Premier League witnessed yet another exciting weekend of football. On Saturday Liverpool lost their first home game of the season against Arsenal. Chelsea suffered yet another defeat, this time against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. Manager Andre Villas-Boas was sacked and the prospect of finishing in top four is increasingly getting complex day by day. All eyes were on Newcastle, another contender for Europe, who entertained Sunderland at The Sports Direct Arena on Sunday.
Tyne-Wear derby always adds more than just a game. It brings into passion and pride of North East; added to it a typical vitriol that has become a hallmark of this fixture. It was the first North-East derby for the new Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill, who has experienced many fierce derbies in the past – most notably the Old Firm with Celtic.
There has been a sea-change in approach of both the teams since their last meeting at the Stadium of Lights where Newcastle narrowly edged their rival. Since that victory, Newcastle have gone strength to strength under Pardew and have performed beyond everyone’s expectations.
Sunderland on the other hand struggled in the early half of the season. They faced the prospect of relegation under Steve Bruce. He was sacked and in came the Irishman and it is under his guidance, the club turned the tide in their way.
The atmosphere was electrifying as both teams tried to calm down their nerves quickly. Tackles were flying everywhere (Cattermole saw yellow card within 40 seconds) and the game lacked a proper rhythm especially from Newcastle. The away side took the early lead through a penalty from Nicklas Bendtner. The Magpies succumbed to the pressure from the visitors and it took 38 minutes to impose any decent attack on target.
A tactical switch after the break saw Hatem Ben Arfa was introduced. The Frenchman made an instant impact. He and Gutiérrez attacked in tandem from the flanks and Toon enjoyed good spells creating barrage of attacks.
However one moment of madness marred all the good efforts of Sunderland. Sessegnon swung his arm in the neck of Tiote leaving referee Mike Dean no chance rather than giving him marching orders. After that it was all Newcastle. They had the goal at their mercy as Demba Ba missed a penalty and gilded chances wasted one after another. In the dying minutes of extra time, a moment of lapse in concentration from Sunderland defenders gave Shola Ameobi a chance to shoot from close range and he fired home breaking the hearts of the away fans, leaving Geordie fans in uproarious jollity.
Fulham – Wolves
Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton dropped points from their respective fixtures last Saturday. The stage was nicely set for Wolves to take the advantage. However, Craven Cottage these days is not an easy venue for picking points.
Martin Jol might have lost a weapon in Bobby Zamora, but he has plenty of attacking options to deal with it. The trio of Clint Dempsey, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Andrew Johnson was enough to tear asunder Wolves defence. The toothless midfield and defence of Wolves received harsh treatment from the Cottagers as they ended up conceding five goals.
Pogrebnyak scored a hat-trick and became the third Russian player to have scored three goals in a match in English soil. Fulham are now eighth in the table while Wolves are languishing in the relegation drop zone.
Spurs- Manchester United
The Citizens won their weekend fixture without dropping a sweat. It was time for Man United to step up the gear and conquer White Hart Lane, which in a way is a fortress ground for the Red Devils. They haven’t lost here since 2000/2001.
Tottenham are in a twilight zone. They can neither challenge for the title, nor can they relax with their position as teams below are pushing hard for the Champions League spot. Within a blink of two games, Arsenal are now only four points behind them and further slip ups can prove costly.
The first half reminded me of Liverpool- Arsenal yesterday. Spurs had the better ball possession, better chances, and better dominance in every sphere but couldn’t find the net. Manchester United got only one decent opportunity and Wayne Rooney was not in a mood to let that go.
The second half started in the same way like the first and Spurs were punished yet again for showing profligacy in front of goal mouth. A sloppy defending resulted in United’s second goal while Young completed his brace few minutes later with a beauty that damped Spurs’ spirit completely.
Jermain Defoe pulled one back but that was a mere consolation. Manchester United’s impressive record against Spurs continues but most importantly they closed the gap with fellow derby rivals and league leaders Manchester City to two points only.