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Whittaker: Deserved win at Man City

Stoke 17 hours ago
Read
Dec 30, 2012

Team of the Week

With Fulham having won only once in their last 12 league games, Martin Jol could be forgiven for expressing a little frustration that his goalkeeper - David Stockdale - was giving away goals on Saturday while Swansea's Gerhard Tremmel was in inspired form. The 34-year-old German, filling in for Michel Vorm, made a number of key saves in the 2-1 victory, notably frustrating Bryan Ruiz on several occasions, and Jol told the BBC after the game: "I think we were the better team, and I have to say that their goalkeeper was terrific and our goalkeeper, which is a terrific goalkeeper, didn't have his best day today."

Purists may suggest that the inclusion of a Norwich City defender is unjustifiable after the concession of four goals in a defeat to ten-man Manchester City, and they might even question his positioning on the opening goal, but Russell Martin makes the cut as his brace - his only goals of 2012 - made the scoreline entirely respectable. As a chipper Martin noted in the Norwich Evening News: "I really enjoyed it apart from the defeat."

The legendary Paolo Maldini is said to have averaged only one tackle every two games due to his perfect positioning and ability to read the subtleties of the game. Michael Dawson, though, adopts a different approach. This gung-ho English throwback did not appear to have the confidence of Andre Villas-Boas at the start of his Tottenham tenure - a reminder of his days attempting to introduce John Terry to the merits of a high defensive line, perhaps - but the Portuguese now seems to have accepted Dawson's delight in the last-ditch. In the 2-1 victory over Sunderland, the centre-back won countless headers and threw himself in the way of the ball in the cause of victory.

Like Dawson, Nemanja Vidic is unafraid of a good old-fashioned clearance and the Serb's return to action in the victory over West Brom brought Manchester United only their fifth clean sheet of the season in all competitions. Sir Alex Ferguson, an old-fashioned centre-forward in his day, expressed his delight post-match at the way his defence withstood the visitors' litany of crosses and the return of Vidic was a major factor in that success.

Everton's Leighton Baines makes the cut at left-back after a highly impressive display in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea. Solid in his defensive duties and excellent in attack, Baines' constant forays down the left and crosses into the centre should have reaped dividends, with Nikica Jelavic heading one ball onto the bar and then miscuing from close range late in the game. It's little wonder he's so regularly linked with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

If scoring goals in the Premier League at the moment is like shooting fish in a barrel, scoring goals against Aston Villa is more like rigging the barrel with explosives. Yet, while Paul Lambert's men have conceded 15 goals in their last three games, it would be churlish to deny Wigan's Emmerson Boyce a spot in our team simply because the opponents weren't up to scratch. Boyce, positioned out on the right, scored a spectacular solo goal and was a constant menace throughout the match, giving the Villa youngsters nightmares that will not be easily soothed by their already concerned parents.

While Roman Abramovich seems to be extremely reluctant to follow the advice of the Chelsea faithful and sign him up for a further season, the Blues have won five of the six league games Frank Lampard has started this season and, against Everton, they won precisely because of him. The captain reprised his poacher role to net two goals in an intelligent, disciplined overall display, edging out Everton counterpart Steven Pienaar for the central midfield role.

On the left flank, Gareth Bale gets the nod after the Welshman's sparkling display of wing wizardry in Spurs' 2-1 victory over Sunderland. The headlines after the game centred on Bale's latest booking for simulation - his fifth since August 2011 - but replays showed Craig Gardner made contact and Spurs should, by rights, have had a penalty. Add to that his fantastic work in setting up Jermain Defoe for a golden chance, as well as several other penetrating runs, and it was another fine day's work. With Aaron Lennon inspired on the opposite flank, Spurs look deadly on the counter.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had expressed concern during the week that Luis Suarez may not be fit for the trip to Queens Park Rangers on Sunday. As it turned out, Rodgers was ruled out of the encounter by the club doctor while man-of-the-match Suarez netted twice inside the opening 16 minutes to effectively win the game for the Reds.

Edin Dzeko has often been his own worst enemy, providing inspired cameos as substitute and insipid displays when selected to start. In the 4-3 victory at Norwich, he finally overcame his tendency to self-sabotage as he neatly rounded off a sublime move to open the scoring two minutes in and then kept cool as he added a second two minutes later. For City's fourth, he sprung the offside trap before unleashing the shot that, via a deflection from the post, led to goalkeeper Mark Bunn's decisive own goal.

Theo Walcott has been touted as a potential successor to Thierry Henry for over six years now. It has taken a resolute refusal to sign a new deal until he is played as a central striker to force the issue but, against Newcastle, Arsene Wenger finally seemed to be in possession of the French star's heir apparent. "I always said that one day he would play through the middle and it grew in his brain," the Arsenal boss had said before the game. "He is now 23. I decided to play Thierry Henry at 23 through the middle because you have to learn a lot before." The opener was pure Henry as he raced clear of the defence, the second was coolness personified as he swivelled and picked his spot, and the third was a breath-taking combination of tenacity and talent. Add in his two assists, and it was a truly special night for the youngster. Unfortunately for Wenger, Walcott is free to talk to foreign clubs as of Tuesday.

While the temptation is to nominate Brendan Rodgers as this week's top manager after he masterminded a 3-0 victory over QPR despite not being allowed into Loftus Road, Stoke City boss Tony Pulis gets the nod. The Potters, without suspeded star defenders Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross, fell 3-1 behind and then found themselves down to ten men when Steven Nzonzi was dismissed after 71 minutes with the score 3-2. Pulis, though, went all-out attack, bringing on Peter Crouch four minutes later to complement an attack already boasting Kenwyne Jones, Cameron Jerome and Jon Walters. It paid dividends, with Jerome - who had earlier replaced Matthew Etherington - netting a stunning equaliser before Crouch went close to finding an injury-time winner.

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