Let’s get on with it
GAME on . . . since the last column Liverpool’s mantle of invincibility has been punctured by defeat in the league at Citeh followed by Monday’s FA Cup exit at Wolves. Personally I always thought Liverpool’s unbeaten run was a bit meh, especially when you consider that prior to the aforementioned losses they had already been knocked out of the League Cup at home to Chelsea and contrived to lose all three of their Champions League away group games. So in spite of the fact they only have one league loss thus far, they’ve actually lost six games in total out of 29 played — not really that impressive when you look at objectively, is it?
Anyroad, now that the hectic Christmas period is behind us the Reds can relax in the knowledge that unlike Citeh, Spurs and Chelsea they can concentrate entirely on the league from now until the European ties begin again in four weeks. Perhaps that explains their weakened side at Wolves and was Jürgen Klopp’s plan all along?
Just look at these score lines: Villa 5-5 Forest, Villa 2-3 Leeds, Norwich 3-3 Forest, Leeds 3-2 Blackburn, Norwich 3-4 Derby, Forest 4-2 Leeds.
I watched most of these games and you literally couldn’t look away at any time, particularly in the final minutes. The 5-5 at Villa was just plain bonkers while Leeds’ comeback from two down at half time at the same venue was completed with the last kick of the game. Meanwhile Norwich found themselves 3-0 down with about 15 minutes to go against Forest before crowning their comeback with two goals in time added on, then Leeds found themselves 2-1 down against Rovers in time added on before — you guessed it — scoring twice to nick the win.
And then there was Norwich v Derby; Norwich led 2-0 and after being pulled back to 2-2 retook the lead on 81 minutes. Then the lights went out. In the ensuing 20-minute stoppage Frank Lampard’s side regrouped and sent on David Nugent to try and rescue the game and Nugent had a role in both the Derby equaliser and the winner which came in — would you believe? — time added on. After all this breathless stuff Forest’s 4-2 win over Leeds seemed quite mundane.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Championship is the most competitive league in Europe and compared to the Premier League, which is in reality six good sides and 14 alsorans, the hardest to predict.
Gone for a Burton
The above phrase is an English idiom that in its original wartime meaning meant “to be missing or die”. Thankfully for fans of Burton FC all they did on Wednesday evening was literally go missing. Thirty-four coaches
left Burton in the late afternoon for what should have been a relatively short 63-mile journey to Manchester for their club’s League Cup semi-final first leg. However they encountered one unsurmountable problem en route: the M6.
Unfortunately for the Burton fans they got caught up in what Staffordshire police described as “an incident”, said incident being a lorryload of illegal immigrants who, upon being stopped by Plod on the northbound carriageway, did a runner that necessitated the closure of both sides of the M6 — resulting, for some unlucky fans, in a four-hour delay. Eventually one coach out of the 34 made it to the Etihad before kick-off while others only got to see the final 15 minutes of the game. Was it all worth it? Given the final score of 9-0 to Citeh, probably not and it’s a shame that the powers that be couldn’t see their way to delaying the kick-off, but in reality Burton did really well to reach the semifinal and fully deserved their moment in the sun.
Wouldn’t it be something else, though, if they could turn it around in the second leg? (Unlikely, I know.) Best quote: “So unlucky that the one coach that got there was the one carrying the team.”
Team of the week
Joe Day, Newport; Serge Aurier, Spurs; Connor Coady, Wolves; Shane Duffy, Brighton; Fraser Franks, Newport; Joe Willock, Arsenal; Tom Lawrence, Derby; Reuben Neves, Wolves; Fernando Llorente, Spurs; Jamille Matt, Newport; Antoine Semenyo, Newport. Manager: Michael Flynn, Newport.
This week’s games
Premier League — today: 2.30pm West Ham v Arsenal; 5pm Brighton v Liverpool, Burnley v Fulham, Cardiff v Huddersfield, Palace v Watford, Leicester v Southampton; 7.30pm Chelsea v Newcastle. Tomorrow: 4.15pm Everton v Bournemouth; 6.30pm Spurs v United. Monday: 10pm Citeh v Wolves. Championship — 9.45pm Norwich v Birmingham.
Only one game really stands out here and it is, of course, Spurs v United tomorrow evening; pre-Christmas, I would have said that Spurs were nailed on to beat Jose Mourinho’s turgid United side but I feel that the Red Devils are a different proposition under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and they will certainly fancy their chances given that they’ve just enjoyed a week in the Dubai sun while Spurs had a tough outing against Chelsea on Tuesday. I’ve yet to see Paul Pogba dominate a game since he went back to Manchester but the Spurs midfield duo of Winks and Sissoko unsurprisingly looked really leggy on Tuesday so he’ll be expected to capitalise, while Marcus Rashford will fancy his chances against whichever right back Spurs send out.
To negate all this positivity I’m hoping that Solskjaer does the nation a favour and plays Phil Jones, because in these fraught times we all could do with a good laugh.
Last week’s question read thus: Everton’s Walter Silva became the first Premier League manager to do what before Christmas? The answer is manage a side that conceded six goals or more in a home game — not once, not twice, but three times.
The games were Hull 1-7 Spurs in the final game of the 2016-17 season and Watford 0-6 Citeh four months later. Then came Everton 2-6 Spurs in the week before Christmas just gone. Not an enviable record, to say the least.
This week: a Championship club has somehow contrived to get knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round for the ninth successive season. Name the club.
Internet comment of the week on the draw for the FA Cup fourth round — the Guardian: “Newport have been rewarded for their exploits against Leicester with a trip to Middlesbrough.” The retort: “That might be the first time a trip to Middlesbrough has been described as a reward.” The second retort: “The trip home is the reward.” Sue and Brian Hargreaves, Linda and John Spensley, eat your hearts out.