The time for FIFA friendlies and European qualifiers is over. The Premier League and the club scene is back once again, and the Offside team have been busy capturing the weekend’s action from across England and Spain.
First up was Brentford versus Fulham in the Championship. Marc Atkins shot the game at Griffin Park.
The newly promoted hosts are flying in the English second tier at present, and look more capable of challenging for promotion than slipping back into League One.
By contrast, Fulham are still fighting to make amends for their woeful start to the season under Felix Magath. So far, current boss Kit Symons has succeeded in making their task of climbing back up to the top looking hopeful rather than hopeless.
However, they needed to be at their best to take on a Brentford team who went into the game unbeaten in six matches. Luckily for the visitors, their goalkeeper, Marcus Bettinelli, was up for the challenge.
The first half only remained goalless due to the Fulham keeper’s shot-stopping and some wasteful finishing for the hosts.
It was actually the Cottagers who grabbed the opener just before the hour mark in the second half through Colombian striker, Hugo Rodallega.
Harlee Dean slipped to allow Ross McCormick to play in his striker partner to make it 1-0 to the visitors.
Yet Dean was able to make up for his error by scoring the equaliser on the 81 minute mark, with a thumping finish that flew up into the roof of the net.
The winner came in injury time through Brentford’s Spanish substitute Jota who secured all three points for the Bees through a deflected shot that beat Bettinelli and brought Fulham’s promising run of league form to an end.
Saturday’s Premier League fixtures began at the Etihad for Offside, where Simon Stacpoole was on duty for Manchester City against Swansea City.
After drawing with QPR and losing to CSKA Moscow prior to the international break, the pressure was on Manuel Pellegrini and his side to get back on track against the Swans.
However, Garry Monk’s side weren’t interested in making up the numbers, and went ahead through Wilfried Bony after just nine minutes.
The Ivorian chested down a beautiful pass from Nathan Dyer which allowed him to take it down, turn and smash the ball past Joe Hart in the home side’s goal.
Swansea’s only away win in the Premier League this season came in their last visit to Manchester: a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford on the opening weekend all the way back in August. Unfortunately for the Swans, their trip to the Etihad wasn’t going to change that record.
It took Stevan Jovetic just 10 minutes to level the scores, turning in Jesus Navas’ cross to make it 1-1. Not only was August the month in which Swansea last won on the road, it was also the last time City’s Montenegrin forward found the net in the Premier League.
With the deficit recovered, Pellegrini’s charges pushed on to try and find a winner. Sergio Aguero went close only to be saved by Lukasz Fabianski before Gael Clichy struck a ferocious shot from 30 yards which the Polish keeper did well to tip onto his crossbar.
The decisive breakthrough finally came through Yaya Toure, with the midfielder strolling into the Swansea box to collect a Fernandinho backheel and slot home to take the lead.
It was only his second goal of the season but ensured that City didn’t slip any further behind their title rivals and league leaders Chelsea, who remain eight points ahead at the top of the table.
Back to the Championship, and Saturday also saw Wolverhampton Wanderers host Nottingham Forest at Molineux.
Paul Roberts took up position on the sidelines and spotted debutant Danny Graham, on loan from Sunderland, who tried his best to make a big impression on his first outing in a Wolves shirt.
It wasn’t to be however, and although he was able to get on the end of an inviting cross, the former Swansea and Hull City striker wasn’t able to convert the chance.
He wasn’t alone. The match trundled on to the half-time whistle in an entertaining yet unfulfilled fashion with the scoreline yet to be altered.
It took until the 65th minute for it to be breached, with Britt Assombalonga grabbing a tap-in from a Matty Fryatt cross.
The provider then turned goalscorer three minutes later with his head from a Henri Lansbury corner.
And that pattern then repeated itself, with Lansbury slipping home a third goal to cap off his assist.
Stuart Pearce’s side move up to eighth while Kenny Jacket’s Wolves slip to 11th after losing three league games in a row.
Returning to London, and Stamford Bridge saw the visit of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday to face Chelsea, who even in November are threatening to runaway with the title race.
