My Top 10 TV Shows of 2012

As the year comes to a close, here are my top ten shows of 2012, with an honourable mention to The Daily Show, which made my list last year and remains outstanding, as well as Wilfred and Life’s Too Short that were on the fringes of making the top 10.

General Gyp Rossetti
General Gyp Rossetti

10. Boardwalk Empire

While HBO’s Boardwalk Empire did not reach the heights of last season’s epic power struggle between Jimmy Darmody and Nucky Thompson, this year’s conflict between the show’s anti-hero and his new adversary, Gyp Rossetti (Bobby Cannavale) built to a crescendo with the final few episodes being amongst the best the series has done.  However, the first half of the run struggled to accommodate Boardwalk’s large cast effectively and great characters such as Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) were not utilised as much as I would have hoped in the early part of the season.

tom_haverford_20399. Parks and Recreation

I was a late comer to NBC’s Parks and Recreation and only caught up with the show around this time last year.  Nevertheless, it has quickly become one of my favourite comedies, even though I did not feel that the run of episodes that were aired in 2012 matched the heights of seasons 2 and 3.  Leslie Knope’s campaign for City Council had hits moments (especially her debate against Bobby Newport, played by Paul Rudd) but it did not provide the comedic heights that the show has reached before when the gang were fully involved in resolving a minor problem in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana.

8. The Hour

BBC America’s The Hour has not yet completed its second season, but the five episodes (of six) that have been shown in 2012 have surpassed the level that the show reached in its debut last year.  With the spy story element now complete, The Hour has been able to focus on immersing us in 1950s London and that has made it stronger.  Peter Capaldi – known to those who have watched The Thick of It or In the Loop as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker – has joined as the much more mild-mannered, but equally persuasive, Randall Brown, further strengthening an already excellent cast.

7. Justifiedjustified-olyphantpg-vertical

Like Boardwalk Empire, Justified’s third season did not reach the level’s of its second, mainly due to the absence of Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), but it still remained one of the most watchable shows on television this year.  Any time that US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) shares the screen with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), Justified is electrifying viewing and with Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) now in the mix, season 4 – which premieres on FX January 8th – promises to be as compelling as the show’s first three years.

6. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

The concept is as simple as it gets – Jerry Seinfeld drives a classic car, picks up a fellow comedian and takes them to get a coffee.  I came to this web series to watch the episode with Ricky Gervais, but was instantly hooked and would wait for each week’s new episode with as much anticipation as any show that was on network or cable television this year.  The installments with Gervais and Larry David are where to start, but the one with Colin Quinn and Mario Joyner is perhaps the best, while the “season finale” with Michael Richards was fascinating and moving.  I have never been an aficionado of web series before, but this one is a great modern-day view of Seinfeld, better even that the funny Twitter feed @Seinfeldtoday.   Continue reading

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This Week in: English Football – The Season’s Midway Point

Gareth Barry somehow hangs in the air long enough to head in City's winner against Reading
Gareth Barry somehow hangs in the air long enough to head in City’s winner against Reading

Following on from last weekend’s fixtures and those that were played on Boxing Day, all but four of the Premier League sides have now completed exactly half of their matches for the season (the exceptions being due to Southampton vs Chelsea, which was rearranged due to the latter’s participation in the Club World Cup at the beginning of December; and Wednesday’s encounter between Arsenal and West Ham that was prematurely called off due to the threat of a strike by London Underground staff).  Half way through last year’s campaign, the two Manchester clubs were tied on 45 points at the top of the league, but this time around there is seven points between them, as City have struggled in the defence of their title.  United extended their lead during the week, despite being held to a draw in South Wales by Swansea on Sunday, as the Spanish striker Michu scored his tenth of the season to cancel out Patrice Evra’s earlier goal.  Mancini’s men had temporarily closed the gap to three points with a controversial 1-0 win over Reading the day before, which came from a Gareth Barry header in the third minute of stoppage time, but the midfielder was climbing on the back of Nicky Shorey when he connected with David Silva’s cross; and the visitors were also denied a penalty by referee Mike Dean when Jay Tabb appeared to be fouled in the box by debutant, Karim Rekik.

