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By Jonathan Stevenson
2212: Before my backside permanently refuses to part company with my chair, I think I should make my exit. Cracking day of Premier League football, so thanks a million billion for your company throughout and enjoy the rest of your evening. I'll be back on Wednesday at about 1830 GMT for
Chelsea v Bolton,Liverpool v Wolves
Wigan v Arsenal
from the Premier League and
Nottm Forest v Derby
from the Championship. Vested interest? *Coughs.* Anyway, I'm off to watch
England retain the Ashes in Australia,
something I have longed for for a very, very long time. Have a good evening, and don't forget to let people know about The IncRedDevils. Happy days.
From Michael83 on 606:
"Classic Lee Bowyer goal - at his prime at Leeds he was the best in the Premier League in timing his runs to perfection."
Birmingham keeper Ben Foster: "We've not really thought about being in the bottom three at all, we just concentrate on our games and do what we can do, and it's a great point to pick up tonight."
Birmingham hero Lee Bowyer: "I don't think where we are in the league is justice for the way we've been playing. I've been rolling back the years with a couple of goals and hopefully I'll keep nicking goals until I retire. We worked really hard but I think we deserved to get a point at the end."
2200: I'm quite keen to hear what Mr Sir Alex Ferguson has to say about that late goal, are you? That result means Man United go back to the top of the Premier League, level on points but with two games in hand on Man City and three points clear of Arsenal on the same games played. They next face West Brom, away on Saturday, while Birmingham host Arsenal.
From Chris, on text: "Apart from fouling Rio, assisting with his hand and giving it to an offside player, that goal was perfectly legit."
2152: Full-time Birmingham 1-1 Man United The Blues fans celebrate like they have won and rightly so because that is a terrific point for Alex McLeish's side and sees them move out of the relegation zone and up into 16th.
2151: About a minute left of stoppage time and Birmingham are trying to pump the ball into the Man United box. More drama than an EastEnders Christmas special, this Premier League of ours.
2149: We're deep into four minutes of injury time now and Birmingham are committing players forward looking for a winner, would you believe?
Blues goal: Drama. You scoffed, but I did warn you. And it's not just a goal - it's a goal soaked in controversy. Roger Johnson crosses from the right and Nikola Zigic gets there first - it might hit the giant striker's hand as it rebounds into the path of Lee Bowyer. Bowyer might be offside, but he slides in to level the scores in the final minute. United's players are furious.
2147: GOAL Birmingham 1-1 Man United (Bowyer)
2145: Darron Gibson is sent away down the Man Utd left and he's in acres of space - play the pass to Dimitar Berbatov and the Bulgarian is on his own through on goal, but Gibson delays and delays and delays and eventually when he does pass it the ball is cut out.
2143: Birmingham bring on Kevin Phillips for Cameron Jerome. Now there's a man who knows where the goal is. Five minutes left for the hosts to salvage something.
2141: Nemanja Vidic nearly wraps it up with a thumping header from the penalty spot and Ben Foster does well to tip the ball over the crossbar. Time is ticking, still Birmingham 0-1 Man Utd.
2139: For some reason, the Birmingham players are now struggling to stay on their feet - Alex Hleb goes down theatrically inside the Man Utd area and there's nothing doing at all, shocking dive. Should be booked really. Blues send on Nikola Zigic for Jean Beausejour.
2138: Ryan Giggs flattens Lee Bowyer moments after a similarly heavy challenge from Rafael - Man United are very keen not to give their lead away, you might not be surprised to hear.
2136: Right then - 12 minutes left at St Andrews, and despite their dominance for much of the second half, Man United still only lead Birmingham 1-0. In this season's Premier League, only a clown would write off more drama in the Midlands.
2134: Liam Ridgewell is fooled by a clever flick from Dimitar Berbatov and collects a booking for bringing down the Bulgarian. Moments later Wayne Rooney turns down shot number six and sensibly tees up Darron Gibson, but he gets it all wrong and slices horribly wide from 20 yards.
2132: Man United are in total control of this game now - Birmingham still only have Cameron Jerome up front, with Alex Hleb just behind him, but the hosts are struggling to get the ball to either of them at the moment.
2130: With about 18 minutes left of normal time, Man United send on Darren Fletcher for Anderson.
From d0mth0ma5 on Twitter:
"You're not going to stop with the "IncRedDevils" chat until you get it in the dictionary are you..." Haha, how well you know me.
2127: The Wayne Rooney Open Play Goal Hunt Part V involves the striker hitting a shot from 16 yards that flies into the frame of Roger Johnson. Birmingham take off Seb Larsson and send on former Arsenal midfielder Alex Hleb.
2125: United pass their way through the Birmingham midfield again but this time it's Anderson who pulls the trigger from 20 yards and it flies well wide of Ben Foster's right-hand post.
From Leo, London, on text: "How many times have you been to the loo in these eight hours, Stevo?" Once. I'm Jedi trained, almost.
2123: Wayne Rooney is now linking up with Dimitar Berbatov in a more central position and United are starting to look dangerous every time they go forward. We had 65 minutes - does Alex McLeish bide his time, or throw on another striker?
2120: See 1333. Manchester United haven't lost in the Premier League this season and if they win this evening they will go two points clear of Man City with two games in hand. IncRedDevils, anyone?
2118: He barely touched the ball from 60 minutes, but Dimitar Berbatov has come to life in the most scintillating fashion. He collects a pass 25 yards out, dribbles effortlessly past Liam Ridgewell and fires in a low right-foot shot that clips the outside of Ben Foster's right-hand post.
Man Utd goal: Bulgarian brilliance, and our deadlock is broken at Birmingham. Dimitar Berbatov starts the move with an impudent flick through to Darron Gibson and when Gibson returns the ball to the striker on the edge of the Blues box, he takes it supremely in his stride with one touch before plundering an arrow-like right-foot shot into the bottom corner of Ben Foster's net. Absolutely lethal.
2116: GOAL Birmingham 0-1 Manchester United (Berbatov)
2115: That was The Wayne Rooney Open Play Goal Hunt Part IV, by the way. Coming up to the hour mark at St Andrews, still 0-0.
2113: That was almost the most short-lived bet in history - from a Ryan Giggs corner from the left, Wayne Rooney heads over the Birmingham crossbar. Federico Macheda begins his warm-up routine.
From joe_white_22 on 606:
"I am going to push the boat out here and say Rooney will never score a goal from open play again in his career... who's with me?"
2110: Jean Beausejour plays the ball infield to Lee Bowyer and his first-time right-foot shot from 20 yards takes a deflection off Rio Ferdinand and flies behind for a corner. From the set-piece the ball falls for Craig Gardner eight yards out, but his well-struck volley is straight into the midriff of Edwin van der Sar.
2108: Jean Beausejour's tracking has been as good as his marauding tonight and he fends off Rafael as the Brazilian tries to play a one-two down the Man United right. Rafael went down like he'd been shot, but nothing to see there.
2107: Neat jinkery from Jean Beausejour down the Birmingham right, but his cross is flicked on by Seb Larsson and there are no Blues players behind the midfielder inside the United box. Impressed with the Chilean tonight and was at the World Cup too.
2103: Man United get us under way in the second half at St Andrews. Looks like as you were, which will no doubt annoy the heck out of the United fans baying for a change at the break.
Man City's hat-trick hero Mario Balotelli: "I am always happy, even when I don't smile. But I feel a striker has to score. It is my job. That is why I don't smile. I am still happy and I can score more. I am very happy even if the journalists in Italy say I want to go to Milan. I am here and I am working hard in training. I want to be an important man for this team and the results are on the pitch."
