Boxing Day bonanza
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again even if you know it is bad for you, then the Christmas fixture list should be a real beacon of warning for the game in this country. While the sensible competitions around the continent put their feet up, we plough on with a gruelling schedule of four games in ten days even though we know it is slowly pulling our footballers limbs apart one by one.
Back in the even more insane days, teams used to square up against each other on Christmas Day itself then play the return fixture the following day. Not so bad if it happened to be Birmingham v West Brom, slightly more challenging if the authorities decreed Plymouth should face off against Middlesbrough.
This festive feast of football also gives rise to the age-old excuse for England's failures at major tournaments, because our poor millionaires haven't had the luxury of two weeks off over Christmas to flirt with arrest and scandal at a string of seasonal booze-ups. So while the rest of you lap up the smorgasbord of soccer, spare a thought for those of us who'll be using this ten day period as a reference point when we're slagging off the national team in June for their abject failure at Euro 2012.
A Christmas Carroll
One can only imagine the scene that unravelled during Christmas in the Kean household. I can't help but envisage a funereal atmosphere; the Blackburn manager picking lazily at a threadbare chicken (he was forbidden from eating turkey by Venky's) while a mountain of sprouts grew ever colder, an untouched goblet of Perrier steadily going flat. In fact the only ray of happiness will have come from the delighted look on Yakubu's face, who'd been asked round to hoover up the leftovers.
I also picture industrial strength gaffer tape round the extensive drinks cabinet, which incidentally, is also where Kean keeps his car keys. But as his demoralised team limped into Anfield on Boxing Day they were afforded a helping of seasonal good will by Charlie Adam's shanked volley that secured them an unlikely point. Still, Liverpool are a soft touch at home against crap sides, so this should be seen as two points dropped for Rovers.
Just like the millions of tons of grub that is chucked out once the family have staggered off home, Liverpool were wasteful in the extreme. Chief culprit, yet again, was Andy Carroll, who probably fancied a mince pie or two over the yuletide break but couldn't quite manage to get them in his mouth. Some irony then, that his chief tormentor was a chap called Bunn. Hmm, fruity.
Plugging the well
Two doses of reality hit Manchester City to taint their festive period; firstly, a message from the money men that the tap of cash that has sprayed almost a billion over the blue half of Manchester has temporarily been turned off, with Roberto Mancini told to start chopping his chiffon accordingly by selling before he can buy.
And, how is this for a double whammy? Just when the financial torrent has been plugged so too has their ability to score at will. West Brom became the first team to shut out City's sharpshooters (try saying that after a pint of Baileys) by insisting every single one of their players remain behind the ball at all times. Mancini even had the cheek to complain, unaware that Woy had merely employed an extension of the tactics the Italian insisted on using for most of last season.
Roberto isn't getting his scarf into a twirl just yet though because he should have a bit of cash to splash if he plays his cards right. His first port of call the second the clock strikes midnight on January 1st will be to flog Carlos Tevez to anyone stupid enough to take a punt on him, instantly delighting fans of every single club in England, who are sick of hearing about the little parasite and watching him play golf on TV.
While the duo at the epicentre of the most overblown transfer in football history, £85 million pair Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres, continue to demonstrate as much composure in front of goal as a headless marmoset, a chap who cost Newcastle precisely nothing (just the sort of transfer their owner likes) now finds himself second highest top scorer in the Premier League with 14 for the season - ten more than two of the most expensive players in English history combined.
Ba's latest goal confirmed a seventh home defeat out of eight for Bolton, and banished all memories of their win at Blackburn. They thought they'd finished Rovers off, only to find them lurking again like a turkey pardoned at Christmas. It was all too much for Owen Coyle, who delivered a lengthy sermon in keeping possession to his players via the media. In fact, their beleaguered boss was so bereft he started mixing his metaphors to hilarious effect: "When you shoot yourself in the foot, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth."
But despite Newcastle's win, despair lurks ominously round the corner in the form of the month commonly known as January. Ba will swan off to the African Cup of Nations, leaving behind Leon Best and Shola Ameobi, a pair more toothless than a gummy pensioner. Chiek Tiote will follow before his big-money move to Chelsea. Yohann Cabaye is staying at least, but only so he can agree terms with Arsenal on New Year's Eve. Yep, that's a reasonably big dose of Ba humbug.
I am Dowd. I come bearing gifts
You can tell who got a visit from the big guy in red and white from the Boxing Day fixtures. Not only did Manchester United get the biggest gimme in the Premier League - a home clash with Wigan - they also got a little help from ref Phil Dowd, who looks increasingly like his temporary role as Santa's chief 'milk and cookies gobbler' has added more than a few pounds to his waistline.
After poor Conor Sammon had thrust a flat palm into Michael Carrick's cheek - something I seem to remember Manchester United's fans wanting to do for the last year and a half - Dowdy turned the striker into Red Sammon. His error was bad enough but Old Trafford's chief cheerleader Howard Webb went one better, awarding Everton a penalty at Sunderland after Leon Osman stubbed his toe. One can only imagine he thought he was in front of the Stretford End and that the player in question was Wayne Rooney.
But it was a different story down at the Bridge as gifts were few and far between for AVB, his geriatrics being held to a 1-1 draw by Fulham. Fitting really, given that Martin Jol would be a stick on to play Santa if the Premier League's gaffers ever put on a Christmas play. AVB was forced to rule Chelsea out of the title race just a few weeks after he ruled them back in. In fact, he is doing some much ruling in and ruling out he may as well shake it all about and have done with it.
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