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Weekend Review: Ten Talking Points (10th - 11th March)

Monday 12th March 2012
1)  Dubious decisions help Bolton over the line.

Ivan Klasnic's late goal gave Bolton three precious points over QPR but Mark Hughes and Rangers were left seething by a goal that was never given. The victory for Bolton, their first win in five, helped them climb out of the relegation places in place of QPR, although QPR will be wondering how they never got anything out of the match.

After a frankly quiet first 20 minutes, the crucial moment came. In his 400th career start, Clint Hill powered a header towards goal. It looked to have gone a few yards past the line before Adam Bodgan palmed the ball onto the crossbar. Nearly everyone in the ground thought the ball had crossed the line except the man that mattered, assistant referee Bob Pollock. How Pollock failed to award the goal is beyond belief and will only open the goal line technology debate right up. In fact, the FA responded by releasing a statement supporting goal line technology during the match. Although that won't make QPR feel any better.

Bolton then capitalised on their good fortune by going ahead just before half time when Darren Pratley headed in when in oceans of space. However, just after half time QPR may have felt that their fortunes had turned when Cisse poked home to equalise. Replays show that Cisse was off side but the assistant failed to spot that. Not a good day at the office for Mr Pollock.

Throughout the match QPR were notably the better team and had the better chances to take all three points. However, after Klasnic coolly slotted vibrant teenager Ryo Miyachi's pass into the net, QPR slipped down into the relegation places level on points with Wolves. And with games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham fast approaching, Rangers will fear for their survival. The games coming up puts even more importance on the games against those around them so the defeat against Bolton was a disastrous result. If QPR fail to beat the drop, they may well look back at Bob Pollock's decision as a key turning point.

2)  Hoilett double turns up pressure on Wolves.

A clinical double by Junior Hoilett gave Blackburn all three points and compounded Wolves to yet another defeat. Since Terry Connor was appointed, Wolves have only got one point from a possible nine. This run in form has led fans to turn against the board, with a protest against the handling of Mick McCarthy's sacking before the game. The fans spirit didn't lift after two superb finishes by Hoilett, the bright spark in the Blackburn team, to leave Wolves languishing one place off the bottom.

Connor's team never turned up as the side looked short of confidence and lacking in any creative ideas. The defeat leaves Wolves in the dreaded drop zone after just one win in 14 games. With ten games left, Connor has the huge task of lifting his side with the fans lacking belief in Connor's ability as a manager. You can't help but think that Steve Bruce or Alan Curbishley would have been more apt appointments or even leaving McCarthy in charge would have given them a better chance than they have now. Reports that Jamie O'Hara was involved in a confrontation with fans perhaps sums up the mood in the Wolves camp right now.

For Blackburn, this result will give them great confidence for Steve Kean's side. The game was comfortable for Blackburn as they put in a very professional performance. The side were barely troubled by the Wolves strike force as Blackburn claimed their first clean sheet since April 2011. It was also only Blackburn's second away win this season after their shock victory at Old Trafford. The club lie three points above the relegation places, a gap that could be vital with ten games left. You feel that Blackburn are in pole position to stay up but with football, anything can happen.

3)  Disciplined performance gives Sunderland all three points.

A professional and dogged performance by Sunderland gave them the victory over a lacklustre Liverpool. Liverpool, who have only won one league game in eight, came to the Stadium of Light hoping for a result as the Black Cats were without key players Cattermole and Sessegnon. But Liverpool, who suffered their third defeat in a row, looked short of any ideas as Sunderland held on to a deserved victory.

The first half was a poor affair with very little to offer from both teams. With Gerrard and Carroll on the bench, Liverpool looked to Suarez to provide them with some moments of magic. Suarez huffed and puffed with a few impressive runs which were all dealt with by the impressive Sunderland defence. Both keepers were hardly tested in the first half, in a game with only six shots on target.

The second half started off much brighter, particularly Sunderland with McClean and Colback both impressing. The bright start paid off with a bizarre goal after 56 minutes. In a game with a history of bizarre goals, such as Darren Bent's famous balloon goal, Bendtner's effort was no different. After Campbell worked well to get space, his shot fired of the post, hit Reina on the head, back onto the post then out to Bendtner who coolly fired home the shot.

