In a week where Andy Murray left a nation without sleep with his heroics across the pond and thousands took to the streets to celebrate Team GB and ParalympicsGB medallists driving past on a lorry, football took a step back momentarily. The home nations were ultimately uninspiring in midweek World Cup Qualifiers, the Road to Rio already looking like a pothole ridden dead end for all but England. However, the Hillsborough Report brought football firmly back into the limelight, with the shocking findings and revelations ensuring an emotional weekend for football fans all across the country.
The action on the pitch returned in Saturday’s early kick off at Carrow Road which saw Norwich take on West Ham. The visitors were without Andy Carroll after he picked up a hamstring injury on his debut. The lumbering buffoon of Liverpool looked a different player with Big Sam’s Hammers, and was replaced by Carlton Cole for the clash with the Canaries.
John Ruddy had to pull off a succession of saves from close range to deny West Ham the lead, and Norwich also put pressure on Jussi Jaaskelainen, the Finnish goalkeeper and his defence having to do their best as Norwich tried and tried to get the ball in the back of the net several times in the same attack. Chris Hoy had better prepare himself for accidental abuse on Twitter, as referee Chris Foy angered the home fans on a number of occasions. Four minutes before half time, Andrew Surman was challenged by James Collins as he ventured his way into the box and Foy correctly ruled that the contact was inches outside the box and awarded a free-kick – not a penalty as the Canaries had hoped. Cue wrath.
Norwich made a good start to the second-half, testing Jaaskelainen a few times – Simeon Jackson’s 25-yard shot the pick of the bunch. Poor old Grant Holt is becoming a lone furrow ploughing expert, and was soon replaced by Spurs loanee and tropical storm Harry Kane. The 19-year-old had a whirlwind end to the game with a chance to grab all three points for Norwich.
A late West Ham corner allowed Robert Snodgrass to break on the counter attack. He chose the option of Kane, darting forward to his left, but the young striker could only hit a tame shot straight at Jaaskelainen. Ironically, given their club colours, Norwich have seen no yellows in the first 4 games. They are such gentlemen. West Ham kept their third clean sheet out of 4 games, an impressive start for Big Sam’s men.
Southampton visited the Emirates and were duly drubbed by Arsenal. The Saints certainly got a raw deal with their list of opening fixtures, and have lost all of them. It was a case of Mannone never no more as Wojciech Szczesny returned in goals, with Wenger dropping evil henchman/goalkeeper Vitor Mannone to the bench. He was joined by the most handsome man in the club not to score, Olivier Giroud, with Gervinho starting in the Frenchman’s place up front.
Southampton’s Jos Hooiveld opened the scoring after 11 minutes, but unfortunately for him it was for Arsenal. Lukas Podolski burst forward from midfield and Kieran Gibbs collected the ball from the German in the box. Gibbs hit the ball “into the mixer”, it wasn’t dealt with by the keeper and was bundled in by the shins of a hapless Hooiveld. Arsenal were looking very smooth and almost doubled their lead when Per Mertesacker, forward for a corner, forced Kelvin Davis into a save, overdramatised but still crucial. No doubt Davis watched Match of the Day to see his acting skills on Saturday night, but will have had to shield his eyes for the rest of the game.
The Gunners got their second after 31 minutes. Steven Davis, fresh from captaining Northern Ireland to a 1-1 draw with the mighty Luxembourg, challenged Francis Coquelin clumsily. Podolski stepped up and, from 25 yards, the Germany international scored a gloriously gorgeous curled free-kick. Gervinho justified his inclusion with an impressive performance, bagging Arsenal’s third after 35 minutes, easily evading the feeble Southampton defence and making no mistake in beating Davis at his near post. It threatened to get really embarrassing for Southampton when Nathaniel Clyne scored his side’s second own goal, another deflection from a Gibbs ball in the box. They got one back before the break, Danny Fox in the box to take advantage of Szczesny’s fumbling attempt to catch a Jason Puncheon cross. Arsenal took their foot off the pedal slightly in the second-half, and Southampton had a further chance to claw back the deficit as a pass from record signing Gaston Ramirez cut open the Arsenal defence but Rickie Lambert could only put it wide.
Arsenal were in no mood for further generosity, and Gervinho scored his second after 71 minutes, Aaron Ramsey’s low shot rebounding off the post to the Ivorian winger’s feet for a tap-in. Theo Walcott added Arsenal’s sixth and final goal against his former club. Thomas Vermaelen had wandered forward, why not, and his powerful shot was parried by Davis and a cushioned touch from Santi Cazorla allowed Walcott to bang the final nail into the Southampton coffin. Expect Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman to be the new stadium announcers at St Mary’s as Southampton are still Pointless. Arsenal, meanwhile, are looking good but tougher tests are yet to come.
