Another weekend of goals, dismissals, controversy and increasing pressure on the European places. I must say the FA is yet again questionable in their administration when they arrange for the squeezing of league games and FA Cup ties. There are those who believe Premiership players, particularly, earn a substantial wage and develop a substantial level of fitness to be able to play in a match and then another practically 48hrs later. Conventionally a gap of 72hrs is realised before another match, for instance a Sunday fixture is followed by one the following Wednesday. Wretched administration, regardless which team it involves, and quite possibly effected the team selection of those involved to their deficit. Anyhow, without further delay.....SaturdayWest Brom 1 Manchester United 2
The big talking point was the potential exclusion of Ruud Van Nistelrooy from the line-up, though the Dutchman has, since the FA Cup tie at Anfield, had an illness after international duty and recently had to attend a family funeral so it seemed very appropriate to continue with the pairing of Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha, both in sharp form. Ryan Giggs is finding more and more play in central midfield, his corner led to Saha being marked by Ronnie Wallwork and then the Frenchman gingerly stepped away from his marker to plant a crisp free header. Holding the one goal lead for the break, Utd were two up in 64mins as Giggs and Christiano Ronaldo set up Saha to control and poke in. Nathan Ellington came on 4mins before then and again made his contribution off the bench by heading in a consolation with some 10mins or so to go.
This is a swansong for Utd, going two up and then conceding one but remaining too solid to be in threat of throwing a lead away. West Brom had to block out Rooney on at least three occasions, and went close themselves before Ellington's goal.Arsenal 3 Charlton 0
Arsenal back to their battling form? The confidence is there to see. You have a flowing Arsenal behind an even faster flowing Thierry Henry, at Highbury, then be prepared. The ten intermittent defeats this season had spoiled their confidence, coupled with the injuries, and now with a third consecutive win after emerging into the Champions League quarter-finals, amidst the Henry speculations, the good fortune continues. Emmanuel Adebayor picked up on Jonathan Spector's slip, jogged one-on-one onto goal, Henry to his far left, bizarrely unmarked and unnoticed by the Charlton defence, indicating his presence, only for Adebayor to take too long and allow Spector to recover with a tackle, evidently to Henry's disgust, which I felt was justifiable. What arose to make recompense for the Togo man was his touch after Henry passed to him, he played Henry through behind Luke Young and he squared for Robert Pires for the lead.
Herman Hreidarsson stepped on the ball and stumbled, allowing Adebayor to steal in again for Arsenal's second, before half-time. Then to cement their superiority, Alexander Hleb, looking impressive as Arsenal grow in confidence, ran from inside his half to feed Adebayor, whose shot was blocked into Hleb's path, the Belarussian finishing off Charlton's quite cumbersome defence and lacklustre forward line.
Arsene Wenger said "We dominated the game...we scored early on and sometimes it became too easy for us....but the confidence is back in the team and we have found the way we want to play the game."
Sorry, Addicks fans, he wasn't wrong.West Ham 2 Portsmouth 3
Anton Ferdinand was quoted as saying Harry Redknapp would receive a hot reception at Upton Park in his first return since May 2001 but contrary to that Redknapp was well received, and rightly so. Alan Pardew has had his ferocious critics as a result of taking over the managerial role but he remained tight-lipped and armour protected to bring the Hammers into the Premiership, and how. The only hot reception came in the half-time break from the meat pies, mine is steak and kidney if anyone's buying. Six changes were made with the FA Cup clash with Man City away in mind, but the side seemed comfortable enough to hold a suitable challenge to Pompey. Yet West Ham had defensive frailties when Gary O'Neil crossed low for Lomano LuaLua to score from close range unmarked. Practically from the same spot Sean Davis tucked away Brian Priske's cross unmarked. And for the second consecutive weekend Pedro Mendes made the opposition taste his shooting ability as Andres D'Alessandro teed up the Portuguese midfielder to unleash another 25 yarder past replacement keeper James Walker.
