Heroes & Villains: Buckles, shackles, satire and sushi
James Maw casts aspersions and acclamations form the weekend's Premier League action...
From the moment the England internationalÃ¢ÂÂs 65th minute free-kick snuck inside Rob GreenÃ¢ÂÂs near post to halve Manchester UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs deficit at Upton Park, you just knew they would complete the job. And Rooney Ã¢ÂÂ the hero of the hour, or more specifically 14 minutes Ã¢ÂÂ personifies the staunch resilience and bloody-mindedness that prevents Sir Alex FergusonÃ¢ÂÂs side from ever believing they are beaten. Just as it seemed the league leaders may be about to let Arsenal back into the title race, RooneyÃ¢ÂÂs intervention heaped pressure on Arsenal, who buckled against Blackburn five hours later.
After a slow and acrimonious start to the season, Rooney has now crept into the top 10 of the Premier LeagueÃ¢ÂÂs goalscoring charts and is edging back towards last season's form: 34 goals and the PFA Player of the Year Award. In fact, this is now RooneyÃ¢ÂÂs second-best Premier League season in terms of goals per game. RooneyÃ¢ÂÂs second goal Ã¢ÂÂ a superb shot across Green after a first touch so good it left two West Ham players for dead Ã¢ÂÂ was the pick of the bunch. Not that that was what the papers concentrated on...
The Italian's switch to a 4-4-2 from his usual and more conservative 4-3-2-1 seemed to catch Sunderland by surprise. With Spurs and Liverpool both faltering this weekend, Manchester City's win was a huge step towards achieving their primary goal: Champions League football next season.
While SunderlandÃ¢ÂÂs defensive display was halfway from woeful to suicidal, this shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt detract from what was a far more dynamic and entertaining performance from a Manchester City side who maybe, just maybe, have finally thrown off the shackles. Either that or theyÃ¢ÂÂll switch back to having three defensive midfielders at Anfield next week and draw 0-0...
Remember The Time Bobby Zamora had his leg broken by a Dangerous Karl Henry tackle in September? Being ruled out for over half the season no doubt made Bobby want to Scream, and it left Fulham in a bit of a Jam for the first half of the campaign. But the striker returned to Heal the World Ã¢ÂÂ by which, of course, we mean FulhamÃ¢ÂÂs season Ã¢ÂÂ scoring twice against Blackpool on his first start in over six months.
His first came when James Beattie's Bad backwards pass saw the ball fall to the sometime England international, who Beat It past Richard Kingson to put the Cottagers into the lead. Minutes later he flicked a Damien Duff free-kick beyond the Ghanaian keeper to double his side's lead. Yeah, we ran out of Michael Jackson puns. Bye.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs hard to remember a world before Kevin Phillips was popping up and for a spot of penalty box foraging Ã¢ÂÂ in fact itÃ¢ÂÂs hard to remember a world before 'Super Kev' was described as a veteran Ã¢ÂÂ but the 37-year-old continues to defy expectations, scoring his 92nd Premier League goal, 12 years after the first. His early strike helped Birmingham to a crucial win over Bolton and might kick-start a season that has stalled since their League Cup win.
Ha ha! Ã¢ÂÂWoyÃ¢ÂÂs WevengeÃ¢ÂÂ, it says here in our morning paper. ItÃ¢ÂÂs funny because he has a slight speech impediment. Brilliant. Beyond such thigh-slappingly stupendous satire, the papers also note that West Brom haven't lost in the six games since Hodgson arrived at The Hawthorns. The rot that had set in under Roberto di Matteo has well and truly been stopped.
'The Media' and their (over)reaction to Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney could perhaps be forgiven for letting off a bit of steam after inspiring Manchester United's sensational (if somewhat unsurprising) turnaround at West Ham, particularly after what you would diplomatically describe as a "difficult" season. Having put United into the lead at Upton Park with a 79th-minute penalty, Rooney screeched an expletive towards the Sky Sports camera being rammed into his mug; cue half the nation acting offended on behalf of the rest.
Some have called for a ban, comparing his actions to those of Didier Drogba after Chelsea's controversial Champions League semi-final defeat to Barcelona in 2009. On that occasion, the striker stared down the barrel of a rubbernecking Sky Sports camera and bellowed "It's a f**king disgrace!" The difference is that Drogba was banned not for that quote but for making insulting comments to the referee: his post-match mega-strop also included a prolonged session of pointing and shouting at Tom Henning Ovrebo.
