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The Welsh winger was in inspired form, and had already had two fine opportunities in the first half. Firstly, after Russell Martin gave the ball away with a poor touch, he raced clear on goal, only to blaze wildly over. Immediately afterwards, he was denied again, this time by a fine John Ruddy save after bamboozling the Norwich defence with a clever turn.
It seemed to be the order of the day for Spurs, who dominated the game from the kick-off, but were let down by poor touches and shoddy finishing, with Emmanuel Adebayor being one of the main culprits. But not long into the second half, the Togolese striker showed his tremendous strength and, combined with some fine footwork (and a lapse in concentration from Ritchie de Laet), set up Bale to smash home the opening goal.
From then on, it looked a clear victory for Spurs, with Norwich's front two of Morison and Holt struggling to have any meaningful impact on the game, with the Tottenham midfield completely running the show. It was no surprise when Bale doubled Spurs' lead, this time with an outstanding goal, producing a phenomenal burst of speed to blaze through the centre of the pitch and get clean on goal, before turning brute force into elegance and composure in an instant, gently dinking the ball over Ruddy to secure the points.
For Norwich, it was a forgettable performance in a game which they never really showed up for. For Spurs, however, the likelihood of putting together a meaningful title challenge is looking more and more realistic with each passing game. They now stand top of the London clubs in the Premier League table, and on their current form, it will not be long before they challenge the Manchester duopoly.
Swansea City went up early on Queens Park Rangers and were the better team in the first half, but the visitors upped their games in the second half and found a goal to grab a 1-1 draw at the Liberty Stadium. Neil Warnock's team struggled to find the ball in the first half as Leon Britton and Joe Allen controlled the play, but the QPR midfield played much better in the second half and created more chances late than the Swans.
Danny Graham scored the opener just 14 minutes in, getting a little lucky with a missed control. QPR didn't defend well as he found himself space with the ball before firing in a shot from 15 yards that Paddy Kenny couldn't get a hand to. They went into halftime up 1-0 and started the second half well, but Jamie Mackie found the equalizer in the 58th minute, getting behind the defense and putting in a close-range shot after running onto a long ball. QPR were the better side from then until the end, but couldn't find a winner. Swansea will feel like they've dropped two big points at home, but the draw was a fair reflection of what happened on the day.
Arsenal dominated throughout the second half of their game against Wolverhampton Wanderers and played the final 15 minutes, plus stoppage time against ten men, but couldn't find a breakthrough. Wolves put everyone behind the ball after Nenad Milijas was sent off, while Roger Johnson and Wayne Hennessey played brilliantly. Thanks to some great defending, some great goalkeeping and some great luck, Wolves leave the Emirates Stadium with their first road point in four months, thanks to a 1-1 draw.
Gervinho scored just eight minutes into the match and it looked at that point like Wolves had little chance of getting points out of the match. On a counter, Yossi Benayoun provided Gervinho with a through ball and the Ivorian international rounded Hennessey before slotting the ball into the back of the net. It would be all Arsenal for the rest of the half (and the rest of the game), but that would be their last goal.
Wolves scored their goal in the 38th minute, with Steven Fletcher's header from the edge of the penalty area taking a wicked deflection. That deflection caused the ball to roll slowly towards the net, but in the complete opposite direction that Wojciech Szczesny anticipated it would go. The ball dribbled into the net, tying the score at 1-1.
The second half was much like the first, with Arsenal pushing forward and controlling possession, but not finishing their chances. Wolves were defensive in the first half, but were even less ambitious in the second, often putting everyone behind the ball. In the 75th minute, Milijas was shown a questionable straight red card for a bad tackle on Mikel Arteta, and the ball did not leave the Wolves half for the rest of the match.
Unfortunately for the Gunners, they did nothing with the 15 minutes of regular time and six minutes of stoppage time for which they had a man advantage. They did a lot of walking the ball around the box and crossing, which played into the hands of Johnson and Hennessey. While the Wolves keeper was excellent, making 11 saves, most of Arsneal's shots were right at him. Wolves played negative football and were lucky to get a goal, but Arsenal won't be able to say they deserved more than a point. They had nearly 75 percent possession and failed to take their chances.
