Determined Reading; Killer McCarthy; Premiership w/e
To begin, a brief note on the week's FA Cup action. Time had allowed me the comfort and opportunity to watch Reading v Man Utd and I sensed Reading would have a good chance to threaten Utd to somewhere near victory, given their performance at Old Trafford. It wasn't an appropriate send off from The Riverside but it showed they have strayed from newcomers into Premiership apprenticeship quality about to qualify. Just as West Ham had began their first season and went on to end it, Reading have gained 6th spot currently and have left talk of relegation to those who have had long tenure in the top flight (Man City, Fulham and Aston Villa are more at threat repectively). But no one could have been prepared for the Utd start on Tuesday.
Gabriel Heinze's shot had one or two bodies in the way but I felt Adam Federici should have gotten down to it quicker. A Rio Ferdinand long ball and bad defending allowed Saha to gather and turn on goal for number two, then Reading defended hazardously which allowed a great pass from Kieran Richardson towards Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, rightly onside, and the finishing from the Norweigan silent assasin was apt of his talent. I wondered if the hosts would turn and capitulate. To have gained a goal back gave some sign of confidence something could be done in return and the second half found Reading more likely to score, which they did but just one too little to force extra-time. As I said, just as West Ham were impressive last season, so have Reading been thus far.
I didn't get to see Blackburn v Arsenal but I understand from reports and statistics the Gunners dominated possession and had good chances to score. I managed to catch BBC1 at the end to see Blackburn had snatched victory almost at the death through Benni McCarthy's killer goal. T has made comment saying he would like to see the South African at The Emirates, and I must point out he is a Fantasy Football favourite of my Arsenal colleague, which emphasises his admiration for the former Porto forward. I'd followed McCarthy at Porto and felt he was scoring regularly enough to warrant attention from the top core of the Premiership, though such attention had not been made public if it existed. At the time of his capture by Blackburn, I was surprised the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs had not come in for him.
So when McCarthy came on on 63mins, he took a further 24mins before he ran onto the superb ball down the line from possibly Stephen Warnock and ran on to turn inside Philippe Senderos, pausing then curling a sweet effort over and round Manuel Almunia. I saw the replays of the highlights, which featured two penalty claims by Arsenal regarding Jeremie Aliadiere and Freddie Ljungberg. While I understood Aliadiere's was dismissed potentially because he made more of the contact, Ljungberg's was an extremely tight decision and may have occurred just on the edge of the area.
It encapsulated a bad eight days practically unheard of for the Gunners following from the Champions League 1st leg and the Carling Cup Final, with Emmanuel Adebayor still on a FA charge for apparently aiming a flailing fist or arm at Frank Lampard and for not leaving the field of play promptly, Emanuel Eboue found guilty of violent conduct during the final and Kolo Toure's Cup Final dismissal, making all three players unavailable for three games.
So to come over the weekend are games not for those of a nervous disposition. Liverpool host Man Utd in an afternoon kick off at Anfield, a sharp start to the afternoon football. Utd's third consecutive away fixture in a week, having narrowly beaten Fulham and Reading, so it will be a testing time to the record of both sides so far. A high spirited battle will be needed from the Merseysiders to beat through a strong dogged Utd side. Then it's the case of the derbies. Newcastle host Middlesbrough in the North East on Saturday, and Watford welcome Charlton in also a relegation encounter (Watford counting as a London side though officially in Hertsfordshire does not bode right with me).
Sunday brings two more derbies. Lancashire accommodates for Bolton v Blackburn, fifth against tenth respectively and a good home record from the Wanderers against a Blackburn side keen to continue from Wednesday night, both sides vying for a European position. After that is West Ham v Tottenham and football fans should be aware of the importance of three points to the Hammers. Alan Curbishley merely seeks some guidance on how to perform miracles for his side, where can he tinkle to convert chances into goals, strength his defence and cajole the players into better performances. Ten more games, nine points behind Wigan who are 17th, it is a tall order that is still possible, other results pending.
Spurs moved on from a drubbing at Craven Cottage, a successful away win in the final minutes at Goodison Park and a strong finish against Bolton at home with Robbie Keane dismissed in the first half. Dimitar Berbatov carried the Bolton game on his own in the second half and, had he scored, would have made a major difference with his touch and balance. West Ham will simply have to have all senses on alert throughout the match if they aim to thwart Berbatov and potentially Jermaine Defoe, though perhaps Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam would be a stronger bet to combat Calum Davenport's height and add his own as he did for Keane's volleys at Fulham. Fitness pending, of course.