Championship wrap: Middlesbrough go second as West Ham slip

Middlesbrough moved into second place in the Championship on Saturday, as West Ham were upset by Derby County.

Derby shot out of the blocks against third-placed West Ham at Pride Park, with Callum Ball putting them ahead after just two minutes, while Paul Green added a second eight minutes later.

Frank Nouble pulled one back for the visitors three minutes before the break, but they could not find a leveller and remain three points behind league leaders Southampton, who were beaten 1-0 by Bristol City on Friday.

Middlesbrough had the chance to move level with Southampton on points, but they were thwarted by a late equaliser from Tommy Rowe in their 1-1 draw with Peterborough United.

A goal six minutes after the break from Australian Scott McDonald gave Tony Mowbray’s men the lead, but Rowe’s late header means Middlesbrough are two points behind Southampton in second place.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Barnsley hampered Leeds United’s promotion hopes with a 4-1 victory at Oakwell Stadium.

Ricardo Vaz Te scored a hat-trick for the home side, while Leeds’ only joy came via an injury-time consolation from Luciano Becchio.

A 23rd-minute goal from Jermaine Easter lifted Crystal Palace to a 1-0 win at Millwall, while a brace from Marvin Sordell helped Watford post a 4-1 victory at home against Doncaster Rovers.

Leicester played out a 1-1 draw with Portsmouth at The King Power Stadium, and goals from Chris Davies, Marlon King and Nathan Redmond powered Birmingham to a 3-0 win at home over Blackpool.

Kenny Miller scored just before the hour mark to give Cardiff a 1-0 win at struggling Nottingham Forest, Burnley defeated Hull 1-0 while Coventry remain in the relegation zone despite their 2-0 home victory over Brighton.

And Reading moved to fifth courtesy of their 1-0 triumph over Ipswich Town.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Premier League: Norwich 1 Fulham 1

A last-gasp Simeon Jackson goal saw Norwich City claim a 1-1 draw against Fulham at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Portuguese striker Orlando Sa scored an early goal for Fulham after great work from Moussa Dembele, but the hosts eventually responded.

Paul Lambert’s team had more than their fair-share of chances, but they failed to take any of them and were left to rue poor finishing, until Jackson headed home in injury time to secure a point.

The match started with a quick tempo and Martin Jol’s side took the lead inside five minutes thanks to Dembele’s fine build up.

The Belgian international carved through the midfield before slipping a good ball through to Sa, who guided his shot from the edge of the box into goal.

The visitors almost doubled their lead moments later, but Sa’s effort was cleared off the line by Kyle Naughton.

That prompted a Norwich response, with Zak Whitbread going close as he saw his header tipped on to the cross bar.

Fulham could have increased their lead as a ricochet in the area saw the ball drop kindly for Clint Dempsey, but his header came back off the bar.

The visitors managed to keep a hold of the lead into the second half as whatever chances Norwich had were wasted, but there was a renewed sense of optimism for Norwich after the break as Grant Holt replaced the poor David Fox.

The first chance of the second half came ten minutes in and Norwich could have equalised, but a great John Arne Riise block denied the frustrated hosts.

Norwich went even closer moments later, but the crossbar denied them again as Naughton cut inside before shooting from a tight angle.

The hosts continued to pile on the pressure in the final ten minutes and got their reward inside injury time as Elliott Bennett’s cross from the right was headed in by Jackson.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Incredible day in the Premier League as giants slip up at home

Today’s Premier League games produced two simply incredible results with both Manchester United and Chelsea both losing at home.

Manchester United suffered a surprise 3-2 defeat to lowly Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford.

Chelsea were shocked by Aston Villa as the visitors came away from Stamford Bridge with a 3-1 victory. These two results seemed like a fitting end to an amazing year.

Poopers

Blackburn ruined United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s 70th birthday celebration with a superb display.  Blackburn were bottom of the table when the game kicked-off and nobody would have given them a chance at Old Trafford. I certainly wouldn’t have bet on a Rovers victory before the game.

However the visitors produced a display that would have sent their fans home wondering why they haven’t played like that for the whole season.

Young

Blackburn were without a number of first team players and arrived at Old Trafford with a very young side. The likes of Grant Hanley and Adam Henley have hardly any first team experience, yet they produced fantastic displays against United.

Young defender Grant Hanley even scored the late winner. Backup keeper Mark Bunn was also outstanding for a second consecutive week. The 27 year-old has proved an able deputy to former-England keeper Paul Robinson.

