Eriksen returns, Ukraine in thoughts on emotional day in EPL

February 26, 2022 GMT
Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko of Ukraine, left, hugs Everton's Vitaliy Mykolenko of Ukraine before the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko of Ukraine, left, hugs Everton's Vitaliy Mykolenko of Ukraine before the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko of Ukraine, left, hugs Everton's Vitaliy Mykolenko of Ukraine before the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko of Ukraine, left, hugs Everton's Vitaliy Mykolenko of Ukraine before the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko of Ukraine, left, hugs Everton's Vitaliy Mykolenko of Ukraine before the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Manchester City at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

In a stadium in northwest England, two Ukrainian footballers on opposite teams embrace prior to kickoff, before being brought to tears as teammates line up for a match wearing tops displaying the Ukraine flag and the message: “No War.”

An hour earlier in west London, fans of Brentford and Newcastle unite to applaud the return to competitive football of Christian Eriksen, eight months after he suffered a cardiac arrest during a European Championship game.

It was a touching, emotional and at times uplifting day in the Premier League on Saturday, marked by messages of solidarity across the country from players and fans toward those in — and from — Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

Nowhere more so than at Goodison Park, where the football — Manchester City beat Everton 1-0 to move six points clear at the top — felt somewhat insignificant as City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and Everton’s Vitaliy Mykolenko, two Ukraine internationals, walked toward each other during the warmups and hugged.

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After taking their respective places on the substitutes’ bench, the players were seen in tears as “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by The Hollies was played inside Goodison Park. Everton players were draped in Ukraine flags.

Everton usually comes out for games at Goodison to the “Z-Cars” theme that features an air-raid siren. Not this time, as a mark of respect.

At Old Trafford, where Manchester United was held to a 0-0 draw by Watford, players from both teams came together before the start of the match behind a sign showing the word “peace” in several languages.

And at Brighton’s Amex Stadium, Matty Cash scored the goal that sent Aston Villa on its way to a 2-0 win and marked it by taking off his jersey, revealing a message to a teammate in the Poland national side who plays his club football in Ukraine.

“Tomasz Kedziora + family,” it read, “stay strong my bro.”

Meanwhile, Eriksen came on as a 52nd-minute substitute for Brentford in its 2-0 loss against Newcastle, marking a return to competitive action many probably thought would never happen after his on-field collapse while playing for Denmark last year at Euro 2020.

Eriksen has been fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator which meant he had to leave Serie A team Inter Milan, due to Italian regulations.

Even Newcastle’s players joined in the applause as Eriksen came on.

“I’m one happy man,” Eriksen said. “To go through what I’ve been through, being back is a wonderful feeling.”

FODEN WINNER

City left it late to beat Everton, with Phil Foden scoring the winner in the 82nd minute.

The champions opened up a six-point gap to second-place Liverpool, which has a game in hand and isn’t in league action this round because of its involvement in the English League Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday.

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It could have been different had Everton been awarded a penalty in stoppage time when City midfielder Rodri touched the ball with his outstretched right arm. The incident went to video review, and it was deemed there was not enough evidence to show conclusively that it hit him on a part of the arm that merited a handball call.

“I have a 3-year-old daughter at home who could tell you that was a penalty,” Everton manager Frank Lampard said.

SCORING COMBINATION

It’s official: Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are now the most lethal combination in Premier League history.

When Son ran onto an exquisite long pass from Kane and produced a great finish to crown Tottenham’s 4-0 win over Leeds, it was the 37th time the pair had combined for a goal in the league.

That took them past the 36 goals that Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba combined to score for Chelsea in the Premier League.

Tottenham became the latest team to rip through Leeds’ fragile defense that has now conceded 20 goals in five games in February. That’s a Premier League record for goals allowed for a single month.

Matt Doherty, Dejan Kulusevski and Harry Kane scored in the opening 27 minutes and Leeds’ players were booed off at halftime and full time.

RELEGATION FIGHT

With their defeats, Everton, Leeds and Brentford got dragged even further into the relegation fight.

They occupy the three places directly above the relegation zone but are close to getting caught by third-to-last Burnley, whose improvement in form and results continued with a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.

Burnley is a point behind Everton and two points ahead of next-to-last Watford, which rode its luck against Man United as Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post and had a goal ruled out for a narrow offside.

United stayed in fourth place, two points clear of Arsenal but having played three more games.

Last-place Norwich lost 2-0 at Southampton on Friday.

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80