Premier League Team of the Week
While the entire country was watching Spurs beat Chelsea in a thrilling Carling Cup final, a few thousand grizzled Lancashire veterans huddled together for warmth in order to watch European heavyweights Bolton take on Blackburn. And they were rewarded with a right old ding-dong of a game which yielded five goals, two penalties and six bookings. In the midst of the action was slap-headed Brad Friedel who made a string of superb saves to ensure Rovers did the derby-double over Wanderers.
Aston Villa's Martin Laursen is having a bit of a season isn't he? Ever dependable at the back, he also pops up with the odd goal now and then. At the Madejski Stadium Laursen was almost dismissive of any attacking moves Reading tried to pull on his Villa side. He had one of those games where he contributed nothing spectacular but developed an uncanny knack for popping up in the right place at the right time whether it be to head clear, nick the ball or laugh in the face of any Reading player who even timidly bore down on his goal.
Paul Scharner's relationship with Soccernet can be likened to the old adage about waiting for a bus. Cruelly ignored by TOTW for months, if not years, he then promptly pops up to claim the coveted jersey twice in a matter of weeks. Wigan's game with Derby may have been regarded by many observers as one of the worst in Premier League history, but Scharner won't care having notched a clean sheet, and the all important opening goal, displaying quick reactions to turn home Emile Heskey's effort.
Matthew Upson's season is rumbling along quite nicely isn't it? Not only recalled by England but also us, the West Ham stopper is certainly making the most of the limited talent he has. Putting the shutters up against a dogged and determined Fulham side won't rank as one of his career defining moments, but it still helped to ensure that when the Hammers scored in the 87th minute it was a match winning goal.
Theo Walcott has been a regular on the right flank in the not-often publicised TOTW under 15 team for most of the season and now he has finally made the 'big'side after two goals in five minutes for Arsenal at Birmingham. Most players were still trying to shake off the hangover from Eduardo's horror injury when Walcott tapped in from close range after a session of penalty box pinball, then ended a mazy dribble with a venomous shot into the corner. Could this sparkling display provide the growth spurt his season needs?
It has been impossible this season to write the words Stewart and Downing without a prefix of 'unsettled' or 'unhappy', given the mind numbing prattle about whether he would or wouldn't sign a new contract for the good ship Southgate. Now that he has committed himself to Boro for five years (watch him sign for Spurs in the summer now) we can talk about his football, and his excellent performance at Anfield on Saturday. Had Fernando Torres not been in inspired form (more of that later) Downing would have been man of the match, having delivered a wicked inswinging ball for Tuncay to score Boro's first, then ghosting past a couple of Liverpool defenders to slot home from a tricky angle late on.
Now for a hat-trick of Manchester United players, who were nearly snubbed due to the fact that our ESPNsoccernet five-a-side team could play Newcastle at the moment and beat them 7-0. Having said that, Michael Carrick underpinned all the wreckless attacking abandon with another solid shift in the middle of the park. Linking play, threading through-balls in the chasm-like gaps left by Toon defenders and wasting no time in finding his more potent team mates mean he is this week's TOTW midfield general.
Ahead of him is the ridiculously talented Cristiano Ronaldo. Newcastle looked petrified whenever he got the ball and with just cause, because he was lethal in front of goal. Slotting coolly when clean through twice he also provided a neat turn and cross for Rooney to open the scoring. Removed with nearly 25 minutes left the winger had scored two goals and created one, and the scoreline read Newcastle 0-3 Manchester United. Maybe Shay Given should have shone a laser pen in his retina early in the first half.
The last in our Red Devils' trio is the Roonatic himself. Ploughing a lone furrow for most of the game Wayne Rooney helped himself to two goals and generally wreaked havoc with Newcastle's oh-so fragile back line. A lovely side-footed volley made it one nil before he curled a superlative shot beyond Given for his second. He loves playing against Newcastle - who wouldn't at the minute? - and the Magpies must be sick of the sight of him. I know I certainly am.
I'm running out of superlatives for Fernando Torres. The lad is just awesome. It isn't too much of a stretch to claim that he alone would probably decide where the Premier League title was going single-handedly if he was playing for either Arsenal or Manchester United. I will happily admit to being initially dubious as to whether Torres would be able to cut it in the English top flight from the off, but my word he can, as his tally of 15 league goals so far can testify. He punished a weak Boro back pass for number one, then smashed a howitzer past Mark Schwarzer from 20 yards before a lovely dink past the dithering Aussie keeper handed him his hat trick.
James McFadden raises his game when he plays the French - potting Scotland's goal in the Parc des Princes to give his country a famous one nil win in the Euro 2008 qualifying stages - so when Arsene Wenger's merry band of Frenchmen pitched up at St Andrews he fancied another star turn. A wonderful free kick and a confident penalty which levelled the game with almost its final kick have earned him a well deserved place in TOTW. His class also gave us cause to remember the match for more than just a horrible tackle.
As for our gaffer, Alex McLeish deserves the gig after his relegation haunted Birmingham rescued a point against high flying Arsenal. Playing with ten men for 87 minutes - and quite rightly after Martin Taylor's leg breaking challenge on Eduardo - McLeish marshalled his troops expertly to ensure they had enough left in the tank to mount a late surge and nick a point off Arsenal with just seconds of the game remaining, reducing William Gallas to tears in the process.