Gary Neville goes WHACK!
Another week, another Premier League round done and (almost dusted). While West Ham versus Liverpool is still to come, here’s what I made of the weekend’s action.
Cardiff vs Bournemouth
In what was the first home match since the tragic disappearance of record signing Emiliano Sala, Cardiff recorded a poignant 2-0 victory over Bournemouth.
Neil Warnock called on his players to regroup and did they ever.
Bobby Reid proved the star scoring twice on his birthday as Cardiff set out in a more adventurous 4-4-2.
The Bluebirds dominated proceedings with Reid opening the scoring from the spot after four minutes. The Englishman paying a touching tribute to Sala in tow.
Eddie Howe undoubtedly left incandescent with Steve Cook’s brain-fade.
The defender absurdly swatted the ball away with his hand high above his hand leaving the referee no choice.
Despite their lethargy, Bournemouth almost had a leveller on 26 minutes.
Andrew Surman’s searing left footed strike was only denied by a wondrous Neil Etheridge save onto the crossbar.
This was merely a flash in the pan, as Oumar Niasse caused all sorts of problems in behind with his energy and pace.
Cardiff headed into the interval 1-0 ahead; their first lead at half time in any competition.
It only got better for the bluebirds after the restart. With just 16 seconds elapsed Reid had his second.
Bournemouth’s defenders looked flat footed as Reid scampered onto a Aron Gunnarsson pass.
Artur Boruc rushed out to carrell the youngster, yet his task was made all the more easier. Reid tapping home into an empty net.
The away side’s performance seemed worlds away from their 4-0 battering of Chelsea, with Eddie Howe visibly frustrated at his side’s inability to break down Cardiff.
Dominic Solanke was making his full debut after his £17 million move from Liverpool. Yet he proved anonymous much like his teammates.
Nathan Ake should have pulled one back from Bournemouth twelve minutes from time, heading wide from six yards.
The cherries failed to break down the resolute Welsh side, with the sheer numbers behind the ball stifling any wave of black and red creativity.
As the final whistle sounded, the Bluebirds had clawed themselves within two points of safety, and more importantly showed solidarity that Sala himself would’ve been proud of.
Spurs vs Newcastle
Tottenham moved up to second in the Premier League after a late Son Heung-Min strike broke down a defiant Newcastle at Wembley.
The South Korean proved the hero for the second time this week, with Spurs now jumping ahead of Manchester City, four points behind leaders Liverpool.
In truth, it was more Martin Dubravka error than Son’s winner. The Slovakian shot-stopper produced a howler after Rafa Benitez’s men had done everything to curtail a dominant Spurs side.
With the driven strike angling right toward him, the Newcastle keeper inexplicably let it bundle right beyond him, cueing pure exultation from the home faithful.
This should have been a far simpler afternoon for those in white however.
A combination of wastefulness and a dogged away side lead to a nervy finish in the capital.
Lucas Moura had two opportunities to score with his head in the first half, with his first a glaring miss from six yards.
Moments later, Erik Lamela also hit the post after he found himself on the end of a devilish cross.
Newcastle showed glimpses as they looked to counter after an oppressive first 30 minutes, with Perez and Rondon looking the most likely.
On 50 minutes, Newcastle nearly had another lead against the odds. In form Salomon Rondon so unlucky not to have his second in a matter of days.
Deandre Yedlin’s hanging cross saw the Venezuelan powerfully direct his header onto the post. ] Ultimately bouncing back out to Tottenham safety.
As 65 minutes passed Tottenham were certain they had a lead. However, Christian Eriksen’s flick on was heroically cleared off the line by Fabian Schar.
The pressure kept mounting on Newcastle, with only the sun coming between Fernando Llorente and a bulging net. Even the weather seemed to be defying Tottenham.
Cruelly eight minutes from a point, Newcastle were undone by an individual error. All of their hard work done in one swift fumble.
For Spurs, it was reward for utter domination and positivity. More crucially demonstrating a sterner exterior, needed if they are to keep pace with the top two in the north.
