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Queens Park Rangers gave themselves a huge boost in their struggle to avoid the drop with a 3-0 win against Swansea City at Loftus Road. Although the visitors probably had the better of the first half, it was QPR who took the lead in stoppage time when a corner was deflected to Joey Barton to fire home from near the edge of the box. The goal seemed to inspire Mark Hughes' side, and they were much improved after the interval.
The second was coming, and it eventually arrived via deflection when Jamie Mackie's effort bounced off Angel Rangel and wrong-footed Michel Vorm in the 55th minute, and although Swansea showed signs of life shortly after going 2-0 down Akos Buzsaky wrapped the match up with a long-range piledriver with just over twenty minutes to go. Brendan Rodgers had no reply, and QPR closed out the match looking far more likely to score a fourth than to concede a first. It's a big win for the Hoops, who now find themselves in 16th place, two points clear of the drop.
Arsenal solidified their case for third place with an easy enough 3-0 win against hapless Wolverhampton, who made things far easier for their guests by contriving to gift them with a penalty and a red card less than ten minutes into the match. Yossi Benayoun played Theo Walcott clean through on goal with just eight minutes gone, and when Sebastian Bassong brought the winger down there was little chance of anything but a spot kick and a dismissal for the on-loan centre back.
Robin van Persie converted the penalty for the 1-0 lead and Walcott made it two three minutes later with a curling effort that followed a neat one-two with van Persie and left Wayne Hennesey virtually helpless. Strangely, despite putting themselves in a great position to absolutely rout their opponents, Arsenal failed to press on and nearly let their 10-man opponents back into the match just after the break, with Wojciech Szczesny forced into an excellent save when Kevin Doyle looked near-certain to score.
Benayoun soon re-established Arsenal's dominance, however, spotting a hole from 20 yards and guiding a low shot into the bottom corner, and although there was a bit of sloppiness in the visitors play after that they never looked particularly likely to give their opponents a consolation goal.
Manchester City closed the gap at the top of the table to five points by hammering West Bromwich Albion 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium. Sergio Aguero got the hosts off to the best possible start when he slotted past Ben Foster just six minutes in. From then on there was never any doubt as to who would win - instead, it was simply a question of how many more times City would score.
Three, as it turned out, but they all had to wait until the second half. Aguero got his brace just after the restart after being slipped in by Samir Nasri, and Nasri was provider again for City's third after cutting back from the byline for Carlos Tevez to hammer home. It was the former captain's first goal of the season after a long and much-publicised absence from the team.
There was time enough for David Silva to make it four, as the little midfielder, who missed the 1-0 defeat at Arsenal, dinked home the cutest of chips in the 64th minute to mark a three goal, ten minute spell for the hosts. After that, City seemed content enough to simply wait out the rest of the game - West Brom didn't appear much of a threat to do anything, and the points were well and truly secure. The gap between Roberto Mancini's men and Manchester United now stands at five points.
Maybe Manchester United's path to the Premier League crown won't be as easy as they had hoped. The defending champions had won eleven of their last twelve Premier League games and had left Manchester City - their only legitimate rivals in the title race - in the dust, and they should have been able to handle Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium without much of a problem.
Instead, they put in a very poor performance and paid the price, losing 1-0 to a team that began the day in the relegation zone. At no point did it look like the visitors were in control of the match. At no point did it look like Ali Al-Habsi was going to have to perform miracles in order to rescue a point for Roberto Martinez's men. And at no point did it look as though Wigan would fail to score.
You could argue that the hosts were unlucky not to win by more - they managed to spurn plenty of opportunities to go 1-0 up in the first half before having a Victor Moses goal disallowed thanks to a very soft obstruction call on Gary Caldwell. Wigan would have to wait until after the interval to finally get on the scoresheet, but a wonderful long-range curling effort by Shaun Maloney evaded David de Gea 50 minutes in to give the hosts the lead and they never came particularly close to relinquishing it.
It's a huge result for Wigan, who now sit in 17th place. It's also a big result for the title race, as Manchester City's 4-0 home win against West Bromwich Albion sees them close the gap at the top of the table to five points. The Manchester derby later this month has just gotten very interesting indeed.
So ... that was strange. Really, really strange. Liverpool emerged 3-2 winners against Blackburn at Ewood Park after a topsy-turvy match that featured all sorts of craziness.
Take, for example, Liverpool cruising through a match. That's pretty weird these days, but by the 16th minute the visitors were up 2-nil via a Maxi Rodríguez brace (Maxi starting is also weird), and looked like they were going to lay an absolute beating on an off-the-pace-looking Blackburn. The first goal was simplicity itself -- a brilliant diagonal ball from Martin Skrtel to Craig Bellamy, who crossed low for Maxi to tap home from range. The second was a rebound after good work from Jonjo Shelvey and subpar but effective play from Andy Carroll.
