Adam’s Premier League Column: Wigan Athletic Confirm Relegation

It’s been coming; we were just too afraid to admit it. After Wigan’s cup heroics at the weekend, there was a possibility that they could perform the ‘Great Escape’ that they have managed on countless occasions, and in fashionable style, too.

It looked like survival was on the cards after some impressive wins and vital draws, although where I think it was lost was after the FA Cup semi-final victory against Millwall. Since that game, they lost to Manchester City, West Ham and Swansea, whilst picking up a point against Tottenham and a win at West Brom. Against Swansea you felt that they were running on pure emotion, and perhaps it was just a season too far for the Latics.

They’ve left a rather big gap in the Barclays Premier League and it is a shame that they’ve dropped down to the Championship after seven years in the top-flight. I reckon that they have the credentials to come back up within their first season, or definitely the second. I do believe however that it all depends on which players decide to stay and of course whether their manager, Roberto Martinez, stays at the DW Stadium.

Since David Moyes has transferred to Old Trafford to replace the retiring Sir Alex Ferguson, who said an emotional goodbye to the club in which he won thirteen league titles, Martinez has been linked with the Everton job. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was lured to Everton and I’m sure he could do a brilliant job there. Martinez will want to remain a Premier League manager, I’m sure of it.

The result that sent them down – a 4-1 loss to Arsenal – ensured that the Gunners can clinch Champions League football if they win on the last day of the season, and Tottenham need a win to clinch the spot, as long as Arsenal draw or lose. It will make for an exciting spectacle on the last day of the season, and these are what makes the Premier League rich in excitement.

Another change in the Premier League has happened at former Premier League Champions Manchester City. On the same date that Sergio ‘Aguerooooo’ scored that infamous injury time winner to steal the title off United, City sacked Roberto Mancini. The decision had been brewing for some time, and I believe that the FA Cup loss to Wigan may have tipped the decision that was eventually made, although I feel that had he won the cup, it still might not have saved his job.

Speculation has been growing as to whom may replace the Italian, with Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini the leading candidate for the notorious job. Whether the former Real Madrid man can lead City to the success that they all crave is another thing. It’s no easy club to manage.

I’d love to see Mourinho take control of the dugout at Etihad, but that may end up just being a distant dream. Time will tell, but it didn’t seem to have an effect on the side as City stormed to a 2-0 victory at relegated Reading with Brian Kidd in charge after Mancini’s assistant, David Platt, stepped down.

David Moyes, whom I mentioned earlier, waved goodbye to the faithful at Goodison Park with the perfect send-off, beating West Ham United 2-0. It was an encouraging performance too.

Norwich ensured survival at the weekend with a telling 4-0 victory against Steve Clark’s West Brom, who have eased off the pace since survival was confirmed. I’m pleased that Norwich haveensured Premier League football for another campaign as they have an English manager in charge. I’ll support any English boss and wish them success.

Newcastle beat lowly QPR to beat the drop when a short Bosingwa ball tricked its way back to ‘keeper Robert Green, and his punt up field found Gouffran who tapped in to hand the three points to the visitors.

Tottenham kept up with Arsenal after Adebayor netted the winner from close-range. Up the other end of the table, Di Canio’s Sunderland drew at home to Southampton, and the Italian has done what was needed to be done. They’ve looked fresher since the change and at times joyous to watch, especially in the Tyne wear derby.

Daniel Sturridge netted an impressive hat-trick, his first in senior football, to beat Martin Jol’s Fulham 3-1 at Craven Cottage. The pick of the bunch was a sublime lob which found the bottom corner, similar to the goal he scored during the 2012 London Olympics for Team GB.

I’m looking forward to what the final day has in store in terms of the Champions League spot. But we all know that there will be far less drama than what we have experienced on the last day before.

 

Written by Adam May

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Adam’s Premier League Column: Villa Spark Revival

Due to various commitments through school and other means, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to write a column for O-Posts. I’d like to personally congratulate Manchester United on their 13th league title under Sir Alex Ferguson, and it’s a testament to him how well United have bounced back from that stoppage time winner from Sergio Aguero last May. That seems a distant and feint memory now.