Everton vs Wolves
Wolverhampton piled further pressure on Everton manager Marco Silva ripping up the home side in a comprehensive 3-1 victory.
Goals from Ruben Neves, Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker saw off a hapless Everton. The win means Wolves are the best performing promoted side since the 2005-06 season.
This was a brilliant performance from the away side, with full backs Jonny and Matt Doherty causing all sorts of problems with their wide play.
Leighton Baines proved the first to be bamboozled, recklessly hauling down Doherty in the penalty area. Wolves 100 per cent record from the spot continued with Neves giving Wolves an early lead, scoring his second against Wolves this season.
Momentum had turned from Wolves looking good value, before Everton started asking questions. Not long after, an emphatic answer was given. With 26 minutes on the clock, Andre Gomes struck a bolt from the Everton blue.
The Portuguese waltzed past the Wolves backline before firing a rocket past Patricio, sending Goodison crazy.
The good mood wouldn’t last long however. The league’s worst set-piece defence showed itself on the stroke of half-time.
Joao Moutinho’s delicate ball was pounced on by Raul Jimenez who punished a sleeping Everton defence, powering his free header past Pickford.
Boos rung around Goodison Park as the half came to a close, an all too familiar sound on the blue half of Stanley Park.
At the restart the onus was on Everton to find a solution, leaving the door open for Wolves’ counter-attack abilities to flourish.
Dendoncker extended the Wolves lead on 66 minutes, almost bursting the net and Everton’s bubble. The Belgian fiercely volleying into the roof of the net after Jotta’s mazy run.
Less than a minute later, Everton fans found enjoyment once again. No it wasn’t an Everton second.
Rather a black cat. Running all over the pitch for two minutes, the feline seemed to have a greater impact than most of those in a home shirt.
High jinks aside, this was a woeful performance from a sizeable club in disarray. Everton are now only one place better off now than they were this time last year.
Whilst Wolves move up to seventh, five clear of Everton, an astonishing feat by Nuno’s side.
Chelsea vs Huddersfield
Gonzalo Higuain and Eden Hazard both grabbed doubles as Chelsea battered lowly Huddersfield 5-0.
Under the lights at Stamford Bridge, the Blues returned to style after their humbling against Bournemouth last time out.
Aaron Mooy had Huddersfield’s first and only chance of the game, heading just over the bar six minutes in.
For the next 84 minutes it was all Chelsea, with Higuain opening the scoring on 15 minutes.
The Argentine stayed onside taking Kante’s pass in his stride, striking past Lossl with typically predatory instincts.
In the last minute of the first half, referee Paul Tierney contentiously awarded a penalty for a Kachunga challenge on Azpilicueta, despite replays showing the foul was clearly outside the area.
Nevertheless, Eden Hazard stepped up and converted to give Chelsea a 2-0 half time lead.
In total control, Chelsea continued on their merry way in the second half, with Eden Hazard grabbing his second after rounding Lossl and finishing from a tight angle.
Not to be outdone by his colleague, Higuain grabbed his second in some style a mere two minutes later.
Receiving a lay-off from Kante, Chelsea’s number nine lashed a finessed shot into the top corner. The first blue to score a brace in a home debut since 2000.
Huddersfield’s day got even darker in the capital four minutes from time, with David Luiz’s header deflected into the net.
Despite their weak opponents this was resounding response from Chelsea after their humbling midweek defeat.
Crystal Palace vs Fulham
Crystal Palace defeated local rivals Fulham 2-0 as the whites self-destructed in South London.
How different it could’ve been for the Cottagers. A story they’ve heard all too often this season.
Missed chances and inexplicable decisions continue to weigh down Claudio Ranieri’s side.
Star man Alexander Mitrovic somehow misdirected a free header from six yards, just eleven minutes into proceedings.
Just 14 minutes later, Fulham gifted the hosts a penalty. Just what was going through Cyrus Christie mind we will never know.
The Fulham defender challenging with Christian Benteke, lifted his arm above his head giving Michael Oliver no choice but to award a spot kick.
