Result of the Weekend: Southampton 3-1 Manchester City
Maurico Pochettino earned his first win as Southampton manager to strike a near fatal blow on Manchester City‘s title defence. The Argentine finally broke his duck at the fourth time of asking to lift the Saints six-points clear of the Premier League drop zone. The outlook looks considerably bleaker for opposite number Roberto Mancini with City missing the chance to close the gap on leaders Manchester United, who could increase their lead to 12 points tomorrow. This particular game will be remembered for a series of glaring defensive errors that effectively handed the home side a crucial win and extinguish any lingering hope of holding onto their crown. Jason Puncheon was the first to take advantage when he robbed Gareth Barry of possession and played in Jay Rodriguez on the edge of the area. His shot was saved by Joe Hart but Puncheon was on hand to convert the rebound into an empty net. The usually unflappable Hart was then at fault for Southmapton’s second goal, allowing Rickie Lambert’s 22nd minute strike squirm through his legs for Steven Davis to stab the ball home on the line. Edin Dzeko offered City a glimmer of hope just before the break when he headed a corner away in his home penalty area and finished off the subsequent break, sliding in to convert Pablo Zabaleta’s cross. But it proved to be a false dawn and Barry’s embarrassing own goal three minutes after the restart secured victory for the home side.
Game of the Weekend: Swansea City 4-1 QPR
QPR’s five-match unbeaten run came to shuddering halt at the Liberty Stadium as Swansea strolled to a comfortable win on a sobering afternoon for Harry Redknapp. The R’s are now four points adrift at the foot of the table and fell behind after eight minutes when Michu followed up Nathan Dyer’s shot to end a six-game goal drought. Angel Rangel doubled the home sides advantage in the 18th minute with a cool finish after Julio Cesar saved his initial effort. That jolted the visitors into life and substitute Bobby Zamora halved he deficit three minutes after half time with a clinical finish from 12-yards. But it wasn’t long before Swansea restored their two-goal lead with Pablo Hernandez weaving through the Rangers defence and beating Cesar from the angle. And by the 50th minute it was game, set and match as Michu added the fourth and his 15th league goal of the season, curling deftly into the corner after shrugging off Christopher Samba to keep Michael Laudrup’s side in contention for European qualification.
Manchester United tightened their grip on the Premier League trophy after extending their lead at the top to 12 points with an easy victory over Everton. There was no repeat of last seasons dramatic eight-goal thriller at Old Trafford, a game Sir Alex Ferguson believes cost his side the title, as United saw off the Toffees in an efficient manner befitting of their champions elect tag. After seeing Manchester City slide to defeat at Southampton 24-hours earlier Ferguson knew a win would effectively seal a 20th top-flight crown and it was appropriate that Ryan Giggs was the man to open the scoring in the 13th minute. Robin Van Persie gave Johnny Heitinga the slip and set up Giggs to guide the ball past Tim Howard via the post from 12-yards meaning he’s now scored in each of the Premier League’s 21 seasons. The visitors rallied and came close when Leon Osman tried his luck with a volley from 20-yards that forced David De Gea into a sprawling save. But it proved futile as Van Persie beat the offside trap just after the break to race onto Rafael’s pass and evade Howard before dispatching the ball into an empty net to put the game beyond doubt and put United in pole position to lift the title in May.
Aston Villa lifted themselves out of the bottom three after two late goals proved enough to see off West Ham at Villa Park. Paul Lambert’s men hadn’t recorded a Premier League victory since beating Liverpool on December 15th but improved to see off the Hammers and give their survival hopes a huge boost. Andreas Weinmann’s embarrassing miss from six-yards was as close to goal as both sides got in the first half and it wasn’t until Christian Benteke scored from the penalty spot 15 minutes from time that the game sprung into life. Mark Noble’s clumsy foul on Charles N’Zogbia allowed Benteke to bury his 15th league goal of the season from 12-yards and give the home support a rare chance to celebrate. The revelry had barely died down before N’Zogbia curled a delightful free kick over the West Ham wall and into the top corner moments later. But after sacrificing a two-goal lead at Everton the week earlier Sam Allardyce knew Villa were prone to crumbling and Ashley Westwood‘s own goal set up a tense finale but two superb saves from Brad Guzan in injury time prevented the visitors from snatching a point.
Rounding up the rest…
Gareth Bale continued his impressive scoring run with a brace for Tottenham against Newcastle at White Hart Lane. The Welsh winger opened the scoring in the 4th minute with a sweetly struck free kick which beat Tim Krul. The Magpies, who won their previous two games, responded well to going behind and levelled after 24 minutes when Moussa Sissoko charged onto Jonas Gutierrez’s pass down the right and pulled back for Yoann Gouffran to slam home via a deflection from Michael Dawson. Gouffran left the field on a stretcher after a clash from Kyle Walker before Bale capitalised on indecision between Fabrico Coloccini and Steven Taylor to charge into the penalty area and fire a low effort past Krul to extend Spurs’ unbeaten run to 10 games and strengthen their Champions League hopes.
Chelsea produced a resounding display to see off Wigan at Stamford Bridge and record their first league win in four matches. Ramires opened the scoring after 23 minutes with an emphatic finish before Eden Hazard slammed home Cesar Azpilcueta’s cross just after half time to seemingly put the game beyond doubt. Shaun Maloney had other ideas and beat the Blues offside trap, rounded Petr Cech and finished from a tight angle. But the Latics hopes of salvaging a point were ended four minutes from time by Frank Lampard. Hazard’s cut back was dummied by Juan Mata and the 34-year-old drove the ball into the corner for his 198th goal in Chelsea colours. Substitute Marko Marin headed in the fourth to keep Rafael Benitez’s side in third above Tottenham.
Santi Cazorla struck the only goal to earn 10-man Arsenal a priceless victory against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Good work from Theo Walcott set up the Spanish midfielder to fire through a sea of red and white shirts 10 minutes before half time. It proved to be the decider in a fraught encounter on Wearside that saw the Gunners lose Jack Wilshere to injury and then Carl Jenkinson after he was sent off just after the hour for a foul on Stephane Sessegnon. Martin O’Neill’s side pressed hard for an equaliser but just couldn’t find a way past an Wojciech Szczesny in the visitors goal.
Stoke recorded their first Premier League win of 2013 with second half goals from Robert Huth and Cameron Jerome enough to see off resurgent Reading who lost for the first time since New Years day. After a dour and goalless first period it was the Potters who started to crank up the pressure and Huth rose above three visiting defenders to power home Glenn Whelan’s corner in the 67th minute. That goal relieved the tension around the Britannia Stadium and Jerome scored what proved to be the winner, lashing beyond Adam Federici with nine minutes to go before Adrian Mariappa gave the Royal’s hope of pulling off another late comeback, but it wasn’t to be on this occasion.
Norwich and Fulham had to settle for a point as they cancelled each other out in a goalless draw at Carrow Road. Canaries new boy Luciano Becchio spurned a series of gilt edged opportunities to earn Chris Hughton’s side their first win in 10 games, while Steve Sidwell’s 20-yard drive was the best the visitors could muster as they kept their first clean sheet in 12 games.