Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool: Terry and Gerrard’s headed efforts share the spoils

Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool: Terry and Gerrard's headed efforts share the spoils

Liverpool needed a victory to keep their fading hopes of Champions League qualification alive, against the newly-crowned Premier League champions Chelsea on Sunday afternoon.

Chelsea hosted Liverpool in the second of a Super Sunday double bill earlier today, with the Merseyside outfit needing nothing but a victory to keep their slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive.

The newly-crowned champions went into the game at Stamford Bridge with nothing to lose, so as expected, rested some of their key stars for the big clash. Kurt Zouma, Felipe Luis, John Obi Mikel and Loic Remy were all in amongst the starting line-up for the Blues, with Player of the Year Eden Hazard becoming the first Chelsea player to make 50 appearances this season. The big news ahead of kick-off surrounded talented 19-year-old creative midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was set to make his first-team debut against the Reds for Jose Mourinho‘s men.

Liverpool surprisingly opted to start Rickie Lambert as opposed to Jordon Ibe in a more advanced attacking role in their trip to west London. Adam Lallana started on his 27th birthday, in a forward 4-3-3 role alongside Raheem Sterling and Lambert.

The match got off to a feisty start after just forty seconds on the clock, as Cesc Fábregas was given his 11th booking of the season for a crunching sliding tackle on Sterling’s ankle in midfield. The young attacking forward was treated for his injury by the Liverpool physio, but thankfully for the flow of the game, he was able to continue.

Willian delivered a teasing cross towards the box, and a team-mate was lurking to latch onto it, but for a last-ditch headed clearance over the bar by Slovakian centre-back Martin Skrtel to give the hosts an early corner-kick. Fábregas stepped up, curled his set-piece into the box, and a combination of lacklustre marking and sloppy defending all-round from the Reds gifted John Terry the time and space to head powerfully beyond goalkeeper Simon Mignolet – opening the scoring after just five minutes. That goal meant Terry was now the highest-scoring defender in Premier League history with 39 goals, and the Blues were ahead early on.

Philippe Coutinho came close to levelling the scoring a few minutes later, but his shot was deflected and hit the side netting as Brendan Rodgers‘ men attempted to get back into the match almost instantaneously after conceding. Mignolet had to be alert to rush off his line and intercept the threat posed by a through ball played into the path of Loic Remy by Fábregas, and the Belgian opened up his body before smothering the ball inside his area and denying the Frenchman from doubling the scoring.

Emre Can went on a lung-busting run from defence into attacking midfield, before looking up and spotting the run of Raheem to his left. He squared the ball to the youngster, who dribbled towards the edge of the area and unleashed a low effort goalwards, but his shot was somewhat wayward and it trickled well wide of Courtois’ far post.

Skrtel saved Mignolet’s blushes with a vital clearance after the ‘keeper’s loose touch almost set Remy through with a chance from close range – but for a robust hoof clear by the no-nonsense centre-back. Adam Lallana was booked two minutes later for a late sliding tackle on Branislav Ivanovic as tackles continued to fly in.

Chelsea continued to press for the second goal, and Skrtel was soon into the referee’s book. His booking gifted the Blues an opportunity in a dangerous position, after a cynical block to halt the run of Remy after he’d been skinned near the byline. Fábregas’ lofted ball floated above his team-mates, and the danger was cleared with a powerful punch away to safety by Mignolet who was visibly annoyed at his team’s lack of defensive shape.

Rickie Lambert was the next man into Andre Marriner‘s book, for a pointless sliding tackle on Thibaut Courtois as the ball was trickling out of play and the talented 22-year-old goalkeeper was shielding him from winning it. It was clear to see that frustrations were boiling over from the visitors’ point of view, but the Chelsea fans were enjoying every minute of it with ironic cheers and chants galore throughout.

Simon Mignolet was lucky not to make a fatal mistake in his box as a goalmouth scramble saw the ball float in the air inches away from his goal, he flapped at the ball and luckily enough for him, it swerved out for a corner-kick. The danger was averted after some intense Chelsea pressure, which saw the ball trickle past a few team-mates before being eventually cleared away.

