Premiership Round-Up

Roy can’t believe “chops” nicked it in extra-time. 

As the dust settles on the opening weekend of the new Premiership season we are left with many things to consider. Have Manchester United already fallen behind in their title bid? Do the new boys stand a realistic chance of staying up? And has Jens Lehman eclipsed Massimo Taibi in the most ridiculous blunders contest?

Sunderland kicked off the new season in style with a 1-0 win over Spurs at the Stadium of Light. Granted it was fortuitous but some solid work and a never say die attitude got them into the position to win the game. One could say that Spurs threw it away with a complete loss of concentration in the last five or ten minutes but the truth is that they were mis-firing all day. Berbatov looked liked he wanted to be somewhere else and did something we never saw last season and got involved in the moaning matches between other players. Twice he could be seen turning around to his own team-mates with a face like Quentin Fortune giving out about the lack of accuracy with their passing. Keane was the only one that looked relatively dangerous, and Malbranque. Spurs thought they were supposed to win and started slowly. They never really hit any sort of level while Sunderland were industrious. Sunderland will be caught out this season though. They have very few attacking options and if Stokes doesn’t improve he may well find himself at another club. Dwight Yorke was found out in the middle and even though Etuthu looked good and knocked down everything that came near him a passing game and intuitive awareness he has not. The big plus from the game was the centre back pairing of Nosworthy and McShane. McShane was immense. Nothing got past him and he made some very clever interceptions. Without McShane on Saturday, Sunderland would have lost. No question.

The pick of 3 o’ clock kick offs was Big Sam back to face Little Sam. Newcastle V Bolton. The war of words that has erupted since Allardyce moved to Newcastle is is as unsavoury as old men shouting dirty words at each other in a supermarket. Allardyce has been the more reserved of the warring parties and decided to do his talking on the pitch and, as it turns out, he made a very good point. Newcastle raced into a dominant lead having scored 3 without reply inside a half an hour. N’Zogbia with a free kick that fooled everyone, Martins with a delightful overhead kick and he duly added another shortly after. Bolton managed a tame response with a consolation from Anelka. Newcastle played well but were by no means impressive. Bolton succumbed to Allardyce’s 4-4-3 far too easily and the goals flew in. It’s inexplicable really but as Kevin Nolan said himself, smiling: “They just played like us last year”. They did Kevin, and that’s why they won. Despite his often unatractive style, Allardyce knows how to win football matches and that could be a telling factor for a decent enough squad who never had a proper manager. Bolton on the other hand were toothless without the unhappy Diouf who was puzzled by the decision to leave him on the bench. When he appeared second half, Bolton automatically reverted back to Allardyce tactics and they had much more about them. Interesting… Derby were up against Portsmouth in their opener and everybody’s favourite for the drop got off to a flier with captain, Matt Oakley slapping one home to get the fans excited. Pompey were level after twenty odd minutes through Benjani and looked solid. They increased the pressure and were starting to show some real class but a determined Derby held them off until the last ten minutes when new boy Utaka fired home but Derby would not be stopped. Another new boy, Andy Todd, headed Derby to parity a minute later and Derby earned their point. Billy Davies got his tactics dead on and managed to keep Pompey quiet for most of the match. They were never going to be able to keep them scoreless and sit on their goal for the entire game but they had the will to get one back after going behind. Harry will be happy enough with his sides performance also as they looked very good at times. He should be confident before Manchester United arrive on Wednesday to the place they lost last year.

Everton and Wigan was a poor game. Any team with Titus Bramble, Jason Koumas and Kevin Kilbane must be as horrible as they sound. Everton weren’t firing on all cylinders bar Mikel Arteta who was imperious but they didn’t need to be to see off a Wigan side destined for the drop. Nothing doing up front, not much going on in midfield and a defence that doesn’t look like it could cope with a cold means that you just add a sprinkle of managerial astuteness from Hutchings and Wigan are well and truly f***ed. Two goals from young striker, Victor Anichebe and not so young, Leon Osman meant Everton were comfortable throughout and even though Wigan got one back through substitute Sibierski, the result was never in doubt. Everton will need to tighten up to push on from last season while Wigan might aswell call it a day now because it’s all over for them. Middlesbrough entertained Blackburn at the Riverside and it turned out to be an entertaining affair. Benni McCarthy got knocked out, Santa-Cruz came off the bench and looked like a messiah getting an equaliser after Downing’s free kick found a Pedersen-shaped gap in the wall, and Derbyshire came off the bench to get a saucy winner! Blackburn looked good but surprisingly, so did Middlesbrough. Inventive in attack and with Downing looking in good form Middlesbrough took to the new season like sven to Man city. Blackburn were caught out by their opponents bright start but soon got to grips and their class told in the end. (Didn’t think we would ever saying that about Blackburn). Santa-Cruz looks like a bargain and is sure to be getting on the scoresheet more often. Exciting times if you’re part of the Ewood Park faithful!

