Friday, 25 December 2015

Foxes Top at Xmas While Hornets Sting Reds

Ahead of the packed festive programme, gameweek 17 of the Premier League saw some early Christmas presents for struggling sides while some high-fliers suffered massively. A mixed week for defences with three sides scoring three goals while just four teams kept a clean sheet.

As there was no early kick-off on Saturday, six games took place at 3pm but after the sacking of Jose Mourinho and subsequent re-signing of Guus Hiddink for the remainder of the season, the focus was on Stamford Bridge as Chelsea hosted fellow strugglers Sunderland. The Blues seemed to have shrugged off their recent woes by taking an early lead inside five minutes via Branislav Ivanovic and were soon two goals to the good just eight minutes later as Pedro made it 2-0. Oscar looked to have sealed the win as he made it 3-0 from the penalty spot in the 50th minute but a quick response from the visitors saw Fabio Borini score for 3-1 but they were unable to cut the gap as the Blues earned a rare victory.

Everton hosted league leaders Leicester City at Goodison Park looking to close the gap on the top four while the Foxes knew a win would see them top the tree at Christmas. Riyad Mahrez put the visitors ahead with a 27th minute penalty but the hosts responded well and were level within five minutes as Romelu Lukaku continued his scoring streak to make it 1-1. Mahrez made it two from two from the spot with his second in the 65th minute and the Foxes opened up a two goal lead with Shinji Okazaki's strike just four minutes later for 3-1. The Toffees set up a tense finish after Kevin Mirallas made it 3-2 in the 89th minute but the Foxes held on to cap a superb year going from sitting bottom last Christmas to at least two points clear at the top this time around.

Manchester United hosted Norwich City at Old Trafford with both looking for an upturn in their mixed run of form with the Canaries knowing a win could see them escape the bottom three while the top three called for the hosts. United had been poor in front of goal recently and were unable to register a shot on target in a first half that ended with them 1-0 down after a 38th minute opener from Cameron Jerome.

Norwich were two goals to the good within nine minutes of the restart as Alex Tettey slotted in for 2-0 but United did have a say on the scoreline if only a small one as Anthony Martial made it 2-1 in the 66th minute but the Canaries managed to hold on to their lead and secured a potentially crucial win that took them out of the danger zone and plied the pressure on United boss Louis Van Gaal.

Tottenham Hotspur had the chance to leapfrog United as they hosted Southampton at White Hart Lane with the Saints keen to move into the top half with a first win in five games. The sides seemed to be evenly matched in the first half an hour but they were anything but at the interval as Spurs scored twice in three minutes before the break as Harry Kane and Dele Alli made it 2-0. The hosts were unable to stage a comeback and suffered back-to-back defeats while the visitors secured their first success for four games.

Stoke City hosted high-flying Crystal Palace at the Britannia Stadium looking to move into the top half while the Eagles had they sights set on the top four. A tight first half ended with the Eagles being handed a penalty which Connor Wickham slotted in for a 1-0 lead at the break. Stoke were awarded a chance to level from the spot on 76 minutes which Bojan Krkic slotted in for 1-1 but they were to fall behind late on as Lee Chung-Yong sealed a 2-1 win for the visitors in the 88th minute.

West Bromwich Albion had their sights on a place in the top half as they hosted Bournemouth at The Hawthorns with the Cherries hoping to move further away from the drop zone. The Baggies suffered a blow on 34 minutes as James McClean was sent off for a horrible challenge but it took until the 52nd minute for the Cherries to take advantage as Adam Smith made it 1-0. Gareth McAuley levelled for the ten men in the 79th minute but a Charlie Daniels penalty with three minutes left looked to have sealed a 2-1 win but the woe for the hosts was compounded in added time as Salomon Rondon was sent off leaving them with nine men.

The evening kick off saw a battle between to struggling sides as Newcastle United hosted bottom side Aston Villa at St James Park with Villa hoping to seal just their second win in 17 games. The Magpies had other ideas though as Fabrizio Coloccini put them 1-0 ahead in the 38th minute but Villa avoided defeat with a 61st minute leveller from Jordan Ayew proving to be enough to secure just their seventh point of the season in a 1-1 draw.

Super Sunday began with high-flying Watford hosting Liverpool at Vicarage Road with the Hornets looking to move to within a point of the top four with a fourth win in a row while the Reds looked for a second win in four games. The hosts were gifted a perfect start as a fumble by Adam Bogdan allowed Nathan Ake open the scoring inside three minutes before a clever effort from in-form striker Odion Ighalo doubled the Hornets lead in the 13th minute. The Reds were unable to pull a goal back in a lacklustre hour after going 2-0 down and coupled with an injury to Martin Skrtel, they afternoon could only get worse as Ighalo made it 3-0 with five minutes left of the 90 leaving the Reds in ninth.

Swansea City hosted West Ham United at the Liberty Stadium in the second part of Super Sunday with both sides desperate for a win that would end a poor run of form. The Hammers had drawn the last three games while the Swans had lost the trio so in a close game, the hosts were the happier as they shared the points in a 0-0 draw.

The final game before Christmas saw a clash between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium with the Gunners looking to leapfrog their opponents in second place with a win while City had the chance to cut Leicester's gap at the top to three points. The Gunners took a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute through Theo Walcott before going two goals to the good just before the interval as in-form Olivier Giroud made it 2-0 in the 45th minute. City remained in the hunt as the game entered the final 15 minutes and set up a tight finish as Yaya Toure made it 2-1 with a superb strike on 82 minutes but it was to be only a consolation as the Gunners went into the festive period just two points off the top.