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Half-term report - Must do better

When managers invoke the cliché 'our season starts now', there are some players who wish that is was true.

Players who want to forget the last four months, and who rank bottom of their respective classes. Players such as:

Manchester United: Kieran Richardson

The sight of a Manchester United bench packed with defenders, even in the absence of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Alan Smith and Ji-sung Park, is a sign of the low esteem in which Kieran Richardson is held.

The sight of him in successive England squads, meanwhile, suggests Steve McClaren selected him on the basis of the club he represents, rather than his execrable early-season form.

The Carling Cup clashes with Crewe and Southend are an indication why Sir Alex Ferguson no longer seems to trust Richardson, and his Premiership outings have been a rarity since then.

Chelsea: Andriy Shevchenko

If ever a debut was misleading, it was Shevchenko's. The ease with which he evaded the Liverpool defence and the composure of his finish in the Community Shield suggested the Ukrainian would be able to translate his game from Serie A to the Premiership.

The adaptation is taking rather longer than planned, however; after spending several months being picked on reputation, that is in decline, and he is on the bench (or on his way there; he has already been substituted 16 times this season).

While he retains power in his shot, the pace that gave him sharpness appears a thing of the past, and his finishing has suffered with a commensurate decline in confidence, to the extent that one of his assists - for Didier Drogba against Newcastle - was a mis-hit shot.

Liverpool: Fabio Aurelio

There may be nominations for several of Rafael Benitez's summer signings, but his former Valencia charge gets this vote.

While the Brazilian's left foot enabled him to top score for his former club and rank high among the set-piece specialists at Anfield, his defensive deficiencies have been exposed, especially by Galatasaray and Benitez has been reluctant to risk him in the back four since then.

Though Fabio Aurelio remains one of many midfield options open to the Spaniard, he looks an addition to the lengthy list of unconvincing left backs - headed by Djimi Traore - that John Arne Riise has seen off.

Arsenal: Thierry Henry

Having set himself the highest standards over the years, Thierry Henry has failed to live up to them in a stop-start season.

For him, seven goals is a meagre return and some of Arsenal's finest performances of the season have coincided with his absence.

Whether some of his zest was lost along with the chance of a move to Barcelona remains to be seen; Arsenal have to hope that, after a recuperative spell, the best of Henry returns in January.

Bolton: Kevin Nolan

Bolton's captain continues to be mentioned in dispatches for an England call, but it is harder to see why. His game is reliant on goals, and there has only been one thus far this Premiership season.

Indeed, he has as many red cards after a deserved first sending-off of his career at Blackburn, a spectacular loss of temper that was followed by an implausible explanation (that his dissent extended no farther than saying 'that's twice now' to an abused referee).

Displaying greater imagination in the Wanderers midfield would be more beneficial.

Portsmouth: Dejan Stefanovic

Tony Adams, one of the most distinguished defenders in Premiership history, can rightly be regarded as something of an authority on keeping clean sheets.

Twice Portsmouth failed to do so because of Dejan Stefanovic, and twice Adams was compelled to criticise the Serb's marking at corners.

There are mitigating circumstances: Stefanovic has played despite injury and been deployed out of position at left-back, but he has not been the reliable figure Portsmouth are accustomed to seeing.

Tottenham: Mido

Initial impressions - aided by a loss of 22lb and much of his hair - were different, but since then there have been reminders of why Mido can infuriate.

His talent is unquestioned, yet he ranks fourth in the pecking order for places in Tottenham's attack, and it is easy to see why.

Too few goals (just one in the Premiership) and, at times, too little effort do not amount to the consistency required.

Reading: Leroy Lita

Harsh though it is to criticise anyone involved in Reading's stirring season, Leroy Lita has failed to reproduce his scintillating form of his first year at the Madejski Stadium.

Having provided the most dramatic contribution in the first chapter of their campaign, with the winner against Middlesbrough, his role has been downgraded thereafter.

Indeed, that remains Lita's only goal of the season; proof, perhaps, that pace is not enough in itself to guarantee goals in the top flight.

Aston Villa: Steven Davis

The superficial similarities between Martin O'Neill and Steven Davis, both midfielders from Northern Ireland, suggested the younger Ulsterman may be a beneficiary of the elder's appointment at Villa Park.

Far from it: Davis is the man displaced by O'Neill's signing of Stiliyan Petrov from Celtic, a decision that, on the basis of his form so far, provokes little debate.

It may be a 'difficult second season' for Davis but recent outings on the left of midfield hardly indicate that he will be an automatic choice again soon.

Everton: James Beattie

David Moyes has an obstinate streak, but there are indications his patience with James Beattie is wearing thin.