 

Norwich 1 Aston Villa 2

Villa reached the magic points tally of 40, although Paul Lambert, Villa’s manager, isn’t sure whether they are safe just yet. What they do know however is that their future is now in their hands after two wins on the bounce, the first a 6-1 drubbing of Sunderland, and the crucial away win at Carrow Road.

Lambert has stuck by his young-guns throughout the campaign, and is being rewarded with some great individual performances of late. I reckon if Villa beat the drop, and it’s looking increasingly likely that they will, and are able to keep the majority of the squad then they could be an impressive team next season. The likes of Lowton, Weimann, Benteke and Agbonlahor have really stood out and improved. And it was the latter who grabbed all three points.

Villa’s first goal came in the second-half when Ashley Westwood set-up Gabriel Agbonlahor who lashed in a superb goal of great quality.

On 72 minutes, youngster Joe Bennett fouled Robert Snodgrass to give referee Kevin Friend no option but to award a penalty, which was only Norwich’s second of the campaign. Grant Holt stepped up and converted, sending Brad Guzan the wrong way.
Villa were only momentarily disheartened, and Villa stole the three points with two minutes of normal time remaining.

Ashley Westwood picked up the ball again and slotted a pin-point pass into the path of the on-running Agbonlahor, who let the ball run across his body before firing a low-shot into the far corner, his ninth league goal of the campaign.

It was a crucial three points for Villa, and Norwich will now be worried as they have two tough games remaining, at home to West Brom then away to Manchester City, to get results from in order to beat the drop.

 

West Brom 2 Wigan 3

This result was a real surprise for me. But then, the more I think about it, is it a surprise? Is it a surprise given the way that the Latics always seem to dig deep and get results when it matters at this time of year? They won this match without playing their best football. In truth, they were rather poor. Their passing play was off colour and scrappy at times. Only Maloney really drove them forward. But it was their shear willpower and wanting to push on and score that got them the result.

The home side, who don’t have anything to play for other than pride, took the lead through Shane Long. However, ten minutes later, Kone struck gold for Wigan with six minutes to play until half-time. They had to come from behind yet again as McAuley put the Baggies 2-1 up. James McArther got on the end of Shaun Maloney’s drilled cross and headed in past goalkeeper Foster to level.

Youngster Callum McManaman then converted from close-range to give Wigan the three points, which took their points total to 35 at the time of writing. This will give them great confidence going into the FA Cup final with 2011 winners Manchester City, especially if they can beat Swansea who have been somewhat off colour of late.

As for West Brom, they will be scratching their heads as to how they didn’t get the three points, and they’ll be looking to bounce back against Manchester City.

 

Tottenham 1 Southampton 0

Gareth Bale haunted his former club at White Hart lane with a strike that we’ve all come to expect from the winger-cum-striker. For those that haven’t seen the strike, he picked the ball up on the right-wing and drifted inside past the helpless Luke Shaw, before unleashing a telling shot that had no back-lift whatsoever, and the ball found the bottom corner with four minutes left to play.

I hope for the sake of English football that Bale stays at Tottenham for a least another season. It would be a real shame to see him move abroad to either Barcelona or Real Madrid, as some reports suggest. I’ve heard that Sir Alex Ferguson is interested in acquiring his services at Old Trafford next season, but I cannot see how the Champions will be able to meet Spurs’ justification of £60million for the Welshman.

Champions League football will be a big decider in where Bale ends up, and this victory may edge him closer to putting pen to paper with the London club. It seems like he’s revelling in playing under AVB who, it seems, has got the best out of Bale this season.

Whilst he may not have had the best of games against the Saints, when you score a winner like he did (and 19 other league goals at the time of writing this season) you can sort of allow for it! Sort of…

 

REMINDER: This was written prior to all midweek fixtures. An overview of the mid-week games will be in the next column.

 

My Team of the Week

 

Written by Adam May

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Adam’s Premier League Column: United’s title party put on hold

It’s been another fruitful weekend of Premier League football for us all to enjoy. It still remains to be seen who will be relegated come the end of the season; however I do feel that Reading are all but gone. I can’t see where they will get points from, as they still have to play Liverpool, Man City and West Ham.

The tie at home to QPR could well change everything on 28 April but it may be a case of too little too late.

Here are my top three games of the week:

 

Manchester United 1 Manchester City 2

With the champions-elect storming to the title, this match was for bragging rights. United wanted no repeat of the 6-1 demolition job that they faced when the Citizens last visited United at The Theatre of Dreams.

