Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Steven Gerrard, What's In Your iPod?

Well with the news that Stevie G's love of music and desperate need to hear what he wanted to hear landed a DJ in the hospital and Stevie in the pokie, we thought we'd take a looksie (looksee?) into the music that makes Captain Fantastic so, well, Fantastic.

So, after the jump find the pregame playlist from Gerrard's iPod complete with his own comments*.

Feel free to add any suggestions or correct us on the obvious things we overlooked. Oh, and Happy New Year to you, our loyal (and even occasional) readership. May this playlist inspire you not to incite a small riot that lands you in jail.

Phil Collins: "Another Day in Paradise" He's talking about homelessness. So he not only kind of rocks out, he's socially conscious. "Think twice." That's deep and stuff.

Coldplay: "Speed of Sound" You know how I know that I'm gay?

Barry Manilow: "Mandy" She came and she gave. She sounds swell, just like Alex. Except she seems to spend a lot, which isn't really giving.

Rick Astley: "Never Going to Give You Up" Does anyone not love this song? Look how many YouTube hits it has.

Helen Reddy: "I Am Woman" It's just so anthemic. It almost makes me wish I were even more of a girl.

Mike and the Mechanics: "All I Need is A Miracle" I had this song in my head at halftime in Instanbul, and we won. It's like I caused it by humming the song. Plus it's that guy who was in Genesis with Phil Collins, so it's almost as good as if it were Phil himself.

Dave Matthews Band: "Crash" Just like I do in the box to win penalties.

The Beatles: "With A Little Help From My Friends" Always liked this one from the hometown lads. Now it has even more meaning.

Spice Girls: "Wannbe" Alex made me put this on to show solidarity with the other WAGs but I'm thinking that maybe she really means is that she wants me to get with Posh (that's what the lyrics say, right?). But I'm not so sure as she called Posh "chunky" last week.

Sonic Youth: "Teen Age Riot" Just kidding. I have no idea who these people are. A teammate told me to put this on my list so I wouldn't seem like such a giant wuss with shitty taste in music.

*And by "comments" we mean "absolute fabrications."

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Hednesford Town are a small club playing in the seventh tier of English football. Hednesford itself is located slightly north east of Birmingham. Just so you don't go mispronouncing it when you tell you friends about this amazing shirt later, Ignore the D and prononuce it as "Hens-ford". Alright, let's move on.

HTFC's heyday came at the end of the 1990s, at least in league. In the 1995-96 season, the team finished third in the old Conference. But since this was in the days before promotion playoffs, they had no shot to make League status. This week's shirt is the change shirt from that very year. One can only wonder how much better a shirt would have come out if they had made the jump, because this one is pretty awesome as it is.

Normally, the club wears boring, staid black and white. It matches their boring, staid black and white badge. I guess they use the away shirts to inject a little color and fun into their look. I like the yellow. It's not the neon look of recent Arsenal efforts, or even Barcelona's yellow-green efforts. This is bright and eye-catching without being a pain to the viewer. In color choice, I give it the ü75 seal of approval.

What I don't go for is all the extra bits in the middle. The sponsor is fine, if a bit highly placed, but that wide navy belt held together by the biggest Hednesford Town belt buckle anyone has ever seen must go. You have a badge already on the shirt. You don't need another reminder of which club you are playing for positioned seven inches away. It's a wonder that Errea didn't also sublimate the team name into the shirt itself.

Of course, Errea could not do so because (as you may be able to see if you click the picture) Errea sublimated its own logo on the shirt. Stay classy 1995. Did every single mid-90s shirt do this? I am glad that era is over.

One other thing about that gut buckle. Was it entirely necessary to use the premade Eurosport Juventus knockoff as the print? I guess the club did not want to spend the time coming up with their own look, and just decided to let the English equivalent of Eurosport's design staff do the work for them. Really, they should have tried a little harder if they were going to go that route.

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EPL January Tranfser Window Oddsmaker

January 1st means only one thing around here: the start of the January transfer window! It’s like Christmas, Hanukkah and your birthday all wrapped up in one!

Looking ahead to the end of January, the British press's rumor pages will have managed to link every single player with a move to every single team. But the press isn't really to blame. They’re just catering to fans who are desperate for any sign that their team will be improved for the second half of the season.

In our own amateurish way, after the jump is a little run down of what yours truly thinks might actually happen in the English Premier League (suck it, Barclay’s!). Please don’t accuse me of pretending to have any special insight. I'm just making stuff up like the professional journos do.

Blackburn’s Roque Santa Cruz to Manchester City

Santa Cruz is unhappy, hasn’t been scoring goals this season, and the Big Fat Walrus could use some added cash to help Blackburn avoid relegation. Man City has There Will Be Blood-style oil-laden billions of cash to spend, even if Mark Hughes is warning that they actually won't be spending money like the proverbial drunken sailors (nice try convincing anyone one of that). As the BBC noted, Citeh have now set their sights slightly lower than Kaka, Torres and Buffon. Santa Cruz seems about right, especially with Jo stuttering badly. This one might seem fait accompli, but the gods of the transfer market are fickle, so we are going no higher than 75%.

Everton’s Mikel Arteta to Arsenal

A mighty cheer went up from the Gooner masses when the always-reliable Guardian reported that Arsenal are interested in signing Arteta. As the Arseblog explains far better than I could, Arteta fits the bill for what Arsenal need most desperately at the moment: an experienced midfielder with a great workrate who can stabilize the team while Fabregas is recuperating and can also play beside him down the road. That said, the question is whether Everton would sell, which really means whether Arteta will demand the move. The upside is an increased wage and Champion’s League play, and yes he can play this season (Rules 17.17 and 17.18). Moyes should be able to cover up for Arteta’s absence with some spackle and a couple 2-million-pound replacements, and could then use the extra cash on a badly needed striker. However, Arteta might choose loyalty to Everton above all else, and might figure that with Everton he’ll at least get UEFA Cup competition and the continued loving adoration of the supporters. This one gets a very non-committal 50%.

Emile Heskey Leaving Wigan

Poor Wigan, who in American terms are the quintessential small market team. They have a fantastic track record of bringing in talent, even if that talent is often in the form of much-traveled castoffs. And they have absolutely no ability to keep the players who develop into solid contributors. In many ways, it’s a tribute to Wigan’s management that they’ve remained viable in the Premiership for as long as they have when their stadium routinely draws no more than 18,000 attendees and most players available on the transfer market have no interest in joining the Latics. So now you have 50-year-old Emile Heskey, who has occasionally played himself back into international contention, who much like the Costello to a team's Abbott can be paired up to do a lot of the physical work up front, and who is out of a contract this summer and sure to leave for nothing. So, the chances of his departure in January are 100%. As for where, I'd reckon 30% to Aston Villa, who are in need of strengthening if they're serious about contending for Champion's League, 35% to Liverpool, who are in need of strengthening if they're serious about winning the Premiership, and 20% Spurs, especially if they don't land Defoe (see below). And yeah, I've left myself 15% for Heskey going somewhere else. It's called "hedging!"

Pompey's Jermaine Defoe returning to Spurs

This one has been talked about so much, it has to happen, right? Right?? Well, maybe. Defoe would return to Spurs after a pretty disappointing spell with Portsmouth, and would return to 'Arry's tutelage, who arguably did a decent job of getting Defoe to play up to his potential. The biggest hindrance appears to be Pompey's insistence on a large cash windfall, which according to the Independent would include wiping out the 7 million quid still owed plus a wheelbarrow full of cash. So, I rate this one at 35%. It just seems too cute and too perfect, and hence one of those deals that are destined to fall through.

West Ham Fire Sale

West Ham is royally fuxxored (I know, but we're trying to keep it clean around here). Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson has lost quadrillions thanks to the collapse of Iceland's economy, and they and they still have l'affair de Tevez floating around. And so, West Ham appear to be a selling club, despite Gianfranco Zola's best efforts to the contrary. The question is just how many first team players will find the exit door... Bellamy, Parker, Upson, Behrami and Green have all tipped. I'd say there is a 40% chance of at least three starters leaving, and 66% of at least two starters leaving. Any more than that and West Ham risk losing whatever modicum of respectability and stability they might have, as well as losing Zola. I wouldn't be surprised if Bellamy ends up staying through the end of the season, with Upson and Parker the likeliest pair to leave.

And I'm surely leaving out lots more, such as Keano going back to Spurs... so please have your say in the ol' comments

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Tuesday Backpasses: Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (will be better)

Well, I was right about it being light today. Thanks for your consideration.

Just for LB. Becks may haunt him for another five years [Soccernet]
Peru NT tries the whole surround-the-ref thing for a full minute. Doesn't work. Also, the best PK ever [World Cup Blog]
Drogba is a benched douche [BBC]
Ricardo Fuller, he of the captain slap red card, will not be transferred [BBC]

Gossip Girl star geeks out at meeting Becks. Unable to get a word out. I wonder if the picture will surprise you as much as it did me [Celebutopia]

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

EPL Liveblog: Hull v. Aston Villa (aborted at HT)

So... one team's let in 9 goals in 2 games, and the other just snuck a point against Arsenal. Who's your money on this afternoon?

