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Aug 29, 2010

Team of the Week

Just over a year ago Matt Gilks was on the verge of quitting football in favour of a factory job. Chris Hughton and Newcastle probably wish he had after the Blackpool 'keeper pulled off a string of inspired stops at St James' Park. Not content with denying Kevin Nolan in the first half, Gilks then made excellent saves from Joey Barton, and two from Andy Carroll - the last, and best, with a flailing leg as the lanky striker powered a shot goalwards from 12 yards.

• Premier League round-up
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• Premier League gallery

Thanks to some excellent defending, and woeful finishing, Blackburn had managed to hold Manchester City at 1-1 until the game's dying moments. But after Carlos Tevez's shot was blocked by Gael Givet it fell into the path of Jo, who looked certain to score. That was until Chris Samba charged off the line to throw himself in the way and preserve a point for his side. He pumped his fists liked he'd scored, with good reason.

John Terry gets fearful stick wherever he goes, but none more so than at Upton Park. It always seems to inspire the former England captain to turn in a watertight display, and it proved the case again on Saturday, as the centre-back put his body on the line to keep a tricky West Ham front line at bay. So much so that he's now a doubt for the midweek Champions League clash with MSK Zilna because of a rib injury.

Roger Johnson and his fellow Birmingham defenders hardly gave Fernando Torres a sniff as Liverpool drew a blank at St Andrew's. The second the Spain striker got the ball, or even looked like he might get the ball, Johnson was there to close him down and ensure he didn't get a sight of goal. In fact, the only criticism of Johnson, is that he didn't add to his goal tally after shanking a decent opening in front of goal from a Barry Ferguson cross.

Cesc Fabregas showed no ill effects from his midweek trip to Argentina after pulling the strings during Arsenal's thumping of Bolton. Allowed too much time and space in midfield, Fabregas demonstrated the guile that Barcelona lacked during their shock defeat to Hercules, and laid on three of the Gunners' four goals.

Carlo Ancelotti described Michael Essien as "better than a new signing," as the Ghanaian grabbed two goals in Chelsea's stroll against West Ham. Essien got his first after just two minutes, nodding home a Dider Drogba corner, then powered in a second from an inviting Paulo Ferreira cross. What a boost it would be for the Blues if he were to remain fit for the entire campaign.

Perhaps South Africa's deflating World Cup exit has done Steven Pienaar a favour, because the Everton midfielder looks as bright as a button in the early part of this season. He was excellent against Manchester United at Goodison Park, linking play neatly and creating space for his attacking comrades. He slotted Everton's opener from close range after Leon Osman's pass and then supplied the ball for Leighton Baines that led to the third and equalising goal.

If Matt Gilks provided the rearguard action, then Charlie Adam was the catalyst for Blackpool's attacking endeavour against Newcastle. The lynchpin of a rigid 4-3-3 formation, the Scot is an everyman in Ian Holloway's side, and claimed a goal and an assist as the Tangerines recorded another Premier League away win. Given licence to roam in an adventurous line up, Adam could be the key to Blackpool's survival.

Just like he was in midweek for England, Adam Johnson was at the epicentre of most that was good about Manchester City's attacking play against Blackburn on Saturday. The former Middlesbrough winger was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet as he saw one effort saved by Paul Robinson, and another fly narrowly wide of the post.

Sir Alex Ferguson thought Dimitar Berbatov was Manchester United's best player against Everton, and who are we to argue? The Bulgarian still managed to look nonplussed in all he did, but he led the line with aplomb and gave the Toffees' defence - and Sylvain Distin especially - a torrid time. Berbatov nearly scored with a rasping volley at the end of the first half, before he took his big chance clinically in the second, stroking the ball home with the outside of his right boot after outfoxing Distin.

It's a good job Moussa Dembele has adapted well to life in the Premier League given that Fulham's talisman, Bobby Zamora, is facing four months on the sidelines after breaking his leg. The Belgian forward had already grabbed a goal in the Carling Cup before he registered a double in his first Premier League start. His first was a snap shot that owed much to a deflection, but his late free kick thundered into the net and claimed all three points for the Cottagers.

No-one could begrudge a perfect day for Ian Holloway at St James' Park, seeing as it came after the one he described as the worst in his career. With youth team coach Gary Parkinson seriously ill after a stroke, Holloway said the emotion the players and staff were feeling made their task at Newcastle even harder, but they still turned in a superb performance to register another unlikely win. So, how did Holloway sum it up? "Phantasmagorical."

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