Premier League Team of the Week

May 4, 2008
By Joe Duggan
(Archive)

No, not Jens Lehmann (or the 'best keeper in the Premier League' as Arsene Wenger would have you believe) but Chris Kirkland. Antonio Valencia did the damage at the other end, but Kirkland was Wigan's saviour as he produced a string of superb saves to keep out a goal hungry Aston Villa. The ex-Liverpool man was on hand to prevent a trio of Villa headers hitting the net, with Zat Knight, Gareth Barry and Gabriel Agbonlahor the disappointed men in claret.

Fightin' Patrice Evra put down the boxing gloves this week and stuck to the day job with a steady performance for the champions. The left-back has been magnificent this season and with a vital clearance off the line to deny Bobby Zamora scoring for the Hammers, he showed the Old Trafford faithful that he is better at blocking goals than punches.

Chris Riggott was recalled to the Riverside from his loan spell at Stoke, denying him the opportunity to play in the Potters' all-important last game of the season. However, he manfully concentrated on the job in hand and was rewarded when he opened the scoring for 'Boro with a thumping header which set Gareth Southgate's men on the road to guaranteed Premier League security. Riggott should also be pleased to hear 'Boro will be playing Stoke twice next season.

Alex Song is maturing into an excellent central defender for Arsene Wenger and looks like a noteworthy addition to the Frenchman's lengthy list of youthful discoveries. The 20-year-old helped protect Lukasz Fabianski in the Arsenal goal and was excellent in the Gunners backline as they saw off the challenge of visiting Everton to secure a slender 1-0 victory. We should all be hearing a lot of Song next season.

Aaron Hughes made a vital intervention to stop Mikael Forssell opening the scoring in the must-win relegation tussle against Birmingham City at Craven Cottage. Forssell looked poised to convert after good play from James McFadden but Hughes had other ideas and stretched to poke the ball away from the Finn. The sort of challenge that just might save a season.

Cristiano Ronaldo, of course, makes it in to Team of the Week yet again. His customary goals came against a lethargic West Ham side although neither were of the vintage variety, the first a deflected shot and his second bundled home from three yards. However, he has now reached 40 goals for the season and is the first winger to achieve this tally in the Premier League. He will be hoping he has left a few in the barrel for the last two games of an already outstanding season, so he can break Alan Shearer's record.

Antonio Valencia turned in the sort of performance which shows why his services are allegedly being coveted by more glamorous outfits than Steve Bruce's Wigan. The classy Ecuadorian scored twice to double his season's goal tally as the Latics shocked in-form Aston Villa. But will he be there next season?

El-Hadji Diouf may have taken the headlines in his final game for Bolton by scoring the goal which set them on their way to safety, but Kevin Nolan was the industrious provider in the background who once more put in a sterling shift for the Trotters. Nolan picked out Diouf with a sublime cross which the Senegalese buried as the Trotters all but secured Premier League safety against Sunderland.

Blackburn Rovers' Roque Santa Cruz added another two notches to his inaugural, and ever-burgeoning Premier League strike tally against a hapless Derby County at Ewood Park. Santa Cruz has proved the bargain of the season, weighing in with 23 goals so far for Mark Hughes and a tap-in after a Roy Carroll fumble followed by a header from close range were sufficient against Derby.

Robbie Keane's goal against Reading summed up his fulsome contribution to the Tottenham cause on Saturday. The Irishman was fouled about fifty yards out but was on his feet before the ref could blow for a free-kick and combined wonderfully with Darren Bent before beating a couple of defenders and slotting home a beauty of a goal. The captain's appetite, skill and eagerness to get involved in what was essentially a meaningless game for Spurs, augurs well for next season.

Brian McBride was Fulham's captain courageous on Saturday and, as always, led from the front to inspire the Cottagers. The American may well be in his 36th year but he hauled his injury ravaged frame into the fray once more as Roy Hodgson's side secured a vital win against relegation rivals Birmingham. McBride opened the scoring with a trademark header from a Jimmy Bullard free-kick and his men will look to the veteran once more as they face Portsmouth next Sunday.

Alan Curbishley 's no-show for the press conference following his team's limp performance at Old Trafford wins him the award for 'showing the sort of mettle for the challenge so often displayed by your teams after Christmas' award. But Roy Hodgson perhaps deserves the distinction of the Manager of the Week award ahead of Gary Megson, as Fulham faced a Birmingham side fighting for their lives whereas Bolton were up against a Sunderland team dreaming of sunny shores far away from Tyneside.

Fulham have surprised everyone of late by throwing together an unlikely series of victories which leaves their survival firmly in their own hands. Their game against the Blues on Saturday was a must-win and if they can get another in their last game Hodgson can look back on a job well done since he came in. They will be hoping Portsmouth too have other things on their minds next week.

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