In even numbered years, January can be a dull month for a football fan. There’s no meaningful international football until the summer, the Champions League is taking a break to count the money and in domestic football, teams are jockeying for position rather than staking claims. January used to host the two most romantic rounds of the most romantic Cup competition in the world, but a forward line of Paul Daniels, David Nixon and David Blaine couldn’t recapture the “Magic of the Cup” which is sadly a 20th century phenomenon.
Last weekend’s batch of games saw Manchester United refrain from scoring six in the first half against Allardyceless, clueless Newcastle, so they could ping in the half-dozen in the second period. A hat-trick for the Portuguese wonderkid, who could probably have had six himself if he’d wanted, illuminated a hideous mismatch. Newcastle will need saving if they are not to drop like a stone – where’s a Messiah when you need one? Oh… there.
Earlier in the day, Arsenal’s journey from sublime to, if not ridiculous, certainly a bit ordinary, continued with Garry O’Connor cancelling out Emmanuel Adebayor’s opener – the goalscorers’ names tell you all you need to know about the clubs. Dropping two midwinter points at home to the likes of Birmingham is dangerous for title contenders and Wenger will know that he can afford no more such slips. Arsenal slide to second. Fellow “Londoners” Chelsea showed how the spirit of Mourinho lives on, securing three points in an awkward fixture against resurgent Tottenham. The four points by which they trail the top duo is possibly one too many, but don’t be surprised to see Chelsea in the mix.
Speaking of which, the mix for the fourth CL spot looks very tight with four clubs level on points. Liverpool relied on Torres yet again to rescue a point at Middlesborough amidst boardroom strife – like Liverpool, Rafa is sinking. Two potential fourth placers faced off at Goodison, where Joleon Lescott;s goal suggested he could play centre-forward as well as full back and centre-half. Sven won’t be unduly concerned, as City’s home form remains strong. The other club in this mix is Aston Villa, which has been quietly, but purposefully built into a formidable team by Martin O’Neill. Their goals to see off Reading came from giant Scandanavian powerhouses, Laursen and Carew, but O’Neill has plenty of youthful pace to go with the brawn.
Elsewhere, it was business as usual as Fulham took the lead and lost, this time to West Ham, whose sensible manager should have a word with Dean Ashton’s barber; Derby conceded their usual late goal, this time to Wigan’s Sibierski, who doesn’t need a barber.
On Sunday, Roy Keane’s Sunderland showed that they have what it takes to pull away from the drop zone with two Keiron Richardson goals seeing off fading, African-free Portsmouth. The last game of the weekend was a curiously low-key derby between Blackburn and Bolton won by Jason Roberts’ late run and strike. Any club who acquires Gary Megson and loses Nicolas Anelka is probably asking for trouble, and that’s just what Bolton will get.
I’m off to pay my credit card – HOW MUCH?