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Before the very last minute of the match, when everything became about a worrying-looking head injury to Junior Hoillet, the game between Fulham and Blackburn Rovers at Craven Cottage had been dominated by two sumptuous strikes. Ruben Rochina had given Rovers their first lead of the 2011/12 season with an absolutely gorgeous shot from outside the area, clipping the underside of Mark Schwarzer's crossbar before bouncing into the back of the net, and then Bobby Zamora sent in a classy equaliser of his own after escaping the attentions of left back Gael Givet and making space in the penalty area from a tight angle.
Fulham dominated the second half as they looked for a way through the Blackburn defence. Paul Robinson and the centre backs needed to stand firm before a barrage of crosses, and Clint Dempsey came very close to winning the game for the hosts in injury time after a backheel from Moussa Dembele saw the American in space at the top of the box.
Fulham pouring forwards, of course, meant space at the back, and Blackburn did their best to exploit it. Unfortunately, one of those attempts saw both Schwarzer and Hoillet attacking a 50/50 ball, the two players coming together with a sickening clash of heads. Hoillet had the worst of the collision, crumpling to the ground with blood streaming from a cut to the head, and stayed prone for several minutes before Blackburn's medical staff could finally stretcher him off. It was a really unfortunate, unintentional injury that put something of a damper on what had been an interesting, exciting game - and it means that Blackburn can't celebrate their first point of the season with quite the fervour they would have had the full time whistle blown just a little bit earlier.
Recently-promoted Norwich City were consigned to their second loss in a row by West Bromwich Albion, who struck early through the figure of Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie (who was given more than a little help by a second terrible back pass by Ritchie de Laet in the span of two games) and never really looked back. Norwich tried to reply with neat possession football, but their build up play amounted to little more than a couple of penalty shouts that Mark Halsey waved away.
It was the visitors who looked the better shots to extend their lead, with Graham Dorrans rattling Decland Rudd's post in the first half before a dubious penalty call ended up going the Baggies' way when Steven Reid fell down in the general vicinity of Steve Morrison, marking the fourth penalty conceded in four games by Norwich. Not to worry, though - Rudd got down to make a very good save against an irked Odemwingie, looking for his brace, and Norwich were still in the match. At least, they were for another 15 minutes, at which point they lost.
It wasn't convincing, but Arsenal finally got their first win of the 2011-12 Premier League campaign, defeating Swansea City 1-0. Debutants Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker impressed for the Gunners, while Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer caused Bacary Sagna and especially Kieran Gibbs problems.
It took just 80 seconds for Arsenal's big signing to get involved, as Arteta played a wonderfull through ball for Aaron Ramsey charging through the midfield. The Welsh captain, who did so well to score against Montenegro last Friday, did worse this time, hitting his shot high and wide when a cross may have been better. Arteta was involved moments later when he played a wonderful one-two with Robin van Persie before winning a free kick, which he drove into the wall. Andrey Arshavin, who perhaps had his best Arsenal match since February, was instrumental in Arsenal's creativity, playing in Theo Walcott, who's shot was superbly cleared by Steven Caulker.
Swansea, though, had their moments, enjoying a majority of possession around the 30 minute marked helped by Arsenal's odd reluctance to close down in the midfield. Swansea's good work, however, was undone by a moment of madness. Michel Vorm's roll out hit Angel Rangel (which might be the best name ever) on the heel, and fell to Arshavin, who had an empty net to finish in. It was a good finish from a player who frustratingly does the hard things better than the easy things, but it was just reward for Arsenal's attacking play.
The sequence from the first half continued in the second 45 minutes of action. Swansea, despite the amount of possession that they had, failed to create many chances, aside from one or two moments of quality when Scott Sinclair or Nathan Dyer attacked Kieran Gibbs, who had a poor game. They had a late chance when the excellent Wojciech Szczesny failed to punch away a corner (though it looked like he was fouled), but Danny Graham hit the chance over the bar. 1-0, however, was a fair result: both sides missed easy opportunities in the second half and both hit the woodwork. Swansea may feel hard-done by, but if they continue to defend and pass the ball like they did today, they should stay up comfortably. They are not, though, this year's Blackpool, despite the insistence of Warren Barton.
