Villa beat Hammers to go third; Big Sam starts his Rovers reign with a win over Stoke; Bolton, Sunderland & Fulham all move up the table

West Ham 0 – Aston Villa 1 (Premier League, December 20, 2008) After a goalless first half (highlights here), the Villains moved up to third in the league thanks to a lucky goal in the 78th minute, James Milner’s cross deflected off Lucas Neill and looped into the far corner of Green’s net.

Blackburn 3 – Stoke 0 (Premier League, December 20, 2008) It took just nine minutes for Blackburn to take the lead at home at Ewood Park as McCarthy converted a penalty kick after Ibrahima Sonko took down Morten Gamst Pedersen. Jason Roberts doubled the advantage nine minutes later and McCarthy’s second goal made it 3-nil after 27 minutes. (First half highlights here, second half highlights here.)

Bolton 2 – Portsmouth 1 (Premier League, December 20, 2008) (MOTD highlights here.) Matty Taylor gave Bolton the perfect start within 48 seconds when he beat Hreidarsson and flashed in a right-footed shot past James. Ricardo Gardner then doubled the lead before three minutes had even been played. Just before the twenty-minute mark Pompey got back into the game thanks to a Peter Crouch header, created by a delicious Kranjcar cross. (First half goals here.)

Hull 1 – Sunderland 4 (Premier League, December 20, 2008) (MOTD highlights here.) Steed Malbranque gave Sunderland an early lead at Hull with a terrific strike before Nick Barmby equalised after a scramble in the box. (First half highlights here.) With twelve minutes remaining Sunderland re-took the lead when Kieran Richardson’s long-range effort was deflected in by Kamil Zayatte. The Mackems strike force of Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cisse completed the win thanks to two fine assists from Malbranque, after both goals Jones and Cisse engaged in some choreographed celebrations which looked ridiculous. (Second half highlights here.)

Fulham 3 – Middlesbrough 0 (Premier League, December 20, 2008) Fulham went one-up five minutes before the break, Jimmy Bullard finishing from close range after Turnbull had saved from Zamora. After the break the Cottagers wrapped up the points, Danny Murphy scored a penalty won thanks to what looked like an unintentional hand ball from McMahon and Clint Dempsey finished off a fine move for the third.

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Real Madrid 1 – Valencia 0 (La Liga, December 20, 2008) (Longer highlights here.) Gonzalo Higuain gave Juande Ramos a perfect start against Valencia, cracking home a fine left-foot strike after great work from Robben inside 3 minutes. Real pressed for the second, Robben shot on target before Van der Vaart’s curling effort strike the post (both chances here). (First half highlights here.) Valencia gave the hosts a scare when Iker Casillas had to produce a wonder save to push Ruben Baraja’s header onto the post. At the other end, Real should have doubled their lead but Higuain hit the bar when clean through.

Espanyol 2 – Atletico Madrid 3 (La Liga, December 20, 2008) (Longer highlights here.) Maxi scored after seven minutes, and that is the way things stayed until Nicolas Pareja set up Sergio Sanchez, and the right-back made it 1-all with a fierce drive. Nine minutes from time Sergio Aguero restored Atletico’s lead after the sluggish Espanyol defence had given him three bites at the cherry. Maxi Rodriguez then added his second in stoppage time with a classy solo goal. Valdo pulled a goal back for the hosts three minutes later, but it came too late to save them from another defeat.

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Siena 1 – Inter Milan 2 (Serie A, December 20, 2008) Inter moved ahead when Maicon ran across the near post from a corner to steer home the opener. But Siena hit back when Houssine Kharja connected with a Del Grosso cross. And that is the way it stayed until seven minutes from time, when Maicon scored the crucial second to give the Nerazzurri all three points, the Brazilian collected the ball (offside?) and lifted a shot over the onrushing Gianluca Curci. Inter move nine points clear of Juventus at the top.

Lazio 1 – Palermo 0 (Serie A, December 20, 2008) Lazio picked up their first win in five games against ten-man Palermo thanks to Tommaso Rocchi’s second half strike.

Rimini 1 – Albinoleffe 1 (Serie B, December 20, 2008) Albinoleffe opened the scoring, Madonna pounced on a defensive error and beat the goalkeeper with a half-volley. Less than a minute later Vantaggiato placed his left-foot angled drive into the corner to secure a point apiece.

