The FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley meant it was a less active weekend in the Premier League than usual, with just five games played. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t crucial fixtures at both ends of the table, an inevitability with so much still to be decided before the season climaxes in less than a month.
The top two were both in action and third-placed Arsenal meet relegation-threatened Wigan tonight. Aside from Roberto Martinez’s team, three of the four other sides at the bottom also played.
In Saturday’s early kick-off Manchester City moved to within two points of their city rivals at the top with the demolition of Norwich at Carrow Road. Carlos Tevez became every City fan’s hero again with a hat-trick, and his Argentinean compatriot Sergio Aguero weighed in with two goals of his own.
Andrew Surman had volleyed in 11 minutes after the break to give the home side hope at 2-1, but there was only one way this match was going to end up and Adam Johnson grabbed the final goal to make it 6-1 at the end.
Whatever Roberto Mancini may say about the title race being over, the way the City players went about their business indicates they still have full belief that they can turn it around. If his comments were intended to ease the pressure on his troops and allow them to play with freedom again, it seems to
The performance, however, increased the capacity for speculation about what City’s season might’ve been had Tevez been available throughout the campaign. The way his bustling energy interacted with the movement of fellow countryman Aguero and the vision and quick feet of David Silva suggests City could’ve been out of sight in the Premier League by now and even perhaps involved in the Champions League’s later stages.
Silva and Aguero combined to tee up Tevez for the opener;an unstoppable drive from 25 yards in the 18th minute. Nine minutes later sublime interplay between the latter two resulted in Aguero slamming the second past goalkeeper John Ruddy. Surman’s well-controlled volley from the edge of the penalty area gave the home side a lifeline in the second half, but their hopes were dashed when a City onslaught was rewarded with a header for Tevez after Ruddy had parried a Yaya Toure shot.
The away side then began to enjoy themselves with a fine individual goal from Aguero sealing the win and Tevez completing his hat-trick five minutes later by punishing a weak pass back by Ryan Bennett. Johnson curled in the sixth, the 11th City have put past the Canaries this season, in stoppage time.
On Sunday afternoon league leaders United responded to City’s emphatic win with an extremely comfortable win of their own against Aston Villa. It did, however, take a dubious penalty decision from referee Mark Halsey to send them on their way; as with last week’s game against QPR it involved Ashley Young.
With only seven minutes played the ex-Villa man went down theatrically over what seemed like minimal contact from Ciaran Clark on the left hand side of the penalty box. Wayne Rooney converted the spot kick.
A disastrous misunderstanding between Villa defenders James Collins and Nathan Baker allowed Danny Welbeck to add the crucial second a minute before half time: a killer blow for Villa.
Alex McLeish’s team came close to pulling a goal back midway through the second half but it was United instead who struck, when Rooney added his second and 32nd of the season in the 73rd minute. Substitute Nani completed the scoring in added time.
It was a comprehensive win for the current champions, one that re-established their five point lead over City. The big talking point at the final whistle though was the nature of United’s opener.
Sir Alex Ferguson agreed it was “a softish penalty“, but emphasised that there was contact from Clark. McLeish, whose side can still be drawn into the relegation battle, unsurprisingly was not in complete accordance with his fellow Glaswegian.
“I didn’t think it was a penalty. Ashley’s thrown his leg towards Ciaran Clark and Ciaran actually tries to pull his leg away. That set us back a mile, an early goal for United, because we actually started great”.
At the other end of the table Blackburn’s survival chances are now in serious jeopardy after taking a thorough beating at Swansea. Brendan Rodgers’ team outplayed Rovers throughout and took control with two goals in the space of six minutes at the end of the first half. Shrewd loan signing Gylfi Sigurdsson curled home a magnificent opener before Nathan Dyer added the finishing touch to a sweeping passing move.
A Scott Dann own goal induced by wonderful wing play from Scott Sinclair killed any expectation of a Rovers comeback in the 63rd minute. Blackburn missed the opportunity to catch the three teams directly above them and Bolton, who are only one point ahead, now have two games in hand on Steve Kean’s side.
Wigan are not expected to get anything at in-form Arsenal tonight and if that’s the case they’ll remain just three points ahead of Blackburn. Wigan are playing well themselves, however, and even a draw at the Emirates will be seen as a bonus point.
QPR, like Blackburn, were beaten on Saturday, by an excellent Graham Dorrans strike at West Brom, but although they are also only three points ahead, Mark Hughes’ side have a far superior goal difference that will be difficult for Rovers to breach.
Rock-bottom Wolves are still five points adrift of Blackburn and eight from safety despite a creditable goalless draw at Sunderland. Although interim manager Terry Connor insists they can still stay up, with four games to go a miracle is required.
Tags: Ashley Young, Aston Villa, Barclays Premier League, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Carlos Tevez, Manchester City, Manchester United, Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, Sergio Aguero, Swansea, Wayne Rooney