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WhoScored: Zabaleta-Sterling a key battle

Tactics And Analysis 5 hours ago
Read
Mar 18, 2013

Callum before the storm

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.

McMana-hit-man

"He's not that kind of player," Roberto Martinez, one of the top flight's good guys, had the nerve to say when questioned about the heinous, career-threatening tackle that Callum McManaman unleashed on Massadio Haidara at the DW Stadium.

It was an assault so vicious it practically demanded that the ground be sealed off immediately so accident investigators could scour the pristine turf for pieces of the French defender's knee in order to reconstruct it from the gloopy mess it surely now resembles.

Even more inexplicable is the fact that referee Mark Halsey, wilfully abandoned by his two assistants, didn't even see the need to award a free kick, let alone the red card McManaman's reckless lunge warranted. It was this failure to deal with the situation that led to a poisonous atmosphere for the rest of the game. Should the FA fail to take any action – how can it not? – perhaps vigilante justice should see the Wigan lad locked in a small room with John Carver for ten minutes.

To compound the visiting Europa League specialists' fury, Wigan were assisted in their late winner by a blatant near-post handball by Maynor Figueroa. Martinez insisted these were previous injustices evening themselves up. If that were true, I must have missed the game earlier in the season when Halsey stuck the ball up his jumper before depositing it over Wigan's goal-line. The cheering of McManaman by Wigan's usually silent fans only added to the noxious nature of the occasion.

When one starts to feel sorry for Alan Pardew, you know a deep injustice has been served.

The complacency cruise

Time to break out the bunting because, even before the first of a squillion pints of Guinness were poured on St Patrick's Day, the Premier League title race was officially declared over. Maybe we were spoilt by last year's end-of-season tumult, but it is a damming indictment of Manchester United's competitors that their lead at the top of the table is the same as Celtic's in the SPL.

This was no triumphant parade towards an inevitable 20th Premier League title, though - this was a laboured crawl towards victory against one of the poorest sides in top-flight history. Fergie's task was made easier, if that is possible, by Reading's decision to cut Brian McDermott loose. Caretaker Eamonn Dolan, careful to keep things platonic, confirmed he'd been speaking to Brian "as a friend" all week. The home side would have been wise to check any extra laundry baskets going into or out of the visiting changing room at Old Trafford.

As for Fergie and United, the only rival they have to battle in the next few weeks is complacency. And if they can just resist the urge to bring a poker table onto the field, or any port and cigars, they could pretty much charter a flight to Barbados right now and still win the title by playing their youth team, with safe pair of hands Mike Phelan in goal.

I love Lamp

Chelsea may not be anywhere near the title race shake-up, but their journey from now until the end of the season is likely to be littered with glittering praise for their cherubic goal machine, who continues to make their decision not to offer him even a year-long contract extension as bewildering as the anointment of Rafa Benitez as chief interim turmoil overseer.

West Ham's fans seemed to want to pay for Frank's extra year themselves, showering him with coins after his 200th goal for Chelsea, with the odd hot dog thrown in for good measure. The assault was launched with a precision Andy Carroll can only dream of. "What are those shiny things they're throwing at Frank?" one young Blues fan was overheard asking his father. His reply: "That's the type of money the poor people use, son."

Big Sam, always keen to hop on a bandwagon, drew an ill-advised parallel between Lampard and everyone's favourite apparition, Casper. "Frank is the ghost in the box that nobody seems to see," he mumbled, at once projecting himself as both humble man of the people and gold-chained footballing Gandalf. Bobby Tambling's record is now just two away for Frank.

Rage against the Mancini

It was almost a relief to hear that Roberto Mancini had worked himself into such a rage in the aftermath of defeat at Goodison Park that he felt unable to speak to our learned press.

City successfully ensured that their reign as Premier League champions will terminate at the earliest possible juncture, and so spitting with fury was Roberto that he sent David Platt out to cough and splutter something derogatory about the referee.

Apart from Marouane Fellaini's handball, which was three yards inside the area, I'll wager Roberto's rage was largely directed at his own side's impotence - that and losing face to his chest-bump rival of choice, David Moyes. This season hasn't been the leisurely stroll to back-to-back titles that Roberto had envisaged, and I'd humbly suggest the next title he should focus on is Thursday's edition of the Manchester Evening News, for inside is a rather large job section.

City have been a shadow of themselves this season. Samir Nasri's most meaningful contribution came on the opening day, Kolo Toure plays like needs to get back on the diet pills and Carlos Tevez looked more potent when he was golfing in Argentina. The additions of Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia and the lesser-spotted Scott Sinclair haven't cut the mustard, and Roberto will be sporting a face that looks as though he's chowing down on a gobful of French mustard very shortly.

Villa-fied

You can always rely on 'Arry Redknapp to sum up the situation facing Queens Park Rangers in a succinct and easy-to-follow fashion. After defeat to Aston Villa left his side seven points from safety and staring down the barrel of a financial implosion similar in gravity to that of Bear Stearns, the gaffer concluded: "It is going to be hard, it is going to be tough, it is not going to be easy."

Tolkien he is not, but Rangers are now left with a journey to redemption looking twice as tricky as the voyage embarked upon by Frodo and the gang. 'Arry is still beating the drum, though, revising his points target down with each passing weekend. QPR's peril is the perfect vehicle for his bluster – he'll probably still be talking about getting six points to give them a chance leading into the last game of the season.

As Rangers' players sank to their knees at the final whistle, bereft after spurning enough chances to have sewn the game up by half-time, Paul Lambert's wee whippersnappers lapped up the adulation after their first successive top-flight wins for 67 matches.

Their victory was inspired by two strikers who are definitely ones for the future. Whether that future lies at Villa beyond the end of this season is up for debate.

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