With Deepest Sympathy
About a month ago, I went greyhound racing at the Coral Stadium, in Hove. We had the best seats in the place, in the stand overlooking the finishing line. We had a (passable but nothing special) three course meal, and were given seven £1 betting vouchers, so we didn’t have to spend our own money to have a bet if we didn’t want to. The bar was reasonably priced, and we had a very nice evening out. The cost? £15.95 per head. I was reminded of this when I saw the final score from White Hart Lane yesterday afternoon. This is the White Hart Lane in which you have to leave your seat five minutes before half-time if you want to get a drink and have the chance to drink it before the second half starts. Considering the amount of money that Tottenham supporters pay for this, I think they’re entitled to something more than a 4-1 home defeat by Kevin Keegan’s wretched, wretched Newcastle United, and I certainly think that they’re entitled to the half hearted, already on the beach or negotiating a move to a bigger club performance than they got from the players.
This was the weekend that the Premier League season ended as a competition. Liverpool beat Everton 1-0 in a thrill-free Merseyside derby that more or less guaranteed them the fourth Champions League place, Bolton Wanderers opened up a bit of daylight between themselves and the clutch of clubs just above them by contriving to throw away a two goal lead against Arsenal even though Arsenal had to pay an hour after Abou Diaby was sent off, while Chelsea ground Middlesbrough down and Manchester United cantered past Aston Villa. Derby County’s inevitable relegation was sealed with a draw against Fulham (a result that did neither team any good – Fulham are now six points adrift of safety with six matches left to play), and Sunderland beat West Ham to more or less guarantee their safety. Much will be made of the three-way battle for the Premier League championship, but with all three clubs having guaranteed their Champions League weeks ago, one can’t help but predict that this will be little more than even more vacuous posturing of the sort seen last week, on Sooper Dooper Sunday.
There are probably a few supporters of clubs in the Championship that would be quite relieved for the tension to lift a little. Bristol City went back to the top of the table with a nervy 2-1 win against Norwich City at Ashton Gate, while a late Franck Songo’o goal cost Stoke City two points at Sheffield Wednesday. Those two stay in the top two positions, while Hull City consolidated third place with a 3-0 win against Watford. Lurking ominously in fourth place are West Bromwich Albion, who are now just three points behind Stoke City, and with two games in hand and the best goal difference in the division. You’d expect, by now, for Albion to have the arrogant swagger of big fish in a small pool, but Albion are showing as many nerves as anyone else. Yesterday, they had to come from two goals down to beat more-or-less-already-relegated Colchester United 4-3 at The Hawthorns. The team to watch at the moment are Wolverhampton Wanderers, who beat Charlton Athletic 3-2 in an extraordinary match at The Valley on Saturday evening. Leroy Lita had headed Charlton level going into injury time, only for Karl Henry to give Wolves all three points with a header in the fourth minute of injury time. The win put Wolves up to sixth place with six matches to play.
In The Championship, Carlisle United could only draw at Gillingham on Saturday, which meant that Doncaster Rovers, 1-0 winners against Nottingham Forest on Friday night, moved back into their rear view mirror, with Carlisle’s lead now having been cut back to three points again. In the unseemly scrap for play-off places, Brighton picked up a priceless point at Leeds, but Tranmere Rovers had already leapfrogged over both of them with a 2-1 win against Swindon Town on Friday night. Anyone down to Northampton Town (in twelfth place, and six points off six place) could still, with a good run, earn themselves a play-off place, though. In League Two, Peterborough United went three points at the top of the table with a win against Accrington Stanley whilst, at the bottom of the table, Mansfield could only draw their must-win match against third from bottom Notts County, and Wrexham, who lost 3-2 at Barnet, appear to have given up the ghost already.
Aldershot Town are now surely promoted to the Football League for the first time since the club out of whose ashes they rose, Aldershot FC, folded in 1992. They won at Stafford Rangers on Saturday while second placed Torquay United could only draw against relegation candidates Altrincham. This pair of results has left The Shots seventeen points clear with seven matches left to play. At the bottom of the table, a former Football League club looks likely to be relegated again – Halifax Town dropped into the bottom four after losing at Exeter City, while Farsley Celtic’s 4-2 win against Weymouth lifted them out of the relegation places. In the Conference North, Kettering Town would have been promoted had they beaten Blyth Spartans on Saturday. They lost 2-0, but a 2-0 home defeat for AFC Telford United meant that they still only need one more win from their four remaining matches to go up. Telford were replaced in second place by former Conference club Stalybridge Celtic. Finally, in the Conference South, Lewes might have taken the decisive initiative in their ongoing local battle with Eastbourne Borough. They won 3-1 at Cambridge City, while Eastbourne could only draw 2-2 at home to Weston Super Mare in The Battle Of The Towns That Old People Move To. Lewes are only point ahead, but have one critical game in hand, and with four of their remaining six matches to be played at home. At the bottom of the table, St Albans City moved out of the relegation places with a 1-0 win against Havant & Waterlooville. It has taken a run of six wins and a draw in seven matches for The Saints to manage this, and the clubs around them at the bottom of the table are still picking up points, too. The important result of the weekend saw Welling United win 1-0 at Maidenhead United, which dropped Maidenhead into the bottom three. Nervy times ahead, then, for a good number of people across all three divisions of the Conference.