“Attack, attack; attack attack attack” – Liverpool fans at Selhurst Park after their side went 3-0 up, as they hoped to close the goal difference gap with Man City
“We should have just defended the lead” – prevailing opinion among Liverpool fans following the final whistle
The most enjoyable part for me of Monday’s match at Selhurst Park between Crystal Palace and Liverpool, was watching a side throw away a 3-0 lead and for once it was not Tottenham. I was in the stands for Spurs’ FA Cup replay against Manchester City in 2004, when a three goal and man advantage at half time was not enough to stop us losing 4-3 inside 90 minutes. And memories of the 2001 debacle against the red half of Manchester – which ended up 5-3 to United despite a similar 3-0 lead for Tottenham at the interval – will take some Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-type therapy if they are ever to be erased. But on Monday, it was Brendan Rodgers’ side who suffered the ignominy of failing to win from such a dominating position, but this had a much bigger impact on Liverpool than those two Spurs capitulations did for them (even in the Cup defeat, the next round would have been a trip to Old Trafford, where we had not won for 15 years at the time) as the Reds saw their title chances slip (sorry Gerrard) away from them.
Things had started well for Liverpool against a Palace side who had nothing to play for – since they had secured their Premiership status for next season two games previous – as Joe Allen opened the scoring in the 17th minute with his head. Ten minutes into the second half, an assault on the goal difference advantage that Manchester City enjoyed seemed possible as Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez both scored to give the Reds a 3-0 lead. However, it was not as if Rodgers then went to an all-out attack: first Rahim Sterling made way for Phillipe Coutinho, when Lucas or Allen could have been withdrawn; then Sturridge was replaced by Victor Moses. Nevertheless, as soon as Palace got one back, thanks to a deflected shot from Damien Delaney, the Eagles looked like they believed they could get something from the match. They ended up gaining a point thanks to two strikes from Dwight Gale, the second of which he was played through for by a fantastic chest pass by Glenn Whelan.
Although Liverpool were understandably downbeat at the final whistle – Luis Suarez, who had earlier tied the 38 game Premiership record with his 31st goal of the campaign, went from an incredulous laugh when the equalizer went in, to uncontrollable, head-in-shirt crying at the final whistle – it was bizarre that Rodgers claimed afterwards that the “title was gone” for his side. Considering that when he said that, Liverpool were actually sitting in first place and it was an insult to both Aston Villa and West Ham (City’s last two opponents) that the Liverpool manager was writing off their chances of getting anything from those fixtures.
Manchester City A Point From The Title
“You can stick your Pelligrini up your arse” City supporters during last year’s FA Cup Final vs Wigan
“Pelligrini – This Charming Man” Banner at the Etihad during Wednesday’s match with Aston Villa
When Manchester City drew 2-2 with Sunderland on April 16th, it appeared as though the title was moving beyond their grasp as they sat six points behind Liverpool, albeit with an extra match still to play. However, their 3-2 win at Everton on Saturday – where they came from 1-0 down following a stupendous strike from Ross Barkley that should secure him a place in England’s World Cup squad – and a 4-0 victory against Aston Villa, rounded off by a superb goal by YaYa Toure, on Wednesday have put City within a point of claiming the Premier League trophy for the second time in three seasons. Nevertheless, it would be unlike the blue half of Manchester to do anything simply – just ask those who witnessed two late goals that saved them from almost certain failure: not just in 2012 when injury time strikes from Eden Dzeko and Sergio Aguero won them the title with a 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers on the campaign’s final day; but also in 1999 in the Second Division Playoff-final, when it was Kevin Horlock and Paul Dickov who found the net after the 90th minute to force extra-time against Gillingham (then managed by current Palace savior, Tony Pulis). Had City not managed to get out of the third tier of English football that year – they ultimately beat the Gills on penalties – then who knows what trajectory the club would have taken and if they even would have been candidates for the Abu Dhabi Group takeover in 2008.
Now, barring a 13-0 victory for Liverpool on Sunday (though they are playing Newcastle, so do not rule it out) a draw for City in their final match against West Ham secures for them the title, while Chelsea have been eliminated from contention and will end the season without a trophy following their 0-0 draw with Norwich at the weekend. What Liverpool will have in their favor is that the West Ham captain, Kevin Nolan, was a boyhood fan of the Reds and would be motivated to help out the team he once supported by scoring a crucial goal that helps them win a championship; while Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll were both sent to East London from Anfield last summer and may be looking to prove their worth to their old employer.
