The weekend featured six games for Offside, with five matches in the Premier League and one in the Championship covered by our team of photographers.
Ryan Smyth kicked things off in the English second tier at The Valley where Mick McCarthy’s title challenging Ipswich Town faced a Charlton Athletic side within striking distance of the play-off places.
The visitors headed into the game on an unbeaten run of five Championship games without defeat as they sought to chase down Steve McClaren’s Derby County at the top of the table.
Both teams looked lively in the first half, with Luke Chambers going close as The Tractor Boys looked for an early opener. Daryl Murphy and Paul Anderson also tested the home side’s goalkeeper, Nick Pope.
The hosts had a few of their own chances too, with Callum Harriet managing to send three shots on target without scoring and Chris Solly having a fierce drive saved.
Having not scored a league goal for over two years, substitute Noel Hunt never seemed likely to be the deciding factor, but the Ipswich forward came on for his debut from the bench late on to make a crucial intervention.
With the game almost over, Hunt managed to finally beat Pope with a low driving shot that sped into the back of the home side’s net on the 95th minute mark.
The match had seen a combined total of over 40 shots yet it ended 1-0 to the visitors, with McCarthy’s side moving to within a point of Derby after their defeat to Leeds United. Charlton remain outside of the play-off places in 10th, with Blackburn Rovers three points ahead of them in sixth.
Paul Roberts was at the Hawthorns for West Bromwich Albion against Arsenal, with the Gunners looking to improve in the league following two straight defeats to Swansea City and Manchester United.
The Baggies were in a similar run of results, having been beaten by Newcastle United and Chelsea after a vital win against Leicester City at the start of November.
Both teams needed to make the most of the fixtures, with the visitors heading into the match with their lowest points tally from 12 games in 32 years and the hosts struggling to keep their heads above the treacherous waters of the relegation zone.
Even with Arsenal’s own poor record of late, the Gunners seemed to most likely team to take the result, or at least score a goal, with West Brom having failed to find the net in over 210 minutes of football. Come the end of the game, that total would climb above 300 minutes.
Still, some sections of the away support seemed more interested in making their feelings known about Arsene Wenger’s suitability to continue as manager rather than place their hopes behind their team’s likely statistical advantage at the Hawthorns.
Danny Welbeck had 10 goals from 16 games in all competitions for club and country going into the match, but the former Manchester United forward was moved wide to accommodate Arsenal’s returning target man Olivier Giroud to a more central position.
The Frenchman and his English counter-part both had chances to score with the visitors producing 17 attempts on goal in total, most of which were either missed or saved by Ben Foster or his posts.
Wenger’s side got their goal eventually however through the re-positioned Welbeck getting on the end of Santi Cazorla cross to put a header into the back of the Baggies’ net.
Arsenal’s diminutive Spaniard won the man of the match award for his intelligent and inventive performance, in place of the injured Jack Wilshere.
Saido Berahino had the best chance for the hosts, but the young striker struck the woodwork with his own header from just six yards out.
Come the full-time whistle Arsenal had their victory and the three points as the game finished 1-0 to the visitors.
Next up were Welbeck’s boyhood club, Manchester United, against Hull City at Old Trafford. Simon Stacpoole was Offside’s man at The Theatre Of Dreams.
Louis van Gaal used the inherent hype and anticipation of the game’s pre-match build-up to gain a slight tactical advantage over Steve Bruce, who was celebrating his 700th match as a manager.
Many, including the visitor’s coaching staff, assumed that Michael Carrick had been named as the central defender in a back three for the hosts as he warmed up with the defensive players before the match.
However, come kick-off, the England international took up position at the base of the midfield and spent the game controlling play through the middle of the park and firing a number of penetrating long balls forward up into Hull’s area.
United didn’t have it all their own way in the centre of the park however, with Angel Di Maria taken off early on with a hamstring complaint. Ander Herrera arrived from the bench to replace the downed Argentinian.
Alongside Carrick and Juan Mata, the former Athletic Club playmaker became a constant source of danger balls for Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie up front.
Yet it was central defender Chris Smalling who got the scoring under way from a goalmouth scramble following a corner. Alan McGregor eventually helped to put the shot into his own net but the strike remained listed under his opponent’s name.
Rooney doubled the score before half-time after being teed up by van Persie, who played the ball into his captain from inside the Hull goal area. With the pass laid back to the Englishman just outside the box, he smashed a shot through the leaky Hull defence and into the bottom corner of McGregor’s goal.
Having failed to make a number of chances pay for his team earlier in the game, Van Persie finally found his finishing touch on the 66th minute with an emphatic shot off his left foot.
The ball rocketed past McGregor’s outstretched hand from a tight angle to fly straight into the top corner of the net from the left-hand channel.
And that’s how the game finished: 3-0 to the hosts, with Bruce suffering an unhappy anniversary. This was his 17th defeat against his former club as a manager in 21 attempts. He is yet to see one of his teams beat United, at home or away.
