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Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle: Defensive errors cost Villa once again (video)

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Two seasons ago, Aston Villa played their second match of the season at St. James Park, and were comprehensively thrashed 6-0. While Saturday’s match, Villa’s fourth of the Premier League season, wasn’t quite as bad as that, but that won’t bring the home side much comfort. Paul Lambert’s men might have found comfort in picking up three points from three difficult matches, against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but the Villa manager will have to face some tough questions after failing to win at home against Newcastle.

One of those questions might be why the side failed to invest in a quality defender near the end of the transfer window, particularly after the early matches showed that the Villa still exhibited plenty of weaknesses in their defense. Instead, sticking by Lambert’s plan of “put on ten attackers and the defense won’t matter,” the club signed Lazio benchman Libor Kozak to complete their summer dealings.

And so it was little surprise that Newcastle was able to exploit the Villa defense and get in the first goal of the match. Loic Remy quickly learned how to slip past Matthew Lowton, and the visitors funneled their attacks down the left. A ball from Remy bounced off Papiss Cisse to land at the feet of Hatem Ben Arfa, who fired past Brad Guzan into the center of the net.

Unfortunately for the Villa Park faithful, the idea of being able to score just one more than their opponents didn’t quite work out as planned. Just before the end of the first half, Andreas Weimann had a fantastic opportunity to make the score 1-1. But despite his close range effort, the Austrian put the ball just wide. Just before the hour mark, Gabby Agbonlahor wasted a golden opportunity,

Villa thought they were saved when Christian Benteke stepped up to score his fifth goal in five appearances. Taking advantage of both the confusion surrounding the introduction of new Villa forward Libor Kozak, as well as a bit of a muddle from Tim Krul, who couldn’t figure out how to get around Agbonlahor, Benteke got on the end of a corner from Ashley Westwood and headed in the equalizer.

The visitors weren’t contend to settle for just a point, however, and it took only five minutes for Newcastle to take the lead once more. Again Cisse and Arfa cut through the Villa defense, only this time, Guzan was there to stop the shot from Arfa. However, the Villa keeper could only push the ball to the feet of Yoan Gouffran, who had no trouble putting the ball over Guzan’s head and into the top left corner of the net.

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Okore (Clark 30), Vlaar, Luna; El Ahmadi (Kozak 67), Westwood, Delph; Weimann (Tonev 88), Benteke, Agbonlahor

Subs not used: Steer, Bacuna, Helenius, Sylla

Newcastle: Krul; Debuchy, Coloccini, Yanga-Mbiwa, Santon; Anita (Tioté 74), Sissoko, Cabaye (Ameobi 88); Remy (Gouffran 63), Cisse, Ben Arfa

Subs not used: Dummett, Elliot, Taylor, Marveaux

Allardyce on Palace’s “great victory” over Boro

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  Sam Allardyce manager of Crystal Palace signals during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough at Selhurst Park on February 25, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images
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Big Sam got a big win, and he knows it.

Two days after tearing into his players for not adapting to his system, the Crystal Palace boss was glowing with praise after the Eagles knocked off visiting Middlesbrough in a relegation six-pointer on Saturday.

[ MORE: Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough ]

The win lifts Palace out of the drop zone, a point ahead of Leicester City who plays Monday. Allardyce is shaping his own Premier League table and he’ll try to lift a sort of Bottom Seven trophy after the season

From the BBC:

“It’s a great victory. I think the two-week break helped us refocus and that showed – today they made a lot of very good decisions.

“The three points are important as it puts us in amongst the pack, out of the bottom three and a bit closer to Bournemouth.

“I see the bottom seven as the Premier League table we need to try and win. If we can achieve more then that would be great but we need to make next week’s game against West Brom a game to win.”

Crystal Palace have too much talent to be in this spot, and Allardyce’s acumen as a “never relegated” manager has not been questioned much despite the Eagles falling into a worse spot than they were when Alan Pardew was fired. Is this finally their move out of trouble, or just a clean sheet against a Boro team that can’t score?

Conte delighted with his ruthless Chelsea machine

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Chelsea are a machine.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Blues beat Swansea City 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to 11 points as the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on a weekend off due to the EFL Cup final.

Facing a stubborn Swansea side, Chelsea went ahead through the excellent Cesc Fabregas and even when they were pegged back right on half time through Fernando Llorente’s header you expected them to kick on win the game.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

They did just that as Antonio Conte‘s men were relentless throughout and goals from Pedro and Diego Costa late on made it 20 wins from 26 games this season as their title procession continues.

Speaking after the game, Conte was asked if this win was simply another step on their way to winning the title.

“Yeah, I think it is another step,” Conte said. “For sure a good game, a good win and it wasn’t easy to play against them because I watched Swansea’s games against Liverpool and City and they played very well. I think today we deserved, a lot, to win the game. We created many chances in the game, we dominated the game in the first half.

“It is a pity for the goal we conceded at the end of half time. In the second half we started again and created chances with Hazard and then Cesc hitting the crossbar. I am pleased because now, to play the ball is not easy because the season is going to end. In this moment it is very important to have the performance of my players.”

The Italian manager also admitted that a pivotal moment in the game went Chelsea’s way. With the score still locked at 1-1 with 20 minutes to Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s trickery saw Cesar Azpilicueta handle in the box. Referee Neil Swarbrick waved away the penalty calls but Conte admitted the ball hit Azpilicueta’s hand despite it being very close to Sigurdsson and perhaps unintentional.

Moments later Pedro scored to put Chelsea ahead as they powered to yet another victory, their 10th straight at home in the Premier League.

Nobody looks like catching this Chelsea side as Eden Hazard and Fabregas dazzled in the drizzle at Stamford Bridge and Costa was at his clinical best.

A brief defensive lapse aside, this was a dominant and well-deserved win against a dogged Swansea outfit.

In the words of Jay Z – “On to the next one.”

That’s a trip across London to West Ham on Mar. 6, as games against Stoke City and Crystal Palace follow. The way Conte’s side are playing and finishing teams off, they could have this thing all but sewn by April 1 when they face Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

Men In Blazers podcast: Pochettino, Lloris discuss “To Dare Is To Do”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur and Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur after the goalkeeper was substitued during the Premier League match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on August 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
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Rog speaks with Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and head of coaching and development John McDermott in a preview of his film, “Premier League Download: Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare is to Do” which airs Sunday at 11 a.m. ET after Spurs vs. Stoke City on NBCSN.

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Watch Live: Watford vs. West Ham (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Troy Deeney of Watford (L) struggles to hold off Michail Antonio of West Ham United (R) during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Watford at Olympic Stadium on September 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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Vicarage Road is the scene for a Saturday afternoon clash between top half hopefuls West Ham United and Watford (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. EDT on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Irons have 32 points and the hopes of continuing an upward climb to the position they wanted back when this season began in August.

The Hornets are two points below West Ham, having dealt with a woeful stretch in form to climb back to within sight of 10th.

LINEUPS

Watford: Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Behrami, Capoue; Zárate, Deeney, Niang. Subs: Arlauskis, Prödl, Cathcart, Zúñiga, Doucouré, Success, Okaka.

West Ham United: Randolph, Cresswell, Fonte, Reid, Antonio, Obiang, Kouyate, Noble, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Feghouli. Subs: Adrian, Byram, Masuaku, Collins, Fernandes, Ayew, Calleri.