Unfortunately for Kurt Zouma, the talented young centre-back suffered a knock which he could not carry on playing with, so as a precautionary measure, he was brought off the pitch in place of Gary Cahill with 35 minutes on the clock. A warm round of applause was greeted by the home supporters, who appreciate just how talented and promising the French defender is.

The Blues continued their attacking impetus with Hazard, Loftus-Cheek and Willian looking dangerous going forward from midfield positions, but it was Liverpool who had the final say on the half’s action with two minutes plus stoppages left to play. A needless challenge made by Ivanovic on Lallana near the byline was met with the game’s fifth booking – the resulting free-kick was swung into the area by Jordan Henderson and Liverpool’s departing captain headed home from close range, with Courtois helpless to stop the effort as it swished in the back of the net.

The fourth official signalled for three minutes of stoppage time to be added on at the end of the first-half, and as the whistle blew, the match was evenly poised at 1-1.

As the second-half began, neither side made any alterations. Liverpool started on the front foot, with Henderson combining excellently with Lallana just a minute into the second period, before the latter’s low strike towards goal fired wide of Courtois’ far post.

Sterling used his blistering pace to his advantage, advancing towards the Chelsea goal with Filipe Luis trying to dispossess the forward of the ball. He weaved one way and pushed his way past the Brazilian, before laying off a pass for Coutinho – whose fierce shot flew into the crowd behind the goal, with ironic jeers from the home fans, despite the Reds’ coming narrowly close to taking the lead for the first time in the match.

Willian came close to giving Chelsea the lead once more on two separate occasions in the space of a few minutes. First, he drove past the Liverpool backline with his electric pace, before firing an effort across the face of goal, with Mignolet getting a touch to the ball to see out the danger. Then, he came close again, but this time his shot flicked off the side netting at the near post.

A vital sliding block by substitute Gary Cahill denied Lallana’s shot from flashing on-target, as Liverpool continued to up their own attacking intensity. Another warm round of applause reverberated around the Bridge as Loftus-Cheek, arguably surprisingly, was brought off the pitch in place of Nemanja Matic. Many Chelsea supporters were hoping the 19-year-old would stay on, and John-Obi Mikel would be taken off instead, especially after just getting a booking, but it seemed the Blues were happy to settle for a point, frustrating the Reds as much as they could going forward.

Liverpool made a double change within minutes, as young attacking duo Jerome Sinclair and Jordon Ibe were brought into the action as Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana were taken off. Chelsea were thwarted by a brave block from Skrtel, who put his body on the line in a sliding challenge to deflect a goal-scoring chance away to safety. He had to receive treatment from the physio after that, but was thankfully able to continue.

Ibe was threatening on the ball, and his darting run towards the box was cynically met by a tactical foul by Luis, who was the next player to be given a yellow card by the referee – but the Brazilian could have no real complaints. The Reds continued to press for the late winner, but Courtois was equal to all of their efforts, especially a deflected shot by Coutinho which flicked off Cahill, sending Courtois the wrong way, before he was quick to move back in the opposite direction and smother the effort.

As the referee blew his whistle to end the afternoon’s proceedings at the Bridge, both teams shared the spoils. Liverpool are six points behind Manchester United, who have virtually sealed their place in the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League qualification round, bar failing to win a single point in their final two games. Rodgers’ men can only mathematically qualify for the Champions League if they win both of their remaining matches, as well as over-ruling United on goal difference, which they just happen to be -14 away from. So, the odds are extremely stacked against them.

FSV Mainz 05 2-0 FC Schalke 04: Stefan Bell’s first-half double seals a frustrating night for visitors

FSV Mainz 05 2-0 FC Schalke 04: Stefan Bell's first-half double seals a frustrating night for visitors

It was a battle between fifth and eleventh place on Friday evening, as Roberto di Matteo‘s men attempted to close the gap on their UEFA Champions League qualification rivals Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach in third and fourth respectively, which in essence would keep their slim hopes of qualifying for the Europe’s elite alive.