Speaking of all things Sven, his Manchester City (allbeit revamped and better than ever) went to Upton Park to have a look at West Ham. Slick passing, creative flair and threatening attacks were all features of City’s game. It was unbelievable. Sven is proving his critics wrong and showing that he is a decent manager after all and just because the Sun say something, doesn’t make it true, in fact it’s usuall complete b***ocks. Elano, whom we tipped to be their best signing, showed why he cost £8 million even though not many people had heard of him. The creative hub of an accomplished City side, he ran the show in midfield and waltzed past the West Ham players to literally hand Bianchi the ball for the opening goal. West Ham, for their part, were not at the races at all and were left behind very quickly. Onuha (best guess spelling) was impressive at the back for City and powered his way up the touch-line and into the box to setup Geovanni for City’s second goal. Even though he has every reason to despise the English media, Sven was polite and dignified in the pre and post match press conferences. What a gentleman. City are now a team to watch like one might watch any of the top four. Seriously. Aston Villa played host to Liverpool in the late kick-off and were under the cosh from the get go. Liverpool were full of pace, aggression and ideas as they played good stuff all over the park. The inevitable came after 31 minutes as pressure forced Laursen into putting the ball past his own ‘keeper. After getting the goal, however, Liverpool took the foot off slightly and allowed Villa slowly back in. The second half proved alien to the first as Villa came out hungry and attacking. They made use of Carew’s height and after a while Carragher et al. stopped challenging for arial balls with the big man. Constant pressure down the wings eventually reaped reward as Carew’s flicked header came up on to Carragher’s arm. It seemed almost impossible for him to get his hand out of the way but the referee was all out of sympathy and Carragher didn’t even complain and up stepped Barry to draw the two sides level. With five minutes left a draw would have been the fairest of results on the balance of the whole game but Gerrard managed to con the referee into giving him a free-kick in prime Gerrard position and scored an absoloutely wonderful goal high in the top-right hand corner of the net. A cruel and bitter blow for Villa but good news for Liverpool who start their campaign with a win.

Sunday saw the top two from last year and Arsenal in action. Arsenal had Fulham round theirs and immediately fell prey to the precocious talent of David Healy. He has been waiting a long time to shine in the Premiership and now he has arrived and it was marked in style as he got on the scoresheet inside one minute. A ridiculous blunder by Lehmann see here: ( What was he thinking? Arsenal dominated long stretches of the game and their passing was a joy to watch but again they were lacking an experienced head to orchestrate a goal. All their possesion wasn’t getting them anywhere and Fulham were enjoying some good spells of their own. They might not be fancied by many to stay up but they looked good yesterday. Fulham were six minutes away from a famous victory when Arsenal, whose players had been diving all day long, were awarded a penalty. Sanchez was furious after the game as he though the referee was too leniant on the persistent simulation and he was right. The recent meeting between the managers and Hackett the head of the referee people added simulation or diving to the new list of offences which would be punished this season but Phil Dowd obviously didn’t get the memo because although he turned down 3 penalty shouts because they were clearly dives he didn’t do anything about the players. On the 4th attempt the spotter was given and Van Persie put away a nice one high into the roof of the net. All Fulham’s hard work was undone. Heads clearly dropped and what had seemed like 3 points turned into 1 suddenly dissolved into 0 as Hleb got into the box in the 90th minute and managed to squeeze one past the ‘keeper. Daylight robbery at the Emirates. Arsenal will do well this season but they will be there for the taking by the big sides. Fulham were a broken team at the final whistle and Arsenal were doing their best to revive the hatred they aroused when Keown, Winterburn et al. were still there.

Next was Chelsea against newly promoted Birmingham. Chelsea were looking to protect their foreboding home record and didn’t expect much trouble against lowly Birmingham. Steve Bruce’s side opened the scoring on 15 minutes through Forsell. A stunned Stamford Bridge was brought back to life with a debut goal 2 minutes later from Pizzaro. Malouda added to that but another debut goal, this time from Birmingham’s Kapo, brought the sides level. The deadlock was broken in the second half when Essien, on 50 minutes produced a terrific shot from outside the box and it managed to squeeze in despite the attention of Colin Doyle. Birmingham were lively during the game and went to the Bridge to play football and not to shut up shop. Understandably they were outclassed by, to be honest, a magnificent looking Chelsea but at least they gave it a shot and without Terry at the back Chelsea were always vulnerable. Once Essien scored the game quitened down a bit and Chelsea played keep ball. Surprisingly enough, O’ Connor didn’t feature for Birmingham even though this game would have suited the fiesty Scot. A big target man up front rustling a few feathers would have not sat well with Chelsea and could have afforded Birmingham some more chances. Unfortunately for Colin Doyle, who was heralded toward the back end of last season,  he was simply to blame for two of Chelseas’ goals and even though they were likely to score anyway gifting them two was not ideal. 

Last up yesterday was the visit of Steve Copell’s Reading to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. A frustrating day for United saw them draw with Reading. The game started in a positive manner but once United hit a rythm Reading found themselves doing a Faroe Islands on it. They stuck 9 men behind the ball and left Hunt up front to chase the long ball. Copell knows his tactics and Reading did not go there for the win. Michael Duberry did a fantastic job snuffing out Wayne Rooney and Shorey set to work on Giggs and Ronaldo. Even though man-marked, Rooney was the most promising on the field and was a constant threat to Reading. Ronaldo had some flashes but didn’t see enough of the ball and Giggs hit the post with a nice volley. Duberry got too close to Rooney in the end and stood on his foot accidentally, causing a hairline fracture. Rooney didn’t come out after the break and that was it really. The focus was gone and United huffed and puffed but couldn’t get it in the net. O’ Shea came on and was asked to play up front with Giggs. He got one save out of an inspired Hahnemann but didn’t recieve enough service. Duberry was far and away Reading’s best player, snuffing out everything that came into the box (including Rooney apparently) while Hunt was full of running and gettingup people’s noses. Kitson came on to do a hatchet job and recieved his marching orders 31 seconds later for a high and dangerous tackle on Evra. It was a small bit surprising to see the red and most other referees would probably have given a yellow. It was a dangerous challenge however and he had to get something. Reading were never in any danger of scoring and Doyle was surprisingly subdued. Tevez looks set to step into the breach for Wednesday’s game against Portsmouth with Saha and Solskjaer still recovering from injury.  

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