Champions league chase
Even though the media like to paint the chase for the Champions League spot as an open battle between three teams, in reality Liverpool are likely to predictably claim it. The reason? Benitez has finally started playing his key players in league games. Reina, Carragher, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano and Torres all started and they were too strong for relegation-haunted Bolton.
While we’re on that subject, Fulham underlined their relegation credentials with an impotent display at home to Man U. United – without Ronaldo and Rooney – cruised to a 3-0 win at Craven Cottage leaving Roy Hodgson’s men favourites for the drop with Derby County. It’s a shame to see a decent club like Fulham slide towards the Championship. People will point the finger at the sacking of Lawrie Sanchez but – and I’ve covered this before – it’s mainly that his signings are not up to the standard of the ones who left which is the reason they are in this mess.
Arsenal’s championship aspirations took a knock and it could have been worse, Nicklas Bendtner’s last minute equaliser against Aston Villa made it just 2 points out of 6 for Wenger’s men and serious questions are now being asked about whether this young squad have the mettle in them – and the man-power – to hang on. No van Persie, no Eduardo, no Rosicky, no Eboue, no Touré – and it’s starting to take it’s toll.
The introduction of Andrew Johnson helped Everton overcome Portsmouth and give them a second crucial win in six days. Yakubu – even at 11m – may be one of the signings of the season. I was miffed when Spurs showed no interest in him and went for Darren Bent instead. He’s proven himself to be an effective player when in the zone and David Moyes has done a great job in building him up and improving him as the season has gone on. When Spurs won at Goodison Park towards the end of last season Moyes was getting booed by his own fans so it’s been some turnaround there.
At the bottom
Birmingham gave themselves a boost by hammering Spurs 4-1. Despite resting several players and not having their first choice center-back pairing available Spurs should still have been in with a shout and it’s a poor indictment of the state of mind of these supposed professionals who were pictured stumbling out of nightclubs earlier in the week following their Carling Cup victory. Juande Ramos has no doubt made up his mind about Paul Robinson who was culpable for two of the goals, and is probably looking with disdain in the direction of Pascal Chimbonda and Darren Bent. Personally I’m not that bothered about the League Cup and would prefer to qualify for Europe through the league but beggars can’t be choosing and the abysmal start under Martin Jol has ensured that Ramos has no hope of making the top six this season.
Elsewhere it was disaster for Kevin Keegan as Newcastle lost to a last minute Matt Derbyshire goal for Blackburn at St James Park. I don’t think Newcastle will go down but it’ll be a close run thing as this was a huge opportunity lost at home to an indifferent Blackburn team. He really needs the senior members of his squad to stand up and be counted now but anything they do achieve will be undermined by the weak links in defence and midfield. Nicky Butt was named the 2002 World Cup Player of the Tournament you know. Ok, by Pele. Who is mad.
Reading plucked a last minute win too at the expense of Middlesbrough, officially the most non-descript side in the Premiership. No wonder crowds are dipping there: nothing says mid-table more than the Boro. But for Reading it was a crucial win and they hope it will be the result that stops the rot. If Steve Coppell keeps them up I think he shouild pack it in. He’s not going to be able to compete much above a relegation struggle in the next few seasons and is on a bit of a hiding to nothing at the Madejski.
Man City and Wigan played out a dire 0-0 at The City of Manchester Stadium. Eriksson’s men are struggling with form: Elano has been dismal since his return from injury, Stephen Ireland – full of industry that he is – seems a step off the pace, and Martin Petrov plays when he’s in the mood. I’m not sad that Spurs missed out on him. It doesn’t look like it will be an inspiring run-in for the blue half of Manchester.
Other news: Teddy to retire
Teddy Sheringham announced his retirement this weekend and will hang up his boots at the end of the season, aged 42. Tottenham fans idolised Teddy during his first spell from 1992-1997 and were often defending him from criticism when he was selected for England. Funnily enough he came in to his own in an England shirt at Euro 96 where he proved the doubters wrong. He then – of course – became a Judas when he joined Man U in 1997. My immature view was that it was a stab in the back for me personally given my staunch ABU view, consolidated by Gary Bailey’s save from Gordon Smith when he sat on the ball and denied Brighton a romantic 1983 FA Cup final upset (I was ABU long before they were any good!).
But Teddy returned to White Hart Lane after a successful spell at Old Trafford and did ok for a season before moving on again in 2003 to continue his career with Portsmouth, West Ham and finally Colchester. Well done, Teddy. And of course we’ll all remember the Dentist’s Chair fondly…