Heroes & Villains: Missing millions, a good ref and a hapless handcuffer

Midweek delight and derision from Mark Booth, with a little bonus moaning at the end from Gary Parkinson...

RESULTS (click team name for web-wide club news feed) Tue Jan 31 Everton 1-0 Manchester City; Manchester United 2-0 Stoke City; Swansea City 1-1 Chelsea; Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Wigan Athletic; Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-3 Liverpool Wed Feb 1 Aston Villa 2-2 Queens Park Rangers; Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Arsenal; Sunderland 3-0 Norwich City; Fulham 1-1 West Bromwich Albion; Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Newcastle United


Manchester UnitedThe champions were the big winners of this midweek round of fixtures after easily seeing off the challenge of Stoke City. Now level with their neighbours at the top of the Premier League, United are moving into what is historically their favourite period of the season. With all the talk surrounding United’s lack of spending, it was a transfer out of Old Trafford that proved to be their most profitable on Tuesday, with Darron Gibson’s goal against Manchester City giving his former boss reason to smile over his bottle of plonk.

There was nothing particularly memorable about this efficient dispatch of Tony Pulis’ Stoke, who continued their poor run against the big boys with this 2-0 defeat. City cling on to top spot through goal difference, but Sir Alex Ferguson will feel the momentum is very much with his team and the neutrals rejoice as one of the tightest title races for years maintains its ebb and flow.

EvertonEverton were arguably the big winners of this year’s low-key transfer window, bringing in the natural finisher they’ve been crying out for in Jelavic, being reunited with Steven Pienaar on loan and, most crucially in this fixture, taking Darron Gibson off the Old Trafford scrapheap.

The contrast between the costs of the playing squads on show could barely have been greater, yet it was Everton who prevailed, displaying the kind of grit that characterises David Moyes’ tenure on Merseyside. A makeshift defensive pairing of Tony Hibbert and John Heitinga limited City to just a handful of clear-cut chances and Maraoune Fellaini worked tirelessly to suppress the creative artistry of David Silva and Samir Nasri.

The frustration for the Everton faithful is that they can drop points against teams like Blackburn, who got a draw in the last game at Goodison – perhaps explaining why Tuesday's attendance was only the second sub-30,000 league gate in Moyes' decade at the club. With their new reinforcements there is at last reason to believe there are brighter, more consistent times ahead for the Toffees.

TottenhamIt's as you were in the title race, as if the cruel defeat at the Etihad Stadium never happened: Spurs climb back to within five points of the summit. It was a particularly convincing performance from Tottenham, who needed a reaction after dropping five points in the last two Premier League games.

Harry Redknapp clinched the loan signing of Louis Saha on the final day of the transfer window and if he can stay fit, he could play a vital role as understudy to Emmanuel Adebayor. Against Wigan, it was again that prolific midfield coming up with the goods, including one beautiful individual effort from Gareth Bale. If Adebayor and Saha can find the back of the net on a consistent basis, perhaps Tottenham could find themselves in a title race after all.

SunderlandIf the Sunderland board were ever in any doubt as to whether they made the right decision in replacing Steve Bruce with Martin O’Neill, these reservations were seen off in convincing style on Wednesday night. Norwich were on a six-match unbeaten run before they made the trip up to the Stadium of Light but former Canaries boss Martin O’Neill has got the Black Cats doing the simple things well again and their ascent of the league table continues in style.

Frazier Campbell netted his first Premier League goal in 17 months and Stéphane Sessègnon maintained his excellent recent form to put Sunderland eighth in the table – a quite remarkable turnaround even by O’Neill’s high standards.

Andy CarrollAt times the criticism levelled at the 23-year old has crossed the line into something resembling glee and completely out of perspective for a young man trying to find his way at a big club. This dog’s abuse was silenced on the anniversary of his deadline day £35m move from Newcastle as he weighed in with a poacher’s goal which was the highlight of an encouraging Liverpool display.

Dalglish originally hoped that Carroll could work in tandem with the returning Luis Suarez, and there’s at least a suggestion that these hopes could be rekindled if this spirited performance at Wolves was anything to go by.

Chris FoyReferees rarely get the headlines for getting decisions right, but Chris Foy deserves a mention after spotting the slightest of fingertips from Wojech Szczęsny in the last seconds at the Reebok Stadium on Wednesday night. Without that brush of glove it was the clearest penalty you’ll ever see as the Arsenal keeper took out Bolton's Mark Davies. Foy did spot it and the 0-0 stalemate was sealed – much to the ire of Owen Coyle, who missed it like the rest of us mere mortals.


