Last weekend, everything was overshadowed by Manchester United and Chelsea. Two massive clubs, with tens of millions of pounds at their disposal, both expected to make the latter stages of the Champions League, and what did they produce? Well, a great big load of nothing, to be frank. The charitable thing to say would be that they cancelled each other out, or that the pressure of the occasion forced a stalemate, but have two such expensively assembled teams ever played out such a stalemate? The biggest under-achiever of the lot was Andriy Shevchenko. Thirty million quid for that? Well, you can’t buy common sense.
The media circus surrounding the United-Chelsea match was such that everybody else had to take a back seat for once. There were one or two interesting results, but on the whole it was a pretty dire weekend for the Premiership. Arsenal had the worst weekend of all, getting taken apart at Bolton. Early on in the match at The Reebok Stadium, commentator commented that Arsenal don’t look the same side without Thierry Henry – now, while I can see the point of what he was trying to say, Henry has looked lethargic and, frankly, bored since last season’s Champions League final. In spite of losing 3-1, Arsenal created enough chances to at least have deserved a draw from the proceedings.
Arsenal are falling foul of an affliction that seems to be affecting a lot of Premiership clubs at the moment – massive inconsistency. Liverpool and Spurs, two sides in a similar predicament, but earned wins at the weekend, though Liverpool were reliant on some sloppy defending from Joey Barton for their goal against Manchester City, and Spurs had cause to grateful to Wigan for deciding to take half-time three minutes early at White Hart Lane yesterday. Two goals in the last three minutes of the first half turned their match against Wigan on its head – it was a comfortable 3-1 win in the end. The kings of inconsistency, Middlesbrough, drew 1-1 at Villa Park against an Aston Villa side that are starting to slump, whilst referee Dermot Gallagher was booed for… correctly sending Fulham defender Ian Pearce off and giving Reading a penalty which led to the only goal at Craven Cottage. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: who’d be a referee?
At the top of the Championship, things are even tighter after Cardiff City and Preston North End both struggled to goal-less draws on Saturday. Birmingham City joined them on 37 points after an excellent 2-1 at Burnley. Amateur psychologists the length and breadth of the country were watching the Wolves-Sunderland match at Molineux on Friday night, for signs of any lingering animosity between Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane. The results were inconclusive after the two teams played out a 1-1 draw. Elsewhere, there were fireworks in the Essex derby between Colchester and Southend, where three players were sent off. The bottom two divisions were largely predictable. In League One, the top three all won, though Nottingham Forest had to come from a goal behind to beat Millwall. In League Two, Swindon Town came from a goal behind to beat Bury, but they’re still barely holding onto the coat tails of the steamroller-esque Walsall, who stay seven points clear after beating Notts County. Finally, in the Nationwide Conference, the top two, Oxford United and Dagenham & Redbridge, are continuing to pull clear at the top of the table, though Oxford needed a late penalty to beat struggling Tamworth, and Dagenham had to come from a goal behind twice to beat York City. St Albans City managed to throw away yet another two points by conceding a goal five minutes into the four minutes of injury time at Stafford. Still, one point is better than none, I guess. My humour over this was largely lifted by the news coming from Kingsfield, where the still unlovable Weymouth were thrashed 4-0 by Woking – their third defeat in a week. In a season which has been characterised by remarkable inconsistency across the board, this is one run that I deeply hope continues for as long as possible.