Phil Brown's on-field dress-down of his rather inept team can have one of two effects. Either they'll keep performing badly, or they'll get one of those life-affirming, heroic wins against all odds.

Starting Lineups:
Hull: (4-4-1-1) Myhill, McShane, Turner, Zayatte, Ricketts, Mendy, Garcia, Ashbee, Halmosi, Barmby, Cousin.
Subs: Duke, Doyle, Fagan, Geovanni, Hughes, King, Giannakopoulos.

Aston Villa: (4-3-3) Friedel, Reo-Coker, Knight, Davies, Luke Young, Milner, Sidwell, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Salifou, Shorey, Gardner, Osbourne.

I am hoping for some goals, and against that Tigers backline, it's to be expected. No way does Sam Ricketts shut down Ashley Young for 90 minutes.

5 mins: Not a whole lot to report early on. The battle for midfield supremacy is only just beginning.

Defiant against the laws of nature, 138-year-old Nicky Barmby gets the ball out of Friedel's grip as they challenge for a high ball, and promptly bundles it into the net under pressure from Bald Brad and Mr. Reo-Coker. The ref gives a free-kick to Villa, which on replay is rather unfair. Should have been 1-0. Barmby is unimpressed.

10 mins: The pundits frequently gush about Villa, and rightly so, for their three-pronged attack that's (gasp) HOME-GROWN! Ashley gets a yard of space on the wing and turns McShane inside out before whipping in a weak cross that gets knocked out for a corner. It amounts to nothing. Still, you have to fancy them coming forward. It's the stuff of nightmares for a backline as sieve-like as Hull's.

14 mins: So far, the match is crying out for a hero, someone to kick things into life. It's not going to come from long balls to Agbonlahor that ends up safely in Boaz Myhill's hands, however.

David Pleat's voice is music to the ears, however. Hull have only won 1 of their last 10?!?! 20 points from their first 9 games, and only 7 points from their next 10. News to me, as they're still in the top 10. It's a wonderful league where you can fail that much and still look at an outside shot for a UEFA Cup berth.

16 mins: Hull start to find their feet, with Bernard Mendy causing all sorts of troubles down the right flank. His skidded cross misses everything as it flies across goal, with Peter Halmosi just unable to get a toe on it. I dare say this game is coming to life!

20 mins: Villa play the equivalent of forcing a square peg into a round hole, as their tactic of choice involves the long ball. Look, you have three incredibly fast, kinda-fragile players up-front who love the ball at their feet. This lofted pass rubbish isn't going to work.

Shit, and just like that, the feed has gone. Bear with me, folks, as I place a call to this shady website.

35 mins: Back up-and-running thanks to u75, and it appears I haven't missed much. Mendy was called offside rather unfairly, forcing some action from Friedel, and that's about that. Uninspiring stuff at the moment.

As I type that, Ian Ashbee puts a neat ball into the box forcing Curtis Davies to head over for a corner. Barmby wastes it.

David Pleat insists on filling every space with inanity, and I almost wish one of these teams (or both!) would do something to perhaps silence him. Barmby wins another corner on the left via Nigel Reo-Coker's leg. Barmby takes a rather illegal penalty, not putting any part of the ball in the corner triangle thingy before taking it. He's done it twice now, and Eagle-Eye Pleat has spotted it and opined at length about how long he'll get away with this practice.

And yes, the fact that I'm writing a lot about illegal corner-taking practices does indicate that the action's been rather crap thus far. It's enough to make me punch a part-time DJ.

40 mins: Pleat suggests that the away team "need some kind of strain" to get going. I wonder if such a strain could be equal to the strain David Pleat puts on the English language.

Sam Ricketts sputters in a weak cross, Villa clear zzzz... uh-oh, trouble for Hull! Steve Bennett is in the mix, giving Zayatte a talking-to as he bundles Gabby down once the striker turned him. Zayatte's already in the book, and he narrowly avoids seeing the 2nd yellow.

That's been the biggest event of note thus far. Gaz Baz squanders the free kick and Hull clear.

42 mins: Rather unwatchable stuff thus far, as Villa stick to their gameplan of hoofing it to space and hoping that Agbonlahor can out-sprint everyone to the ball. Yet another Hull corner, and yet another corner wasted. They keep the pressure on around the area, but McShane puts the cross over Friedel's bar, much to the chagrin of anyone watching this drivel.

45 mins: We will endure a minute of added time, and we will ponder the futility of both sides thus far in what's possibly been the worst half of football I can remember this season. I feel like I should at least write something on this liveblog, but there's nothing noteworthy in the game whatosever.

45 mins + 1: Oh look, another overhit cross. Friedel makes a dog's dinner of this one again, going up for it and then fumbling it right in front of goal. Steve Bennett gives a free-kick as Bald Brad was actually touched by the Hull player this time, but really, we'd be better served watching paint dry.

Half Time: Hull 0, Aston Villa 0

Aaannnd, the feed is gone. I'm quitting on this one. So bad, so awful. Sorry folks, it's unwatchable anyway, so maybe it's a sign from some higher power that I'm not supposed to watch this game.

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UF Quick Throw: Gerrard Charged

The details (few) can be found here. Really, if I were a Liverpool fan, my concern wouldn't be the legal punishment awaiting Gerrard, but the fact that he has really bad taste in music. Bonus points to whomever can guess what song Stevie G. was trying to get played.

My guess: "I Can Feel Him Cumming In My Hair Tonight."

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday Backpasses: no loud noises tomorrow

I'm guessing tomorrow's posting will be light, or restricted to those who did not find their way to NYC for the holiday interim. Come by tomorrow to see who assaulted a DJ (my money is on LB).

Southern Football League Premier Division player sent off after 3 seconds [SI]
10 amazing red cards. No mention of the red card and reaction that brought this equals fail []
Jay DeMerit's top XI he has played against in England. Safe, no surprises [NYT Goal Blog]

Ronaldo: I'm too fat. Rest of world nods in agreement [Soccernet]
Abramovich feeling the financial pinch [Luxist]

And, finally:
Player flattens manager in A-League. Seems it's a repeat of an earlier altercation between the two teams [101 Great Goals]

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Football Is No Place For A Promise, But A Pair Of Balls

He came, he lost, he quit. Paul Jewell has resigned as manager of Derby County, leaving them just 5 points above the drop zone in the Coca Cola Championship. But did he jump too soon?

Jewell took over at County last season and failed to win a single Premier League game. Derby were relegated with the worst ever record for a top flight side but Jewell vowed to bring the rams back up at the first attempt. We all know that such a promise was a ridiculous offering. The Colaship is an extremely hard league to survive, let alone get out of, as Norwich, Palace, Southampton, Watford and Derby have all found out.

Jewell was backed heavily by County's American owners in the summer and he spent a fair bit of money on players such as Nathan Ellington, Kris Commons, Martin Albrechtsen, Paul Green, and Rob Hulse.

But his new men have failed spectacularly this term and the home defeat to Ip..Ip..Ip..Them last Sunday was the final straw. Derby have won just 7 games this season and have lost 11. Derby have won just 2 of their last 10.

For me he has quit too early and left County in the lurch. He spent the money, he made the promises and with a 5 point buffer from the bottom and 12 to the play-offs, quitting was definitely premature. His actions could send Derby into free-fall. Not to mention that Jewell had led them to the semi-final of the Carling cup against Manchester United and now leaves them manager-less to face the Premiership giants in next weeks first leg. If Derby had been closer to the drop or in the relegation zone then the move would be understandable, but they weren't in that mire just yet and he has shown he hasn't the stomach for a fight. Which is strange given the heroics he performed at Bradford City. He gained a reputation as a fighter during his first managerial role with the Bantams and has been living off that reputation ever since.

"He came to see me after the game and said that he felt it just wasn't working out and didn't want to club to suffer as a result." - Derby Chairman Adam Pearson.

Leaving Derby in the lurch after just one year will certainly have put doubt in the minds of any future suitors for Jewell's services and I should imagine that any Championship or Premier League club will steer well clear. I hope he likes his wife, as I can see him spending plenty of time at home. Oh dear, apparently he doesn't.

Derby head to Forest Green in the third round of the FA Cup next Saturday before hosting Manchester United in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final on Wednesday the 7th of January.


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Great Moments in Leadership

Breathe easy all you Barcode fans!

You may have just been taken to the woodshed by the mighty Reds (be sure to thank Shay Given for keeping the score in single digits), but every cloud has a silver lining; Mike Ashley has decided to save the club. Again.

That is, at least until the global economic climate warms back up, allowing him to follow the rats off his sinking ship.

