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Manchester United is now 20 games unbeaten to start the English Premier League campaign, while Fulham and Birmingham City also took three points from Tuesday matches around England. Here are the results from the first day of Round 22 fixtures:
Manchester United 2-1 Stoke City: An early goal from Javier "Chicharito" Hernández gave United a first half lead, with Dean Whitehead ignoring the run of play in the second half to pull his Potters even. Midway through the period, Nani came in from his right wing position and onto a 20-yard shot, giving United their winning margin.
Fulham 3-0 West Bromwich Albion: A Scott Carson howler gifted Simon Davies a late first half goal, and with Clint Dempsey's early second half header putting the Cottagers up two. Brede Hangeland's goal mid-way through the half gave Mark Hughes his second win in three matches, a span that's doubled Fulham's win total. The Cottagers now sit 14th.
Blackpool 1-2 Birmingham City: Blackpool played better football but Birmingham played more effective, playing off a counter attack that would never bear fruit. Instead, Stephen Crainey gifted Alexander Hleb a first half goal while Scott Dann converted late. DJ Campbell's second half goal was not enough to keep Birmingham City from claiming three desperately needed points.
Charlie Adam had nailed the post, giving Seasiders a reason to think the Tangerines had a winner in them, though that really just canceled out Cameron Jerome's early second half woodwork wrecker. Thus Birmingham's second goal, while late (89'), unexpected, and slightly harsh on Blackpool, is not entirely undeserved. Birmingham had threaten with the counter throughout the match, but with one of their few conventionally built forays toward goal, they scored the winners in a 2-1 result at Blackpool.
The goal came after a balled played back to Jean Beausejour, a late second half sub, was crossed from 30 yards out from the left of goal. The ball was sent far post for Roger Johnson who, winning a ball 12 yards from goal, headed down for Scott Dann just outside the six. Dann's right footed shot went into the left of goal as Richard Kingson's hand went up, and appeal to the linesman for offside. The flag stayed down while Birmingham took what proved to be a decisive lead.
The three points vault Brum from 19th to 15th, now (but temporarily) two points above 18th place West Ham United. For Blackpool, the loss means the Tangerines have won only two of seven at Bloomfield road this season, though their 25 points keep them five points from danger.
The headline calls it a chalkboard goal, implying that it was something a manager would draw-up. The further implication is that those types of goals are both beautiful and surprising, but with Blackpool's ability to spray the ball around, DJ Campbell's 68th minute equalizer fits well within what we've come to expect from the Seasiders. Putting home a headed ball from Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Campbell has equalized for Blackburn, leaving the match drawn 1-1.
The play's main build-up started with Charlie Adams on the ball 32 yards from goal. The captain swung a ball wide right for Neal Eardley, who got to the line before putting a far post ball to the edge of the six for Taylor-Fletcher. The attacker fell back from the defense to win the ball, heading it down for Campbell near the spot. The right footed finish by one of the club's promotion heroes brought Blackpool even with visiting Brum.
Now in the 75th minute, Blackpool continues to look their progressive selves. Moves in the ball from flank-to-flank against a Birmingham City team defending as if leading, Blackpool is pressing to break the 1-1 deadlock.
Stoke City had no business being level with Manchester United after being thoroughly outplayed from the opening kick so 12 minutes after equalizing at Old Trafford, the Potters were undone by Nani and the Red Devils regained their rightful lead. Javier Hernandez did well to turn a defender and play the ball to Nani, a tick over 20 yards from goal. The Stoke defenders never bothered to close down Nani so the Portuguese winger took advantage, teeing the ball up for himself near the top of the box and unleashing a fantastic strike that left goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen helpless.
Manchester United now finds themselves right where they deserve to be, a goal better than the Potters at 2-1. If anything, the Red Devils should have a multiple goal lead and if there is to be another goal in the match, you would bet on it coming from the home side. A beautiful back-heel opener by Hernandez and Nani's strike are the scoreboard's indication of United's supremacy, but nearly every minute of the match has been pro-United and they have no stopped charging forward since regaining the lead.
