This Week in: English Football – Spurs Hold United and the Hazard of Being a Ball Boy

Dempsey earns Spurs a snowy point against United
Dempsey earns Spurs a snowy point against United

Last Sunday’s encounter at White Hart Lane had all the hallmarks of being a typical match between Tottenham and Manchester United – which invariably end with a win for the Red Devils.  Spurs dominated the game, had far more attempts on goal (23 versus just 6 for United), yet found themselves behind at half-time after – ex-Arsenal player – Robin Van Persie was left unmarked in the box (twice actually during the move) and headed the away side in front.  On a snowy day in London, Tottenham tried to take advantage of Aaron Lennon’s pace on the right side of the field and the diminutive winger got the better of Patrice Evra, as he has done before in several meetings of the two teams, but Spurs could not draw themselves level.  Shortly after the interval, Clint Dempsey had a great opportunity to equalise, but shot straight at De Gea when he had just the keeper to beat from 8 yards out, but the American made up for that miss in injury time, as he converted a pass from Lennon to give Andre Villas-Boas’s men a point for which they were very good value.

In his post-match interview, Sir Alex Ferguson complained about a penalty that was not given when Wayne Rooney went down under a challenge by Steven Caulker, suggesting that at 2-0 the game would have been out of Tottenham’s reach and United would have held on for three points, but this missed two crucial points.  Firstly, Rooney was the one who created the contact and should actually have been booked for diving, which would have later resulted in him being sent off as he was cautioned for fouling Lennon.  Secondly, Manchester United have missed five of their last nine penalties, so merely being awarded another would not have guaranteed that they would extend their lead.   Tottenham deserved at least a draw from their performance and, although they missed out on the chance of beating United twice this season, they did avoid losing to them in a league campaign for the first time in 23 years.

Manchester City were able to close the gap between themselves and their neighbours to five points over the weekend, as they beat Fulham 2-0 at the Etihad, with both goals coming from David Silva.  Liverpool brought their Premiership goals scored tally up to 40 for the season, a quarter of which they have recorded in games against Norwich, as they followed up their earlier 5-2 success at Carrow Road with a 5-0 victory over the Canaries last Saturday.  In the two London derbies, Chelsea scored twice early on against Arsenal, then held on in the second half despite Theo Walcott’s strike for the visitors, to secure their first home win of 2013; and across in the East End, Joe Cole netted to claim a point for West Ham against Queens Park Rangers, who had opened the scoring through their new French striker, Loic Remy.  Despite a three game unbeaten run against Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham, QPR remain bottom of the table, four points adrift of Wigan, who lost 3-2 at home to Sunderland, and Reading, as the Royals came from behind to beat Newcastle at St. James’s Park, with both goals for the visitors coming from substitute, Adam Le Fondre.

In the other games played at the weekend, Swansea beat Stoke 3-1 in South Wales, and Aston Villa threw away a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 away at West Brom in the Midlands derby.  On Monday night, Southampton played their first fixture under new manager Mauricio Pochettino, after they had made the surprising decision to replace Nigel Adkins last Friday.  Adkins had taken the Saints from League One to the Premiership with back-to-back promotions in the last two seasons and had guided them to 15th in the table, embarking on a five match unbeaten run – including draws against Chelsea and Arsenal – prior to his sacking.  Pochettino’s opening game as the new boss ended with a goalless draw – the first 0-0 at St. Mary’s in two years, with the previous one coming against Notts County in 2011 in a League One fixture, further evidence of just how far Adkins had taken the club.  Arsenal and West Ham played their rearranged Boxing Day match on Wednesday night, with the Gunners coming from behind to win 5-1, thanks to a 10 minute spell at the start of the second half when they were rampant and scored four goals, the best of which was an impressive team move that Santi Cazorla finished with a back heel flick into the net.  There was a sour end to the game however, as West Ham defender Dan Potts was knocked unconscious in an innocuous looking challenge with Bacary Sagna.  The 18-year-old Potts received treatment on the pitch for more than 10 minutes and he remains in hospital with a suspected concussion.

