Chelsea champions; Liverpool close gap; Spurs increase on 4th; First Fulham away win; Brum/Brom duo sink as Pompey float
Chelsea 3 Man Utd 0
[Chelsea are the 2005/2006 Barclays Premiership Champions!]
It had to come down to this game. Man Utd chasing Chelsea, needing to win to still stay within distance of the Blues, Chelsea needed only a point to secure the title for the second time running. From the start Chelsea took control and were simply too strong and quick for Man Utd to settle and play. First blood went to the home side from a corner on 3mins, Mikael Silvestre marked William Gallas then inexplicably wandered off and marked no one, made no challenge, leaving Gallas alone to head in from Didier Drogba's head-on. From then Chelsea played and passed excellently, so much so Man Utd didn't actually come into play until 20-25mins, even Wayne Rooney couldn't manage to break through their defence to cause enough havoc, and it looked as if he was on his own in doing so. Louis Saha slowed down the ball and with Chelsea's defence around Rooney picked up the loose ball on his run, nudged it past Paulo Ferreira and looked odds-on to equalise but amazingly he rolled the ball wide. Petr Cech did have to make a save from him later on, diving to his right.
Chelsea increased their lead after the break through Joe Cole, who collected the ball on the right, was surrounded by Nemanja Vidic in front, Rio Ferdinand behind and Silvestre to the side, yet jiggled and turned easily from all three to shot high past Edwin Van Der Sar. Some 20mins after that Man Utd attacked, Saha was on the left and delivered the ball into the box which was gathered by Ricardo Carvalho from Ruud Van Nistelrooy's feet. the defender then fed the ball to Frank Lampard and galloped past him, Chelsea outnumbered the Utd defence, Lampard passed to Cole and Cole found Carvalho on the left in acres of space, the Portuguese man teed up and aimed a tight shot that squeezed past Van Der Sar's near post with a whip of a shot.
Utd were too hurt to give any belief they could come back, and they were hurt further. Rooney and Ferreira chased the ball towards Chelsea's goal, Ferreira made a challenge, Rooney's right boot slightly caught in the turf and the former Everton boy went down in some pain uncharacteristically. It looked a similar reaction from a broken leg, and with Rooney it had to be bad for him to go down. The Man Utd physio came over to attend, followed by Chelsea's medical staff who came with a stretcher. Man Utd later confirmed it was a broken metatarsal and Rooney will be out for six weeks, which would take into the first game against Paraguay.
Chelsea went on into mass celebrations with the fans as they secured a consecutive title win. Jose Mourinho has brought to Stamford Bridge the title twice after fifty years without success. Chief Executive Peter Kenyon assures that three players will leave as three will come to replace them, one of those coming is certain to be Germany captain Michael Ballack, so certainly they are already into strengthening the side for another title challenge. It was a fitting day to secure as champions, at home against their only rivals in the end, congratulations to Chelsea Football Club.
Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 1
With the early kick-off defeat at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool needed to win to go level with Man Utd. With Luis Garcia to miss the remainder of the season due to a dismissal against West Ham, Harry Kewell injured, and preparing players for the FA Cup Final, Rafael Benitez made some changes. In came Djimi Traore at left-back, John Arne Riise on the left wing, Jan Kromkamp in for Steve Finnan. Liverpool started as brightly as Chelsea, in 4mins Xabi Alonso picked up the ball in central midfield and again passed a sweet through ball, Fernando Morientes watched by Gary Cahill, Morientes sees the pass and immediately turns off Cahill to collect, controls it past the defender and slots it in. Some have mentioned Morientes isn't sharp enough, yet he looked sharp then and further in the game. Villa could have scored when James Milner found Gareth Barry, Barry's header just over the bar but wouldn't have counted for an earlier offside infringement by Gabriel Agbonlahor.
