By Ross CraeFollow @JfGpodcasts
Domestic football returned after the international break which was full of joy and misery for many involved. Internationals often prove irksome for our beloved Premier League managers; long flights, brutal minnows, exhausting heat, waterlogged pitches and heroic exertions leaving players tired, weary and bruised on their return to their clubs. You almost feel sorry for them.
The unlucky recipients of a Saturday lunchtime kick-off were Spurs and table-topping Chelsea. Itwas a London Derby between two teams in form with an extra hint of AVB flavoured spice. Spurs were without Moussa Dembélé and Gareth Bale, the Belgian injured and the Welshman imminently becoming a father. Chelsea meanwhile were at full strength.
Gary Cahill never scores a tap-in, and the England defender opened the scoring for the visitors with a powerful volley from the edge of the box. You don’t expect that from a central defender but in modern football you basically can, the lumbering brutes at the back have managed to evolve.
In the second half, Spurs started brightly. William Gallas provided the equaliser against his old club before Jermain Defoe gave Spurs the lead with a typical poachers finish. The goals kept coming, but at the other end. Juan Mata’s cool threaded finish from the edge of the box swung the pendulum in Chelsea’s favour and Mata soon scored a second to put the European champions ahead once more. In the dying stages of the game, a long range swerving shot from Kyle Walker was palmed away by Petr Cech, and moments later a Daniel Sturridge tap-in made sure the scoreline ended in favour of the Blues.
The Manchester clubs are hot on the heels of Chelsea and both managed wins. Manchester United got off to a bad start against Stoke at Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney scoring an early own goal. Stoke put United under pressure and David de Gea made smart stops to keep United in the game. The bizarre words “Stoke are playing all the football” were uttered by commentators.
Sense soon prevailed and Rooney scored again, this time in the right goal, as United managed to find some sort of rhythm. Robin van Persie directed Antonio Valencia’s cutback past Asmir Begovic from close-range just before half time to give the home side the lead.
Danny Welbeck stooped to guide a spectacular cross from Rooney to add a third goal at the start of the second half, but Stoke found a way back into the game, Michael Kightly squeezing a shot in just before the hour mark after floating through the United defence on the breeze. It looked like being a nervy end for United but Rooney made it 4-2 on 65 minutes, easing the fears of the Old Trafford crowd.
Manchester City meanwhile, came from behind to beat West Brom at the Hawthorns. James Milner was sent off after just 22 minutes for a foul on Shane Long that denied the Irishman a goal scoring opportunity. A tempestuous Mario Balotelli could easily have followed him for an early shower (not in a creepy way or anything) for his petulance.
Shane Long gave the hosts a second half lead, a defence splitting pass from Peter Odemwingie allowing the Irish striker to spring past the City backline and slot the ball past Joe Hart with the slightest of touches.
Super-sub Edin Dzeko (but don’t call him that to his face) once again proved his worth, coming on to the rescue of his more celebrated team-mates. He headed in the equaliser from a Carlos Tevez free-kick but West Brom had more to say and Odemwingie and Lukaku both caused the City defence problems.
Lukaku’s overhead kick was saved by Joe Hart, who launched a late counter attack which resulted in Dzeko’s second. Insert “performance of champions” remark here.
Fulham beat Aston Villa 1-0 at Craven Cottage, a Chris Baird goal six minutes from time securing the points. Villa, as is often the case, lacked a cutting edge and rarely looked like troubling Mark Schwarzer. This game clearly was not very exciting, did you expect it to be?
Brendan Rodgers got his first league win at Anfield as a Raheem Sterling goal gave Liverpool a 1-0 win against Reading. The Reds dominated play for most of the game but the single goal cushion caused discomfort as the Royals had chances in the second half. Liverpool managed to hold on and Sterling’s first Liverpool goal was enough to earn the three points. One point for each child he has fathered.
Swansea got their first win in six games with a 2-1 victory over Wigan. All three goals came within the space of five second half minutes. Pablo Hernandez and Miguel Michu put the Swans two goals ahead, before Emerson Boyce pulled one back for the Latics with a sublime flick of his heel.
Arouna Kone thought he had netted an equaliser, but his close range header was ruled out for offside, despite replays showing the he may just have been in line with the last defender. A wee shame for the lad.
West Ham hammered Southampton 4-1 at Upton Park. After virtually no action in the first half, the second half exploded into life. Artur Boruc started his first game for Southampton and it was a case of The “Holy Goalie” behind a holey defence. A minute into the second half, Mark Noble opened the scoring, nobody dealing with his 35 yard free-kick which bounced in the box and into the back of the net. A tap-in for Kevin Nolan put the Hammers two up, but Adam Lallana’s delightful swivel and shot gave the Saints hope. That hope lasted until Jose Fonte decided to give away a penalty with a foul in which he appeared to attempt to yank Andy Carroll’s ponytail off. Noble scored from the spot, and a fantastic late solo run and finish from Modibo Maiga gave Southampton another heavy defeat.
In the tea-time kick off, Delia’s Norwich served up a tasty encounter with Arsenal. For starters a 19th minute shot from Alexander Tettey was only parried by Gunners keeper Vitor Mannone, leaving Grant Holt with a tap-in. Norwich withstood the heat and held on to their lead to record their first win of the season and leave Delia delighted. Norwich’s defence was stubborn and Arsenal slow, sloppy and second-best. Injuries will be a concern for Arsene Wenger, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain only lasted nine minutes after coming on as a sub before limping off, with Theo Walcott still on the sidelines.
Super Sunday came along and the first part was a scintillating derby at the Stadium of Light between Sunderland and Newcastle. Yohan Cabaye gave the Magpies the lead after just three minutes, Demba Ba’s shot parried out to the Frenchman to slot home. Newcastle were reduced to 10 men after 25 minutes, Cheick Tiote seeing red for going in on Steven Fletcher with his studs high. The Magpies were seeing more cards than Cabaye on Valentine’s Day.
Sunderland failed to take advantage of having an extra man, and Tim Krul was hardly tested throughout the first half. The second half was a fairly even contest, but there was to be a pulsating end to the game.
Sunderland pulled a goal back, Seb Larsson’s free-kick directed past Krul by an unfortunate Demba Ba after John O’Shea’s header on. Newcastle held on with waves of Sunderland attack threatening to snatch a victory, and the derby ended a draw.
Everton went to Loftus Roadto face a struggling QPR in the concluding part of the day’s action. Mark Hughes’ men got off to a perfect start, Junior Hoilett running forward from inside his own half before letting rip from the edge of the box, the shot clipping the heel of Leighton Baines and flying over Tim Howard. The second minute goal unsettled Everton, but the Toffees got an equaliser ten minutes before the break.
Steven Pienaar’s free-kick was met by the sizeable head of Sylvain Distin. The ball hit the foot of the post and ricocheted off the backside of Julio Cesar into the back of the net. Both sides largely cancelled each other out in the second half, Pienaar earning a second yellow to leave the Toffees with ten men for the last half hour. A draw was probably a fair result.