City had no such luck on Boxing Day, as they lost 1-0 at Sunderland for the third consecutive season, with the winning strike coming

Sir Alex tells Mike Dean about the fish he caught at the weekend
Sir Alex tells Mike Dean about the fish he caught at the weekend

from one of their former players, Adam Johnson, whose near post effort squirmed into the net under Joe Hart.  At the same time as the blue half of Manchester was dropping three points, United pulled out a 4-3 win against Newcastle which had looked highly unlikely for most of the encounter.  Alan Pardew’s side took the lead three times, only for the Red Devils to pull themselves level on each occasion, before they finally went ahead for the first time in the match in the 90th minute, when Javier Hernandez connected with Michael Carrick’s inch-perfect pass into the box.  Sir Alex Ferguson had been an animated figure on the touch-line and had been giving the officials a piece of his mind over some of the decisions he disagreed with – most notably the visitor’s second goal, which was allowed by Mike Dean despite his assistant having flagged Papa Cisse offside in the move that led to Jonny Evans putting the ball into his own net.  Ferguson was lucky not to have been sent to the stands for his protestations, but in the end he will have been delighted to see his team show the type of resolve and willingness to fight for a win right up until the final whistle that has led them to 12 titles in the last 20 years.

Chelsea are closing in on Manchester City in the table, as they followed up an 8-0 thumping of Aston Villa last Sunday, with an almost equally impressive 1-0 away win against Norwich, who had won their previous five home league games.  Villa’s form did not improve much either, as they were thrashed 4-0 by Tottenham on the day after Christmas and they were fortunate that it took the visitors so long to open the scoring, otherwise it could have been many more.  After Jermain Defoe had broken the deadlock in the second half with a clinical finish from Kyle Naughton’s clever through ball, Gareth Bale took over and recorded his first Premiership hat-trick, just as the January transfer window is about to open and thus reviving speculation that the Welsh winger could be a target for the richest clubs in Europe.  The previous Saturday, Spurs had been held to a goalless draw at White Hart Lane by a stubborn Stoke side, who themselves had an impressive 3-1 victory over Liverpool on Boxing Day. Continue reading

This Week in: The NFL – Week 17 2012

AJ Green makes the catch that sets up the game winning field goal for the Bengals over the Steelers
AJ Green makes the catch that sets up the game winning field goal for the Bengals over the Steelers

With one week left in the NFL 2012 regular season, there are only two playoff places up for grabs – both of which are in the NFC, with all 6 representatives from the AFC now confirmed.  The Bengals claimed one of the WIld Card spots by beating their divisional rivals, the Steelers, for the first time since 2009, knocking Pittsburgh out of the playoffs in the process.  Cincinnati were aided by two crucial interceptions by Ben Roethlisberger – one of which was returned for a touchdown, the other set up the game-winning field goal – and it represents just the second time in the southern Ohio team’s history that they have made the postseason for two consecutive years.  The conference’s other Wild Card team will be the Indianapolis Colts, who confirmed their return to January football with a victory over the Chiefs in Kansas City.  It caps an impressive season for the Colts, who won just two games last year and also have been without the head coach, Chuck Pagano, for much of the campaign as he has been (successfully) battling against leukemia.

The Ravens beat the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants, 33-14 in Baltimore to clinch the AFC North, while in the battle for first round byes in the AFC, the Texans lost at home to the Vikings; New England came from 10-0 down to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville, 23-16; and the Broncos won their 10th straight game, this time beating the Browns 34-12.  Any of the three can still end up as the AFC’s number 1 seed – Houston will clinch it should they beat the Colts in Indianapolis; if the Texans fall, the Broncos can secure home-field advantage up until the Super Bowl by defeating the Chiefs; while the Patriots would need both to lose and then emerge victorious against the Dolphins if they are to claim the top spot.  Whoever misses out on the first round bye will host the Bengals in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and the other matchup of the first week of the playoffs in the AFC will see the Indianapolis Colts return to Baltimore – a city they left in the middle of the night when the franchise relocated in 1984 – to take on the Ravens.