In the remaining half an hour, Sunderland offered little else in terms of going forward, but put in a fine defensive display which restricted Liverpool to long range attempts which Mingolet easily dealt with. O'Shea put in a solid performance against his formal rivals as he stepped in as captain with Cattermole absent. On this showing, it's no wonder that O'Neill's team has one of the best defensive records in the division. The victory fires Sunderland up to 8th place, two points behind Liverpool. With games against Blackburn and QPR coming up, Sunderland could find themselves battling to achieve a higher position, unthinkable 4 months ago.

For Liverpool, it's a particularly worrying time. The team looked lacking in ideas and any creativity and you feel that if the game was played again, they still wouldn't score. The gap between the Merseysiders in seventh position and Arsenal in fourth is 10 points (with Arsenal against Newcastle on Monday night) so a Champions League spot is out of the question. Liverpool will be relieved that they are already guaranteed European football after the League Cup success, as they're league form is something to be desired. The midfield yesterday was particularly poor with Adam, Henderson and Spearing putting in uninspiring performances. Compare that midfield with Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard and that gives a good idea why Liverpool has been slipping in recent years.

4)  Drogba joins 100 club as Di Matteo starts well.

After a good performance during the week, Roberto Di Matteo got his league management at Chelsea off to a good start after a 1-0 win against dogged Stoke. Chelsea had to be patient facing the resilient Potters who spent most of the match with ten men after Fuller stamped on Ivanovic in a challenge where everyone watching winced. But in a match with 21 shots by Chelsea, the game saw all three points go to Chelsea as Drogba calmly rounded the keeper before passing it into an open net.

With that goal, Drogba becomes the most successful African in the premier league with 100 goals. In eight years at the club and 220 appearances in the league, the prolific Drogba became the 21st player to score a ton in the Premier League. With some people questioning whether Drogba will remain at Chelsea for much longer, the Ivorian showed that he still has the skill to cut it out in the league. If the 34-year-old does leave the club, with Chinese clubs rumoured to be offering big money, Drogba will be a big loss after 8 years in the country. His strength, skill and impressive finishing have made him a fans favourite and a defender's nightmare. Here's hoping we get to see a few more moments of magic before he does eventually leave.

5)  Spurs suffer another defeat as Jelavic goal wins it.

What a difference a few month makes. The last time these two sides met, a win for Spurs put them three points behind the summit of the league leading to suggestions that the title race may be between three teams: Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham. It was always going to be a tough ask for Spurs but after three defeats in a row Spurs find themselves fourteen points of the summit, distinguishing any chance of title silverware.

However, we must acknowledge that the last three games have been very difficult. The first saw a magnificent comeback from rivals Arsenal, then a master class in finishing from Manchester United and then facing an Everton side who have already beaten Chelsea and Man City at home. In between that has been two unconvincing cup games against Stevenage as Spurs seem to be suffering from a mini blip in form. After just two wins in eight, it does show that Spurs have a lot of work to do to stay in the top four. The dip in form has coincidentally come as Redknapp is highly tipped to replace Capello as England manager.

Everton on the other hand have enjoyed an impressive run since the last time the teams met. Yesterday's victory extended their unbeaten run to nine games, with an exciting Merseyside derby set for Tuesday. The victory came on the weekend that David Moyes celebrated 10 years of being manager and was a reminder of how well the Scot has done. Under Moyes's leadership, Everton have propelled themselves from relegation places to competing for European places. Jelavic's first shot since joining from Rangers gave Everton all three points and two points behind rivals Liverpool. The derby on Tuesday is set to be a cracker.

6)  Rooney double puts United top as Swansea stun City.

A brace by in form Wayne Rooney put United on top as Manchester City suffered a surprise defeat at the Liberty Stadium. It puts United a point ahead of rivals City with just ten games left. The race for the title could be the most exciting one yet.

For the first time in ages, both teams were playing at exactly the same time. Manchester United were at home against West Brom and showed their intentions with the attacking trio of Welbeck, Rooney and Hernandez who all linked up well. With United constantly knocking on the door, Rooney opened the scoring in the 35th minute with a well diverted volley. West Brom had very little to offer and their task to make a comeback was made even harder when Olsson was sent off for two bookable offences. Rooney then scored his fourth penalty of the campaign which caps of a wonderful month for Rooney, scoring in four games running. The victory meant that United would be top of the league for the first time since October. United face struggling Wolves next week knowing that a victory would put them four points clear with City not playing.

