Heroes & Villains: Bed-wetters, fruit loops and the Wicker Man

The weekend's Premier League goodies and baddies...


Fernando TorresIf the proclamations that Fernando Torres was ’back’ following his goal against Blackburn two weeks ago seemed a trifle premature, similar claims following his match-winning performance on Sunday certainly appear to be of more substance.

The formerly flaxon forward furthered his frightening goalscoring record at Anfield (44 in 47 league matches) and in particular against Chelsea (seven in eight), as Roy Hodgson’s relegation-threatened Reds showed they were never really at any risk of going down and the namby-pamby bed-wetting sorts who previously thought otherwise were actually just being rather silly.

As silly, in fact, as the people who thought the Reds would win the blessed league just because they signed Joe Cole. And we’re not entirely ruling out the possibility there may be some overlap on the Venn Diagram of those two groups.

Chris HughtonThe first thing to say about Chris Hughton is that all of the grey in his hair - and you expect plenty of it on a Newcastle manager - has curiously gathered on one side of his head. The second thing to say about Chris Hughton is that he is working absolute miracles at St James’ Park and deserves all the praise, accolades and new contracts heading his way.

It's one thing to tonk a woefully out-of-sorts Sunderland at home, even if it's the most important thing in the world for your fans. Rocking up to the home of one of the ‘Big Four/Three/Five/Six’ and coming away with a richly-deserved 1-0 victory is quite another.

With back-to-back home games against Blackburn and Fulham to come over the next week, it could well be that the Magpies are soaring (gerrit?) towards the top of the Premier League table for a while longer yet.

That or they’ll suffer some sort of mental breakdown and not be able to win at home again for a couple of months like they did the last time they gave somebody a right royal gubbing - you never can tell with Newcastle…

Gretar SteinssonWith the football media going absolutely stark raving mental about Gareth Bale following his ascension to the higher echelons of largely over-egged and generally worthless hyperboledom, much of the focus in the run up to Saturday’s meeting of Bolton and Spurs fell upon the man facing the ‘impossible’ task of stopping Gareth Bale. So impossible nobody has managed it since Phil Neville about two weeks ago.

But in a delicious twist of oh-so-predictable irony, Spurs couldn’t muster a second decent showing in a week, and it was the Icelandic defender who had the bigger impact on the game, scoring as he did Bolton’s second goal.

Granted, he may have been left in Bale’s wake on a couple of occasions in the first half, but he was able to tighten the screw in the second and generally snuff out the threat of the athletic young Welshman.

Word too for Kevin Davies, who scored two - one a perfect penalty, which should surely underline his potential worth to England - and deftly teed-up Martin Petrov’s game-settler in front of the watching Fabio Capello.

Ji Sung ParkWith Saturday being Sir Alex Ferguson’s 24th snniversary at Old Trafford, it was perhaps fitting that Manchester United would win in textbook fashion - at the last, having failed to impress in the first 93 minutes of the match.

But with United’s frontline consisting of the vastly inexperienced trio of Gabriel Obertan, Bebe and Javier Hernandez, it was always likely that Ferguson would rely on one of his old stagers to seal the win.

In the event, it wasn’t Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes, rather the understated and generally under-praised Ji Sung Park. The midfielder, having earlier put United 1-0 up, dodged a flurry of Wolves challenges before twisting inside and screwing a shot into Marcus Hahnemann’s onion bag.

Such a scrappy win probably didn’t give too much encouragement to Ferguson or United’s fans at the time, but with fellow Champions League participants Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham slipping to defeats of varying degrees of unforseeableness, they should just be happy to have got the points ’on the board’.

Asamoah GyanNothing will help you get over a derby day doing-over better than a win, other than maybe 28 further wins and the League title.

With that fairly certain not to happen, the Black Cats will have to make do with this Gyan-inspired win over Stoke. The Ghanaian scored twice and also won his side a penalty – although he had that chance grabbed off him by Steed Malbranque, who fluffed the spot-kick.

And all this in Gyan's first Premier League start in the absence of Darren Bent, who was busy playing Call of Duty or something.

Neil EardleyA superb free kick scored by a player who reminds us all of Neal Ardley and the halcyon days of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang crazying up the Premiership (as it was then) with their crazy madcap craziness. Crazy.