After failing to unload the lemon of a club he'd hoped to rescue from its perpetual waking nightmare, the fat fanboy has reversed course from September's "You want me out" statement, untucked his tail from behind his pasty legs and is now ready to steady Newcastle United (and by 'steady', I mean 'ensure many more seasons of a barren silverware cabinet').

In comparison to his Fall treatise, Ashley's latest message to the fans is merely a Post-It note. But, that doesn't make it any less important reading. Although economical with his words (and likely, NUFC's January transfer budget), the billionaire says it all, both with what he's written and what he hasn't written.

Allow me to help you read between the lines. Firstly, let's take a look at Ashley's unedited statement:

I am happy to end the uncertainty fans may have had about the future direction of Newcastle United.

I know just how important that is to you.

I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market, and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the Club forward together. Even when I haven't been at games I have remained a keen supporter, kicking and heading every ball and cheering the team on TV and being the first to congratulate Joe whenever there's a good result.

When I took the decision to put the Club up for sale in September I made a point of saying two things were very important.

Firstly, any potential buyer would have to show they had the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and had both the commitment and finance to be worthy custodians of such a fine football club before I would even consider doing a deal.

And secondly, I gave you my word that as long as I remain owner, this Club would continue to be run responsibly at all levels. I hope you will accept that I have stood by that pledge.
And now, what he actually means:
I am happy to end the uncertainty fans may have had about the future direction of Newcastle United. But not as happy as I would be if I'd gotten back the quarter of a billionaire I've sunk into this steaming pile. But at least we all know where this club is headed -- nowhere.

I know just how important that is to you. Trust me, I know. I've heard every word you lot have had to say. I go home and cry in my fanboy shirt after every match. Even the thoughts of Alan Smith's bleached locks or the memories of King Kev's delightful perm doesn't smooth the sting.

I have withdrawn Newcastle United from the market, and for me 2009 will be the year in which we drive the Club forward (or forward-ish) together. Hell, sideways is good enough. 2010, though, will likely be the year I get myself out from under this fucking disaster as the world's economy should be back on two feet. Even when I haven't been at games I have remained a keen supporter, kicking and heading every ball and cheering the team on TV and being the first to congratulate Joe whenever there's a good result. You do understand, though, I mean 'kicking and heading' in the metaphorical sense. Otherwise, I'd give myself a massive coronary. As for Joe, I figure his appointment as manager will save me a few quid, as what top-notch player in his right mind (with high wage demands) is going to sign with him?

When I took the decision to put the Club up for sale in September I made a point of saying two things were very important; Everything else was just filler.

Firstly, any potential buyer would have to show they had the best interests of Newcastle United at heart and had both the commitment and finance to be worthy custodians of such a fine football club before I would even consider doing a deal. But mostly, they had to show me the money. Those best interests mostly involve me getting all my money back. It's ridiculous that I couldn't even get those oil-rich Middle Eastern types to take this junk off my hands. But, at this point, being a 'worthy custodian' isn't exactly a tall order. Forget silverware, all you have to do is save the club from The Drop.

And secondly, I gave you my word that as long as I remain owner (another 18 months, tops), this Club would continue to be run responsibly at all levels. Unfortunately, for you, that means more of the same, both on and off the pitch. Michael Owen? Good as gone. It wouldn't be very 'responsible' of us to hold onto a Sicknote who's lost about 4 steps. Not that he even wants to stick around. I hope you will accept that I have stood by that pledge. For now. Notice I said 'stood by' and not 'honored'. Because at some point in the near future, I'm going to get tired off all that standing (again) and have to go sit down.

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Red Card Sparks Chainsaw Rampage

Sunday League football. A bit of banter, bit of a laugh, colorful words, all in the name of fun eh? That's until the guy sent off for foul and abusive language returns to the pitch wielding a chainsaw and tries to cut off your hands!

Anthony Lloyd was dismissed for swearing, but instead of heading home to lament his use of the English language, he decided that the best way to deal with the situation was to return to the pitch with a running chainsaw, and to attempt to chop off the hands of a rival player while screaming "I'm a crank".

Last week, a court in England heard that Mr Lloyd, who has a history of drug abuse and who was on a conditional discharge for possession of a knife, had been drinking before the attack in Horley, Surrey. And I thought only George Best and Paul McGrath played pissed.

Guildford Crown Court heard the details from Prosecutor Laura Plant...

"They heard an engine start and saw the defendant coming out of the bushes
revving a chainsaw. The victim's friend ran off, leaving him cornered by the
defendant. He tried to chop his hands off while Mr Westwood was defending
himself. He then walked off."

The victim, Mr Westwood, suffered a cut to the chest while hiding in a bush. I don't know about you, but if someone waving a chainsaw was coming at me shouting "I'm a crank" I'd do one in the opposite direction, not try to hide in the nearest shrubbery!

So what was the punishment for trying to amputate another guys hands with a chainsaw without a doctors license or a leatherface mask? A 12 month suspended sentence. Yup, that's right. Mr Lloyd is free.

So the moral of the story is be careful out there next Sunday and try not to piss off your opponent, because he may have access to a dangerous gardening implement.


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Sunil Gulati Must Go

Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go. Sunil Gulati Must Go.

While some may say I'm blaming the wrong person for Neven Subotic's (and Vedad Ibisevic, and Giuseppi Rossi, and Edgar Castillo, and others) decision to play for a national team other than the US, responsibility for the failure to locate, recruit and keep players for the USMNT. It is his organization, his appointments, his hires and his vision.

The buck stops with Sunil.

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UF Update: Non-League Team Expelled From The Cup

Update alert! Update alert!

Last week I told you about the epic 4 game FA Cup tie between non-league Droylsden and Chesterfield. AND the possible consequences for victorious Droylsden for not keeping an eye on the paper work. Well the FA have expelled the non leaguers.

Four games. Bad weather, floodlight failure and unsportsmanlike behaviour. Eventually this FA Cup second round tie was settled. A trip to Ip..Ip..Ip..Them, beckoned for the winner. But Droylsden fielded a ineligible player. 4th game hero, Sean Newton had picked up a 5th yellow card in the previous replay of the epic tie and was ineligible to play. Chesterfield spotted the error after the game and alerted the FA. The outcome? Droylsden's dream is over. They have been expelled from the competition.

Is it fair? Well the precedent was set in 2006 when the same error led to Bury beinng booted also.

"It is ludicrous as we have beaten Chesterfield fair and square on the field. It is not as if we have brought a ringer in at the last minute. Sean Newton is one of our players. It was a genuine mistake by our secretary. Fine us by all means but don't kick us out."
- Droylsden manager (and Chairman) Dave Pace.

Of course Chesterfield see it differently: "The outcome is no real surprise as the rules clearly set out what it likely to happen if a club plays an ineligible player." - Chesterfield manager Lee Richardson.

Droylsden gaffer Dave Pace ponders the location of the nearest bridge.

But Dave Pace claims that his team was certain that Newtons ban should be served in a league game and not in the cup tie...

"If there was any doubt from our point of view that he should not have played against Chesterfield then he would not have" he added he would "go to the nearest bridge" and throw himself off if Droylsden were thrown out of the Cup.

Suicide alert! Droylsden can appeal the decision, and have until tomorrow to do so.


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UF Quick Throw: Gerrard arrested for assault


Liverpool captain/talisman/Chief of Helping Old Ladies Across the Road Steven Gerrard is being investigated regarding an assault late last night at a nightclub. He's never done anything like this before, but I suppose it's never too late to start. 6 other men were arrested shortly after, and one man remains in hospital with facial injuries "not thought to be life-threatening."

I will now begin my "Free Gerrard and Prove His Innocence" dance until this matter is resolved.

[BBC News]

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Ricardo Fuller Took The Boxing Day Holiday To Heart

Yesterday, Stoke City succumbed to West Ham 2-1, but to add insult to injury, Stoke's Ricardo Fuller earned a red card after he slapped his own captain, Andy Griffin. Even though it was Boxing Day on Friday, it does not appear Fuller will get a reprieve. He faces an automatic suspension of 3 games and a team fine of £20,000.

Andy Griffin took it all in stride and displayed his leadership skills as he pointed Fuller in the direction of the lockerroom on the away trip to Upton Park.

Update: new video!

After the jump, some classic footage of other teammates fighting, namely Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer, who both earned their squad a red card [Ed. Note: and backup video in case this one gets yanked again]. Also, check out this Daily Mirror Top 10 of Teammates Fighting.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ligue 1 Weekend Review: Mid-Season Reflections

Because I know that all of you follow my Ligue 1 ramblings quite judiciously (stop laughing), I decided that I would take a look back at my season preview to get some sense of where I stand. Was I way off in my predictions? Spot on? Fair to middling? Ligue 1 doesn't start back up for another 2 weeks, so this is all you'll get until then.

I tapped some individuals to be difference-makers among those who had been transfers this season. Let's grade those choices, shall we?

