Everton, Fulham and Manchester United all come from behind amid a flurry of goals.
Premier League round-up: Fellaini restores the order for Everton
Everton 2 Sunderland 1
Liverpool // The beautiful game is occasionally the illogical game, but not yesterday. With a quarter of an hour remaining, this was a beautifully perverse scoreline for Sunderland and an utterly, irritatingly irrational one for Everton. Then the natural order of things was restored.
A team with an acute inability to win lost. A side with a refusal to accept defeat duly won. Everton marked David Moyes' 400th league game at the helm by retaining their top-four status. Marouane Fellaini, who scored one goal and made the other, was the catalyst for a quick-fire comeback to extend Sunderland's slump.
"I am obviously very disappointed," said Martin O'Neill. After his initial success, he has now only triumphed once in 18 league games. Goals have become almost as scarce as victories so Sunderland felt in uncharted territory when they took the lead, especially as the scorer was not Steven Fletcher.
Indeed, even in defeat, there was a statistical significance to their goal. Adam Johnson's strike was his first for Sunderland and their first by any of their players since September. Not since Phil Bardsley found the net against Fulham at Craven Cottage in May had any Sunderland player other than Fletcher mustered a league goal.
And that explains their plight. They retain a three-point cushion on the bottom three, but an expensively-assembled side are English football's lowest scorers.
They have become so impotent that, whereas other clubs count goals, Sunderland have been reduced to adding up their efforts on target. There were just 13 before yesterday, half as many as Luis Suarez had mustered alone, with just one in the three previous games.
They equalled that tally inside four minutes, although Sessegnon really should have scored when Steven Fletcher sent him clear. The striker was almost as culpable, angling an effort just wide after a role reversal.
"The players played brilliantly, away from home against a side that have a great chance of being in the Champions League. It was a great performance," insisted O'Neill. "We should have been out of sight at half-time. We should have been three up."
Instead, they were one ahead. Sebastian Larsson's corner was half-cleared by Nikica Jelavic. But as Everton pushed up, Craig Gardner caught them out, looping the ball back into the box for the advancing Johnson to finish. His Sunderland career had required kick-starting; perhaps, like Sessegnon's improved performance, this will act as a Spur. "Sessegnon was outstanding for long periods," added O'Neill. "And it was a good performance by Johnson."
Scorer seemed saviour when the winger cleared Johnny Heitinga's header off his own line. "I thought it was going to be one of those days," Moyes said. "It looked like a 1-0 to Sunderland."
But it wasn't. "We kept going and showed great character," Moyes added. Fellaini drilled in his sixth goal of the season expertly after being set up by Leon Osman, the recipient of a surprise England call up. Then Osman picked out the Belgian again and his deft flick sent Jelavic through on goal. "Fellaini has got lovely soft feet and he can play," Moyes purred. "Jelavic probably needed one put on a plate, but he didn't half finish it well." Indeed, the Croatian ended a run of three games without a goal. It is a drought by his standards, if not those of the Sunderland players.
Manager Arsene Wenger accepted Arsenal had only themselves to blame after throwing away a two-goal lead for the second time in a week as Fulham battled to a 3-3 draw at the Emirates Stadium.
Early goals from Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski put the Gunners in control, just as they had been in their Champions League game at Schalke on Tuesday night, only for the Germans to fight back.
It was a similar story again this afternoon as Fulham rallied after Dimitar Berbatov reduced the deficit and it was no surprise when Alex Kacaniklic levelled before half time. The visitors then went ahead from the penalty spot when Berbatov slotted home after Mikel Arteta had fouled Brian Ruiz.
Although Giroud quickly levelled at 3-3, the Gunners could not find a winner – but were then awarded a penalty in stoppage-time for handball, only for Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer to produce a brilliant stop from Arteta’s low effort.
“It was frustrating because we had the opportunities to win. We were caught in a bit too comfortable of a position because we did the most difficult thing – we scored two goals to go 2-0 up. At that moment we lacked urgency defensively,” said Wenger. “In the second half we gave absolutely everything and I have to give credit to the players, in the last three games what they have done physically is amazing. “Even at 3-2 down we didn’t give up and continued to go forward and we had the chances to win the game.”
Wenger, though, refused to lambast vice-captain Arteta for not dispatching the last-gasp spot-kick.
“You cannot blame Arteta for that. It is part of the game. Who hasn’t missed a penalty?” the Arsenal manager said.
Martin Jol, the visiting head coach, admitted he had “so many mixed feelings” about the final result of such a dramatic encounter.
“We played some fantastic stuff,” he said. “Before the game we said we would try to dominate them which is hard here, but we managed that. I can’t remember being 2-0 down – especially here – then being 3-2 ahead and we could have scored two or three goals after that. I really thought this could be the first time ever to beat them away, but in the end it was not to be.
“However, if you concede a penalty in the last 20 seconds and do not lose, maybe we should be pleased.”
* Press Association
Substitute Javier Hernandez led Manchester United to a trademark comeback win at Aston Villa.
The Mexican forward scored two and forced an own goal as United came from 2-0 down just after half time, to win 3-2.
It is United’s fifth come-from-behind win in the league this season, an eighth in all competitions, and puts them four points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
Hernandez now has seven goals in his last five games for United.
The result was tough on Villa, who belied the gulf between the two teams with a terrific performance. Christian Benteke, the Belgian striker, tormented Chris Smalling and Rio Ferdinand in the United defence.
He muscled Smalling, filling in for the injured Johnny Evans, off the ball to set up Villa’s first, on the stroke of half time, laying the ball back for Andreas Weimann to fire home from the edge of the box.
Villa’s second came from the same area, the right-back position, as Gabriel Agbonlahor crossed for Weimann to tap home.
Hernandez had been introduced at half time and he soon made it 2-1, latching on to a Paul Scholes pass, before his volley at the back post from a Rafael cross cannoned in off Villa defender Ron Vlaar.
Three minutes from time, Hernandez struck the winner when he got his head on Robin van Persie’s free kick.
* The National staff
Wigan Athletic 1 West Brom 2
James Morrison came back from injury to set up West Brom’s first away win of the season as his powerful header helped the visitors sink Wigan. A Gary Caldwell own goal then put the visitors in command. Arouna Kone reduced the deficit but it was not enough.
Stoke City 1 QPR 0
Charlie Adam’s first goal for Stoke City earned his side all three points against QPR to further increase the pressure on Mark Hughes. Adam, a summer signing from Liverpool, opened his account, tucking the ball away after it had been nodded his way by Jon Walters. QPR, still without a win, have sunk back to the foot of the table.
Southampton 1 Swansea City 1
Southampton’s under-fire manager Nigel Adkins was denied victory by Swansea as Nathan Dyer came off the bench to equalise. The home side took the lead through Morgan Schneiderlin. But Maya Yoshida failed to control a pass and Dyer nipped in to secure a point.
Reading 0 Norwich City 0
Reading remain in the bottom three of the league after being held to a goalless draw at the Madejski Stadium by Norwich. The visitors travelled to Reading in good form, but both teams were guilty of poor finishing and wasteful possession in a match that lacked any moment of quality.