From Desolation_row on 606:
"Ferguson has made it easy for Birmingham by playing Rooney out wide, leaving Berbatov as a lone striker. Plenty of time to turn things around in the second half."
From PhilTaylorX on Twitter:
"United need to get Obertan on and go 4-4-2 with Rooney linking up with Berbatov. We're creating nothing with these tactics."
2048: Half-time Birmingham 0-0 Man Utd Mandeep Sanghera's
HT snap-shot: "Tight, tight and er, tight. Chances are at a premium with defences massively on top at St Andrews."
2046: There are two minutes of injury time in the first half at St Andrews as Wayne Rooney concedes a free-kick for a foul on Stephen Carr. Not the visitors' best 45 minutes of the season so far.
2044: About a minute to go until the break and Sir Alex Ferguson does not look pleased, standing with hands in his pockets on the touchline. Wonder if he's got a half-time substitution up his sleeve?
From faranjiniho on 606:
"Darron Gibson has done nothing in this game except give the ball away a couple of times. Has he even made a tackle?"
2041: Neatly worked and might have produced something better there for Birmingham. Seb Larsson whips over another cross from the right and Lee Bowyer cleverly tees it up for Craig Gardner on the edge of the area, the midfielder's left-foot shot this time missing the target a couple of yards high and a couple of yards wide.
2039: Wayne Rooney is dropping deeper and deeper in order to get on the ball - when he collected it from Rio Ferdinand a moment ago he was almost in the left-back position. Hmm.
2038: Craig Gardner picks the ball up on the Birmingham right and drifts infield and as no Man United player closes him down, the midfielder pings in a left-foot shot from about 25 yards that flies comfortably wide of Edwin van der Sar's right-hand post, the Dutchman diving across his line just to make sure.
2036: There's a rarity as Ryan Giggs gives the ball away, but as Jean Beausejour hares forward down the Birmingham left, the even quicker Rafael goes after him and gets in a fine tackle to thwart the winger.
From Macheda_The_Messiah on text: Feels like a super-sub kinda night for United. Kiko or Chicharito to sneak one after the 85th minute for a 1-0er. Heard it here first."
2032: The free-kick came to nothing, incidentally, but Birmingham have been much better in the last 10 minutes and United have hardly threatened at all.
2030: Lee Mason has gone card-happy - but they are all very good decisions from the referee. Cameron Jerome gets the wrong side of Nemanja Vidic and the defender brings him down cynically about 30 yards out - he is booked only because Rio Ferdinand was covering intelligently behind him.
2029: That's a bit reckless, that from Lee Bowyer. He is late on Darron Gibson and catches the midfielder just above the ankle - thankfully Gibson is OK to continue, but Bowyer is rightfully booked. Moments later, Ryan Giggs cuts in from the right and shoots at Ben Foster.
BBC Radio 5 live's David Pleat: "If Birmingham finish the game with a point I think Alex McLeish would be delighted with that. Man United have had more of the ball but they aren't hurting the home team and despite their territorial advantage they are struggling to create clear chances."
2026: I do so love handbags. Anderson and Craig Gardner are both booked for some afters - it was the Man Utd midfielder who took exception to Barry Ferguson's challenge and he and Gardner got a little bit silly. I'd say needless, but is it?
2025: Rafael plays a neat one-two with Darron Gibson down the Manchester United right, but Birmingham's Chilean winger Jean Beausejour does some top tracking back and refuses to allow the Brazilian past. They're having a good tussle at both ends, these two.
From Will Bone, on text: "It's not fair! My friend who swapped seats with me can be seen on the photos from last nights Arsenal vs Chelsea game... it would be a nice consolation if my message makes it onto the updates page tonight. Thanks & happy New Year!"
2022: ... What a disappointment. Sebastian Larsson takes it, but it flies a good few yards over Edwin van der Sar's crossbar.
2021: Michael Carrick jumps into the back of Cameron Jerome on the every precipice of the Man United penalty area and this is a cracking chance for Birmingham City...
2019: I stand (I haven't stood for eight hours, I'm sitting) corrected - Ryan Giggs's cross did not take a deflection and it needed a fabulous fingertip save from Ben Foster to keep it out. Only wrong on two fronts, well done, Stevo.
2018: Wheesh, that was close. Ryan Giggs flings over a cross from the Man Utd right - it takes a deflection and loops beyond Ben Foster, crashing back off the goalkeeper's right-hand post and Birmingham manage to clear the danger.
2017: The Wayne Rooney Open Play Goal Hunt Part III - the 25-year-old blazes miles over and miles wide from about 30 yards. Hugely optimistic.
2016: Birmingham are enjoying a bit of the ball, but Cameron Jerome is running around doing a lot of chasing up front on his own - they must ensure a couple of the midfielders try and get closer to him when the Blues have possession.
From BBC Sport's Phil McNulty on Twitter:
"Heartfelt tribute from Grant to friend Avi Cohen: 'A great man, great personality always with a smile on his face and positive energy'... Avram Grant confirms West Ham hoping to complete deal for Steve Sidwell this week. Needs more on today's evidence."
2012: Another cheeky look at goal from Wayne Rooney - after taking a pass from Anderson on the left, he cuts into the area and infield and curls a low shot that brings a comfortable save from Ben Foster. They might not want to keep letting him shoot though, Birmingham.
2011: It's fiesty, if not especially full of quality, so far at St Andrews. Both sides feeling their way into the game at the moment. Still a decent atmosphere. Lots of talk about Man Utd, but don't forget Birmingham are in the drop zone as things stand.
2008: A sighter this time for Man United striker Wayne Rooney, who is still searching for his first goal from open play since March. He collects 25 yards out, turns and shoots a few yards wide of Ben Foster's goal.
From Filip on 606:
"Can a 37-year-old Giggs play two games in three days at a high level?"
2004: The Man United fans are in fine voice at St Andrews, singing their Eric Cantona songs and generally creating much of the early atmosphere. How desperate must they be to go back above neighbours Man City this evening?
2002: First sniff of an opening for the hosts as Sebastian Larsson collects a Craig Gardner pass and curls over a cross that Cameron Jerome heads over the United crossbar. Was difficult, just a fraction too high for the striker.
2000: Under way in the Midlands for our last Premier League game of the day. So far we've had 16 goals and three red cards, so what will Birmingham v Man United offer us?
Mo from London, on text: "United will miss Park in the next few games. One of the more under-rated members of our team, but gets those crucial goals when we need them."
1956: Led out by referee Lee Mason and captains Stephen Carr and Nemanja Vidic, the teams emerge from the tunnel at St Andrews and we are moments away from kick-off.
Birmingham boss Alex McLeish: "I said to the players in the dressing-room that we have to stop looking out for other results. Ultimately, we have to do it ourselves. We have to believe in ourselves. I think the players are ready for this one."
From InfostradaLive on Twitter:
"Man City can become 1st club outside Big Four to lead Premier League on 31 Dec since Leeds in 1999/2000. Man Utd and Arsenal can prevent this."
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "This is a very difficult place to come, we recognise that and hope the experience we have in the team helps. In the New Year if you are at the top then the table starts to takes shape and you are into important times."
Birmingham v Manchester United team news: Mandeep Sanghera reports:
"Birmingham last played on 12 December when they lost 1-0 at Wolves. There's three changes from that side with left-back Liam Ridgwell, as well as midfielders Craig Gardner and Jean Beausejour, replacing David Murphy, Keith Fahey and Nikola Zigic. Alexander Hleb is on the bench. Manchester United make one change from the win over Sunderland as midfielder Darron Gibson comes in for Park Ji-Sung, who is unavailable as he is on international duty with South Korea for the Asian Cup. Nani again misses out because of a hip injury."
