You have to admire Alan Pardew’s guts in the transfer market. The Newcastle manager was the most active of all Premier League managers during January and his decision to buy from Ligue 1 resulted in a morale boosting victory at home to Chelsea. Moussa Sissoko scored twice on his home debut and looks an excellent buy, Yoan Gouffran midfield promptings kept United on the front foot and Mathieu Debuchy’s willingness to join the attack has resulted in consecutive Newcastle victories for the first time since April 2012. The eight-year contract handed to Pardew by Mike Ashley raised eyebrows throughout the game but if Newcastle can survive what has been a thoroughly disappointing season then the French foreign legion at St. James’ Park could make a serious impact on next season’s Premier League.
The Madejski Stadium has become something of fortress for Reading with 18 of the Royals’ 23 points coming on home turf this season. Saturday’s win over Sunderland was Reading’s third in their last four fixtures lifting Brian McDermott’s side out of the relegation zone courtesy of Jimmy Kebe’s brace. McDermott bought the Mali-born French midfielder for a paltry £300,000 from Crawley Town and Kebe’s consistent displays have helped ease Reading’s relegation worries following a series of eye-catching displays. Kebe drew unwanted attention during the January transfer window claiming he was joining the French contingent at Newcastle only to later tweet it was all a joke and he was fully committed to Reading. Royals’ fans breathed a sigh of relief but will be lucky to hold onto their French midfielder beyond the summer.
The Norwich goalkeeper went from zero to hero in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off with QPR by saving a second half Adel Taarabt penalty having initially brought down Jamie Mackie. The Canaries’ shot-stopper produced a competent display (as did his opposite number Julio Cesar) and a string of important saves to earn Norwich a precious away point. Chris Hughton’s side are without a Premier League victory in their last eight attmepts and will need Mark Bunn at his best to avoid a relegation dog-fight before the end of the season.
The former Newcastle striker netted his second Premier League goal of the season to see off Swansea on his first appearance since November. An injury-ravaged campaign has blunted Carroll’s influence since joining West Ham on loan from Liverpool but the 24-year old looked back to his best at Upton Park on Saturday producing the kind of barnstorming display that saw the Geordie force his way into the England setup for Euro 2012. Sam Allardyce looked a relieved man to have his tall striker back on the pitch stating “The start has been very disappointing for him (Carroll), but if he can finish the next thirteen games on a high that would be great for us and great for him”. West Ham’s hopes of a top ten finish rest on the Geordie’s broad shoulders.
Not since their shock 3-1 victory at Anfield on December 15th has Aston Villa managed to produce such a battling 90-minute display that should have reaped three points at Goodison Park. An injury-time Marouane Fellaini header denied Paul Lambert’s side a first Premier League win in eight attempts but despite giving up a two-goal lead Villa fans will be heartened by their team’s effort and look forward to their home fixture against West Ham with renewed hope rather than trepidation. Villa are second from bottom at the time of writing and on current form will need a huge effort to escape relegation. Yet there were signs away to Everton on Saturday that the Benteke – Weimann strike partnership is capable of shouldering the scoring burden for the remainder of the campaign, N'Zogbia and Agbonlahor are returning to form and the imminent return of Richard Dunne is likely to shore up a leaky defence.
Even though he ended up on the losing side, Juan Mata’s delicious curling effort at St. James’ Park will go down as one of the goals of the season from one of the Premier League’s most consistent performers. Take a bow son.
The West Brom striker’s week began with ill-advised tweets publicly stating his wish to ‘move his career forward’, a trip to London that saw the Nigerian refused access to the Loftus Road ground and ended with unfurled banners at the Hawthorns requesting Odemwingie’s immediate removal from the midlands club. Quite what Peter Odemwingie thought he was going to achieve by turning up at QPR without the permission of his manager, club or agent only he knows. Steve Clarke’s decision to remove the striker from his match day squad was a sensible one and the whole sorry episode was probably best summed up by the travelling Tottenham Hotspur supporters who chanted “Peter Odemwingie, he drives where he wants”.
Spare a thought for poor West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke who was under enough pressure heading into Sunday’s visit of highflying Spurs with the Odemwingie affair hanging over the club and Albion on a run of just one win in their previous six Premier League outings when Goran Popov added to the Scot’s woes. The Macedonian defender received a straight red card from referee Mark Clattenburg for inexplicably aiming a mouthful of spit at Kyle Walker following a brief exchange of views. Popov’s stupidity handed the impetus to a previously lethargic looking Spurs and the North Londoners went on to claim all 3 points with the advantage of an extra man. Popov’s violent conduct should result in a three-game ban and the Macedonian will do well to force his way back into West Brom first team considering Clarke’s refusal to allow his defender apologise to his team mates after the game. A sour end to a dreadful week for West Bromwich Albion.
Another week, another Chelsea meltdown as the London club squandered a 2-1 lead up at Newcastle to end up on the losing side for the fifth time this season. Rafa Benitez will point to the unpunished Fabricio Coloccini kick that broke Demba Ba’s nose but the harsh reality is that a full-strength Chelsea side complete with Terry, Lampard, Cole and Mata simply couldn’t get the job done. Chelsea are now 16 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United and have been dragged into a battle for Champions League qualification with Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal all gaining ground in recent weeks.
Benitez’s days at Stamford Bridge will surely not stretch beyond the summer but there is a real danger that Chelsea could end the current campaign trophy less and outside the top four unless the reigning European Champions learn how to close out games. An upcoming Europa League encounter with Sparta Prague plus FA Cup replay at home to Brentford are welcome distractions as the blues attempt to get their season back on track but such are the grey clouds gathering around Stamford Bridge at the moment that the league fixture with Wigan on February 9th has now become a must-win game.
Follow Ger on Twitter: @germccarthy74