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Everton on the cusp of Europa progress

Everton about an hour ago
Read
Dec 9, 2007

Team of the Week

It was the battle of England's current number one and two goalkeepers on Saturday. No it wasn't Paul Robinson taking on Robert Green - more fool you - it was the young buck Scott 'thanks for Euro 2008' Carson and David 'second best' James. In the tussle of the stoppers, Calamity James came out on top with an assured performance that included four smart saves in the opening half. Carson looked shaky throughout but managed not to throw any of the speculative 65-yard efforts Niko Kranjcar fired at him into his own net, even if each punt from the Croatian was accompanied by a maniacal grin and a heavy wink.

For an hour, Reading's back line was quivering against Liverpool, but for the last third the Royals looked steadfast and solid allowing their counter-attacking midfield to charge toward Jose Reina's goal and sink the tinkerman, Rafael Benitez. The skipper Graeme Murty nestles in ahead of his three chums, for leading by example, constantly rallying his charges and for being an all round decent human being. Ahh, that's nice isn't it?

Arsene Wenger must be glad to see the back of the North East after getting roughed up at Newcastle on Wednesday night and outfought by a resurgent Middlesboro' side on Sunday. Just as Steven Taylor starred for the Magpies at St James' Park, another home-grown talent shone in the Riverside clash, namely David Wheater. The youth academy product was dominant in the aerial battle throughout and quick to sniff out any incisive looking Gunners' breaks. He also baffled Arsenal's team of internationals into submission by displaying visible and brimming pride at actually being from the gloomy, industrial town infamous for being unanimously voted the UK's worst place to live.

Yet again, the ever-detestable Lucas Neill has somehow crept into the starting line-up, largely due to the West Ham game being televised live and the absence of any other notable defensive performances this weekend. He silenced the fans who used to worship (ok, tolerate) him at Ewood Park with his trademark combination of criminal intent and inane Aussie gurning. But that said a clean sheet, three points and a nice smug grin are just reward for the Hammers' skipper after his strong start to the season so far.

Kevin Nolan's rebirth at the hands of Gary 'Ginger Mourinho' Megson at Bolton has not been lost on the club's fans or his team-mates. Still only 25, he looked to have lost his way when Little Sam waddled unnoticed into the hot seat vacated by Big Sam, and struggled to make himself heard due to the fact that he couldn't see over the manager's desk. They fell out and Nolan was on the bench, but Megson came in, gave the scouser his confidence back and has been repaid in spades with great performances (not least against Man United) and goals - like the one he scored past Wigan at the Reebok on Sunday.

Big Sam quickly reappeared on Tyneside to enforce his crazy 4-2-1-2-1-3-2-1 tactics in front of a bewildered crowd at St James' Park. Newcastle fans are more used to attacking football not a side whose first instinct, as instructed by their manager, is to stifle a negative Birmingham City side. As such, James Milner provided the one attacking outlet for the Toon, and coped with that heavy burden supremely well, hitting the bar, forcing Maik Taylor into several saves and generally turning in a sparkling performance.

Ryan Giggs' 100th league goal for Manchester United means the Welshman swerves any poorly constructed jokes or barbed comments from your correspondent this week. The 34-year-old has operated superbly at the highest level for 15 years and deserves nothing but praise for his approach to the game, his physical and mental agility and for proving a constant menace to back-lines across the world. A fantastic player and a fantastic servant to his club, it'll be a sad day when he finally hangs up his gold-plated boots.

Rounding off our award-winning midfield is Sulley Muntari who fired two fearsome strikes past England's number seven Scott Carson at Villa Park. Carson may well have taken his eye off Muntari, busy as he was crossing his fingers and toes that Pompey's Niko Kranjcar wasn't going to shoot, but even if he saw either strike he got nowhere near them. The Ghana international had scored only two goals for his club before Saturday's game but his two blinders helped Pompey to their first win at Villa in 38 years.

The Goodison Park faithful scream from the terraces 'Feed the Yak and he will score'. With eight goals in his ten Premier League games so far that could mean an obscenely overweight Ayegbeni Yakubu by the end of the season. The Nigerian followed two relatively easy goals - a tap into an empty net after a save from the keeper and a close range header - with the piesta resistance, a wonderful dummy followed by a curling shot to complete his first hat-trick for his new club.

Flashes of quality were few and far between at Ewood Park on Sunday, in fact, Blackburn's game with West Ham was pretty poor. That was until Dean Ashton entered the fray at half-time. The former Norwich striker looked class from minute 45, displaying immaculate control, rangy vision and a killer instinct. Not only did he finish off George McCartney's cross to settle the game, he also showed why Carlton Cole should never been allowed within coin-chucking distance of a Premier League pitch again as Ashton demonstrated all the qualities that the ex-Chelsea player lacks, and will never acquire.

Completing this eclectic mix of talented individuals is Reading's Kevin Doyle, architect of Liverpool's tepid demise at the Madejski Stadium. The Irishman won the penalty for the Royals' first (it wasn't his fault Jamie Carragher's misdemeanour was a yard outside the box), got his tints to Nicky Shorey's free-kick to claim their second, then linked superbly with Bobby Convey to help construct the killer third for James Harper. Signed from Cork City for less than a penny in the summer of 2005 he now has 36 goals in 83 appearances. Now who would you rather have in your side, £18 million pounds-worth of Darren Bent or £0.00 pence-worth of Kevin Doyle?

The head of this largely unfashionable side is the much maligned Gareth Southgate who has gone from hopeless novice to tactical genius overnight after out-thinking the masterful Arsene Wenger at the Riverside, inflicting a first league defeat on the Gunners in the process. A hard-fought and spirited win is just what the club doctor ordered at Boro and anyone who can get sterling performances out of the cringe-worthy Fabio Rochemback or the hilariously woeful Tuncay deserves a vote of confidence that only the prestigious mantle of TOTW boss can provide.

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