The Weekend That Was – 21/4/14

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Connor Wickham has played a pivotal role in this season’s Premier League title race

Another weekend has been and gone in the sporting calendar and here’s my take on the top stories from the last few days, including Jose Mourinho’s first Premier League defeat at Stamford Bridge and Lewis Hamilton’s third Formula One victory in a row..

Chelsea’s Title Hopes Dealt a Terminal Blow

Sunderland were given little chance of picking up points this week ahead of visits to both Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet here we are, with the Black Cats four points better off than they were seven days ago and both of their hosts nearly eliminated from the title race. Connor Wickham, recalled from his loan spell at Leeds United, has scored three times in two games and the former Ipswich youngster will be popular on Merseyside thanks to his exploits against Liverpool’s title rivals. Fabio Borini, who ironically is on loan at Sunderland from Liverpool, will also be the toast of the Kop after his late penalty sunk Jose Mourinho’s men in Saturday’s shock 2-1 win for Gus Poyet’s team.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Sunderland’s success was completely deserved against a well below par Chelsea outfit. Although the Blues had taken the lead early on, Wickham’s equaliser saw Chelsea resort to long ball tactics for the final 45 minutes as Eden Hazard’s absence was felt. Despite the vast sums of money invested on the likes of Oscar, Andre Shurrle, Ramires and Fernando Torres none of Mourinho’s play-maker’s could make an impact and when Cesar Azpilicueta brought down Jozy Altidore in the box Borini was able to take full advantage and give Sunderland a Premier League lifeline, in the process quelling Mourinho’s title ambitions.

Hamilton Makes it Three in a Row in China

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes continued their domination of Formula One this season after the British driver and his German teammate Nico Rosberg completed another one-two in Shanghai. Hamilton won by over 18 seconds from Rosberg as he recorded the first hat-trick of wins in his career, which of course already includes one World Championship title. Fernando Alonso came third as Ferrari showed improvement from their early season form, but four time World Champion Sebastien Vettel struggled mightily yet again as he was beaten comfortably by his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Mercedes appear to have adjusted to this season’s new engines far better than any team and a two man race for the title looks likely, although with Hamilton already well in front he’ll take some catching as the the drivers head to Catalunya.

Norwich Run Liverpool Close in Carrow Road Thriller

For the second week in succession Liverpool ran out 3-2 winners, although they would have anticipated a much easier ride when they took a 2-0 lead against struggling Norwich after just 15 minutes on Sunday. Raheem Sterling continued his breathless run of form by scoring two goals, the first a brilliant long range effort with his second taking an unfortunate (for Norwich) deflection. However his most impressive contribution may have been his exquisite through ball to Luis Suarez for the Reds second goal of the afternoon, a well weighted left footed cross that had Suarez licking his lips as he bore down on John Ruddy’s goal.

Brendan Rodgers assertion that Sterling is the top young player in Europe may be hyperbolic to say the least, but his recent performances shouldn’t go unnoticed and it would now be a surprise if the 19-year old wasn’t starting for England in their first game of this summer’s World Cup against Italy. Sterling’s pace and dribbling ability is enough to challenge even the best of defenders, and Roy Hodgson would be wise to capitalise on his playing relationship with Liverpool team-mates Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge. The title is Liverpool’s to lose and one of the main reasons behind that has been the stellar play of their English core, although Luis Suarez has also had a slight impact.

Moyes Season Goes from Bad to Worse.. Again

It hasn’t been a brilliant first season in charge of Manchester United for David Moyes and things took another disastrous turn for his team yesterday as his former club Everton completed the double over the Old Trafford side. Moyes has become somewhat of a record breaker this term and he’s set to break another in the coming weeks as Everton are almost certain to finish above United for the first time since 1990. Phil Jones handball led to Leighton Baines stroking home the hosts opening goal, while Kevin Mirallas doubled Everton’s advantage as the game finished 2-0. The win means Everton remain just a point behind Arsenal in the race for fourth place and Champions League football, something that is mathematically beyond United after their latest humbling result.

Have your say on the weekend’s action in the comments, or tweet @fredjstanley to get your views heard.