After the break, Villa went close through Sami Hyypia controlling the ball, it went loose and was picked up by Juan Pablo Angel, on for former Anfield favourite Milan Baros, but Pepe Reina saved his shot. Reina was almost shamed later when his clearance was blocked by Angel across goal and the Colombian was not finished. Almost on the hour, he passed down for Aaron Hughes to send across goal for Barry to tap in as Liverpool's defence ball-watched. Hyypia almost gifted the lead to the visitors, spilling the ball for Agbonlahor to take a swipe which went wide. However Liverpool went on to reclaim the lead 3mins from that equaliser, Alonso's corner was met by a quick reaction run from Steven Gerrard and his left foot touched the ball past Thomas Sorensen. Five minutes later, Robbie Fowler passed across for Gerrard to tee up and then hit a 25-30 yard shot that flew in past Sorenson without a prayer of saving it. Comfortable winners in their last home league game, the lap of honour with families went for a touching finish to football at Anfield for the season.
Spurs 1 Bolton 0
How did Bolton come away from White Hart Lane without scoring, much less winning? They held the first half clearly and came ever so close to a goal through Hidetoshi Nakata's strike that hit the inside of the post, Kevin Davies was andwiched between Lee-Young Pyo and Danny Murphy yet still managed to head on the ball for Ivan Campo to run in and hit just over, Jared Borghetti passed over to Stelios Giannakopoulos to head down for Gary Speed to hit over, and then Ricardo Gardner passed to Borghetti, the Mexican jinked a little and then found Davies, he found Giannakopoulos, whose effort was cleared from danger by Matt Dawson, who was quite immense in defence. Second half, Spurs came out much better, Robbie Keane was off and replaced by Lee Barnard, Carrick's corner was headed by Dawson and then Dawson's follow up was blocked at close range. From the corner, Aaron Lennon, who has superb instant pace, run down the left and squared, only for th eball to be headed out and reach Murphy, who aimed a volley just wide to hit the side-netting.
Andy Gray mentioned (yep, I watched it all on Sky Sports live) that the game was similar to the semi-final between Middlesbrough and West Ham, where Boro were clear favourites in the first half and then West Ham came alive in the second. Paul Stalteri ran down the right and passed to Lennon, who took it on and cut in onto his left to send a shot just over, and then crucially Murphy sent a long ball over to the right from centre midfield for Lennon, Lennon took on the defence and passed to Michael Carrick, Carrick went into the box and turned to spot Lennon nearby, Lennon signals for it, Carrick passes it, Lennon collects, dashed into the box and slid the ball in under the challenge of Campo. Spurs deserved it in the second half.
But then the home fans had heart in mouths. Jay-Jay Okocha came on for Nakata, slipped a ball to Davies, Davies chipped it forward and it bounced for Giannakopoulos yards from goal, played onside by Stalteri, only for the Greek to go down from a Dawson challenge which looked more of a foul than a legitimate tackle. That looked a very cast-iron penalty. Okocha tooked a freekick that came off the wall, and then aimed a second effort with his left that was just enough for Paul Robinson to comfortably gather from the air, the keeper looking more a solid figure as England's current no.1. Then with mere seconds of normal time remaining, Jussi Jasskelainen aims a high goal kick towards Spurs' goal, Dawson jumps over Davies but mistimes it, his arms are out and the ball comes down onto his right arm. However, only Giannakopoulos appeals out of several Bolton players around and Dawson isn't looking at the ball. Some will say that's immaterial, and we have seen others penalised for it, but others have also gotten away with it. I say the decision to deny was right.
Bolton poured forward. Another long kick is headed on by Davies and it bounces behind Lee-Young for sub Henrik Pedersen to only get a head to, Robinson gathers. Jasselkainen aimes his final kick, it's headed back by Dawson and ref Alan Wiley blows for the end. A hard fought win just about deservedly earned, and Spurs need a win at Upton Park to secure definitely 4th place. Lennon looks blistering on the wing and it is 50-50 on whether he should go to Germany, for me. I think he has the pace to trouble any full-back, internationally or otherwise, but I sense it isn't right now for him to go into a major tournament. I don't know why, just a hunch I have. But if he is included, he could provide an alternative where Rooney is missing, someone else who can get forward and create with pace and good ball control.
