A mixed weekend for Scholes, Henry, Keane and Hughes as they make their Premier League returns.
Red Devils back on track; Swans stun Gunners; Hughes opens with loss
It was a mixed weekend for Paul Scholes, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Mark Hughes as they made their respective returns to Premier League action.
Manchester United hauled themselves level with table-topping Manchester City, Arsenal suffered yet more misery on the road, Aston Villa were held on home soil and Queens Park Rangers started life under their new boss with defeat on Tyneside.
Victory for Newcastle kept them in the top-four hunt, Tottenham missed the opportunity to keep pace with the leaders, Chelsea ground out a welcome three points, Norwich's fairytale run continued and Blackburn hauled themselves out of the drop zone.
With City not in action until Monday night, Manchester United
took the opportunity to draw level with their arch-rivals at the Premier League summit
. North West neighbours Bolton
were ruthlessly swept aside at Old Trafford, with a returning hero stealing the show at the Theatre of Dreams. Scholes, making his first top flight start since coming out of retirement, broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time with a trademark burst into the box that allowed him to convert a Wayne Rooney cross. Danny Welbeck poked home to double the Red Devils' lead after the interval, before Michael Carrick wrapped things up seven minutes from time as he found the corner from 20 yards.
would have joined City and United in a three-way tie at the top had they been able to see off struggling Wolves
at White Hart Lane, but they were surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw
. The in-from Steven Fletcher put the visitors in front, bumping his transfer value up in the process. Luka Modric hauled Spurs level early in the second half, but they were unable to find a second. Harry Redknapp's side are now unbeaten in seven, and only two points off the pace, but they will feel that a golden opportunity to lay down a title marker has passed them by.
are eight points adrift of the league leaders and are clinging onto their top-four standing by their fingernails
. They continue to occupy the final UEFA Champions League spot courtesy of a hard-fought 1-0 victory over rejuvenated Sunderland
. Frank Lampard offered another timely reminder to boss Andre Villas-Boas of his value as he grabbed the only goal of the game at Stamford Bridge. Both sides saw second-half penalty shouts fall on deaf ears, with Blues striker Fernando Torres enduring another of those afternoons where luck deserts him.
Liverpool slipped off the pace in the race for fourth spot
after being held to a goalless draw by Stoke
. The Reds were unable to break down stubborn Potters resistance at Anfield, leaving them frustrated. Dirk Kuyt spurned the best of the hosts' opportunities, and the Dutchman was left cursing his misfortune at the final whistle. While Liverpool were undoubtedly hoping for better than a share of the spoils, a point apiece means Stoke remain handily placed inside the top eight.
made Keane wait for his Premier League return
, with Alex McLeish opting to start the Republic of Ireland international on the bench in a home date with Everton
. The man he has been brought in to complement broke the deadlock at Villa Park, with Darren Bent scuffing home the opener. Everton had every right to feel aggrieved at finding themselves behind, but they restored parity on 68 minutes thanks to a loan star of their own. Landon Donovan, a team-mate of Keane at the Los Angeles Galaxy, surged clear and provided the perfect through-ball for Victor Anichebe to fire past Shay Given. Keane was introduced as a late substitute by McLeish, but he was unable to produce a Hollywood-style ending.
are showing no signs that their top-flight bubble might be about to burst, with a 2-1 win on the road at West Brom cementing their standing in ninth
. The Canaries are now only 12 points shy of the 40-point mark all managers are desperate to reach, suggesting there is little danger of them making a hasty return to the second tier. The Canaries deserve to be flying high as well, with Paul Lambert having them playing an entertaining brand of football. The Baggies found to their cost on Saturday that Norwich are a force to be reckoned with, with Andrew Surman and Steve Morison netting either side of a Shane Long penalty to hand the visitors their seventh success of the season.
, for all of their troubles, find themselves out of the drop zone
for the first time since September following a 3-1 victory over Fulham
. The protests against the Rovers board and owners Venky's continued on Saturday, but there was finally something for their disgruntled supporters to smile about as three much-needed points were secured on the field. It appeared as though the gods would not be smiling on Rovers again 23 minutes in as Yakubu saw red for a high boot, but Steve Kean's side displayed the kind of fighting spirit that has been in short supply since the 2011/12 campaign got underway. Morten Gamst Pedersen's free-kick handed Blackburn the lead shortly before the interval, and they burst out of the blocks after the break as David Dunn moved them further in front. The Cottagers pulled one back through Blackburn old boy Damien Duff, but Mauro Formica stepped off the bench to seal a welcome win.
The first game in a Super Sunday double-header saw Hughes make his bow as Queens Park Rangers
boss, but his honeymoon period lasted just 37 minutes
. The visitors started brightly at St James' Park, but were then undone by a moment of individual brilliance from Leon Best. Some nimble footwork by the Newcastle striker allowed him to skip past Luke Young and, when presented with a clear sight of goal, he expertly guided the ball into the bottom corner. That effort proved to be the Magpies' only shot on target, but Alan Pardew cared little about the statistics at the end of the game as Newcastle ensured that they remain within four points of the top four.
The final fixture on a busy weekend of top-flight action produced arguably the biggest shock
, as Arsenal
came unstuck at Swansea
. The Swans have turned their Liberty Stadium home into something of a fortress, but they are still relative newcomers to the Premier League and Arsenal are seasoned title chasers. It was, however, to be the hosts who prevailed in a five-goal thriller that saw both sides showcase their own brand of pass and move football. Robin van Persie has started 2012 in the same vein as he ended 2011, among the goals, but the Gunners were stunned by a Swans fightback after seeing their deadly Dutchman break the deadlock. Scott Sinclair converted a debateable penalty to level the scores, and Nathan Dyer lashed the home side in front shortly before the hour mark. Theo Walcott raced through to bring Arsenal back into the tie, but within 60 seconds Danny Graham had forced them back out of it. Arsene Wenger threw on Henry for his first Premier League outing since 2007, but the Frenchman was unable to repeat his FA Cup heroics and ended the contest embroiled in a heated exchange with a member of the travelling support.