Modena 0 – Bari 2 (Serie B, December 20, 2008) Barreto converted a penalty and then set up Caputo’s strike late on, but in between the two Bolano was dismissed.

Empoli 1 – Mantova 1 (Serie B, December 20, 2008) Vannucchi put Empoli under pressure when he saw red in the first half and moments later Corona gave Mantova the lead. Sub Saudati equalised for the hosts, rising above the crowd to nod in the equaliser 11 minutes from time.

Piacenza 1 – Pisa 0 (Serie B, December 20, 2008) Guzman netted the winner with a perfect free-kick.

Salernitana 1 – Ascoli 2 (Serie B, December 20, 2008) Soncin converted am early penalty and Cani made it 2-nil soon after with a precise header. Gerardi scored a consolation.

Livorno 3 – Sassuolo 2 (Serie B, December 20, 2008)

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Caen 0 – Lyon 1 (Ligue 1, December 20, 2008) Lyon’s stranglehold on the French league continued with a narrow win at Caen, Karim Benzema scoring with a high shot in the near post just before the break.

St. Etienne 2 – Auxerre 0 (Ligue 1, December 20, 2008) Paulo Machado gave the hosts the lead, seeing his free-kick hit the wall before thumping home the rebound. Bafetimbi Gomis sealed the win with a second two minutes from time.

Toulouse 2 – Nice 2 (Ligue 1, December 20, 2008) Toulouse were on the brink of a victory after a brace from Andre Andre-Pierre Gignac cancelled out Anthony Modeste’s strike. But in the dying seconds Vincent Hognon struck an equaliser for Nice.

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Roda 2 – Groningen 5 (Eredivisie, December 20, 2008) Marcus Berg bagged his first goal of the night after just three minutes but an Andreas Granqvist own goal ensured the sides went in at the break on level terms. The second half belonged to Berg, the striker bagging three goals in just 10 minutes. Jeanvion Matondo pulled one back for Roda but Oluwafemi Ajilore restored Groningen’s three-goal cushion with a killer fifth three minutes from time. (All four Marcus Berg goals can be seen here.)

Sparta Rotterdam 4 – Heerenveen 1 (Eredivisie, December 20, 2008) Erik Falkenburg broke the deadlock after 52 minutes, but Gerald Sibon equalised within a minute to silence the home crowd. The parity did not last long with a three further goals from Arne Slot, Rydell Poepon and Yuri Rose sealing a resounding three-point haul.

NAC Breda 2 – Vitesse Arnhem 0 (Eredivisie, December 20, 2008) Joonas Kolkka and Anthony Lurling both scored for NAC after the break, while Ricky Wolfswinkel’s second yellow card of the match shortly after ensured there would be no comeback from the visitors.

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Sporting Lisbon 0 – Academica 0 (Superliga, December 20, 2008) Sporting were frustrated by a resolute Academica defensive performance.

Braga 1 – Rio Ave 0 (Superliga, December 20, 2008) Renteria’s header separated the sides.

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Trabzonspor 2 – Eskisehirspor 1 (Super Lig, December 20, 2008) The visitors took a surprise lead when Dos Santos scored, but the hosts level through Unal soon after. Unal then bagged a second after the break to send Trabzonspor top of the table, leapfrogging Fenerbache.

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Panserraikos 1 – PAOK 1 (Greek Super League, December 20, 2008) Anastasakos’ early header gave POAK the lead, but Konstantinidis earned the hosts a point with a close range equaliser.

Panionios 3 – Asteras Tripolis 0 (Greek Super League, December 20, 2008) Goals from Kumordzi, Majstorovic and Delura completed a comfortable win for Panionios.

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Hapoel Petah Tikva 0 – Hapoel Tel Aviv 2 (Ligat ha’Al, December 20, 2008) Tel Aviv won with a goal in each half from Antebi and Vermouth.

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San Lorenzo 1 – Boca Juniors 3 (Apertura playoff, December 20, 2008) Lucas Viatri, Rodrigo Palacio and Cristian Chavez scored for Boca on a scorching afternoon at neutral Racing Club while Santiago Solari replied for San Lorenzo, who also had had Gaston Aguirre and Gonzalo Bergessio sent off.

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Thailand 2 – Indonesia 1 (Southeast Asian Championships, December 20, 2008) (Agg. 3-1) Thailand set up a final meeting with either Singapore or Vietnam.

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