It’s kind of reassuring to know that, however much you pay footballers and no matter how much celebrity status they end up acquiring, they are, ultimately, as human as the rest of us. So it was that, with a couple of minutes to play at Fratton Park early yesterday evening, Rio Ferdinand had one of his occasional “moments”, and rolled a routine back-pass to Edwin Van Der Saar without checking to see where he was first. The Manchester United goalkeeper was, of course, not in the exact position that Rio had assumed that he would be in, and so it was that Portsmouth took an unassailable 2-0 lead. Suddenly, after months of idly threatening to ignite, the Premiership’s title race has had it’s bloody doors blown off, so to speak. United pulled a goal back in injury time (thanks in no small part to the sort of goalkeeping from David James which reminds you of why you should, in spite of your misgivings about him, be grateful for the existence of Paul Robinson), but they’d run out of time, and suddenly the gap at the top was down to three points, with United still to visit Stamford Bridge. David James, by the way, deserves some sort of award for his lavish facial hair, which was on display at the Portsmouth-United yesterday. I don’t think there’s been a footballer that has resembled both Hitler and Grizzly Adams in the course of the same season.
Chelsea, meanwhile, were doing what they’ve been doing all season, wearing down the opposition and finding a moment of brilliance to beat Spurs. Yes, yes, yes, the most exciting Premiership run-in for years. I know all about that. I might just be the only person in the entire country not swept up into a frenzy of excitement by it all. Far more interesting is the continuing disintegration of Arsenal’s season. Now, I haven’t done any research into this (pah – why would I bother doing that? It’s not as if anyone actually reads this), but West Ham never beat Arsenal, do they? I mean, even going right the way back to my childhood, Arsenal always seemed to turn West Ham over, even when Arsenal were rubbish and West Ham had a decent team, in the mid-1980s. Still, it was another big goal for Bobby Zamora, who is starting to slowly morph into the sort of striker that Brighton fans realised he could be a few years ago. At the other end of the pitch, Robert Green was, perhaps unexpectedly, playing his best match of the season and, suddenly, Arsenal are in serious danger of losing their Champions League place. I don’t need to tell you how much I’m enjoying this, do I? There’s now just two points between them and Bolton now (though they do still have a game in hand). Of course, I know that, out there in the real world, they’ll get their act together, hold onto fourth place and assume their position at the trough again next season, but we can dream, can’t we?
The bottom of the table is simultaneously starting to look a bit clearer and muddier than ever. Wins for Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa have probably done just about enough to edge those three to safety, but Charlton are playing well and West Ham have started to pick up points. Particular alarm bells must be ringing at Bramall Lane. Sheffield United couldn’t pick any points against a wretchedly out of form Newcastle team, and you start to look at them and wonder where they are going to to pick up the six points or so that they will need to steer clear of the drop. I can’t help but chuckle at this, especially when I think of them putting their reserves out in the FA Cup in January. Too big for the FA Cup, eh, boys? Think about that when you’re on the coach to Scunthorpe next season. I suspect that, with Charlton starting to pick up points, Sheffield United and the wretched, wretched Fulham could be the teams joining Watford back in the Championship next year.