Heroes & Villains: EPL highlights and horror shows
Another Premier League weekend, another pantomime parade of goodies and baddies. Mark Booth cheers and boos
It will have felt like a long international break for Anthony Pilkington. Having missed a golden opportunity to put his side 1-0 up at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, Pilkington got to work on the training ground Ã¢ÂÂ and it paid off with a double salvo against fellow newly-promoted side Swansea. The first goal, after just 49 seconds, was particularly clinical with Pilkington hitting it on the turn to end his sleepless nights. Vital in securing the Canaries' third win of the season.
Cause for optimism at last for the Bolton faithful as they ran out comfortable winners at Wigan. A first goal for summer capture David Ngog, as well as an inspired performance from Chris Eagles, ended a run of six successive defeats for the Trotters. Phil Gartside isn't a trigger-happy chairman, but another defeat here would have put at least a question mark over Owen Coyle's future. Wanderers fans can start to look up the table with a fixture list that suddenly doesn't look quite as scary as their early-season assault course.
Alan Pardew's men passed their most significant test of the season so far. Falling behind twice to Tottenham, Newcastle showed their team spirit by rallying for a hard-earned point Ã¢ÂÂ and weren't happy to settle for a point even after Shola Ameobi's brilliant equaliser. There's more to this team than bluster, though: Yohan Cabaye looks a classy addition and with Hatem Ben Arfa and Davide Santon coming off the bench, they look to have a good mix of exciting young prospects and seasoned Premier League campaigners. Credit to Alan Pardew for dealing with the exits of last year's core trio of Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll to build a squad with real competition for places on a tight budget.
Robin van Persie
Arsenal's captain and saviour-in-chief continues to mop up sub-editors' superlative quotas. A stunning free-kick eclipsing the earlier effort from Seb Larsson settled their win over Sunderland. Van Persie's contract situation is a continuing headache for Arsene Wenger who is under no illusions as to the Dutchman's importance for the Gunners: Ã¢ÂÂRobin van Persie is a special player and he's shown that again today. He's blessed at the moment and let's touch wood with his injuries. He's shown what a great player he is when he can be consistently playing.Ã¢ÂÂ
Despite a turgid first half at Anfield, Liverpool excelled in the second and were unfortunate not to get three points. Steven Gerrard isn't quite back to his imperious best but provided the relentless drive from midfield that they've missed. The returning talisman's explosive energy was at the heart of everything good about Liverpool on Saturday, as he chased lost causes and gave the United defence an uncomfortable afternoon. One lapse in concentration spoiled the perfect day for Liverpool but they've got cause to believe that the gulf between United and themselves has been exaggerated.
A comfortable win against Wolves was just the tonic for Hodgson, who must have been starting to get worried. The Baggies had won only one game all season and Hodgson doesn't have to leaf too far back through West Brom's history for the name of Roberto di Matteo, who was hastily removed from the hot seat last season.
Wigan and Antolin Alcaraz
No-one in football wants to see Roberto Martinez fail but beside Mohamed Diame's excellent equaliser and the return of Hugo Rodellega, this was another soul-sapping afternoon. A terrible performance was characterised by hapless centre-half Antolin Alcaraz, whose errors during a masterclass of bad defending were exposed not only by Bolton but also by Alan Hansen in a Match of the Day clipreel which will have had Wigan fans cowering behind their couches. A much better defender than this evidence suggests, Alcaraz needs to find some form quickly. So do Wigan.
Such is the tidal nature of football, Agbonlahor's chance against Manchester City was probably the pivotal moment of the match. Score and the Etihad Stadium's natives might have grown restless, having not seen their team fall behind this season Ã¢ÂÂ especially with former City stars Richard Dunne and Shay Given's reputations for rearguard actions. As it happened, Joe Hart was equal to the one-on-one and City helped themselves to four goals.
Although Sunderland could count themselves somewhat unfortunate to leave North London with nothing, their willingness to gift-wrap shots on Simon Mignolet's goals through free-kicks was staggering. Wes Brown, Michael Turner and John O'Shea were all guilty of diving in on Arsenal's attacking triumvirate of Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Robin van Persie Ã¢ÂÂ and it eventually proved to be the difference between the teams.
Five straight league defeats means Wolves continue to slide down the table, meaning August's flirtation with the Champions League berths are a fuzzy, half-forgotten dream for most Wanderers fans. Mick McCarthy's post-match press-conference prickliness about the logo on West Brom midfielder Paul Scharner's T-shirt told you that this was a man feeling the pressure. Next Saturday's lunchtime encounter with Swansea is as close to must-win as a game in October gets.
Whether Patrice Evra's accusations of racism are true or not, the Uruguayan doesn't exactly shy away from a flashpoint. A frustrating afternoon in front of goal told on a striker who is in danger of letting moments of petulance overshadow his more admirable talents.