Aston Villa welcomed Swansea to Villa Park as the home fans hoped they would be able to see some nice football for a change, even if it wasn’t from their own side.
Brad Guzan was tested early by Swans defender Ashley Williams’ header from a corner and a Nathan Dyer shot that’s final destination would have been the top corner were it not for the American keeper’s intervention. It was Villa that were to take the lead, as Matthew Lowton – a summer signing from Sheffield United – took the ball on his chest and hit a swerving shot past Michel Vorm from 20 yards after 16 minutes.
Villa were strong defensively and even showed flashes of tiki-taka in the penalty area, Andreas Wiemann forcing Vorm into a save after some lovely build up play. In the second-half Wiemann was again denied; his shot on the turn after a scramble in the box from a corner was cleared off the line by Leon Britton. Vorm was keeping Swansea in the game, Karim El Ahmadi’s thunderous shot tipped away by the Dutch keeper. Paul Lambert brought on Belgium international Christian Benteke and he had the chance to open his Villa scoring account but fluffed a shot inches in front of goal.
He atoned for his errors after 88 minutes as Ashley William’s hopeless backwards header left Vorm as exposed as Kate Middleton in a French magazine, Benteke pouncing to chip the ball over the keeper and tap it in to an open net. He’s certainly yet another Belgian star to keep an eye on. A first win for Paul Lambert’s side, Villa look to be improving and easier on the eye. Thankfully.
West Brom travelled to face Fulham unbeaten and enjoying their best ever Premier League start. James Morrison put his poor performances for Scotland behind him and tested Mark Schwarzer after 10 minutes with a long range effort. It wasn’t to be the Baggies’ day however, as Dimitar Berbatov stole the show. It was his first Fulham start since joining from Manchester United and he scored his first goal for the Cottagers after 32 minutes, curling a lovely shot past Ben Foster.
There’s a school of thought that says that players often need a kick up the backside to get them going. Fulham’s Sascha Riether certainly got that, and Peter Odemwingie picked up a straight red card for his violent yet comical booting. It was to get worse for the Baggies, as it usually does for them really, when Berbatov was given the opportunity to double his tally from the penalty spot. Generically named West Brom defender Billy Jones, presumably a randomly generated player from FIFA 04, was bamboozled by Alex Kacaniklic and brought down the Swedish winger in the box. Referee Roger East, who looks like an evil barber, pointed to the spot and on the stroke of half time Berbatov coolly stroked home the penalty.
On 62 minutes, Chris Brunt tested Mark Schwarzer from distance with a curling, dipping effort, before hitting the resultant corner into the side netting. Not one of his better ones. Late in the game, Ben Foster made a bizarre looking save from Damien Duff’s deflected shot (now that’s a good name for a band) before Steve Sidwell scored Fulham’s third. Colombian woman Hugo Rodallega’s header rebounded off the crossbar and Sidwell provided an overdramatic smash-in when the ball fell to him in front of an open goal. The Baggies were flying high, but have been brought back down to earth.
Manchester United welcomed Wigan to Old Trafford, despite nothing worth welcoming ever coming from Wigan. Rooney, Kagawa, Van Persie and Evra were all missing from the starting line-up, but fans of statistics were treated to a feast as Rio Ferdinand made his 400th United appearance, Ryan Giggs made his 600th and Paul Scholes his 700th. They must’ve planned that, surely.
Something that didn’t go as planned was Javier Hernandez (I feel ridiculous calling him Chicharito) missing an early penalty. Danny Welbeck won it, with emphasis on the word “won”. Hernandez stepped up but the little Mexican’s tame effort was easily saved by Ali Al-Habsi, as if to spite me for not selecting him for this year’s fantasy football team.
Wigan worked hard in the first-half, but their hold on the game slipped away in the second half. Scholes scored a 51st minute tap-in from Al-Habsi’s spillage of a Nani cross. That goal means that United have now scored in a record 51 consecutive home league games. Lots of numerical coincidences today.
Hernandez made up for his horrible penalty when Alex Buttner drilled a ball into the box, and the little pea sprung the offside trap for a tap-in. Buttner doesn’t just have an amusing name, but the Dutchman signed from Vitesse can also score cracking goals. He dodged three woeful Wigan challenges and nicked the ball past Al-Habsi at his near post.
Nick Powell came on for United and the midfielder, signed from Crewe Alexandria, added a fourth goal. James McCarthy’s sloppy, lazy clearance fell to Hernandez who teed up Powell and the resultant strike put the POW in Powell and flew past Al-Habsi. A thoroughly miserable afternoon for Wigan fans, but at least they got out of Wigan for a while and that can only be a good thing.
