It’s somewhat unlikely that Sunday’s match between Liverpool at Manchester United will live long in the memory. Liverpool fans sang, “We won’t do that chant.” Luis Suarez buzzed around a lot and showed glimpses of the behaviour that has endeared him to football fans the world over. Man Utd were the beneficiaries of ludicrously weak refereeing. Just another weekend in the mighty, mighty Premier League.
I actually thought Mark Halsey started the game pretty well. It’s easy for these hotly-contested games to spiral into bitty yellow card bonanzas, but he was lenient on a couple of challenges, one from either side, that would have ordinarily brought a yellow card. Then in the 39th minute, Jonjo Shelvey went into a challenge with one foot, and Jonny Evans went into the same challenge with two feet. Shelvey, after some helpful advice from the ever considerate opposition players – no referee should ever make a big decision in a Man Utd game without first consulting Rio Ferdinand – was shown a red card.
Whichever way you look at this, it’s a poor decision. If he was in the right position to see Shelvey’s studs were raised, then he would also have been in the right position to see that Evans’s studs were also raised. If he was in the wrong position, then a) it’s poor refereeing, and b) he’s making a game-changing decision without being 100% certain that he’s correct. And given his earlier leniency (presumably) in the hope of letting the game flow better, why stymie what was, up to that point, an excellent contest?
Man Utd had been given a stern examination in the first half, conceding over 60% of possession to their North West rivals. Van Persie looked isolated, the midfield was disjointed, and young Raheem Sterling was causing no end of grief to Patrice Evra down United’s left. A side with greater conviction and cutting edge would have been 2 or 3 goals to the good before half time, before the red card, even.
So despite Gerrard’s well taken goal, it always felt like United would come back into it, and so they did a mere five minutes later, Rafael’s excellent curling finish levelling things up. And with 15 minutes to go, Antonio Valencia’s jelly legs took a tumble under the weight of expectation – I presume it was that, seeing as there was eff all other contact – and RVP shrugged off a five minute injury delay to squeeze in the spot kick past Reina. Credit Ferguson’s reverse psychology in his throwaway comment before the match – “We never get penalties there” – but a plague on Halsey’s house for facilitating such an atrocious decision and handing Man Utd a victory they did very little to deserve.
The Man Utd fans sang “You’re getting sacked in the morning” to Brendan Rogers, who must be feeling a little down on his luck. He’ll wait a long time to see his team play as well as that again and lose, and a narrow defeat to Mark Halsey will not give John W. Henry a reason to wield the axe just yet.
Over in the Fox Soccer studio, it down to Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda (who looks like a taller, less menacing version of Dennis Wise) to argue about the sending off. Barton – whose tan makes Gary Lineker look genuinely pasty – maintained it was a sending off. Wynalda disagreed, desperately trying to find a way of saying, “But it’s a derby game!” in a less colloquial manner, and giving it all the hand gesturing he could muster. Finally, he grabbed Barton’s arm and stared him the eyes before making one final impassioned plea that it wasn’t a red card. Barton didn’t respond. Pools panel result: Away win. (Barton is always away because he’s English).
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35 miles back up the M62, Financial Extravagance’s City laboured to a 1-1 draw with Financial Prudence’s Arsenal. Craig Burley may not be on Sky, but there was an altogether familiar feel to the Scotsman’s haranguing of Arsenal’s zonal marking system. “Statistically, they say that teams using Zonal Marking concede fewer goals,” he said. “But every time I’ve seen it, it never works!” I like to think a part of Andy Gray’s soul was filled with joy at that moment. Burley is the living embodiment of the phrase, “Because fact into doubt…won’t go.” Anyway, it was more to do with playing a keeper that hasn’t got a bloody clue at corners than it was about the relative merit of different marking systems.
Arsenal probably should have been ahead before that, but when put through one-one-one with Joe Hart, Gervinho’s first touch not only deserted him, but seemed to have left planet earth entirely. My nightmares are filled with alarmingly similar situations leading to alarmingly similar outcomes. That and spiders.
And I leave you with news that the UN’s race relations ambassador John Terry has retired from international football, making England a 372% more likeable team.