With only a few matches of the 2014-15 Bundesliga campaign left to go, neither side wanted to drop points, given their respective places in the table, and how close they were to their respective rivals. A win for the hosts would see them move into eighth above Hoffenheim, just five points behind Schalke in the table, so it’d be an intriguing watch, as S04 were eager to avoid their fifth straight draw.

Not much transpired in the early going, as both sides were trying to get a foothold in the match – with a lack of clear goal-scoring opportunities for either side in the early going. Schalke were forced into an early substitution after just twelve minutes, as Dennis Aogo replaced Marcel Hoger at defensive-midfield, in what looked to be an injury strain for the latter, who was taken off to avoid any further aggravation of his injury.

Leroy Sané came close to scoring after some quick footwork allowed him to get in-behind the Mainz defence, having been set through by Eric Choupo-Moting, but Mainz goalkeeper Loris Karius was equal to the danger, reacting quickest to rush off his line and comfortably smother the ball in-between his gloves.

In the 21st minute, Mainz winger Ja-Cheol Koo had a speculative effort fizz wide from 25 yards out, having been given the opportunity and space to take an attempt on-goal, with goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann scrambling to his far post. It was a subtle warning to the visitors, who had been playing too deep in their own half and inviting pressure as well as giving their hosts time on the ball in the early going, although M05 were unable to do much of note with it, yet.

Then, in the 27th minute, a deflected shot flew over Fahrmann’s goal, out for a corner-kick. The set-piece was drilled into the box by Johannes Geis, and Schalke dealt with the danger poorly, allowing centre-back Stefan Bell to tap home from close range.

Three minutes later, the same thing occured again, as the hosts doubled their lead. Another corner was crossed into the area by Geis, Schalke defenders were standing looking helpless, not marking their men well enough, and Bell towered above his marker to head an effort into the back of the net. Fährmann got fingertips to the headed strike, but it was too powerful for him, and he could only watch on as he conceded for the second time in a matter of minutes.

Just a minute or so later, it seemed as though Mainz were about to strike again! This time it was Geis with a powerful free-kick effort, which floated past the wall and narrowly looked as though it skimmed Fährmann’s far post on the way out, hitting the advertising boards within a flash.

Nothing seemed to go in Schalke’s favour, and it looked to stay that way until the half-time whistle at least. An inviting set-piece was curled towards the head of Cameroonian centre-back Joel Matip, but he failed to connect with the cross and the Mainz players watched thankfully as the teasing ball flashed wide of their goal. Roman Neudstadter was the first player in the referee’s book for a cynical foul, and di Matteo’s side were visibly frustrated as they saw themselves two goals down, in a match they should have been drawing, at the very least.

As the second-half began, no changes were made by either manager, with the scores being at 2-0 to Mainz. The hosts continued to up the attacking ante from the end of the first 45, with Geis, Koo and striker Shinji Okazaki coming close from long range within minutes of each other. Talented young German Julian Draxler was introduced into the action with sixty minutes on the clock, in place of a rather ineffective Jefferson Farfán, as he continues his recovery from a long-term injury.

A teasing delivery into the box was flapped partially clear by Fährmann, into the path of Koo, whose effort cannoned off the crossbar from close range in the 70th minute. Then, a few minutes later, Geis saw a low free-kick bounce back off the upright, as his ambitious shot from range squirmed below the Schalke free-kick wall, and past the ‘keeper, but not past the post. Draxler and fellow midfield substitute Leon Goretska both came close, hitting the woodwork late on with respective efforts from range as the clock ticked down, just emphasising how much of a frustrating night it turned out to be for di Matteo’s men.

As the referee blew his whistle for the final time on Friday evening, that was it. A loud roar came from the home supporters, as their side won against a Schalke side that have only won one out of their last seven league matches.

