Queens Park Rangers 2 Arsenal 1
Just like that: Adel Taarabt (second left) scored the opening goal in Queens Park Rangers's defeat of Arsenal at Loftus Road - Mark Hughes's second big scalp in as many weeks
There has always been something of the Tommy Cooper about Adel Taarabt – some of his tricks work, most do not – but QPR’s Moroccan magician took comparisons to a new level by donning a red fez after he scored his first Premier League goal.
Taarabt set QPR on their way to an invaluable victory over a subdued Arsenal, who were criticised for their poor attitude by Arsène Wenger afterwards.
Despite getting back into the game when Theo Walcott equalised Taarabt’s superb opening goal, Arsenal were second best for most of the match. The only surprise about QPR’s victory in the end was that the winning goal came from Samba Diakité, better known for breaking up play than breaking opposition hearts.
The result ended Arsenal’s run of seven successive league victories, while also giving QPR three points in their battle against relegation. Although they are still third from bottom, this win, following a draw with Everton and victory over Liverpool 10 days ago, has inspired optimism in manager Mark Hughes. “The bigger the challenge, the better we are,” he said. “Against Everton we did enough to win, Liverpool we overcame, and today was the best of the lot. To a man I thought we were exceptional, against a team who had brushed everyone aside in recent weeks. We thoroughly deserved the victory.”
Wenger paid tribute to the commitment of Hughes’s side, but was not so generous with his own players. “It was very frustrating because they left us the ball and waited for our mistakes. We took the ball, didn’t do a lot with it, and made mistakes.
“Our performance was not good enough to win this kind of game. In the duels they had a little bit of extra special commitment. We can only congratulate QPR for their attitude and be unhappy with our own performance.”
Pressed on whether his side looked complacent, he added: “It is difficult to say but why not? We played against a team fighting for survival. I felt subconsciously something was missing today. In the Premier League, if you miss something on the commitment front you are beaten.”
Wenger refused to criticise Thomas Vermaelen, who was at fault for both goals: “I do not want to single anybody out but we made defensive mistakes today.”
Vermaelen was beaten far too easily when Taarabt put QPR ahead in the 22nd minute. The Moroccan took a pass from Clint Hill with his back to goal, turned past Vermaelen with a clever flick and ran on to curl a delicious shot past Wojciech Szczesny from the edge of the penalty area. It was his first goal in 32 games at this level. His exuberant celebrations, which were capped by team-mate Joey Barton plonking a fez from the crowd on his head, earned Taarabt a booking from referee Mike Dean.
Rangers were well on top at that stage, with Bobby Zamora putting a free header over from close range and firing a shot straight at Szczesny. But the visitors equalised in the 37th minute when Robin van Persie flicked the ball to Walcott, whose first shot hit the post but rebounded kindly for him to drill the ball high past Paddy Kenny.
Rangers regained control and the lead when Diakité scored his first goal for the club. The Mali international, on loan from Nancy, had been dominant in his midfield holding role, but got forward to superb effect in the 66th minute. Barton released Jamie Mackie down the right, Vermaelen slipped and the ball was cut back for Diakité to place it high into the corner of Szczesny’s goal.
Chances came and went. Kenny punched away a fierce free-kick from Van Persie, then made an even better save from the Dutchman, tipping his drive away spectacularly.
Rangers could have scored more. Taarabt and Mackie set up Zamora but the striker dithered and his shot was blocked, Diakité shot just wide from the centre circle and a Barton shot was tipped over by Szczesny.
There was an agonising delay in stoppage time for QPR’s fans after one of their number threw what appeared to be a coin at an assistant referee as Van Persie prepared to take a free-kick. They greeted the final whistle with raucous acclaim.
Barton, who had been dropped for last weekend’s defeat at Sunderland having been booed by QPR fans the previous week, had written in his programme notes about the need for supporters to get behind all the players and make Loftus Road “a fortress”. He returned to the team and played a vital part in the victory, drawing praise from Hughes for his strength of character.
“Joey was different class and led from the front,” he said. “He got a lot of stick last time out because his performance level wasn’t high and he acknowledged that. The crowd willed him into a top-class performance. It was an outstanding performance from him and every one of them.”
It was a terrific collective performance from QPR, with Zamora leading the line bravely despite missing chances, while Hill and Anton Ferdinand held firm against a subdued Van Persie, who has now gone more than five hours of football without a goal.