Wigan 1 Portsmouth 2/Birmingham 0 Newcastle 0
[Portsmouth secure Premiership survival]
Vital. Portsmouth won away to Sunderland after being a goal behind, now they needed to push for another win that would secure their Premiership status, relegating West Brom without Bryan Robson's men having a say in matters, and Birmingham, if they fail to win against Newcastle at St. Andrews. For Harry Redknapp, the going got very tough when Andres D'Alessandro nutmegged Lee McCulloch and crossed sweetly for Svetoslav Todorov to head over. Benjani Mwaruwari went through but was denied by Mike Pollitt, Henri Camara was through on goal but was superbly denied by Dean Kiely's save, the keeper living up to his promise of keeping Portsmouth in the league. The linesman signalled for offside when Camara broke onto another pass and scored, replays showing the Senegalese man was onside. But it definitely got tougher for Pompey as David Thompson crossed, Matt Jackson nodded on for the ball to end up by Camara to tap in just past the half hour mark.
In the second half, D'Alessandro played in a sweet ball forward with the outside of his left foot for Gary O'Neil to run on to, but he was denied by Pollitt as he was to be again when Brian Priske's cross was met with another O'Neil effort. But past the hour, past the man. Matt Taylor evaded a tackle to aim a shot at goal that rebounded off the post and Mwaruwari tapped in his first, and potentially crucial, goal to equalise. No time to celebrate, the task was still on with less than half an hour to go. Pollitt still continued to keep out Pompey, saving away a Pedro Mendes shot on the volley, but fate played a stronger hand, excuse the pun. A deep cross from the right was met by Mwaruwari's head but Shaun Teale's hand stopped the ball from going in. Potentially Stephane Henchoz and Pollitt seemed to have recovered to be on the line but from the view of Mike Riley it was a goal scoring opportunity and Teale was dismissed.
This meant a penalty and an essential method for Pompey to grab the lead. Taylor was the man to step up and take the responsibility, and he didn't fail. Under 20mins remaining, Portsmouth were winning from 1-0 down at the JJB, and they held it. I predicted Portsmouth would win against Sunderland and Wigan, so I hope I get further with my prediction of a home defeat to Liverpool! Fortunately for Redknapp points will not be essential going into that game, because Birmingham couldn't score for love nor money, Mikael Forssell went close but was denied by Shay Given, Steve Bruce urged his side to score as Newcastle seemed not to be able to, but a hard earned draw wasn't enough and the crucial games they needed, drawing Chelsea, beating Blackburn, came to no avail. West Brom play West Ham at the Hawthorns, and it will be for pride.
The weekend also produced another astonishment in Fulham gaining their first away win of the season. Manchester City have had a contrasting few weeks compared to their great start to the season. Key injuries have played a part in subduing their performance and Stuart Pearce has had to let down to the players how they haven't been performing as they should do. But the coach should reflect on a good season for himself to begin his managerial debut with, big potential under his guidance and I expect monies will become available for purchases to strengthen the side. Fulham's man of the moment Steed Malbranque gained the vital goal for the points and what could be the first of two away wins for the season.
Again, congrats to Chelsea, the second team to win back-to-back titles in the premiership, Man Utd having done it twice in 1992-1994 at the beginning of the Premiership, 1995-1997, and three times in 1998-2001. Farewell and commiserations to Sunderland, Birmingham, West Bromwich Albion, and their respective fans. I remember when Bolton went down 1997-98 with Barnsley and Crystal Palace, and I think Colin Todd resigned after then. The Bolton fans were in tears as I believe they drew their last game but went down on goal difference, I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong but the cameras panned over very distraught fans, and that moment has stayed with me since. The three teams should take inspiration from Crystal Palace, who have campaigned themselves into the play-offs, and Sunderland themselves, who came up as Championship champions, in order to focus on coming back up again.
Finally the fiasco behind the FA's search for Sven Goran-Eriksson's replacement. Luis Felipe Scolari ruled himself out as soon as the media duged him up. the Brazilian World Cup winning coach said the press intrusion was too much to bear, and he probaly has a point. But I am not too bothered, if he was appointed, fine, but I do prefer an Englishman and feel we have a good few to choose from. More importantly, we have to give and show support for whoever is appointed.