Saturday Premiership action
Bolton 2 Arsenal 0 - The Gunners' failure to fire
Match Of The Day commentator Steve Wilson: "Arsenal making one or two uncharacteristic errors."
RedsMan MOTM: Stelios Giannakopoulos
This fixture has found Arsenal in search of a Reebok Stadium win for the past three seasons. During 2002/03 both sides drew 2-2, I remember Arsenal were 2-0 up only to be drawn back through Youri Djorkaeff and a Martin Keown own goal. During 2003/04 came another draw, Robert Pires scored first and Bolton kept up the pressure to equalise through Henrik Pedersen. Last season Bolton won 1-0 with a winner through Stelios Giannakopoulos, who was as influential then as he was yesterday. Arsenal were stretched at the back when Sol Campbell played across to Kolo Toure, who was shut down by an underrated hard-working Kevin Davies, the Ivory Coast man forced to rashly clear to Lauren, who himself was equally closed down, the ball eventually going out. Bolton had set their stalls clear from then.
Could it have been Sam Allardyce's plan to exploit Pascal Cygan on the left? The Frenchman didn't have a comfortable afternoon , and who would when El-Hadji Diouf constantly comes at you practically on your weakest side? Man Of The Match could have been holding midfielder Abdoulaye Faye, someone in the same mold as Fulham compatriot Papa Bouba Dioup but more attacking. Giannakopoulos's returning chip into the box found Faye's head as he easily outjumped Cesc Fabregas. Then, with Arsenal having gone forward, Gilberto Silva was found covering at left-back, where a certain Frenchman should have been, the Brazilian shielding the ball but eventually dispossessed by the pressurising Davies, whose quick side ball was finished off by Giannakopoulos.
Arsenal came back to snap at Bolton through Thierry Henry, a nice volley set up with his right and hit with his left produced a good effort against the upright, while another effort later on equally hit the post with Jussi Jaaskelainen reacting excellently immediately after to block Pires following up. But Henry was not allowed to flow into the game generally as he likes to, and it felt as if Arsenal couldn't do so either as a result. Faye had been booked for going in on Freddie Ljungberg, followed that with an awful tackle later on and went on further to deliberately handballed in Arsenal's box, similar to Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal. He was very fortunate to remain on the pitch. Allardyce stated that now most will be fearful coming to the Reebok, which has developed 8 goals with 1 conceded out of 7.
Mark Lawrenson (on Cygan's left-back role): "He's like a fish out of water there, Cygan."
Gary Lineker (trying to be very quiet): "He is in the middle, as well."
Spurs 3 Sunderland 2 - Better fighting spirit, to no avail
Simon Brotherton: "Tottenham are going to have to throw absolutely everything at Sunderland now."
RedsMan MOTM: Ben Alnwick
This was a much better performance which showed more character from the North East side, and how. Dean Whitehead hasn't impressed me currently but yet again he and John Stead combined for a goal. Against Aston Villa, Stead was fouled for Whitehead to score the penalty. At White Hart Lane, Stead was fouled again some inches from the box by Matt Dawson and Whitehead stepped up to curl from something like 30-35 yards past England's current no.1 keeper. But Sunderland's defensive frailties emerged again when Robbie Keane was found on the right with space and slotted across goal for Ahmed Mido to slide in, the Egyptian and the Irishman are keeping out Jermaine Defoe with a flowing partnership.
In the second half, the partnership prospered again. Mido flicked on a high ball and for some reason Sunderland's Danny Collins comfortably had Keane behind him but allowed the ball to bounce towards goal, Alnwick came out and the three came together in a collison that resulted with the ball been touched in, suspiciously with a helping hand from Keane. Replay showed hand to ball but at the rate of speed it may have not been possible to spot. Yet through Anthony Le Tallec, Sunderland snatched back into the game, when a long ball fortuitously came off Andy Gray into the Frenchman's path and he slotted home.
With that Sunderland were under the pressure but determined to stay firm with many behind the ball. They continued to squander clearances as well as allowing Spurs much of the possession as a result. Keane bobbled the ball against skipper Gary Breen in the box, and referee Peter Walton annoyingly decided handball when it was not clear and not even intentional. Yet Sunderland had a lifeline when Alnwick stretched across well to keep out Keane's kick, the keeper is just 18. Spurs piled on the pressure, which resulted in a corner that was taken by Michael Carrick, cleared poorly by Christian Bassila, headed back and knocked sideways to Carrick still positioned on the right. Carrick, having pure space to emerge, came towards Sunderland's goal from an angle, with no one to shut him down, and despite three players in the way managed to curl in a left-foot shot.
