United given time bonus
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.
Keep playing until Manchester United win
How to sum up an epic, seven-goal Manchester derby that Sir Alex Ferguson called the "best of all time" in 150 words? Not by wasting precious space with rhetorical opening sentences like that, I hear you cry. Speaking of crying, tears of joy rolled down Michael Owen's face at the end, just after he realised he still "had it."
Mark Hughes looked like he was about to wring someone's neck after Owen etched his name into United folklore, and entered a new category on the Owen-o-meter - derby hero - while Fergie compounded City's misery by jumping up and down with Gary Neville before joking with the officials on the touchline, who all of a sudden became his new best mates. It looked suspiciously like he said "cheque's in the post, lads," but then my lip reading has never been spot on.
It was breathless stuff, with Rio Ferdinand's brain freeze my champagne moment, but, of course, the real star was referee Martin Atkinson who not only conjured an extra three minutes of added time on top of his original four, but also blew his whistle precisely 16 seconds after the restart following Owen's goal. I wonder if officials will soon be available to sign in ESPN's fantasy league game. After all, they do rack up the assists at Old Trafford don't they?
The wonder of Webb
Another official who can claim a vital assist at Old Trafford is Howard Webb. Remember his scandalous penalty decision from last season when Tottenham were the visitors, and coasting at 2-0 up? Sure you do, it was the one that sparked Manchester United's comeback and eventual 5-2 win. Well, he's having a laugh at Spurs' expense again and 'Arry is not 'appy.
At Stamford Bridge Robbie Keane scampered to within five yards of goal and was just about to trigger an equaliser before Ricardo Carvalho swung a leg and brought him down. Webb took an age to make a decision. He ruminated, stroked his chin, mused, had a cuppa, pontificated, and then adjusted his codpiece before waving his arms about in that theatrical way he does shouting "no" over and over again.
Keane was so incensed by the decision he dashed after Webb demanding to be booked for diving, though I'm not sure how that would have helped the cause. Needless to say, Chelsea scored just three minutes later and went on to win the game. I thought a bit of competition for the big four would shake things up a bit and I'm all for the likes of City and Spurs putting a few noses out of joint at the upper echelons of the league. The referees don't seem that keen on it, mind. Maybe they don't like change.
What a difference a transfer makes. For two long and painful years David Nugent warmed the inhospitable and drafty bench at Portsmouth, desperate for a chance to show what he could do. Harry Redknapp signed him, then shunned him once he realised that was £6 million he could never get back.
The final straw for big Dave came when even blunder-merchant Paul Hart decided he wasn't going to get a game, at which point he upped sticks to Burnley with plenty to prove and more than a few Clarets fans muttering their discontent given his Preston past. But Nugent shrugged off the memory of his four goals for Pompey in two seasons and became an instant hero for his new club by bagging two beauties in the space of 20 minutes at Turf Moor against Sunderland.
The first was a bullet header any centre forward would have been proud of, but the second was even better, a shimmying, curling strike that arced into the top corner. At which point the crowd, who had written off as a mentalist the chap who hastily concocted a 'David Nugent for England' banner in the burger bar at half-time, hailed him as a foresighted genius.
Back away from the ballpoint
This weekend offered up two leading contenders for worst Premier League game in history. Stoke's trip to Bolton and Hull's encounter with Birmingham were wisely not selected for television, presumably to prevent a mass wave of self-harming across the world.
"Unwatchable," and "abysmal," were two of the kinder words used to describe the first half at the Reebok Stadium, where grizzled hacks in the press box willed themselves to fall asleep if only to rob them of the temptation to poke their own eyes out with ballpoint pens. Perhaps the sheer banality of it wasn't surprising, given that Gary Megson had demanded his side get more physical ahead of the game. That's like asking Elton John to camp it up a bit more.
The game was at least afforded a sliver of interest in the second half. Dave Kitson's goal provided the only genuine moment of class in the entire 90 minutes while Matthew Taylor's last minute equaliser couldn't prevent a storm of booing directed towards Megson upon the final whistle. Whoever got the Ginger Mourinho in the office sack race sweepstake will be wearing a smug grin this week methinks.
Liverpool are third but already struggling to hang onto the top two's coat tails, and that's with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard fit, in-form and firing. Good job too, seeing as Jamie Carragher's frail body looks like it's finally about to give up the ghost. No doubt he'll be seeing flashing images of Zavon Hines whenever he closes his eyes this week.
Torres turned Saturday's game at West Ham in the Reds' favour with two superb goals. His short-legged stab into the net for the first was ridiculously good, and he soared majestically above two defenders for the winner. Gerrard, meanwhile, played a large part in the other goal. The whole of Christendom knows that if either of those two miss many games, Liverpool's limp title challenge will be dead in the water. In fact, take those two out of the equation and they'd struggle to finish above Everton.
Torres' display was all too much for Rafa Benítez who was unusually gushing towards his fellow Spaniard after the game. He wibbled: "I'm sure he'll be one of the best. He was very cheap. It's not just on the pitch. He's very professional and a perfect husband, so sorry for the women." I'm not sure which part of that sentence worries me more, Rafa, your deconstruction of 'Nando's marriage or the fact that you think £26.5 million is cheap.