Perhaps the most instructive moment of last weekend’s Premier League football came at the end of the half-time break during the match between Arsenal and Manchester City yesterday afternoon. Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness had spent the previous five or ten minutes dissecting every significant decision made by referee Mike Dean during the first half and had arrived at the conclusion that he and his assistants had called just about all of them correctly. The camera panned back to the show’s anchor, who said “There’s been a bit of controversy,” as the programme headed into its final advertisement break before the start of the second half. Well no, there hadn’t, up to that point. Laurent Koscielny’s tackle on Edin Dzeko after nine minutes was a clear foul and the red card that followed it was unsurprising. By half-time, Manchester City were two goals up and cruising to a comfortable win, and just as unsurprising was the chorus of boos that greeted the final whistle. They’d paid a lot of money for that, you know. Being beaten by a better team is not an option at those prices.
So the officials did have a reasonably good afternoon at The Emirates Stadium yesterday afternoon, most notably linesman John Brooks, who instructed Manchester City players shaking his hand at the full-time whistle that, ‘They’ve paid 62 quid over there, go and see them.’ It’s difficult to remember a prior occasion when an official has so concisely summed up the feelings of the viewing audience. The controvometer was turned up a little when Vincent Kompany was sent off for a two-footed tackle which took the ball from Jack Wilshere, although probably with, to use the vernacular, “excessive force.” It didn’t really make a great deal of difference to the final result, though, as Arsenal were so toothless in attack that Manchester City could probably have gone for another hour or two without conceding a goal. The last time Manchester City won away to Arsenal, on the fourth of October 1975, David Essex went to number one the same day with, “Hold Me Close.” Perhaps Koscielny had been listening to that song on his Ipod before the match started and still had the words in his head when he tried to grapple with Dzeko.
Earlier that afternoon, Manchester United beat Liverpool by two goals to one in a thankfully outrage-free match which was notable mostly for how disjointed it was on a bobbly Old Trafford pitch. Brendan Rodgers’ possession football in the first half didn’t seem to cause Manchester United any significant difficulties, but Liverpool did at least rouse themselves in the second half after having gone two goals down and Manchester United were clinging on a little by the end. Fortunately, those who want to get angry about perceived bias from referees were allowed something to cling to a couple of hours after the final whistle when former referee Graham Poll pitched up on the Daily Mail’s website to tell the world that Nemanja Vidic’s second half deflection to Patrice Evra’s header was offside, presumably after having watched it forty-seven times and from a variety of different angles. We couldn’t allow a match between these two clubs to pass without some form of manufactured controversy, now, could we? At least Liverpool supporters, to their credit, don’t particularly seem to be rising to this particular form of (click) bait at the moment.
The weekend had started with Sky Sports switching its schedule from live football to a new reality programme called “In The Dugout With Harry Redknapp” – or at least they might as well have done, given the amount of camera-time they allowed to the Queens Park Rangers manager as his former club Tottenham Hotspur visited Loftus Road for the first match of the weekend. As it turned out, it was a good job that they did, as the two teams offered precious little of any entertainment value on the pitch over the course of the following ninety minutes. The goalless result did neither team many favours. Queens Park Rangers have drawn ten of their twenty-two matches in the league so far this season, but they need more than a point per game if they are to stay up this season, while Spurs found themselves deposed from third place in the table later in the day by Chelsea, whose four goal win at Stoke City was punctuated by Stoke’s Jon Walters, who chipped in two own goals and missed a penalty kick for Stoke. It’s funny because he’s not supposed to do that, you see.
If there is one aspect of the Premier League that isn’t funny at the moment, it is the form of Aston Villa, whose season over the course of the last few weeks has gone from mediocre to poor to abysmal to morbid. They were beaten at home again on Saturday, this time at home by a penalty kick by Southampton. Both managers subsequently agreed that the penalty kick given should not have been awarded, but this was not enough to let Paul Lambert off the hook, and if he hasn’t departed from Villa Park by the time of the club’s League Cup semi-final second leg against Bradford City, then he surely will should they fail to turn their two goal deficit around from the first leg of that tie. This result, by the way, finally dropped Aston Villa into the Premier League’s relegation places. One group of supporters who can probably be forgiven enjoying the current travails at Villa Park are those of West Bromwich Albion, but their travelling support at Reading learned a lesson in premature celebration at Reading on Saturday afternoon. Singing “You’re going down with the Villa” at the home supporters may well turn out to be true by the end of the season, but Reading improbably fought back from two goals down by win by three to two, and in the process West Bromwich Albion missed out on the chance to leapfrog over Arsenal to sixth place in the table as a result.
In the Football League, it wasn’t a great weekend for the top two in the Championship, with Cardiff only drawing at home against Ipswich Town and Hull City losing at home against Sheffield Wednesday, who pulled themselves out of the relegation places in winning at the KC Stadium. Bristol City manager Derek McInnes, meanwhile, is looking for a job this morning after his team’s four goal home defeat at the hands of Leicester City, meaning that thirteen of the current current twenty-four clubs in the Championship have changed their managers since January 2012. There is nothing crazy about that whatsoever. The new Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Dean Saunders might have been interested to see that his former club Doncaster Rovers stay in second place in League One after winning at Stevenage at the weekend – they and Tranmere Rovers stay four points clear of third-placed Brentford – but perhaps the happiest supporters of the second weekend of the new year will be those of Port Vale, who deposed Gillingham at the top of League Two in front of a crowd of almost 8,400 people at Priestfield on Saturday afternoon through beating them by two goals to one. Such a performance might even have provided some warmth to the Vale supporters who found themselves stranded on the M25 for almost three hours after their coach broke down on the way back from the match. As our own Mark Murphy said on this very site on New Year’s Eve, “let’s see Roberto Mancini win a title with Port Vale manager Micky Adams’ budget.”
And that was the weekend that was.
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