Poor

In a rare coincidence Chelsea suffered a defeat at home to Aston Villa. The Blues have now failed to win in four Premier League games. Andre Villas-Boas’ side has now slipped out of the top four of the Premier League.

If their form doesn’t improve then they could be in big danger of missing out on the Champions League places. Some might say that Villa snatched the victory with two late goals but they still managed to expose Chelsea’s poor defence.

Pressure

This latest defeat will put pressure on Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas. Until joining Chelsea the rookie boss had never had to overcome a poor period. The Portuguese boss joined a club which needed rebuilding and he has started that process.

It seems that owner Roman Abramovich is set to give Villas-Boas time to build his own team. However if the Blues continue to get beaten then the Russian may think again about the ex-Porto Boss’ position at the club.

Blow

The defeat against Blackburn could be a massive blow to Manchester United’s title challenge. The Red Devils are behind their arch-rivals Manchester City on goal difference but City now have a game in-hand on the Champions.

City visit Sunderland tomorrow afternoon hoping to increase their lead to three points. Sunderland won’t make it easy for the Citizens though as they have undergone a slight renaissance under new boss Martin O’Neill.

Revival

Like many people in recent months I have questioned Steve Kean’s ability to manage in the top flight. However he hasn’t deserved the stick and horrible abuse he has received over the last few weeks. I get the feeling that Blackburn fans were willing their side to lose just so that Kean would be closer to the sack.

Blackburn have achieved two brilliant results over the festive period. First Rovers drew 1-1 at Anfield last weekend and now a victory at Old Trafford. Steve Kean must be absolutely over the moon and I’m sure he will feel a great sense of relief and satisfaction after the last two results.

Surprise

The last day of 2011 threw up two of the biggest surprises of the year. Chelsea and Manchester United very rarely get beaten at home, especially on the same weekend. I just hope 2012 is just as exciting as 2011 has been and next year brings up just as many surprise results.

Was Blackburn’s win at United the biggest surprise of this year in the Premier League?

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Premier League: Bolton 1 Wolverhampton 1

Bolton played out a 1-1 draw against Wolves on Saturday, with Owen Coyle’s side remaining anchored at the bottom of the English Premier League.

Lack of quality up front dogged both sides throughout a subdued affair at the Reebok Stadium.

Sam Ricketts – making his first appearance since an Achilles tendon injury February – opened the scoring for Bolton after 22 minutes, but Steven Fletcher secured a point for Wolves four minutes after the interval.

The home side enjoyed the lion’s share of possession early on but after the first 20 minutes neither team had mustered a meaningful shot on goal.

That changed when Ricketts picked up the ball just inside the visitor’s half.

Wolves afforded the 30-year-old too much space on the left and he cut inside to curl right-footed shot past Wolves goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey from just outside the penalty area.

Wolves soon began to get a grip on proceedings and winger Stephen Ward launched a 30-yard rocket after 32 minutes, forcing Bolton ‘keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen into a diving stop that cause the ball to crash into the crossbar.

But in general, Bolton easily cleared sloppy Wolves forays into the box.

Bolton employed better short passing but could rarely fashion attempts on target and the visitors equalized just a few minutes into the second half.

Defender Matt Jarvis crossed a free-kick into the area and Bolton’s defenders were asleep, allowing Wolves forward Stephen Fletcher to head in from close range past a helpless Jaaskelainen.

The next quarter of an hour was subdued from both sides and although a second goal would have changed the match, neither team seemed prepared to gamble for it.

After 70 minutes, Bolton had a series of chances following a corner-kick, but Wolves’ keeper Hennessey was attentive to successive short-range efforts.

Bolton, at home and bottom of the league table, presumably wanted all three points more than their guests, but the lack of desire by Coyle’s men was obvious.

The Bolton manager brought on his club captain with just two minutes remaining, but Kevin Davies’ presence up front did little to inspire his club as the sides were forced to share the spoils.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Premier League: Chelsea 1 Aston Villa 3

Chelsea failed to win for the fourth Premier League game in a row as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa.

Didier Drogba grabbed the opener for his side from the penalty spot before Stephen Ireland bundled home to send the sides in level at half-time.

Despite the second-half introduction of Fernando Torres, the Blues could not find a breakthrough and they saw Stiliyan Petrov and substitute Darren Bent heap more misery on them with late goals which gave Alex McLeish’s side the win.

