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Apr 19, 2009

Team of the Week

There was some stiff competition for the much-coveted Soccernet TOTM Golden Gloves award this week, with Tim Howard saving two of the worst penalties of all time to take Big Club Everton TM to the FA Cup final, and Jussi Jaaskelainen proving nearly as difficult to beat as he is to spell, against Portsmouth at Fratton Park. But our spring-heeled wonder of the week is Fulham's Mark Schwarzer, who made a string of excellent saves against Middlesbrough, notably from Stewart Downing and Tuncay, thus condemning his former club to a squeakier-bummed end to the season than Gareth Southgate would have liked.

It's probably not much fun being a defender at Blackburn Rovers, but Ryan Nelsen seems to be making a good fist of it, even providing the highlight of Rovers' dull encounter with Stoke City on Saturday when he almost came to blows with the Potters very own Ryan: Shawcross. In fairness, though, Sam Allardyce's captain fought equally hard in a footballing capacity, and if it hadn't been for his tenacity in the face of a sustained aerial bombardment, things could have been much uglier for Big Sam.

In these dark days of relegation battles, it's good to have someone in your side who's on first-name terms with Lady Luck, and so Calum Davenport gets the nod for inclusion. He might be the very definition of journeyman, with loan spells at no fewer than five clubs in the past five years, but on Saturday everything he touched turned to gold, including Andy Reid's cross that he flicked on for Djibril Cisse's goal. He also got the rub of the green when Craig Fagan whipped the ball off his toes and promptly stumbled over his leg. "Penalty!" barked Phil Brown. "Back in your basket," said referee Mike Dean.

Abdoulaye Faye sprinted to each stand in turn at the end of Stoke's massive win over Blackburn, and he was the same rock at the heart of the Potters defence that he has been all season, outmuscling the Rovers frontline at every turn. Almost certainly the most popular man with an ST postcode.

Alright, so no-one thinks he should even be allowed to ATTEND an awards ceremony since he made That Mistake against Liverpool the other week, but once again Nemanja Vidic was Manchester United's outstanding player in this FA Cup semi-final, and his aerial presence virtually rendered the Red Devils' penalty box a no-fly zone from the Everton point of view. Oh, and that's how you take a penalty, by the way, Dimitar Berbatov.

Played out of position in midfield this week, defender Glen Johnson showed the old hands how it should be done, with a display of real menace against Bolton. Thrice he burst through the Wanderers backline, thrice big Jussi put in outstanding saves to thwart him, tipping his third effort onto the post. On many other days he might have had a hat-trick.

If he keeps this up, Frank Lampard might even one day make it onto the shortlist for Players' Player of the Year (perhaps in the place of, oh, I dont know, Ryan Giggs or someone? Ryan Giggs? Really? Hasn't he had about 11 starts this season?). Anyway, Fat Fwank turned in another masterclass of string-pulling and slide-rule passing to dismantle an Arsenal side that are unbeaten in their last 18 Premier League games, and starting to show glimpses of their dazzling best, but who looked ordinary on the same turf as Lampard on Saturday.

Yeah, alright, it was only Newcastle, but if Tom Huddlestone can turn in a performance like this when he is 'unsettled' and 'wants to leave the club in the summer', imagine how good he could be when he's happy. A series of piledrivers from distance were a constant threat to Steve Harper's goal, and they were just the icing on the cake of an all-round display that must surely have given 'Arry an 'eadache.

Whatever you might think of his taste in body art (and who can forget those hairplugs?), Manchester City's best player at the moment is quite clearly Stephen Ireland. He created two of the goals in Man City's 4-2 victory over West Brom, and was at the heart of everything the Middle Eastlanders did.

Yes, he's a cheat, yes, he dives, and yes, he almost certainly puts something unspeakable on his hair, but Didier Drogba is one of the top strikers on the planet today, and you don't have to be as canny as Guus Hiddink to spot that. The authority with which he rounded Arsenal's poor goalkeeper Fabianski to slot home the winner clearly showed a thoroughbred frontman at the top of his game.

If he could score half as many goals as he has haircuts, Djibril Cisse would be buried under a mountain of Golden Boots, but the one he bagged on Saturday (and only his second of 2009), might turn out to be the goal that keeps Sunderland in the Premier League. And that, my friends, is priceless. (Actually, it's worth about £50million, I think.)

Manager: David Moyes.

Hats off to the man, he's only gone and bloody got them to a final. Finally.

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