Few of us like a Monday morning, 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.
It's official - Squeaky-Bum Town is open for business. This was a delicious offering of footballing action that was packed full of drama, goals, red cards and enough internal combustions to make you think it was a tribute weekend to the Dutch national squad.
The intense level of scrutiny reduced grown men to gently crumbling croutons in a bowl full of Premier League 'pressure' soup. The lambs get frisky in spring and so it seems do those fellas who prance about in shorts for a living, as a series of people were offered out for an exchange of fisticuffs, most of whom play in the same colour strip. Much like the UK's Jerry Can petrol madness of the previous week, this was classic, self-inflicted insanity.
I say lock James Perch, Pepe Reina, Mario Balotelli, Aleksandar Kolarov, Wayne Hennessey, Roger Johnson, Ben Foster and Peter Odemwingie in a darkened room and see who emerges with a full set of teeth left. It might not paint England's top flight in the greatest light but my goodness me, it makes for some marvellous viewing.
A football farce
But in this weekend of meltdowns, there is only place to start as Kenny Dalglish served up more entertainment for the folk of Tyneside in 90 minutes on Sunday than he did in the entirety of his miserable spell in charge of the club back in the late 90s. This was a public humiliation of epic proportions, as a baying mob lanced the boil on years of frustration and lapped up every last strand of despair to befall the King. It was a stage show farce so acutely amusing it should get its own three-month run on Broadway.
This is the man who signed two of Newcastle's best players for a combined sum of £41 million last year but now trails them by 11 points in the table. Chief protagonist, of course, was Andy Carroll, a man so bereft of confidence he has now taken to falling over instead of taking his chances at rolling the ball into an empty net from ten yards. His feckless flop got him a rocket from the gaffer that sold him before the home fans saluted his substitution like a Papiss Cisse goal. Kenny's reward for hauling Carroll off was a bucket of sweary language. Word has it Carroll was actually aiming to head for the bench but missed and ended up striding down the tunnel instead.
But the final, gloriously funny act was still to come as a bewildered Kenny wandered onto the playing field after Pepe Reina's Eskimo kiss with James Perch only to be told to sit down and shut up by an irate Steven Gerrard. Reina staggered back onto the pitch to offer out "Perchinho" and bestow an oversized jersey and pair of gloves on Jose Enrique who sheepishly trudged into nets as 50,000 half-naked Geordies sang at him "You should have stayed at a big club."
An even heartier rendition of "You're getting sacked in the morning," bookended a desperate day at the office for a club that have now, beyond all doubt, become a laughing stock.
Mario's end game
Into this maelstrom of madness, from stage left, comes the one, the only Super Mario Balotelli. There is no way on God's green earth he was going to miss out on a chance to offer up his own take on normality when the rest of the top flight was collectively abandoning any semblance of reason or control. In the process, he lost the trust of his manager - a startling revelation in the respect that this implies there was a time when Roberto Mancini actually thought Mario was someone he could rely on.
It went unnoticed by the rest of us, but Mario clearly did something so heinous in the early part of the game that Mancini had to fight the urge to haul him off the field after only five minutes. After that the striker offered us a wonderful dichotomy whereby he at one stage whispered "it's not worth it," in Edin Dzeko's ear as the Bosnian contemplated biffing Phil Bardsley but minutes later was prepared to tear Aleksdandar Kolarov's face off during a disagreement about a free kick.
It was all too much for Mancini, who spent such a large part of the game shaking his head it's a wonder his vision isn't blurred. Despite salvaging a point, the gaffer decided this was time for the most public disowning of the season, on a par with his hatchet job on Tevez – a poisonous reminder of the essential fabric of City's fractured and stuttering squad. He may not have heard of it before last week, but Mancini is without question the new mayor of squeaky bum town, his interpretation of Fergie's famous old phrase.
"I am not giving up any hope until someone tells me that we can't do it," Terry Connor said after a seventh defeat in a row at home, this time to Bolton - another side deep in the mire. Well Tel, listen very carefully when I say that you absolutely cannot do it. You, sunshine, are Championship fodder.
Not that it is Tel's fault you understand - the blame has firmly been assigned to Steve Morgan, who shouldn't hold out too much about getting the call to replace Donald Trump on The Apprentice, given his catastrophic handling of Mick McCarthy's sacking. There was at least some fighting spirit on show from Wolves, but they'd have been far better directing it at the opposition.
With Wolves all but relegated, the race to avoid walking the plank with them intensified as Bolton, QPR and Wigan all won. For Rangers, Joey Barton and Adel Taraabt finally turned up, while Wigan - the Premier League team with more players nobody has ever heard of than any other - to everyone's utter surprise are now the form team at the bottom. This is a relegation battle being fought by big angry Rottweilers.
Victories for three of the bottom clubs meant defeat at home to Chelsea drew Aston Villa into the relegation mix, but they had more important matters at the front of their minds after Friday's news that Stiliyan Petrov had been diagnosed with leukaemia - yet another sombre story in a season that has been punctuated by tragedy.
Once again, both clubs involved at Villa Park were exemplary in the manner that they offered support, with the player himself clearly overwhelmed - especially during a particularly heartfelt and touching bout of applause in the 19th minute, signifying the Bulgarian's squad number.
On the pitch, Chelsea again proved they are a completely different side from the one that was shackled by AVB's blueprint for the future. No-one embodies their resurgence more than Fernando Torres; his goal ended a six-month Premier League drought and simultaneously, saw Andy Carroll fall way behind in the race to evade being the permanent recipient of the 'top flight's costliest flop' tag.
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