From Sam, Torquay, on text: "Another start for Anderson. He has been in excellent form in the last few games and finally looks like fulfilling his undoubted potential."
1937: Birmingham v Man Utd line-ups: Birmingham: Foster, Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell, Larsson, Ferguson, Gardner, Bowyer, Beausejour, Jerome. Subs: Taylor, Phillips, Derbyshire, Fahey, Zigic, Hleb, Jiranek. Man Utd: Van der Sar, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Gibson, Carrick, Anderson, Giggs, Berbatov, Rooney. Subs: Kuszczak, Neville, Hernandez, Evans, Fletcher, Obertan, Macheda. Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
Birmingham v Manchester United scene-setter: Mandeep Sanghera reports:
"Manchester United have made it to Christmas unbeaten in the league for the first time in their history and can reclaim top spot in the Premier League with the minimum of a draw at Birmingham. The Midlands side have not beaten United in 22 league games against them since November 1978 but are a tough proposition at home - they have lost just one of their last 23 top-flight matches at St Andrews. Birmingham beat Chelsea at home in November and, although they are third-from-bottom, an Old Trafford outfit with one win and six draws on the road need to beware."
1931: Right then. Still one match to go on this bumper day of Premier League football in the shape of
Birmingham v Man Utd.
All sorts of scene-setters, line-ups and team news to come from St Andrews.
BBC Sport's Phil McNulty at Upton Park: "Spoils shared at West Ham. Avram Grant will be reasonably satisfied with a point after his side's second game over the holiday period while Everton boss David Moyes must somehow solve an acute lack of firepower in January."
From OptaJoe on Twitter:
"Other than the move that led to the Hibbert own goal, West Ham did not have a single shot on target v Everton."
1925: Full-time West Ham 1-1 Everton
1924: ... Scott Parker makes his first big mistake of the game, over-hitting the free-kick out of play, and that might well be that.
1923: Freddie Sears runs at the Everton defence but while he's busy trying to fashion an opening, Leighton Baines tussles with Carlton Cole and the striker wins a free-kick. It's 35 yards out, second left...
1922: Everton send on Diniyar Bilyaletdinov for the dying stages of the contest, the Russian on in place of Mikel Arteta.
1920: Hmm, there's a moment. West Ham attack and Tim Howard comes flying out of his goal to the edge of the area, where he tries to win the ball from Zavon Hines - Hines goes down, but Howard Webb waves play on.
1919: Wow, we'll have five minutes of injury time. Dunno where that has come from, but will it produce a winner for us? West Ham 1-1 Everton, remember.
1917: Everton still look the likelier to score a second goal, but Yakubu hasn't helped much since he came on. He nods behind for a goalkick after Tim Cahill headed a corner towards goal. Steven Pienaar is taken off, with Jermaine Beckford on in his place.
1914: Less than five minutes left of normal time and West Ham send on Zavon Hines for Victor Obinna.
1913: Not long left at Upton Park, where it remains West Ham 1-1 Everton. Team news and chat from Birmingham v Man Utd coming up after the game - headlines are that Jean Beausejour starts for the hosts and Ryan Giggs and Darron Gibson do for the visitors. More soon.
1911: Everton have the ball in the net, but it is rightly ruled out for offside. A deep cross from the left is headed back across goal by Tim Cahill and Yakubu gets his acrobatic volley all wrong - it lands for Cahill, who fights for possession with a defender and almost tackles it into the net, but he was yards offside when Yakuku made contact.
1910: Stunning tackle from Scott Parker inside the West Ham penalty area to deny Everton another shot on goal just when it seemed as though Yakubu was about to pull the trigger. From the corner, Marouane Fellaini's header is parried away by Rob Green, with Steven Pienaar volleying miles over on the rebound.
1909: Another half-chance, this time for Everton, as Steven Pienaar's low pass from the right is swept goalwards and into the arms of Rob Green by Tim Cahill.
From Mo, Birmingham, on text: "Re 1852 - Surely Southampton can't be giving away more talented youngsters, they'd be in Europe had they kept Walcott and Bale." Ricky Lambert would score goals in the Europa League. Fact.
1905: It's definitely hotting up at Upton Park as we move into the closing stages - at one end Carlton Cole's cross cannot find a West Ham player, while at the other Phil Neville's centre is whacked away from danger. The volume inside the stadium has gone up a notch, too.
1903: ... It is indeed Victor Obinna, who smashes a right-foot shot straight into the Everton wall. The hosts have improved in the last few minutes, though.
1902: Marouane Fellaini concedes a free-kick 25 yards away from the Everton goal, left of centre, and it looks like Victor Obinna fancies this one...
1859: There's your gilt-edged opportunity. Luis Boa Morte threads Freddie Sears away down the right and the youngster's cross is perfect for Carlton Cole on the left-hand side of the six-yard box, but the striker can only tamely direct the ball back across goal and wide of the far post. Might have been better taking a touch and then shooting there.
1858: It's pretty quiet still at Upton Park and Everton have been the better team in the second half, but we have been starved of clear-cut chances. Need something to happen here.
1853: Radoslav Kovac is into the referee's notebook for a clumsy late challenge on Steven Pienaar after the Everton player got away from him down the left. Pienaar is coming more and more into the game as it wears on.
1852: In other news briefly, apparently Liverpool are monitoring teenage Southampton winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with their director of football strategy Damien Comolli in the stands at St Mary's today to watch him find the net in a 4-1 win over Huddersfield in League One.
1850: Bullseye. Jack Rodwell comes off and Everton send on Yakubu.
1848: Good run down the right from Seamus Coleman and his cross looks like falling for Tim Cahill when Matthew Upson slips inside the penalty area, only for the Hammers captain to spontaneously knee the ball away from the Australian. Message to David Moyes: if you want to win this game, get a striker or two on.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis: "We gave Fulham two goals and then were chasing the game. We have given them a start that they couldn't have hoped or prayed for. In the first 10 minutes we started flat but from then on we were pressing and in the second half I can't remember our goalkeeper having anything to do."
1845: Jack Rodwell flicks the ball up and volleys well wide from 22 yards for Everton, before West Ham make a change as Carlton Cole comes on for Frederic Piquionne. Big cheer for the Hammers' Boxing Day two-goal hero.
1844: That's not very encouraging, is it? Will keep you posted on how things unfold at Birmingham, with their game against Manchester United supposed to kick off at 2000 GMT.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew: "We had opportunities to hurt Spurs but we were poor with our set-pieces - not at our best."
1840: First opening of the half falls for Everton as Jack Rodwell finds Steven Pienaar inside the West Ham area on the left, but having cut on to his right foot the South African can only clip a shot a few yards over Rob Green's crossbar.
1839: You know, if I was a betting man, apart from being extraordinarily poor I'd probably plump for Everton as the likelier side to go on and win this. After a super lively start up top from West Ham their forwards have gone all-too-quiet, with Scott Parker seemingly their best chance of a second goal. It's turgid fare so far after the break.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce: "I don't think I've witnessed a game like that since I was at school; it was one of those games where I don't think we would have scored if we had played until midnight."
From Use all 3 subs Roy on 606:
"Modric is brilliant. He is playing like Sneijder did last year. Tons of endeavour and creativity, ball is glued to his boots, great footballing brain. Bale is overrated."
1834: Back under way at the Boleyn Ground, where it is West Ham 1-1 Everton.
