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May 18, 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.

Toon Toon Bankrupt Army

After last Monday's scenes of euphoria upon thrashing local rivals and fellow relegation plodders Middlesbrough, St James's Park reverted to type on Saturday, exhibiting a large helping of cowering silence intertwined with a light dusting of crippling fear and paranoia.

Shearer! Shearer! clearly thought he'd cracked this management lark (chapter one, part one, line one: remove Michael Owen wherever possible) but wily old Roy Hodgson's resurgence, coupled with referee Howard Webb's mid-life crisis dovetailed delightfully to leave Newcastle staring down the financial black hole that labours under the name: the Championship. The tele was to blame for Viduka's disallowed goal according to the Toon's boss, as Webbo let all last week's talk of 'blocking off' go to his head when ruling out a perfectly good equaliser.

Big Al made his way through the post-match talk predicting more "twists and turns" when we all knew what he really wanted to do was rip off his pin-striped suit and sink to his naked knees in the centre circle before hollering: "Just when I thought we were out .. they pull me back in!"

You want Jussi Jussi?

Newcastle's pathetic hopelessness played right into the hands of Hull and their specialised brand of wretched woefulness, but once again they were left to curse the man who has spent so long at Bolton he's got his own suite in the Reebok Stadium's hotel (it can be hired for a modest price and comes complete with a buxom and willing Finnish milkmaid if you're interested).

Jussi Jääskeläinen seems to have stored up his two best 'double saves' this season and whipped his impressive pair out when met with the tame Tigers. Fair play to Phil Brown though, in the midst of a run of form so horrendous they'd probably even get a sympathy snog from Jordan, Hull somehow managed to conjure a half decent performance out of nowhere and claim the point that may just keep them up.

If they can muster a win against Manchester United's reserves they will scrape another season in poundland, and most probably put their fans through an exact same rollercoaster ride next campaign.

Guus's last gander at the Bridge

Big Sam and his Blackburn mob are so close to their two-month long beach holiday in Mauritius they probably checked in online at half-time during their match at Stamford Bridge. Duly dispatched, they shuffled off to the nearest tanning salon while Chelsea's fans and players made a hearty, but ultimately half-hearted plea for Guus Hiddink to shun the wilds of Russia and take the job full time. There were only about 55 fans left in the ground for his lap of honour, mind.

The Blues pulled out all the stops, Roman Abramovich waving at Guus from his diamond encrusted directors box, while John Terry nibbled his ear and quite possibly rubbed his bottom ever so innappropriately at the same time. They then afforded Guus a strange guard of honour that he couldn't wait to run away from, but it all seems destined to fail, much to the chargin of the English press who have been so keen to hype the 'Guus is staying' story into submission they started decoding coughs and winks during press conferences as sure-fire signs he was in for the long haul . The Dutchman is a rare breed in football, namely a man who keeps his word, and for that he deserves a big running-chest-bump.

His brief tenure climaxes at Wembley in a few weeks of course, and he did admit he was surprised and delighted by the outporuing (titter of applause) of emotion from Chelsea's faithful (four men, three kids and one cocker spaniel) but it wasn't enough to change his mind.

Boro's return to Middle Earth

Hull are limping but alive, Newcastle are largely limbless and fending off the last rites but surely Middlesbrough are now mortally wounded. One point from two "must win" games means the second tier of English football will have the benefit of Gareth Southgate's overwhelming charisma next season, though he will at least be able to lay claim to the coveted title of most intelligent Championship manager (unless Mike Ashley replaces Shearer with Carol Vorderman).

Tuncay's brilliant bicycle kick gave the Smoggies hope against Villa, but it's all very well having a spasmodic Turkish featherweight perm queen smashing in the spectacular a couple of times a season, but where is the 15-goal predator the 'Boro really need? Perhaps Southgate deserves relegation if he thought Marlon King was the man to do it, or maybe he just thought because he looks a little bit like Afonso Alves (remember him?) he could hoodwink us all into thinking it was the former Heerenveen striker banging them in. In the end King did prove a menace in the penalty area, but unfortuantely it was his own. His pathetic attempt at a clearance landed right at John Carew's feet, he smashed the ball into the far corner and then the booing began.

United title party-hard, Rafa not invited

It was about as riveting as watching someone watch paint dry but Manchester United wrapped up the Premier League crown with a barnstorming 0-0 draw with Arsenal that acted as the complete antithesis to their thrilling meeting at the Emirates back in October. Rafa certainly wasn't impressed though, congratulating the club but not the man, akin to praising a restaurant for a delicious meal but refusing to compliment the chef directly.

To be fair to Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson, there can be no question they deserve their 18th league title and while the character of some of their gaggle of superstars can be called into question a little too often for my liking, there's no doubt they play quality, attractive football and blend silk with the steel required to prosper at the top level.

The trophy was trotted out and duly lifted as Fergie tried his best not to look bored at having to look delighted again. Yes old man, we salute you. Again. Now retire.

I'm sure the gloss hasn't be taken off Manchester United's 18th league title by the fact that their main rivals for the crown, Liverpool, beat them 6-2 on aggregate over their two meetings though. No, not at all.

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