Man Utd close up 2nd; Alonso concern; Arsenal end Highbury in 4th; Spurs suffer suspected foul play; the Championship play-offs
Though most of the current football headlines concern mostly of the national squad's preparation for its voyage to Germany's hosting of the World Cup, here is a word or two regarding the end of the top flight season in the Premiership. Being that Portsmouth won its game against Wigan and condemned West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham to the Championship, the last match decider involved the race for 2nd and 4th place.
Man Utd 4 Charlton 0
Ruud Van Nistelrooy apparently made good his departure from Old Trafford on Sunday after hearing he would not feature in the first eleven. Having drawn goalless against Middlesbrough, during which VNR had a penalty to not only get on the score sheet but put Utd clear of Liverpool but failed, the last game at home had to be made a certainty, no more, no less. Charlton were defeated at home by Blackburn Rovers and heard they would lose their manager of 15 years at the end of the season. The home side made good their crowd advantage, the absence of Rooney and an appearance off the bench for Paul Scholes, with a four-goal salute from Louis Saha, Christiano Ronaldo, a Jason Euell own goal and Kieran Richardson. Job done, automatic Champions League qualification secured. It will be good to see a rejuvenated Utd from that which performed last season in Europe, they should be strong contenders to win it.
VNR was said to have traded words of the insulting kind with Ronaldo during training on Saturday, where he referred Ronaldo to see his 'father', a reference to Carlos Quieroz. Ronaldo's biological father passed away in September this year. VNR departed to his native Holland on Sunday after leaving, and was not even given an invite to Roy Keane's testimonial tonight. With Quieroz said to have influence on who is chosen for matches, VNR sealed his omission from the team-sheet.
Man Utd: 25 wins, 8 draws, 5 defeats
Charlton: 13 wins, 8 draws, 17 defeats
Portsmouth 1 Liverpool 3
I had this guess right too, though on one hand some would say Portsmouth would win against a cut-down Liverpool side six days from the FA Cup final. Others, like myself, insisted Liverpool would win because I felt Portsmouth now need not push for points for survivial and a cut-down Liverpool can nonetheless play very well all the same. Robbie Fowler celebrated an extended contract with the first followed by Crouch for the second. Serbian Ognjen Koroman pulled one back and Djibril Cisse replaced the 2-goal lead to the end. Xabi Alonso fell awkwardly yet could still make it to the final. Portsmouth sit on whether Harry Redknapp can be content enough to remain, now the club can enjoy another season at the top.
A Royal Mail van was entered into and its contents of 1,600 FA Cup Final tickets for Liverpool supporters were stolen. Unsurprising if reports do not go further, but the tickets are already located on the Millennium Stadium system and anyone who turns up and sits in the respective seats will be removed and potentially arrested. With the fact that the tickets are known and therefore no one can turn up with them legitimately, surely there is a way for those who had paid for them to be otherwise accommodated at the stadium? They have bought those tickets and should be entitled to alternative seating arrangements or a refund.
I wonder if the tickets were stolen along with other mail. It sounds like an inside tip-off and one that should come to no avail.
Portsmouth: 10 wins, 8 draws, 20 defeats
Liverpool: 25 wins, 7 draws, 6 defeats
Arsenal 4 Wigan 2
The grand finale, the last Arsenal game at Highbury (well the last Highbury game) after 83 years, was the last game for Arsenal for 2005-2006. Robert Pires earned the lead for the home side, who were then pegged back by two swift goals from Paul Scharner and David Thompson. Then the Thierry Henry show took centre stage, and who else to finish off such a game of rememberence, producing the equaliser before half time and then another, ten minutes into the second half. Then to cap it off, Andreas Johansson brought down Freddie Ljungberg for a professional foul in the box and the Frenchman coolly deposited the spot-kick, kissing the spot afterwards. News came in of Spurs' fortune at Upton Park after Dennis Bergkamp, another talisman of the red-and-white North London club, made an introduction for the final 10mins+ to help round off a sensational moment in Arsenal football history.
All the best for the recovery back to full fitness of Abou Diaby, who was horribly and disgracefully injured by the reckless, despical lunge of Dan Smith of Sunderland in his FIRST match for the Black Cats at The Stadium of Light. A fractured and dislocated right ankle was the outcome and is second to a broken leg injury. How Kevin Ball looked to defend it is incredible and Arsene Wenger was rightly incensed.
