Friday 31 May 2013
Manchester United began the month 12 points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League and by the end of March had extended that lead over second-placed Manchester City to 15.
As they had done in February, Sir Alex Ferguson's charges won all three top-flight matches to maintain their relentless pace at the top, beginning with a 4-0 rout of Norwich City and a hat-trick for Shinji Kagawa.
Manchester City beat Aston Villa 1-0 at the outset of March but slipped up at in-form Everton who, having gone unbeaten in January and then endured a winless February, rallied with three wins out of three against Reading, Man City and Stoke City.
As with Kagawa, Luis Suarez also scored a treble at the start of the month, in the 4-0 victory away to Wigan Athletic, as his Liverpool side, who went on to edge a five-goal thriller against Tottenham Hotspur, sought to reduce the two-point deficit on sixth-placed Everton.
March began well for third-placed Spurs as two goals in three minutes by Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon sealed a 2-1 victory against Arsenal to send them seven points clear of their North London rivals. But their good work was undone in their next two matches – defeats at Anfield and at home to Fulham - before a 2-1 win at Swansea City returned them to form. By the month's end, however, Arsenal were back on their tail, only four points behind their neighbours with a match in hand after successes against Swansea and Reading. It was the start of an unbeaten sequence that would last until the end of the campaign.
Having lost to Man City at the end of February, Chelsea also began to find their feet with victories against West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United. Frank Lampard produced his 200th goal for Chelsea against West Ham, but a wonderful Rickie Lambert free-kick on his 500th league appearance helped Southampton inflict a 2-1 defeat upon Rafael Benitez’s side on 30 March to leave the West London side two points behind Spurs and, more alarmingly, only two points above the fifth-placed Gunners.
That home victory over Chelsea propelled the Saints, who had begun the month in 16th and three points above the relegation zone, to 11th in the table, albeit only four points clear of the bottom three. It represented a remarkable recovery from a start to the month in which they had suffered a 2-1 home reverse at the hands of joint-bottom club Queens Park Rangers. However, a draw at Norwich City followed by impressive wins over Liverpool and Chelsea breathed new life into their season.
QPR also drew confidence from that win on the South Coast and beat Sunderland 3-1 with the help of January signings Loic Remy, Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas, who all struck sublime goals. But momentum was lost with consecutive 3-2 losses against Aston Villa and Fulham that kept them seven points from safety.
Reading were similarly placed after four defeats in succession in March, the second of which – a 2-1 loss to Aston Villa – resulted in the exit of manager Brian McDermott, the winner of the Barclays Premier League Manager of the Month award for January.
As at the start of March, Villa were third from bottom by the end, level on points with Wigan, but having played one match more than the Latics. Two wins and two losses left Paul Lambert's charges precariously poised, although Sunderland were only a point better off and Newcastle United lay within three points' reach after losing three of their last four matches.
On 27 March, three days after former Southampton manager Nigel Adkins took charge at Reading, fellow Sunderland said goodbye to their manager Martin O'Neill, following a run of eight matches without victory. A 1-0 defeat by Manchester United, who became the first team in Barclays Premier League history to claim 25 wins after the first 30 matches in a season, proved the Northern Irishman's undoing and former West Ham forward and Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio was charged with steering the Black Cats clear of relegation.
In a bad month for Sunderland, leading goalscorer Steven Fletcher and club captain Lee Cattermole were both ruled out for the rest of the season with respective knee and ankle injuries while Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby’s luckless record with injury continued as the France midfielder suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury that sidelined him for nine months. The season was also over for Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen who succumbed to a shoulder problem.
There was brighter news for Norwich, who announced the summer capture of Sporting Lisbon’s Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, and Reading, who confirmed that Icelandic teenagers Tomas Urbancic and Samuel Fridjonsson would be embarking on a career in English football with the Royals. For Stoke City striker Michael Owen, meanwhile, it was time to bring his playing days to a close as he announced he would be hanging up his boots at the season’s end.
In East London West Ham United confirmed that the Olympic Stadium would become their new home from 2016, while in South Wales Michael Laudrup signed a new two-year deal with Swansea after being voted the best manager of the season to date in a poll conducted for Barclays by the League Manager's Association, who also rated Michu as the signing of the season.
"It was very, very important for what it means, but obviously nothing is finished yet. Last year, by this time, Arsenal made the difference of seven points to Tottenham and we know how it finished. Motivations are now different. We are extremely confident. They are on a low at the moment. We have to continue to do our job."
(Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas urges caution against complacency after his side's North London derby victory takes them seven points clear of Arsenal)
"It has always been a dream of mine to play in England and in the Premier League and I'm even more excited that I can hopefully fulfil that dream at such a great club like Norwich City."
(Sporting Lisbon striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel after agreeing to a summer move to Norwich City)
"Rickie Lambert is a very special player for Southampton Football Club. To have scored over 100 goals is a remarkable achievement, and one which he has made possible thanks to hard work and dedication. In my time at the club I have been impressed by his mentality and commitment to improving himself in training – attributes that have allowed him to adapt to the Premier League so well."
(Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino lauds his leading scorer after he extends his contract until 2016)
"The players have galvanised themselves – the team spirit, the concentration, the focus in every game. That's 25 wins in 30 league games, which is a record. That's all down to the efforts of the players."
(Sir Alex Ferguson after his Manchester United side beat Sunderland 1-0 to move 15 points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League at the end of March)
"When I got the call, I felt fire in my belly. I would have swum to Sunderland to take the job. With my energy I'm sure we can get something from the next seven games. I hope my ways give the team more confidence on the pitch. Players need to fight for the shirt – go out on that pitch ready to sweat and shed blood for the club."
(Paolo Di Canio, upon taking charge of Sunderland)
For March's results at a glance, click here