Taking the pictures was Ryan Smyth. As usual, Diego Costa was the focuses of the match action and the camera lens.
It took the Brazilian-born Spanish striker just 11 minutes to score his 11 goal of the season.
Chesting down the ball, he was able to fire off a volley that had too much for Ben Foster to stop.
Another 14 minutes later, Eden Hazard doubled the lead with a simple shot into the back of the net after West Brom’s defenders failed to stay aware at a corner.
The visitors were under no illusion as to who Chelsea’s main danger man was, even if their attempts to stop him failed, with Costa receiving plenty of unwanted attention throughout the game.
Claudio Yacob saw red for his challenge against the striker after jumping in two-footed. His dismissal came in the 28th minute and effectively ended the contest.
The Blues are now unbeaten in 12 games since the start of the season: a club record for Chelsea.
Saturday’s evening kick off took place across London at the Emirates where Louis van Gaal’s injury ravaged Manchester United travelled down to face Arsenal. Marc Atkins took the photos.
The Gunners weren’t without their own fitness issues however, with Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Mathieu Debuchy all missing long-term from the starting line up.
Arsene Wenger was still able to call upon the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and, of course, Alexis Sanchez, however, and for the first 20 minutes at least looked the far more capable side.
David De Gea was kept busy by the hosts for much of the first half, with Welbeck and Sanchez both failing to make golden chances pay. It seemed as though every shot taken by Arsenal was aimed square at United’s keeper, in the middle of his goal.
The breakthrough instead came for the visitors, with Kieran Gibbs first injuring Wojciech Szczesny and then deflected Antonio Valencia’s cross into the hosts’ goal in the second half. It was 1-0 to United, against the run of play.
It seemed as though that setback did more than just hand Van Gaal’s team the lead however. The whole momentum of the contest appeared to tilt towards United and away from Arsenal, as heads dropped.
Wilshere, having earlier messed up arguably the best chance of the game after being played in by Welbeck, lost his head, and squared up to Marouane Fellaini. The size difference between the two midfielders was comical, but the England international’s state of mind appeared anything but for the home fans.
Wayne Rooney made it 2-0 with United’s first shot on target of the game, with a well-worked and incisive counter-attack that saw him sprint down the park alongside Angel Di Maria to pull Arsenal to pieces.
The Argentinian had a wonderful chance to make it 3-0, but chipped wide rather than between the sticks. As the game neared its climax it looked as though he might come to rue that miss.
Olivier Giroud arrived on the field and Arsenal piled on the pressure. The Frenchman was even able to score an emphatic consolation goal to set visiting nerves on edge.
A massive eight minutes of stoppage time were called, but Van Gaal’s makeshift defence held out, with Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair impressing once again.
Their determination and organisation eventually won out. Arsenal were left to try and make sense of a defeat from a match they should have really won while United floated up to fourth place.
Over in Spain, Lionel Messi was busying himself with the task of overcoming Telmo Zarra to become La Liga’s all-time highest scorer.
Marca provided the pictures of Barcelona versus Sevilla, while Messi produced the lion’s share of the goals.
First, he drew level with Zarra’s tally, which had stood for 56 years, with a brilliant freekick that curved around the defensive wall and into the goal. Sevilla equalised through a Jordi Alba own goal before Barcelona retook the lead through Neymar and Ivan Rakitic to make it 3-1.
Messi then broke the record with a close range effort on the 72 minute mark before putting daylight between himself and the great Athletic Club goalscorer by completing his hat-trick six minutes later.
His final goal was a fitting sign off from the match, with the Argentinian striking a powerful, driving shot from the edge of the box to set the new record at 253 goals at the age of 27.
Later, over on the other side of the country, a very different landmark even was taking place: the debut appearance on the La Liga sidelines of former Manchester United, Everton and Preston manager David Moyes.
His new club, Real Sociedad, had an away date in the North West against Deportivo La Coruna, and struggled through a murky and wet night on the Atlantic coast.
The game finished 0-0. Next up for Moyes: Elche, who are one place from bottom, who they will play at home in the Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian.