In fact, the only thing that seemed to be going wrong with Liverpool's day was John Flanagan's extravagant attempts at getting himself sent off. The young defender managed to pick up a booking just before the opener for a foul on Marcus Olsson, and then put in another yellow-card-worthy challenge on the same player at the 20-minute mark, only to be let off the hook by referee Mark Halsey.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, that just meant Flanagan switched targets, and the 19-year-old's focus settled squarely on second-choice keeper Doni. His method was simple: Hang his goalkeeper out to cry with a backpass that would essentially force him to concede a penalty by bringing down Junior Hoilett. Since it was also a clear goal-scoring opportunity, Doni had to walk, and Kenny Dalglish brought on Brad Jones to replace replace him, mercifully yanking Flanagan in the process.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni took the spot kick with the knowledge that a goal would see his side well and truly back in the game. He started his run up, waited for Jones to commit, and then shot weakly straight at the substitute's chest for some reason. Unsurprisingly, Jones, who is a professional goalkeeper, did not have a problem holding onto the penalty and the margin remained at 2-0.
Until it wasn't. Liverpool's defence decided not to bother actually marking anyone on a 36th-minute free kick, and Yakubu, who was given as much space as he had on the penalty, made no mistake this time in glancing a header into the bottom corner. What would normally happen at this point is that the team with 10 men would drop into a defensive shell and hope they could play another 55 minutes or so without conceding.
Naturally, that's not what happened. Instead, Liverpool spent much of the opening to the second half as the better side, playing solid football until possession got near Carroll, and actually looked more likely to score than their hosts. Then disaster struck. Yakubu closed down Jones when the goalkeeper was attempting to punt long, blocking the kick with his voluminous posterior and then forcing a foul when Jones scrambled for the loose ball.
Halsey reached for his pocket and produced a yellow card. It was probably the right call, but millions around the world were hoping for a red merely for hilarity's sake, so boooo to Mark Halsey for being correct. Anyway, Yakubu managed to produce another hilariously tame penalty, but Jones dove out of the way and the match was back to level pegging at 2-2.
In injury time, just as it seemed as though the spoils would be shared, Liverpool struck. A corner wasn't entirely cleared and the ball was flung back into the danger zone for Daniel Agger to flick onward and then for Carroll to crash home. No, that wasn't a typo. Andy Carroll scored the winner in this game. Life sure can be crazy.
Chelsea couldn't take advantage of Tottenham Hotspur dropping points earlier in the race for fourth place, as they drew 1-1 in the local derby with Fulham, despite leading for an extended period of the game.
Chelsea started the game quite brightly, with Fernando Torres and Solomon Kalou both having strikes from distance, but following an opening 10 minute flurry faded badly throughout the first half, as Fulham took control of the game.
In the 18th minute Fulham had a very half-hearted penalty appeal turned down when Mahamadou Diarra went down, followed moments later by a wasteful finish by Damien Duff when John Arne Riise picked out the Irishman at the far edge of the penalty area.
In what was a very lively opening period, USA international Clint Dempsey wasted a glorious chance to put the home side 1-0 up in the 24th minute. Some superb work by Moussa Dembele set up the striker, however he could only fire straight at Petr Cech from all of 10-yards out.
Kerim Frei was next to test the Chelsea rearguard with a low drive from distance, but it was the incredible solo run from the Swiss youngster which had the Craven Cottage fans on their feet as he weaved and jinked his way past three Chelsea defenders before his shot was just tipped round the post by Cech.
Chelsea had their own penalty appeal turned down on 32 minutes when Ryan Bertrand's shot from just outside the area clearly struck the arm of Stephen Kelly. Despite the Irishman later receiving treatment on the arm which was struck, referee Mark Clattenburg was simply not interested.
Chelsea did manage to take the lead on the stroke of half-time when Frank Lampard converted from the spot. Solomon Kalou's mazy dribble was halted in the area when Danny Murphy foolishly dived in two-footed. Murphy didn't make contact with Kalou, but two-footed challenges are always going to be punished, and a player of his experience really ought to know better.
The second half continued with the same vigour and verve as the first, with action at both ends of the pitch, and more penalty calls.
Frank Lampard fired wide of the mark on 47 minutes, and just three minutes later had his own penalty appeal rejected. Racing to get onto a cross at the front post, Lampard appeared to be pushed in the back by Brede Hangeland, but nothing was given.
Everything decent that Fulham managed in response tended to come through the impressive Frei. On the hour, his perfectly weighted ball to Riise allowed the Norwegian to fire just inches wide with the outside of his left foot from a tight angle. So close to being a quite incredible goal for the home side.
As the game wore on, Chelsea seemed like they wanted to shut up shop and see the game out, but Fulham were not to be denied and launched wave after wave of attack. Aaron Hughes nearly made the breakthrough on 81 minutes when his bullet header was blocked on the line superbly by Cech, but from the resulting corner The Cottagers leveled.
