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May 6, 2013

Wiping the smile off Luiz's face

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.

#becareful

Who knew a smirk could cause an international incident? Those not immersed in their own self-serving sense of outrage were surely as thankful for David Luiz's whimsical expression as I was, having sat through 268 minutes of dross ever since Theo Walcott's goal at Arsenal. Let's face it, had Luiz not Sideshow Bob'd fellow countryman Rafael, all we'd have to cherish from 'Super' Sunday was linesperson Sian Massey shouting "be careful" at the petulant pair of Robin van Persie and Fernando Torres.

Fergie, naturally, was incandescent with rage, stopping narrowly short of threatening to transfer list Howard Webb if he carries on performing like this. Luiz's giggle and comedy roll altered very little by way of Rafael's punishment, the full-back having failed to heed Massey's warning when thundering into the challenge after a few elbow jabs to his ribs. It was by far the most purposeful Manchester United had been all afternoon.

Rafa's latest triumph, allied to a Europa League final berth, means his stint at the Bridge is fast turning into something of a triumph. Beat Tottenham on Wednesday and a Champions League place is assured. Not that the fans care; one hint from "The Special One" and they're as giddy as a WAG on helium. To quote Sian once more, perhaps Chelsea fans should #becareful what they wish for, because the phrase 'never go back' was coined for a reason. Just ask Kevin Keegan.

Silenced by the Lamb

Norwich's joint owner Delia Smith has made a fortune out of telling people how to cook eggs; on Saturday, former gaffer Paul Lambert returned to show her how to suck them. This time last week I was dusting off Villa's obituary - now, despite the best efforts of Joe Bennett, they are all but safe. After wiping the smug grin off Paolo Di Canio's face last week, Lambert returned to East Anglia to plunge his old club right into the relegation muck.

Petrified of their final-day nerve-shredder, Villa have scurried up the league and now Wigan are following their lead. Despite committing some defensive mistakes so basic it made their fans long for Titus Bramble's return, their plucky little tickers saw them come from behind twice to beat West Brom, whose disinterest was summed up by Jonas Olsson filling in his pools coupon during the second half.

Wins for Wigan and Villa had the effect of a mental taser on the squads of Southampton, Fulham and Stoke, who have had to whip off their Bermuda shorts and scrub off the spray tans to attend to some urgent business – getting some points on the board to guarantee survival. It turns out 42 points is the new 40. This scrap is shaping up to be a last day bum-twitcher.

Tough Glove

It's been an utterly miserable season on the road for the ever-so-loyal-but-oh-so-prone-to-tears Toon Army. At least when they rolled into East London the sun was beating down, but as they were peeling off layers to watch in their pants, Cheik Tiote felt it necessary to don a pair of gloves. Perhaps after last week's Liverpool mauling, he just felt he needed an extra layer of protection.

As it was, that protection was offered by the returning Fabricio Coloccini, who has missed a vital stretch of Newcastle's season after breaking his back attempting an overhead kick in a game against Southampton – the last thing he should have been attempting given his team's malaise. Still, he was up for the tussle with Andy Carroll, who, to borrow a brilliant phrase from one Guardian scribe, plays like a horse that's been flung from a helicopter.

Alan 'beg your' Pardew celebrated conceding six less than last week as a triumph, as did Newcastle's players, but Wigan's win at West Brom wiped the smiles off their faces as they now don't have their fate in their own hands. A drab stalemate was apparently the perfect response to tales of dressing-room splits, which led to one reporter being banned from St James' Park. At least the Toon stopped a run of defeats at the hands of disliked former gaffer Big Sam, though he's probably more popular on Tyneside than Pardiola these days.

The Bale trail

"Perhaps I made a mistake when I said Tottenham were not a one-man team," Mauricio Pochettino muttered, through his interpreter, who always seems to wear a slightly irked facial expression. He fascinates me that man – not Mauricio, his translator. He possibly has ideas above his station and perhaps in five years' time he'll be the man leading Southampton to Champions League glory. Anyway, I digress.

His time may come but these are Bale days we are living in. Gareth, fresh from his clean sweep at the PFA and PFWA awards, was named in the same breath as Maradona and Messi by Pochettino, who won't be the last to suffer at the hands of Tottenham's 20-goal man. Again the Welsh wizard's afternoon was largely forgettable save for one vital intervention – the match-winning goal.

That moment of triumph, and his subsequent celebration, provoked a backlash from Saints fans, who viewed his familiar heart pose as a slap in the face for the club that nurtured him in his early years. How ridiculously touchy. Bale had every right to celebrate, especially given he is midway through his 'Farewell to Tottenham' tour. Their run-in looks tough, though, and here it is in full: Chelsea v Bale, Stoke v Bale, Bale v Sunderland.

Hull. It's never dull

It's never dull in Hull, or so the saying goes, but things undoubtedly became a little more pedestrian the second Phil Brown left. Even more so when Steve Bruce (remember him?) stumbled upon Humberside's hot seat. But the drama they served up on Saturday lunchtime even gave last year's Premier League climax a run for its money. The Championship looks more hipster league of choice than top-flight graveyard in this form.

Hull's second promotion in 109 years was secured via an afternoon so zany that Watford boss Gianfranco Zola (remember him?) described it as a "rock-and-roll rollercoaster". Hull squandered a 94th-minute penalty to seal second spot, then gave one to their opponents - already-crowned champions Cardiff - less than a minute later. They scored, the KC Stadium sank to its knees and all eyes turned to Vicarage Road and the Hornets' clash with Leeds, now managed by former Reading boss Brian McDermott (remember him?). A winner for Watford and Zola's men were up instead.

That game finished 20 minutes later than advertised after a goalkeeping drama of CSI: Miami proportions. Manuel Almunia (remember him?) was injured in the warm-up, Jonathan Bond his replacement was knocked out cold by one of his own defenders, and 19-year-old Jack Bonham, who wasn't even expecting to be in the squad, took the jersey for his senior team debut... and had a howler. With Hull's players huddled in the tunnel watching, Bonham chucked one in his net to consign his team to the play-offs, and give rise to a horrific bout of camera kissing from Ahmed Elmohamady (remember him?).

And as for the relegation places, all you need to know is that Wolves are now coming to terms with the fact that sacking Mick McCarthy (remember him?) was the single worst thing they've ever done. Now that will take some getting over.

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