Sunderland Get Their Miracle; Fulham, Cardiff and Norwich Relegated
Well technically, Norwich have not been mathematically demoted to the second tier, but they are three points behind West Brom with a seventeen goal differential deficit to make up on the Baggies, with just one fixture remaining. Just six weeks ago, the entire lower half of the table appeared to be in danger of relegation and Sunderland looked like they were doomed, but now the bottom three have been determined heading into the final weekend. Neither Fulham nor Cardiff put up much of a fight – losing 4-1 at Stoke and 3-0 at Newcastle respectively – and their fates were confirmed when Sunderland inflicted a defeat on Ryan Giggs’ Manchester United at Old Trafford, with Sebastian Larsson converting a Connor Wickham cross to give the Black Cats their first victory on that ground since 1968. On Wednesday, Sunderland defeated West Brom 2-0 at the Stadium of Light, ensuring that Gus Poyet’s men will be playing in the top flight next season and making them just the second team in the Premiership era to be bottom on Christmas Day and subsequently avoid relegation (along with the Baggies in 2004/5). As for those who are to be playing in the Championship come August: Fulham have been very badly run this season, resulting in three managers who all did as badly as each other; Cardiff owner, Vincent Tan sacked Malky Mackay when he was doing reasonably well and in doing so, ended any hopes they had of survival; and Norwich dismissed Chris Hughton with only five matches remaining in the season and have since picked up only a single point (even if that was away at Chelsea). It was a relatively weak lower half of the Premiership this season and there could end up being seven teams who fail to make it to 40 points this year and those who have avoided the drop this year will just be prime candidates to be relegated next May.
Elsewhere last weekend, Everton’s loss to Manchester City meant that Arsenal were secured a 17th consecutive top four finish even before they beat West Brom 1-0 on Sunday; Southampton earned their highest ever points total in the Premier League when they beat Swansea 1-0 with a last-minute winner; Aston Villa had ensured they were out of the relegation picture – even before other results had gone their way – with a 3-1 victory over Hull; and West Ham had done the same by beating Tottenham for a third time this season, prevailing 2-0 at Upton Park. As for Spurs, hopefully the one positive that will come out of that inept performance will be that those claiming that Tim Sherwood should still be in charge beyond this weekend will no longer push that viewpoint – he is a likable person who comes across well in interviews, but he is inexperienced as a manager and too many times we have put in a performance bereft of ideas, imagination and passion. Beforehand, Sherwood had been touting his own case by stating he had the best winning percentage of any Spurs manager in the Premier League – which was true, but also not telling the whole story. Some other facts about his tenure:
- In the 21 league matches he has been in charge for, there are 18 that had corresponding fixtures last year (three were against promoted sides whom Andre Villas-Boas did not face in 2012/13: Crystal Palace (H), Hull (A) and Cardiff (H). In those 18 games, Sherwood gained 32 points, AVB last year got 35 points.
- In all competitions, win percentages: Sherwood 48.15%; AVB 55%; Redknapp 49.49% – we are Tottenham, we do not just care about the league, especially as we have not won in since 1961.
- Sherwood has overseen 10 loss in 27 matches (37%) vs AVB’s 16 defeats in 80 games (20%)
- Spurs have lost three times to Arsenal and three times to West Ham this season, four of those six defeats came under Sherwood’s management.
Thanks for the gilet memories Tim, but it is time for you and Tottenham to move on – please bring in Frank de Boer.
Because the relegation places and fourth place have already been determined heading into the final weekend, there are only a few fixtures that have anything riding on them this Sunday:
Manchester City vs West Ham – a point almost definitely secures the title for City, a win does so for sure.
Liverpool vs Newcastle – Need to win and hope for some help from the Hammers, but taking care of getting three points will be the only thing on Brendan Rodgers’ mind following Monday’s debacle.
Southampton vs Manchester United – Ryan Giggs’ last match in charge for United before Louis Van Gaal comes in this summer, but a victory could also propel them to a Europa League place depending on the result of the following game…
Tottenham vs Aston Villa – Tottenham need a point to keep their place in the Spursday Cup next season, which many people think is better to avoid altogether, but then those people probably did not make away trips to Slavia Prague or Braga during the 2006/7 campaign which solidified my love for the competition and I always want us to be in some European competition.
Last week, 7-6; Season, 188-182 (hooray, almost guaranteed finishing over 50% for the season…unless I go 2-8)
Home teams listed first
Cardiff vs Chelsea – Away win
Fulham vs Crystal Palace – Away win
Hull vs Everton – Away win
Liverpool vs Newcastle – Home win
Manchester City vs West Ham – Home win
Norwich vs Arsenal – Away win
Southampton vs Manchester United – Draw
Sunderland vs Swansea – Home win
Tottenham vs Aston Villa – Home win
West Brom vs Stoke – Draw