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Dec 12, 2010

Team of the week

That Everton's sluggish form continued was largely due to an inspired afternoon's work from Wigan stopper Ali Al Habsi. The Omani was inundated with efforts on goal as the Toffees poured forward, making two fine saves when Louis Saha and Seamus Coleman were clean through and also repelling efforts from Steven Pienaar and Phil Jagielka. A word should also go to his opposite number Tim Howard, who had far less traffic to deal with but was alert to make a brilliant save from Ronnie Staam at the death.

He may not like football much but when he's in the mood, Benoit Assou-Ekotto isn't half bad at it. The left back hardly put a foot wrong as Tottenham claimed a point against the champions, consistently delivering quality balls into the channel for Harry Redknapp's front two. It was from one of his passes that Jermain Defoe collected and span the ball in to Roman Pavlyuchenko for the opener, and Assou-Ekotto also cleared from the feet of Danny Sturridge late in the game when it looked for all the world as if the striker was about to score.

Not for the first time this season, and certainly not the last, Ian Evatt was key in Blackpool's rearguard action as Stoke threw every kitchen unit they could find at the Tangerines. Evatt epitomises the spirit Ian Hollway has managed to forge in his battle-savvy troops, and was perfectly placed in the six-yard box to ensure a goalmouth scramble didn't lead to a Potters equaliser in stoppage time.

In a listless west London encounter between Fulham and Sunderland, Phil Bardsley stood out as the game's best performer. Resolute at the back as ever, the former Manchester United right back galloped forward at every opportunity and allied dangerous delivery into the box to his bags of energy and tenacity.

The finest exponent of the snood this weekend was Manchester City's Yaya Toure, who showed colleagues Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli how to remain cool and calm while taking home an exorbitant weekly wage. Playing in an advanced role he opened the scoring with a thunderbolt, before dancing down the byline and forcing Rob Green into an own goal for number two.

As a self-confessed Evertonian, Joey Barton gave Liverpool fans a few more reasons to despise him after his role in Newcastle's victory on Saturday, not least for his vulgar and unseemly goading of Fernando Torres. Aside from his histrionics, Barton excelled for the Magpies in a right-sided role, providing an ideal, floated ball for Andy Carroll to create the Toon's first, while stealing in to poke the ball past Pepe Reina to grab the decisive second.

The Lancashire derby between Bolton and Blackburn was settled by the most popular American in the Greater Manchester area: Stuart Holden. The 25-year-old has emerged as a key component in Owen Coyle's new-look Trotters side and enjoyed another sterling game in midfield. And it was his sublime control and finish that secured a 2-1 triumph, just ten playing seconds after Blackburn had equalised.

Another man to settle derby spoils - this time in the Midlands - was Wolves midfielder Stephen Hunt. What better way to repay the faith shown in him by his embattled boss Mick McCarthy than by scoring the decider against bitter rivals Birmingham? Hunt had already gone close several times before he turned home Sylvain Ebanks-Blake's cross at the near post and relieved some of the tension around Molineux.

A tight Midlands derby was settled largely thanks to the exquisite delivery of winger Marc Albrighton. Back to his best after a laboured showing at Anfield, the 21-year-old created both Aston Villa's goals with precise balls into the box. His first foray to the byline produced a cross that Stewart Downing converted at the back stick, and he repeated the feat in the second half with another pacey cross that Emile Heskey flicked into the net.

''Age is no barrier to progress provided you still have the energy and Emile has.'' So said Gerard Houllier of his returning striker after his goal proved to be the winner at Villa Park. During Heskey's five-week absence Villa managed only a solitary win but like a comfort blanket to a toddler, his presence seemed to soothe those around him as he held the ball up robustly and linked play wisely. His headed goal capped a fine display.

If Alan Pardew can't believe his luck at being handed the Newcastle job, then he must feel doubly fortunate that he can call on the services of Andy Carroll up front. The 21-year-old's reputation rose a notch on and off the field as a lingering assault charge was dropped hours before he terrorised Liverpool's back line, teeing up goals for Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton with his head and settling the match with a fizzing left-footed shot into the bottom corner.

It is testament to Owen Coyle's transformation of Bolton that his side scored two goals after they were reduced to ten men in the Lancashire derby with neighbours Blackburn. The Scot may have brought on Fabrice Muamba to shore up his midfield after Mark Davies had been dismissed but it took the substitute just seven minutes to score. Then seconds after Rovers had equalised, and manager Sam Allardyce had executed a jig of delight on the touchline, Stuart Holden epitomised Bolton's spirit by bursting through to volley the Trotters back in front and settle the outcome.

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