This Week In: English Football – United Move Top and Midweek Action
With their new manager, Harry Redknapp, watching from the stands, Queens Park Rangers took the lead away at Old Trafford, but three goals in eight minutes gave Manchester United a 3-1 win and propelled them back to the top of the Premiership. Jamie Mackie had a goal correctly ruled out for offside before half-time, but the Scottish international did put Rangers in front in the 52nd minute, providing the finish after Lindegaard had only managed to parry a cross from Kieron Dyer. The goal was hardly against the run of play, as United had been struggling to get a grip of the midfield – Paul Scholes had started alongside Darren Fletcher in the middle of park, but the veteran looked all of his 37 years and it was only when Sir Alex Ferguson replaced him with Anderson, that the home side began to dominate. Two headed goals from corners – including one by Fletcher, who was starting his first match in over a year after being sidelined with a bowel complaint, which at one point looked like it might end his career – had given the home side the edge, then a third from substitute Javier Hernandez sealed the points for the Red Devils. QPR showed a marked improvement in their performance from their previous week’s defeat against Southampton at Loftus Road, but Harry Redknapp takes the reigns with the club seven points from safety at the foot of the table, still searching for their first league win of the campaign.
United remained top of the Premiership after Chelsea held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, in Rafa Benitez’s first match in charge of the London club, having replaced Roberto DiMatteo during the week. However, the biggest talking point of the fixture did not revolve around action on the pitch, rather it was in the stands – where Chelsea fans were united in their contempt for the appointment of Benitez and made their displeasure known throughout the game. Banners were unfurled in opposition to the Spaniard; chants rang out from the home supporters of “We want out Chelsea back”; and the boos that greeted the new boss when he took his place on the sidelines before the game, drowned out the stadium announcer as he tried to introduce a minute’s applause for their former manager, Dave Sexton, who had died that morning.
(Photo: Darren Fletcher puts United in front, after spending a year on the sidelines)
While there was some animosity between Liverpool and Chelsea during Benitez’s reign at Anfield, this level of opposition to the appointment of one of the seven managers to have won the Champions League in the last ten years is staggering. Although, perhaps it should not be as this pedigree has meant nothing to the club in the past – alongside Rafa, Ferguson, Pep Guardiola and Frank Rijkaard in winning the European Cup this past decade, are three men who have been sacked by Chelsea – Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto DiMatteo. This level of anger over the appointment of a new manager is unprecedented – not even former Arsenal boss, George Graham, got such a negative reaction when he took over at White Hart Lane, with Spurs fans choosing to greet his arrival with silence and never sang his name (a traditional chant became “Man in a raincoat’s blue and white army”), but he was positively welcomed in comparison to Benitez.
If Benitez were to win every trophy that Chelsea are involved in this season, those in the crowd who voiced their displeasure before his reign had started will still not be the fans who embarrassed themselves most in London this Sunday. At White Hart Lane, a section of the West Ham supporters took part in anti-Semitic chants at their Tottenham counterparts, including hissing in imitation of a gas chamber and “Hitler’s coming to get you”, as well as celebrating the attack on Spurs fans in Rome during their Europa League trip with songs of “Viva Lazio” and “Can we stab you every week?”. While you do not have to be Jewish to be offended by this abuse, it betrays the ignorance of those who were involved that their team’s owner is, David Gold; as is one of West Ham’s players, Israeli Yossi Benayoun, who was a fan-favourite during his first stint with the club. In recent years, Tottenham supporters have attempted to reclaim the word “Yid” – that was used as abuse against them in the worst hooligan period of the 1970s and 80s – to make it into a rallying cry and form of identification for players and fans alike. While it is not being used in an anti-semitic way – and saying this as a former season ticket holder at White Hart Lane who joined in with chants such as “Yid Army” and “Jermain Defoe, he’s a Yiddo” -the word itself is offensive to many people and therefore should not be used, even in songs that are supposed to be positive.
In the match itself, Tottenham ended a run of four defeats in five games as they ran out 3-1 winners, thanks to two goals by former Hammer, Defoe – the first of which was a fantastic individual run and finish – and another from Gareth Bale, who was put through by Clint Dempsey. It was the American’s best performance in a Spurs shirt and he also set Aaron Lennon free in the build up to the third goal, while the defence looked a lot more solid with Michael Dawson starting ahead of William Gallas and French keeper Hugo Lloris also putting in a strong display. The three points saw Tottenham leapfrog West Ham in the table and pulled them level with sixth placed Arsenal, who had been held to a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa on Saturday. Elsewhere, Swansea and Liverpool also finished goalless; Everton drew for the fifth time in seven games, as Sebastien Bassong earned Norwich a point with a last-minute header at Goodison Park; Southampton moved out of the relegation zone with an impressive 2-0 home win over Newcastle, who have lost three consecutive matches and dropped to 14th in the table; a hat-trick from Jordi Gomez – completed in the 90th minute – gave Wigan a 3-2 victory over Reading; Martin Jol branded Stoke “almost a rugby team” after he saw them beat his Fulham side, 1-0; and West Brom moved into third by beating Sunderland, 4-2 at the Stadium of Light.
There is a round of Premiership fixtures in midweek, with Tuesday’s two matches featuring all of the bottom four sides: Sunderland host QPR in Redknapp’s first official game as their manager; and Aston Villa have a home encounter with Reading. On Wednesday, United take on West Ham at Old Trafford; the champions, Manchester City, go to Wigan; Spurs and Liverpool meet at White Hart Lane; Chelsea have a local derby with Fulham; Arsenal are away at Everton; Stoke play Newcastle; West Brom travel to Swansea; and Southampton face Norwich.
John Lally, USA
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