Leicester keep winning, Newcastle and Everton slump in Heroes & Villains
Iain Macintosh runs the rule over another Premier League weekend in the latest edition of Heroes and Villains.
Another test for Leicester and another pass. Make no mistake -- there was nothing easy about their trip to Watford. The Hornets are organised and hard working, with all the pressure on Claudio Ranieri's team to impress. But once again, they found a way through. They were fortunate, it must be said, that Watford were so profligate in front of goal, but no one will care about that now. It's another three points on the board, it's an extended lead, it's a continuing miracle. Can anyone stop them? At the risk of compromising its hard-earned reputation for objectivity, this column sincerely hopes not.
As Croatia manager, Slaven Bilic refused to bow to reputation and he refused to recognise lost causes. He has continued in a similar vein at West Ham. After an excellent victory against Tottenham in midweek, a first win at Goodison Park since 2005, and one that was sealed in 12 incredible final minutes. West Ham are well set for their first fifth-place finish since 1999 and, given that Manchester United slipped up, it could get even better yet. This is a team with talent and character. Could they break into the top four?
With all the focus on Newcastle losing, we shouldn't forget that Bournemouth won on Saturday. That's seven points from three games and with only one goal conceded. Eddie Howe's side were written off by so many and have been ravaged by long-term injuries this season, but they're almost safe. They have 35 points already and if they beat Swansea at home this weekend, you would have to say that they will be in a position to plan for a second season of Premier League football. For Howe to have come so far by early March is an outstanding achievement.
After a long, tight season, a vast gap is opening up at the bottom of the table. Swansea, so drab for so long, are winning again. It's now two wins on the bounce and four in their last eight, the sort of form that's more than enough to escape the drop. Not bad considering that manager Francesco Guidolin is still in hospital with a chest infection, his instructions relayed to the team by stalwart coach Alan Curtis. The Swans sit nine points above the gaping maw now. It would take an extraordinarily poor run of form to relegate them.
Finally, hats off to Tony Pulis too. West Bromwich Albion's first victory over Manchester United since 1984 has effectively confirmed their survival. Pulis has had his critics this season, both within the club and beyond, but he's accomplished his primary objective again. It hasn't been easy this year. Pulis has been at pains to point out that the loss of Saido Berahino to what he referred to as "nonsense" has been the equivalent of Spurs losing Harry Kane or Leicester losing Jamie Vardy. But with almost a quarter of the season left to go, the Baggies are clear.
Francis Coquelin must have fallen to his feet and cried with relief when Alexis Sanchez saved the day for Arsenal. If the Gunners had lost at White Hart Lane, the blame would have fallen on his shoulders like a piano dropped from a eighth floor window. His critical challenge -- a reckless lunge that brought a deserved second yellow -- was profoundly stupid but the offence for the first caution was even worse. They don't give the referee a whistle for fun and as such, you can't just conclude that you've been fouled and pick the ball up yourself. Most of us were taught to play to the whistle at school. Francis must have missed that lesson.
What was it with stupid red cards this weekend? The PFA really need to send an email to their members today reminding them that making daft challenges while on yellow cards is a very foolish policy. James Milner took the long walk for Liverpool but at least his team went on to win at Palace. Not so for Juan Mata and Manchester United. Faced with over an hour of being out-manned against West Bromwich Albion, Louis van Gaal's side slipped to their seventh defeat of the season. Come on, lads. It's not that hard to remember you're on a final warning.
Coats were thrown and journalists were snapped at but Alan Pardew's anger has done nothing to camouflage Crystal Palace amid their stomach-wrenching descent down the table. Yes, Christian Benteke collapsed in defiance of physics but there was clear contact from Damien Delaney's knee. Sometimes it's possible for it to be a penalty and a dive at the same time. But never mind all of that. Palace were 1-0 up at home against a 10-man team with less than half an hour to go. There's no excuse for not being able to hold on.
We banned Aston Villa from the Villains section because it felt like bullying and on those grounds, we might have to ban Newcastle soon too. Before kick-off, "the players" issued a statement expressing their support for beleaguered manager Steve McClaren. How hollow those words looked as soon as the game began. Their performance was disgraceful. This is a team without heart, without fight and without desire. They may be without a manager soon, too. McClaren will pay the price and they will continue to earn their millions. Those players should hang their heads in shame.
If you had to pick one team in the Premier League most likely to turn a two-goal advantage into a defeat inside just 12 minutes, you'd pick Everton every time. Every time. Roberto Martinez's side are young, exciting and bold, but there seems to be no scenario so secure that they can't find a way to mess up. You wouldn't trust them to make a salad for fear that they'd somehow burn the kitchen down. It's so frustrating even for the neutral because there's no question that this team should be trying to push for the top four. Instead, they're just trying our patience.
Iain Macintosh is a writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.