All of that before half time made for an astonishing scoreline hardly any would have wagered on. West Ham came back through Teddy Sheringham as Paul Konchesky's effort came back to the ex-Pompey player to score. But knowing Harry Redknapp, Portsmouth are not encouraged to dwell on their 1-3 lead to think the game is over. LuaLua jigged about by the touchline and then eased pass the mesmerised Konchesky to square across goal for ex-West Ham striker Svetoslav Todorov to tidy away. Yossi Benayoun converted well Bobby Zamora's ball for another consolation, but West Ham seemed battle weary after their midweek FA Cup game and now have to reassemble for Man City.Bolton 2 Sunderland 0
The difference for Sunderland was keeper Kelvin Davies as he made a number of saves to thwart the home side, who have not been unbeaten at home since the opening game against Everton, some 13 games before Saturday. But it was the other K Davies who made the first breakthrough, after his effort from point blank earlier on was superbly saved by the Sunderland keeper. Stelios Giannakopoulos sent over a corner to which Kevin Davies got ahead of Danny Collins for the lead and this was soon after the start of second half, so the Black Cats were holding very well until then. After that, more pressure from the home side as chance after chance they failed to convert with less impetus emerging from their guests. I felt this would be another single goal defeat for Sunderland until Kevin Nolan picked up on a loose ball and used the outside of his right boot to dip the ball in for no.2. This win keeps Bolton in the close hunt for a European place, a point behind Arsenal and one away from Blackburn.Blackburn 3 Middlesbrough 2
Blackburn need to balance their home record with their away one. At home it's two defeats, two draws out of fifteen, impressive. Away it's again two draws and nine defeats. Both the Lancashire sides have become quite formidable at home, and the home side here started just as formidable. Craig Bellamy is becoming a one-man force, picking up the ball by their right, three Boro players in close vicinity, he then moved into the box and evaded a challenge before aiming a low left foot effort curling that Mark Schwarzer couldn't see to even react to. Boro came back through Mark Viduka, who was found in space on the right before he let fly a drive that beat Brad Friedel's near post. However Morten Gamst Pedersen aimed another left foot driven freekick pass Schwarzer for restoration before half time.
Then the game's first controversial decision. George Boateng was on the ball when Robbie Savage came in with a heavy tackle that caught the Dutchman's foot, for which he was booked. Some minutes later Boateng aimed a ball forward that touched Savage's left hand, something which Chris Foy judged as deliberate handball, a second booking and Savage's first Premiership dismissal. I think both bookings were correct, particularly the second where Savage seemed to deliberately move his hand in the way rather than innocently being caught. The one-man disadvantage came before Boro's second equaliser, and probably boosted them as James Morrison went down the right and then squared back for Fabio Rochemback to score. Game to end on a stalemate, it would seem, but not for Bellamy. Finding space on the right he came forward and then decided to use his better foot to let fly a crisp drive that curled in at the far post.Everton 4 Aston Villa 1
Aston Villa have better players to be churning out the results they have had so far this season. Twelve defeats, ten draws, eight wins, they have been losing at home equally as they have away. Yet at one stage they went on from an away defeat to Manchester City on 31st October to record no away losses until they met Blackburn Rovers on the 11th March, almost four and a half months of games. So at times they can be impressive, hitting Boro for four at the Riverside and holding Chelsea to a draw at home, and at other times lapsidaisal, recently Saturday where they were outplayed and ran through by an inspired Everton home display. Fans were calling for David O'Leary to be sacked, and on this evidence I think it will happen at the end of the season if it continues, Villa are two places away from the relegation zone. Talk is not of their plight but on this performance, with eight games left, another two defeats will put the Villains precariously on thin ice.
With Juan Pablo Angel, Kevin Phillips and Milan Baros out of selection, Luke Moore and youngster Gabriel Agbonlahor lead the charge. James Beattie nodded down for James McFadden to aim a low right foot drive past Thomas Sorensen, who for me is a suitable keeper to chase for Arsenal if they are still looking for one. Agbonlahor and Steve Davis had efforts kept off the line by Gary Naysmith and Tim Cahill clearing and Everton made it two when McFadden followed a Phil Neville throw to rifle the crossbar, Cahill first to the ball to score. Mikael Arteta ran down the left to square for Leo Osman to complete a first half rout. After the break, Agbonlahor was found on the right to aim a low shot under Richard Wright for Villa's comeback to begin with some 25mins remaining, however McFadden and Cahill kept their inspirational form going, the Scotsman setting up Cahill for Everton's fourth. Everton popping up into the top half of the table in 9th.Manchester City 0 Wigan 1
Like West Ham, their FA Cup opponents today, Man City pondered about the selection and Stuart Pearce made no bones about it, a strong side will feature in both games, no prioritising, both games are important. But City's usual driving play in attack wasn't there on Saturday, with Darius Vassell and Georgios Samaras not playing from the start, in fact only David James, Sun Jihai and Trevor Sinclair remained from the side that beat Aston Villa in the week. Didn't therefore look as if City were not prioritising. Antoine Sibierski came off to be replaced by Samaras.
Wigan made all the pressing in the first half and then into the second half James made the difference for the wrong reasons, yet again. He came out to clear a bouncing ball and completely miskicked it high, David Sommeil came to clear up with a back pass and James then miskicked it again to slice it out for a corner. Jimmy Bullard delivered, Lee McCullouch headed in without a challenge.