From Paddy, on text: "Stevo, I have watched Spurs closely all season and they have impressed greatly! But for me it is not Bale or Van der Vaart that is the star, it is Luka Modric. Week in, week out he is superb and his energy in the centre of the pitch creates opportunities for the others. If he was English it would solve all your problems!"
1830: And time to tell you once more that this is not, repeat NOT the last game of the day - we still have
Birmingham v Man Utd
to come from St Andrews, due to kick off at 2000 GMT.
Blackburn manager Steve Kean: "I am delighted to say Chris Samba does not want to hand in that transfer request. He is happy to see how things develop in the transfer market and he is starting to think about staying at the club, which is a bonus for us."
Manchester City 4-0 Aston Villa Paul Fletcher reports: "Man City do indeed move top of the Premier League - a fact not missed by the home fans, whose chants related to their current position on top of the pile. Of course, that will change if Manchester United avoid defeat later today. Not so great for Aston Villa, won have won just two of their last 13 top-flight games."
Stoke 0-2 Fulham Marc Vesty reports: "It was a real battle at the Britannia but Fulham ran out deserved winners against Stoke after grabbing those two early goals through Chris Baird and then defending resolutely to see the job through. Mark Hughes might be able to enjoy his New Year celebrations now, with the pressure off a little."
Sunderland 0-2 Blackpool Owen Phillips reports: "Sunderland created enough chances to win four or five games but Blackpool's resilience, bravery and some quality finishing by DJ Campbell earned them another away win."
West Brom 1-3 Blackburn Kevin Darling reports: "Who needs Big Sam? It's just like old times as Blackburn score twice from set pieces to see off the fragile Baggies, while Nikola Kalinic blights an impressive display with an ugly challenge on Paul Scharner."
1822: Right, time for a quick reminder of what's already happened...
1818: Half-time West Ham 1-1 Everton Phil McNulty's HT snap-shot: "West Ham enjoyed their best spell after scoring but Everton on top as half-time approached and deserved their equaliser. Will the fact that Everton were resting on Boxing Day while West Ham were in action at Fulham become a factor after the break?"
1816: Seamus Coleman has another fine chance, cutting in from the right of the penalty area and curling a shot over and wide from about 12 yards. Great interchanging in the Everton midfield prior to that again, with Jack Rodwell at the heart of it. Top stuff.
1815: Lovely stuff from Scott Parker, the midfielder scampering deep into Everton territory and attempting to catch Tim Howard out with a cute chip, only to see his delicate effort land on the roof of the net. Classy.
Blackpool manager Ian Holloway: "My lads amaze me week in week out. We rode our luck and managed to win a game against a team that are playing well."
1813: Half an opening for the Hammers to regain their lead, but from a corner from the right, Matthew Upson can only glance a header across the face of goal and wide.
Everton goal: Or maybe they won't need those strikers at all... The visitors are level just before the break and Upton Park is momentarily silenced. This time Everton's approach play is rewarded as Mikel Arteta finds Tim Cahill on the left and his cross to the back post is met by an unmarked Seamus Coleman, who gleefully slots under Robert Green. Jonathan Spector had gone walkabout.
1811: GOAL West Ham 1-1 Everton (Coleman)
1809: Everton continue to have more of the ball, but crosses into the box apart they look pretty toothless up front. They do have plenty of strikers on the bench, but when will David Moyes turn to them?
From Emmy P from Nigeria, on text: "Stevo, why is Scott Parker not a regular for England? He's way better than Gareth Barry and plays out of his skin every week."
1804: West Ham are forced into a first-half substitution, with Herita Ilunga limping off and replaced by Jonathan Spector.
1803: More neat approach play from Everton and when they get Leighton Baines in down the left, Tim Cahill makes for the penalty spot - only for Baines's cross to uncharacteristically fly miles over the Australian's head.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini: "I know that we are top but I think it will only be for three hours. It is important to be there at the end of the season."
BBC Sport's Phil McNulty at Upton Park: "Everton started well but West Ham are now in the ascendancy after Tony Hibbert gave a repeat performance of his Upton Park feat last season and scored in his own net. Everton are missing Phil Jagielka's influence in central defence and need to restore some of their early composure. Scott Parker, inevitably, is West Ham's inspiration."
1800: Good move from Everton down their left but the danger is cleared inside his own area by Scott Parker, a very neat 360 degree turn from the midfielder to get away from Mikel Arteta and get the Hammers moving forward again.
From lyf4free on Twitter:
"If anyone wants their team to win the next game just tell the press the manager has three games to save his job."
1755: West Ham look like a team reborn. They are flying at Everton now, buoyed by their opening goal, and they look by far the likelier team to get another. Victor Obinna's free-kick is headed over after a towering leap by captain Matthew Upson, and Upton Park is rocking.
1753: Now, apparently there was something of handbags at the end of the
Stoke 0-2 Fulham game,
when Tony Pulis refused to shake Mark Hughes's hand. Hughes looked angry after the match
and when asked about the incident, he said:
"Tony offered his hand initially and took it away. I'm big enough to accept that if that's how he wants to be. We took the three points so I'm happy with that." To which Pulis replied: "We will get on with it, he won't worry about me and I won't worry about him."
1750: Looked like it hit the post, but Victor Obinna's searing left-foot shot from an almost impossible angle on the right after he had nutmegged Mikel Arteta in fact struck the stanchion. They look super lively up top, West Ham. No wonder Avram Grant left Carlton Cole on the bench.
1748: Double chance for Everton to get back on to level terms and both for Sylvain Distin - he first sees a header deflected over by Frederic Piquionne, before his left-foot shot from another corner is deflected over by a Hammers defender, even though referee Howard Webb gives a goalkick.
Hammers goal: It won't win any goal of the season competitions, but you won't find the Upton Park regulars bothered in the slightest. A corner from the West Ham left is headed goalwards by James Tomkins and with bodies in the way Tim Howard can only punch it half-clear - it eventually falls for Radoslav Kovac to overhead kick is back into the danger zone, where poor old Tony Hibbert slices horribly into his own net.
1745: GOAL West Ham 1-0 Everton (Hibbert o.g.)
From Steve in Southampton, on text: "Wonder what this says about the Premier League: Take away the top six and every other team has let in more goals than they've scored."
1741: Everton are doing the majority of the pressing at the moment, but West Ham look dangerous on the break and they have genuine pace in attack, something which Everton, who are defending quite high up the pitch, must beware.
Fulham manager Mark Hughes: "Satisfaction is the emotion; we had a real intensity to the game, before and during. Our focus was excellent and we got the job done. It's always a difficult place to come [Stoke] but each and every one of my players stood up to the challenge. There were some huge performances."
1737: West Ham go to sleep as Seamus Coleman feeds a lovely ball into the box on the left for Slvain Distin, but the defender's control makes the angle even tighter and his left-foot shot fizzes wide of the far post.
1735: It's a decent, lively start at West Ham, with both teams doing their fair share of attacking so far. No chances to speak of as yet, but encouraging signs.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp: "Newcastle filled up the midfield but we got round the back of them twice - that's how the goals came."
1732: Decent early pass down the left from Luis Boa Morte for Frederic Piquionne to latch on to, but man, ball and everything else is taken out by Tony Hibbert, who is taking no prisoners early doors. Good challenge.
1730: Under way at West Ham, who are aiming to move out of the bottom three with victory against Everton. World Cup final's Howard Webb is our referee.