In the NFC, the Falcons wrapped up the number 1 seed with a 31-18 win in Detroit, an encounter which also saw the Lions’ Wide Receiver, Calvin Johnson, break the record for receiving yards in a season – overtaking Jerry Rice’s total from 1995.  Green Bay moved into pole position to claim the conference’s other bye, as they thrashed the Titans 55-7, while the 49ers were defeated in Seattle, 42-13.  The Seahawks, who are now 7-0 at home, have an outside shot of being the number 2 seed themselves, but they would need the beat the Rams, along with losses for both the Packers – who play Wild Card chasing Minnesota, with Running Back, Adrian Peterson 208 yards away from breaking the single-season rushing record –  and San Francisco, who host the woeful Cardinals.

The last two remaining playoff spots in the NFC are the 4th and 6th seeds, the former of which represents the winner of the NFC East.  Currently, the Redskins are still in first place in that division, after they overcame the Eagles, 27-20 in Philadelphia, while the Cowboys were beaten at home by the Saints in overtime, 23-20, combined with the Giants loss in Baltimore.  This weekend, Washington host Dallas with the NFC East title on the line and, while a defeat for the Cowboys would see them eliminated, the Redskins could still take a Wild Card berth with a loss.  The Vikings take the 6th seed with a win over the Packers, Chicago requires a Green Bay victory combined with a success for themselves over Detroit, at the same time, the Giants could yet claim the final place, but they would need to beat the Eagles and hope for Minnesota, the Bears and Cowboys all to be defeated.

The Week 16’s encounters that had no postseason implications, the Dolphins beat the Bills in Miami, 24-10; the Jets benched Mark Sanchez but still lost to the Chargers at home, 27-17; St. Louis won in Tampa Bay; and the Panthers were victorious against the Raiders.  In the final week of the season, the matchups that have nothing riding on them include the guaranteed number 1 seed Atlanta Falcons host the reeling Buccaneers; the Jets are in Buffalo; the Ravens and the Bengals meet in Cincinnati, with both locked in to their current positions in the AFC of 4th and 6th respectively; New Orleans play the Panthers, the final game in the Superdome before the Super Bowl; the Titans entertain the Jaguars; Pittsburgh takes on the Browns; and the Chargers meet the Raiders in San Diego.

Predictions

Last week, 9-7; Season, 125-114

Home teams in bold

Buccaneers +3.5 over Falcons

Bills -3.5 over Jets

Bengals -2.5 over Ravens

Lions +3.5 over Bears

Titans -4.5 over Jaguars

Texans -3.5 over Colts

Saints -4.5 over Panthers

Eagles +7.5 over Giants

Steelers -6.5 over Browns

Broncos -15.5 over Chiefs

Vikings +3.5 over Packers

Patriots -10.5 over Dolphins

Chargers -4.5 over Raiders

Cardinals +14.5 over 49ers

Seahawks -10.5 over Rams

Cowboys +3.5 over Redskins

 

 

 

Homeland and Dexter Season Reviews

Carrie takes time out from pinning pictures onto boards to make out with a a suspect
Carrie takes time out from pinning pictures onto boards to make out with a a suspect

Homeland

When David Simon spoke out against the pitfalls of television critics reviewing shows on an episode-by-episode basis, he could not have asked for better evidence in support of his viewpoint than the second season of Homeland.  For the first half of the this year’s run, it seemed like the Showtime drama could do not wrong.  In September, it won the Best Dram Emmy, ending Mad Men’s dominance of the category, plus Claire Danes and Damian Lewis garnered the acting awards.  The following week, season two debuted and the first five episodes ranked as one of the best runs on television this year, culminating in the fantastic “Q&A“, in which Brody was brought in for questioning and broken by Carrie to confess that he had worn a suicide vest with the intention of assassinating Vice President Walden.

