The Paolo show begins
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.
So right, yet so wrong
If Paolo Di Canio was going for inconspicuous, he failed. Sporting a checked jumper so hideous even Ian Poulter might turn his nose up at it, Sunderland's new gaffer defied pre-match expectations by actually fielding a few left-wingers.
The game also served as a novel experience for Rafa Benitez, who for once had someone in the opposite dugout attracting most of the attention and abuse. Paolo stalked, cajoled, saluted the fans (not like that) and generally seemed to have injected some lust into the same players that under Martin O'Neill had looked as if the extent of their options was relegation or WeightWatchers. Sadly for Paolo, it wasn't all right on the night as Chelsea outdid them in the fluky goal stakes two to one. Matt Kilgallon's deflection for Chelsea's equaliser looked harmless enough until it veered sharply to the right - something Paolo can surely identify with.
Paolo again refused to broach the subject of his politics post-match, despite another interview from the past emerging where he stated he was a fascist, which had followed an entertaining interlude when he banged the table upon witnessing Loic Remy's goal for QPR. He has done well to clear his first week without slapping or sacking anyone but we'll find out plenty more about Paolo's true colours during next week's colossal Tyne-Wear derby. One shudders to think what the occasion might do to him.
Well, well, well. Tony Pulis seems to transform himself more into Tony Clulis with each passing week and I'll wager there is not a single soul outside Stoke's own support that is sorry to see them dragged kicking and screaming into the mass relegation brawl at the foot of the table. They are just one of those Premier League clubs that emit no warmth whatsoever, much like an underground prison cell in Iceland.
Stoke have just five points in 2013 and one win in 13 games, not the time for form to be deserting a team. They were pummelled by a team of juxtaposition: youngsters who joined Villa as lower league journeymen. One such arrival, from Sheffield United, was Matt Lowton, who up until Saturday at 4.48pm had given no indication that his similar strike against Swansea back in September 2012 was anything more than a one-off. He's only gone and out-Crouched Crouch.
In a throwback to the glory days of England (World Cup warm-up win over Jamaica, June 2006) the beanpole striker was alongside Michael Owen, but only on the bench. They were left to fume quietly at Pulis, in contrast to the 28,000 home fans, who booed their manager at various intervals with startling menace. It's an odd feeling watching such a demonstrative character become the focus of ire, but I'm pretty sure I could get used to it.
I'll bet Nigel Adkins scoffed when the initial, exploratory call from Reading lit up his phone (Blackberry Z10 I'm guessing). Reacting with casual indifference he flicked on his laptop and cursorily scanned the fixtures, his eyes bursting out of his head when he saw Southampton would be his second game in charge. Without so much as a recital of The Man in the Glass, he was in a taxi on his way to Berkshire.
But though he put them together, the Saints have been moulded into a leaner and meaner unit since the arrival of the man with the smarmiest interpreter the Premier League has ever seen: Mauricio Pochettino. The Spaniard was only too happy to go along with chairman Nicola Cortese's hatchet job on Adkins, but despite the inevitable hype, a comfortable 2-0 win took any sting out of their face-off, the pair shaking hands warmly at the end and insisting it was a pleasure to meet the other. Maybe they tried to tear each other's faces off at their post-match rendezvous but I highly doubt it.
"I cannot thank people enough, they stop their cars when I am walking down road and hug me," Adkins said afterwards. No doubt he spends hours just wandering round the streets of Southampton in a luminous onesie, longing for such adulation. This was the final death knell for his brand of administrative bluster, seen off by his old upwardly mobile club, as Reading plunge back into obscurity like the Nokia 3310.
Wonders never Cisse
Three times in Newcastle's last three home games Papiss Cisse has found the net in stoppage time and from the reaction at the Sports Direct Warehouse on Sunday you'd have thought his winner had sealed Wonga United's first trophy since the Fairs Cup triumph of 1969. It sparked scenes of such wild celebration you'd think the region's socialists had managed to deport Paolo Di Canio.
Cisse and half the team ended up five rows back in the Gallowgate, and ran the risk of a first-ever collective team booking for excessive celebrating. Alan Pardew should have been sanctioned too for his gratuitous leap over an advertising hoarding to embrace a clutch of over-excited Geordies. The last laugh was on him though, as by the time he was tucking himself in on the touchline, one fan was already on his way to ransack the gaffer's house after pinching his car keys during the melee.
If this is what happens to Newcastle when they score an injury-time winner against Fulham, imagine the scenes should they beat Di Canio's Sunderland and plunge them further into the muck during the derby next week? I, for one, expect Souness-in-Istanbul style mischievousness from PDC ahead of, or even during, an already combustible fixture. It'll be must watch television.
A stroke of Loic
After the inconsistent season he's had, the least Adel Taraabt could do was take one in the face for the players, coaching staff, board and fans of Queens Park Rangers. Hanging on to a precious one-goal lead deep into injury time, all that stood between QPR and the tantalising prospect of hope in their relegation crawl, was a stroke of Shaun Maloney's boot.
Rangers were left kicking themselves, which proved a nice change for Bobby Zamora, who spent his afternoon kicking the opposition. Quite why he sank a lazy boot into Jordi Gomez's cheek only he will know. His strike partner also tried to nobble the inoffensive Wigan midfielder but Loic Remy's most decisive waft of the shoe was almost enough to justify his hefty pay packet alone. It was loaded with such beauty, a solitary tear rolled down my cheek.
I'll bet the waterworks were in full flow in the home side's dressing room, the majority from Stephane Mbia, who gave away the needless free-kick that led to Wigan's goal. The thick irony was, had Mbia spent less time rolling around on the floor whenever he felt breath on his neck, there may have been less injury time, no free-kick and subsequently, less chance of their definite relegation. Asked how he'd lift his players for the rest of the fight, 'Arry said he needs lifting. Maybe they need to get Nigel Adkins in for some motivational mumbo-jumbo classes.