It was a bad weekend of Fergie, Noisy Neighbours and Fallen Foxes

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Simon Carter names those who suffered most in domestic football on Saturday and Sunday...

The announcement of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and David Moyes’ subsequent appointment at Manchester United has cast a long shadow over football this week, while fans everywhere digested the news and tried to imagine a Fergie-less era. Whether you were a United fan in mourning, a Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal or Manchester City supporter with a broad smile or simply a shell-shocked fan from elsewhere, Ferguson’s retirement seemed to overshadow everything else.

That included the actual football played this weekend. In the build-up to the FA Cup final, participating players and staff were quizzed on their views of Ferguson (as were Andre Villas-Boas and Rafa Benitez before last Wednesday’s crucial fixture at Stamford Bridge). United’s dead rubber home game against Swansea – Ferguson’s last at Old Trafford – was touted as the only game that mattered on an otherwise important weekend.

But that’s not to say that the focus on Ferguson (and to a lesser extent, David Moyes’ farewell to Goodison Park) was a bad thing. After all, given everything the man has achieved he deserves a weekend dedicated to his honour. Top-flight football in England will be much the poorer without the relentless chewing of gum, furious watch tapping and increasingly delayed goal celebrations as age has taken hold.

For people of a certain age, nay, people of any age, Ferguson has been a constant point of reference for so long that it’s unimaginable, weird even, to think of a Manchester United side not led by the fiery Glaswegian. United fan or not, Ferguson’s presence in the Old Trafford dugout has been a comforting, albeit sometimes infuriating, one.

And to think that this time last week all we were concerned about was a piddling eight-way Premier League relegation battle and pulsating end to the Championship season. It all seems so long ago now.

In the event it was an emotional day at Old Trafford, to the point where the 90 minutes of football – as good as United’s 2-1 win over Swansea was - seemed to get in the way. Even the presentation of the Premier League trophy felt like a needless distraction. It was a day for United fans to show their enormous gratitude to the man who has changed their club forever, and one to say goodbye (for the second time) to Paul Scholes, who would have appreciated his manager taking 99 per cent of the limelight.

Alex Ferguson – love him or loathe him – will be missed by everyone in English and European football, so let’s end this tribute with the words of the man himself, addressing the Old Trafford crowd for the last time: “It’s been an unbelievable experience for all of us.”

The Noisy Neighbours
It seems strange to say, in a world where ESPN started their coverage at 08:00 on Saturday, that the FA Cup final wasn’t given the build-up it deserved. But with Ferguson dominating proceedings, even this game felt like something of an after thought. For those involved with Manchester City, the focus on Ferguson will have been particularly needling.

But worse still, when the spotlight was off Ferguson it was turned to Wigan Athletic, the archetypal plucky underdogs. From their relatively recent incredible rise through the leagues to chairman Dave Whelan’s own FA Cup history (as you will know by now he broke his leg during the 1960 FA Cup final where his Blackburn Rovers side were beaten), the Latics were the only topic of conversation for those with romantic desires.
For once the “noisy neighbours” were very quiet.

And quiet they would remain as a strangely muted City side rarely showed their class before being beaten by Ben Watson’s injury-time header to give Wigan their first-ever FA Cup.

As if losing the FA Cup from a position of clear favourites wasn’t bad enough for Roberto Mancini, by Sunday afternoon the BBC were confidently reporting he would be sacked within the week and replaced by Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini, despite the Italian’s post-match protestations to the contrary.

But it wasn’t all champagne and dancing for Wigan either. Yes, Saturday was a great day, but Sunday saw the threat of relegation grow larger than ever as Sunderland, Southampton, Newcastle and Norwich all picked up at least a point (the latter two winning to guarantee safety). It’s a lot to ask, but if Wigan do not beat Arsenal tomorrow night they will almost certainly be relegated. Lose, and it is confirmed.

So, What Else Happened?

With Ferguson, Moyes and the FA Cup dominating the weekend to such an extent, it was possible to forget that the rest of the Premier League still had jobs to do. And, unusually, most clubs will be happy with their work. The likes of Newcastle and Norwich will be delighted with their wins, while QPR and West Brom won’t be harmed by defeats. Ditto Stoke City and West Ham, who were beaten by Tottenham and Everton respectively. Even Fulham, beaten 3-1 at home by Liverpool courtesy of Daniel Sturridge’s excellent hat-trick, won’t be too heartbroken given Wigan’s situation.

A bad weekend for lovers of drama then, right? Erm, no.

Fallen Foxes
You just have to know where to look, and as usual, all of the drama was in the Championship. Watford, who last week narrowly missed out on promotion, hosted Leicester in the play-off semi-final second leg, trailing 1-0 on aggregate. A brace from Matej Vydra, including a wonderful opening goal, had put the home side 2-1 ahead on the day (2-2 on aggregate) when Leicester won a last-minute penalty when Anthony Knockaert fell in the box.

Knockaert stepped up and smashed the ball directly at Manuel Almunia (and then again from the rebound) to send the game into extra time. Or so it would seem. With screams of the crazy League One curtain closer between Brentford and Doncaster Rovers two weeks ago, Watford counter-attacked and Troy Deeney, sent off in Watford’s final league game, thumped a winner past Kasper Schmeichel to book the Hornets’ place at Wembley and break Gary Lineker’s heart.

What a strange and magical weekend. Let’s turn to Ferguson again for the final word: “Football… bloody hell.”