City suffer another major blow Rampant Chelsea ease pressure on Benitez, Arsenal win

SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom, Feb 9, (AFP): Manchester City’s hopes of defending the Premier League title were dealt a major blow on a disastrous evening for the champions as Southampton secured a 3-1 victory at St Mary’s on Saturday. After Jason Puncheon opened the scoring for Mauricio Pochettino’s team, an embarrassing mistake from City goalkeeper Joe Hart allowed Steven Davis to double Southampton’s lead. Edin Dzeko got one back for City but a calamitous own goal from Gareth Barry shattered Mancini’s men, who trail leaders Manchester United by nine points after their third successive league game without a win. United can now move 12 points clear at the top if they beat Everton on Sunday.

For Southampton, the victory means they are now six points clear of the relegation zone and, on this evidence, look destined to secure their Premier League status for another season. After returning from African Cup of Nations duty on Tuesday, City’s Yaya Toure started his first game since the 3-0 win over Stoke on New Year’s Day. Pochettino selected an attacking line-up featuring Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez and the Argentine could not have asked for a better start. Puncheon stole the ball from Barry in the seventh minute and fed Jay Rodriguez, who saw his effort smothered by Hart. Unfortunately for the England goalkeeper, the ball fell directly into the path of Puncheon and he slotted home from the rebound.

Things went from bad to worse for Hart midway through the half as Lambert cut in from the right flank and hit his shot straight at the goalkeeper, but the ball slipped out of his grasp and was stabbed in by the onrushing Davis. A flashing volley from the lively Rodriguez that missed the post by inches almost extended Southampton’s lead just after the half-hour mark before Pablo Zabaleta saw his curling effort just drift wide. Less than five minutes later, the City right-back was instrumental in the counter-attack that saw City pull one back, with Dzeko converting a close-range finish.

Chelsea 4, Wigan 1
In London, Eden Hazard made a goal-scoring comeback to help Chelsea ease the pressure on Rafael Benitez with a 4-1 win against struggling Wigan at Stamford Bridge.
Belgium midfielder Hazard was back in action after completing a three-game ban for kicking a ball-boy against Swansea last month and his return was perfectly timed for beleaguered boss Benitez.
It was not pretty at a tense Stamford Bridge, but although the scoreline flattered Chelsea, their first win in five games in all competitions is all that will matter for Benitez.
Ramires opened the scoring and Chelsea appeared to be coasting to a comfortable victory when Hazard struck in the second-half.
But a quick riposte from Shaun Maloney ensured Chelsea were left with a nervy finish before Frank Lampard made sure when he moved within four goals of Bobby Tambling’s record haul of 202 for the club.

Substitute Marko Marin headed home in added on time to add the gloss as Chelsea moved back above Tottenham into third place. It was the sort of chance Torres should have taken. But at least Torres made amends by playing a key role in Ramires’ 23rd minute opener. David Luiz’s pass saw Torres cushion a fine return into the Brazilian’s path and he did the rest with a lofted finish. The opening goal had lifted the gloom but the home fans should have been celebrating again before the first-half was over. Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross was met by Torres’ 33rd minute header but his close-range effort was tipped over by the Oman goalkeeper. It came as little surprise when they extended their lead with 56 minutes on the clock. Azpilicueta’s surging run and pass saw Hazard in space and the Belgian side-footed home from the edge of the area.

Arsenal 1, Sunderland 0
In Sunderland, Santi Cazorla fired 10-man Arsenal to a 1-0 win at Sunderland, but the Gunners’ triumph was marred by Jack Wilshere’s thigh injury. Although Arsene Wenger’s side moved up to fifth in table, keeping the pressure on Tottenham, who won 2-1 earlier in the day at home to Newcastle, as the north London rivals continue their battle with the leading pack for a place in next season’s Champions League. However, there was immediate reason for concern over England midfielder Wilshere, who limped off in the second half following a strong challenge from Alfred N’Diaye.

And the dismissal of Carl Jenkinson made it an uncomfortable finish for Arsenal, whose victory would have been far more comfortable if not for the inspired form of Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Mignolet made two fine saves inside the opening two minutes from Theo Walcott as Martin O’Neill’s back-four was unlocked with an ease that was surprising for a team possessing one of the best defensive records in the Premier League. Sunderland, meanwhile, did force Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny into action when he dealt with an angled drive from Stephane Sessegnon after an incisive run by the forward.

Arsenal continued to look the more impressive side, throughout an opening half as their passing and movement gave them the edge over their more pedestrian hosts. The difference was plain to see when Wilshere cut through Sunderland as Arsenal constructed one of their best moves of the half in the 32nd minute. It finished with Aaron Ramsey’s shot that swerved wickedly and required Mignolet to make his best save of the match to turn it away at full-stretch. But even Mignolet was unable to do anything about the goal that gave Arsenal a deserved lead four minutes later. Wilshere was again involved with a determined run before Walcott took over, setting up Cazorla for a fierce low finish beyond Mignolet.

Spurs 2, Newcastle 1
In London, Gareth Bale maintained his sublime form with a brilliant brace to inspire Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 victory over Newcastle United at White Hart Lane. Bale added to the growing belief that he is currently the best player in the Premier League with a superb free-kick to open the scoring early in the first half. The Wales winger then bagged the late winner after Yoan Gouffran had equalised with his first Premier League goal for Newcastle.

