English Premier League Highlights and Lowlights
Old rivals made peace and then quickly made war. Unheralded scorers made headlines for their teams, and dramatic late goals made the final 10 minutes must-see TV.
Another week of English Premier League action provided plenty of talking points for clubs big and small and good and bad.
As always, the matches produced a truckload of highlights and lowlights. Read on for the best of the weekend.
Highlight: Hillsborough Tributes
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The pre-match handshake between old buddies Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez was pleasant, if over-hyped (they are, after all, expected to do just that).
But its already questionable importance faded quickly with the spine-tingling Hillsborough tributes conducted by Anfield's home supporters.
Simple pieces of red and white paper turned into powerful pronouncements of unity and emotional release in the moments before kickoff. As the players prepared to contest England's most famous rivalry, the first home match following the new report on the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, large-scale mosaics bearing the words "Justice," "The Truth" and "96" lent the accompanying singing of "You'll Never Walk Alone" a new tangible, visceral dimension.
The effect was a genuine and almost surreal level of peace between two ancient rivals and their forever-warring supporters. It didn't last.
Lowlight: Jonjo Shelvey's Antics
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First he clattered into Jonny Evans with both feet off the ground and both sets of studs showing. Then Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey received a deserved red card against Manchester United
As an encore, Shelvey leveled an accusatory finger at United boss Sir Alex Ferguson on his way to the tunnel.
"That's your fault," Shelvey bellowed at Ferguson, as if Ferguson had forced Shelvey's feet off the pitch and studs into the air.
If Shelvey meant to suggest that Ferguson wields too great an influence on referees' decisions, well, then he might have a point. He chose the wrong way to express himself, though, and anyway, big-picture questions about Ferguson and referees won't ever condone Shelvey's awful challenge.
Inevitably, the match and its most memorable incident have prompted plenty of debate. One could argue—as Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers did—that if Shelvey deserved red for his two-footed challenge, then so did United's Jonny Evans.
Even after multiple viewings of Mark Halsey's fateful decision to award United the game-winning penalty, it's hard to know whether Halsey's call was right or not.
While it's questionable whether or not the correct team won Sunday at Anfield, it's just as difficult to say how well the referee—who turned out to be the match's most important actor—performed.
Lowlight: Resumed Hostilities
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Jonjo Shelvey's antics weren't the end of the story Sunday. With the match complete, Manchester United fans reportedly sang provocative songs about the Hillsborough disaster after—again, reportedly—seeing Liverpool fans make gestures about United's Munich tragedy.
From The Independent:
United supporters sang "Always the victim, it's never your fault", "Murderers" and "Justice for Heysel" when they were kept in at the end of the game. While United fans would claim all those chants refer to the 1985 Heysel disaster, rather than Hillsborough, they are undoubtedly provocative.
Witnesses said the United supporters were responding to two Liverpool supporters who had stayed behind as the ground cleared and made aeroplane gestures at them – a reference to the 1958 Munich air disaster. Around the 12th minute of the game, United fans had sung "Where's your famous Munich song?" to the Liverpool fans.
In fairness, only a few fans on either side were responsible. But this must stop.
The identities and fan allegiances of the instigators are not important. These chants have no place in civilized society, and they were wildly inappropriate on a matchday that was full of so much highly-charged emotion.
Highlight: Unhighlighted Scorers
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The Premier League masses adore their world-famous scoring heroes, and Robin van Persie's penalty for Manchester United on Sunday was his fifth goal of the season, the most in the league.
But this space is dedicated to less fashionable strikers of the league, two of whom continued their sterling early-season form over the weekend.
Rickie Lambert (pictured, center) scored two more goals for Southampton in a 4-1 thumping of Aston Villa on Saturday. That takes his total to four on the season—tied for second in the league—and furthers the notion that he is good enough for the top flight after spending his entire career until this season outside of it.
One season after scoring 27 goals in the Championship, Lambert's predatory instincts and Southampton's attacking style are making a similar return likelier by the week.
Steven Fletcher scored again as well this weekend, opening Sunderland's account against West Ham on Saturday. West Ham eventually leveled late in stoppage time (more on that in a moment), but that didn't lessen another productive contribution by Fletcher.
