Premier Picks: Fergie fumes, Bale shines

Wednesday 26th December 2012 22:43

Fuming Fergie, lacklustre Liverpool, frugal Chelsea and the brilliant Gareth Bale feature in our Premier Picks from Boxing Day's action.

Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 3, by Rob Parrish

Sir Alex Ferguson could well find himself on the receiving end of a communiqué from the Football Association in the coming days after his rant at referee Mike Dean and assistant Jake Collin during Manchester United's 4-3 victory over Newcastle United at Old Trafford.

Ferguson was left seething after the officials eventually, and correctly, allowed Newcastle's second goal to stand when Jonny Evans could only divert Danny Simpson's driven low cross beyond David De Gea at the near post in the 28th minute.

Collin initially raised his flag with Papiss Cisse standing in an offside position, but after consulting with Dean the goal was given as the Magpies striker had not touched the ball, although whether he was interfering with play given his proximity to both De Gea and Evans is open to debate.

Ferguson was furious, but waited until the start of the second half before becoming embroiled in a heated discussion with Dean as the two teams emerged from the tunnel before continuing his outburst at the fourth official and then with Collin.

Dean could, and should, have sent the United boss to the stands and if he includes the incident in his match report then it appears inevitable that Ferguson will be facing a disciplinary charge for his obvious lambasting of the match officials.

Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0, by Graeme Bailey

A surprisingly underwhelming display from Man City. Their plan was clear, come out of the traps quickly and try and catch the home side cold and silence the Stadium of Light version of the 'Roker Roar'.

But good goalkeeping from Simon Mignolet kept City at bay, and they seemed to lose ideas and Sunderland came more and more into the game, with Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon looking like their former selves.

The goal was lucky, on two counts. The foul on Pablo Zabaleta in the build-up and the fact Joe Hart should have saved Johnson's shot, but Roberto Mancini should not use any of this as an excuse, City were poor and did not look like defending champions on this display.

Sunderland move clear of trouble, and even more than City don't look like champions, the Black Cats don't look like relegation fodder.

Norwich 0 Chelsea 1, by Pete O'Rourke

Rafa Benitez is clearly beginning to stamp his own mark on Chelsea after their 1-0 win over Norwich. While last weekend's win over Aston Villa was all about attacking play Chelsea showed they know how to defend as they snuffed out Norwich with comfortable ease at Carrow Road.

Norwich have already beaten Arsenal and Manchester United at Carrow Road this season, but they never looked like repeating the feat against a well-organised Chelsea side.

Chelsea were guilty of conceding too many goals earlier in the season, but it appears Benitez is starting to sort out this problem as they were in total control against Norwich as Petr Cech was a relative bystander in the game.

The win has moved Chelsea to within four points of second-placed Manchester City, with a game in hand, and it would be no surprise if Benitez can turn Chelsea into leaders Manchester United's closest challengers in the second half of the season.

For Norwich it was their second straight defeat, but they will have easier games to come than this as Chelsea look a different proposition, especially at the back, under Benitez.

Aston Villa 0 Tottenham 4, by Raz Mirza

We're starting to run out of superlatives to describe Gareth Bale. The Welsh wizard was simply spellbinding after delivering his second career hat-trick for Tottenham.

We all know how he announced himself to the rest of Europe after that display against Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League and although he was up against a vastly inexperienced Aston Villa side still smarting from their 8-0 rout at Chelsea, he showed no mercy as Lambert's lambs were slaughtered.

The Londoners were completely dominant in possession during the first half and should have well and truly been out of sight before Jermain Defoe's opener just before the hour mark.

Villa's 3-5-2 system may have worked over the last few weeks, but the West Midlanders were completely overwhelmed against a more experienced unit and it was just a matter of time before the floodgates opened, despite the switch to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation to combat the visitors' domination.

Villa's defeat leaves them fifth from bottom with the worst goal difference in the Premier League with a crunch clash against Wigan to come at the weekend.

Meanwhile, Andre Villa-Boas was understandably happy with a win that lifted his side into fourth place, two points behind Chelsea in third, although they have a difficult trip to Sunderland to come.

Everton 2 Wigan 1, by Andy Schooler

Everton showed they can win when not playing well - something that will be crucial if they are to maintain their challenge for a place in the top four.

If they go through the second half of the season losing just twice, as they've done in the first, they should make it. However, they need to shore up at the back - more poor defending let Wigan back into this game and their run without a clean sheet is now at 15 matches.

Leon Osman again impressed, proving why he's now an England international, while it was somewhat fitting that Phil Neville should set up the winner on his 500th Premier League appearance.

