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Horncastle: The end of the "Rafalution"?

Serie A about an hour ago
Read
Jan 5, 2009

The last look at the weekend

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 five-star weekend.

Forest fire shakes the Sheikh

You can't beat third round weekend in the FA Cup. It's a joy to behold watching multi-millionaire managers and players from the Premier League sides squirm at the hands of supposedly inferior opposition, who all play as if magically infested with the spirit of Roy of the Rovers for 90 minutes.

Surely, the biggest humiliation was Nottingham Forest's demolition of Manchester City. Forest are currently languishing fourth bottom of the Championship, having sacked manager Colin Calderwood after their 4-2 home reverse to Doncaster on Boxing Day. Calderwood said after the match: "We were poor with the ball and hopeless without it." Bring them on thought Sparky.

Billy Davies has since been appointed, but caretaker John Pemberton took Forest to Eastlands as they cruised to their first win by three clear goals this season. The only saving grace for City and Mark Hughes is that they didn't pull a non-league side out of the hat because given the sorry state of Richard Dunne and Pablo Zabaleta's defending any side complete with two functioning legs and a head would surely have won too.

The monkey-hangers

Hartlepool's glorious destruction of Joke City on Saturday gave us our first shock of the third round, and affords me an opportunity to unashamedly regurgitate some hilarious, and historic, information about this small and unremarkable town on the north east coast of England.

The story goes thus: during the Napoleonic wars a French ship was wrecked off the coast. Washed ashore was a monkey, dressed in military uniform, presumably to amuse the ship's crew. Anyway, never having seen an ape before the fine citizens of Hartlepool plumped for a beach trial on the grounds he was a French spy. Not understanding the poor chap's responses they promptly found him guilty, and then hung him.

Many years later the chap who played the club's mascot, H'angus the Monkey, was elected the town's mayor after running as in independent candidate on a promise of "free bananas for all school kids". That's not even the funniest bit - three years later he was RE-ELECTED with a majority of over 10,000. Excuse me, I think I need a lie down.

Painting the Bridge yellow

Apparently Steve Tilson took Southend United's squad paintballing before their daunting trip to Stamford Bridge, in a bid to take his players' minds off the spanking that surely lay in wait. What a good tactic to forge team bonding and wring out all that pent up aggression in the middle of the woods in Essex, presumably so your centre forward doesn't thwack your full back if he gives away a soft goal, a la Fuller and Griff.

But once again at the Bridge, Chelsea proved about as effective as road kill. Yes, they created plenty of opportunities, and yes, United keeper Steve Mildenhall played a blinder but we've heard it all before. Once Southend's euphoria subsides they'll probably end up kicking themselves given Chelsea's contrasting form this season - rampant away, profligate at home. By Tuesday the Shrimpers will realise they've probably blown their best chance of progress by not going for the kill at the Bridge.

Unhappy in Toon? That's a Given

I almost feel guilty sticking the boot into Newcastle United again this week, but they really do leave me no choice. Finally, after over a decade living in the soap-opera world that is the Toon, their longest serving player in modern history, and a firm favourite among the fans, has grown sick and tired of the persistent turmoil on Tyneside and wants out. Few will blame Shay Given though. The majority will point the finger at Mike Ashley and shake their head at Joe Kinnear.

Just days before Given's lawyer said he'd hit the lowest point of his Newcastle career (crikey, that must have been some low) Joe Kinnear insisted Given was gleefully happy, whistling the 'Blaydon Races' as he skipped to training every day and smiling contentedly to himself every time he has had to pluck the ball from the back of his net recently. Which is quite a lot. As with JFK's risible bleating over Michael Owen's contract saga it shows he clearly has the measure of his dressing room. Well done, Joe.

Hutchings: The Legend

I do have a heart you know, but sometimes I find it very hard to resist launching a tirade on an individual's competency - even if they strike me as a nice chap, which Chris Hutchings does. He is currently caretaker boss at Derby, for those of you who don't know, after Paul Jewell left. He's clearly got a thing about picking up Jewell's sloppy seconds though, having done it at both Bradford and Wigan previously.

Hutchings took over at Bradford when Jewell left in summer 2000, with then chairman Geoffrey Richmond saying: "I'm confident the progress the club has made over the last few years will be maintained under Chris Hutchings' managership." Chris lasted just 12 top flight games, in which time he only won one.

Upon taking over at Wigan in the summer of 2007 chairman Dave Whelan said: "I know Chris and I've every confidence he will push this club forward and we'll climb this Premiership." Whelan sacked him at the start of November after he won just two of 12 Premier League games.

So, with that formidable record under his belt he now takes charge of Derby, managing to engineer a way past struggling non-league side Forest Green Rovers in the Cup at the weekend, but only after coming from two goals down to do so. That's his one win then, so only eleven games to go before he's sacked then eh?

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