Coral’s Heroes and Villains: Gerrard goodbyes and Fabianski fails
Premier League matchweek 37, the penultimate round of fixtures from this cracking campaign, contained a super selection of marvellous performances and equally majestic mishaps.
Here are our picks of the best of a brilliant and bad bunch…
Anfield party atmosphere
Liverpool fans could have been forgiven for being in somewhat of a funk in their final home game of the season, as a top four spot slipped out of their grasp, with the last Champions League place awarded instead to bitter rivals Manchester United (9/2 with Coral to lift the 2015/16 Premier League).
To top it off, Liverpool (14/1) capitulated to Crystal Palace in local legend and skipper Steven Gerrard’s last game at Anfield wearing Merseyside red.
Despite the dispiriting situation, the vociferous fanbase turned up the volume and the vibrancy to send their captain fantastic off in style. Well played.
Phil Jones dramatics
Chris Smalling, wearing the captain’s armband for his first full league game, was certainly Man Utd’s sturdiest centre half against Arsenal. Yet it was partner Phil Jones who recovered from a stumble to make the most heroic last-gasp challenge in the game, as his creative crawl-come-diving header crucially put a bemused Olivier Giroud off his stride.
The duo of Smalling and Jones also did well to concede just one after admittedly rusty substitutes Victor Valdes and Tyler Blackett conspired to destabilise the defence.
Sadio Mane and Southampton supporting cast
Scoring the Premier League’s fastest ever hat-trick is surely heroic, and in two minutes and 56 seconds no less. Young Mane’s quick thinking could yet be the catalyst for Southampton to finish in a Europa League place, though it was surely a superb team effort from the Saints, who got back on track against Aston Villa with six spectacular strikes.
Understated sidekick Shane Long also proved his value with a brilliant brace and two tremendous assists, leading Mane to tell press: “Thank you to him because he did a good job with a great performance.”
In stark contrast to the Anfield faithful, Liverpool’s players let departing Gerrard down, with their shambolic performance spoiling what would have otherwise been a perfect send off.
Raheem Sterling put in a tepid showing up top, while supposed skipper-in-waiting Jordan Henderson fluffed numerous attacking openings. Yet it was once again in defence where Brendan Rodgers’ Reds looked most wobbly, and their rearguard will need much reconstruction over summer.
Aston Villa in reverse
After all the progress made under Tim Sherwood, the Villains returned to bad habits. Swashbuckling Southampton were sensational, yet Villa certainly made it easy for Ronald Koeman and co in a demoralising defeat.
Perhaps over confident, with their top tier safety all-but guaranteed before the game, recent plucky performers such as Tom Cleverley failed to stay consistent, while defenders Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore and Ron Vlaar, whose poor back pass contributed to the second of five goals conceded, could well be contenders for a summer cull after such a horror-show.
The talented keeper had a nightmare in net, after being beaten at his near post far to easily by Yaya Toure for the opener, before failing to stand tall against James Milner for the second. Though the fourth strike from Swans old boy Wilfried Bony was the pick of the bunch of bad decisions, as Fabianski was frozen to the spot.