Chelsea struggled to find fluency in the opening exchanges as Villa stuck to their defensive task admirably, but a clumsy Richard Dunne tackle on Drogba handed the hosts a penalty which the Ivorian duly dispatched.

The goal did little, however, to dispel Chelsea’s stuttering start and it was unsurprising when the visitors hit back just five minutes later.

Charles N’Zogbia burst into the box after being released by Ireland, who then received the Frenchman’s cutback before firing home at his second attempt.

Another swift exchange between N’Zogbia and Ireland saw Gabriel Agbonlahor through onto goal, but the Villa striker could not provide the finishing touch and drove the ball straight into Petr Cech’s legs.

Torres then hit a fierce drive from the edge of the box that crashed off the Villa bar just seconds after his introduction.

Villa continued to provide stubborn resistance against the reinvigorated hosts and Marc Albrighton even served a reminder of his side’s menace with a volley which tested Cech at his near post.

Villa then stole the lead when Ciaran Clark found captain Petrov in space in a disorganised Chelsea defence and the midfielder steered the ball home.

Ireland, who had proved brilliant throughout his return to the first team, then intercepted Frank Lampard’s loose pass to find himself through on goal, and he unselfishly fed substitute Bent who forced the ball past Cech to seal the points for the visitors.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Premier League: Swansea 1 Tottenham 1

Tottenham were denied their ninth win in eleven Premier League games following a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Swansea on Saturday.

A forgettable first half at Liberty Stadium was dominated by Swansea, yet their inability to break the deadlock cost them as Rafael van der Vaart struck home from close range on the stroke of half-time.

Swansea pushed for much of the second half without success, but were handed a break when Brad Friedel lost the ball from a cross to allow Scott Sinclair to tap in and restore parity.

It was the home side who started the brighter of the two, with Nathan Dyer stinging the palms of Friedel early on with a well-struck 20-yard effort.

Sinclair was then inches away from adding to his tally of four for the season with a beautifully curled effort that clipped the side netting on its way wide.

Tottenham looked to have been gifted their first real opportunity of the game when Dyer sold Michel Vorm short with a poor back-pass, but the Dutch goalkeeper showed great awareness and technique to deny Emmanuel Adebayor a sure goal.

Despite the lack of clear-cut chances Swansea had been the better side, and they were dealt a sucker punch on the stroke of half-time.

Following some good work on the left hand side from Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Van der Vaart hammered home from ten yards, the ball taking a slight deflection to leave Vorm helpless.

It was Spurs who started the second half the better, Younes Kaboul with an adventurous run forward before exchanging a lovely one-two with Adebayor, only to see his low effort saved by Vorm at his front post.

Swansea had a great chance to equalise with ten minutes remaining but Kyle Walker recovered to deny Sinclair a tap in.

From the resulting corner Sinclair saw his low effort cleared off the line by Luka Modric as the hosts piled on the pressure.

With five minutes to go Brendan Rodgers’ men finally got the break they deserved when an Angel Rangel cross saw Friedel fumble the ball, with Sinclair on hand to tap in the equaliser.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Ferguson critical of United defending

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson rued his side’s poor defending in their shock 3-2 loss to Blackburn at Old Trafford.

A brace from Rovers top scorer Yakubu was cancelled out by Dimitar Berbatov in the second half, but defender Grant Hanley headed home from a corner to earn a late victory for the Premier League strugglers.

“It is a disappointment – we can’t believe it,” Ferguson told ESPN. “We never expected that to happen.”

“We have lost two terrible goals in the game and you cannot do that in games like this.”

“They are fighting for their lives of course and you can expect them to put up that kind of fight. They were resilient, they defended really well and blocked shots around the goal-line all day but if you lose goals like we did, then it gives them a big opportunity to hang on.”

United goalkeeper David De Gea was caught out of position by Hanley as he converted the decisive goal, but Sir Alex refused to place the blame solely on the young Spaniard.

“Yes, (De Gea could have done better), but I think we could all have done a lot better with (the third goal),” he said.

“We have got a lot of injuries at the moment but hopefully that will improve.”

“We had to take a gamble on Anderson’s fitness, he has been training very well for 10 days now but obviously for his first game back it is not easy, but he didn’t let us down and did his best.”

“Midfield is an area we were missing experience, like Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs.”

Despite the defeat handing the initiative to rivals Manchester City in the title race, Ferguson remained confident that his team would put the surprise setback behind them.

