Rants and musings from the magazine team
It Was a Bad Weekend For…
Balotelli, Nasri and a fistful of coinsFans of irony (and let’s face it, who isn’t a fan of irony?) had lots to savour in the Sunday clash at the Etihad Stadium between Premier League champions Manchester City and league leaders Manchester United.
How ironic that United, the team who have repeatedly given their opposition a head start this season only to pull it back in heartbreaking fashion, threw away a two-goal advantage to see 0-2 turn to 2-2 with only minutes left on the clock.
How ironic that City, the team who won the Premier League in May with an injury-time goal to turn a 2-2 into a 3-2 victory, should lose this contest to an injury-time goal that decided a five-goal thriller.
But yesterday served up much more than delicious slices of irony pie; there were enough subplots to distract even Alanis Morissette from the situational irony. First there was the latest chapter from Why Always Me: The Autobiography of Mario Balotelli; the Italian's woeful performance (the first 10 minutes aside) was brought to an end by an apoplectic Roberto Mancini following a misjudged back-heel early in the second half.
Then there was the mystery of the disappearing Samir Nasri, who shrunk and shrunk from his position in the defensive wall facing Robin van Persie’s 92nd minute free-kick until there was nothing left but his leg. Unfortunately for young Samir, that leg deflected RVP’s shot away from the diving Joe Hart into the corner of his team’s net.
But what of City’s fans? The actions of a few fans at the Etihad seemed to suggest that Manchester City simply have so much money these days that their fans have no option other than to fling handfuls of change onto the pitch. Of course, we shouldn’t make light of the situation, especially given that one of the coins caught Rio Ferdinand above the eye and was an unsavoury end to a fantastic spectacle.
The result leaves Manchester United six points clear at the top of the league, and we all know that United really get going after Christmas. Mind you, they said City would prosper now they were out of Europe…
The Baggies' bounceAs easy (and tempting) as it would be to award West Bromwich Albion a place in Bad Weekend based simply on the fact that they lost to Arsenal, they are here by virtue of now having lost three games in a row following a tremendous start to the season.
The 2-0 loss at The Emirates does come with a sprinkle of caveats, courtesy of a referee who must now be on Arsene Wenger’s Christmas card list. Santi Cazorla was lucky to escape injury after the gust of wind generated by Steven Reid’s boot gliding past his ankle caused him to tumble in the box; sympathetic ref Mike Jones gave the penalty.
Amends could have been made had Jones given a free-kick to WBA in the 64th minute following Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s push on Goran Popov instead of allowing the Arsenal man to plough forward into the penalty box where he was brought down by a desperate Chris Brunt.
So two penalties and two justifiable grievances for the Midlands club, who still sit above their opposition in the table, but the loss on Saturday comes on the back of consecutive defeats: a first-half horror show in a 3-1 loss at Swansea and the usual home defeat to Stoke.
If Steve Clarke wants to resurrect the Baggies’ impressive early-season form he will be grateful for back-to-back home games – against West Ham and Norwich – before a Boxing Day trip to QPR. Perhaps they'll get their bounce back after all.
Woeful WednesdayAmong the usual footballing clichés – 2-0 is a dangerous score, it’s important to score when you’re on top, you can never write off Germany – is the one about beating the teams around you during a relegation scrap.
And of course that one would seem to hold a bit of water. After all, with points hard to come by at the bottom of the table, where better to gain them than by stealing them from your rivals? Sheffield Wednesday took this to heart a few weeks ago when they recorded back-to-back wins against the perennially awful Ipswich (the last game before Mick McCarthy rode in) and Peterborough.
Those wins left the Owls on 15 points from 14 games. Not a great return, admittedly, but not too bad for a recently promoted team looking for consolidation.
Fast forward to this festive period while some things have changed, others have remained the same. Wednesday are no longer in the business of beating those teams around them, as proven by Saturday’s 3-2 loss to a Bristol City side who were tied on points with them. And their points tally has, on the back of seven consecutive league defeats, stayed resolutely on 15.
There’s little doubt that Dave Jones is a fine manager and most Wednesday fans would probably still say that he is the man for the job. Indeed, had Saturday’s fixtures been frozen at 84 minutes, the Owls would have won 2-1 and instead we'd be talking about Milwall’s surprise 3-0 defeat to McCarthy's Ipswich.
But of course the game didn’t stop after 84 minutes and Wednesday are in real trouble. Next up is Barnsley, who are just one place above their hated South Yorkshire neighbours. Now, what was that about beating the teams around you?
Winless WalsallLeague One's leading Sheffield Wednesday tribute act Walsall started the season in pretty good form, striding up the table on the back of five wins from their opening nine games before collapsing in an autumnal funk which has seen them glide down the table: they now sit just three points above the relegation zone.
In what was a horrible weekend for Dean Smith's Saddlers, they made the short journey to face near-neighbours Coventry who hit five goals for the second time in a handful of weeks to run out 5-1 victors.
In an afternoon of few positives for Walsall (they did at least take the lead) they can take solace from the news that not a single team in the bottom eight registered a win.
The pre-season relegation tips confounded critics with their early-season form, and recent draws against Tranmere and Crawley suggest that the rot might not be terminal – but if manager Dean Smith can't sort the side out soon, it could be a long winter in the Midlands.
Wasteful RochdaleIn April Exeter travelled to Rochdale for a game that both needed to win to avoid relegation from League One. The resultant match was one of the best of the season with Exeter forging a 2-0 lead only to throw it away by conceding three goals in the last 11 minutes.
Of course, both sides were eventually relegated and League Two is all the richer for it – a sentiment proven by Saturday’s hugely entertaining clash.
Exeter again found themselves with a 2-0 lead but this time had the good sense to add a third before half -ime. This left the home side with a supremely difficult task in the second half but, perhaps with inspiration from last season, they took to their task with gusto.
Despite running in 31 shots at goal Dale were unable to claw back the deficit, running out of time at 3-2 (though there was still time at the end for double goalscorer Terry Gornell to be sent off for a kick).
This was Rochdale’s third consecutive defeat in a row and one that leaves them just outside the play-off places. Fans at Spotland will hope this lapse doesn’t turn into a collapse, but with 14 goals scored in the last three league games involving Rochdale, neutrals won’t care what the result is as long as the net continues to bulge.
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