Team of the Week
A combined team from the FA Cup semi-finals and a curtailed Premier League programme will provide our selection this sunny Sunday afternoon, a day in which the destiny of several key issues in England went some way to being decided.
There is no place for the Wembley pitch, itself some form of footballing Room 101 and it had a part to play in both the semis but there are a number of selections from the two matches. And we haven't forgotten the unlucky losers. Gareth Bale and James Milner expended every sinew to secure their teams a return visit to the be-arched stadium with the expensive pies and pints.
Bale was the stand-out performer for Tottenham and made several lung-bursting runs to try and secure his strikers the goal they so horribly failed to deliver against Portsmouth. He can count himself very unlucky indeed and is at last emulating the promise he showed as an in-demand teenager. James Milner, meanwhile, was simply everywhere in Aston Villa's vain effort to reach the final. His prodding, probing and energy was a constant thorn in Chelsea's side, even after John Terry had attempted to carry out mid-air surgery on his leg. "JT" can be awarded the villain of the week award.
But to the victor, the spoils. And Didier Drogba continued his happy habit of being a Wembley specialist by scoring the goal that broke Aston Villa. He also made a pest of himself all afternoon, providing an outlet for his defenders and midfielders to get the ball to and buy time. This type of form will likely power Chelsea to their first ever Double of Premier League and FA Cup.
Frederic Piquionne played a similar role during Pompey's amazing effort in the face of adversity. His goal, though owing much to Michael Dawson's slip on that pitch, was just reward for an afternoon of unbridled effort. That the New Caledonian was granted the chance to score was down to the type of defending that Ricardo Rocha embodied for Portsmouth. The Portuguese, playing against a club that he played for in somewhat undistinguished fashion, made interceptions and blocks all day long and belied his reputation as sending-off specialist with a hugely disciplined performance.
More expected at Wembley was the continuing excellence of Florent Malouda, who tormented Villa with his athleticism and killed them off with a well-taken goal.
Back into the Premier League and further good news for Chelsea came in the form of Phil Jones' precocious defensive masterclass for Blackburn Rovers to deny Manchester United a win at Ewood Park. Jones is a young defender who must be a shoe-in for future international status and at 18, has impressed against both United and Chelsea in recent weeks. So good he's keeping Ryan Nelsen out - and that is meant as a compliment.
The race for fourth looks like it will be ending up at Eastlands where five-goal Manchester City punished Birmingham City. Two goals were scored by Nedum Onuoha, who is hardly known for his goal streaks. We know our readers sometimes dismiss a goal-scoring defender but this was quite a feat that we have chosen to celebrate.
Last week, of course, City were destroying Burnley, who followed the most risible performance of the season with their most stirring, a 4-1 relegation six-pointer victory at Hull City. Graham Alexander, at 39, shows the energy and desire that we all hope we'd show if granted the chance to play with the big boys at his advanced age. What he also shows is the coolness to take pressure penalties and his brace of spot-kicks may yet save his club.
And what of his boss? Brian Laws is a much lampooned manager in these parts, but he has to be given credit for masterminding the win at Hull and pulling his troops back from the depths of humiliation.
City's fellow runners in the race for fourth are Liverpool, who look to have done a King John's Castle in drawing 0-0 with fellow Europa Leaguers Fulham. Mark Schwarzer may have been outstanding for Fulham, to continue his consistency but Alberto Aquilani put in a showing that offers some hope for Liverpool fans about their mysterious Italian midfielder. That is, of course, until Rafa Benitez did a "Fernando Torres" and hooked him from the field in the 65th minute when he had put in his best showing yet in a Liverpool shirt.