Bad Weekend For: Celebrations, match-balls and Perspex

It was a bad weekend for...

Luis Suarez
Much, perhaps too much, has been written about Liverpool’s start to life under Brendan Rodgers and the stuttering manner in which they have adapted to the change in style from the more direct approach favoured by previous manager Kenny Dalglish.

While the Anfield men have meandered their way to 13th in the Premier League following yesterday’s creditable 1-1 draw at Chelsea, there have been a number of bright spots – the performance against Manchester City, the 5-2 win at Norwich, the emergence of Raheem Sterling and the development of Luis Suarez into a potent goal threat.

Up until this season, the controversial Uruguayan had scored just 15 league goals in 44 appearances since his move from Ajax in January 2011. His equalising goal against Chelsea made it 8 in just 11 games this season – an excellent return. So why was this a bad weekend for the Liverpool No.7?

Away from Anfield it’s rare for Suarez to touch the ball without the opposition fans straining their vocal cords to boo him. His reputation as a diver and a cheat, as well as the more unsavoury allegations about his character, have made him a marked man. This is something that Suarez seems to thrive on – see his ‘dive’ celebration in the Merseyside derby against Everton.

But it seems that he is not that popular even with his own team-mates.

Following his 73rd-minute equaliser yesterday, Suarez barrelled away to the corner flag, celebrating wildly into the camera. As he turned round, arms spread wide to greet his onrushing teammates, he instead saw the rest of the Liverpool team jogging back to their own half. Not a single player went to celebrate with him.

In the latest issue of FourFourTwo, ‘The Player’ talks about the way teams react to goals, pointing out that you can tell how highly a player is thought of by the way the team celebrates their scoring feats. In his words, “if it’s an egotistical player who thinks he’s carrying the team, the mood will be different [to when a popular player scores].”

In the new issue: Goals, goals, goals – Leo Messi, Radamel Falcao, Micky Quinn and more

It’s arguable that Suarez is in fact carrying this Liverpool team. And it’s possible that his team-mates were weary from the effort required to keep Chelsea to one goal and then fashion an equaliser. But to an outsider looking in, it would appear that Luis Suarez is even unpopular among his own workmates.

Chicharito’s match ball
It’s an understandable desire of formerly great teams to try and revive past glories. The memory of better days keeps the likes of Liverpool, Preston, Nottingham Forest and Leeds demanding more than their current lot.

One team who certainly have magical glory days in their history is Aston Villa – Ron Saunders, the European Cup and all that – which makes their re-enactment of January 6th 2002 all the more puzzling.

On that day, a decade and more ago, Villa hosted Manchester United in the FA Cup Third Round. When Phil Neville headed the ball past his own keeper, the home side were 2-0 up and cruising to the next round at the expense of the Premier League champions, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ruud van Nistelrooy scored three goals in five minutes to knock the Villans out.

Though there was arguably less at stake in this Saturday’s tea-time kick-off, it's not hyperbole to toss around words such as heartbreak and devastation. Villa fans feel that they haven't had their share of good moments recently so the elation of a 2-0 lead over United was an unfamiliar but welcome feeling.

United manager Alex Ferguson deployed his half-time substitute Javier Hernandez to great effect. First the Mexican dug the ball from under his feet to bring the visitors back into the game before his goal bound shot was deflected in by the unfortunate Ron Vlaar.

At 2-2 the home side had their moments, notably a hat-trick chance for Andreas Weimann, but there was a crushing inevitability in Hernandez’s late headed winner.

As soon as the final whistle went, Hernandez grabbed the match ball – as is customary after a hat-trick – but with all sources, including the referee, declaring United’s second an own goal for Ron Vlaar, Chicharito can expect a strong letter from the Premier League asking for their ball back.

Wolves’ Perspextive
The little-known curse of Bad Weekend struck again this weekend. The curse, which seems only to affect teams in The Championship, has been slaying victims since Birmingham were first featured on these pages way back in September. The Blues had just limped to a 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest when we reported on their shaky start the season; the following Saturday, they found themselves 5-0 down at half-time at home to Barnsley.

The curse has affected others in the second tier: Ipswich, whose manager Paul Jewell resigned just days after we said he would; Owen Coyle, who found himself turfed out of Bolton just days after his Bad Weekend debut; Blackpool, who lost Ian Holloway immediately after FFT’s prediction; and now Wolves.