1726: The teams, led by captains Matthew Upson and Phil Neville, emerge at the Boleyn Ground, east London, as West Ham prepare to take on Everton in the sixth Premier League game of the day.
From Anon, on text: "Stevo, make my Xmas by telling me Houllier has been sacked. Then make my New Year by telling me we've given Paul Lambert the job, and that he's bringing Grant Holt along in Jan. A real manager and centre-forward to bang in those Albrighton delights."
1719: West Ham v Everton team news: Phil McNulty reports: "Carlton Cole's reward for his match-winning two-goal display at Fulham on Boxing Day is a place on the bench as West Ham face Everton at Upton Park. Boss Avram Grant entrusts attacking duties to Frederic Piquionne, supported by Victor Obinna, Freddie Sears and Luis Boa Morte. Everton are without England defender Phil Jagielka, who sustained a thigh injury in the win at Manchester City but Mikel Arterta is back after suspension in midfield and Steven Pienaar is also back in business after injury. Tim Cahill is likely to lead the attack, with Yakubu, Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford on the bench."
From BarcaGooner on 606:
"Very impressed by City and Spurs. I have to admit that even hardened sceptics including me will have to reconsider the new order in the Premier League."
1714: West Ham v Everton scene-setter: Phil McNulty reports: "West Ham boss Avram Grant will want his side to build on the Boxing Day victory at fellow Premier League strugglers Fulham to make it an excellent Christmas programme and ease any lingering doubts about his position, although they must do it against an Everton team that have proved a thorn in their side in the past. Everton counterpart David Moyes is hoping their outstanding win at Manchester City will finally inject momentum into their season, and they will be well rested after the Boxing Day meeting at home to Birmingham City was a victim of the big freeze."
1712: West Ham v Everton line-ups: West Ham: Green, Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga, Sears, Parker, Kovac, Boa Morte, Obinna, Piquionne. Subs: Boffin, Reid, Cole, Barrera, Spector, Stanislas, Hines. Everton: Howard, Neville, Hibbert, Distin, Baines, Coleman, Rodwell, Arteta, Fellaini, Pienaar, Cahill. Subs: Mucha, Bilyaletdinov, Saha, Beckford, Yakubu, Duffy, Baxter. Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)
From PerryMHewitt on Twitter:
"You don't have sugar? I assumed, through your hyperbolic writing style, that you'd take at least four." That's the worst thing you've ever said etc etc...
From Des in Brighton, on text: "Is there any chance Ricky Ponting wants the Villa job?" Des? From Brighton? Lynam..?
From Dan, Newcastle, on text: "If Blackpool win their games in hand they could feasibly find themselves in the Champions League places with over half the season played. Crikey."
From OptaJoe on Twitter:
"Fulham have won their first PL away game in 27 attempts, a run stretching back to August 2009... Only three sides have managed more shots in a Premier League game this season than Sunderland did vs Blackpool (31)."
Football League Al: "In the Championship, Portsmouth strike late to earn a 3-3 draw in a thriller at Leeds and Cardiff stay second despite a 4-1 defeat in thick fog at Watford while Swansea win 1-0 against Barnsley. That means QPR, who won 2-0 at Coventry earlier in the day, lead the table by seven points. At the bottom, Middlesbrough and Scunthorpe both win. In League One, Southampton thrash Huddersfield 4-1 to move into the top six. In League Two, Port Vale lose 3-0 at Gillingham and stay second behind Chesterfield."
1658: Reaction from those five games to come, plus
West Ham v Everton
gets under way at 1730 GMT and
Birmingham v Man Utd
kicks off at 2000 GMT. In short: get the kettle on, but come back promptly. Milk no sugar, ta.
1656: Full-time Sunderland 0-2 Blackpool
1654: Full-time West Brom 1-3 Blackburn
1653: Full-time Tottenham 2-0 Newcastle
1653: Full-time Manchester City 4-0 Aston Villa
Blackpool goal: Ian Holloway has gone Christmas dancing crazy on the touchline and who can blame him? Matt Phillips does superbly to jink inbetween two defenders down the right and his inch-perfect cross is slammed in via the crossbar by that man DJ Campbell. The Stadium of Light empties.
1651: GOAL Sunderland 0-2 Blackpool (Campbell)
1651: Full-time Stoke 0-2 Fulham
From JamesDuffin1 on Twitter:
"Can Spurs play with 10 men every week? Makes our counter-attacking game work perfectly as opposition push forward."
Football League Al: "In thick fog, Watford are 4-1 up on Cardiff thanks to Danny Graham's penalty, Norwich lead Sheffield United 3-2 and Reading are back on terms at Hull."
1648: My word. Sunderland are piling forward relentlessly but a wonderful curling free-kick from Darren Bent hits the bar and rebounds to safety. Blackpool are hanging on.
Red card: There goes any hopes the hosts had of salvaging a draw. Mame Diouf does really well to turn Gabriel Tamas just inside the West Brom half and he's got a clear run on goal - until the defender cynically swings his boot and brings the striker down, thus earning the second red card of the game. No complaints.
1647: SENDING OFF Gabriel Tamas (West Brom)
1645: Blackpool almost gift Sunderland a leveller as two defenders mis-kick inside their own 18-yard box, but Darren Bent's shot is saved superbly by Richard Kingson and then Ahmed Elmohamady's follow-up shot is headed over wonderfully well by Ian Evatt.
1643: Not happening for Sunderland, either. Jordan Henderson shoots from 18 yards but it flies straight at Blackpool keeper Richard Kingson. The visitors lead 1-0 at the Stadium of Light.
1641: West Brom are desperately trying to get back into it at home against Blackburn, but Paul Scharner can only head against Mark Bunn's crossbar.
Spurs goal: That is simply sensational stuff. Luka Modric gives the ball to Gareth Bale on the left as they launch a quick counter-attack and from then on it is all about the Welshman. Bale surges into the box, turns Steven Taylor inside out and rifles a sublime low shot with a bit of swerve into the far corner from a tight angle, beating Tim Krul's dive. Brilliant.
1639: GOAL Tottenham 2-0 Newcastle (Bale)
1638: Aston Villa's fans celebrate the winning of a corner. Heartbreak. From it, Fabian Delph sees his shot saved by Joe Hart. That game was over a very, very long time ago.
1637: Snap-shot: Man City 4-0 Villa; Stoke 0-2 Fulham; Sunderland 0-1 Blackpool; Spurs 1-0 Newcastle; West Brom 1-3 Blackburn.
1636: Decent opening for Spurs to wrap up the points at home against Newcastle, but having been played into the Magpies area down the right by Jermaine Jenas, goalscorer Aaron Lennon cannot repeat the trick as he drills wide of the far post.
From, Charlie, London, on text: "Tiote shouldn't be on the pitch to clash with Kaboul, he's committed about five bookable offences. Second game running Spurs are having to beat the ref and the other team with only 10 men."
1633: Moment of brilliance at West Brom as Mark Bunn shows his superb reactions to keep out Simon Cox's 10-yard shot, while from the rebound, Cox can only head into the ground and over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
1631: Chance for Man City. Vincent Kompany's flick on from a cross falls nicely for substitute Jo eight yards out, but he can only crash over the Aston Villa crossbar. Villa have been desperately disappointing today.
1630: No signs of Stoke getting back into it at home against Fulham - the Cottagers are defending resolutely and are hanging on to their 2-0 advantage with relative ease.
