All of the teams in the English Premier League played two matches over the Easter period, which strangely ended on Wednesday night, as opposed to the traditional Monday.
Chelsea and Manchester United both benefited from some “big club” refereeing decisions on the weekend. Both sides got goals as a result of officials ignoring blatant off sides. Ivanovic was offside when he scored Chelsea’s first goal against Wigan and Wigan continued to suffer at the hands of the officials throughout the game. Wigan equalised in the 82nd minute and looked to be taking away a valuable point in their battle to avoid relegation, but Juan Mata scored in stoppage time for Chelsea to take all three points.
Man Utd’s Ashley Young was offside in the 18 yard box when the referee believed that QPR‘s Shaun Derry fouled him. Derry barely touched Young and was sent off in the 15th minute reducing Rangers to 10 men for most of the match. Rooney converted the resulting penalty. Rangers fought resolutely, but were destined to go home with no points after a spectacular second United goal from 25 yards from the semi-retired Paul Scholes.
Liverpool and Tottenham continued their run of very ordinary form drawing their games against Aston Villa and Sunderland respectively. Newcastle got the jump on both of them beating Swansea 2-0 in Wales on Good Friday.
Sunday saw Arsenal play hosts to the Manchester City squillion dollar squad. But City looked like a side that has lost belief in themselves. Their outlook got even worse when Yaya Toure limped off injured in the 17th minute. Arsenal dominated the game but after 17 minutes Robin Van Persie‘s goalbound header from Mikel Arteta‘s corner struck his own centre back, Thomas Vermaelen and rebounded on to the bar. Van Persie later struck the woodwork twice and Theo Walcott saw a shot touched on to the post by City goalkeeper Joe Hart. It looked like the game was heading for a scoreless draw until Arteta scored his second spectacular goal in 3 games, hitting a shot in the 87th minute from 25 yards that gave Hart no chance.
But this game will most likely be remembered not for ending City’s hopes of winning the league, but for Mario Balotelli’s disgraceful behaviour throughout. He went in with his studs up on Alex Song, striking him just above the knee. This action alone should have seen him sent off and given a lengthy ban. But the referee did not see it and he managed to stay on. But he continued to foul at will, Bacary Sagna being the recipient of most of his treatment and Balotelli received two yellow cards for his trouble and was sent off minutes before the end of the game. This could be the last we see of Balotelli in English Football and I hope that it is. His subsequent ban means he will only be available for one remaining game this season and I can not see City holding on to him after Roberto Mancini angrily recriminated with him when he was sent off and admitted last week he would have punched him every week if he had played with him.
On Monday Chelsea could only manage a 1-1 draw at Fulham and Spurs lost again, this time 2-1 at home to Norwich. Meanwhile Newcastle secured another 2-0 win against Bolton, making them look favourites for that valuable 4th spot, on current form.
Liverpool were leapfrogged by their neighbours Everton, who beat Sunderland 4-0. Liverpool pulled back some points on Tuesday with a late goal from Andy Carroll giving them a 3-2 win over cellar dwellers Blackburn. But Liverpool are really out of the race for European Football next year, now lying 13 points behind Spurs and Newcastle.
Manchester City turned around their fortunes on Wednesday evening with a 4-0 win over West Brom. But the shock of the night was relegation candidates Wigan beating Manchester United 1-0. Wigan’s Victor Moses was denied a headed goal for a foul on United keeper David de Gea in the first half, which actually looked fine to me. Shaun Maloney‘s 20-yard finish early in the second half was enough to give Wigan the result and reduce United’s lead at the top of the table to 5 points.
Arsenal made the trip north to bottom club Wolves and scored two goals in the first 11 minutes. The first was a Van Persie penalty as a result of a foul by Sebastien Bassong on Theo Walcott, when he was bearing in on the goal with only the keeper to beat. Bassong was sent off and the Wolves fans chose to boo Walcott every time he touched the ball after that. But it was a clear penalty and under the rules the referee had no choice but to issue a red card. Walcott repeated his trick 2 minutes later, coming in from exactly the same position, this time no one fouled him and he scored himself.
With 11 minutes gone and Wolves down by two goals and one man, Arsenal seemed to take their foot off of the pedal and spent much of the rest of the first half passing the ball around aimlessly between themselves. The second half saw some fight back by Wolves, but they were denied by two great saves from Szczesny and Yossi Benayoun scored for the Gunners in the 69th minute to put the result beyond doubt.
Van Persie’s penalty meant that he equaled the record of Ian Wright having scored against 17 different teams out of 19 in the Premier League. Wolves fans were heard singing “There’s only one Mick McCarthy” and it does seem really unjust that their former manager was sacked when his replacement has not won a game since his departure. Wolves remain firmly fixed to the bottom of the table.