It isn't mathematically impossible for Sunderland to avoid the drop and if they were to crank up their playability some more each week, they could find some form to get a decent run going.
Liverpool 3 Wigan 0 - Crouch proves better to lead Reds to victory
John Roder: "Huge cheer from the Liverpool supporters for Peter Crouch. He has at last broken his duck for Liverpool."
RedsMan MOTM: Steven Gerrard
It was coming, it was coming. Other strikers haven't scored themselves for long periods yet Crouch was made a media pinata. Goodness, what they would have made of his efforts yesterday if they came against lower positioned opposition, and Wigan have clearly made great efforts to be where they are, owing that down partially to their defence. Why they backed off from Crouch when he picked up the ball within our half, I don't know, but he was allowed to come forward and aim a shot that looped high off Arjan De Zeeuw towards goal, where Mike Pollitt couldn't palm it away. Being impartial, that is Crouch's goal. Had a striker hit a shot that deflected off an opposition player and went in, that's credited to the striker. If the shot was going off target, that's an own goal, similar to when Paulo Ferreira shot against Portsmouth and Hernan Crespo diverted it in, that was Crespo's goal. If the shot deflects off an opposition player and the keeper gets a hand to it but fails to stop it going in, that's still the striker's goal. Pollitt's hand in the goal is immaterial.
However, if that is debatable, then Liverpool's 2nd wasn't. Steve Finnan found Crouch as the striker moved outside the offside trap, the ball bounced twice, Pollitt came out to close him down but Crouch lobbed the ball over him. Wigan came back in the 2nd half with a Graham Kavanagh volley that could have gone in with Reina rooted, had it been some inches lower. Fernando Morientes had a nice header come off the upright, and was there later on to head Gerrard's corner in Luis Garcia's direction, Garcia chesting in Liverpool's 3rd. Crouch came off for Djibril Cisse and Liverpool stood up to applaud. Cisse was found expertly by Dieter Hamann's through ball and as he soon as he raced onto it, Garcia and Morientes were equally sprinting parallel, without a Wigan defender in sight. Cisse squared unselfishly, which went across Garcia to Morientes, Morientes's first shot was stopped well and so was his follow-up, Pollitt keeping very active. It will soon be Morientes' turn to shine.
Amongst this was Gerrard. He has an unorthodox way of playing, and can be versatile if needed but the crux of his ability is his all-round engine. Running, finding space, finding others with his passes long or short, tackles, and a decent shot on him to boot. He deserves to lead Liverpool to glory alone, much less the club. Mike Pollitt's saves from him as well as others made the Wigan keeper my second choice, they certainly were the difference between 3-0 and more.
Chelsea 1 Middlesbrough 0 - Resolute Boro finally made to crack
Jonathan Pearce: "Lampard making a late run in support....wants it....gets it......hasn't got his shooting boots on today."
RedsMan MOTM: Damien Duff
This match seemed to find Chelsea below par. That's not a bad thing, only that they weren't as industrious as they're known to be, they didnt seem to be really hungry for victory and they were at home. Creating openings for chances is par of the course but in attempting to do so they seemed slightly lethargic. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was unlucky to have hit the post early on after work from Ayegbeni Yakubu. Duff and Arjen Robben came back at Boro mostly, Frank Lampard made an occasional appearance in the box, Didier Drogba not as bustling. Jose Mourinho wasn't looking impressed as Boro continued to defend with good fortune.
Yet cometh the hour (62mins to be precise), cometh the man, cometh the main man. John Terry had already had a header from a Duff corner stopped on the line by Fabio Rochemback and he did it again, coming forward freely to head, the ball just about going over the line despite the efforts of Rochemback again and Mark Schwarzer. It could have easily been 2 when Duff teased down the right and rounded a Boro player to cut back for Drogba, whose effort went high over the goal.
Man Utd 3 Portsmouth 0 - Portsmouth woe continues as Utd move on
Guy Mowbray: "Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Man Utd 3 Portsmouth 0."