Football League Al: "Cracking match at Elland Road where Leeds lead 3-2, Bradley Johnson putting the home side 3-1 ahead before Andy O'Brien's own goal a minute later gives Portsmouth hope. Marvin Sordell and John Eustace give home side Watford a 3-1 lead over Cardiff, Norwich are level with Sheffield United and Middlesbrough are 3-1 ahead of fellow strugglers Preston. Port Vale's hopes of going top must be over after Gillingham go 3-0 up in their League Two clash."
1628: It's still breathless stuff at the Stadium of Light, where the hosts are having the majority of the ball as they chase an equaliser, but Craig Cathcart has just wasted a glorious headed chance for Blackpool from six yards.
Red card: Not as clear-cut, but same result. Cheick Tiote goes in hard but wins the ball cleanly from Younes Kaboul and the Spurs man doesn't like it. He goes tete-a-tete with Tiote and seems to lean his head into the midfielder a little, but he's surprised to see referee Anthony Taylor produce a red card.
1625: SENDING OFF Younes Kaboul (Spurs)
Red card: There won't be a hat-trick for Nikola Kalinic and that could just change the game. He goes in late, high and hard on Paul Scharner and it's a potential leg-breaker - Phil Dowd gives him a straight red card and it is the correct decision.
1623: SENDING OFF Nikola Kalinic (Blackburn)
Rovers goal: You know Blackburn fans? They're walking in a Dioufy wonderland... The visitors must think they are dreaming as they catch West Brom sleeping again with a short corner and after El-Hadji Diouf swings the cross into the mixer, there is Mame Biram Diouf to head into the net from close range.
1621: GOAL West Brom 1-3 Blackburn (Mame Diouf)
1619: Sunderland have a chance to level at home against Blackpool but it is wasted as Asamoah Gyan can only shin a cross over the bar from about six yards. They have been very wasteful today, the Black Cats.
1618: My word, that was almost a gift for a Nikola Kalinic hat-trick at West Brom. Scott Carson gets super lucky as he kicks a backpass straight to the striker, but he is caught totally by surprise and can only mis-control straight back into the path of the keeper.
Spurs goal: No goalless games now. Tottenham's Younes Kaboul feeds Aaron Lennon on the right and he sends marker James Perch left and right before firing an angled shot which takes a slight deflection off Perch and past Tim Krul into the bottom corner.
1616: GOAL Tottenham 1-0 Newcastle (Lennon)
Rovers goal: Blackburn regain the lead with a trademark set-piece. Morten Gamst Pedersen floats in a corner, Ryan Nelsen heads back across goal and Nikola Kalinic has the simple task of nodding home his second of the match.
Man City goal: I don't mean this in a rude way, but that might just be the laziest hat-trick in Premier League history. Adam Johnson is fouled in the area by Marc Albrighton, it's a stonewaller, and Mario Balotelli strolls up, barely even moving, to fire it into the corner and complete his treble.
1614: GOAL Manchester City 4-0 Aston Villa (Balotelli, hat-trick)
1613: PENALTY TO MANCHESTER CITY
1613: GOAL West Brom 1-2 Blackburn (Kalinic)
Blackpool goal: They have ridden their luck at times today, but you simply cannot keep the Seasiders down - what a story they continue to be. Neal Eardley clips over a cross from the right, Gary Taylor-Fletcher flicks it on with his head and DJ Campbell is there to volley in from eight yards.
1611: GOAL Sunderland 0-1 Blackpool (Campbell)
1610: Newcastle have a free-kick 22 yards out and Andy Carroll tries to give it the big hammer, only for his left-foot shot to dribble into the area before being cleared. Not even close to the sweet spot.
1608: Still no sign of a goal at Tottenham and neither side has improved enough in the early stages of the second half to suggest they are about to go in front. Andy Carroll goes off for some treatment, but he'll be OK to continue.
From Bobsyeruncle on 606:
"I suppose the best thing about today's match is... Man City will not want to buy any of our players anymore."
1606: Mark Bunn is called into action early on, pushing away a Peter Odemwingie shot at the near post as West Brom begin the half the brighter of the teams at The Hawthorns.
1604: Blackburn have had to make a change at the break too, with goalkeeper Paul Robinson unable to continue and Mark Bunn coming on in his place against West Brom.
1603: As we begin to get back under way in Tuesday's three o'clock matches, Spurs make a change as former Newcastle midfielder Jermaine Jenas comes on for Wilson Palacios.
From Kenny Jarvis, on text: "(See 1547) If this was a boxing match, Aston Villa would be Audley Harrison!"
From thisisanfield on Twitter:
"Sad news today - former Liverpool defender Avi Cohen has died after his motorcycle accident last week. Rest In Peace. YNWA."
1557: Much like frozen Britain itself, today's football is warming up nicely. Quick reminder that I'll be with you until about 2230 GMT today, with
West Ham v Everton
Birmingham v Man Utd
still to come.
Football League Al's half-time snap-shot: "Leeds are currently in second place in the Championship thanks to their 2-1 lead over Portsmouth and Cardiff only drawing 1-1 at Watford. In League One, Huddersfield, who could go second, trail Southampton 2-1 and in League Two Port Vale, who will go top if they win, will need a sensational second half after falling 2-0 down at Gillingham."
1553: Half-time Sunderland 0-0 Blackpool Owen Phillips's HT snap-shot: "Frantic, open and exciting - just lacking a goal although there could and should have been several. Sunderland are on top but Blackpool are threatening on the break."
1552: Tottenham 0-0 Newcastle Saj Chowdhury's
HT snap-shot: "Some may have expected Tottenham to run Newcastle ragged - not the case. Spurs have been ruffled by the Magpies' more physical approach. Plan B, Harry?"
1551: Half-time Stoke 0-2 Fulham Marc Vesty's HT snap-shot: "Fulham have torn up the form book against Stoke, those two early strikes by Chris Baird giving Mark Hughes' side the head start and confidence boost they so desperately needed. They will have to park the bus in the second half though."
1549: Still going at Sunderland, where Asamoah Gyan makes a mess of a great chance seconds before the break and sees his poor connection trundle wide from six yards.
1549: Half-time West Brom 1-1 Blackburn Kevin Darling's HT snap-shot: "A gloriously open game with West Brom slightly in the ascendancy after bouncing back from Nikola Kalinic's early strike."
1547: What a fabulous save from Newcastle keeper Tim Krul. Alan Hutton sends over a cross from the right and Roman Pavlyuchenko flashes a header goalwards, Krul brilliantly tipping it on to the post and the ball rolls along the line and away to safety.
1547: Half-time Man City 3-0 Aston Villa Paul Fletcher's HT snap-shot: "The misery continues for Aston Villa, who are simply no match for a Man City side heading to the top of the table. If this was a boxing match..."
1546: Stoke are cranking up the pressure on the day's surprise package Fulham just before half-time as Danny Murphy heads off the line from Ryan Shawcross's towering header.
Football League Al: "David Nugent gets one back for Portsmouth at Leeds, while Sheffield United lead promotion hopefuls Norwich 2-1 and Hull are 1-0 up against Reading. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the hottest properties in the Football League, puts Saints 2-1 ahead against Huddersfield. Gillingham are 2-0 ahead of Port Vale with Cory McDonald bagging both goals."
1543: Opening up in the north-east as Sunderland's Darren Bent peels away down the left and pulls it back for Jordan Henderson and the midfielder's shot is fumbled wide of his right-hand post by Richard Kingson.
1540: Something of a goal lull after that flying start. Two games remain goalless but Blackpool have gone close to opening the scoring at Sunderland, DJ Campbell surging forward and rifling a low right-foot shot just past Craig Gordon's right-hand upright.
