Heroes & Villains: Foxes, moustaches and gloves

Rounding up the baddies and bigging up the goodies from the weekend's Premier League action...

RESULTS Sat 13 Nov Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United, Manchester City 0-0 Birmingham City, Newcastle United 0-0 Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United 0-0 Blackpool, Wigan Athletic 1-0 West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-3 Bolton Wanderers, Stoke City 2-0 Liverpool Sun 14 Nov Everton 1-2 Arsenal, Chelsea 0-3 Sunderland


SunderlandIt’s rare you find yourself agreeing with Paul Merson, but his prognosis that Sunderland's performance at Chelsea led to the hardest Man of the Match selection of the season was surely spot on. To a man the Black Cats were superb – from Michael Turner and Nedum Onouha at the back, to Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck up top via Jordan Henderson and Lee Cattermole in the centre.

The fact the visitors had an amazing 18 attempts at goal, nine of which were on target, tells you everything you need to know about Steve Bruce's side's approach to the game, which was in stark contrast to their withdrawn stance at Tottenham on Tuesday evening and their shambolic performance at St James' Park last month.

In two weeks flat, Steve Bruce has arguably gone from his managerial nadir to his zenith. He somewhat understatedly said of the game “Today, we did OK.” It will certainly be interesting to see what Bruce does once Darren Bent returns to fitness, given how well his team have performed in his absence, perhaps benefiting from the increased flexibility their new system allows them. The England striker certainly shouldn’t expect to stroll back into the starting XI.

Johan Djourou & Lukasz FabianskiPerhaps not the two players you'd expect to be at the front of Arsenal's Man Of The Match queue, but the pair were integral at Everton to what is becoming a typically resilient away performance from Arsene Wenger’s side.

Johan Elmander & Stuart HoldenThis blog has singled out the ‘New and Improved Johan Elmander’ on a couple of occasions this season, but the evidently-more-nimble-footed-than-we-expected Swede's impromptu spot of penalty-box fox-trotting at Wolves on Saturday took his Premier League goal tally for the season to six – twice the number of big-league net-bulges he caused last season.

But we’ve yet to properly sing the praises of Bolton’s most consistent performer of the season, indefatigable midfielder Holden. Despite having a haircut like somebody out of Dawson’s Creek, or The OC, or whatever it is kids watch these days, the Scotchmerican has become an integral cog in a Bolton side exceeding all expectations so far this season.
After he’s scored his first Premier League goal, finishing an 11-pass move, in a hard-fought away win, seems as good a time as any to be giving him the props. It’s better late than never.

Marc Albrighton & Stewart DowningWhile Gabriel Agbonlahor earned what was by his own admission a surprise England recall over the weekend, two of his Aston Villa team-mates could have been forgiven for keeping half an eye on their mobiles on Saturday evening, hoping for a call from FA HQ. Goal – strong header off the line from Ferdinand – England call-up?

Federico Macheda & NaniFor the second successive weekend, Manchester United’s result and performance have looked altogether more positive after their title title rivals have played their matches. Macheda, despite still looking a long way from being worth of a place in the starting XI, has developed a knack of scoring late goals when United are on the rack, while Nani’s cross for Nemanja Vidic’s leveler was a thing of beauty.

Jon WaltersHere at FFT Towers, we fully support Movember, despite some of the team being too youthful to develop credible face furniture. All the more reason, then, to laud Stoke striker Jon Walters, who is currently sporting the kind of soup-strainer that even a German porn veteran (male) would be proud of.


Roberto ManciniWhile sticking to your tactical guns is to an extent commendable, you’d have thought that the Manchester City boss, having come under criticism from pundits and fans following his side’s less than ambitious performance in the derby on Wednesday, might have adopted a slightly more attacking mindset at home to struggling Birmingham City.

Fair enough, Carlos Tevez has only recently returned from injury – and for that matter  Argentina – and Mancini had thrown on a striker for a midfielder (Roque Santa Cruz for James Milner) 17 minutes previously. But with Brazilian forward Jo sat kicking his heels on the bench, surely the Italian could and should have been a bit more bold?

Perhaps having seen the rewards reaped by Sunderland in doing so at Chelsea, he’ll be inspired to take the plunge.

Howard Webb…There’s no getting around it, Howard Webb didn’t have a great game at Goodison Park. While his poor decisions weren’t reserved exclusively for the benefit of Arsenal, it was Everton who probably had most cause to feel aggrieved, and not just because they ultimately lost the match.

Whether he was failing to award Everton a free-kick just outside the box for a blatant foul by Alex Song, or booking Cesc Fabregas for inadvertently catching Sylvain Distin in a 50-50 challenge in which both players were probably as culpable (or otherwise) as each other, Webb was never far away from agitating one set of fans or the other. Come Tony Pulis's revolution, expect to see Mr Webb at a fourth division ground near you.

Sebastien Squillaci could and should have been sent off for hauling down Louis Saha as the Everton star looked to circumnavigate the Frenchman, with no other Arsenal defender realistically about to stop the pacy forward getting a shot in.

…Mike Dean…
Wes Brown could and should have been sent off for bundling over Ashley Young as the Aston Villa star looked to pounce on a Gabriel Agbonlahor cross, with no other United defender realistically about to stop the pacy forward getting a shot in.

…and Chris FoyBranislav Ivanovic could and should been sent off for tugging back Danny Welbeck as the Sunderland star burst through the home defence, with no other Chelsea defender realistically about to stop the pacy forward getting a shot in.

And people whinge that there’s no consistency among Premier League referees…

Gael GivetIn a baffling and costly loss of concentration akin to a three-year-old letting go of a balloon then bawling as it gently floats away, Blackburn defender Givet gifted Peter Crouch his first Premier League goal of the season by inexplicably failing to shepherd clear the ball after Paul Robinson had parried a Roman Pavlyuchenko shot. This allowed Crouch to prod the ball past the understandably miffed Yorkshire-born gloveman.

The French defender may have compensated for it partly by scoring Rovers' second in injury time, but his lack of focus in his own box was ultimately the moment the match moved beyond the visitors.

Ryan Babel
The delicate little Twitter-flower delayed his own substitution in Liverpool’s defeat at Stoke because he had forgotten to put his gloves on.