Aston Villa's captain Ron Vlaar gestures to the fans after their win against Reading during their English Premier League soccer match at The Madejski Stadium, Reading, southern England

Crucial win sees Aston Villa move out of Premier League drop zone

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Aston Villa were the better team for most of this one, but it’s relatively common state for Villa – the superficial, unrewarded control that Paul Lambert’s team has often “enjoyed” throughout a troubling campaign. When an early Nathan Baker own goal left Villa to rue Christian Benteke’s early misses, Lambert’s team looked set for what would have been a crushing loss.

But today was one of the rare instances were Villa’s quality came good. A quick response from Benteke pulled Villa even, and when Gabriel Agbonlahor put the visitors up 2-1 at half time, Villa had all they needed. After 45 more minutes of Reading looking like the 19th place team they are, Aston Villa had a desperately needed three points, with Brad Guzan only having to make three saves.

Villa came into the match in 18th place, an astonishing station for one of the bigger clubs in English soccer. But their poor results and lack of improvement had pundits and fans questioning if they were destined to go down.

That made today’s match at Reading crucial. Not only was the game against one of the league’s bottom feeders a chance for crucial points, but Villa couldn’t afford to give Reading a needed boost.

Instead, it was the Lions that got the boost, one that came from the two men you’d expect to step up. Benteke has clearly been Villa’s best player this season. His goal was no surprise, but that it was Agbonlahor who scored such an important goal was apt. He is one of the few impact players left from the Martin O’Neill teams that serve as the reference point for the club’s current plight.

Those teams competed for Europe. This team’s fighting for survival. Three points at Reading took a huge step toward that goal, if for no other reason than it puts the Royals on the bring of the Championship.

With the result, Villa moves into 17th place, pushing Wigan into the drop. The Latics have a match in hand, having been pulled into FA Cup competition on Saturday. With a goal difference advantage, Wigan would stay up, should they convert on their match in hand.

But with nine games to go in the season, a three-point lead only matters so much. How the team’s playing is arguably more important. It portends to future points – points that could render Wigan’s match in hand irrelevant.

Villa took a big step forward today. The competition wasn’t fierce, but for a team that has often failed to convert control into concrete results, three points were huge.

Here’s Gabby Agbonlahor’s game-winner, courtesy FOX Soccer:

Miazga Q&A, as USMNT defender is loving life at Chelsea

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USMNT youngster Matt Miazga joined Chelsea in January as the former New York Red Bulls star has joined one of the biggest clubs in the world.

So far, it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind but Miazga, 20, is settling in well and is already raving about the “more professional” setup in the Premier League and spoke of his dream to always move to Europe in the Q&A below.

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In an exclusive partnership with Chelsea Football Club, NBCSports.com provides even more access to life at Stamford Bridge.

Sign up to the Chelsea Fan Club Plus now to read the full edition of this month’s Chelsea magazine. Members also gain access to Chelsea TV featuring behind-the-scenes action from the Chelsea training ground and exclusive interviews with Guus Hiddink and his players.

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Below is a Q&A with Miazga from Chelsea’s magazine.


It must be an exciting time for you, having just moved across the pond to start your Chelsea career.
This is a great opportunity. My goal was always to go to Europe to test myself against the best players in the world and against top-level opposition. This is the best league in the world so I’m looking forward to the higher level, getting better as a player and developing.

How would you describe yourself as a player?
I’m a defender so I like to win headers. I’m aggressive, I’m not scared to play out from the back and I like to use my passing range a lot. I try to communicate with the other defenders and be a leader on the field.

What do you expect from the Premier League?
Watching it since I was a young boy, everyone knows the league is very competitive and any team can beat any team, so the competition is very high and everyone is going all out to win their games. It is a very exciting league and I look forward to it.

Football really seems to be on the rise in the United States now…
It definitely is, especially after the World Cup in 2014 when we made it out of the group of death. Everybody became big fans and it is growing now, you can tell.

Coming from a Polish family must have helped your interest in the game along…
When my dad was younger, growing up in Poland, everyone played football so he gave me his tips and advice. Every year as I got older, I would play with different travel teams and different coaches would take control and help me, but my dad has always been there for me, giving me advice and keeping my mentality strong.

You have a full United States cap now and you also had an impressive tournament at the Under-20s World Cup, didn’t you?
It was a great experience. Playing with some of the best players your age is a great experience. Going past the group stage was another one – playing for your lives, everyone gives it their all, game are full of emotions and there’s a lot of passion. You are representing your country so you want to give it your best and everyone is watching back home. Obviously, it is not the full World Cup and that is definitely a goal of mine, but it is definitely a stepping stone in my career. We did fairly well for an American side, we got to the quarter-finals and lost to the eventual champions, Serbia, on penalties.

Is it fair to describe last year as your breakthrough season, given that you made 30 MLS appearances for New York Red Bulls?
Yes, I would say so. As a young player, to become a full-time starter and get all those significant minutes, that is a definitely a breakthrough season. From the start I wasn’t pencilled in as a starter. I talked to my manager and he wanted to slowly integrate me and establish me as I was 19 at the time, but there was an injury so I was forced into the line-up anyway. Ever since that first game I just played really well and stuck with it.

Kei Kamara, Columbus Crew SC

You played against Frank Lampard in a game against New York City, as well as David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. What was that like?
Yes, we played them in the Red Bull Arena. There were obviously some world-class players and every time you step on the field against them you want to do well. It was a good experience playing against top players like that – meeting them and competing against them. Lampard actually had some chances arriving at the right time in the box. He didn’t put them away and we were lucky he didn’t. He obviously had good quality on the ball.

