Saturday wasn't without entertainment in English football. Fulham beat Norwich in what could prove to be one of the most important games of the season, while Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion played a fun, though not particularly high-quality 3-3 match. The day's marquee event lived up to its billing, with Arsenal barely squeaking by defending FA Cup champions Wigan Athletic, putting them in position to end their trophy drought.
Felix Magath engineering a great escape
by Kevin McCauley
New Fulham boss Felix Magath has a reputation as an old-school, hard-headed manager who doesn't get the most out of his players by pushing them as much as he does burn bridges and run them into the ground. But Fulham looked prepared against Norwich and, save for a nice 20-minute spell for the Canaries, looked the better side.
The most interesting aspect of the match was Magath's constant in-game changes. It's not clear if he did it to confuse Norwich or in reaction to something he saw, but Magath switched between variations of 3-6-1 and 4-5-1 formations throughout the afternoon, with Sascha Riether, John Heitinga and Kieran Richardson moving all over depending on what their boss asked of them. His substitutions worked too, with the introduction of Scott Parker late helping Fulham to kill off the game.
What Magath is doing might look crazy -- and he's certainly thought of as just that in Germany -- but it's working. Fulham are just two points from safety even though they looked dead in the water when he showed up.
Tim Sherwood's awful defense strikes again
by Ryan Rosenblatt
There is no reason Spurs should have conceded after 25 seconds at West Brom. Then again, there is no reason they should have gone 2-0 down four minutes later or seen the Baggies score a third. But they are Tottenham so that is what they do, and why they are in sixth.
Tottenham's talent was on full display in their comeback on Saturday, as Emmanuel Adebayor's strength caused West Brom nightmares, Spurs' pace on the wings allowed them to get forward at will, their defenders' ability to pass the ball allowed them to keep the ball for large stretches of the match and Christian Eriksen dazzled. Skill is hardly an issue for Spurs.
So why can't they pull it together?
It could be because Tim Sherwood is their manager. In fact, it's probably because of that. Guys, someone actually hired Tim Sherwood to manage a supposedly good team.
The result is Tottenham at West Brom, from 3-0 down to 3-3 and feeling like they could have won -- Spurs in a nutshell.
The Black Cats are cursed
by Zach Woosley
If there is a cursed team in English football, it is surely Sunderland. A high spend during Ellis Short's tenure has been, until the scattergun panic of Paolo di Canio and Gus Poyet, mostly offset by some big sales too. The inability to build on fairly solid foundations seemed to be the recurring problem.
The club were always dependent on one player for goals -- Darren Bent, then Asamoah Gyan, then Darren Fletcher and another for all creativity -- Stephane Sessegnon. Now an inconsistent winger is being asked to provide both, and when he doesn't show up, results like today's happen.
Sunderland could be a squad of gritty battlers, a squad set up to work to the undoubted talents of one or two men, a Pulisball side to frustrate and confound better teams. But there is just nothing here. This side probably should have been relegated many years ago, and it's probably for the best that they go away and start again.
Alex Livesey / Getty Images
Aston Villa without any spark
by Callum Hamilton
Umm. Well. Err. Palace are a plucky team?
This game wasn't horrible, it was just lacking the required skill at key moments to actually make it fun and entertaining. Jason Puncheon's game winner for Palace was nice, and deserved, because Palace really were the better side all day. It's a fitting result really for a Palace team that has really been solid late in the season. They deserve to stay up, and it appears they will, which hurts to say because it requires me to compliment Tony Pulis.
Such is football.
Villa simply have no offense, which makes sense with leading scorer Christian Benteke out. The Belgian striker hasn't exactly been tearing it up this season, but at least when he's out there, Villa seem dangerous. Grant Holt is about as scary to opposing defenses as a basket of kittens.
Wigan undone by their own substitutions
by Kevin McCauley
Wigan tried to defend their 1-0 lead against Arsenal instead of continuing to play the style that got them their lead in the first place. It didn't work. They had the lead for less than 20 minutes in the second half, with Per Mertesacker equalizing just under 10 minutes from regular time. From there, Wigan had to change their strategy again, but they couldn't do it.
With Nick Powell on for Callum McManaman, Wigan lacked invention and a player with the flair to threaten Arsenal. With Jack Collison on for Josh McEachran, they couldn't knock the ball around in midfield and regularly turned it over, despite the lack of a true ball-winner in midfield for Arsenal. An excellent first 60 minutes gave way to a fairly inept second 60 through the end of the second half and extra time, mostly because of the personnel Wigan had on the pitch.
Putting on a box-to-box midfielder for a passer and a player who can keep the ball for a flair player while up 1-0 against a superior team makes sense, but Wigan did it without extra time in mind. And when they got to extra time, they had no chance to score.