Sunday, 27 December 2015

Foxes Stay Top Despite Anfield Loss

Although it was the final weekend of the year, the Premier League's 18th gameweek was to be the penultimate round of games ahead of a short turnaround for GW 19 across the 28th, 29th and 30th. Also, the weekend was the first time this season that all 20 sides had played on the same day which used to be the norm before TV influx of the 90's but across the games, there were eight who claimed a shut-out while just six sides scored more than once.

The early kick-off saw Stoke City host Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium with the Potters looking to edge towards the top half while United hoped to avoid a third consecutive league defeat. The hosts made the first breakthrough as early as the 19th minute as Bojan Krkic fired them into a 1-0 lead and their joy was quickly doubled as Marko Arnautovic continued his fine run of form with a stunning strike in the 26th minute. At 2-0, Stoke were comfortable as United failed to cause them any real trouble and as such, the hosts held firm in the second half to seal a famous win that saw the visitors and under pressure boss- Louis Van Gaal slip down to sixth.

A staggering seven games came in the bracket of the '3pm kick-off' beginning with bottom side Aston Villa's hosting of West Ham United at Villa Park with the hosts still to secure a win since the first game of the season while the Hammers looked to cut the gap to the top four. A tight first half from both sides looked to be ending all square but West Ham had other ideas as they struck a late opener via Aaron Cresswell to lead 1-0 at the interval. Villa's season had seen them claim just three points in the last nine games but they made it four in ten with a 62nd minute equaliser as Jordan Ayew made it 1-1 from the penalty spot.

AFC Bournemouth hosted high-flying Crystal Palace at the Vitality Stadium with the Cherries keen to widen their gap above the bottom three while the Eagles had the chance to move up to fifth with a positive result. Despite being at opposite ends of the standings, the sides were hard to part in a tight game that saw neither able to open the scoring and as a result they shared the spoils in a 0-0 draw.

After a debut win in charge of the Blues, Guus Hiddink's Chelsea hosted in-form Watford at Stamford Bridge looking to avoid slipping into the bottom three while the Hornets had the chance to move into fifth with a victory. The Blues made the first breakthrough in the 32nd minute as Diego Costa put them 1-0 to the good but the visitors denied them a half-time lead as Troy Deeney levelled from the penalty spot in the 42nd minute to make it 1-1 into the interval. Watford completed their comeback in the 56th minute as in-form Odion Ighalo extended his superb scoring streak to open up a 2-1 lead but their joy was to be short lived as Costa struck for a second time just nine minutes later to seal a point in a 2-2 draw.

Liverpool hosted table toppers Leicester City at Anfield desperate to improve their poor home form while the Foxes had the chance to go five points clear at the top. Both sides were evenly matched in the first half with some good chances forcing saves from both Simon Mignolet and Kasper Schmeichel. The Reds managed to open the scoring in the 63rd minute as substitute Christian Benteke rifled past the helpless Schemeichel to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, the Foxes rallied to try and draw level but were denied by a strong Reds defence. Liverpool held firm to secure a vital home win and become the first team to keep the Foxes out this season thereby ending their run of scoring in 22 consecutive games.

Manchester City had the chance to close up on top spot as they hosted struggling Sunderland who were desperate for a win to prevent being cut adrift in the bottom three. City laid a good foundation to their hopes of a win by racing into a 2-0 lead inside 17 minutes after strikes from Raheem Sterling and Yaya Toure. Wilfried Bony made it 3-0 just five minutes later to leave the visitors needing a miracle comeback to avoid a heavy defeat. However, City struck a fourth in the 54th minute with Kevin De Bruyne adding to Sunderland's woes before the visitors got off the mark with a 59th minute effort from Fabio Borini but the strike was a small consolation in a 4-1 rout.

Swansea City hosted West Bromwich Albion at the Liberty Stadium desperate to end a run of seven games without a win that put them into the bottom three while the Baggies hoped to extend their gap above the drop zone with a victory.  The Swans flew out of the traps to take the lead inside nine minutes with Ki Sung-yeung firing them into a 1-0 lead. The early success for the hosts proved to be enough to claim a much needed three points as the Baggies were unable to break down a rarely strong Swans backline which leaves them without a win in five games.

Completing the 3pm games was Tottenham Hotspur's hosting of Norwich City at White Hart Lane with Spurs looking to move into fourth spot with a win while the Canaries hoped to avoid slipping into the bottom three. Harry Kane struck a 25th minute opener for the hosts from the penalty spot before making it 2-0 three minutes before half-time. The Canaries had won just twice in the previous nine and it was plain to see why as they failed to mount a challenge to cut the deficit which with ten minutes left was increased to 3-0 as Tom Carroll completed a perfect afternoon that put Spurs just six points off the top.

The first of two evening kick-offs saw Newcastle United host Everton at St James Park with the Magpies keen to move out of the bottom three with a win while the Toffees had the chance to move back into the top half. A tight game saw both sides have great chances to open the scoring but it seems the best was saved till last as Tom Cleverley headed a 93rd minute winner for the Blues as they claimed a 1-0 success.

Southampton faced Arsenal in the final game of the day with the Gunners looking to dethrone Leicester at the top as they visited St Marys with the Saints looking to end a run of five games without a win. A stellar strike from Coco Martina in the 19th minute saw the hosts lead 1-0 into the half-time break before a strike from Shane Long ten minutes after the restart made it 2-0 leaving the Gunners with a difficult task to overcome. However, a fine headed effort from Saints captain Jose Fonte looked to have sealed the win at 3-0 in the 69th minute but Southampton went one better as Long slotted in his second and the hosts' fourth goal in the 90th minute to complete a routing of an Arsenal side who had lost just one of the previous nine games.