Another weekend of Premier League got underway on the final Saturday of February with four matches, beginning with the two most in-form sides doing battle at The Etihad…
Manchester City 2 West Ham United 1
League leaders City had to work very hard to see off a West Ham side who are playing with a lot of confidence right now and are working so hard for each other too, and they so nearly got something from a City side who only knew what winning felt like, they had won every single game they had played since Mid-December, a remarkable run of form.
Many felt this was a real test of The Hammers credentials of mounting a serious top-four challenge, and they more than matched their illustrious opponents throughout this contest, although to lapses in concentration ended up costing them here, if you switch off just for a millisecond against a team with City’s undoubted qualities, you will be punished.
The first one came on the half-hour mark when Kevin de Bruyne received the ball on the right-hand side and fired in a lovely cross with his left foot, and Issa Diop was caught sleeping slightly and allowed centre half Ruben Dias to ghost in behind to nod a header past Darren Randolph, who did get his hand to it, but could not keep it out. It was City’s first attempt on goal, but it meant West Ham had to find a response.
And find a response they did as after a sweeping move had seen Michail Antonio’s effort strike the base of the post, two minutes before the break The Hammers struck a big blow in what was a rare goal for City to concede, they don’t concede many these days, but they did here, as another decent move ended with Vladimir Coufal, who had a decent game, crossing into the danger zone and saw Jesse Lingard’s effort find Antonio at the back post and he could not miss and converted from close range, and West Ham went into the break all square and really felt they could get something from the league leaders.
Midway through the second period though came West Ham’s second sleepy moment which ultimately cost them, as Riyad Mahrez, who had full back Ben Johnson in trouble for a lot of the contest, played a ball into the box and found John Stones unmarked and he struck home a lovely first-time effort beyond Randolph, and City had the lead once again, and The Hammers yet again had to find a response.
And deep into stoppage time right at the end they so nearly grabbed a point, when a ball swung in found Diop but his header was off target and in fact so nearly fell to Tomas Soucek at the back post, but the Czech could not quite stretch enough to get to it, and the chance was gone, so close for the visitors but City did hold on to pick up a rather extraordinary TWENTIETH straight win in all competitions, remarkable.
Onto the mid-afternoon game now, and it came from The Hawthorns as two sides down near the bottom did battle, and it certainly threw up quite a talking point let’s just say!!! Anyway, for more on that and how the game went, please see below…
West Bromwich Albion 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
It’s fair to say this game will be remembered for one moment late on in the half that I have never seen before and was certainly not something Brighton would like to see again, it kind of summed up The Seagulls luck right now, it was another game they dominated but could not find the net and fell to another defeat as a result.
The match did not begin well for the visitors as they found themselves behind after just five minutes when a corner from the left found centre half Kyle Bartley free in the six yard box to rise and plant a header beyond Robert Sanchez, and Big Sam’s side had the ideal start, but in the 17th minute Brighton had a golden chance to level after being awarded a penalty, however, Pascal Gross stepped up and thumped the spot-kick against the bar. Ooops…
And then past the half hour point of the match came the moment that everyone was talking about afterwards, as Brighton won a free kick about twenty of so yards out. Lewis Dunk stood over the free kick and referee Lee Mason blew his whistle and immediately Dunk took a quick one and found the net, but Mason blew his whistle again as keeper Sam Johnstone was still lining up his wall and the ball went in, but Mason said no, you have to take it again.
Now what happened next was insane, Brighton understandably were upset and surrounded Mason, the referee then spoke to VAR in his earpiece and then awarded the goal, so it was West Brom’s turn to be upset, anyway, Mason then spoke a bit more to VAR and ended up going over to look at the incident and after around two/three minutes of delay, no goal was given and the free-kick had to be retaken. It was all utterly farcical, and the visitors felt very hard done by. The reason that was given in the end was Mason realised the first blast of the whistle was incorrect so he tried to stop play again by blowing for a second time, and VAR were also trying to determine whether the ball had already gone into the net before he had blown again, they said it hadn’t so the ball was brought back for another free-kick, make sense of all of that why don’t you, incredible!!!
It was one of those days for The Seagulls, and their bluntness in front of goal will be a concern now, they managed to miss another penalty in the second period when sub Danny Welbeck’s effort struck the post, and Aaron Connelly missed an open goal earlier in the half too, they have created 65 attempts on goal in their last three games, and have scored once, that really is a concern. For West Brom though they will take all the luck they can get at the moment, and this win throws a lifeline to their survival chances, whereas for Brighton they are well and truly in a scrap down at the bottom and if they cannot find the net more regularly soon, they may be in serious trouble.
Well, after all that madness it was off to Elland Road and the White Rose County as Leeds and Villa did battle as both sides chase European football for next season…
Leeds United 0 Aston Villa 1
The last time these sides met at Elland Road was in a Championship contest back in April 2019 and threw up a rather controversial moment when Leeds carried on to score when a Villa player was lying down injured, causing a mass melee and the sending off of Anwar El Ghazi, after he clashed with Patrick Bamford. Leeds allowed Villa to equalise on the orders of Marcelo Bielsa, although it was a rather fractious affair it had to be said.