(1) Cedric Faure (Le Havre AC) - umm, moving on (I mean, 1 goal in 10 matches?)

(2) Anthony Le Tallec (Le Mans UC 72) - Le Tallec has looked dangerous at times, although the majority of his presence on the pitch has been in the capacity of being juuuuuuuuuuust out of position; his 1 goal in 18 matches trails the pace of Gervinho (5 goals in 17 matches) by far

(3) Hugo Lloris (Olympique Lyonnais) - the young GK has come up huge time and time again for Lyon, giving up only 12 goals this season

(4) Jean Makoun (Olympique Lyonnais) - the Cameroonian has just 2 goals in 19 matches; although he has been in the starting line-up 15 times, the weight of the offense has been on Karim Benzema, with Juninho and Fred providing additional pressure

(5) Milan Baros (Olympique Lyonnais) - Baros had actually been on loan to Pompey, and was supposed to rejoin Lyon for this season, but instead he was shipped off to Galatasaray where he leads the Turkcell Süper Lig with 14 goals

(6) Hatem ben Arfa (Olympique de Marseille) - the French international has easily made the switch from Lyon and looks comfortable at all times on the pitch; his 6 goals is actually tied for first on his own club with Bakari Kone and Mamadou Niang, but it is ben Arfa's presence that has allowed for the more equitable goal-scoring

(7) Sammy Traore (Paris Saint-Germain) - the aging defender has played in 12 matches and picked up 1 yellow card; his presence on the pitch has been largely uninspiring although he has at least managed to avoid making any huge noticeable gaffes

(8) Claude Makelele (Paris Saint-Germain) - the Chelsea reject has more cards (6) than goals/assists (umm, 0 - as in, zero) in 16 matches, and has made almost no difference for PSG this season; the ancient French international will likely only get 1 more season in the capital

(9) Carlos Bocanegra (Stade Rennais FC) - the former Fulhamerica star has anchored the backline for Rennes, starting every match and leading them to 3rd in Ligue 1 while conceding only 13 goals

How about my predictions for individual clubs?

"Bordeaux may struggle to make the same sort of push they did last year..."

Oops. Les Girondins currently sit 2nd in Ligue 1 and looked poised for an easy Top 4 finish after significant draws against Lyon, Marseille, and Rennes. Just so Joe doesn't feel like a front-runner, remember that the last time Bordeaux were truly good (other than last season) was the 1998/1999 season, so they aren't exactly ManUre here.

"However [Marseille's] defense are untested, and Mandanda has looked shaky..."

Considering some of the goals that Mandanda has let in, this was spot-on. While Marseille are at 5th in Ligue 1, this is mostly in spite of, not due to, the French Calamity James and his defense.

"...look out for Saint-Etienne seeking to regain their old-school form with the play of new-school striker Bafetimbi Gomis."

Saint-Etienne are fighting relegation in 17th place in Ligue 1, and Gomis has a grand total of 4 goals.

"look out for Monaco looking to give Freddy Adu some run..."

Freddy has logged an astounding 97 minutes as a late substitute in 9 matches - hey, I said some run.

"look out for Rennes building off their 4-4 tie with L'OM..."

I was spot-on here as well. Rennes have stunned Ligue 1 with a streak of 18 unbeaten, and are sitting pretty at 3rd in Ligue 1.

"look out for Paris Saint-Germain...playing off new imports Makelele and Giuly..."

Not so much for Makelele, who has been largely ineffective, but Giuly has provided a soothing presence up top for PSG, chipping in with 3 goals and 1 assist.

"The relegation battle looks to consist of Le Havre, Le Mans, Grenoble, Lille, and Caen."

I was spot-on about Le Havre, but that's about all that I can say for myself here. Le Mans, Grenoble, and Caen are clustered at 11-13 and sit 8 points above the drop-zone, while Lille are 6th and only 6 points behind Ligue 1 leaders Lyon. It seems pretty clear at this point that relegation will befall Le Havre (20th, with 12 points on a 3-3-13 record), Sochaux (19th, with 14 points on a 1-11-7 record; 1 win!), and Valenciennes (18th, with 15 points on a 3-6-10 record). If Valenciennes begins to perform somewhat better, Saint-Etienne (19 points) and Nantes (20 points) are poised to take their place in the gutter.

So who have been the brightest stars and biggest disappointments in Ligue 1 so far?

While Karim Benzema was expected to be near the top of the goal-scorers' table, the Ligue 1-leading 12 goals of Andre-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse FC) and the presence of Lille strike tandem of Michel Bastos (9 goals) and Ludovic Obraniak (7 goals) are quite the surprise. Guillaume Hoarau (PSG) and Fernando Cavenaghi (Bordeaux) are exciting young talents, and the latter has been linked to a January transfer to Spurs or Celtic.

As for disappointments, there are 2 that stand out. Makelele, despite his advanced age of 35, was expected to provide a significant contribution to PSG, both on the pitch and in the locker-room. Instead, he picked up 5 yellow cards in his first 7 matches and demonstrated how to sit on the bench and sulk, which he most likely learned from Anelka. The second is Bafetimbi Gomis who, after being given some run in French international matches, was expected to keep Saint-Etienne near the top of Ligue 1. Instead, he has looked listless on the pitch and appears poised to finish near the bottom of the table with his club.

Alright kids, that's all from Ligue 1 for now. In 2 weeks we'll find out whether Lyon can hold on to 1st place as they are pushed by Bordeaux, Rennes, PSG, and Marseille.

Read more on "Ligue 1 Weekend Review: Mid-Season Reflections"...

EPL Open Thread: Let's Get This Started Early

Should anyone besides insomniacs and security guards be awake this early? If you're as mad about the beautiful game as I am, then your alarm clock was set ages ago. 16 teams take the field today, and Newcastle/Liverpool will get us started.

The pressure's on Rafa to keep winning... will a depleted Newcastle team oblige? Chelsea play at Fulham in a couple of hours, and they're no longer pushovers, while Arsenal hosts a Portsmouth team that's more inconsistent than they are. Sparky could use another emphatic win today to keep his grip on the job at Eastlands too.

Maybe a liveblog later, but I'm too nervous and hung over to give the treatment to my Reds.

Come wake up with us after the jump.

Today's Fixtures:
Newcastle v. Liverpool (7am kick-off)

9am kick-offs:
Arsenal v. Portsmouth
Bolton v. Wigan
Everton v. Sunderland
Fulham v. Chelsea
West Brom v. Tottenham
West Ham v. Stoke City

Blackburn v. Manchester City (11.15am kick-off)

Newcastle: Given, Edgar, Taylor, Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Gutierrez, Guthrie, Butt, N'Zogbia, Duff, Owen.
Subs: Harper, Xisco, Geremi, Ameobi, Kadar, LuaLua, Carroll.

Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua, Benayoun, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Babel, Gerrard, Kuyt.
Subs: Cavalieri, Keane, Riera, Alonso, Ngog, El Zhar, Skrtel.

Owen against his former club, tons of changes at the back for the Magpies. Meanwhile, Lucas and Mascherano will play alongside each other, Keane gets a rest after scoring 3 in his last 2, and Riera will also be used off the bench. Oh, and Babel gets a start! Hallelujah! There is a god!

Read more on "EPL Open Thread: Let's Get This Started Early"...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

It still has 45 minutes to get worse

A certain Scouser asked me to post this for any Arsenal fan feeling aggrieved over yesterday's draw after a two-goal lead. It's just a reminder that things could always be worse.

Kilmarnock started out today's game at Hibernian on fire. Two goals in the first 12 minutes, and they looked set to cruise. Then it all fell apart between the 35th and 37th minute. Killie gave up two penalties, the second one bringing a red card for the keeper, and let Hibernian come level.

There's still a half to go. Down to 10 men, on the road, and missing their starting keeper, is there any hope for Killie whatsoever?

Read more on "It still has 45 minutes to get worse"...

UF Quick Throw: Sbragia Gets The Gig.

Ricky Sbragia has been appointed Sunderland manager after a succesfull spell as interim manager. Sbragia was Roy Keane's assistant and since the Irishman walked, he has delivered 2 wins out of his 4 games in charge, scoring 8 goals and conceding just 2. The 1-0 loss to Manchester United the only blip on his record. Sbragia has signed an 18 month contract..

And here is the rest of it.

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Sbragia Gets The Gig."...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Backpasses: Why did it feel like Monday to me?

