x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Etherington's goal was worthy of winning any match

Premier League best and worst: Stoke City scored two of best goals this weekend, but were on the wrong end a five-goal thriller.

Matthew Etherington scored one of the goals of 2011 at White Hart Lane on Saturday when the Stoke winger left a trail of despairing Tottenham defenders in his wake.
Matthew Etherington scored one of the goals of 2011 at White Hart Lane on Saturday when the Stoke winger left a trail of despairing Tottenham defenders in his wake.

Best attacking display

Since Fernando Torres made his debut for Chelsea, following his £50 million (Dh301m) move from Liverpool, the club's four strikers - the Spaniard, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou - have netted just three goals between them in 11 games.

The arrival of Torres at Stamford Bridge paved the way for Daniel Sturridge to move on loan to Bolton Wanderers and gain some first-team action that he was not getting in London. And what a contrast in fortunes there has been between the Englishman, 21, who cost Chelsea £3.5m from Manchester City, and their British record signing.

The anaemic displays of Torres - zero goals, one shot on target - saw him benched for his side's narrow victory over Wigan Athletic on Saturday.

Sturridge, meanwhile, netted his fifth and sixth goals for Bolton in their comfortable win over West Ham United. That impressive tally has come in just eight games (seven starts).

It is the kind of form Chelsea expected when they signed Torres - maybe they let the wrong man leave.

Best free kick

List the greatest free-kick takers of the Premier League era - Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Gianfranco Zola.

List the best of the current players - Leighton Baines, Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabregas.

David Bardsley, the Sunderland right-back, is not the most obvious name to put alongside such company. OK, so he started his career at Manchester United and may have picked up a few tips from Beckham, but his strike against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was nothing like a Beckham effort. It was just pure power.

It was reminiscent of another free kick-taking defender, Trifon Ivanov, the Bulgarian enforcer from the mid-1990s whose "rugged" appearance made him look a bit like a werewolf. He used to regularly take a pop at goal from 45 yards out.

Bardsley's effort was not from such a distance, but he connected beautifully and it flew into the top corner like a missile past Scott Carson. Too bad it didn't lead to a Sunderland win - they lost 3-2.

Best revival

Two months ago, West Brom were looking in major relegation trouble. They were on a run of 13 defeats in 18 games which had left them just two points above the relegation zone.

Enter Roy Hodgson, replacing Roberto Di Matteo as manager. This is the man who apparently, did not understand what it meant to be a Liverpool manager and was unable to tap into the club's psyche and motivate the players at his disposal.

Forget the fact that the squad he inherited was one of Liverpool's weakest in several seasons, including an oft-injured Steven Gerrard and a clearly unhappy Fernando Torres. You could forgive him for feeling hard done by after just six months in the job.

Hodgson got some form of revenge on the club that sacked him in January by beating Liverpool 2-1 last week. But his more important impact on West Brom has been steering them to a run of six games unbeaten (three wins, three draws), including Saturday's come-from-behind win at Sunderland.

West Brom are now 10th in the table, on 39 points, and virtually safe. It has gone someway toward restoring Hodgson's reputation as a man who can work wonders at smaller clubs.

Best goals (in vain)

It is a shame that Stoke City were on the wrong end of a five-goal thriller at Tottenham Hotspur. Well, a half thriller in any case - all the goals came in the first 45 minutes.

That is because they scored two of the best goals of the day. Matthew Etherington's first was perhaps the goal of 2011.

Collecting the ball on the halfway line, the left winger, who used to play for Spurs, swivelled past Michael Dawson just inside the Spurs half of the pitch and set off on a charge down the touchline.

Some fine multitasking later - holding off Tom Huddlestone while keeping the ball under control - he arrived in the Tottenham box, kept his composure and nutmegged Heurelho Gomes, the goalkeeper. It was the kind of strike that Spurs fans have come to expect from Gareth Bale, their flying winger. Etherington netted just twice in four seasons for Spurs. He is into double figures in three seasons at Stoke.

That spectacular goal bug appeared contagious, and Kenwyne Jones, Stoke's giant targetman, smashed a left-footed effort into the top corner from 25 yards which made it 3-2. Two goals that both deserved to be match winners.

Worst minute

One game does not decide a season, but Blackpool will look back on their match against Arsenal yesterday, or one second-half minute of it to be precise, with a tinge of regret.

After being taught a first-half lesson by the Gunners, Blackpool were a different team in the second period. They had pulled the score back to 2-1 and had Arsenal looking distinctively nervous.

Then came two major incidents in a matter of seconds that could have turned the game.

First, Gareth Taylor-Fletcher, the scorer of Blackpool's first, was sent tumbling by Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny. A stonewall penalty to everyone but referee Lee Mason, who had managed to award three last week between West Ham United and Manchester United.

Then, as play continued, Keith Southern had a simple chance to nod home a cross from about four yards, with the Arsenal goal gaping. Somehow, and only he knows how, the ball brushed his head and went out for a goal kick.

Blackpool could have got at least a point from the game had that minute turned out better. As it is, they sit a point above the relegation zone.