RedsMan MOTM: Paul Scholes
Yesterday Northern Ireland buried a football legend. Yesterday evening, Old Trafford remembered him again. George Best would have said something like "Right, that's it, come on, let's kick some ball", and that's what Man Utd exactly did. Utd are revelling in Scholes's improvement, he came close against West Ham and he was spot on yesterday, heading in Ryan Giggs' corner, the Welshman making his return from injury. On occasion Utd were thwarted, Jamie Ashdown came out to block VNR. Matt Taylor had his effort in the beginning of the 2nd half hit the side netting when Portsmouth actually made good progress into Utd's half. Portsmouth could have increased pressure on Utd after that but allowing them possession meant Portsmouth were on the backfoot often. It took Utd up to 10mins from time to make advantage count further, Rooney waited by the edge of the box as the ball spilled to him and he slotted it in. Christian Ronaldo's introduction found him on the right and his side ball found VNR chipping in Utd's 3rd.
Since Keane's departure, Utd have shown no signs of weakening, which bodes better for their future. They have restored the belief in interlocking their individual play going forward, why Ronaldo was dropped and which was missing before, and their aim is to hit hard and quick. Since their biggest defeat so far to Boro, they have scored 9 and conceded 2, yesterday's game was their biggest win.
Newcastle 1 Aston Villa 1 - Two managers, two careers, two teams, on the line??
Dan O'Hagan (on Gareth Barry's penalty effort): "Twice successive from penalties here last season, he's today ballooned the chance to win the game for David O'Leary's Villa.....oh dear."
RedsMan MOTM: Shay Given
Two managers coming into this game off a League Cup exit that left both respective fans very disgruntled, both chairmen annoyed and the media bandwagon into overdrive. Villa have failed to really reached such heights as they can do and use to before way back, Newcastle had begun the season without scoring in their first 4 games, enlisted the likes of Emre, Albert Luque and in extravagant fashion, Michael Owen.
Villa walked from Belle Vue on Tuesday dishevelled, disillusioned, disappointing, following Doncaster chairman John Ryan's prediction before the cup tie: "Personally, I think we will beat Villa on Tuesday. Don't ask me why but I just believe it will happen." What crystal ball is he looking into?? Newcastle fielded a strong side against Wigan's more reserved side yet they were under the cosh as Wigan rattled their goal. O'Leary's time at Villa Park is looking more and more vulnerable with erractic performances, but Souness surely has more of a berth? I had said before the season began that this was make-or-break season for Souness but his signings have given more belief for Newcastle and such talk is somewhat premature.
Nonetheless, this was a 6-pointer and it seemed fitting that it ended in a draw, fortunately not a no-score one otherwise both managers would need bunkers. Alan Shearer lashed a trademark volley against the upright, the structure of which got to be on the receiving end of a number of efforts from the Premiership games yesterday. With little between the sides other than that, the deadlock came when Scott Parker's shot made contact with the arm of Liam Ridgewell, who is having some rotten luck. His players found hitting his head easier too often against Sunderland, he conceded a penalty to Liverpool, one via a handball to Doncaster and here again. Shearer deposited the kick.
Villa hustled and bustled, Milan Baros and Lee Hendrie followed behind by Gavin McCann and Gareth Barry carrying the fight. They equalised with Hendrie being found down the left and he cut across for McCann to hit a low drive past Given. But Villa should have won it when Baros was fouled poorly by a lunging Titus Bramble just inside the box. Barry lost his cool by lifting the ball over and high.
Blackburn 0 Everton 2 - Everton ascend as B'burn burn
Tony Gubba (on Andy Todd): "Now, how much trouble is the Blackburn captain in? He was the last defender and he uses his hand to stop it, and this might be a red card....and it is a red card."
RedsMan MOTM: James Beattie
Blackburn are a potentially achieving side. They have a very good keeper in Brad Friedel, innovative midfielders in Robbie Savage, David Thompson, Brett Emerton, Tugay and good forwards in Craig Bellamy, Shefki Kuqi and Morten Pedersen, with the tenacity and experience of Paul Dickov and a fine manager in Mark Hughes. So why are they inconsistent? They went away to beat Man Utd, they stepped on Charlton for their biggest win yet when they get going well, they fail to follow it up. I would have expected this to be least likely at Ewood Park but their defence is beginning to appear very shaky. They may have had some trouble dealing with James Beattie, he was influential for both goals. His jump took with him one defender, the ball bounced on for Andy Van Der Meyde to head across and James McFadden beat Todd to head past the advancing Friedel.
