Kean on a truce
Christmas is supposed to be a time of cheer, of good will to all men, but trying telling that to the folk of Blackburn, who are ripping themselves to shreds the further they are led into the footballing wilderness by that prophet of doom Steve Kean. To compound his yuletide misery, the town's local paper, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, is calling for his head on Monday morning's front page. No wonder, given the manager's own driving license has more points than his team.
Prior to the West Brom game Blackburn's fans came up with a novel idea, forgetting the protests in favour of "getting behind the team," as a spokesman put it. Essentially, the opposite of what they did against Swansea. What a hapless bunch; they ended up protesting after a 4-2 victory last week and abandoning one after an abject performance that practically demanded one on Saturday. The more I think about it, the more they are made for each other.
"I always feel as if we are about to go on an unbeaten run," Kean said, with that brittle optimism you just know turns into tears when the cameras are switched off. Kean continues to insist the owners are right behind him and for Rovers' sake I hope they are, only armed with a big sack and a P45. Time is running out to salvage any scrap of light at the end of a tunnel that looks distinctly Championship-shaped. Next up, fellow strugglers Bolton, a classic derby six-pointer. As legendary commentator Barry Davies once put it: "Interesting, very interesting."
Shuffling off the Coyle
Whereas Kean is afforded a ritualistic beating of character after each derisory Blackburn performance, the man who has pulled off a footballing miracle by churning out a team who are worse than Blackburn - Owen Coyle - is repeatedly spared from a public flogging, presumably just because he's a nice chap and a little more honest. "This is killing me," he admitted after a fifth straight defeat at Fulham.
No wonder, because the picture at Wanderers is even bleaker. Bolton may have won one more game than their local rivals but have lost three more games and conceded two more goals. In fact, they are on a run of three wins in 18 top flight games. They are defending so badly they've managed to shave so much off Gary Cahill's enormous summer price tag that he is now worth less than Jlloyd Samuel.
Tuesday night's clash at Ewood Park is essentially a sack off, not so much a winner takes all as a loser might as well give up now sort of clash. A rabid, febrile atmosphere is guaranteed and rapid action will be needed upon the final whistle, so much so that I've suggested to both clubs they assemble all their wanted replacements for Kean and Coyle (the usual suspects, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce and, of course, 12/1 Alan Curbishley) so the club that loses can take a show of hands vote from their fans to appoint a successor immediately.
Welcome to Villa Park. Now have three points
Things are rapidly spiralling out of control at Aston Villa. Here was a club on the verge of a Champions League-style breakthrough a few years ago, now reduced to a joke, quite literally, as they lined up with an Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman and Welshman in their back four. Visitors to Villa Park are afforded the red carpet treatment, in front of a numbed crowd who couldn't even rouse themselves to deliver a competent booing of Stewart Downing.
After a truly insipid performance at Tottenham last month McLeish admitted Villa hadn't laid a glove on their opponents, during the borefest against Manchester United all Villa's finest could do was used their gloved hands to give Fergie's mob a warming back rub, and against Liverpool on Sunday, to extend the analogy one gag too far, they did even get their gloves on.
Shorn of Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor this game was over before it had begun and Alex McLeish and the club's fans knew it. The rest of the time was spent making jokes about those labouring round the field in claret, like this gem, stolen from Twitter: What do you get if you cross a ball with Heskey? A goal kick.
Things were so comfy for Liverpool even Andy Carroll got some face time. He could be seen swilling Red Bull just before kick-off, either a tactic to get him pumped for the match, or, more likely, to take the edge off a big Saturday night out. Well, it is nearly Christmas after all.
AVB's decision to issue a small bitch slap to those who dared criticise him prior to Chelsea's squeak into the Champions League and their defeat of Manchester City will be returned with Christmas bells on should the club lose at Tottenham on Thursday. In fact, wherever the manager looks, the knives are sharpening, most predictably, within his own squad.
Chelsea's players have always been an egalitarian bunch, who consider themselves on a higher spiritual and tactical plain to whoever happens to be in the hot seat – neatly encapsulated by John Terry's on-field team talks of late, where no doubt he is imploring his colleagues to ignore the one that manager has just given. Never more than one game away from mutiny, their displeasure was evident at Wigan as AVB ignored last year's 6-0 thumping and tried to slip away from the DW with a 1-0 win in which his players were under strict instructions to look like they were going through the motions.
Displaying a shoddy lack of respect for Wigan, AVB considered the game won from the second Daniel Sturridge found the net, instantly removing Juan Mata, closely followed by the goalscorer. In truth he would have succeeded but for poor Petr Cech, whose gloves were clearly sponsored by Teflon for the day, as he graciously offered up a shot weaker than a gentle breeze to Jordi Gomez who made it 1-1.
It was just reward for Wigan who had more shots on goal, more shots on target, more corners and more possession than their supposedly illustrious counterparts. Now that is a proper slap in the face.
A delicious rumour abounded prior to Manchester City's clash with Arsenal on Sunday as the internet gossiped that Super Mario had been driving round the city dressed as Santa on Saturday night, handing out bundles of cash to anyone who fancied a wedge. The club dismissed the story as "nonsense" but quite a lot of people said it on Twitter so it must be true.
After Mario had played his part in David Silva's goal, another icy blast of truth was aimed in Andrei Arshavin's direction after the Russian took part in one of the single most pathetic cameos in Premier League history. His was an errant presence in a delightful game that oozed quality. It was almost as if he was a double agent – he's from the right country for a start. If his introduction wasn't bad enough, Arsene Wenger then chose to embellish it with Marouane Chamakh, another player whose star has fallen so low if it is ever unearthed again it'll be covered in piping hot magma.
City's fans did their best to taunt Arsenal's travelling fans with renditions of "Van Persie is ours," and "You are our feeder club," and the club, clearly heady with cheekiness, then decided to nominate Samir Nasri as man of the match, for no other reason than to tick Arsenal's irate fans off. It looked like it worked.
After their spirited defeat, in which they conceded seven less than on their last visit to Manchester, Wenger promptly ruled Arsenal out of the title race. In truth Arsene, I can't recall a time this season when you were actually in it, but Merry Christmas to you all the same.
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