Boro v Man United
Despite the regular headless-chicken performances by Boro this season, they have fared unusually well against the top dogs in the league. So there was a certain amount of romantic hope flowing through the
Riverside ranks as the country’s most in-form team came to town. A win for United would point them 6 points clear of nearest rivals Chelsea, who don’t play this weekend.
The early exchanges were bossed by Fergie’s squadron. A Saha header was chested off the line, Ronaldo tested Schwarzer from range and Giggs should have buried a rebound effort. It was therefore no surprise when Saha picked up the ball 35 yards from goal, then threaded a delightful through ball into the box for Ronaldo to run onto then dive theatrically to the floor as Schwarzer’s agile frame suddenly blocked out all the light. The referee gave the penalty and brandished a Yellow card to the Aussie shot stopper; the spot kick converted with much improved accuracy from Saha for 0-1 20’. The replay of the ‘foul’ showed that Schwarzer didn’t make any contact with the Portuguese playboy.
Boro immediately launched a fight back; the highlight of which was Xavier’s header against the bar after a perfect delivery into the area by Downing. But their blitz on the United goal ended as abruptly as it had begun with Ronaldo once again assuming the role of protagonist extraordinaire. The pretty bastard jumped over Boateng’s retreating left boot then went down as if he has been garroted. Moments later the Portuguese almost extended his side’s lead through a long range piledriver which was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Schwarzer. Completely against the run of play, in the 66th minute, Boro equalized. Downing again was the provider, flinging in a dangerous cross which fell to Morrisson via a defender’s head, the Boro striker finishing with style, volleying firmly past Van De Sar for 1-1 66’.
Two minutes later United’s ascendancy was re-affirmed when Ronaldo was sent through the Boro back-line. He thought about shooting but then, realizing that the angle was too acute for anyone but Lampard, chose instead of shooting to play the ball out to Giggs, who chipped back into the box where Fletcher arrived to head home for 1-2 68’.FT: 1-2
The scoreline deceptively flatters Boro. United dominated this game from start to finish and should have decimated their opponents long before half time. Nine wins from the last ten games is title form for
Ferguson and his determined, excitable squad and the confidence which builds as a team progresses through a period of exceptional form was plain for all to see. The passing and movement of Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs and Scholes was at times world class and if these players and the resolute central defensive pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand can all stay fit then I cannot see Chelsea catching this team. Boro acquitted themselves as best they could but the gulf of quality between the two teams was painfully obvious.
‘Keep your fucking distance swine, any closer and you will smudge my make-up’ screams Ronaldo…
Sheffield United V Charlton
If there is one team in the premiership who I would have to bet my right ball on to lose any fixture, it would be Charlton. The decision to ditch Dowie so soon into his stint as manager of the club and replace him with the tactically admirable by massively inexperienced Les Reed, has only plunged the club deeper into the mire. With both these teams currently idling in the drop zone a win was a must for all concerned, but as mentioned, Charlton are favourites for defeat in any encounter that the fixture list throws up, so the responsibility was with Sheffield United to make light of their foes’ unenviable position and use the match as a springboard out of the bottom 3.
The Blades started much the brighter with Quinn, on his debut, forcing a commendable save out of Charlton keeper, Carson, early on with a stunning volley. Rob Hulse proved a constant, twisting, barbed thorn in the Charlton belly, battling through to send shot after shot towards goal. His accuracy, thankfully for Les Reed and the beleaguered Addicks supporters, didn’t match his endeavour. It was a major shock to the world as a whole when the deadlock was broken by the visitors. Andy Reid’s clever running freed up Ambrose in the box whose shot was well saved, the rebound falling to the twinkle toes of Reid who made no mistake slotting the ball home from fully 3 yards out for 0-1 17’. Hulse continued to threaten at the other end while Charlton relied exclusively on the guile and invention of Reid, who was blatantly the most talented outfield player on show, to create openings on the break. Ambrose almost profited from another intelligent through ball from Reid but his route to glory was blocked sternly by Carson, who continues to impress between the sticks.