Taarabt had the extra touch of class, as he showed in the Championship last season. “It was too easy for him at times last year, when he scored goal after goal. But his goal today was excellent and will do him the world of good,” said Hughes, who believes his side can get out of trouble. “If we play like that from now until the end of the season we will win more games – it’s a given.”
Aston Villa 2 Chelsea 4
At last: Fernando Torres celebrates ending his six-month Premier League goal drought
It began with a ripple as Petr Cech gathered a harmless throughball and developed into a throaty noise that watered eyes and made hairs stand on end.
As soon as the clock turned to 19 minutes, the Villa Park crowd stood for a minute’s applause in honour of Stiliyan Petrov, who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia on Friday, with two sets of balloons in the red, white and green of the Bulgarian flag drifting over the heads of the Chelsea supporters.
One can only begin to imagine the emotions felt by Petrov and his family as they looked on from a hospitality box followed by the pride when his young team-mates laid down a marker of defiance, coming from two goals down to threaten to earn what would have been a remarkable comeback.
The effort expended by this collection of youngsters – six of the starting line-up were 23 or younger – says much about their character.
Petrov, 32, faces an uncertain battle when he begins his treatment in London tomorrow, but he has been left in no doubt about the way his sport feels about him. Both sets of players wore T-shirts with his name on to warm up and there were banners everywhere, particularly in the Holte End.
Chelsea did their bit but looked ready to depart with an easy win thanks to goals from Daniel Sturridge and Branislav Ivanovic. But James Collins and Eric Lichaj pulled Villa level with 10 minutes left to set up what looked likely to be a remarkable comeback.
Yet it was not to be as Ivanovic scored his second before Fernando Torres broke away to score his first Premier League goal in more than five months.
Petrov’s programme notes, written in the days before Friday’s announcement, added further poignancy, with the Bulgarian renewing his message of support for Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, who continues to recover from his cardiac arrest, and talking up the young Austrian forward Andreas Weimann, who was given his first start by Alex McLeish.
They were sentiments that Petrov also alluded to in a statement that was read out moments before kick-off as pictures of him in his seat were shown on the big screens, as his intention to fight with a determination inspired by Muamba was expressed over the speakers.
There is something reassuring that not all tribalistic tendencies are forgotten in such circumstances. Despite their
T-shirts, the visiting players were gently jeered as they came out before the game. And after Villa fans sang “One Stiliyan Petrov”, they applauded the visitors’ song without realising it was 'One team in Europe’ being belted out of the away end.
When it came to it, a Villa team full of youth and purpose ultimately looked limited against a Chelsea side that faces Benfica next week with the chance to move into the Champions League semi-finals. However, David Luiz and Didier Drogba are both doubtful for that game with respective ankle and foot problems.
Chelsea will be delighted with Torres’s performance, even though he saw an early effort blocked by Shay Given after he raced on to a David Luiz pass, but he was soon involved again as the visitors took the lead.
Salomon Kalou sent over a cross from the left and Torres was fed by Mata, but the striker was stopped in his tracks by Stephen Warnock before Sturridge swept in from close range. Soon after John Obi Mikel saw his thumping drive deflect off both Baker and James Collins only to finish up in the arms of Given before Collins headed over at the other end as he went close to ending the minute’s applause in style.
Mata always looked the most dangerous player on the field and after a flurry of quick passes involving Kalou and Torres, he guided a shot past Given only to see it come back off the inside of a post, while a Gabriel Agbonlahor effort, which was blocked by Cech’s legs, was the best effort from the home side.
Petrov is renowned for his local charity work and there is no sign of that stopping, with the Villa captain pledging £500 for each spot-kick missed in a half-time penalty shoot-out against former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
Any prospect of a comeback appeared to have been halted within six minutes of the restart, when Ivanovic prodded in from close range from a Mata corner.
But with 12 minutes left, a long throw from Lichaj was met with a powerful header from Collins as Villa pulled one back and within three minutes, Lichaj was at the far post to touch in from a cross from Marc Albrighton to level the scores.
It made the climax even harder to take for Villa’s fans. Ivanovic prodded in from a Florent Malouda corner three minutes later and there was even time for Torres to end that long wait for a Premier League goal.
Although this was less convincing than it should have been, with six wins from his eight matches in charge Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo is staking a strong claim to become more than an interim manager and he was pleased with the character shown by his players, not just Torres.
“He’s been providing goals for his team-mates and now he’s scored as well,” Di Matteo said. “We’re happy we can score four goals.
“Before the game our thoughts were with Petrov and his family but once the game starts, you have to focus on the task.
