Thoughts on the weekend's action in the Barclays Premier League:
If history is anything to go by, Monday's match between Arsenal and Manchester United will prove to be the fixture of the round, but working with what we've already seen, there was a lot to like about Tottenham Hotspur's 1-1 draw against Chelsea yesterday.
Spurs are unaccustomed to being (slight) favorites in this meeting, and Carlo Ancelotti needed to silence those hushed conversations about his tenure, which meant both teams played for the win from the off. A good start, to which rather iffy refereeing -- for and against both teams -- added more drama.
As if that wasn't enough, Heurelho Gomes, the Tottenham goalkeeper, ensured a cup-final atmosphere in the last 20 minutes after being beaten by Didier Drogba's powerful-but-straight-at-him drive. Chelsea, which had a lot of the ball but struggled to create before then, suddenly looked as predatory as it had done in the early stages of the season.
Spurs remained resilient until the first minute of stoppage time, when Gomes, perhaps fearing for his Calamity nickname, clattered into Ramires and conceded a penalty. Drogba set the ball and stepped back, the announcers revealed that he'd put all his recent penalties to the keeper's right, Gomes dived left ... and saved Drogba's weak shot.
The groan from the away end was audible over the jubilant cheers from the home fans, and though neither side really deserved to lose this high-tempo, honest-to-goodness duel, Chelsea will feel it should have done better with 68 percent of the ball. The signs are there, though, that people hurried to the conclusion that the champion was in crisis.
A tough call this weekend -- almost everything Newcastle created went through Joey Barton, likewise David Silva at Manchester City. But how could we ignore Stuart Holden's match-winning display for 10-man Bolton? He made the headlines with his late winner ("Holden out for a hero", grinned the Daily Star), a coolly taken volley from Kevin Davies' knockdown that was in the net within a minute of Blackburn's equalizer.
Rovers manager Sam Allardyce has bemoaned his side's defending from the restart but Holden deserves credit for continuing his sprint at precisely the time Bolton ought to have been deflated. He was the heartbeat of Bolton's play, covering all areas of the pitch -- a neat pass here, an interception there -- with the minimum of fuss.
Another performance to establish Sol Campbell as a liability in Newcastle's back line, but it's far less common to see Birmingham City's Scott Dann struggle so badly with the basics. None of his teammates excelled (the forwards didn't manage a shot on target in 90 minutes against Wolves), but Dann was frequently caught on his heels and categorically lost the battle with Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, who was excellent.
The record books will show goals for Stewart Downing and Emile Heskey in Aston Villa's 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, but Villa may have struggled without the input of Marc Albrighton.
Starting down the right, he escaped one defender and nutmegged another before digging out a terrific cross for the first, and cut back on the left to swing the ball in for the second. He and Downing have quickly developed a lovely synergy -- one making for the far post whenever the other is crossing; Villa has been good when the wings have been good.
Everton vs. Wigan had goalless draw written all over it in thick, black ink -- and so it turned out, but only because Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi had a belter (as they say up that way). He made a handful of critical saves as Everton hogged possession in the second half, before Tim Howard's superb save prevented Ronnie Stam from stealing the points in stoppage time. Everton hasn't won in seven games now.
Andy Carroll's 10th goal of the season, a low, 25-yard strike against Liverpool, reinforced his reputation as a goal scorer of various means. Take another look at Roman Pavlyuchenko's goal while you're on here, though, because it's satin-smooth. Reacting first to a diagonal ball from Jermain Defoe, his first touch takes both John Terry and John Mikel Obi out of the equation in an instant, his second sends the ball fizzing into the net.
Blackpool's Richard Kingson had a mixed game, occasionally relying on his defenders to get him out of trouble, but under almost constant bombardment, particularly after DJ Campbell put the Tangerines ahead, he kept Stoke City out to win more valuable points on the road. With the game poised at 0-0 he made a lightning double save as the ball ping around a packed penalty area; with the lead to defend his fists kept a strong Robert Huth header from arrowing into the net.
Roy Hodgson's reaction to Newcastle's second goal has become an instant legend. He'd already done a spot of Arsene Wenger-esque bottle-chucking as Newcastle recovered its stride midway through the second half, but he unraveled further when Joey Barton poked home what was effectively the winning goal in the 84th minute.
Manically rubbing his face, Hodgson looks a peculiar blend of angry and disoriented. 'It was supposed to be Alan Pardew's day under the microscope!' his darting eyes seemed to plead. Sunday's rumors that Hodgson had been sacked turned out -- for now, at least -- to be unfounded, but they were leant credence by this display.
"He's brought football to the club" -- Johan Elmander's take on Owen Coyle's work at Bolton since January, ahead of the 2-1 win over Blackburn. Bolton's improved play has put it sixth in the league with a healthy goal difference and a genuine shot at Europe.
24/32: Carlos Tevez's goals/games stats for 2010 -- he's scored 41 percent of Manchester City's goals this calendar year. No wonder supporters were horrified by his transfer request (in which he cited irreparable damage to his relationship with a couple of executives but neither the manager nor the owner, a new one on us).
But, although City's 3-1 win over West Ham was hardly the stuff of fantasy, it made it far easier to envisage the team's future without Tevez, who was missing through suspension, without pulling a face. Roberto Mancini's midfield has been oft criticized, but the combination of Yaya Toure and Silva, backed up by watertight enforcement from Nigel de Jong, looked extremely good Saturday.
Sunderland's Boudewijn Zenden will have had a sore head for the last couple of days -- he took a clearance by Fulham's John Pantsil full in the face, knocking him out for the count. He'll probably be glad not to remember most of the uneventful 0-0 tie.
It's hard to tell what Newcastle's win over Liverpool means for Pardew: it's just one game, this season is harder to read than Umberto Eco, and measuring success using Liverpool as a yardstick is like measuring up for curtains using cooked spaghetti. The Toon Army doesn't care, however, because it's Mike Ashley's head they want. After protests outside the ground, the air inside it rang to the tune of "You fat cockney b-----d, get out of our club."