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Best of the weekend

Image: Sir Alex's birthday bash was ruined by Blackburn on Saturday casts an eye over the Premier League action and picks out the highlights. casts an eye over the New Year Premier League action and picks out the highlights from the lowlights

Team of the weekend

Game of the weekend

Manchester United 2 Blackburn 3 Blackburn arrived at Old Trafford cast as the proverbial lambs to the slaughter but courtesy of a display full of resilience and no little endeavour they made light of those bookies who'd offered odds of 28/1 for a Rovers win. Pre-match there was a jovial atmosphere as those present joined in with an impromptu rendition of 'Happy Birthday' as Sir Alex celebrated his 70th, 25 of which he's spent in Manchester. It was to be a birthday he'll never forget; for all the wrong reasons. If reports are to be believed Wayne Rooney's absence for the squad owed more to an ill-advised night out than the 'niggles' his manager suggested. How United could have done with a little Rooney magic... A flat performance and even flatter atmosphere allowed Blackburn to commandeer a two-goal advantage when early in the second half an in-form Yakubu Aiyegbeni added to his first half penalty. Dimitar Berbatov scored five against Blackburn in the corresponding fixture last season and when he grabbed a quick-fire brace there appeared to be only one winner. Neither David de Gea or Grant Hanley had the read script, though, and when the former failed to deal with a routine corner the latter was on hand to steal a three-point haul for his beleaguered boss Steve Kean.

Goal of the weekend

Sam Ricketts v Wolves Only a true curmudgeon would have denied Sam Ricketts a little New Year cheer after a 10-month injury lay-off and that's precisely what he got as the Welshman closed the door on a miserable 2011 with a wonder goal. A 1-1 draw with Wolves was not a game that will live long in the memory but Ricketts' strike certainly will. Collecting possession wide on the left Ricketts cut onto his preferred right foot before curling into the far top corner a majestic effort out of keeping with what both preceded or followed it. Honourable mentions go to Robin van Persie, whose sweeping finish against QPR was his 35th of the calendar year, and Fulham's Orlando Sa, whose cute curling effort at Carrow Road showed there may just be life after Bobby Zamora, if the England man departs in the January transfer window.

Player of the weekend

Stephen Ireland v Chelsea Aston Villa's forgotten man began the week in inauspicious circumstances when the football fraternity was reminded of his existence via a tweeted picture of him shirtless, clad in snakeskin strides and smoking a shisha pipe. Whatever he was smoking clearly had the desired effect as the Irishman demonstrated that when he's got his head right there's not many better playmakers in the Premier League, as Chelsea were left chasing his shadow for much of the afternoon at Stamford Bridge. Ireland scored the first and then set up Villa's third for Darren Bent, who himself has hardly endeared himself to the club's supporters of late.

Gaffe of the weekend

Frank Lampard v Aston Villa David de Gea's limp wristed effort against Blackburn elicited a collective groan from all associated with Manchester United (with perhaps the exception of Anders Lindergaard) but it is Lampard's faux pas that perhaps best sums up Chelsea of late. There is no doubt Andre Villas-Boas is overseeing a transitional period for the West Londoners and no-one has felt it more than Lampard. The England man started the game on the bench and probably wished he'd stayed on it when in the final minute he gift-wrapped Villa's third goal with the most suicidal of passes to Ramires that was easily intercepted by Ireland, who laid it on a plate for Bent. Chelsea end 2011 out of the top four for the first time in ten years. Both the club and Lampard will hope for much better over the next 12 months.

Save of the weekend

Wayne Hennessey v Bolton Wolves goalkeeper Hennessey earned his spurs at the weekend with a commanding display between the posts that won him the Man of the Match gong. Mick McCarthy's side improved after the interval to earn a share of the spoils after falling behind to Sam Ricketts' wonder strike but that they were still in contention owed much to Hennessey's agility. The pick of the Welshman's stops saw him repel Fabrice Muamba's goalbound volley with a fine finger tipped effort. Opposite number Jussi Jaaskelainen also deserves a mention as he got the slighted of touches to nudge Stephen Ward's humdinger of a strike onto the crossbar.

Sobering realisation of the weekend

Andre Villas-Boas We'll leave it to the Portuguese to explain: "I don't think the title is realistic. That is fantasy. Our reality has to be a top-four finish, but even that would not be good enough. We have to continue to pursue the best possible finish for the league, and what will be a more humble finish for this club."

Controversy of the weekend

Dong-Won Ji's winner v Man City The Martin O'Neill factor continues to have the desired effect at Sunderland, with Premier League leaders Manchester City the latest to fall under the Ulsterman's sword. Dong-Won Ji grabbed what proved to be the match winner with virtually the last kick of the game to compound a miserable New Year for the top flight's front-runners. It looked as though a point would be the least City would leave Wearside with, but a late counter-attack from Sunderland saw Ji sprung clear by Sessegnon and, despite appearing to have drifted offside, he rounded Joe Hart and slipped the ball into an empty net. City won't be happy but few would deny the tenacity shown by the Black Cats over the 90 minutes earned them a slice of luck.

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