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.
The Twelfth Man
Picture the scene. Manchester United are locked at 1-1 on 88 minutes with Wigan Athletic during their game in hand on May 13th. Antonio Valencia has the ball near the corner flag with Paul Scholes nipping at his heels to get it back. Referee Howard Webb decides to take the matter into his own hands, lunging in hip-high on the Wigan winger before streaking away with the ball.
Fourth official Rob Styles smells what's on and makes a darting run to the back post as Webb stands up a beautifully inviting cross. Styles connects with the meat of his massive forehead and the ball powers past Chris Kirkland. Webb and Styles then slide on their knees in front of the United end and all the players pile on.
That fantasy scenario might not seem so far fetched after a truly horrendous penalty award at Old Trafford on Saturday, one equally as bad as Styles' decision to penalise Bolton's Jay Lloyd Samuel for having the temerity to get the ball when he tackled Ronaldo inside the area back in September.
United were 2-0 down against Spurs and floundering, creating little until Webb's horror peep. After the pen award, Harry Redknapp's jangly jowls became so baggy through incredulity you could have fitted a family of woodpeckers in them.
And yes, what followed was supreme attacking football but surely the point is, would such a goal-fest have come spewing forth had Webb not given them a lifeline? We shall never know.
Spooky or what? The very weekend Roy Keane blusters his way back into the English game and toasts his return with a 3-0 win his former charges capitulate at the hands of the Premier League's worst team by the same scoreline. Perhaps the possibility of facing Keano in the Championship next year paralysed them with such fear that even Tony Mowbray's lot could roll them over and tickle their tummies.
The players may have grown to dislike Keano during his Stadium of Plight tenure but one thing is for sure, you'd want him in the trenches when times get tough, not a man whose surname no-one can pronounce. Apparently the North East press have handed him the affectionate nickname of 'Smithy'.
If Sbragia thought he'd cracked it by sinking Phil Brown and Hull City last weekend he doesn't today. And with games against Portsmouth, Bolton Wanderers, Everton and Chelsea remaining, no wonder he looked as confused on the bench as the Britain's Got Talent panel when Susan Boyle shuffled onto stage.
Solar Power City
It's taken nine months dear friends, but I've finally figured out the Manchester City conundrum; their players run on solar power. What other explanation could there possibly be? They won three out of five before the weather turned in October (including a 6-0 mauling of Pompey) and even Robinho played well. But as soon as the leaves fell from the trees and Jack Frost flicked us all the v's they slumped to the floor like a drunk with poor spatial awareness.
But hey presto, some welcome spring sunshine arrives and they're playing like Brazil again. Granted, Everton were tired after cup exertions but the two goals City scored were a joy to watch. Elano's instinctive pass for the first was criminally overlooked by most, who concentrated on Robinho's tidy finish.
Then the Brazilian playboy lofted a delightful pass into the path of Stephen Ireland and the Irishman again displayed why he is one of the most gifted players in the Premier League with a sublime slice of aerial control, before a measured finish into the corner. If City had played like this away from home more often, they could actually have had the breakthrough season they threatened in August.
Blackburn swerve black hole
Looks like Blackburn are safe then. Oh goody. I've nothing against the club itself per se, just their manager, who I consider the most self-gratifying wibble merchant in the footballing universe. The sort of man I imagine has a ceiling-length self-portrait in the dining room of his Lancashire mansion house, showing his short crop of hair fluttering on a windswept moor while his Staffordhire Bull Terrier mauls a nearby lamb .
With his involvement in the preposterous 'Gesture-gate' affair behind him, Sam has made a mockery of the claim he's not a long-ball man by instructing his players to lump the thing into the opposition box every time they're in range. He's even sent Morten Gamst-Pedersen to the Rory Delap School of Quarterbacking to try and eek out an extra goal or two here.
Like Sam, the method isn't pretty but 'ee by gum its effective. Despite Latics boss Steve Bruce having seen more than his fair share of aerial challenges in his time (just look at his battered face) and insisting his side worked all week prior to the game defending set plays, they were undone twice to record their third straight defeat. Not that anyone is counting, or cares.
Mind that trapdoor
Blackburn's win means its effectively two from four at the bottom of the table (despite their win, the Baggies are still gone). Middlesbrough looked moderately lively in patches at the Emirates but were undone by one superb goal, and a goalkeeping error. Not that Brad Jones will have got a rocket from Gareth Southgate, more probably a limp-wristed slap on the leg and a barb along the lines of, "I'm really angry with you Jonesy. Really. But you're a cracking person. Don't ever change." With Manchester United next salvation looks a long way off.
Hull's sphincter must have contracted rather significantly in the last few months, but at least they put up a decent fight against Liverpool. Caleb Folan obviously misheard Phil Brown's pre-match team talk that called for plenty of controlled agression. What a shame Liverpool didn't sign Real Madrid brawler Pepe in the January transfer window; they'd still be scrapping at the KC Stadium now. The Tigers' run in looks bitterly tough.
So, all this leaves the door slightly ajar for you-know-who. The way Mike Ashley has run the club this season they deserve to go down, but a win on Monday and a flicker of light at the end of the Tyne Tunnel will emerge. As the Geordies will tell you themselves, "If any-wun can dee it man, Wor Big Alan can leek, I'm tellin' yer".