By Ross CraeFollow @JfGpodcasts
With the FA Cup robbing the Premier League of several fixtures, there were a reduced number of games this weekend. However, the games that did take place had no reduction in excitement value.
West Brom and Swansea may have been tipped to be caught up in a bit of trouble before the season began, but the two are flying high in the top half of the table and did battle on Saturday afternoon at the Hawthorns.
After Michu missed two early chances, former Baggie Luke Moore gave the Swans the lead, deftly flicking Jonathan De Guzman’s corner past Ben Foster with the back of his head after 33 minutes.
The Baggies responded soon after, Graham Dorrans delivering an inviting ball into Romelu Lukaku who delivered a deadly first time finish on 40 minutes.
His finishing wasn’t so deadly after the break, seeing his penalty saved by Foster after Wayne Routledge had brought down James Morrison.
The Baggies did take the lead in the 61st minute in comical fashion as Angel Rangel headed a Gareth McAuley effort back into his own net off the head of De Guzman.
Swansea thought they had scored a dramatic late equaliser, but Roland Lamah’s effort was wrongly ruled out. The Belgian had found his way into the box and delivered a cross which ricocheted back to him off McAuley but referee Lee Mason ruled that it had come off a fellow Swan. No wonder Lamah has a song called If There’s Any Justice.
In the rest of the day’s fixtures, the relegation dogfights raged on. QPR have found out how to win games recently, and kept up their good form with a win over Sunderland at Loftus Road.
The Black Cats were first to score, however, as Steven Fletcher poked a shot from Adam Johnson past Robert Green after 20 minutes.
Sometimes you just need a bit of luck to get you going, and QPR got that after half an hour as an Andros Townsend shot was deflected into the path of Loic Remy who fired past Simon Mignolet.
There was nothing lucky about QPR’s two second half goals. The first came in the 70th minute from Townsend, a dipping volley from 22 yards that sailed into the top corner.
In the 90th minute, substitute Jermaine Jenas hit another scorcher, this time into the bottom corner from 20 yards. Could Harry save QPR after all?
It was a miserable afternoon in Norwich (no change there then) as the Canaries took on Southampton. In the first half, Robert Snodgrass forced Artur Boruc into a save from a free-kick and at the other end Mark Bunn denied Adam Lallana and Gaston Ramirez.
In the second half Lallana blasted over from inside the box after a half clearance from Javier Garrido fell kindly to him. Snodgrass later claimed for a penalty, but his appeals were waved away as there had not been contact from Boruc when the Scotland international went down in the box.
There was a controversial late penalty awarded to Norwich, however, after Grant Holt went down easily under a challenge from Luke Shaw. Holt took the penalty, but Boruc sensationally denied his opponents an injury time winner.
Reading faced Aston Villa at the Madejski Stadium in yet another six-pointer. Villa presented the Royals with a calamitous own goal in the 32nd minute, as Nathan Baker’s untimely miscue hacked Jobi McAnuff’s ball across the face of goal into the back of the net.
Villa were level within seconds after breaking forward, with Andreas Weimann providing the perfect pull-back for Christian Benteke to beat Stuart Taylor with the aid of a slight deflection.
The home crowd were stunned as Villa took the lead on the stroke of half time. After a long spell of Villa passing, Barry Bannan poked a shot off the post which was cleared as far as Gabriel Agbonlahor who smashed a powerful shot past Taylor.
Reading had chances to get back into the game in the second half, Hal Robson-Kanu hit a shot wide, Noel Hunt had a goal disallowed for offside and Nick Blackman headed straight at Brad Guzan. Paul Lambert’s men held on to record a crucial victory.
First up on Sunday, Stoke travelled to Newcastle. There wasn’t much excitement for most of the game until Chieck Tiote brought down Jonathan Walters in the box, with Walters himself scoring the resultant spot kick in the 67th minute.
The equaliser came from the cultured wand that is Yohan Cabaye’s right foot. Moussa Sissoko was brought down right on the edge of the penalty area and Cabaye scooped in the equaliser in the 72nd minute.
Cisse gave the Magpies the lead in the 92nd minute after Sylvain Marveaux played a wonderful ball into the box and the Senegal striker controlled it before slotting home a late winner.
It was billed as the battle of two men at the top of their game. Gareth Bale v Luis Suarez. Who would be the winner in a clash of the titans between Liverpool and Spurs?
It was Bale who made the first move, forcing Brad Jones into an unorthodox save with an early swerving free kick.
Suarez struck the first blow though, and opened the scoring on 21 minutes with a cute finish after great build up play. Jose Enrique slipped the ball into the Uruguayan’s stride, and he poked the ball past Hugo Lloris at his near post.
Another of Spurs top performers this season, Jan Vertonghen, provided the equaliser on the stroke of half time, heading in a cross sent in by Bale with pinpoint accuracy.
Vertonghen scored again in the second half, a Bale free-kick sailed into the box, wasn’t dealt with correctly and the Belgian defender managed to get a shot away to give Spurs the lead after 53 minutes.
In the 66th minute and out of nowhere, Liverpool had an equaliser as Lloris went walkabout and failed to clear the ball, Stewart Downing firing into the back of the net through the legs of Vertonghen.
Liverpool’s winner came from the spot, Benoit Assou-Ekotto bringing down Suarez in the box with Reds captain Gerrard firing the spot-kick past Lloris in the 82nd minute.