United went top after City were the victims of a surprise defeat against Swansea. Swansea, who have also beaten Arsenal at home were simply superb and fully deserved the victory against off form City. And it could have been so much more comfortable for Swansea. Joe Hart's rash challenge conceded a penalty but he made up for it with a good save from Scott Sinclair. City never got going in the first half as Swansea more than deserved their lead. City upped the pressure as expected in the second half but couldn't find a way past Vorm, who has gained so many plaudits this season. Then with five minutes left, Luke Moore headed home with virtually his first touch, although the defending was something you don't expect from title contenders. Vorm then kept Swansea in front with some spectacular saves before Micah Richards had a goal disallowed much to the bemusement of Mancini, although replays show that it was the correct decision. Man City may have felt that the fortune was against them but the fact was that they simply didn't play well.

The unexpected slip up has meant that the title will probably go down to the wire. Man City still have games against Chelsea, Arsenal and a tricky game at Newcastle. United on the other hand face many teams in the lower half of the table so you feel that it's United's title to lose now. And with Ferguson's experience, United must surely be in pole position to claim their 20th League title while City lack the vital experience. However, the season could also go down to the derby on the 30th April at the Ethiad, a match that already promises to be a cracker.

7) Battling Wigan earn a point but still stay bottom.

After wins for Bolton and Blackburn, Roberto Martinez knew that his struggling side needed to get a result at Carrow Road against 12th place Norwich. A failure to get a result would leave Wigan bottom of the league and the gap to safety ever increasing. And it couldn't have started any worse for the division's bottom side. Wes Hoolahan put the Canaries ahead with a well improvised volley and you feared that there would be no way back.

Wigan responded well, creating chances, but failed to score, which is a reason for their position. As the league's lowest scorers, with players such as Moses and Rodallega lacking any serious conviction in front of goal. Wigan started the second half well and got a deserved equaliser when Victor Moses rounded the goalkeeper before firing in. It was to be a battling and deserved point but Wigan need to start winning games and spurned the chance to do so with Diame missing two chances. This was without doubt one of Martinez's teams better performances in recent weeks but he needs the team to be more ruthless in front of goal, something they have desperately been missing.

8 ) West Ham slip up as Championship battle continues.

The Championship is setting up to be one of the most exciting finishes ever. After a James Coppinger equaliser for Doncaster, West Ham slipped up meaning there are three points between Southampton, West Ham and Reading at the top of the league.

Southampton remain at the top of the league after a routine 2-0 victory over Barnsley. Instead of relying on the goals of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana was the main man as his well finished double gave the leaders a comfortable victory. They went three points above West Ham who could only draw at home to Doncaster, despite Kevin Nolan putting them in lead early on. Hot on the heels of both teams are Reading, whose 3-1 victory over Leicester extended their winning run to eight games.

With twelve games left, it's hard to tell who will come out of the league victorious. As we know with this league, anything can happen so there are no easy games and no guarantees of points. With their fantastic form, Reading's push for promotion may pay off as West Ham seem to stutter whenever they have their chance. Any of these three teams could win the league so the battle is going to be as exciting as ever.

9) Notts County stun Addicks in performance of the weekend.

I could have easily picked Swansea for performance of the weekend after their brilliant result against leaders Man City. But the best result of the weekend has to go to Notts County whose eye-catching win at runaway leaders Charlton was fully deserved. Notts County, who are now in the play off positions thanks to the 4-2 win, started off well with a thunderous strike from Judge. The Jonathon Forte stunned The Valley with a 20 minute hat-trick to put Notts County 4-0 up at half time. As expected Charlton replied with two goals, one from the ever reliable Bradley Wright-phillips but Notts County were resilient as they recorded the result of the weekend.

10) Celtic show no mercy as treble looks likely.

Celtic scored four second half goals against Dundee United to book their place in the semi-finals of the Scottish FA Cup. Goals from Ledley, Samaras, Stokes and Brown booked their place in the next round and kept up their chances of winning a Scottish treble. With Rangers already out of the FA cup (after being knocked out by Celtic) it's hard to see who can stop in form Celtic. Celtic can claim their first trophy of the year against Kilmarnock in the League Cup at the end of the month. Also, Celtic look set to claim their 43rd title with a huge 21 point advantage over cash troubled Rangers. Interestingly, they could seal the title at the end of the month with a victory at Ibrox, which, if their financial woes continue, could be one of the last games of Rangers' history if the worst was to happen.
Craig Lishman

Total articles: 9

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