Champions, and current league leaders, Chelsea maintained their 100% start to their title defence with a 2-0 victory at home to bottom club Sunderland.
Whilst Jose Mourinho concedes that his team have yet to hit their stride, the Blues remain a paradigm of grit and efficiency and, despite the stern resistance put up by the home team, never looked like dropping their first points of the campaign.
“I didn’t think that we played particularly well”, said Mourinho, “but I don’t think we could have played any better. It was a very professional performance and makes me feel confident that, by the time the next international break comes along, we will still be able to claim points”
The home side – many of whom appeared visibly fatigued by their international travails in midweek – had to wait until the 54th minute to make a breakthrough, when utility man Geremi capitalized on a mistake made by defender Andy Welsh to slot home his first league goal in two years. Mourinho’s men compounded their lead 8 minutes from time when substitute Didier Drogba headed home Damien Duff’s left wing cross.
Chelsea’s main title rivals, on the other hand, both dropped points over the weekend. In a tempestuous Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, United – who due to a family bereavement had Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo missing – could only muster a 1 – 1 draw with hometown rivals City impressive form under Stuart Pierce continues.
Just short of half time, Ruud Van Nistelrooy latched on to a Paul Scholes free kick to score his 4th goal of the current campaign to put the Reds in front, before Joey Barton leveled proceedings with 15 minutes remaining. The controversial midfielder was first to react to Andrew Cole’s fumbled shot, and duly diverted the ball into Edwin Van der Saar’s goal.
Ex-United star Cole had a chance to clinch the game late on, but his sweetly struck shot produced what Pearce described as a “world class save”, from the 33 year-old’s former Fulham team mate.
Whilst Pearce was full of praise for his battling side, his opposite number, Alex Ferguson, bemoaned what he perceived as City’s sterile, negative tactics, accusing the visitors of “parking themselves on the edge of the box and looking for scraps”.
Whilst United could only manage a single point, Arsenal, for all their dominance and possesion, failed to get any at all on the weekend, as they went down 2 – 1 to a typically attritious Middlesborough side.
The Gunners – without the injured Thierry Henry, could – and probably should – have been ahead within the first two minutes, but Spanish striker Jose Antonio Reyes couldn’t convert either of the two chances that fell to him. His misses would prove costly: five minutes before half time, Boro – growing in confidence by this stage, took the lead through Yakubu, before doubling their advantage 19 minutes after the interval when Massimo Maccarone opened his account for the season. The Italian striker – who spent last season on loan at Italian clubs Parma and, latterly, Sienna, initially started on the right wing, but was moved inside as Middlesborough boss Steve Maclaren reverted to a 4-4-2. It was from this more central position that the former Empoli player got his goal.
Reyes atoned somewhat for his earlier miss when he pulled a goal back deep into added time, but it was not enough to stop the North Londoner’s slipping to their second defeat of the season.
At the other end of the table, promoted Wigan beat last season’s great escapees West Brom 2 – 1. A debut goal from £3m pound summer signing David Connelly, and a match winning strike from Jimmy Bullard, ensured that the Latics climbed up to 7th in the league, whilst the Baggies are left floundering one place above the relegation zone.
“That was a vital three points for us”, said Connelly, “and, who knows? With more performances like that we could well stay up.”
It was Bryan Robson’s side, however, who had the better of the game earlier on, and their endeavors were justly rewarded when Jonathan Greening volleyed into the top corner after 25 minutes. But parity was restored a quarter of an hour later, when the Republic of Ireland striker latched on to Damien Francis’ through ball.
After surviving late onslaught by West Brom – culminating in a Gaardose header going inches wide of Pollit’s left hand post – Wigan emerged in the second half with more purpose about their play. Unsurprisingly, it was they who would ultimately secure victory – the second in succession – when the impressive Bullard netted in the final minute.
Of course, this was meant to be the week when another new striker making his debut would make the headlines. Sadly for Newcastle United , however, Michael Owen failed to shine on his first start for the club, and was little more than a spectator as the Geordies struggled to a 1 – 1 draw with Fulham at St. James’ Park. His first real significant contribution didn’t come until the 78th minute, when a darting run yielded the free kick from which the young Frenchman, Charles N’zogbia scored, equalizing for the home side. It was their first goal of the present season.
