Premiership Review 06-07/04/07
The Tale of Four Keepers
Yesterday's matches involved the influence of four keepers in three key games. Chelsea were kicking off early against Spurs, followed by Arsenal v West Ham and then Portsmouth v Man Utd. It was expected all three matches would end in triumph for the clubs in the top four of the table but there were some surprises.
Petre Cech made a difference when Chelsea needed him in the second half. After Ricardo Carvalho collected a pass to the right and struck the ball low from 20-25 yards past Paul Robinson, Cech made top saves from Mido and Dimitar Berbatov to keep the lead Chelsea's way. It seems that Spurs had to forfeit extra preparation by playing this game within 40 hours of ending at Seville, whereas Chelsea had more than 48 hours to prepare. Because Chelsea have their European game on Tuesday, this game went ahead yesterday and I think it should have been postponed until another more convenient time for both teams. I think Martin Jol was smart to choose the Sevilla game as the most important of the two.
Another keeper, another London derby, and another clean sheet. Yet this was Robert Green for relegation-threatened West Ham against the mighty Arsenal at The Emirates. T and I had called on why Alan Curbishley had installed Roy Carroll instead of leaving Green in when he took charge and it became clear enough who the better keeper was to the former Charlton boss. Following on from their unlucky defeat to Spurs at home, West ham have had two consecutive wins since and seemed to have gained more confidence. Arsenal in turn aimed to cement a Champions League place and show a more determined spirit after the Anfield defeat last week. No one has won at The Emirates in all competitions since its opening and as the Hammers needed three points, with Charlton emerging out the relegation zone on Good Friday, it seemed very unlikely they would get any joy.
From the beginning the home side pressurised the West ham with effort after effort to no avail. With near misses too many to note here, the visitors were living a charmed moment on the pitch but they gained a lead from nowhere when they went on the break and one high ball later Bobby Zamora stole from behind Kolo Toure to aim a hooked ball over Jens Lehmann just beofre the break. Arsenal threw an onslaught of chances at West Ham and on almost every occasion Green blocked them out, with the crossbar and post aiding and abetting. This was reminiscent of the same fixture at Upton Park and West Ham's defensive stance against Man Utd at Upton Park this season. Green made saves in those two games and he made many more yesterday. An unlikely three points keeps the Hammers two points away from safety. An unlikely defeat keeps Arsenal in 4th place and two points away from 5th place Bolton.
The third keeper was David James, who seeked another clean sheet to record his 142nd in the Premiership, a feat that would replace David Seaman in the records book. To consider he would do so against Man Utd was likely as a West Ham win at Arsenal but Portsmouth started the brighter of the two and got at Man Utd to restrict them any time or space to pass and move. Christiano Ronaldo had a great chance to take the lead but aimed wide. Yet it was another parried shot that troubled Edwin van der Sar which was identical to that against Roma which gained Portsmouth the lead. It was Benjani Mwaruwari's shot outside the box, the parry and then Matt Taylor stealing in to tuck away the rebound. Utd had two penalty shouts involvng Linvoy Primus and Wayne Rooney and the referee got both denials right, excellent intervention by Primus.
Then with minutes closing down, Taylor's attempted ball for Lomano LuaLua was intercepted by Rio Ferdinand, only for van der Sar to be badly positioned out from his goal and the ball simply rolled on by into the net. I don't know why the keeper looked to come out in the first place and van der Sar seemed at odds with himself why he was my fourth keeper. Utd came back when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's shot was not held by James and John O'Shea stealed in the consolation, but other than that James had kept out fierce drives from Ryan Giggs and Alan Smith amongst others. James' beard may attribute him to that of Moses, ironically parting a Red sea of his own, while the question rises whether playing with 10 men on Wednesday, a key player missing, had made its toll on Utd.