What are your first impressions of Chelsea, having just arrived here?
It’s definitely more professional. It’s a huge club, so there are staff that take care of you and people within the club who try to make it an easy transition and make you feel comfortable. Your job, then, is only to work on the pitch and give your all. You can tell the magnitude of the club when you walk in, with the facilities here.

Everton 0-1 West Bromwich Albion: One shot on target, one goal, three points win for Baggies

during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park on February 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England - Getty Images
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  • WBA’s only shot on target goes in
  • Everton out attempts WBA 34-5
  • Baggies win despite 24 percent possession

Salomon Rondon’s early goal allowed West Brom to sit back and absorb Everton’s attack, and the Toffees couldn’t find a finish despite dominating in a 1-0 loss at Goodison Park on Saturday.

It was a trademark Tony Pulis win, as the Baggies blocked shot after shot in turning away a strong Ross Barkley performance that lacked finish.

West Brom’s 32 points are now eight clear of the drop zone, and just three back of 10th place Everton.

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Off a Stephane Sessegnon corner, Jonas Olsson rose above his mark to push a header back post. Everton keeper Joel Robles couldn’t meet the arcing ball before Rondon’s chest pushed the already en route offering over the line.

The Toffees had controlled the early goings leading up to their concession, and picked up where they left off after Rondon’s goal. But the Baggies sank back into their preferred pack of defenders, and Everton had to get creative. Ross Barkley was especially dangerous, but Goodison Park was left waiting for the final ball.

The Baggies barely got to halftime, as the Toffees’ fantastic, desperate work rate had them buzzing inside the box and winning several corners by the time three minutes of stoppage time reached their end.

The second half was more of the same, with Everton finishing the day with nearly 30 more shot attempts, but one less goal.

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Norwich City 2-2 West Ham United: Payet drags Irons out of first half hole

NORWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: John Ruddy (L) of Norwich City catches the ball under pressure of Michail Antonio (C) of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and West Ham United at Carrow Road on February 13, 2016 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
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  • Payet shines again with goal, assist
  • Norwich blows 2-0 lead
  • Hammers move into fifth place

West Ham United overcame another sleepy first half, with goals from Dimitri Payet and Mark Noble leading the Irons back for a 2-2 draw versus Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan scored to stake Norwich to a lead that looked set to boost them out of the drop zone, but the draw keeps them behind Newcastle on goal differential.

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It was Brady who punished West Ham’s lackluster first 45 with a 20-yard laser in the 55th minute.

And after Slaven Bilic made a pair of attacking substitutions, Steven Naismith and Hoolahan made the Irons pay dearly for a partially blocked shot.

Naismith’s shot deflected into the 18, and Hoolahan was within a hair’s length of onside as he buried a low shot past Adrian. 2-0 on two shots on target. Wow.

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A poor touch or bounce, your call, for Michail Antonio stopped West Ham from getting a breakaway goal as John Ruddy had time to parry Antonio’s rip in the 69th minute.

Payet pulled one back with a rebound goal 17 minutes in scheduled time, after Victor Moses caused a turnover and took a quick shot.

And the newly-extended Payet continued his season wizardry with great vision to spot Noble from the end line. It was 2-2 within minutes after Noble blasted his shot home.

Swansea City 0-1 Southampton: Sixth-straight shutout; Long’s header wins it

SWANSEA, WALES - FEBRUARY 13:  Southampton players celebrate their team's first goal by Shane Long (obscured) during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Southampton at Liberty Stadium on February 13, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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  • Saints now six games without conceding
  • Up to 6th, 1 point behind United in 5th
  • Swansea 3 points off bottom three

Southampton beat Swansea City 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday with Saints recording their sixth-straight shutout and Shane Long heading home the winner 20 minutes from time.

A tight game played out in South Wales but the away team had the better chances and Long’s flick proved to be enough to seal a fifth win in their last six games for Ronald Koeman‘s side.

With the victory Saints climb to sixth place on 40 points, while Swansea remain on 28 points.

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The first real chance of the game fell to Graziano Pelle but his volley on goal was saved down low by Lukasz Fabianski after the goalkeeper initially missed a punch when he came charging out.

Saints had another chance early when James Ward-Prowse‘s teasing free kick was headed just wide by Jose Fonte at the back post.

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The game then calmed down as Gyli Sigurdsson had an effort from distance which flew over and Ryan Bertrand‘s effort looped onto the top of the net. Saints looked dangerous on the break with Long having a shot blocked and Oriol Romeu twice being denied by brave Swansea defending.

Alberto Paloschi’s flick-on found Sigurdsson but he volleyed way over and then Long should’ve done better when unmarked six-yards out but headed straight at Fabianski.

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In the second half Saints continued to push forward as Romeu glanced a header wide and then Pelle had a goal disallowed as Fabianski appeared to drop the ball under the challenge of Fonte but the replay showed it was a poor decision by referee Jon Moss.

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Saints did take the lead with 20 minutes to go as Ward-Prowse’s inch-perfect cross from the right found Long and he headed home into the corner as Fabianski failed to clear the ball away. 1-0 to Southampton and that’s how it finished with goalkeeper Fraser Forster keeping his sixth consecutive clean sheet since returning from injury.

A remarkable defensive run continues as Saints also continue to cement their spot in the top six.