The Hype Factory
Such, it would appear, is the level of antipathy between Manchester United and Chelsea at the moment that the Manchester United players are now incapable of warming down on the pitch after a match at Stamford Bridge without some sort of fight breaking out. The arguments over who did what to whom and who threw the first punch aren’t particularly edifying, and took the gloss off what was otherwise a Good Day At The Office for Chelsea, who are continuing to chip away at Manchester United’s lead at the top of the Premier League Table. On the pitch, it was all surprisingly entertaining stuff (although the BBC’s Jonathan Pearce did himself and the journalistic reputation of the corporation no harm by claiming that a global audience of a billion people were watching – a claim that seems far fetched to say the least), with Chelsea deserving to win the match in spite of not playing terribly well. It was a bad day for United, and in particular for their reputation for being terrible, terrible losers. Alex Ferguson’s claim that the absolute stonewall penalty that won the match shouldn’t have been awarded (it’s hardly as if United concede a penalty every week now, is it?) and Rio Ferdinand apparently accidentally kicking a female steward in the tunnel after the match were, if nothing else, symbolic of the way that the modern game is played.
The Football League is beginning to reach its conclusion, but the weekend’s results did little to confirm who will be making up the numbers in the Premier League next season. Stoke City won 1-0 at Colchester United in the last ever league match to be played at Layer Road, whilst Hull City beat Crystal Palace (their likely play-off opponents) 2-1 to ensure that it will all go down to the last day of the season. Bristol City are now finally out of the race after they lost 2-1 at Sheffield United, which is all good news for West Bromwich Albion, whose inevitable promotion will be confirmed if they beat Southampton at The Hawthorns. It was a bad weekend for The Saints, who dropped into the bottom three after Sheffield Wednesday beat Leicester City 3-1 in the big match at the bottom of the table. Southampton follow up their trip to The Hawthorns with a home match against Sheffield United (who can still squeeze into the last play-off place if they win next Sunday and the teams above them lose) next Sunday.
The bottom two divisions have a greater deal of finality about the look of them. Swansea City are already up, and one of Doncaster Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Carlisle United (who have imploded since I talked them up on here) will be joining them, with just a point between them. At the bottom of the table, the greatest escape story of all time is still on. AFC Bournemouth were dead and buried a couple of months ago, but six wins on the trot – the latest being 1-0 against Crewe Alexandra on Saturday have left them knowing that a seventh next Saturday might just secure their safety. In League Two, there was only one more promotion place left to play for, and that was sewn up by Hereford United, who won 3-0 at Brentford. At the bottom of the table, football traditionalists will have heaved a sigh of relief after Notts County won to secure their place in the League next season, whilst Dagenham secured a second season of League football with a 3-2 win at Darlington. It’s now a straight fight at the bottom to avoid the drop between Chester City and Mansfield Town, though Chester (who need a single point from their last two matches) will be the hot favourites to stay up. The pressure’s on, though.