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Oct 23, 2011

Sparks fly for Balotelli, Blues see red

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.

Super Mario is on fire. Literally

Last week's missive may have been widely panned but it did at least contain one nugget of truthful gold - that Mario Balotelli was surely only days away from an "explosion of stupidity". Quite an apt turn of phrase as it happens, given that Super Mario managed to set his bathroom on fire while enjoying a fireworks party on Saturday. Thankfully for Manchester City, it was swiftly followed by an explosion of brilliance on Sunday. The lad is, quite literally, on fire.

He was the spark for a rout of epic proportions, which not so much put Fergie's mob in their place, but tucked them up cosily in bed before taking their WAGs out on the town for a slap-up meal. Perhaps responding to the rocket he must have got from Roberto Mancini prior to the game, Mario notched his first then revealed a hilarious t-shirt. "Why always me?" it read. Mario, my man, how long have you got?

With Super Mario firing, and David Silva on a different spiritual plane to everyone else, City provided proof that if you spend a reasonable amount of money on good football players, you'll end up being pretty good at football. Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were so woeful in defence I fully expect them to be turning out for Sunderland come the end of January. Among many wonderful highlights was the sight of a chastened Fergie shuffling out for his post-match interview to admit this had been his worst ever day in football - an admission that immediately elevated it into one of the best for 80% of footy fans.

As for Mario, I hear he was detained in a secure unit on Sunday night at the request of Manchester's emergency services for fear of the havoc he'd cause.

Are you the Blues or the reds?

For once Super Sunday lived up to its billing. Just as the globe waited for its collective heart rate to return to medically acceptable levels after the Manchester derby, Chelsea decided to enter the enclosure of calamity by reducing themselves to nine men in the first half of their London derby with little Queens Park Rangers.

In midweek, David Luiz practiced some sort of sensual healing routine on Fernando Torres, who went on to score two goals (I sincerely hope he has been CRB checked), but at Loftus Road he kept his busy hands to himself. Judging by his performance, perhaps Chelsea should fork out for an exorcist next time he takes the field. It seems Roman has spent £20 million on a defender who has zero interest in defending. It's the equivalent of buying your son a G.I Joe action figure that comes with no AK47s and a horse grooming kit instead.

Despite the outcome, this is a game that should delight Andre Villas-Boas and depress the hell out of Neil Warnock. For if all QPR can do is desperately cling to a narrow victory while being outplayed by NINE players for a full 45 minutes they may as well opt for voluntary relegation now. Had Petr Cech been the only Chelsea player remaining, Rangers would still have sat deep and played on the counter, with Heidar Helguson and Tommy Smith up front (what did Warnock think this was? 1998?).

Predictably, and continuing a theme that ran throughout the weekend, AVB thought the referee was atrocious, while surprise surprise, Neil Warnock thought he got everything just about right.

Zamora you try the harder it gets

Nothing summed up the drama of a brilliant Premier League weekend better than an epic 40 seconds of action at Craven Cottage. Centre stage was Louis Saha, who recently declared himself "not good enough" on Twitter and Bobby Zamora, who should open an account on the site immediately and do the same.

With Fulham and Everton deadlocked at 1-1 in injury time at Craven Cottage, Zamora deftly sidestepped Tim Howard in the penalty area and had the goal at his mercy. The fans massed behind the net had their hands in the air, poised to celebrate a vital win, one that would have hauled Fulham well clear of the drop zone. They should have known better, for this is Bobby Zamora we are talking about, the man who came closer to hitting the international space station than the net when presented with an even easier chance at Manchester City a few seasons back.

Zamora tried to take the leather off the ball with his finish, rendering himself, his manager and the supporters, agog. Just 40 seconds later, Zamora's woe deepened as Saha finished a far trickier opportunity with aplomb to seal all three points for the Toffees and send them soaring up the table. So, to the tune of "That's Amore," altogether now: "When you're sat in Row Z and the ball hits your head, that's Zamora..."

Turns out you do know what you're doing

Molineux is fast becoming the main rival to White Hart Lane for the award of 'footballing cathedral most likely to turn most quickly on their own team and manager'. After 35 minutes of their heavenly clash with Swansea, Wolves were 2-0 down and Roger Johnson was defending so abysmally that one of their younger fans promptly burst into tears just as he was picked out by the television cameras.

Those who weren't blubbing at their side's abandonment of even the most basic defensive duties managed to fashion a series of humiliating chants towards their manager. "You're getting sacked in the morning," they sang at Mick McCarthy before his double substitution with 20 minutes left was greeted with a hearty rendition of "You don't know what you're doing."

Seeing as how the fans seem to know exactly what is right for Wolves, perhaps Molineux is the ideal place to run an experiment whereby the manager is sacked and all footballing decisions are made by punters in the stands via their own individual keypads. They can decide who comes on and off and what style of play Wanderers employ. Heck, they could even have a button on there that allows them to nuke Karl Henry if he isn't pulling his weight.

But actually, to the astonishment of all those smug simpletons in the stands, Mick did know what he was doing, as his subs contrived to haul Wolves back from the brink to earn a point. Mick was so pumped full of testosterone, he challenged the entire press corps to a fight in his post-match press conference. Not one of the cowards took him up on the offer.

The Long and short of it

The air of rebellion towards the press was carried forward by the most unlikely of candidates, Roy Hodgson, who was so incensed at Alan Hutton's tackle on Shane Long that the maniacal head scratch he deploys for times of ire took a third of his hair clean off his wig, sorry, his natural locks. This was a Midlands derby in which Phil Dowd pulled off a full house in referee bingo - turning in a performance so abject both managers were lining up to have a pop at him.

Despite winning, Roy seemed to feel the most aggrieved towards Dowd even though Villa were the victim of a phantom sending off when Chris Herd's reward for trying to remove himself from a tangle with Jonas Olsson was a red card. The poor kid looked so stunned it was as if he was convinced Dowd was being instructed by Lord Voldemort, who was offering to focus his deathly prowess on the young Australian the very second he'd finally finished off Harry Potter.

Alex McLeish, of course, thought the penalty was a disgrace, but then he saw nothing wrong with Hutton trying to fire himself deep into Long's bowels, as if he just had to find out what the striker had had for lunch - a fact which rather takes the edge off any argument he cares to make. Roy meanwhile, claimed the tackle could have broken both Long's legs. Would they then have become Long's short legs I wonder?

Don't forget, you can help The Fifth Official's bid to stimulate more debate on Twitter than Michael Owen at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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