by Paul O'Donnell
It can’t get any better than Chelsea visiting Anfield for the Saturday lunchtime match and Arsenal entertaining leaders Man United for their first ever visit to the Emirates (Sunday) which means the challengers really do have an opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table. Will they? Can they?
Well, their both in the best form of the season at this stage which means for them these games couldn’t come at a better time. Over the last 8 Liverpool have scored 20 goals and conceded only 1 in EPL contests. At the same time Arsenal have been playing at their very best with Henry back to being himself after his injury layoff. These contests could not come at a more favorable time for the 3rd and 4th placed teams.
At the other end of the table Wigan, having lost 6 in a row, will be hard pressed by Everton to avoid falling into the fight at the bottom. The Latics have the look about them of a team on the way down.
West Ham faces a stiff challenge in their visit to St James’ Park with resurgent Newcastle coming off their hard earned win at Tottenham while the Hammers suffered from a last gasp Fulham goal which meant 2 very important points lost.
Watford, a sure bet for relegation, will battle any and all comers but their lack of quality finishing (the loss of Marlon King sealed their fate) face a Villa side also in dire need of the points. More importantly, O’Neill’s Villains need to produce a 90 minute effort worthy of this team, which they will in this one.
Liverpool 2 : 0 Chelsea
Early goals by Dirk Kujt (3) and another by Jermaine Pennant (17) put Liverpool on top at the half 2-0. The match would end that way as Liverpool was on the front foot for most of it while Chelsea’s only spell of sustained pressure came with Alonso on the sidelines for treatment. A well deserved victory for the Reds which closes the gap to 5 points between them and the reigning champions. With the win the Reds earn a split with the champs having lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in September.
Arsenal 2 : 1 Man United
A first half remarkably void of any real threatening chances closed with a flourish by Man United and some terrific play in goal by Lehman to keep the score 0-0. Then United hit for certain in the 52nd via a Rooney header at the back post off a great run and cross by Evra. It looked as if United would be the first to defeat the Gunners at their new palace but in the 82nd Van Persie leveled setting the stage for Henry’s injury time header to win it. The Gunners do the double on Man U having won earlier in the season at Old Trafford. Arsenal’s unbeaten run at the Emirates goes to 17 and keeps them a single point behind Liverpool in 4th as United remains 6 points ahead of 2nd place Chelsea.
Aston Villa 2 : 0 Watford
You have to feel more than just a bit sorry for the Hornets. This one was 0-0 until the 85th minute when an OG was charged to Mackay. Agbonlahor topped it off with his in injury time putting an end to Villa’s winless run at 11.
M’boro 5 : 1 Bolton
Boro is now clearly on the rebound thrashing the Wanderers, a top six team all season. A Gary Speed OG (5) got the day off on the wrong side for Bolton. Xavier’s beautifully placed header (9) and Viduka’s first on the day in the 22nd had the Riverside rocking before Nolan got one back for Bolton two minutes later. Then Downing got the 3 goal margin back (42) before Viduka’s second in the 83rd closed the book. Downing, the creator on Boro’s first 3 before adding his own, was man of the match as Boro rings up their 3rd straight victory scoring 11 goals in the process.
Fulham 1 : 1 Tottenham
Another one that was left for the final few minutes as Fulham newboy Montella cashed in a PK in the 83rd before Chimbonda leveled for Spurs in the 87th for the 6th consecutive draw for Fulham in the league. The Cottager’s had lost Helgusson to a 2nd yellow in the 52nd and Clint Dempsey made his initial appearance for Fulham.
Newcastle 2 : 2 West Ham
Early goals from Carlton Cole (17) and Marlon Harewood (21) had the Hammers on their way, or so it seemed. Milner had other ideas and pulled one back in the 45th and it was game on. Nobby Solano added his in the 52nd from the spot and what looked like 3 points in the bag for West Ham was gone. Credit to the boys from Newcastle for making a game of it after their thrashing by Birmingham in the midweek that bounced them out of the FA Cup and going down 2-0 in this one before the fightback.
Reading 3 : 1 Sheffield United
Long (44), De La Cruz (49) and Hunt (69) for the Royals before Nade would get one back for the 10 man Blades in the 76th. Sub Keith Gillespie was shown red a minute after coming on for a vicious elbow on Hunt and the resulting clash saw manager Warnock also sent to the stands before Hunt added his tally for Reading.
Portsmouth 0 : 1 Charlton
Pardew gets his first win for the Addicks as Faye also nicks his first goal in a Charlton shirt (78). A big 3 points at a difficult place to play for Charlton’s first win on the road on the season.
Man City 0 : 3 Blackburn
A Pedersen double (43 & 61) and a late strike from the youngster Derbyshire (89) made for a pleasant trip for Mark Hughes’ guys despite losing Neill to West Ham. Rovers do the double and move to the top half of the table with the win, their first while visiting City in 12 years.
Wigan 0 : 2 Everton
Arteta’s 64th minute PK was the match winner here and he added a second at the death sending Wigan to their 7th consecutive defeat which leaves them in 17th a precarious 2 points above the relegation zone. This was Wigan’s 7th loss on their home pitch this season, 2 more than any other EPL side.
Inter gets their record 13th consecutive win in Serie A with a resounding 3-1 come from behind victory over Fiorentina. Goals from Stankovic (19), Adriano (24) and Ibrahimovic (70) settled the issue after Toni’s opener in the 5th minute. The win extends Inter’s lead atop the league to 11 points over Roma after their 1-1 draw with Livorno.