Real Madrid 9-1 Granada CF: Ronaldo runs riot as Los Blancos thrash strugglers

Real Madrid asserted further pressure on La Liga leaders Barcelona as they dominated proceedings in a remarkable 9-1 thrashing over 19th placed Granada earlier today.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a fantastic five goals as Real Madrid ran riot over relegation strugglers Granada CF in their fixture earlier today. Los Blancos won the game by a staggering 9-1 scoreline, which is surprising given the fact the game was goal-less up until the 25th minute, where a through ball by German midfielder Toni Kroos set Gareth Bale on the run beyond the visitors’ backline, he skipped past the ‘keeper and from a tight angle, tapped the shot into an empty net.

Kroos’ impressive range of passing was on display again just five minutes later, where he crossed the ball towards the back post for Karim Benzema to have an attempt on-goal, but the Frenchman was unable to sort his feet out in time to latch onto the teasing delivery, so Ronaldo pounced on the danger as Granada’s feeble attempts to clear were not good enough, and his effort curled into the bottom corner of the net.

In the 35th minute, it was soon three nil. Ronaldo’s quick footwork and neat skills on the flank teased Marcelo to push forward in support to his left, he passed across towards the Brazilian full-back whose attempted cross/shot was parried by the goalkeeper, unfortunately for the visitors, it fell straight into the path of the Portuguese superstar Ronaldo who had a powerful volley from close range flash into the net with style.

Then just two minutes later, Ronaldo secured his first-half hat-trick! He darted towards the box and shaped to shoot, and although ‘keeper Oier Olazabal got a strong hand to the powerful strike, it arrowed into the corner of the net to make it 4-0 before the interval.

In the second-half, Ancelotti’s men continued from where they left off in the first. James Rodriguez‘s corner-kick was whipped into the box for Benzema, who controlled the ball near perfectly, before firing past Olazabal into the roof of the net. Marcelo’s cross-field ball fell to Bale, who unselfishly squared the ball towards Ronaldo’s path with Olazabal in no man’s land – he headed the ball into an empty net before hitting his knee against the post from the follow-up. He grimaced slightly before pulling a smurk, knowing he’d scored his FOURTH of the afternoon.

Then, for the third goal in a matter of just four minutes, Real made it 7-0. Benzema took a pass from Alvaro Arbeloa on the right, sped past the defensive marker and shot low and hard into the back of the net; spinning past a potential goalmouth scramble in the process.

Granada got a goal of their own, albeit a very slim and meaningless consolation, from Robert Ibanez who was set through with a one-on-one chance from el Arabi, slotting the ball cooly past a disgruntled Iker Casillas, unhappy not to keep a clean sheet in the process.

However, it was soon 8-1. Diego Mainz scored an own goal, from Luka Modric‘s powerful low ball into the box, which he tapped past his own ‘keeper into the back of the net. Ronaldo was right behind him and ready to score, pressuring Mainz into making a rash decision.

The last goal of the game came with just seconds to play. Modric’s driven delivery from a free-kick swerved towards the far post, where Ronaldo jumped highest to head from a tight angle into the bottom corner of the net. Poor marking from the visitors, but Ancelotti and Cristiano himself will not mind one bit.

They move within just a point of league leaders Barcelona, who play Celta Vigo in the day’s evening kick-off from 8.00pm.

Fulham 1-4 Brentford: Clinical Bees triumph as hosts capitulate in dying stages

Read below, for the match report – written by myself; who was at Craven Cottage personally to watch the action unfold.

Fulham conjured up a spirited display at home on Good Friday, but it was not enough as they capitulated in the dying stages of the second-half, conceding twice in quick succession to sum up a frustrating afternoon in west London. They lost 4-1 against promotion hopefuls Brentford, which was surprising after their encouraging start from the referee’s first whistle.

Swedish winger Alex Kacanklic came close in the first few minutes of the game, using his electric pace to speed past his marker on the flank before his resulting shot at the near post was beaten away by Brentford ‘keeper David Button.

Brentford’s on-loan creative midfielder Alex Pritchard, of Premier League side Tottenham, was pulling the strings in midfield for the visitors, and his silky dribbling and quick footwork were too much to handle for the hosts who struggled to contain him throughout the sixty minutes he played, just days after representing the England U21’s twice in quick succession with victories over Czech Republic and Germany this past week.