It was the ex-Madrid man’s opposite number, Brian McBride, who was the real star of the show. Bought for around 17 times less than Owen, he constantly unsettled Newcastle’s volatile defence. It took the American just 13 minutes to seize the advantage for the away side, when he converted Luis Boa Morte’s pin point centre – the result of Steven Taylor’s mistimed back pass.
To make matters worse for Graeme Souness – who’s side, along with Tyneside rivals Sunderland, have yet to secure a win in the Premeirship – will be without winger Albert Luque for anything up to six weeks. He trudged off the field on Saturday with a torn hamstring.
Elsewhere, Charlton and, in particular Darren Bent, continue to impress. The player – who has recently made his full international debut – produced another coruscating display as the Addicts’ lone striker, scoring the only goal when he latched on to Jerome Thomas’ cross to score a rare header.
“People know all about Darren’s power and pace, said Charlton manager Alan Curbishly after the match. “But, as he showed today, he’s also very dangerous with his head. He is beginning to develop into a fine all round player.”
Despite the result, Curbishly was diplomatic in victory, claiming that his opposite number Steve Bruce had every right to feel “a little sore about the result”. Whilst it is true that Birmingham had a lot of possesion – particularly in the second half – they struggled to make any real openings, and never really looked like inflicting Charlton’s first defeat of the season. Their best effort came late on when Walter Pandiani – who came on to replace the injured Emile Heskey, saw his dipping left foot tipped away for a corner.
Meanwhile neither Everton and Bolton – both of whom inaugurate their UEFA cup campaigns later this week – could find the form that propelled them to fourth and sixth, consecutively, in last year’s campaign. The former came off the worst – going down 1-0 to Alain Perrin’s Portsmouth who, despite an indifferent start to the season, are beginning to show some palpable signs of progress. Just as well considering the Frenchman received the dreaded vote of confidence from chairman Milan Mandaric last week.
Pompey’s new strike duo of Lua Lua and Dario Silva proved an energetic and incisive pairing. The latter would have made a dream debut had he not placed a 10nth minute strike too close to keeper Nigel Martyn, whilst the former rattled the crossbar a minute short of the interval.
For all Portsmouth’s endeavor, however, their goal would came from a rather more unexpected source: With one hour gone, Lauren Robert floated a high, looping corner into Everton’s penalty area, which Duncan Ferguson headed into his own net. After all the speculation surrounding his future, Perrien was understandably relieved to have, after 5 games, finally collected 3 points.
“We have conceded two own goals this season and we needed a change of luck”, remarked the former Marseilles coach. “As such, I thought we deserved the win., not just for our efforts today, but the season as a whole so far.”
Bolton, in one of the more uneventful games that the season is likely to yield, went one better, grafting a hard-earned point at home to Blackburn. Neither team scored, nor looked likely to score. Though Mark Hughes’ men set out to deliberately stifle the Wanderers, Sam Allardyce who, this week, expressed his interest in succeeding present incumbent Sven Goran Erickson as England manager, failed to weave his usual tactical magic and penetrate Blackburn’s stubborn rearguard.
It took nearly half an hour for a chance to materialize, when Kevin Davies met Jay Jay Okocha’s long range pass, only to head the ball over the bar.
Blackburn’s best chance of the game came courtesy of loan recruit David Bentley, whose long range effort was shepherded away for a corner by keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen”
Both managers were unapologetic in their pragmatism. “Necessity overrules entertainment”, said Allardyce. “You keep your job by putting points on the board”.
Similarly, Mark Hughes declared himself “happy” with a point, “considering how a hard a place it (the Reebok Stadium) is to come”
Elsewhere, manager Martin Jol handed senior debuts to four players as Tottenham played out an eventful 0-0 draw against Liverpool at White Hart Lane. Both teams had goals disallowed, as Grzegorz Rasiak and Peter Crouch – both of whom were making their first Premeirship appearances or their respective clubs – were adjudged by referee Howard Webb to have headed the ball home from corners which had gone out of play.
Both teams ensured that their miserly goals for and goals against ratios remained intact: from five games played so far, the home team have scored 4 and conceded 2, whilst the Reds, who have played 2 games less, have scored one and have yet to concede.
Tottenham had the better of the first half, Liverpool the second. In a particularly lively opening half an hour, Spurs Jermaine Defoe saw two shots scrambled away by goalkeeper Pepe Reinna, before the impressive Rasiak hit the woodwork. After the interval, John Arne Riise met Steven Gerrard’s cleared corner, only to see his blistering left foot volley hit the right hand upright of Paul Robinson’s goal.