Jack’s EPL Weekend Wrap

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The Barclays Premier League title race, and relegation battle, were blown wide open after a pulsating weekend of football full of upsets, great goals and controversy. Without doubt the story of the weekend came at Stamford Bridge, where the league leaders and defending champions Chelsea were torn apart by Steve Bruce’s Sunderland. Two weeks ago the Black Cats were humiliated 5-1 by near neighbours Newcastle United, which prompted manager Bruce and some of the players to openly apologise to the Sunderland supporters. Who then would have dared predict that they would soon be celebrating a 3-0 victory at the home of the almost robotic, terminator-like Chelsea team that is sweeping all before it?

The win wasn’t just a win, it was a thrashing.

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Bruce sent his men out to compete with Chelsea, and compete they did. Not taking the approach of many managers who take weaker sides to the home of the champuions and park the bus in the hope of strangling a draw from the game, Sunderland passed the ball, worked the triangles and bossed the midfield. Nedum Onuoha dribbled his way thru the heart of the Blues defence to slot home a sensational opening goal, and when Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan capped off a neat passing move that opened up the Chelsea defence once again it was looking like game over with still over half an hour to play. Ashley Cole’s calamitous back-pass to Petr Cech summed up the afternoon for Carlo Ancelloti’s men as it was easily picked off by Danny Wellback who tapped home a third goal five minutes from time.

Chelsea’s nearest challengers for the title Manchester United were unable to take advantage of the leaders’ slip up as they were forced to share the points at Aston Villa. A penalty from Ashley Young and a neat finish from 21 year old winger Mark Albrighton had fired the hosts into a deserved 2-0 lead, only for a crisp strike from Pipo Macheda and a header from captain Nemanja Vidic in the 82nd and 85th minutes respectively to rescue a point for Sir Alex’s men. Villa will be disappointed not to have closed out the match earlier, as they had several good chances and were denied by the post and crossbar.

Arsenal were the big winners of the weekend as they moved into second spot following a 2-1 victory at Everton. Everton had the best of the early running, and should have taken the lead when young Irish fullback Seamus Coleman burst down the right flank before standing the ball up to the far post, only to see the most lethal header of a ball in the Premier League, Tim Cahill, wastefull put his header over the bar from 8 yards. The hosts were soon made to pay for that miss, as Andrei Arshavin teed up Bacary Sanga to smash home the opener high into the net inside Tim Howard’s near post.

The Gunners doubled their lead shortly after the interval as captain Cesc Fabregas cooly netted on the turn from 12 yards.

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Everton did, however, launch what is now a trademark late fight back at Goodison Park, and were given hope when Cahill pounced on Luis Saha’s knockdown to pull a goal back with 2 minutes of normal time remaining. However Arsenal were able to hang on and take all 3 points back to north London.

Their north London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur enjoyed their first win in 5 league matches as they disposed of Blackburn Rovers 4-2 at White Hart Lane. In truth the scoreline flattered the visitors, as it could quite easily have been more for the hosts before Rovers pulled back two consolation goals late on after goals from Gareth Bale (2), Roman Pavlyuchenko and Peter Crouch had already seen the game put to bed.

Liverpool’s rollercoaster season continued as they went down 2-0 at the Britannia Stadium to Stoke City. Many people predicted Stoke to get something from this match, but to stroll to a 2-0 win will have alarm bells ringing on Merseyside. Another blow for the Reds was the late sending off of midfielder Lucas Leiva, who has been in decent form of late.

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Goals from classy striker Ricardo Fuller and former Reds target Kenwyne Jones got the job done for Tony Pulis’ men, who collected their second win in a week to give themselves breathing space from the bottom of the table.

Manchester City were booed off the pitch by their own fans at Eastlands after another 0-0 home draw, this time with Birmingham City. The outpouring of abuse directed at manager Roberto Mancini for his negative tactics reached a crescendo when, with ten minutes still to play, he withdrew talismanic striker Carlos Tevez and brought on defensive midfielder Gareth Barry. Whilst having strikers on the park does not guarantee goals, it surely was a move fraught with danger to take off City’s most potent goal threat and replace him with a player who rarely even sets up goals, let alone scores them. More points dropped and one would imagine another step taken to wards the exit door at Manchester City for Mancini.

West Ham United’s co-owner David Sullivan last week demanded his side pick up a minimum of seven points from their upcoming matches against Birmingham City, West Brom, Blackpool and Liverpool, however Saturdays 0-0 draw at home to the seasiders made it three draws on the trot and made the target of seven points impossible, and even a win at Anfield next week, where the Hammers haven’t won since 1963 will see them collect just six points from the possible twelve.

How this match finished scoreless is a miracle, as it could just as easily been 3-3. Both sides had plenty of chances but were let down by poor finishing. West Ham United were denied a penalty early on as the referee bizarrely awarded a goal kick after Pablo Barrera was brought down inside the area. If the referee adjudged the defender to have played the ball, which replays suggest he did, then the decision had to be either a corner, or, if the defender didn’t make contact with the ball, a penalty. How the officials came up with the decision to award a goal kick had Hammers boss Avram Grant incensed. His mood would not have improved moments later when a fierce goal bound shot was blocked by the outstretched arm of Blackpool defender Craig Cathcart only for the referee to again wave away the penalty claims. The officials incompetence was to soon favour the hosts as Blackpool substitute and former Hammer Marlon Harewood looked to have put the Tangerines in front ten minutes from full time, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside, despite replays showing that the striker was well onside. Harewood then squandered a late chance to win the match as he sidefooted wide from inside the six yard box when it seemed easier to score.

Bolton Wanderers continue to win over fans as Owen Coyle steers them away from the Sam Allardyce-Gary Megson-induced dour football they have become synonymous with. After playing Tottenham off the park last weekend Wanderers went to Molinuex to take on Wolves and jumped out to a 3-0 lead following a Richard Stearman own-goal and stikes from Johan Elmander and Stuart Holden. They were required to show their stubborn side late on, however, as goals from Kevin Foley and Steven Fletcher, who played under Coyle in the Premier League with Burnley last season, ensured a nervy ending for the visitors.

Wigan Athletic backed up their mid week draw with Liverpool with a 1-0 home victory over West Bromwich Albion. Victor Moses’ goal twenty minutes from time was enough to separate the two sides and see the Latics pull out of the bottom three of the Premier League.

Newcastle United were unable to put visitors Fulham to the sword at St James’ Park, although the west Londoners will be greatly indebted to goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who pulled off a number of fine saves to keep the Toon army at bay. To cap off a frustrating weekend for the Geordies, striker Andy Carroll was called into the England squad for the first time only to be ruled out with an injury picked up during the match.

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