For all of Fulham’s pressure in the early going of the game they had nothing to show for it, and after twenty minutes on the clock, the score was still goal-less. However, they’d kept an organised Brentford side at bay, a team desperately fighting for their promotion hopes – something encouraging in itself. A cagey affair which livened up as The Cottagers gained momentum, the first blow was hit in the 24th minute as Stuart Dallas‘ low strike flew beyond the Fulham defenders on the edge of the area and past Marcus Bettinelli into the bottom corner of the net.

Kacanklic had a curling effort on the edge of the box swerve just over the top of the crossbar, with Button attemping to make an acrobatic dive to stop the fierce strike from beating him into the top corner – what a goal it would have been. Brentford’s clinical nature in-front of goal was emphasised early in the second-half, as Dallas combined with Andre Gray before striking a vicious effort which arrowed into the corner of the net from an effective counter attack.

Fulham were handed a lifeline and an unlikely pathway back into the match with just over twenty minutes left to play – James Husband was brought down inside the box under the sliding challenge from Toumani Diagouraga, who was eager to prove his innocence, but the damage was already done. Ross McCormack stood up to the resulting penalty-kick, powerfully slotting the ball into the bottom corner of the net, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way in the process. It was 2-1 and certainly game on, just minutes after Gray had a golden chance to all but seal an away victory for Brentford, sending his strike from close range over the bar.

Matt Smith came on as a substitute late on as Kit Symons knew something had to change for his side to get an equaliser, but came agonisingly close with a lofted chip over the ‘keeper on the counter attack, which trickled just wide of the far post – much to the dispair of Fulham fans behind the goal, who could not believe how unlucky they were. Then, he was controversially denied a penalty decision after being tumbled over by the last Brentford defender.

In the dying minutes, with time running out, Fulham kept up the pressure and their home supporters were pushing them forward in hope of getting an equaliser. A well-executed free-kick from 23 yards out by Alan Judge swerved over the wall and dipped in off the crossbar; Bettinelli was left stranded and could simply do nothing to stop the strike. Then, to add salt into the wounds, they made it 4-1 after a well-taken strike rifled into the top corner courtesy of Jota in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

That victory seals Brentford’s first league double over Fulham since 1992, meaning they’ve still got a genuine chance of promotion to the top-flight of English football. They’ve moved up into 5th place, six points behind league leaders Middlesbrough who won 1-0 at home against Wigan Athletic in their game.

As for Fulham, despite their encouraging start to the game, they capitulated towards the end and their lack of a clinical finish cost them dearly. They are only seven points clear of the dreaded relegation drop in 20th place, and will be hoping for an improved response with six matches left to play.

Post-match comments:

Mark Warburton – Brentford manager:It’s so, so tight. We cannot worry about other teams, our focus has to be Brentford Football Club. We’ve got six games to go now, eighteen points to play for, so another tough test on Monday against Nottingham Forest; they come thick and fast.

Kit Symons – Fulham manager: Obviously the first two goals, need to get out… and close people down, but two good strikes from their point of view, but should have been closed down. It’s taking your chances when you’re on top, first-half I thought we were the better side but, you need to, score goals and take your chances when you are on top in games.

U21’s – Fulham 2-1 Norwich City: Plumain at the double as young Whites prevail

Fulham U21s 2-1 Norwich City U21s: Plumain at the double as young Whites prevail

How did Fulham’s youngsters get on, as they hosted Norwich U21’s at Craven Cottage on Friday night? Read below for the match report, written by myself – who was there personally to watch the action unfold.

A first-half brace from 20-year-old forward Ange-Freddy Plumain secured all three points for the young Whites at home against 6th placed Norwich City, who gave them a tough test especially in the second 45 and almost managed to level the scoring in the dying seconds of stoppage time.

