It is an obvious reflection on the extent to which Manchester United are running away with the Premier League championship that the most important match of the weekend was the North London derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. Much had been made over the course of the previous few days or so of whether this was a match that would somehow “alter the balance of power” between the two clubs, but most Spurs supporters have seen far too many false dawns – they provide, on average, two to three per season – to get over-excited by all of this, although the league table will make for particularly satisfying reading for those of a navy blue and white persuasion in that part of the world this morning.
As things turned out, though, Spurs did air a couple of their more neurotic character traits at White Hart Lane yesterday afternoon. Having been gifted two goals in three minutes in the first half by an Arsenal central defence which might as well have been made of rice paper and strips of parcel tape, Spurs wasted a handful of chances of their own and allowed Arsenal back into the match early in the second half with some chaotic defending of their own. Still, a granite-like performance from Jan Vertongen was enough to keep Hugo Lloris’ goal relatively free from incident, and Spurs are now back up to third place in the Premier League table with just ten matches of the league season left to play. Spurs, however, have a tricky run of fixtures coming up which will offer Arsenal supporters with a little hope that even this deficit could be overturned, although whether Arsenal could be relied upon to take advantage of whatever slip-ups Spurs may make over the coming weeks remains, on the current evidence available, a moot point.
The third part of this desperate London triumvirate, meanwhile, had issues that they needed to take care of on Saturday afternoon. Rafael Benitez’s minor meltdown after Chelsea’s FA Cup win at Middlesbrough during the week – and it was only a minor one; it’s not like he was holding the still lifeless body of a recently decapitated cat, pensively stroking a 9mm pistol or whatever – was always likely to make for a pensive atmosphere for their match against West Bromwich Albion, but the afternoon passed off without John Terry turning up dressed up as General Pinochet and issuing a communique confirming that he had “taken control” of the first team or Roman Abramovich chasing Benitez around the pitch with a sharpened corner flag, and under the circumstances that and a win that was a good deal more convincing than the eventual one-nil scoreline suggested was probably about as much as Chelsea supporters might have hoped for, considering everything. Chelsea rose briefly to third place in the table with these three points, but they didn’t stay there for very long and now find themselves back in fourth place, sandwiched between the feuding North London rivals. A London club sandwich, if you like.
At the other end of the Premier League table, meanwhile, another Londoner, Harry Redknapp, was expected to get a rough reception at Southampton upon his return with Queens Park Rangers following taboid stories concerning the goings-on during a club get-away in Dubai last month. ‘It was a disgusting story in the paper,’ Redknapp said after the match, ‘It was completely full of untruths,’ before adding, somewhat cryptically, that, ‘I know where the story come from, I know who done the story and they are trying to make problems for the football club.’ Still, it was a good day at the office for Redknapp, whose team won the game by two goals to one and remain just about in touch with the clubs just above them at the foot of the Premier League table. Reading, meanwhile, were beaten by Everton and Wigan Athletic were thrashed at home by Luis Suarez in the Saturday evening, so it wasn’t that bad a weekend for Queens Park Rangers Football Club, all told.
At the top of the Football League Championship, meanwhile, there are signs that the discontent away from the pitch at Cardiff may be starting to take something of a toll on it. Cardiff lost to Middlesbrough on Saturday, while Hull City closed the gap at the top of the table to five points after they thrashed Birmingham City at the KC Stadium. Watford dropped two points on Friday night after conceding at injury time equaliser at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but Wolves dropped a place in the table after Peterborough United surprisingly won at Blackburn Rovers. They were, at least, spared the ignominy of dropping to the very bottom of the table after Barnsley were beaten at gome by Bolton Wanderers. Stil, though, it will have been three months since Wolves last won a match of any description by next weekend, and a ssecond successive relegation beckons unless manager Dean Saunders can somehow extract something from a dysfunctional group of players who have offered little of substance of late.
If the sound of party poppers was in the air anywhere on Saturday afternoon, however, then Crewe Alexandra’s Gresty Road was probably its source. Portsmouth hadn’t won any of their previous twenty-three matches going back to a home win against Shrewsbury Town in October, but this weekend they finally managed a win. It may be too late to save their season on the pitch – the club is eleven points from the dotted line at the bottom of the League One table – and tensions at Fratton Park have largely been directed away from the pitch over the last few months, but only those with the coldest hearts could not have not felt something for those that have kept the faith as the club has plummeted through the divisions at this unwanted run finally coming to an end. Doncaster Rovers stay at the top of the division after a home win against Hartlepool United, with Sheffield United in second place and Swindon Town in third.
Finally, it’s we’ll hear a lot about the fixture congestion caused by the inclement weather conditions of the last couple of months over the next few weeks or so, but there are few clubs that will have as much cause to look mournfully at the fixture list than Guernsey FC of the Combined Counties League might do this week. Guersney have only played nineteen league matches so far this season and they have twenty-three left to play. On top of this, they travelled to the West Midlands on Saturday to play Walsall Wood in the quarter-finals of the FA Vase, only to come away with a goalless draw and a home replay this week. Should they win this match, they will have a two-legged semi-final to play in order to book a place at Wembley, meaning that, although we are now into March Guernsey may still have to play twenty-six matches before the end of this season. Considering the travelling that they’ll have to do from the Channel Islands between now and then, it is likely to be a long couple of months before the summer holidays come for their players.
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