However, critics and fans began to dislike some of the outlandish plot twists that were occurring – most notably the killing of the Vice President by wirelessly “hacking” into his pacemaker; and the morphing of terrorist mastermind, Abu Nazir, into a broad villain who hid out in the tunnels, before being shot and killed by the SWAT team.  On weekly reviews on HitFix and Grantland, a general feeling was evident that the show had lost its edge and was becoming a replica of 24.  While the Kiefer Sutherland real-time drama was a commercial success and, in the early seasons especially, well received, Homeland had been thrust into the conversation with Breaking Bad and Mad Men for the title of “Best Show Currently on Television” and, by that yardstick, it was coming up short.  This shift in public perception of the show was exacerbated by an astute SNL skit parodying Homeland, which cast a spotlight on some of the more ridiculous aspects of the program in subsequent episodes – such as Saul’s persistence in backing Carrie even though “she’s only let me down every time I’ve trusted her” and Brody’s very small mouth.

But then came Sunday’s finale, which put a new perspective on the events that had led up to it and made people re-evaluate how they felt about the season as a whole.  For me, too much time was spent at the start of the episode on the relationship between Brody and Carrie, which had been interesting when it was a Marine who might have turned into a terrorist and the CIA Agent who is investigating him, but now that hook has gone, the love story is somewhat mundane.  However, once Carrie had left the cabin in the woods to get croissants, the finale really kicked into gear as the plot machinations of the second half of the season began to make more sense.  While Walden’s death may have been in private, and the simplicity of Abu Nazir’s demise after his bizarre scurrying around tunnels, the events were revealed to be merely two pieces being moved into place as part of a much larger plan.  Much more fitting with the terrorist’s modus operandi, the plot resulted in a showpiece bombing that claimed the lives of more than 200 people – including the Vice President’s son, which Nazir would have considered an appropriate response to the drone attack that killed his own boy, Issa – while the finger of blame for the attack was pointed squarely at Sergeant Nicholas Brody. Continue reading

This Week in: English Football – End of the World Edition

The Mayan version of iCalendar sets our expiry date as tomorrow.  Eek.
The Mayan version of iCalendar sets our expiry date as tomorrow. Eek.

The most widely anticipated date since January 1st 2000 – when Y2K was expected to make airplanes fall out of the sky and nuclear weapons be launched, though that might have happened had it not been for the excellent work of Peter Gibbons and the Bill Lumbergh’s team at Initech – occurs on Friday, as December 21st 2012 is said to mark the end of the Mayan long-count calendar, with people suggesting this means that the apocalypse is coming and, with it, the end of humanity. For a civilisation that disappeared suddenly and without warning, the Mayans receive a lot of credibility for their predictions* and so, if the end is nigh, the big question is – how would each Premiership club’s supporters feel about their team and the onset of Armageddon? Here’s a look at each in turn, in the order of current league standings:

*Which are not actually predictions, rather the modern world’s projections of what a date on a stone actually meant, but let’s go with it anyway.

1. Manchester United – Finishing on top of the pile would be an appropriate end for Manchester United, given the sustained success they have enjoyed over the last 20 years; but fans and – most of all – Sir Alex Ferguson would be devastated at missing out on the opportunity of taking the title back away from Manchester City. Supporters would also be disappointed to not get to see a reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo, as United were drawn against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: 3-1 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford – goals from Robin Van Persie, Tom Cleverly and Wayne Rooney ensured United maintained their six point advantage at the top of the Premiership, heading into the festive period.

If the Mayans were wrong: The Red Devils travel to South Wales to face Swansea on Sunday lunch time.

Either they are doing to Poznan or heading for the exits to beat the traffic
Either they are doing to Poznan or heading for the exits to beat the traffic

2. Manchester City – For so long “typical City” had been short hand to describe the continuous failings of the blue half of Manchester, whose supporters had to endure an extended trophy drought and demotion to the third tier of English football, while United were winning it everything in sight. However, May’s Premiership title changed all of that and City have now usurped their neighbours to be champions. Fans might feel that they have nothing left to gain – although given the manner in which the Etihad empties out long before the final whistle if things are not going their way, many Citizens would miss the Mayan Apocalypse and just hear about it on the radio as they head home.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: Relatively routine 3-1 victory away at Newcastle, with goals from Sergio Aguero, Javi Garcia and YaYa Toure – even better, the fans kept their coins in their pockets this week and, for once, City did not just throw money at a situation.

If the Mayans were wrong: Mancini’s men host bottom-of-the-table Reading on Saturday.