Embedded video of Phil Brown taking his team to the corner of the pitch at half time. He's my hero of the day [BBC]
NSFW slideshow of C. Ron's recent girlfriends. Wanker [Bild]
Barca coming back to US for summer tour to help MLS bid. We're all wondering who Kevin is (seriously, we don't have a Kevin) [La Liga Talk]

Oops. Forgot to add this at first. From the tipline: Some English league results from 1919 of Christmas Day and (!) Boxing Day fixtures. Pretty cool, I think. PDF Alert [NY Times Archive]

Super Frankie Lampard (not the DS commenter) and pops get into the best money-making biz in Britain: selling booze to an island of drunks [The Sun]
Stephen Appiah has been released from Fenerbahce. Is he coming to MLS? "LOL WTF !!!11!!1!" was his approximate answer []
Two things here. One, if you do not understand German, you should not do anything your teammates will not. Two, Schweinie is not a pretty girl. We'll just declare Bild NSFW at all times, mmm'kay? [Bild]

And, finally:
More Germany tonight. I have no idea what the article says, but that is one hell of a tattoo. Also, that subject is pretty damn cut, but does he have moobs? Probably safe for work, but not if you work for either a religious or atheist nutjob. [Bild]

Read more on "Friday Backpasses: Why did it feel like Monday to me?"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Gah! I'm so late with this. I'll have to make up for it with a shirt I can almost guarantee you have not seen before, and that I am quite sure you are not willing to pay for. Madness, dually from Japan and the ebays, awaits you.

I'm not attempting to call any of you out on your bank accounts or your willingness to spend it on questionable shirts, but there is no way any one of you are spending over $900 on this

is there? If you do, take a picture and we will use it as our only post for that day.

As you can probably guess, I have an issue or two with this shirt. The big one I have is with the map used. Look at it. Besides not using the Buster Bluth-confusing green and blue color scheme, the map highlights something very odd. Instead of focusing on Japan, the map seems to have its focus on China and many of the islands off the coast of southeast Asia. This isn't a soccer shirt as much as it is a remembrance of areas conquered in World War II.

I can't really fault the manufacturer (who it is, I don't know) for the shirt coloration, because that's just the way it was in Japan in the '90s. Imagine the first generation of MLS shirts, but with more variety of color and less-inhibited design. That's where this shirt comes from.

What I can fault is the seller. Why can't you crop your slippered feet out of the photo? Are you attempting to sell your overpriced shirt to a small population of people who are soccer fans, map hounds and foot fetishists? If so, good luck with that. Because that person would also have to have more money than he knows what to do with. (Yes, it's a he. Women have entirely different perversions.)

I invite every one of you to bookmark this auction. It ends in two weeks, which just might be enough time to attract a bid. I sure hope so.

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

EPL Liveblog Triple-Header, Game 3: Aston Villa v. Arsenal

Nope, not today.

Boy Howdy. A cracker to end the day. What will Wenger manage considering his recent losses? No Adebayor today, no Fabregas, no Walcott still...

... come Goon with me after the jump.

Manchester City 5, Hull 1
Middlesbrough 0, Everton 1
Liverpool 3, Bolton 0
Wigan 2, Newcastle 1
Sunderland 0, Blackburn 0

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel, Reo-Coker, Davies, Knight, Luke Young, Milner, Sidwell, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Salifou, Shorey, Gardner, Osbourne.

Arsenal (4-5-1): Almunia, Sagna, Eboue, Djourou, Silvestre, Song Billong, Denilson, Nasri, Diaby, Gallas, Van Persie.
Subs: Fabianski, Toure, Vela, Ramsey, Wilshere, Clichy, Bendtner.

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)

No Laursen for Villa is a huge concern, but Arsenal are walking wounded at this point so I have no sympathy. Silvestre coming in for a healthy Clichy is definitely bizarre.

We're ready to start, I've got my gigantic turkey/stuffing/ham sandwich, so it's not all bad. Get the beers in, and let's see which Arsenal turns up this afternoon.

1 mins: Some early kick-about. If I'm a Villa fan, I'm not happy at seeing Zat Knight duff up the central defense. Still, so much pace moving forward. It's going to take something titanic from the Arse here. Odds are heavily stacked against, etc.

Early effort for Arsenal as Sidwell and Friedel miscommunicate in front of goal under pressure, but it's cleared.

4 mins: Milner gets a nice cross/shot in from the right, but Almunia's equal to it. Ashley Young lurked for the rebound, but he looked offside.

6 mins: Milner wins a corner off Silvestre as it gets all scrappy in the final third. Barry floats it in and Sidwell rocks the crossbar/post with his towering header. Good start for Villa at home, so close to taking the lead!

The commentary team need to stop telling us that Sidwell played at Arsenal back in the late 90s, even winning a reserves trophy with them despite never cracking the First XI. This is no longer an interesting tidbit; it's a bludgeoning bit of annoyance.

8 mins: More pressure at the Arsenal end as Almunia comes out to meet the long ball with his head just outside the box as Agbonlahor was closing in.

11 mins: A gorgeous deep cross in from Barry via a free kick, and Curtis Davies meets it wide open at the edge of the 6-yard box. His header goes a mile wide. A supremely wasted effort.

14 mins: Lovely play by Arsenal on the break finds Van Persie in the box. His first touch is perfect off the chest, but the giant oaf Zat Knight gets across to snuff out the danger, and in the nick of time too.

16 mins: More desperate defending by the Gooners, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that soccer was played in just one half of the field. A couple of dangerous crosses, a save by Almunia... par for the course at the moment. Arsenal are looking to break but their passing is rather lazy and gifting Villa more possession.

20 mins: Denilson and Sagna aren't going to take this pressure lying down, and neither's Diaby; his long ball looks for van Persie but is cleared. Song fouls Barry in midfield, and we're back down the other end.

Great break for Agbonlahor, and he spins Eboue like a dreidel; his low shot is parried by Almunia, and Sidwell's follow-up is blocked by Gallas and out for a corner. Nervy times again at the back for Arsenal. The lack of pace possessed by William Gauloises and Emmanuel will be exposed soon enough unless they get some help.

22 mins: More scrambling at the back as Villa seem to get free down the wings whenever they want. Another Milner cross is humped clear at the near post, and Eboue tries to reset the defense. The big problem for Arsenal resides in that crowded midfield; they're so young and inexperienced and they're having a tough time keeping possession. The key to stopping Villa is to stop their distribution up to Agbo and Ashley. If the Gooners can hold the ball for more than 3 passes, they have a chance to slow things down. At the moment, it's end-to-end sprinting and Almunia is keeping them in it.

25 mins: To prove my point almost immediately, Petrov wins it easily from Denilson and is promptly battered by Song, earning Song a yellow card. Villa pour forward once more.

26 mins: Arse flirt with danger via their offside trap as Young gets over the top, but he's marginally offside. Not much in it at all.

28 mins: The beast that is Friedel is awoken from a rather peaceful slumber by an Arsenal free kick that he fists to safety. Villa break up the left with Young and Agbo combining once more, but Almunia cuts off the final pass and hoists it out of play. The Villa fans are in full song at the moment, and the tackling in midfield is getting later and later from both sides.

Villa have had 6 attempts on goal, 2 on target, and 5 corners. Arsenal have 0s in every category. Sense a pattern emerging? If you decipher those numbers as being indicative of complete and total Aston Villa domination, you'd be right.

30 mins: Ashley tests the offside trap yet again but Sagna's got it right. Living on the edge, truly. Nasri makes a rare jaunt down the left and is interrupted emphatically by Reo-Coker's sliding tackle.

33 mins: A foul in the box gives Arsenal a breather and Almunia launches it down the other end. Wenger needs to bring Clichy on at some point, because Milner is in danger of owning poor Silvestre for life.

Gallas does well to cut off Agbonlahor's sprint down the left.

34 mins: GOAL GOAL GO-ALMOST for Aston Villa. Nasri does a spot of ball-watching as Barry lofts a free kick to the back post, and Milner sneaks in unnoticed. His sliding effort is well saved by Almunia low to his left via the post. Hit the post, bobbled back into Almunia's arms. Should have been 1-0.

36 mins: Eboue, meet yellow card. Yellow card, meet Eboue. Get acquainted, fellas. He chopped Agbo down on the wing from behind and had no complaints about that one.

37 mins: GO-ALMOST for Villa again! Davies' hook shot on the right sails over Almunia's head, and Miguel is helpless as he watches it rattle off the crossbar and away from danger. Third Villa instance of ball-to-woodwork already today.

If the goal were a foot wider, it's be 3-0. That said, if Grandma had balls, she'd be Grandpa. A difficult first half for Wenger. If he goes to his bench after the break, he's got nothing but youth to turn to. I can't imagine Wilshere or Ramsey doing much to stem the tide.

40 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL... Unbelievable, really. The Gooners' first effort on goal brings them a goal. A lucky bounce frees Denilson in the area, and he does superbly well under pressure to slide the ball between Friedel's legs and give his side the lead, completely against the run of play and in defiance of the gods, physics, logic, rational thought, and Lady Fortune. Aston Villa 0, Arsenal 1

How will Villa respond? By falling apart, it seems. Suddenly they're skittish and give van Persie time to stepover and dribble in the box, but RvP's cross falls to no-one at the back post. Punishment for their profligacy, surely. (And yes, for anyone who's been mad enough to follow all these liveblogs today, that's my favourite word at the moment.)