The game started off very openly despite chances being few and far between. City were knocking the ball about nicely and Silva was showing his exquisite touches whilst Carlos Tevez was causing Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand all kinds of problems.

In the second half both teams clunked into another gear, and it was the visitors who took the lead. Ryan Giggs’s attempted back-heel on the right-wing was picked-off by Gareth Barry. Barry’s pass found Samir Nasri who set up Milner’s low drive, which took a slight deflection of youngster Phil Jones to wrong-foot De Gea in the United goal.

Eight minutes later, the home side were given a free-kick from an acute angle after Yaya Touré fouled Rafael. Robin van Persie stepped up and delivered a telling ball into the six-yard box, which Phil Jones’ headed in-off Vincent Kompany to level the scoring.

It was substitute Sergio Agϋero who had the final say, as he rose off the bench to net a truly wonderful goal. He ran at the United defence with pace – in which he brushed aside four players – before unleashing a near-post effort which went high into the roof of the net.

City stood well to some heavy pressure from United, but they simply didn’t have an answer. Meanwhile, City will take plenty of confidence from this victory as they enter their F.A. Cup semi-final clash with Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday.

The earliest that Manchester United can now win the league is against Villa on Monday 22 April at Old Trafford, providing that Manchester City do not slip-up against Wigan Athletic.

 

Stoke 1 Aston Villa 3

Stoke are drawing closer and closer to the relegation zone and, during the early stages of the season, very few would have predicted that the Potters would be where they are now. Around November time, they had one of the best defensive records in the league, but have since fallen away.

Without Begovic in goal, I reckon they’d be second from bottom. Whilst that may appear harsh, I believe it to be true. And I’m struggling to put my finger on the lone factor. The trouble is; I don’t think there is one.

Firstly, their forwards simply haven’t performed. Michael Owen has been ineffective due to his long-term injury. At the time of writing, Peter Crouch has only scored 5 league goals, Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome 3. Even their top-scorer, Jon Walters, has only netted on 6 occasions.

And all this puts added pressure on the defence to perform. One of their biggest problems is their away form. They’ve won one, drew six and lost nine, whilst shipping in 21 goals (which is rather good) but only scoring nine goals, level with West Ham.

Onto the match, and it was won that neither team could afford to lose. Villa got off to the best start with Agbonlahor stabbing home on his attempt from close-range on nine minutes, after his initial hit was blocked. From then on, it was a cagey encounter and, with what was at stake, not surprising.

Villa had to be at their defensive best, although with ten minutes of normal time remaining, Michael Kightly slammed in to level. There only looked to be one winner as the home side were continuously pressing and looking the most likely to score.

However, Villa went ahead in unlikely fashion. Villa’s right-back Matthew Lowton cushioned a clearance beautifully on his chest, before dispatching an unbelievable volley into the top corner.
Stoke were bewildered and got caught again.

This time, the ball was lost in the middle which Benteke picked up. He drove at Begovic’s goal and had plenty of time to pick his spot before picking the bottom corner, to hand the visitors a deserved three points.

 

Norwich 2 Swansea City 2

This was a cracker! Swansea got off to a flier when Miguel Michu fired the visitors in front in customary fashion after 35 minutes. The lead didn’t last long though as Robert Snodgrass headed into the net after an inch-perfect cross by Elliott Bennett set-up the Scot.

After the interval, the home-side took the incentive and Michael Turner expertly slid in to stab home past Vorm in the Swansea goal.
Luke Moore, who was given a rare start, spoiled the party at Carrow Road by netting from close-range on 75 minutes.

Both sides won’t be drawn into the relegation scrap that’s taking place, I’m confident of that! Swansea will be the more disappointed, although it’s a great point for Norwich against Michael Laudrup’s well-drilled side.

 

My Team of the Week

 

Written by Adam May

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Adam’s Premier League Column: Saints Shock Chelsea as Black Cats Sack Boss

It’s been a busy Easter weekend in the Premier League and, as the saying goes; a week is a long time in football.

It took Sunderland less than 24 hours to appoint controversial character Paolo di Canio who replaced Martin O’Neill as manager on Easter Sunday. It’s certainly strange timing to sack O’Neil with seven games of the 2012/13 campaign remaining, but Sunderland was sinking fast.

