There has been a sombre mood over the whole of English football this week, following the death last week of Gary Speed. There have been both planned and spontaneous tributes to the Welshman already – the Leeds United fans chanted their former hero’s name for 11 solid minutes during their game with Nottingham Forest on Tuesday – and prior to all Premiership matches this weekend there will be a minute of applause in honour of Speed.
On the pitch last weekend, Manchester City failed to win for just the second time in the league this season, as they were held 1-1 by Liverpool at Anfield. Their closest challenges in the Premiership, local rivals Manchester United, also only picked up a single point in their game against Newcastle, though the goal that cost them the win came from an incorrect penalty decision – awarded by the linesman after the referee had, correctly, ruled defender Rio Ferdinand had played the ball not the man. Tottenham’s good run of form was put under threat as both Modric and Van der Vaart were ruled out of their team for the trip to West Brom, and they found themselves 1-0 down early on in the game, but two goals from Adebayor and a trademark finish from the edge of the box by Defoe gave Spurs all three points. The North London team has now won 9 and drawn 1 in their last 10 league games, leaving them in third place, just two points behind Manchester United having played one game fewer. Tottenham’s second string lost in the Europa League against PAOK on Wednesday, leaving them on the brink of elimination from the competition – something that may end up as a blessing in disguise in the second half of the season, as they will have less fixture congestion than sides around them still involved in Europe.
Arsenal’s winning run in the league came to an end after a 1-1 draw at the Emirates against Fulham, the home team’s centre-back Thomas Vermaelen was the only name on the score sheet as he put one in the net at each end. At the 75 minute mark of the game, with Tottenham’s archrivals down 1-0, I was involved in an e-mail chain with the guys over at Cult Football, most of whom are Arsenal fans. With former Spurs manager, Martin Jol, in the dugout for Fulham, I was able to assure them that, despite my wishes, there was no way the visitors would be able to hang on to this lead – a prediction that was proved correct shortly afterwards. Much as I loved Jol during his time at the Lane, not least for his squaring up to Arsene Wenger during a derby match, his tenure was marked by games in which Spurs would throw away points by playing too negatively in the last ten minutes of games they in which they had been leading. The draw leaves Arsenal in 7th place – as many points behind leaders Manchester City (11), as they are ahead of 17th place Wolves.
At the bottom end of the Premiership, Sunderland suffered a home defeat to Wigan, losing after a defensive mix-up gifted the visitors a goal in the third minute of injury time at the end of the game. The loss also cost manager Steve Bruce his job, with the Black Cats languishing just above the relegation zone, having won just two games this season. The favourite to replace him at the Stadium of Light is former Villa, Leicester and Celtic manager Martin O’Neill, with Mark Hughes the back-up plan for Sunderland. Stoke beat Blackburn 3-1 in the early game on Saturday, leaving Rovers rooted to the bottom of the table, while Bolton’s home loss to Everton means they remain in 18th place.
This week sees Newcastle host Chelsea, the visitors need a win in order to ease the pressure on their boss, Villas-Boas, who could become the second managerial casualty of the season and make an early departure from Stamford Bridge, if results do not improve soon. Tottenham will try to continue their run of good form in the league when they host Bolton, Arsenal fans going on the away trip will have an opportunity to visit Wigan Pier, Manchester United travel to Birmingham to play Aston Villa, and the leaders, Manchester City, host Norwich. In games not too enticing for neutral fans, Blackburn are at home to Swansea on Saturday, Everton and Stoke meet at Goodison Park on Sunday, and Fulham and Liverpool will play out a 0-0 draw in the Monday game.
Last week, a laughable 2-8; Season 49-50
Newcastle vs Chelsea – Home win
Blackburn vs Swansea – Away win
Man City vs Norwich – Home win
QPR vs West Brom – Home win
Tottenham vs Bolton – Home win
Wigan vs Arsenal – Away win
Aston Villa vs Manchester United – Draw
Everton vs Stoke – Home win
Wolves vs Sunderland – Away win
Fulham vs Liverpool – Draw