A bizarre mix of great saves and scrappy goals saw six of the top eight teams forced to settle for a point, but there was a huge win at the bottom of the table and a two horse sack race developing in the drop zone. Not to mention a shock decision against the home side at Old Trafford.

The lunchtime kick-off saw troubled Blackburn, its under fire manager, the fans and their bedsheets take a trip to Stoke, hoping that the Potters recent run of bad form (five defeats in their last six) would continue a little longer and give Rovers a chance to make inroads out of the relegation zone. It was not to be as Stoke remembered how to win and sent Blackburn home pointless. Soccer odds now list Steve Kean at 13/8 to be the first manger out of work and Blackburn are 4/5 to be relegated.

Down but not (yet) out

BlackburnWigan, the only team doing worse than Blackburn, went to Sunderland fancying a win (or at least a point) from a side just five points ahead of them, who have had just one win (and three draws) in their last six matches. Also Sunderland had only won two home games (from the 15 played) since January.

Things failed to improve for Sunderland as (in the dying minutes, with the score 1-1) Wes Brown went and did his manager no favours, got caught in possession by James McArthur who then set up substitute Franco Di Santo for one of the easiest goals in Premier League history. Wigan took all three points, leapfrogged Blackburn and made Steve Bruce the new nom du jour in the sack race, and Sportsbooks now list the Sunderland manager at 4/1 to get his P45.

That result put Wigan level on points with Bolton, who suffered yet another defat in their worst season in recent memory. The 2-0 home defeat to Everton marked their sixth defeat at the Reebok Stadium and their tenth of the season. Bolton’s form would be noteworthy enough as the only side in the league without a draw this season, but all talk is of possible relegation, as they are now tied on points and goal difference with Wigan, and stuck in the relegation zone, 15/8 to be relegated.

Just above Bolton sit Wolves who, like Blackburn, met a side that had just rediscovered their form. Wolves went down 3-0 to Chelsea and the sigh of relief from the Chelsea manager was audible miles outside of London. That result means that both Sunderland and Wolves are just two points away from the drop zone. There is already a five horse race for the three relegation spots.

Drowning or waving?

Just outside of the Eleven Points Club are Fulham, who took their stuttering form (seven points from their last possible 18) to Arsenal. It was the most intimidating of journeys as they had not won a game at Arsenal in 25 attempts, and 22 of those were defeats. The winless run now extents to game 26 but Fulham will be the happier of the two sides.

From the kickoff Fulham didn’t look like a side just above the relegation zone, and Arsenal did look like a side who had played a tough champions League 90 minutes midweek in Saturday’s late game. After an uninspiring first half, Fulham took the lead from an own goal thanks to Thomas Vermaelen, who’s attempted 65th-minute clearance ended up in his own net. But he made amends at the other end with eight minutes left to play, tying the game and sharing the points.

Super Spurs

Spurs kept pace with Chelsea and stretched their lead over Arsenal, and now HAVE to be considered top four contenders (don’t forget the year ends in a 1) thanks to a tidy 3-1 victory over WBA, they’re now at 8/15 to finish fourth or better. The defeat keeps the Baggies mid-table, tied on 15 points with QPR, who went down 2-1 to Norwich.  The squeezed middle of the Premier League isn’t that squeezed as the top seven and bottom five will likely just shuffle around themselves and not bother the middle eight much. Also comfortably in the middle are Swansea who played out a subdued 0-0 draw with Aston Villa on Sunday.  The shared points make very little difference to either side’s likely league finish (probably either end of the middle).

Never one to complain, but…

Javier HernandezArguably the biggest game of Saturday was Newcastle United’s trip to old Trafford, a ground where they haven’t won for 39 years! Much like Fulham’s run at Arsenal Newcastle didn’t look a million miles off the pace (especially “super ‘keeper Tim Krul) and deservedly ended the first half goalless.

Old Trafford being Old Trafford, Manchester United had the luck of the green with a deflected goal from Little Pea Javier Hernandez (his first at home this term), but the Black and White United are no longer “the side that can’t” and Alan Pardew’s boys pressured for an equaliser. It came thanks to the fourth official, who persuade the referee to award a penalty for a perfectly legitimate tackle by Rio Ferdinand on Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba coolly slotted home from the spot in front of the home fans.

