Arsenal find form; Man Utd keep pressure; Blues humble Reds
Birmingham seemed set to give a good rumble on Arsenal following from the week's headlines after the West Ham game but the Blues here couldn't make their good start count. They succumbed to a move down their left started by Abou Diaby's run and shot across goal, Martin Latka came across and the ball ricocheted off him and Maik Taylor into the air for Emmanuel Adebayor to head his first for the club. For their second, Cesc Fabregas sent a sweet through ball for the lurking Thierry Henry, and once he is not marked tightly, with room to run into, then the outcome can be inevitable, Henry slotting past Taylor. Birmingham had a number of attacks from which they could have done better from, Jermaine Pennant providing most of the attackable balls into the box. Emile Heskey felt hard done by when booked for his studs onto Phillippe Senderos, which at the most looked reckless and not intentional, and the same could be said for his challenge onto Mathieu Flamini for his second.
Blackburn appear to have a balance of form, where they play very well then follow that with a mediocre performance. Having claimed victory in the week against Man Utd, they were much less of the same side yesterday. Kevin Campbell wasn't marked properly and he collected the ball in to touch it past Brad Friedel. Jonathan Greening was allowed to juggle the ball and strike a volley that spun past Friedel for West Brom's second.
With the departure of Graeme Souness, Newcastle took centre stage in the afternoon to see the response, and they dominated the game. Charles N'Zogbia is a very decent purchase, he has a tricky left foot, attacks with pace on the wing and comes in behind the defence well, and was therefore well positioned to touch the first goal in. Not only did this match herald a well desired victory for Newcastle but it brought, at St James' Park, the goal that broke Jackie Milburn's record, Alan Shearer scoring his 201st after being put through by Shola Ameobi's back heel and creating the opening to slot past impressive Dean Kiely.
The fortunes of the Premiership's North East sides has been more or less in the bottom half of the league. Sunderland, Newcastle were faltering under Souness, rightly or wrongly, and Steve McClaren is facing furore because his indifferent side fail to capitalise on any glimpse of a winning run. I remember when Villa ran riot with a 2-5 win at The Riverside, and this time they were allowed much more of the freedom to roam. To sum up the goals, Middlesbrough's defending was poor and Luke Moore, with the aid of Kevin Phillips, was on hand to mop up any spillage in the box. Lee Cattermole overcame with frustration when he and a Villa player had a little set-to and then emotion as skipper Gareth Southgate had a quick heart-to-heart that appeased ref Lee Mason.
Such emotion wasn't pleasing enough for one Boro fan who amazingly came from the stands to reach as far as the coaches' technical area to remonstrate in the direction of the Middlesbrough bench. The stewards then realised they were employed and eventually carted the supporter away, before he embarrassed them further. Boro risk being dragged into relegation, 5pts from the zone, if they won't shore up their defence.
Sunderland are very plucky but they could have fared better with Stephen Wright remaining on the pitch for much longer than 23mins. He impeded Nigel Reo-Coker for his first booking and then Matthew Etherington practically in the same position for his second, Rob Styles having no doubt. But the Black Cats held West Ham for almost an hour until Marlon Harewood made an appearance. He was very wrongly found offside when he first scored after Kelvin Davies parried Dean Ashton's shot, but with 10mins remaining he fired one himself which Davis parried, this time for Ashton to pounce on and score for his first. Paul Konchesky, strong, tenacious candidate for me to join the England squad for Germany, fired a fierce drive that went under Davis' body for no.2.
Everton have formed a good run of form from the last six games, including yesterday's, better than Chelsea's. Since their last defeat to Liverpool at home, they have had 16 out of 18pts and held off a troubling Man City who trounced Newcastle in the week. David Weir may not have known much about his goal but the ball fortuitously came off his right leg to roll in for the winner. Despite numerous attempts at the Everton goal, Kiki Musampa, Georgios Samaras, Joey Barton and Darius Vassell couldn't break through, while Everton held very strong in the first half and had to hold off City in the second. Stephen Jordan was booked for bringing down Mikel Arteta and then dived in on Tony Hibbert for his second.
Honours were even at The Reebok where Sam Allardyce keeps hold of a successive unbeaten run. Both sides missing key players, it otherwise looked on paper to be a strong home win and could have resulted as such with the pressure Bolton laid on the visitors. Bruno N'Gotty delivered the freekick past the hour mark for Stelios Giannakopoulos to pounce on for Bolton's lead. Yet Wigan have a sturdy spirit going forward, and forced Bolton to concede a freekick, from which Reto Ziegler snapped a shot that Jussi Jaaskelainen managed to parry in the direction of Andreas Johansson to put in. I felt Wigan did very well against the home side's pressure, and missing Jason Roberts means they need to find another avenue to score goals through as well as Neil Mellor, stranded on his own.
