THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 1 “I think it is asking Chelsea a question,” says Sir Alex as Man Utd close to within seven points with a 2‑1 win at Bolton after the leaders are held 0‑0 at Birmingham (“The objective is to chase the game for 90 minutes and we didn’t,” says José). Spurs’ lead in fourth place is cut to two points by their loss 3‑1 at Newcastle while Arsenal thrash Villa 5‑0 with two-goal Thierry Henry starring again. “All I can say is that I want him to stay,” says Arsène, referring to Barcelona’s interest. Portsmouth’s 3‑1 win at Fulham – “We are hitting form like we did this time a year ago,” says Harry – takes them level with West Brom, who suffer a sixth defeat in seven games, 2‑0 to Liverpool. With Watford losing at Palace last night and Leeds going down 1‑0 at Hull, Sheffield United go seven points clear in the Championship’s runner‑up spot with a 1‑1 draw at Stoke. In League One, a 1‑0 defeat of Barnsley takes Huddersfield level with second-placed Brentford, who draw 1‑1 at Colchester. Forest are just five points off the play-offs after a fifth win in seven post‑Megson matches, 3‑1 at Chesterfield. Long‑time League Two leaders Wycombe are now four points outside a promotion spot following a 3‑1 home defeat by Bristol Rovers. Rushden move off the foot through a 1‑0 victory over Torquay, who are now bottom. Gretna become the first third-level club to reach the Scottish Cup final, with a 3‑0 win against Dundee.

Sunday 2 “We showed no moral courage whatsoever,” says an incandescent Stuart Pearce after Man City’s fourth successive defeat, 1‑0 at home to Middlesbrough. Hearts will be Gretna’s opponents after beating Hibs 4‑0. Swansea win the Football League Trophy, beating Carlisle 2‑1. Lee Trundle, scorer of a spectacular first goal, faces FA action over wearing a T-shirt showing a Cardiff flag being urinated on, while the whole squad celebrate with a Welsh flag bearing the message “Fuck Off Cardiff”.

Wednesday 5 “This year nobody expected us to be there and we are there,” says Arsène, reflecting on Arsenal’s 0‑0 draw at Juventus that takes them into the last four of the Champions League, where they’ll face Villarreal and AC Milan will play Barcelona. Celtic clinch the SPL title with a 1‑0 win over Hearts.

Thursday 6
A dramatic UEFA Cup night at the Riverside, where Middlesbrough, trailing by two goals from the first leg, go one down to Basel then come back to win 4‑1 with a Massimo Maccarone goal in the 90th minute. “I don’t think you will get a better European night than that in Boro’s history,” says Steve McClaren.

Saturday 8
Portsmouth come from behind twice to draw 2‑2 with Blackburn at Fratton Park. “We battered them,” says Harry Redknapp, who has been wearing the same shirt for the last three Pompey games. Birmingham stay a point ahead and a place out of the drop zone, David Dunn scoring a scruffy equaliser in the 77th minute to earn a 1‑1 draw at Wigan. “We don’t score enough goals like that,” complains Paul Jewell. “Not enough of my players come away with a cut eye or a kick in the teeth.” Michael Carrick scores the winner as Spurs beat Man City 2‑1 at White Hart Lane to go four points clear in the last Champions League place. “It’s not in our hands, it’s in our heads,” quips Martin Jol. City have now lost five in a row. A waterlogged pitch sees Sunderland’s home game against Fulham called off after 21 minutes, with the visitors leading 1‑0. “The players were slipping around and the goalkeepers couldn’t see the ball,” explains Mike Riley, who presumably hasn’t seen Sunderland play recently. In the Championship Sheffield United go nine points clear in second place, David Unsworth scoring an injury-time winner in a 3‑2 defeat of Hull. Wolves are ten points off the last play-off spot after a 2‑2 draw at home to Coventry. “It’s going to take a miracle,” says Glenn Hoddle, who is described as “the most difficult coach I’ve worked with” by his Romanian striker Ioan Ganea. Norwich are also out of the promotion hunt after scoring two own goals in a 2‑0 defeat at Preston. Brighton are bottom after a 2‑0 defeat by Southampton. Millwall also lose, 1‑0 at Derby. “We’re not defeatist,” says David Tuttle. “But we can’t stay up.” In League One Southend are eight points clear at the top after a 2‑1 defeat of Blackpool. Brentford are held 1‑1 at home by Bradford, and Huddersfield and Swansea also lose, as do Colchester, 1‑0 at Forest. Rotherham climb out of the drop zone with a 2‑0 home win against Tranmere. First beats second in League Two, Michael Bridges scoring the only goal of the game for Carlisle at home to Grimsby. Peterborough and Darlington both win to overtake Lincoln in the race for the final play-off spot. Just two points separate the seven clubs above bottom‑placed Torquay. In Scotland, Hearts beat Dunfermline 4‑0 to stay three points clear of Rangers in second place.

