Thoughts on the weekend's action in the Barclays Premier League:
If it were to be released on DVD, Tottenham Hotspur's 3-2 win over Stoke City at White Hart Lane on Saturday would surely be titled "The Crouch Redemption." Days after two uncharacteristically foolish tackles got him sent off in a 4-0 loss against Real Madrid, Peter Crouch scored twice to keep alive Spurs' hopes of a fourth-place finish and another European adventure next season.
Stoke supporters will wonder how they left the ground the losers, because this was an end-to-end contest with all the hallmarks of Spurs' campaign so far: its attacking fizz matched gasp for gasp by its defensive shakiness. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Roman Pavlyuchenko buzzed around Stoke's back line, but so too did Matthew Etherington and Kenwyne Jones at the other end.
All the goals came in the first half, but the second did not want for attempts to keep spectators' minds off their sunburn. Only Jon Walters will know precisely how he did not turn a Jones cross in to the goal from close range after the lively forward had skinned Benoit Assou-Ekotto near the byline.
It's ironic that Chelsea should be praying for a £50 million ($80M) striker to start scoring when it has one on its books who has put away six goals in eight matches; Daniel Sturridge's January loan move to Bolton looked a good deal then and appeared a steal this weekend. West Ham's defense was, admittedly, poor -- in a 3-0 defeat, its own players had to be separated after squaring up. That shouldn't detract from a very good performance by Sturridge, who scored twice (the first a sweet strike from the edge of the area) and could have had several more.
"I'm getting better in every match because I feel more confident, I'm getting used to playing every week, playing for 90 minutes," he told the BBC afterward. Sturridge made only two league starts in 18 months at Chelsea. "Carlo Ancelotti might look at him and say he is not quite ready yet," said Bolton boss Owen Coyle, "but he is ready to play for me."
Sturridge took the headlines but Chung Yong Lee pulled the strings for Bolton, back in his wide berth with Johan Elmander nominally in the middle. West Ham will watch the video back and wonder how Lee beat Matthew Upson to head Martin Petrov's cross in to the net, but it was reward for having started the move with a delicious pass, using the outside of his foot, for Elmander to run on to.
It seemed odd that Manchester United winger Nani didn't make the PFA Player of the Year shortlist announced last week; he's been United's most effervescent player this season and there aren't many who've had more influence on their team in the Premier League. His omission looked dafter still after another two assists -- that's 18 for the season -- against Fulham on Saturday. His runs with the ball had the Londoners foxed and though he teed up Antonio Valencia with an attempted shot, rather than a cross, you had to admire the audacity.
It's not often that Everton captain Phil Neville scores -- he's averaged one every two seasons, in fact. After firing in Everton's second against Wolves, a rising shot from the edge of the area that left Wayne Hennessy stranded, he forgot the celebration he'd promised Tim Cahill, and had to run back to the corner flag to do it. But he was upstaged by Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, who strode onto a loose ball between Jamie O'Hara and George Elokobi in the 45th minute and, finding himself unchallenged, unleashed a swerving left-foot bullet. "I always think it'd be nice to celebrate scoring ... [then] Bily went and scored a better one. That's why I didn't celebrate the third goal," Neville laughed afterward.
Wigan's Ali Al Habsi made several good saves during Chelsea's 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, but none tugged the heartstrings as much as the right-hand dab that kept Fernando Torres' flicked shot -- the best he had mustered on a day when he might have scored a hat trick had he struck with conviction -- out at the near post. Making a clever run behind Yossi Benayoun, Torres must have thought his first goal was on its way. Perhaps it was instant karma for his foul on Al Habsi that went unpunished in the build up to Florent Malouda's match-winning goal.
"Sorry Steve" -- as he extended his hand at the final whistle, West Bromwich Albion boss Roy Hodgson could be seen apologizing to Steve Bruce after his team had condemned Sunderland to a seventh defeat in eight matches. West Brom twice came from behind and has now taken 10 points from the last 12, including games against Arsenal and Liverpool. Striker Peter Odemwingie was quick to credit Hodgson. "The key has been the manager's instructions." Sunderland fans will hope the same cannot be said of this torrid run.
11 -- Only 11 percent of the goals Newcastle had conceded this season had been headers, before James Collins' glanced home Ashley Young's free kick to give Aston Villa a vital win yesterday. The note-takers lost count of how many long balls Gerard Houllier's side attempted during an uninspiring match.
Plenty of these, as usual, but referee Lee Mason's decision not to react to Laurent Koscielny's flying penalty-area lunge on Gary Taylor-Fletcher with the game between Blackpool and Arsenal poised at 1-2 was a real sliding doors moment. In this world, the Gunners recovered from a serious wobble and Theo Walcott came on to set up a third for Robin van Persie (Walcott's last five assists have now been for the Dutchman). The title race is still just about running.
Georgina Turner is a freelance sports writer and co-editor of http://www.retrombm.com/.