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Jan 20, 2013

Team of the Week

Reading achieved what could be an absolutely pivotal win over Newcastle at the weekend - but, had it not been for 'keeper Adam Federici, the Royals would not have been in a position to turn the game around at St James' Park. The Australian made a brilliant one-handed save from a Papiss Cisse header, later denying him again as Newcastle dominated the first half, and also thwarted Yohan Cabaye. Without him, the Magpies would have been more than one up at the break - and the stage would never have been set for Adam Le Fondre's dramatic cameo appearance.

QPR were another side to come under big pressure at the weekend, taking a second-half battering but holding on for a draw at West Ham. Showing a resolve that just wasn't there under Mark Hughes earlier this season, the Rangers defence put everything on the line and veteran Clint Hill shone. As the Hammers pumped cross after cross into the box, Hill won header after header, throwing himself at shots and using his wealth of experience to great effect. His was a performance of heart and endeavour, helping to leave Hammers boss Sam Allardyce utterly frustrated.

Swansea's Ben Davies has been one of a few revelations in their excellent season so far, and gets his place in this week's back three after capping yet another assured defensive afternoon with his first-ever goal for the club. Davies ventured forward to wander past Jonathan Walters and Robert Huth before finishing in style, and played a full part in leaving Stoke pretty much bereft as a meaningful attacking force.

In the second-half siege of QPR at Upton Park, Hammers defender Winston Reid found himself playing a dual role. He was in the right place at the right time to read and snuff out Harry Redknapp's team's counter-attacks, and not only used the ball effectively to help his side keep the pressure on but also got forward himself to contribute shots at goal, seeing a couple blocked before colleague Joe Cole finally broke Rangers' resolve.

There was an abundance of riches to choose from in midfield this week, with more candidates than places. So although the likes of Villa's Charles N'Zogbia, West Ham's Cole, Swansea's Jonathan de Guzman and Reading's Jimmy Kebe all had fine games, they miss out.

None were quite as influential as Juan Mata, Chelsea's ace in the pack when he's playing well. He certainly did that against Arsenal, providing a masterclass in passing and movement and showing his stupendous touch to bring the ball down before thumping in the opening goal and bringing a little cheer to fellow Spaniard Rafa Benitez.

There was more twinkletoed Spanish brilliance on offer at the Etihad as Manchester City cruised to a routine win over Fulham. There was nothing routine, though, about David Silva's performance. In addition to his brace of goals, the second of them a beautiful finish from a Carlos Tevez pass, he was constantly roaming, constantly creating and fully deserving of the ovation he was given when substituted towards the end.

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson is a player who seems to be improving and growing in confidence with every passing week - a far cry from the man often ridiculed both for his price tag and his performances last season. Henderson, along with fellow midfielder Steven Gerrard, was at the hub of the Merseysiders' fine performance against an admittedly woeful Norwich, keeping the ball moving and roving around to great effect as the Canaries chased shadows. He weighed in with a beautifully-struck goal from the edge of the area, too: a player transformed.

Michael Carrick was as assured as you like for Manchester United at White Hart Lane as Sir Alex Ferguson's men so nearly clung on for a win despite Spurs having the vast majority of the pressure. Carrick always provided a sensible ball as United looked to make the most of what was often limited possession and was key to the move from which Robin van Persie gave them the lead. He worked incredibly hard defensively, too, contributing a number of key challenges.

That United didn't quite hang on to win was, in large part, down to Aaron Lennon, who gave Patrice Evra a tough afternoon and never stopped trying to make something happen, even when the frustration of failing to break through was beginning to become apparent in some of his colleagues. As stoppage time ticked on, he got his reward - his fine control from a poor De Gea punch out was followed by a quick look up, a low ball across the area and a Clint Dempsey equaliser.

There was almost as much of a wealth of riches up front. How about Liverpool's Luis Suarez? Reading's game-changing substitute Le Fondre? Well, not quite, and here's why.

Yes, Suarez had a fine game as Liverpool shredded Norwich, but he didn't catch the eye quite as much as new boy Daniel Sturridge, who had a field day in his team's fluid attacking formation. He got his third goal in three games for the club and his all-round contribution was hugely impressive, with the step-over that set up Suarez to make it 2-0 a piece of skill the Uruguayan might have been pleased to call his own.

Le Fondre scored twice, but so did Sunderland's Steven Fletcher, and he just sneaks in ahead of 'Alf' by virtue of his 90-minute contribution. Fletcher flashed two top-drawer finishes into the top corner as the Black Cats came from 1-0 down to lead 3-1 at Wigan. But when the Latics pulled it back to 3-2, the other side of Fletcher's game was apparent - holding the ball up bravely to buy his team-mates time, and providing a commanding presence in his own area at Wigan set-pieces. A great all-round performance.

The man in the dugout is Reading's Brian McDermott. McDermott has never lost faith in his players or their ability to stay in the Premier League, and his positivity reaped rich rewards at Newcastle. Just as when they were two down at home to West Brom before winning, the manager used his substitutes masterfully, never gave up the game as a lost cause and never settled for a draw either. McDermott is an undersung man whose approach and tremendous work in his time at Reading deserve huge credit.

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