The weekend's top performers

Team of the Week

January 1, 2012
By James Dall
(Archive)

After an inspired performance last time out at Arsenal, Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was again in terrific form between the sticks as he helped Mick McCarthy's men claim a point at the Reebok Stadium. The Wales international made a string of splendid saves, with the stops to deny Gretar Steinsson and Ivan Klasnic of particular note. Indeed, only a stunning shot from Sam Ricketts saw its way past Hennessey on Saturday.

Lee Cattermole
GettyImagesLee Cattermole is looking to Europe with Sunderland

Another man mountain of a performance from Christopher Samba helped Blackburn Rovers on their way to a famous win at Old Trafford. While Manchester United were not at their attacking best, Samba - who won the penalty that set the visitors on their to three points - still had to be his dominant self when dealing with balls into the box as he ensured goalkeeper Mark Bunn had, considering the expected peppering, a quiet outing. Also impressing in the same match was Grant Hanley, with the 20-year-old shining in defence before netting a memorable winner with ten minutes remaining as he exploited an error from goalkeeper David De Gea.

While Tottenham will have been disappointed to have dropped points away at Swansea City, after seeing United and Chelsea suffer defeat, a draw in retrospect arguably now looks a positive result in light of Manchester City's dramatic slump at Sunderland. And at the Liberty Stadium, centre-back Younes Kaboul put in a man of the match display as he marshalled Spurs' backline versus the Swans' silky football. Kaboul was also not shy to get forward as he embarked on a few runs out from the back, helping to spark attacks for his team and nearly getting on the scoresheet himself only to be denied by Michel Vorm.

Wigan maintained their recently decent form with a hard-fought 2-2 draw at Stoke. And for the Latics full-back Ronnie Stam was terrific. The Dutchman was full of energy, embarking on countless runs down the right flank. In the 21st minute, Stam unleashed a wicked effort that saw Thomas Sorensen tip away, before threading in Hugo Rodallega to help spark another attack. He also made a number of key interceptions to help frustrate the home faithful, and ultimately earn Roberto Martinez's Wigan a valuable point at the Britannia Stadium.

As touched upon, City suffered a quite stunning defeat in terms of its lateness as Sunderland emerged 1-0 winners at the Stadium of Light, despite being pegged back for the majority of the encounter. Indeed, City were well in control for much of the game, pinning Sunderland back in their own half. But Roberto Mancini's men struggled to find room, and that was largely down to some outstanding work-rate and organisation from the likes of Lee Cattermole and Stephane Sessegnon. The former was tough in the tackle, but fairly so, helping to break up play time and time again. The latter was typically tricky, and it was his pass that allowed Ji Dong-Won to grab the winning goal with seconds to spare.

Captain fantastic Steven Gerrard's return to fitness is a huge fillip for Liverpool, and my how they needed the midfielder against Newcastle. Having gone a goal down and then levelled, Gerrard was thrown on to inspire the Reds to victory and ensure they avoided another hugely disappointing draw at Anfield. Within in minutes of coming on, the England man whipped in a cracking pass that should have been rewarded with a goal. And then with 12 minutes remaining on the clock, Gerrard bombed into the box before sliding past Tim Krul at the near post.

The result at Stamford Bridge was the type of scoreline that made one do a double take. Aston Villa's 3-1 triumph over Chelsea was something else, and kudos must go to their manager Alex McLeish, who has come in for much criticism for his side's negative tactics and recent struggles to score. No such trouble in West London, though, as Villa executed several penetrating counter-attacks, with midfielder Stephen Ireland at the heart of much of their good work. Ireland, once considered among the Premier League's top playmakers, restored parity as he arrived in the box before later on setting up Darren Bent for his side's third as he capitalised on Frank Lampard's sloppy pass.

Stephen Ireland of Aston Villa scores against Chelsea
GettyImagesStephen Ireland of Aston Villa scores against Chelsea

Craig Bellamy was a two-goal hero for Liverpool in their aforementioned scalp of Newcastle on Merseyside. After Daniel Agger had scored an own goal to put the Magpies in front, Bellamy offered a swift response as he fired in accurately after the ball broke to him near the edge of the area. It was a hard finish made to look easy. Then, with the scoreline at 1-1, Bellamy put his team in front in the second period. The Welshman hit a long-range free-kick goalwards that caused havoc and dropped home to undo Newcastle.

With 12 goals in 14 Premier League appearances, Yakubu Aiyegbeni is proving to be one of the signings of last summer. For £1.5 million from Everton, bottom-of-the-table Blackburn Rovers have been given hope of survival. The powerful attacker netted his first of two at Old Trafford on 16 minutes as he coolly netted from the penalty spot following a foul from Dimitar Berbatov on Samba. Then, six minutes into the second period, Yakubu picked up possession and bombed his way through the United backline before slotting past De Gea.

Credit where credit is due, Steve Kean more than deserves this. Sure, his overall record at Blackburn is awful, but a scalp of the division's champions is a day to savour for any boss. The Scot has come in for some awful abuse from Blackburn fans this campaign, yet the travelling support that made the short trip to the Theatre of Dreams were given reason to cheer on a truly memorable day to be a Blackburn advocate as their side inflicted what, according bookmakers' odds prior to the game, was the biggest shock result in Premier League history.