Drogba controversy; Blackburn pressure; Birmingham rocky as Bolton fail to climb
Chelsea 2 Man City 0
Man City were said to be without 10 first teamers, which then pales Birmingham's side in midweek and emphasised my previous article where I stated Birmingham, despite their handicap, could have provided more resistance than they did. They shifted David Sommeil, Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne in a three, Danny Mills and Ben Thatcher as wing backs, pushing Micah Richards into midfield with Willo Flood, Kiki Musampa and Stephen Ireland, something like a 3-3-3-1 which seems bizarre as Richards is meant to be holding. That fact is Stuart Pearce had to change the side around and it boded little in the first half. Didier Drogba found space and time a luxury and missed on occasion until he was fed a ball from Eidur Gudjohnsen, twisted Sommeil left and right and then shot past David James. A Chelsea corner was to follow, James saved excellently from a John Terry header, Joe Cole passed across, Asier Del Horno headed back and Drogba was seen to handle the ball before finishing off into the net.
Man City players were incensed, Distin and Musampa booked for their protestations. At the half-time whistle Distin picked up the ball and at the most remonstrated with ref Rob Styles, though the official was more interested, if not solely, in retrieving the ball. Despite a number of requests for the ball, Distin ignored and continued to protest, presumably about the second Drogba goal. Styles is then seen to ask Distin if he is going to give the ball, acknowledged a denial from the non-reply and proceeded to reach for his pocket. Distin then reaches the ball towards Styles but by then it was too late, the second booking, a red, the ball dropped, Distin walks off in disbelief. Some viewed this as the official being petulant, I disagree. The referee was right, Distin could have behaved much better and still got a word in on the way to the tunnel, and as captain should have more responsible. Two goals down, away to Chelsea, and now the captain off makes no further progress of your side's plight.
To City's big credit, not only did Chelsea fail to score in the second half but City held out with the 10-men, 11 first teamers not available for the second half. In a post-match interview, Drogba stated he dived, then went on to say he didn't. In all honesty, to say he dives, in my opinion, is controversial. I would say he makes more of a situation than it actually is, or was. Which, er, effectively says he dives. Certainly he is not the only one, in the side, this week, or in the Premiership. The woes of this is well documented. But I believe, when he said he dives, he was referring to the opinions of those who spoke about him, which would explain why he denied diving afterwards.
Sunderland 0 Blackburn 1
Out of their games so far, Sunderland have drawn four times, all four coming at The Stadium of Light against West Brom, West Ham, Bolton and Spurs, which is impressive, considering. This could have been another draw, instead it turned into another single goal defeat to which the side have become accustomed, with the odd two or three goal defeats here and there. Stephen Reid put paid to this fixture, picking up the ball on the run from his own half, and despite being tracked by at least four players, was allowed to enter the box and shoot right-footed past Kelvin Davies. Three more points for Blackburn meant they overtook Arsenal and went level on points with 4th placed Spurs. Eleven defeats and four draws out of thirty-one, The Lancashire side are taking advantage right now to strengthen their campaign home and away.
Portsmouth v Arsenal (postponed)
Due to the rainy weather down the South Coast region, Fratton Park had developed a waterlogged pitch too soggy for Mike Riley's contentment to be appeased. In failing to play, the chance to grab back 5th place from Blackburn will have to come at a later date for Arsenal as Portsmouth can reflect on how their relegation rivals will be doing. The rest for Arsenal can be of dividend or deficit going into Tuesday's game, but some training in between can resemble a 90-minute Premiership fixture and there will be none claiming any niggles or doubts ahead of Juventus' arrival tomorrow. The Gunners will look for Bryan Robson's Midlands side to stifle their rivals at the Lane, in contrast to Pompey, who are level with Birmingham and look for Spurs to not only boost their 4th place spot for themselves but at the same time deny West Brom any leeway away from the zone. If you have or can access Sky, tune in tonight*, otherwise set back and prepare for Tuesday's Anglo-Italian meeting.
*I'm not a Sky employee, no plug intended!
Aston Villa 0 Fulham 0
Not an eventful afternoon at Villa Park. More excitement came from the banners depicting support for David O'Leary to leave the managerial post. Fulham came into the game from their famous victory against Chelsea, yet still seeking their first away win all season. Lee Hendrie went close with an effort, as close as Villa got, that went upwards. Steed Malbranque had two efforts come to nothing. I have stated previously that O'Leary's time at Villa Park will come to an end were results to not improve. They have Arsenal away, West Brom then Birmingham at home. Things can change between now and then so West Brom and Birmingham are not foregone conclusions. West Brom, Birmingham and Portsmouth have a game in hand (West Brom play tonight) and it would take 9 points dropped by Villa, 9 points gained by others below them, for Villa to be dragged down. Fulham are similar, above Villa with a point advantage, but they have shown good spirit to believe they can gain results from Portsmouth at home, Sunderland away then Charlton at home.
Wigan 1 West Ham 2
Good game at the JJB Stadium. Lee McCulloch finished off the ball with a long range effort that Shaka Hislop could see until it went past him. Wigan had piled on pressure on the visitors but a poor header by Paul Scharner to keeper Mike Pollitt allowed Marlon Harewood to capitalise and round the keeper for West Ham's equaliser. Heading for a draw, Teddy Sheringham squared across for Nigel Reo-Coker in injury time, the captain scooping the ball over Pollitt for the winner. This was Wigan's eighth defeat at home with two draws out of sixteen.