Arsenal have been all over Wolverhampton Wanderers in the first of Tuesday's three Premier League matches, but a bad deflection and a lack of a cutting edge has the Gunners and Wolves tied, with the halftime score sitting at 1-1. Gervinho scored the opener and Arsenal were very much the superior team for the entire half afterwards, but could never find a second goal. Just before the stroke of halftime, Steven Fletcher netted for Wolves, giving them their first ever goal away to Arsenal in the Premier League.
Gervinho's goal came early, on an excellent counter-attack in the 8th minute. Running onto an excellent through ball by Yossi Benayoun, Gervinho controlled and turned to face goal, then rounded Wayne Hennessey before slotting a calm finish into the back of the net. The Gunners would continue to press forward and had nearly 70 percent of the possession in the first half, but hit all of their shots from that point on right at Hennessey, never forcing him to make a difficult save.
Wolves' equalizer was a lucky one, but they'll take goals at the Emirates any way they can get them. Following a set piece and a block on a shot by Stephen Hunt in the 38th minute, Steven Fletcher hit a header that took a wicked deflection. The ball dribbled slowly towards the net, but Wojciech Szczesny had no chance to make a save and was caught completely off guard. The ball rolled past him into the back of the net, locking up the score at 1-1.
Have you ever heard of Anthony Forde? You're probably not alone. He's made one Premier League appearance with Wolverhampton Wanderers. At just 18 years old, he'll be making his second Premier League appearance at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. For what is surely a combination of fitness and tactical reasons, Mick McCarthy has opted to put him in over Kevin Doyle and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake in order to get five in the midfield. Arsenal are playing with their normal 4-3-3. Here are the lineups.
Arsenal Lineup (4-3-3): Szczesny; Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen; Song, Arteta, Rosicky; Benayoun, Gervinho, van Persie
Wolverhampton Wanderers Lineup (4-5-1): Hennessey; Zubar, Berra, Johnson, Ward; Forde, Henry, Milijas, Jarvis, Hunt; Fletcher
Kickoff is at 10:00 a.m. ET, 3:00 p.m. local time. You can catch the game on FOX Soccer Plus and FOXSoccer.tv in the USA. If you're wondering why it's not more widely available in the States and in the UK, it was scheduled to be a game among a block of games on Boxing Day, but was moved due to a tube strike.
Manchester United scored in the 7th minute against Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford. Then Connor Sammon was sent off for being kind of near Michael Carrick. It comes as no surprise, then, that United demolished their opposition. Dimitar Berbatov scored an impressive hattrick and Antonio Valencia got a fifth as the Latics were put to the sword.
They never really had a chance, of course - despite good performances against Chelsea and Liverpool at the DW Stadium Wigan couldn't have had much hope of getting a result against Manchester United away from home, and they played reasonably well until Sammon's harsh red card. Still, despite only playing against 10 men it was an impressive performance from an injury-hit United side.
The 5-0 win takes them to level on points with league leaders Manchester City and within five points of goal differential, which would have been pretty improbable sounding at the beginning of the month, when United were struggling and City surging. The defending champions' title challenge has well and truly ignited.
Another game against mediocre opposition, another mediocre performance from Liverpool. The Blackburn fans might keep their "Kean Out" chants down for a bit, thanks to their team's 1-1 draw at Anfield on Boxing Day. Blackburn are still attached to the bottom of the table, but Kean and the fans have to be happy with the result that their team produced on Monday.
Liverpool started both Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez up top, despite compounding evidence that it doesn't work very well at all. They worked together like they work together every time they play together, which is to say, not at all. Carroll was poor on the afternoon and didn't look like a player who fit into Liverpool's team at all.
