Thursday, August 24, 2006
Middlesborough won this fixture 3-0 last season and they pulled off a remarkable result last night to claim another 3 points from the champions. After throwing away a two goal lead against Reading in the opening fixture, Gareth Southgate changed his team around and packed out the midfield leaving just Yakubu up front. It seemed to work, right from the kick off Boro were threatening, Boateng and Rochemback providing the steel in the centre to compliment the artistry of Mendieta and Downing out wide. Yakubu though, appeared to be having one of his off days and went on to spurn two glorious chances, both of which saw him in acres of space - Chelsea looked distinctly unorganised at the back, certainly much more vulnerable without Cech and Gallas. It was somewhat against the run of play therefore when Chelsea scored the opening goal, Shevchenko grabbing what will surely be the first of many in the Premiership - this was despite being played in the unfamiliar 'Robben role' (the flying Dutchman was injured in training). Shevchenko was by far Chelsea's best player on the night and looked a real class act. Man of the match though, was surely Downing, his deliveries caused Chelsea no end of problems all night and turned out to be their undoing in the end - both the Boro goals coming from devilish Downing deliveries, firstly a bullet header from the unmarked Pogatetz and the winner, a strike from the substitute Viduka. Chelsea didn't lose a match until November last season, maybe the title race isn't quite so clear-cut...
Title contenders Manchester United put in a more impressive performance against Dowie's beleaguered Charlton, with Scholes and Rooney beginning their suspensions - Ferguson moved Giggs in to a more forward role, playing just off Saha. Charlton started purposefully but a mistake by the decidedly unfortunate Jonathan Fortune allowed Fletcher to score. The goal seemed to open the floodgates and an explosive Manchester United took full advantage, Ronaldo hit the cross bar and Giggs had two good efforts saved. The way they were playing, the second goal was inevitable and eventually came via Louis Saha, you could have driven a bus through the Charlton defence at that moment, the marking was non-existent. The late arrival of Solsksjaer was greeted with rapturous applause from the fans and when he calmly slotted away his first goal in 3 years of injury ravaged hell they were ecstatic. Two wins out of two for United, 8 goals scored, and only 1 conceded, this looks ominous.
Martin O'Neil's inspiration of the formerly lacklustre Villa continued as they beat Reading 2-1 at Villa Park. Reading took the lead through a Kevin Doyle header but the game changed irretrievably when Sonko was very harshly sent off for a foul on Luke Moore, Angel converted the resulting penalty. 10 man Reading put up a brave fight but a header from newly appointed captain Gareth Barry gave Villa the 3 points.
Sam Allardyce was none to pleased with Abdoulaye Faye after his side's drab 1-1 draw with Fulham. Bolton had taken the lead through a Diouff penalty but Faye handballed in the box late on and Jimmy Bullard put away the spot-kick on his home debut. Big Sam said of Faye's intervention - "It was very unprofessional, very childish. There was no need to do what he did". I think we can be pretty certain that that wasn't the same version given to Faye himself!
David James' return to the City Ground ended 0-0. An even game saw Joey Barton impress and Pompey be denied a clear penalty after a blatant handball from Micah Richards. The match was overshadowed though by a truly horrific 'tackle' on Pedro Mendes from ex-Millwall thuggish leftback - Ben Thatcher. Thatcher ran at Mendes from some distance and slammed in to the Pompey midfielder, leading with his elbow. The challenge saw Mendes suffer a seizure on the pitch and require oxygen, he remained unconscious until he arrived at hospital and is said to be suffering from a fractured eyesocket, head swelling and concussion, he was kept in overnight. The referee who can't possibly have seen the incident (unless he considers a flying elbow only worthy of a booking), gave Thatcher a yellow card and as we've seen in past cases - because it was the refs decision that the tackle warranted only a booking, the decision cannot be changed later. Hopefully the FA will see sense on this one and take the necessary action, Thatcher should be fined substantially and banned for an absolute minimum of 20 matches, David Prutton the season before last, got a 10 match ban for pushing the referee.
More shockingly, it's not like Thatcher doesn't have form of this sort of behaviour, only a month ago during City's pre-season tour of China, he was sent off against Shanghai for two bookable offences, one of which put an opponent in hospital with a punctured lung. This also went unseen by the referee.
So as with the weekend matches, we saw some diabolical decisions from the referees and a clutch of penalties. The defeat of Chelsea has given hope to the other 19 Premiership teams that they can be beaten and a resurgent Manchester United once again emphasised that they are written off at your peril.
I'll review the Everton match individually, later today and then I need to check what Garth Crooks has been up to, no doubt he's busy slotting Ben Thatcher in to his Team of the Week.
Update: re:Ben Thatcher. Greater Manchester Police have now confirmed they received complaints and are looking in to the incident. Let's hope they sentence him to a 5 year stretch for ABH.
Tags: premiership | football | ben thatcher