Rants and musings from the magazine team
It’s hard to say which image from Saturday lunchtime’s catalogue of disasters will be hardest for Tottenham Hotspur fans to digest.
The vision of a forlorn Emmanuel Adebayor trudging down the tunnel following his early sending off; the shot of former Spurs man Sol Campbell applauding Lukas Podolski’s deflected goal that put Arsenal 2-1 ahead; the lingering camera that focused on a dispirited Andre Villas-Boas looking for answers in his Coaches’ Notebook; the sight of Gareth Bale tumbling into the advertising boards as his shot-cum-cross fizzed past the onrushing Jermain Defoe and out into touch, or any of the five goals that their rivals put past the recalled Hugo Lloris.
There’s no doubt that the 5-2 defeat to Arsenal (the second successive such result at The Emirates) will hurt Tottenham fans and each of the memories listed above will be hard to shake but, as their manager has said, Spurs can take a lot of heart from the loss.
Before Adebayor’s moment of lunacy, the away team were fully in control of the game with AVB’s adventurous 4-4-2 tearing into a shaken Arsenal. With Spurs a goal to the good (they also had a Gallas strike disallowed for offside) at the time of the red card, it’s not hard to imagine the likes of Aaron Lennon, Bale, Adebayor and Defoe terrorising Arsenal all afternoon, had it remained 11 v 11.
But in truth, Tottenham fans will just be looking to put the result behind them and bracing themselves for whatever thrills next await them in what already seems a topsy-turvy season, with four straight wins in September and October immediately followed by four defeats from five over October and November.
With back-to-back home games awaiting them in the league, followed by tough assignments at Everton and Fulham, it doesn’t look like the season will settle down just yet.
If unsackability were a word, which it isn’t, it would be the perfect one to explain the press obsession with Southampton manager Nigel Adkins’ job status. It must be, can only be, the unsackability of QPR’s Mark Hughes that has led to a media, desperate for stories of necks on chopping blocks, to speculate that the man who has led The Saints from League One into The Premier League could be facing the sack.
Though bewildering, the Adkins stories did lead to an early contender for pun of the season with Saturday’s game between the two sides at Loftus Road being dubbed ‘El Sackico’. And, fittingly, it was Adkins’ side who came away with three points after effortlessly dispatching the home side.
That QPR have many problems, not least sitting at the bottom of the league without a win, is beyond any argument but it would be hard to contest that many of them couldn’t be fixed by a change of manager. The popular discourse is to campaign for managers to be given as much time as possible but Hughes’ mismanagement of his charges can only end badly.
Who, other than Hughes, is responsible for letting Southampton’s Jason Puncheon have the freedom of Loftus Road on Saturday? Is anyone other than the former Blackburn, Fulham, Manchester City and Wales manager to blame for a formation that marginalised Q.P.R’s attackers while leaving their defenders vulnerable from almost any angle? Is the man who waited until his side were 2-0 down before making a significant change really the right man to lead Rangers to safety?
Most importantly, will Hughes’ assertion that he will not quit finally force Chairman Tony Fernandes into action?
One of the most popular narratives of the current season has been the perceived shift in power on Merseyside. Everton’s stunning early season form - which started with an opening day win over Manchester United and numbered just one defeat in the opening 11 games – contrasted sharply with their near neighbours’ stuttering start.
While the derby draw late in October provided few clues either way, there have been more than enough signs for even the casual observer to declare that Liverpool are far from ready to give up their crown as Merseyside’s top team. And at no time has this point been more nakedly addressed than on Saturday afternoon.While Everton were slipping to a surprise 2-1 defeat at the home of a spirited Reading, the Reds were busying themselves with a second half destruction of Wigan at Anfield. Two goals from Luis Suarez (and yes, his teammates did celebrate with him) and an icing-on-the-cake effort from Jose Enrique were enough to ensure that, for only the second time this season, Liverpool bettered Everton’s weekend result.
The Anfield men do still sit five points behind their blue rivals but, given that their only defeats this term have come to sides currently in the top six, those already drawing comparisons with 2004/5 (when Everton finished the season above Liverpool) may soon be eating their words.
On a day when reigning champions Manchester City finally found their true form to dispatch Aston Villa 5-0 (admittedly with the help of one extremely generous penalty decision), the score-lines that will have most pleased The Citizens were those at The Hawthorns and Carrow Road.
Chelsea became the latest victims of West Bromwich Albion’s wonderful start to the season, falling 2-1 to Steve Clarke’s men. Outplayed for almost all 90 minutes, the Premier League pacesetters looked unimaginative and brittle with Juan Mata and Oscar on the bench (presumably with Tuesday’s trip to Juventus in mind) and John Terry missing through injury. The defeat was Chelsea’s fourth consecutive league game without a win and leaves them four points off the pace.