Later, Beattie collected a loose ball and was on route to goal, with Todd to beat. In flicking the ball to get it past Todd, it struck Todd's hand, was judged to have been deliberate, and with Todd the last man, saw the captain sent off. It did seem rather intentional. Beattie appeared to be fouled later on but play was allowed to continue, with Lee Osman then finding Mikael Arteta to his left, the Spaniard finishing well into the net.
West Brom 0 Fulham 0 - Stalemate
[I couldn't find anything in the commentary to put here.]
RedsMan MOTM: Any suggestions?
Pretty dull, Luis Boa Morte booked for two challenges that he and Chris Coleman could hardly argue about, they were rash, and he was duly sent off. The referee and linesman missed Curtis Davis's back pass to the keeper. Moritz Volz and Paul Robinson both bravely went for a high ball and slammed into each other like an accident between two vehicles playing 'Chicken', the impact of which turned Robinson like a cartwheel and he got up afterwards but Volz took it hard and had to go off. Any West Brom fans who still ridicule Robinson should remain humble if he gives that much for the cause.
Match of the Day 'Goals of the Month' trio (a Dutch 1,2,3):
1) Ruud Van Nistelrooy v Charlton;
2) Robin Van Persie v Blackburn;
3) Collins John v Middlesbrough
Charlton 2 Man City 5 - 5 not being a lucky number for Curbishley
RedsMan MOTM: Andy Cole
Including this match in the article, after having viewed it with neutral excitement. I expected Chalrton to come out at Man City and possibly push the game to a 1-1 draw, both have been shot-shy in their previous games, though Charlton enjoyed 2 at home on Wednesday. But I didnt expect Charlton to be so woeful. Almost any time Man City was on the attack it looked to open for them to score.
A headed high ball from City found its way to Darius Vassell, who came at Charlton's defenders and went past two before tapping a little ball to Andy Cole on his left for Cole to opening the scoring. Charlton felt the home support was getting at them and Darren Ambrose had a cast-iron chance to level when he ran into the box, past Richard Dunne's attempt to stop him and the ball and then hooked the ball high from mere yards. Nonetheless, as they pressed forward a high ball was not dealt with by the City defence, Darren Bent edging Dunne to run on and score.
Charlton then failed to increase on their playability at a moment when they looked to be pressing City, their midfield wasn't energetic enough, their defence was mainly occupied with City sending passes forward for the quick pace and strength of their front two, who I think are a very good partnership. Cole picked up the ball on City's right and returned a one-two to Trevor Sinclair, who was being snagged by Jonathan Spector but still held him off to hit a shot under Dean Kiely.
Come the 2nd half, it was more of the same. City poured forward and a little melee in Charlton's box resulted in Herman Hreidarsson tugging back on Vassell, Phil Dowd granting the spot-kick straight away. Joey Barton has had a difficult week and stepped up to see his initial shot stopped by Kiely and was nearest to score the rebound. Now Charlton looked practically out of contention of any comeback. But that would be proven wrong.
Jay Bothroyd came on for Jonatan Johansson and made a slight impact for Charlton, culminating some 20mins later in a foul on him by Ben Thatcher just outside the box on the right. Danny Murphy teed him up and the ex-Blackburn man unleashed a fierce low drive that cleanly went through, wall and all, and ended up in the net with David James getting a hand to it but beaten at his near post. It was a good response, coming 4mins after Barton's goal, and the comeback looked on.
Then it didn't. Cole came over to City's left and aimed another through ball in Vassell's direction, the striker slotting through under Kiely. And when they felt it couldn't get any worse, Barton's ball over the defence was picked up on by Chris Perry, with Andy Cole breathing down on him, Perry heads the ball weakly towards Kiely, Cole pounces and rounds the keeper to send the ball rolling in. It was 5 goals which brought on 5 consecutive league defeats for Charlton, making Alan Curbishley's 700th game in charge at The Valley more of a nightmare than a happy anniversary.