Premiership review: 09/04/07
Twelve teams in action this Easter Monday while others take a back seat break due to the European commitments of Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs this week.
Fulham 1 v Man City 3
Previously I stated Fulham are not concerned with the relegation battle below and are more focused on emerging up the table. Yet going into this match with Man City, they looked over their shoulder nervously A defeat here by one goal and a Charlton win by two goals would have brought Fulham two places away from the zone. If there was a match to recover from their 4-1 rout by Everton, a Man City side fighting to evade relegation, at home, seemed ideal. But City have come away with 4pts from their previous two games and are in good form. Emile Mpenza outfought Moritz Volz, the ball squeezed across the penalty box with Michael Brown's clearance instead putting Fulham in more danger and Joey Barton latched onto the ball to slide it past Antii Niemi.
Fifteen minutes later Fulham were under a counter-attack from which Barton advanced down the middle to slide a pass to DaMarcus Beasley on the left, the American given too wide a berth to miss, scoring no.2. In the second half City scored their third when Tomasz Radzinski claimed handball from the ball's contact with Nedum Onuoha, which looked more ball to hand and was not given, City then immediately cleared as Barton picked up the ball and aimed to feed Darius Vassell on the right. Leroy Rosenior tried to control the ball with an outstretched foot but instead slowed the ball down for Vassell to run onto and side-foot in off Niemi. Fulham gained their consolation with another fine Carlos Bocanegra header from a corner.
Watford 4 v Portsmouth 2
Watford are still mathematically possible to avoid relegation, needing to win all their games and licking wounds from a Middlesbrough routing. Portsmouth wanted to follow a successful disruption to the title race and three points on Saturday with another victory to push them within touching distance of a UEFA Cup placing. They had fended off the current top team and now faced the current bottom team but there was a contradiction. While Watford allowed Pompey the lead with Matt Taylor scoring again wth a sweet curling effort on his weaker foot, Watford then entered into third gear. Hungarian Tamas Priskin broke into the box past two players and was upended by contact from Djimi Traore. Penalty given and Hameur Bouazza duly obliged from the spot.
Tommy Smith ran down the right, confronted by Taylor and Traore, his cross was punched out by David James, the ball falling to the oncoming captain Gavin Mahon who lashed a fierce left-foot volley from outside the box past the keeper. It was his weaker foot too and showed great technique.
Two-one down for the second half yet James, on his former ground, denied a number of strikes on goal, but couldn't prevent a third as Priskin volleyed in Steve Kabba's cross at the far post. Watford made it four when Bouazza ran onto the ball and was intially denied by another James save, only to gather the ball, turn inside Linvoy Primus and stroke in the ball at the second attempt. Pompey brought on Rennes loanee Arnold Mvuemba for Sean Davis and the Frenchman controlled Gary O'Neil's cross, after O'Neil worked his way around three players, to strike a volley past Ben Foster.
Aston Villa 1 v Wigan 1
A contentious match where netiher goal should have been allowed. Wigan took the lead when a corner in the 20th minute found Thomas Sorensen clearly being pulled by vice-captain Matt Jackson, the ball falling to Lee McCullouch's header and Emile Heskey by the goalline well positioned to score. Villa's appeals were waved away. Then the moment where one could say Wigan have that kind of luck to produce out of the blue. Luis Antonio Valencia and Wilfred Bouma both went to challenge, the Ecuadorian lunging in with both feet studs showing that simply left the eferee with no choice but a sending-off, particularly as it resulted also in Bouma having to be replaced.
Villa also scored in illegal fashion five minutes into the second half, as Gareth Barry passed through for Patrik Berger, who was narrowly offside by a foot but play went on, Berger's low cross coming off Gabriel Agbonlahor to go over the line despite the efforts by Leighton Baines in clearing it. Villa began to test keeper John Filan and he responded well, although a second Olof Mellberg header was touched by the Australian but bounced towards the goal line. The keeper then reacted to touch the ball away but it had gone over the line as much as Villa's equaliser, yet was not given. Filan received a booking earlier for time-wasting and later on conceded a corner, kicking the ball away in frustration causing referee Mark Halsey to speak to him to calm down, or be sent off. Paul Jewell said nothing goes Wigan's way but they should have been 2-1 down and had Filan dismissed.
