a last minute equaliser well past the allowed stoppage time. Oh crazy world. Anyway, Sunderland had the better of things all match, but went behind quickly after Anton Ferdinand decided to clear a simple ball straight back down Cesc Fabregas's throat. The ball rebounded hard off the midfielder cleats, and it was instantly apparent that Simon Mingolet wasn't in any position to stop the 40-yard 'shot' should it hit the target. Eventually the ball glided into the net, just under the crossbar, leaving an entire stadium stunned. Whoops. Sunderland still played pretty well, but found themselves failing to generate clear-cut chances despite their domination in the midfield. They were also guilty of not shooting when they might have done, leaving observers with the distinct impression that the teams had simply switched uniforms while nobody was looking.
The game continued in this vein until Alex Song was rather harshly dismissed for a second yellow just after halftime - Song will rightly complain that obstruction in the midfield is hardly worth a booking, but this should serve as an important lesson to him: Don't spend the first half doing everything you can think of to annoy the referee, because he can send you off. Arsenal actually looked sharper with ten men, and were unfortunate not to add to their lead when Samir Nasri was fouled by the otherwise impressive Ahmed Elmohamdy as he raced into the box. Tomas Rosicky, on the field for Fabregas (who had left shortly after 'scoring' with a hamstring problem), hammered the ball a couple of inches over the crossbar. The shot was described by NASA as currently in a slowly decaying low-earth orbit (i.e. like Liverpool except for the 'orbit' part). Injury time came and very nearly went. There were four minutes added on for stoppages, but when the clock hit 94:00, Sunderland were on the ball and in a vaguely threatening position. Within fifteen seconds, this resulted in a ball swung in towards Asamoah Gyan, a clearance by Abou Diaby that bounced off Laurent Koscielny, and an easy poacher's goal by Darren Bent. Oh, and two points dropped by Arsenal. Naturally, Arsene Wenger was furious, but letting the attack play out despite four minute passing is hardly an egregious offence by the referee.
"Arsenal are the best team. We have the players and we have the touch... we play like Barcelona."
-Arsenal midfielder Denilson
The problem Arsenal have - the problem they'll always have with Wenger as their coach - is that they don't realise that playing like a weak version of Barcelona isn't necessarily a good thing.
Liverpool 2-3 Manchester United
Don't let the scoreline fool you - this match was as one-sided as they come. Although Liverpool came back from a 2-0 deficit, United were by far the best team on the night, and thanks to a Dimitar Berbatov hattrick they grabbed three potentially huge points in the title race. Berbatov was excellent, and his second goal in particular was sublime. Receiving a looping cross with his back to the goal, the striker flicked the ball up with his left thigh before sending in a scorching bicycle kick (ed. note: When I was a kid, we used to call those 'Peles.' Now I never hear that. Was this just a Milton Keynes thing?) that thundered in off the crossbar with Pepe Reina absolutely stranded. Roy Hodgeson responded to going 2-0 down by replacing the frankly terrible Maxi Rodriguez with David Ngog, and almost instantly Liverpool were back in the game thanks to Johnny Evans's poor challenge on Fernando Torres in the United area. Steven Gerrard slotted home to put the visitors on the board. It wasn't long until another foul led to Liverpool's second, as John O'Shea brought down Torres just outside the area when the Spaniard was threatening to run onto a through-ball. While O'Shea was the last man, it probably was not a red card offence - Torres was nowhere near the ball at the time and it wasn't obvious he'd even get possession before Edwin van der Sar came out to smother. Regardless, Gerrard stepped up to take the free kick and duly sent a clunker into the wall. Or rather, into where the wall should have been, since Darren Fletcher decided to jump away from the ball, leaving a nice little hole in the wall through which the shot flew into the United net. With just 20 minute left to go, it looked like the home side may have thrown away a pair of points, but Berbatov popped up again with his second headed goal six minutes from time. As Zonal Marking points out, Liverpool had zero shots on goal from open play all game. A draw would have been something of a travesty.
"I'm a footballer who keeps the ball on the floor. I'm here to play, not to unload."
-Liverpool fullback Daniel Agger, criticising manager Roy Hodgson's tactics.
Don't they have people to do the washing up at Anfield? I know Agger's in the doghouse, but making him do household chores like unloading the dishwasher seems a little beyond the pale.
Coverage: Bitter and Blue (City)
In a shocking turn of events, Wigan were beaten by less than four goals at the DW Stadium. The stunned mayor addressed the jubilant crowds on Monday morning, promising an international holiday and a parade so large even Carlos Tevez wouldn't miss it...
...anyway, it's hardly surprising that City beat Wigan away. City are good, Wigan are rubbish, and only the weather kept the score down. The pitch turned into a swamp under heavy rain, and that suited Wigan just fine - players from both sides were sliding around, unable to get any footing. There were some promising signs from Roberto Martinez's relegation-threatened side, notably the play of ex-Chelsea striker Franco di Santo and the defensive organisation that has so far been so sorely lacking finally making an appearance, but Wigan went down just before the break to a Carlos Tevez chip over Ali al-Habsi after a deflection had wrong-footed his marker. City scored again a little after half time, Yaya Toure converting a low Tevez cross, but Wigan's defence had had the opportunity to clear multiple times in the sequence and can only blame themselves for conceding in that situation. The game was out of reach for Wigan by then, and it died a slow death in the quagmires of Greater Manchester.
"There are aspects we do well but there is a softness in our defensive play that puts games beyond our reach."
-Roberto Martinez, Wigan manager.
It might be argued that one of the things Wigan do well is create chances for the opposition*.
*Yes, I know picking on Wigan is too easy and really rather mean. I still think it's funny.