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Prem Picks: Dogfight has bite

The relegation dogfight, indifferent Tottenham, and Newcastle's European conundrum all feature in our review of the Premier League weekend.

Last Updated: 09/04/13 at 15:24 Post Comment   

QPR: Down on their luck

QPR: Down on their luck

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TEAMtalk picks out some of the key points around the grounds from the weekend's action in the Premier League.

Chelsea 2 Sunderland 1

Rob Parrish

Paolo Di Canio's first game in Sunderland may have ended in defeat but there were surely enough positives for the new manager to take in their battle to beat the drop.

The Black Cats are now only out of the bottom three on goal difference, with Wigan also having the benefit of a game in hand, but showed defensive resilience and more of a threat in attack than in the final days of Martin O'Neill's reign.

Chelsea's equaliser following Cesar Azpilicueta's first-half slice into his own net came when Simon Mignolet's save struck the unwitting Matt Kilgallon and rolled agonisingly into the net, while it is questionable how much Branislav Ivanovic knew about his winner as he deflected home David Luiz's well-struck shot.

Sunderland were otherwise able to deal well with the attacking threat of a Chelsea side packed with forward-thinking players, with the back four of Kilgallon, John O'Shea, Phil Bardsley and the excellent Danny Rose well organised.

Connor Wickham looked rusty up front but was always eager for the ball after being selected ahead of Danny Graham, Stephane Sessegnon threatened in flashes, but one riddle Di Canio needs to solve is how to get the best out of Adam Johnson, who is a shadow of the player he once was.

QPR 1 Wigan 1

Oliver Bell

This match was billed as a mouth-watering battle to beat the drop in the Premier League and thanks to a late show from both teams, it did not disappoint.

QPR went into the match favourites to cut the seven-point deficit between them and their opponents but suffered an early blow when Bobby Zamora was sent off for effectively kicking Jordi Gomez in the face. It may not have been deliberate but the height of his studs certainly merited the dismissal.

Having to play three quarters of the match with 10 men, QPR were expected to be overrun and for the rest of the first half they were, but Wigan's lack of proficiency meant they went into the break level.

However, it was the hosts who caused most of the problems in the second half and arguably deserved to take the lead with five minutes remaining when Loic Remy scored what can only be described as a wonder-goal. If it was not for Matt Lowton's incredible strike on Saturday, it would certainly be a front-runner for goal of the month.

Wigan responded with their own piece of magic as Shaun Maloney stroked in a wonderful last minute free-kick.

All credit has to go to QPR for giving it a real go with 10 men and Andros Townsend, the game's standout performer, showed just how much promise he has. In the end though, a point probably just is not enough and relegation is surely a foregone conclusion for them now.

As for Latics, despite their numerical advantage for most of the game, relief will be the one word to describe how they feel after this match as they move level on points with Sunderland in 17th.

Tottenham 2 Everton 2

Lewis Rutledge

Both sides would have felt they needed a victory in the race for a Champions League place, with Chelsea and Arsenal breathing down Tottenham's necks and Everton a little further adrift.

Neither manager will therefore be entirely satisfied after a see-saw encounter at White Hart Lane, which saw Everton bounce back from Emmanuel Adebayor's opening-minute goal to take the lead thanks to Phil Jagielka and Kevin Mirallas, only for Gylfi Sigurdsson to snatch a 2-2 draw late on for Spurs.

There was a lot of scrutiny on how Spurs would perform without Gareth Bale and they were not entirely convincing, with Clint Dempsey struggling to fill the void and Lewis Holtby apparently still adjusting to the Premier League.

However, Adebayor produced one of his liveliest performances of the season to score one and make one, while there were other good displays from Sigurdsson, Scott Parker, Kyle Walker and Mousa Dembele.

Indeed, Andre Villas-Boas' decision to replace Dembele with Tom Huddlestone when Spurs were still trailing did not go down well with a restless crowd and perhaps betrayed a lack of complete faith in the Portuguese boss.

Everton may be outsiders for a top-four finish but there were plenty of positives for David Moyes to take from the way his side played, not least the way they battled back after suffering the shock of Adebayor's strike on 34 seconds.

Victor Anichebe was a handful for Tottenham's centre-backs all afternoon and there was another wonderful solo goal from Mirallas, who is developing into one of the Premier League's most exciting players.

Liverpool 0 West Ham 0

Adam Bate

There was an air of optimism around Anfield at kick-off with supporters looking forward to seeing Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez continue their blossoming partnership. But the home fans were not bargaining on the resolve of a West Ham team determined to make life difficult for Liverpool.

The Hammers back-four produced a string of clearances and blocks with Guy Demel and James Collins particularly impressive. But it was perhaps the work-rate of Matt Jarvis and Ricardo Vaz Te that stood out just as much with the forward-thinking wingers happy to double-up defensively.

As a result, a fixture earmarked as an easy three points for Liverpool turned into a struggle and left Brendan Rodgers' side devoid of ideas. The Reds remain in seventh and the prospect of a season without European football will have many on Merseyside anxious about their hopes of keeping this promising team together.

