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Best & Worst of the weekend: Swansea & Manchester United/Bolton


Swansea’s performance against Arsenal

Such is the nature of the media in this country, I’m sure that most of the emphasis will be placed on Arsenal’s shortcomings – but really, the visitors were only as good as they were allowed to be.

The criticism of Swansea this season has been that despite their concentration of possession, they haven’t always used it particularly decisively. Not so yesterday; the triangles, the pretty patterns, the two touch play – it all seemed to have far more purpose yesterday. A cutting edge. Swansea were excellent and fully-deserved the three points.

A minor point but an important one; the reflex reaction to Theo Walcott’s equaliser was probably the most impressive moment of the game. There are too many sides in the league, and not just newly-promoted ones, who would have become very negative after such a concession. Passive play in the face of big reputation opposition is a default setting for a lot of teams – but Brendan Rodgers’ side showed the benefits of sticking to an original gameplan. Attack with pace, deploy as much movement in and around a shakey visiting defence, and hassle the opposition when they’re in possession in their own defensive third.

Two lovely finishes from Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham as well…


Peter Walton’s failure to send off Zat Knight

Every week.

At least when refereeing decisions are given in Manchester United’s favour there’s a semblance of explanation for them. Not so here.

Danny Welbeck is in on goal – or in ref-parlance ‘has a clear goal-scoring opportunity’ – and Zat Knight impedes him. It’s a penalty and it’s a red card. It’s not even contestable. Had the defender been dismissed by Walton, then not even the most partisan of Bolton fans could’ve found an argument to dispute the decision.

The saving grace of course, is that the decision didn’t effect the result of the game, but that doesn’t excuse it. With every decision like this, a new precedent is set – another example that confuses what should be a really straight-forward issue. Last-man commits a foul? Off he goes.

I’ve heard all the arguments about how difficult the job is, how many cameras there are scrutinising, the pace of the game etc – but sorry, this was just a clear failure to apply the rules. Ineptitude at its worst.

Segue out of that quickly – who read Richard Scudamore’s comments about refereeing this morning? Here, if you missed them.

Best & worst of the weekend: Liverpool, Wolves & Southampton/Brighton


Craig Bellamy’s pass to Maxi Rodriguez.

Simple but game-defining. Given the way that Chelsea are defending at the moment, it’s not surprising that the tone for yesterday’s game was set by a mistake – and Bellamy was key to ensuring that Liverpool profited from it.
The one-two with Luis Suarez may have created the opportunity, but the lay-off to Maxi made sure that it was converted. I wrote yesterday that Craig Bellamy is the perennially undervalued player, and he gave us another example of why – how many players in that position would have slashed the ball at goal rather than up the percentages with a pass to a teammate? If Andy Carroll had started, and found himself in that position, Liverpool would’ve gone in level at half-time.
Plaudits to Bellamy obviously, but also to Kenny Dalglish for recognising the time and the place to deploy one of his less-heralded Summer signings.


Mick McCarthy’s post-match interview

Oh be quiet. McCarthy’s ‘not maybe, definitely’ passive-aggressive approach to his post-match interview may have been symptomatic of the pressure that he’s currently under, but even so. Penalty box shenanigans are one of the greyest areas of the rule book, but Stephen Ward did foul Louis Saha – soft or not, it’s a penalty. Please don’t tell me that if that happens down the other end, that McCarthy’s not howling for a penalty himself – and complaining if it’s not given.
Look at the rule-book, it’s a penalty.

Honourable mention…

Peter Walton’s performance in the Southampton/Brighton game

So it’s not often that Championship football features in these pages, nor are expletives commonly-used, but Walton’s refereeing was an utter fucking disgrace. Five different penalty decisions, probably four of them wrong – and one of which was a laughably inept collaboration between referee and linesman. As you know from the previous paragraph, I’m not an advocate of the hounding of officials, but when they perform as poorly as they did at St Mary’s, it equates to a disservice to everybody involved – fans, players, managers.
Find the highlights, watch them, feel confused.

Best & Worst of the weekend: QPR & Manchester United


Paddy Kenny’s save from Barry Bannan’s free-kick

This was much more impressive than it actually looks. One of the trade-offs a goalkeeper makes by setting a wall, is that they sacrifice the ability to properly see the ball at the point of contact. That’s why if the free-kick taker gets the ball ‘up-and-down’ well enough, you’ll often see a goalkeeper watch the ball into the net rather than make any motion to actually save it. The keeper can’t really see the ball, it’s pace, or its trajectory until it reaches the top of the wall, which cuts the keeper’s required reaction-time down dramatically. A strong left hand – on his wrong side – that kept the ball both out of his net and away from danger. Top marks.

The sub-plot to this, is how hard Kenny has obviously worked on his physical conditioning. On his first visit to the Premier League, he looked more like the fat kid who was stuck in goal rather than a professional athlete – I don’t know how much weight he’s lost, but his enhanced agility is the reward.


Peter Walton’s failure to send off Jonathan Woodgate

It’s difficult sometimes to have sympathy for any wrong decisions that Manchester United suffer, because they’re not an historically persecuted team by any stretch of the imagination. However, Walton’s failure to dismiss Woodgate for his clumsy professional foul on Javier Hernandez was inexcusable.

Had the incident happened after sixty minutes rather than within the first ten, then Walton wouldn’t hesitate to show a red card – Hernandez was through by himself, and Woodgate quite clearly impedes him. What grates, is that this is more than an official just making the wrong decision, it’s an official knowing full-well what the correct decision – and course of action – should be, but failing to act because of how early in the game it occurred.

Nobody wants to see a side play with ten men for 80 minutes, but the rules are there to be applied as equally in the first minute as they are in the last. To borrow Garry Cook’s phrase, Walton ‘bottled it’. Not good enough, if he feels unable to make decisions of significance then he shouldn’t be refereeing at this level.