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Last-gasp Villa edge English thriller
by Ian Plenderleith, December 8th, 2008 7AM

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[ENGLAND] U.S. goalkeepers Brad Friedel and Tim Howard faced off in a dramatic five-goal Premier League game at Everton. Aston Villa took the points with the last kick of the game, just seconds after Joleon Lescott's second goal had seemingly saved a point for the home team.
 
The action started early as an unstoppable Steve Sidwell shot put Villa in front with barely 30 seconds gone. Lescott equalized from close range before halftime, while Friedel made a number of saves to keep Everton at bay. Howard could do nothing about Ashley Young's second-half go-ahead goal after a dreadful backpass from Phil Jagielka set the Villa forward up, but then Lescott hooked the ball in to bring the score level after 93 minutes. Young then went straight down the other end to hoodwink Lescott and shoot past Howard for the winner. The win keeps Villa fifth, one point behind Arsenal.
 
Otherwise, it was a fairly routine weekend, with the top four clubs taking maximum points from games they'd expect to win. Liverpool maintained its one-point lead over Chelsea with a 3-1 win at Blackburn on second-half goals from Xabi Alonso, a lovely individual goal from Yossi Benayoun, and a late clincher from Steven Gerrard after Roque Santa Cruz had pulled a goal back to make it 2-1.  Blackburn manager Paul Ince, under pressure as his team's 10th game without a win keeps it one spot off the bottom, managed to claim that the game had put a smile back on his face. "The scoreline was harsh and anyone who says differently knows nothing about football," Ince said. "We deserved something out of the game after matching them for 70 minutes and the supporters know that. They were exceptional."
 
Chelsea continued its invincible road form at Bolton, winning its 11th straight away game and making it eight road victories for the season with 21 goals scored and just one conceded away from Stamford Bridge. First-half goals from Deco and Nicolas Anelka secured the points, with assistant manager Ray Wilkins denying rumors of locker room unrest after last week's home defeat to Arsenal. He praised the players' work rate as "first class," and said "they've been well up for every game they've played. No, unfortunately in football sometimes you get beat. Over the last couple of years, that's been quite a rare occurrence and it hurts deeply when the lads are beaten. But there is certainly no dissension in the camp."
 
That's hardly been the case at Arsenal of late, and it followed up that win at Chelsea by playing an uneven game in its 1-0 home victory over Wigan, the same team the club's teenage incarnation had stylishly beaten 3-0 in the League Cup last month. Emmanuel Adebayor scored the lone goal, and Wigan manager Steve Bruce praised his team for preventing Arsenal from playing good soccer. All very well, but his side still lost, and it made for dreadful viewing.
 
It wasn't much better at Old Trafford, where for 90 minutes Manchester United fruitlessly besieged the goal of managerless Sunderland, who kept what at times seemed like 15 players behind the ball. Then in stoppage time Michael Carrick's shot was deflected onto the post, and United defender Nemanja Vidic followed up to score, much to the relief of United manager Alex Ferguson. "We deserved to win," he said, "but it was hard work." United had 22 shots on target to zero from Sunderland, but its caretaker manager Ricky Sbragia said his side showed "a great togetherness. The fact there is so much disappointment in the dressing room says a lot, but we achieved most of the things we wanted." That missing thing was presumably a point or three.
 
Clint Dempsey missed two good chances for Fulham in an entertaining first half against Manchester City that saw the teams go in at 1-1 after Dempsey's teammate Jimmy Bullard equalized an early goal from City's Benjani Mwaruwari. The goalless second half was less pleasing on the eye, but the tie was still one of the weekend's better games in England. "Good draws are only mildly satisfying, so I can't be totally content,"  Fulham manager Roy Hodgson said. But at least, he added, teams like Manchester City were "affording us the respect that they have to be happy with a point."
 
Hull City is in sixth place after its first win in seven attempts, 2-1 at home to 10-man Middlesbrough in a game where all the goals came late. Middlesbrough had looked like sneaking it after Tuncay Sunli had put the visitors ahead after 79 minutes, but then an own goal from Middlesbrough goalkeeper Ross Turnbull on 82 minutes (he fumbled a shot on to the post which then went in off his back) was followed by a Marlon King penalty kick three minutes later -- David Wheater was red-carded for the foul on Geovanni that caused it.
 
Elsewhere, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth toiled to a 1-1 draw, while two Michael Owen goals were not enough to give Newcastle United a home win over Stoke City. Stoke came back in the second half to grab a point through Mamady Sidibe and a last-minute goal from Abdoulaye Faye.
 
Goals scored weekend Dec. 6-7: 24 in nine games (2.67 per game)
Goals scored 2008-09 season: 411 in 158 games (2.6 per game)

MONDAY'S GAME: West Ham United vs Tottenham Hotspur (3 pm ET, live on Fox Soccer Channel)


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