The appointment of di Canio has provided mixed reactions as, wherever he goes, he brings vulnerability and controversy. I for one cannot wait to see di Canio lead Sunderland out at the Stadium of Light. The press conferences for certain won’t be dull!

Since my last column, Reading brought in former Saints manager Nigel Adkins as they dismissed Brian McDermott. It’s looking as if this is an appointment with next season in mind and, if Reading were to go down, I believe that Adkins is the man that could bring them straight back up.

It will be interesting to see how both new managers fare in the remaining few games and I shall be watching intently.

 

Southampton 2 Chelsea 1

Mauricio Pochettino’s Saints shocked Rafa’s Blues at St Marys. It was a thrilling first half and Southampton thoroughly deserved their lead as Rodriquez (pictured) capped off a superbly worked move and curled in his effort on 23 minutes. That lead lasted all of ten minutes however, as John Terry peeled of his man and headed in to level the scoring.

Rickie Lambert then scored his 14th goal of the season to seal the three points for the home side. His free-kick bent up and over the wall superbly and fell to the bottom corner of the far post.

Chelsea didn’t look up for this and Benitez took a risk in naming a somewhat ‘weakened’ team so that he could field a fresh and changed side in their F.A. Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United. That risk worked as the Blues won 1-0 and clinched a Wembley semi-final and will play Manchester City.

Southampton can take confidence from this game and it’s a fantastic three points, and a deserved victory, too. Credit to Southampton – they’ve been superb this season.

 

West Ham 3 West Bromwich Albion 1

I believe that the Hammers have clinched survival after this telling display against a well-organised West Brom. Sam Allardyce said after the game: “The points are more important than anything else but the performance along with the result and the fact that we won comfortably shows how good we have been at home all season.”

Andy Carroll was the star of the show, and he opened the scoring with only sixteen minutes played at Upton Park. He thumped in a header after making a mazy run and WBA didn’t know what had hit them! It’s what Carroll does best and, on his day, can be unstoppable when presented with those opportunities.

West Brom failed to make a lasting impression through-out the first-half and Gary O’Neil doubled their lead with a stunner on 28 minutes. He received the ball just outside the edge of the area after some good wing-play by Ricardo vaz Te. He curled the ball round and into the far corner to give the Hammers a comfortable cushion leading into the break.

It wasn’t until the 80th minute that West Ham sealed the three points as they took the foot of the gas so-to-speak. Nonetheless, it was well worth the wait. Carroll watched a James Collins free-kick fall perfectly over his shoulder before smashing in a right-footed volley into the far corner.

WBA did net a consolation goal though when Dorrans, a former West Ham target, converted a penalty.

The game ended in bizarre fashion as Mulumbu picked up the ball during play and drop-kicked it at Gary O’Neil after he thought that the midfielder clipped him. He’ll serve a three-match ban as a result, I believe.

 

Fulham 3 QPR 2

This was a pulsating game and an arguably bigger game for QPR. The visitors got off to the worst possible start as Christopher Samba gave away a cheap foul in the penalty area with six minutes on the clock, which Berbatov non-chalantly tucked away.

Fulham made Redknapp’s Rangers pay again as Samba again gave the ball away cheaply with Berbatov lurking. The Bulgarian tucked away nicely and Samba looked bewildered. Things went from bad to worse for the visitors as Clint Hill turned into his own net on 42 minutes, and it looked as if it was game over already.

Adel Taarabt had other ideas however and netted a first-half consolation after he slipped the ball between the stretched legs of Hangeland on the stroke of half-time.

QPR looked rejuvenated after the break and quickly won a penalty, only for Remy’s effort to be saved well by Schwarzer.

QPR kept on pressing and came close when Townsend fired from distance, but Schwarzer was on-point and saved himself from embarrassment.

Fulham didn’t really have an answer to QPR’s much improved second-half performance and the home side rode their luck a little.

Martin Jol has got a really good side at Craven Cottage – they have potential and will be a force to be reckoned with next season, I feel.
Fulham were reduced to ten-men as Steve Sidwell followed through with around fifteen minutes remaining, although it was a little harsh.