This was anything but though on a day where Leeds were largely stifled by a well organised Villa outfit, and the game was ultimately decided by a fifth minute goal, scored by none other than El Ghazi, after a mishit shot from Ollie Watkins had found the Villa attacker unmarked inside the box, and he took a touch and fired past IIlan Meslier. And this was a Villa side still without skipper Jack Grealish, so it made this performance and victory even sweeter for the visitors who looked comfortable against a Leeds side who lacked penetration throughout, not something normally labelled against them this season.
Villa’s strength this season though has been their defence, and this was a 13th clean sheet of the season, and an eighth one away from home too, something they failed to do throughout the whole of last season, so Dean Smith and Co should take a lot of credit for that, they are a hard side to beat, and Europe is still very much on for the Villa Park outfit.
The final game of Saturday saw a very big game at St James Park, well for the hosts anyway, as Newcastle took on a Wolves side who have started to pick up results again lately, let’s see how that one panned out…
Newcastle United 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
Perhaps it was no surprise that this game ended 1-1, the last four had ended that way, but both sides probably felt they could have taken all three points in the end. Newcastle certainly came into this game knowing three points would have taken them further away from the drop zone and above Brighton as well, and they certainly were the side who created the better chances in the opening half.
Miguel Almiron came the closest when he curled an effort against the post, and Wolves keeper Rui Patricio certainly earned his corn in the first period, making two decent stops to deny the hosts, although Wolves certainly ended the half well and saw Martin Dubravka, recalled to the staring line up at the expense of Karl Darlow, tip a Adama Traore header onto the near post late on in the first period, but it was a period where the hosts should have ended in front.
Almiron failed to appear for the second period after picking up an injury, and his replacement, Ryan Fraser, was the man to set up Newcastle’s opener, as his cross was headed home by centre half Jamaal Lascelles, and Newcastle had a lead they so desperately wanted, the question was could they hold on and pick up a huge win?
They suffered a further injury blow as Allan Saint-Maximin went down with what looked to be a muscular injury, so he hobbled off and if he is out for any length of time then that would be a huge blow to the hosts in their pursuit of survival, they already have Callum Wilson side lined too, and with Emil Krafth also limping off in the second period, Steve Bruce must of wondered what he had done to deserve this.
And then with just over fifteen minutes remaining Wolves found a leveller when good work by Pedro Neto on the right flank saw his cross find a totally unmarked Ruben Neves who guided a decent header towards the corner, and although Dubravka got a strong hand to the ball, he could only push it into the side netting within his goal, and was unable ton keep it out. Could he have done better, yes, but he was badly let down by his defence allowing Neves a free header from six yards out, and it was now crucial that Newcastle held on for at least a point.
They actually came so close to going back in front when a marvellous run from Jacob Murphy saw him square to Joelinton whose powerful effort saw Patricio tip onto Roman Saiss who was on the goal line and it hit him and went over the bar somehow, but as the game entered five minutes of
stoppage time Wolves were applying all the pressure, and they so nearly pinched all three points but Fabio Silva, on as a late sub, saw his close-range effort somehow tipped onto the bar by Dubravka, and Newcastle clung on for what could be a precious point. Yes, they would have liked to have all three, but a point is a point at the end of the day, they could all prove very crucial come the end of the season, although losing those key players during the game will be a real worry for Bruce and his side.
Let’s see how the table looks after Saturday’s action…
Man City’s lead is now a whopping thirteen points, and although it can be cut back to ten on Sunday, it is really hard to see who will topple them come the end of the season, and although West Ham did suffer defeat today, they are still in a very strong position. Villa’s win at Leeds sees them just a point off the top six now, with Leeds four points further back, and West Brom’s win over Brighton sees them reduce the gap to nine points now to safety. And with Newcastle’s point it means Fulham can not escape the bottom three this weekend as they now trail The Magpies and The Seagulls by four points with their game at Palace to come on Sunday. It is getting tight down their though that’s for sure.
Let’s look ahead to the remaining fixtures this weekend…
Sunday, February 28
Crystal Palace v Fulham (12pm) (Fulham can pull to just one point off safety with win, and would only be seven behind Palace in 13th if they do)
Leicester City v Arsenal (12pm) (Foxes can go second if they avoid defeat, Gunners will go above Spurs into ninth if they win ahead of Lilywhites game against Burnley)
Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley (2pm) (Spurs would be a point off top six with win, Burnley could only be three points above drop zone if Fulham win early game on Sunday so need points to keep them at arm’s length)
Chelsea v Manchester United (4.30pm) (A Chelsea win takes them above West Ham into fourth, victory for United takes them back into second place assuming Foxes leapfrog them by avoiding defeat against Gunners in early kick off)
Sheffield United v Liverpool (7.15pm) (Blades need to win, and victory would take them twelve points from safety, but Liverpool desperately need a win too, they are fast losing their hopes of a top four finish so three points here would keep that hope going for now)
Monday, March 1
Everton v Southampton (8pm) (The Toffees could go above Liverpool if The Reds slip up on Saturday night and Everton get a positive result against a Saints side who have lost seven of their last eight and could only be five points above the drop zone if Fulham beat Palace on Sunday, so the visitors desperately need a positive outcome)