THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Sunday 1 The SPL title may have been decided at Tynecastle, where Hearts go two up against Celtic but lose 3‑2 to two goals in the last three minutes. Celtic take a seven-point lead. Lincoln manager Keith Alexander is sent “on leave” by the club, who are 15th in League Two.

Monday 2 Liverpool are 17 points adrift of Chelsea, who win 3‑1 at West Ham, after a bad-tempered 2‑2 draw at Bolton, where Steven Gerrard might have been sent off for stamping on Kevin Nolan. Martin Jol fumes about “the worst tackle ever” by Man City’s David Sommeil on Lee Young-pyo during Spurs’ 2‑0 win that keeps them fourth. Everton nearly double their home goal tally for the season in beating Charlton 3‑1. Newcastle scramble a 2‑2 home draw with Middlesbrough through Lee Clark’s late goal. “Let me make something perfectly clear – there’s no chance of me resigning,” says Graeme Souness after his team are booed off. Sunderland take the lead at Fulham but go down 2‑1 and Portsmouth lose by the same score at Blackburn. Second‑bottom Birmingham get their third win of the season, 2‑0 against Wigan. Reading continue their procession into the Premiership with a 5‑1 win over Cardiff. Crewe’s 3‑0 defeat at Sheffield Wed leaves them three points adrift at the bottom. Southend are new leaders of League Two with a 90th-minute winner beating Blackpool 2‑1. Colchester move into the top four by scoring twice in injury time to defeat Forest 3‑1. League Two stages the game of the season so far, with Macclesfield taking a three-goal lead in 13 minutes at leaders Wycombe, then coming from behind late on to win 5‑4. Portsmouth may be getting a new co-owner – Alexandre Gaydamak, son of a Russian-born billionaire currently under investigation for money laundering in Israel, is ready to pay £15 million for half the club. Portugal midfielder Maniche is to join Chelsea on loan from Dynamo Moscow.

Tuesday 3 Arsène and Sir Alex concede the title to José after a dire 0‑0 draw at Highbury, though the latter’s comment that “You never know, malaria might hit the camp” brings him a public rebuke from the charity Malaria Foundation International. United are to spend £7m on Serbian full-back Nemanja Vidic of Spartak Moscow. Chris Sutton will join Birmingham on a free. Laurent Robert leaves Portsmouth for Benfica.

Thursday 5 There’s a sudden about-turn at Sincil Bank, where Keith Alexander is staying, but instead two directors leave.
Friday 6 “Portsmouth fans are the most unique and strongest in the country,” says Alexandre Gaydamak on taking a 50 per cent stake, which he says has been bought entirely with his money; the club are to buy Zimbabwe striker Mwaruwari Benjani for £4m from Auxerre and Panathinaikos’s Nigeria-born Pole Emmanuel Olisadebe. Sam Allardyce bans BBC Radio Five Live from the Reebok after Alan Green criticised the team’s “ugly” style against Liverpool. Northwich chairman Michael Connett is furious that Sunderland have cut ticket prices for their FA Cup tie: “If you’ve got a rich uncle like Sunderland they should be helping poor nephews like us.”

Saturday 7 “I’ve been involved in the FA Cup for too long to take anything for granted,” says Steve McClaren as Nuneaton get a last-minute penalty to draw 1‑1 with Middlesbrough. Tamworth draw 0‑0 at Stoke and Birmingham are held by the same score at Torquay, after which Steve Bruce promises team changes: “We can’t just keep sitting back and watching that. We cannot possibly play any worse.” Liverpool go 3‑1 down at Luton but score another four; Mike Newell would have liked less football from his side: “You can’t play teams off the park for 90 minutes. It was a bit of naivety on our part.” A weakened Sheffield United team lose 2‑1 at home to Colchester. Everton need a late equaliser to draw 1‑1 at Millwall. Newcastle edge past Mansfield as Alan Shearer’s 200th goal equals Jackie Milburn’s club record.

Sunday 8 “Over the previous couple of years the FA Cup had gone a bit flat in terms of shocks,” says Sir Alex, possibly forgetting last year’s draw with Exeter, after Man Utd are held 0‑0 at Burton Albion. Fulham lose 2‑1 at home to Leyton Orient – “The defeat was down to a sense of arrogance. God knows where it came from,” says a mightily vexed Chris Coleman. Leicester, without a win in seven league games, come back from two down to beat Spurs 3‑2 in injury time while Roy Keane’s Celtic debut ends in a 2‑1 Scottish Cup defeat at Clyde.