Samaras could be a doubt for today's game after limping off shortly after the goal. Pearce said "We brought our club captain and two international full-backs back....in the main the performance was responsible for the result rather than the team selection.".
Danny Mills is not an international.Birmingham 0 Spurs 2
Starting last in the Saturday fixture, Birmingham knew of West Brom and Portsmouth so pressure was on the home side to get the vital win at the same time that Spurs knew Arsenal, Bolton and Blackburn had won their respective games. Birmingham started very well, coming forward and pressurising the Spurs defence through Emile Heskey, Nicky Butt and DJ Campbell (why is his first name not used??), but not quite having the finishing required. Spurs themselves attacked well, with Michael Carrick's freekick saved well by Maik Taylor, Robbie Keane just being denied by a Mario Melchiot intervention on two occasions.
Jermaine Defoe took the starting opportunity to put on a tenacious display, and in the second half it was he who capitalised on Melchiot's slowness to clear, keeping the ball in play, Melchiot fouling Defoe by pretending to fall down behind him, Uriah Rennie waved advantage, Defoe evaded Kenny Cunningham's tackle and pulled across for Aaron Lennon to finish off. The home fans, unfairly, booed Melchiot and any redemption was made impossible when his lack of positioning at right-back allowed Keane to collect a diagonal ball across goal to score no.2.SundayNewcastle 1 Liverpool 3
I viewed this game as a difficult one following on from the Fulham win. We scored five but the one score doesn't make for anything if not followed, and Newcastle are not looking to surrender their home start under Glenn Roeder. Two losses and five draws out of fourteen at home up until yesterday, one draw and one defeat out of six under Roeder meant Liverpool needed to continue their playability. Rafael Benitez employed an unusual 3-4-3 with Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and Daniel Agger, Jan Kromkamp and Stephen Warnock effective wing-backs either side of Steven Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann, Djibril Cisse and Harry Kewell assisting Peter Crouch. Interesting with tomorrow's FA match in mind.
Newcastle were allowed room to pass around at the back but were met in midfield may times to be forced to turn back, so seldom did Newcastle get to deliver forward. When they did, the linesman flag went up to thwart Shola Ameobi getting ahead. Kromkamp was passed across to from Gerrard and he teed up a deep cross for Crouch to head down and in above Jean-Alain Boumsong and Peter Ramage. Alan Shearer and Charles N'Zogbia sent shots at Pepe Reina, who made me nervous with his handling over one of them but the keeper kept composure. Warnock ran down the left and sent a low curling ball across goal that Crouch just missed, Cisse came to it and just needed to square it simple, instead sending it skywards.
Then the goal of the match was to follow, Cisse picked up on the right and sent over a cross that Gerrard nodded down to Crouch, Crouch touched it back and Gerrard aimed a low grasscutter into the far corner. This gave Newcastle more determination to make more of their emergence, Emre and Scott Parker making waves in midfield, Nolberto Solano making good moves on the wing, the only thing was Ameobi was being caught offside. Yet Liverpool felt they had Ameobi when Parker sent another ball over the defence, but it was Shearer who was offside and not interfering, Ameobi heading a sweet ball past the stuck Reina.
Newcastle could have had an equaliser when a Solano freekick came over and Boumsong jumped up with Ramage and both missing the ball unchallenged, the Liverpool defence not focused. However, come the second half, Boumsong came to clear the ball but missed it, Crouch latched onto the chance on goal, Boumsong behind him and then bringing him down as a result in the box. Mike Riley made no bones about the decision, the Frenchman remaining on the spot flabbergasted and then begrudgingly making his way off the pitch and around the Newcastle goal, the referee asking him a second time to make haste as Cisse poised to take the penalty. Penalty scored, Cisse then lifted his shirt to reveal a vest underneath with a message, his actions seemed aimed towards the Newcastle fans, and Mr Riley either booked him for the shirt or the gestures. Minutes later, as the home fans booed Cisse's touch, he got a corner off Robbie Elliott and then gloated the same fans. Fortunately Mr Riley gave him a little word as various Liverpool colleagues gave him the rest. He settled down after and it may have saved him that the ref saw it and had a word to avoid the FA.
