Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Weekend Observations 4th - 6th December 2010: Part Two

Part One Here

On Monday, Gerrard Houllier, former Liverpool manager of early noughties plastic treble winning fame returned to Anfield with his new club Aston Villa. The home side were missing their 'spine' of Jamie Carragher, Stevie Gerrard and Fernando Torres through a combination of injuries and impending childbirth but any hopes of a shock evaporated in less than 20 minutes as a makeshift forward line of David N'Gog and Ryan Babel gave the Scousers an early two goal lead.

Given their form this season, it wasn't really a surprise to see Villa concede two goals that any defence not consisting of James Collins and Richard Dunne may have prevented. Although, in fairness, there was a big shout for offside with Babel's goal.

The life had been sucked out of the game and for the next 25 minutes the most entertaining thing going on was the creative swearing coming from the dugout area where the TV crews seemed to have inadvertently placed one of their microphones. Unfortunately, this was moved in the second half so all us fans of needless profanity were left disappointed.

Instead, we got a great example of how to offer nothing to a football match by Villa before Maxi Rodriguez iced the Liverpool cake with a sublime third. Forgotten signing of the season Joe Cole came on as did random signing of the season Robert Pires who did nothing but still looked more accomplished than worst signing of the season Stephen Ireland.

The 3-0 win saw Liverpool shoot up the table to the dizzying heights of 8th place – Interestingly, 3 points closer to top spot than at the same stage last season. Villa stay just two points off the relegation zone.

Just when you thought that peace had broken out at St. James' Park, Newcastle United leaped out from the shadows and soared to the top of their own self-erected pedestal of incompetence as if to say to the rest of us, "Hey, you've forgotten what a massive joke we are. We could no longer allow this. Point and laugh til your belly's are sore for we are the laughing stock of all of football!". Yes, following Sunday's 3-1 reverse at West Brom, Chris Hughton was sent packing from the Magpies managerial hotseat by trigger happy Mike Ashley and his cronies.

At the time of writing, Martin Jol seems to have cast aside his Ajax shackles and is primed to take over on Tyneside. As a fairly decent manager with the 'experience' they seem to so desperately desire. IF he does get the job, this will look like a good appointment on the face of it but you have to ask if changing a manager who was popular among players and fans alike is going to cause at least some level of disruption? What Hughton seemed to provide was some much-needed stability; something more important than a big name.

The West Brom defeat coupled with the recent humiliation at Bolton may well have contributed to the sacking but given the fact Hughton not only masterminded last years successful promotion campaign, but also this season's a 6-0 battering of Aston Villa, the emphatic Tyne-Wear derby win, wins at Everton and Arsenal and most recently a draw at home to the current league Champions (who they also beat in the Carling Cup), one would think he'd done enough to deserve a little more respect and his much sought after contract extension. Sadly, only in football do these kind of achievements get 'rewarded' in such a way. Needless to say, the reaction has initially been one of anger and disbelief. As a result, many 'neutrals' wouldn't be too disappointed to see the Loony Toon Army plummet down the table once more and find themselves back in the Championship where they were when Hughton was originally appointed caretaker manager.

If Newcastle are to be drawn into a relegation battle, they will have to go some way do wrestle the wooden spoon away from either West Ham or Wolves. You have to wonder if these sides are actually trying to finish last following a bizarre weekend when West Ham moved off the bottom of the table on goal difference despite not playing on Saturday thanks to Wolves' 3-0 defeat at Blackburn. However, the Hammers returned to the foot of the table following their 1-0 defeat at Sunderland 24 hours later.

Wolves can feel hard done by given the fact they were by far and away better than their Lancashire conquerers but due to a fetish for pinging the ball off the goal frame and making Paul Robinson look like a competent goalkeeper (a crime worthy of relegation in itself) they instead came away on the wrong end of a hiding. Another good performance from Mick McCarthy's men but no result to match. The annual hard luck story of at least one side doomed to the dreaded drop.

West Ham haven't won away from Upton Park in the league since the first day of last season and this most recent bout of travel sickness has piled yet more pressure on Avram Grant. The winning goal from Jordan Henderson capped off a fine team move and was worthy of winning any game although in truth, I'm not sure many people realistically expected West Ham to get anything against a Sunderland side who are quite formidable on home soil. Any 'extra' pressure on the diminutive Isreali is not really justified in my eyes.

That said, the Irons are looking something of a shambles in the league and you imagine that if it wasn't for last week's hugely unexpected victory over Manchester United in the Carling Cup, Sir Avram would be standing alongside Chris Hughton in the dole queue right about now.

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Arsenal 2-1 Fulham
Birmingham 1-1 Tottenham
Blackburn 3-0 Wolves
Blackpool P-P Manchester United
Chelsea 1-1 Everton
Man City 1-0 Bolton
Wigan 2-2 Stoke


Sunderland 1-0 West Ham
West Brom 3-1 Newcastle


Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa

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