Mario BalotelliIn lieu of any real Premier League villainy this weekend, we’ve opted to make Super Mario our headline act. The Italian scored his first two Premier League goals as Manchester City vitally returned to winning ways at the Hawthornes, but then needlessly got himself sent off following two petulant and pointless offences.

He earned his red card for threateningly swinging a leg in the direction of West Brom midfielder Youssuf Mulumbu’s face, like a haggard old man shaking his walking stick at some unruly youths.

And now he’ll miss Wednesday match's against Manchester United. It's the last thing Roberto Mancini needs, what with the tabloids - who as we know are always right - suggesting Jose Mourinho may be willing to leave free-scoring, table-topping Champions League contenders Real Madrid in favour of a team containing a fruit loop he was probably more than a little relieved to be done with this summer.

That’s Balotelli again, in case you were wondering.

Javier HernandezHaving wooed and wowed us with some nifty footwork, unusual heading technique and adorable little cherub-like face that you just want to gleefully squeeze like a semi-deranged octogenarian, Javier Hernandez showed exactly what we don’t like to see from young players in the dying minutes of Manchester United’s laboured win over Wolves.

With the game locked at 1-1 and time ticking away, the Mexican took an almighty tumble after going out of his way to ensure his left boot clipped Marcus Hanehman as the ball ran harmlessly out for a goal kick. Fortunately, he didn’t fool Phil Dowd, who wore a typically disgusted expression as he booked the little scamp for his misdemeanour.

Tottenham HotspurSaturday’s feeble defeat at Bolton was possibly the most predictable episode in the entire history of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

But what we’d really like to know is why Harry Redknapp - having last week left Peter Crouch on the bench at Old Trafford reasoning he wouldn’t get much change out of aerial battles with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand - opted to start the gangly Pringle-plugger as a lone striker against a Bolton team featuring the tallest centre-back in Premier League history, 6ft 6in Zat Knight.

Rob GreenHe may have been on a relatively steady post-World Cup upward curve, but Rob Green showed that he's still not 100% confident after some uncertain goalkeeping contributed substantially to the Hammers blowing a two-goal lead at St Andrews.

Indecision from Green and his defence allowed Cameron Jerome to nip in and score Birmingham‘s first, before Green meekly palmed a Seb Larsson free kick straight back into the danger zone, allowing Liam Ridgewell to immediately rifle the rebound straight back past him. Safety first, Robert, safety first.

Michael OliverAlso contributing to West Ham’s failure to win the match was whistle-blowing whippersnapper Oliver’s incredible omission to award a late penalty to the Irons when Jean Beausejour tugged back Lars Jacobsen as the Danish full-back burst into the Birmingham penalty area.

Avram Grant was understandably furious, although not visibly so, having maintained the same facial expression since November 1984.

Martin AtkinsonLook, we don’t like picking on referees, but when they insist on making such an array of bewildering decisions, we feel... well, we feel like we should pick on them, at least a little bit.

Atkinson’s nadir, for this week at least, came when Kenwyne Jones of Stoke, returning to former club Sunderland for the first time, saw a header cleared from just behind the line by the arm, face, then arm again of Lee Cattermole, whose spot of impromptu ball-juggling quite possibly broke his personal keepie-uppie record.

Lukasz FabianskiGiven what was a largely insipid Arsenal performance across the board, it’s probably more than a little harsh to pick out Fabianski for specific criticism. But the young Pole perhaps proved once again that, although he’s capable of occasional brilliance, he’s probably still lacking the focus and reading of the game to be a No.1 goalkeeper at a side with pretensions of winning the Premier or Champions League.

Whoever is responsible for Fulham’s paper noisey-making-whacking-thingiesListen, we’re all for keeping things twee and a bit old-school retro 1950s football fandom chic, but this is really taking the biscuit. The sight and sound of 15-odd thousand people sitting and rhythmically thwacking a piece of strategically folded cardboard against their hands is like a deleted scene from some middle-class Wicker Man remake.

Whatever happened to the days when unhealthy levels of aggression and a liberal smattering of profanity were enough fun for your average fan of a Saturday afternoon? Eh, Hearts and Hibs fans?

Fat, shirtless, jiggling Newcastle fansThe other end of the scale (again with the puns), perhaps, but a continuing phenomenon which causes much queasiness, nonetheless.

What you do at The Bigg Market is your prerogative, but when you’re likely to be captured by national television cameras a little more decorum is required. Especially in the era of 3D TV.

Killjoys? Us?