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5
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4
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3
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Mar 23, 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.

A Red Mist hangs over the Cottage

How fitting that it was Sir Alex Ferguson himself who coined the phrase "squeaky bum time" because by God the grizzly old codger is living through it now. Now we know why Manchester United chose AIG as their sponsors because they're currently washing their fortune down the plughole too.

I've loved the last two weeks. I may well buy myself a home editing kit, piece together the 'best bits' from last week's mauling by Liverpool and this weekend's humiliation at Craven Cottage, layer "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong over the top before sitting down to watch my montage on repeat for the rest of my life.

United's petulance at Fulham was embarrassing and the haranguing they afforded referee Phil Dowd was a disgrace. These are the English champions don't forget - they've a responsibility to the game like no other. Not that you'd have thought it as they whined their way round west London.

Ronaldo was at her high-pitched worse all afternoon, moaning at Dowd even when he WON free kicks, while the Roonatic was Travis Bickle-style scary. After getting his marching orders he hilariously tried to claim he was throwing the ball back for a free kick when he clearly hurled it in a fit of pique, before offering out Dowd (who could quite easily sit on him and kill him) before punching the corner flag in frustration and breaking a nail. Textbook.

Liverpool lurk ominously

Of course, the reason for this hilarious capitulation in Manchester over the past fortnight is Liverpool. Love them or loathe them, you can't help but feel flushed with joy at how they've caused the World Champions (whatever that means) to collectively wet themselves in full view of the footy-loving public. At this rate, I'll be a Koppite before the season is out.

Rafa's rabble kept up their title tilt with another impressive spanking of formidable opposition - this time in the form of Aston Villa. In truth, it was another game that suited them against a side that have ambitions of their own and like to go at their opponents but Liverpool mercilessly picked them off time after time. The Kop were so content they even saw fit to clap Emile Heskey from the field as he was substituted. And of course, Stevie G celebrated the halving of charges against him in court by taking advantage of some criminal defending (athankyou) to bag a hat-trick.

That's 13 goals Liverpool have scored in their last three games against Real Madrid, Manchester United and now Villa, but one feels their resurgent title challenge hinges on the less glamorous games against the likes of Blackburn, Hull and Fulham. Oh, and the small matter of Arsenal at Anfield too.

Toon prime the noose

It's worth reflecting at times of crisis like this that the city of Newcastle is used to a slow and painful death. The Gallowgate End at St James' Park is so named as it was public executions, and not overpaid footballers, that used to draw the crowds. Lord knows those who assembled for the hangings probably went home far happier then than they do now. At least they got what they were promised.

Most neutrals love to see a big club neck deep in the proverbial and once again it's the Toon flirting with oblivion at the foot of the table to much rejoicing (before you say it, no, Middlesbrough aren't a big club). The omens aren't good, given that luck has taken his cue from many disgruntled fans and deserted them too.

And so it was that their best defender of the season, Sebastien Bassong, hobbled off with an injury that will see him miss vital games before Steven Taylor, who had already prevented two certain goals, followed suit. While he was off for treatment, Abou Diaby pranced through the gaping hole in the Toon's defence like Patrick Vieira in his pomp, lashed a shot into the net and that was pretty much that.

The Toon still have to play Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa in their run-in, and even if they get maximum points from the must-win home encounters with Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Fulham, they'll still need to pick up results elsewhere to get them over the magic 40 threshold. Serves Mike Ashley right for thinking Chris Hughton was the man to rescue the Toon from the cavernous Mike Ashley-shaped hole they are currently in.

Guus gloss gone?

A suspicious package held up the start of Chelsea's game at Spurs on Saturday, and it wasn't the one in Ledley King's pants. The delay did play into Chelsea's hands somewhat (stop it) as it gave them the advantage of knowing the final score from Craven Cottage a full half an hour before time was called at The Lane. However, it turned out to be a curse not a blessing.

Some of you may think it makes little difference, for it was a game Guus and his ganders knew they had to win anyway. But when Chelsea's players learned of the Mancunian implosion at Craven Cottage they become riddled with a dose of 'try too hard' syndrome, and just like that, the game was up.

Guus was philosophical in the extreme after the game, giving us chapter one in our, probably quite short, book of phlegmatic quotes from the double-jobber. "When you find yourself in the kitchen and it gets hot, you have to try and extinguish the fire," he said, completing missing the point as to why the Fire Brigade exist.

He was less enigmatic in his parting sentiment though and it's one few can disagree with: "We have missed a huge opportunity. It may not come our way again.''

Bye bye Baggies

After Saturday's 1-1 draw with Bolton I think we can safely say West Brom won't be with us next season. Marooned seven points from safety and with a goal difference of minus 29 Tony Mowbray must know their time is up unless something utterly remarkable happens in their remaining eight games, but with Liverpool and Spurs among them, I don't think so.

I, for one, will miss them and their silky football. Tony Mowbray won the Championship playing a quality passing game and vowed to bring that approach to the top flight, failing to compromise his principles even when they started to slip out of touch with the rest of the pack.

It invites an interesting debate about what is needed to retain Premier League status at the first time of asking. Would West Brom have stayed up playing the same way if they'd been able to afford better personnel? Or were they misguided in putting style before points instead of adopting a 'whatever means necessary' approach in order to avoid the drop? Would they not have been better served plumping for grit and steel over flair and silk, a la Stoke? After all, the longer they stayed in the Premier League the more money and experience they'd have to implement their policy.

Let's face it, if you had a choice between watching Mowbray's men or Pulis' pack next season there'd be only one winner. The trouble is, it'll more than likely be Championship football on show at The Hawthorns and Premier League fayre on offer at The Britannia.

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