The Canaries were under the knife within the opening minutes of the first-half, as Remi Matthews had to be alert in the Norwich goal to thwart Plumain from close range, with the resulting corner-kick flashing over the crossbar from captain Jonathan Buatu.

After a fast-paced start to the game, the deadlock was broken in the 20th minute as Plumain latched onto a superb through ball pass by Mesca before beating his marker for pace and curling an effort beyond the ‘keeper into the bottom corner of the net. Norwich had a half-chance with a headed effort which flew wide of the mark, before Plumain netted his second in the space of ten minnutes to double Fulham’s lead; an excellent touch-and-go move which was clinically finished on the edge of the area.

On the stroke of the half-time interval, challenges were flying in and referee Simon Knapp was more than happy to go into his pocket and brandish some yellow cards to help enforce his rules. Some harsh, some justified – Norman, Williams and Hall-Johnson all went into the book for respective tackles before the break.

It was safe to say that Fulham were totally in control for the majority of procceedings, and Norwich needed to pass the ball quickly across the ground if they were to fashion any chances of getting back into the game. In the second-half, they did just that, but ultimately left it too late. Midfielder and captain Cameron Norman had a fizzing effort well caught by ‘keeper Marek Rodak in the 55th minute, before Plumain broke on the counter attack with pace down the other end of the pitch and almost completely his hat-trick, if it was not for a good stop from Matthews at the near post.

Plumain was a constant threat to the Norwich backline throughout, as they were unable to keep tabs on him or track his runs, his pace was too much to handle as well as his quick feet and neat dribbling skills.

An un-enforced mistake led to Norwich’s only goal of the game in the 77th minute, as an attempted header was flicked backwards into the path of Conor McGrandles, who weaved past the last defender and cooly slotted his effort beneath the ‘keeper to make it 2-1 and set up an intriguing end to an interesting game in truth.

Questionable decisions and cards were flying everywhere, as Fulham’s game-plan chopped and changed as the clock ticked down. Emerson Hyndman was given his marching orders for a second yellow card with a few minutes left to play, as he cynically kicked the ball away as Norwich were preparing to take a free-kick from a previous offside call – which wasted time but also managed to kill Norwich’s momentum in truh. Fulham themselves had to adapt with ten men for the final few minutes, they were sitting in their own half inviting Norwich pressure, which almost led to a stoppage-time equaliser but for the ball to marginally trickle out of play as a Norwich player whipped it into the box, headed into the back of the net, with the linesman having his flag up on the far side to deny the visitors from taking what would have been a hard-earned point.

After that result, Fulham’s young side are still in 11th place – but eight points off bottom side West Ham, and just five points off fourth placed Tottenham in their respective national group. This was Norwich’s sixth defeat of the season, but they remain in sixth place, with Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton all with games in hand, below them.

FC Schalke 04 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen: Bellarabi effort gives visitors vital points

FC Schalke 04 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen: Bellarabi effort gives visitors vital points

A well-taken solo effort from German winger Kerim Bellarabi, with ten minutes to go until the half-time whistle at the Veltins Arena, sealed all three points for the visitors in their race for the highly-coveted UEFA Champions League spots. It was a rather cagey affair as the Royal Blues were not able to finish their chances, and Leverkusen certainly frustrated them throughout, holding firm with an essential clean sheet to ensure they took all three points; leapfrogging Borussia Monchengladbach who travel to defending champions Bayern Munich in tomorrow afternoon’s fixture in Munich.

Leverkusen defender Hilbert got the first yellow card of the match, for a tactical foul on young Max Meyer who was breaking with speed on the counter attack in the early going. He will miss their next matchday fixture, up against Hamburg after the international break.

Respective goalkeepers Bernd Leno (LEV) and Timon Wellenreuther (SCH) were called into action to deny goal-scoring efforts from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Bellarabi respectively, before the latter made the hosts pay in the 35th minute with a great strike beyond 19-year-old Wellenreuther. Simon Rolfes sent him on a run down the flank near the byline with a teasing ball, he weaved past two markers before cutting through into the box and smacking his effort in off the roof of the crossbar, to open the scoring in some style.

