Premier Picks: Survival scrap wide open

Sunday 17th March 2013 8:29

Frank Lampard: Scored his 200th Chelsea goal against West Ham

Frank Lampard: Scored his 200th Chelsea goal against West Ham

Wigan's crucial win over Newcastle, Frank Lampard's 200th goal for Chelsea, and Tottenham's shock defeat feature in TEAMtalk's Premier Picks.

TEAMtalk picks out some of the key points around the grounds from the 30th round of fixtures in the 2012/13 Barclays Premier League season.

Wigan 2 Newcastle 1

While an essential three points for Wigan was the outcome of their encounter with Newcastle, it was a severe injury to Massadio Haidara that overshadowed events at the DW Stadium.

Callum McManaman's horrific first-half tackle on the Newcastle substitute incredibly did not even see a yellow card drawn by Mark Halsey, which angered Magpies fans and staff alike.

Before that incident, it was Jean Beausejour's first goal for Wigan which broke the deadlock, before an excellently worked equaliser from Newcastle in the second half saw Davide Santon also break his duck for his club.

There were cries for handball as Aroune Kone poked in the Latics' winner from close range, but as Newcastle boss Alan Pardew was left livid, Wigan manager Roberto Marnitez's side moved to within three points of 17th placed Aston Villa.

Neither side can begin to stop looking over their shoulders just yet, as the battle to avoid the drop this season continues to provide more twists and turns along the way.

Jack Woodfield

Tottenham 0 Fulham 1

Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas insisted he had no worries of fatigue affecting his players, but he might change his mind after the below-par showing in the defeat to Fulham.

Spurs looked lethargic from their midweek European exertions when they were taken to extra-time before prevailing against Inter Milan and Fulham took full advantage to earn a rare away win.

It was a very lacklustre Spurs showing, and most concerning of all for the home fans it was their third defeat in a row to leave the race for a top-four finish wide open.

Gareth Bale had an off-day for Spurs and without his inspiration Villas-Boas' side again looked devoid of ideas, with Emmanuel Adebayor again struggling to make an impact.

However, credit should go to Fulham, who defended superbly and caught Spurs on the break with a goal from former White Hart Lane favourite Dimitar Berbatov.

The win should be enough to secure Premier League survival and Fulham's form since the turn of the year will be a major boost for Martin Jol who will have enjoyed going back to his old club to take all three points.

Pete O'Rourke

Chelsea 2 West Ham 0

The major talking point from Chelsea's 2-0 derby win over West Ham on Sunday was Frank Lampard reaching the milestone of 200 goals for the Blues - and giving his prospects of a contract extension another boost.

But while Lampard's feat will take the headlines, his overall performance was overshadowed by that of team-mate Eden Hazard, who made a nuisance of himself all afternoon to cause West Ham problems.

Hazard set up Lampard's opener with a cute chip and added a goal of his own after the break - a slicing shot executed after he burst into the box from some great build-up with Juan Mata. The Belgian's hot form is likely to serve Chelsea well going into the concluding weeks of the season and his partnership with Mata continues to flourish.

On the West Ham side of things, Jussi Jaaskelainen was one of the best players on the pitch, making several key saves to keep the scoreline low when Chelsea really should have been out of sight. Demba Ba didn't have his scoring boots on but Jaaskelainen didn't help his cause, coming off best in several one-one-one situations.

The Hammers have now lost four of their last six in the league and are only six points clear of relegation so will know they need a win when they host West Brom later this month.

Rachel Griffiths

Sunderland 1 Norwich 1

With neither team renowned for their potency in front of goal, it was not likely to be a goal-fest at the Stadium of Light, and a 1-1 between Sunderland and Norwich did little for either side's survival hopes.

Norwich deservedly took the lead through Wes Hoolahan on 25 minutes, but Mark Bunn's controversial sending off threw the game wide open after the goalkeeper rushed out of his box to clear the ball.

It seemed to hit his elbow, but Bunn received his marching order nonetheless and shortly afterwards a thumping Craig Gardner penalty levelled things up.

The home fans implored their side to seize the initiative in the second half, but woeful attacking coupled with valiant Norwich defending saw the visitors come closest to scoring through substitute Grant Holt.

Both teams desperately needed victory on Sunday, and a point will likely satisfy no-one as both continue to hover precariously above the Premier League relegation zone.

Jack Woodfield

Southampton 3 Liverpool 1

Southampton were positive from the outset against Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino didn't hold back in picking Rickie Lambert, Gaston Ramirez and Jay Rodriguez to start against in-form opponents. There were no thoughts of trying to contain Liverpool and pick off their opponents on the break, and Pochettino was richly rewarded with a deserved three points.

Lambert's physical qualities kept Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel constantly on the back foot and the movement from the likes of Rodriguez, Ramirez and Adam Lallana had Liverpool chasing shadows, particularly in the first half.

But for a combination of Brad Jones and the occasional piece of profligacy, Southampton would have been out of sight by half-time and it is to their credit that they were not rattled by Liverpool pulling a goal back from Philippe Coutinho just before the interval.

Following on from the impressive home win over Manchester City last month, it is hard to see Southampton going down if they can produce this level of performance in their remaining fixtures.

As for Liverpool, the momentum was with Brendan Rodgers' side after three successive wins, with results starting to match performances. But the first half, in particular, must rank among Liverpool's worst performances of the season and there was no cohesion about their play.

