1. Persistence Pays
The saying “where there’s a will there’s a way” should not be discounted in its importance when it comes to football. With five minutes to go in each of their games this week: Chelsea looked destined to slip to a shock draw at Blackburn, Arsenal were strugglling to break down a resilient West Ham side while Liverpool headed towards an uninspiring, yet commendable point against Bolton. Move the clock on marginally and three collective points were transformed into nine.
League titles have long been fought for and won on the back of such displays in the many years gone by. Although coincidence that three of the most successful clubs in league history (along with Manchester United who had their own late (and dubious) insurance goal) all managed to snatch victory from the jaws of equality on the one weekend, it is no coincidence that they frequently do so.
It is a winner’s prerogative to play until the final whistle and never be happy to settle for second best until forced into doing so. Chelsea are the current masters at it and it is notable that for all their skills in wiping teams of the park they are equally as adept at grinding out victories in dull and drab fashion. Three points are three points regardless of how they come afterall. It is a trait that used be commonly attributed to Manchester United teams of the past, yet irony means that it may well be United’s generosity in allowing opponents turn the table on them earlier in the season that could prove the difference in them regaining the title and watching helplessly as The Blues retain it.
2. City Slippers
Oh how things can change. A few weeks ago following victory over Chelsea and a sense of justified optimism emanating from Eastlands, this very column featured a headline of “City Slickers” pointing towards the challenge that Manchester City may be very well be about to mount towards the League title this season. Call it lazy journalism ( I prefer poetic irony) but I’ve gone with a similar , play on words this week….
In the original passage, two points now seem especially relevant. The first was how Roberto Mancini was managing to deal with his squad of highly paid and equally highly strung players and that if City were to have any hope of fulfilling their ambition this season he would have to continue to do so. The second point mentioned that while City can be relied upon to prove a stern test for the top sides, their inability to kill off the lesser lights of the league could quite easily derail their ambitions.
The past fortnight has vindicated this observation more than could be reasonably expected. While defeat to Arsenal last week could be excused, defeat this time round to Wolves certainly can’t. More worrying however may be the atmosphere of crisis developing within the club. Footage of Joe Hart and Gareth Barry getting drunk and singing on top of a bar at a friends stag party a few weeks ago was almost lovable, in the “look at them, they’re just normal guys like me” type of way. More footage from last week showing Joe Hart, Gareth Barry, Adam Johnson and Shay Given getting drunk and singing with a group of Scottish students illustrates a distinct lack of managerial ability on the past of Roberto Mancini – either he failed to discipline/warn the player’s appropriately the first time round or else he did warn them but his voice as manager carries such little heed that it was ignored…. I’ll let you pick which stick to beat the Italian with here. Coupled with the Carlos Tevez fiasco where it is was adjudged that the best way to help mend an injured leg is a 15hr flight to Argentina, and it seems like the City boss may well be floundering in the water.
A difficult trip to the Hawthorns will be followed by a Manchester Derby in the next fortnight. Whether Mancini will still be City manager come Christmas will likely depend on the outcomes of these games. In fact, rumours abound today that the whole City squad want him out so the Italian may be very lucky to even get that far.
3. Clangerburg strikes again
I’m not sure whether it was immense foresight or else an act of expecting the obvious, but as the camera zoomed in on referee Mark Clattenburg prior to kick off between Manchester United and Spurs on Saturday, something told me a trademark refereeing clanger was on the way. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
The circumstances surrounding Nani’s goal in the 83rd minute will long be discussed and replayed and is likely go down in history as one of the Premier League’s strangest (along with Pedro Mendes’ phantom non-goal a few years ago over which Clattenburg also officiated). Official rules go some way to justify the ultimate decision in that technically an advantage was allowed to Huerelho Gomes. That this wasn’t made explicitly clear is one problem Clattenburg must explain but taking precedence over this is the shambles surrounding the complaints of both teams who had no idea what was happening. As Nani went off celebrating, Spurs players bombarded the linesman (who is also not without fault) and were quickly waved away by referee Clattenburg who then allowed Rio Ferdinand to stand alongside him and his assistant getting his point across as they deliberated.
It seems almost an irrelevance now that Nani had every right to put his hand on the ball given the justification for his penalty claim. The fact that it was incorrectly not given is the least of Mark Clattengurg’s worries this morning yet remains another poor decision in a long list of others.
4. Ho’way the Lads. Toon back on top in the Northeast
With a beautifully round “away wins” figure of exactly 10% over their last 100 games, Sunderland’s defeat in the North-East derby at James’ Park should not have really shocked anyone. What would have alarmed people however is the manner in which they were torn apart by their local rivals. Newcastle played with a hunger and passion that could be expected from a side who had been pointed at and mocked as they spent the previous season in the lower leagues and simply destroyed a Sunderland side who had no answer for their power and appetite.
Only ten games into a season, the fact that speculation can exist over the future of a manager (who is reportedly the lowest paid in the league) who got a team suffering from a bruised ego, a lack of cash, idiotic owners and a star exodus back to the top flight in the first time of asking after is mind boggling. A 5-1 win over their most hated rivals, the full backing of the dressing room and a current position of seventh place (only three points of fourth spot) ought to be enough to secure a new contract, one that has rarely been more deserved either.
Interestingly, as a side note, reports in the media today is that Chris Hughton is looking to bring in Brian Kerr as his assistant, apparently testing the resolve of a board who would prefer to see the promotion of Peter Beardsley from the reserve team. If the Newcastle board have learned anything, which is entirely debatable, they may do worse than to allow their current boss his man.
5. Missing them much?
As just mentioned, Newcastle United sit in a lofty 7th place in the current standings. Ahead of tonight’s match between Blackpool and West Brom, a win for the home side would see them jump to 9th while a win for the Baggies would elevate them to outright 4th! With all promoted teams exhibiting a likable character and commendable football what a pleasure it is to have them over the likes of Hull, Burnley and Portsmouth whom they replaced.