Sunday 9 Chelsea beat West Ham 4‑1 at Stamford Bridge despite having Maniche sent off after 17 minutes – “It left a strange smell,” says José – to go ten points clear at the top of the table. Manchester United later reduce the gap with a 2‑0 home defeat of Arsenal, Wayne Rooney scoring the first and laying on the second for Park Ji-sung. Liverpool keep a grip on third place with a 1‑0 win at home to Bolton, Robbie Fowler scoring again. “We have bigger priorities. Everybody knows that,” says a swanky-sounding Steve McClaren as Boro lose 2‑1 at home to Newcastle, George Boateng scoring at both ends. West Brom stay in the drop zone after a 0‑0 draw at Aston Villa, which leaves Bryan Robson fuming over a couple of penalty claims. “We get more decisions against us than for us by far,” he says, showing an unexpected mastery of the tongue-twister. Watford guarantee their place in the Championship play-offs with a 1‑1 derby draw at home to Luton. Guus Hiddink’s agent rules his client out of the running for the England job. “I think this is sort of an insult to Guus,” he says after Hiddink is included on an FA shortlist. The Sunday tabloids print stories about Wayne Rooney’s gambling debts to a bookmakers run by Michael Owen’s business partner. Rooney could owe up to £700,000 after betting by text message on horses, dogs and football matches. Alex Ferguson describes the whole thing as “absolute rubbish”. Which sounds about right.

Tuesday 11
A worry for the new England boss – potential sponsors have told the FA they will only do a deal if David Beckham remains captain. In other financial news, Thierry Henry will be transferred after the World Cup, from Nike to Reebok, for “an undisclosed sum”.

Wednesday 12 “The Basel game gave us so much belief,” says Steve McClaren as Middlesbrough reach the last four of the FA Cup with a 4‑2 replay win over Charlton. Arsenal are four points adrift of Spurs after a 1‑1 draw at Portsmouth, where the returning Sol Campbell suffers a broken nose and Lomana LuaLua is injured doing his somersault after scoring – it’ll be a brisk walk back to the centre circle from now on.

Friday 14 Man Utd’s hopes of prolonging the title race take a nosedive with a 0‑0 draw against Sunderland at Old Trafford. “All the responsibility being placed on Wayne winning the World Cup for England has borne fruit,” complains Sir Alex, scenting a media conspiracy. Despite the point Sunderland are now officially relegated. “We’ve got five massive games left,” says Kevin Ball, who seems a bit confused. Sheffield United are guaranteed a place in the Premiership next season, Danny Webber scoring in a 1‑0 win at Cardiff. Wolves are out of the play‑off running after a 1‑1 draw at home to Watford, which sees chief executive Jez Moxey describe the club’s season as “a complete disaster” in his programme notes. “It’s an opinion,” says Glenn Hoddle. In League One Southend lose 1‑0 at home to Gillingham, but stay eight points ahead of second-placed Brentford.

Saturday 15 Chelsea go nine points clear with four to play after a 2‑0 win at Bolton. “I can imagine every Chelsea fan is jumping up and singing. But not me,” warns José, who later escapes an FA punishment after pushing the fourth official Alan Wiley. “I was emotional. I thought I had pushed Steve Clarke,” he explains. Spurs stay fourth with a 1‑0 win at Everton. Arsenal beat West Brom 3‑1 on “Dennis Bergkamp Day” at Highbury. Portsmouth climb out of the bottom three for the first time this year with a 1‑0 home win against Middlesbrough. Fulham beat Charlton 2‑1, but Zat Knight and Liam Rosenior almost come to blows on the pitch after an argument. “It’s the respect we have for each other in this team,” explains Rosenior. In the Championship Brighton win 2‑1 at Ipswich and Crewe and Millwall draw, but Sheffield Wednesday are still clear of the trio after a 1‑0 win against Norwich. At the top of League One Brentford, Colchester, Huddersfield and Swansea all fail to win and make ground on Southend. Barnsley and Forest keep up the pressure on the play-off positions with wins. At the bottom MK Dons breathe life into their faint chances of staying up with a 1‑0 win at second-bottom Swindon. In League Two, Northampton and Orient both win 1‑0 away to edge ahead of Grimsby in the race for automatic promotion. Torquay look doomed after a 2‑1 home defeat by Cheltenham leaves them six points adrift at the bottom.

