Heroes & Villains: Torres restored, Spurs find saviour, McLeish's Villa pointless
RESULTS Sat 28 Apr Everton 4-0 Fulham, Norwich 0-3 Liverpool, Stoke 1-1 Arsenal, Sunderland 2-2 Bolton, Swansea 4-4 Wolves, West Brom 0-0 Aston Villa, Wigan 4-0 Newcastle Sun 29 Apr Chelsea 6-1 QPR, Tottenham 2-0 Blackburn.
Roberto MartinezFive wins out of seven have left Wigan looking like theyÃ¢ÂÂre going to escape relegation the hard way yet again. Usually one would assume a team making a late charge for safety would have done so by rolling their sleeves up and shedding more than a few bucket loads of sweat, but Wigan have subverted all of the clichÃÂ©s this season by toppling Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and now, Newcastle United by playing the expansive, eye-catching brand of football demanded by their Spanish boss. Their sudden upturn in fortunes could be attributed to subtle tweaking of MartinezÃ¢ÂÂs system, or maybe their style is just better suited to facing quality opposition Ã¢ÂÂ whatever it is, Wigan are now three points clear of the relegation zone with two to play. A win against Blackburn next Monday evening should be enough to see them defy gravity Ã¢ÂÂ and early season expectations - for another year. If they do, and they can hold onto their manager, perhaps next term they can finally aspire to more than just mere survival.
Fernando TorresThe Camp Nou hero looked restored to his former glory with a hat-trick in SundayÃ¢ÂÂs 6-1 butchering of QPR at Stamford Bridge. It wasnÃ¢ÂÂt just the clinical finishing that had returned, but also the movement, awareness and explosive pace over the first five yards that once made him the Premier LeagueÃ¢ÂÂs most feared marksman during his first three years in England. His first Premier League treble since LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs 6-1 win over Hull in September 2009 boosted ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs hopes of claiming that lucrative fourth Champions League spot, should they fail to win the pot itself in Munich. If there is one note of caution, itÃ¢ÂÂs that weÃ¢ÂÂve previously heralded the Ã¢ÂÂsecond comingÃ¢ÂÂ of Nando, only for the freckly-faced forward to go missing the following week. Next weekend is the FA Cup Final, we note. Against his former club, we note. This would certainly be a good time to finally show a bit of consistency in a blue shirt.
Nikica JelavicÃ¢ÂÂFollow the Jelavic road,Ã¢ÂÂ sing the Everton faithful in tribute to their new hero. He may have only arrived in January, but heÃ¢ÂÂs already the clubÃ¢ÂÂs top scorer for the season, having netted 10 goals in his first 13 games at the Merseyside club. There were question marks over JelavicÃ¢ÂÂs ability to make the step up from the SPL to the Premier League, but heÃ¢ÂÂs adapted seamlessly to life south of the border and played a huge role in Everton scoring four goals in three consecutive Premier League matches. The CroatianÃ¢ÂÂs most recent two strikes contributed to a hugely impressive 4-0 win over in-form Fulham. The Toffees are two points ahead of city rivals Liverpool, and if they can see off Stoke and Wolves, they will finish ahead of the Reds for the first time since 2005.
Terry ConnorAfter last SundayÃ¢ÂÂs 2-0 defeat to Manchester City condemned Wolves to the drop, Connor spoke of preserving the integrity of the division in their remaining three fixtures, aware that other Premier League clubs would rely on them to show some pluck despite their own fate already being sealed. These were admirably altruistic sentiments from a beleaguered manager so soon after relegation, but the words looked as empty as WolvesÃ¢ÂÂ pointsÃ¢ÂÂ coffers at the Liberty Stadium when they were 3-0 and then 4-1 down. A fight back followed, however, and Wolves somehow managed to get themselves back on level terms to earn a rare and unlikely point. ItÃ¢ÂÂs tempting to question where this desire and clinical finishing has been all season, particularly in ConnorÃ¢ÂÂs reign, but letÃ¢ÂÂs simply toast a remarkable turnaround and the latest example of just how mental this league can be.
SandroAlthough Kyle WalkerÃ¢ÂÂs superb free-kick made the headlines, it was the disciplined and robust, yet adventurous performance of the Brazilian midfielder that was the most telling factor in TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs victory. The 23-year-old was dominant in the absence of Scott Parker, and his eleven completed tackles were more than any other player has managed in a single Premier League match this season.Spurs have three games in which to save their Champions League dream Ã¢ÂÂ Sandro could be the key to rejuvenating a side that has lost a lot of its verve and swagger in recent weeks.
Luis Suarez Three goals of the very highest quality from the Uruguayan headline-maker showcased a newfound assassinÃ¢ÂÂs steel in front of goal. LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs goalscoring woes and propensity to find woodwork over net has been well documented, but Suarez gave one of the seasonÃ¢ÂÂs great individual performances at Carrow Road, scoring a hat-trick in which each goal was better than the last. The 45-yard chip that ended his evening (and the game as a contest) will be the strike that lives longest in the memory, but it was the strikerÃ¢ÂÂs energy and tenacity that truly impressed. Suarez is exactly the type of forward that gives defenders sleepless nights with his relentless pressing and harrying which found rich reward in this 3-0 win. Now, go and sign him a strike partner, Kenny.
