Monday, April 19, 2010

EPL...what an astonishing weekend with 3 games left!

Early in this new season of the English Premier League ( EPL) as early as only the 2nd game between newly promoted Burnley and Manchester United, I knew this would be a roller-coaster topsy-turvy season for those striving for major honours....especially when minnows Burnley uprooted the formbooks and predictable soccer pundits to outclass the Red Devils 1-0, courtesy of a Robbie Blake volley that fumbling GK Ben Foster could do nothing about. It was the kind of upset that would set the tone for many of the later battles we were to witness, including this weekend's most astonishing games.

With only 4 more games to go in the 38 game EPL series, the leader of the pack Chelsea had 77 points, Man Utd 73, Arsenal 71, Manchester City 62, Tottenham 61 and Aston Villa 58. How things would change so dramatically after this spellbinding weekend of unpredictable action.
I settled myself down comfortably before the big TV screen for the 1st big local " el classico" between the 2 Manchesters.... M City vs Man Utd. The Blues vs the Reds.

For the full 90 minutes neither side had the extra inspirational move that would claim 3 points. Rooney was just woeful and so was Berbatov later. Nothing much came from the terrors of the blues either, not Tevez, not Adebayor and Bellamy.

I was at that time, doing what I usually do...picking some solo pieces on my Ukulele ( killing 2 birds with one stone)...then I heard the UK match commentator said," All it needs to settle this is that one stroke of brilliance or genius from a player and....". I've heard enough. Stopped playing the Uke to see if anything of this sort would happen in the 4 minutes of injury time alloted. The faces on Roberto's Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson said it all with less than 20 seconds left.
This was destined to be a 0 - 0 draw which would end Man U's title dream and a big blow to M City for 4th place finishing.
But wait...perhaps something might still happen, as long as the final whistle is not out yet. That was what happened in the previous 2 games between these 2 sides. The winning goal scored in the dying seconds of both games! Both times lady luck favoured the Reds. And whoever said lightning does not strike twice in the same place should have watched the last dying seconds of this 3rd game between these 2 sides. It struck 3 times!

Well, what happened? How did it happened? It can't be true! Better believe it.
The Referee had a quick glance at his watch while Craig Bellamy had the ball. He made a pass but it was intercepted by Nemanja Vidic who looked up, saw P Evra unmarked on the far left. Evra had yards of space, pushed forward, and from 10 metres saw Paul Scholes virtually unmarked in the heart of City's box. Evra lifted a precise cross to ginger-haired Scholes. No one was around him. He twisted his upper body in a funny sort of way and connected his head to the ball...which was aimed at the ground and at the far right post. GK dived but could not reached it.
Unbelievably...there was an eerie silence for a few seconds before the 3000 travelling Red Devil fans, stupefied by the reenactment of lightning can strike more than once syndrome, erupted in uncontrolled jubilation and cheers.

Alex Ferguson jumped from the utter gloominess of a moment ago to do his famous jig.
The frenzy of this Man U win saw Captain Gary Neville rushing towards Paul Scholes and planting a full kiss on his mouth!
Scholes said after the game he was for a few seconds dumbfounded as it did not sink in that he had scored a goal, let alone the winner.
The result meant that Man Utd has 76 points just 1 behind Chelsea.
The title race has been blown wide open again! But hold your horses...if Chelsea were to beat Spurs in the later game, as they were expected to by one and all, then everything will be back to square one.

[ Photo Credit: Mirror Sports - Defoe converting the penalty ]

The later game: Tottenham vs Chelsea
Just before this game was played, there were loud cheers by Spurs' players and fans everywhere celebrating the 'favour' that the Red Devils had done for their struggle to overcome Man City for 4th spot finishing. City was downcast losing for the 3rd time, and in the dying seconds, to the Reds...and on their home turf at Eastlands. Now's the time for Harry's men to repay the favour...beat mighty Chelsea and ensure the Reds' dream are still alive.
And so it was that I made myself a nice flask of good ole Singapore kopi-o, pick up my Ukulele and began a slow strum as the game got off.

Chelsea was not their usual, cocky self. The Man Utd win moments earlier must have played on their fragile minds. They were under huge pressure to perform. They usually do with their bullying tactics led by much disgraced John Terry and forever complaining "Drop-ba" ( Drogba ). Unfortunately for them, the met a team of real men for once! Playing with a seldom seen confidence of verve and swift tempo, Spurs put Chelsea to the sword.
In 2 previous games all caught on TV replays, John Terry had deliberately handled the ball with his arm or hand and gone away unpunished in the box. WHY this was so remains a mystery. The linesmen and the referees are not talking. Millions saw the blatant foul clearly including yours truly...and I was a few thousand kms away and the referee a few yards away!
Perhaps, that provided the belief for John Terry that no one, yes not even an EPL referee, would dare call his bluff.
He did not reckon with Phil Dowd!

In the 15th minute, as a cross came in, he used his right arm to cushion the ball towards his GK Petr Cech. Referee Dowd, without hesitation shook his head as if to say, " No, no not've escaped punishment and thwarted the path of fairplay and justice. Not this time under me! "...and pointed to the dreaded spot.
And so Defoe bravely strolled forward, placed the ball down while GK P Cech was doing all he could to distract him to no avail. Defoe planted it beautifully at the top left corner sending Cech the wrong way. 1-0 to Spurs! The cockerels of Tottenham reverberated with loud crows joined by the millions of Man Utd fans worldwide. I'm certain those along Boat Quay and all our pubs would have sold more beers on account of that uplifting goal.

Chelsea did try to salvage the dire situation they were in, making dangerous moves and shots at Spurs goal. But they met a resolute defence especially in last man Dawson who was uncompromising. They could have scored with some of the mighty shots but for a colossus in goal....H Gomes ( from Brazil ). His was a one man octopus act, saving incredible shots time and time again.
Then, just before half time, Gareth Bale ( for me, he and Gomes were the Men of the Match ) who has improved so tremendously in his movements, shots and play...cut in and rounded P Ferreira and whacked a powerful shot which entered at far left post ( Cech dived fruitlessly!).
GOAL! Spurs 2 , Chelsea 0 . Pub owners smiled as more beers were ordered by those celebrating and also by those Chelsea and Man City fans drowning their sorrows.
Worse was to follow in the 2nd half as John Terry continued on his self-destructive path. Earning a 2nd yellow card for a terrible scything tackle on Bale, Referee Dowd again shook his head as if to say, " You really are an incorrigible fool and thug....John Terry!" Out came the Red card and off went the thuggish bully.

No hope for Chelsea after that. Spurs could have won by a far bigger margin had they been not so extravagant in front of goal...esp Pavluchenko who missed sitters after sitters.
Lampard pulled one back but by then it was too late, Chelsea having lost steam, lost the battle, lost the psychological warfare and reduced to just an ordinary team.
Final score Spurs 2 - Chelsea 1.

[ Photo credit: Mirror Sports - Paul Scholes winning header ]

[Photo credit: Mirror Sports - Man Utd celebrating the goal ]

[ Photo credit: Mirror Sports - Ferguson in truimphant jig ]

In another later game last night, Wigan caused the most stunning Victory in their Premier league

history when they came from the jaws of death to overcome mighty Arsenal 3 - 2!
I saw that game too and what an epic it turned out to be.
Mark my years to come, this game would be viewed and reviewed again and again, for it was that kind of match.
Arsene Wenger calls it, " the WORST DEFEAT in my entire career! " And he has had many defeats, mind you.
That story and more in coming posts.

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