Game On – By Tim Magnus

In a seven goal thriller at Old Trafford, Manchester United defeated a spirited Newcastle with a 90th minute to winner to go seven points clear on Boxing Day.

Newcastle were in front on three separate occasions but still left Manchester empty handed as Javier Hernandez snatched the game’s winner in the dying moments.

The first half began with James Perch putting Alan Pardew’s men into a surprise lead, only to be pegged back by Johnny Evan’s fortunate equaliser. Evans was then at the centre of controversy at the other end as he put the ball into his own net.

The linesman flagged for Papiss Cissé, who was in an offside position, only for referee Mike Dean to overrule his assistant to allow the goal, much to the fury of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The second half followed in entertainment value with a goal from Patrice Evra temporarily restoring clarity before Cissé scored his third of the season to give the Magpies their goal cushion back.

Robin Van Persie’s equaliser had looked like salvaging a point for United but Hernandez’s last-gasp winner gave United fans a late Christmas present and a vital three points.

A hat-trick from Gareth Bale helped Tottenham cruise past out of form Aston Villa at Villa Park, who have barely had time to recover from their 8-0 thumping by Chelsea.

All the goals came in the second half but Spurs were in control throughout the entire match, racking up a 65% possession rate in the first half which underlined just how one sided this game was.

Jermain Defoe opened the scoring for his ninth of the season which was followed by a Gareth Bale master class. Three goals in the space of 22 minutes saw Bale record his second career hat-trick, his other coming in a famous performance against Inter Milan.

Aston Villa will need to respond quickly to two heavy defeats as they are 16th in the table which contrasts drastically to Andre Villas Boas’ in form men who have jumped to fourth.

Boxing Day’s late kick off produced a gruelling encounter between Stoke and Liverpool which finished with a 3-1 victory for the home side.

Liverpool won their first penalty of the season in the first thirty seconds to take the lead following a Ryan Shawcross foul on Luis Suarez. Despite Suarez’s over elaborate fall to the ground, it was a clear foul and penalty which gave Steven Gerrard the opportunity to put the Reds ahead, which he did with extreme confidence.

Stoke’s response however was emphatic. Their equaliser came courtesy of Jonathon Walters taking advantage of a slip in the Liverpool defence and then Kenwyne Jones powered home a header to put the Potters ahead.

Walters grabbed his second of the match, in the second half, in extraordinary fashion. After a trademark long throw, the ball fell into Walter’s path who then took the ball on his chest and volleyed past a helpless Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal.

It was a goal worthy of winning any match and ensured that Stoke leapfrog Brendan Rodger’s team into eighth.

Sunderland produced a shock 1-0 win against champions Manchester City at the Stadium of Light thanks to a goal from ex-City player Adam Johnson. A strange goal by all accounts as a speculative Johnson effort from distance caught England’s number one out of position and crept under his gloves and into the City net.

The late show specialists from Manchester still had plenty of time to find an equaliser, but failed to do so as their desperation was typified by Roberto Mancini sending on Joleon Lescott as a make shift forward late on.
City drop seven points behind neighbours Manchester United whilst Sunderland drift away from the relegation zone into 13th.

Goals from Englishmen Leon Osman and Phil Jagielka secured a hard fought three points for Everton over struggling Wigan at Goodison Park. Osman’s 52nd minute heavily deflected effort put the Toffee’s into an expected lead which was doubled by Jagielka with a potent header past Ali Al Habsi in the Wigan goal. Arouna Koné’s consolation couldn’t prevent Wigan from recording their 12th loss of the season and further into relegation difficulty.

QPR slip back to the all familiar bottom of the Premier League after a 2-1 defeat at Loftus Road at the hands of Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion. West Brom went 2-0 up after a long range strike from Chris Brunt and a bizarre own goal form goalkeeper Robert Green.

Green’s own goal could arguably have been given as a foul on the former West Ham keeper, as Marc-Antoinne Fortune was visibly impeding Green under his own crossbar. The goal stood however, and proved to be the winner, despite Djibril Cissé’s consolation to set up an enthralling finish at Loftus Road which resulted in Harry Redknapp’s second loss as QPR manager.

Rafael Benitez’s managerial reign at Chelsea is building momentum after another victory, this time a 1-0 win over Norwich at Carrow Road. Juan Mata proved to be the difference in a game in which his excellence was exemplified by his superb first half goal from distance.

David Luiz also excelled in his newfound position in midfield which will delight Benitez and Chelsea fans. Norwich created a number of good chances to draw level but couldn’t quite muster enough of an attacking threat to seriously test Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal.

The win sees Chelsea close the gap on second place Manchester City whilst Norwich slip to 11th.

A late Ricky Lambert penalty rescued a point for Southampton at Craven Cottage as they held Martin Jol’s Fulham to a 1-1 draw.

An early Dimitar Berbatov strike had given the London side the lead for the majority of the game but Chris Baird’s foolish handball inside the area left referee Phil Dowd no choice but give a penalty, which was duly converted by Lambert to earn the Saints what could be a vital point in their mission for Premier League football for the 2013/2014 season.

Reading were grateful for West Brom’s win at QPR as a goalless draw with Swansea moved them off the bottom of the table, much to the relief of manager Brian McDermott. The main threat to either goal was substitute Adam Le Fondre, who had a goal ruled out for using his hand and another effort cleared off the line.

The result ends Reading’s run of seven straight defeats and will give them much needed confidence of avoiding the dreaded Premier League drop.

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