This season’s Midwinter Break must come as something of a relief to 19 of the 20 teams in the Premier League, with only Liverpool surely able to be totally happy with their season so far. But as we find out, there are actually a couple of other teams who can look at their year as one to be proud of as they battle towards possible European football.
Everton 3-1 Crystal Palace
When Carlo Ancelotti took over at Goodison Park, The Toffees were looking more at threat of relegation than they were qualifying for Europe. However, after this weekend’s results, they sit 7th in the table, and just five points behind the Champions League places, thanks to another good win to please the Gladwys Street faithful.
The latest victory, their sixth in succession at home and fifth in all competitions, came at the expense of a Crystal Palace side with which the Evertonians share a special kind of history.
Everton took the lead with a stunning volley from Bernard, smashing in from a superb curling cross from a resurgent Theo Walcott, who seems to have ridden out the season in which he became a Peep Show joke to become one of Ancelotti’s pivotal players.
Everton were shocked when Christian Benteke’s equalizer squirmed under the body of the increasingly erratic Jordan Pickford, whose status as England’s number one goalkeeper must surely be under threat from Burnley’s Nick Pope. Everton, however, were not to be denied, and via a brilliant Richarlison run and shot and then Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s lightning reflexes, took all three points.
Brighton 1-1 Watford
Brighton salvaged what could be a vital point in the relegation battle at the Amex Stadium as Adrian Mariappa’s late, spectacular own goal cancelled out a stunning opener from The Hornets’ midfield maestro Abdoulaye Doucoure on the South Coast.
Watford were the less nervy of the two sides in the first half as a real relegation ‘six-pointer’ saw the visitors take the lead through midfielder Doucore, whose jinking run and snap shot beat Mat Ryan all ends up to see the Hornets at half-time.
Into the second half, Brighton looked like the side most desperate to win with Watford happy to hang on and play on the break. But The Seagulls got the help they needed in the most comical way possible as a cross from the left was heading out for a goal kick or throw-in before, completely unchallenged, Adrian Mariappa smashed the ball into his own net on the slide.
Watford couldn’t find a winner, and ahead of their rivals by two points, Brighton were more than happy to settle for a point that keeps the relegation zone at arm’s length more by denying their enemies points rather than gathering their own. They will care not one bit.
Sheffield United vs Bournemouth
What looked like a very difficult away game for Bournemouth in stormy conditions got off to a sunshine start as the lashing from Storm Ciara was mirrored by Callum Wilson, smashing the rebound from a Harry Wilson into the roof of the net after the South Coast side got off to a great start.
It looked like Sheffield United might go into the half-time break a goal down, but with seconds to go, Billy Sharp did what he does best, scoring a poacher’s finish to level things up before Chris Wilder and Eddie Howe got stuck into their sides.
The second half saw The Blades going for the win and Bournemouth looking to hold on, but endeavor was the winner, courtesy of John Lundstrom, who came on after an hour for the Sheffield United January signing Sander Berge. Lundstram took a wonderful ball from Lys Mousset with a delightful first touch before a quick second stroked the ball home for the three points. Sheffield United are just two point behind Chelsea and in the hunt for a Champions League place. It might end up the story of this Premier League season.