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Apr 15, 2013

Whelan the record breaker

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.

Whelan Way

Did you know Dave Whelan broke his leg in the 1960 FA Cup final at Wembley? Funny, he doesn't talk about it much. In the end, Whelan didn't lead Wigan out for their semi-final against Millwall. Supposedly, FA protocol prevented this. It also scuppered his alternative plan, which involved descending onto the hallowed turf via a zipwire in a ripped shirt while Michael Jackson's What About Us? played in the background. But he might get the chance in the final.

Wigan may have struggled to fill their end of the stadium, but that was preferable to the oiks who populated the Millwall end. All the talk in the week had been about a minute's silence for Margaret Thatcher. Rightly, it was shunned. Millwall proffered their own unique tribute, trading the moment's silence for ten minutes' violence. It was a depressingly fitting throwback to the time of the former prime minister, whose reign coincided with darkest days of hooliganism.

While Millwall cemented their tattered reputation by tearing lumps out of each other, it was a little more sedate - not to mention roomy - at the opposite end. Wigan's fans, who may well have come down in the same taxi, celebrated Shaun Maloney's opener by singing "1-0 to the empty seats". They'll be back for their first-ever FA Cup final in May, when big Dave definitely won't make it all about himself. Did you know he broke his le...? Yawn.

Two-footed bum tackle

There was no sea of empty seats when Chelsea and Manchester City came to town the following day, as their mix of long-suffering locals and Johnny-come-latelys descended on North London to witness Rafa Benitez's tortured tilt at the treble downgraded to the sole pursuit of Europe's second-tier competition, the one no English club ever seems to show any desire to win (well, apart from Tottenham - and look what good that did them).

As is their FA Cup wont, Chelsea only started playing when they went 2-0 down, and all this after Rafa delivered yet another snub to the ageing pillars of Chelsea's squad, affectionately known as JT and Lamps. He can do that, you see, because he knows they can't bring him down before the summer, by which time he seems to think he'll be back in charge at Liverpool anyway.

In the end, City's 12-minute purple patch decided the game, but there was little doubt about the two major talking points, both of which favoured Mancini's men. Fernando Torres, the £50 million striker who seems to have found his niche as an impact sub, almost having his shirt seductively peeled off by Vincent Kompany (all they needed was a bit of You Can Leave Your Hat On, by Tom Jones, pumping over the PA system) and Sergio Aguero going in two-footed on David Luiz's bum and getting nothing more than a telling off. Quite remarkable.

Candid Kamara

Arsenal are clearly toying with Tottenham, and loving every minute of doing so. Rotten for 84 minutes against Norwich, and offering a ray of light for their local rivals Tottenham, who are still drying out and attempting to shake off the deep embarrassment of their Basel bashing, the Gunners then scored three in the remaining minutes to leapfrog both Spurs and Chelsea into third spot.

There were several people instrumental in their late turnaround, none more so than referee Mike Jones. His decision-making, I'm pretty sure, will have turned Kei Kamara into Kandid Kamara, such was the soft nature of the penalty that let Arsenal back in the game. It was followed by two further strikes and had their fans dusting off last season's 'Mind the Gap' T-shirts.

Tottenham still have nearly a week to dwell on their Swiss disappointment and put Emmanuel Adebayor on extra penalty practice before they play again, and Arsenal have two games during that time. Should the Wenger boys beat Everton on Tuesday and Fulham on Saturday, Spurs will kick off against Manchester City next Sunday seven points behind. And at that point, they can start to look forward to more glorious European nights like the one in Basel in next season's Europa League.

Suits you, Paolo

He came, he saw, he conquered. Those Sunderland fans with lingering doubts about Paolo Di Canio's political views might be pushing the whole fascism thing to one side after a 3-0 drubbing of bitter local rivals Sports Direct United. We all know it's going to go horribly tits up at some point but, until that moment, just revel in the paranormal power of Paolo.

Even in his pomp, which we rarely saw at Sunderland, Martin O'Neill could not hold a torch to the touchline antics of his successor. Each goal was celebrated by Sunderland's bench as though they were in a hostage situation and it was their only chance of escape. No one encapsulated the frenzied dashing about better than by the gaffer, who re-enacted a Mourinho-style suit slide, meaning those particular trousers will forever carry the DNA of the St James' Park turf he made his own. He lapped up the acclaim, saluting the travelling fans regularly (not like that).

Newcastle's fans were so distraught at a rare pummelling from their neighbours they consoled themselves by taking to the streets of their own city and trying to smash them to pieces. The stupidity and futility of this was summed up best by an overweight, inebriated-looking man in a black and white shirt who decided the situation required a bit of equine violence and punched a police horse in the head. What a great global advert for the Geordie nation.

Stoking the Rangers

The desperation felt by Tony Clulis was clearly evident at The Britannia, as he sent Michael Owen on for the final 13 minutes of their most un-Stoke like slide to defeat against Manchester United. I can only imagine this last, glorious hurrah will not make up more than a short sentence in the former Real Madrid striker's vainglorious career portfolio. His last top-flight involvement may well end in his second relegation from the Premier League.

In contrast, the chap who did plenty to nudge him out of Old Trafford finally ended the sort of drought Owen can only pine for these days. No matter that Robin van Persie's latest goal came from the penalty spot, he celebrated as though it was an injury-time derby winner, dashing over to leap in Fergie's arms. Not that his manager was entirely grateful, stating: "He could have killed me. He forgets I'm 71." The coronation tour continues, but Stoke's plight is deepening by the minute.

At least they can be relieved there is only one relegation slot up for grabs. After weeks of trotting out the "Yes we can" line, 'Arry Redknapp is now lashing out at the overpaid, underperforming players who are about to lead Queens Park Rangers into oblivion.

He was so cheesed off that this week's final word has to go to him: "I hear all the time that, if they get relegated, they want to go because they don't want to play in the Championship, but if they f*****g played better then they would not be in the Championship, so that's a load of cobblers."

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