Arsenal: 20 wins, 7 draws, 11 defeats
Wigan: 15 wins, 6 draws, 17 defeats
West Ham United 2 Spurs 1
Prior to the game, a number of Spurs' players came down with food poisoning. Discussions with the authorities, including the police, Spurs and the FA, decided that there were enough players fit enough to produce a full side from. Those who made it to play were Paul Robinson, Stephen Kelly, Matt Dawson, Antony Gardner, Young-Pyo Lee, Aaron Lennon, Michael Carrick, Edgar Davids, Teemu Tainio, Robbie Keane, and Jermaine Defoe. On paper it is still a good side, little different from the usual line-up but the question is how many of these players were affected, physically and mentally. It's not an exclusive that if it is food poisoning, that it was deliberate and therefore was to influence either West Ham's progress or that of Arsenal's for 4th place. Gunners' fans won't miss on a chance to poke fun but this is serious, they earned a 4-2 win and surely would have preferred to know they earned it rightly, not through the acts of a third party and in such a manner.
The Premier League seem content that the result stands, though Spurs chairman Daniel Levy states a majority of the Premiership clubs support his case for a replay. The options opened to Spurs were they either could play on with those they have available or postpone the game and appeal to the Premier League, which could initially have seen them docked points. There was even the option that kick-off could be delayed until players were certified as feeling better but this clashed with security concerns of the police, who were prepared to allow only two hours, not enough time for players to be considered to have recovered substantially. Therefore Spurs felt pressured, not to upset Premier League rules and not to upset the fans, to reluctantly play the game. In the circumstances, I don't think the game should have been allowed to go on.
The home side took the early lead through Carl Fletcher but it was a clash between the old boys from there on. Former West Ham favourite Defoe equalised before half time but into the second half Tainio bundled into former Spurs man Bobby Zamora in the Spurs box and another in Teddy Sheringham stepped up for the spot-kick, only to scuff it. So Spurs hung on in a draw, one goal needed to boost their grip on 4th place, which they have held on to since December. Henry's hat-trick was made aware to the travelling fans and with ten minutes to go the Spurs fans raised voices to push their side forward. But it wasn't to be, as Nigel Reo-Coker set up Yossi Benyaoun to shoot past Robinson. That is how it ended at Upton Park.
West Ham: 16 wins, 7 draws, 15 defeats
Tottenham Hotspur: 18 wins, 11 draws, 9 defeats
The Championship play-offs: Preston North End 0 (1) Leeds United 2 (3)
I watched both legs. Preston North End ended the stronger in the 1st leg, Eddie Lewis scored a touching freekick for Leeds' equaliser to level David Nugent's finish, and Billy Davies punched the air with delight at the final whistle, as if he was content home advantage would see his side through. I thought he was making too much of it and it wasn't as clear cut as that, and Leeds prove me right. Preston had a number of chances through Nugent and Danny Dichio but first Rob Hulse scored then he set up another for Frazer Richardson to take Leeds through.
The Championship play-offs: Watford 0 (3) Crystal Palace 0 (0)
I watched these two legs as well and felt these two sides were very even and would make for a tight game and possibly a good one at that, but Palace were in third gear as Watford took off from first into second. Palace started well and came close through Andrew Johnson and Jobi McAnuff but Ben Foster, who looks an interesting prospect for England, was not really tested, as Watford made more of the chances in the first half. In the second, it took a minute for a breakthrough as Marlon King collected a goalkick with his back to goal and swivelled to hit a low left foot effort past Gabor Kiraly. Twenty minutes later a freekick for Watford produced a curling effort from Ashley Young for no.2, leaving Kiraly heavily frustrated with his wall, and then Matthew Springs ran into the box and turned away from players to hit a high left foot shot past the keeper. These goals went on to take Watford into the play-offs to meet Leeds.
Come the 21st May, the Championship play-off final will determine which side joins Reading and Sheffied United to ascend to the top flight, who will open up their ground for the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd and Spurs, either Elland or Vicarage Road. For me, Leeds have to fear the movements and tenacity of King, Young, Man Utd loanee Chris Eagles, and get past keeper Foster or face another season in the Championship, for Watford seem to have pace and an eye for goal more so than Leeds. It's another date for football in May.
Let me add that Adrian Boothroyd became animated with Palace's Fitz Hall near the touchline which was as unsavoury as the ensuing melee involving both sets of players and dug-outs. The FA will no doubt look into it but it wasn't pleasant and I can't understand why the Watford manager became like that when his side had good advantage.