Team of the Week
For 84 minutes at Old Trafford, it seemed like Tim Howard would not be beaten. The former Manchester United goalkeeper had an answer for everything thrown at him, and it usually involved repelling the ball right back from whence it came. After his umpteenth, and best, save, from a point-blank Javier Hernandez header, it seemed as if his clean sheet was assured. Sadly for him and Everton, the Mexican had other ideas.
In front of Howard, Phil Jagielka was a colossus in the heart of the Toffees' defence. Apart from one momentary lapse, when Hernandez got past him in the first half, the England defender was flawless. Time and time again, he hoofed clear from inside his own area, and on more than one occasion he threw himself in front of goalbound shots. United's late winner was a cruel blow given his performance.
Bolton extinguished the dying embers of Arsenal's title challenge at the Reebok, with Gary Cahill prominent in their downfall - particularly galling for the Gunners, seeing as how he was linked with a move to the Emirates in January. The defender would have undoubtedly added some much needed steel to the porous Arsenal defence, as he proved with countless interceptions in the closing stages when the Trotters stood tall in the face of intense pressure. He claimed an assist for the opener, too, as his powerful header allowed Danny Sturridge to score.
An unsung hero of Blackpool's brave campaign to date has been left-back Stephen Crainey. The Scot has played 27 games for the Tangerines this season and put in another solid shift against Newcastle. Much of the Magpies' play comes through Joey Barton but his limited influence on Saturday's game was testament to Crainey's stifling tactics. He can also cross a ball, and set up a glorious chance for Gary Taylor-Fletcher to win the game late on.
Jordan Henderson's faltering form of late has had serious repercussions on his lifestyle: "If we haven't won in a couple of weeks, I have to do my shopping online. I can't really go out of the house." He'll be back down Tesco's in the morning after his double over Wigan. With Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan hobbling off injured, Henderson stepped up, slotting two well-taken goals to ease the Black Cats' relegation fears.
Alongside Henderson, Stephane Sessegnon also put his name forward to fill the striking void Sunderland now face. The former PSG man scored his first goal for the club from the penalty spot after drawing a foul from Antolin Alcaraz inside the area and then set up Henderson for his second with a well-timed cutback after a lung-bursting run down the left wing.
Blackpool are a different side with David Vaughan in the ranks. The Welsh winger missed the games against Arsenal and Wigan but was back for the visit of Newcastle, and offered the Tangerines extra balance. He was his usual, industrious self, linking play intelligently and delivering quality into the box consistently.
Liverpool may have been without £35 million man Andy Carroll for the visit of Birmingham but they needn't have worried about a lack of goals. Step forward Maxi Rodriguez, who showed a predatory instinct any of his team-mates would have been proud of. The first was a tap-in after Ben Foster had spilled Jay Spearing's powerful effort, the second a cool finish from Luis Suarez's cross and the third another close range effort after a blocked shot fell into his path.
Javier Hernandez was always the one who looked most likely to break the deadlock against Everton. The 22-year-old has been a revelation in his first season in England, and registered his 18th goal with a perfectly timed run and back-post header with the game entering its twilight phase. He was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet prior to the 84th minute, regularly testing Tim Howard.
Daniel Sturridge's first-half performance against Arsenal proved that he is more than just a goalscorer. Twice he slid team-mates in on goal with precision passes, and his all-round link play was excellent. He showed a poacher's instinct to grab Bolton's opener, after Gary Cahill's header had been cleared off the line, and also turned Johan Djourou to win a penalty, which should have resulted in a two-goal lead for the Trotters.
Maxi grabbed the headlines with his treble, but Liverpool's five-star performance at Anfield demonstrated what a vital cog Dirk Kuyt is in their wheel. Moved up front in the absence of Carroll, Kuyt is never found wanting in terms of effort, and he now has 11 Premier League goals to his name, slotting home after Luis Suarez had been foiled by Ben Foster. He was a constant threat all afternoon, and also played a part in the Reds' opener.
You've got to hand it to Steve Bruce. After a miserable run of eight defeats in nine games and a catalogue of injuries, he then lost Phil Bardsley, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan inside 64 minutes against Wigan with the score still level at 1-1. With no recognised strikers on the field, the Black Cats then managed a three-goal salvo in ten minutes to ease their relegation worries and offer Bruce a ray of hope among the enveloping gloom.