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Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere (left), fights for the ball with Cardiff City’s Gary Medal during their English Premier League match at Emirates Stadium, in London
Spurs stun Utd, Arsenal stay top City, Chelsea win

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Jan 1, (AFP): Emmanuel Adebayor inspired Tottenham Hotspur to a 2-1 win at Manchester United on Wednesday that is likely to have ended the champions’ hopes of retaining the Premier League title. Christian Eriksen doubled Spurs’ lead, after Adebayor had claimed his fourth goal in five games under new manager Tim Sherwood, before Danny Welbeck replied in vain for United.
Adebayor was stretchered off in the 70th minute, but not even that injury could take the shine off a Spurs performance that left United in seventh place and trailing leaders Arsenal by 11 points. Tottenham were required to weather a bright and breezy opening from their hosts, but by the time Adebayor struck his 34th-minute opener, the London club were good value for their lead.

The goal came following a blistering counter-attack as Kyle Walker broke up a United foray and Spurs exploited space on United’s left. Eriksen picked out Adebayor with a superb cross that the Togo international met, outjumping Chris Smalling in the process, to place an accurate header beyond the dive of David de Gea. Adebayor, revelling under the new White Hart Lane management, almost had a hand in a second goal minutes later as he won the ball in midfield and found Aaron Lennon, whose cross was put wide by a sliding Roberto Soldado.

A two-goal advantage would not have flattered Tottenham, with Lennon squandering arguably the best chance of all as he raced onto Soldado’s 14th-minute pass, only to be denied by De Gea. It was a stark contrast to the opening exchanges, when Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris appeared fortunate to escape after seeming to handle the ball outside his box as he thwarted a United attack. Welbeck was then denied by the Frenchman and Lloris enjoyed a slice of luck when he saved Smalling’s fierce shot with the inside of his thigh before the rebound squirmed over the byline for a corner. But for all their early possession and swift attacking play, United failed to really test Lloris in the opening hour.

Wayne Rooney’s frustration earned him a 41st-minute booking for a petulant tug at Mousa Dembele, while Welbeck dived in an unsuccessful attempt to earn a penalty after Vlad Chiriches made the slightest contact with him. Appreciating the dire situation, United manager David Moyes made a bold double substitution on the hour, bringing on forwards Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez for midfielder Michael Carrick and full-back Smalling. The move saw Antonio Valencia switch to right-back and it back-fired when he responded slowly as Spurs made it 2-0 in the 66th minute. Again, it was a goal carved out of a counter-attack, with Soldado slipping the ball inside for Lennon, whose chipped pass across the area was met by Eriksen’s stooping header as Valencia was found wanting.

Fortunately for Moyes, however, it took less than a minute for Welbeck to respond as he chased Adnan Januzaj’s perceptive pass between two defenders and finished confidently over the advancing Lloris. Januzaj led the charge for the equaliser, shooting just wide from 20 yards then slaloming in from the right before crossing to the near post, where Hernandez’s back-heel was blocked by the goalkeeper.
Lloris also showed a rush of blood in chasing out of his area to challenge Ashley Young, sparking United penalty appeals, although the goalkeeper made amends with superb stops in quick succession from Rooney and Nemanja Vidic.

Arsenal 2, Cardiff 0
In London, Arsenal kicked off the New Year with a last-ditch 2-0 win at home to struggling Cardiff City on Wednesday that confirmed their credentials as Premier League title contenders. Arsenal looked to have run out of ideas as they were frustrated by Cardiff’s blue wall of resistance before substitute Nicklas Bendtner struck in the 88th minute. Theo Walcott sealed the win in injury time to complete a gritty victory that suggests that this could yet be the year that Arsene Wenger’s side end their nine-year trophy drought with the biggest prize in English football. The late goals enabled Arsenal to return to first place, after Manchester City had taken provisional control of the title race with a 3-2 success at Swansea City earlier in the day. Missing so many key players, it looked as though Cardiff would come away with a precious point before their crushing late heartbreak. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in the stands as he edges closer to taking charge of Cardiff following Malky Mackay’s sacking.

