Heroes & Villains: Petr, Pantsil & paranoia

FourFourTwo.com features editor James Maw nominates the weekend's top-flight goodies and baddies...


Kenny DalglishHands up, those who thought Dalglish had spent too long ‘out of the game’ to be able to make any discernible positive impact at Anfield. The fact is, very few people beyond Merseyside were convinced that it was a good move, although that was surely just because we were all so keen on Woy to succeed – lovable long-ball merchant that he is. But we were wrong, and we should be happy to be so as it certainly makes the Premier League run-in more interesting.

Suddenly the Anfieldists are within two wins of Chelsea and Spurs – the two sides directly above them in fourth and fifth, and the clubs previously thought most likely to join Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City in next season's Champions League. Given that Chelsea are still a way from hitting top gear and those crazy swines at Spurs are just as likely to lose at home to Wigan or Wolves as win at the Emirates or Eastlands, a prolonged run of form could see the Reds get that fourth place – although Dalglish may be a little more reserved about stating his side’s immediate ambitions.

The most encouraging thing for Liverpool is that they actually look like they can defend again, especially given that their rearguard was so obviously a weakness during the first half of the season.

As recently as the 2-2 Mersey Derby three weeks back it looked as though Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke would have their work cut out to instil sense and composure into their defence; a very well-drilled Liverpool haven’t conceded in the four matches since, employing in the last two matches a well-considered new system employing three centre-backs.

Despite their matchwinning defensive resolve at Chelsea, Liverpool will probably face sterner tests against less heralded opponents, considering the lacklustre efforts from the champions. Irrespective of the challenges that lay ahead it’s almost impossible to imagine Liverpool finishing below sixth, and who would’ve predicted that six weeks ago?

Louis SahaIf Saha could avoid missing so many matches through injury, Everton wouldn’t find themselves wasting season after season wallowing around in the lower midtable hoping for a late-season surge to add some respectability to the campaign. Although, to be frank, had the Frenchman avoided the physio’s table for longer than three months at a time he probably wouldn't be at the club.

Saha has made just 46 league starts in his two-and-a-half years at Everton, but he's always straight back in the team when fit – he’s by far the best striker David Moyes has, even when he’s not firing. Fortunately for the Toffees, Saha is currently in somewhat of a hot streak, and took his tally for 2011 to eight in six matches with a four-goal salvo against resilient Blackpool. Now, about that late-season surge…

Carlos TevezA third City hat-trick for the little Argentine, although not a ‘proper’ hat trick this time. Two penalties? We don’t care if it’s your birthday and your kids are watching – you only get half points for that. Fortunately, City still get all three.

Niko KranjcarTottenham’s Croatian schemer (not him, the other one) has endured a frustrating season, having found himself stuck behind Rafael van der Vaart, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale in Harry Redknapp’s pecking order. Still, what better to take your anger out on than the back-end of a Premier League matchball? And if it rockets into the back of the net, all the better.

Although we're not sure if it's quite such a positive manifestation of a player's ire to storm off down the tunnel the second the final whistle is blown, thwacking the ball into the crowd and actively avoiding the embrace of the first-team coach in the process…

Cheik TioteCrash, bang, wallop – what a strike! One of very few players with the right to return to the Newcastle dressing room at half-time on Saturday with his head held relatively high, Tiote ultimately proved to be the man to draw the Magpies level with a superbly taken volley.

It’s probably not overstating it to suggest this comeback was a pivotal point in Newcastle’s season – had they been comprehensively ‘smashed’ by the Gunners on their own patch, heads would have dropped, not least after the controversial departure of leading scorer and talisman Andy Carroll.

Tony PulisSay what you like about Stoke’s direct style of play – and we’re sure most of you do – but you can’t argue that it isn’t effective enough to keep the ‘unfashionable’ side in the Premier League for four successive seasons. It may not be sexy, stylish or all continental-like (not unlike Pulis himself, in fact) but it consistently gets the Potters results – including Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Sunderland, in which their three goals came from a high balls into a crowded box being jabbed home from a cumulative distance of about six yards.

James McCarthyThe 56th minute of a Premier League game isn’t usually the best time for a spot of penalty-box ball-juggling, but it proved worthwhile for Wigan’s McCarthy, whose Bergkamp-esque trickery was rewarded with the Latics’ third goal in a much-needed 4-3 victory.


Petr Cech and Branislav IvanovicSteven Gerrard’s floated 69th-minute cross wasn't easy to defend, bouncing awkwardly on the edge of the six-yard box in the middle of the goal with Dirk Kuyt hurtling towards it. But one or other of Cech and Ivanovic needed to deal with it, as failure to do so was always likely to be punished. Raul Meireles did just that.

