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May 16, 2011

'Razor' Rooney revels in record

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 week brimming with potential victims.

Number 19. In bumfluff

One wonders if those at the Premier League's fixture scheduling department will allow themselves an extra hazelnut-infused flat white skinny latte this morning, after Manchester United's title win Blackburn cast a long, arse-shaped shadow over proceedings at Wembley. Not only did United celebrate securing the title, they also knocked Liverpool off their effing perch and threw a damp tea towel over the explosion of joy that has been 35 years in the making at City; incontrovertible proof of which is provided by the fact that I am leading this week's bulletin with Fergie's feral beasts and not Mancini's mob.

United's labouring draw at Rovers typified their wretched away form; they have won just five on the road this season, the same as Newcastle. Had an alien from Planet Balotelli (one of the most 'out there' in the solar system) sat down to watch the game they could easily have surmised this was a relegation dogfight between two distinctly average units, and that it's United who have been hauled to the precipice by a bunch of idealistic chicken farmers who hold board meetings 4,000 miles from the club's training ground and think relegation was outlawed during the Poll Tax riots of 1990.

But aren't our champions great ambassadors for the English game? As Javier Hernandez was felled in the box by England's No. 12 Paul Robinson, a gaggle of furious United players surrounded the linesman like it was a rumble outside a kebab shop at 4am on a Sunday morning. Nemanja Vidic was chief pie thrower, spitting venom at the terrified official as if he'd threatened to carve Fergie's heart of his chest and replace it with a lump of charcoal.

Then, after the Roonatic converted the penalty, he screamed obscenities at his own fans before he went back into the changing room, sellotaped some of Fabio's bum-fluff onto his chest in the shape of the figure 19 and saw fit to tweet it to the world. If ever there was an incident that showcased the need for social networking sites to be censored this was it.

Yaya's Cup runneth over

A mere 20 minutes after the Roonatic got his clippers out in Blackburn's dressing room, United's long-suffering noisy neighbours began their quest to end a trophy drought that stretched back 35 years. Miffed at having to share the limelight with their Manchester rivals, they set about shackling Stoke, who it is rumoured had approached Brett Favre to partner Rory Delap in central midfield before the game.

Once again, City's hero was Yaya Toure, who covered so much ground at Wembley it felt like his brother Kolo was playing as well. After sealing City's final place with a goal against United in the semi, he blasted City over the line again, while in the posh seats Fabio Capello asked Franco Baldini to establish how long it would take for Yaya to gain citizenship so he could finally replace Frank Lampard in England's midfield.

Encouragingly, Mario Balotelli managed to reign in his rage when Robert Huth smashed a forearm into the Italian's face, and he did show some self-awareness when he declared after the game: "All season I have been sh*t." Whether he is talking about his on-field performances, or his relationship with Manchester's parking enforcement officers, who have so far rinsed him for a reputed £20,000 worth of fines, was not clear.

As ever, the only black cloud on the horizon was the future of Carlos Tevez, who chose an interesting time to tell a Spanish newspaper he doesn't know how much more he can "bear" at City. While he painted a bleak and depressing picture of his life in Manchester and gave the impression he'd be around for about five minutes, Roberto Mancini insisted he'd be staying for five years. Still, if Tevez does go, at least City have got Edin Dzeko - the man whose first touch is akin to watching a bouncy ball cannon off a rocky outcrop.

Hammered

If anyone has a spare afternoon, can they please nip up to Wigan and drive Avram Grant back to London? He'll be the one standing outside the DW Stadium trying to thumb a lift. After the Hammers shipped a two-goal lead at Wigan, dived headfirst into the Championship, and allowed their beleaguered manager to conduct his press conference before bundling him into a room that contained his P45, they then almost stopped him travelling back on the team bus given that his portly frame would have cost them extra in petrol. Those penny-pinching instincts kick in fast, believe me.

At least West Ham signed off with a vintage example of how not to defend. Sitting pretty 2-0 up at the break, just like they were against Manchester United, Avram clearly failed to deliver any sort of coherent team talk, given the brainless fashion in which they negotiated the second half. I'm no tactical genius (I get a nosebleed whenever I deviate from a rigid 4-4-2 on Football Manager) but perhaps if he had instructed his players to sit deep, retain possession and adopt a mentality encapsulated by his 'bah humbug' facial expression, they might have been alright.

It was fitting the final indignity came via a Rob Green howler, but the owners must take some of the flak too, after conducting their deliberations over whether to sack Avram Grant in public during January and spending the month lavishing money the club didn't have on expensively remunerated has-beens, one of whom missed an open goal last week, while the other somehow managed to shepherd Wigan's chief threat onto his favoured left foot so he could land the game's knockout blow.

As for Wigan, it was a comeback even more remarkable than the fact they managed to attract a crowd of over 20,000 to the DW Stadium. They now head to beaten FA Cup finalists Stoke, with one last shot at salvation.

Relegation or Europa League fodder

Even me, with my notoriously confrontational approach to optimism, can smell that next Sunday might be more than a little interesting. As far as I can tell only two out of the final ten games are dead rubbers, as European issues are settled and we find out which two teams will join West Ham in their nine-month long tour of shame around some of England's bleakest towns and cities.

Blackpool's barnstorming win over Bolton offered them hope of survival and demonstrated why we shall miss their brand of frantic football. They still need to go to Old Trafford and get a result, or at least avoid a pasting, but one consolation for them is that Darron Gibson is almost certain to be playing. Another comes with the sight of Birmingham's defensive meltdown, as they trot off to White Hart Lane to face a Tottenham side that played with a passion and intensity at Anfield that only comes with the threat of a drastically shortened summer holiday.

Before the game 'Arry reminded his troops they are near the top of the Fair Play table and thus in line for a place in the Europa League whether they finish fifth or sixth; the difference being if they made the competition thanks to good behaviour, the qualifiers start on June 30, which would only allow them time for a quick long weekend in Devon before they'd be back in training at Chigwell.

Lap of disintegration

The only thing Arsenal and Chelsea could claim to have in common on Sunday was a performance so miserable it sent half their support home before they embarked on their laps of appreciation. As they limped sheepishly round the turf one couldn't help but ruminate that the manager who won the Double last season is almost certainly about to get the sack while the one who has presided over a six-year silverware drought is in little danger of losing his job.

Chelsea's farewell to their fans should have seen them record a comfortable victory over a Newcastle side who are more excited about the summer holidays than the kids at my old primary school. As it turned out, Steven Taylor took his goal tally to two in ten games this season, while Fernando Torres, who was supposed to be marking him late on, took his to one in 17 for Chelsea. Last season Carlo sprinted up the touchline at Stamford Bridge with the Premier League trophy, lapping up the adulation that poured from the stands. This time, black suit and all, he looked like a pallbearer at his own funeral. No wonder, given that all that is left for him to do is oversee another defeat at Everton before putting his flat up for sale.

At least Chelsea managed a point though, something Arsenal failed to do against their mediocre mid-table opponents. Thomas Vermaelen has been elevated to some God-like defensive being in his absence, but even he looks like a donkey when paired with Sebastian Squillaci. It was too much for the home support to bear, as they grumbled about price increases for next season while their team set about plummeting down the table. Boos rang out at the final whistle and only 14 people remained in the stadium to shout abuse at their downtrodden squad.

To be frank, the thought of having to start next season as I've finished this one, by tearing strips off the Gunners when they drop out of the Champions League in the qualifying stages, makes me want to weep, or emigrate. Mind you, at least I've got three months to come up with, or steal, some new gags.

Don't forget, you can help The Fifth Official's bid to attract more followers on Twitter than Leon Knight at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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