Last week, we sadly reported that Wolves were so hopeless at hanging onto a lead that they had cost themselves a healthy cushion at the top of the table. With the curse hanging over them, Wolves were helpless to stop themselves twice throwing away a lead at home to Brighton on Saturday before the away side joined in, throwing away their own 3-2 lead to let Wolves equalise through Roger Johnson in the final minute.

Manager Stale Solbakken was so infuriated with Craig Mackail-Smith’s equaliser to square the game at 1-1 that he punched a hole in the roof of his dugout. When asked after the game if the Perspex was OK, a confused Solbakken could only reply that “prospects are good.”

Woe is Leeds
There has rarely been a dull moment for fans of Leeds United this season. Regulars have seen on average around three goals per game – and some of those moments have been fantastic, like League Cup wins over Premier League Everton and Southampton, the see-saw 3-3 draw with Blackburn and the opening day win over Wolves.

But every silver lining has a cloud and the good moments have been shadowed by incidences of incompetency, disaster and controversy. As well as poor moments on the pitch (they recorded only one win in five in October) there have been moments to forget away from the football – remember the fan who attacked Sheffield Wednesday’s Chris Kirkland?

It would be hard to argue, however, that Leeds fans have had to endure much worse than Saturday’s home defeat to Watford. The sides went into this fixture level on points and the locals had every reason to be confident, given Watford’s inconsistency.

Going into half-time, Leeds were a goal behind when Jason Pearce was given his marching orders. Neil Warnock used the break to tell his sides to attack at all costs, convinced he could win the game even with 10 men. Admirable, perhaps, but when they were reduced to nine men following Rodolph Austin’s leg break (Leeds having already used all three substitutions), it would have made sense for Warnock to instruct his men to shut up shop.

Whether unable to corral his men into a defensive formation or unwilling to surrender the game, the Leeds boss stood helpless as the visitors ran in five second-half goals. A gloomy day for Leeds was brightened only briefly by a Michael Tonge penalty which left the final score at 1-6.

Indications are that a proposed takeover is imminent but with upcoming fixtures against three of the top six sides, Leeds fans should be just as worried about their footballing future as they are about their financial one.

Surprised Stevenage
Up until Saturday afternoon, this had been a fine season for Stevenage under manager Gary Smith. After a season of consolidation last time out following a promotion, their League One campaign had a look of real promise.

Until Graham Westley showed up. Though his managerial methods divide people, Westley will go down in Stevenage’s history as the man who led them into the Football League for the very first time. His second spell at the club was an unqualified success, reaching two FA Trophy finals (winning one) and securing promotions to League Two and then to League One.

In January of this year, Westley departed Broadhall Way to manage Preston and this weekend, for the first time, he took his new side to his former home.

Given Preston’s inconsistency this season, most would have seen an away victory as unlikely but on more than one occasion this term, Stevenage have crumbled at home. The 4-1 loss on Saturday was the third time in all competitions that they have conceded four goals in a home fixture and despite a great win at Yeovil last time out, it was actually the second successive home league game where this has happened.

Before October’s 4-0 home defeat to Swindon, the Boro had been undefeated at home in the league and with the next two visitors to Broadhall Way being league leaders Tranmere and play-off rivals Crawley, Gary Smith will be hoping to recapture the fortress spirit.

Basement Beatings
There is a strong case to be made for League Two being the most optimistic and open league in the English professional game. While the upper reaches of the Premier League are a relatively closed shop, and with parachute payments regularly skewing competition in the Championship, a division where four teams are promoted and only two are relegated each season can often be a place of joy.

But when your team is on the end of a beating, it can be a very grim place indeed. Rotherham’s season took a surprising turn on Saturday when they visited Dagenham & Redbridge. Manager Steve Evans described their 5-0 defeat as a “shambles from start to finish” and a performance that was “as poor as it could be”.

Elsewhere, Barnet’s Edgar Davids-inspired run of form came to a grinding halt as Morecambe thumped them 4-1. The defeat was made all the worse by relegation rivals AFC Wimbledon recording a resounding 3-0 victory at a shellshocked York.

The most disappointing result of the day perhaps goes to Accrington, who fought back from a goal down to lead Northampton 2-1 going into the final 20 minutes. But three goals in seven minutes from the visitor (including a second and third for hat-trick hero Adebayo Akinfenwa) meant that Stanley were left licking their wounds. Maybe they could do with a glass of milk.