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Feb 8, 2009

Premier League Team of the Week

If any Manchester City fans needed convincing that Shay Given is the real deal they won't after his display against Middlesbrough. The former Toon stopper had a humdinger of a debut, making a string of world class saves to prevent Boro from pinching points at Eastlands. His point blank, reflex save from Afonso Alves in the opening half was the pick, of a very, very good bunch.

It would be hard not to include a Manchester United defender, given that their clean sheet at West Ham was their thirteenth Premier League shutout in a row. He may not have had the best of afternoon's on Sunday, but Nemanja Vidic has featured in all of those games, scoring three goals in the process. At Upton Park he was as committed as ever, shackling Carlton Cole and still providing his usual whiff of menace at the other end.

After Emmanuel Eboue committed Harry Carry his team mates had to battle hard for a point in the face of a Spurs onslaught and no-one contributed more to the cause than William Gallas. Dominant in the air, snappy in the tackle and oozing commitment he was on hand to thwart countless Spurs' breaks and ensure Arsene Wenger's men made the somewhat treacherous journey (on public transport at least) back over to their enclave of north London with a point.

Titus Bramble may be much maligned on these pages (mostly by myself) but never let it be said we don't balance things up when necessary. The Wigan centre half has all the attributes to be a top class defender; he just lacks the concentration to maintain the level of performance he attained versus Fulham. Bramble was in his element in their backs-to-the-wall battle, timing tackles perfectly, winning everything in the air and spraying the odd 50-yard pinpoint pass. Now do it all again next week Titus.

Gareth Barry is having a barnstorming season for Aston Villa, so much so, that one wonders if Villa would be hitting the lofty heights they have this season had he naffed off to Liverpool in the summer. Against Blackburn he teed James Milner up for the opener, was the first line of defence when Rovers came forward and was the starting point for most moves when they went forward. A vital player for the Villa.

In an exhibition of supreme laziness, I'll let our very own Insider describe why Ian Ashbee is next on the list: "The Hull skipper worked tirelessly to break up Chelsea's attacks and he did a great job of stopping the supply line to Nicolas Anelka. His work rate set the tone for Phil Brown's side." Quite.

In truth, he didn't have the best of afternoon's but one jinking run and shot was all it took for Ryan Giggs to roll back the years and propel Manchester United back to the top of the league. Picking up a Paul Scholes ball he cut inside two men before slotting a right foot shot into the bottom corner of the net. We'll miss him when he's gone you know.

Many a Newcastle fan had prematurely called the death of Damien Duff's Premier League career before his recent run of games - and form. Yes, his goal was largely a gift from Leon Barnett but it still needed finishing. He dinked over the cross that led to the scramble in which Lovenkrands hit the second and he truly announced that he is back in some sort of shape late in the second half by nutmegging Carl Hoefkens and flashing a shot just wide of the far post.

Marc Antoine-Fortune took advantage of some chronic defending at The Hawthorns to keep his West Brom side in the hunt against Newcastle. Sadly, the majority of it came from his team mates as the Toon won 3-2. But his two smart finishes, one with either foot, are a promising sign for Baggies fans in their battle to beat the drop.

We're inundated with stats these days but I already have my favourite for the season. Jo has scored more Premier League goals for Everton in one game than he has in six months at Manchester City. Not that you'd have guessed he was chronically out of form after a sparkling finish against Bolton, hooking the ball over Gary Cahill before smashing a precise shot into the net. He also won the penalty for Everton's first and converted from the spot for their third. Not a bad debut all in all.

Sunderland should get Kenwyne Jones to sign a new contract every couple of weeks judging by the striker's response to penning his most recent deal. At the Stadium of Light against Stoke the striker was a constant threat, finally breaking the deadlock with a smart downward header, before laying the decider on a plate for David Healy.

As for the gaffer, I think we'll give Chris Hughton the job in a caretaker capacity and see how he gets on. Stepping once more unto the Newcastle United breach after Joe Kinnear was taken to hospital, the Toon number two may have done so with more than an ounce of trepidation, having lost all four games when he bridged the gap between KK and JK. But, thanks to some calamity West Brom defending, and solid performances from Peter Lovenkrands, Damien Duff and Ryan Taylor, Hughton can toast his first three points with a glass of vintage 2009 Lambrini in the grubby TOTW function room.

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