By Alex Netherton & Andi Thomas
This evening, Manchester United/City will lose in craven style, while Manchester City/United will win, and so instigate the most dramatic choke involving a brutal dictator since Attila the Hun/finally kill off a title race that’s been doing nothing but wasting a hospital bed for months. Or it’ll be a draw. Always cover your bases, kids!
But that’s for tonight. This weekend was all about trapdoors and mires, dogfights and six-pointers. Queen’s Park Rangers hosted Wigan, and handily demonstrated that while money can buy you most things, it can’t stop stupid people from being stupid. Loic Remy’s tap-in was all set to cover up Bobby Zamora’s inexplicable first-half decision to stand on Jordi Gomez’s head, but as injury time ticked around, and for reasons best known to themselves, first Stephane M’Bia decided to nudge Shaun Maloney, then Adel Taraabt decided that being part of a wall was more of an honorary position than any specific job of work. Po’ ‘Arry. But at least it wasn’t his fault.
Just a few miles away at Stamford Bridge, Sunderland rode the new manager bounce for 45 entertaining minutes against Chelsea, then got a nosebleed and slumped horribly in the second half. Just one point above the bottom three, and having played one game less (fewer?) than Wigan, at least the Black Cats were able to finally kill off the fuss about Paolo di Canio’s political indiscretions. No self-respecting fascist would ever have turned out for duty in a lavender-and-lilac Argyle pullover.
Out in the Home Counties, Nigel Adkins achieved the rare—no, we haven’t checked, shut up—distinction of having been home manager twice in the same pair of fixtures, as his new Reading faced his old Southampton. Sadly for him, Reading are dreadful and doomed, while Southampton were neat, well-organised, and effective in a manner that makes his dismissal look completely understandable. Not a great look, Nigel. Maybe you shouldn’t have left such an inspirational note behind you. When we leave somewhere, at best we leave a couple of stray pubes. Little tip for you, there.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, are up to a vertiginous and giddying sixteenth in the table. Though much of their squad still sounds suspiciously like they were invented to flesh out an elaborate tax fraud—Nathan Baker? Jordan Bowery? Yeah, right—the results have finally begun to come. And when figments of the criminal imagination are scoring goals as good as Matthew Lowton’s, well, who are you to complain? Eh? Oh, you’re the Inland Revenue. Ah.
But while Villa’s victory was sweet music to tired Brummie ears—look, we’ve been to Birmingham, and there’s only so much muffled sobbing a man can take—it was also a rare gift for the rest of the country. It’s been a long and dark slog for the people of Britain, but at long last a nation has begun to dream that finally the long winter might be over. Finally, the sun might shine again. Finally, Stoke might go down.
Like a clay-wielding drunkard, the Potters’ form is wretched: one point from their last six games means only Reading have been playing worse. Pragmatism laced with violence is all very well and occasionally quite funny, but where the aggressively functional gets dys-sed then sympathy will be scarce. Obviously, popularity is nobody’s concern when it comes to the Premier League, while schadenfreude is everybody’s, but should Tony Pulis get what his stupid hat deserves, then the non-Stoke dwelling nation will come together as one in a show of unity unprecedented since the Second World War. Perhaps ‘pointing and laughing’ is a less noble cause than ‘fighting the Nazis’. But in these broken and chilly times, frankly, we’ll take what warmth we can get.
Remember: Pulis has never been relegated as a manager, it’s his one thing. This must happen.
A moment to mention the Race For Fourth. The Race For Not Fifth is a national embarrassment, and that fact that it matters as much as it does is a sad and depressing testament to a footballing world where next season matters more than this and where the continuity of business is more important than the pursuit of glory. If only it wasn’t so important. Anyway, Arsenal did a very good impression of Not-Arsenal, managing not to fall to brittle pieces, while Tottenham did a very good impression of Arsenal, or indeed a very good impression of Tottenham, and stumbled a bit. Chelsea won too. The Race For A Season’s Budgetary Advantage is hotting up nicely!