Schalke were unable to respond quickly enough before the break, and young promising striker Leroy Sané was replaced by Kevin-Prince Boateng just on the stroke of the half-time whistle in a tactical change before centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos also went into the referee’s book for a challenge on Huntelaar.

As the second-half began, Leverkusen made a double substitution; Calhanoglu and Toprak coming on in place of Son and Papadopoulous respectively. Austrian full-back Christian Fuchs had a superbly struck effort inches wide of Leno’s post, as Schalke upped the pressure on the visitors as the game went on.

Höger and Neustädter were both booked within quick succession before Leon Goretska was swiftly brought onto the field of play by the former Chelsea boss in an attacking-minded substitution.

A penalty decision was waved away by referee Peter Gagelmann as Bellarabi attempted to dribble his way past Ayhan in the area, before going to ground in the box. Just before that, winger Jefferson Farfan replaced Meyer for the closing stages, making his first senior team appearance for eight months following a serious injury lay-off, whilst Lars Bender came on in place of an ineffective Stefan Kiessling for Leverkusen.

In the last ten minutes of the match, Schalke continued to pile on the pressure, but eventually it came to no avail in the end. Boateng’s fierce goal-scoring effort was blocked by a Leverkusen wall of defenders in the box, with many Schalke players shouting at the referee for a penalty, as they felt it was handled in the air. Nothing was given, which just epitomises how their evening was overall. Frustrating, and in the end, Leverkusen stayed strong for a big victory.

As a result of the game, Schalke remain in 5th place – just below the Champions League qualification places but in contention for Europa League if they stay where they are for the rest of the season. 6th placed Augsburg lost away at Freiburg in the day’s earlier kick-off, meaning Roberto di Matteo‘s men were unable to capitalise and close the gap on the rivals ahead of them.

Aston Villa 2-0 West Brom: Pitch invasion controversy as Sherwood’s men progress to Wembley

Aston Villa 2-0 West Brom: Pitch invasion controversy as Sherwood's men progress to Wembley

In the day’s only Premier League FA Cup tie, Aston Villa hosted Midlands rivals West Brom just days after their 1-0 victory in the league. Who would prevail, for a place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup?

Second-half goals from Fabian Delph and Scott Sinclair sealed a sweet 2-0 victory for Tim Sherwood‘s men, over their local rivals just four days after their 1-0 Premier League win over Tony Pulis‘ men, to confirm they are the first team to secure their place in the FA Cup semi-finals.

West Brom had their fair share of chances in the opening 45 minutes, but failed to make them count. Ideye Brown especially, the Nigerian striker who had two excellent goal-scoring opportunities, which he failed to take advantage of. At the half-time interval, the scores were still level, and the game was in need of a spark.

Delph delivered that spark, in the 51st minute with a low, powerful drive beyond goalkeeper Boaz Myhill, who arguably should have done better to deny the Englishman from breaking the deadlock – but could not sort his feet out quickly enough to stop the effort.

In the final ten minutes plus stoppages to play, the game heated up once more. First, midfielder Claudio Yacob was given his second yellow card and consequently sent off by referee Anthony Taylor for a tackle on Leandro Bacuna, who slid in to try and win the ball. Controversial, as Yacob got to the ball first, and Bacuna’s slide was dangerous play in itself, but the Dutchman left the incident unscathed.

Then, four minutes later, Villa hit the visitors on the counter attack – former Manchester City and Swansea forward Scott Sinclair doubled the lead for the hosts with a neat finish beyond Myhill after turning his defender inside out, who was helpless to stop the curling effort from swerving into the bottom corner of the net. The 25-year-old wheeled away to celebrate with the home fans, but little did he know that many of them would embrace him near the advertising boards, foreshadowing the controversy to come.

In the third minute of stoppage time, young winger Jack Grealish was given a second yellow card, for simulation by the referee – who felt the youngster dived when attempting to latch onto the ball which Joleon Lescott got to first. Replays showed there was in-fact contact, so another controversial decision given by the official before the full-time whistle.

