Sunday, January 29, 2012
Team of the Week
He may have been on the losing side and conceded three goals, but Shay Given was incredibly unfortunate to do so and thoroughly deserves his place in the team of the week. Aston Villa lost 3-2 away to Arsenal to exit the FA Cup but the reality is that without Given it could have been far worse (Arsenal had 12 efforts on target).
Villa's 2-0 lead at half-time would have been non-existent without his shot-stopping ability and he was at fault for none of the goals conceded; Robin van Persie scored two penalties while Theo Walcott was simply in the right place at the right time as a clearance hit him and was sent goalwards. Manager Alex McLeish may never win over Villa's fans, but none can deny what a shrewd signing Given has been.
Tony McMahon's duel with James McClean was a particular highlight of Middlesbrough's 1-1 draw away to Sunderland. Not only did the result set up an income-boosting FA Cup fourth round replay for the Championship club, Middlesbrough ensured they avoided a morale-sapping derby defeat to one of their biggest rivals. McMahon's tenacity meant McClean failed to get the better of him throughout, despite an impressive performance, and meant the winger's greatest success came elsewhere. Could do little about Sunderland's equaliser.
Martin Kelly was recalled to the Liverpool team at the expense of Glen Johnson to strengthen his side's defence for their 2-1 FA Cup victory over Manchester United and he didn't disappoint. Not only did the right-back contribute to unsettling United goalkeeper David de Gea at set-pieces, he defended superbly from the evergreen Ryan Giggs and ensured United failed to have much success on the left. A better option than Johnson, he deserves to play more.
It wasn't a weekend where centre-backs inspired but Robert Huth was important for Stoke City. Typically solid as his side won 2-0 away to Derby County, Huth was consistent throughout as Derby were limited to two shots (one on target, one off) throughout. To put the game beyond any doubt, the Germany international also volleyed an impressive winner from 10 yards following Jermaine Pennant's corner ten minutes before the end
No FA Cup weekend is complete without at least one giantkilling and, on this occasion, it was left to Will Buckley to inspire Brighton & Hove Albion to a 1-0 victory over a sluggish Newcastle United side. Though Newcastle struggled to control the ball effectively and performed well below their best, Buckley was alert throughout and attacked on both wings before assisting Mike Williamson's own goal that won them the game.
Antonio Valencia is probably in the best form of his career. Nani may be Manchester United's most dangerous winger, and Ashley Young their most recent signing in that position, but Valencia is by far the most reliable. Unlucky not to score when he hit the post following an impressive run, Valencia ensured Liverpool left-back Jose Enrique failed to truly settle and also provided vital defensive cover for the unconvincing Rafael.
Playing against his former side Swansea City, Darren Pratley drew praise from Bolton Wanderers manager Owen Coyle. "It was great to see him hit the back of the net today and he could have had a hat-trick," said Coyle, whose side's improved form has taken them out of the Premier League's relegation zone. Pratley's energy was important for Bolton while his equaliser set them on the way to victory.
James McClean's impact under Martin O'Neill has been so impressive that it's a surprise Steve Bruce didn't place the same value upon him. Sunderland's classy winger was a constant threat and was involved in all of his side's best moves before capitalising on Barry Robson's error to assist his side's equalising goal. The most promising Northern Irish player for some time.
Landon Donovan's return to Everton on loan could be exactly what they need to start scoring regularly. Donovan had a big impact at Goodison Park when on loan in 2010 and, though a permanent transfer never came to pass, he's already threatening to do the same. Despite an otherwise quiet game, Donovan assisted both of his side's goals in their 2-1 victory over Fulham that sent them through to the FA Cup's last 16.
The last time he played was in August 2010 but Fraizer Campbell's return to the Sunderland first team proved to be exactly what they needed. Though Connor Wickham shows promise as a target man, he has so far proven ineffective for such a counter-attacking side and Campbell was a far more suitable option on the break. With the focal point and pace provided by the young striker, Stephane Sessegnon and McClean had a more reachable target, while he showed great confidence and composure to score Sunderland's equaliser without taking a touch like so many others would have done.
Last but by no means least, Matt Tubbs scored the only goal of the game as League Two Crawley Town completed a giantkilling of their own to knock Championship Hull City out of the FA Cup. Continuing his prolific form so far this season, Tubbs showed great composure when through on goal to score past Arsenal loanee Vito Mannone on the hour and set up an FA Cup fifth-round tie at home to Stoke City. The striker is key to Crawley's hopes of success.
Kenny Dalglish has this week lead Liverpool to the Carling Cup final and the FA Cup fifth round with that important victory over United. Any win over such a serious rival is a good one but it came a week after Liverpool's worst performance and result of the season, a 3-1 Premier League defeat away to Bolton Wanderers. Liverpool's momentum has returned and their first silverware since the 2006 FA Cup is a serious possibility, so Dalglish is manager of the week.