Premier League Saturday Wrap: Man Utd, Wigan, Norwich Come from Behind; WBA Win
The pick of the Premier League fixtures fell on Saturday this week. With the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League in full swing, the fixtures were split over Saturday and Sunday, with all the plum ties falling on the first day of the weekend.
Almost one-third of the season is gone and Manchester City sit atop the table, with city rivals Manchester United and Chelsea in hot pursuit.
With the Citizens and Pensioners battling it out on Sunday, the Red Devils had the chance to jump back to the summit of Premier League—but only if they beat struggling QPR.
The early kickoff saw the action started at the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland welcomed high-flying West Bromwich Albion, who were going in search of only their second away win of the season.
From there it was on to the four 3 p.m. kickoffs (GMT), which saw Norwich City—unbeaten in their last six games—take on David Moyes' UEFA Champions League-chasing Everton, who have only won once in their last six.
Stoke City entertained Fulham, Wigan were visited by Reading in a real relegation battle and Manchester United welcomed QPR and their new manager, Harry Redknapp, to the Theatre of Dreams that is Old Trafford.
Would it turn out to be a dream start or the nightmare many were predicting for the ex-Tottenham Hotspur boss and his new charges?
The late kickoff then saw Arsenal head to struggling Aston Villa, with goals firmly on their mind.
So far this season, the Villains have conceded 17 second-half goals compared to just five first-half goals, while Arsene Wenger's men have scored 17 in their last six matches.
Read on to find out what happened.
Sunderland 2-4 West Brom
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For at least 24 hours, West Brom have moved up to third in the table after a stunning 4-2 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Under Martin O'Neill, the Black Cats have always proved a tough side to beat. They have drawn in 11 of their last 19 league games.
So heading up north was always going to be a tough task for a side that before Saturday had only won one away game this season.
The game turned out to be one of the most entertaining end-to-end battles we have seen. Both goalkeepers were in fine form throughout.
The Baggies took the lead through on a left-footed Zoltan Gera thunderbolt from the edge of the box on the half-hour mark.
Gera's shot found the top corner of the net and left Simon Mignolet with no chance of getting near it.
On the second goal, however, the Belgian 'keeper made a mistake under pressure from the onrushing Shane Long, who was left with an open goal for what was surely the easiest of his seven Premier League goals this season.
Sensing the game was all but lost at half-time, O'Neill introduced Irish international James McClean into the action, and he immediately set about reducing the deficit.
The Black Cats starting attacking West Brom down the flanks through McClean and Sebastian Larrson, and all of a sudden the Baggies found themselves on the back foot.
Craig Gardner was snapping into the kind of tackles Lee Cattermole was missing, and it only seemed a matter of time before Sunderland scored.
Gardner duly obliged with a superb free kick from the edge of the box that the inspirational Boaz Myhill could do little about.
But just as Sunderland were on top and looking for the equalizer, West Brom sucker-punched them when least expected when Adam Johnson fouled Liam Ridgewell to give away a penalty.
Romelu Lukaku stepped up to put the ball away to leave his team with an unassailable two-goal lead with just 10 minutes remaining.
The game wasn't over yet, though, as Sunderland midfielder Stephane Sessegnon hammered the ball home from close range to leave his team with an outside hope as the game headed into injury time.
Both teams kept attacking in a great advertisement for Premier League football, but it was the away side that took all three points when Marc-Antoine Fortune fired it home four minutes after the 90 were up.
The win is West Brom's fourth successive league win. The last time they achieved that feat was in 1980. The win also lifts them deservedly into third place in the Premier League.
Everton 1-1 Norwich
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Norwich City continued their recent fine form when they shared the spoils at Everton on Saturday.
Everton got their just rewards after a bright start when Thomas Hitzlsperger released Bryan Oviedo down the left. The Costa Rican international then cut inside and smartly squared for Steven Naismith, who scored his third goal in three Premier League starts this season.
From there the game became a midfield battle with Everton, visibly smaller without Marouane Fellaini in the side, coming off the worse in many of the 50-50 challenges.
Playing their tried and trusted 4-5-1, Chris Hughton's side frustrated David Moyes' side throughout the match. After gaining an early foothold in the game and relinquishing it, Everton never really got it back.