At the full-time whistle, hundreds of Villa fans ran onto the pitch and crowded the players – including captain Delph, who told the media that he was bitten by the home supporters; which is sure to be the main story in tomorrow morning’s newspapers.

West Brom 1-0 Southampton: Berahino’s stunner seals all three points for Pulis’ men

West Brom 1-0 Southampton: Berahino's stunner seals all three points for Pulis' men

Tony Pulis’ men hosted a Ronald Koeman side who were eager for maximum points to keep their top four hopes alive, but they knew it would be a tough test away from home at The Hawthorns.

West Brom hosted top four challengers Southampton, in an intriguing fixture between two sides with something to prove. The Baggies, under new maangement with Tony Pulis in charge, wanted to solidify a place in the top half of the Premier League table – with their new boss asking for consistency as he tries to get the best out of his players; including Saido Berahino – who has been heavily linked with moves to some top European clubs.

The young Englishman ironically broke the deadlock at The Hawthorns, with a rather powerful volley effort which flew past English goalkeeper Fraser Forster into the top corner of the net – after just 74 seconds on the clock. That was his 11th Premier League goal of the 2014-15 campaign, and it was a truly special one too.

The Saints were looking for an immediate response, which did not come. They dominated possession of the ball, and attempted to dictate play in midfield but were shut out effectively and efficiently by Pulis’ men whenever they got forward deep enough into West Brom’s defence. A few half-chances were squandered for either side before the break, with the half-time scoreline going in the hosts’ favour.

In the second-half, Nigerian striker Brown Ideye had a perfect chance to double the lead for the hosts after a super pass towards his path by midfielder Craig Gardner, but his hesitation to shoot in-front of goal cost him in the end, as Maya Yoshida tracked back fast enough to block and eventually clear the danger away.

Berahino was seen clutching his leg on the ground in discomfort on the receiving end of a painful-looking challenge; he was substituted off as a precautionary measure to avoid aggravating the injury problem – Youssouf Mulumbu coming on in his place; for his first appearance following his African Cup of Nations involvement.

Southampton lacked the cutting edge going forward, with Graziano Pellé missing a golden opportunity to level the scoring in the 67th minute. A teasing low delivery was fired into his path by left-back Ryan Bertrand, but the Italian striker failed to latch onto the ball and a last-ditch clearance away by defender Chris Brunt ensured West Brom kept hold of their lead.

French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin was unlucky not to get himself on the scoresheet after having two goal-bound efforts narrowly wide. His first was an inswinging free-kick, which swerved past all of the players in the area and trickled beyond the post. His second meanwhile, was a stinging drive which was well saved by Ben Foster, just minutes after the ‘keeper was booked for time-wasting and warned about his future actions.

The hosts were inches away from doubling the lead with ten minutes to play; former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher had a half-chance from close range but his powerful effort fired wide over the bar and into the crowd behind the goal.

Pellé had another chance to end his goalscoring drought of four matches in all competitions with a goal-mouth scramble, the ball trickled towards his path but his follow-up was weak as Foster was able to smother the danger in the end. Ideye was seen hobbling painfully in the closing stages, and the physios treated him accordingly before he was replaced by Chris Baird to try and hold out for a 1-0 victory.

The fourth official signalled for four minutes of stoppage time to be added on, and The Saints continued to press attacking-wise; but West Brom held firm and secured a valuable three points in a hard-fought game despite a late charge seeing Eljero Elia‘s decent strike fired wide of Foster’s near post into the stands. The stats will have frustrated Ronald Koeman and his men no doubt, given the fact that they were heavily dominant but could not turn their dominance into goals in the match. 11 shots, just TWO on target and no goals. West Brom meanwhile had: seven shots, three on target and one goal, courtesy of Berahino’s stunning strike early on.

The result means Southampton lose ground in the top four race; staying in 5th place just a point above Liverpool and two above Tottenham – both of which have a game in hand over The Saints. Manchester United (50) and Arsenal (48) are above them in 3rd and 4th places respectively.