Continue reading

This week in: The NFL – Week 16 2012

Redskins rookie QB, Kirk Cousins, was impressive in his first start in place of the injured RG3
Redskins rookie QB, Kirk Cousins, was impressive in his first start in place of the injured RG3

With two weeks left in the NFL regular season, the only division that still appears to be up for grabs is the NFC East, in which the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants are all tied with records of 8-6.  Washington moved to that mark with an impressive 38-21 victory in Cleveland, despite the absence of their star rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III – his replacement, fellow first-year player, Kirk Cousins, ensured that they extended their winning streak to five games.  That success brought the Redskins into a tie with the Giants, who were blanked in Atlanta, 34-0 by the Falcons; and Dallas, who outlasted the Steelers in overtime, 27-24, to win their third consecutive fixture.

The only other division that has not officially been clinched as yet is the NFC West, but San Francisco’s impressive 41-34 defeat of the Patriots – recovering from allowing a 28 point lead to slip away in 14 second half minutes – means that the Seahawks are highly unlikely to be able to overhaul them.  However, Seattle are likely to take one of the Wild Card spots in the NFC, as they moved to 9-5 with a 50-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto, with their rookie QB Russell Wilson rushing for three touchdowns and throwing for another.  Also in that division, Arizona ended their 9 game losing streak by heaping more misery on the Detroit Lions, prevailing 38-10; and the Rams were defeated at home by the Vikings, who themselves are back into playoff contention.  Minnesota are now tied with the Bears at 8-6, as Chicago lost to the Packers for the second time this season, a game which saw Green Bay benefit from several officiating decisions, but ultimately claim the NFC North with a 21-13 win.

New England’s loss to the 49ers allowed the Broncos and the Texans to move another step closer to first-round byes in the AFC, after their victories over the Ravens and Colts respectively.  Baltimore did clinch a playoff place with the Steelers loss to the Cowboys, but they are only a game ahead of the Bengals in the AFC North after Cincinnati’s Thursday night 34-13 success over the Eagles.  In the other fixtures, Miami won the battle of Florida with Jacksonville, 24-3; the Saints ended the Buccaneers playoff ambitions with a 41-0 victory in New Orleans; Carolina beat the Chargers, 31-7 in San Diego; five field goals from Sebastian Janikowski ensured the Raiders overcame the Chiefs, 15-0; and the Jets lost on Monday night, 14-10 to the Titans.

In the Week 16 games with playoff implications, the Cowboys host the Saints; the Redskins are in Philadelphia; Baltimore have a home fixture against the Giants; Chicago travel to Arizona; Seattle will try to maintain their perfect home record for the year against the 49ers; Houston plays Minnesota; the Colts are in Kansas City; and the Bengals and Steelers face off in Pittsburgh.  Elsewhere, the Falcons can clinch the number 1 seed in the NFC with a win in Detroit; Green Bay plays their final home game of the regular season against the Titans; Buffalo play the Dolphins in Miami; the Patriots will be further north in Florida to take on Jacksonville; the Jets host the Chargers; the Buccaneers and Rams meet in Tampa Bay; Cleveland face the Broncos in Denver; and Carolina have a home encounter with the Raiders.

Predictions

Last week, 8-8; Season, 116-107

Home teams in bold

Falcons -3.5 over Lions

Saints +3.5 over Cowboys

Packers -12.5 over Titans

Colts -6.5 over Chiefs

Bills +4.5 over Dolphins

Jets -2.5 over Chargers

Redskins -4.5 over Eagles

Bengals +4.5 over Steelers

Buccaneers -3.5 over Rams

Raiders +8.5 over Panthers

Patriots -14.5 over Jaguars

Texans -7.5 over Vikings

Browns +13.5 over Broncos

Bears -5.5 over Cardinals

Ravens +2.5 over Giants

Seahawks +1.5 over 49ers

 

The School Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut

On Friday morning, one the most deadly mass shootings ever in the history of the United States, took place at a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut, with a gunman claiming the lives of 26 people, including 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10.  Twenty young boys and girls taken from the world far too soon, who will not be tucked into their beds by their parents tonight, who have been senselessly and brutally murdered just because they showed up for school today.  It is impossible to explain the depths of despair that those who have lost their sons and daughters; or brothers and sisters; friends and classmates; teachers and parents; members of the community will be feeling tonight.  The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