The corner was swung in goalwards, and after eluding every marker, Clint Dempsey rose to flick the ball into the far corner of Cech's goal, via the back of Gary Cahill, setting up a frantic final ten minutes.
Substitute Orlando Sa was next to Cech with a fine header from inside the area, while Cahill did his level best at the other end to grab a winner, but none was forthcoming and a draw was just about the right result in a very entertaining game.
Aston Villa and Stoke ground out a 1-1 draw in Birmingham, continuing Villa's poor home form. It wasn't a classic match by any means - a scrappy affair is what you'd expect between these two teams and a scrappy affair is exactly what we got - but Andreas Weimann added the touch of genius the game deserved in the 32nd minute, the 20-year-old playing a one-two with Stephen Ireland before curling a lovely shot over Asmir Begovic and in from 20 yards.
Villa could only hold their lead for forty minutes. Stoke's aerial bombardment finally paid off when centre back Robert Huth got forward and hammered a header past Shay Given from a corner, and from then on the visitors had most of the momentum. Villa certainly weren't helped by a few odd refereeing decisions, and any hope for a fast-paced ending for the match was ended when Chris Herd hurt himself in his second major collision in ten minutes and ended up having to be stretchered off. Five minutes of injury time later, and the draw was secured. Yawn.
Norwich City inflicted a disastrous home defeat on stuttering Tottenham Hotspur, opening up the race for fourth in a major way. This was no fluke result, either - the Canaries defended well all game and Grant Holt gave the centre back pairing of Ledley King and Younes Kaboul problems from the very beginning. Spurs had gotten away with a major defensive error to send Holt nearly clear through the middle barely ten minutes in, but they replicated their mistake three minutes later when the ball deflected off Kaboul to the feet of Antony Pilkington, who made no mistake from eight yards.
The visitors looked set to extend their lead when King bundled over Holt as the striker raced in on goal, expecting (correctly) a penalty and a red card, but Michael Oliver gave nothing and their fury was compounded within seconds as Jermain Defoe stole in behind the Norwich line and flicked expertly over John Ruddy to level the score. It was an undeserved equaliser and the Canaries would have been apoplectic had they not won anyway.
But win they did thanks to a gorgeous strike from Elliot Bennett, who capped off a frenetic second half with a nice run to the edge of the box and then a blistering shot that left Brad Friedel motionless. Justice was served, and the visitors closed out the match relatively comfortably.
It's easy to forget just how close Tottenham came to taking the lead in this match - Ruddy had to save very well from Benoit Assou-Ekotto when the fullback went clear through on goal, and Gareth Bale hit the underside of the crossbar only minutes before Norwich's second, but any win (or even draw) would have been somewhat tainted by Oliver' decision not to send off King in the first half.
Instead, the sides got the result their performance deserved without any sort of makeup call. This loss puts Tottenham level on points with fifth-place Newcastle, and they could drop out of the Champions League spots outright with Chelsea set to take on Fulham later today. It's all getting very interesting in the race for fourth.
Everton cruised past Sunderland in a 4-0 win at Goodison Park. The hosts dominated throughout and it came as a minor surprise that they took so long to wrap up the game, which was scoreless until the 54th minute despite a huge Everton edge in possession, shots and chances. That's when Magaye Gueye intervened, scoring the first goal of his Toffees career with a lovely close-range strike to make it 1-0, and the goal opened the floodgates.
Prodigal son Steven Pienaar extended the hosts' lead with a curling effort from just outside the area that left Simon Mignolet utterly helpless, and Leon Osman wrapped it up shortly thereafter with an almost perfect imitation of the South African's strike. Victor Anichebe made it four, scoring via deflection (suspicions of a Jack Colback own goal there) despite making a complete mess of Pienaar's pass, and it looked for all the world as though Everton could double their tally in the final ten minutes. Fortunately for Sunderland, the score remained 'only' 4-0. It could have been far more embarrassing.
Newcastle United were pushed all the way by Bolton Wanderers at St James' Park but were ultimately 2-0 victors thanks to the inspirational Hatem ben Arfa, who scored a brilliant solo goal with less than twenty minutes to go. Before then, the visitors might have had the better of the chances, threatening Tim Krul's net on several occasions with an attacking intent that belied their status as serious relegation candidates.
Ben Arfa turned that all around in the 73rd minute, however, spinning past his man on the halfway line, skipping past a desperate challenge, going through David Wheater like he wasn't there and then placing a perfect shot into Adam Bogdan's bottom corner. Bolton were stunned - it was an absolutely brilliant effort, but they probably didn't deserve to be behind - but in their quest for an equaliser they left themselves open to more punishment, which is exactly what the suspiciously offside-looking Papiss Cisse inflicted ten minutes after the opener.
The Magpies are very much in the race for fourth now. Bolton, meanwhile, are just one point clear of the drop zone.
Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Newcastle all play on Monday, meaning the race for fourth could get shaken up considerably.
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