Wednesday 04 June 2014
It was a month of twists and turns in the Barclays Premier League as this unpredictable title race continued to thrill and surprise on the way to the campaign's denouement.
Manchester City got the month started with a 4-1 victory over Southampton while title-rivals Liverpool had to rely on two Steven Gerrard penalties as they beat West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground. The stage was set for the eagerly anticipated clash at Anfield on the second weekend of April, and the match between the title rivals did not disappoint. City fought back with two goals in five minutes to make the score 2-2 with 28 minutes to go. But with 78 minutes on the clock, Philippe Coutinho's winning strike sent Anfield into raptures.
The win, which put the title race firmly in Liverpool’s hands, was made even more poignant as before the match, fans, players and officials from both sides remembered the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives at Hillsborough 25 years ago.
City's title ambitions took another blow two days later as they were held to a 2-2 draw at home to relegation-battlers Sunderland, leaving them in third place, six points behind Liverpool and four adrift of Chelsea, who had recorded victories over Stoke City and Swansea City, but with a match in hand.
Sunderland followed the impressive display at the Etihad Stadium with one equally as eye-catching at Stamford Bridge as they ended Jose Mourinho's 77-match unbeaten home league run as Blues manager with a shock 2-1 victory. Liverpool loanee Fabio Borini sealed the win, which boosted his parent club's title hopes, by holding his nerve to convert a penalty eight minutes from time.
Liverpool and Manchester City both won their next matches, against Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion respectively, before Anfield hosted another pivotal title contest, this time against Chelsea. The title race took another dramatic twist as Chelsea claimed a 2-0 triumph with goals from Demba Ba, who took advantage of a slip by Steven Gerrard, and Willian. Playing immediately afterwards, City held their nerve to reduce the gap at the top, and take the title race into their own hands, with a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace.
Elsewhere, the battle for fourth place was also hotting up and seemingly headed for Merseyside when Everton overcame rivals Arsenal 3-1 at Goodison Park. But momentum then swung back towards Arsenal as the Toffees suffered a 3-2 defeat at home to Crystal Palace. The victory for Tony Pulis's side was an important one as not only did it mean that Palace claimed a fourth successive top-flight win for the first time in 20 years, it also all but guaranteed Palace's status next season in the Barclays Premier League.
It marked an incredible turnaround in fortunes for the London club, who had four points and were bottom of the League when Pulis took over at the end of November.
While Arsenal found form at the right time, by closing the month with three victories from three matches, Everton suffered another defeat, this time at the hands of Southampton. That left them four points behind Arsenal with only two matches left to play.
Everton did beat Manchester United at Goodison Park and that result, over their former manager David Moyes, heralded the end of the Scot's tenure at Old Trafford. United, who were in seventh place, replaced Moyes on a temporary basis with Old Trafford legend Ryan Giggs. The Welsh winger got off to the perfect start as he guided his side to a 4-0 victory over Norwich City.
That defeat at the hands of United ended a dismal month for the Canaries, who lost all four matches in April to leave them deep in relegation trouble. Their opening defeat of the month, at the hands of West Brom, led to the exit of Chris Hughton as manager at Carrow Road with Under-18 coach Neil Adams taking charge for the rest of the campaign.
Although still in the drop zone, Fulham gave their survival bid a shot in the arm with wins over Aston Villa and Norwich City and a draw against Hull City. Sunderland, meanwhile, moved out of the bottom three after recovering from a 5-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur at the start of April. After that result, head coach Gus Poyet said his side needed a "miracle" to survive but the draw at Man City and victories over Chelsea and Cardiff left their fate in their own hands.
Cardiff, however, ended the month bottom of the pile and in a perilous position with only two matches to go after claiming four points from their four April fixtures.
The first promotion place was confirmed at the start of April, with Leicester City guaranteed Barclays Premier League football for the first time since 2004 when results in the Championship went their way.
Player: Connor Wickham (Sunderland)
Manager: Tony Pulis (Crystal Palace)
"It was a remarkable performance. We were incredible today. We showed so much spirit and quality. It's always emotive, especially around this time. We live with Hillsborough every day. The families and the victims are in our thoughts every day. It was an inspiration for us, rather than something that held us back. We will remember them again at the memorial service but today it was about creating a different memory and it was a wonderful three points for us." - Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers after his side beat Manchester City at Anfield.
"The reception was great. I've walked out of that tunnel so many times in big games and that's the best feeling I've had. I felt 10-foot tall, so proud, and the fan's reaction was great - just like it has been all week. Did I sleep last night? No, in a word. Leaving out players was the reason I didn't sleep. It wasn't nice. They're team-mates of mine. I've never had to do it before and I'll continue not enjoying it. That has been the hardest part of this week."
- Ryan Giggs reacts to his first match as Manchester United's interim manager
"We are safe but my first game when we went to Hull we had four points so to get to 40 points is a fantastic achievement for this group of players. But we owe it to the Premier League to remain competitive until the end of the season and we want to finish the season strongly and get as many points as we can."
- Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis on his side's guaranteeing Barclays Premier League football next season with victory at Everton
"The best team won. The team that deserved to win, won. Simple, in my opinion. We have no chance [of winning the Barclays Premier League title]. We were waiting for this match to be the title match, we were speaking about it for a long time but for some reason this match didn't become the title match so today was three important points and we need one more to finish third."
- Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho on his side's victory over Liverpool
"The season has been a success so far on lots of different levels and we’ve put an awful lot of hard work into it. It's not just this season, it’s over a long period of time, and it's not as if it’s job done now, it’s the start of the next chapter, so let’s see what happens. We have to recognise the contribution of so many people at the Club to get us promoted."
- Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson after his side win promotion to the Barclays Premier League
"It was a happy day and it was very important for us. Before today we were depending on other teams. Now we continue as we were two weeks ago, depending only on what we do. It was important to get a good start but also not to let Crystal Palace score. It was a very professional performance, but it's not finished. We have to play three games more. We will see in the future who will be the best."
- Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini reacts to his side putting the title race in their own hands with victory over Crystal Palace.
Barclays Premier League table on 28 April 2014.