Handshakes. The prime source of ridiculous drama in the past few years threatened to make the clash of QPR and Chelsea at Loftus Road a fraught affair. Blah blah Anton didn’t shake John or Ashley’s hand blah blah zzzzzz.
The 0-0 draw was predictably a feisty yet still slightly underwhelming affair. QPR deserved a draw in a game but Chelsea were refused two penalties, and both looked like strong shouts. Ryan Nelsen bundled John Terry to the floor, doing only what many a person would like to do, and Andre Marriner waved away the claims. Shaun Wright-Phillips later felled Eden Hazard, and again it was harsh of Marriner not to award the spot-kick.
Julio Cesar, still baffled as to where he has found himself, produced a number of saves to maintain the stalemate. QPR improved in the second-half, and Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel handed Bobby Zamora a great chance with a bad backpass to Petr Cech, but the Czech keeper did enough to slow down Zamora and eventually the England striker’s effort was cleared off the line by Terry. Victor Moses came on and livened Chelsea up, setting up Hazard who hit a woefully wild effort over the bar from 10 yards and then Moses himself tested Cesar but it was to end goalless.
Before a tricky trip to the Bernabeau in the Champions League, Manchester City had to visit Stoke. Madrid, Stoke, not much difference really. To prove that they can cut it at the Britannia, Roberto Mancini named new signings Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair and Maicon in his starting line-up.
Stoke took the lead after 15 minutes through Peter Crouch. It was more shambolic than spectacular in comparison to the last goal he scored against City. The beanpole striker handballed at least once (you’re allowed to use your hands at Stoke) as he bungled his way through three challenges in the box and slotted the ball past Joe Hart.
Garcia equalised after 35 minutes, a free header from a Carlos Tevez free-kick gave the former Benfica star an easy debut goal. In the second-half, Asmir Begovic was forced into a fine save to deny Yaya Toure a goal to end his wonderful charge forward. Begovic was in action again, denying Garcia a second headed goal, pushing it onto the post. The Stoke keeper had to call on Ryan Shawcross to save the point for the Potters, as Edin Dzeko chipped the onrushing Begovic at the edge of the box but the big Stoke defender hooked it off the line.
Mario Balotelli will make the headlines again, the Italian striker looked to have been elbowed by Andy Wilkinson, and wasn’t too pleased about it. You wouldn’t be, would you?
Sunderland hosted Liverpool at the Stadium of Light in Saturday’s late kick off, an emotional week for the Merseyside team ending with a draw. Liverpool’s Fabio Borini had two early efforts saved by Simon Mignolet before great work from Craig Gardner down the right allowed Steven Fletcher to give Sunderland the lead. Pepe Reina dived helplessly like a rubbish Superman, Fletcher on hand to net his third Sunderland goal in just two games. Fletcher continues to show Craig Levein what Scotland are missing and Levein will most likely end up rueing the multiple drunken voicemail messages he’s left Fletcher in which he sings Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” down the phone before weeping over Kenny Miller.
Everyone’s favourite footballer, Luis Suarez, got himself booked for diving after going down easily after a challenge from John O’Shea. Glen Johnson hit a curled right foot shot off the bar before Suarez rescued the point. The Uruguayan hit a fluffed shot that rebounded off a brick wall (Titus Bramble) before steering a second attempt into the back of the net. A draw means that Liverpool are still yet to win a game in the league this season, and Brendan Rogers needs to do something to fix his shaky coat-peg.
Sunday’s game saw the return of Reading, remember them? They haven’t featured in the Premier League for 25 days thanks to rain and Chelsea. Spurs were the visitors to the Madejski Stadium. Tottenham, in their horrible black and grey half and half shirt, were dominant early on and took the lead on 18 minutes. Gylfi Sigurdsson played in Aaron Lennon who cut the ball back for Jermain Defoe to finish expertly.
Spurs were dominant, and Defoe had a chance to add a second, plucking the ball out of the air and flicking it past two defenders before toe-bashing it wide. Tottenham looked slightly shakier in the second-half, as Reading looked to equalise. Spurs gave themselves some breathing space in the 71st minute, Kyle Walker’s ball in reached Gareth Bale who scored from 12 yards.
Just 3 minutes later, Defoe bagged his second, ending a 50-yard run with a thumping finish. Reading looked shell-shocked and Spurs were brimming with confidence. Reading were to have the last goal however, pulling one back when Glenville Adam James le Fondre, to give him his full name, sent in a great ball to the back post for the equally exotically named Welsh international Hal Robson-Kanu to fire home from close range. It was too late for a comeback, however, and AVB had his first league win as Spurs boss.Follow @JfGpodcast