Saturday, April 9, 2016

It Happened in England: Aston Villa just about relegated

West Ham 3-3 Arsenal
With Arsenal fighting to keep their slim title hopes alive and West Ham looking to break into the top four before the end of the season, you would expect both sides to go for the win. That's exactly what happened here. Every attack looked like it would produce a goa. There were swings of momentum that could very well have been season defining. Most of all, there were goals. And plenty of them.

It was a rough start for the linesmen in this match. West Ham had a goal unjustly called back for offside within a quarter hour. Then, Mesut Ozil's 18th minute goal that did stand up was very, very close to being off as well. The Gunners and the superior pace allowed them to continue playing forward. A precise pass from Alex Iwobi to Alexis Sanchez in the 35th allowed the Chilean top slip another by Adrian to double the lead. Andy Carroll managed to pull one back for West Ham in the penultimate minute before halftime. His header was the result of a well placed cross and some soft Nacho Monreal defending in the penalty area. That looked to be the scoreline at the break until Carroll struck again in stoppage time when he was given too much space in the penalty area top boot home an equalizer.

The second half started with all the intensity of the first. In the 52nd minute, seconds after seeing another goal disallowed, this time for a foul, Carroll found his hat trick with another header. West Ham was the stronger side at this point. They had all the momentum and were doing well to keep Arsenal from sustaining a potent attack. The equalizer would eventually show up. Laurent Koscielny finished off a wonderful team passing move in the 70th minute. After this, the match slowed down a bit, but still produced a couple of half chances. But half chances are all they were and this intense fixture ended in a thrilling draw.

The result does hurt both sides. Arsenal fail to gain any meaningful ground on the title, perhaps ending their pursuit of the top. West Ham also drop in their chances of making the top four for the first time in their history.

Aston Villa 1-2 AFC Bournemouth
Facing the very real possibility of relegation today, Aston Villa needed anything they could muster to keep what little hope they have of surviving alive. They looked to have held out until halftime without conceding, but Bournemouth's Steve Cook slipped one home at the tail end of the half. Shortly after Palace went in front to give Villa a temporary stay on relegation, Bournemouth doubled their lead with a poor defensive showing and an easy goal from Joshua King in the 74th minute. Villa pulled one back in the 85th minute through Jordan Ayew, but it was not enough to salvage a result for Villa.

Villa aren't technically relegated yet. They could go perfect in their final five matches and they could be level on points with 17th place Norwich. However, the 19 goal spread between theirs and Norwich's goal differential is well more than they can overcome, even if they managed to go perfect from here on out.. 

Crystal Palace 1-0 Norwich City
Two clubs heading on relative opposite directions met in South London with the relegation race as the primary storyline. Crystal Palace was the first to really threaten after the quarter hour mark. From about minutes 17-20 it was a wonder they failed to score on any of their great chances in the Norwich penalty area. Around the half hour mark, the wonder switched over to Norwich, who also had a couple chances that puzzlingly failed to go in. The close calls finally bore fruit in the 68th minute with a brilliant shot from Jason Puncheon. It was, surprisingly, his first goal of the season. The win is Palace's first in 14 Premier League matches.They weren't really in the relegation conversation, but this result certainly keeps them up for another season.

Southampton 3-1 Newcastle
It is becoming fair to say that Rafa Benitez has not had the best of times in his brief stint at Newcastle. Having not yet won a match, his relegation fighting side conceded to Shane Long in the fourth minute of their visit to the south coast of England. Long weaved through a legion of flat footed Geordie defenders on his way to that goal. More lazy defending allowed Graziano Pelle to finish off a counter attack in the 38th minute to double the lead. The demolition continued in the second half. Victor Wanyama found a third goal in the 55th. Newcastle got one back in the 65th through Andros Townsend.

This run of poor form Newcastle makes one wonder why Benitez took this job to begin with. He is almost sure to see the club drop down into the second tier after this is all said and done. He has a relegation clause in his contract so the easy paycheck would not last very long, nor would it give his resume the boost it needs to land another elite job somewhere in Europe. It is an all around puzzling move in hindsight.

Swansea City 1-0 Chelsea
Swansea had defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the fall, now they looked to continue their rise above the drop zone with a win over them at home. Gylfi Sigurdsson fired a loose bill home from just inside the penalty area in the 25th minute for the lone contribution to the scoring. Surprisingly, this was Chelsea's first Premier League loss since their December 14 defeat at Leicester City. That was the last game before the sacking of Jose Mourinho.

Watford 1-1 Everton
Two quick goals in first half stoppage time played a big role in this match between irrelevant mid-table clubs. First, it was James McCarthy getting Everton on the board in the first minute after the 45 were up. They couldn't hold onto their hopes of a halftime lead for long, though. Watford equalized in the third stoppage time minute through Jose Holebas. The draw does nothing for these clubs except count as one more step towards the end of this meaningless season.

Manchester City 2-1 West Bromwich Albion
Manchester City, looking to hold onto their top four spot amidst a late charge from their crosstown rivals, welcomed West Bromwich Albion to the Etihad Stadium. Torrential rains looked to dampen the beginning of the match, but West Brom had other ideas. It took them until the sixth minute to gain a shocking first goal. A gorgeous shot from Stephane Sessegnon gave the visitors the lead and threatened to sink the heavy home favorites. Manchester City would not let that early concession get them down. Although West Brom backed into their predictable defensive shell, an obvious 18th minute penalty allowed Sergio Aguero to equalize from the spot with ease. The rest of the half was West Brom continuing to bunker down and defend with Manchester City rarely getting a chance to do much of anything.

Manchester City began to show signs of the sour conditions affecting their attack in the second half. Slips ruined attacking passes. Sergio Aguero missed scoring because his footing let him down on a normally easy shot for him. They did get their second goal, though. In the 66th minute Samir Nasri, despite his dreadful haircut, scored off a pacy move that probably should have been finished off twice before it reached him. West Brom pressured after that, but didn't really threaten the goal and Manchester City got a big Champions League pursuing three points.

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