Team of the Week
Maybe Reading might still be in with a shout of Premier League survival had they taken the handbrake off earlier in the campaign. Nigel Adkins threw the doors wide open for the visit of Fulham, and they registered four goals in only their second away win of the season, but that did mean a busy afternoon for Alex McCarthy. Of the seven saves he made, two stood out, from Bryan Ruiz and Hugo Rodallega.
Newcastle United looked a far more solid unit at West Ham with captain Fabricio Coloccini back in the fold. After the horror show of last week, when they conceded a cool half dozen against Liverpool, Alan Pardew was forced to bat away claims of disharmony in the camp. The return of the frizzy-haired Argentinean eased the pressure slightly as his leadership and shackling of old boy Andy Carroll earned only their second clean sheet since January 12.
Defences were most definitely on top at Anfield, so perhaps it is no surprise two centre-halves have barged their way into TOTW. It was a particularly poignant encounter for Jamie Carragher, who is set to hang up his boots at the end of the season, and though he didn't get the win he was desperate for, a clean sheet will surely have satisfied him on his final Merseyside derby appearance. The 35-year-old battled all afternoon with the likes of Victor Anichebe and Marouane Fellaini to register another shut out.
At the other end Sylvain Distin was magnificent alongside the equally impressive Phil Jagielka. Whenever Liverpool did manage to fashion an opportunity, one of the two Toffees was on hand to snuff out the danger. Distin kept Daniel Sturridge quiet for most of the afternoon and took up a fine position after Steven Gerrard had dashed round Tim Howard in order to block the Liverpool captain's shot on the line.
Chelsea's pivotal win at Old Trafford was secured thanks to another virtuoso performance from Juan Mata. The Spaniard's strike was corrected after the game to a Phil Jones own goal but it was his run and shot that set up the decisive moment in a largely forgettable match. Prior to that Mata had been the spark for virtually all of Chelsea's attacking forays, probing intelligently behind Demba Ba. A total of 18 goals and 26 assists across all competitions this season speaks for itself.
Should Wigan pull off yet another great escape it will owe much to the enduring form of diminutive winger Shaun Maloney, who, like his club, seems to excel in the spring months. Wigan twice trailed at West Brom but locked down a crucial win thanks to three decisive interventions by Maloney. After an involvement in Wigan's first, after which he was clattered, he then delivered a devilish cross for James McArthur to equalise then danced to byline to set up the winner for Callum McManaman.
After a week in which pretty much every football award going was presented at his feet, Gareth Bale reminded everyone why he is the PFA Player of the Year. Up against the club that honed his talent, Southampton, Bale had been largely anonymous for most of the game. But that's the thing about great players - they are capable of changing any game in an instant. And so it proved in the 86th minute as Bale cut inside Luke Shaw to lash a low shot into the net and secure a precious three points.
"I know I would've got the hat-trick," Hal Robson-Kanu tweeted after he was substituted with eight minutes left at Craven Cottage. He may well be right too, after giving Fulham a torrid time during Reading's 4-2 win. The Welsh winger won and scored an early penalty to set his team off and running, then converted a fine second, slamming a loose ball into the far corner beyond Mark Schwarzer. By his reckoning, that is seven goals from 11 starts this season. Not bad at all.
If Fulham had a hard time getting to grips with Robson-Kanu then the thorn in Reading's side was Bryan Ruiz. The Costa Rican did his level best to keep Fulham in with a chance of the point or points that would have secured Premier League survival for another year, with a pair of well taken goals, one slotted home with his right after an interchange with Hugo Rodallega, the other a neat header from Alexander Kacaniklic's cross.
Aston Villa's sparkling end-of-season form has had much to do with Gabriel Agbonlahor, a vital cog in the wheel who has often been overshadowed by the barnstorming brilliance of Christian Benteke. But the Brummy seized centre stage on Saturday with a devastating display at Carrow Road. Both his goals were expertly taken, the first a product of his own creation, as he surged into Norwich's half before finishing from 25 yards. And after the Canaries had levelled, Agbonlahor struck the decisive blow, latching on to Ashley Westwood's sublime pass to lift Villa to the 40-point mark.
In a disappointed clash at Loftus Road, Theo Walcott provided the undoubted highlight within 20 seconds of the opening whistle. Finding space inside the area, Walcott accepted an astute pass from Mikel Arteta to finish past Rob Green. He continued to provide the game's biggest threat, hitting the base of the post shortly after his goal and testing Green several more times in the second half as Arsenal grabbed a vital win in their fight for Champions League football.
There are two outstanding candidates for manager of the week this time around and after plenty of pondering in the office we have decided they can't be split. So for perhaps the first time in TOTW history, we'll be taking a hacksaw to the award and chopping it in half. Rafael Benitez has this week not only guided his team to a vital win against champions Manchester United at old Trafford, but also into the Europa League final. And while Paul Lambert might be fighting at the opposite end of the table, he also deserves recognition after two wins in a week – including one on his old stomping ground - that have transported Aston Villa a long way towards Premier League safety. Enjoy it gentlemen.