Justice was delivered in the 64th minute when a Gillespie inswinging corner found the head of Morgan who scored his first premiership goal. 1-1. And right at the death, that mad looking goat Gillespie popped back into the limelight to strike a wonderful first time volley into the far corner of the goal from 20 yards out. The goal was incredible not just for the technique deployed by the boss-eyed, much traveled,
Sheffield winger, but for the timing. A killer blow presented moments before the ref blew his whistle for full time.
A deserved victory for the home side. Warnock’s squad have now escaped from the drop zone for the first time since September. Worrying signs for Charlton. They lack solidity in defence, potency in attack and rely heavily on the cheerful Irishman in midfield, Andy Reid to conjure any goalmouth action in the opponent’s box. The January transfer window offers an opportunity for the new manager to bring in a few of his own choices to try stem the tide but it could prove too little too late for the Addicks who on recent form look destined for a long holiday in the Championship.
Keith Gillespie scored a glorius winner for the Blades…
Arsenal v Spurs
With superstar Henry out injured the Spurs dressing room must have been unusually upbeat prior to the latest North London derby. History shows that the Gunners are often a shambles without their whining, petulant, world class striker. And with the Spurs attackers finally finding their range in their last few outings there was reason for optimism approaching this match.
Berbatov started well, jinking past a defender before setting up Malbranque for what looked like a prime chance to smash one past Lehman, but alas, the Frenchman fluffed his shot severely, sending the ball out for a throw. With 20 minutes on the clock, Fabregas played a ball over the static rearguard of Spurs, which fell inches from giant Adebayor’s size 18 feet. Unlike Ledley King and his buddies, the striker didn’t stop to question the validity of his position, instead choosing to stride towards goal and finish with aplomb past Robinson for a 1-0 lead. Replays suggest that the big man was onside.
Ljunberg was justifiably hacked into a crying heap by a melee of Spurs players as the visitors attempted to upset the quickening Gunners rhythm. But just before half time, as Rosicky prepared to apply the marzipan to a sweet flowing passing maneuver by his colleagues, CHimbonda stretched out his boot and upended the baby faced Czech in the area. Despite standing with a seemingly impossible view of the incident, the referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty, which was duly dispatched by Gilberto for 2-0 to Arsenal. However, the replays confirmed that Chimbonda had in fact got his toe to the ball before making any contact with Rosicky. SO the spot-kick decision was a serious travesty of justice.
The second half saw greater effort from the visitors who had began to suspect that they were playing against a combined group of Arsenal and the officials. Jenas popped one towards goal from range before charging back towards his own area and bundling Van Persie to the ground. Again the ref showed no qualms when presenting the home team with another opportunity to score from the spot. Gilberto confidently converted his second of the match for 3-0. But as with the first penalty decision, the replays provided controversy, with Van Persie seen intentionally handling the ball prior to his ‘fall’ which earned the penalty.
Terrible luck for Spurs. A welcome victory at the new Emirates stadium for an Arsenal team minus their French claws. History shows that Spurs have failed to win this fixture for the last 13 years.
Former winner of ‘tallest man in the world’, Arsenal striker Adebayor.
Reading v Bolton
Reading’s accomplishments in their first premiership season already warrant praise. Far from struggling to adjust to life in the top flight, Steve Coppell’s close knit, hard working side currently occupy a UEFA cup place. Whereas fellow new boys Watford and Sheffield United face an arduous uphill torment on the road to survival or ruin, Reading look set to become the latest Wigan. Bolton, despite Anelka’s recent demolition of former club Arsenal, are currently lacking decent form. Away from the Reebok stadium, the Northerners are far from the robust, determined outfit visitors find when they enter the
Bolton cauldron of death and destruction.
This was by no means a blockbuster for the neutral, but Reading fans will be amongst the happiest in the land after seeing Doyle head home Oster’s cross after 33 minutes for a 1-0 victory. Oster was impressive throughout with silky dribbling and reliable distribution and was unlucky to not mark his own name on the scoresheet on several occasions. Bolton’s only chance came when Nolan poked towards goal after a scrambler in the Reading 18 yard area. Interestingly, for the first time in my life I saw a goalkeeper, Jaskelannan of Bolton, booked for a foul on his opposing shot-stopper, in this case Hammeman. The Scandinavian had rushed forward to support the attack in the dying moments only to see his impression of ‘pressure’ crumple Hammeman to the ground and earn the Yellow..
