Category: Archive

Keane’s winner for United rattles Premier contenders

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joe Behan

Roy Keane may not score enough to give him that edge in world player ratings, but his winning goal last week against Blackburn Rovers sees him the tops at Old Trafford.

Indeed, Keane’s tie-breaking goal in the 81st minute Saturday at Old Trafford reminds Premier contenders that he is still the biggest influence in the EPL.

What makes the Corkman’s goal even more significant is that none of the four closest teams to his Manchester United club could manage anything better than a draw at the weekend

It was an incredible weekend for Manchester United, who now lead the Premiership with 45 points. When they were 11 points behind, no team could get on a run to take advantage of the stumbling Reds. Now that United is on top, the only significant team to respond with a victory was Chelsea (over West Ham 5-1). But the Blues are in sixth place, 8 points behind United. For the closest contenders — Newcastle (43), Leeds (42), Arsenal (41) and Liverpool (40) — it was a weekend of opportunities squandered.

Bottom-of-the-table Leicester, held contending Newcastle to a scoreless draw. Man. United beat teams they are supposed to beat; Newcastle do not. Yes, the result shows us there are no easy games in the Premier, but we are talking about contending for the title here.

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Also, it took Michael Owen 8 minutes to get Liverpool going, but Southampton’s Kevin Davies leveled things to spoil three points for the Pool.

Strange how two top contenders, Newcastle and Liverpool, could both fail so miserably against teams that are struggling in the relegation zone.

With results were failing Manchester United’s way on Saturday, all eyes turned to Leeds at home to Arsenal on the Sunday.

Leeds, Arsenal stalemate

In the opening exchanges of what ended as a lackluster 1-1 draw at Elland Road, Dennis Bergkamp was presented with a great chance to open the scoreline but lacked the swiftness to strike home. Then in the 6th minute the unmarked Robbie Fowler made no mistake with a simple header past the stranded Richard Wright. Mark Viduka released Jason Wilcox down the left flank to face Arsenal’s Oleg Luzhny in a one-on-one. It was like watching the old school magic on the wing when Wilcox ran around Luzhny to deliver a decisive cross to the now fully functioning Fowler. The rejuvenated striker positioned himself as the widest player in the box, making Arsenal’s defense look schoolboyish as he nodded his seventh in seven games.

Now the Leeds technical execution was quicker all around, while Arsenal looked dangerous enough on the break. Bergkamp could not get his act together with Rio Ferdinand making it difficult for the Dutchman to claim back his starting spot from Kanu. Bergkamp’s misses and lack of sharpness were obvious. Thierry Henry broke away to penetrate toward Leeds goalie Nigel Martyn, but the French forward failed to see the wider opportunity as he struck over the top.

In the 25th minute, a clear call for composure was made as both teams lost their shape. Leeds looked stronger as they exposed Arsenal’s right side and began to close the Gunners down in the middle with good pressure. Leeds manager David O’Leary made it very clear that he wanted his side to maintain the 1-nil advantage to the half. He signaled for his goalie, Martyn, to kick it long after a short throw-out to the middle put Leeds under unnecessary pressure. Ferdinand was proving to be the best central defender in the league with a fine display that forced Bergkamp to come deeper for the ball. The thing was, when Bergkamp did finally pick the ball up in the midfield area in the 45th minute, Leeds suffered the consequences.

Once in the middle and unmarked, Bergkamp combined with Robert Pires. It was the only time, really, that the Dutchman got a chance to dwell on the ball. His through pass was dummied by Henry; Pires picked the ball up with a world class touch on his right, then in stride nudged the ball onto his left and inside the post it flew home, making it 1-all. It was a world-class goal and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Arsenal. Fowler, in typical fashion, still looked dangerous in the dying seconds, but in they went level at halftime, with promise of things improving.

The second half got under way with both teams under pressure, as space was hard to find. Matters got tighter as challenges deteriorated into some rough tackling. The hectic pace of the game resulted in many unforced errors as players gave the ball away. Just on the hour, Patrick Vieira fluffed a free header off a corner. The simplicity of the passing Pires brought the Gunners more into the game. Right on the hour Leeds responded with a Viduka back flick for the oncoming Fowler, who just couldn’t get over the ball. Arsenal were once again guilty of not seeing the wider player on the far post when Ashley Cole broke through the Leeds back line.

The Gunners continued to struggle with their square pass into the middle as Leeds successfully closed them down. In fact, the most consistent thing Leeds did was using group pressure around the ball. Over an hour gone and the referee was calling for the least infringement as the tempo of the game drastically died. Arsenal sub Giovanni van Brockhorst came close with a lucky deflection in the 66th minute as Leeds began to pin Arsenal down in their own half but to no avail. Henry was about to take a free on the Leeds goal when Arsenal decided to replace Bergkamp.

It was strange to freeze the game at such an important moment, as things were sloppy enough. Perhaps both teams were satisfied to be stalemate.

In the last 15 minutes, Arsenal’s Martin Keown showed he still has the pace when he blocked a Viduka effort on goal. It was a true sign, though that the game was going nowhere. Vieira connected to a corner and yet again the ball was played head-on rather than back across the goal area. It was sloppy and far from contender material. Were the teams playing it safe for a Champions League spot? Was Vieira tired from the attention he is receiving from his visit to Real Madrid? Is Bergkamp wasted on the bench at Highbury?

Sure enough both teams were under pressure to be on their best behavior. All the excuses and reasons are there for such a subdued performance. Even the two well-worked goals could not make up for the sloppy game. More important, the lack of serious effort on goal in the second half indicates a safe mentality.

And while teams play it safely, Manchester United continue to win. Surely, we are not back to the same old story in the Premiership. But it is beginning to look that way.

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