Approximately seventy-three minutes into yesterday afternoon’s Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea, Luis Suarez slipped from the Anfield pitch and back into the dressing room. He emerged seconds later with his hair slicked back, wearing a black leather jacket and a white T-shirt, carrying a pair of water-skis, gave a thumbs up signal, said, “Eyyyyyyyyy!” to Jamie Carragher, and then he did it – he jumped that shark. Except he didn’t merely jump it. He somersaulted over it, soaring high into the stratosphere before landing six minutes into stoppage-time to score Liverpool’s equalising goal and putting a dent into Chelsea’s chances of making it into the Champions League next season.
Yesterday was a day of contrasts at Anfield. Before the match there was a minute’s applause for Anne Williams, the Hillsborough campaigner who lost her son in 1989 and sadly died at the beginning of last week, before she could see justice done in his name. The banners flying around Anfield paid tribute to a woman who had become one of the most vocal agitators for justice for those that died on that day twenty-four years ago and whose campaigning spirit will be sadly missed. It was a touching final show of support from the ordinary supporters of Liverpool Football Club for someone who had never ceded an inch in her quest for justice for him. That it should have been followed by the pantomime that it was felt oddly jarring.
Then, of course, there was Rafael Benitez. Loved by the supporters of the club that he left almost three years ago and loathed by the supporters of the club that he is in charge of now, Benitez came into this match with the weight of the world on his shoulders, with both Arsenal and – perhaps more surprisingly – Tottenham Hotspur having won earlier in the weekend, the pressure was most definitely on his team to keep up with the pace. It looked as if they were going to until the ninety-sixth minute of the match as well, before Suarez – whose earlier handball, let us not forget, had granted Chelsea the penalty kick from which they had retaken the lead in the first place – stooped to, well, if not quite conquer then at least draw parity with. But anyway, the next seven/fourteen/twenty-eight/one hundred and eighty days will now see the following:
- Comments from Liverpool FC forums from the one or two per cent of supporters defending Suarez for what happened will be posted on Twitter isolation that all Liverpool supporters found there to be nothing wrong with what he did.
- That one or two per cent of Liverpool supporters will refer endlessly back to the 2006 incident when Jermain Defoe bit Javier Mascherano in 2006 and wasn’t sanctioned for it, whilst not mentioning that the reason for this was that the referee saw it and viewed it as only a cautionable offence.
- Every time journalist mentions it on Twitter, they will be bombarded with responses stating their bias either in favour or against Liverpool Football Club. The following words will appear in these Tweets: “lazy journalism”, “agenda”, “Alex Ferguson’s mind-control machine.”
- Something about racism, probably.
- The FA’s punishment, no matter what it turns out to be, will be considered too lenient by everybody that doesn’t support Liverpool and too harsh by most that do.
- The world will keep on turning.
Elsewhere in the Premier League, meanwhile, both Reading and Queens Park Rangers now effectively need to win all of their remaining Premier League matches in order to avoid relegation after they both lost at the weekend, whilst at other end of the table, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs are very much as they were. Spurs’ transformation of their game at White Hart Lane against Manchester City yesterday afternoon was probably the most notable single performance of the weekend in this division, though, especially when we consider how tepid their form had been in the league of late. Manchester United will now be confirmed as the Premier League champions if – or, if the form book is anything to go by, when – they beat Aston Villa at Old Trafford tonight.
The Football League, even though its members play eight more matches per season than their counterparts in the Premier League, finishes next weekend, and the picture regarding who will be playing in which division next season is starting to finally become a little more clear. Cardiff City are the champions of the Championship, as it were, and they are now likely to be joined by Hull City in the Premier League next season, even though Hull dropped two points against Bristol City – who are now relegated – Friday night. Watford will almost certainly finish third, but the form team in the play-off places is Brighton & Hove Albion, who demolished Blackpool by six goals to one on Saturday to record their seventh straight match unbeaten. The other two play-off places will be taken up by two from Crystal Palace, Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest, who are separated by three points with just two matches of the season left to play. At the other end of the table, meanwhile, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Barnsley occupy the other two relegation places, but in reality any two from fifteenth placed Burnley down could still be relegated.
In the bottom two divisions of the Football League, there is just one match left to play for most clubs. Bournemouth’s win against Carlisle United on Saturday afternoon means that it would require something extremely improbable to happen for them to not get promoted, whilst either Doncaster Rovers or Brentford – who could muster just a single point between them on Saturday – will accompany them. The other three clubs in the play-offs – for this has already been decided beyond doubt – will be the division’s surprise team this season, Yeovil Town, Swindon Town and Sheffield United, while at the bottom of the table Portsmouth celebrated coming out of administration and having their points deduction added this season by beating Sheffield United in front of a crowd of almost eighteen and a half thousand people. They are, of course, already relegated alongside Bury and Hartlepool United, while Scunthorpe United will need a big win and for Colchester United to lose in order to avoid becoming the fourth club to be relegated into League Two at the end of this season.
At the top of League Two, Gillingham are the champions and Port Vale will join them, presuming that they can avoid a frankly unlikely looking twenty-eight goal defeat in their final match of the season next weekend. The third automatic promotion place will go to one of Rotherham United, Cheltenham Town or – theoretically, really, considering the unlikely sequence of events that would be required for it to happen – Burton Albion. As with so many other divisions this season, however, the real drama belongs at the foot of the table. On any other week of the season, Wimbledon would have been pleased to come from two goals down to nick a point away to the league champions Gillingham, but last weekend things didn’t quite work out like that, because Barnet’s one-nil win against Wycombe Wanderers dropped them back into the bottom two in the division. Wimbledon’s position is quite clear, though. They have to win at home against Fleetwood Town and, because two of the clubs just above them, York City and Dagenham & Redbridge, are playing each other, this would be enough to keep them up no what happens elsewhere. The flip-side to this is that their goal difference is so much worse than everybody else around them at the foot of the table that anything other than a win will mean relegation.
Finally, the Blue Square Bet Premier also reached its conclusion late on Saturday afternoon. Mansfield Town’s win against Wrexham means that the Stags are promoted back to the Football League after an absence of five years, while in the play-offs, Kidderminster Harriers will play Wrexham and Newport County will play Grimsby Town. At the bottom of the table, meanwhile, there was to be no last minute salvation for Stockport County second time around, after a last minute goal game them a sliver of hope this weekend. As things turned out, their result at Kidderminster would have been an irrelevance because of what happened elsewhere anyway, with Lincoln City winning at Hyde and Tamworth beating Woking, but they still lost by four goals to nil at Kidderminster in a match disrupted by crowd trouble and which featured a Stockport supporter throwing a punch at a Kidderminster player on the Aggborough pitch.
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