Comfortable for Reading . Four wins on the trot at this level is worthy of congratulations from all areas. Good work Coppell.
Bald as a coot, wise as an owl. Reading manager Steve Coppell.
Portsmouth V Villa
Both these teams have made their best premiership starts on record in the current campaign. Redknapp, aided by Joe Jordan and ex-England great, Tony Adams, has transformed the Fratton
Park troops into a formidable fighting unit capable of mixing it with the meanest of adversaries. While the wise, at times fierce, Martin O Neil has lifted Villa out of the doldrums through encouraging the development of talented youngsters and resurrecting the career of constantly grimacing Chris Sutton.
As for the action…In the 32nd minute Agbonlehor was sent through into the area with the ball at his feet only to be thwarted by the hulking frame of David James biting at his shins like a genetically modified rotveiller. Barry duly pumped the spot kick into the net for a healthy looking 0-1 lead. Portsmouth got back on level terms twenty minutes later after Benjani fought well down the right flank then delivered a teasing cross into the box which Taylor headed home for 1-1 52’. Barry went close to scoring again before handling in his own area affording a penalty to the home side which Taylor scored to send the crowd into raptures, 2-1 80’. However the lead didn’t last long because Colombian marksman Juan Pablo Angel struck a 25 yard rocket in the 88th minute which deflected cruelly off
Campbell then beat the ultra impressive James to snatch 2-2. Mendes was sent off after receiving his second yellow of the match and soon after, the final whistle was blown.
Both teams will feel aggrieved at leaving the field with only a point, especially Villa who were denied victory by yet another vintage display by veteran mercenary, David James. A fair result and both sides look good value for a top 6 finish.
Arch angel, Juan Pablo, descended from the heavens to score a delightful equaliser for Villa.
Blackburn V Fulham
With Niemi forced out due to injury, reserve keeper, Lastufka was plunged into the mainstream at the most welcoming of grounds in the country, Ewood Park. Both teams have suffered from indifferent results of late and Fulham especially were in great need of a return to consistency.
The new keeper didn’t seem suitably aware when Nonda latched his big toe onto a long ball from Henchoz, steering the ball past the bemused Lastufka for an early 1-0 lead 6’. Nonda’s strike partner, Benni Mcarthy soon extended the distance between the two teams by turning his defender before curling a right foot shot into the top corner of the goal for 2-0 on 22’. There were only two decent chances for the visitors to nick a goal but McBride’s header was saved and Jenson’s late drive was saved by the dependable Brad Freidel.
Blackburn muscle-man, Nonda, opened the scoring.
Wigan V Liverpool
Craig Bellamy started for the second time in a week and vindicated his manager’s rare show of common sense by opening the scoring after 9 minutes. The self-confessed welsh-man cut in to the left channel of the box then finished strongly with his right foot. It was Bellamy again who scored the second of the match after connecting with a typically clever Gerrard through ball then slamming home for 2-0 26’. Mculloch should have reduced the deficit when a rebound fell kindly at his feet but his shot was miles over the bar. A swift counter-attack from Liverpool saw the ball rapidly exchanged between Gerrard and Bellamy, then the in-form striker became creator; Bellamy looking up to see Dutchman Kuyt arriving who proceeded to make the most of the gift of a pass to drill home from 12 yards out 0-3 lead.
The misery didn’t end there for Wigan as before the half time whistle offered respite Gerrard crossed into the box where Mculloch was well positioned to deflect the ball into his own net to send his side down to 0-4 on 44’.
Not much to note from the second period other than a wasted half chance for steamroller Heskey.
Liverpool finally ended their abysmal run of shocking away performances while Wigan showed that they need a stint in the gulags to help them rediscover their form.
Craig, the son of nature Colonel, David Bellamy, hit a devastating double which ripped holes through the Wigan frigate’s sails.
Goal of the day: Keith Gillespie(S.United)
Cheating gimp of the day: C.Ronaldo
Best performance of the day: Taylor (Villa)