Treat, Part 1. Lots of reaction on the internet to Nani's goal against Spurs yesterday. Have your say in the poll on the right, but here's my well thought out and fully reasoned point of view:
Despite all the controversy, let's dispatch this point right off: Whether right or wrong, the goal had absolutely no effect on the game. Spurs, especially after Van der Vaart limped off at the 75 minute mark, never looked the least bit like threatening the United goal in the latter half of the game, let alone the final few minutes. All the incident changed was the main talking point after the game, not the end result. United won, Spurs lost, and the three points were well deserved. Second, these controversial calls even out over time. Don't think this old adage is true? I'll trade yesterday's meaningless goal for a recall of Didier Drogba's offside goal at Old Trafford last April (that effectively decided the EPL title) any day of the week. Also, Spurs fans are hard pressed to complain. How soon have they forgotten their own controversial win against Stoke City in August, in which a Stoke shot went over the goal line but was never judged a goal by the referee, allowing Spurs to hang on for a 2-1 win rather than having to settle for a 2-2 tie. Furthermore, the whole thing smacks of United hating and sour grapes to me. The foul on Nani was clear. I've read lots of stuff about how he dove (and I am not saying he is not guiltier of that offense than most, just that he wasn't guilty of it here), but even the announcers watching the game went out of their way to point out that Nani actually made a special effort to stay on his feet in the box during the play. I've seen penalties given for much lesser contact on many occasions -- remember the Vidic penalty where he got flagged last November for shirt pulling against Pompey? -- and Younes Kaboul clearly had both hands grabbing and pulling Nani's shirt in an effort to slow him down. The fact that Clattenburg didn't call a penalty straight away was the referee's biggest blunder of the night, not the controversy that followed, and he paid the price for his willful ignorance of Kaboul's tugging in the box because of the craziness that ensued. How Gomes escapes blame for this inicdent is also beyond me. It wasn't Clattenburg or the assistant referee who signaled free kick, so I don't know where Gomes got the idea that he should treat it as such. He made a major mistake by putting the ball on the ground and then wildly gesticulating at his teammates, who all behaved as if they had at least some idea that the whistle had not been blown. Otherwise, why did they stay so close to him that he had to chase them away with his crazy arm waving and gesturing? Finally, I have no time for those who say this was "unsporting-like behavior" on Nani's part. Get over your sanctimonious selves, and realize that the players are obligated by their teams and the fans to play until the whistle is sounded. Even the smallest children who play the game are taught this lesson. Before taking the ball, Nani looks repeatedly at Clattenburg, who shrugs his shoulders in repsonse, as if to say "What are you waiting for?" What should Nani have done? Patted Gomes on the back and said "Hey mate, you've made a horrible mistake by assuming that's a free kick. Here, let me get out of your way so you can get on with it?" Please; get real.
Treat, Part 2: Man, did Newcastle lay a beating on Sunderland, or what? You can tell how much this northeast derby means to the players -- let alone the fans -- by watching the Newcastle players' reaction after skipper Kevin Nolan opened the scoring. The first goal was stupendous -- Nolan sitting down on purpose to get in position for the low rebound, before kicking it backward over his shoulder and into the net -- but the reaction that accompanied it was priceless, reminiscent of the scrum that accompanies a game-ending NFL fumble. Only this time it was inside Sunderland's goal mouth on derby day in front of 50,000-plus adoring fans at St James Park. Made for a wild scene, that's for sure, and the rest of the day wasn't half bad, either, for those Toon-ies lucky enough to be watching the game in person.
Shola Ameobi's penalty was also a treat. Well struck, low and in the corner, leaving virtually chance for Sunderland's goalie to stop it. If Ameobi misses, Sunderland may grasp a lifeline into the game. Make it, and the contest is effectively done at the 45 minute mark. Up steps Ameobi, and its game over -- Well done. And although some may have picked Newcastle to win at home, did anyone see a 5-1 blowout coming on derby day? The combination of Kevin Nolan and Shola Ameobi was simply unstoppable, and should take some of the unjustified pressure off manager Chris Hughton as the Geordies move up into 7th place in the league. The newcomers from the Championship (including Blackpool and WBA) haven't done half badly to date, have they? Trick, Part 1: Hate to say it, but Chelsea are playing the kind of football that wins championships. Outplayed by Blackburn Rovers for much of the match yesterday, the Blues simply found a way to win in the end. Several months from now no one will remember that the Blues played poorly and could easily have lost the game, but the three points they earned will be safely in the bank at season's end. Blackburn away is never an easy test for any team, and Chelsea may have cut it close, but they still got a passing grade. Trick, Part 2: Well, Liverpool's late winner this afternoon capped a comeback weekend for three teams that I would have liked to see lose: Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool all won with goals after the 80 minute mark. Made for an exciting, but ultimately disappointing, two days of football.
On the bright side, though, I was stunned when I heard the statistic that David N'gog is Liverpool's leading goal scorer this season; that alone says everything you need to know about how the Scousers' season has gone to date. In case you somehow missed that statistic, the sight of Joe Cole limping off the pitch after another eminently forgettable appearance was confirmation, as well, that this guy's no Lionel Messi, and Liverpool, despite their win today, is no title contender.