AT the top of the English Premiership the order of the day was maintained as sure as the sun rises and the moon does its stuff. Man United and Chelsea both won and both teams owed a great deal to their keepers. Edwin Van der Sar made a series of important saves to keep Liverpool at bay before John O’Shea popped up with a late winner.
It is always amusing watching goal celebrations from players who rarely score, as they never seem to know what to do. God knows how Emile Heskey would get on these days. Incidentally, a humorous BBC radio programme was recently speculating what sportsmen and women could have written on their gravestones and the phrase “sadly missed” was suggested for the Wigan striker.
Anyway, back to serious matters. This was the second league match in a row in which Man United have played poorly yet snatched three points in the dying minutes. As everybody loves to say, it is the juxtaposition between performance and result that wins titles. Chelsea also played below their best but Petr Cech (with his protective head gear making him look more like a rugby player) kept them in the match as they beat Portsmouth.
Sir Alex Ferguson likes to call this stage of the season “squeaky bum time.” This could refer either to digestive problems due to nervousness or a very lazy person with a high-pitched voice. If it is the former then there will be some very squeaky noises coming from the bottom end of the Premiership table. West Ham have had just about the worst week it is possible to imagine. Last weekend they were thrashed 4-0 by Charlton in the “battle of the clubs in the relegation mire managed by Alans who have swapped jobs.” Curbishley has presided over a miserable set of results since the early defeat of Man United and I do not think even the way he seems to have exaggerated his east London accent since moving to West Ham is convincing the fans. His players seem unhappy, there are plenty of rumours of serious gambling problems affecting team morale and key defenders recently purchased do not seem able to get fit.
Things got even worse this weekend as they led Tottenham 2-0 at half time and 3-2 with four minutes to go, but still managed to lose. However it did produce the weekends most breathtaking and enthusiastic goal celebration as Carlos Tevez scored his first goal for the club. He tore off his shirt and leapt into the crowd to be embraced by several hundred Hammers fans. He was duly booked, resulting in the usual “why-oh-why” chorus of post match wails on the radio phone-ins as people criticised the match referee for doing his job properly and applying the laws of the game. The young Argentine is linked to yet another West Ham problem as there is the possibility that his club may be docked points due to the dubious nature of his ownership.
Another much debated goal celebration took place in the Camp Nou last week by the man that divides opinion between those that loath or hate him: Craig Bellamy. He displayed a great deal of his shining wittedness upon scoring by mimicking the altercation he and other Liverpool players were allegedly involved in prior to the Champions League match. Possibly while under the influence of alcohol, he and John Arne Riise had a mild disagreement about the evenings entertainment (karaoke, naturally) that ended up with Craig attacking John with a golf club (possibly a Norwegian Wood). Therefore when Craig scored against Barcelona, he celebrated by pretending to swing a golf club. Hurrah. Doesn’t it make you love footballers? What next: footballers re-enacting drunken escapades which have resulted in police action? We could have the dangerous driving while under the influence routine for really special goals or the slapping a woman in a nightclub celebration to mark a hat trick.
Elsewhere in Europe, Chelsea drew with Porto with a rare Andriy Shevchenko goal and Man United won against Lille in a match with several controversial incidents. Firstly, there was crowd trouble with the end occupied with United fans suffering from overcrowding. Secondly, Ryan Giggs’ quickly taken free kick created the only goal of the match as the Lille defensive wall and goalkeeper were still organising themselves. The Lille players shaped as if to leave the field of play, encouraged by some of their technical staff. In the aftermath of the match, Lille complained but Giggs had permission from the referee to take the kick and did so, as Thierry Henry has done in the past in the Premiership.
Arsenal have had a very poor couple of weeks in the cup competitions. They trail PSV Eindhoven 1-0 from the first leg in Europe, they lost the League Cup final to Chelsea and were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn. Arsene Wenger played his young reserves in the domestic cup competitions but they were undone by more canny opponents and lost their discipline towards the end of the final against Chelsea. Man United also showed their distain for the non-European cup competitions fielding a weakened side against Reading then easing up after scoring three early goals to almost be taken into extra time.