Saturday 20th December, 2003
B'mingham v Middlesbrough (Postponed)
Much to the chagrin of Steve Bruce and David Sullivan, this match was postponed at 1.45 pm, too late to save Middlesbrough fans their journey down. Bruce was upset for footballing reasons, as he hoped to take advantage of Boro's mid-week extra-time Carling Cup quarter-final. Sullivan was upset for commercial and seasonal reasons, having made a £5 per accompanied child offer for this pre-Christmas game. Half an hour after the game had been called off, Birmingham had a training session on the pitch to demonstrate their views of the referee's decision.
Blackburn 0 Aston Villa 2
Villa climbed up the table with their first away win of the season, whilst the home side slumped to their tenth defeat. Stefan Moore scored Villa's first goal in the 62nd minute following Hendrie's cross deep on the right hand side. It was Moore's first senior goal for 15 months. Angel doubled the lead with his 12th goal of the season after 75 minutes, slotting home Samuels' pass from the left.
Bolton 1 Arsenal 1
Arsenal returned to the scene of their collapsing title challenge of 26th April this year. Spookily enough, that was the same week-end we played Manchester United at home. Once again a draw was the result at the Reebock stadium, and in-form Bolton thoroughly deserved their share of the spoils, having beaten Chelsea last week, and Southampton mid-week to go through to the Carling Cup semi-finals.
The Gooners were unbeaten for the 13th consecutive away game, and of course for the 17 games played this season, after repelling a very effective Bolton effort. Pires put the visitors in the lead in the 57th minute, when Ljungberg's shot was parried to him by Jaaskelainen. Bolton were aggrieved that Bergkamp had got away with a foul in the build-up to the goal, but they got a deserved equaliser with 9 minutes to go, as Pedersen picked up the second ball from a Davies challenge on Cygan, and fired home from the edge of the area with his left foot.
The game was played in front of a record Reebock crowd of 28,003, and the home side had other good chances such as Okocha's free kick hitiing the outside of a post. Sam Allardyce even has Emerson Thome playing flair football, demonstrated by an overhead attempt from the edge of the Arsenal area!
Charlton 0 Newcastle 0
In an entertaining goal-less game, Robert nearly got his third goal in two matches, after Kiely fumbled a high ball, and Ameobie put the ball back to the Frenchman, whose low drive was blocked on the line by the retreating goalkeeper, protected by a Charlton defender. Jason Euell, who has not scored since August, had a great chance, but his shot rebounded off the post. Shay Given, making his 250th Newcastle appearance, made a great double save from Di Canio, then Graham Stuart, tipping the latter effort over the bar. Kiely denied Robert towards the end of the first half, when he shot from an angle on the left. Both teams went for the win, and the keepers were busy in the second half, but the match remained goal-less.
Everton 3 Leicester 2
Everton were seeking their first back-to-back win since April, and took the lead after half an hour, when Carsley's shot rebounded into the net having been saved by the keeper, but then went in off a defender. Leicester bounced back with a great free kick before the break, taken by Les Ferdinand. Kevin Campbell headed onto the bar after the break, before the visitors took an unlikely lead, through Scowcroft, steering home Stewart's cross from the left in the 58th minute. Once again, Wayne Rooney was a hero as he came off the bench, and scored a 71st minute equaliser with a rasping right foot rising shot. The winner came in the 79th minute from Radzinski, as another "super-sub", Duncan Ferguson, headed the ball down. Everton joined Aston Villa in their highest position since August.
Fulham 0 Chelsea 1
Fulham were playing their local rivals at Loftus Road for the last time (unless they meet in the FA Cup), before they return to Craven Cottage next year. This has been Fulham's best start in the top flight in 43 years. Damien Duff was stretchered off after 11 minutes and will be out for at least 3 weeks. He was replaced by Joe Cole. Both keepers were tested in the first half, and Crespo scored a winning header in the 62nd minute from Bridge's cross. Chelsea finished the day level with Arsenal at the top, on points, goal difference, and goals scored.