The former Manchester United striker, now managing in his native Norway with Molde, would have been impressed with his potential new side in spells at the Emirates Stadium. Few would have given Cardiff a chance, given their current struggles at the wrong end of the table. Arsenal, on the other hand, would have considered this a home banker. Sitting at the top of the tree heading into 2014, this was a game they were expected to canter through.

Man City 3, Swansea 2
In Swansea, three impressive goals gave Manchester City a 3-2 win at Swansea City on New Year’s Day.
Fernandinho struck the opening blow, in the 14th minute, and although Wilfried Bony equalised on the stroke of half-time and bagged a late consolation, second-half goals from Yaya Toure and Aleksandar Kolarov won the day. City have struggled to replicate their stunning home form on the road this season, but victory gave them back-to-back away wins for the first time this term. Swansea, meanwhile, have now gone six games without victory. Somewhat short of goals of late, Swansea played Jonjo Shelvey in a more advanced role against an orthodox 4-4-2 from the visitors on an afternoon of driving rain at the Liberty Stadium. It was Manuel Pellegrini’s visitors who almost took the lead inside three minutes, however, when Edin Dzeko dragged his shot wide of home goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel’s far post.

Swansea’s response was encouraging, with a seven-man passing move ending up with Bony firing wide of the target from 25 yards. Two minutes later, Swans manager Michael Laudrup was forced into a change when Pablo Hernandez pulled up with a hamstring injury. Roland Lamah, who scored Swansea’s equaliser at Aston Villa at the weekend, replaced the Spaniard, with Wayne Routledge switching from left to right. The disruption was minimal, but as the half wore on City grew in stature and posed Swansea’s back four numerous problems. The deadlock was broken when Jonathan de Guzman’s attempted clearance from a Samir Nasri corner fell to the feet of Fernandinho, who made no mistake with a low shot from just inside the box. Swansea came under increasing pressure thereafter, with Jesus Navas enjoying plenty of the ball on the right, although, at times, his final delivery was not what it should have been.

Chelsea 3, Saints 0
In Southampton, Chelsea recorded a third straight Premier League victory as second-half goals from Fernando Torres and substitutes Willian and Oscar earned a 3-0 New Year’s Day win at Southampton.
Jose Mourinho’s side remain in third place in the table after the game at St Mary’s Stadium, a point behind Manchester City and two adrift of leaders Arsenal. Chelsea made six changes from the side that beat Liverpool 2-1 on Sunday, with Torres replacing Samuel Eto’o as the lone striker and Juan Mata and Andre Schuerrle included in an attacking midfield three. Southampton, who won this fixture 2-1 last season and were beaten 3-1 at Stamford Bridge exactly a month ago, made two changes by bringing back Morgan Schneiderlin and Gaston Ramirez.

Ramirez gave the ball away cheaply early on to give Torres a sight of goal, but Jose Fonte did well to slide in and deflect the resulting shot behind. Schuerrle then sent a low drive just wide from the corner, which saw Dejan Lovren accidentally hit in the face by team-mate Fonte in an incident that left the Croatia international requiring lengthy treatment. Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davis made a good save to deny Ramires, who had won the chase to latch onto a Torres through ball. Southampton’s first chance fell to Adam Lallana, but Ashley Cole — back in the side because of injury to Branislav Ivanovic — did well to block as torrential rain continued to fall on the St Mary’s pitch. Torres was looking lively and cut inside from the left to beat two challenges before firing just over.

Southampton had a strong wind behind them, however, and that allowed Jay Rodriguez to get behind the Chelsea back-line, only for Cole to dispossess him at the last moment. Lallana saw another good chance blocked by a defender, but Chelsea remained dangerous on the counter-attack and Davis did well to tip over a fierce drive from Ramires before Lovren headed away a Schuerrle effort.