Bolton 1 v Everton 1
The fight for fifth-place that would put the respective team within points of fourth-place, it seemed typical for this fixture to end a draw though neither side would have wanted it considering the result at St James' Park. Joleon Lescott has been superb for Everton, particularly recently against Fulham, but yesterday he was found wanting in awareness. Ivan Campo floated over a freekick and the Everton players all moved up to catch any of four Bolton attackers offside but for some reason Lescott remained back to defend, playing them all onside. Kevin Davies controlled and shot pass Tim Howard. Everton equalised through James Vaughan as the Bolton defence ran into each other, the ball spilling to Vaughan to score under Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Two matters of concern: El Hadji-Diouf maybe a favourite at The Reebok but should have been dismissed in the second half. He should have been booked for a clear handball in front of the Everton goal in his attempt to mask it as a header, and therefore should have received another booking when he went over the ball in a challenge with Phil Neville, his studs landing on the skipper's shin. Secondly, Vaughan was challenged by Abdoulaye Meite in the Bolton box, quite innocuous, yet the contact severed an artery in Vaughan's left leg, his boot heel red with blood. He was taken to hospital and is said to be OK.
Newcastle 0 v Arsenal 0
From the highlights Arsenal appeared to have come away unscathed when they could have been reeling from defeat. I had discussed with T before about playing at St James' Park when Liverpool lost there 2-1 and he mentioned how it was a difficult place to go to for three points. Perhaps both sides could have been described as below par but Newcastle had more chances on goal and could not convert despite the pace of Obafemi Martins and Kieron Dyer causing problems. Arsenal had their answer through Emmanuel Adebayor going close with a header and vice-captain Gilberto Silva also going close. With Scott Parker unavailable and Shay Given off through injury, Nolberto Solano took over as captain and was there on hand to twice deny Silva on the goalline. Newcastle went closest through James Milner's right wing effort on goal that curled inwards over Jens Lehmann and off the crossbar.
Charlton 0 v Reading 0
This was an opportunity for Charlton to use home advantage and steer futher away from relegation. A win of four cleear goals would have moved them into 16th, and Wigan down, but not one goal occurred in a game where Reading were in the ascendency to score. Charlton went close when Talal El Karkouri's header came down off the crossbar, the Moroccan appealing the ball went over the line but replays showed it had not. Reading poured on the pressure but it was their lack of accuracy that let them down when presented with excellent chances to score. Leroy Lita could be in trouble with the FA as he and El Karkouri had words during play and Lita's head could be seen to tilt towards El Karkouri, the Moroccan slumping to the ground. I sense the contact was either minimal or not at all, which makes the Moroccan somewhat more of a thespian, but the intent could be argued as a probable point for discipline.
Following revelations today, if Alan Pardew had an arrangement with ref Graeme Poll for Poll to signal if a player is near to receiving a second caution, that would be wrong. Alexandre Song was already cautioned in the first half for a tackle on Steve Sidwell and appeared to have shown Poll conduct that warranted a signal to Pardew, at which Song was subbed. This is tantamount to avoiding a decision that could have an influence on the game in Reading's favour. Had Song been dismissed, one man less Charlton could have been made to pay for the disadvantage. No one should have the opportunity to influence any decision-making by the referee or any official in any way during play.
Champions League tonight:
OK, a note on today's Champions League 2nd leg quarter-finals. Man Utd host Roma and we can without the nonsenseof any threats, words that could instigate bad tension and the rest of it. Roma are capable of scoring, and even one goal would be disastrous. Any repeat of the lack of focus that led to Saturday's defeat at Pompey would concede that one goal, so it is imperative Utd remain in attack and shut down Roma at every moment. Utd have the capability to strike from any angle through Wayne Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, and were Sir Alex to employ Ole Gunnar Solskajer from the start with Rooney, then Utd should prosper tonight.
Chelsea flew out to Spain for their Mestalla fixture, Valencia rested David Villa from their defeat at Athletico Bilbao at the weekend and somehow I sense Chelsea will score the goals needed to emerge into the semi-finals. Jose Mourinho has mentioned he could not afford to rest Didier Drogba in the same way, such an integral part the Ivorian is of Chelsea's quest for the remaining three trophies, but it is also the marshalling at the back of Petr Cech, John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho that is equally important. Not many players are unfazed by the support in large volumes of the opposition away from home, with the Valencia fans as passionate as any of the La Liga teams.
It is not to say the other Chelsea players will be fazed but if you had to choose three or four players to count on for a keen focus on the pitch than anywhere else, I would choose Terry, Carvalho and Drogba. I think these three are key to a victory tonight. Valencia will have to rely on guile, quick movement and control under pressure to get behind the Chelsea defence.