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Weekend review

Few weekends will match the one that has just passed as nine Premier League matches yielded 33 goals. Whether it be Manchester City feeling the heart, Spurs back on song or Andy Carroll enduring the proverbial 'mare on his return to St James', there was something for everyone.

A fascinating weekend of Premier League football saw Man City learn all about squeaky bum time.

Rare is it that a weekend serves up not a solitary dud but that's precisely the scenario that ensued over two days that housed nine matches and 33 goals. The pressure is now on Blackburn and Manchester United to make it a perfect 10 in Sky Sports' crunch Monday night game from Ewood Park. Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany insists nerves are not getting to his team-mates but evidence taken from the Etihad on Saturday points to the contrary. Prior to the visit of Martin O'Neill's resurgent Sunderland the would be champions had clocked up 20 successive home victories. Saturday's game will not be remembered for City's failure to match Liverpool's record of 1971-72 though, but rather as the day their title tilt began to unravel publically. From the moment Sebastian Larsson was given acres of room to guide a daisy-cutter past Joe Hart on the half hour mark there was a sense all was not quite right at fortress Eastlands. Mario Balotelli restored parity from the penalty spot after Edin Dzeko had taken a tumble in the box, but relief at the Italian's leveller proved to be short-lived as Nicklas Bendtner's towering header restored Sunderland's lead before half-time. It was an advantage extended by Larsson's second after the interval as Roberto Mancini looked on ashen faced with the appearance of a man who had the winning lottery ticket in his suit jacket, only for his wife to put it in the washer. His mood barely altered when Balotelli, who earlier in the half had petulantly jostled with Aleksander Kolarov over who would take a free-kick, scored a scorching second with five minutes remaining. Kolarov showed why he rates his left foot so highly in netting a jackhammer of a strike a minute later to level but at the season's close his intervention could well prove to be too little, too late. It was not all doom and gloom for Italian managers though as Roberto Di Matteo claimed not just three points from Chelsea's trip to Aston Villa but also prised a goal from Fernando Torres, his first in the Premier League since September. It proved to be an emotional day for all concerned at Villa Park as Stiliyan Petrov was in attendance to hear heartfelt applause and support upon learning he had acute leukaemia. His team-mates showed plenty of fight to draw level after falling two behind, as second half goals from James Collins and Eric Lichaj had the home support savouring the most unlikely of points with ten minutes left.


It would prove to be a false dawn as Branislav Ivanovic's second of the afternoon preceded Torres' coup de grace at the close. Arsenal made the short trip across the capital to Loftus Road in optimum spirits on the back of seven successive victories but were well below their best in falling to defeat at QPR. The Hoops were desperate for a big result to kick-start Mark Hughes' tenure and they achieved just that largely thanks to Adel Taarabt. The Moroccan playmaker has been one of the disappointments of the season after ripping up the Championship last term but the magic was back on Saturday as he gave his side the lead with a cracker. When Theo Walcott's 10th of the season got Arsenal back on terms it was expected Arsene Wenger's side would kick-on and win but credit to the Hoops for digging deep as Samba Diakite rifled in a fine second half winner. Bolton gave their survival hopes a massive shot in the arm at Wolves as they left Molineux with a 3-2 victory that barring a minor miracle will go a long way to sending Terry Connor's side down. In truth the home side were guilty of some horrendous profligacy long before Michael Kightly scored a cracking opener and missed opportunities returned to haunt them, as Bolton got their act together to forge ahead late on as Martin Petrov (who dedicated his goal to friend and namesake Stiliyan), Marcos Alonso and Kevin Davies, a substitute, all got in on the act. Matt Jarvis' consolation two minutes from time provided scant relief for a beleaguered Connor and his players, who continued the theme of team-mates scrapping as Roger Johnson and Wayne Hennessey had an unsightly tete-a-tete of their own. Given the difficult nature of their remaining fixtures Wigan will have earmarked a home game with Stoke City as a must-win encounter. Roberto Martinez insists he will guide his side to safety and going off Saturday's showing, when coupled with last week's win at Anfield, he might just be as good as his word. Antolin Alcaraz's bullet of a header gave Wigan a second half advantage they never really looked like surrendering. Gloss was put on a polished enough performance when Victor Moses capitalised on Andy Wilkinson's aberration of a touch in stoppage time. Everton continue to warm up for their all-Merseyside FA Cup semi-final in some style as they eased to a 2-0 victory over West Brom at Goodison Park, courtesy of Gareth McAuley's own goal and Victor Anichebe's angled strike. It was to be a forgettable afternoon all-round for Roy Hodgson's side, whose frustrations boiled over in the second half when Ben Foster and Peter Odemwingie had to be separated by team-mates in an incident that did little to alleviate their manager's dark mood. Fulham got off to flyer at Craven Cottage as Clint Dempsey and Damien Duff, via an excellent clipped finish, both etched their names onto the scoresheet against a caught cold Norwich. Martin Jol's Cottagers are playing some easy of the eye stuff at home these days but were made to work for their win when with 13 minutes left Aaron Wilbraham reduced the arrears. On Sunday it was a case of never raining but pouring for Liverpool. Kenny Dalglish's side arrived at St James' Park badly out of sorts and left with nothing more than a sixth defeat in seven Premier League games. It was supposed to be all about a former Newcastle number nine but as it transpired all the Toon fans wanted to talk about on full-time was the shirt's current incumbent. On Friday it was Africa Day at Newcastle's training ground and having been fed a healthy portion of curried goat, Papiss Cisse rewarded the warmth his new club have afforded him with a devastating display. If he keeps scoring at his current rate Cisse will turn out to be the buy of the season, let alone January, as his brilliantly taken brace moved Newcastle to within five points of third placed Tottenham. Andy Carroll's afternoon was a polar opposite to his replacement on Tyneside. Booked for diving when it looked easier to score in the first half, Carroll was replaced to a crescendo of boos with ten minutes left, but not before informing Dalglish of what he thought of his call in the bluntest of terms. Liverpool's woes were exacerbated when Jose Reina endured a rush of blood to the head as he took umbrage at James Perch's petty kick-out to put his face into that of the Newcastle man. A deserved red card but Perch hardly covered himself in glory with theatrics that would have had Bonnie Langford cooing 'that's a bit much darling'. Pathetic all round then.
Dalglish dilemma
For Newcastle it's onwards and upwards, for Liverpool it would seem their path is less clear. Swansea's trip to the capital could have been billed as Tottenham versus Tottenham-lite, or more cruelly Brendan Rodgers' audition, but whatever it was it was thrilling entertainment. With both sides seemingly of the opinion tactics are for squares they went at each other from the off, trading blows at will but with the finesse of a ballet dancer. There was much to admire from both sides but the game was perhaps best summed up by Harry Redknapp: "They play, they pass the ball, they take risks. They've just come up against a better team." When Gylfi Sigurdsson beat Brad Friedel with half an hour left to level things up it looked as though Swansea might just escape from the capital with a point but Redknapp was right, when it came to the crunch, class came to the fore as Emmanuel Adebayor's double capped off a perfect weekend for the white side of North London.

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