Liverpool emerge from local derby triumphant

Derby days. They’re unpredictable, they’re predictable, they’re both. The weekend served up three such encounters: Liverpool against Everton, Birmingham against Wolves and Chelsea vs. Arsenal. The Merseyside derby lived up to its billing, all fight and commitment, but with surprisingly little good football. Despite playing with 10 men for almost an hour Liverpool ground out a 1-0 courtesy of a Dirk Kuyt header ten minutes into the second half. Everton failed to make their numerical advantage pay and Stephen Pienaar joined Sotirios Kygiakos for an early bath right at the death. That the game finished with less than 22 players on the pitch was unsurprising: before kick-off this fixture had featured more red cards than any other in the premier league.

The total now stands at 19 and would be higher if referee Martin Atkinson hadn’t turned a blind eye to some of the early kicks, barges and two-footed-studs-up-lunges which were flying about in a full-blooded game. Pienaar should have received his marching orders long before he did, and the usually unmissable Marouane Fellaini was lucky to go unnoticed and unpunished for his part in the challenge which saw Kygiakos sent off. Everton never really got going and, with Liverpool as they are this season and against 10-men, they will feel this was an opportunity missed. Overall it was an encounter which will be remembered for its fight if not its football. Derbies, they’re predictable.

Just as Liverpool and Everton are expected to kick lumps out of each other Didier Drogba is expected to kick lumps out of Arsenal, such is the Ivorian’s ongoing form against Chelsea’s London rivals. He scored a brace on Sunday to grant his a side a 2-0 victory that continued one trend (Drogba’s torment of the Gunners) and reversed another (the away side had won the teams’ last four meetings). It was better than last week from Arsenal but the same old defensive problems were exploited by Chelsea. Drogba gleaned his goals from a corner and a counterattack, one of the best strikers in the world took advantage Arsenal’s two biggest defensive failings. Derbies, they’re predictable.

Sunday also saw the meeting of promoted sides and Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City. Wolves finished seven points above the Blues in the championship last year and it is testament to Birmingham’s efforts in the premier league this year that Wolves lined up at St. Andrews looking for the draw. However, a goal from Kevin Doyle just before halftime seemed to place Wolves control, they were heading towards a surprise away victory until the 80th minute when substitute Kevin Phillips popped up with an equaliser.

A Birmingham comeback had seemed unlikely but Phillips’ deadly finishing changed the game, he scored again five minutes later, controlling the ball inside the box and volleying a smart finish past Hahnemann to complete the turnaround. Derbies, they can be unpredictable, thank God!

Elsewhere we saw some cracking goals, not least Mohamed Diame’s screamer from the edge of the box for Wigan. The goal was a worthy winner but Diame was denied the pleasure by Kenwyn Jones who scored a second half header to rescue Sunderland a point. George Boateng scored a great volley in Hull’s 2-1 victory over Man City which managed to evade everyone in a packed penalty box. Crucially Hull seem to be turning it on at the right time with this victory following the surprising draw with Chelsea. The same cannot be said for poor old Pompey though, the South coast side still languish in last place after handing Man United three own goals in a 5-0 drubbing at old Trafford.

Another relegation candidate, Burnley, stepped it up this weekend winning 2-1 at home against West Ham thanks to debutant Danny Fox’s fantastic free-kick. It was Burnley’s first win since October, but things could have been different if West Ham’s new strike-force hadn’t conspired to hit the post twice in the second half. There were no wonder goals at either the Reebok Stadium or White Hart Lane, there were in fact no goals at all. Resurgent Liverpool benefited more from Villa’s draw with Spurs while a point wasn’t much good for Bolton or Fulham either.

Stoke were impressive in their 3-0 home victory over Blackburn but the result is likely to be overshadowed by the incident in the Blackburn support. Overall it was an eventful weekend, predictable but not without the odd surprise – the top four might be looking more recognisable but how often do Portsmouth score three goals? If only they were at the right end.


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