Back in the capital, Marc Atkins was shooting West Ham United versus Newcastle, with the Hammers keen to break their recent dry spell without a win.
Sam Allardyce’s side had lost ground after having soared into the chasing pack behind Chelsea and Manchester City but came good against Alan Pardew’s men who have enjoyed the last few weeks in the Premier League.
Newcastle were on a run of six straight wins, including the scalps of Liverpool and City, and heading to Upton Park unbeaten in their seven games since the start of October.
Beyond the clash of clubs and rival form books, the match also represented another fixture in which Andy Carroll came up against the club he emerged from as prodigious target man back in 2006.
The 6’4″ striker was sold to Liverpool for £35 million in 2011 and has struggled with expectations and injuries ever since, but against his former team and manager, the front man worked hard and played well.
However, he wasn’t able to score the goal required to put his current side ahead. That honour was reserved for left-back, Aaron Cresswell.
Just 10 minutes into the second half, the Liverpool-born full-back found himself in space within the box after a driving run forward, and sent the ball past Rob Elliott after Cheikhou Kouyate’s attempt bobbled over to his feet.
Things then got worse for Newcastle as Moussa Sissoko notched up two yellow cards in just one minute and was dismissed to put the visitors down to 10 men for the remainder of the game.
Given their numerical disadvantage they were unable to pull back the goals required for a late comeback draw or win and West Ham had their first win since beating Man City at the end of October.
Speaking of whom, the reigning Premier League champions were the first team up on Sunday, with Manuel Pellegrini’s side travelling all the way down to the South Coast to play Southampton.
Marc Atkins headed down the motorway from London to capture the action as Ronald Koeman’s team prepared for the first real test of their top four status.
Going into the game, it was the Saints rather than the defending champions who found themselves in second place chasing the early leaders Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho’s side had drawn against Sunderland on Saturday, meaning that both teams had an excellent chance to cut the Blues’ lead at the top if they could win at St Mary’s.
City’s bid for the three points was boosted by the return of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho who had been suspended for the mid-week clash against Bayern Munich.
Sergio Aguero had been the hat-trick hero in that game to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory in injury time, and give hope to City whose prospects of making the knock out stages of the Champions League had previously looked hopeless.
That turnaround against the German champions appeared to have given City some confidence and focus, and for the first portion of the first half Saints looked unable to get out of their own half, let alone attack Joe Hart’s goal.
Controversy reared its head early on with Aguero receiving a yellow card for diving after being taken out in the area by Jose Fonte, whose two feet struck the Argentinian rather than the ball.
The visitors dominated the game from the off, but they weren’t able to grab a goal before half-time. Stevan Jovetic went closest with a shot from the left channel flying through Fraser Forster’s legs but cannoning off Toby Alderweireld who blocked the ball off the line.
Yaya Toure finally broke the deadlock after 51 minutes with a shot from outside the box that Southampton’s midfielders and defenders failed to close down.
The home side’s prospects in that endeavour wasn’t helped by the departure of Morgan Schneiderlin during the break after feeling a tightness in his thigh.
Eliaquim Mangala was the best focal point of the game, with the under-fire, £32 million summer signing receiving his marching orders after collecting a second yellow card for a silly, clumsy take down outside his own area.
Losing a man seemed to spur City on however, as the game opened up slightly and substitute Frank Lampard and full-back Gael Clichy both scored on the break.
It was the French defender’s first goal for Manchester City, with Aguero setting up him with an ingenious ball off the outside of his right foot to mark his 100 games in the Premier League with an assist, if not a goal.
City’s win saw them leapfrog Southampton into second, and cut the gap against Chelsea to six points.
Mark Leech put the finishing touch on Offside’s weekend with pictures from Tottenham Hotspur against Everton at White Hart Lane.
Spurs started the day off in 10th place, one spot behind the Toffees, with both teams struggling to balance their progress in the Europa League with similar success in the Premier League.
Yet Everton arrived in North London on the back of an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions. Mauricio Pochettino’s side were looking to score their third victory in seven days.
The match got off to a quick start with Kevin Mirallas putting the visitors up after 15 minutes with an exceptional strike from just outside of the area that flew diagonally across the box and goal before curling into the far corner, well beyond Hugo Lloris’ reach.
An equaliser wasn’t far behind however, with Christian Eriksen being played in by Harry Kane to slot home past Tim Howard. The young English striker may not have scored, but his performance as a provider of chances and energy from the front was key for Spurs, while his Danish colleague was as composed as ever.
The winning goal came just before the half-time whistle through the relatively unlikely source of Roberto Soldado, with the Spanish striker scoring his first league goal since March.
Again it was Kane who was the catalyst for his teammates, robbing the ball off Gareth Barry before feeding Aaron Lennon, who sent the ball through to the goal-shy, former Valencia poacher.
The second half was goalless, but Kane and Spurs continued to keep their intensity high, with the Englishman forcing a save from Tim Howard.
Spurs won the game 2-1 and jumped ahead of Everton, Newcastle and Swansea thanks to the three point boost.
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