Man Utd held their home form to deny Fulham any room for an upset. Park Ji-Sung dazzled and danced down the right for them and he scored the opener when Gary Neville passed across and Park's shot deflected to wrong foot Antii Niemi. Niemi was deceived once again when Christiano Ronaldo sent a diveting freekick over and in which the Finn had no chance of seeing, much less saving. Fulham came back when full back Leroy Rosenior ran down the right to cross for Brian McBride to head past Edwin Van Der Sar. Ruud Van Nistelrooy was then in an offside position with absolute clarity yet was allowed to continue, his shot parried by Niemi for Louis Saha to score and continue his good form of late. Chris Coleman was rightly fuming and was told to sit in the stands. 3-1 down, Fulham pressed on, Wayne Bridge fighting with Neville to get down Utd's left and cross, another impressive figure in Heidar Helguson outjumped all to head another past Van Der Sar. Five goals in the first half provided superb entertainment, but the next one would be crucial, and it went to Utd. Van Nistelrooy turned left and right to hit a low shot that came off Niemi's excellent save to loop up for Ronaldo, who chested and shot a low half-volley for Utd's killer goal.
The penultimate game in the Premiership found Spurs at home against Charlton. Previously on the travels Charlton held out Chelsea and Spurs hadn't beaten Charlton at all at White Hart Lane in their history. Add to this that since Ahmed Mido left for the ACN tournament in Egypt, Spurs haven't scored, losing twice and drawing the once, and it was Mido who scored one of their last goals beforehand. Jermaine Defoe partnered Robbie Keane to the possible reluctance of Martin Jol and with Arsenal winning, Spurs needed to win to maintain 4th place. Still, things can change. Charlton were not active enough in the first half, and this led to Spurs carrying most of the fight, through the two Jermaines'. Defoe twisted and turned to hit an effort that deflected past Thomas Myhre for the opener, and Jenas was found by Keane on the run towards goal, shaking off Chris Powell and slotting past the keeper.
In the second half Defoe added a second within a minute of the start, Tom Huddlestone finding him with a nice pass for the striker to score no.3. Charlton brought Jerome Thomas and for some time his skill and trickery with pace wasn't being utilised enough until the 70th minute when he went on a run, shrugging off Paul Stalteri to hit a low shot that Paul Robinson saw at the last moment and got a hand to, to no avail. Herman Hreidarsson came in with a superb tackle to thwart an otherwise scoring Keane and Spurs held on for the win.
Liverpool are finding their form erratic at present. A big game, we wanted to win it to finally beat Chelsea in the league, to catch up on Utd as well and to find some good form to take us further. Rafael Benitez spoke of a concern over our barren scoring and while we enjoyed a good 30mins, with Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and Peter Crouch creating chances, Steven Gerrard's effort after Steve Finnan did well against John Terry, and Arjen Robben hitting wide after evading Stephen Warnock and Xabi Alonso, we failed to make them count. If you don't, Chelsea will. When the ball was delivered 10mins from time, Ricardo Carvalho headed down for William Gallas to swivel and score. John Terry headed down well with Pepe Reina failing to keep hold of the ball and as Hernan Crespo pounced to score, he was ruled offside.
Second half, Liverpool needed to come out eager to get an equaliser and we made a number of chances to do so, while Chelsea made theirs to almost extend their lead but again we contributed to our downfall when Warnock played Crespo onside, and that can be as potentially damaging as if it were Henry. Asier Del Horno chipped the ball over the defence and Crespo slotted it in first time for no.2. Eidur Gudjohnsen chased a bouncing ball that Reina chested away but the danger was not over, the keeper then having to follow Gudjohnsen to the touchline and tackling him from behind. The situation was allowed by Alan Wiley to become tense and instead of immediately calling over Reina or segregating him from all, Wiley looked to consult the linesman, as Robben said something to Reina that provoked the keeper to push Robben on the neck, from which the Dutchman suddenly went down. Players then jostled around Reina and he was eventually red-carded. Duncan Ferguson was red-carded for a similar offence and Reina had to go, despite any alleged theatrics. A moment of lost coolness.
That set the return of Jerzy Dudek, who did well to deny a fierce drive from a Frank Lampard freekick. Robben went on a run that left Warnock and Hyypia in its wake only for Gerrard to come over and superbly tackle him away from danger in the box. It could have been a promising match of better proportions for Liverpool, but Chelsea remain formidable in all departments as we still lack mostly in our scoring section. When you have players who can play that well, their touch finds another, players use agility, speed and skill very well to advance and create chances, you deserve to win. But we remain in a good position and need to address our failures of late to bolster our progress, which I'm positive we can do.