Meanwhile, in East Anglia, Manchester United were up to business as usual – letting the opposition take the lead. Anthony Pilkington’s 60th minute header meant that Saturday’s was the 12th game in 19 in which the Red Devils have fallen behind this season. But, for the third time, United were unable to turn it around, with Pilkington’s strike remaining the game’s only goal.
Following the game, Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that Norwich were the better team and said that his side deserved nothing. If his relaxed demeanour surprised people, a quick glance at the fixture list will tell you the reason why – next Saturday his side host Q.P.R.
Posh Boys and Farm Boys
Last week started badly, and embarrassingly, for Peterborough United. News broke that four of their players had been fined and transfer listed following an unauthorised night on the tiles after the weekend’s 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, with two of the players cautioned by the Police.
While apologies have been made and with one of the players, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, has been quickly dispatched on loan to Portsmouth, the farce dominated the build-up to Saturday’s visit of Blackburn Rovers. Though it’s impossible to say whether there was a direct knock-on effect, the fact that the home side were 2-0 down inside twenty minutes possibly speaks volumes.
The game ended 4-1 to Blackburn with Jordan Rhodes netting the hat-trick which secured Henning Berg’s first win as manager. The result leaves Peterborough bottom of The Championship.
Posh manager Darren Ferguson refused to speak about disciplinary issues post match and instead applauded his team for “sticking to the task” and not letting Blackburn “get five or six”. Not exactly a rallying cry but words that may bring calm and unity to the dressing room.
Peterborough are joined in the bottom three by Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town who were absolutely thrashed at Leicester as five different goalscorers netted to leave the final score at 6-0. Following the game McCarthy admitted that there “were no positives” and that his next job was to “make sure it doesn’t happen again” (though he did say something similar after losing 5-0 to Crystal Palace recently).
Next up for the Tractor Boys is a visit of Peterborough on Saturday. With both teams looking to put an awful weekend behind them (indeed an awful season thus far), the clash could be the highlight of next weekend’s fixture card.
So far, this has been one hell of a season for Hartlepool United, with the pain kicking in before the League One campaign had even begun thanks to a 5-0 thrashing at Crewe in the League Cup. Fans of the Monkey Hangers have since had to endure a wasted trip to Leyton Orient (the game was called off due to traffic problems), a 5-0 hammering to Preston North End, a penalty shoot-out defeat in the Football League Trophy and a 6-1 FA Cup mauling at Chesterfield.
They even lost the rearranged game with Leyton Orient.
Yet at home, Pools haven’t fared too badly. Inhabitants of Victoria Park have seen their side draw with high flyers such as Swindon and Doncaster and take four points from relegation rivals Scunthorpe and Shrewsbury.
But on Saturday, that semi-decent home form was left in tatters by mid-table Coventry City. The 5-0 home reverse was the debut of new manager John Hughes who had arrived from Livingston on Tuesday after Hartlepool’s talks with Phil Brown had broken down. While it would be wildly unfair to place much, if any, of the blame for this defeat at Hughes’ door, it was certainly not the start he, and the fans, had hoped for.
At half time, the score was 0-0 (though in truth Coventry were unfortunate not to be ahead) but three goals in ten minutes early in the second half saw Hartlepool’s resistance crumble.
The result left Pools in disarray, seven points adrift of Bury at the bottom of League One. Though their next two fixtures are against sides also in relegation trouble, with almost half the season gone, it might already require a miracle for Hartlepool to survive.
Rock Bottom Wycombe
In League Two, Barnet and Aldershot made well documented awful starts to the season and dropped to the bottom of the table faster than Ashley Young in the penalty area. However, both sides have enjoyed good form of late with each of them losing just one of their last five games (Barnet, in fact, have won three of their last six despite being winless before that).
This is in stark contrast to the form of Wycombe Wanderers who have lost four and won none of their previous six games.
The latest defeat, a 3-1 loss at Northampton, saw The Chairboys fall to 24th spot for the first time this season and leaves rookie player manger, Gareth Ainsworth, with a huge job on his hands.
Ainsworth was given the job permanently following a relatively successful spell as caretaker manager and follows in the footsteps of Martin O’Neill, John Gregory, Lawrie Sanchez and Paul Lambert who have all sat in the hotseat at Adams Park.
With all of the other 91 teams now above them, fans will be hoping that Ainsworth is the man to keep Wycombe’s 125th season from turning into a disaster.
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