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Premier League hits and misses: Man City fight back to retain title race advantage

Mahrez misses but City show powers of recovery

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Highlights from West Ham’s match against Manchester City

The London Stadium was a cauldron of noise as the home supporters, already in buoyant mood amid emotional tributes to their departing captain Mark Noble, jubilantly celebrated Jarrod Bowen’s second goal against Manchester City shortly before half-time.

This was a game in which most expected City to move six points clear of Liverpool, putting themselves on the brink of the title with one game remaining. But West Ham had other ideas.

Bowen’s double put City in unfamiliar territory. They had not trailed a Premier League game since February – let alone by two goals. But this team have a steely side in addition to all their quality.

Injuries had robbed them of Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kyle Walker, leaving them with a makeshift backline which West Ham succeeded in exploiting, but their response was immediate after the break as Jack Grealish pulled one back before Vladimir Coufal’s own goal brought them level.

They walked off the pitch at the end of it all in deflated mood despite their efforts, Riyad Mahrez’s botched penalty making the draw feel more like a missed opportunity than a creditable comeback.

But the point may yet prove crucial in the title chase and it keeps their destiny in their own hands ahead of their final game.

City could have crumbled. Instead, they showed powers of recovery in difficult circumstances.

It may make all the difference.
Nick Wright

Lloris dodges bug to show epic Spurs leadership

How easy it could have been for Tottenham to fall back into the trap that scarred them 16 years ago.

It’s May 2006 and Arsenal and Spurs are gunning for fourth place. Ahead of their final day game away at West Ham, a mysterious illness hit Martin Jol’s Tottenham squad and a dismal draw at the Hammers saw Arsenal finish ahead of them in the final Champions League spot.

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Tottenham manager Antonio Conte was pleased with the resilience his side showed in prevailing 1-0 over Burnley

Lo and behold, a similar bug hit Tottenham this week. Antonio Conte was alarmed to hear from his medical team that several players – including both his first-team goalkeepers along with Harry Winks and Dejan Kulusveski – were too ill to start.

Tottenham folded in that situation 16 years ago, but they did not this time. Step forward Hugo Lloris, who not only played the whole 90 minutes but kept a clean sheet, which included making a crucial save from Maxwel Cornet’s one-on-one in the first half.

Head coach Conte hailed his captain for showing the determination to keep playing despite his illness, even though the Italian coach did not sound at all surprised.

“It wasn’t easy because yesterday morning the doctor sent me a message that a few players they felt not well, with a stomach problem, vomiting and also a fever.

Hugo Lloris after Tottenham's win over Burnley
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Hugo Lloris after Tottenham’s win over Burnley

“Hugo had a fever, but there was no chance of missing an important game. They showed to be very professional and understanding the importance of the moment. Hugo is our captain and he never wanted to miss the game.”

Since Conte joined the club, Lloris has tied himself down to a new contract and solidified himself as one of Tottenham’s most important stars. There is no doubt the French goalkeeper is central to Spurs’ progression under Conte.
Sam Blitz

West Ham’s royal send-off for Noble a fitting tribute

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After playing his last match at the London Stadium, Mark Noble delivers an emotional speech to the West Ham fans.

A prince paying his respects to a Noble? The sight of Prince Albert of Monaco in the stands at the London Stadium was one of the more surreal moments of a Sunday in which West Ham gave club captain and stalwart a right royal send-off.

It turns out the prince and Noble share a mutual friend. But overall the occasion was a fitting finale to his committed, loyal 18-year career in east London.

A pre-match montage had him in tears, with the West Ham fans able to show their appreciation to a player who, in his own words, had lived their dream.

But when kick-off came he was on the bench. As ever, putting the team before himself, Noble had met with David Moyes this week to insist he wasn’t given game time for sentimental reasons. “It was only to be in the best interests of West Ham,” he said.

Noble leaves West Ham in a strong position, as their two-goal lead at half-time against Man City showed. They’ve had a fantastic season and the signs are they are on the rise. But it was significant that Moyes sent for Noble when City had pulled themselves level, when West Ham needed someone to give them a foothold again in the middle of the park. Even now, at the end of his career, Noble is still playing an important role when he’s on the field. It’s a tribute to his talents.

