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Feb 5, 2012

Team of the Week

Newcastle's new No.9 Papiss Cisse attracted the headlines after his stunner sent Newcastle to victory over Aston Villa but once again, the Magpies were indebted to Tim Krul for sterling work at the other end. In a first half Villa dominated, Krul twice spread himself well as Darren Bent bore down on goal, and then after Cisse's strike had edged the Toon in front, the Dutch keeper made a point-blank save from Gary Gardner's deflected header before claiming bravely at the feet of Emile Heskey.

Any team that goes to Stoke and keeps a clean sheet can be satisfied with their afternoon's work. The leader of Sunderland's parsimonious back four was Michael Turner, who, together with John O'Shea, fronted up to the extent required when Stoke are pumping balls into your box and driving snow adds to the chaos. Turner has only started twice under Martin O'Neill in the Premier League - both times Sunderland have kept a clean sheet.

Swansea recorded their second away win of the Premier League season at West Brom, and what's more, they did so from a goal down in the second half. Stung by conceding to Marc-Antoine Fortune, the Swans went right up the other end and equalised. That they did was in large part to a lung-bursting run from Neil Taylor. The left-back overlapped Leon Britton and pulled the ball back perfectly for Gylfi Sigurdsson to bring the sides level.

Taylor will have to scrap it out with our final defender, Leighton Baines, for a left-sided role at the back, after Everton's stalwart helped earned his side a point at Wigan. Baines had already teed up Darron Gibson for what should have been the opener in the first half, only to watch the former Manchester United man blaze over from 16 yards, but Victor Anichebe made no such mistake as he glanced the 27-year-old's inviting centre into the corner of the net.

Norwich boss Paul Lambert thought his side played as well as they ever have under his tutelage in their 2-0 win over Bolton. Instrumental in their success was midfielder Andrew Surman. It was fitting he finally broke the deadlock as he had been one of the biggest threats on Bolton's goal in the match. He teed up chances for Simeon Jackson and Grant Holt in the first half, and also hit the bar when he probably should have scored, but righted that wrong with a late run and powerful volley to break the deadlock and send the Canaries on their way to a 2-0 win.

What an astute piece of business Gylfi Sigurdsson seems to be for Swansea. The Icelander has slotted into the Swans' passing style perfectly and is already having a big impact on their quest to secure Premier League status as soon as possible. Just a minute after Swansea had gone behind to West Brom, he brought them level with a fine finish from Neil Taylor's cross, then he supplied the killer pass in a delicious Swansea move, as Danny Graham sealed their 2-1 victory at The Hawthorns.

Theo Walcott ran riot against Blackburn, a triumph in itself for the 22-year-old, but his efforts were matched by 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a winger the club must hope can reach his potential quicker than his fellow former-Southampton colleague. The Ox grabbed his first Premier League goals for the club with assured finishes, rounding Paul Robinson for the first before shifting a Walcott pass back onto his right foot in order to find the corner for number two. Did someone mention Euro 2012?

Who was the last player to make such an immediate impact on the Premier League before James McClean? Since getting his first Sunderland start against Manchester City on New Year's Day he's been an ever present, scoring twice and providing one assist. At Stoke it was his moment of quality that made it three goals for the campaign and settled the game, as he burst from deep and swerved past two defenders before finishing low past Thomas Sorensen, in the game's only real moment of quality.

I doubt Sergio Aguero has played many games of top flight football in such horrendous conditions. But if he isn't used to snow, it didn't show, as he drove Manchester City to a comfortable win over Fulham. The striker is such a good finisher, his all-round game is often overshadowed, but he was City's star performer in their 3-0 win, converting a penalty and creating the third for Edin Dzeko with a dazzling run and lay-off.

At 3-0 down, Manchester United were staring down the barrel of a humiliating defeat at Stamford Bridge but the industry and quality of Wayne Rooney hauled them back from the brink. Keeping his nerve to dispatch two penalties from the spot, he was also involved in pretty much everything United did going forward, typified by his snapshot that came a few seconds before Javier Hernandez's equaliser.

Robin van Persie can now boast 22 goals in 24 Premier League games this season, and Blackburn's brittle backline were the latest to feel his wrath on Saturday. The Dutchman hasn't gone more than one Arsenal game without a goal since October and after a blank at Bolton, Blackburn were hit for a hat-trick. Two of his three goals were tap-ins, and owed much to his anticipation, while the third was a crisp finish from a right-wing cross. Van Persie even had time to supply the pass of the match too, as Oxlade-Chamberlain grabbed the third.

The Britannia is a tough place to go at any time of year, but chuck in a howling Arctic snowblast and very few teams would emerge with an appetite left to play football, let alone three points. But confidence is a emboldening quality and Martin O'Neill has pumped so much of it into Sunderland they fear nothing and no-one at present. It wasn't a pretty game, in fact, it was a munter, but a dash of skill from James McClean coupled with a ton of grit meant O'Neill's eighth win in 12 games since taking over. If the league had started when he joined, Sunderland would be top.

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