Easter Weekend in the Premier League and we now know who will be crowned Premier League Champions for 2011/12. No prizes for guessing that the club hails from Manchester, however many commentators, including myself at one stage, had thought that this year would see the sky blue shirts of Manchester City eclipse their illustrious neighbours and steal the crown away from them. Mancini’s men have buckled in recent weeks though, and last week’s draw against Sunderland handed United what looked like an unassailable lead, a situation that this week’s results have confirmed. The race for fourth place and the fight for survival are still very much ongoing, and yet again this season, the officials took centre stage, making some downright laughable calls which had serious consequences on the results produced.
Manchester United secured an eight point lead at the top of the table, with only six games left to play. A, massively friendly, early refereeing call helped Ferguson’s men secure all three points, against a visiting Q.P.R. side that, again, were forced to cope with losing a man early on.
When Ashley Young broke into the penalty area in the 15th minute, and went down under the slightest of touches from the hand of Shaun Derry, referee Lee Mason couldn’t get the whistle to his lips fast enough, and sure enough, a red card for Derry followed nanoseconds later. Two major problems with this call: first of all, Ashley Young was clearly offside, with the linesman positioned in an area where he could not have failed to identify this.
Secondly, and beside the point, as the correct decision would’ve seen the move brought to a halt and the game re-started with a Rangers free-kick, was the fact that Young hurled himself to the ground in a movement of pure simulation. How the referee thought the touch from Derry was enough to send him down, is beyond the comprehension of any sane minded individual; clearly referees are easier to con these days than your average blind granny!
Rooney scored from the spot and, from that moment on, victory was assured, Paul Scholes wrapping up the points with a low drive twenty minutes from time. United dominated the game even before the sending off, and may well have won the game anyway, but, when a side desperate to stay up, comes to try to defend and try to get a point against the league leaders, it’s unhelpful, to say the least, when officials make such blindingly crass decisions, effectively robbing the smaller club of any chance whatsoever. The F.A. have since rubbed salt in the wound by inexplicably denying Derry’s appeal against the card.
To Stamford Bridge and more completely indefensible errors from match officials, which this time undoubtedly took three points away from, relegation threatened, Wigan Athletic, and handed them to, Champions’ League chasing, Chelsea.
Ali al-Habsi, one candidate for goalkeeper of the season, was in inspired form as he made a string of superb saves, from Drogba, Mata, and Cahill, amongst others, and Wigan went in at the break 0-0, themselves having tested Cech through Figueroa. When Chelsea took the lead through Ivanovic in the 62nd minute, the goal should have, without question, been disallowed. Following a Chelsea free-kick, Meireles played the ball back into the area to an unmarked Ivanovic, who slotted home from close range. Problem? Ivanovic was, quite obviously to the naked eye, a couple of yards offside when the ball was played, the lineman was in a great position, and had to see it, how he missed it? Only God knows.
Ivanovic himself should have been sent off for an off the ball punch into the back/kidney of an opponent, however this was also missed. The F.A. are taking retrospective action against him, however, that does not help Wigan as the player played a vital role in securing the points for Chelsea on the day.
The Latics, in inspired form of late, and always resilient, fought back with real spirit and courage, and thought they’d secured a, well-deserved and priceless, point through Diame’s crisp effort eight minutes from time. However, awful decision making from the officials was to rain on Wigan’s parade once more before the game was up. A late scramble in the visitors’ area culminated in the ball popping up on Juan Mata’s toe; the Spaniard steered it home, but, you guessed it, replays confirmed that he too, was clearly in an offside position. Final score, Match Officials 2-1 Wigan; one awful decision is bad enough, but two the same requires the officials involved to be heavily sanctioned: Mike Jones and his assistant Dave Bryan, hang your heads in shame!
Manchester United’s champions’ status was all but confirmed by an inept Manchester City performance at the Emirates on Sunday. For all the hundreds of millions that Mancini has spent, City do not function correctly without Yaya Toure. The Ivorian hobbled off after an early clash with Alex Song, and the Citizens, also shorn of David Silva, failed to produce any kind of fluid, coherent football for much of the remainder of the game.
Some poor officiating here too, led to Mario Balotelli remaining on the field until the match had neared its conclusion, before being dimissed, receiving a second yellow card for a challenge on Sagna. The Italian, visibly in a quite ridiculous state of mind from the first whistle until his early bath, should have seen a straight red for a disgusting challenge on Song in the first-half. The officials apparently didn’t see it, and did nothing, although that has now been contradicted, as the F.A. say they can take no retrospective action due to the fact that one official did see it. An absolutely farcical state of affairs which further underlines the F.A.’s total ineptitude as a governing body, and the relative pointlessness of having extra officials. Balotelli faces 3 games out after his third dismissal of the season, however, the punishment should have been much more severe.