With the one-man advantage Liverpool settled into a more better mode of football, making chances that should have killed the game. Luis Garcia came on for Crouch, Cisse collected from Kromkamp, played a sweet one-two with Garcia and then ran onto goal with Elliott dragged in, Kewell in more space than the solar system and unmarked, only for Cisse to aim a shot at goal that went wide and up. We needed this win to keep up on Man Utd, also with those behind winning, and to take into tomorrow's match.Fulham 1 Chelsea 0
I envisaged a home win at 2-1, for some reason, and made a point of this to T. For Fulham, who had lost four in a row, they had the home advantage and being that they held Liverpool at 2-1 for some 25mins encouraged Chris Coleman his side can produce a harder performance. Chelsea have seen off Spurs, but with their relentless knocking at the door of the Spurs defence, only to eventually come through via William Gallas' last gasp goal. So it was a bold prediction, Zat Knight and Ian Pearce do not fill me with confidence for Fulham, though Pearce is more reliable. With Antii Niemi out and Papa Dioup, Mark Crossley brought his experience and big frame to cover in goal. From the start, Fulham aimed to harass Chelsea in particularly the midfield, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Claude Makelele had little time to make telling passes, while Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole struggled to come into the game.
Fulham claimed for a penalty when Morice Volz stepped past Gallas and ran on to evade a John Terry challenge in the box but for me the decision to deny was correct, Volz made more of a case as he dropped rather than continue his run, which he could have done. However, Fulham took the lead a third into the half as Steed Malbranque aimed a shot at goal that was blocked but spilled further into the box, Paulo Ferreira came to clear but the ball came off Luis Boa Morte's leg past Petr Cech. Jose Mourinho made two changes after and Chelsea's attacking still failed to make good progress. In the second half, Fulham made sure of being in numbers when Chelsea came forward, but a number of lame touches, lack of control and failure to look for those in better positions allowed Chelsea a stronger grip on the game, and they came forward with more vigour. Frank Lampard missed from seven yards, Didier Drogba had an effort off the line, John Terry's header was nicely touched away by Crossley.
The weekend's controversial moment no.2 came as Ricardo Carvalho cleared the ball and it bounced for Drogba to run onto, followed by Knight. As they both ran on, Crossley inexplicably came out and Drogba had enough angle to touch the ball in. Referee Mike Dean didn't indicate for goal, as one Chelsea fan stated, instead he jogged up to and spoke with the incensed Fulham players. The claim was that Drogba handled on his way to scoring. Mr Dean then consulted the linesman and afterwards indicated the offence, the goal therefore not standing. Replays showed the decision was 100% correct but it was suggested the consulted linesman could not have seen the offence as his vision would have been hampered by the backs of Drogba and Knight.
Chelsea huffed and puffed but Fulham relented, kept numbers around Chelsea and on occasion broke out on attack and frustrated the defence. Such frustration then reared up to a danger level near stoppage time when Damien Duff was challenged by Heidur Helguson and Brian McBride, Helguson seem to kick firmly at the ball as it remained under Duff's legs, but then Gallas ran in and aimed a high studs-showing boot at Helguson's leg, similar to the Essien - Hamann incident. As Helguson got up in anger, Gallas then shoved the Icelander to the ground, and then a number of players became involved in a potential ugly scene. Mike Dean consulted the nearest linesman again and then gave Gallas the red card. Gallas then proceeded to leave the pitch to the chorus of sarcastic gestures and calling from the nearby Fulham fans, to which Gallas replied by a Julius Caesar thumbs-up thumbs-down gesture of his own.
At the final whistle, Fulham fans came onto the pitch in jubilation of their first victory over Chelsea for twenty-seven years and then it began to mar over. Separate incidents of assault as both fans met each other, police made at least one arrest, though it seemed there would be more to follow. But little doubts that the FA will investigate, possibly Gallas' gestures and the pitch invasion.
Ref Dean said afterwards that prior to Drogba's goal, he received a buzz on a mechanism strapped to his arm or hand from the linesman in question to indicate something awry, which answered those who said the linesman never flagged for anything wrong at the time. I didn't know about this mechanism but it is an alternative to flagging in regard to specific incidents, but not for offsides and fouls and what-have-you. Sky cameras couldn't show a frameshot with Drogba and Knight and the linesman together, and though Mourinho and Andy Gray said the linesman couldn't have seen it, it is still possible he did. Sky tried to give a virtual reality scope on the moment but it couldn't be accurate enough without good knowledge of the linesman's position at the time, which the VR scope could not provide.
Sky cameras did pick up, prior to the moment, Mourinho approaching the linesman and then the linesman starts off to keep up with the action, something which Andy Gray said he couldn't have done. Yet bizarrely, what else can explain how the linesman saw enough to get such a decision correct? It isn't down to player pressure as Mr Dean said the buzz he received came before then. Mourinho pointed out that player pressure had got his team into trouble with the FA and not Fulham, it would seem. The difference here is Mark Halsey reported Chelsea for their pressurising and Ref Dean has not with the Fulham players. There is a difference with normal debate amongst players and referee, and player pressure and practical harassment.