• Premier League

United fail to score after Fergie benches Berbatov

ESPN staff
October 2, 2010
Dimitar Berbatov had a goal disallowed © PA Photos
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Manchester United wasted the chance to move level with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table, drawing 0-0 with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

With Chelsea set to take on Arsenal on Sunday, United had a real opportunity to apply pressure to the champions, but Sir Alex Ferguson will be left rueing his decision to start the game with top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov on the bench. The decision seemed all the more inexplicable given the lack of Wayne Rooney in United's matchday squad.

A burst pipe led to a 20-minute delay ahead of kick-off, which gave the Stadium of Light crowd plenty of time to discuss Berbatov's absence, with Ferguson opting for Federico Macheda and Michael Owen as his forward pairing.

When the game did get underway it was Sunderland who enjoyed much the better of the first 45 minutes, with Steed Malbranque guilty of a woeful miss from 10 yards. Boudewijn Zenden came even closer with a 20-yard strike that clattered an upright, while Darren Bent saw a shot turned off the line by Nemanja Vidic.

Ferguson introduced Berbatov at the break in place of Owen, and the Bulgarian found the net instantly, only to be correctly flagged for offside. Berbatov threatened again as the clock ticked down, but if any side deserved victory it was Sunderland as the game finished goalless.

Rafael van der Vaart scored twice for Spurs © PA Photos
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Tottenham inflicted a first defeat on Gerard Houllier's Aston Villa as Rafael van der Vaart increased his status as one of the bargains of the season with a superb brace in a 2-1 victory at White Hart Lane.

The Netherlands international grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons in midweek when he got sent off in Spurs' victory over FC Twente, but he turned in a world class performance on Saturday to turn the game on its head after Villa had secured an early lead.

Inevitably Spurs had to prove they could avoid a Champions League hangover, having produced a poor performance in the win at home to Wolves after their opening European game. However, within 16 minutes they were behind thanks to some relentless harassing by Emile Heskey, who eventually squared for Marc Albrighton to bravely bundle home.

That proved to be Heskey's last telling contribution as he limped off injured, and Spurs capitalised on the stroke of half time as the excellent Van der Vaart headed them level. Much like his goal against FC Twente in midweek, Van der Vaart anticipated Peter Crouch's nod down to send his own header past Brad Friedel.

If a headed goal was a rarity from the Dutchman, a right-footed strike was even more of a collector's item as Van der Vaart combined with Crouch in identical fashion again with 15 minutes left, wrong-footing Dunne superbly to find the corner.

Roger Johnson scored an own goal at St Andrew's © PA Photos
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At the bottom of the table, Everton finally recorded their first win of the season and simultaneously ended Birmingham's year-long unbeaten home record with a 2-0 victory at St Andrew's. Everton had drawn three and lost three in their six opening matches of the season, yet they started confidently and should have led at half time when Yakubu saw his goalbound effort denied by Liam Ridgewell with Ben Foster beaten.

David Moyes' side needed a change of fortunes, and they got one nine minutes into the second half when Roger Johnson and Foster got themselves into a mess, with the former heading the ball past the latter into his own net. There was more luck for the Toffees moments later as Leighton Baines felled Stephen Carr inside the box, only to see the referee wave away furious protests for a spot-kick, and Tim Cahill netted at the death to seal victory.

Everton's result leaves West Ham bottom of the table after they could only draw 1-1 with Fulham at Upton Park. The pre-match talk had centred on how Rob Green would respond to his first meeting with Clint Dempsey since the infamous goal he conceded to the American at the World Cup. And inevitably it was Dempsey who opened the scoring, but there was nothing Green could have done about it. Luis Boa Morte inadvertently diverted the ball into the air against his former side, and the ball fell perfectly for Dempsey to slam home.

Avram Grant needed a response from his players, and he got it immediately after the interval as Frederic Piquionne netted his third in as many games, heading home Victor Obinna's excellent cross. The Hammers then had Green to thank as they held on for a draw after the England goalkeeper made two fine saves to inflict a sixth draw of the season on Mark Hughes' Fulham.

Karl Henry was sent off for a reckless lunge © PA Photos
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West Ham are level with Wolves after Karl Henry added to Wanderers' disciplinary problems with a reckless lunge that earned him a red card in Wigan's 2-0 victory at the DW Stadium. Mick McCarthy had already found himself deflecting questions prior to kick-off about his side's disciplinary record, the worst in the Premier League, and after only 12 minutes of Saturday's game the man seen by many as the main perpetrator, Henry, lunged in on Jordi Gomez to receive his marching orders.

Roberto Martinez's men had only scored two goals in six previous league outings, yet they suddenly found themselves with 78 minutes to attack ten men. A breakthrough arrived on 65 minutes when Charles N'Zogbia, who stated on Friday that he saw Wigan as a 'springboard' to a future move, won his side a free kick right on the edge of the Wolves penalty area - in perfect position for a left-footer. Gomez, having recovered from the Henry tackle, measured out his run-up and then arrowed a technically brilliant free kick into Marcus Hahnemann's top corner - the Wolves 'keeper unable to keep it out despite his starting position being on the same side of the goal as where the ball eventually nestled.

Now chasing the game, Wolves left spaces at the back, and N'Zogbia's slide-rule pass forced Christophe Berra into a desperate lunge, his attempted clearance only succeeding in sending the ball into the net off the shin of Hugo Rodallega.

Elsewhere, Stoke had Jonathan Walters' first league goal to thank for a narrow 1-0 victory over Blackburn. In a typically belligerent first half, the closest the Britannia Stadium came to a goal was when Rory Delap's long throw was glanced onto an upright by Ryan Nelsen. Half time brought an immediate breakthrough though as Walters raced clear of the Rovers defence, beating Paul Robinson for the only goal of the game.

In the day's other fixture, West Brom came from a goal down to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Bolton. Johan Elmander showed superb feet to silence the Hawthorns just after the hour, but James Morrison struck with 15 minutes remaining to deny Owen Coyle's side all three points.

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