Sunday 16 Birmingham stay in the bottom three after a 3‑1 defeat at Villa, Milan Baros scoring twice. “Portsmouth are in the driving seat,” admits Steve Bruce. At least David O’Leary has some words of comfort: “I don’t want anyone to go down. I like Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson.” Liverpool win at Blackburn to guarantee a place in the Champions League qualifiers next season. Robbie Fowler scores a disputed winner that features a contentious offside decision involving Djibril Cissé. “No one knows where they are now,” grumbles Mark Hughes. Ledley King is likely to miss the World Cup after an X-ray reveals he broke a bone in his foot yesterday. “Big Phil” Scolari is reported to have given up on the England job. “I don’t know what I’ll do after Germany,” he tells Brazilian radio, which shouldn’t necessarily rule him out.

Monday 17
Man Utd’s sixth successive victory, 2‑1 at Spurs, means Chelsea still need a point for the title after a 3‑0 win over Everton. Harry is stunned by Portsmouth going down to late goals, 2‑1 at Charlton – “I was stood there with 16 minutes to go thinking, ‘This is the day we get out of this’ ” – but West Brom fail to capitalise, drawing 0‑0 with Bolton. Sunderland crash 4‑1 at home to Newcastle. Alan Shearer may have to retire slightly prematurely after a leg injury but he’s still delighted with the day: “It was a tremendous turnaround because we were rubbish in the first half.” Wednesday’s 2‑0 win at Brighton sends their opponents down from the Championship, together with Crewe and Millwall. Colchester’s 1‑0 victory over Tranmere takes them up to second in League One, Brentford having conceded an 89th-minute goal in a 1‑1 draw at Blackpool while Martin Allen runs through his complete range of thunderous expressions on the touchline. Hysteria mounts by the Trent as Forest’s sixth successive win, 2‑1 against Yeovil, takes them into the play-off places at the expense of Swansea, beaten at home by Rotherham. Walsall are bottom after losing at Doncaster; the dastardly MK Dons are up to 22nd, leapfrogging Hartlepool with a 2‑1 win. Northampton are two points clear in second in League Two after a 2‑0 defeat of Rotherham, while the next two teams, Leyton Orient and Grimsby, draw with each other. Lincoln move into the play-off places after a 3‑0 win at Wycombe, who have lost six in a row and could yet slip out of the top seven; Torquay are still five points adrift despite a 2‑0 win at Macclesfield.

Tuesday 18 Wigan’s first home league win since Boxing Day, 3‑2 against Villa, takes them eighth and past 50 points. Paul Jewell had lower targets last summer: “We knew if we could finish 17th there would be dancing in the streets.” Huddersfield blow a chance to go second in League One, losing 2 ‑1 at home to Chesterfield.

Wednesday 19 A Kolo Touré goal gives Arsenal a 1‑0 win in the home leg of their Champions League semi with Villarreal. “Our defensive record speaks for itself and helps us believe,” says Arsène of his team’s ninth consecutive clean sheet in Europe. “We have given worselves a chance,” says Steve Bruce, looking altogether perkier as Birmingham move out of the bottom three with a 2‑1 win over Blackburn. Rotherham will have ten points deducted if their creditors accept the new board’s proposal for a voluntary arrangement to settle debts of more than £500,000. Former West Ham and Ipswich manager John Lyall dies aged 66.

Thursday 20 A starring performance from Mark Schwarzer means Middlesbrough escape from Bucharest with just a 1‑0 defeat to Steaua in their UEFA Cup semi-final first leg. “The players are delighted. They know we can do better,” says Steve McClaren. Altrincham have 18 points deducted, ensuring relegation from the Conference, for using a player who hadn’t got international clearance after moving from an Australian club. David Tuttle leaves Millwall.

Saturday 22 Liverpool win their FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea 2‑1 at Old Trafford. John Arne Riise, from a first-half free-kick, and Luis García get the goals. “In a knockout you can lose against a fourth-division team,” says José. Spurs stay four points clear in fourth after a 1‑1 draw at Highbury. Arsène Wenger and Martin Jol go forehead-to-forehead after Robbie Keane scores with two Arsenal players lying injured. “I really don’t think he knows how strong I am,” says Martin. Bolton win for the first time in six games, 4‑1 at home to Charlton, to stay in seventh. “We were completely beaten up inside our own penalty area,” admits Alan Curbishley. Everton and Birmingham draw 0‑0 at Goodison, a result that leaves Steve Bruce’s men back in the bottom three as Portsmouth beat Sunderland 2‑1 with a late penalty. “We’ve had a great run, 17 points out of 24 – that’s Champions League form,” says Harry, getting slightly ahead of himself. West Brom look doomed after a 3‑0 defeat at Newcastle, Shola Ameobi auditioning for life after Alan Shearer by scoring twice. “I’d like to have made 11 substitutions,” growls Bryan Robson. In League One Colchester win 2‑1 at Bournemouth to close to within three points of leaders Southend, who lose 1‑0 at home to Darlington. Brentford and Huddersfield both win away and Swansea are back into sixth after Nottingham Forest lose for the first time in 11 games, 3‑2 at Hartlepool. MK Dons’ alarming revival continues with their fourth win in a row, 2‑1 at Chesterfield, to move to within two points of a safe spot. Walsall are relegated. League Two leaders Carlisle are promoted for the second successive season after Karl Hawley scores in injury time to earn a 1‑1 draw at Mansfield. “We’ll be trying to find an off licence on the way home,” promises manager Paul Simpson. Northampton are almost there, too, after a 3‑1 win at Oxford, who could be dragged into the drop zone as Torquay continue their revival with a 1‑0 win at home to Wrexham – although even Chester in 14th are still not quite out of danger. Bury ease relegation fears with a 3‑2 win at Darlington despite their defender Chris Brass scoring a magnificent own goal – attempting a clearance over his own head, he thumps the ball into his face and it rebounds into the net. Peterborough manager Steve Bleasdale resigns by text message an hour before kick‑off against Macclesfield. A crowd of 6,024 see FC United win the North West Counties League Division Two.