Arsenal's performance was alright. With so little time for Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Benayoun to get acquainted with their new teammates, a lack of understanding could be expected, though the latter 2 greatly impressed. Their pressing system remains a worry, as does Kieran Gibbs, but results and performances should continue to improve from here on out.
Good grief. Manchester United are unstoppable right now, and Owen Coyle's Bolton Wanderers were the latest team to be put to the sword by the defending (and on this form, future) champions. It was 3-0 basically before anyone blinked, with Javier Hernandez scoring in the fourth minute and then Wayne Rooney adding a pair of close-range goals in quick succession. Bolton were reeling, and United took full advantage.
At haltime, the visitors had recorded four shots on goal to Bolton's seven, but the chances they were creating were so simple that Jussi Jaiskelainen managed just one save - without playing particularly badly, either. The second half was more of the same, with Hernandez grabbing another before Wayne Rooney completed a hattrick to make it five in the 68th minute. The rest of the match became an exercise in getting Chicharito a hattrick of his own, and while that wasn't exactly a rousing success, that's hardly going to ruin Sir Alex Ferguson's day.
What did put a bit of a damper on things was seeing midfielder Tom Cleverley hobble off in the tenth minute, only to reappear in the stands in the second half wearing a big boot on his right foot and brandishing a pair of crutches. United have Kevin Davies to thank for that injury - but that was the extent of the damage the Trotters managed to inflict on their visitors, despite a second half performance that saw them continue to attack despite the danger the champions posed when space was opened up for them.
Yep, that's five goals now. Surprise! Nigel Reo-Coker's crossbar-rattling cross wasn't the sign of a Bolton Wanderers renaissance at all, and Manchester United have added another. Wayne Rooney is the man to get it this time, marking a hattrick, and unlike his previous two this shot was hit from decent range as a cutback outside the area was absolutely blasted into Jussi Jaiskelainen's net. That's not to say it was a difficult chance - it wasn't, and it was incredibly obvious he was going to score before the pass got anywhere near him - but it was harder than a tap-in, so well done there.
Rooney's been trying to get Javier Hernandez on the scoresheet again too, which would mark the Meixcan's hattrick, but nothing he's done since the goal has quite come off, although he came very close with a fizzing cross from the left that just evaded Chicharito's outstretched boot. Meanwhile, Patrice Evra has picked up an injury, but with all three United subs used he'll be staying on the pitch and struggling through it. He's walking pretty gingerly, though.
Tom Cleverley was forced off the pitch ten minutes into Manchester United's match against Bolton Wanderers following a nasty challenge by Trotters striker Kevin Davies in the very early going. Michael Carrick replaced him, but nobody was really sure how serious the injury was. Now we're seeing Cleverly in the stands with a huge protective boot around his right foot, accompanied by a pair of crutches, so... well, it doesn't look particularly great for the midfielder, who's been incredibly influential over the season so far. Hopefully he can get back to playing very soon.
Meanwhile, United have their fourth goal and Javier Hernandez has his second - a Nani run into the box ended up with a little bit of pinball, and when the ball broke to Chicharito in space there was no doubt that he was going to beat Jussi Jaaskelainen. Beat him he did, so that's 4-0. Yikes. Seconds later, Nigel Reo-Coker rattles David de Gea's crossbar, which is miles better than anything the hosts have done so far. Good on them.
So that's been the easiest of easy halves for Manchester United against Bolton Wanderers, with an early Chicharito goal being added to by a Wayne Rooney brace in the 20th and 25 minutes. Since... well, it's still be all United, but since they haven't scored they don't feel quite as dominant as they were in the very early going. Bolton have had a nightmare, completely failing to close down either the centre or the right, allowing Anderson free reign in the middle and Nani to do whatever he wants on the right. All three United goals have come from that flank.
