On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, the premier assumed its all too familiar lineup, with Manchester United on top, followed by Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle. The difference this time around is that the league is by no means over, with only a few points separating the table toppers.
As usual, Chelsea and Leeds United are poised for a late run for a Champions League spot. The form suggests that the top three will break away with either Leeds or Chelsea grabbing that precious fourth ahead of Newcastle, who could manage only a draw with Ipswich at the weekend after Alan Shearer missed a vital penalty.
When leagues reach this late stage, especially when things are tight, it’s all about who can put the ball away, but to score twice is priceless. And indeed, there were nothing but doubles across the table and United’s David Beckham led the way on Saturday.
In an outstanding game of ball, Beckham opened and finished United’s scoring against West Ham in a 5-3 thriller. After West Ham took the lead, Beckham hit a beautiful lob to level matters.
Man U. surged into a 4-2 lead as Beckham’s decisive passing and frees tapped away at the Hammer’s defense. With 12 minutes to go, West Ham made it 4-3, but referee Mark Halsey awarded Man. U. a penalty for Beckham to close the game with a precious pair.
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Double trouble for Shearer
Alan Shearer, meanwhile, was unable to handle a double when, after striking a late equalizer against Ipswich, he missed a penalty, which was the last kick of the game, and a potential game winner. Even the most experienced of strikers miss them, but Shearer knows that his club, Newcastle United, needed badly for him to convert. It was a real case of double or nothing for the miss because that’s how Newcastle could end this season, with nothing.
The tie with Ipswich drops Bobby Robson’s Toon Army into fourth place, while Liverpool move into third. For Ipswich, it was all about doing the double thing when Marcus Bent scored in the 50th and 63rd minutes. Bent put Ipswich in front for the second time and it looked like the Town was back on the road to Premier survival. The draw, however, is an excellent result regardless and it was Bent’s double that may have saved the day.
Easy for Fowler
Robbie Fowler finds it easy to score against the weaker teams in the premiership, as he proved with his quick double against Blackburn in the fifth and eighth minutes, sparking a 3-1 victory.
Rovers boss Gr’me Souness wasn’t too happy with his side’s performance but seemed to miss the fact that not picking up Fowler had nothing to do with the result. Fowler must be closed down from the starting whistle, something the stronger sides do. In fact, the key is to cut off service to the dangerous marksman in the first place.
Before Blackburn could get hold of Fowler after his first goal, he struck again within 3 minutes.
Since his arrival at Elland Road, Fowler has scored 11 in 17 games. That works out at _1 million per goal at this stage and it’s likely Fowler will be worth his weight in gold by the end of the year.
Harry Kewell sealed the victory with a nice left footer into the side of the net.
The stage is now set for Leeds to challenge the difference of only five points for a CL spot.
Rovers, at the other end of the table, are hot and cold at the minute and Andy Cole was missed up top.
For David O’Leary, it was a triumphant St. Patrick’s Day as he finally got two wins in a row. Robbie Keane lucked out when he got the nod on the 64th minute after Alan Smith had to leave due to injury. Keane had a spring in his step and looked like his old self when he laid the ball off for that vital Kewell goal. Keane was also leaving defenders for dead in the box with his trademark twists and turns.
There were similar moments for Blackburn’s Damien Duff, but he just couldn’t weave his way to the goal the way he has been doing recently. While Ian Harte held his place, Gary Kelly was benched. Mick McCarthy might have to visit the training grounds and reserve games at Elland Road to keep an eye on his Irish for the World Cup. For now, though, the man of the moment is Fowler, and bet there will be another brace or two.
Deane’s double dies
After 25 minutes it looked like Leicester were about to get their first win since Dec. 1 when Brian Deane was presented with his second goal from Southampton’s goalkeeper Paul Jones, who simply fell down. But Deane’s firs, was all about burying the ball in the back of the net with a great header.
Southampton replied within three minutes of Deane’s double with a spectacular header from Marian Pahars in the 28th minute. Now it was all about Leicester holding on while Southampton battled to maintain their turn-around form. And in a weekend full of doubles, Pahars converted an 86th minute penalty to spoil a desperately needed three points for City. The double act spelled a hard luck story for Leicester and diehard Deane.
For Southampton and Strachan it was a matter of pride and the Pahars pair claimed the Saint’s would remain strong to the season’s end.
Leicester’s assistant manager, Micky Adams, had reportedly stated that he would quit unless he takes over from Dave Bassett in the summer. It would serve Leicester City better if there were more Deane doubles and less of Adams’s double dutch.