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Nov 7, 2011

Fergie's 25, Kenny clucking

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.

25 years of jaw ache

He may be a grumpy sod at times, but it would be churlish not to salute Sir Alex Ferguson's 25 years in football management, as well as his tireless work to keep the chewing gum sector buoyant for the last quarter of a century. As a tribute to his achievement a testimonial game was held at Old Trafford as his Manchester United XI faced an exhibition team made up of old boys Wes Brown, Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley, marshalled for the day by the manager of United's north east retirement home, Steve Bruce.

A guard of honour from both sides greeted football's most famous Knight of the realm as he trotted out to be told by David Gill that the North Stand at Old Trafford would now be called the 'Sir Alex Ferguson Stand'. It was a poignant gesture, one that touched Fergie, but also one that, heartbreakingly, showed the old chap is losing his touch. There was a time when he knew everything that went on at the club and the fact that he failed to notice its construction proves that his grasp is loosening ever so slightly. Further proof came when he picked Rio Ferdinand to start, and placed top goalscorer Wayne Rooney once again in a deeper midfield role.

Of course, it would have been a betrayal of the occasion had Fergie's side not won, so the players hastily concocted an own goal from Wes Brown to settle the day in United's favour and send everyone home happy. Well done Fergie; here's to the next quarter of a decade knocking people off their "f***ing perches".

Clucking like Venky's

Speaking of perches, Liverpool are slipping off their self-imposed 'title contenders' one, with Kenny fast attempting to downgrade his moniker to 'King of disappointing home draws against newly promoted sides'. When appointments are made out of sentiment, an inevitable crossroads is pitched squarely on the horizon. Liverpool find themselves at that freshly tarmacked intersection right now, battling with their deep love for their legendary manager but unable to ignore the superfluous sting of mediocrity in front of them.

It is a brave man who utters that first tut in the vague direction of the King but after the monstrous performances of Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll against Swansea - purchased for a combined price of just over £50 million and removed long before the game had ended - a few were audible. Liverpool's brittle confidence seems to drain away every time the ball melts at the toxic feet of Carroll, who seems to have taken the fact that he was bought to replace Fernando Torres too literally, given his early season penchant for missing great chances at close range.

Kenny was openly scathing about the efforts of his side, who are now level on points with supposed 'crisis club' Arsenal. Daniel Agger was even more disgusted, likening Liverpool's style of football to a Venky's factory by saying some of his team-mates were gallivanting around the field like "headless chickens". He also, rather cryptically, said some players were more "angry and disappointed than others" in defeat. Is he looking at you Andy?

The definition of average

These are times to have you looking at your calendar to check the year, as Newcastle United sit third in the Premier League. I've held off musing on their achievements, convinced every game would surely be the one where they received a hiding of epic proportions to reduce them to the skint, shivering, Sports Direct-clad mess the entire country expects them to be. But alas, after 11 games, it seems when referencing them, one is now legally obliged to use the term "surprise package".

Even their owners are starting to look vaguely competent. The £35 million they squeezed out of Liverpool for Andy Carroll is starting to look like an inspired transaction, especially as the freebie (Demba Ba) they replaced him with has four times the number of Premier League goals. In fact things are going so well, it is about time they did something horrendously stupid, like renaming the St James' Park hostelry known as' Shearer's' the 'Joe Kinnear Speakeasy'.

How fitting that defender Ryan Taylor has emerged as poster boy for the unlikeliest surge in Premier League history since Hull and Phil Orange briefly hit top spot back in 2009. Taylor was only purchased in order to stop him scoring free kicks for Wigan against Newcastle, now he is scoring goals of a quality that are way above his pay grade.

This has all come as delicious relief for a Toon-fancying chum of mine who labelled Taylor a great signing and has been wearing that judgement like an albatross round his neck ever since. For years all his opinions has been dismissed purely on that basis, yet as Taylor's rocket volley crashed in off the bar on Saturday lunchtime, those of us in the pub turned aghast to see him sporting the look of a deeply smug man.

Overly Kean Airways

After being told to stop shouting nasty things at their manager and having their banners banned from the ground, Blackburn's fans took the aerial route in their attempt to persuade Venky's to hand Steve Kean the oversized P45 that supporters produced during the last in a long line of protests against the manager.

Those embittered fans clubbed together to charter a small plane to fly over the ground with a "Steve Kean out" banner trailing in its wake. It flew round and round in circles, mirroring the performances of those home players thousands of feet below and, despite the thing making a fearful racket, Kean claimed not to have seen it and would not comment on rumours Sven Goran Eriksson was at the controls either.

Despite another gold-plated miss to add to Fernando Torres' ever expanding collection, a distinctly ragged Chelsea clung on for three points to make it just three wins out of the last 25 in the Premier League for Rovers. But despite this wretched run, there is talk of a contract extension in the air for a manager who clearly exercises some sort of mind control technique over the club's owners. Saturday's performance proved his side were about to go on "a run" Kean insisted. If they don't start winning against Wigan, Stoke, Swansea, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion that run will turn into a headlong sprint towards the air space over the Championship.

Jol love this Harry

This was not the sedate Sunday afternoon Harry Redknapp needed as his recuperation from minor heart surgery continued in earnest. Tuning in for Tottenham's clash with Fulham, he was first confronted with the shocking sight of Ray Wilkins' creepy half-moustache - grown in aid of the Movember cause - before a frantic finale saw Fulham lay siege to Brad Friedel's net.

Doctors have told Harry he is strictly forbidden from giving any live interviews to Sky from golf courses until his month of rest is up, immediately presenting the channel with a huge hole in their midweek programming. In his absence Joe Jordan, Kevin Bond and handshake obsessive Clive Allen sported pained expressions as they clung on in the face of a second half bombardment at Craven Cottage.

In the home dugout, Martin Jol was wearing an exasperated expression, similar to the one he adopted when news of his sacking as Tottenham boss leaked out during a UEFA Cup tie at White Hart Lane four years ago. Fulham had a total of 31 attempts on goal but the forcefield around Brad Friedel's net stayed in place to give Harry just the tonic he required. Any more games like this, though, and he'll need some gin and a slice of lime to go with it.

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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