When tragedies like this occur, one of the first things that is reported by the media is whether or not the perpetrator acted alone and if they are among the dead.  This helps us as a society to cope with the situation – we can point at the evil man (and it almost always is a man) who has done this to us and be glad that they are no longer a threat.  While the events that have transpired may be beyond comprehension or belief, they are over and the guilty party can do no more harm.  Even after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the primary focus of “payback” was finding and killing Osama Bin Laden – one man who embodied the wrong that was done, as if eliminating a single person can prevent further bad things from happening.

Yet this provides a false sense of security – as long as guns are as prevalent and readily available as they are, there will always be another mass shooting somewhere, be it a primary school in Connecticut, a mall in Oregon, a movie theatre in Colorado, or a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.  In the aftermath of these massacres, we are told that it is not the right time to talk about gun control and to do so would be to use a tragedy for political gain, but those protestations are in themselves merely a tool for people to avoid a conversation about which they know they are wrong.  Even if you do not agree with my interpretation of the Second Amendment – a self-evident truth must be that when the Founding Fathers adopted it as part of the Bill of Rights, this was not the vision of America that they had in mind.  The mantra of “guns do not kill, people do” will be used in defence of weapons that have one purpose – to take lives.  Perhaps if a madman is intent on murdering others, they will do so with other instruments, but nothing else has the brutal effectiveness, speed, and efficiency of a gun.

All of us who are parents will have hugged our children a little tighter today, inside feeling lucky that it was not us who have to endure the unthinkable tragedy of losing a son or a daughter, especially at such a young age.  But as a society, we cannot leave such things to fortune – we should be able to send our kids to school without having to fear deep down that the next news story will be coming live from our own community.  At best, President Obama may now manage to pass a gun control law that limits sales of automatic and semi-automatic  weapons, but what is needed is a complete overhaul of the system.  An amnesty program for people to turn in their guns voluntarily, alongside a dramatic reduction in the licenses that are given out – in my opinion the only people who should be legally allowed to carry a firearm are law enforcement officials and those who need to protect their families from wildlife such as bears.  Not only this, but there needs to be a review of the mental health treatment that people receive in this country, as far too many people fall through the cracks and do not receive the help they need.

One of the two students who carried out the Columbine High School Massacre – Eric Harris – had previously told a psychologist that he was depressed, angry and had suicidal thoughts, as a result he was prescribed Zoloft.  Without his mental health issues being addressed in any manner other than medication, and with guns and ammunition easily available to him despite his age, Harris -along with Dylan Klebold – was able to claim the lives of 13 others before following through on those suicidal thoughts.  There could be a similar story to come out of the tragedy that happened today, or perhaps there will be from a future massacre.  Unless as a society we initiate serious changes to gun laws and mental health treatment, there will be more of these incidents – surely we do not want to leave it just to chance that it will not be our own family or community that has to deal with the next one.

This Week in: English Football – United Open Lead At The Top

From left to right - Twat; Joe Hart; Rio post being struck by 2p coin; Goblin.
From left to right – Twat; Joe Hart; Rio post being struck by 2p coin; Goblin Tevez

Manchester United extended their lead at the top of the Premiership to six point over their neighbours, after they defeated City 3-2 at the Etihad last Sunday.  Sir Alex Ferguson’s men started the game on the back foot, but two first-half goals from Wayne Rooney gave them a comfortable lead at the break, before strikes from YaYa Toure and Pablo Zabaleta pulled the home side level heading into the final minute.  United then won a free-kick in perfect territory for Robin Van Persie’s left foot and the Dutch striker found the net, though he was aided by a deflection off his former Arsenal teammate, Samir Nasri, who had turned away from the shot.  Sadly, the goal was followed by ugly scenes, as Rio Ferdinand was struck just above the eye by a missile thrown by the crowd, while Joe Hart had to block one of his own team’s supporters, who had invaded the pitch in an apparent attempt to attack members of the visiting side.  The scoreline matched the Red Devils success in the FA Cup on that ground last season, but it was the first home defeat in the league for City since December 2010, an unbeaten run that had stretched 37 games.