Liverpool 2, Hull 0
In Liverpool, Luis Suarez fired Liverpool back into the Premier League’s top four as the Reds returned to form with a 2-0 victory against Hull on Wednesday. Brendan Rodgers’ team had lost their previous two matches against title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City, but they were able to put those disappointing results behind them thanks to the continued excellence of Uruguay forward Suarez. Reds defender Daniel Agger headed his side into the lead in the first half before Suarez sealed the victory in the 50th minute with another superb free-kick to add to his ever-growing collection of stunning goals this season.
Suarez’s 20th goal of the campaign ensured Liverpool climbed back above local rivals Everton into fourth place. Hull may have thought their victory over the Reds just four weeks ago at the KC Stadium gave them a chance of starting 2014 with a shock win at Anfield.

It was Steve Bruce’s side who did threaten first as Yannick Sagbo fired over from distance, but his wastefulness would prove to be costly considering Hull’s lack of opportunities. The Reds thought they had the lead in the 19th minute when Suarez rose to head in Philippe Coutinho’s free-kick, yet the assistant referee had his flag raised and the television replays suggested the striker was marginally offside. Soon after Raheem Sterling perhaps should have given his side the opener when Suarez cleverly nodded the ball into his path, but after racing clear the winger could only shoot straight at the on-rushing Allan McGregor in the Hull goal.

Stoke 1, Everton 1
In Stoke-On-Trent, Leighton Baines’s injury-time penalty earned Everton a 1-1 draw at Stoke City, but he could not prevent his side slipping out of the Premier League’s top four. Having fallen to only their second loss of the season at home to Sunderland last week, Everton were left staring defeat in the face again after on-loan Liverpool winger Oussama Assaidi gave Stoke a 49th-minute lead. However, with 91 minutes on the clock, Everton midfielder Leon Osman was scythed down by Stoke substitute Jermaine Pennant and Baines stroked the ensuing spot-kick into the bottom-left corner. It was the England international’s first goal since he returned from a month-long spell on the sidelines with a broken toe.

The 29-year-old’s strike enabled Roberto Martinez’s side to avoid starting 2014 with a defeat, but Liverpool’s 2-0 win at home to Hull City saw them steal into the Champions League place at their city rivals’ expense. Stoke, meanwhile, remain 12th, having been condemned in cruel fashion to a third consecutive game without victory following a 5-1 loss at Newcastle United and last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur. Everton had the best of the first half at the Britannia Stadium, with Gareth Barry heading over from a Baines corner and James McCarthy forcing Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen to save at his near post.

Villa 1, Sunderland 0
In Sunderland, Aston Villa started the New Year with a much-needed win, beating Sunderland 1-0 at the Stadium of Light thanks to Gabriel Agbonlahor’s early strike. Agbonlahor pounced on poor defending to give Villa the lead and the visitors then held on to end a run of five games without a win and inflict a first defeat in six matches in all competitions on the home side. Gus Poyet’s Sunderland remain bottom of the table and see the gap to safety increase to four points, while Villa rise to 11th with a victory that eases some of the pressure on manager Paul Lambert. The visitors were looking to continue their good recent record against Sunderland, with whom they drew 0-0 at Villa Park in late November, and Sunderland’s hopes of extending their impressive festive period form were not helped by the absence of several key performers.

Defensive duo John O’Shea and Wes Brown were absent while both Fabio Borini and Adam Johnson were only on the bench having been pre-match doubts, and while Sunderland started brightly, poor defending saw them gift Villa the opener with a quarter-of-an-hour played. Lee Cattermole was caught out after Valentin Roberge attempted a pass across defence and Agbonlahor pounced to round goalkeeper Vito Mannone and put Villa into the lead with his second goal in as many games. Villa captain Ron Vlaar then deflected a goal-bound shot from Jack Colback behind for a corner as Sunderland toiled, despite monopolising possession in the first half.

