Fifth Official: Let's all laugh at Liverpool
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.
Benitez's beach bums
This weekend I've mostly been laughing at Liverpool. Their defeat at Sunderland has to rank as one of the funniest reverses in history. Long have Kopites felt everything and everyone is against them, now even the fickle world of inflatable beach accessories has turned.
But never have Liverpool been masters of their own downfall so acutely. A young scally buzzing off his napper on fizzy pop whacked the beach ball onto the pitch with all the gay abandon of a child skipping home from school after breaking up for the summer. And as it flicked on Darren Bent's shot Pepe Reina suddenly disregarded years of training by following the oversized, inflatable tomato instead of the white round thing and Liverpool lost yet another game.
The icing on the cake would have been Benitez taking a pounding by the bruiser opposite him on the sidelines. When Steve Bruce reacted furiously at something he said, Rafa realised the imminent danger he was in and gave it the time honoured Scouse classic 'calm down' gesture. It would have been a viciously short fight.
Benitez's beach ball has truly burst, he's always been full of hot air and now his decision to play three at the back has left his club deflated. Leaving the puns aside for a second, he's washed up on the shore and/or all at sea. Rafa must now realise that without Stevie or 'Nando the team he has built is no better than average. Go on Liverpool fans, disagree with me. I dare you.
Any Port in a storm
It was all a bit incestuous at Fratton Park, but then when 'Arry is involved it is always likely to be. After all this is a fella who left Portsmouth for bitter rivals Southampton and copped it when he took Southampton back to Pompey. Then he got tired of Southampton and went back to Pompey, before dumping them for Spurs a year ago and playing on their financial meltdown to pinch their best players at very agreeable prices.
They took the majority of the stick - Jermain Defoe especially, before he saw the red mist - but 'Arry did alright in the end. He even got a slight titter of applause when he took his seat on the bench, but when a club is in such a parlous state the fans reach out desperately in all directions for a tiny reminder of the way things were. Now that Pompey are Championship-bound they found it in their hearts to celebrate the man who delivered the FA Cup. How big of them.
One has a feeling Harry won't be dipping his wick back in Pompey's pool to prise Aruna Dindane away from the south coast, though. The misfiring striker will be increasingly familiar with the phrase "you couldn't hit a cow's behind with a banjo" as he carries on shelling sitters at an impressive rate. Paul Hart may well burst into tears the next time he has to trot out the "ten out of ten for effort" line. At Hull this Saturday.
Away from the Bridge
Chelsea are fast becoming a soft touch away from home. They surrendered meekly at Aston Villa on Saturday lunchtime just two weeks after surrendering meekly to Wigan. Perhaps they should adopt the sort of steel shown by excitable touchline jack-in-the-box Martin O'Neill.
The Northern Irishman rode Nicolas Anelka's rough tackle like a winger in the 1970s; no theatrics, just take the hit, check you've still got two legs and get on with it. His backroom staff had front row seats as he was felled by the Incredible Sulk and as O'Neill crashed to the floor they all adopted a look as if one of their mates was being lectured by the headmaster.
Chelsea played glorious stuff at times but playground set-piece defending was again their undoing. Lampard flicked on for Richard Dunne's first while Ricardo Carvalho made himself scarce, then Anelka and Drogba abdicated to leave Collins totally free for the winner. Cech adopted his default corner position, namely 'the flap' and Terry's ensuing hissy fit said it all. As O'Neill picked the grit from his elbow Ancelotti remained calm. Terrifyingly calm.
Howard & Huth, Punch & Judy
It all got a bit punchy at Goodison Park and the Britannia on Saturday and in both cases, one can't help but feel justice was nowhere to be seen. There were two punches but just one red card, and that didn't even go to one of the brawlers.
Robert Huth wasn't even marking Matthew Upson but that didn't stop him launching a roundhouse bitch-slap that pole axed the Hammers' goalscorer. He then looked on sheepishly as Upson had treatment on the nasty cut he'd just had reopened. The German has previous though, just ask Alan Shearer's knackers. I smell an FA rebuke, Robert.
As for Tim Howard, frustration clearly got the better of him as he reacted furiously to an innocuous bump from an Austrian beanpole. So enraged was testosterone-fuelled Tim that he chased after Wolves' Stefan Maierhofer with a snarl on his face and launched a gloved, open-side stun-shove to the back of his neck (presumably, as high as he could reach). The ground held its breath, waited for a red card and it duly came. Problem was, YTS referee Stuart Attwell showed it to Maierhofer. "Harsh, bordering on downright disgraceful" was Mick McCarthy's gruff description.
The Ridgewell reducer
The last thing Arsenal's game with Birmingham needed was a reducer of the sort Liam Ridgewell produced on he of the brittle bones, Theo Walcott. The last time the two sides met, of course, was when Martin Taylor's weighty tackle snapped Eduardo's leg. Only William Gallas' hissy fit at the end of that game provided a chink of light relief on that most volatile of February afternoons.
Ridgewell clearly got the ball as he flew in on Walcott at the Emirates but his follow through left the England winger crumpled in a heap on the floor - a position he is more than used to. Walcott carried on manfully but eventually hobbled off before half-time. So was it a hard but fair challenge, or a reckless and unfair one? Thankfully, both managers seemed to agree it was the former, but only just.
What is not in doubt is that the Birmingham contingent didn't help an already fragile atmosphere with a provocative serenading of Martin Taylor while Walcott lay prostrate on the turf. Eduardo was in the stands, no doubt rubbing his shin. The chants were mindless at best, deliberately malicious at worst. Wenger called them ''atrocious'' and ''stupid'' and for once, I agree with him.