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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Three win!

It had to happen didn’t it? For the first time in months, non of the top three dropped points. A trio of narrow victories for Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal leaves the top of the league as it was on Friday, with Arsenal two points clear of United, and Chelsea almost worryingly far behind the top two.

A bit of pushing and shoving at Highbury seems to have overshadowed—for the red-top headline writers and sensationalist pundits anyway—one of the sweetest strikes of the season from Thierry Henry. The Mirror (with it’s entirely Tottenham supporting sports staff) give us the beauty:

“Cole admits: I should have been sent off with Anelka”

A somewhat creative interpretation of the words quoted in the aricle:

“I don’t think he should have been sent off.
“It should have been us both getting a yellow card or a red card. I only did the same as him.”.

But then again “Cole admits: ref was a bit harsh on Anelka, he only deserved a yellow card” just doesn’t sell newspapers to United fans does it? Lets get one thing crystal clear. Ashley Cole slowing down the restart of the game is something any player would have—and has—done in the same situation. It happens every week, in every division. If you’re the player that wants the restart quickly it’s frustrating, but it happens every week, at every level and as a professional, you should be used to it and behave like a grown up. Anelka didn’t, he raised his hands, red card, full stop. Cole’s booking was the correct decision, but Edu should have been sent off.

In a sane World, the ref would have told everyone to calm down, shake hands, no harm done, restart the game. But the football World, as any Arsenal fan will tell you, is not a sane place. Oh, and one more thing, neither challenges that preceeded the two Arsenal goals were fouls, but it is fun to see Keegan blow his little grey top. Again.

It’s getting as bad as the tabloids round here … enough discussion of nothing incidents that should have no bearing on football, it only spreads the muck further.

The other controversial moment of the weekend was Ruud Van Nistelrooij’s third goal for United. Offside, not offside, offside position but not interfereing? For the benefit of All Things Footie readers, I’ve done some research into Law 11, and have this to say. What a load of shit the offside rule is. It’s clear as mud:

So the ref was right, and The Red Dwarf wrong. But we all knew that didn’t we? The question is, what madness does this leave us open to? Imagine, if you will, the same situation; but Van Nistelrooij ducks and Scholes runs through behind him and blasts it into the net. The striker doesn’t touch the ball or ‘directly block the vision’ of the opponent before Scholes strikes the ball, but he’s clearly offside—the dummy offside, it’s a new tactic.

Aside from the ‘controversial’ goal, the highlight of the game for me was United’s defence, particularly Wes Brown. Rio’s ban must now look a little more ominous for Alex Ferguson.

Chelsea’s winner was less controversial, but awfully defended. A total of three Blackburn defenders threw themselves at Glen Johnson, all of them pirouhetting mid-air in the same way that timid youngsters jump at wet balls booted on parks up and down the country. Souness will have kicked them around the dressing room after that game, and if he didn’t, he should’ve. With the exception of Frank Lampard, Chelsea were pretty underwhelming in my eyes. The four central midfielders tactic doesn’t do it for me, and I’d swap Wayne Bridge for a decent left back any day.

On the subject of Lampard, I’ve never been his biggest fan but it doesn’t pain me to say that I think he’s earned a starting place in the England line up. If he hasn’t, then what the hell has he got to do? A Chelsea-esque midfield four (despite my dislike of the tactic) of Gerrard in front of the back two, Lampard and Beckham in the middle and Scholes behind the strikers seems like the best solution, but the dogmatic four-four-two mentality of our wonderful country makes such experimentation too easy to criticise (something I’m as guilty of as anyone else).

A number of goalkeepers impressed over the weekend, Paul Jones, Nigel Martin, Jerzy Dudek, Tim Howard and Brad Friedal all took my breath away at some point. Just one, old, Englishman in that list, which is a shame.

Our Sunderland supporting readers would not forgive me if I didn’t mention the sad passing of north-east cup-final legend Bob Stokoe over the weekend, and if I mention him, it would be wrong not to also mention the equally sad departure of the head of Ally’s Army. Stokoe, McLeod, RIP.


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