If this result holds, Manchester United will move three points clear of Manchester City, still with a match in hand. It would be an awful shock if that isn't the case.
Incredibly, despite Fulham scoring their second goal on a corner kick and Brede Hangeland making a very dangerous run on that corner, despite not scoring, the Fulham central defender has managed to get completely wide open to score his team's third goal, putting them 3-0 up on West Brom.
This is one goal that can't be blamed on Scott Carson in any way, shape, or form. Hangeland was inexplicably unmarked on the play, as if a 6'7" central defender who has already scored twice this season is really easy to miss. He seemingly came out of nowhere to meet the ball and headed powerfully down into the ground, giving Carson no chance. It was an impeccable set piece, and it has effectively ended the game.
Fulham manager Mark Hughes was probably on the hot seat going into this match, but this result is likely to save his job for a while. Taking three points here will move the Cottagers out of the drop zone.
United States international and Fulham's leading scorer, Clint Dempsey, has put the Cottagers ahead 2-0 over West Brom with a header on a set piece. Dempsey's jumping ability helped to create the goal and West Brom's poor defending was probably the biggest factor in creating the goal, but Scott Carson cannot be ignored. Once again he had a decent chance to make a stop, and once again, he failed to do so.
Dempsey's header had some decent power on it and Brede Hangeland's run from a different direction towards the spot Dempsey was standing in might have confused Carson, but Dempsey's header was not into the corner. It was right down the middle, pretty close to Carson's hand. This goal wasn't nearly as big of an error as the first one, but the fact that Carson should have done better on both of Fulham's goals can't be ignored.
The goal was Dempsey's sixth on the season, making him Fulham's leading scorer by four goals. A flurry of other players are tied for second place on the team's scoring charts, with two goals apiece.
Fulham do not appear content to play keep-away with a two goal cushion and they are still playing direct, attacking balls. However, their rigid 4-4-2 formation has worked well, with their midfield and defense holding their shape extremely well, and therefore it will be difficult for West Brom to break them down.
Both teams have made changes, with Zoltan Gera replacing Diomansy Kamara for Fulham and Marc-Antoine Fortune replacing Youssuf Mulumbu for West Brom. Both teams look to be changing tactics, with Fulham playing more of a 4-4-1-1 setup with Gera operating deeper than Kamara did. Fortune is a striker replacing Mulumbu, a midfielder who likes to occupy deeper positions, so their intentions are obvious down two goals.
Luke Varney beats his mark near midfield and goals streaking into the final third, down the left side of the middle third. Charlie Adam cuts across the defense and runs onto a ball played behind the line on the left flank. Two touches and he rolls to to the spot, when Varney had continued his run. Too bad Roger Johnson as there to send the ball out.
Two Blackpool passes and the Tangerines have another chance. It looks like it's David Vaughn letting it go from the right, 20 yards out. Johnson is back, sliding across goal, at 12 yards.
While he received accolades last year when writers sought to explain Birmingham City's unexpected foray into the top half, Roger Johnson's been overlooked this year, a consequence of Brum's reversal of fortunes. With your club sitting 19th, nobody's looking for the good. Why is this team struggling is not a question answered with Roger Johnson. But when your team is ahead 1-0 on a somewhat fluke goal and your defending is keeping the home team from finding an equalizer, your name will find headlines.
Last year, those headlines where followed by musings, whether then 26-year-old could get consideration for England. Those musings have stopped, but Johnson's play remains as strong, perhaps making him one of this season's most overlooked defenders.
Despite creating almost nothing, Stoke City have equalized at Old Trafford through Dean Whitehead's goal, their first away to Manchester United in over thirty years. United had looked very comfortable since taking the lead with Chicarito's goal, but failed to capitalize on the few half-chances they carved out. Stoke themselves had a slight opportunity shortly before Whitehead's goal, which came five minutes after halftime, as Tuncay rose to meet Robert Huth's cross, but failed to get enough power and proper direction on a difficult header.
