Rants and musings from the magazine team
Simon Carter exposes the weekend's main sufferers...
The second half of the Merseyside derbyA first half of epic proportions saw the only occasion in Premier League history where both sides in the Merseyside derby had scored more than once before the break. By half time, with the score locked at 2-2, stats fans were poring over the record books for the highest-scoring clashes in recent years, with many musing aloud how many times one side had come back from two goals down to win the derby.
Then came the break. Given the way both sides had defended at times in the first half, you could forgive David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers for using the interval to tell their charges to “tighten up lads”.
But the buzz around Goodison Park, and the watching nation, told of a second half submerged in goals and incidents.
While the second period was not completely without its charms – and it would be very unfair to compare it to second-half proceedings at Stamford Bridge - the half-time substitutions (two from Liverpool, one forced from Everton) disrupted the flow of the game and reduced clear-cut chances to a minimum. Ultimately, the play resembled what we’ve come to expect of a Merseyside derby at Goodison (though admittedly there was a rare lack of red-card action).
But of all the people responsible for the poor second half, nobody will take as much blame as the linesman who ruled out Luis Suarez’s injury-time goal. Arguable though it is that the goal should have been chalked off for the climbing of Sebastien Coates, the official reason given was offside. In the words of Gary Neville, “the linesman bottled it”.
27,006 peopleIf ever a match was tailor-made for the coveted ‘Last Spot on Match of the Day’ it was Stoke City v Sunderland. While the Premier League season has so far thrown up enough plotlines to keep us talking until May – Manchester United’s bonkers defending, Roberto Mancini’s slow meltdown, Chelsea’s Fantastic Four of Oscar, Mata, Hazard and Torres, West Ham and West Brom’s impressive starts, Sunday’s brilliant Chelsea-Manchester United game – the teams in red and white stripes have been determinedly ordinary.
Prior to Saturday’s match, Sunderland and Stoke had played 15 Premier League games between them and drawn a dozy 10, scoring just 14 goals in the process (the only player to have scored for Sunderland this season other than Steven Fletcher is Newcastle’s Demba Ba). The game, which finished 0-0, delivered everything we expected – a game so bad it forced Mark Lawrenson to invent a new word for it: “towsy” (no, us neither).
A number of people in the Britannia Stadium on Saturday were paid to be there – the players, staff, stewards and police – but pity the poor 27,005 fans who parted with their own cash to gain admittance. There are no refunds for gritty goalless draws - especially in Stoke.
But while each of those fans hopefully arrived home in one piece, a huge amount of sympathy must be directed towards Marc Wilson, the Stoke defender who was carried off the pitch with a broken leg midway through the second half. On the bright side, at least he didn’t have to watch the final half hour.
Julio CesarOf all of Mark Hughes’ summer signings at QPR, the one that raised more than an eyebrow or two was that of Julio Cesar from Inter Milan. Why, people cried, would the man named the third-best goalkeeper in the world just three years ago leave the former Italian champions to face an inevitable battle with relegation in the Premier League?
Some see the Brazilian as a mercenary, tempted to London by bags of cash, while others commend him for leaving the Inter bench (the Milanese club having brought in Samir Handanović over the summer) in search of regular first-team football. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, you would have to be pretty determined not to feel some sympathy for him on Saturday.
Time and again Cesar was left exposed by his QPR team-mates as Arsenal poured forward, averaging a shot at goal every four minutes. Time and again, the likes of Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud were left with time and space to fashion a shot. And time and again, Cesar stood up and kept his team level.
The Brazil international had a fantastic game at the Emirates on Saturday and while he will be more than happy with his performance, he could be forgiven if he had spent Sunday jabbing furiously at his roast dinner having been finally beaten by an offside Mikel Arteta just six minutes from time.
Tangerine dreamsLast season’s losing play-off finalists Blackpool made a storming start to the season, winning each of their first three games. Since then things have not gone well for the Lancashire club, who won many friends during their solitary season in the Premier League two years ago.
Inconsistency has reigned and while manager Ian Holloway has said that “the only thing I'm focusing on is trying to play decent football,” he cannot be a happy man at the moment.
Though it’s true to say that a draw with Brighton, who sit above Blackpool in the Championship table, is not inherently a bad result, it is the latest in a string of disappointing returns. A home draw against Nottingham Forest midweek followed defeats to Burnley and Charlton Athletic, with only an excellent 3-2 win at Hull City at the beginning of the month providing light after heavy defeats to Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town.
Holloway will be relishing his side’s next four fixtures – each of the teams they face are in the bottom half of the table – but if Blackpool cannot find some form soon, he may be tempted to act on the rumours linking him with the vacant post at Blackburn Rovers.
Toothless OrientAt home against Coventry City on Saturday, Leyton Orient had 13 shots at goal yet still lost 1-0. In their previous game, against Colchester United, they took 11 punts at the target and were beaten 2-0. And in the four league games prior to that, they had a combined 35 efforts at goal and scored just once, in a 1-0 win over beleaguered Hartlepool.
The above stats prove that there is no mystery at all as to why Orient find themselves just two points above the relegation zone. Although manager Russell Slade said post game that his side’s profligacy is “one of those things”, if his misfiring side doesn’t start scoring soon they could find themselves in serious trouble.
Next up for Orient is a trip to Conference North side, Gloucester, in the First Round of the FA Cup. The perfect platform, fans will hope, to turn those shots into goals.League Two strikersWhile Leyton Orient have their problems finding the net, at least the issues are localised to Brisbane Road. In League Two, a worrying weekend malaise fell over the combined strike force of the entire division.
Saturday’s fixtures yielded three goalless draws, six 1-0 wins and only two games where more than two goals were scored. This is the league that is home to Tom Pope of Port Vale, Jamie Cureton of Exeter City and Torquay United’s Rene Howe, who have 34 league goals between them already this term.
Ironically Pope and Cureton were involved of two of the highest scoring games on Saturday but neither they, nor their teams, scored with Port Vale going down 2-0 at Northampton Town and Exeter losing 3-0 at Cheltenham Town.
It’s hard to believe that a week ago the same teams were busily involving themselves in five-goal thrillers (five of the previous Saturday’s games contained five goals), huge routs (remember Barnet’s cobbling of Northampton?) and tense score draws. With League Two taking a break for the FA Cup next weekend, fans will have to wait to see if their strikers can find their scoring boots once more.
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