1539: Newcastle's Alan Smith gives away a free-kick 25 yards out after bringing down Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart forces a tip-over save from Tim Krul from the subsequent free-kick. At the other end Cheik Tiote forces a low save from Heurelho Gomes. Straight back at the other end Van der Vaart's shot is brilliantly blocked by Fabricio Coloccini.
From Avfcam on text: "I hope the Man City players don't get a full day's pay for this... we aren't even providing a slight challenge... we'll be lucky to finish less than six-down."
1536: See 1626 - apparently Man City weren't relegated that season, but they were in the next one.
1535: Now there's an enforced change for Sunderland too as Nedum Onuoha goes off and Titus Bramble comes on in his place.
Football League Al: "All-square at Vicarage Road where Danny Graham adds to his haul for the season to bring Watford level 1-1 with Cardiff. Jermaine Easter puts Swansea ahead against Barnsley and Jason Puncheon gives Millwall a 2-0 lead over Leicester. In League One, Southampton striker Rickie Lambert cancels out Huddersfield's lead."
1533: Nearly 4-0 to Man City - this could get seriously embarrassing for Villa. Adam Johnson jinks into the box from the right and passes square to David Silva and the Spaniard sees his goalbound right-foot shot take a heavy deflection and land just the other side of Brad Friedel's left-hand post.
1531: Asamoah Gyan shoots into the side-netting from a tight angle after latching on to a long pass as Sunderland continue to threaten at home against Blackpool.
1530: Tottenham's Gareth Bale cuts in from the left and eludes two hapless Newcastle challenges, but Alan Smith produces a great block just as the left-sided player is about to shoot from six yards.
1529: That half-chance at 1526 was for Newcastle, clearly. No, Andy Carroll hasn't joined Spurs (yet).
Man City goal: Game over. Villa look ragged and they are being toyed with at Eastlands. Yaya Toure plays a clever pass into the box down the right for David Silva and when his fierce left-foot shot is parried away by Brad Friedel it falls into the path of Mario Balotelli, who doubles his account for the day with a close-range tap-in.
1527: GOAL Manchester City 3-0 Aston Villa (Balotelli)
1526: Half-chance for Newcastle there as Jonas Gutierrez floats over a cross from the left and Andy Carroll, having to lean back and get all the power on the ball himself, nods on to the roof of the net.
Football League Al: "Cardiff, needing to win to reduce QPR's seven-point lead at the top of the Championship, take the lead at Watford thanks to Peter Whittingham's goal, while Norwich are 1-1 with Sheffield United. In League One, Lee Novak gives Huddersfield the lead at Southampton and they are second in the table as it stands."
From reillyusa on Twitter:
"Last time Man City went top of the league on December 28th - 1981 - they were relegated. Oh my goodness. Not again?"
1522: Change at the Stadium of Light as Elliott Grandin limps off for Blackpool and he is replaced by Matt Phillips.
1520: It's been relatively quiet at Spurs but the first chance of the match falls to Roman Pavlyuchenko, whose half-volley from 20 yards is comfortably held by Newcastle keeper Tim Krul.
1519: Darren Bent pokes an effort wide of the post at the Stadium of Light as Sunderland start to get on top against Blackpool after a lively opening.
WBA goal: You know, that's a super goal, it really is. James Morrison goes on a mazy run forward for West Brom and plays it down the right for Somen Tchoyi - when he sends over a pinpoint low cross, there at the back stick to slide the ball into the net is Jerome Thomas. Good response from Robby di Matteo's men.
1517: GOAL West Brom 1-1 Blackburn (Thomas)
1517: Don't you just love the goal graphic? Feel ever so festive today, doesn't it?
Football League Al: "The recently prolific Max Gradel and Jonathan Howson put Leeds 2-0 up against Portsmouth, while Neil Danns's free-kick gives Crystal Palace a 1-0 lead at Bristol City. Troubled Plymouth were leading Notts County in League One but Lee Hughes puts the visitors level. Port Vale, who will go top of League Two with a win, are 1-0 down at Gillingham following Cody McDonald's first-minute goal."
1514: Great chance for West Brom to grab a quick equaliser at The Hawthorns - Graham Dorrans breaks from midfield and finds himself one-on-one with Paul Robinson but the Blackburn keeper does superbly to tip the Scot's drive around the post. Soon after, Nikola Kalinic curls narrowly over for the visitors.
Man City goal: There's an element of controversy about that one, but the Premier League leaders won't care. Adam Johnson swings over a corner from the right and Joleon Lescott meets it at the near post, guiding it in at the far post. It is headed away by Barry Bannan, but the assistant referee judges that the whole ball did cross the line first. Difficult to tell, even after replays.
1513: GOAL Manchester City 2-0 Aston Villa (Lescott)
Fulham goal: There go the predos, then. The Cottagers are on fire and in thick fog at the Britannia they have doubled their lead. A free-kick, left of centre and 20 yards out seems to favour Danny Murphy, but he tees it into the path of Chris Baird and the midfielder spanks a daisy-cutter past Asmir Begovic and into the net. Baird's total number of goals previously this season? Zero.
1511: GOAL Stoke 0-2 Fulham (Baird)
Man City goal: As things stand, City are top of the league. David Silva does well to create a bit of space and he finds Mario Balotelli inside the Villa box - the Italian goes down under a reckless challenge from Eric Lichaj and it's a definite penalty. Balotelli steps up and nonchalantly slots it into the net.
Fulham goal: That's not in the script, is it? Fabulous stuff for the visitors as they take an early lead, Chris Baird smashing a right-footed drive from 20 yards and leaving Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic with no chance as the effort crashes off the right post and into the net.
1507: GOAL Manchester City 1-0 Aston Villa (Balotelli, pen)
1507: PENALTY TO MANCHESTER CITY
Rovers goal: What a start for the visitors. El-Hadji Diouf plays a raking ball down the Blackburn left and Nikola Kalinic chases after it, surging into the West Brom box and clipping a neat low shot into the far corner past Scott Carson's despairing dive.
1504: GOAL Stoke 0-1 Fulham (Baird)
1503: GOAL West Brom 0-1 Blackburn (Kalinic)
1502: A teeny little bit late, they kick off in the Tottenham-Newcastle and Sunderland-Blackpool games as well.
1500: Under way first between Stoke and Fulham and in the Man City-Aston Villa and West Brom-Blackburn matches as well.
1459: The teams are out at this afternoon's five games in the Premier League and we'll be getting under way pretty soon. At Man City there is a minute's applause for absent friends, while at Tottenham the career of Ralph Coates receives the same treatment. Lovely touch both.
From OptaJoe on Twitter:
"Sunderland are the only team in the Premier League this season who have not scored a goal from outside the box. Myopic."
From SimplyZola on 606:
"Villa need a win or I am afraid its going to be a relegation scrap for them. I have nothing against Manchester City personally, they are a good team managed by a very good manager, but I want a Villa win because I love the way Houllier is incorporating youth into that squad and Albrighton looks a helluva player."
From Saoirse, on text: "I fear for Hughes if Fulham don't put in a good performance today. We need goals. But looking at our team, all I see are has-beens and no goalscorer. Ho hum, happy New Year."
1450: I make that 10 minutes until kick-off o'clock. I haven't been this excited about the future since my four-year-old nephew told me he hates Derby and thinks rugby is rubbish.
Sunderland v Blackpool team news: Owen Phillips reports: "Sunderland boss Steve Bruce recalls midfielder Lee Cattermole after suspension while striker Danny Welbeck also returns. The only other change from the side that lost to Manchester United sees David Meyler start and there is a place on the bench for fit-again defender Titus Bramble. Blackpool must do without skipper Charlie Adam who finally serves his much-delayed one-game ban, so Ludovic Sylvestre comes into the midfield and defender Alex Baptiste is on the bench after knee surgery."
