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Oct 26, 2009

Fifth Official: Liverpool turn it around

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.

Vidic sees red again

God bless the beautiful game. Manchester United rolled into town cock-a-hoop with their recent form and delirious at the prospect of putting Rafa out of a job via an avalanche of beach balls and goals at the Kop end from returning fiend Michael Owen.

But fair play to Rafa, the man stood his ground, and nobody had banked on how scared Nemanja Vidic is of Fernando Torres. Given both managers were playing down the chances of their star strikers of playing, it's fair to assume Nemanja started shaking the minute he saw the team sheet. His third red card in a row against Liverpool was almost inevitable.

Even Benitez admitted Torres was only at about 80% but that was still 40% more than necessary to put the heebie jeebies up Vidic, and his colleagues followed his lead. Fergie had another spitting rant at the referee, presumably to hide his shame at such a pathetic display, and showed he'd totally lost the plot by referring to Owen's "pace" as the reason why Jamie Carragher should have been dismissed. He did at least admit Liverpool were "the better team" and he was right. Liverpool sucked it up and played without fear. Quite some feat and quite some performance.

Jozy, you dozy Twitter

You wouldn't have guessed Phil Brown was nervous ahead of Saturday's bumper relegation clash with Pompey as he sashayed into his pre-match press conference with a towel draped round his neck as if he'd just been five rounds with Mike Tyson. I bet he even insisted his assistant manager Brian Horton bring a ghetto-blaster into the room and pump out the first bars of "Eye of the Tiger" as he strode in.

No wonder Brown has gone crazy when he's got players like Jozy Altidore to manage. Despite being up bright and early on Saturday morning and urging Tigers' fans to "bring the noise" on his Twitter page he somehow managed to turn up to the ground late, get dropped, then break the news to the world via another tweet. Brown, of course, had no idea what that meant but he didn't like the sound of it. Not surprisingly, that was the only meaningful thing to mention about a game so pitiful that one pundit started his second half report thus: "Bad news, both teams are back out on the pitch."

What a pair Brown and Paul Hart make. It's like they are having their own personal sack race. At least one has a modicum of rationality flowing through his veins, though. I mean, you can't see Hart going through the towel routine before his press conference and muttering to himself in the mirror: "I make this look gooood."

Stoke: Slaughtered but victorious

There is something uniquely satisfying about seeing Spurs take a pounding. Despite having a rather good start to the season there have still been more than enough opportunities to point the finger and giggle and we can now gleefully add Saturday afternoon's clash with Stoke to the list.

Let's be honest, Stoke got slaughtered. If it was a fight, Stoke wouldn't have been allowed to reappear after half time for fear of their entire first eleven slipping into a light coma at the punishment they'd taken. But thanks to an inspired Steve Simonsen, the acrobatics of James Beattie (how often have you heard that in a sentence?) and more last-ditch tackles than a rugby sevens tournament, somehow they kept their clean sheet intact.

Just when it was getting irritating for the home fans, it suddenly plunged into the downright sickening category which was absolutely brilliant for the rest of us. Aaron Lennon took a knock off Glenn Whelan and hobbled down the tunnel, despite 'Arry reminding him that Spurs had used all three subs. Then his tormentor picked up Ricardo Fuller's pass and applied the sort of finish Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane had proved incapable of providing all afternoon. 'Arry insisted after the game he didn't want to talk about Lennon, but you could tell he did.

Let's have Zamora that

He seems like such a nice lad, and everybody at Fulham is delighted with his work rate, his hold-up play, his patient distribution and his never-say-die-attitude. But it's funny how all those elements go out of the window when you somehow contrive to stick a tap in four yards over the bar with your favoured foot.

Bobby Zamora, that tireless workhorse of a footballer, was lurking on the edge of the six-yard box when Shay Given palmed Clint Dempsey's shot into his path. Under no pressure, and with Given miles away from the action, Zamora somehow managed to fire his effort closer to the international space station than the net.

Thankfully he did at least have a hand in Fulham's fightback from a two goal deficit to remind Manchester City's band of prima-donnas why they are far from the finished article. His tidy chest-off to Damien Duff helped to get the Cottagers back into it, but people don't tend to remember chest-offs quite as well as they do misses of the century. Sorry Bob, you're stuck with that one forever. Just ask Chris Iwelumo.

Lucas Neill's Karma Police

Karma is a wonderful thing in football and Lucas Neill should start to realise that before he's a bitter and twisted ball of rage, shivering in a corner of a pub in a remote part of the Australian outback, at the age of 40.

He'd had a pretty good game - setting up two goals - until his fiery temper reared its purple, vein-busting head after a clash with Ivan Klasnic. The fact the loveable Trotters front man is even playing at this level is nothing short of astonishing, given his two kidney transplants, but as he collided with Neill and went heavily to ground the Aussie gave him a few choice words and told him to get up, in his special, venomous, effing and blinding kind of way.

Imagine how sheepish Neill looked ten seconds later when Klasnic still hadn't moved and his team mates were shaking his lifeless limbs around trying to rouse him. Thankfully, the physio hared on and quickly brought him round, to everyone's relief. Then with just four minutes of the game remaining he struck Bolton's winner, the eighth goal Everton have conceded in four days, to remind Lucas that good things happen to good people. Most of the time.

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