Have you caught your breath yet? If there was one round of games to watch this season, this was it. I remember the last weekend of the 2007 calendar year being pretty good, but I think what we saw yesterday and today took the cake.
The title race is alive and kicking. The relegation fight will be contested until the weekend of the season. Everton is still in 5th place, the last automatic UEFA Cup spot, but the Toffees can be tracked down in the last two games of the year. Think about it; there was meaningful excitement at the top, middle, and bottom of the league table all in one weekend.
• Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United, sealed by an 86th-minute PK from Michael Ballack, propelled the Blues into a tie atop the league table with the Red Devils. Both teams have 81 points with two league games still to play, although Man U is ahead on goal differential.
• Dimitar Berbatov put a header just inches above the crossbar in 2nd half injury time, and Tottenham settled for a 1-1 draw with Bolton. A goal in that situation wouldn’t have meant anything for Spurs, but it would’ve resulted in no points for Gary Megson’s relegation-threatened team, something they couldn’t have afforded at this point in the season.
• Newcastle came from 2-0 down at Upton Park by scoring two goals in three minutes late in the first half to pick up a 2-2 draw against West Ham. The point doesn’t mean anything in the long run for either team, but Kevin Keegan’s side is showing the fight that they didn’t have earlier in the year.
• Fulham also came from 2-0 down, but they came ALL the way back and scored three goals in the last 20 minutes of the game to beat Manchester City 3-2 at their ground. The road victory was only the Cottagers’ second of the year, and the three points that came with it are a potential Premiership lifeline. City dominated the first hour of the game, but Diomansy Kamara’s brace, capped off by a 92nd minute near-post roofer, helped Fulham pull off the shocking upset. The loss also could leave Sven in big trouble as City’s manager…
• Sunderland’s second North East Derby in two weeks ended in late jubilation, as an Emanuel Pogatetz own goal gave the Black Cats their 9th home win of the season. This match was a wild one, with Middlesbrough’s Tuncay Sanli opening the scoring in the 4th minute, followed by Danny Higginbotham’s equalizer two minutes later and Michael Chopra’s goal right before halftime. Afonso Alves leveled for Boro in the 73rd minute with a weak dribbler, and then Pogatetz’s unfortunate mistake in injury time, claimed by Sunderland’s Daryl Murphy, sent the crowd at the Stadium of Light into raptures.
• Liverpool’s second-stringers came from 2-0 down at St. Andrew’s to pick up a point, one that clinched 4th place and a berth in the Champions League next season for the Reds when Everton drew with Aston Villa a day later (today, more on that in a bit). Peter Crouch and Yossi Benayoun scored in the span of 13 minutes for Rafa’s side, and Birmingham missed out on a badly-needed victory. The Blues will travel to Craven Cottage next weekend for a relegation showdown against Fulham, with the loser almost certainly destined for the Championship.
• Three goals, two from Aston Villa and one from Everton, were scored in the last 10 minutes of today’s game at Goodison Park, but the Toffees had already scored a fluky goal earlier in the match. It ended 2-2, obviously, as John Carew’s header gave Villa a share of the spoils just when it looked like Everton was going to escape with the three points and a return trip to the UEFA Cup next year. They still may, but Villa now have a chance to catch them, as the two teams are three points apart with two games left to play.
It was a great weekend of soccer in the Premiership, and a great example of why it is the most exciting domestic league in the world.