Wolves v Liverpool (Postponed)
It was wet in most of the country, but the Midlands clearly took the brunt of the rain, as two Nationwide Division One games also fell foul of the conditions. There was little argument with Barrie Knight's decision here, as the ball stuck in the puddles.
Sunday 21st December, 2003
Southampton 3 Portsmouth 0
For Saints' fans, Christmas came early with this convincing win over their local rivals, with whom league meetings are all too rare. The first goal was memorable for its bizarre nature. Skipper Jason Dodd took a corner on the right, swung it in, and it has yet to be ratified as to whether he scored directly, or whether Schemmel's header put it over the line (after a rebound or two off the woodwork!). Pahars scored a great 20 yard curving shot in the 67th minute, and James Beattie wrapped it up in injury time, with a header from another Dodd ball. Portsmouth are in the bottom three, and have not won for 5 games, having scored only once in that time, and only three times in their last 9 games. Spurs are next up for Pompey on Boxing Day.
As for Southampton, perhaps their fans ought to set their sights on greater issues than their local enemies, as the result put them fourth, occupying the Champions' League slot - for the moment!
Spurs 1 Manchester United 2
Read the full report here
Monday 22nd December, 2003
Manchester City 1 Leeds United 1
On the Monday before Christmas last year, City were losing at home to Spurs at Maine Road. This year over 47,000 people were in the City of Manchester Stadium to see their start to this year's festive campaign. Most of those present were not happy to see Sommeil gift the first goal to Viduka in the 24th minute, after the defender dawdled just outside his area when intercepting a harmless ball from Milner. Viduka made no mistake, and Sommeil was head-in-hands, and tearful at his error. City nearly equalised through Reyna, but his shot was cleared off the line by Duberry.
Leeds have thrived under Eddie Gray, and are unbeaten in 4 games. Gray's policy of playing mostly home-based players, and fewer of the loan signings seems to have given them more of their traditional grit. Despite the majority of second half possession going the way of the home side, it looked like Leeds might hold on, but after a 70th minute triple substitution by Keegan, one of the new men, Sibierski, equalised with 8 minutes to go, when he headed home from just inside the area following Sun Jihai's right-wing cross. Barton had earlier seen a shot hit the post and roll away across the goal, and City fans were most displeased with his removal by Keegan. Reyna had two more good efforts, and one of these came in a tense finish, with a long shot that curved in towards Robinson's right post. The keeper saved, and Leeds took a precious point away, to keep in touch with the pack of teams just above them.
FA Barclaycard Premiership
Pos. Pl. W. D. L. F-A. GD Pts
1 Man Utd 17 13 1 3 34-11 23 40
2 Arsenal 17 11 6 0 31-12 19 39
3 Chelsea 17 12 3 2 31-12 19 39
4 So'pton 17 7 5 5 18-12 6 26
5 Fulham 17 7 4 6 28-23 5 25
6 Newcastle 17 6 7 4 25-20 5 25
7 Charlton 17 6 6 5 22-20 2 24
8 B'mingham 16 6 5 5 14-18 -4 23
9 Liverpool 16 6 4 6 23-18 5 22
10 Bolton 17 5 7 5 17-23 -6 22
11 Man City 17 5 5 7 24-23 1 20
12 Everton 17 5 5 7 20-22 -2 20
13 M'brough 16 5 5 6 12-15 -3 20
14 A. Villa 17 5 5 7 16-23 -7 20
15 Spurs 17 5 3 9 19-26 -7 18
16 Blackburn 17 5 2 10 23-27 -4 17
17 L'cester 17 4 4 9 25-28 -3 16
18 P'tsmouth 17 4 4 9 18-25 -7 16
19 Leeds 17 4 4 9 17-37 -20 16
20 Wolves 16 2 5 9 13-35 -22 11