“We can improve on today’s performance and we won’t put many other displays in like that. I’m still very confident we will have a real go this season,” he said.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Michel cool on Zaragoza job

Real Madrid legend Michel says he will not be filling the coaching vacancy at Real Zaragoza.

The ex-Getafe man emerged as one of the prime candidates to take over at Zaragoza, following the sacking of Mexican coach Javier Aguirre after a poor start to the 2011/12 season.

Michel, who made over 400 appearances as a player for Real Madrid, has not coached since the end of last season when he was released by Getafe despite saving them from relegation.

Speaking on Saturday the 48-year-old said there had been contact from the club, but added that there was no prospect of him taking the job.

“I spent the whole of (Friday) travelling and when I arrived back in Madrid, I saw that the telephone was full of messages congratulating me for my new job in Zaragoza,” Michel told AS.

“I was surprised because I had not had any previous negotiations with them.”

“(Zaragoza) enquired over the possibility of meeting with me. We talked about sporting subjects and it was a cordial meeting, but it seems that there are differences in how I see the situation and what they are able to offer me.”

“I don’t think it will be easy for this to be resolved today, tomorrow or in a week. I have given my opinion and project for the club, and if they choose to fulfil this then negotiations will remain open. I cannot change my project because it is a realistic one.”

Zaragoza are bottom of La Liga, having picked up just 10 points from their first 16 fixtures.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Reports: Juve seal Borriello loan

Juventus have reportedly finalised a six-month loan deal for Roma forward Marco Borriello.

Sky Sports 24 claim Juve have completed the temporary switch for Borriello, who has struggled for first-team football since Luis Enrique took over at Roma, and will have the opportunity to sign the unsettled Italian on a permanent basis.

The club are believed to have paid between 500,000 and 1 million euros for the transfer and have the option to make the move permanent for another 7.5 million.

The 29-year-old began his career at AC Milan and has represented Genoa, Sampdoria and Treviso among other Italian clubs.

He netted 11 times in Serie A during his first season at Roma in 2010/11, but has played second-fiddle to Pablo Osvaldo since the Argentine-born forward arrived at the Stadio Olimpico in the off-season.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Premier League: Manchester United 2 Blackburn 3

Manchester United were stunned by Blackburn as two Yakubu goals and a late winner from Grant Hanley gave Steve Kean’s men a 3-2 victory.

Dimitar Berbatov pulled United level with two goals after Yakubu had sent Rovers into a shock two-goal lead at Old Trafford, but the home side failed to turn the screw and Hanley took advantage of some questionable goalkeeping from David De Gea to secure three points.

United were left stunned when Berbatov hauled down Chris Samba and referee Mike Dean duly pointed to the spot.

Yakubu sent the Spanish goalkeeper the wrong way to end any ideas Sir Alex Ferguson might have had a straightforward three points on his 70th birthday.

The home team continued to dominate possession but lacked the tempo required to really unsettle Blackburn’s two lines of defence.

Phil Jones had a close range effort blocked and Javier Hernandez shot narrowly wide after turning on to his left foot, but otherwise chances remained few and far between.

Nani finally forced Mark Bunn to work when he stabbed at a shot the young goalkeeper did well to parry shortly before the break.

Anderson replaced Hernandez at half-time in order to provide a more stable presence in the centre of the park but, remarkably, the visitors struck again out of very little.

Michael Carrick failed to intercept a short throw-in to Yakubu and the Nigerian skipped past Jones with ease before firing through the legs of De Gea.

The insurance provided by the second goal did not last long. Kean did not even have time to bring on young defender Josh Morris to reinforce the Blackburn barricade before United had pulled a goal back.

After Antonio Valencia’s cross from the right was blocked, Rafael fired the ball back across the six-yard box and Berbatov stooped to head past Bunn from close range.

United’s shape was much better as a result of the introduction of Anderson, and they were putting much more pressure on Blackburn as they looked to play out from the back as a result.

After Rafael intercepted a poor clearance Valencia skipped past Adam Henley and cut the ball back for Berbatov; once again the Bulgarian made no mistake from close range and United were level.

Formica’s shot from 20 yards might then have tested De Gea if it had not deflected wide off of Carrick, and the resulting corner was won too easily by Hanley, although the defender headed wide.

That was apparently not warning enough for United, as Hanley went one better with Rovers’ next corner.

After the 20-year-old had beaten the flailing De Gea to head the ball back into the air, not a single red shirt reacted, allowing the young Scot to finish the job with another header to seal a memorable three points for his side.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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