At the end of a very uneventful first half, Blackburn took the lead on a corner kick. What looked like a great near-post header on first glance was actually a rather embarrassing own goal scored by Charlie Adam, who flicked a cross that wasn't terribly dangerous looking into his own net at the near post.
Maxi Rodriguez provided his team with an equalizer in the 53rd minute, finishing off a brilliant Martin Skrtel cross following a corner kick, but Liverpool would not find an equalizer. Their 27 shots and 65 percent possession flatter to deceive; Liverpool were not very good at all.
Sunderland's improvement under Martin O'Neill continues as the Black Cats were perhaps unluck yo draw 1-1 against Everton at the Stadium of Light. The hosts put in a fairly impressive display in the first half, going ahead through Jack Colback's deflected effort which left Tim Howard completely stranded, and looked as though they were on course for an important win.
It wasn't to be - Howard Webb made sure of that. Leon Osman burst into the penalty area, skipping past a pair of Sunderland players before going down in a heap. The referee stared at the situation for a few minutes before pointing to the spot, and Leighton Baines duly lashed the penalty into the top corner. The only problem? Osman was never touched. It wasn't a dive so much as simply tripping over his own foot, but regardless, it was clearly not a penalty.
Sunderland responded fairly well to being pegged back and had a few threatening attacks in the second half, but the game ended up fairly open and Sylvain Distin wasted a great chance to wrap up what would have been a completely undeserved three points for David Moyes's men when he volleyed over from close range with the last kick of the game. Instead, it ended up 1-1 - a decent result but less than the hosts would have hoped for given the performance.
Manchester City had all of the possession and more chances than West Bromwich Albion in their Boxing Day encounter, but Roy Hodgson's men never really looked like they were going to fail to hold onto the result. They defended well and created chances on the counter all game long, nicking a 0-0 draw that their play absolutely deserved.
Chris Brunt showed everyone a sign of the difficulties that were to come for City when he just missed a good shot from the edge of the penalty area in the third minute. They kept the pressure on City throughout the first half and denied them clear-cut chances, as a relatively uneventful match went into halftime scoreless. The only significant event is that WBA were not getting lucky at all, but playing well enough to deserve a clean sheet.
Things got a little more entertaining for the neutrals in the second half, as both teams hit the woodwork with wonderful shots. Mario Balotelli hit the bar with City's best shot of the match in the 54th minute, hitting an audacious shot from 30 yards that just missed by inches. In the 73rd minute, Jerome Thomas almost gave West Brom the lead with a thunderous drive from outside the box that beat Joe Hart, but bounced clear off the post.
The final 10 minutes belonged to City as they put the Baggies under relentless pressure, but they defended expertly and never gave City a clear look at goal. With this result and Man United's 5-0 win over Wigan, the two Manchester clubs are now level on points at the top of the Premier League.
The last time Bolton faced Newcastle at home, they won 5-1, climbing to 4th in the Premier League. While no one expected them to maintain a spot in 4th, some considered them outsiders for the Europa League places. Then, they lost Stuart Holden in March, Johan Elmander went to midfield and Kevin Davies got old quickly. Bolton got hammered by Stoke in the FA Cup semi-final, and ended up finishing in 14th, having been 6th for most of the year. Their poor run of form has continued, with only 4 wins this season, and despite beating Blackburn last weekend, they are mired in 19th, with the worst defensive record in the league.
Newcastle started this season well, but, coupled with the loss of Steven Taylor, has fizzled out in recent weeks. Mike Williamson, a centre back who started 29 league games for Newcastle last year, returned from a knee injury, meaning that James Perch, a right back, doesn’t need to be played in the middle anymore.