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The Weekend That Was – 15/04/14

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Copyright Telegraph.co.uk

The weekend just gone produced many great performances and talking points from the world of sport, here are a few words on a selection of them as the Premier League title race nears its conclusion and the county cricket season gets underway:

Liverpool Record Thrilling 3-2 Win Over Manchester City

Having raced out to a 2-0 lead early in the first half Liverpool looked like they would comfortably dispatch of Manchester City, even more so when City lost the talismanic Yaya Toure to injury before the interval. However the inspirational David Silva helped to turn the table on the reds and for a while it looked as if the spoils would be shared, until ten minutes from time when Vincent Kompany’s terrible clearance fell at the feet of Phillipe Coutinho who duly dispatched his effort past the helpless Joe Hart. The win means Liverpool’s title fate is now in their own hands and should they win their remaining four games Steven Gerrard will be lifting the title come May. A trip to Norwich this weekend is a potential banana skin for Brendan Rodger’s men and he’ll be aiming to keep his players concentration on the Canaries as opposed to the visit of Chelsea in a fortnight’s time.

England Batsmen Rack Up the Runs in County Cricket

After a disastrous winter abroad book-ended by an Ashes whitewash and an exit in the group stage from the World T20 there are plenty of places available in the England set-up. As a result the start of the domestic season has taken on a significance it hasn’t enjoyed in years, with test hopefuls jockeying for position and hoping to catch the selectors eyes. One such hopeful who has impressed is Middlesex opening batsman Sam Robson, who is 144 not out overnight against Nottinghamshire at Lords. Limited overs specialist Eoin Morgan also impressed at the home of cricket and scored 86 valuable runs, while England skipper Alistair Cook will have been delighted to have scored 139 not out for Essex at Chelmsford against Derbyshire. Much like Robson Ian Bell also registered 144 not out for Warwickshire against Sussex at Edgbaston, so all in all it’s been a good start to the county season for England batsman both past, present and potentially future as the selectors decide which new name will make the cut come the first test of the summer against Sri Lanka in May.

Hull and Arsenal to Meet at Wembley in Domestic Football’s Showpiece Cup Final

Arsenal are just one game away from ending their nine year wait for a trophy after progressing to the F.A Cup final by beating Championship side Wigan on penalties after a tense 1-1 draw in the capital. The Gunners held their nerve to progress but the manner of their win was far from convincing, with manager Arsene Wenger’s decision to start with Yaya Sanogo up front instead of Oliver Giroud raising more than a few eyebrows. Hull meanwhile overcame a resilient Sheffield United outfit to win 5-3 having twice been behind at 1-0 and 2-1. Having never won a major trophy the tigers will fancy their chances of lifting the F.A Cup in May, especially with Arsenal’s traditional late season swoon in full swing. With Everton now occupying fourth place the heat will surely be on Wenger to end his trophy-less spell and secure his job status with the Emirates faithful less than happy about a host of recent dire performances, including Saturday’s against a spirited Wigan side who led 1-0 in the second half and threatened yet another giant killing.

Norwich Staring at the Trap Door Following Fulham Defeat

When Norwich sacked manager Chris Hughton last week they did so knowing that their tie against Fulham was a must win game and their last fixture this season in which they could reasonably expect to pick up any points. However Felix Magath’s men ensured that didn’t happen as Hugo Rodellega’s priceless first half strike closed the gap between the two teams to just two points with four games remaining of the season. On paper next week’s home game against Liverpool offers the Canaries little hope of pulling away from the drop zone; however stranger things have happened, and manager Neil Adams will tell his side that after the emotional roller-coaster of Sunday’s win against Manchester City the Liverpool players may well take their eye off the ball as they visit Carrow Road and take on a team with nothing to lose against the current league leaders. Liverpool remain heavy favourites for this one but without Jordan Henderson and likely Daniel Sturridge it figures to be a potential trap game for the Reds and an opportunity for Norwich to prove that sacking Chris Hughton was the right move after all.

The Weekend That Was – 07/04/14

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Lewis Hamilton made it back to back wins in Bahrain this weekend

Welcome to a new feature on Fred Stanley Sport, titled ‘The Weekend That Was’. Each Monday I’ll attempt to round-up the biggest stories from across the sporting world in a few brief paragraphs, with a focus on British centric action. So without further ado, lets get going..

Meet Anthony Taylor, the Premier League’s Worst Referee

Before you start thinking this paragraph is going to be an anti-Liverpool rant about how West Ham were robbed yesterday, let me tell you it isn’t. Rather I’m voicing my astonishment at the poor quality of refereeing on display from a man who has previous of making disturbingly poor decisions at Upton Park. Anthony Taylor was guilty yesterday of failing to see Andy Carroll’s foul on Simon Mignolet for West Ham’s only goal of the game, before he inexplicably awarded Liverpool a second penalty after Red’s full back John Flanagan was ‘fouled’ by home ‘keeper Adrian. Those two decisions were the biggest of the game and Taylor got them both wrong, which is simply too poor from a top flight official.

