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A taste of success

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.

Once bitten twice shy

Wow. Was this the most surreal vignette the Premier League has ever seen? Before we explore the monstrosity of one player trying to feast on another, let us comprehend the sight of a visiting manager being roared to the rafters by the home fans while the travelling support jeered, whistled and wailed about his every move. As melon-twisters go, this was right up there, but it was nothing compared to the freakish events of the second half.

This was essentially Luis Suarez's greatest hits in 90 minutes. The evident frustration; the stroke of genius to set up Daniel Sturridge's equaliser; the stupidity of his handball, which led to a goal for all of Ghana; the staggering sight of the Uruguayan plunging his fangs into Branislav Ivanovic's forearm, and denying it; and then nodding an injury-time leveller. Brendan Rodgers has talked of Suarez's appetite for the game but this was ridiculous. He's eaten plenty of defenders for breakfast this season, but not literally. One of the better lines doing the rounds was that Suarez was just desperate for a taste of the Champions League.

Unlike the last time Suarez was caught in controversy, Liverpool didn't rush to print T-shirts in support of him but rather rolled out a full retreat, correctly apologising for his "unacceptable" behaviour and then fining him. The player called his actions "inexcusable" and signed off with two of the more inappropriate exclamation marks you will see on a social media site - I'm surprised he didn't throw a 'LOLZ' in there for good measure. Once again, his insatiable temper has dragged the club's good name through the mud, and in this week of all weeks too. The FA should throw the book at him; in fact, it should throw the whole flipping library at him.

Emergency Bale out

It is the totemic tactical change that might well have persuaded City's boardroom slickers to dispense with Roberto Mancini and his summer scarf. With three minutes left of a game they should have been cruising in at White Hart Lane, Mancini removed Gael Clichy and sent his replacement Joleon Lescott up front, while Sergio Aguero - like the rest of us - looked on perplexed. After that organisational monstrosity, not even their inevitable FA Cup win will save the Italian.

The irony is that, for the first half at least, City were irrepressible, save for one glaring weak link. Edin Dzeko was so deeply average, Mancini surely would have been better off starting Lescott in his place. Matching him at the other end for cluelessness was Emmanuel Adebayor, who expertly carried out his job of depressing everyone in the stadium to such an extent that his removal could only represent an enormous lift of morale. Maybe those two should club together to form the world's most expensive but least effective striking duo ever. They could call themselves The Barn Door Banjo Boys.

Mancini's other change was to bring Scott Sinclair out of retirement, giving him a full seven minutes to try to repair the damage of City's capitulation. This after watching all three of Andre Villas-Boas' changes alter the match decisively. AVB even shoved a half-fit Gareth Bale into the fray, and he was able to decimate City with two delicate swipes of his left leg, which we were led to believe was practically hanging off pre-match. So long, Roberto - it's been nice mocking you.

Sid Vicious

I've always been vaguely suspicious of the Premier League's ginger-haired generation. If I wasn't scowling at Mark Pembridge's lack of talent, I was hiding behind the sofa wondering what Neil Lennon or John Hartson might do next, or where the next Paul Scholes scissor tackle was coming from. My current nervousness is centred on Fulham's Steve Sidwell, whose hair colour bears a close resemblance to the card he keeps seeing.

Just 12 minutes into his return from a three-match ban, he was dismissed again, for trying to separate Mikel Arteta's ankle from the rest of his body. As the ditty about Suarez goes, he just can't get enough. His dismissal played into Arsenal's hands, but they looked nervous, incoherent and ungainly as they edged towards victory. Fitting, then, that their own strawberry blond, Per Mertesacker, sealed the spoils, given that he represents all those qualities in abundance.

Arsenal's trickiest test in their scrap for a top-four place will arrive next week with the visit of soon-to-be-crowned-champions Manchester United. If they've any grace they'll offer their opponents a guard of honour at the Emirates, which will be hilariously galling for all concerned once they see the smug grin on Robin van Persie's face. It could only be more humiliating if Ivan Gazidis donned the Gunnersaurus costume and polished RVP's boots in the centre circle before kick-off.

Taarabt door

In the slow, whispering death of a relegation season, there are various stages of capitulation, along with its even more agonising cousin, hope. The twists and turns are all there to see in the huge bags under 'Arry's eyes - so big each one could house a colony of ferrets. And for the doomed there is one standout moment when the final, dying embers of belief are extinguished.

Fittingly, it came at home, in front of those poor Hoops fans. Picture yourself playing for your life, feeling the expectations of those proud supporters whose Premier League dream has been in intensive care from day one of last season. It is easy to imagine, isn't it? Playing through the pain barrier for that fervent faithful? But 'Arry's last straw, his penny-drop, the end of hope, happened on 55 minutes, at 1-0 down, crunch time. Adel Taarabt spun away from a dangerous QPR attack - one my grandma could have joined in with on one leg - to signal to the bench he needed to come off. He didn't even muster the energy to use both hands. In a stroke, it was over.

It all might have been different had 'Arry been able to add to his sizeable January swag to snag Peter Crouch from Stoke. Perhaps he should have accepted a process of managed decline regarding Rangers' defence and spent all his money on attacking players. Or just done everything he could to persuade Clint Hill to leave the club. 'Arry said he'd rebuild next season but, like Taraabt's heart, he sounded spent and hollow.

Right on, Paolo

By the end of Saturday's victory over Everton, the Stadium of Light resembled a political rally, with hordes of loyal fans almost frothing at the mouth like a Tea Party convention. Now that David Miliband has quit, perhaps there is an opening for Sarah Palin in Sunderland's boardroom - I reckon she and Paolo Di Canio would get on famously. Rally is the right word too, for that is what PDC has done to their season, slapping it and gesturing furiously in Italian to get the players to sign up to his brand of dogma. It ain't half working.

It matters not that the game was a howler, devoid of any chances or creativity, or that Stephane Sessegnon's winner owed much to a Tim Howard error. Every week, a few more Sunderland fans might be starting to think it doesn't matter what their gaffer's politics are if he can shoot them up the table like this. Winning can cover up many perceived sins. Paolo is having a whale of a time too, stating rather bizarrely: "It's a good combination here to burn my brain." No, I don't get it either.

Still, Paolo is getting plenty of time to polish his victory march, adding another win to last week's demolition derby - and, thankfully, no horses were harmed in the filming of this one. He wasn't even tempted to tone down his antics in front one of the Premier League's frostier managers, with a stare so intense it could freeze wasps mid-air. David Moyes' hopes of a top-four berth are over but Paolo's dream of salvation is fast becoming a reality. After the players had departed, he stuck around to salute all four corners of the ground but (all together now) not like that.


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