Manchester CityHow Roberto Mancini must dread his trips to Merseyside. The Italian shouldered the blame for City’s toothless showing at Goodison Park, claiming to have underestimated Everton. If this was an exercise in taking the pressure off his players, it was misplaced given City’s miserable record in this fixture.

Outfought and bereft of ideas to break Everton’s resolve, this City side was a shadow of the outfit that romped through the league in autumn. After Darron Gibson delighted in opening the scoring against his previous team's cross-town rivals, there was nothing to be seen from David Silva, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko – £125m of players went missing, more than any dog's Monaco bank account, making the absence of Yaya Toure in City’s midfield all the more obvious.

The truth is that City haven’t been at their sparkling best on a consistent basis since their air of invincibility was taken at Chelsea in December. Teams seemed to have worked out how to play against them, with the Martin O’Neill formula particularly popular: sit deep in numbers, invite City on, frustrate them and break with pace. If the oft-touted ‘form of champions’ is winning games ugly, surely dominating games and losing is the form of runners-up.

David DunnBlackburn can consider themselves unlucky to see Newcastle leave Ewood Park with all three points. It could have been so different for Steve Kean’s men had they not conceded a desperately unlucky own goal and had David Dunn converted the 43rd-minute penalty.

If that spot-kick had levelled the match, Blackburn may have picked up at least a point in their quest for survival; as it was, Tim Krul saved David Dunn's effort and as Blackburn chased the game Gabriel Obertan punished them on the break. Newcastle beat Rovers for the third time in four months and kept Kean's men in the bottom three.

Mick McCarthyThe pressure is mounting on the Wolves boss after a bad night against Liverpool at Molineux. The first of the dreaded “McCarthy out” bed-sheets made an appearance in the stands; in the mixed zone, with typical Yorkshire honesty, he took the blame for the defeat; and in the dressing-room he witnessed club owner Steve Morgan barge in to tear a strip off the underperforming Wanderers.

In the past Wolves have been guilty of failing to beat the teams around them and only a neat line in giantkilling has kept them out of trouble. With their powers of upsetting the odds starting to elude them, McCarthy needs to find some points – starting at QPR on Saturday – or the words on those scrawled bed sheets will soon find their way onto Wolves’ letterheaded paper.

Benoît Assou-EkottoTottenham’s full-back will receive no punishment for his horror tackle on Franco di Santo on Tuesday night. Yet again this glaring flaw in the FA’s justice system has been brought to the light as referee Lee Probert admitted to seeing the challenge but decided to take no action, making the FA powerless to step in and land Assou-Ekotto with a deserved three-match ban. Football managers crying out for consistency in decisions on dangerous tackles are left to tear their hair out – a job that would take a while with Benoît's bouncing bouffant.

Deadline dayIt seemed that the small matter of the football only conspired to get in the way of Sky’s now traditional deadline day song and dance. Jim White, the yellow ticker and Big Ben couldn’t save this deadline day which proved to be something of a damp squib as a new-found austerity gripped the Premier League.

Match of the DaySpeaking of TV and deadlines, the BBC's flagship football programme was inexplicably scheduled to started half an hour before the 11pm window-slam, when most fans were hopefully (or fearfully) scanning rolling news, websites, forums and Twitter.

Furthermore, with half the Premier League teams not in action until the following evening, you have to ask why the midweek edition wasn't on the Wednesday: fans of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Fulham, Newcastle, QPR and West Brom won't get their licence fee's worth. There wasn't even the consolation bone-throw of a Match of the Day 2 with keen Colin and his chums – who, while we're on the moanbox, frequently put far more effort into their analysis than the main-show regulars. – GP

HandcuffsPutting the boring adult hat on, people entering the field of play is a definite no-no, and although handcuffing yourself to the goalpost might deserve points for originality, the Liverpool fan protesting against his daughter's dismissal by Ryanair is hardly equivalent to emancipation-chasing suffragettes chaining themselves to 10 Downing Street. Nobody likes to see people losing their jobs but with youth unemployment reaching 21% and topping a million, if we're to have handcuffings for every jobless young person we're gonna need a lot of goalposts. – GP