Rants and musings from the magazine team
It Was a Bad Weekend For…The title raceWhile Alex Ferguson bemoaned the fact that Manchester City’s 2-0 defeat to Everton hours before his side faced managerless Reading at Old Trafford “took the edge off” his side’s performance, the Scot can’t have had many better days this season than he did on Saturday. Though Manchester United huffed and puffed their way to a 1-0 victory courtesy of a deflected Wayne Rooney shot, they now lead their nearest rivals by 15 points at the top of the Premier League and need only 13 more (from a possible 27) to secure a record-breaking 20th top-flight title.
Goodison Park, never a happy hunting ground for Roberto Mancini or Manchester City (they've now lost there for four consecutive seasons), was the scene for a 90-minute digest of City’s season with a few good moments diluted by passages of poor play, questionable desire and petulance, both on the pitch and on the sidelines in the shape of the sulky Italian manager.Mancini’s assistant David Platt used the post-match interview to complain that refereeing decisions had cost City dearly, and they almost certainly should have had a second-half penalty. However, given that Everton had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside and had a half-decent penalty shout of their own turned down, it seems as though Platt was indulging in a little straw-clutching.
This is the second week in a row that Everton have appeared on these pages, and it’s almost impossible to believe that this is the same side who surrendered to Wigan just a week ago. As predicted last week, an excellent Toffees’ win instantly restored any love lost for manager David Moyes following their FA Cup exit.
So is the title race over? Well, Manchester United have a 15-point lead with nine games to play, which seems unassailable – but bear in mind that they threw away an eight-point lead over the final six games of last season. Maybe now we’re clutching at straws.
Lee Nelson’s Well Good ArrestSimon Brodkin (who?), better known as BBC3 comedian Lee Nelson (seriously, who?) was arrested at Goodison Park during the teams’ pre-match warm up for pitch encroachment.In the guise of his footballer alter-ego Jason Bent, Brodkin gained access to the pitch in full Manchester City kit and proceeded to run through a warm-up routine while the likes of Joe Hart and David Platt looked on in bewilderment.
Unfortunately for Brodkin, security staff didn't see the funny side of his publicity stunt and he was soon marched off the pitch and turned over to the police. To make matters worse, the BBC quickly moved to distance themselves from Brodkin’s actions. He will appear in court – presumably under yet another identity – on April 3rd.
Same old Spurs?This time last year Tottenham Hotspur were in a downward spiral of form so severe that it would see them beaten to third place by Arsenal, eventually costing them a Champions League spot (by virtue of Chelsea winning the competition) and arguably accounting for manager Harry Redknapp’s job.
The last seven days have seen Spurs lose three times, starting with last Sunday’s 3-2 loss at Liverpool, taking in a tiring trip to Inter Milan and, most shocking of all, yesterday’s 1-0 home defeat to Fulham courtesy of a Dimitar Berbatov goal.
Certainly it’s too early to say a collapse is inevitable – Arsenal are still four points behind them in fifth place – but with a visit to Swansea next for the Londoners and an extremely testing April on the cards, AVB will have to wring every last drop of effort from his squad to avoid a repeat of last year’s heartache.
Championship chasersA routine 2-0 win for league leaders Cardiff City was made sweeter and sweeter as the weekend rolled on. Closest rivals Hull City were first to boost the Bluebirds as they conceded a late winner to the in-form Nottingham Forest to lose 2-1. Just moments later the final whistle rang out at Oakwell, where Barnsley's 1-0 win gave Watford their second defeat on the bounce.
Then came Sunday and Crystal Palace’s trip to the seaside. Though they started brightly against Brighton, Palace were undone by two quick goals just before half-time and another shortly after. The 3-0 scoreline certainly wasn’t reflective of the overall play but Cardiff, like Brighton, won’t care a jot.
All of which means that Cardiff enjoy a seven-point lead over second place and, more importantly, a nine-point lead over third. With only nine games left to play it would take a collapse of, er, Cardiff proportions to stop the Bluebirds joining rivals Swansea in the Premier League.
Blackburn, despite that goalBlackburn Rovers enjoyed a mini-revival back in January when Michael Appleton joined as manager after a brief spell at Blackpool. With only one defeat in his first five league games, not to mention FA Cup wins at Derby and most impressively Arsenal, the fans might even have applauded the decision-making of their much derided board.
But that unexpected glory at the Emirates is now more than a month ago. Rovers have been dumped out of the cup after failing to score in three hours against Millwall, and they haven't won in the league since February 9th, a seven-game streak in which they've only scored four goals – half of them in a 3-2 home defeat to second-bottom Peterborough.
Luckily for Appleton, nothing dispels bad feeling in Blackburn like a win over Burnley. Unluckily for him, they didn't get on in Sunday afternoon's derby – and although David Dunn's 95th-minute equaliser against the 10-man Clarets was celebrated wildly, in the cold light of Monday morning a point is only the thinnest of paper over the many cracks at Ewood.
With the international break causing a two-week Championship hiatus, Rovers will spend a fortnight three points behind their rivals but only four points above the increasingly competitive drop zone. Next up for Blackburn is the Good Friday visit of Blackpool that nobody is calling ‘The Michael Appleton Derby’.
Safe bets on StevenageBefore the 41st minute of their Saturday afternoon League One match, Stevenage had scored just one goal in their previous five leagues games, while visitors Sheffield United hadn’t conceded at all since February 9th. And when you start a story like that, there's only one way it's going to go.
Yet it isn’t just the goalscoring statistics that made Stevenage’s 4-0 destruction of the promotion-chasing Blades so remarkable, it's the teams' general form going into the game. Boro had lost eight of their previous nine league games as a half-decent season unravelled, while Sheffield United were unbeaten in eight and just three points off the top spot.
But the real story here is Daniel Lopez's 23-minute hat-trick. Lopez (born exactly one day after Wayne Rooney, fact fans) has been farmed out on loan twice this season, first to League Two Aldershot where he grabbed a goal every other game and then to Barnet where just last Saturday he scored a hat-trick in their 4-1 League Two win over Morecambe. Recalled to Stevenage following an injury crisis, the Spaniard wasted no time in laying his claim to a regular starting spot.
Where do both sides go from here? Stevenage can continue their revival, and perhaps Lopez his goalscoring exploits, tomorrow when they visit rock-bottom Bury, while Sheffield United will have to wait a week before they face the side who have replaced them in second spot, when Brentford visit Bramall Lane.
Edgar Davids' war on AccringtonAs well as eyebrows raising and jaws dropping all over the place, Edgar Davids’ decision to help out at Barnet back in October was greeted with one huge question: why? General consensus is that Davids, who has been living in North London for a few years, wanted to carry on playing football into his 41st year and genuinely wanted to help out his local club. But on Saturday we discovered the real reason: Edgar Davids hates Accrington.
Who knows what it is about the small side from the north west that has so riled the former Ajax, Milan, Juventus and Holland star. Maybe it was that infernal milk advertisement back in the 1980s; maybe he has a distrust of all things ‘Stanley’ after a mishap with a razor tool. Either way, kudos to the man for biding his time and finally getting his revenge.
Because on Saturday, during his side’s 3-2 defeat at Stanley, Davids was sent off against Accrington for the second time this season. His ire wouldn’t have been quashed by what his manager (himself) saw as a soft second yellow card. In the words of Davids: “The second one was absolutely not a yellow card because I didn't do anything.”
Elsewhere, results conspired to leave an incredible five teams, including Barnet, tied on 40 points at the bottom of League Two. If Barnet and Accrington are the unlucky two to be relegated this season, expect Davids to resume his one-man war on Stanley in next season’s Conference.
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