There was far too much space between defence and midfield, and there appeared to be a lack of organisation and leadership about the team.

There was an improvement after half-time, but Saints keeper Artur Boruc was never seriously tested and the abject defending for Jay Rodriguez's goal 10 minutes from time summed up the miserable nature of the afternoon for Liverpool.

Mark Buckingham

Manchester United 1 Reading 0

Wayne Rooney's deflected goal may have given Manchester United the win to leave them just 13 points away from lifting a 20th top-flight title but the main talking point revolved around Rio Ferdinand, who rolled back the years to turn in another marvellous performance, which included claiming the assist for Rooney's winner.

The 'will he-won't he' debate over Ferdinand's international return may not be answered for certain until Monday night, when Roy Hodgson's England squad are due to report at St George's Park. However, Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed after the victory over Reading that Ferdinand was free to join the England squad.

However, there can be no doubt why Hodgson has been willing to go back on all those previous indications that he had "moved on" from the 34-year-old.

Quite apart from the vast experience that would make Ferdinand such an unflappable presence in that vital World Cup qualifier in Montenegro on 26 March, the former West Ham United and Leeds United man also possesses an assured presence in possession that few Premier League defenders of any nationality, let alone English, can match.

Reading, meanwhile, look doomed after a comparatively toothless performance from a squad who looked short on confidence, which only served to make the decision to sack Brian McDermott all the more baffling.

Peter Fraser

Swansea 0 Arsenal 2

When Arsene Wenger dropped goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and captain Thomas Vermaelen for the trip to Bayern Munich in midweek it was seen as tantamount to an admission that the tie was dead. It could turn out to be the turning point of the Gunners' season.

A spirited 2-0 win in Bavaria was not enough to see Arsenal through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League but that word 'spirit' was what Wenger was left pointing to after his side followed that result up with another two-goal win at Swansea on Saturday.

With the game seemingly heading for a goalless draw, Arsenal refused to settle for a point and pushed on for the winner. "The fact that our left-back scored the goal inside the box shows that we had the spirit, the desire and are up for the fight," said the manager after the game.

With Tottenham and Chelsea still in their sights, just how much further that can take Arsenal by May remains to be seen.

Adam Bate

Aston Villa 3 QPR 2

How big a result will this prove to be for both clubs come the end of the season as Aston Villa got the better of Queens Park Rangers in their relegation six-pointer.

Whatever Paul Lambert said at half-time must have worked as Villa were a different team and inspired by man-of-the-match Andreas Weimann they picked up a priceless three points.

QPR bossed the first half and really should have scored more than Jermaine Jenas's strike with Brad Guzan denying them on several occasions.

They were made to pay for those missed chances when Gabriel Agbonlahor headed them level with Villa's only noteworthy opportunity of the opening period.

Villa were much more positive in the second half and Weimann was instrumental in that scoring their second goal before setting Christian Benteke for the winner after Andros Townsend had drew QPR level.

It was the first time Villa had secured back-to-back wins under Paul Lambert and it could prove pivotal having won against two of their relegation rivals Reading and QPR in the last two weeks.

For QPR, it was a major setback after going into the game following back-to-back victories and they are now running out of games to save themselves and Harry Redknapp will be left to rue dropped points at Villa Park.

Pete O'Rourke

Everton 2 Manchester City 0

Roberto Mancini stated weeks ago that his Manchester City side could not afford to lose another Premier League defeat this season, and a 2-0 loss at Everton all but ends their attempts to retain their title this season.

Mancini was left fuming over a handball from Marouane Fellaini with ten minutes to go at Goodison Park, with a free-kick given on the edge of the penalty box by Lee Probert instead of a spot kick.

Had Probert's decision have been different, the final ten minutes may have swung another way, but this was a tremendous performance from Everton, who bounced back magnificently from their FA Cup defeat to Wigan last weekend.

Seamus Coleman and Leon Osman were outstanding, and it was a sensational strike from the latter that broke the deadlock in the first half, before substitute Nikica Jelavic made sure of the points with virtually the last kick of the game.

Everton remain in the hunt for European football next season, but Man City will be looking behind them at Spurs and Chelsea rather than looking forward, with second place now the best they can hope for in this campaign.

Jack Woodfield

Stoke 0 West Brom 0

Stoke City's poor run of only one win in 11 games has been underpinned by the fact that they have scored just nine goals in that period - and on the evidence of their 0-0 bore draw against West Bromwich Albion, it is easy to see why they are struggling to find the back of the net.

From the first minute to last, their attacking play was one dimensional and predictable, with a lack of penetration and creativity on the floor being compensated for by an over-reliance on set pieces and bombarding the opposition box with crosses.

This tactic is nothing new from Stoke - indeed, it is what they are often defined by - but West Brom knew what was coming, prepared accordingly and duly repelled everything that came into their penalty area.

And they aren't the only ones. In their 11-game slump, Stoke have been shut out by no fewer than six teams, meaning manager Tony Pulis must face up to the prospect that his side's aerial approach is not the weapon it once was and realise new ways of playing may be required.

Sadly for West Brom, their forwards were not quite as impressive as their defensive colleagues at the Britannia Stadium, with Romelu Lukaku being particularly guilty of wasting chances.

It is probably of little consequence for this season - they appear set for a top-10 finish - but if they want to progress next year, taking chances in tricky away games can often be the difference between European qualification and mid-table obscurity.

Matt Westby



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