The Toffees were sluggish in the second half as the Canaries flooded midfield. Without the direct ball to Fellaini or the trickery of Kevin Mirallas, they always looked second best.
Tim Howard proved to be the busier 'keeper in the second half with a number of superb saves, most notably from an Anthony Pilkington free kick that seemed destined for the back of the net.
With the Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni watching, Wes Hoolahan and Pilkington began to pull the strings as Everton dropped deeper and deeper to defend their slender lead.
In the end they just couldn't hold on, and it was little surprise to see Sebastien Bassong power home a header from a corner deep into injury time.
The shared point means that Everton have now only won once in their last seven matches. Norwich are now unbeaten in seven, having won four and drawn three.
Manchester United 3-1 QPR
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Manchester United had to do things the hard way at Old Trafford on Saturday, as they were forced to come from behind to beat lowly QPR.
Goals from Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and Javier Hernandez eclipsed the lead Jamie Mackie's goal had given the away side.
Looking strangely subdued in the first half, the Red Devils were easily contained by a Rangers team that had lost 12 of their last 13 away fixtures.
The Rangers' 4-4-2 with Jamie Mackie dropping off Djibril Cisse up front did not really create a chance in a pretty lifeless first half, but they more than frustrated the team 24 points above them in the Premier League table.
One must wonder what the two managers said at half-time. If the game had kept the same pattern in the second, an unlikely away win looked a distinct likelihood.
If the Old Trafford crowd expected their team to come out with a fire and brimstone-type attitude for the second period, it was sorely mistaken.
It was Rangers who decided to add more adventure to their play. On what was realistically their first attacking phase of the second half, they scored.
Having earned a corner, QPR surprisingly went short and worked the ball to Kieron Dyer, who lashed in a driven cross from the left. Anders Lindegaard failed to deal with the stinging effort and could only palm the ball out to the waiting Jamie Mackie, who slapped the ball into the net for a surprise lead.
If anything, the goal worked against Rangers as it woke the Red Devils while giving the away side a false sense of security.
United hit back within six minutes when Evans nodded in from six yards after being set up by Danny Welbeck. Four minutes later, the game was over.
Making his first Premier League start of the season, Darren Fletcher latched onto Wayne Rooney's corner to head in from close range. The Scottish international deservedly received the loudest cheer of the day as he celebrated.
United kept pouring forward in search of the goal to kill the game off as Rangers visibly, and devoid of confidence, wilted.
That goal came just three minutes later when Anderson teed up Javier Hernandez for his fifth goal of the season.
In the end, it took eight minutes of brilliance to beat Rangers after 64 minutes of pure frustration.
The win, their eighth in 10 Premier League games, keeps Manchester United at the pinnacle of the league with 30 points from a possible 39.
Stoke City 1-0 Fulham
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Stoke City have beaten flamboyant Fulham at the Britannia after dominating Martin Jol's high-flying team from start to finish.
This was always going to be a game of contrasting styles. Stoke, possibly the most direct team in the Premier League, up against a Fulham side that have been the most entertaining team in the league by a country mile.
The old adage—how would Barcelona do on a cold Wednesday in Stoke?—was probably most apt here. Fulham, who have been knocking the ball around for fun this season, struggled to deal with the pitch and cold November atmosphere at the Britannia.
Stoke, unbeaten in their last 12 home league fixtures, dominated from start to finish and were, by far, the most effective side throughout.
They went close a number of times through Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross hitting the crossbar and Glenn Whelan firing wide before Charlie Adam gave them the lead.
In recent times Adam has formed a good understanding with Peter Crouch and has a great ability of getting onto the end of the strikers' knock-downs.
Saturday was no different. Crouch got on the end of Ryan Shotton's excellent cross to set up Adam, who lashed the ball home through Mark Schwarzer's legs to give his team the lead.
As the game wore on, Tony Pulis' side continued to dominate and should have doubled the lead on a number of occasions.
Huth and Whelan both went close before Chris Baird almost scored an unlikely own goal when he inadvertently directed Matthew Etherington's corner toward his own goal while under little pressure.
In the end, Schwarzer saved his teammate and his team from going further behind.
The save almost proved crucial as Fulham launched their first real attacks during the closing stages.
In the end, they had to contend with Asmir Begovic, possibly the best 'keeper in the Premier League at this moment, who denied Dimitar Berbatov to preserve his team's deserved lead.
