EPL New Year's Day Round-Up

Setanta SportsArsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all claimed English Premier League victories to begin 2008.The Gunners and The Blues each had London derby wins on New Year’s Day, while United overcame a plucky Birmingham City side at home.Liverpool and Newcastle United, however, faltered to start the New Year after disappointing results on Wednesday evening.WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 2Blackburn Rovers 1-0 SunderlandBlackburn Rovers shaded a tale of two penalties 1-0, as Sunderland's Dwight Yorke was sent off on his return to Ewood Park.Former Manchester United team-mates Mark Hughes and Roy Keane saw a lifeless game spring into action in the second half, with Brad Friedel saving Dean Whitehead's spot kick before a soft award at the other end by referee Rob Styles.Benni McCarthy took the responsibility and fired past Craig Gordon after Danny Higginbotham was harshly adjudged to have intentionally handled Chris Samba's shot from point-blank range in the 57th minute.Bolton Wanderers 1-0 Derby CountyBolton Wanderers left it until injury time in their game with Derby County to earn a 1-0 victory at The Reebok Stadium.The Trotters had the best of the chances in the game and even had the ball in the back of the net on 66 minutes before El Hadji Diouf's effort was ruled out for offside. Nicolas Anelka, playing possibly his last game for the club, was a threat throughout, as he led the line for the hosts and came close with a couple of chances.It had looked like Bolton were going to be left frustrated until the 91st minute of play when Stelios Giannakopoulos latched onto a long ball from Jussi Jaaskelinen to score the vital goal.Liverpool 1-1 Wigan Athletic Liverpool’s EPL title challenge took another body shot, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Wigan at Anfield.After a drab opening 45 minutes that saw a distinct lack of creativity from both sides, The Reds took the lead in the 49th minute, as Fernando Torres rounded off a sweeping move involving Steven Gerrard and Steve Finnan to claim his 10th league goal of the season.The home side had chances to make the game safe, but Titus Bramble proved to be their nemesis, as he popped up to apply the type of finesse to a finish not usually associated with him by rifling Wigan level in the 80th minute.Newcastle United 0-2 Manchester CityManchester City added to Sam Allardyce's problems with a 2-0 win over Newcastle United at St James' Park.Elano opened the scoring with a neat left-foot strike in the 38th minute, and Gelson Fernandes made the three points safe for City with a shot into the roof of the net with 14 minutes remaining.The Magpies had shown plenty of heart, but chances missed by Obafemi Martins and Damien Duff made their task difficult.NEW YEAR’S DAYArsenal 2-0 West Ham UnitedArsenal maintained their grip on the EPL lead, as they kept Manchester United at bay with a 2-0 win over West Ham in what was an engaging London derby.With Chelsea beating Fulham and Manchester United winning at home to Birmingham City, the onus was on The Gunners to retain their slender two-point lead and they did so in style, as they outclassed a West Ham side crippled by fitness problems.Arsenal went ahead as early as the first minute of play when Eduardo da Silva latched onto a through ball by Cesc Fabregas to add another goal to his impressive tally. The Gunners made it 2-0 on 18 minutes thanks to Emmanuel Adebayor, and they kept that lead until the end to collect another vital win.Aston Villa 2-1 Tottenham HotspurMartin Laursen headed into the back of the Tottenham net five minutes from time to lead Aston Villa to a 2-1 win at Villa Park, just when it looked like the visitors had rescued a point.They say a great striker needs only one chance to score a goal. Jermain Defoe has a great deal to do before anyone will deem him a great striker, but the Spurs frontman turned up after 79 minutes of hiding to power an emphatic finish past Scott Carson and level the game at 1-1.Prior to his goal, Defoe - in for Robbie Keane - was barely visible in an encounter that saw Villa hold a deserved halftime lead through Olof Mellberg's header before a quick triple switch by Juande Ramos saw the visitors come much more into the game. But in the end, they left Birmingham with nothing.Fulham 1-2 ChelseaFulham were proudly displaying a new manager in Roy Hodgson against Chelsea on New Year’s Day, but it was their long standing problems that returned to haunt them in a 2-1 defeat at Craven Cottage, as 2008 began with a whiff of déjà vu rather than the promise of a fresh start.Former Inter manager Hodgson – bizarrely asked if his latest job was the biggest of his career on Monday - took charge of The Cottagers for the first time in the West London derby and his reign was off to a flyer when Danny Murphy scored from the penalty spot following a foul by Joe Cole on Moritz Volz.However, Salomon Kalou headed Chelsea level on 54 minutes and Michael Ballack completed the turnaround eight minutes later when scoring a penalty after being tugged down in the box by Clint Dempsey.Manchester United 1-0 Birmingham CityAlex McLeish’s Birmingham City left Manchester United’s school of football bullied, battered and beaten, yet they did so with their heads held high after somehow limiting the champions to just a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez crafted a sublime goal for the latter midway through the first half to claim the points, but despite a plethora of second half chances, no further reward arrived.The Red Devils were quite superb as they pressed forward with slick passing moves and should really have won by a bigger margin.Middlesbrough 0-2 EvertonIt is the time of the year to usher in new beginnings, but optimism is a precious commodity for a Middlesbrough side dispatched 2-0 by Andrew Johnson and James McFadden for an unfussy Everton.Sapped of confidence and sparse of inspiration, Boro were easy prey for an Everton team who look set for a prosperous 2008 after rising in the EPL standings.Johnson opened the scoring for The Toffees on 67 minutes before setting up McFadden to kill the game off with a decent strike, with the Scotland international dedicating his goal (pictured) to former Motherwell teammate Phil O’Donnell following his tragic death from heart failure over the weekend.Reading 0-2 PortsmouthPortsmouth returned to winning ways following a 2-0 victory against 10-man Reading on the opening day of 2008.The omens had not looked good for Steve Coppell’s side after just three minutes when Nico Kranjcar’s penalty crashed against the post. Although Reading did not concede, The Royals saw Ibrahima Sonko red carded for his professional foul on Benjani Mwaruwari, resulting in the penalty award.Six minutes later, Pompey took the lead when Marcus Hahnemann blundered and Sol Campbell at full stretch prodded home. The points were made safe in the 66th minute when John Utaka raced on to a Sulley Muntari pass to double the visitors’ advantage.