Newcastle 1 Fulham 0

Tim Oscroft

The explosion of relief from Newcastle fans and players alike when Papiss Cisse struck in the 93rd minute was perfectly understandable after an afternoon that looked destined to be put into the file marked "One of those days".

A wicked deflection off a shot by Vurnon Anita completely wrong-footed Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, and had it spun a couple of inches lower Newcastle would have taken the lead but the crossbar got in the way.

Then, the ball appeared to hit Sascha Riether's hand before hitting the post, with Cisse drilling the rebound against the same upright a microsecond later. Newcastle fans could have been forgiven for tearing their hair out in frustration at that point, but credit to their players for a plucky performance that capped a much better display in the second half than in the first.

But they should be grateful that Dimitar Berbatov's two best chances did not open the scoring for Fulham, and that Hugo Rodallega could not seize his opportunity just after coming on.

On this evidence Newcastle will continue to create chances, but their profligacy in front of goal may come back to haunt them. And then there's the thorny question of Europe - do they go for it on Thursday in the hunt for their first piece of silverware since 1969? Or do they keep one eye on next weekend's Tyne-Wear derby, with three more vital points on offer?

As for Fulham, they look like they will secure their top flight status soon enough, but they look over-reliant on their enigmatic Bulgarian striker at times.Reading 0 Southampton 2

Jack Woodfield

For Reading, Saturday's game with Southampton was the definition of a "must-win" given their precarious position in the Premier League table, which saw them seven points adrift of safety before kick-off.

A 2-0 defeat, characterised by another poor defensive display, all but resigns them to the Championship next season, and new boss Nigel Adkins will not have enjoyed what he saw in his first home match in charge.

Adkins watched his former club run riot in the first half, with the trio of Jay Rodriguez, Gaston Ramirez and Rickie Lambert causing the Royals' defence havoc.

Southampton could have been up 4-0 at the break, but fortunately for Reading it was only 1-0 following Rodriguez's deflected effort, while substitute Adam Lallana made the game safe with Saints' second after the break.

Mauricio Pochettino has continued his predecessor's work admirably since taking over earlier this year, and his side will feel confident of securing another season of Premier League football after a second straight victory.

The writing is on the wall for Reading, though, and barring a miracle of six victories from their last six games, the Royals are heading back down after just one season of top-flight football following their promotion last year.

Norwich 2 Swansea 2

Peter Fraser

Chris Hughton in his post-match interview reiterated Norwich's home form is going to be key to their hopes or survival. The atmosphere created at Carrow Road can be an added weapon and will be vital in remaining games against fellow strugglers Reading and Aston Villa as well as West Bromwich Albion.

But Hughton also admitted his side let in some tame goals against Swansea and he will be desperate to ensure nerves are not impacting upon his defenders. Norwich have let in almost half as many goals at home as some of their relegation rivals and that is a major strength.

Swansea, fresh from three successive defeats, at times looked incredibly disorganised and open to being picked off on the counter-attack. A significant factor behind some of their shapeless and panicky play was the absence of Leon Britton. The midfielder's wife prematurely gave birth to twins and so he was missing the game. Michael Laudrup will want him back as quickly as possible.

Stoke 1 Aston Villa 3

Chris Burton

This late in the season, a result such as this could have a major influence on the fate of both sides.

Villa, having come out on top and clambered back out of the drop zone, will feel full of confidence heading down the final stretch - with form having been found at just the right time.

In contrast, Stoke have now collected just five points from a possible 36 in 2013 and find themselves looking anxiously over their shoulder at the basement battle unfolding beneath them.

While it was Villa who entered the weekend inside the bottom three, there was a nervous tension around the Britannia Stadium on Saturday which suggests the Potters fear the worst.

A bumper crowd turned up hoping to see a reversal in fortune, but the locals made their disapproval clear at the final whistle and pressure continues to mount on Tony Pulis - a man who appeared untouchable not all that long ago.

Given all that he has been through this season, Lambert now has an 'I told you so' glint in his eye, with his willingness to stick with a neat passing game and a group of relatively inexperienced youngsters starting to pay dividends.

West Brom 1 Arsenal 2

Daniel Storey

Whilst the fingernails of their travelling support may not agree, it was refreshing to see Arsenal grind out a result with their backs to the wall. The away side were coasting after goals either side of half-time from Tomas Rosicky had looked to make things secure, but Arsenal suffered from a rather familiar defensive lapse to allow West Brom back into the game and gave themselves a tough last 20 minutes. Quite what Per Mertesacker was thinking we can only guess, but his decision to dive in from behind and put his side down to 10 men with a penalty to come was foolish.

But the Gunners did dig in, and ground out a vital result. They move back into the top four for the first time since Boxing Day and have hit top gear exactly when it matters. Tough games will follow but, for now, Arsenal are on an upward curve.

The biggest talking point in the match was the non-selection of Romelu Lukaku. With West Brom focused solely on the Premier League, and each place in the division worth a great deal financially, it would seem odd not to start your top scorer and most impressive performer for a home game, and Steve Clarke's decision to play Shane Long as a lone striker was surprising to say the least.

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may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

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ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

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Wenger hails important win

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s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

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