Off the pitch, there’s no secret about the influence he has in the dressing room and, in particular, on his successor at the heart of the midfield, Declan Rice. He revealed afterwards to Sky Sports that West Ham’s management want him to continue to play a role in the future.

That seems inevitable. Noble’s place has been and always will be at West Ham. Although, perhaps there is time for a well-earned holiday for now. Apparently Monaco is nice this time of year…
Peter Smith

Burnley easier on the eye as defensive duo star

It was the second-half moment that nearly brought Burnley back into the game.

Jack Cork played it into Dwight McNeil, who then fed Ashley Barnes on the edge of the area. The Clarets striker could only crack a shot against the woodwork, in what was the visitors’ best chance to earn a precious point at Tottenham.

Such excellent football has not always been seen at Burnley. Under Sean Dyche, sacked earlier this season, the Clarets were much more direct and physical – the January signing of 6ft 7in striker Wout Weghorst told us as much.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s match against Burnley

But now Burnley, as they showed against Tottenham on Sunday lunchtime, are quite easy on the eye. Goalkeeper Nick Pope plays excellent balls out the back, the Clarets are not afraid to press teams high and they create plenty of chances from open play – Barnes’ woodwork effort and Maxwel Cornet’s missed one-on-one opportunity on Sunday are just two examples.

But that is not what Burnley need. They need the pragmatic and efficient style of Dyche if they want to stay in the Premier League.

Centre-back Nathan Collins and goalkeeper Pope both impressed at the back. The Clarets – against the best Premier League combination of all time in Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son – managed to stop Tottenham from scoring in open play and only a contentious penalty call saw that backline – marshalled by Collins and Pope – fall on the losing side on Sunday.

“[He was] amazing,” said Burnley caretaker Mike Jackson when asked about youngster Collins. “That’s brilliant for him and he’s taken on that challenge, taken on one of the best strikers around [in Kane] which is great for a 21-year-old. It doesn’t surprise me because I know what he’s like.”

Burnley defended excellently in the early exchanges
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Burnley defended excellently in the early exchanges

And on Pope, Jackson added: “He’s been brilliant, not just on [the saves]. His performance levels, I just keep seeing him improving and the work he puts in as well with Wayne Hennessy and the goalkeeper coach. He’s a top, top goalkeeper.”

Those two give Burnley confidence that they can keep the backdoor shut, to stop them falling through the trapdoor. They have two games to prove just that.
Sam Blitz

Gelhardt carrying the fight for Leeds

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leeds’ draw against Brighton

When you are down at the bottom fighting for your lives, you need players like Joe Gelhardt at the forefront of your play.

Although his final ball is sometimes lacking, he plays with a fearless nature mixed in with so much positivity. There was no looking for the easy pass against Brighton. He took the fight to them with some bulldozing runs and dangerous forward passes.

The whole occasion at Elland Road could have also been a different one had his goalbound strike not hit his own man Liam Cooper with the ball heading into the net in the early stages. For the next 91 minutes, that chance looked to be defining Leeds’ day at the office as their fight for survival looked an ominous one until Gelhardt sparked them into life in injury-time.

Star man: Joe Gelhardt carried the fight for Leeds
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Star man: Joe Gelhardt carried the fight for Leeds

Some players may have let that earlier unlucky goalscoring situation make their heads drop but Gelhardt kept going until the last minute where it was his tenacious skill on the byline that set up the vital equaliser scored by Pascal Stuijk.

Next week at Brentford, he is the first name on the teamsheet in what could be the biggest game in Leeds’ Premier League history.
Lewis Jones

Positives for Leicester as Vardy, Barnes and Maddison shine

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leicester’s win against Watford

“A winning mentality is formed every day and in every game you play.”

The message is clear from Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers to his side following their 5-1 hammering of Watford at Vicarage Road.

In terms of this season, the Foxes only aim for their final two games of the season at Chelsea and at home to Southampton is a top-half finish, but the longer-term aim is clear for Rodgers and his side.

“I’ve spoken about the importance of putting a marker down for next season,” Rodgers added. “We didn’t want to go out with a whimper and be soft and think there’s nothing to play for. Even if you have nothing to play for as such, in terms of trophies or European places, that’s when your winning mentality comes into it. I have a huge pride in the players for what they’ve done in the last couple of games, to continue with that fight and aggression. It bodes well for us going into next season.”

