Week 30 of the English Premier League sees mass pitch invasions as West Ham tumble to a three-goal defeat at home to Burnley; Man Utd beat their North West rivals Liverpool in a crucial Champions League qualification tie and more.
“Are you Cardiff?”
It wasn’t a lie. I’m a Man Utd fan, and on this occasion, I was travelling to Wrexham with the lads to watch Cardiff. The question came from a man standing in the doorway. It felt like someone had rigged the entire pub with explosives.
“Yes.” Said, my friend walking behind me.
It was the detonator.
The place exploded. We ran. The pub emptied. After the war, we regrouped on our smashed up minibus. Jacks, fire extinguishers and all manner of modern weapons lying blood-stained on the floor. We were missing James. That was the most frightening moment for me. Knowing we had to go back to the pub to find him. He was cowering in an alleyway with a piece of glass sticking out of his right eyebrow.
Football is supposed to be a form of entertainment, but there is a darker side to this so-called religion. For instance, I wouldn’t like to be a West Ham fan taking his 12-year old son to pop bubbles at the London Stadium these days.
It’s not the first time trouble has broken out in West Ham’s new living room, but this was the most visible and disturbing. David Moyes side came into the tie against Burnley on the back of two defeats and only five points accrued in the previous 20 games – a run of form that has seen them slip to 9/4 shots for relegation.
And when you are playing that poorly, and the fans have declared their apparent distaste of the West Ham board, it’s not the best time to book a ‘warm weather training’ trip to Miami.
It’s a working-class game, folks.
West Ham began the brighter, but when Ashley Barnes scored for Burnley in the 66th minute, fans started jumping over the hoardings to demonstrate with the board. By the time Chris Wood had scored a brace, the fans were running onto the pitch with abandon (at one point, Mark Noble wrestled one fan to the ground).
The Premier League will penalise West Ham for the unrest. The board, players and fans will be hoping the slap on the bum comes in the form of a fine and not a points deduction.
It must be even more galling for West Ham fans to see a small club like Burnley fighting for a Europa League place. The win was Burnley’s first away from Turfmoor since November, and they have recorded back-to-back wins since failing to win in the previous 12 league games. The 43-points that Burnley have is a new club record, and there are still eight games to go.
The Other Flounders
West Brom is now 1/66 to fall into the Championship after another defeat. Salomon Rondon opened the scoring in the eighth minute, but goals from Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Kelechi Iheanacho and Vicente Iborra handed Leicester a comprehensive win.
The Baggies remain eight points adrift of safety after Crystal Palace and Southampton both suffered defeats. First-half strikes from Willian and an own goal from Martin Kelly gave Chelsea a two-goal first-half lead. Patrick van Aanholt scored a late consolation goal. Palace has only earned two points in their past seven games, hitting a slide at the wrong time of the season.
Southampton remains one point above the bottom three after a humbling at St James Park. It was a vital match for both Newcastle and Southampton. Two first-half goals from the Brazilian Kenedy and a 57th-minute striker from Matt Ritchie saw Newcastle soar to 13th position. Stoke play Man City on Monday night.
The Fight For a Champions League Place
Man Utd 2 v 1 Liverpool
When Man Utd play Liverpool, the home fans don’t care how they win. The kids in the schoolyard don’t care how they win. Jose Mourinho certainly doesn’t care how they win.
United hosted an in-form Liverpool side who qualified for the quarter finals of the Champions League and were on a seven-match unbeaten run since tumbling out of the FA Cup against West Brom.
In the past two weeks, Premier League fixtures pitched Liverpool into battle 24-hours before United, and each time leapfrogged them into second position. It was time for United to flex their muscles, and when it comes to muscles, they don’t come much bigger than those fixed to the tendons of Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian bull may not have scored, but his first half powerhouse of a performance gave his teammates a cushion they ultimately needed after Liverpool applied the pressure in the second half. Lukaku had a foot in both of United’s goals.
With Lukaku taking on the role of provider, Marcus Rashford (in for the injured Anthony Martial) slipped into the role of finisher. It was the young Mancunian’s first start since Boxing Day, and he thanked his manager by scoring goals #11 & #12 of the campaign in a dominant first-half display.
United sat back in the second half; soaked up the pressure, and only cracked once; Sadio Mane forcing Eric Bailly to put the ball in his own net in the 66th minute. It was Liverpool’s 35th away goal of the season – more than any other team competing in a major European league – but they couldn’t make it 36. For all of their possession, David De Gea’s gloves rarely saw dirt.
United’s win closes the gap at the top to within 13 points. More importantly, United move five points clear of Liverpool, and four clear of Spurs. It’s the perfect start to a run of three games that will define United’s season. Next up, Sevilla on Tuesday, and then Brighton in the FA Cup on Saturday.
The Other Contenders
The two Manchester clubs are a virtual lock-in for a Champions League place according to the bookies. That leaves two spaces open, and three clubs in the running – Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea.
Spurs climbed above Liverpool to move into third spot with a resounding 4-1 win away at Bournemouth. Junior Stanislas scored early for Bournemouth. Then Spurs – who exited the Champions League last week – bounced back with goals to Dele Alli, Serge Aurier and a brace from the in-form Son Heung-min (who has now scored seven goals in his last four games). The Korean’s surge in form is timely. Harry Kane limped off the field in the 30th minute with an ankle injury and will undergo scans this morning.
Here are the rest of the results in full.
Results in Full
Newcastle 3 v 0 Southampton
Everton 2 v 0 Brighton
Huddersfield 0 v 0 Swansea
West Brom 1 v 4 Leicester
West Ham 0 v 3 Burnley
Chelsea 2 v 1 Crystal Palace
Man Utd 2 v 1 Liverpool
Arsenal 3 v 0 Watford
Bournemouth 1 v 4 Spurs
To Be Played (Mon)
Stoke v Man City
Premier League Table
1. Man City – 78
2. Man Utd – 65
3. Spurs – 61
4. Liverpool – 60
5. Chelsea – 56
6. Arsenal – 48
7. Burnley – 43
8. Leicester – 40
9. Everton – 37
10. Watford – 36
11. Brighton – 34
12. Bournemouth – 33
13. Newcastle – 32
14. Swansea – 31
15. Huddersfield – 31
16. West Ham – 30
17. Southampton – 28
18. Crystal Palace – 27
19. Stoke – 27
20. West Brom – 20
Champions League Qualification Odds
Man Utd 1/100
West Brom 1/66
West Ham 9/4
Crystal Palace 9/4