43 mins: I'm speechless. Agbonlahor beats Almunia to the ball in the air and it speeds goalward, but Sagna overhead-kicks it off the line to save Almunia's bacon. The Gunners live to fight another day!

Song off due to injury, Aaron Ramsey on. He's in for a dogfight in the middle.

HALFTIME: Aston Villa 0, Arsenal 1
A simply outrageous 45 minutes of football. Villa hit the woodwork three times, Sagna clears acrobatically off the line, and Denilson scored against the run of play with the Gunners' only scoring chance. What will Martin O'Neill say at halftime?

999 times out of 1000, he misses it. Not today, however!

It's set up nicely for the second half. If Villa can recover, they could open up a 6 point gap between them and Arse. If it holds as is, they'll be level once more. Who said the EPL is predictable?

We're back, and O'Neill must wonder if his team can salvage something. That has to hurt; dominate for 44 minutes, yet still a goal down. I reckon it rates next to going 18-0 but ruining it at the last minute, albeit on a much smaller scale.

46 mins: No subs, and some header tennis in midfield. Nasri gets an inch of space on the left wing, but Milner and Petrov harry him and he gives up the goal kick.

Gauloises punts a long clearance, but Ramsey's long pass goes right out for the Villa throw. Holding possession is of the utmost importance for the Goons.

48 mins: Barry's long cross from the right is cleared easily.

GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL and that, my friends, is how to surpass expectations. Delirium for the away fans, as Abou Diaby nips in behind Knight to finish into the top corner. Unbelievable. It was a half-break at best that caught Villa out, and a wonderfully calm finish. Eboue set him loose after some nice play on the right that left Curtis Davies for dust. Villa haven't done much wrong, and they're 2-0 down. As I said... unbelievable. Aston Villa 0, Arsenal 2

Diaby gets booked for his Lambeau-esque leap into the away fans after scoring, but do you think he cares?

53 mins: Amid the noise and frenzy, how will Villa respond? Agbo wins a throw on the left but it's wasted thanks to Young's cross-to-nowhere. It's going to take something epic to get them back in this one. For all their possession and early pressure, they look positively lost as to how they should respond. It's their turn to chase the ball around for a few minutes.

After my shit-talking on the Gooners, this is a hell of a way to respond to their recent troubles. Just when they're written off, they go and pull this.

55 mins: Should have been three! Diaby does his best Thierry Henry impression in slicing up the middle, passing to Ramsey who has his initial shot blocked, then van Persie gets a sniff and hits the post before his follow-up is deflected out for a corner. Nothing comes of it except for another corner. A third goal would be unlucky for Villa, but really, they should have been 3-0 up before Denilson's cool finish. Funny game, this. The confidence is all with Arsenal.

Villa clear the 2nd corner as far as Ramsey, and his gorgeous chip finds RvP with space to head home. His header goes a mile wide. Still, Aston Villa are falling apart before our very eyes. It's Arsenal chants ringing out around Villa Park. How will O'Neill respond? Missing Laursen was more serious than he expected.

59 mins: Agbonlahor squanders possession in the Arsenal box and the Gunners break again. At the back, Villa are like single-ply toilet paper. Diaby gets blocked from shooting but it comes to Nasri who finds Eboue wide open, and his goal-bound shot is blocked at the last second. Curtis Davies the hero that time. One-way traffic towards Friedel's goal at the moment. Funny what two goals will do to a game.

62 mins: Another Arsenal corner. Villa are confused. I blame tainted half-time oranges. They look more like Tottenham than Top 4.

Agbo gives it up easily again on the right. Villa are a great team when they're winning, but they never look like getting back into a game when they're struggling.

Just as I type this, Sidwell gets free down the right and plants it right on Ashley Young's foot in front of goal, but there's Bacary Sagna to stick a foot in as Young picks his spot. Superb defending, and a glimmer of life for Villa.

64 mins: PENALTY TO VILLA. Deserved too; he gets caught out by Milner's long pass and Agbonlahor has a step on him. Gauloises decides to tackle, but hashes it, and Barry has a chance to pull Villa back into it...

... GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL for Gareth Barry from the spot, sending Almunia the wrong way. Emphatic finish, and the crowd's awake again. Testing times for Arsenal now. A phenomenal match thus far. Aston Villa 1, Arsenal 2

68 mins: Wenger is still miffed about the penalty, but there's more pressing issues at stake now. 25 minutes to go, and you never want to give Villa way back into the game. Almunia races out to clear a long ball aimed for Gabby down the line.

70 mins: Arsenal look like the Arsenal of the first half all over again. Struggling to maintain possession, and letting Villa come to them. Gabby takes on Sagna down the left, but Bacary wins that round.

Sidenote: I wish Rafa Benitez could buy Sagna. He's having an incredible game thus far, goalline clearance aside.

72 mins: Arsenal throw men forward again, but their attack fizzles out at the top of the box. Villa break with speed, but no dice. Agbo looks like he got a knock in that from-behind tackle on Diaby, and he gets a yellow card on top of it.

Sagna clears under pressure from Luke Young and the Gunners try to slow things down. It doesn't work; Sagna's throw goes right to Young, and when the cross comes in, it misses everyone and falls to Milner, whose shot is blocked at the edge of the box. He crosses in the rebound, and Villa put up a large shout for handball. No dice.

Ashley Young gets loose on the left again, but his cross is met in the middle by Almunia.

76 mins: Simmer down now, fellas, as things get heated in midfield. Diaby is chopped down, and then seconds later, van Persie gets beaten to the ball by Reo-Coker and then tracks him down to take him down. RvP gets a yellow card, the first meaningful thing he's done in 25+ minutes. Reo-Coker gets one too for his pushing and shoving. Bit silly - not a booking at all for either of them.

78 mins: Sagna's weak sidefooted clearance falls to Ashley Young in the box, but his floated cross is intercepted by Almunia. Deep breath for Arsenal... just over 15 minutes left.

80 mins: Eboue creates a problem by ignoring Almunia's call for the ball and trying to clear it himself, but mercifully for him, Gabby fouls on the loose ball and the crisis disappears.

Sagna again with the heroics. Barry gets room to run at the backline, finds Sidwell whose shot is blocked. Ashley Young is lurking at the back post, but Sagna gets across to block the cross. The corner bobbles around in the area, but neither Knight nor Milner can finish. Imagine how dangerous these Villa corners could have been with Laursen in the mix.

Stiliyan Petrov is pissed about not getting a throw-in and gets booked for yelling at the linesman.

Sub for Arsenal: Samir "The Ghost" Nasri on, Gael Clichy on.

84 mins: Young's latest cross is cleared easily. Anyone else get the impression that Villa are running out of ideas? Gaz Baz tries to take a throw too quickly and the ref orders a retake.

Silvestre with another well-timed interception as Gabby's header threatens at the far post. Barry wastes the corner.

86 mins: Ramsey takes a shot from 20 yards, but it's no danger to Friedel.

87 mins: Almunia leaps to collect Barry's lofted cross from the left while under pressure from Sidwell. Sidders isn't happy at the shove from Eboue, but the ref is in quickly to play High School Principal and break up the crowd.

88 mins: Toure clears the long ball after Zat Knight, Villa's new striker, knocked it down. I didn't even realize he was playing. I think Djourou was injured in warm-ups so Toure made the starting XI? Whoops.

Drama in the Arsenal box again as Almunia and Clichy combine to scramble the ball clear from Gabby's feet. We're almost in injury time...

90 mins: 4 mins of added time, and Arsenal are doing a good job killing clock in the corner. Villa break it up, and surge forward with Reo-Coker down the right.

90 mins + 2: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL.... as with everything in this game so far, it was utterly unbelievable. Zat Knight, having been moved to striker just minutes before, gets the loose ball off another half-clearance by Arsenal. Sagna gets a toe on it to keep it off Barry's foot, but Knight takes a touch and drills it into the bottom corner despite Toure closing in. Almunia had no chance. Absolutely incredible, although I'll say that on the balance of play, a draw is fair for Villa. Both sides have worked tirelessly today. Martin O'Neill is practically doing cartwheels on the sideline. Aston Villa 2, Arsenal 2

Gaz Baz gets booked fighting for a loose ball in Arsenal's half, and it looks to be the end of a thrilling Boxing Day encounter.

End-to-end stuff in the final 60 seconds, and the ref is primed to bring it to a close.

FULLTIME: Aston Villa 2, Arsenal 2
A brilliant game indeed. Zat Knight's move to center-forward proved brilliant in the end, but Arsenal acquitted themselves admirably in the face of a difficult December. The Gunners' hard luck continues.

Sorry lads. Tons of talking points, but the fact remains: Villa scored twice in the final 25 minutes to rescue the game.

It's been a wonderful day of football (except for that Spartak London game earlier). Let's hope New Year's Day yields more of the same.
Thanks for sticking around -- I think I'm taking a break from the computer for the rest of the day. I think it's earned.