Both Fernando Torres and his club, Chelsea, were able to turn around their poor league form with a 3-1 victory away at Sunderland, with the Spanish striker netting twice, including a first-half penalty.  It was a timely win for the Blues, who are now in Japan competing in the Club World Cup, in which they progressed to the final today with a 3-1 defeat of the Mexican side, Monterrey, with Torres once again on the score sheet.  On Sunday they face Corinthians of Brazil, with Chelsea’s new boss, Rafa Benitez, getting an opportunity to repeat the feat he achieved at Internazionale in 2010 – winning this trophy after taking over from the manager who had guided the team to European Cup success (Jose Mourinho at Inter, Roberto DiMatteo with the Londoners).  The league defeat had sent Sunderland into the bottom three, but they were able to climb out of the relegation zone on Tuesday by beating Reading 3-0 at the Stadium of Light, another defeat for the Royals, who also lost 1-0 at Southampton last Saturday.

Tottenham underlined the reason that none of their supporters will ever accept that a game will end happily until after the final whistle, as they once again managed to lose a match they had appeared destined to win, this time against Everton.  The Toffees had been slightly the better team over the 90 minutes, but trailed to a deflected shot from Clint Dempsey in the 75th minute.  However, Spurs chose to sit back on their lead and withdrew Jermain Defoe and when the equaliser came for the home side, it inevitably came from Steven Pienaar – who could not establish himself in the team during a brief spell at Tottenham.  Even though that goal was scored in injury time, Everton still found the time to win it through Nikica Jelavic and leapfrogged Andre Villas-Boas’s men into fourth in the table, at the same time confirming the worst fears of all of us pessimistic Spurs fans.  If matches lasted just 80 minutes rather than 90, then Tottenham would currently sit top of the Premiership and such is the regularity they throw away strong positions in both individual encounters and seasons as a whole, you can forget the 21st of December of Mayan long count calendars, if the Lilywhites ever have an unassailable lead at the top of the league, that will be the clear sign that the End Times are fast approaching. Continue reading

This Week in: The NFL – Week 15 2012

For the second week in a row, an NFL team observe a moment of silence for the death of a teammate
Once again, an NFL team observe a moment of silence for the death of a teammate

For the second successive week, the NFL was struck by tragedy on Saturday, when Jerry Brown, a member of the Dallas Cowboys practice squad member was killed in a one car crash, being driven by his friend and teammate, Josh Brent.  Reports have suggested that Brent was driving drunk, which if true means that he will be facing legal consequences to his actions, though they are unlikely to match the guilt and grief the nose tackle must be now feeling.  News stories since the incident have focused on the need for increased awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence, but I find it impossible for a 25-year-old (as Brent is) in 2012 not to know the risks associated with alcohol use, rather he chose to believe he would be okay.  The family of friends of Jerry Brown, the Cowboys and Josh Brent must live with the tragic results this decision brought; however, to try to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road requires not just an increase in penalties for those who break the law, but also a societal shift where young people refraining from alcohol in bars and clubs are met with admiration, not pressure from their peers.

Dallas, as the Chiefs had done the week before, still took the field for their game on Sunday, in a matchup against the Bengals in Cincinnati, with both teams still harboring postseason ambitions.  A fourth quarter touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant, followed by a Dan Bailey field goal as time expired, helped the Cowboys come from behind to win 20-19 and keep them in contention for the playoffs.  With a 7-6 record, Dallas are a game behind the Giants, who demolished the Saints, 52-27, in the NFC East; as are the Washington Redskins, who overcame an injury to their rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, to beat the Baltimore Ravens 31-28 in overtime, with another first year QB, Kirk Cousins, leading the game-tying and winning drives.  Philadelphia made it four victories out of four in the division – with all but the Giants securing their successes with a score on the final play – as they stunted the Buccaneers hopes of playing in January, with a 23-21 win in Tampa Bay, ending the Eagles run of eight consecutive losses.

