Villa’s Knight comes to the rescue against Arsenal; Boring wins for Chelsea & Manchester United; Liverpool remain the Xmas number 1; Hammers hit four, City hit five

Aston Villa 2 – Arsenal 2 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) (Longer highlights here, MOTD highlights here.) Villa showed their attacking intent early doors as Steve Sidwell crashed a header against the frame of the goal. Almunia’s goal came under further pressure when Luke Young forced the keeper to turn over his powerful drive, before James Milner’s volley from Young’s excellent pass incredibly hit the post and nestled in Almunia’s grasp. Curtis Davies was the next Villain to strike the woodwork, hitting a half-volley that had Almunia beaten all ends-up. And then Arsenal hit the sucker-punch, Denilson latched onto a loose ball in the box and slipped his shot under Friedel. A frantic opening 45 ended with an acrobatic save off the line from Sagna. (First half highlights here.) The Gunners doubled their lead with a brilliant second, Abou Diaby broke free in his own half, Eboue carried the ball 60-yards before playing in Diaby to score. Van Persie hit the Villa post with the Villa backline all at sea. O’Neill’s troops rallied, pulling a goal back through a Gareth Barry penalty after Gallas brought down Agbonlahor in the box. The game levelled out and Arsenal looked like taking the points, but in injury time Zat Knight popped up to fire in the equaliser that sent Villa Park wild.

Chelsea 2 – West Brom 0 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) (Longer highlights here, MOTD highlights here.) Chelsea needed just 180 seconds to take the lead over the Baggies, Joe Cole delivered a pinpoint cross to Didier Drogba at the back post and the Ivorian headed home his first Premier League goal of the season. The Blues dominated the possession and they should have stretched their lead further when Ashley Cole struck the post and then miscued the rebound into Carson’s arms with the goal gaping. But on the stroke of halftime they scored, Ashley Cole was released into the box, his pass fell into Frank Lampard’s path and the number 8 jinked his way through the box to score.

Stoke 0 – Manchester United 1 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) (MOTD highlights here.) Stoke more than held their own in the first half against United, the visitors’ best effort coming from a Wayne Rooney header that was comfortably saved by Sorensen. (First half highlights here.) A half-chance fell the way of Carlos Tevez early in the second half but the ball went narrowly wide. But Stoke continued to contest the match, Fuller and Pugh went close for the hosts while Scholes tested Sorensen at the other end (all 3 chances here.) Andy Wilkinson then got himself sent off for two poor fouls on Ronaldo, and with seven minutes to go United made them pay when Carlos Tevez turned in Dimitar Berbatov’s cross. (Second half highlights here.)

Liverpool 3 – Bolton 0 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) (MOTD highlights here.) Liverpool put Bolton under pressure almost from the off, and Emiliano Insua forced a smart save from Jussi Jaaskelainen after 17 minutes. The Reds pulled ahead ten minutes later when Albert Riera turned in Gerrard’s corner at the near post. Jamie Carragher tried his luck with a shot from 30-yards at the end of the half. Liverpool scored early after the break, Gerrard fed Robbie Keane’s run into the box and the Irishman struck a fierce shot into the near post. Just before the hour mark the game was put to bed, a swift release from Riena allowed Alonso to carry the ball up the pitch, the Spaniard played in Benayoun on the right and his cross was converted by Robbie Keane.

Portsmouth 1 – West Ham 4 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) (Longer highlights here, MOTD highlights here.) Portsmouth took the lead in the 8th minute when Nadir Belhadj capped off a fine move with the opening goal. West Ham deservedly equalised after 20 minutes, Scott Parker released Carlton Cole with a quick free-kick, he crossed to James Collison, who fired a shot past an unsighted David James. Jermaine Defoe missed a penalty for Pompey, and they were punished by Craig Bellamy after the break. Bellamy set up Cole in the 67th minute before he smashed home the third for the Hammers. Bellamy completed a brace seven minutes from time as Pompey were put to the sword.

Manchester City 5 – Hull 1 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) (Longer highlights here, MOTD highlights here.) City shook off their recent form with a blistering start against Hull. Robinho chipped a beautiful pass into Ireland, and his cross was steered home by Felipe Caicedo. The Stephen Ireland-Felipe Caicedo combination struck again 12 minutes later with the Ecuadorian continuing his recent red-hot form in front of goal (four goals in three games). The Tigers then fell to pieces, Robinho adding the third after Ireland won the ball in midfield and the Citizens bagged a fourth when SWP raced down the right and crossed for Robinho to complete a first half massacre. Hull netted a consolation when Craig Fagan swept in Cousin’s cross, but City went straight up the other end and Stephen Ireland capped another fine match with a superb fifth.

Middlesbrough 0 – Everton 1 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) Steven Pienaar struck the outside of the Boro post in a goalless first half (highlights here). The Toffees broke the deadlock in the 51st minute, Fellaini headed an Arteta corner on target and Tim Cahill turned the ball over the line.

Tottenham 0 – Fulham 0 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) The Cottagers extended their unbeaten run to eight matches with a fourth successive goalless away draw in a drab match at Spurs. In the first half Luka Modric flashed a shot just wide. In the second half Modric again went close with a header before the Croatian summed up the match with a hopeless shot at the death.

Wigan 2 – Newcastle 1 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) (Longer highlights here.) Wigan took the lead in the 29th minute when Ryan Taylor rifled a free-kick past Shay Given from long-range, and the Latics doubled their lead when Bassong brought down Heskey (and got sent off in the process) with Amr Zaki converting the resulting spot-kick. Newcastle got one back in the final moments when Danny Guthrie slammed home a penalty but it was too late to salvage a point.

Sunderland 0 – Blackburn 0 (Premier League, December 26, 2008) The Mackems were lucky to walk away with a point, as Rovers’ saw Morten Gamst Pedersen’s 20-yard curling free-kick hit the post while Jason Roberts missed an open goal in injury time.

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Crystal Palace 3 – Norwich 1 (Championship, December 26, 2008) The Eagles went in front through Jose Fonte in the sixth minute. Gary Doherty equalised, but Fonte restored Palace’s lead heading into the break. Danny Butterfield’s injury time strike wrapped up the points for sixth-placed Palace.

Leeds 1 – Leicester 1 (League One, December 26, 2008) Matt Oakley put Leicester ahead after 24 minutes at Elland Road when he cracked a 25-yard shot past Casper Ankergren. But Robert Snodgrass scored in stoppage-time to grab a point for Leeds in Simon Grayson’s first match in charge.

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Feyenoord 3 – NAC 1 (Eredivisie, December 26, 2008) Diego Bisewar opened the scoring after 33 minutes with an incredible strike from distance that arrowed into the top corner. Leroy Fer made it 2-nil in the stroke of halftime, before Fer grabbed his second just after the hour mark. NAC claimed a late consolation through Matthew Amoah. (Highlights of Leroy Fer’s performance including his brace can be seen here.)

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Newcastle Jets 1 – Central Coast Mariners 2 (A-League, December 26, 2008) The Jets took the lead through a Joel Griffiths penalty after nine minutes. But the Mariners turned the game around after the break, Sasho Petrovski headed home the leveller after 66 minutes and Matt Simon scored the winner in the 79th minute with a strong solo effort.

Perth Glory 0 – Adelaide United 1 (A-League, December 26, 2008) (Longer highlights here.)


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