Despite the sea of red shirts that surrounded both the referee and the fourth official (obviously in a rush to show their respect) and the undisguised, gum spitting rage of Fergie, the goal stood. It was no more than United deserved. There were no more goals, but Newcastle had to hold on and finish the game with ten men after Jonas Gutierrez made two rash challenges that saw two (justified) yellow cards.

There was still time for a thrilling end as Hernandez put the ball in the back of Tim Krul’s net, deep into Fergie time, but the celebrations were cut short as the linesman (rightly) judged the player to have been offside. 

The last game of the weekend was the much feted Manchester City v Liverpool clash at Anfield. Liverpool kept themselves in top four contention and have now recorded and impressive Manchester double at Anfield, as they have now drawn with both Manchesters 1-1 at home. It was a pair of unusual goals 120 seconds apart, and the clash deserved more. But both sides will probably be satisfied with a point, especially City who played the last 25 minutes with ten men following Mario Balotelli‘s sending off (for two rash challenges in just 18 minutes of gametime). That game marked the first time that City have scored less than two goals in a League game this season.

As six of the top eight teams could only manage draws, there’s no change at the top of the table, but it was an excellent weekend for both Tottenham and Chelsea. Spurs are just two points off second place Man Utd and are now two points ahead of fourth place Newcastle.

Meanwhile Chelsea’s win gave them two points daylight between themselves and Liverpool and cut Newcastle’s lead to a single point. While both these London clubs gained ground on the top spot, they are still outside bets to win the league. Chelsea are 14/1 and Spurs are 20/1 to lift the EPL trophy. A more sensible soccer pick is for Chelsea to finish third or better at 17/20.

We still have a the Quarter Finals of the Carling Cup midweek, the picks of the bunch clearly have to be Arsenal V Man City and Chelsea’s second helping of Liverpool. Once they’re over and done with we get back to the serious matter of the League. Saturday’s first game is Newcastle’s last “big three” game when they host Chelsea, in what is literally an anything can happen game, with Newcastle’s defence, and current form being matched against Chelsea’s worst start to a season in Roman (Abramovich) times, but tell that to Wolves.

It might be do or die for Steve Kean at Blackburn as his side host Swansea in a game that, should the Swan’s take all three points back across the border with them, will set the clock ticking on Kean’s tenure as manager. Manchester City will look to return to winning ways when they host Norwich at the Eastlands Stadium. That should be the banker of the day, but the shortest soccer betting odds.

Robin Van PersieThere’s another mid table tussle as 14 point WBA take on 15 point QPR in a game that most would be happy to see drawn. Spurs have an “easy” game with which to improve their standing as they take on Bolton, a side that has lost ten of their last 13 games.

Bolton will be hoping that Arsenal can do them a favour as they travel to Wigan, who are one of the two teams worse off than Bolton. Should Blackburn and Wigan win Bolton could be dead bottom of the league. Head down to the bookies and stick some £££ on Aston Villas next game ending in a 1-0 defeat as they host Manchester United who have scored a solitary goal in seven of their last eight games and have won 1-0 in their last two away.

Sunday sees a mid-table clash as twelfth place Stoke take on ninth place Everton. The tasty match of the Sunday is Sunderland’s trip to Wolverhampton. The two sides are both just above the drop zone at present and could actually be in it (and the bottom three) should Bolton and Wigan win on Saturday, so expect a hard fought clash and oceans of pressure on Steve Bruce, if he’s still Sunderland’s manager.

The last game of the weekend sees another clash of form (although both sides had identical results last weekend) as Fulham travel to Liverpool hoping to turn things around, after just two wins all season.

FYI

The tightest defence in the league is still a three way split between Newcastle, Manchester City and Liverpool having conceded just 12 goals each…. Just three sides have failed to record an away win thus far, Aston Villa, Swansea and Blackburn.

Don’t take your eyes off the Premiere League as December is usually when the sackings begin and this December has a plethora of mangers circling the drain, not to mention the thrills at the top of the table.

*Yes Newcastle are still in fourth place.