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Big four fail to score
by Ian Plenderleith, November 24th, 2008 7AM

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[ENGLAND] The English Premier League's top five clubs all failed to score on a weekend of tight defense and squandered chances, with just 14 goals scored in nine games. Brad Friedel helped Aston Villa into the top four as it held Manchester United at home in a 0-0 tie. It was the same result for Liverpool at home to Fulham, and Chelsea at home to Newcastle. Arsenal, having stripped the irascible William Gallas of the team captaincy on Friday, crashed, 3-0, at Manchester City and slipped down to fifth.

City took the lead through Stephen Ireland right on the stroke of halftime, then made it 2-0 thanks to a lovely lob from Robinho after he was played through clear on goal. Daniel Sturridge finished off the emphatic win with a last-minute penalty. "I will not speak about William Gallas in a post-match interview," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. "He is a player who did not play today, so what can he do? Nothing. We can go on until midnight and I will give the same answer to the same question."

City manager Mark Hughes called it "a significant victory. We had a game plan and wanted to break up the rhythm of their play. We did not want them to dictate the game. The players stuck to their task and caused them problems." A short manifesto on how to beat Arsenal, with Hughes the fifth manager this season to implement it.

Fulham's Clint Dempsey played the first 84 minutes at Liverpool to help his team pick up a valuable road point in a goalless draw realized through a number of quality saves from Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer. Fulham's best chance came when Liverpool's Pepe Reina tipped over a fierce drive from Jimmy Bullard. "It was a bad day," admitted Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. "We did not have enough energy and we did not pass the ball well enough." Fulham's Roy Hodgson reckoned "the game was even, particularly in the first 45 minutes. A 0-0 score is a good result at Anfield and I am really happy with it. We are getting stronger and are starting to gel with every passing week."

Friedel denied Cristiano Ronaldo early on to help Aston Villa move ahead of Arsenal and into a Champions League qualifying position as it held out against Manchester United at home. Wayne Rooney blazed United's best second-half chance over the bar from six yards out. Villa had its chances too in a fast and flowing game where United dominated possession, but where chances were fairly equal at both ends.

Villa manager Martin O'Neill said his team had tried to play the same way as in the previous weekend's win at Arsenal, but "it is very difficult against United -- they are great players who can turn games, but we stuck at it and deserved something." United's Alex Ferguson thought his side was the better team and was "pleased with the effort we put in against an aggressive and determined team who defended for their lives."

Chelsea hammered away at a dogged Newcastle defense for 90 minutes, but to no avail. Shay Given made a superb reflex save in the eighth minute from Frank Lampard, but Chelsea's finishing was well below par against an opponent that committed little to attack. "Who won today?" asked Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. "Newcastle, because they came here to draw with us. The players tried but it is not the day for us."

A scrambled Joe Cole goal (correctly) disallowed for offside prompted Scolari to observe that he "didn't like this referee today, but he's the referee and if he said it is offside it is offside. Finish." Newcastle's Joe Kinnear was somewhat less grumpy. "It was a magnificent performance and about the best we've played as a team. Our commitment was magnificent. We've drawn at Manchester United and Chelsea. It's not bad is it?"

Two games produced the majority of the weekend's goals. Portsmouth and Hull shared four of them at Fratton Park, including a spectacular volley for Portsmouth's Glen Johnson that put his team 2-1 up. Hull's veteran striker Dean Windass, 39, scored a late equalizer after coming on as a substitute. There were four goals too at Middlesbrough, where lowly Bolton scored twice in the first 10 minutes, and went on to win 3-1. "We did not play well enough to get anything out of the game and they deserved the points," said Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate, whose team's unbeaten run of five games came to an end.

Stoke took a 1-0 home win over fellow EPL newcomer West Bromwich Albion, confining Albion to bottom spot. The winning goal came late from a Mamady Sidibe header, converting an actual left-footed cross rather than a Rory Delap long throw. "We got a good beating against Manchester United in our last game but the character the players have shown in this game was fantastic," said Stoke manager Tony Pulis. His Albion counterpart Tony Mowbray grumbled: "Stoke are hard to break down because their pitch is narrow and they get a lot of men behind the ball. We need to start turning some of these narrow defeats into points."

There was a 1-0 win as well for Tottenham Hotspur at home to Blackburn Rovers, thanks to a goal from Roman Pavlyuchenko, finishing off an Aaron Lennon pass after Lennon had dispossessed Rovers' Swedish defender Martin Olsson. Olsson was then sent off for his second yellow card just before halftime. "I thought we were going to salvage something. Had the ball been in the right place we would have got a point," said Blackburn manager Paul Ince. And if the ball had been in the right place twice, they would have got three points.

West Ham United snuck an away win at Sunderland on a deflected goal from Valon Behrami. Sunderland manager Roy Keane felt "we didn't deserve to lose the game. We are disappointed with one or two decisions in terms of fairly clear-cut penalties. But we have to learn to get something even on our off days."

Goals scored weekend Nov. 22-23: 14 in nine games (1.56 per game)
Goals scored 2008-09 season: 366 in 138 games (2.65 per game)

MONDAY'S GAME: Wigan Athletic vs. Everton (3 pm ET, live on Fox Soccer Channel)

 



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