What also bodes well for Leicester is the form of key attacking trio Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes. All three were in the goals at Vicarage Road, showing their importance to Rodgers’ side.

All three have had spells on the sidelines this season as Leicester have struggled with injuries, but they are fit and firing now, and giving a glimpse of what might have been for Leicester this season.

But more importantly, what could be on the horizon if they keep their star trio fit and get some additions through the door this summer.
Oliver Yew

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Brendan Rodgers says his side had

Plenty for Edwards to ponder ahead of Watford bow

Watford's defensive struggles were there for all to see against Leicester
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Watford’s defensive struggles were there for all to see against Leicester

There was optimism before the game.

Watford fans on their way to the game were talking about a fresh new start that was coming under Rob Edwards and then the new boss was paraded in front of stands at Vicarage Road and given a superb ovation by the home fans.

The positive energy seemed to translate onto the pitch as Joao Pedro gave Watford, who looked freed by the fact their relegation had been confirmed, the perfect start.

However, Roy Hodgson’s final home game in charge quickly turned sour as Watford gifted goals to James Maddison and Jamie Vardy before Leicester took full control in the second half with the goals racking up.

“Watford’s performance has been disgraceful,” Tim Sherwood said on Soccer Special. “They haven’t shown up. They have contributed absolutely nothing to this game.”

It was a fair assessment as Watford’s season at Vicarage Road ended in a whimper. Midway through the second half, plenty of Watford fans made their way to the exits. They’d seen enough for this season and for those that stayed there were a fair few boos at the full-time whistle.

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Watford boss Roy Hodgson questioned some of the decisions his team made in their 5-1 defeat to Leicester.

So, what would Edwards have made of it sitting in the stands? There will be plenty of change this summer with a number of players heading for the exit door. There’ll also be new faces in the door as Edwards looks to shape his squad.

He’d have known he had a big job awaiting him this summer, but after today’s game, he’ll be fully aware of the size of the rebuild facing Watford as they head for the Championship.
Oliver Yew

Norwich must keep hold of Pukki this summer

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Norwich’s draw against Wolves

One shudders to think just how much worse Norwich City’s already demoralising season would have been but for Teemu Pukki.

The Finland international earned his side a deserved point at Wolves on Sunday afternoon after a fine solo goal – his 11th in the Premier League so far this campaign in 36 matches easily making him the Canaries’ top scorer, and that’s not including three assists as well to his name.

In fact, the striker has now been directly involved in 61 per cent (14/23) of all already-relegated Norwich’s goals in the top flight this season, with only Alan Shearer (62 per cent for Blackburn in 1995/96) and Matt Le Tissier (69 per cent for Southampton in 1993/94) having ever been involved in a higher share of their team’s goals in a single campaign in the competition.

Numbers which surely make it vital manager Dean Smith and the club keep hold of the 32-year-old this summer if they harbour any ambitions to come straight back up next season.
Richard Morgan

Ruthlessness lacking as Villa and Palace continue top half battle

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa’s match against Crystal Palace

Based on the atmosphere inside Villa Park alone, you would never have guessed this was a game that had nothing major riding on it other than a boost in the race for a top 10 finish.

The 1982 European Cup-winning squad were paraded to the Villa faithful before kick-off, geeing up both the crowd and the players once the game got under way under cloudy skies in the Midlands. Villa soon got a grip on the game and should, arguably, have stormed into the lead, but three inviting openings were passed up by Danny Ings.

With two goals in the previous three games, his confidence is likely to be at a reasonably high level, yet that was not evident on Sunday. It has been a common theme for Steven Gerrard’s men, though, who have only scored more than one goal in two of their last nine Premier League outings.

It is a similar story for Palace, who have scored more than once in three of their last 10. They had 16 attempts in this one, 25 per cent of which were on target.

Such records are not particularly encouraging as the pair jostle to finish inside the top half. Patrick Vieira even referenced the issue in his post-match press conference: “When we get to the last third we don’t always make the correct decisions and, of course, we need to keep working and keep improving. But this is one of the areas that, next year, we have to be better in,” the Frenchman said.

This draw leaves Villa – who last finished inside the top half in 2010/11 – four points behind 10th-placed Brighton, with Palace – who have finished there just once in 12 seasons as a Premier League club – a place and a point ahead in 11th. The gap is widening, but a fortnight of the season remains.
Dan Long



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