QPRThe Hoops were the biggest losers on a weekend that saw three of the other four sides in the relegation scrap pick up points. QPR were 4-0 down within 25 minutes at Stamford Bridge and barely even set foot in the opposition half in the first period. If they had shown a fraction of the spirit the already-doomed Wolves had mustered at the Liberty Stadium, they surely wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have succumbed as willingly to the Chelsea onslaught. ItÃ¢ÂÂs often said that Mark Hughes isnÃ¢ÂÂt the type of manager to instantly turn around a poor run of form, with his players needing time to become imbedded into his system, but time is a luxury that the Rs are no longer afforded. Although they have managed the odd creditable result here and there to boost their survival hopes, at no stage have they been able to put together a run like the one Wigan have managed recently. ItÃ¢ÂÂs looking increasingly likely that Sparky will need to pick up maximum points on the final day at his old stomping ground, the Etihad Stadium. A feat no side has achieved in the league this seasonÃ¢ÂÂ¦
Danny SimpsonItÃ¢ÂÂs been a phenomenal season for PardewÃ¢ÂÂs men, but SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs heavy defeat at the DW Stadium was a brutal reminder of what can happen when performance levels drop even a fraction. Too many of NewcastleÃ¢ÂÂs best players suffered off-days simultaneously, and Wigan waltzed through with ease time and time again. Danny Simpson has been the unsung hero of the MagpiesÃ¢ÂÂ season thus far, but he suffered at the hands of the Terminator-like running of Victor Moses, who was too quick, too strong and too clever for the Manchester United academy graduate. One poor showing doesnÃ¢ÂÂt spoil whatÃ¢ÂÂs been an incredible season for SimpsonÃ¢ÂÂs Newcastle, and SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs defeat should be filed under Ã¢ÂÂreality checkÃ¢ÂÂ. However, with Chelsea and Manchester City still to play, their Champions League challenge has reached a critical stage.
Randy Lerner & Alex McLeishWhen the Ã¢ÂÂforeign ownershipÃ¢ÂÂ debate rears its head, Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner is often used as the case for the defence. The AmericanÃ¢ÂÂs spell as chairman has been characterised by an unfussy and a patient Ã¢ÂÂhands offÃ¢ÂÂ approach, but surely this charity must be nearing its end. It was an extremely masochistic decision when Lerner installed Alex McLeish as manager. Forget the Birmingham ties and his relegation blemished CV, when football is this joyless, it really does leave you wondering: whatÃ¢ÂÂs the point? A 0-0 draw with local rivals West Brom might just be enough to secure another season in the top flight, but one wonders whether a season in the Championship may actually do them good.Villa have spent the season playing like a nervy newly-promoted side desperately hoofing and scrapping for points rather than one of the most established clubs in the Premier League, and whether they survive or not, Lerner only has one decision to make. ItÃ¢ÂÂs never nice to see a manager lose his job but when the football is this tedious and it doesnÃ¢ÂÂt get results, itÃ¢ÂÂs time to let someone else have a go.
Norwich City Having suffered three consecutive defeats for the first time this season, perhaps the lack of depth in this Norwich City squad is starting to show. It was a leggy performance from the Canaries, whose minds may have been on the beach with relatively little to play for, and Liverpool made them pay. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs clearly no need to hit the panic button at Carrow Road just yet, but their recent poor form may leave manager Paul Lambert fearing a potential outbreak of Ã¢ÂÂsecond season syndromeÃ¢ÂÂ.
Steve KeanBattling relegation with just three matches to go, having just watched one of their rivals for the drop walloped 6-1 and facing a team who had won just one of their last nine league games, you would probably have expected Blackburn to go to White Hart Lane on the front foot. Not so, this was one of the limpest, most pathetic performances of the season, even by BlackburnÃ¢ÂÂs often rather low standards. They stood off and admired TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs build-up play and, in scenes reminiscent of Ã¢ÂÂI Am LegendÃ¢ÂÂ (the ace book, not the awful film), Yakubu was stood alone, miles up the pitch without a yellow shirt in throwing distance. Rovers were so pathetic that they became the first side to fail to muster a single shot on goal over the 90 minutes of a Premier League match since West Brom did so against Manchester City in December 2004. While the Baggies went on to avoid the drop that year, itÃ¢ÂÂs almost impossible to see Rovers performing a similar miracle.In fact, the only thing that was miraculous about this match was that Blackburn werenÃ¢ÂÂt beaten by a wider margin, so if Ã¢ÂÂdamage limitationÃ¢ÂÂ was Steve KeanÃ¢ÂÂs plan, then the mission was a complete success. Blackburn have gone to Old Trafford and claimed three points this season by seizing the initiative and being first to every ball Ã¢ÂÂ here, they looked disinterested and worryingly lacked any sense of direction or a plan. They look doomed and, on this evidence, the Premier League wonÃ¢ÂÂt miss them much.
Chelsea boo boysThis was more than the vocal minority who booed the minuteÃ¢ÂÂs silence for Hillsborough prior to the BluesÃ¢ÂÂ FA Cup semi-final against Spurs, there was widespread booing of Anton Ferdinand every time he received the ball. Genuinely depressing stuff.