Bale’s heroics extended Tottenham’s unbeaten run to 10 Premier League games and lifted Andre Villas-Boas’s side into third place, although Chelsea had the chance to reclaim that position by beating Wigan later on Saturday. That was Bale’s ninth goal in his last 12 Premier League appearances for Tottenham and should have provided the hosts with the perfect springboard to finish off Alan Pardew’s team. In between those chances, Newcastle were able to establish a foothold in the contest and they drew level in the 24th minute. Villas-Boas sent on Emmanuel Adebayor, back in favour afer his late return from Africa Cup of Nations duty with Togo, for the final 22 minutes.

Stoke 2, Reading 1
In Stoke, United Kingdom, Robert Huth scored his first goal of the season as Stoke ended their wait for a first league win of 2013 by beating visitors Reading 2-1. The hosts, who had not won in the Premier League since December 26, controlled the game from the start, but had to wait until the 67th-minute for German defender Huth to nod them in front from a Glenn Whelan corner. Substitute Cameron Jerome doubled the lead after 81 minutes when the striker took the ball down neatly and turned his marker before smashing the ball home. Reading, who have staged several late comebacks in recent games, kept their hopes alive when Jamaican defender Adrian Mariappa pulled one back with a header two minutes later.

But the Royals, unbeaten in four league games in an impressive recent run, could not pull off a last-gasp fightback. In-form striker Adam LeFondre was sent on for Nick Blackman but his only impact was to go down in the box under a challenge from Ryan Shotton in injury time. The defeat leaves Brian McDermott’s side 17th in the table, two points clear of the relegation zone, while Stoke remain 10th despite the victory.
With Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson watching on from the stands ahead of his side’s FA Cup clash with Reading, it was the Potters who made the stronger start at the Britannia Stadium. Winger Matthew Etherington sent an early corner bouncing across the six-yard box, with Peter Crouch rushing in to meet it and just unable to apply a finish.

Norwich 0, Fulham 0
In Norwich, United Kingdom, Norwich and Fulham laboured to a 0-0 stalemate in an uninspiring Premier League clash at Carrow Road. The draw extended the Canaries’ poor league run to nine games without a victory, leaving Chris Hughton’s side in 14th spot while Martin Jol’s Fulham remain in 12th position. New Norwich signing Luciano Becchio, in for injured captain Grant Holt who suffered a back spasm on the morning of the game, headed a couple of half-chances wide.

Even the return of Dimitar Berbatov from a hamstring injury could not inspire Fulham, with a 25-yard effort from Steve Sidwell at the start of the second half about the best of the visitors’ few chances. The Bulgarian striker showed some typically cultured touches before the break for the away side but failed to break the deadlock. Berbatov missed last weekend’s loss at Manchester United, and needed more treatment after he was caught in the face by a high boot from Norwich midfielder Bradley Johnson and had to go off to the changing room for stitches in a bloodied nose. Norwich almost made their man advantage count as Elliott Bennett’s run down the left found defender Javier Garrido in the penalty area, who subsequently teed up Becchio, only for the Argentine to strike straight at Schwarzer.

Swansea 4, QPR 1
In Swansea, Swansea City’s Spanish stars helped their team to a 4-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers that moved the Welsh outfit closer to the European places in the Premier League. Michu bagged his 14th and 15th goals of the season while Angel Rangel and Pablo Hernandez added solo efforts as Michael Laudrup’s side brought an abrupt halt to the West Londoners’ five-game unbeaten run. Substitute Bobby Zamora had pulled the scoreline back to 2-1 just after the interval but it was all one-way traffic after that goal, as QPR again failed to end a winless run in Swansea that stretches back to 1981.

The victory puts the Swans into seventh place in the table, while QPR remain bottom but will be relieved that fellow strugglers Reading and Wigan also lost on Saturday at Stoke and Chelsea respectively.
Michu, who has been one of the revelations of the season, got the home side off to the best possible start when he finished from close range after QPR’s Brazilian ‘keeper Julio Cesar had spilled Nathan Dyer’s shot.

Laudrup then saw his side go further in front on 18 minutes as another rebound was converted, this time from Spanish defender Angel Rangel. Former QPR winger Wayne Routledge played in Rangel whose initial shot was blocked by Julio Cesar only for the ball to sit up nicely and allow the 30-year-old right-back to lift it home for a rare goal. Zamora, the 32-year-old former Spurs, West Ham and Fulham marksman gave QPR hope just three minutes after the break, as he drove home a loose ball in the area following Michel Vorm’s parry from Moroccan international Adel Taarabt. But Swansea, who came into the game with just one defeat in their last eight league matches, immediately restored their two-goal cushion with another questionable piece of goalkeeping from Julio Cesar.

Michu was again involved as he found Pablo Hernandez who beat the normally reliable ‘keeper from the tightest of angles to give Swansea their third Spanish-fashioned goal of the match on 50 minutes.
Former Rayo Vallecano player Michu, who signed for a paltry £2 million ($3.1m) last summer, then gave the scoreline a more emphatic look with his second of the match midway through the second half.
It was his 15th goal of the season and lifts him into third place in the scoring charts, behind only Manchester United’s Robin van Persie and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.

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