Caution - Hazard.  Lovely bloke
Caution – Hazard. Lovely bloke

Nevertheless, neither Arsenal’s brilliance nor the injury to Potts was the biggest football story on Wednesday, as the encounter between Chelsea and Swansea in the League Cup Semi-Final second leg had one of the most bizarre sendings off in recent history.  With the Welsh side holding a 2-0 advantage from the first game at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were frustrated by their inability to break through and this boiled over in the 78th minute when Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard took exception to how long a ball boy was taking to return the ball to the home team’s keeper.  Hazard ran over and attempted to grab the ball, the boy slipped over and fell on top of it and then the Chelsea player kicked at the ball/lad, leaving him rolling on the floor by the side of the pitch.  Now, it is possible that the ball boy had been trying to waste some time so that his team would make it to Wembley and Jose Mourinho once accused Barcelona of using similar tactics in a Super Cup encounter, but here are a list of ways Hazard could have dealt with that: alert the referee to the alleged time-wasting so that he can add it on at the end of 90 minutes; point it out to Chelsea so they could make an official complaint against Swansea to the FA who would then investigate; score a goal in the previous 167 minutes of football that had been played in the tie – the one thing he should not have done is confront the ball boy, let alone kick out at him.  Having said that, after the incident I went back and watched the game and could find no evidence of any sort of delaying tactics being used by that kid or any of the other ball boys – indeed, the only previous interaction between Hazard and the lad happened in the 67th minute, when the ball had gone out for a Chelsea corner and the boy sprinted over to retrieve the ball, then immediately returned it to the Belgian.  Ballboys can be added to the list of groups that Chelsea show no respect for, alongside referees, team mates (should a certain club captain like your girlfriend, for example), managers (even if they win you the Champions League), opponents (see Ferdinand, Anton), interns who are in the sights of an air-rifle at the training ground….

That incident should not take away from Swansea’s achievement of reaching the League Cup Final where they will have the opportunity to win their first ever major trophy (I’m not counting the Welsh Cup as “major) and with the other semi-final being contested between Aston Villa and Bradford, there was a chance they would have an easy game to win the competition.  However, Aston Villa were knocked out and thus the Swans will have to face League Two’s Bradford, who have also beaten Arsenal and Wigan en route to the final, which will be played on February 24th, with the winners gaining entry to the Europa League for next season.  There is more cup action this weekend, as the FA Cup reaches its fourth round, with several Premiership clubs facing tricky away fixtures against lower-league opposition.  On Friday night, Aston Villa will have to try to put their League Cup disappointment to one side as they travel to Millwall, then over the weekend Arsenal are on the south coast to face Brighton; Everton play Bolton at the Reebok Stadium; Leeds host Tottenham; Chelsea make a short trip across London to take on Brentford; and Liverpool are away at Oldham.  There only all-Premiership ties this round both involve the Manchester clubs, as United entertain Fulham, while City travel to Stoke; and the two remaining non-league sides both face top flight opposition, as Macclesfield host Wigan and Luton are away at Norwich.

FA Cup Fourth Round Fixtures

Friday

Millwall vs Aston Villa

Saturday

Stoke vs Manchester City

Bolton vs Everton

Brighton vs Arsenal

Derby vs Blackburn

Huddersfield vs Leicester

Hull vs Barnsley

Macclesfield vs Wigan

Middlesbrough vs Aldershot

Norwich vs Luton

QPR vs MK Dons

Reading vs Sheffield United

Manchester United vs Fulham

Sunday

Brentford vs Chelsea

Leeds United vs Tottenham

Oldham Athletic vs Liverpool

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3 thoughts on “This Week in: English Football – Spurs Hold United and the Hazard of Being a Ball Boy

  1. A ‘Lilywhites’ view of the Hazard incident. Not condoning what he did, it was stupid but……..the ballboy in question tweeted before the game he was going to waste time. A few minutes before this incident the ballboy at the other corner took an age to pass the ball over for a goal kick. This was pointed out by Chelsea players to the ref. in the first half another ballboy kicked the ball away from Mata as he went for the throw in. Not taking away from a poor Chelsea performance and Swansea probably deserved it, just, over the two legs. Oh and he wasn’t a child, he is 17, so knew what he was doing.

    1. Of course totally through my Spurs-tinted glasses – but at least Chelsea used much more traditional time wasting tactics in their game against Barcelona in the Champions League last season…I do hope Drogba has recovered!

      1. It’s interesting how split opinion is. A lot of footballers, not Chelsea ones, have supported Hazard, including Bale, while others want him banned for life. Fairly typical over the top hysterical reaction to footballing matters.

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