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Weekend review

09 February 2009 12:31
One of the Premier League's oldest hands stole the headlines after a weekend where several debutants made an impression.

In the first round of fixtures following the closure of the transfer window new, and some not-so-new, faces were on show up and down the country.

Everton striker Jo demonstrated why Manchester City were willing to invest £18million in his services, only to then refuse to select him, with a brace on his debut after arriving on loan for the remainder of the season.

Shay Given kept Middlesbrough, and striker Afonso Alves in particular, at bay with a clean sheet on his bow with Manchester City.

Robbie Keane was unable to find the target on his return to Tottenham after an unsuccessful spell with Liverpool, while Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin remained on the bench in the 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane.

After the tortuously protracted nature of the Russia international's arrival from Zenit St Petersburg, fans everywhere can only hope the wait for his debut does not turn into a saga of such epic proportions.

There were also enough examples of appalling finishing to keep the makers of football gaffe DVDs in business with John Terry, Henri Camara, Ryan Babel and Tim Cahill guilty of shocking blunders, to varying degrees of regret.

But it was Ryan Giggs who takes top-billing with his winning goal against West Ham making him the only player to have found the net in every season of the Premier League since the competition's inception back in 1992.

Fellow Manchester United veteran Paul Scholes found the wing wizard on the left flank with a sublime driven pass and Giggs waltzed through some comical Hammers defending to slam a rare right-foot shot beyond Robert Green.

At the other end of the field, Edwin van der Sar had already set a new British league record for minutes without conceding a goal on his way to a 13th Premier League clean sheet to make it an impressive afternoon for United's old hands.

Final strawThe victory, United's sixth by a 1-0 scoreline in their last eight league matches, lifted Sir Alex Ferguson's men back to the summit which Liverpool had just managed to conquer courtesy of a last-gasp victory over Portsmouth.

Rafa Benitez's starting XI at Fratton Park was unexpected to say the least and needed the introduction of more familiar faces Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres to rescue victory after Pompey had gone ahead for the second time with just 12 minutes to go.

The Reds' late rally proved to be the final straw for home manager Tony Adams, with the Fratton Park hierarchy confirming the anticipated news that they were dispensing with his services on Monday morning.

Given that Saturday's narrow defeat to the title-chasers owed much more to incompetent defending than Adams' managerial shortcomings made the timing of his exit somewhat baffling, despite Pompey's worrying slide towards the drop zone following Harry Redknapp's departure.

Redknapp will doubtless have sympathy with his former colleague, but now has his own relegation battle to fight with Tottenham unable to break down 10-man Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Keane took the captain's armband on his return to North London but could not muster a debut goal, flashing a second-half header narrowly over the bar from Aaron Lennon's cross when he should have at least tested Manuel Almunia.

Arsene Wenger, in typical fashion, was not happy with Emmanuel Eboue's first-half red card - the 76th the Gunners have received since the Frenchman took the helm - but referee Mike Dean had little option after the Ivorian's petulant trip of Luka Modric.

Keane's Republic of Ireland team-mate Given could have been forgiven for needing time to settle at Manchester City following 12 years as Newcastle's last line of defence, but the Irishman immediately demonstrated his worth with a number of fine saves to thwart Middlesbrough.

Another January transfer window arrival, Craig Bellamy, scored the only goal of the game to extend Middlesbrough's miserable run without a top-flight victory to 13 matches and increase the pressure on Gareth Southgate's shoulders with the Teessiders in the drop zone.

City misfit Jo managed just one Premier League goal during his Eastlands stint after arriving from CSKA Moscow, but doubled that tally in his first start for Everton as they brushed aside Bolton.

After Cahill's uncharacteristic but comical miss in the opening moments, Jo took centre stage, winning the first-half penalty which Mikel Arteta converted before producing a sublime piece of skill for the second and adding a late spot-kick of his own.

Vibrant VillaCaptain Terry must have expected his Chelsea team-mates would spare his blushes after blazing over from point-blank range against Hull City, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's side were unable to break down the determined Tigers.

The days when clubs arrived at Stamford Bridge expecting to leave with nothing are long gone as Phil Brown's side, who are on a miserable run having not won since 6th December, demonstrated the form which helped them secure victories at Arsenal and Tottenham earlier in the campaign.

Scolari has seen 16 points slip through his fingers on home soil with the Blues now down to fourth in the table after Aston Villa climbed into third courtesy of a club-record seventh successive away win, this time at Blackburn.

Rovers, who had previously been unbeaten under new manager Sam Allardyce, were unable to find a way past returning goalkeeper Brad Friedel as James Milner and Gabriel Agbonlahor continued vibrant Villa's remarkable rise.

With Martin O'Neill's men now above both Chelsea and Arsenal, the Midlands club firmly deserve a mention as genuine title contenders, rather than just UEFA Champions League hopefuls.

The most worrying news of the weekend came on Saturday morning as it emerged Newcastle manager Joe Kinnear had been admitted to hospital due to high blood pressure.

Thankfully, tests have shown the colourful Irishman will be fit to continue his duties this week, with his team providing him with the perfect tonic courtesy of a vital 3-2 victory over bottom club West Brom.

The Baggies would have moved above the Magpies in the congested relegation battle with a win at the Hawthorns, but any hopes of three points vanished as some hapless defending made Marc-Antoine Fortune's brace meaningless with Damien Duff, Peter Lovenkrands and Steven Taylor on target for the visitors before the interval.

Newcastle's bitter North East rivals Sunderland also enjoyed a crucial triumph in their own relegation six-pointer, as Stoke's miserable run of form away from the Britannia Stadium continued on Wearside.

Despite Matthew Etherington being sent for an early bath after kicking out at Danny Collins, the visitors could have edged in front only for new arrival Camara to hit the bar from close range with the score locked at 0-0.

The deadline day loan signing from Wigan, who was introduced from the bench after Ricardo Fuller suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first half, was made to rue his miss as Kenwyne Jones and David Healy converted late chances to lift the hosts up to 11th, with a seven-point cushion over the bottom three.

With Fulham the lowest scores in the Premier League on their travels with just three goals to date and Wigan hardly prolific at home, a stalemate was always on the cards at the JJB Stadium.

And so it proved, with the Latics' loan striker Mido missing the best chance for the hosts as Roy Hodgson's men continue to search for their first away win of the season.

Source: SKY_Sports