Read more on "EPL Liveblog Triple-Header, Game 3: Aston Villa v. Arsenal"...


Manchester City is destroying Hull City 4-0 at halftime. Felipe Caicedo (who?) has a brace as well as Robinho. There are two things that stick out from this match so far. The first is the video below of Robinho's goal celebration after his first goal. I don't know how to describe it, but it seems to be a mix of modern interpretive dance, break dancing, and samba with a porno video end flourish. See for yourself below.

The second is Hull City manager Phil Brown's blow dryer treatment of his team at halftime. ON THE FIELD. He sat the boys down like a bunch of teenagers and let them have it in front of all the fans. It really looked like a high school halftime where the team just went off to the side. Hopefully video coming soon.

Read more on "Um...Yeah?"...

EPL Liveblog Triple-Header, Game 2: The 10am "Mystery Pick"

Which game will we get? The suspense might kill me!

Which feed will be most reliable? Let's liveblog a 10am game together, shall we? Join me after the jump...

The possibilities are:

Liverpool v. Bolton
No Torres! We've been lied to! Seriously though, does Keane have another gorgeous volley in him today?

Man City v. Hull City
Sparky tries again to save his job. Word has it that his Dubai overlords aren't too fond of Christmas spirit.

Middlesbrough v. Everton
Can a team with no strikers beat a team with no defenders?

Sunderland v. Blackburn
Which "New Manager Effect" will reign supreme today?

Wigan v. Newcastle
Bruce v. Kinnear. Boredom v. Ineptitude.

Spin the wheel and let's get lucky. Of course, let's all keep each other informed... get the scores and insights of the other games in the comments if I end up picking the one you didn't want.

And... it's LFC v. Bolton! Hallelujah! And the feed is in English!

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua; Gerrard, Benayoun, Keane, Riera; Kuyt.
Subs: Cavalieri, Babel, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Ngog, El Zhar, Darby.

Lucas is replaced, mercifully, and Arbeloa's injury brings the aging Finn into the fray. Carragher's xmas gift is a stint at right-back. Rafa's back in attendance, but up in the box seats after his kidney stone surgery.

Bolton (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, Andrew O'Brien, Samuel; Muamba, Nolan, McCann, Taylor, Gardner, Elmander.
Subs: Al Habsi, Smolarek, Davies, Riga, Shittu, Basham, Obadeyi.

Referee: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire)

Hooray, a 4-5-1 for Bolton! Megson has never picked up a point against Liverpool, so this should be fun. Granted, he's only had 6 attempts, but that's enough to be considered a precedent, right?

Early scores from around the EPL:
Chelsea 2, West Brom 0
Tottenham 0, Fulham 0
Portsmouth 1, West Ham 4
Stoke City 0, Manchester United 1

You'll Never Walk Alone plays over the loudspeakers, and we're just waiting for kick-off. Keep me posted with the other games, won't you? Man City/Hull should give some goals.

1 mins: LFC kick off and attack the Kop in the first half. Liverpool have been a bit crap lately, drawing every game in seemingly forever. With Man U sneaking a lucky win earlier and Chelsea victorious as well, they need to keep pace.

2 mins: Early nerves for the Reds as Elmander gets free down the right. His chip finds Nolan, but instead of shooting, he tries to find Gardner unmarked at the near post and Reina leaps to intercept the cross. If that had made it, Bolton would be up.

Liverpool counter nicely with Kuyt, and McCann puts it out for a corner. Gerrard floats it in, it misses everybody and comes to Riera alone at the edge of the box. He drills it in and Keane's flick-on ends up wide. A bright start for both sides.

5 mins: Liverpool enjoying all the early possession in Bolton's half as they try to unlock Bolton's 10-men-behind-the-ball approach. Riera can't reach Gerrard's long cross-field pass and Bolton get a goal kick.

8 mins: Benayoun gets behind Steinsson out on the right but Wiley reckons he handballed the long pass to bring it under control. Looked like shoulder to me.

10 mins: Riera skips through O'Brien on the left and puts a cross in, from which header tennis ensues. Bolton fail to clear properly and Samuel turns it out for a corner. From Gerrard's delivery, Riera drags a shot wide of the right post after collecting Agger's flick-on. Liverpool are giving it a go early.

13 mins: No way through the 9-0-1, and Bolton hoof it down to Reina. Elmander is an island up front, lost amid the grassy seas to be guarded by Agger and Hyppia. The stage is set for a terrifically boring 0-0.

15 mins: A promising burst by LFC down the left, as Riera and Insua play a neat 1-2 to find Kuyt at the edge of the box, but his leaden foot destroys the momentum. It's a guessing game for Liverpool; how to break down the rigid formation?

16 mins: Kuyt blasts his shot right at Cahill's shins from the top of the box, but much better passing from the home side. Their passing did manage to open up some space, and Bolton thump it down to Reina to clear their lines. If this is honestly Bolton's plan for the next 75 minutes, they will almost certainly lose. The notion of playing "Protect the Fort" for 90 minutes away from home in the EPL is sadly misguided.

18 mins: Lovely stuff from Liverpool. Hyppia's 1-2 on the right frees Benayoun, whose deep cross is turned out for a corner. From the corner, Insua gets a nice volley from the top of the box that forces a sharp save from Jaskelaainen, only for Bolton to cough up another corner. Good pressure at the moment. It means jacksh*t if they can't score.

20 mins: Alonso's beautiful ball in meets Dirk Kuyt's head, and he glazes it just over the bar with the goalie frozen.

22 mins: Robbie Keane's been very much a non-factor thus far. Insua gives it away and Bolton attempt a trade-mark counter-attack with Elmander, but it's snuffed out immediately.

Fabrice Muamba puts in a perfect tackle on Benayoun in the area after Jlloyd Samuel's header dropped nicely for Yossi. The corner is cleared, and then Yossi's deep cross is headed over by Cahill for another corner. PLEASE LIVERPOOL, SCORE A DAMN GOAL ALREADY.

25 mins: Liverpool win their 7th corner as Steinsson is troubled under the long pass to Reira. Alonso swings it in, and under pressure from Kuyt, Cahill concedes corner #8.

GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL Liverpool, and finally Bolton crack. Albert Riera times his run perfectly to meet Gerrard's outswinger and he guides it with his right foot through Jaskelaainen's hands and into the net. Johan Elmander was a spectator at the front post. Should have done better. Liverpool 1, Bolton 0

28 mins: Andy O'Brien is almost hung out to dry as Muamba's clearance ends up falling into Dirk Kuyt's path. The two tussle, and O'Brien wins a free kick for his efforts.

Jesus, Man City score goals 2 and 3 within 90 seconds. Caicedo has a brace already, and Robinho is manhandling the Hull backline and gets the third for himself after setting up the other two. 3-0 Sparky within half an hour. NOT what I was expecting.

31 mins: The pace is slowing a little, but Liverpool aren't content with just one goal early. That's been their biggest problem of late; they've struggled to take the lead, and struggled even more to expand on it. Lots of neat passing across midfield as they look for another opening. Muamba scythes Keane down from behind and gives away a free-kick. LFC promptly punt it forward, but Kuyt is offside.

Can someone find me video of Robinho's goal and ensuing celebration? Try the usual resources around half-time... thanks for the help!

Ryan Taylor scores his 4th in 4 games against Newcastle to give Wigan the 1-0 lead at home. No score still at 'Boro or Sunderland.

35 mins: Insua and Riera torment poor Gretar Steinsson again down the right, but Insua's cross finds no-one in particular. It's all Liverpool at the moment as Bolton try their hand at defending from the edge of their own area. Very compact formation, very negative. Dirk Kuyt wins a free-kick 30 yards out after catching Gavin McCann in possession and then getting hauled down. Gerrard stands over it...

... he finds Hyppia at the back post, and it falls to Yossi who volleys wide of the far post.

Manchester City score a 4th thanks to Robinho once more, thus confounding bettors everywhere with their woeful, inconsistent team. An away defeat to West Brom one week, a 4-0 lead at Eastlands with Hull in attendance?

38 mins: Agger shoots from miles out but it's a mile wide. I can't remember the last time Bolton got inside the Liverpool half. Keane then breaks and wins yet another corner off Cahill's leg.

Some argy-bargy in the box, and Gerrard gets to re-take the corner. Hyppia uses Cahill as a Jungle Jim and Alan Wiley gives the free-kick to take the pressure off.

41 mins: Jamie Carragher, playing right-back, pops up on the left wing of all places, and fizzes a shot from 30 yards just over the bar. I am forced to pinch myself to check that I did actually see that.

Liverpool are playing brilliantly, but two things to consider:
1. They're only winning 1-0
2. They're playing Bolton

Still, it makes limp performances against Stoke, West Ham and Fulham appear all the more confusing.