Sidelined by the use of Andrew Johnson as a sole striker, supported by Tim Cahill, he was then omitted for the untried Victor Anichebe against Chelsea.

And with every extra game, one statistic is quoted more and more often on Merseyside: Beattie has not scored in open play since March. It is a drought that could end his Everton career.

Fulham: Luis Boa Morte

While it may seem somewhat perverse to select arguably Fulham's finest player in their best result of the season - the 2-1 win over Arsenal - that provided proof of Boa Morte's ability.

Too few other games have: indeed, he has only figured in two other victories. Less able and more workmanlike performers in midfield have often served them better, and reminders of what makes the spiky Portuguese an irrepressible irritant would not go amiss.

Wigan Athletic: Emile Heskey

A regular contender for such coveted awards, Emile Heskey continues to polarise opinions. On the one side stand managers who are willing to pay £5.5 million for him and team-mates who appreciate his unselfish endeavour; on the other, pretty much everyone else.

And his superb display in Wigan's unfortunate defeat to the champions shows just what Paul Jewell should expect from him. More of the same is required if he is not to look overpriced.

Newcastle: Damien Duff

It wouldn't be Newcastle United if there weren't a raft of defenders who could have dishonourable mentions, though admittedly there are fewer than in previous years, but Damien Duff arrived with rather higher expectations.

Memories of those slaloming solo runs that left a swathe of defenders in his wake indicated that his recruitment was a coup enabled by Newcastle's generous approach to wages.

But though possessing the commitment to deputise at left-back in Europe, Premiership right-backs have coped with Duff more comfortably than was anticipated.

Manchester City: Ousmane Dabo

An unfortunate red card and an unwanted injury, it appears, may have been enough to convince Ousmane Dabo that he is not suited to the Premiership.

If his dismissal against Reading was barely merited, Dabo's admission that he is struggling to adapt to the English game is hard to dispute.

And he is one of three experienced international central midfielders - along with Dietmar Hamann and Claudio Reyna - completely overshadowed by Joey Barton.

Sheffield United: David Unsworth

The aged among Neil Warnock's Championship stalwarts have been deemed surplus to requirements in the Premiership. David Unsworth is among them, a lack of pace proving a serious impediment in the early fixtures of the season, and speedier alternatives like Derek Geary and Rob Kozluk since preferred.

But in the final analysis of the Blades' season, Unsworth's missed penalty against Blackburn could yet prove decisive.

Blackburn: Andre Ooijer

The story of Blackburn's season could not be told without reference to penalties, whether conceded or missed. Andre Ooijer, therefore, has a major, if not a starring, role; the Dutchman is responsible for four spot kicks already.

There has been an element of misfortune, especially at Villa Park, but his clumsiness has been a contributing factor. A disastrous debut against Chelsea set the tone and, while Ooijer has improved of late, the sense prevails that Blackburn will benefit from Ryan Nelsen's eventual return.

Middlesbrough: Fabio Rochemback

As Gareth Southgate intended to shed Middlesbrough of their reputation for defensiveness, finding Fabio Rochemback's elusive best was essential.

Instead, the insipid Brazilian has been displaced and Middlesbrough, lacking creativity, have reverted to attritional football featuring midfield scrappers. While Rochemback's future appears to lie elsewhere, it remains a source of irritation on Teesside that his long-range shots so infrequently result in goals and passing ability does not extend to controlling games.

West Ham: Nigel Reo-Coker

Few have fallen further or faster in the first few months of the season. It would have only taken one injury to propel Nigel Reo-Coker into the World Cup squad and, while Manchester United and Arsenal are credited with an interest, it is not on the basis of his recent form.

Though the West Ham captain provided the ideal start to the Alan Curbishley era, his underwhelming performances were a feature of the dying days of Alan Pardew's regime.

Victory over Manchester United restored the grin to the sulking skipper's face, but he has much to do to win back his place in the affections of the West Ham faithful.

Charlton: Souleymane Diawara

By Charlton's standards, £3.7 million is a hefty investment. Diawara, a rival to Djimi Traore for ungainliness, has responded by playing his part in goals scored by Wigan and Tottenham in a defence that has become a byword for blunders.

He may have been signed for his physical presence, but class and judgment are required, and Diawara looks sadly lacking in both.

Watford: Darius Henderson

There are few blunter instruments in attack than Watford's inefficient target man, guilty of perhaps the miss of the season against Charlton. Darius Henderson is yet to score after 19 games and, lacking in the craft and pace the Premiership requires, it is little surprise.

His physical frame is a reason for Watford's ugly style of play but he, and they, seem better suited to the lower leagues.

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