There are offensive words; malicious, hate-filled ones that target specific groups of people. The word Rooney yelped is so commonplace in modern society Ã¢ÂÂ rightly or wrongly Ã¢ÂÂ that it hardly seems fair to single him for uttering it in the heat of the moment, even if that moment was broadcast into millions of homes on a Saturday lunchtime.
Nemanja Vidic is one of the most respected defenders in Europe, but on some occasions he does a great impression of a lumbering ox. Not for the first time, the Serbian got away with it at Upton Park on Saturday. He could easily have been dismissed for dragging down Demba Ba in the penalty area, denying the Senegalese what seemed a clear goalscoring opportunity (wouldn't have been the case had it been Carlton Cole, mindÃ¢ÂÂ¦). Vidic escaped with just a yellow, and somehow avoided a second booking for having another nibble at the same player in the second half Ã¢ÂÂ which would have left United with a back three of Fabio, Chris Smalling and Ryan Giggs. Fergie and Phelan reverted back to "we cannot question referees" mode. Obviously.
There are so many statistics that underline the extent of TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs penalty-box impotence this season. Harry RedknappÃ¢ÂÂs side have scored 16 fewer league goals this term than they had done at the same stage of the previous season. All three of the Premier League's newly-promoted teams have scored more league goals Ã¢ÂÂ in total, 10 teams have scored more than the Champions League quarter-finalists.
Want more? So does Harry. Tottenham's three strikers have scored just 11 league goals between them all season Ã¢ÂÂ with seven of those (64%) coming from "Russian Misfit Roman Pavlyuchenko". No fewer than 56 players have so far this season scored more than the four Premier League goals that England duo Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe have mustered in a combined 43 top-flight appearances Ã¢ÂÂ including the likes of Stoke centreback Robert Huth (six in 30 matches) and Marlon Harewood of Blackpool (five in 16 Ã¢ÂÂ and he's now on loan at Barnsley).
While, in mitigation, Crouch has provided his fair share of assists and Defoe was forced to sit out 10 weeks of the season with an ankle injury, these factors shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt mask their alarming profligacy in front of goal Ã¢ÂÂ after all, it has probably cost Tottenham another crack at the Champions League next season. Spurs drew their third successive blank at the DW Stadium on Saturday, with Defoe, Pavlyuchnko and Crouch all failing to really test Wigan keeper Ali Al-Habsi. Expect to see Daniel Levy prancing round Europe throwing wads of cash at any striker heÃ¢ÂÂs heard of from June right up until August 31Ã¢ÂÂ¦
The following is an extract from Richard LittlejohnÃ¢ÂÂs latest diatribe against the 21st century:
"IÃ¢ÂÂve said this so many times over the last 15 years or so, but these foreign sorts coming over to play in our sacred and holy league really are causing quite a stink with their devious and underhand diving antics.
"Take this Eastern European sounding chap, Jagielka. His tumble under little if any contact from VillaÃ¢ÂÂs brave British battler John McEwan at Goodison on Saturday resulted in a penalty from which Everton levelled the score at 2-2.
[A phone rings] "Hello? Sale, Greater Manchester you say? Eight England caps, eh? OhÃ¢ÂÂ¦"
*EditorÃ¢ÂÂs note: It isnÃ¢ÂÂt really. Littlejohn was probably far too busy furiously waving his fist at his local sushi bar and spitting at any passing Toyota to have seen this weekendÃ¢ÂÂs Premier League action.
By his own admission, Aston VillaÃ¢ÂÂs Kyle Walker had a bit of a stinker in SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs 2-2 draw at Goodison. On his personal Twitter account the full-back Ã¢ÂÂ on loan from Spurs Ã¢ÂÂ declared that it could have been Ã¢ÂÂthe worst game I have ever played.Ã¢ÂÂ Perhaps thatÃ¢ÂÂs not such a bold statement, given the speed of his ascent during his fledgling career.
A first-half back-header to Brad Friedel lacked the necessary power and allowed EvertonÃ¢ÂÂs Jermaine Beckford a clear run at goal, although fortunately for Walker Ã¢ÂÂ if unsurprisingly for many Ã¢ÂÂ the Everton striker failed to capitalise. However, having clearly not learned his lesson from being caught on the ball earlier in the first half, Walker again opted to try and waltz out of the back four with the ball at his feet Ã¢ÂÂ this time being dispossessed by Leon Osman, who didnÃ¢ÂÂt make the same mistake as Beckford and powered the ball beyond Brad Friedel.
Walker is, of course, a very young defender who should only benefit from the lessons learnt from this game and others. The problem for Villa is that they may well not be the ones to feel the benefit further down the line...