The League of late goals: Why are Premier League stars leaving it so late?

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The venerable Sky TV commentator, Martin Tyler, has christened the Premier League as the ‘league of late goals’.  This season with its proliferation of high-scoring encounters the ‘league of goals’ would be a more appropriate moniker.

On Sunday, however, Tyler’s description certainly rang true.  First up was the gripping Manchester derby where Pablo Zabaleta’s 86th minute goal looked to have earned City a draw.  The reaction by the scorer, and in the stands, in the immediate aftermath of that strike gave a clue as to why – beyond familiar reasons such as fatigue and teams dropping deeper to defend the status quo of a game – so many key goals arrive in the dying embers of the action.

It would have been understandable had Zabaleta, having crashed in a fine effort to bring his side level in such a seismic clash, celebrated with some largesse and generally savoured the moment.  Instead, he rushed to grab the ball before charging back to the halfway line, so demonstrably signalling City’s desire to chase a winner.  That positive intent was imitated on the home terraces as supporters vociferously encouraged their team forward.

It was enlightening that when Gary Neville was offered the chance to criticise Gael Clichy for his concession of the ball, which led to Robin Van Persie’s decisive injury-time free-kick, the man who over 19 years as Manchester United’s right-back placed a premium on assiduous defending, refused to condemn the Frenchman.  Neville considered Clichy’s desire to spark another attack so late in the game a risk worth taking.

The pundit’s castigation, along with that of Graeme Souness, was reserved for Samir Nasri’s ‘defending’ in the wall as the City man categorically failed in his duty to stop Van Persie’s effort. There was a certain masochistic entertainment in listening to the opinions of two players who would rather have been shorn of a limb than leave themselves open to accusations of on-pitch cowardice, about Nasri’s flailing leg, dangled limply in the air, as he sought refuge from the ball behind Edin Dzeko.

A bullishness to echo that late on at the Etihad Stadium was exhibited at Goodison Park where Everton scored in the 90th minute, and again in stoppage time, to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Tottenham Hotspur.  Steven Pienaar’s equalising header had barely hit the net when the news that four extra minutes would be played was relayed to a buoyant stadium.

Imbued with a fresh confidence and will, the crowd greeted that announcement with a guttural roar, determined that their side could elevate a salvaged point into a maximum return.  Any hesitancy on the part of home players or fans would have been understandable, with Everton having been the victims of costly eleventh-hour goals too often for their liking this term.  Newcastle United, Fulham, Reading and Norwich City have all benefitted from the Toffees late generosity in matches.

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