The rest was a mere formality. Luka Milivojevic, from twelve yards and a bulging net. They go together like cheese and wine.
Sergio Rico got his hand to it but could not keep on the Serb’s powerful strike.
As half time neared Christian Benteke almost put himself on a poster. His incredible scissor kick from an Andros Townsend cross crashed into the bar, leaving Selhurst Park in a gasp of both amazement and misfortune.
Fulham showed very little in the second half, lacking creativity and spirit. Rico proved Fulham’s best player for the afternoon, halting the match from becoming a cricket score.
Ultimately, the damn wall burst once more as Jeffrey Schlupp pounced on the rebound to steer Palace to a 2-0 lead.
Michy Batshuayi’s venomous strike could only be parried by Rico right into the path of the lively Ghanian.
In such a vital game, the Eagles showed they are a sum of their parts rather than a one man team, dragging themselves away from the relegation fight.
Whilst Fulham did themselves no favours, now seven points from safety. Claudio Ranieri will need to find another miracle to get his side back within touching distance.
Brighton vs Watford
Big Ben Foster proved the difference on the south coast as Watford escaped Sussex with a point in a sleep-provoking scoreless draw.
It took 17 minutes for a shot of any kind. Watford’s only effort of the half coming through a misplaced Troy Deeney header.
Just before the break, Foster shut out Jorgen Locadia’s effort bound for the top right corner, the only moment of note in a drab first 45.
As the second half progressed, chances remained few and far between.
With 10 minutes to go, Brighton sparked into life, with Locadia playing a central role.
The German’s looping header was somehow kept out by Foster. The England international got a firm right hand on it to palm over the crossbar.
Foster saved his best for Shan Duffy, denying the Brighton defender with his feet. The Irishman’s creative effort looked destined for the bottom left corner and then out of nowhere an onrushing Foster lunged toward the ball, kicking it clear to safety.
Moments later we had a moment of madness, albeit a different kind. Lewis Dunk using his face a shield to protect his rearguard.
The defender on the floor covered the ball with his head, preventing a real chance for Watford. Quite a unique way to defend indeed.
Foster had one last effort to keep parity between the sides. As substitute Florin Andone rushed through on goal, Big Ben came out to meet him blanketing the Romanian’s attempt to break the deadlock.
All in all it proved to be two points dropped for Brighton, who may now start to feel the pressure being only five points clear of 18th placed Cardiff.
Burnley vs Southampton
Ashley Barnes cancelled out Nathan Redmond’s thunderbolt with a last gasp-penalty as Burnley and Southampton shared the points at Turf Moor.
The 1-1 relegation fight had many moments of drama with Peter Crouch’s involvement leading to a Jack Stephens handball inside the area.
Barnes stepped up and calmly slotted past Alex McCarthy as Burnley made the most of their first penalty in 68 league matches.
In what was a crushing blow for Southampton, Burnley felt a sense of vindication after a blatant penalty was waved away by referee Anthony Taylor.
Strangely, Taylor booked Barnes for simulation despite the Saints keeper clattering into the Burnley’s top scorer.
Before injury, Danny Ings should have put his former side behind, lifting his one-on-one over Tom Heaton and the crossbar.
At the interval scores were level, but ten minutes into the second half Nathan Redmond changed the mood in the North West.
Allowed the freedom of Lancashire, Redmond burst forward nutmegging Jack Cork, before launching a right footed missile from outside the box.
Tom Heaton stood no chance with the Saints midfielder’s strike arrowing into the bottom left corner.
Southampton continued to press with Phil Bardsley needing to clear off the line, before James Ward-Prowse was denied by Heaton.
Ashley Barnes nearly pulled Burnley level late on but an outstanding McCarthy save and the crossbar, kept Southampton a goal clear.
The resistance eventually dissipated with Stephens leaving his arm in an unnatural position, leaving Anthony Taylor with a decision to make. Thankfully for Sean Dyche it was in Burnley’s favour.
The result helps neither Southampton or Burnley with both level on 24 points, sitting 16th and 17th respectively.