“We keep this positive momentum and spirit. Every game and win helps us continue and believe.
“After they drew level they could have capitulated but you saw the spirit and desire to win the game and we reacted in a positive way.”
Source: The Telegraph
Manchester City 3-3 Sunderland
Kolarov grabs late equaliser but Larsson double dents hosts' title challenge
The Blues produced a stunning comeback, grabbing two late goals to rescue a potentially crucial point after the Black Cats had raced into a 3-1 lead
Sunderland were denied their first ever win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, as the Blues produced a stunning comeback to grab a 3-3 draw and potentially save their Premier League title hopes.
The Black Cats took a deserved first-half lead through Sebastian Larsson. City hit back through a Mario Balotelli penalty but Nicklas Bendtner restored the lead with a terrific header.
Larsson grabbed his second in the second half, yet with the points seemingly in the bag, City rallied late on and claimed a potentially crucial point thanks to goals from Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov.
Roberto Mancini made four changes to the side that struggled to a 1-1 draw at Stoke a week ago, the most notable being the return of Vincent Kompany, who replaced Pablo Zabaleta after three weeks out with a calf strain.
Kolarov was given the nod ahead of Gael Clichy at left-back, while James Milner and Nigel de Jong replaced Samir Nasri and Gareth Barry in the City midfield.
For the visitors, Martin O’Neill made just two changes to the side dumped out of the FA Cup by Everton on Tuesday. With Wayne Bridge unable to play against his parent club, Jack Colback started in an unorthodox left-back role, while Matthew Kilgallon was handed just his fourth league start of the season at the expense of Sotirios Kyrgiakos.
Sunderland had never won at the Etihad Stadium, but the visitors looked in the mood to change that statistic early on, with the City rearguard having to be at their absolute best to deny James McClean and then Stephane Sessegnon.
But it didn’t take long for Mancini’s men to get into their stride, and it took a smart save from Simon Mignolet to deny Kolarov’s vicious free-kick.
A relatively one-sided half ensued, with City providing much of the game’s attacking threat, yet O’Neill’s men remained a constant threat on the counterattack and they had a glorious opportunity to take the lead.
After the Black Cats had worked the ball out to Sebastian Larsson, the Swedish midfielder cut it back to Sessegnon, who unselfishly squared for the unmarked Craig Gardner, yet the former Villa man fired inexplicably wide from just 12 yards.
However, with half an hour on the clock the visitors did grab the lead. Following some patient build-up play, Sessegnon eventually played the ball to Larsson on the edge of the area, who used Kolo Toure as a shield and whipped the ball into the unsighted Joe Hart’s bottom corner.
The goal clearly panicked the home side, with Balotelli throwing himself to the ground in the penalty area on numerous occasions without success.
Yet Mancini’s side eventually got the penalty they had been craving, when Edin Dzeko tumbled over the left leg of Craig Gardner. Balotelli stepped up and sent Mignolet the wrong way, restoring parity for his side.
With the game seemingly heading towards a half-time stalemate, Sunderland won a free-kick on the halfway line in the 48th minute. Larsson opted to play it quickly, catching City cold, and when Sessegnon whipped in a fantastic cross, Bendtner out-jumped Micah Richards at the back post and planted his header in the bottom corner, giving Sunderland a shock half-time lead.
A clear pattern began to emerge in the second-half, with the visitors sitting deep and letting City play in front of them.
Yet the Black Cats were still looking menacing on the break, and they stretched their lead with a fantastic break 10 minutes in.
The instrumental Sessegnon played Bendtner through with a sublime ball, the Dane looked up and found the unmarked Larsson at the back post, who was left with the simple task of slotting home, sending the travelling Wearsiders into raptures.
City needed a hero, and Mancini summoned Carlos Tevez from the bench in an attempt to rescue something from the game.
But the Argentine had little impact on the game, and with David Silva the man chosen to be replaced by Tevez, the home fans began to grow increasingly frustrated at their side’s lack of creativity.
Balotelli offered late hope for the home side with five minutes to play, after cutting into the box and lashing his right-footed effort into the top corner.
And just a minute after the restart, City had done what seemed almost impossible, as Kolarov produced a stunning drive from the edge of the area which flew past Mignolet into the bottom corner, without the Belgian moving.
As the game drew to a close, City pressed for a winner but without success, as Mancini's men failed to win a Premier League home game for the first time in 21 games, leaving them two points behind United but having played a game extra.