I wouldn’t much want to be Rob Styles for the next forty-eight hours or so. It’s a bit early to confirm what on earth was going through his head during this afternoon’s match between Liverpool and Chelsea, but to manage to give Chelsea an absolutely absurd penalty and to give the impression of having booked Michael Essien twice without having sent him off was, frankly, careless. The fact that he hadn’t booked Essien twice wasn’t enough prevent sending Radio 5’s Alan Green into a state of apoplexy and, as anyone that has listened to Green’s increasingly hyperbolic rantings over the last few days will know, Styles’ subsequent explanation of what actually happened will make no difference in that respect. The match at Ewood Park this afternoon was a tale of two goalkeepers, with feeble displays from Brad Friedel and Jens Lehman ensuring a goal apiece for both sides. You may recall that I mentioned last week that Lehmann’s performance against Fulham will have trebled the cost of every goalkeeper in Europe – with less then a fortnight until the transfer window closes, you can add a zero to that figure now. Manchester United, meanwhile, have now gone three matches without a win and sit in sixteenth place in the table after a 1-0 defeat in the Manchester derby. To say that they over-ran City would be something of an understatement – City’s goal was more or less their only shot on target of the match whilst United ran the match in midfield, but they failed dismally in front of goal and allowed Micah Richards to run the match from the back. They’ve got twelve days to find a minimum of one new striker. Of course, it’s far too early to suggest that United or Arsenal will do anything other than qualify for the Champions League next season, but it’s nice to have a couple of weeks in which dream that it might be possible.
The Champions League clubs being granted an extra day’s grace after midweek matches only further emphasises the gap between them and everyone else. The runts of the litter were all in action on Saturday, with Tottenham chalking up their first win of the season against a desperately dreadful Derby County side. With Dimitar Berbatov injured, Martin Jol played Darren Bent, Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe, and it was surprising how easy Derby capitulated, considering that there had been talk that the match would be Jol’s last if Spurs lost. They’ll have to play better than that for the rest of the season, though, and they won’t play many worse teams than Derby. Leaders Everton (who I had been tempted to pick as possible Champions League place contenders) went down at Reading. It’s this sort of inconsistency that creates those twenty point gaps between fourth and fifth place in the table, you know. Wigan (whose continuing presence still fills me with inexplicable loathing) made it two wins in four days at The JJB against Sunderland, whose reckless tackling – they should have conceded two penalties before they conceded the two that wrapped things up for Wigan – will be a considerable cause for concern for Roy Keane. Tony Warner must be driving Lawrie Sanchez to distraction at the moment. On Wednesday night, he dropped the ball for Heidar Helgusson to score for Bolton Wanderers, and yesterday he allowed Mido’s tame shot to pass under his body for Middlesbrough. Boro went on to win 2-1 (though David Healey’s last minute shot that clearly crossed the line was fortuitous, to say the least). I still think that they will struggle this season but, at the moment, all the mediocre teams are beating each other. All of them, that is, apart from Bolton Wanderers, who capitulated at Portsmouth (Sammy Lee – now there’s a manager that won’t see the season out), whilst West Ham United won at Birmingham City and Newcastle United and Aston Villa played out what might well turn out to be the worst match of the season in the late Saturday kick-off. Another season of mid-table obscurity awaits.
I’ll get the altogether more important business of the Football League and non-league news up on here either later tonight or tomorrow morning.