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May 11, 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.

Hull hath no fury. Whatsoever

Cynics say you can dress statistics up to prove whatever you want and in this case they may be right, because the fact that Hull City have secured just seven points since Boxing Day, and one win in 21 games, leads me to the conclusion they are absolutely rubbish.

If ever there was a chance to launch 'Relegation Avoidance Plan W' this was it. Stoke long-balled into town with just one away win under their belts from the previous 17 games. Heck, even the Tigers have mustered four more than that.

The ship of safety had long since sailed when Andy Dawson stroked home a free-kick as Hull displayed exactly what has undone their unprecedented start to the season; goal-shy attacking and shoddy defending. All the while Phil Brown wore that 'rueful' expression of his, you know, the one he adopts when he's in a huff with Geovanni (again).

He says he's tried everything, but perhaps Brown will dispense with the headgear at Bolton next week. That way the toothless Tigers will have a bluetooth-less manager. Thanks, I'm here all season.

Tevez's long and painful goodbye

If this prolonged and sultry farewell to Manchester United continues any longer it'll get to the stage where Carlos Tevez and Fergie are on the phone in the dead of night whispering, "No, you hang up," back and forth until the first shreds of morning light filter through the stained glass windows in their respective Cheshire pantheons.

Hours prior to kick-off in the derby, Carlito upped his high stakes game of dice with United's lump-sum shy board by threatening: "Any club I join, whether it be Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool or Everton, will be a rival of Manchester United." Fair play to Argentina though, he always follows up another instalment of 'Goodbye-gate' with a humdinger of a goal, this time choosing to celebrate in front of the bench by cupping his ears and mouthing "Just, like, hand over the cash yeah?"

There's no doubt Tevez is a gifted footballer, but the question remains, is it worth siding up to whoever owns him down a dark Buenos Aries alley and handing over £25million big ones?

Back on their Arsenals

For six minutes on Tuesday, Arsenal's players had a glimpse of what their lives could be like if those latte-swigging imposters at the Emirates got off their Arsenals a little more often and put some gusto into creating an atmosphere inside their swanky new stadium. Flags were waved with pride, songs belted out at ear-splitting volume and players warmly applauded. Then Manchester United scored two in four minutes and the Gooners reverted to type.

How fitting then that it was Chelsea who sauntered into the eternal resting place for Champions League ambitions on Sunday, and discovered Arsenal were still in a giving mood. The Blues couldn't get the ball for half an hour but as soon as they did, they rattled in three goals in 21 minutes.

By this stage of course, the Arsenal fans who were left in the stadium (about 12 of them) were so indifferent to proceedings, or football in general, that they couldn't muster a boo when Theo Walcott duly completed his 15th glaring miss of the match or a titter of recognition when Nicklas Bendtner managed to take to the field fully clothed.

This Eu-ropey League nonsense

Forgive me if I fail to get excited by 'the race for seventh'. It used to be old fashioned and straight forward, as in, the winner wins. But then we had the race for third, the race for fourth, and now we've downgraded our ambitions to the race for flippin' seventh. Only the Premier League could attempt to dress up such a mediocre amble into the paddocks as a 'race'.

If this reward for averageness continues soon we'll have to put up with 'the race for top of the bottom half of the table' whereby the manager of that lucky team gets to unveil a statue of himself made out of Vaseline on the main street of whatever Midlands grief hole he lives in.

Still, however much I undress it, the 'race' to become the seventh best team in England does still offer a place in Europe and West Ham, Spurs, Manchester City and Fulham would all be grateful for that. My preference would be for Fulham to clinch it, largely due to cuddly old Roy Hodgson, who has somehow managed to fashion a silky and competitive unit out of the ashes of last year's nail-biting relegation escape.

His side demolished Aston Villa on Saturday, as they have most teams who visit west London this season, and half-way through their 3-1 win the Craven Cottage faithful launched a cry of "Stand up, for Roy Hodgson". What followed was a minute-long standing ovation for the job Hodgson has done since this time last year and also because he is almost certainly the nicest man in football.

Where have all the hit men gone?

Outside those hotbeds of Manchester United support (Berkshire, Cornwall, Leicester etc) few people can stand Cristiano Ronaldo, but I'm slowly warming to him. I mean, who can't fail to be charmed by the sight of a grown man registering his entry for 'dirty protest of the season' in front of one of the game's greatest ever managers, not to mention 76,000 supporters inside Old Trafford?

Apparently, Ron's ridiculous hissy-fit is connected with the fact that he's desperate to retain his crown as the Premier League's top scorer, and his nostrils became infested with the distinct odour of goal-pie against Manchester City, but forgive me if I'm not captivated by a race which relies on Nicolas Anelka to rival Ronny in the fight to limp over the 20-goal mark, a player I still consider to be a bit rubbish despite his tally of 17.

Obviously, Ron's exploits last year were stupendous, but he's not an out-and-out centre forward, and neither is Le Sulk anymore. There are very few top class, predatory strikers left, in the mould of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robbie Fowler, Alan Shearer or Thierry Henry these days, all different in their own ways but binded by the fact they'd score goals if you stuck them up front. Henry is still knocking them in for Barca, but has reverted back to the left wing role he used to fulfil in his Juventus days.

Apart from Didier Drogba's not altogether disgraceful return of 20 goals in season 2006-07 you have to go back to 2000/01 for the next lowest tally, when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink netted 23. A measure of how lifeless this year's race has become is evident with realisation that a late burst from Bolton's Kevin Davies or Tottenham's Darren Bent could propel them into contention for the golden boot.

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