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Jan 3, 2012

Warnock fired, Scholes re-hired

Few of us like Mondays but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.

Ginger Ninja stealth

And just like that, with a ginger flash, he was back. Clearly it took Manchester United less than half a season to realise they couldn't replace Paul Scholes, so they decided to bring Paul Scholes back instead. Presumably this now means we can dispense with the notion that Darron Gibson is at Manchester United for anything other than a water-carrier role (and he keeps dropping that).

After the bombshell that the Ginger Ninja was back, my surprise peaked when I thought I saw Owen Hargreaves warming up alongside Scholes in the second half - for I had no idea he had come out of retirement as well. What with Thierry Henry returning to Arsenal perhaps it is time for Tottenham to re-sign Nayim or for that cousin of George Weah to have another trial at Southampton.

Fergie made a few changes against City, but perhaps his most prudent tactic was to replace Howard Webb with Chris Foy. The Roonatic had already put United ahead with a quality nod before he successfully convinced Foy that Vincent Kompany's ball-winning, opponent-avoiding tackle was worthy of a red card. But rather than ruin the contest, his erroneous dismissal turned it into a humdinger, as Scholes' introduction helped City back into the match.

At the end, Fergie was the one unleashing the hairdryer while a proud Mancini claimed City were a shoo-in for the title after such a spirited display. Don't you just love the FA Cup?

Warnock and out

Apparently, a 1-1 draw against a football club that have only existed for seven years is cause for immediate sacking. QPR owner Tony Fernandes is new to this football lark so no doubt his advisors told him the way to stamp authority on a club is to perform a merciless firing. And who better to axe than your big-gobbed gaffer Neil Warnock?

Warnock blamed the lateness of Fernandes' takeover and arrival with funds for his ultimate fate, failing completely to mention that no-one put a gun to his head and forced him to sign Kieron Dyer. He did manage to acquire Joey Barton and make him captain, though, with that faith 'repaid' by the midfielder in the form of a headbutt and red card in last week's Premier League defeat to Norwich, a game seen as a key contributing factor to Warnock losing his job.

Hilariously, QPR chief executive Phillip Beard (who clearly can't be trusted seeing as he actually has no beard) then took to the airwaves to pay tribute to Warnock and underline that he had the club's "support". Millionaire Fernandes claimed on Twitter he "loved stability" and whined on at what a "nightmare" it had been for him. Well boo freaking hoo.

Mark Hughes is now odds on to replace him, which only adds to the mystery of why he left Fulham. Was he really that offended by the Michael Jackson statue?

A Di Canio salute

Does this really count as much of a shock? Wigan limp along every Premier League season like a League One side in their quest for survival so it wasn't a surprise they were vanquished by the might of Swindon and their wondrously unhinged leader Paolo Di Canio - the man who is taking fascism to new heights in rural Wiltshire. He sauntered on the bench looking like he was about to watch a mafia hit, rather than an FA Cup tie.

The Italian has already induced a scrap with striker Leon Clarke, who - in fear of a kicking - refused to leave the field with him after a Carling Cup defeat and Di Canio threatened to boot his players arses and cancel Christmas after a disappointing draw at Bristol Rovers just a few weeks ago. So a win over a Premier League club was just the tonic his tumultuous reign needed.

Wigan were only too happy to oblige, folding like a polystyrene deckchair in the face of an opposition who seem to like nothing better than to get the ball into the box, as often as possible from wherever possible. Roberto Martinez was so gushing in his praise for Swindon there are only two explanations, either he was relieved to get knocked out, or he was scared to death of Paolo.

Pulis tickles Gills

If there is one manager in English football you wouldn't want to pick a fight with it is Tony Pulis - just ask James Beattie. Presumably, the striker is still receiving counselling at the sight of a snarling, half-naked Pulis lunging at him in the dressing room after a dispute over Stoke's Christmas party a couple of years back. Beattie, a shadow of his former self by that stage, became a shadow of even his shadow self after the fracas and now spends his time shivering in the corners of large detached houses.

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally doesn't seem to mind picking a fight with big Tone though, despite the fact that the Stoke boss took the Gills, then a club in danger of dropping into the Conference, to the brink of the Championship during his time as their manager. After his departure in 1999, and an acrimonious court case, Scally still thinks Pulis is "evil and despicable" and has banned him from everywhere in the ground apart from the front door, the away dressing room and the dugout.

Asked prior to the game if he might bury the hatchet, Scally replied "Yes, in his head." But Pulis again had the last chuckle, as Stoke buried all hopes of an upset and he was handed a standing ovation from all four corners of the ground as he filed onto the pitch. Even Gillingham's own website carried Pulis' case for the defence, as Scally remained eerily silent, intent on tracking down Beattie's mobile number.

Lancashire derby love in

Nowhere was the magic of the cup more tangible than in Blackpool where the Tangerines travelled six miles up the west coast to take on Fleetwood, the self-anointed Cod Army, who celebrated the landmark occasion with a special Codcast on their website and are perhaps the only club outside the top flight to have a fan club in Papua New Guinea (that consists of one fan).

But this Lancashire derby was about as accommodating and friendly as they come, more a case of "after you, sir," rather than the usual "I'm after your internal organs, sir." This is largely because most people at the ground supported both clubs, with Blackpool's travelling fans serenading the home fans with "Half of you are Tangerines," and sales of "friendship" scarves with both badges on going through the roof.

As a result of this warm welcome, Blackpool found proceedings about as intimidating as a leftover haddock fillet as they racked up five goals and ensured the only thing that could possibly trouble Ian Holloway's heart rate was an extra plate of Eccles Cakes.

Don't forget, you can follow The Fifth Official on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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