In fairness to Stoke, they have been more enterprising in the beginning of the second half, but that is only compared with a pretty limp first forty-five minutes. However, they have gotten back on level terms with the hosts; Kenwyne Jones laid the ball off to Tuncay, who placed a very good cross for Whitehead, who placed a good header beyond Tomasz Kuszczak from about twelve yards out. Though it was a well-worked goal, Sir Alex Ferguson will be wondering exactly how Whitehead found himself so free in the area, despite the presence of several United defenders.
A back and forth first half that saw chances for both teams should have gone into halftime as a draw, but Fulham's Simon Davies and West Brom's Scott Carson had other plans. Thanks to Davies' shot and Carson's error, the relegation threatened Cottagers have a 1-0 lead at home.
West Brom had the more clear cut chances of the two teams before the goal, causing David Stockdale, starting in the absence of Mark Schwarzer, to do some solid work in goal. Fulham took the lead in first half stoppage time, though off of a 25 yard shot by Davies.
The opportunity was created by Dickson Etuhu, who appeared to commit a foul when he stole the ball off of a West Brom player. The referee waved play on, though, and Etuhu passed to Davies. Davies unloaded a decent shot at goal, but it was right in the middle of the goal, directly towards Carson. The West Brom keeper couldn't deal with the shot, though. Despite the ball hitting him in the hands, it went straight through them and into the back of the net, giving Fulham a perhaps undeserved 1-0 lead.
Everyone who has seen Fulham this season is expecting this one to end in a 1-1 draw, though. Right?
Until Alexander Hleb opened the scoring at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool had been able to exploit a compact Birmingham City defense by building attacks down the flanks with relatively little resistance. Roger Johnson's strong play in the middle helped Brum thwart each Tangerine entry, but Blackpool was able to dictate tempo and, with the exception of two counter attack chances for Brum, all of the goal scoring opportunities.
While Brum's scoring chances have stayed infrequent in the wake of the goal, they've been able to make an adjustment that's help them provide more resistance down the flanks. At least, it seems like an adjustment - this could be improved effort or what they have wanted to do all along. Regardless, Blackpool is finding their life harder in the last 20 minutes of the first half.
That apparent adjustment finds Barry Ferguson and Keith Fahey, the wide players in Alex McLeish's line of four in midfield, jumping out to challenge on the flanks. By is a fullback in possession or one of Blackpool's wide players trying to come forward, Brum is now sending a man after them, occupying the vacated space with one of the midfielders while Matt Derbyshire, drops from his forward position.
While Derbyshire isn't dropping all the way back into the final third when Blackpol's able to get into attack, he is dropping deep enough to maintain numbers in midfield when Ferguson and Fahey are challenging in the middle third. Effectively, this may have changed McLeish's shape from what looked like a two striker formation (Derbyshire along with Cameron Jerome) to a 4-4-1-1 - closer to Brum's base formation.
The result: Blackpool has had to be more patient moving the ball into attack, and once there, they're finding a Birmingham defense whose shape has not had to be compromised. As a result, the match goes to half 1-0 Brum, but Birmingham having gained a firm grip on play.
With just under a half-hour played, Manchester United are a goal up against Stoke City at Old Trafford courtesy of a neat back-heel finish by Javier Hernández. If Sir Alex Ferguson's side can maintain this advantage, they will go three points clear of cross-town rivals Manchester City, who face Arsenal tomorrow.
The hosts began on the front foot, closing down Stoke in midfield and barely giving their visitors a touch in the early minutes. United's pressing tailed off a bit after ten minutes, but Stoke haven't created any chances and have rarely put more than one or two men in front of the ball, even while in possession.
United haven't had many clear chances either, but Dimitar Berbatov should have done better when he was put through on Asmir Begovic's near post, but his shot dribbled wide of goal. Ryan Giggs had a decent opportunity from a fee kick about three yards outside of the box on the right, but he blazed the free-kick over the bar. The breakthrough for United arrived on twenty-seven minutes, as Nani crossed from the right and Hernández tapped the ball in at the near post with his heel. The home side have looked far the more threatening since scoring, and Stoke have shown nothing to suggest that they will trouble Tomasz Kuszczak.