West Brom 1, Newcastle 0
In West Bromwich, French striker Nicolas Anelka returned to action for West Bromwich Albion against Newcastle United despite being under investigation over his controversial ‘quenelle’ goal celebration.
Anelka, 34, sparked a media storm on Saturday when he celebrated the first of his two goals in the 3-3 Premier League draw at West Ham United by putting one arm across his chest and straightening the other. The gesture, popularised by French comedian Dieudonne, has been described by critics in France as an anti-Semitic ‘inverted Nazi salute’, but Anelka has insisted that it was merely “a dedication” to the comic. He also insisted that he was “neither anti-Semite nor racist”.

With England’s Football Association having launched an investigation into the matter, West Brom subsequently announced that Anelka had agreed not to repeat the gesture. However, West Brom said that the former France international would “remain under consideration for first-team selection” until both the club and the FA have completed their investigations. Under new anti-discrimination rules introduced last May, Anelka faces a minimum five-match ban if the FA decides that he is guilty of discrimination.

Fulham 2, West Ham 1
In London, Dimitar Berbatov dragged Fulham out of the Premier League relegation zone as the Bulgarian’s second half goal clinched a crucial 2-1 win over fellow- strugglers West Ham. Rene Meulensteen’s side started 2014 third bottom of the table following an embarrassing 6-0 loss at Hull on Saturday. And the west Londoners looked up against it again when Mohamed Diame put West Ham ahead early in the first half at Craven Cottage. But Steve Sidwell equalised and West Ham’s Kevin Nolan was sent off before half-time, setting the stage for former Manchester United striker Berbatov to bag the winner midway through the second half. Fulham climb to 16th, two points above the relegation zone, while West Ham remain second bottom and are now three points adrift of safety. Meulensteen had reacted to the rout at Hull by making seven changes, among them the return of Berbatov and Adel Taarabt from injury.

Fulham’s overhauled line-up made a purposeful start amid awful conditions as wind and rain lashed Craven Cottage, but they were soon undone as some weak defending allowed Diame to snatch the lead in the seventh minute. Berbatov strayed offside and the resultant free-kick was floated long into the box where Diame was given the time and space to pick his spot and stab the ball home.

Palace 1, Norwich 1
In London, Crystal Palace’s recent revival under new manager Tony Pulis faltered again when they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by fellow-strugglers Norwich City. It means Palace dropped back into the Premier League bottom three as they are overtaken by Fulham, who won 2-1 at home to second-from-bottom West Ham United. The conditions were far from conducive to flowing football as Pulis had warned before the game, which only went ahead on a soggy Selhurst Park pitch after a late inspection by referee Mike Dean. Pulis, who ironically lost his first match in charge after replacing Ian Holloway away at Norwich, said: “There are certain areas of the pitch which will be difficult, but it seems as though the ball is rolling OK.” And so it proved, although Palace seemed to have mastered the conditions slightly better than their opponents in the early stages, but had little to show for their efforts before they fell behind shortly before half-time.

Norwich went in front in the 38th minute from their first real attack as Wes Hoolahan set Gary Hooper away and his knock back for Bradley Johnson teed up the midfielder for a right-foot shot from outside the box which cannoned off Julian Speroni’s left-hand post and into the top right corner. But Palace fought back to equalise a minute before the break when Leroy Fer fouled Mile Jedinak in the area and Jason Puncheon stepped up to convert the resulting penalty left-footed into the bottom right corner. There was little more to shout about in the second half beyond Fer getting his marching orders nine minutes from the end for another bad foul on Jedinak. Norwich held out and will have been marginally the more satisfied with the point even though it extended their winless run to five games — a poor return for their £20 million ($33.1m) summer spending spree. The draw keeps them just above the drop zone and under-pressure manager Chris Hughton will be glad to have got something from a ground where the Canaries have now failed to win in 14 visits.




 

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