Wigan 3-2 Reading
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A Jordi Gomez hat-trick was enough to see off a plucky Reading side at the DW Stadium Saturday. But the real story was the best and worst of Latics goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi.
The Wigan shot-stopper was in fine form throughout and made a number of truly world-class saves to keep his team in the game. But his howler to give the Royals their equaliser will live long in football's memory.
Fresh from their first win of the season last week over Everton, the Royals went at Wigan right from the start.
Their counter-attacking style caused Roberto Martinez's patented 3-6-1 formation all kinds of problems. It only seemed a matter of time before they took the lead.
The home side were creating the vast majority of chances. But with Adam Federici in inspired form, they were failing to make the breakthrough and kept getting caught by swift counter-attacks.
The opening goal came in the 35th minute when Sean Morrison powered home a phenomenal headed goal after he got on the end of Nicky Shorey's deep cross.
With his team in the lead, Brian McDermott ordered his team to be more cautious. As a result, they started to dictate the tempo.
Sensing the match was running away from his team, Roberto Martinez changed things at half-time. He introduced Franco Di Santo for Shaun Maloney and went to a more conventional 3-5-2 formation.
It proved an inspired change. The Latics started to dominate, with Di Santo pulling all the strings up front.
Their equaliser came from the boot of Jordi Gomez after the midfielder, making his first Premier League start since he was sent off against Sunderland in September, firing home from inside the six-yard box after a corner.
However, the game could have turned out differently. Just moments before the opening goal, referee Howard Webb could have awarded a penalty to the away side after Maynor Figueroa had brought down Jay Tabb. Add in a phenomenal Al-Habsi save from Adam le Fondre and Wigan were very lucky to equalise.
With the wind in their sails from drawing level, the Latics continued to press. They took the lead with 20 minutes to go, when Gomez, once again unmarked in the six-yard box, managed to get onto Jean Beausejour's cross.
From there, everyone expected Wigan to win the match by a cricket score, but faith had other ideas.
On a rare attacking foray, Hal Robson-Kanu was set up by Jason Roberts to shoot. However, his effort was deflected and arched slowly toward Al-Habsi, who was utterly alone on the Wigan goal without an opposition player in sight.
Somehow, the Oman international conspired to score one of the strangest own-goals the Premier League has ever seen. He tried a combination of catching and punching and God knows what else to lose the ball from his flailing arms as the ball trickled over the line for the unlikeliest of equalisers.
With the wind and confidence back in their sails, Reading pushed for the winner.
Al-Habsi then produced a number of superb saves to keep his team in the game.
With the game moving into injury time, there was time for one final twist. Gomez fired home his third goal of the game, from close range yet again, for a priceless win for the home side.
The win means that Wigan move five points clear of Reading as they pick up their first points from a losing position this season.
Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal
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Aston Villa climbed out of the relegation zone thanks to a laboured 0-0 draw against Arsenal at Villa Park.
Having conceded 22 goals this season while Arsenal have scored 17 in their last six matches, fans sat down on Saturday evening expecting a goal-fest. The truth couldn't have been much more different.
Aston Villa has struggled to stay the pace when teams attack with real venom. Think of their second-half performances against Manchester United and Manchester City most recently.
With that in mind, one would have thought that Arsene Wenger would field his most attack-minded team. But if anything, the Gunners rarely threatened the Villains' goal.
In an awful first half for the purists, neither side created anything of note save Andreas Weimann's goal, which was ruled out for offside.
At the other end, Laurent Koscielny shot over when he really should have hit the target. That was about it in one of the worst halves of football this term.
The second half improved slightly. Aaron Ramsey pushed further forward, but this was merely a reaction to Villa battening down the hatches across the back line and through midfield.
In fairness to Paul Lambert, his team have been hammered far too often of late, and the set-up against Arsenal, to frustrate and contain, worked perfectly.
As the game began to stretch, Ramsey went close before Brett Holman's shot from distance was tipped onto the bar by Wojciech Szczesny, who made a wonderful save.
In the end, the Gunners were lacklustre across midfield, and their fans' frustrations against the manager and his team selection were evident when Francis Coquelin was introduced to the fray with just four minutes remaining.
The reason for their frustration was Jack Wilshere sitting on the bench when the game was crying out for some creativity and inspiration.
All of which were sadly lacking from this game.