The Fifth Official: Attack of the Attwells
Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a five-star weekend.
Attack of the Attwells
What is it about clashes between Sunderland and Liverpool? Last season's beach ball incident left me crying so hard with laughter a little bit of wee escaped me, which is a rather fitting intro to this weekend's game seeing as the referee on display at Anfield seems to wet himself every time he takes charge of a Premier League clash.
Two mentions in these pages after just six games of the season is bad news for any fledgling referee and I guarantee you this won't be last time I castigate pre-pubescent Stuart Attwell. For some reason, he allowed Liverpool to steal an opening goal, even though it was clear to everyone (Fernando Torres included) that Michael Turner was moving the ball back to his 'keeper to take a free kick. He appeared ready to whistle several times, before heading over to ask a grown-up if the goal should stand. The poor linesman's face was right out of a Laurel and Hardy flick as he screamed in the toddler's ear: "Here's another fine mess you've got me into, Attwell."
Still, it gave the Elephant Man a chance to have a rant post-match. Sorry, that was harsh, wasn't it? I'll call him Mr Potato Head instead. Still too much? Okay, how about we settle for plain old Mr Fat Head? I've never been much of a Steve Bruce fan, but at least he proved he can laugh at his crooked nose like the rest of us, by revealing some of the names he gets called by opposing fans. And in the same interview, he did refer to Rafa as "disgusting" - a point I think we can all agree on.
Chelsea: Big failures
Best cancel the coronation for now, because Chelsea negotiated their first big Premier League test with all the grace of an elephant trying to stuff an anorak into a thimble. Last week I mused, rather pertinently I think you'll find, that their ludicrously easy start to the season could do them more harm than good, and so it proved at Eastlands as they swaggered out to play with all the intensity of Avram Grant strolling into a massage parlour.
They caused City very few problems, even with their patched up defence, and proved that Roberto Mancini's pre-match chatter that Chelsea would win the title "easily" was an indication that the former Leicester man is getting to grips with this mind-games lark. I usually find it sensible to say my club will win the league when asked by a particularly loathsome local journalist during my game of Football Manager, or all my players get the hump with me. But not Roberto - he's tearing up the script.
Watching Chelsea's confidence drain out of them like a leaky boiler was reassuring, given that it augurs well for a closer title race than many had been expecting. It's funny how Carlo Ancelotti's cool touchline persona is remarked upon when they are winning, but the second they falter he flits between frozen and frantic, this time choosing to haul a bemused Didier Drogba off when the champions were in a need of goal. All we needed was one of Chelsea's players to do a Stevie G and pull a 'bemused' face over Drog's shoulder as he trotted off.
Over the Almunia
There are some things in life that are glaringly obvious, like the need for a peaceful solution in the Middle East, a cut-down on huge bonuses for fat-cat bankers and an orange big enough to be stuffed into Big Sham's mouth at all press conferences. But top of the list for quite a while now has been the need for Arsenal to buy a half-decent goalkeeper.
You know it, I know it, Arsenal's fans know it, heck, even Donny Osmond probably knows it. But there is one, quite important, person who doesn't, and he is the one that matters. Stubborn old Arsene Wenger refused to cough up enough chump change to buy Mark Schwarzer and now he is lumbered with a hat-trick of inept goalkeepers, headed by Manuel Almunia, who was at his dazzling worst against West Brom on Saturday, giving away a penalty, then palming a tame shot into the net to gift the Baggies a goal.
But let us not belittle West Brom's performance, which was fearless, and superb. Peter Odemwingie might have a name that provokes a chuckle but the boy clearly had a rough time in Moscow because it seems the Midlands has - amazingly - given him a new lease of life. The chuckle brothers (Squillaci and Koscielny) didn't have a clue how to play him, acting as if they were tied together by an invisible push-me, pull-me rope, to leave gaping holes all over the park. If they weren't so quiet, I bet you could have heard the mutterings of revolt in the Gunners' shiny new stadium. Next up: Chelsea away, and a battle to retain the loose shards of confidence the two teams share between them.
Please, just shut up
If Sham Allardyce doesn't stop talking I think my head may well explode. If last week he was playing his own orchestra, this week he seems to have assembled a worldwide trumpet-blowing concert of Live Aid proportions after going on another long-winded homage to himself. If the lad loved himself this much when he was a teenager, I bet he rarely made it out of his bedroom.
The lumbering oaf was at it again before his side day-tripped to Blackpool for the Lancashire derby as he opined on his unique status, and gave notice of his headlong descent into madness by referring to himself in the third person, thus: "There never has been and never will be another Sam Allardyce." Good. "Sam Allardyce doesn't manage like anyone else." The way he's reporting it, you'd think Sam possessed some truly unparalleled gift, which I wouldn't mind speculating is actually three man-boobs, Total Recall-style. If that's true, then his moobs have definitely gone to his head.
Again Sham demonstrated he isn't just all talk by leading his side to a glorious last-minute victory at the side who squeaked into the Premier League via the play-offs. Surely it can only be a matter of time before Real Madrid, Inter Milan, the UN and the Dalai Lama are on the phone, begging Sam to lead their assaults on the public consciousness. He'll be telling us he was the elusive fifth member of the Beatles next.
One of the more unlikely sights of the week was the rebirth of Emile Heskey into a competent, vaguely potent Premier League striker. Turns out all he needed all along was just a cuddle and a few sweet nothings whispered into his ear by an ageing Frenchman to recapture the sparkling - hang on, let's not get carried away - partially acceptable form he once had.
His re-emergence handed Gerard Houllier the perfect start to his ultimately doomed stint at Aston Villa with a derby win at Wolves, as he witnessed the sort of finish Heskey has become famous for barely possessing. But there was no mistaking the quality of the header that found the net in the dying moments at Molineux.
With Michael Owen also rediscovering the goal-den touch, it seems as if Houllier's return is spreading the wealth far away from his grief-stricken Midlands enclave. After Owen scored with his first touch at Bolton to rescue Manchester United a point, and grabbed two against the mighty Iron in midweek, perhaps the Villa boss is just biding his time until he reunites 'can't score' with 'can't stay fit' in January and the pair will fire the Villans to the Champions League.
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