Chelsea lose to Everton to increase the pressure on their manager, while Harry Redknapp completes an eventful week with a 5-0 win over Newcastle United.
Premier League round-up: Bad to 'worst' for Andre Villas-Boas
LIVERPOOL // As is their wont, Chelsea have denied that discussions between Andre Villas-Boas and Roman Abramovich this week were showdown talks.
True or not, there is irrefutable proof that relations between the manager and Chelsea supporters are rather less cordial. For the first time, the Portuguese's authority was challenged when Michael Essien, who had been performing a thankless task of shielding a rabble of a defence, was replaced.
It promoted a chorus of "you don't know what you're doing". A second, still louder, followed when Juan Mata, Chelsea's creator-in-chief, was subsequently substituted.
If it is not the beginning of the end for the Portuguese manager, it is certainly the end of the beginning. The honeymoon period is well and truly over. Chelsea, having begun the season with aspirations of winning the title, have now dropped out of the top four.
Defeat at Goodison Park came courtesy of a lame, lacklustre performance to extend an unimpressive run. Chelsea have only won only two of their past 10 league games and, after the historic first of losing a three-goal lead to Manchester United last week, delivered what Villas-Boas deemed the poorest display of his reign.
"The worst in every sense of the word," he said. "In our performance we were short of anything positive. It was a difficult day for us with a lot of negatives to take out and a lot of things to improve."
It is unlikely to escape attention that the last Chelsea manager to lose at Goodison Park was sacked within half an hour of the final whistle.
Villas-Boas did not suffer Carlo Ancelotti's fate, but this loss hardly helps. His vote of no confidence came from supporters, not owner. "It's part of the job," he said. "At the moment we are sitting fifth in the league and it is not good enough."
Certainly not for a demanding owner.
The presence of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea's Cobham training ground this week does not necessarily bode badly for Chelsea managers. Coupled with results like this and an extended malaise on the pitch, however, it does not augur well.
Defeat was all the more damaging as the architect almost plied his trade at Stamford Bridge. In January 2011, Chelsea entered the transfer market for a player who had excelled on Merseyside. They eventually signed one, too, in Fernando Torres, but only after Steven Pienaar had spurned their advances to join Tottenham Hotspur instead.
Back at Goodison Park on loan, the South African marked his return in fitting fashion. After Tim Cahill challenged Frank Lampard, the ball looped up for the on-rushing Pienaar to control it and lift his shot into the roof of the Chelsea net. "Some clubs suit players," said Moyes. Everton suits Pienaar.
The lead was doubled by Denis Stracqualursi. The Argentine workhorse's belated first Premier League goal followed a darting run and a piercing pass from Landon Donovan and was greeted with a rapturous reception. The striker lacks talent but not enthusiasm and he is fast becoming a crowd favourite at Goodison Park. "He deserves everything he gets," said Moyes. "He's got an iron lung. He wore them down."
So, indeed, did his teammates. New Year revivals are an annual occurrence at Everton and they are embarking upon another revival. "Everton were fantastic," Villas-Boas conceded graciously. They worked remarkably hard, protecting Tim Howard's goal valiantly. The American was required to excel only to block a late Romelu Lukaku effort.
It meant that the other man returning to Merseyside, Torres, went through the 20-hour barrier since his last goal. He has become an embarrassing emblem of Chelsea's decline.
The fans' ire, however, was aimed at underachieving manager, not impotent striker.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp ended an emotional week on a huge high as his third-placed team crushed Newcastle United 5-0 at White Hart Lane.
Redknapp, who was cleared of tax evasion charges on Wednesday and was immediately installed as favourite to succeed Fabio Capello as England manager, saw his team race into a two-goal lead after five minutes courtesy of goals from Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Louis Saha.
Saha, making his first Spurs start, scored his second in the 20th minute before Niko Kranjcar and Emmanuel Adebayor completed the rout to put the Londoners five points behind leaders United.
Arsenal took advantage to move into the final Champions League qualification spot as they came from behind to beat Sunderland 2-1.
Having gone behind to James McLean's 71st-minute goal, Aaron Ramsey equalised with a shot off both posts just four minutes later.
And Thierry Henry's last-minute goal, converting Andrey Arshavin's cross, nicked the three points and took them above Chelsea on goals scored.
At the other end of the table Wigan Athletic did their survival chances the world of good with a 2-1 derby win over fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers.
The Latics began the day five points from safety but ended just two behind 16th place.
Just before half-time captain Gary Caldwell powered home a close-range header, only for Mark Davies to smash home a left-footed drive against the run of play in the 67th minute.
However, with 14 minutes remaining James McArthur capitalised on Victor Moses' shot which rebounded back off goalkeeper Adam Bogdan to poke home the winner.
Fellow strugglers Blackburn Rovers held off a late rally from QPR to win 3-2 but the concession of the two late goals prevented them moving out of the bottom three.
Striker Ayegbeni Yakubu, returning from a three-match ban, scored his 14th goal of the season, midfielder Steven Nzonzi drove home his first since August 2010 and Nedum Onuoha's own goal put Rovers 3-0 up at the break.
Jamie Mackie scored twice in the last 19 minutes, the second a brilliant strike in injury time, but they could not force a draw.
Deadline-day signing Pavel Pogrebnyak scored on his Fulham debut with a 16th-minute effort as his new side beat Stoke City 2-1.
Clint Dempsey's 35-yard shot cannoned down off the crossbar and hit goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen on the back to make it 2-0 and Ryan Shawcross 78th-minute header from Jermaine Pennant's corner proved nothing more than a consolation.
Norwich City came from behind to beat hosts Swansea City 3-2.
Danny Graham's 23rd-minute goal put Swansea ahead but two goals for Grant Holt, either side of one from Anthony Pilkington, gave the visitors a cushion which they needed when Graham's 87th-minute penalty set up a frantic finish.