The Packers took control of the NFC North with a 27-20 win over the Lions on Sunday night, after the Bears had fallen in Minnesota, 21-14, earlier in the day.  Green Bay’s victory came after a shaky start, as they were 14-3 down against Detroit, who were driving down the field with the chance to open up an 18 point lead, only for QB Matthew Stafford to fumble the ball, which Mike Daniels recovered and returned for a touchdown – closing the gap to four and completely altering the momentum of the game.  A 27 yard run from Aaron Rodgers and another rushing touchdown from DuJuan Harris ensured that the Packers maintained their dominance over the Lions at Lambeau Field – the last time Detroit won there was in 1991, so long ago that Brett Favre had not yet played his first game for Green Bay. Continue reading

This Week in: English Football – Manchester’s Civil War Resumes

Sean Morrisson gives Reading a 3-2 lead with a free header in the United box
Sean Morrisson gives Reading a 3-2 lead with a free header in the United box

As was the case last year, this season’s battle for the Premier League title is shaping up to be between the two Manchester clubs, with City and United meeting on Sunday for the first time this campaign.   Sir Alex Ferguson’s side head across town to the Etihad currently sitting top of the table, but their defensive frailties will be giving their manager much cause for concern.  That vulnerability at the back was particularly evident last Saturday against Reading in a crazy encounter at the Madejski Stadium, which United won despite giving up three goals in the opening 23 minutes.  For the 10th time in their 15 Premiership fixtures thus far, the Red Devils conceded the opening goal, this time to a Robson-Kanu volley, after Jonny Evans had failed to adequately clear a Reading cross; but a quality strike from Anderson, followed by a Wayne Rooney penalty gave United a 2-1 advantage after just sixteen minutes.

That was far from the end of the scoring, as the home side re-took the lead with two headers from Nicky Shorey corners, converted by Adam Le Fondre and Sean Morrison, but a smart finish from Rooney and a well taken goal by Robin Van Persie – who should have had a second before half-time, but his shot was incorrectly adjudged not to have crossed the line, providing further evidence of the need for goal-line technology – put Ferguson’s men ahead for good.  While seven goals in a single half ties a Premiership record, as a final tally it was nothing compared to other encounters in Reading’s recent history – in October they lost 7-5 to Arsenal in the League Cup, having led 4-0 at the interval; and in the 2007/8 season, the Royals lost 7-4 and 6-4 to Portsmouth and Tottenham respectively.

The United manager will be anxious to see his team improve their defensive display in time for the grudge match against City, especially from corners as it was from one such set-piece that Joleon Lescott scored the only goal of the game in this fixture last season – a win that ultimately helped the blue half of Manchester secure their first title since 1968.  Although Roberto Mancini’s team remain unbeaten in the league this campaign, they trail their neighbours because they have been held to draws on six occasions already, meaning they have shared the points more times than they did in all of their championship winning 2011/12 season.  Last weekend, Manchester City were forced to come from behind to earn a point against Everton, who opened the scoring through Marouane Fellaini; but the Belgian then gave away a penalty shortly before the break, which Carlos Tevez converted.  While there will still be 22 fixtures remaining after Sunday’s encounter, a win or draw for United would put them in the driving seat in the title race, heading into the crucial Christmas period.

Below the dueling Manchester clubs, the fight for Champions League clubs looks likely to once again be London centric, with Chelsea and Tottenham currently sitting in third and fourth, both having gained 26 points thus far.  Spurs had been 7 points behind the Blues before three wins inside six days propelled Andre Villas-Boas’s men up the table, with the latest success coming at Craven Cottage, as they beat Fulham 3-0, thanks to two goals from Jermain Defoe and a long-range effort from Sandro.  The victory did come at a cost, as Tottenham’s talisman, Gareth Bale, was forced off with a hamstring injury after sixty minutes and the Welshman had earlier picked up his fourth yellow card of the season for simulation (although this time he did appear to be tripped, he only has himself to blame for earning a reputation for diving).  The loss marked the seventh game in a row for Martin Jol’s team without a victory, but that run of fixtures has included impressive draws at both the Emirates and Stamford Bridge. Continue reading