Villa continue good form as Boro are hit for four
Aston Villa 2 v Newcastle 0
Aston Villa continued their good form with another win, both goals in the first half. Martin O'Neill said afterwards " "I've done absolutely nothing at all. These players have done it themselves and, in fact, they keep me going to be perfectly honest. There is a good spirit within them and they want to play." Yet Villa have been a good side within a restricted shell, Thomas Sorensen has been a good keeper in previous seasons, Olof Mellberg, Gareth Barry, fairly new recruits Stephen Davis and Gabriel Agbonlahor have shown good potential, and now with Kevin Phillips moved at West Bromwich Albion, Luke Moore gets another chance to impress and Juan Pablo Angel is probably looking from a healthier prospective that the one he had under David O'Leary.
With a history of title wins, FA Cups (lost to Chelsea in the 2000 final) and League Cups, as well as the European Cup in '82 and the Super Cup in '83, Villa have long been a potentially honours-winning side, only that the past managers have failed to organise the players constructively. Why that is is debatable, however having O'Neill in charge may serve as inspiration in itself for players to shine. Newcastle failed to clear a long diagonal ball and as Titus Bramble erred, Moore took over the ball and teed up to score around Shay Given. More than half an hour later the visitors were made to pay again as Agbonlahor ran at the defence and then threaded a sweet ball for Angel to pounce onto, rounding Given for Villa's second.
Newcastle made two changes at half time of Nolberto Solano and Celestine Babayaro for Charles N'Zogbia and Albert Luque respectively and Newcastle started more determined for the second half. Another change 10mins later with Belozoglu Emre coming off for Nicky Butt, and with all three changes came a snag. Obafemi Martins on his debut leapt to challenge Liam Ridgewell and hurt himself coming down, having to go off permanently after some treatment on the pitch and reducing the visitors to ten men for the remainder. To their credit Newcastle conceded no more despite the disadvantage. The win now puts Villa in third place with their next fixture back in London at West Ham.
Blackburn 0 v Chelsea 2
Last season this fixture ended in a 0-1 win, with Jose Mourinho alleged to have not shaken hands with Mark Hughes afterwards. If no love was not lost between the two coaches, it was neither missed on the pitch. This looked on paper an away win before the start but Blackburn had different ideas. They were as energetic as Chelsea were sluggish, Robbie Savage's famed blonde locks flowing in all directions that indicated his tenacity to run at the Chelsea players who dared touch the ball and other Blackburn players almost followed suit. Chelsea had uncharacteristically given the ball away on occasion and managed to break on Blackburn less than expected. At one point the home side shaded the possession but couldn't make it count for more as Benni McCarthy dropped to pick up in midfield and then seemed to struggle in determining what to do with the ball. Jason Roberts had little of the ball and when he did McCarthy was not partnering to receive, therefore the attacks broke down or were reduced to little. Crosses were few and far between from Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Bentley, some were of dire quality.
Chelsea may have been sluggish in their general play but they had a midfield to go into battle with. Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Claude Makelele, Andriy Shevchenko partnered with Salomon Kalou, big gun Didier Drogba on the bench. Blackburn's defence were made to work hard but well in denying Chelsea time and space to play, Essien going close with a shot that was blocked. Savage had dropped Ballack with a late tackle and then came to with Essien, neither player pulling out though Savage was booked for recklessless. Goalless at half time, it was the turn of new signing from PSV Andre Ooijer to make an error. Early into the second half, a Lampard freekick found the Dutchman clambouring over John Terry. Hughes claimed Terry dropped but Ooijer was at fault. Lampard delivered the opening goal from the spot.
McCarthy almost equalised after chesting down a Brett Emerton cross but his effort was blocked by the returning Petr Cech, who says he is now 100% back to his fitness. Drogba came on for Kalou on 56mins and his strength and pace made Ooijer pay 10mins from time, as Drogba controlled an Essien pass and with the Dutchman struggling to keep up and then going down challenging the Ivorian to no avail, Drogba took the challenge and then one stride to strike the ball past Brad Friedel.
Middlesbrough 0 v Portsmouth 4
Boro have not beaten Portsmouth for 12 years and last night that fact extended even further. Speculation arife that Jonathan Woodgate is to discuss a loan move to The Riverside, the Real Madrid defender talking to other clubs as well as Boro. The home side got off to a bad start early in the game when Dejan Stefanovic curled a freekick well to Mark Schwarzer's right for the Australian to palm off for a corner. From the corner the ball was headed towards goal but came back for Nwankwo Kanu to score his third of the season. But as the first half played on, Boro did not look tainted and certainly looked good enough to repeat their comeback against Chelsea. This is why judgement should not necessarily hinge on appearances.
Five minutes into the second half, another delivery from a short corner by David Thompson found Boro's defence ragged and in all sorts in trying to get back as Benjamin Mwaruwari headed in at the rear. Ten minutes later a Boro attack was cleared, George Boateng and Kanu went to challenge, the ball went over them and Kanu turned quickly to then poke the ball past Chris Riggott's challenge, leaving the Portsmouth man with a clear run on goal from the halfway line. Boateng chased in the hope of putting off Kanu but the Nigerian had already reached the box and touched the ball past the advancing Schwarzer. Boro made a number of advances on Pompey's goal but lacked any cohesion to make David James work. Then to add more to the open wound, a minute left in injury time, sub Svetoslav Todorov received a chipped ball from Sean Davis over the defence. The Bulgarian, who came on for Kanu, was played onside by one player failing to run out and touched the ball over Schwarzer for number four.
The result flattered Portsmouth, they were strong at the back and had a creative midfield that capitalised on a lack of awareness by the home midfield, a lack of quality in deliveries from the wings, defending which was mismanaged (particularly when Riggott came too rashly to challenge Kanu that led to the third goal), and nothing to show for the determination of Mark Viduka and the pace and strength of Aiyegbeni Yakubu. Gareth Southgate has another hungry London side to face next, at The Emirates stadium, another bogey side. Portsmouth have yet to concede, which is excellent considering their plight last season, a tremendous start. Sol Campbell has added strength alongside Linvoy Primus, pushing Stefanovic into the full back role, Matt Taylor and Gary O'Neil are energetic midfielders, Davis and Pedro Mendes are good in command in midfield as the other former Spurs player Noe Paramot was at his best last night in stifling Stewart Downing on the right, Kanu is in current good form and Todorov is adding to the tally. How long can they continue like this? Enough at least to cement their Premiership position earlier than expected?