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Apr 13, 2008

Premier League Team of the Week

No question as to who gets the nod at number one this weekend, after his heroics in keeping the score at Pride Park down to 3-0 at half time, its Roy Carro..., err, sorry, my mistake. Step forward Tim Howard, Everton's vaguely competent goalkeeper who kept a very panicky Birmingham side at bay with a clutch of super stops. His 'Britain's Got Talent' moment came with a wonderful double save; first an impossible leap and claw to prevent Radhi Jaidi from scoring, then getting back to his feet faster that Bruce Lee to block James McFadden's follow up.

Slotting in at right back is Glen Johnson to whom the game of football comes splendidly naturally - far easier than pinching things from B&Q anyhow. He was Pompey's best player against in-form Newcastle, always looking menacing down the right when running at Jose Enrique. Oh, hang on. That aside, Johnson's best moment came after a lovely one-two with Niko Kranjcar, the right back only being denied a match-winner when tiny striker Jermaine Defoe got in the way of his goalbound shot.

Joleon Lescott is a goal machine. Apparently, he stays behind after training to give Andy Johnson a few tips on finishing. The pint-sized forward could be seen furiously scribbling down some notes during Saturday's game at St Andrews as Lescott demonstrated how to ghost into the penalty area, out-jump your marker and plant an unstoppable header into the far corner of the onion bag and register his ninth goal of the campaign in the process.

Patrice Evra warrants inclusion purely on the strength of a sublime 45-yard ball with the outside of his foot that set up a great chance for Wayne Rooney in Manchester United's game against Arsenal. But apart from that nugget of brilliance he was, err, brilliant at both ends of the field in one of his side's biggest games of the season. He also set up another chance for Rooney (which he should have scored), executed a wonderful swan dive to win the decisive free kick from which Hargreaves scored, and then switched his attention to nullifying the threat of Theo Walcott when he came on for his customary 20 minutes.

Talk about putting your fans through the wringer. In the second half at the Madesjki, Fulham managed to hit the bar three times. One of the players who became acquainted with the woodwork was defender Brede Hangeland, who leapt like a randy salmon to power a header towards goal. Luckily for the Cottagers, the Norwegian had been rock-solid at the back as well as threatening going forward, meaning when fellow countryman Erik Nevland netted a late second, Fulham could toast their first away win since September 2006.

It wasn't his most effective of games but Owen Hargreaves merits his place in TOTW for barging Cristiano Ronaldo out of the way to plant a delicious free kick into the corner of Jens Lehmann's net and give Manchester United all three points against bitter rivals Arsenal. There is a calm assuredness about his game that infects those around him, so it was fitting the killer blow to the Gunners' title hopes was delivered by his precise place kick.

It's a real shame Derby won't be with us next season because watching them flounder like an unwanted goldfish out of water has been truly hilarious. Their latest humiliation came at the hands of an Aston Villa side that refused to shower at the end of the game, seeing as how they hadn't even broken into a light sweat at any stage during the 90 minutes. The pick of their six goals came when headless chicken Roy Carroll came charging out of his area and gloriously picked out an unmarked Stiliyan Petrov who took the ball down on his chest and lobbed the stranded keeper from nearly 60 yards.

Much as we'd like to, you just can't ignore Steven Gerrard when he is in the sort of form he displayed against Blackburn. In a week which has seen off field events at Anfield reach previously unseen heights of comedy, the skipper showed Hicks, Gillett and Parry what class looks like with a brilliant goal, and a delightful assist to enable Fernando Torres to pot yet another goal in front of the Kop (don't worry footy fans, we've left him out this week). Truly, a captain's example.

Hands up who had heard of Mauro Zarate three months ago? Anybody? No? Well, same here dear Soccernet logger-on-ers. Whatever skip Alex McLeish managed to pluck him from is missing an Argentinean with two sweet feet, and a penchant for scoring VITAL goals. Coming on with just 15 minutes left, Zarate took just half that to make an impact, curling a beautiful free kick past the excellent Tim Howard (see above) and into the net. The irony is of course, that although the young man is about to save Birmingham a kajillion pounds by helping them beat the drop, all that money will then have to go towards signing him on a permanent deal.

Some would argue Kevin Cyril Davies has been swigging a swift half in the last chance saloon for a few years now but his goal just after half-time against West Ham at the Reebok may well mean he has time for one last cheeky chaser too. Not only did he batter on despite a horribly dislocated finger, but he was on hand to poke home a Kevin Nolan corner and silence a hardcore group of fans who had gathered before the game to call for Megson's head and chant Sam Allardyce's name (why oh why?!).

If Tim Howard is the stars, then Brian McBride is the stripes in our TOTW. Our second US stalwart netted in Fulham's last win - at home to Everton - and popped up with the goal that sent the Cottagers on the road to their first away triumph in almost two years. Nipping in front of Marek Matejovsky, McBride connected cleanly with Simon Davies' left wing cross to open the scoring, and oh-so nearly put the game beyond doubt with a rasping left foot volley in the second half, which cannoned back off the crossbar.

As for this week's gaffer, look no further than Roy Hodgson. Not only is he the most eloquent of Premier League managers - study his next post-match interview - but he is also one of the most earnest, which is why it was a delight to see him celebrate a well-deserved win at Reading. Those three points may not keep them up - what am I saying, of course, is that they won't - but at least he has given literally hundreds of Fulham fans another chink of hope to cling on to for at least another week.

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