Benitez on borrowed time
THIS WEEK was a particularly miserable one for Rafa Benitez, who bid to convince Roman Abramovich that he is the right man to manage Chelsea beyond this season is floundering.
After they needed a late equaliser to spare their blushes by forcing a replay against League One Brentford in the FA Cup last weekend, the Pensioners threw away a 2-0 lead with three minutes of normal time remaining at Reading in midweek and were again caught napping at the death yesterday.
While the Spaniard will rightly complain about Fabricio Coloccini’s kick to Demba Ba’s face, which went unpunished and resulted in the striker’s withdrawal, the defending was simply not good enough for Newcastle’s goals and they’ve now conceded two or more in their last three outings.
With little or no chance of catching the Manchester sides, Chelsea only hold a one point and four point advantage over Spurs and Everton respectively but even finishing third is unlikely to earn Benitez the position permanently and the fans will get their wish this summer barring a miracle.
Newcastle, meanwhile, have seen an immediate return on the investment made on their French imports. Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran again excelled while they may have found themselves a new hero Moussa Sissoko, who capped off a terrific home debut with two goals.
Signs of life at Villa
Aston Villa brought a three-game losing streak to an end at Goodison Park and will be gutted not to have come away with a win after allowing Marouane Fellaini to level the game in injury time.
Not for the first time this season, Christian Benteke led admirably from the front – giving Phil Jagielka and Johnny Heitanga, so evidently a weak link before he was taken off on 65 minutes, a torrid time and twice putting them in front. It was his Belgian compatriot Fellaini who exposed Villa’s defence with two goals of his own and while Ron Vlaar has returned to the Villa team to try bring some experience, the Dutchman was caught out for the winner.
Their backline is still short on quality and although Paul Lambert will take some positives from the result they face a mammoth task to get back into safety. What a difference a fully fit Richard Dunne would make.
Reading revival continues
Reading have made a habit of turning games on their head with little time left on the clock and after Adam Le Fondre’s heroics against Chelsea, it was Jimmy Kebe’s turn to grab the headlines.
Having scored early on, the Mali forward headed home with five minutes remaining to ensure that the Royals moved out of the bottom three. It has been an incredible past few weeks for Brian McDermott’s side when you consider that on Christmas Day they had just one league win to their name… now they’ve got five.
Although they are up to 17th, this run can only last so long and they will be one of the three sides departing for the Championship come May, in my opinioin. On a sidenote, his legs may be gone at 35 but Ian Harte’s deliveries at the Madejski were second to none.
Man City slip further behind after thriller with Liverpool
A day after Manchester United did just enough against Fulham, their city rivals went into this afternoon’s fixture with Liverpool knowing defeat would put the gap at the top into double figures.
While they didn’t lose, the Citizens were matched by the Reds and needed an exquisite finish from Sergio Aguero to draw them level after a tremendous strike by Steven Gerrard had put the visitors 2-1 up.
Without captain Vincent Kompany, City’s were far from solid at the back and surrendered a run of clean sheets that began on December 29 when Daniel Sturridge, a product of their youth academy, struck brilliantly to cancel out Edin Dzeko’s opener.
Sturridge’s goal was met by boos from the home fans as Dzeko lay on the ground after a tackle by Daniel Agger was judged to be legal by referee Anthony Taylor and the Liverpool players decided against kicking the ball out of play. It did look a foul by Agger but Sturridge and his team-mates were well within their rights to continue.
With 13 games still to be contested, it would be foolish to say the title race is over – just look at last season. United have opened up a healthy lead, however, and will have to slip up big time to allow the reigning champions back in over the coming months.
Popov (left) gets his marching orders: Credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Tottenham came away from the Hawthorns with a 1-0 win to move to within one points of Chelsea earlier and can thanks the stupidity of West Brom defender Goran Popov for the result.
With the game tied at 0-0, the Baggies defender mindlessly spat out at Spurs defender Kyle Walker in front of referee Mark Clattenburg and was shown a straight red card, making his side’s task significantly more difficult.
After the final whistle, West Brom Steve Clarke condemned the actions of his player unreservedly.
“The game changed with the sending off,” Clarke said. “I’m absolutely disgusted with Goran’s behaviour. One of the group has let the players down. It changed the whole complexion of the game.
It’s difficult enough in the Premier League playing against 11 players, especially when you’re playing against Tottenham. There’s no excuse for that. There’s no place for it in life, never mind on a football pitch.”