After 69 minutes of little quality and little to write about, Newcastle made the breakthrough. Bolton started pushing up, but Chris Eagles gave the ball away in the middle to Yohan Cabaye. Two passes later, Newcastle led, with Cabaye playing in Taylor, who crossed for sub Hatem Ben Arfa, who fired past Jussi Jaaskelainen. 2 minutes and 8 seconds later, Newcastle got a second. Bolton again gave the ball away in the midfield, with Paul Robinson losing out to Cheik Tiote. Tiote passed to Gabriel Obertan, who took on Robinson before cutting back to Demba Ba, who’s shot looped over Jaaskelainen from 6 yards, likely via a Gary Cahill deflection. It’s Ba’s goal, though, and now 21 goals from 25 games in a wonderful 2011 for the Senegalese.
Alan Pardew will be happy with a return to winning ways, but he’ll also be pleased with the clean sheet, only their second in their last 7. For Bolton, it’s hard to see them moving out of the relegation spots. The worst home record in the league, coupled with a poor away record, and a bad fixture list in January makes the new year not looking very good for Owen Coyle. In truth, it’s not been a good 2011 for him, or for Bolton Wanderers. They’ve been awful since March, lacking the fluid passing that saw them win the hearts and minds of neutrals in late 2010. They were awful again today, and if Steve Kean is getting threatened with the sack, it surely it can’t be far off for Coyle.
For the third successive Premier League match, Chelsea have dropped two points in a 1-1 draw. This time, Fulham was the team that denied them a victory, coming from behind to grab an equalizer after Chelsea took the lead early in the second half. Juan Mata put the Blues on top just after the stroke of halftime, but Clint Dempsey found an equalizer. Chelsea pushed hard for a winner in the final ten minutes, but David Stockdale and the Cottagers defense were able to hang on.
The first half was relatively uneventful, with Chelsea content to let Fulham give the ball away and Fulham content to put 10 men behind the ball when they did so. Dempsey had a good shot in the 9th minute from just outside the box, but Petr Cech made a great save. The visitors would have just one more good chance in the half, but it went wasted, with Orlando Sa missing an open header in the 14th minute.
Chelsea's best opportunity of the first half came just a minute after that miss, as Fernando Torres acrobatically controlled and volleyed from just inside the penalty area, but his shot went right into the chest of Stockdale. With Fulham putting everyone back behind the ball for the entire half, Chelsea struggled to break them down and settled for a lot of seemingly aimless crosses. The teams went into halftime tied up 0-0, with neither team looking obviously superior. Chelsea had more possession and more shots, but Fulham was obviously executing their gameplan to near perfection.
Just two minutes after the halftime whistle, they were forced to adjust it. Torres still hasn't scored in a very long time, but he built on his positive first half performance with an assist on Mata's goal. Controlling a ball that came into the penalty area, Torres backed down his defender and laid off the ball to Mata. The Spaniard hit a thundering shot into the back of the net, giving his team the lead on 47 minutes.
That lead lasted just nine minutes. Fulham's equalizer was both a very good team goal and a microcosm of everything that's gone wrong with Chelsea's season. All of Ashley Cole, John Terry, David Luiz and Petr Cech probably should have done a lot better on the move. Bryan Ruiz provided the assist with a cross after beating Cole easily and Dempsey provided the finish after going around Luiz. Terry was nowhere to be found, and Cech probably should have been able to get a hand to Dempsey's shot. That's not to take anything away from Fulham, who put together a good set of passes to set up the equalizer.
Chelsea brought Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba into the match as substitutes in an attempt to change the game, but they couldn't find a goal. Chelsea were well on top in the final 10 minutes and forced Stockdale into a number of saves, but none of them fell into the category of "spectacular." Whether you want to blame the manager, the players, or the ownership for not buying new players, there are some issues at Stamford Bridge. Once again, Chelsea just plain weren't good enough to beat an inferior opponent.
For more on the two teams, check out Fulham blog Cottagers Confidential and Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History. We'll have coverage of this game and all of the other games from this round of fixtures in our Boxing Day Football StoryStream.
Chelsea and Fulham contest a West London Derby on Boxing Day, with the Blues the heavy favorites at Stamford Bridge.
On Christmas, you get to unwrap all of your presents. On Boxing Day, you get to return the crap you didn't like and watch some football!
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