Sunday saw Liverpool return to the scene of their undoing in last season’s title race as the Reds traveled to South London to face Crystal Palace.
Marc Atkins was Offside’s man at Selhurst Park where at first it appeared that Brendan Rodgers’ side may be ready to exorcise their demons following the damaging 3-3 draw that saw their run-in charge grind to a halt in the Spring.
It took Rickie Lambert just two minutes to finally open his Liverpool account with a strike fed by Adam Lallana, who transferred to Anfield alongside the England striker from Southampton in the summer.
Yet it didn’t take long for Palace to nullify the visitor’s lead, with Dwight Gayle, the man who caused Rodgers and his side so much pain back in April, finding the net on the 17 minute mark.
The former non-league striker was able to pounce on a rebounding shot by Yannick Bolasie which cannoned off the post. Simon Mignolet had no chance.
It remained level at 1-1 until late into the second half when Joe Ledley struck to tip the scoreline in the Eagles’ favour.
Bolasie was again the man who made it all happen, with the attacker turning two defenders with some brilliant skills down the right to play in the Welsh midfielder who turned the pull back in from close range.
Liverpool’s day got even worse when Palace wrapped up their victory from a Mile Jedinak freekick, with the Australian enforcer showing plenty of finesse to curl his effort home.
Neil Warnock’s team are now out of the bottom three while the Reds have stumbled down into 12th place, just three spots ahead of the South Londoners.
Sunday’s late kick off in the Premier League saw Tottenham Hotspur travel to Hull City, with Simon Stacpoole heading East to catch the action at the KC Stadium.
The stuttering Lilywhites appeared to be stumbling again when their former midfielder Jake Livermore gave the home side the lead after six minutes.
Finding himself with some space 25 yards out from the goal, the Englishman tried his luck with a powerful shot that had too much for Hugo Lloris.
Hatem Ben Afra, on loan for the season from Newcastle United, went close to scoring a second later in the second half but was unable to finish his chance.
Hull would come to regret the French winger’s inability to double their lead, with Spurs coming back late in the game to not only level the score but snatch an injury time winner.
First though, Gaston Ramirez saw red for a bringing down Jan Vertonghen with a challenge that buckled the Beligan’s legs after catching the back of his knees. With 40 minutes left to play of the game, it was a costly dismissal, especially given how hard Hull had worked for their lead.
The score was levelled just over 10 minutes later when Harry Kane found the net through a rebound after Christian Eriksen’s freekick hit the crossbar.
Eriksen was on target later however to score the winning goal. He answered Livermore early long-range drive to open the scoring with his own powerful effort from 20 yards to close the game.
Tottenham weren’t brilliant but the KC Stadium is a tough place to go and they did well to comeback and win the game 2-1.
Monday night saw Marc Atkins and Simon Stacpoole both headed to the Midlands for Aston Villa versus Southampton, with the Saints still second in the Premier League while the Villains were without a win since the middle of September.
The lowest attendance at Villa Park in 15 years welcome the two teams as they emerged before kick-off, with the recent style of play and results suffered through by Paul Lambert’s team turning spectators away.
However, Gabby Agbonlahor gave those who did turn up a reason to hope on the 29th minute mark, with the fleet-footed forward profiting from some miscommunication between Fraser Forster and Toby Alderweireld.
Prior to the game, Southampton had recorded an impressively low tally of goals conceded, with just five let in during their first 11 games – the lowest count in the league. Villa on the other hand had only scored five goals all season. With the relegation zone looming, the hosts really needed a win.
Unfortunately for the home side, Saints came back in the second half and found an equaliser thanks to their full-back pairing of Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand.
The latter put on the perfect cross for the former who slotted home on the 81 minute mark to make it 1-1.
Ronald Koeman’s team didn’t look satisfied with their equaliser and tried to push on for a late winner but the chance just didn’t come, and so it remained level, with each team gaining a point.
Given that there was only five shots on target in the entire game, it was always unlikely that the visitors would be able to sneak a triumphant final strike.
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