West Brom v Blackburn team news: Kevin Darling reports: "West Brom manager Roberto di Matteo makes two changes, with Nicky Shorey coming in for Marek Cech at left-back and Jerome Thomas replacing the suspended Chris Brunt in midfield. The big news on the Blackburn teamsheet is that wantaway defender Chris Samba, who has been stripped of the captaincy by new boss Steve Kean, is missing despite apparently having recovered from an ankle injury. There is also a recall for El-Hadji Diouf with Gael Givet making way, as Kean seeks his first win as Rovers boss."
Stoke City v Fulham team news: Marc Vesty reports: "Matthew Etherington has passed a late fitness test on an ankle injury, which means Stoke boss Tony Pulis is able to stick with the same starting XI that beat Blackburn 2-0 on Boxing Day as Jon Walters continues up front alongside Kenwyne Jones. Fulham boss Mark Hughes has again resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes, dropping only two of the players from the XI who were beaten 3-1 by West Ham two days ago. Out go Carlos Salcido and Zoltan Gera, in come Chris Baird and Damien Duff."
Manchester City v Aston Villa team news: Paul Fletcher reports: "Mario Balotelli might be homesick but he starts for Man City today, with top scorer Carlos Tevez dropping down to the bench as he rests a tight hamstring. It is one of five changes for City from the team that won at Newcastle. Stiliyan Petrov is recalled to the Aston Villa side but Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland are not even in the squad for the fixture against their former club. Emile Heskey misses out with the ankle injury he sustained in the defeat against Tottenham."
1442: Ooh, PS, refresh your page if you want to watch Final Score at the top of this here page, please. If you don't, totally ignore me. Either way, if you're happy, so am I. Back to team news...
Tottenham v Newcastle team news: Saj Chowdhury
reports: "Tottenham bring in Roman Pavlyuchenko to replace the suspended Jermain Defoe in attack, while playmaker Luka Modric starts despite suffering cramp in the win at Aston Villa. Newcastle opt to play a five-man midfield with veteran Alan Smith coming in for the suspended Kevin Nolan while James Perch replaces injured left-back Jose Enrique."
1440: Back to those crack match report writers for our team news, then... (I said 'crack')
1439: Manchester City v Aston Villa line-ups: Man City: Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta, Toure Yaya, De Jong, Vieira, Adam Johnson, Balotelli, Silva. Subs: Given, Bridge, Milner, Boateng, Barry, Jo, Tevez. Aston Villa: Friedel, Lichaj, Collins, Cuellar, Warnock, Albrighton, Reo-Coker, Petrov, Downing, Bannan, Agbonlahor. Subs: Guzan, Pires, Delfouneso, Delph, Clark, Hogg, Herd. Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)
From Gareth, Kettering, on text: "Loving ya predos, set to win 280 quid if you're right, are you ever right?" Very, very occasionally. Paul the Octopus I ain't, though our recently departed underwater friend didn't do scores, in fairness to me.
From ryanbomber on Twitter:
"Prospect of Man Utd being nine points clear of Chelsea by New Year is astonishing. Is Abramovich fed up of wasting money?"
1420: Result from the Championship: Coventry 0-2 QPR. The Hoops move seven points clear at the top of the division - hello Premier League?
From Carlson, on text: "What I really would love to see is a 'day in the life of a text commentator' feature - surely that's an article in the making?" I'll tell Chris Bevan. Sure he'll put his hand up for that one.
From Ben Bloom, London, via text: "My 5-year-old brother got a Scalextric track equipped with lap counter for Christmas. Cue a first to 100 lap marathon between him and my 23-year-old self. Wiped the floor with him. A harsh lesson learned, but a Christmas day to remember."
1415: Tottenham v Newcastle line-ups: Tottenham: Gomes, Hutton, Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Palacios, Modric, Bale, Pavlyuchenko, Van der Vaart. Subs: Pletikosa, Jenas, Keane, Crouch, Bassong, Kranjcar, Corluka. Newcastle: Krul, Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Perch, Tiote, Barton, Routledge, Simpson, Smith, Gutierrez, Carroll. Subs: Harper, Williamson, Lovenkrands, Xisco, Best, Kadar, Ranger. Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)
From Alspiers on Twitter:
"Anyone else about to embark on a live text marathon, the end of which will be determined by messrs Anderson, Swann et al?" Yes, me, me, me!! Champagne = on ice.
1410: Job done there. Five crack match report writers on the case and we'll have some line-ups and then team news in the next few minutes as well. Happy days.
Manchester City v Aston Villa scene-setter: Paul Fletcher reports: "Man City will go top of the Premier League if they defeat out-of-form Aston Villa - though Roberto Mancini's team will only remain there overnight if Manchester United lose against Birmingham in the 2000 GMT kick-off."
West Brom v Blackburn scene-setter: Kevin Darling reports: "The battle of mid-table as West Brom in 12th take on Blackburn in 13th. Both teams lost their previous games 2-0, though the Baggies were unlucky whereas Rovers never turned up. Something has to give today."
Sunderland v Blackpool scene-setter: Owen Phillips reports: "Despite their meek
Boxing Day surrender to Manchester United,
Sunderland could go fifth with a win over a
Blackpool side who have not played since 11 December.
Three successive home postponements mean Ian Holloway's entertainers have no chance of using the well-worn festive fixture pile-up excuse should they take a battering. But Blackpool continue to defy the odds and beating the measly Black Cats to secure a fifth away league victory this season will mean they sit comfortably mid-table with games in hand on those around them."
Stoke v Fulham scene-setter: Marc Vesty reports: "Fulham boss Mark Hughes bore the brunt of the fan's frustrations after his side lost their basement battle against West Ham on Boxing Day. Eight without a win have left Fulham in the relegation zone, two points from safety and today they visit a ground where they were beaten 2-0 in the Carling Cup in September. In contrast, Stoke have won four of their last seven games, sit eighth in the league and have a sell-out crowd to spur them on."
Tottenham v Newcastle scene-setter: Saj Chowdhury
reports: "Tottenham forward Rafael van der Vaart must be in the running for the player-of-the-year award - he's surely the signing of the season? After a great display against Aston Villa, he'll relish having a go at a Newcastle side which is as predictable as this league. However, the Magpies have won on two of their last three league visits to White Hart Lane and twice in the capital already this season."
1400: Right, who wants some Premier League scene-setters?
1351: If you're interested, my Christmas was magical. I asked Santa to make sure that a tiny little urn arrived back safely in Blighty in the New Year, and
he's on the brink of making that dream come true.
That aside, is playing Scalextric with your four-year-old nephew (who you also teach to play
Super Cup Football)
the best of all possible ways to spend Xmas Day?
From Graeme, Wetherby on text: "Are you in for the duration with us until around 10pm tonight, Stevo?" Oh yes. Can't think of anywhere else I should be.
1346: In no way incidental is what is currently occurring at the Ricoh Arena in the Midlands, where Championship pace-setters QPR lead Coventry 2-0 thanks to an own goal from Keiren Westwood and a Tommy Smith effort on the hour mark. More lower league chat from Football League Al in due course.
1341: It's like a text commentator's dream, today. Seven Prem games, three different time slots and not a single fixture postponed. Fancy a quick run-down?
1338: All conjecture at this juncture, anyway. Time for me,
to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a warm welcome to Tuesday's live text. Forget food, it's time to feast on football once more.
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