A bizarre mix of great saves and scrappy goals saw six of the top eight teams forced to settle for a point, but there was a huge win at the bottom of the table and a two horse sack race developing in the drop zone. Not to mention a shock decision against the home side at Old Trafford.
The lunchtime kick-off saw troubled Blackburn,
its under fire manager, the fans and their bedsheets take a trip to Stoke,
hoping that the Potters recent run of bad form (five defeats in their last six)
would continue a little longer and give Rovers a chance to make inroads out of
the relegation zone. It was not to be as Stoke remembered how to win and sent
Blackburn home pointless. Soccer odds now list Steve Kean at 13/8 to be the first manger out of
work and Blackburn are 4/5 to be relegated.
Down but not (yet) out
Wigan, the only team doing worse than Blackburn, went to Sunderland fancying a win (or at least a point) from a side just five
points ahead of them, who have had just one win (and three draws) in their last
six matches. Also Sunderland had only won two home games (from the 15 played)
Things failed to improve for Sunderland as (in the dying
minutes, with the score 1-1) Wes Brown went and did his manager no favours, got
caught in possession by James McArthur who then set up substitute Franco Di
Santo for one of the easiest goals in Premier League history. Wigan took all
three points, leapfrogged Blackburn and made Steve Bruce the new nom du jour in the sack race, and Sportsbooks now list the
Sunderland manager at 4/1 to get his P45.
That result put Wigan level on points with
Bolton, who suffered yet another defat in their worst season in recent memory. The 2-0 home defeat to Everton marked their sixth defeat at the Reebok Stadium
and their tenth of the season. Bolton’s form would be noteworthy enough as the
only side in the league without a draw this season, but all talk is of possible relegation, as they are
now tied on points and goal difference with Wigan, and stuck in the
relegation zone, 15/8 to be relegated.
Just above Bolton sit Wolves who, like
Blackburn, met a side that had just rediscovered their form. Wolves went down 3-0 to Chelsea and the sigh
of relief from the Chelsea manager was audible miles outside of London. That
result means that both Sunderland and Wolves are just two points away from the
drop zone. There is already a five horse race for the three relegation spots.
Drowning or waving?
Just outside of the Eleven Points Club are
Fulham, who took their stuttering form (seven points from their last possible
18) to Arsenal. It was the most intimidating of journeys as they had not won a
game at Arsenal in 25 attempts, and 22 of those were defeats. The winless run
now extents to game 26 but Fulham will be the happier of the two sides.
the kickoff Fulham didn’t look like a side just above the relegation zone, and
Arsenal did look like a side who had
played a tough champions League 90 minutes midweek in Saturday’s late game.
After an uninspiring first half, Fulham took the lead from an own goal thanks
to Thomas Vermaelen, who’s attempted 65th-minute clearance ended up in his own
net. But he made amends at the other end with eight minutes left to play, tying
the game and sharing the points.
Spurs kept pace with Chelsea and stretched their
lead over Arsenal, and now HAVE to be considered top four contenders (don’t
forget the year ends in a 1) thanks to a tidy 3-1 victory over WBA, they’re now
at 8/15 to finish fourth or better. The defeat keeps the Baggies mid-table,
tied on 15 points with QPR, who went down 2-1 to Norwich. The squeezed middle of the Premier League
isn’t that squeezed as the top seven and bottom five will likely just shuffle
around themselves and not bother the middle eight much. Also comfortably in the
middle are Swansea who played out a subdued 0-0 draw with Aston Villa on
Sunday. The shared points make very
little difference to either side’s likely league finish (probably either end of
Never one to complain, but…
Arguably the biggest game of Saturday was
Newcastle United’s trip to old Trafford, a ground where they haven’t won for 39
years! Much like Fulham’s run at Arsenal Newcastle didn’t look a million miles
off the pace (especially “super ‘keeper Tim Krul) and deservedly ended the
first half goalless.
Old Trafford being Old Trafford, Manchester United had the
luck of the green with a deflected goal from Little Pea Javier Hernandez (his
first at home this term), but the Black and White United are no longer “the
side that can’t” and Alan Pardew’s boys pressured for an equaliser. It came
thanks to the fourth official, who persuade the referee to award a penalty for
a perfectly legitimate tackle by Rio Ferdinand on Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba
coolly slotted home from the spot in front of the home fans.
