Well, I had an exceptionally busy weekend, so many apologies for not having had the time to update this place since Friday. First up, a bit of shameless self-promotion. This blog has, for whatever reason, been short-listed in a competition for me to go to Japan and report on The FIFA World Club Championships. Now, I wasn’t going to even post the link to it on here, but I’ve had an email from the organiser more or less instructing me to because I’ve had so few votes! So, jump to it! The link is here – just click on the button next to my entry and send me to the other side of the world! There’s a very good chance that I’ll have a massive panic attack about flying back, and end up stuck in Japan for the rest of my life with no money or anything if I go. You never know. At the risk of sounding like I’m bribing you all, I’ll bring you all back a peculiar plastic toy of some sort, in the slight off-chance that I make the final final short-list. Still, it’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part, and all that.
Now that’s over with, another weekend has passed by, with the usual mixture of good, bad and ugly resulting from the domestic fixture list. In the Premiership, everything went more or less according to form, apart from Arsenal’s continuing difficulties in settling in at The Emirates Stadium. Any number of weekend accumulators were ruined by a 1-1 draw between Arsenal and Newcastle United, a match which further demonstrated The Gunners’ inability to find any real consistency in their performances. They were exceptional last weekend against Liverpool, but huffed and puffed on Saturday in a way that suggested that they may even struggle to make next year’s Champions League. Liverpool were very disjointed again at Middlesbrough on Saturday evening – they dominated play but would have lost had it not been for Yakubu swiping at thin air in front of an open goal. Cristiano Ronaldo managed a similarly hilarious miss for Manchester United at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United, but it had less of an impact as United already led 2-1. Elsewhere, the vultures will soon be startling to circle over The Valley after Charlton Athletic lost 2-0 at Reading, and Chelsea, as dull as ever, clung onto United’s coat-tails with a 1-0 win against West Ham United at Stamford Bridge. I’m starting to think that away teams are going there with the express intention of losing by an odd goal and settling for having not completely disgraced themselves.
The Championship is shaping up for a cracking season. Cardiff’s lead has now been cut down to goals scored after they were beaten at home by Queens Park Rangers on Friday night and Preston North End won 1-0 at Leicester City on Saturday afternoon. Behind them are a clutch of clubs that seem unable to put any run of form together – although Derby County are looking impressive after a 2-0 at Luton Town. At the bottom of the table, Dennis Wise will have had the cheeky chappie grin wiped well and truly off of his face after Leeds United lost 3-0 at home against Southampton, and Sheffield Wednesday, who recently went on a run that pulled themselves clear of the relegation zone, self-destructed at The Ricoh Arena against Coventry City, having two players sent off in 3-1 defeat. The truth of the matter is that, looking at the Championship table, anybody down to Wednesday (in 17th place) could, with the assistance of a good run, make the play-offs. Wednesday are just eight points off fourth place.
Leagues One & Two seem to have settled into more of a rhythm than The Championship. Nottingham Forest were held to a 1-1 draw at in-form Rotherham United, but remain six points clear of Bristol City and Scunthorpe United, who both won. Again, things are tight below top place, and things are equally close at the bottom, where three points are separating the bottom six clubs. The Brentford chairman, Greg Dyke (yes, that Greg Dyke), acted with almost impressive speed in sacking Leroy Rosenior just an hour after The Bees’ 4-0 home defeat by Crewe Alexandra. At the bottom rung of the League, Walsall continued their good recent run in beating Hereford United 1-0 at Edgar Street, although wins for Lincoln City and Swindon Town meant that their lead stays at six points for now. At the foot of the table, Paul Ince must be wondering what he’s let himself for after his Macclesfield Town team lost 3-2 at home to Boston United. Their tally of six points leaves them ten adrift at the bottom, with the lowest points tally in the top five divisions. Derbies next season against Altrincham and Northwich Victoria await them.
Finally, in the Nationwide Conference, there was excitement a-plenty. Oxford United lost for the first time this season, 1-0 at Gravesend & Northfleet, a result that allowed Dagenham & Redbridge to close the gap at the top to just two points by beating Burton Albion. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel pretty hard-done-by if my team had gone unbeaten for three months from the start of the season, to be left with just a two point lead after losing their first match of the season. There was much chuckling in my household as the even more unlovable than before (more of that later in the week) Weymouth were beaten at home by York City. Last but not least, there were fireworks at Clarence Park, where Elliot Benyon scored St Albans City’s fastest ever league goal, in just eighteen seconds against Rushden & Diamonds. City raced to a 3-0 lead in twelve minutes but, in true St Albans fashion, ended up hanging on by a thread for a 3-2 win. Still, it was enough to lift them out of the bottom three. Hope springs eternal.