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Mar 31, 2013

Team of the Week

Us little Englanders usually howl at the sight of a goalkeeper choosing to punch rather than catch a cross but David Moyes won't mind a jot after Tim Howard's jab at the ball released Kevin Mirallas to score Everton's winner against Stoke. On a weekend of modest keeping displays, Howard's assist, combined with fine saves from Robert Huth and Jonathan Walters, secures him our hallowed green jersey.

Like a fine wine, Sylvain Distin seems to get better with age. The 35-year-old threw himself into the assault on the senses that a game against Stoke represents with gusto, and came out with a victory and a clean sheet to boot. Alongside the ever honest Phil Jagielka, Distin was an assured presence and shackled the likes of Peter Crouch, Cameron Jerome and Kenwyne Jones with aplomb. At this rate, Distin should have a few good years in him yet.

Alexander Buttner's TOTW inclusion does come with a caveat - that Sunderland were admittedly awful against Manchester United in a game that proved Martin O'Neill's last as manager of the Wearside club. But, they still had to be beaten and though Buttner wasn't overworked in a defensive sense, his probing forward runs and intelligent link play offered United's fans hope that he could prove an able successor to Patrice Evra in the long term.

Is there a better defender in the Premier League than Jan Vertonghen at present? The Belgian has emerged as an integral part of Tottenham's charge for Champions League football, proving an invaluable asset at both ends of the field. I'd happily anoint him captain of TOTW for the two exquisite touches that led to his goal alone but once again, his all-round display was excellent.

The same Swansea fans that cheered Gareth Bale's every move during their World Cup qualifier with Croatia were no doubt cursing his name after another virtuoso display at the Liberty Stadium. Providing an astute pass for Vertonghen's opener Bale scored a goal of breath-taking quality, a mere shuffle of the feet controlling and fizzing the ball into the corner of the net before Michel Vorm even had a chance to move. And showcasing his defensive responsibilities, Bale tracked Nathan Dyer into the box to provide an important block in stoppage time.

Man of the match: Gervinho. Just let that sink in for a while. The much maligned Ivory Coast international was like a winger reborn on Saturday, albeit against surely-doomed Reading. Tapping home a simple first Gervinho could have had a hat-trick before half time as he ripped into the Royals' ropey defence. Perhaps realising he should stick at one, he then turned creator, teeing up Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud for the second and third goals, before departing to standing ovation.

A commanding midfield performance, a brilliant goal, an assist and a walk-on part in one of the funniest dismissals of the season ensures West Ham's Gary O'Neil gets a TOTW shirt. The former Middlesbrough midfielder sent in an inviting corner for Andy Carroll to nod the Hammers' first before his cute, curling effort from the box edge doubled their lead. And after an innocuous clip on Youssuf Mulumbu in injury time, O'Neil became target practice for the Congolese's giggle-inducing rage.

David Silva barely had to ease out of third gear to play a fulsome part in Manchester City's destruction of Newcastle, prompting and probing from his berth at the apex of Roberto Mancini's midfield. Silva slotted Gael Clichy in down the left as the full back created Carlos Tevez's first and grabbed the second with a neat slice of control and a powerful finish after Samir Nasri's offload. And it was his corner that led to the third goal, scored by returning captain Vincent Kompany.

We've already mentioned how poor Sunderland were but in this form, Michael Carrick would surely have schooled any Premier League opponent. He looked so calm in possession, England fans might be forgiven for wondering where this sort of form was in the second half versus Montenegro. The 31-year-old oozed composure when all those in red and white shirts desperately harried round the field looking for an ounce of it to call their own. A class act.

It seems Big Sam's Friday moan about his misfiring strikers had the desired effect - it certainly pricked up Andy Carroll's ears. Just a day after bemoaning a lack of potency in his Hammers outfit, Carroll responded with a barnstorming display against West Brom, showcasing the power and finesse at his disposal with a bullet header and a deft over-the-shoulder volley. As soon as the match was over, and in typical fashion, Big Sam was back to banging on about a permanent deal for the big Geordie in the summer.

Even Distin might wince when thinking about a potential duel with Carroll and our other powerhouse TOTW striker, Rickie Lambert. The journeyman now has 14 goals in his debut Premier League season but his superb free kick against Chelsea must surely rank as his best. The 31-year-old also created space for Saints' first, drifting out to the wing before a cute ball inside for Jay Rodriguez, who then swapped passes with Steven Davis to register Southampton's first.

As for our gaffer of the week, step forward Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine might not have a decent grasp of English yet but I'll bet he knows the phrase 'giant killing' after he added a home win over Chelsea to victories against Manchester City and Liverpool. A spirited display against a much-changed Blues outfit grabbed him a vital win and set him up nicely for next week's visit to Reading and a potentially spicy meeting with the man he deposed, Nigel Adkins.

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