Despite the sea of
red shirts that surrounded both the referee and the fourth official (obviously
in a rush to show their respect) and the undisguised, gum spitting rage of
Fergie, the goal stood. It was no more than United deserved. There were no more
goals, but Newcastle had to hold on and finish the game with ten men after
Jonas Gutierrez made two rash challenges that saw two (justified) yellow cards.
There was still time for a thrilling end as Hernandez put the ball in the back
of Tim Krul’s net, deep into Fergie time, but the celebrations were cut short
as the linesman (rightly) judged the player to have been offside.
The last game of the weekend was the much feted
Manchester City v Liverpool clash at Anfield. Liverpool kept themselves in top four
contention and have now recorded and impressive Manchester double at Anfield,
as they have now drawn with both Manchesters 1-1 at home. It was a pair of
unusual goals 120 seconds apart, and the clash deserved more. But both sides
will probably be satisfied with a point, especially City who played the last 25
minutes with ten men following Mario Balotelli‘s sending off (for two rash
challenges in just 18 minutes of gametime). That game marked the first time
that City have scored less than two goals in a League game this season.
As six of the top eight
teams could only manage draws, there’s no change at the top of the table, but it
was an excellent weekend for both Tottenham and Chelsea. Spurs are just two
points off second place Man Utd and are now two points ahead of fourth place
Meanwhile Chelsea’s win gave
them two points daylight between themselves and Liverpool and cut Newcastle’s
lead to a single point. While both these London clubs gained ground on the top
spot, they are still outside bets to win the league. Chelsea are 14/1 and Spurs
are 20/1 to lift the EPL trophy. A more sensible soccer pick is for Chelsea to finish third or better at 17/20.
We still have a the Quarter Finals of the Carling
Cup midweek, the picks of the bunch clearly have to be Arsenal V Man City and
Chelsea’s second helping of Liverpool. Once they’re over and done with we get
back to the serious matter of the League. Saturday’s first game is Newcastle’s
last “big three” game when they host Chelsea, in what is literally an anything
can happen game, with Newcastle’s defence, and current form being matched
against Chelsea’s worst start to a season in Roman (Abramovich) times, but tell
that to Wolves.
It might be do or die for Steve Kean at Blackburn
as his side host Swansea in a game that, should the Swan’s take all three
points back across the border with them, will set the clock ticking on Kean’s
tenure as manager. Manchester City will look to return to winning ways when
they host Norwich at the Eastlands Stadium. That should be the banker of the
day, but the shortest soccer betting odds.
There’s another mid table tussle as 14 point WBA
take on 15 point QPR in a game that most would be happy to see drawn. Spurs
have an “easy” game with which to improve their standing as they take on
Bolton, a side that has lost ten of their last 13 games.
Bolton will be hoping
that Arsenal can do them a favour as they travel to Wigan, who are one of the
two teams worse off than Bolton. Should Blackburn and Wigan win Bolton could be
dead bottom of the league. Head down to the bookies and stick some £££ on
Aston Villas next game ending in a 1-0 defeat as they host Manchester United
who have scored a solitary goal in seven of their last eight games and have won
1-0 in their last two away.
Sunday sees a mid-table clash as twelfth place
Stoke take on ninth place Everton. The tasty match of the Sunday is
Sunderland’s trip to Wolverhampton. The two sides are both just above the drop
zone at present and could actually be in it (and the bottom three) should
Bolton and Wigan win on Saturday, so expect a hard fought clash and oceans of
pressure on Steve Bruce, if he’s still Sunderland’s manager.
The last game of the weekend sees another clash
of form (although both sides had identical results last weekend) as Fulham
travel to Liverpool hoping to turn things around, after just two wins all
The tightest defence in the league is still a
three way split between Newcastle, Manchester City and Liverpool having conceded
just 12 goals each…. Just three sides have failed to record an away win thus
far, Aston Villa, Swansea and Blackburn.
Don’t take your eyes off the Premiere League as
December is usually when the sackings begin and this December has a plethora of
mangers circling the drain, not to mention the thrills at the top of the table.
Newcastle are still in fourth place.