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Jan 7, 2013

The LOL campaign, Chelsea raise Ba

Few of us like Monday 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.

The LOL campaign

Picture the scene next week, Luis Suarez is bearing down on goal before he's clipped by Rio Ferdinand on the edge of the box at Old Trafford. The referee (obviously not Howard Webb) waves away the incident before Rio picks himself up, wanders over to the official and mutters: "Actually ref, it was a foul, it was just inside the area, and as I was last man, I probably deserve a red card." How likely do you think that is on a scale of one to ridiculously unlikely?

That's what some sanctimonious soccer lovers seem to think Suarez should have done after his inadvertent handball, in their eyes, poured petrol all over the romance of the FA Cup. He's no Miroslav Klose, but then few players are. His problem is that his previous, rightly in some circumstances, makes him an easy target. Remember Suarez claiming "the hand of God now belongs to me" after his save against Ghana at the World Cup? Or being booked against Southampton for trying to punch the ball into the net?

The ignorance of those claiming he kissed his hand to goad the non-league side is also laughable - he does that after each goal he scores. Mansfield's chief exec Carolyn Radford reckoned a replay had been "stolen" from her plucky players, but at least their manager admitted he'd have taken the goal had it happened at Mansfield's attacking end.

So, for once, and for one week only, I'm launching my Lay off Luis (LOL) campaign and to underline the point, answer this teaser posed by a TV pundit: you park on a double yellow line and nip to the shops for 20 minutes. When you return there's no parking ticket on your car. Do you phone up the local council and insist they hand you a £60 fine for your wrongdoing? Do you heck.

Dyer-boli-Cole

Sit down a while, take the weight off and ponder this question: what were you doing and where back in May 2007? I ask, you see, because up until Saturday afternoon at 5pm that was the last time Kieron Courtney Dyer had found the net for a professional football club. If we guess he's been on an average of £40,000 a week all that time it means he's made (before tax, etc) £11.5 million in that period. I do hope you took my advice to sit down.

Dyer's mini renaissance actually caused QPR more problems with an unwanted replay but just across town from Loftus Road there was another reawakening underway after West Ham rescued Joe Cole from his Liverpool 'nightmare' (you know, that alleged £11.7 million earned in two-and-a-half years plus a reputed £3 million pay-off type of nightmare). It just goes to show being injured, useless or a combination of the two can turn into a tidy little earner.

Back at the club he began his career with Cole contributed more for the Hammers in 90 minutes than he'd done in 30 months at Liverpool by laying on two goals for James Collins. But just when a deserved victory looked likely, Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie combined to score a goal of such heart-melting quality it made you momentarily forget how much you dislike them both.

Raising the Ba

He may be the darling of Chelsea's fans already but Demba Ba has made one cast iron enemy since joining from grief-stricken Newcastle. As he skipped gaily round the field at St Mary's he must have felt the daggers being directed towards the back of his head from the bench, where Fernando Torres was developing the sort of menacing scowl usually only seen on a super villain's chops.

Ba cost less than a fifth of the laughable £50 million Roman Abramovich shelled out for Torres and took 700 fewer minutes to start repaying that fee with his first goal for the club. Within an hour of his debut he had two goals. Torres had to wait 14 matches to break his Chelsea duck, ironically against West Ham, who featured a certain Senegalese striker in their ranks that day.

"Everything he did pleased me," purred a clearly aroused Rafa Benitez, who must be as sick of fielding questions about Frank Lampard's future as he is Torres' malaise. Lamps' farewell tour seems to be going on longer than Westlife's, as every game he and Chelsea's fans serenade each other as if they shall never again enjoy those stolen post-match moments. Whatever it is he's done, much like Margaret Thatcher, Roman is not for turning.

Pard to stomach

"Giant-killing," they screamed. "Cup upset," they wailed. Yet not one single person in good old Sussex-by-the-Sea displayed even one ounce of surprise as a feckless, spotty-faced Newcastle outfit were condemned to a second successive FA Cup exit at the hands of buoyant Brighton & Hove Albion. The only shock was that Gus Poyet's clan didn't win by far more than 2-0.

Despite the eminently predictable outcome legions of loyal (or perhaps idiotic) Toon fans left Newcastle at 2am to make their early south coast appointment. Many looked as if they'd come straight from a night on the tiles and for their sake we can only hope they had, as that way 90 torturous minutes might have flashed by quicker than a kebab in a wind tunnel.

That is 16 away games for Newcastle this season and still not one victory. It's not hard to see why when there are two Ameobis on the team sheet. Shola is liability enough without Sammy chipping in as well. That is three wins from 17 games since I beg your Pardew signed an eight-year deal. Even by Sports Direct's cheap and tacky standards that does not represent value for money. There are some hard yards ahead for Pards.

The bottle of Hastings

It is the one weekend of the football season that showcases the romance of the FA Cup like no other, but by including a part-time naked butler in their ranks for a trip to Middlesbrough, non-league Hastings were taking things too far. "I only wear my cuffs, dickie bow and apron and the girls love it when I pour cocktails and Pimm's," Matt Armstrong-Ford said pre-match.

But perhaps by the time you read this, poor Matt will be no more as after Hastings' brave battle with 'Boro in a 4-1 defeat he and the rest of the lads, and quite possibly most of their 1,000 travelling fans, were off for a night out in Newcastle, where half-naked butlers are regularly eaten alive by feral packs of scantily-clad Geordies roaming the Bigg Market for easy pickings.

Hastings may not have pulled off a shock other than scoring a goal of Championship standard, but 'Boro's fellow second-tier comrades Cardiff and Wolves did come a cropper, to Macclesfield and Luton respectively. The Silkmen stunned the (red) Bluebirds with two goals in five minutes from Matthew Barnes-Homer while Luton's hatchet job on Wolves cost Stale Solbakken a job he never should have been handed in the first place. And now he can fade neatly back into obscurity.

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