By Ross CraeFollow @JfGpodcasts
So we all made it through the 21st of December. The Mayans predicted that the world would end on Friday, but they have been proved to be wrong. Or perhaps we’re just in Fergie Time. Nevertheless, the Premier League had a weekend of pre-Christmas fixtures to fulfil with festive fun and frolicking.
In the early kick-off, Santa gave Arsenal a trip to Wigan, something they’ve always wanted. A Mikel Arteta penalty was enough to see off the Latics in a solid but unspectacular display from the Gunners.
Theo Walcott won the penalty just before the hour mark, but Wigan rallied and came close to levelling and had their own penalty claims dismissed. Roberto Martinez was convinced his side should have had a penalty for handball against Kieran Gibbs as Arsenal survived a tense finale.
Gareth Barry proved to be a bah humbug, scoring a 92nd minute goal to deny Reading a point at Manchester City. City were dominant but never truly convincing, like X Factor songs at Christmas, but Barry came to their rescue late on.
Captain Boring has livened up lately, with his recent charge for swearing at an official, and in stoppage time he rose higher than Nicky Shorey to meet a David Silva cross. This was partly because he clambered over the Reading defender which infuriated Brian McDermott. Hopefully he gets some nice presents to cheer him up.
Referee Anthony Taylor missed the last posting day before Christmas and decided to hand out cards at West Ham v Everton instead, with both Carlton Cole and Darron Gibson seeing red.
Everton had an early Leon Osman goal very harshly disallowed before Cole gave the Hammers the lead after 14 minutes.
The game sizzled like chestnuts roasting on an open fire in the second half as Victor Anichebe levelled for the Toffees with a 64th minute header before Cole was sent packing for a high tackle on Leighton Baines. The Hammers can feel aggrieved about that, and were frustrated further when Steven Pienaar scrambled the ball into the back of the net after 73 minutes to give Everton the lead.
Gibson saw red in stoppage time for a tackle on Mark Noble similar to Cole’s earlier misdemeanour. Several of Taylor’s decisions were questionable and both managers will no doubt be striking him off the Christmas card list.
All Newcastle and QPR want for Christmas is a win, and it was the Magpies who got some festive cheer. They had missed several chances throughout the game as ‘Arry’s men defended well and caused trouble on the counter-attack.
Papiss Cisse wasn’t happy when he was substituted, but his replacement Shola Ameobi got the only goal of the game on 81 minutes.
The game was the equivalent of finding a pair of socks, some coal and an orange in your Christmas stocking, i.e. a bit rubbish.
Sunderland travelled south to Southampton, presumably not on donkeys. The Saints started well but failed to muster many clear chances as the rain poured down in biblical proportions.
Sunderland took the lead as Adam Johnson burst down the left wing and sent in a precise ball to Stephane Sessegnon, whose mishit shot was turned in by Steven Fletcher for the only goal of the game.
There was to be no comeback from the home side and the Black Cats held on fairly comfortably to secure a vital win.
Spurs and Stoke played out a goalless draw which was hardly in the spirit of Christmas giving. There were few chances in the game, Kenwyne Jones firing over in the first minute after sloppy defending by Spurs and Jermain Defoe firing wide on the stroke of half time.
In the second half, Gareth Bale headed over and Gylfi Sigurdsson had a header saved brilliantly by Asmir Begovic as the game stumbled to a close. Not one for a Christmas DVD release.
Norwich travelled to West Brom hoping to extend their ten game unbeaten run.
Ben Foster returned to the Baggies starting line-up after seven games out injured and was at fault for the opening goal, Robert Snodgrass’s free-kick evading the Baggies keeper after 23 minutes.
Zoltan Gera provided the equaliser two minutes before the break, netting a rebound after Canaries keeper Mark Bunn tipped Jonas Ollson’s header onto the bar.
Romelu Lukaku headed in a Goran Popov cross in the 82nd minute to end Norwich’s unbeaten run and give West Brom fans some goals to celebrate for a change.
Goals from Daniel Agger and Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool a first half lead at Anfield against Fulham. Agger’s tremendous 8th minute volley from a corner and Gerrard’s 36th minute finish from a lovely Stewart Downing assist (no it’s not a cracker joke) highlighted the home side’s dominance over the poor Cottagers.
Downing got on the score sheet himself with Liverpool’s third, denying the opportunity to compare him to a turkey. The winger’s first league goal for Liverpool came in the 51st minute as he cut inside Jean Arne Riise before firing past Mark Schwarzer.
Luis Suarez completed the rout in stoppage time, set up for a tap in by Jose Enrique as Martin Jol’s men wished they’d stayed at home in front of the warm fire.
On Christmas Eve Eve, Swansea hosted Manchester United. The visitors started well and Patrice Evra opened the scoring, heading in Robin Van Persie’s corner on 16 minutes.
Swansea responded well and equalised after 29 minutes. A slick attack carved United open like a knife through a roasted turkey, with Wayne Routledge playing in Jonathan de Guzman who had his shot saved by David De Gea. Inevitably though, Michu was on hand to net the rebound.
Wayne Rooney played like he’d been on a Christmas night out the evening before and United struggled to overcome the Swans.
It ended all square in Wales, but controversy surrounded an incident during the game in which Ashley Williams kicked the ball into Van Persie’s face from close range after the referee blew for a foul. Sir Alex Ferguson claims, slightly dramatically, that RVP was “lucky to be alive”. Happy holidays!
In the day’s other game, Chelsea had Aston Villa round for Christmas dinner and had a goal feast. The weather outside may be frightful, but the Blues turned in a performance that was delightful. Unless you’re a Villa fan.
Fernando Torres’s superb header in the 5th minute gave Chelsea the lead and a powerful David Luiz free-kick doubled the advantage before the half hour mark.
Brad Guzan tipped away Gary Cahill’s shot only for Branislav Ivanovic to head in for Chelsea’s third as the home side took a commanding lead into the second half.
It became even more of a nightmare before Christmas for Villa as Frank Lampard scored Chelsea’s fourth from 25 yards on his 500th start for the Blues as Chelsea started to line up chance after chance.
Two subs, Lucas Piazon and Ramires, combined for the fifth. Young Brazilian Piazon sent his fellow countryman through on goal with a beautifully weighted pass for a clinical finish in the 75th minute.
Another Brazilian sub, Oscar, netted from the penalty spot after he was felled like a real Christmas tree in the box by Chris Herd. Eden Hazard provided the seventh, with Piazon again involved in clever build up play.
Piazon did have the chance to net an eighth, but had his penalty saved by Brad Guzan, the only blot on an otherwise perfect Premier League debut.
Ramires’s 90th minute side-footed finish gave Chelsea eight goals and Aston Villa a lovely Christmas present.
Merry Christmas from all at Jumpers for Goalposts!