43 mins: Holy sh*t, Bolton get forward! Elmander whiffs his volley and meekly appeals for handball against Insua, but it's waved off. Liverpool then surge forward, and Yossi's meandering run/cross wins yet another corner. I think that's corner #11 for the Reds in the first-half. It's been nearly 40 minutes since Nolan's attempt on goal.

Insua volleys again from the edge of the box and coming close. He's starting to look like a good little player.

45 mins + 1: Bolton win a free-kick just inside LFC territory but waste it, and Wiley promptly blows the whistle.

HALFTIME: Liverpool 1, Bolton 0
Seriously, this is about as lop-sided as it gets. Think the '85 Bears in their prime playing against a Pop Warner outfit. LFC with 47,653 corners, but only one goal thanks to Riera's near-post flick. They'll need a couple more goals before I'm convinced.

Insua, Riera, Yossi and Alonso all looking good in the first half. This is mildly encouraging. Keane still looks rather lost up-top, but then again, he's being marked by 8 players at any one time.

Thanks to U75 for finding the Robinho dance party... enjoy it here and wonder just what it was supposed to be. I like the idea of "Special Olympics Speed Skater" as noted in the comments.

And any video of Phil Brown's unique half-time team talk on the pitch in front of the away fans would be greatly appreciated too.

Let's get back to it... for Bolton, a sub! Kevin Davies on, Jlloyd Samuel off. Now no-one can argue that Bolton aren't interested in attacking.

46 mins: Steinsson gets a yellow for his late slide into Xabi Alonso. Bolton shift the formation a bit as Elmander tucks behind Davies with the bald? Mr. Cahill moving to right-midfield.

48 mins: Gretar Steinsson looks for an early bath as he clatters into Albert Riera way off on the left for no apparent reason, and gets a stern talking-to from Wiley. Any more fouls and he's off, it would seem. Best attack down that left if you're LFC, right?

Robbie Keane houdinis himself enough space to whip in a cross under pressure from Cahill and Steinsson (who is inexplicably drawn to the danger of a 2nd yellow), but it's cleared with ease. Bolton attack and win a free-kick for their troubles.

50 mins: The Kevin Davies Effect has jolted Bolton to life as they win their first corner. Cahill puts it right in Reina's hands, and life slowly returns to normal.

Beware this man, dislocated digits or not!

53 mins: Liverpool begin their evolution into aimlessness as the concept of stringing more than 2 passes together in midfield suddenly looks laborious and impossible. I pray to the Boxing Day deities for a second goal that'll put this game to bed.

54 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL and wow, am I prescient! Almost right on cue, Gerrard breaks and finds room to run up the middle. Robbie Keane times his run off O'Brien's shoulder to perfection, Stevie finds him, and Keane beats Jaskelaainen at the near post with a wonderful finish. Is this the moment that Robbie turns his season around? Liverpool 2, Bolton 0

56 mins: Agger goes into the book for a two-footed lunge on Johan Elmander in the center circle. Fair call; despite being a 50/50 ball, leaving your feet always puts you in the book. Just ask John Terry.

58 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and it's liquid football from Liverpool. Reina gathers a free-kick and throws long to Alonso, who sprints from halfway and finds Benayoun out wide. Yossi takes a touch and slides it across the face of goal where Robbie Keane is there to slide it past a hopeless Jaskelaainen. Yep, Keane's back. Liverpool 3, Bolton 0

60 mins: Bolton gamely attack and win a corner, but it amounts to nothing. It's nice to see my Liverpool play dominating football and get the goals they deserve. They'll still be on top heading into the New Year. Lovely stuff, really. Oh, when Fernando comes back, and Keane has rediscovered how to score... (must lie down)

Everton take the lead at the Riverside, and it's our most-hated Cahill, the Antipodean Tim, with the goal. Quite ridiculous that they're on pace to take 7 points from their last 3 games despite not having a single healthy striker on their squad. Toffee bastards.

64 mins: Liverpool swarm like flies at a picnic, passing comfortably and looking for more. Steinsson makes a hash of his clearance and the pressure stays on. Gerrard has a pot-shot from 25 yards and it drags wide of the post. Ah well. It must be nice for him not to be playing saviour for once. Those long-range shots aren't nearly as frustrating when we're winning 3-0.

I think Jussi should get a chance to play in midfield; as Yossi sprints to close him down on a long ball forward, he takes one shimmy to beat Benayoun before casually passing it out to O'Brien. So cool, calm and collected. Shame his outfield players are so damn skittish.

66 mins: Megson makes a double-change: Matthew Taylor and Johan Elmander off, Riga Mustapha and Polish international Ebi Smolarek on. Those names were a nightmare to spell, by the way.

67 mins: The subs make little difference; Liverpool crowd the box as Keane looks for his hat-trick, but Kuyt gets in the way and the two collide, leaving Andy O'Brien a simple clearance. Keane and Kuyt moan for a moment, but realize they're winning 3-0. Did I mention the score was 3-0? It's 3-0.

Sub for Liverpool: Albert Riera off, Nabil El-Zhar off. Good afternoon for the Spaniard, and some much-needed rest ahead of the New Year's fixtures. Let's see what the sub can do; admittedly he's not done much so far this season, albeit with limited opportunity.

Also, if you're vigilant: still no Ryan Babel sighting. Despite the comfortable win, he's being wasted by Benitez at the moment. Would be nice to give him a run out to build some confidence.

71 mins: A deep free-kick is cleared easily by Gerrard and Insua, and Yossi beat the offside trap on the right from the ensuing counter-attack. Nothing came from it, however. Almost 70% of possession for LFC so far today. That's f*cking insane.

Sub for LFC: Gerrard off, Lucas on. Nice to rest your studs with Newcastle just a few days away. Carragher takes the armband. Still no Ryan Babel? C'mon Sammy/Rafa. Give him 15 good minutes at least.

74 mins: The tireless Kuyt earns another corner, and Agger's header is just wide.

76 mins: El-Zhar cuts inside from the left and has a crack at goal, but it's well wide of the near post.

77 mins: Rafa didn't get the memo, as his final sub is used on David Ngog. Dirk Kuyt takes the bench.

It's petering out, and now, the focus will shift to Aston Villa/Arsenal in just under an hour. Honest predictions in the comments, please. I'll liveblog that one as well, so make the jump across around 12.00. That leaves me just enough time to build a leftovers sandwich: two thick slices of bread, cranberry sauce, turkey, stuffing, topped with roasted carrots. Delicious.

Bassong sent off at the JJB, and Amr Zaki converts the penalty to give Wigan a comfy 2-0 cushion with 10 minutes to go. Reports indicate it was a harsh dismissal, as the foul was just outside the box, but hey, can't win 'em all. LFC "target" Emile Heskey won the PK.

81 mins: Gavin McCann catches Xabi five minutes after the ball had gone, and gets a yellow card. Dismal afternoon for Bolton; they won 4 of 5 EPL fixtures in November, but now they've been thumped by Chelsea, Villa and Liverpool since December 6th.

83 mins: Keane almost gets on the end of a Alonso long ball, but O'Brien does well to usher it out of play.

85 mins: Almost a consolation for Bolton as Muamba's angled pass releases Smolarek, but his low shot is inches wide of the post. Reina is still on course for clean sheet #11 of the season, you'll be thrilled to know.

Gary Cahill's injured but won't come off and leave his side down to 10 men (Megson used all his subs 20 minutes ago), so he's moved to the right-wing where he'll jog around for the final 5-6 minutes. McCann's moved to center-back in his absence.

87 mins: Alonso's corner bamboozles Jaskelaainen and is cleared off Benayoun's foot. Jussi punched air and almost got caught out. From the second corner, Hyppia puts it cleanly toward the top corner but O'Brien gets in the way and prevents the 4th goal. LFC still pouring forward in attack. Tons of confidence on display.

Cahill's now playing striker well out on the right, presumably to avoid any contact whatsoever.

88 mins: Andy O'Brien plays Keane on, and Carragher finds him. Steinsson tracks back and times his tackle to perfection, denying him a hat-trick. A wonderful tackle.

4 added minutes. Keane is still looking for his third goal, and it seems like LFC are trying to get it for him. Keane turns provider and forces another fantastic, sprawling tackle from O'Brien to snuff out the danger from Ngog. Poor Bolton.

90 mins + 2: El Zhar is offside on the left wing as Liverpool look to break again.

Ryan Babel in a rare "action" shot as he spectates again. Let's hope he can turn it into a positive and write some good raps about the experience.

90 mins + 3: Yossi almost bends one in at the death as Jussi saves well to his left, and then Ngog almost turns it in from the follow-up. Mercifully, the ref blows the whistle.

FULLTIME: Liverpool 3, Bolton 0
A comfortable, convincing win for the home side, their first home win in what seems like months. They will stay top even after Chelsea and Man U win earlier in the day.

So, on to Liveblog #3! Join me in the next thread in 20 mins or so for the big match of the day, Aston Villa v. Arsenal. I need to make that sandwich, and FAST.

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