Rants and musings from the magazine team
The weekend's Premier League heroes and villains, as chosen by James Maw...
Kevin NolanHenry Winter probably put it best - “Kevin Nolan, midfielder, goalscorer, captain, landlord...utterly immense for Newcastle United.”
In taking his tally for the season to six, the Scouse midfielder has already scored more Premier League goals in this campaign than he did in his last two seasons in the top flight (he scored five over the course of 2007/08 and 2008/09 - none of which came his first half-season at Newcastle at the end of that period).
Despite scoring a hat-trick, goals were really only a small part of Nolan’s contribution to the Newcastle cause on Sunday afternoon. The Magpies skipper was largely spot-on with his passing, and was typically happy to compete physically in those traditional tenacious derby moments.
Having appeared to go stale towards the end of his time at Bolton, and then failing to find form quickly enough to help Newcastle avoid the drop last spring, Nolan looks to finally be hitting the right notes as consistently as he was in his mid-2000s heyday, when he was regularly touted for an England call-up.
Would it really be so ridiculous to repeat those calls if he can maintain his early season form for a prolonged period?
Chris HughtonWord too for the Newcastle manager who, although we may well have expected to be among the fore-runners in the early season sack race, certainly doesn’t deserve to be. Like Nolan, Hughton acts as a steadying influence on a club and group of players who haven’t always found it easy to avoid controversy and upheaval.
If he can keep the likes of Joey Barton and Andy Carroll on the straight and narrow, and performing as well as they’ve shown they’re capable of in spells over the last two months or so, then he’ll already have gone a long way to being more Robson than Gullit in the eyes of the Geordie faithful.
Robert GreenWhile you could argue West Ham deserved little from Saturday’s match at Emirates Stadium, having come under extended spells of pressure from Arsenal, it’d be hard to argue that Robert Green didn’t deserve better than a heartbreaking last-gasp defeat.
The Hammers stopper appears to be recovered from his England clanger more quickly than predecessors Paul Robinson and Scott Carson, and continued his recent revival in N5, frustrating the title-chasing hosts for fully 87 minutes, only to eventually be beaten by an Alex Song header.
WolvesWhile their over-physical approach against Newcastle in September and the continued shenanigans of Karl Henry have seen Wolves described in less than glowing terms in this column, their performance against Manchester City was one worthy of high praise.
Mick McCarthy’s side remain in the bottom three, and with Manchester United and Arsenal coming up in their next two matches, these will have been three very welcome points indeed.
Branislav IvanovicAs Chelsea’s tightly-contested clash at Blackburn entered the final five minutes, Serbian defender Ivanovic looked like he was about to get the elbow from Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti, with rival right-back Paulo Ferreira stomping the touchline in preparation for a substitute appearance.
So it was good timing, then, that he instead headed the Blues into a late lead - notching his first Premier League goal in the process.
Blackburn had several good chances to go in front themselves at 1-1, but scoring late goals and winning when you’re on the back foot are hallmarks of champions, as they say. The difference between Chelsea and Manchester City, perhaps?
Blackburn’s goal netsNot quite sure an inanimate object can strictly be labelled as a ‘hero’, but it’s probably no more of a stretch than most of the other entries over the last two and a half months…
The Ewood Park ground staff wowed the world with their snazzy chequered onion bags – which had made their debut unnoticed against Sunderland in a match which rarely troubled either keeper – although sadly for Big Sam’s team it wasn’t enough to put off Chelsea.
Clint DempseyAs a manager, when you’re without your leading striker and top scorer, you’re going to want your other players to chip in with their fair share of goals.
Fortunately for Fulham manager Mark Hughes, Clint Dempsey – often used effectively in midfield during his Fulham career – has done his bit to fill the gaping Bobby Zamora-shaped void in the Fulham front line, chipping in with another two goals against Wigan on Saturday, taking his tally for the season to five.
But, as if that wasn’t enough, the American dazzled Match of the Day’s bewildered audience with some top-drawer football Americanisms - ‘side backs’ (fullbacks) and ‘on frame’ (on target). What an sweet, adorable little superpower America is, eh?
Mark ClattenburgThere was no bad refereeing in the build up to Nani’s goal... because there was no refereeing at all.
Nani goes down after contact from Younes Kaboul - nothing doing. Nani dives after he’s edged away from Kaboul - nothing doing. Nani clearly handles the ball for a couple of seconds while lying sprawled across the floor - nothing doing.
We all know the usual outstretched-arms signal for ‘play on', and Clattenburg at no point made it. He just - pootled off towards the halfway line with his back to the ball. When Gomes yelled to ask him either whether it was a free-kick, or where it should be taken from, all Clattenburg could offer was a shrug. We’re not entirely convinced a shrug constitutes a signalling of ‘carry on’, at least not outside France.
Clattenburg can’t just decide he wants to play advantage and keep it to himself, just like he can’t book a player in his mind then show him a second yellow later on with the player unaware he was already on a yellow. All of the confusion and the air of amateurishness that followed the incident came from Clattenburg at no stage making it clear what he was doing.
Heurelho GomesIt’s somewhat of a cliché, but still an accurate one - play to the whistle. The Spurs keeper will have to shoulder a healthy share of the blame for Nani’s goal, even if there were clearly several other players on both sides expecting a free kick.
Had the Brazilian held on to the ball then kicked or thrown the ball - after all, this is a guy who can throw the ball past the halfway line - then Spurs wouldn’t have fallen two goals down and would have prolonged their hopes of getting reward from the match in which they had performed impressively, particularly in the first half.
Roberto ManciniIt’s an indication of how quickly things can change in football that City are now closer to Liverpool than they are to Chelsea, when two weeks ago City were the only team who could stop Carlo Ancelotti’s side from marching to another title and Liverpool were the worst team in the history of the world ever.
The Italian knows what it takes to win a title, of course, but some of his tactical decisions this season have been peculiar. Case in point: his substitutions on Saturday. With City trailing 2-1 at bottom-three Wolves and the time ticking away, Mancini brought on full-back Pablo Zabaletta for goalscorer Emmanuel Adebayor, despite Mario Balotelli clearly labouring in the second half and Brazilian striker Jo sat on the bench.
Sunderland’s defenceFor a team managed by such an accomplished defender as Steve Bruce, Sunderland’s back four were an utter shambles at St James’ Park in a derby defeat their fans will be wishing to forget forever.
Sunderland were undone by clumsy, pointless tackle (from Nedum Onouha on Jonas Gutierrez to concede Newcastle’s first-half penalty) after clumsy, pointless tackle (on Andy Carroll from Titus Bramble as the last line of defence, leading to a red card). And that’s not to mention the sloppy distribution and failure to pick up Newcastle’s biggest aerial threats at set pieces throughout the second half.
This was an uncharacteristically atrocious performance from a Sunderland team who over the last 18 months have generally found something to take from a match, even in defeat. But not this time.
Compilers of achingly long and massively contrived Halloween-themed football montagesYes, ESPN and Sky, we’re looking at you. Is it really necessary? Every year? We all know what’s going on, it just seems a bit cheap and obvious. It’s not even a proper holiday, like Christmas or Grand Slam Sunday.
Blah blah blah blah, horror show. Blah blah blah, back from the dead. Blah blah blah, Attack of the Giant Aubergines. Wait, not the last one...
Still, we’ll be back when next weekend's Premier League action will surely contain FIREWORKS and, er, religious insurgents being tortured, hanged, castrated and disembowelled. Boom!
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