the weekend's top performers

Team of the Week

December 20, 2009
By Chris Murphy

David James was at Fratton Park on Saturday, but he was sat in the stands wearing a silly hat. In his continued absence, Asmir Begovic enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a clean sheet, and a superb save. With his side holding on to a slender lead, Steven Gerrard's shot deflected off Michael Brown, then Hermann Hreidarsson and was heading for the net before Begovic defied gravity by twisting his body, sticking out a hand, and preventing a certain goal.

EmpicsPortsmouth's defence celebrate a clean sheet against Liverpool.

Jody Craddock has never had it so good. In the twilight of his career he is proving absolutely vital to Wolves' fight to stay in the Premier League. After a well publicised rest in midweek, Craddock returned to the Wanderers side that beat Burnley, kept it locked tight at the back and floated a delicate ball in Kevin Doyle's general direction to allow the Ireland striker to kill of the Clarets and cap a great week for Mick McCarthy.

Aston Villa may have recorded a 1-0 win over Stoke but it was anything but comfortable. Centre-halves Richard Dunne and Carlos Cuellar saw their fair share of aerial action but right-back Luke Young provided admirable cover at the back, and dovetailed well with his namesake, Ashley, at the other end of the park. His vital challenge on Tuncay late in the game helped secure a battling win for Martin O'Neill - his third in a week.

Harry Redknapp saluted Tottenham's mental toughness after they battled past Blackburn at Ewood Park. Sebastien Bassong probably accrued his during Newcastle's miserable season last year, because he had a fine game. His positional sense wass spot on too, as he proved by hacking Benni McCarthy's shot off his line after the striker had gone close to making it 1-1.

Jordan Henderson was the standout performer for Sunderland in their goal frenzy with City at Eastlands. The midfielder rifled home Sunderland's first equaliser, after a loose ball broke to him in the area, then took advantage of some trademark, static City defending to charge into the area and tee Kenwyne Jones up to make it 3-3.

Michael Brown had a typically sturdy game in midfield for Portsmouth but the root of their win over Liverpool was the right boot of Nadir Belhadj. The Algerian is usually a heavily left-footed defender, not a midfielder who nets stunning volleys with his right but Avram Grant has clearly seen something we haven't. Latching onto Glen Johnson's poor defensive header, Belhadj walloped the ball past Pepe Reina with fury, from a very narrow angle to set his team on their way to an impressive win.

Amid the shoving, the diving, the kicking and the posturing between Arsenal and Hull at the Emirates, Abou Diaby emerged with much credit after an accomplished display in the middle of the park, Vieira-esque according to Soccernet's own Kevin Palmer. He stormed into the area to set up Eduardo for the second goal, before scoring the third himself with a strong run and finish.

It's impossible to write a short paragraph about Peter Crouch's performance at Blackburn without inserting that old footballing adage about him having great feet for a big man. That's because his first goal was a trademark header, climbing all over his defender before planting an unstoppable nod in off the bar, while his second was a calm, right-footed finish after he was afforded the freedom of Rovers' penalty area late in the game.

In this form it won't be long before Roy Hodgson attaches Danny Murphy to his calls for Bobby Zamora to get an England call-up. The pair were instrumental in the downfall of a patched up Manchester United side, who came a cropper for the second season running on the Thames.

EmpicsFulham's Bobby Zamora has been in inspired form.

Murphy robbed the poor Paul Scholes before firing past Tomas Kuszczak for the first, and was exemplary in his link play from that point on. Zamora relentlessly bullied Michael Carrick and Ritchie De Laet into submission, linking well with Zoltan Gera, slotting the second and teeing up Damien Duff for the third.

Given the sparkling form Craig Bellamy displayed at Eastlands on Saturday it's fair to say he took Mark Hughes' sacking personally. Sprinting round the field like a man possessed, he clearly took it upon himself to make sure Sparky got a fitting send-off, setting up the first goal for Roque Santa Cruz within four minutes, forcing Nyron Nosworthy into conceding a penalty, which Tevez converted, before scoring one of his own, a precise finish into the bottom corner. And even after all that, it still required another Santa Cruz goal to make the game safe.

Avram Grant was the early favourite, Mark Hughes nearly got the sympathy vote, but there is only one man who is ripe for the picking as our TOTW boss, Roy Hodgson. His Fulham side outclassed Manchester United in every department at Craven Cottage, with Zamora, Murphy, Duff and Dempsey looking like world beaters. To coax such a performance out of his tired players after their midweek heroics in the Europa League takes some doing, but Roy only went and did it.