Heroes & Villains: Thugs, ducks and an old dog

Just to forewarn you, if you were expecting this to be a Carling Cup Special - it ain't. This is strictly a Premier League Heroes and Villains blog. If you want Carling Cup Heroes & Villains, check out any other website/newspaper/pub conversation. Oh, go on then…

Heroes: GiantSerbNikolaZigic, Stephen Carr, Alex McLeish, Jack Wilshere. Villains: Laurent Koscielny, Jean Beausejour, Derek Acorah, whichever schmuck at Sky decided to involve Derek Acorah.



Scott Parker
There used to be a player in the Premier League called Steven Gerrard, and he had this whole Roy of the Rovers schtick down to a tee – scoring wonder goals, running the midfield, dragging his side to glory against all odds. Scott Parker is somehow doing almost as impressive a job of it at the current-day West Ham, despite being hampered by a vastly less talented supporting cast and not winning the European Cup. Or that many football matches.

There can be no overstating the brilliance of the England midfielder’s opener against Liverpool on Sunday – although the game was on Sky, so naturally they had a crack. Having quickly exchanged passes with Lars Jacobsen and then Thomas Hitzlsperger, Parker then deftly scored with the outside of his right boot – elegantly arching it around the despairing grasp of Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal and just inside the far post.

But that opening goal was on the cherry on top of a dynamic and determined performance that inspired the Irons to a crucial three points against a team who had only conceded once in their last seven matches.

Javier Hernandez
Clinical is probably the best word to describe Chicarito – even at his tender age and with his relatively little experience, the Mexican is already starting to look one of the Premier League’s deadliest players inside the penalty area. He certainly ‘knows where the goal is’, to coin a punditry phrase which seems to be damning with faint praise. Hernandez scored twice as Manchester United strolled to yet another comfortable victory over Wigan, and could have been handed the opportunity to test himself against some of United’s fiercest rivals – if Wayne Rooney had been punished for his shenanigans at the DW.

Danny Sturridge
Much like Hernandez, Sturridge is a young striker with the world (or at least the Premier League) at his feet. A fourth goal in four appearances for Bolton earned the Trotters a point at Newcastle and kept Owen Coyle’s side in contention for a spot in next season’s Europa League – although Birmingham’s League Cup triumph means that pending events in the FA Cup, only a top-five finish will secure a European berth.

With Chelsea’s forwards all struggling to find goalscoring form, in the short term Carlo Ancelotti may rue letting the England under-21 hotshot out on loan, although there is clearly evidence that in the longer term he has already identified a perfect foil for Fernando Torres.

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake
While it can hardly be said that Ebanks-Blake has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water over he past 18 months, he’s certainly starting to show signs of being able to swim, rather than sink, at this level. At Molineux on Saturday the former Manchester United trainee certainly made a splash (OK, we’re done now with the aquatic puns) as he came off the bench to score his fifth and sixth league goals of the season in Wolves’ emphatic 4-0 win over Blackpool.

His second of the afternoon was particularly impressive – using first his right foot to shift the ball past Craig Cathcart, then his left to stroke the ball across Tangerines keeper Richard Kingson and into the bottom corner.

Robert Pires
He may not have the same swashbuckling pace and dynamism that made him one of the Premier League’s most feared midfielders during his Arsenal heyday, but his usage of the ball in Aston Villa’s emphatic win over Blackburn was a sign that perhaps there’s life in the old dog yet – albeit in a vastly different role.


Wayne Rooney
It's almost impossible to understand why Wayne Rooney – slowly but surely chuntering back towards form – decided it would be a laugh riot to plant a forearm/elbow into the side of Wigan midfielder James McCarthy’s head. Short of trying to quell a hostage situation, it’s hard to think of an instance when such action is excusable – but this was particularly pointless, seemingly coming without provocation and with no discernible benefit for Rooney.

His act of mindless thuggery is certainly worthy of a retrospective ban, but the FA seem to be saying he'll get away with it – just like fellow England face Steven Gerrard got away with similar against Portsmouth last season.

Mike Phelan
Speaking on Match of the Day (because, of course, the manager won't) about the Rooney incident: “The referee saw what he saw and he kept the game rolling. We can’t dispute a referee’s decision – he’s kept the game flowing and we’re happy with that. I don’t know whether there should be a witch hunt [for Rooney] – we have referees out there to take charge of the situation. I thought he [Clattenburg] was consistent today with all his decisions, be it good or bad. I think we should lie low a bit and let the referees take control of the game.”
Cut and paste the above and then read it back next time Manchester United fail to win a game in anything approaching contentious circumstances.

Dudley Campbell
It was almost like some Premier League strikers had spent Friday night out on the Stella, as Dudley Campbell also got involved in some over-physical shenanigans (Lawyer’s note: The Premier League’s strikers were almost certainly not out ‘on the Stella’ on Friday evening, and Stella Artois is a delectable beverage which dances on the palate and certainly does not induce violence). While there’s no question Dudley was on the receiving end of a shove from Richard Stearman, that can be no excuse for jamming his hands into the Wolves man’s face.

The striker’s first-half dismissal proved costly, with the Seasiders' resultant 4-0 defeat leaving Wolves and the relegation zone just four points adrift of them. The striker will also most likely now face a three-game ban – which would rule him out of matches against Chelsea, Blackburn and Fulham – so the price for his belligerence may not yet be fully paid.

Keith Andrews
For a brief moment, the Ireland midfielder had a funny turn and thought he was Johan Cruyff – opting to try to twist and turn his way out of his own area, rather than doing what a player of his ilk is supposed to do and HOOF THE SODDING BALL OUT OF HARM’S WAY! Then, before he could say something in a comedic yet offensive cod-Dutch accent or refuse to play in the 1978 World Cup, Andrews had conceded possession – and then a penalty, a goal and the game.

Steven Gerrard
By Stevie G’s standards, Sunday’s showing at Upton Park was particularly poor, and was summed up by a half-arsed dive in the West Ham box which seemed to embarrass even Gerrard himself. The Liverpool linchpin misplaced 20 of his 69 passes at the Boleyn Ground – the worst stats racked up by a Liverpool player in a Sky League match this season. And when you consider how woeful the Reds were in the first half of the campaign, that’s quite a feat.

Roberto Mancini & Mark Hughes
Somewhere, buried in all the excitement of the goings on at Upton Park and Wembley, there was another match on Sunday afternoon. Man City manager Roberto Mancini caused a bit of a hubbub by supposedly not being ‘sincere’ enough in his handshake with Fulham’s Mark Hughes after their sides drew 1-1 at Eastlands. The former City boss was clearly riled by Mancini looking in completely the opposite direction as the Italian extended his arm towards his opposite number. Of course, Hughes shouldn’t escape criticism – he’s making a bit of a habit of getting involved in this nonsense, having already refused to shake Tony Pulis’ hand after his side’s League Cup defeat at Stoke in September.

Villa’s banner brigade
Knee-deep in a relegation scrap? Pah! A 4-1 win over Blackburn which saw their side move up into twelfth place? Who cares!? To a small group of Villa fans, it was far more important to stay up all night making a banner wishing Arsenal luck for Sunday’s League Cup final against their arch-rivals Birmingham City. You support a football club who have won the European Cup. Just let it go, for the love of God…