Sunday, August 17, 2008

EPL Week 1 Review

Hull City, Samir Nasri and Paul Ince enjoy successful Premier League debuts, but Stoke's return to the top-flight ends in defeat at Bolton. In Sunday's Premier League games, Chelsea and Aston Villa both scored four, while Man United were held to a 1-1 draw by Newcastle...

Stoke City had a Premier League return to forget as their first game back in English football's top flight ended in a 3-1 defeat at Bolton. Tony Pulis's men started well but fell behind in unfortunate circumstances. Gretar Steinsson ran down the right wing and flung a cross into the Potters box. Instead of flying into the centre of the area, however, it swung over keeper Thomas Sorensen and found its way into the far corner of the goal. And it wasn't long before it was joined by a second. Gary Cahill hit a free-kick into the danger area and Kevin Davies powed past two defenders to bullet home a header four minutes before the break. Stoke needed to get into the dressing-room and regroup quickly, but Bolton were in no mood for mercy and added the third on the stroke of half-time with another header, this time courtesy of new Swedish signing Johan Elmander. Undeterred, the Potters managed to shore things up in the second half to avoid a humiliating opening day thrashing, and even found a goal back with Ricardo Fuller hitting home classily in injury time. But it was too little too late for the new boys, and Pulis will be under no illusion as to the tricky task which lies ahead in the next nine months.

It was a different story at the KC Stadium, however, as Stoke's fellow underdogs Hull City got their first-ever Premier League campaign off to a flier with a shock late victory over Fulham. The stands were awash with orange and black before kick-off, but it looked like the home faithful would be disappointed on their big day when Fulham took an early lead. Jimmy Bullard was given too much time and space on the wing, and he lofted a composed cross over to Seol Ki-Hyeon, which the South Korean easily headed home. It was a strike which came somewhat against the run of play and as the game wore on, the hosts continued their fine performance, eventually finding a deserved equaliser on 22 minutes. New signing Geovanni found space in the Fulham half and he smashed home a fierce shot that Mark Schwarzer had no chance with. The Brazilian and Michael Turner were guilty of missing fine chances in the second half, but the Tigers would not be denied and clinched their first-ever top flight win ten minutes from time when Caleb Folan pounced on a Paul Konchesky mistake to shock the London outfit.

Paul Ince also enjoyed a fantastic debut as he guided Blackburn Rovers to a 3-2 win at Everton. Rovers started well and went ahead 22 minutes in through Damien Dunn's stunner, but the Toffees grew in stature as the game wore on and levelled up on the stroke of half-time via Mikel Arteta. Yakubu headed the hosts in front twenty minutes into the restart, but just two minutes later Roque Santa Cruz nutmegged Tim Howard to celebrate his birthday in style. It seemed the points were destined to be shared as the match moved into its final stages all square. Rovers had different ideas though, and claimed a deserved win when Andre Oijer stabbed home Ryan Nelson's rebounded header in the final minute of the match.
Samir Nasri got his Arsenal career off to the perfect start as he scored the only goal in the Gunners' 1-0 win over West Brom at the Emirates. The hosts started brightly and went ahead four minutes in when Nasri finished a free-flowing passing move with a tap-in at the far-post. The Baggies forced their way back into the match as the clock ticked on, and came close to an equaliser when Paul Robinson had a shot cleared off the line by Johan Djourou after Arsene Wenger's side got in a tangle at the back. But the Gunners held on to record a solid, if unspectacular, opening day victory.

Dean Ashton made a strong case for a place in the England squad by scoring twice in West Ham's 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic. Fabio Capello was watching on at Upton Park, and it took just three minutes for Ashton to impress, turning and hitting in stunningly from Julien Faubert's cross. Seven minutes later, the striker made it two, this time with a rather more straightforward tap-in from Calum Davenport's throughball. Amr Zaki pulled a goal back for Wigan in the early stages of a second half they dominated, but it wasn't enough to inspire a comeback and West Ham held on to a solid win.

Liverpool edged out victory at Sunderland thanks to a late Fernando Torres strike. Just as they did in the Champions League in midweek, the Reds struggled, with Robbie Keane and Fernando Torres failing to gel. Indeed, at one point the Irish striker accidently blocked a goalbound Torres shot as Liverpool looked to be heading to a frustrating draw. However, a moment of pure class from the Spaniard won it, as he found some space on the edge of the area and smashed home a stunning shot that Craig Gordon stood no chance with.

Tottenham got their season off to an underwhelming start with defeat at Middlesbrough.
After a summer of impressive pre-season results and big-money signings, hopes were high at White Hart Lane that the team would begin the new campaign in style. But Boro were the better side at the Riverside and, having had an early strike wrongly disallowed, they found the lead midway through the second half courtesy of David Wheater. Mido added the second not long after and, despite a late own goal from Robert Huth, Gareth Southgate's men rode out deserved victors.

Gabriel Agbonlahor celebrated signing his new contract in style as his quick-fire hat-trick inspired Aston Villa to victory against Manchester City. Agbonlahor, who put pen to paper on a four-year deal this week that ties him to the club until 2012, struck three times in just seven second-half minutes to grab the first treble of his career after Villa had threatened to throw away victory.

Luiz Felipe Scolari enjoyed the perfect start to life as Chelsea manager as his new side cruised to a 4-0 victory over a lacklustre Portsmouth. Goals from Joe Cole, Nicolas Anelka, Frank Lampard and Deco gave the Londoners their seventh victory in a row on the opening day of the season and the newly-installed Brazilian coach the ideal start to his Stamford Bridge reign.

Manchester United made an unconvincing start to the defence of their Premier League title as they were held at Old Trafford by an impressive Newcastle. The hosts were denied a penalty when James Milner appeared to handle, but Newcastle took a first-half lead when Obafemi Martins powered home a header. Manchester United levelled only two minutes later when Darren Fletcher converted Ryan Giggs' left-wing cross. Nemanja Vidic headed against the bar, but Newcastle fully deserved a point.

Saturday 16th August 2008
Arsenal vs West Bromwich Albion = 1-0
Bolton Wanderers vs Stoke City = 3-1
Everton vs Blackburn Rovers = 2-3
Hull City vs Fulham = 2-1
Middlesbrough vs Tottenham Hotspur = 2-1
Sunderland vs Liverpool = 0-1
West Ham United vs Wigan Athletic = 2-1
Sunday 17th August 2008
Aston Villa vs Manchester City = 4-2
Chelsea vs Portsmouth = 4-0
Manchester United vs Newcastle United = 1-1

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