The match in a footballing sense was dominated by Arsenal, although they remained frustrated for most of the game, they breakthrough eventually came. After hitting the woodwork three times, twice through van Persie, and once through Walcott; Mikel Arteta’s 87th minute missile rocketed into Hart’s bottom left corner from 25 yards, leaving the England no.1 grasping thin air. Arsenal consolidate third place, City look safe in second at least.
Liverpool were again unable to see off relatively weak opposition at home, as they drew 1-1 with Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday. Chris Herd stunned Anfield with an early goal to put Villa 0-1 up (10), after Liverpool had predictably dominated the opening exchanges, without scoring. Dirk Kuyt’s effort from Downing’s cross at 0-0 looked to have crossed the line before Given spooned it out off the post, however match officials missed that. Michael Oliver, the referee, also turned down three excellent penalty shouts for the home team, including wrongly booking Suarez for diving, when clearly his ankles were clipped from behind.
Liverpool, whose spirit has been called into question following a string of poor results, battled bravely, and, led by the irrepressible Luis Suarez they fought their way back into the match. After spurning some great chances, notably Dirk Kuyt’s sky-bound effort from three yards, and hitting the woodwork on four occasions, including Suarez’s classy header, the Reds finally got their goal through Suarez’s point blank header from a corner (82). Liverpool continued to press, but couldn’t find the winner and will have been happy to end their losing streak; Villa pick up another draw, but they’re not quite out of the woods yet.
Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers remain firm fixtures in the relegation battle as they were comfortably seen off by West Bromwich Albion and Fulham respectively. At the Hawthorns, Albion got off to the perfect start, when Martin Olssen turned Mc Auley’s header into his own net, after just seven minutes. Fortune (69) and Ridgewell (85) took care of the rest, before Rovers’ Anthony Modeste was sent off, rather tamely, late on. At the Reebok, Wanderer’s suffered another home defeat, this time at the hands of, slightly unpredictable, Fulham. Normally not the best when playing away, the Cottagers made light work of Bolton, despite the home side’s recent good form. Clint Dempsey scored a brace (30 & 45), taking his Premier League tally to 15 for the season, whilst Diarra sealed the win with a third (80), his first goal for the London club.
Nikica Jelavic bagged another couple of goals in his fledgling career for the Goodison Park club. The Croatian, signed from Glasgow Rangers in January, bagged his fifth and sixth goals for the Toffees (22 & 61), to twice put them in front at Carrow Road. However that wasn’t enough to take all three points back to Merseyside, as the home side, famed for their never say die attitude, rallied and twice drew level, first through Jonny Howson (31,) and then through, talisman, Grant Holt (76); honours even at the final whistle.
The league’s bottom team, Wolverhampton Wanderers, sacrificed a winning position to end up losing for the third Barclays Premier League game in succession. Having previously thrown away leads against Norwich and Bolton, this time it was Stoke City who turned the tables on the Midlanders at the Britannia. Michael Kightly gave Wolves a slightly fortuitous lead (26), his through-ball went straight in after Dave Edwards’ air-shot wrong-footed Begovic. Both of Stoke’s goals came via that oh so familiar route, the set-piece, and both were almost identical. First to score was Robert Huth(36) who smashed in Ryan Shawcross’ assist, from a free-kick; then it was Crouch’s turn (61), rising to head home, following another free-kick in a similar position. Wolves are on borrowed time.
Papiss Cisse did the business again for Newcastle as they saw off Swansea City at the Liberty on Good Friday. The Senegalese goal-machine made it nine goals in eight games with a marvellous brace against the Swans (5 & 69), which ensured another victory for the Toon. The Swans dominated possession and created a couple of chances, but Krul was equal to them, and the finishing prowess of Cisse won through. Both finishes were clinical, but the second was also beautiful; falling backwards the striker lifted and curled the ball over Michel Vorm from 14 yards, right into the top corner, a stunning finish. Newcastle virtually guaranteed a Europa League spot, could they pip Chelsea and Spurs to a Champions’ League spot?
Finally, Tottenham’s poor league form continued against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday lunchtime. Harry Redknapp’s side have fallen off the pace alarmingly in 2012, winning just once since February 11th, and their malaise was extended here. The home side defended resolutely throughout, and after an initial Spurs onslaught, coped with their visitors from the capital very ably indeed. More points dropped for Redknapp and Tottenham in the race for third, and, the way things are looking, if they can’t arrest this slump, they could well finish fifth.
Mike Jones Image by Ben Sutherland Pardew/Rodgers Image by mikebrown59