Sunday 23
West Ham reach the FA Cup final for the first time in 26 years, Marlon Harewood scoring the only goal of the game against Middlesbrough at Villa Park, prompting Alan Pardew into some alarming pelvic thrusts on the touchline. Steven Gerrard wins the PFA player of the year award, while Wayne Rooney retains the young player of the year title. In Scotland 59,684 see Celtic and Rangers draw 0‑0 at Celtic Park, without even a sending-off to lift the sprits. “I am proud of the players for making Celtic think about things,” says Alex McLeish, presiding over his last Old Firm derby. Malcolm Glazer is released from hospital a week after suffering a stroke.

Tuesday 25
Jens Lehmann saves a last‑minute penalty to take Arsenal into the Champions League final with a goalless draw at Villarreal, who miss several chances. Arsène exhales: “I was worried. There was a bit of luck and a lot of character that we have gone through.” Man City end a run of six defeats with a 1‑0 win at Villa. At the foot of League Two, Torquay’s 4‑0 defeat of Stockport brings them level with third‑bottom Oxford. Mike Dean has lost his place as FA Cup final referee because he lives near Liverpool. “The fact that he is from the Wirral might place him under undue pressure,” says an FA spokesman; Alan Wiley will take charge instead. Former Everton and England centre-half Brian Labone dies aged 66.

Wednesday 26
Barcelona reach the European Cup final after a 1‑0 aggregate win over AC Milan. Hayden Mullins and Luis García will miss the Cup final after being sent off in Liverpool’s 2‑1 win at West Ham. Tim Cahill may be out of the World Cup with a knee injury.

Thursday 27
Big Phil is said to have been offered the England manager’s job. Former FA coaching supremo Howard Wilkinson is appalled: “I don’t think it’s in the best interests of English coaches and that is what the FA is primarily there to do.” Boro reach the UEFA Cup final, an 89th-minute goal from Massimo Maccarone clinching a 4‑2 win over Steaua, who had been two up in the first half, 3-0 ahead overall to mirror the situation against Basel. “It astounds all logic, but just shows what we have got in that dressing room,” says Steve McClaren.

Friday 28 Big Phil rules himself out of the England job, supposedly because of press intrusion. “You have to look at the FA and say they are like amateurs,” says Graham Taylor, while Howard Wilkinson calls it “Monty Pythoneseque”.

Saturday 29
Another title for Chelsea, 3‑0 winners over Man Utd, after which José throws medals and his jacket into the crowd. He’s still fretting over supposed media bias: “For a manager this is the worst club to work at.” Wayne Rooney breaks a metatarsal and may miss the World Cup. Alan Curbishley announces that he is to step down as Charlton manager, before their 2‑0 defeat by Blackburn. Portsmouth’s 2‑1 win at Wigan sends down Birmingham, who draw 0‑0 with Newcastle, and West Brom. Steve Bruce wants to stick around: “There is a lot of rebuilding to be done. I hope I get the opportunity to do that.” Bryan Robson has plain forgotten about his stint at Bradford: “I have been in the Championship twice before and my team got promoted on each occasion.” Southend are up from League One thanks to a draw at Swansea; the second promotion spot rests between Brentford and Colchester; Swindon are relegated. Northampton clinch second place in League Two, with Leyton Orient and Grimsby left to contest the final automatic-promotion spot. Rushden are relegated; seven other clubs could still go down.

Sunday 30 Spurs’ 1‑0 win over Bolton means a win in their last match or defeat for Arsenal in one of their last three games will clinch fourth place – but not necessarily a Champions League qualifying place. The Championship play-offs will be Palace v Watford and Preston v Leeds. Johan Boskamp resigns as Stoke manager. Wayne Rooney may still be going to Germany: “If we think that at some stage he could take part in the World Cup then I will pick him,” says Sven.X

From WSC 232 June 2006. What was happening this month

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