I feel that QPR left themselves with a little too much to do, although Samba, Townsend and Zamora had great chances to clinch a point. It wasn’t to be, and QPR will be panicking now. No doubt about it.

 

My Team of the Week

Written by Adam May

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Adam’s Premier League Column: Aston Villa widen the gap in five-goal thriller

Aston Villa 3 QPR 2

Aston Villa sent out a warning side to their fellow relegation-destined sides after coming out on top at Villa Park. However, they didn’t do it the easy way.

It was an end-to-end game- one that both teams could not afford to lose. It was Harry Redknapp’s rejuvenated QPR who took the lead though, this time through Jermaine Jenas, as he netted his second goal in as many games. That didn’t dampen the mood at Villa Park and, on the stroke of half-time, Gabriel Agbonlahor headed in Matthew Lowton’s in swinging cross.

I was impressed with Agbonlahor’s performance in this match actually. He was always looking at driving on, speeding up the play and making dangerous diagonal runs, which ultimately caused Rangers all sorts of problems. If he could do this week-in week-out, he could be Villa’s star-man. Although, his work-rate and approach can, at times, be questionable.

On 58 minutes, Andreas Weimann, who was been  a key part of Paul Lambert’s team,  converted a ferocious shot from the edge of the box to give Villa Park some newfound hope. However, QPR didn’t let that strike get the better of them and Andros Townsend, who scored a stunner in last weeks’ tie against Sunderland, levelled the scoring. His driving effort took the slightest of deflections off Ronald Vlaar’s boot to wrong-foot Brad Guzan in the Villa goal.

However, that wasn’t the end of the drama. Some terrific work by Weimann on the by-line enabled him to slot a pass into the path of the on-running Benteke, who coolly passed into the open net with all but ten minutes remaining.

A few weeks ago now I mentioned that I felt Queens Park Rangers had enough about them to survive in the Premier League, although I now simply feel that they have left themselves with too much to do. No doubt Aston Villa will take confidence from this vital win and, if they can keep up these levels of performances, they may just stay up.

 

Southampton 3 Liverpool 1

Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton supplied the goods as they stunned in-form Liverpool at St Marys. The Saints got off to the best possible start as after six minutes, Morgan Schneiderlin  steered home after he was played through by Jay Rodriquez. Rickie Lambert, who didn’t make Roy Hodgson’s England squad, doubled their lead, sending a message out to the England manager what he’s missing out on. His free-kick took a heavy deflection off of the Reds’ wall to fool Brad Jones in goal after thirty-three minutes.

Former Inter Milan playmaker Philippe Coutinho pulled one back for the visitors before the interval, calmly slotting home after being presented a rebound as a Daniel Sturridge effort was blocked.

The Saints put in a hardworking shift against a Liverpool side who have won four out of their last four games in all competitions. They were once again rewarded for their efforts as Steven Gerrard’s lapse in concentration in the centre of the park set-up the Saints for a counter-attack. Jay Rodriquez danced his way through the Liverpool defence, his initial shot saved by Jones; however the rebound fell kindly to the former Burnley man who then tucked away.

Reds boss Brendan Rodgers said after the defeat:  “It certainly wasn’t how we have been playing in the past few weeks.

“We didn’t get going until it was 2-0 down. We conceded poor goals which has been unlike us and we are disappointed at that.”

 

Everton 2 Manchester City 0

The final game of this week’s column saw a depleted Man City side concede everything but the Premier League title.

The Blues, without influential players such as YayaTouré, Sergio Agϋero and Vincent Kompany, struggled to get a foothold of this match.

Everton, on the other hand, were superb. They pressed the ball and never gave City a moment on the ball which evidently presented the Toffees with some wonderful opportunities. Their first goal was courtesy of Leon Osman. It was a delightful strike from distance which gave custodian Joe Hart no chance behind the sticks. City then had a couple of chances, although Carlos Tevez and co. couldn’t take advantage.

Everton were reduced to ten-men early in the second-half as Steven Pienaar picked up a second-booking for a lunge on Man City midfielder Javi Garcia. That didn’t phase the home-side and, in second-half stoppage time, Nikica Jelavic converting an impressive counter-attacking move.

That means that City now sit fifteen points behind leaders Manchester United, after they saw off Reading at Old Trafford. It’s now all but over.

 

My Team of the Week