[ENGLAND]Chelsea and Liverpool were both held at home again, but the only team in the chasing pack to take advantage was Brad Friedel's Aston Villa, winning 4-2 against Bolton to move ahead of Arsenal into fourth place. The Gunners drew 1-1 at Middlesbrough, while Manchester United were defied by Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in a 0-0 tie.
League-leading Liverpool found itself 2-0 down early at home to Hull City thanks to a header from Paul McShane and a own goal from Jamie Carragher, but Steven Gerrard scored twice before halftime to level. The second half couldn't live up to the pace and excitement of the first as both teams tired, and the score stayed 2-2.
"We started really well and we conceded two goals, two mistakes, but afterwards we showed character," said Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez. "We were too open. We know we've lost two points but you have to keep going. You cannot change things now." Hull manager Phil Brown was awash with pride: "I've nothing but admiration for the way we got something from the game in the face of a lot of pressure. We're hard to beat."
Chelsea, so imperious away from home, continued to drop points at Stamford Bridge in a 1-1 draw with West Ham United, Nicolas Anelka's well-worked second-half goal leveling Craig Bellamy's first-half effort for the visitors. Chelsea trails Liverpool by one point. Fortunately for Chelsea, manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has located the problem: "We need to be scoring more goals here. We are not shooting from outside the area enough and I need to work more with the players." West Ham's Gianfranco Zola called his team's performance "outstanding, and the point was totally deserved. We are improving but we do not play with the same freedom at home as we do away from home and we will fix that." You read it here first: away is the new home.
Tottenham's Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was the hero as he kept Manchester United at bay in the 0-0 game at rain-sodden White Hart Lane, including a finger-tip save from a Ryan Giggs free-kick in stoppage time. Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal disallowed after he controlled the ball with his arm. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp declared that "any time you take a point off Manchester United it's a good result," while his Manchester United counterpart termed it "not a bad result." So everyone was happy, except those who like to see a few goals, as United flew off to Japan for the Club World Cup. It will miss next weekend's round of games.
Arsenal took a 1-0 lead at Middlesbrough through an Emmanuel Adebayor header before Jeremie Aliadiere equalized in a game that started promisingly, but in the end justified the half-full stadium that bothered to come and watch it. "We showed enough courage in the first half to get back into it and in the second half we had to dig in," said Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate, giving all those who went Christmas shopping instead little cause for regret. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger claimed that "nobody believes in us, but we can show we still believe and keep going. At the moment, my team needs encouragement more than anything. Today was a game we would have lost at the start of the season." Well, that's sort of encouraging on a day your team drops out of a Champions League position.
Replacing them in fourth was Aston Villa, and although Friedel let in two, his team scored four at the other end against Bolton Wanderers, Gabriel Agbonlahor netting twice. It was a good day too for Tim Howard and Everton as his side won a poor game at struggling Manchester City with an injury-time goal from emergency striker Tim Cahill. Howard played his part with good stops from City's Brazilians Robinho and Elano, and Everton moved up to seventh. Only goal difference is keeping City out of the relegation zone.
Fulham's 0-0 tie at Stoke City was so poor that it moved the Setanta Sports TV reporter to comment that the teams should have points deducted, rather than taking one apiece. Fulham manager Roy Hodgson saw things differently: "Before the game I'd have been pleased with a point, but when you play as well as we did you've got to win." Clint Dempsey played through, but appeared to have no greater impact on the game than anyone else.
In the lower zones, Sunderland beat bottom-placed West Bromwich Albion 4-0, Trinidad & Tobago international Kenwyne Jones scoring twice. Wigan pummeled Blackburn 3-0, with Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia tormenting Paul Ince's team with a goal and two assists. And Newcastle scored three times after the interval at Portsmouth through Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins and Danny Guthrie. Portsmouth manager Tony Adams had his notebook out and made a "to-do" list to put things right. "Two areas to work on this week are personnel and tactics," he announced. There are some who might say that after a 0-3 home defeat to Newcastle, 'severe kicking in the rear' should be task number one.
Goals scored weekend Dec. 13-14: 25 in 10 games (2.5 per game)
Goals scored 2008-09 season: 438 in 169 games (2.59 per game)