Heroes & Villains: Spike, Joey and Jessie

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James Maw is back on the beat bringing you the best and worst of this weekend's Premier League action


Asmir Begovic
Although Chelsea’s Fernando Torres was rather charitably handed the Man of the Match award after not looking utterly hapless for the first time in about 12 months, Stoke’s Bosnian net-tender was surely the star of Sunday’s stalemate.

The 24-year-old put in a performance so good he even went to the effort of making a spectacular save from a shot that was offside and not going in anyway. He also saved each of the seven second-half shots on target that actually would’ve counted, which seems somewhat more worthwhile…

Charlie Adam
The Scot pulled more strings than a professional yo-yoer during the first half of Liverpool’s draw with Sunderland, even if he did fade a tad as the game wore on. Being able to hit the heights for the whole 90 minutes rather than just in fits and starts is quite possibly the difference between being a star for Blackpool and a star for Liverpool, and finding a way of improving the 25-year-old’s staying power will be one of Kenny Dalglish’s priorities in the coming months.

Wes Brown

The Manchester United old-boy enjoyed a debut that went a long way to proving that not being able to hold down a place at Old Trafford does not a bad player make, helping new club Sunderland pinch what many will have seen as an unlikely point from their trip to Liverpool. With the defensive problems facing Sir Alex Ferguson in the coming weeks, the Scot will perhaps wish he still had Brown at his disposal.

Mick McCarthy (and Wolves)

Wolverhampton Wanderers were just a whisker from dropping through the Premier League's trap door 12 weeks back, and most pundits had the Molineux Men down as relegation contenders once again.
Yet an opening day win at Ewood Park on Saturday could set the tone for a slightly more comfortable campaign. The permanent signing of Jamie O’Hara looks a shrewd piece of business, while the capture of assured centre-back Roger Johnson has the potential to be one of the deals of the summer.

Coming from behind to win is always a sign of impressive resilience – though they'll hope not to wait seven weeks for their second league win, as they had to last term.
Plus, this week's 'stupid answer to a relatively sensible question' award goes to the man from Yorkshireland. When asked how big a player midfielder Matt Jarvis would be for his side this season, Slick Mick replied "about 5 ft 8in, like last season."

It's like Spike Milligan never left us...

Gary Cahill
The Sheffield-born defender has this summer been linked with Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal but, while it is understood Bolton may be keen to sell to free up funds to reinvest in other areas, Owen Coyle will be glad business has, as of yet, been slow.

As always, Cahill led from the back as the Bolton burst out of the blocks with an arguably unfairly emphatic 4-0 victory at Loftus Road. The England centre-back showed the way he likes to play football – encouraged, presumably, by Coyle – by joining in with an attack and elegantly bending the opener past ruddy-cheeked gloveman Paddy Kenny from fully 20 yards.

Coyle is still seeking strikers; in the absence of Daniel Sturridge and Johan Elmander, many wondered how Wanderers would score goals. The answer appears to be "a centre-back, an own-goal, a deflected shot and one from a bloke who's scored three goals in three years".


Newcastle United & Arsenal

These two served up a dog of a match so wretched you'd have it put down, were it genuinely canine. On the face of it, a draw wasn't a terrible result for either side, but the attacking display of both teams will be cause for concern for their respective managers.
 Moreover, the managers may worry about the lack of discipline that saw one player sent off and two more escape a similar fate. And perhaps unsurprisingly, given his history and the events of the summer, Joey Barton was the centre of all the controversy.

If there's anything more stupid than one of your midfielders rising to Barton's bait and lashing out at the Newcastle man, it's allowing it to happen twice in successive seasons. 
Arsenal's Abou Diaby was dismissed for lashing out at the Magpies' tweeter-in-chief back in February, but you sense Arsene Wenger may not have reminded his side not to allow themselves to be wound-up by the Scouse scamp. Not least when Alex Song stamped – or rather stood – on his opponent following a midfield tussle in Saturday evening's re-match at St James'. Arsenal were lucky to escape without going down to 10 on that occasion, but that luck was to run out half an hour later.

When Joey Barton (yes, him again) reacted with fury to what he perceived to be a dive in the penalty area by the Gunners debutant Gervinho, all hell broke loose. The former Manchester City midfielder dragged the Ivorian to his feet, leading to a melee involving 10 or 12 players, during which the Arsenal forward threw an 'open-handed punch' (or slap, as it's more commonly known) at his accuser.

Barton tumbled to the deck in a particularly hypocritical fashion and was perhaps a tad lucky to not be sent for an early bath for the combination of grappling and 'attempting to deceive an official'.

Indeed, Arsenal could in theory complain that they should have been awarded a penalty, given Barton’s manhandling of Gervinho occurred in the 18-yard box. Newcastle would, of course, claim a free-kick should have been awarded for the ‘dive’, which of course Arsenal would dismiss as a natural tumble, given the nick the forward received from Chieck Tiote. The whole thing could just go on and on for the rest of time until only cockroaches and the FA’s appeal panel remain...

Regardless, Gervinho should have known better than to plant his hand in an opponent's face and that, combined with the ‘dive’, was probably enough to warrant his dismissal one way or another. And at the end of the piece, given Song and Barton both had a lucky escape, perhaps some kind of ugly justice was done.

Speaking after the game, Alan Pardew explained that he felt Barton was 'calm' throughout the match. As calm as Clapham Junction at about nine o'clock last Monday night, perhaps...

De Gea-bashing bandwagoners
While there’s no question Manchester United’s rookie keeper should have done better in dealing with Shane Long’s relatively tame first half strike, there’s also no question he deserves better than the semi-hammering he has taken in this morning’s papers.

“United’s calamity keeper spared again” roars the Sun, while the Mirror refers to the 20-year-old as ‘dodgy De Gea’, with reports elsewhere highlighting how uncomfortable he looked when being elbowed in the head, the big Jessie…

QPR’s owners

Starting your first Premier League season in 15 with a defeat is one thing, but getting under way with a comprehensive home gubbing to a side who finished 13th last season and have two of their best players missing is quite another.

Yet it’s hard to not have sympathy for Hoops boss Neil Warnock, who has been particularly hamstrung by the dithering behind the scenes at the West London club. The protracted sale of the Shepherd’s Bush side has seen a chronic lack of investment from the multitude of sugar daddies filling the Loftus Road directors’ box, and that has left Warnock with a back four who look more likely to trouble Derby County’s record for most goals conceded in the Premier League than the division’s upper reaches.

Then there’s the ticket prices – oh lord, the ticket prices. Despite Saturday’s game being the Rs' first top-flight fixture in a decade and a half, there were 3,000 empty seats, seats that may well have been full had the average ticket not cost £47.

Fortunately for Hoops fans it seems as though a takeover may be completed in the coming days; they'll just have to hope the damage hasn’t already been done.

Kieran Richardson
It’s OK, this one's about football. The ever-popular midfielder-come-defender-come… wherever it is he plays nowadays had a particularly inauspicious start to the new season.

The former Manchester United man conceded an early penalty for a foul on Luis Suarez, and was then fortunate on two counts; firstly that he wasn’t red-carded for hauling down the Liverpool forward with no other defender around to deny the Uruguayan a clear shot at goal, and secondly that the former Ajax star spurned the chance to give the Reds an early lead from the resultant spot-kick.

Still, Richardson was punished minutes later, when his lack of positional awareness saw Suarez ghost in to nod Liverpool in front. Richardson somehow managed to both play Suarez onside and give the Liverpool forward acres of space to head a Charlie Adam free-kick past Simon Mignolet and into the net.