Game of the weekend: Southampton 2-1 Chelsea
Southampton dealt a major blow to Chelsea‘s hopes of Champions League qualification with a stunning victory at St Mary’s that relieved their relegation worries. The win meant Mauricio Pochettino has now led the Saints to wins over Premier League giants with Manchester City and Liverpool also leaving the South Coast empty handed. With the FA Cup tie with Manchester United on Easter Monday there were seven changes made by Rafael Benitez to the side that beat West Ham a fortnight ago. And it showed as the home side began brightly and snatched the lead after 23 minutes when Jay Rodriguez beat Petr Cech with a composed finish following a slick build-up involving Steven Davis and Rickie Lambert. Their advantage didn’t last long as John Terry escaped his marker to meet Marko Marin’s corner and plant a firm header past Artur Boruc 10 minutes later before Lambert’s decisive intervention. The 31-year-old striker curled a fabulous free kick past Cech to mark his 500th league appearance in appropriate style and earn the Saints a crucial three points.
Result of the Weekend: Wigan Athletic 1-0 Norwich City
Wigan moved a step closer to Premier League safety after Arouna Kone’s late winner against Norwich lifted them out of the bottom three. Yet another great escape looks to be on the cards for Roberto Martinez and his side as they followed up the home win against Newcastle two weeks ago with a resilient display at the DW Stadium. One win in their last 14 has left Chris Hughton’s side dangling just four points above the relegation zone as their profligate attack was punished once again. The home side, on the other hand, have taken nine points from 12 but lead a charmed life and should have been dead and buried if it wasn’t for the Canaries’ wasteful finishing. The Latics came to life in the latter stages and, after Antonin Alcaraz saw a header cleared off the line and Jordi Gomez fired over, snatched the lead with 10 minutes left. Referee Howard Webb played a great advantage in the centre circle allowing Gomez to thread the ball through for Kone to run on to and fire past Lee Camp at the near post.
Rounding up the rest….
Manchester United strengthened their grip on the Premier League title with a narrow win over Sunderland at the Stadium Light. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men returned to the scene in which they ultimately lost the top-flight crown on last seasons dramatic final day. However this time the scenario was much changed and the league leaders left the North East having taken a major stride in their bid to regain the trophy from neighbours Manchester City. The game was settled just before the half hour mark when Robin Van Persie‘s cross-shot deflected off Titus Bramble and looped over goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. The Black Cats barely threatened an equaliser as under-pressure Martin O’Neill watched slipped to within a point of the relegation zone.
Arsenal entertained four different goal scorers as they maintained their top-four pursuit with a resounding win against struggling Reading at the Emirates Stadium. The game marked Nigel Adkins’ first as Royals manager and its one he will be quick to move on from as the home side demonstrated their budding late season confidence. Gervinho, much maligned by sections of the Gunners support, broke the deadlock on 11 minutes with a close range finish from Santi Cazorla‘s cross before the Spaniard found the net himself with a curling strike. Oliver Giroud made it three after the break as he drilled a low shot past former Arsenal keeper Stuart Taylor. The visitors did manage a consolation in the 68th minute through Hal Robson-Kanu‘s header but Mikel Arteta restored the three goal lead from the penalty spot after Adrian Marriapa fouled substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Gareth Bale was the match winner again for Tottenham as they moved up to third after beating Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. Andre Villas-Boas’ side recovered from defeats in their previous two games to secure all three points in South Wales and put themselves into a commanding position in the race for automatic Champions League qualification. They needed only seven minutes to grab the lead with Jan Vertonghen playing a neat one-two with Bale before brilliantly controlling the floated return pass and poking the ball past Michel with the ice cool composure of a world class striker. And the Belgian repaid the compliment 14 minutes later. His clever pass found Bale on the edge of the area and that the Spurs winger expertly controlled with his right foot before driving the ball into the top corner with his left. The hosts rallied after the break and halved the deficit with 20 minutes to go courtesy of Michu glancing in Sung-Yeung Ki’s corner to score his first goal since their Capital One Cup win last month.
In a week where Roberto Mancini conceded defeat in the title race Manchester City produced a champions performance to sweep past Newcastle. Mancini’s men struggled to break down the resilient Magpies for much of the first half until Carlos Tevez slid in to convert Gael Clichy’s low cross four minutes before the break. The advantage was doubled on the stroke of half time as David Silva fired home from inside the box after Rob Elliot pushed Edin Dzeko’s effort into his path. Alan Pardew’s side barely threatened Joe Hart’s goal and found themselves further behind just after the break. Gareth Barry’s strike looked to be heading wide only for Vincent Kompany to divert the ball into the net to mark his return in style after a two-month absence. Yaya Toure completed the rout with 20 minutes left as his ball in from the right flicked off James Perch and squirmed past Elliot at the near post. Defeat leaves Newcastle in a precarious position with only three points worth of breathing space above the drop zone.
Andy Carroll scored a rare brace to ease West Ham‘s relegation fears and dent 10-man West Brom’s hopes of European qualification. In a week where the Hammers announced they’ll be moving to the Olympic Stadium their current home provided the ideal setting to more or less guarantee they’ll be a Premier League club next season. A spell of early pressure from the Baggies failed to pay dividends and Carroll calmed the home crowds growing nerves with a thumping header from Gary O’Neil‘s corner in the 16th minute. O’Neil doubled the lead just before the half hour mark when Ricardo Vaz Te teed him up outside the penalty area to curl the ball over a stranded Ben Foster. Carroll wrapped the game up with 10 minutes remaining, watching James Collins’ free kick dip over his shoulder before executing a brilliant first time volley that flew past Foster. Graeme Dorrans nabbed a consolation from the penalty spot with two minutes to go before Youssuf Mulumbu compounded a miserable afternoon for Albion when he was sent off for kicking the ball at O’Neil after he was fouled by the West Ham midfielder.
Everton‘s boosted their chances of qualifying for Europe next season with a slender victory over Stoke at Goodison Park. Kevin Mirallas’ strike just before the half was all the Toffees required to send Tony Pulis’ struggling side pacing and leave them just four points clear of the drop zone. The goal itself was fit to win any game as Mirallas shrugged off the challenge of Steven N’Zonzi in the centre circle and ran at the visiting defence, bamboozling Geoff Cameron with a rapid change of direction before burying the ball past Asmir Begovic. The Potters missed a host of chances to snatch a point in the second half with Ryan Shotton’s heading wide from close range and highlighting their current predicament.
Liverpool came from behind to beat Aston Villa and deny them the chance to pull out of the relegation zone. Paul Lambert’s side were seeking a third straight victory that would boost their chances of remaining in the Premier League next season. And they looked on course to achieve that when top scorer Christian Benteke fired home from Gabriel Agbonlahor’s lay-off on the half hour mark. But just two minutes after the break the visitors levelled when Phillipe Coutinho split the Villa defence in half to pick out the run of Jordan Henderson who calmly clipped the ball over the onrushing Brad Guzan. Steven Gerrard converted from the penalty spot on the hour after Luis Suarez was fouled by Nathan Baker to complete the turnaround. Victory leaves Brendan Rodgers’ troops just three points shy of sixth spot which is currently occupied by Merseyside neighbours Liverpool.