Rounding off the English Premier League


Sir Alex Ferguson watched from the stands, as Manchester United squandered their chance to go into 2008, atop the English Premier League as they lost 2-1 at West Ham United. Arsenal reclaimed the top spot with a 4-1 thrashing of Everton, even as their injury-hit London rivals Chelsea beat Newcastle 2-1.

Manchester United took the early lead at Upton Park against the run of play. West Ham’s bright and bubbly start was marred by Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfect header from a Ryan Giggs cross. West Ham kept pushing United but without much success. Ronaldo was handed the perfect chance to seal the game when referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty to the Red Devils for Hayden Mullins’ foul on the Portuguese winger. However, Ronaldo misfired from the spot and the Hammers breathed a collective sigh of relief.

West Ham manager Alan Curbishley took that as the perfect cue to send on striker Dean Ashton in place of Freddie Ljungberg for the final 20 minutes and a spell of intense pressure conjured up an equalizer in the 77th minute when Anton Ferdinand rose to head a Mark Noble corner past Tomasz Kuszczak in the United goal. The home side continued to attack and Matthew Upson repeated Ferdinand’s trick by heading a Noble free-kick beyond the goalkeeper. Upton Park erupted as the race for the Barclays Premier League title took another dramatic twist.

Chelsea took on a tottering Newcastle United side, reeling under the news that midfielder Joey Barton had been arrested on charges of a brawl. And things went from bad to worse for Sam Alllardyce at Stamford Bridge.

Michael Essien gave the home side a half-time lead when he swept home from six yards, shortly before the half-hour mark. However, Nicky Butt levelled when he eventually bundled home Charles N’Zogbia’s cross at the second attempt. Salomon Kalou scored a controversial winner three minutes from time after the ball deflected through to him, Newcastle appealing for offside.

Kenwyn Jones and Keiran Richardson combined twice for a goal each while troubled Sunderland beat Bolton Wanderers 3-1. El Hadji Diouf did get a goal back for Bolton from a free kick, but a well taken goal from substitute Daryl Murphy ensured that Roy Keane’s side hauled themselves out of the drop zone.

Fulham dropped to second-bottom after Sebastian Larsson handed Birmingham a 1-1 draw at St Andrews. Carlos Bocanegra’s eighth-minute header put the visitors ahead in Ray Lewington’s final match as caretaker-boss. However, the Blues equalized after the interval when Larsson latched on to Fabrice Muamba’s through-ball before his finish deflected off in Elliot Omozusi. Hameur Bouazza was then sent off for a second yellow card.

Arsenal routed Everton 4-1 as they stormed back to the head of the class in their last game of 2007. Capitalising on Manchester United’s shock loss at West Ham, Eduardo Da Silva starred with a brace after Tim Cahill had put the Toffees in the lead. After firing blanks for the first time in the previous game against Portsmouth, which led to them slipping to second place, the Gunners got back to their free scoring ways as Emmanuel Adebayor added a third after a horrendous mix-up between Joseph Yobo and Tim Howard before Tomas Rosicky blasted home a fourth.

Wigan took Sunderland’s spot in the bottom three after Aston Villa’s dramatic second-half fightback at the JJB Stadium. Titus Bramble notched his first Latics goal with a bullet header from Ryan Taylor’s pinpoint corner in the 28th minute. Curtis Davies marked his first Premier League start for Villa with his first goal for the club, heading in Gareth Barry’s corner after the break. In form forward, Gabriel Agbonlahor then headed past Chris Kirkland to complete the victory.

Tuncay Sanli’s fourth goal in the last six games handed Middlesbrough a 1-0 victory at Portsmouth.

Vineet Kanabar