Middlesbrough 4 Bolton 3
Exciting match, with goals and controversy. Bolton got ahead when a scramble in the Boro box allowed Stelios Giannakopoulos to evade two players and score. Boro equalised through a penalty granted when Joey O'Brien quite stupidly handled the ball. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink just managed to squeeze the ball under a superb effort to stop by Jussi Jasskelainen. Mark Viduka was instrumental in Bolton's play, and as Fabio Rochemback paused slightly then delivered a chip, it was chested by Hasselbaink into Viduka's path and he obliged to put Boro ahead before half time.
Bolton haven't been renowned for their away ability, though they came to The Riverside with a win as Boro came to battle following their Ewood Park defeat. So when Hasselbaink went to chase a hopeful ball forward, it looked comfortable for O'Brien to deal with but Hasselbaink's speed was underestimated, he reached the ball before the keeper and lobbed him for 3-1. Sam Allardyce brought on Mexican Jared Borgetti for Henrik Pedersen, and Borgetti earned a penalty for Ugo Ehiogu's holding in the area. Viduka passed words to taker Jay Jay Okocha and Mark Schwarzer saved, only to see the rebound scored. Viduka and the Nigerian had a laugh briefly about it afterwards.
With Arsenal not playing and Blackburn in 5th place, Bolton had the pressure of scraping out a win that I couldn't foresee happening, as they came forward and then broke down on occasion so much it looked as if they wouldn't hold enough to gain an equaliser. I was wrong. A Ricardo Gardner cross was met firmly by an unchallenged Rahdi Jaidi header. But a challenge for a high ball between Kevin Davies and Emmanuel Pogatetz turned ugly as the Austrian claimed an elbow was used. The two had words as Pogtatez was incensed with the lack of action from the officials, remonstrated to the linesman and was booked, blood streaming from a gash on his head. However, Boro got to deliver the final bloody, or body, blow when Viduka linked up with Aiyegbeni Yakubu for a Yakubu ball that curled behind a slow Bolton defence, met by the incoming Stuart Parnaby just ahead of George Boateng.
Charlton 3 Newcastle 1
Newcastle had to endure a tough test at Old Trafford, were hit last week by Liverpool at home, went to Chelsea to be denied by John Terry's goal, had their FA Cup dreams shattered by a Robbie Elliott dismissal amidst cries of diving in the direction of Chelsea players, and then arrived again in the capital to be killed off in poor defensive style, something they were staying away from since Glenn Roeder's managerial start until the OT defeat. Charlton put pressure on the Newcastle goal but the visitors were keeping shape, until Peter Ramage, playing at left-back due to injuries, poorly cleared to Jerome Thomas, who jinked past Craig Moore and was equally poorly tackled in the box. Darren Bent obliged the penalty for 1-0.
Newcastle led mainly through the running of Emre and Scott Parker, as Alan Shearer provided link-up support and Shola Ameobi made a nuisance up front. Parker picked up the ball some 30 yards out and, having to endure boos from the home fans, let fly completely over Thomas Myhre for the equaliser. Superb effort and still short from the man who held Charlton fans in awe. However, that was ironically short-lived. With one former player equalising, another put Newcastle back as Moore aimed to clear the ball and instead hit Lee Bowyer as he ran diagonally in the box, the ball cannoning in without any chance of being stopped.
In the second half, Chris Perry cleared from danger that almost ended in an OG. Marcus Bent sprung the offside trap superbly and with Shay given to beat chose to snap at the chance near the edge of the box, which went terribly wide of goal. Charlton attacked but had little cohesion to make further of their lead, and it took a minute from normal time for the lead to be extended, Jay Bothroyd linked with Dennis Rommedahl to head in the Dane's cross with some embarrassing ease.
With Michael Owen still some way from joining the first team before the end of April, Newcastle are in big danger of throwing away their superb start under Roeder.
Manchester United 3 Birmingham City 0
Big game for both sides. Utd need the win to reclaim 2nd spot, Birmingham need the win for a number of reasons. Jiri Jarosik, Emile Heskey, Martin Latka, DJ Campbell all started as well as Stan Lazaridis, yet the game became deja vu as Utd opened early in the 3rd minute from a Ryan Giggs freekick. Christiano Ronaldo fooled all as he geared up, Giggs to the right of the ball with equal anticipation, the Welshman took the kick and curled sweetly for Maik Taylor to actually touch onto the post, only for the ball to go in off Taylor's body for the second time in a week. Then to ensue was great play involving Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic. Vidic passed from defence to Giggs wide on the left, Giggs nutmegged Damian Johnson to cut inside and square to Rooney, Giggs continued to run as Rooney held then released a through ball to him, Birmingham players simply ballwatching, Giggs collected and deposited the ball for 2-0. Rooney wasn't to be outdone in the impression stakes and went close to score a brace himself.
Birmingham were far better in the second half, were they threw caution to the wind and came at the home side, who made more of their defending than their attacking, but Birmingham lacked any true grit to make Utd pay, with Edwin Van Der Sar twice denying them with his skills. Rooney is never done with a game and he picked up Van Der Sar's kick to past Latka with ease and round Taylor for 3-0.