They can’t say they weren’t given a warning either – a low ball across the six-yard box in the first half presented Maxi Rodriguez with an open goal but the Argentine somehow managed to hit the woodwork from three or four yards. There had also been confusion between Cech and Ivanovic in the first half, when they both went for the same ball twice in the space of two or three seconds: the pair then came to blows and had to be separated by John Obi Mikel, of all people.

The good news for Chelsea, and perhaps for Ivanovic’s eardrums, is that the arrival of David Luiz will see the Serb revert to right-back, well out of Cech’s way – which will certainly be some consolation at the end of the season when the Blues have lost their title.

John PantsilA third Premier League own goal of the season, and a second in 10 days, saw the Cottagers fall behind at Villa Park. Fortunately for the Ghanaian, Andrew Johnson and then Clint Dempsey struck to secure a point for Mark Hughes’ team, but it was still an embarrassing moment. Also, while we’re here, he can’t take throw-ins properly – seriously, check it out yourself next time Fulham are in town (or playing on that there television machine). He’s all feet and hands (with the ball in) over the line. It’s crazy.

Heurelho GomesYou just don’t know what you’re going to get with this guy – and while that’s not always a terrible trait in an attacking player, it is in a goalkeeper. It must leave Harry Redknapp tearing his hair out. Does he move to replace him and risk alienating the fans who see the Brazilian as a cult hero, or leave him in the side and risk seeing Spurs’ top four chances slip through their fingers them like a tame Danny Sturridge 25-yarder?

Gomes is capable – he proved that with a matchwinning display at Blackburn just last week – but his erratic nature could and perhaps should ultimately see him ditched in favour of a steadier, if less spectacular stopper.

Abou DiabyIt’s not hard to see why Diaby was riled by a Joey Barton challenge that was probably just about acceptable but teetered on the reckless: in a 2006 visit to the North-East, the lanky Gunner was left on the sidelines for eight months after a horror tackle from Sunderland’s Dan Smith (now 24, last seen leaving Blyth Spartans). 

But to lash out in such a way was always going to result in a red card, and even if the blame for Arsenal’s spectacular capitulation can’t possible land entirely at his door, you can’t argue it wasn’t a major turning point in the match.

Paranoid Arsenal fansLast night, rumours began to spread across the internet that Interpol (the international police, not the tight-trousered New York indie chaps) were looking to investigate Arsenal's 4-4 draw at Newcastle after being made aware of 'suspicious betting patterns'. You can check them out yourself, but unsurprisingly the tin-foil hat brigade were out in full force. Here are a few choice cuts...

"I fink dat match really needs to be investigated. Something must be wrong for drawin dat match." – The investigation, we rather imagine, will take place on Arsenal's training ground this very morning.

"I think Dowd should be investigated to see if his actions are financially motivated or to see if he has a pattern of mainly penalising [certain] players. It seems like his actions could be racially motivated." – Does it? They aren't.

"Sir Alex told Pardew to get Djourou injured." – No he didn't.

"Yesterday we saw the actions of a corrupt and incompetent referee who punished the foreigners." – Didn’t he send England’s Michael Dawson off last week?

"Did anyone realise that as soon as the Geordie scum scored the fourth goal, they stopped attacking. I can only wonder why. Maybe, just maybe that’s what they had their money on. Every time they went forward they looked liked they were going to score, so why did they not try to win the game?" – Clearly, then, Match of the Day are also in on it, as they showed Kevin Nolan screwing wide an injury-time shot that would have won the home side the match.

"What's happening to AFC is exactly like in America when you try to question 9/11 - you are immediately called a nut case. In England it is there for everyone to see, yet somehow we’re always the whingers or paranoid." – Exactly the same...? That's... just... Good Lord...

FFT recognises that these comments almost certainly don't reflect the views of most sane, non-paranoid Arsenal fans. Please do not send flaming dog-poop in the post. Again.

Premier League officialsThere’s really no point putting a heaving downer on what was a compelling and fascinating weekend’s action by dwelling on the many, many brain-straining decisions made by referees and linesmen – apart from anything else, everybody else will be doing it. Suffice to say the standard of officiating in the Sky League is poor, and will probably in time prove to be to the detriment of English sides in Europe and the national team. But that’s probably a dribbling rant for another day…

West Brom’s boardWhile we aren’t privy to exactly what was going on in the Baggies dressing room – with some journalists ‘in the know’ suggesting Roberto Di Matteo may have rather absent-mindedly ‘lost’ it – disposing of the Italian at this stage of the season does seem a little harsh, even if their current form (one win and one draw in their last seven Premier League matches) is poor. It seems pretty unlikely that, had Albion’s 26 points been spread more evenly across the season, he’d be given the heave-ho. After all, Bolton have also only taken only four points from their last seven league matches and nobody is calling for Owen Coyle’s head.

WolvesYeah, that’s right – villains. If they had managed to continually beat the bottom-dwellers rather than the elite, Wolves would probably be out of the bottom three and stand a far greater chance of avoiding the drop. Pick your battles, chaps.