Blackpool has controlled the tempo of the match, with almost all of Birmingham City's danger moments coming on the counter attack. After a galling error from left back Stephen Crainey, Brum can afford to employ an even more counter-heavy approach, with a gift to Alexander Hleb putting the Blues up 1-0 in the 24th minute.
The error came with Stephen Crainey in possession along the left flank, just outside his own area. Not seeing a man to pass to downfield, Crainey cut back in an played to play a short ball toward the middle of the park, a ball that went straight to Hleb, the midfielder barely having to stretch is left foot onto the ball.
Once in possession, Hleb turn toward goal, went the dozen yards to the edge of the six, and chipped over Richard Kingson once the Blackpool `keeper committed. In the 24th minute, Stephen Crainey set-up Alex Hleb, giving Birmingham a fortunate 1-0 lead.
Nineteenth place Birmingham City is off to a strong start against the Tangerines, having an early chance on goal, Blackpool uncharacteristically lax in defense. While Ian Holloway's men were thought vulnerable at the back at the season's onset, the Seasiders have done a reasonable job of keeping the ball out of their own goal, sitting 12th in the league for fewest goals allowed despite an open style of play.
It's that open style of play and Birmingham's ability to match up with it that will be one of our Tuesday foci. Birmingham is want to sit deep in defense, often sacrificing adventure to maintain their shape. Against Blackpool, that shape will be taxed by a Tangerine approach willing to launch long diagonals at any time, attempting to exploit wide areas that are often neglected as a defense plays too compact.
Early at Bloomfield road, Birmingham is doing a good job is maintaining some width in defense, though a 10th minute, quick switch from Blackpool's left-to-right flank created the home team's first strong chance of the match. Now in the 11th minute, Blackpool and Brum remain tied, 0-0.
Just three Barclays Premier League matches on Tuesday as the remainder of the league eye Wednesday kickoffs in England. The thick and fast holiday fixture list continues though as teams are now encountering their fourth league match in 10 days. Staggering by all accounts, but regardless, the league carries on.
Tuesday's highest profile match sees league leaders Manchester United return home to Old Trafford to take on Stoke City in a top ten clash. The Reds are coming off a win away to West Brom, goals from Wayne Rooney and Chicharito pushing United past a tricky West Brom at the Hawthorns.
Stoke City are enjoying a solid season under boss Tony Pulis, the Potters currently sit eighth on 27 points thanks to some fine recent play from forward Kenwyne Jones. Jones, acquired from Sunderland last summer, has scored five league goals and has partnered mainstay Ricardo Fuller effectively thus far this season. Last time out, Stoke beat Everton 2-0 in a much needed home win after suffering successive home defeats.
Fulham host West Brom at Craven Cottage in an interesting match that has relegation implications written all over it. While few expect Roberto Di Matteo's men to fight the drop, the Baggies are currently 14th, only three points ahead of Fulham who sit 18th and look to be fighting relegation for the moment. Both sides will be coming off of loses this past weekend, but showed signs of good play - West Brom fought hard against Manchester United while Fulham kept matters close at White Hart Lane against Spurs.
In the day's only other match, Blackpool host Birmingham City where the Blues will be without the recently suspended Lee Bowyer. Brum are currently playing the league's most predictably boring football under Alex McLeish as Blackpool should be favored at home.
from SB Nation soccer editor Richard Farley
Welcome to another addition of You're Clearly Smarter Than Me, the cable-access caliber show where I pick the results of today's matches (while you use the comment thread to tell me where I've gone wrong). Also making it worth your while? A schedule of the kick-off times and outlets for each match.
|3:00 p.m.||Blackpool||Birmingham City||FoxSoccer.tv||2-0, Blackpool|
|3:00 p.m.||Manchester United||Stoke City||Fox Soccer Channel||2-1, United|
|3:00 p.m.||Fulahm||West Bromwich Albion||ESPN2, ESPN3.com||1-1|
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