Fletcher also has four goals this season, and with each strike, he's making Martin O'Neill look more and more clever for shelling out a potential £14 million on him this summer.
Highlight: Dramatic Late Goals
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Defender Laurent Koscielny leveled for Arsenal against Manchester City on Sunday, blasting into the top corner just when it seemed the Gunners were running out of steam.
Arsenal had largely dominated the first half before falling behind—thanks in part to keeper Vito Mannone's error—to Joleon Lescott's headed goal against the run of play. The Gunners faded in the second half and until Koscielny's strike had seemed destined for a fourth defeat in five trips to the Etihad.
Chelsea's Ashley Cole did Koscielny two minutes better. With Chelsea heading for a disappointing scoreless draw at home to Stoke on Saturday, the left-back galloped forward and scored the winner following Juan Mata's no-look final pass.
But neither had anything on West Ham's Kevin Nolan. The 30-year-old captain volleyed home in the third minute of stoppage time to earn the Hammers a 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland. It was Nolan's third—and easily most dramatic—goal of the season.
Lowlight: Tottenham Fans Boo Team at Halftime
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Tottenham Hotspur fans booed their team off the pitch at halftime Sunday at White Hart Lane (via The Daily Mirror). Spurs trailed Queens Park Rangers 1-0 at the time but eventually won the match with second-half goals from Alejandro Faurlin (an own goal) and Jermain Defoe.
It was Defoe's fourth of the new season. He's now tied for second in the league's scoring charts.
After failing to win any of their first three matches, Spurs now have eight points—only one fewer than Arsenal and Manchester City—and sit a respectable eighth in the table.
Andre Villas-Boas' tenure started slowly, but it's becoming increasingly clear that Spurs supporters must remain patient.
And if a substandard first half warranted booing from the home support, what should Swansea have received for losing 3-0 to Everton on Saturday?
Lowlight: Nathan Dyer's Timing
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Nathan Dyer entered Swansea's 3-0 home loss to Everton as a halftime substitute for the Swans.
He departed 12 minutes later, sent off having received two yellow cards. The first was for dissent, the second for a clumsy challenge. Together, they serve as the lowlights from a day Dyer won't want to remember.
Speaking of memory, that's what Swansea's impressive start is becoming after a return of just one point from the last nine available.
Highlight: Everton's Left Side
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Everton's left-side combination of full-back Leighton Baines (pictured) and midfielder Steven Pienaar excelled in the unlucky 2-2 draw against Newcastle last week. Those two impressed again Saturday, and the result was a 3-0 demolition of Swansea.
Former Manchester United full-back Gary Neville recently revealed that the emergence of Pienaar and Baines helped push him into retirement (via EvertonFC.com), and it's easy to understand his sentiments.
Everton could have scored five or six goals against Swansea, and the left side of David Moyes' formation played a key role in that success.
How good are they? Baines said he's never played in a better left-sided combination (via The Independent).
Lowlight: Gervinho's First Touch
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For all the optimism generated by Arsenal's comeback draw against Manchester City, there's still the nagging feeling that the attack is lacking in some vital area.
Gervinho illustrated that shortcoming with an object-lesson performance in the middle of Arsenal's forward line Sunday. When the Ivorian attacker ran onto a through-ball on the right in the first half, a goal seemed possible. If not that, a shot on target seemed likely.
Neither happened, and instead Gervinho made what amounted to a deft back pass to City keeper Joe Hart.
Gervinho's wastefulness didn't cost Arsenal a loss Sunday, but it might have cost them a victory. Worryingly, there seems to be no third option between the rare two-goal performance he turned in against Southampton last weekend and his ineffective display at City.
Highlight: Demba Ba's Audition
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Demba Ba scored again for Newcastle on Sunday, and his 19th-minute strike gave the Magpies a 1-0 victory at home to Norwich City.
Ba has four goals this season—tied for second in the league—after struggling mightily during the second half of the previous campaign.
Alan Pardew has already admitted that Ba might leave this winter (via The Guardian), and if he keeps this up, a move seems not only likely but inevitable.