Wigan find themselves in the bottom three at halfway but there is no need to despair based on this performance. Arouna Kone and Shaun Maloney offered plenty going forward and had Maloney been awarded a penalty - as it appeared he should - the result could well have been different.

QPR 1 West Brom 2, by Chris Burton

Chris Foy appeared to deliver a couple of late Christmas gifts to West Brom on Boxing Day, despite claims from Baggies boss Steve Clarke at the final whistle that the match officials got every big decision spot on.

Harry Redknapp may have overstepped the mark a little in branding certain calls 'scandalous', but you can see where the QPR manager is coming from. Quite how Robert Green was not awarded a free-kick as West Brom notched their second goal of the afternoon at Loftus Road, only Foy knows.

In an era where goalkeepers are protected more than ever, with the slightest touch often penalised, Marc-Antoine Fortune was allowed to back himself into Green and steer him over the goal-line. Yes, the QPR keeper should have done better than flap the ball into his own net, but he was waiting on a whistle which never arrived.

Later in the game, fortune (not the striker this time) favoured the Baggies again as the ball struck Liam Ridgewell's hand inside the box and Foy turned a deaf ear to the protests of a home support who were starting to realise that this was not going to be their day.

West Brom were the better side over the course of 90 minutes and can rightly argue that they did enough to claim three points. They will also point out that these things have a tendency to even themselves out over the course of a gruelling Premier League campaign.

That, though, is of little consolation to QPR, who find themselves back at the foot of the table and contemplating a run of games through into the New Year which will see them take on Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham - and West Brom again in the third round of the FA Cup.

Stoke City 3 Liverpool 1, by Andy Schooler

Liverpool won 4-0 on Saturday but this match showed victory over Fulham was simply papering over the cracks.

They weren't good enough in the final third and were rattled when Stoke were snapping at them in the first half. Daniel Sturridge may be set to arrive but the Reds don't just need a striker - they need more creativity.

Stoke, meanwhile, had their tactics spot on. Liverpool had plenty of the ball but they weren't allowed much time on it, while the hosts' front two of Kenwyne Jones and Jon Walters were outstanding.

They are now unbeaten in nine games - their best such run since returning to the top flight. Would it really be a major surprise if the Potters were to finish above Liverpool this season? Not based on this evidence.

Fulham 1 Southampton 1, by Matthew Westby

Having dominated the first half and gone into the break 1-0 up, Fulham were in the ideal position to go on and wrap up a comfortable 2-0 or 3-0 victory over a team fighting relegation. Instead, they failed to match Southampton's urgency after the restart and, in doing so, set the tone for a second half spent almost entirely on the back foot.

Their poor pressing enabled to the visitors to mount a series of attacks and although that particular shortfall can be rectified easily enough, repairing the increasingly evident damage to their belief and confidence will take far more work.

Fulham seemed to lack conviction going forward and their strikers became increasingly isolated as thoughts turned to hanging on for a victory that they were ultimately and deservedly denied.

Southampton, meanwhile, can take great heart from bouncing back from a woeful opening 20 minutes in which they could have conceded several times and looked well out of their depth.

Bit by bit they built momentum and had Gaston Ramirez's late strike found the back of the net at the end of an impressive second half, they would have been worthy winners.

As it is, a solitary point means they remain locked in the fight against relegation - a battle that Fulham could well be about to join if Martin Jol cannot arrest his side's worrying slump.

Reading 0 Swansea 0, by Steve Pass

Reading boss Brian McDermott will have taken the positives after seeing his side stop the rot and halt a seven-match losing Premier League run. The goalless draw saw the Royals earn their first Premier League point since 17th November and climb off the bottom of the table, leap-frogging QPR.

While McDermott's side are still rooted deep in the relegation zone, another positive is they were the only one of the bottom three teams to pick up a point on Boxing Day, although fourth-from-bottom Southampton also drew.

After conceding nine goals in their last two home games, Reading's onus was clearly on keeping a clean sheet and McDermott will be delighted they did so, although they rode their luck at times. At the other end, the Royals showed little threat until Adam Le Fondre came on, whose late goalbound volley was headed off the line by Swansea defender Chico Flores.

McDermott will now be looking to build on this platform as his side seek to bridge the six-point gap to safety, with a vital home clash with fellow promoted side West Ham next up on Saturday.

For Swansea, boss Michael Laudrup will have been disappointed in his side's inability to turn chances into goals, particularly with their wayward long distance shooting. But Laudrup's top-half side are again proving they can hold their own in the top flight.



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