As I mentioned earlier Taylor has a history of ruining games at the Premier League level. Last season he sent Carlton Cole off against Everton for a raised foot that was a foul at worst, a successful attempt at controlling the ball at best. Later on in the match Taylor sent of Everton’s Darren Gibson for an identical foul, another terrible mistake, although by that point the Toffees had reversed a 1-0 deficit to lead 2-1. Anthony Taylor is not fit to referee in the Premier League and it’s about time he was held accountable for his shocking performances.

Sri Lanka Finally End World Cup Hodoo

During the noughties Sri Lanka had an unfortunate habit of reaching the final of major international tournaments without taking home any silverware. The 2007 and 2011 50-over World Cup finals were both lost by the Sri Lankan’s, as were multiple World T20 finals during the past decade. Yet the island nation were in inspired form yesterday as they overcame India, the heavy favourites for the game, in large part to some excellent death bowling that restricted their opponent to a below par 134/4 from their 20 overs.

One fascinating aspect of this result is that very few Sri Lankan players will participate in this year’s Indian Premier League as they attempt to focus on their upcoming test series in England, meaning that the T20 world champions will have few representatives in the format’s premier competition. Another fun little tidbit from the tournament: England were the only team to beat Sri Lanka during this years T20 World Cup. Does that make England, conquered by the mighty Netherlands, the real World Champions? Probably not.

Norwich City Were Absolutely Right to Sack Chris Hughton

When Norwich City took the bold decision to sack Chris Hughton late yesterday evening they inevitably received a large dose of criticism from the media and the footballing public in general. Sacking a manager is never a popular move in the eyes of the average football supporter and cries such as “give him time” are inevitable. But the pure fact of it is that Hughton and his side have not been performing at an adequate level this season, nor for most of the last campaign either. An 11th place finish in 2012/13 was achieved with a total of 44 points. Just three fewer would have seen them finish level on points with 16th placed Newcastle United, two places above the drop zone, and Norwich supporters themselves widely acknowledge that it was a false position.

This year Norwich currently sit 17th, five points clear of the relegation places but with four of their five remaining games coming against Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal they desperately need to beat Fulham next weekend. A win in that game should see them to safety but a defeat will narrow the gap between them and their opponents to just two points. Saturday’s meek surrender to West Brom clearly convinced the Canaries board that Hughton isn’t the man to get a result in a must win game and with the money the club invested on new players last summer seemingly wasted the former Newcastle manager can’t grumble about his treatment. With five games left the board decided they stand a better chance of survival without Hughton than with him, whether they’re right or not remains to be seen.

Mercedes’ Hamilton and Rosberg Go Toe-to-Toe in Bahrain

In a refreshing Formula One race in Bahrain Lewis Hamilton held on for the victory from his teammate Nico Rosberg, with the pair jostling for position the entire way despite being members of the same team. It was an exciting race made all the more so by the fact that Mercedes didn’t impose team rules on their drivers, a stark contrast to Red Bull who in previous seasons prevented Mark Webber from challenging Sebastien Vettel for supremacy. Hamilton now has two wins from three races and leads the way in the Championship standings, raising hopes that he can repeat his victory from 2008 and double his world title tally.

Roberto Martinez Makes His Manager of the Year Case

Many observers were critical of Everton’s hiring of Roberto Martinez last summer, mainly citing his relegation with Wigan during the last campaign. However they failed to note the lack of funds he was given and the clubs inability to retain key players, with his F.A Cup win over money-bags Manchester City at Wembley last May a fantastic achievement in itself.

Despite a negative net transfer spend yet again last summer Martinez has been able to position his Everton squad for a top four push and potentially Champions League football next season against all the odds, and Sunday’s 3-0 win against Arsenal demonstrated yet again the Spaniard’s tactical prowess and coaching ability. Leighton Baines wanted to move to Manchester United last summer and join former boss David Moyes; who’d have thought that once the England left back was made to stay that he’d potentially be playing against Europe’s elite while Moyes and co watch from the comfort of their sofa’s come the Autumn?

Have your say on the weekend’s action in the comments, or you can tweet @fredjstanley.