It's not been all going United's way, however, through no fault of Bolton's - midfielder Tom Cleverley was forced off with an injury just ten minutes into the game (Michael Carrick replaced him) and right at the end of the half Nani had to be treated for several minutes following Phil Jones smashing him in the back of the head. Whoops.
If it seems as though I've been skimping on Bolton's contribution to the match... no, I really haven't. Ivan Klasnic had a good shot. There were some fouls. That's all that's happened.
Manchester United have trebled their lead over Bolton Wanderers in the last five minutes and you'd have to say it's been pretty easy for the defending champions. Mark Davies hauled down Nani as the winger was looking to make a quick burst down the right following a period of Bolton pressure (and an excellent save from David de Gea to deny the red-hot Ivan Klasnic), but the professional foul only put off the inevitable for a few minutes. And earned him a yellow card, too.
Anyway, shortly after the free kick a cross came in from the right again, and Wayne Rooney stuck out a toe to divert it into Jussu Jaskelainen's net. That wasn't the end of Bolton's misery, however - for some reason they opted to allow right back Phil Jones to walk into their penalty area and cut the ball back for Rooney to net from close range again just a few minutes later. The Trotters have only been spared a fourth goal thanks to the linesman's flag, too - this is officially a slaughter.
This football malarky is just too easy for Manchester United, eh? Within five minutes of taking the field at the Reebok Stadium, the champions are ahead through the right boot of 'Chicharito' Javier Hernandez, who slid home from close range following a cross by Nani. Wayne Rooney was the man who made it happen, though, spotting the Portuguese's run down the right wing and threading a ball through the Bolton defence to find him. Converting from there was simplicity in itself, and it's 1-0 United.
Bolton aren't going to lie down and just take a beating, however, and the hosts have responded well, forcing United back into their own penalty box and Rooney into a critical block on his own goalline following a scramble that didn't see David de Gea looking particularly competent. There's been more bad news for the visitors as well, with Tom Cleverley forced off with an injury - Michael Carrick replaces him. Still, United have scored and Bolton haven't, so it's happy times at the Reebok for Sir Alex Ferguson and company.
It's Manchester United visiting Bolton Wanderers as the former try to regain their position at the top of the table - they've been knocked off their perch, probably temporarily, thanks to Manchester City's 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic. Sir Alex Ferguson has had to make some changes to a winning formula with Danny Welbeck suffering a hamstring injury. Javier Hernandez isn't a bad replacement, though, and the team also welcomes back Rio Ferdinand to the starting lineup. They should be too much for Bolton, although you never know...
Wolverhampton Wanderers aren't the easiest nut to crack and Tottenham Hotspur made some heavy going of it at Molineux for most of the match. The first half saw the Champions League aspirants in shocking form, with the notable exception of new midfield acquisition Scott Parker, whose status as a galactic superhero prevents him from such trifling matters as 'having a bad game'. The rest of the team, though... yeah, it wasn't good. Fortunately for Spurs, Wolves weren't doing much going forward, which meant that halftime arrived with the score at 0-0 and every chance for the visitors to turn things around.
Turn things around they did, switching Gareth Bale and NIko Krancjar back to their usual positions. Suddenly Spurs looked competent, and it came as no surprise when Parker set up Emmanuel Adebayor for a goal on the latter's debut. Jermain Defoe made sure of things in the 80th minute, and Tottenham were able to relax a little bit as they enjoyed their first points of the 2011/12 season. Things are a little easier when you're not playing Manchester sides, as it turns out.
