Ghost of Christmas past haunts City


Premier League round-up:Adam Johnson came back to haunt Manchester City as the champions slipped to a third successive 1-0 Premier League defeat at Sunderland. The England winger, who was considered surplus to requirements at the Etihad Stadium during the summer, embarrassed former team-mate Joe Hart with a dipping 53rd-minute strike which beat him at the near post and clinched three precious points for his new employers.

However, the winner was not without controversy with the visitors adamant they should have been awarded a free-kick for a foul on Pablo Zabaleta during the build-up. Sunderland turned in one of their best displays of the season on a day when City played only fitfully, and Hart had to turn away Steven Fletcher’s skidding effort and keep out Stephane Sessegnon 10 minutes from time.

However, if Johnson was the hero in front of a delighted crowd of 42,190, keeper Simon Mignolet deserved equal praise. The Belgian denied Yaya Toure and David Silva before the break and Sergio Aguero after it to claim a precious clean sheet and make a huge contribution towards the win.

Juan Mata’s first-half strike was enough to secure all three points for Chelsea as they beat Norwich 1-0 in a game of little quality at Carrow Road. The win moves the Blues to within four points of second-placed City in the table but it was only a fantastic effort seven minutes from half-time that separated the two sides.

Mata, who scored his sixth goal in eight games with aplomb, also missed a good opportunity with the scoreline 0-0 while Norwich had decent spells of possession but were too blunted in attack to ever truly test Petr Cech. Chelsea were almost ahead after 30 minutes as Luiz robbed Wes Hoolahan of the ball before picking out Mata, who shot into the side-netting when well placed.

A sustained spell of Chelsea pressure eventually paid off and it was Mata who opened the goalscoring in style. The Spain international cut in from the left before letting fly with an effort from 25 yards that flew past Bunn.

The weather conditions worsened during the second half and Norwich started to enjoy more of the ball in attacking positions. They could still not force Chelsea stand-in skipper Cech into a meaningful save but the movement of Hoolahan and Holt started to cause problems.

Leon Osman and Phil Jagielka struck as Everton maintained their Champions League challenge with a 2-1 win at the expense of an enterprising but luckless Wigan at rain-sodden Goodison Park. Osman broke the deadlock with a deflected opener early in the second half before Phil Neville marked his 500th Premier League appearance by setting up Jagielka for the second.

Arouna Kone gave Wigan a late lifeline but it was not enough for the visitors who, despite a hard-working display, appear to be heading for another relegation fight.

Everton, who will now hope to push on and mount a strong top-four challenge, had some good chances to open the scoring, not least when Thomas Hitzlsperger hit the bar, before Osman’s shot from just outside the area hit Caldwell’s arm and wrong-footing the unfortunate Al Habsi.

And Everton grabbed a decisive second 13 minutes from time. Neville was on hand to receive a short corner from substitute Bryan Oviedo and marked his landmark appearance by sending in an inch-perfect cross for Jagielka, who powered in a header off the bar.

But Wigan, as ever, fought on and gave themselves late hope when Kone bundled the ball in at close range after Jagielka and Baines failed to clear from a Maloney shot. The visitors applied more pressure as time ran out but were unable to find a way through stubborn Everton defending.

Reading ended a run of seven consecutive defeats with a goalless draw in their bout with Swansea at the Madejski Stadium. The Royals are still rooted deep in the relegation zone but they were the only one of the bottom three teams to get any kind of a result today. It is a small step but stopping the rot was vital for Brian McDermott’s men, who had come so close to earning a draw against Manchester City before Christmas.

The Royals’ last Premier League points came on November 17. Anthony Le Fondre saw a late volley headed over the bar by Swansea defender Chico Flores and the Reading striker was also booked for handling the ball Maradona style into the net. But after conceding nine goals in their last two home games, Reading’s onus was clearly on keeping a clean sheet and goalkeeper Adam Federici secured that by saving well from Nathan Dyer and Ki Sung-Yeung.

Reading also rode their luck in the first half with Michu shooting wide and then over the bar from close range in a game of little quality.

Rickie Lambert’s late penalty secured Southampton a hard-earned 1-1 draw in west London as Fulham’s poor recent run continued today. The encounter at Craven Cottage was of grave importance to both sides given their position near the relegation zone.

Fulham came into the match with just one win in 10 matches but got off to the best possible start, taking the lead inside eight minutes. Kelvin Davis could only fumble a Sascha Riether cross into the path of Dimitar Berbatov, who duly slotted home off balance at the far post. The Bulgarian celebrated by revealing a shirt saying ‘Keep Calm and Pass Me the Ball’, although he failed to stay true to his word by somehow heading wide shortly afterwards.

The miss allowed Southampton back into the game and, after a number of missed opportunities, the strugglers grabbed a late leveller. Saints academy graduate Chris Baird was adjudged to have handled a Gaston Ramirez corner, allowing Lambert to continue his 100 per cent success rate from the spot five minutes from time.

Robert Green had a day to forget as QPR sunk to the bottom of the table with a controversial 2-1 home defeat to West Brom. Harry Redknapp showed great confidence in Green by choosing him ahead of fit-again Julio Cesar, but the decision backfired in the first half as Chris Brunt beat the England stopper from 30 yards with a shot he perhaps should have saved.

Green then dropped the ball in to his own net to give the Baggies a 2-0 lead just after the re-start, although replays showed Marc-Antoine Fortune had impeded the former West Ham stopper as he came to collect the ball as it looped up off Armand Traore.

Rangers pulled one back through Djibril Cisse, but they otherwise lacked a cutting edge up front that suggests Redknapp will have to make major changes to his squad next month if his team are to avoid relegation from the Premier League.

There was an element of luck about both West Brom’s goals, but other than the occasional flash of brilliance from Adel Taarabt, Redknapp’s team offered little going forward and were also shaky at the back. Kick-off was delayed by 11 minutes after West Brom’s team bus was delayed by the sales traffic around Loftus Road.

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