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Nov 25, 2007

Team of the Week

Hitting screens in a soulless multiplex cinema near you, the new Premier League blockbuster entitled 'Robert Green: Penalty King'. Despite being perennially ignored by England while Scott Carson strolls into a starting berth, Green saved his third spot-kick of the season against Spurs, thus redeeming himself for flapping at a free-kick to gift them an equaliser. His stunning low stop also denied a certain Jermain Defoe - the Hammers' arch-nemesis. Green promptly turned round and kissed his badge in front of 3,000 teary-eyed Tottenham fans. Lovely stuff.

Of course, Green shouldn't really have been required to pull off such a dramatic injury time stop but referee Mike Riley seemed hell bent on rounding off an inept performance with one last epic howler. Defoe nipped in front of Lucas Neill, felt the Aussie's warm breath on the back of his neck and went down clutching his ear. Neill had otherwise been his usual snarling self, steadying an often wobbly Hammers back line and would have rightly felt aggrieved had his side gone down to the controversial penalty.

It's refreshing to see William Gallas taking some time out from sulking to remind everyone that he's also a very good footballer. By the time the game against a dangerously poor Wigan team had entered its 83rd minute the Arsenal skipper had probably nodded off several times. But then, he decided to show the front line how it's done by charging down field to glance a diving header into the roof of the net and give Arsenal a three-point lead at the Premier League summit.

I'll stick my neck out and say this will probably be the first time in its history that the name Andy O'Brien has appeared under the banner headline Team of the Week. Usually when even dear old Harry Redknapp can't find a use for you, its fair to say your days are numbered. Still, the former Newcastle man put in a tireless shift against the champions, throwing that mammoth nose of his in front of anything and everything that moved in the second half.

Not only did Olof Mellberg play a full part in nullifying Boro's somewhat listless attack in the early exchanges at the Riverside, the Swedish stopper demonstrated exquisite technique to kill a dropping ball stone dead and sweep it into the net all in the space of about a nano-second to claim Villa's second goal. A true touch of class from a player renowned for having very little.

It's a shame Stephen Ireland has been told to cut out his bizarre celebrations by Man City boss Sven Goran Eriksson, because we'll never know what novelty pants he might have revealed after his stunning volley saw off Reading. Still, if any effort was worth whipping your shorts down for it was that one - a beautifully struck, curling volley worthy of winning any game.

I'm not a big fan of Tim Cahill. There I've said it. In fact, I doubt there are many outside the blue half of Merseyside who are, but the little tyke makes it very hard not to pick him for TOTW when he's in this kind of form. Yes it was against a hapless Sunderland, but he tucked away two very neat goals to complement the spectacular overhead kick he bagged at Chelsea recently.

Steven Gerrard. Discuss. Anonymous when his country desperately needed some direction last Wednesday against Croatia - man of the match, goal scorer and provider when he pulls on the familiarly snug jersey for Liverpool three days later. He did everything against Newcastle he couldn't do for England, just to stick two fingers up at the nation. Well, probably not, but it still feels like a betrayal. Why can't he be even half as brilliant for the Three Lions?

Another contentious inclusion if you are an England fan, that of Niko Kranjcar. He may not be able to pronounce it, but Scott Carson will certainly never forget the name. Against Birmingham he chalked up another long range effort, but the two strikes could not be more different. Carson threw Kranjcar's tame effort into his own net last week, Brum debutant Richard Kingson wouldn't have kept the Croat's sensational free-kick out if the Villa stopper had joined him in goal to defend it.

Ayegbeni Yakubu gleefully took advantage of some comedy Sunderland defending in Everton's 7-1 romp on Saturday. In true Yak style he could have probably scored five goals if he'd had the desire, but he preferred to conserve his energy for a good sit down in front of the tele to admire his work in the Saturday night highlights package. Both goals were simple and were largely due to Sunderland errors, but an accomplished predator he remains.

Gabriel Agbonlahor capped a fine display at Middlesboro' with a super goal. The pacey striker caused Boro's creaking defence problems all afternoon, culminating in his sixth Premier League goal of the season. He may have been studying WWE footage recently seeing as his grappling with Jonathan Woodgate was more reminiscent of The Rock than a top flight footballer. Once he'd muscled his way ahead of the defender he then unleashed a cracking left foot volley past Mark Schwarzer.

Looking at the fixture list after taking the Bolton job, Gary Megson probably didn't scribble 'three points' next to Man United (H). But after inspiring his side to a fabulous draw against Bayern Munich a few weeks back he has now pocketed his first win as Wanderers manager against the Champions. And that, ladies and gentleman, is why we love the beautiful, unpredictable game that is football.

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