Liverpool fell behind the early top-four pack after suffering a surprise 1-0 defeat at the Britannia Stadium to Stoke City, who are furthering their reputation as a near-impossible nut to crack at home, even for the biggest clubs in the league. They've already wrested a point off Chelsea this year, and they did one better against the Reds, going ahead early thanks to Jonathan Walters winning and then converting a penalty early in the first half.
The rest of the game was about as expected - a Liverpool onslaught - but Stoke dug deep and defended very well (luck helped too) and simply refused to be breached. The stats tell the story: Liverpool had 73% of the possession, 12 corners to Stoke's 2 and 24 shots to Stoke's 3, but at the end of the day it simply wasn't enough. The visitors will feel aggrieved* that they weren't awarded a last minute penalty when Matthew Upson appeared to handle the ball in the box, but them's the breaks in football.
*Luis Suarez is almost always aggrieved, though.
Chelsea cruised to a 2-1 victory whose scoreline singularly fails to represent the disparity in quality between themselves and Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. The Blues started very brightly, annihilating their hosts for most of the first half, and went ahead following a strange sequence which eventually saw John Terry squeeze home from a tight angle at the second attempt. Although Chelsea's new-look front line of Juan Mata, Nicolas Anelka and Daniel Sturridge were playing well, the visitor's dominance was more of a reflection of how poor Sunderland were than a mark of great quality on the Blues' part - aside from Wes Brown at the heart of their defence, the Black Cats were dire.
Andre Villas-Boas' side would add to their lead in the second half following the deftest of backheel finishes by Sturridge, who was making his first start of the season following suspension, and then continued to play Sunderland off the park until the 90 minutes were up, at which point they stopped playing. The hosts, however, recognised that there were three added minutes and took advantage of Chelsea's falling asleep by pulling a goal back through the figure of debutant Ji Dong-Won, but it was far too little far too late, and a really disappointing performance from Steve Bruce's side.
Everton should probably have cruised to victory against Aston Villa and they twice looked on the edge of blowing their rather slow-witted opponents off the pitch at Goodison Park only to be pegged back each time. 2-2 is a disappointing result for David Moyes' men, who went ahead in the 19th minute when Leon Osman ensured a Stiliyan Petrov defensive error wouldn't be unpunished only to see the Villa captain make up for his mistake 45 minutes later when one of his trademark long-range rockets deviated from its usual course into row Z and sailed past Tim Howard at his near post. In between those goals was an Everton onslaught which - somehow - failed to see the hosts score.
No matter for the Toffees, though - their response to Petrov's goal was to march down the pitch and attack once more, eventually earning a penalty when Fabian Delph hauled down Phil Jagielka at a corner. Leighton Baines doesn't miss those very often, and he didn't here, but just when Villa looked dead and buried, Gabriel Agbonlahor popped up at the far post to nod home a Marc Albrighton cross. Good result for Villa, but they're going to have to up their performance, and fast.
The last time Manchester City took the field, Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko bagged four goals against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Such is City's depth at striker that for their home game against Wigan Athletic he was left off the pitch entirely, with wantaway ex-captain Carlos Tevez taking his place in the starting eleven. No matter for the hosts - the goals would simply come from elsewhere, this time in the form of a hattrick from Sergio Aguero, bringing the import's tally up to six on the young season.
After Aguero scored in the 13th minute, it looked as though one goal would be all that City would manage against Ali Al-Habsi and company. Carlos Tevez missed a penalty and the hosts struck the woodwork roughly ten million times in the first half while Wigan did their best to hit their illustrious opposition on the counterattack. It didn't work very well, but with just one goal in the match, anything could have happened.
The thing that happened was Aguero, who scored twice shortly after the hour mark to completely wrap things up and take City - briefly - to the top of the table. They've now scored fifteen goals in four matches, an absolutely blistering start to the campaign, and are beginning to make a mockery of the defensively-minded stereotype that's been associated with them since Roberto Mancini took over the manager's seat.
Yeah, domestic football's back after a week-long hiatus. Don't expect it to be any different though.
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