Wigan v Bolton featured a six-pointer. After their Premiership entrance last season, Wigan are fighting to remain there. Bolton looked to hold the UEFA place and step over Everton into 5th. Emile Heskey help to bundle the ball over the line with a deflection off Nicky Hunt but Bolton were soon level when El Hadji-Diouf's shot cannoned to Nicolas Anelka to touch in. Then two attacks found Wigan on the complete flat foot. Andranik Teymourian found acres of space on the left and was found by Diouf's ball to slot under John Filan and repeated the position again to head in Kevin Davies' curling ball.
Blackburn took the lead against Aston Villa when Phil Bardsley brought down Morten Gamst Pedersen in the box and Benni McCarthy scored from the spot. Moments later Patrik Berger equalised from his slight touch on Bardsley's ball from the right. Villa had a real soft penalty given when the ball struck Ryan Nelsen's arm, which he did not do intentionally but Brad Friedel was equal to Gareth Barry's fiercely struck kick but when Gabriel Agbonlahor was played onside, he raced to deposit Berger's through-ball past Friedel.
Sheff Utd couldnt use home advantage to persuade Newcastle off from three points. Obafemi Martins shot from the 'D' of the penalty box for the lead but Christian Nade touched in for the equaliser some 15mins from time. A Utd effort for a winner looked under away but with 10mins left Newcastle forced a corner from which Stephen Taylor outjumped all to head in. With Charlton gaining a draw at Man City, Utd slip into the relegation zone equal on points to Charlton, with West Ham two points behind them both. Wigan lay in 16th place two points away from Charlton/Sheff Utd and the potentiality is West Ham could join Charlton out of the zone, dragging in Sheff Utd and Wigan, the way performances are going.
Watford went away to Middlesbrough and left there routed. Mark Viduka needs to be closed own thoroughly otherwise he twists and turns players and 95% of the time plays an intelligent pass or scores. Michael Johnson's ball was headed across by Stewart Downing for Viduka to score from yards yet Damien Francis stole in on goal to equalise, only for Johnson to weave around again and find George Boateng for a 25 yard shot past Ben Foster. Second half, Viduka picked up the ball in the Watford box and while off-balance confused three Watford players before he stopped and delicately chiped a curling ball into the net. Fabio Rochemback latched onto a ball to complete the scoreline.
Everton repeated the same scoreline in their match on Good Friday against Fulham at Goodison Park. Carlos Bocanegra headed in unchallenged from a corner but Mikel Arteta found Joleon Lescott on the left for the defender to thread a cross into the box low for Lee Carsley to equalise. Everton added a second as an Arteta corner found the head of Alan Stubbs, and then a third as Andrew Johnson found Arteta in assistance and the Spaniard curled in a low ball for James Vaughan to turn well on and shoot past Antii Niemi. Finally another Everton attack brought on by Arteta allowed the Spaniard to unselfishly square across for sub Victor Anichebe to side foot into goal. This result, prior to Bolton's win, moved the Toffees into 5th place and opens up well for the Bolton v Everton fixture tomorrow.
The European matches may have taken their respective toll on Utd and Spurs, particularly given the crowd trouble, and the same could be mentioned in regard to Liverpool. Not the sharpest we have seen them at recently, Reading made more of the game in the opening stages. Yet it was an opening on the counter that suited Alvaro Arbeloa, who came out from the Liverpool half looking to play in the offside Craig Bellamy but instead exchange a pass with Peter Crouch to go on through and curl around Marcus Hahnemann. Yet Reading's tempo didn't relent and Liverpool were under pressure again, fromwhich Reading capitalised. Brynjar Gunnarsson picked up on Stephen Hunt's ball on the right and then shot sharply through Arbeloa's challenge and across Pepe Reina for the well-earned equaliser.
A Reading freekick later found Crouch heading against his own bar and it seemed the Reds were fighting to maintain some order against the home attacks. Eventually Liverpool settled into rhythm and almost scored when Dirk Kuyt's effort skimmed across the penalty box just out of reach of Steven Gerrard, but it was Jermaine Pennant's cross minutes from time that forged another chance for the Dutch striker to head down past Hahnemann.