Tuesday 10
Just over 12,000 see Wigan beat Arsenal 1‑0 in their Carling Cup semi-final first leg, Austrian debutant Paul Scharner scoring. The managers row about Jason Roberts’s late challenge on Manuel Almunia: “He left his foot in,” says Arsène; “Arsenal are a great team but they have had more red cards than anyone,” says Paul Jewell. Man Utd sign Monaco defender Patrice Evra. Antti Niemi leaves Southampton for Fulham. Gordon Chisholm is sacked by Dundee United, who lost a two-goal lead in a 3‑2 cup defeat to Aberdeen; Craig Brewster of Inverness is expected to take over.

Wednesday 11 Man Utd draw 1‑1 at Blackburn in a bruising Carling Cup semi, which features a three-way (wrestling term) between Wayne Rooney, Robbie Savage and Alan Smith. Alloa, bottom of Scottish Division Two, win 2‑1 at SPL Livingston in a Cup replay. Mike Newell is to be interviewed by the FA after claiming that “bung culture” is still rife: “If the governing bodies don’t eradicate some of the things that are happening, it will kill the game.”

Thursday 12 Steve Staunton is the Republic of Ireland’s new manager, assisted by Sir Bobby Robson, who explains: “I will look at situations and if there is anything I see lacking, then I will tell him.” Portsmouth splash the cash again, £7m on the Spurs trio of Pedro Mendes, Noe Pamarot and Sean Davis. Denmark defender Dan Agger signs for Liverpool while Monaco’s Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor is to join Arsenal. Former FA chief executive Graham Kelly supports Mike Newell’s comments concerning bungs: “Agents are the biggest cancer in the game – they’re printing their own money.”

Saturday 14 “I told them to play with an aggression that is just this side of the rules,” says Stuart Pearce after City’s good run in derbies continues with a 3‑1 win; United’s debutant defender Patrice Evra is subbed at half-time. Arsenal match their record win under Arsène, thrashing hapless Middlesbrough 7‑0; a hat-trick for Thierry Henry takes him level with Cliff Bastin’s club record of 150 league goals. Liverpool’s unbeaten run is 12, Harry Kewell getting the only goal against Spurs. Everton also win 1‑0, Leon Osman’s goal settling a six-pointer at Portsmouth, to go nine points clear of the bottom three. Harry is back on the mobile straight away: “Maybe we can get one or two more on loan.” Newcastle lose by the same score at Fulham but Graeme Souness wants to see sinews stiffened: “A lot of my chat to them is that you don’t feel sorry for yourselves – that’s for losers.” Steve Bruce is encouraged by Birmingham’s performance at Charlton – “Sutton and Heskey were at it hammer and tongs all afternoon” – but they lose 2‑0. With Sheffield Utd drawing at Ipswich, Reading regain a nine-point Championship lead by beating Coventry 2‑0. Southend return to the top of League One due to a 4‑1 victory over Brentford; Swansea are held at Bradford. Wycombe’s 2‑0 defeat of Notts County gives them a two-point advantage in League Two, ahead of Grimsby and Carlisle, who lose 2‑1 at Shrewsbury, where all three goals are penalties.
 
Sunday 15 Sven is entrapped by the News of the World, telling an undercover sheikh that he’d leave the England job if they won the World Cup, that he’d be interested in moving to Villa and, brace yourselves, that Michael Owen only moved to Newcastle for the money. Chelsea hold a 16-point lead, coming from behind to beat Sunderland 2‑1, but Arjen Robben is sent off, getting a second yellow for his celebration of the winning goal. Down to ten for the entire second half after Darren Moore’s dismissal, West Brom move five points clear of the drop zone with a first away win in ten months, 1‑0 at Wigan; keeper Tomasz Kuszczak makes a point-blank save from Jason Roberts in the final minute. Southampton turn down an Arsenal offer for 16-year-old striker Theo Walcott – “The best thing for his future is to stay here,” says George Burley, more in hope than expectation.

Tuesday 17
Tamworth are within ten minutes of knocking Stoke out of the FA Cup, but finally draw 1‑1 and lose on penalties – their manager Mark Cooper didn’t watch the kicks being taken: “I went to get a beer out of the fridge and thought, ‘Whatever will be will be’.” Leeds also exit on spot-kicks after a 3‑3 draw with Wigan. “Maybe it would be better if we were out of the FA Cup,” says Steve Coppell, who none the less punches the air as Reading come back from two down to beat West Brom 3‑2 with a Leroy Lita hat‑trick. Mikael Forssell scores his first goal of the season in Birmingham’s 2‑0 defeat of Torquay, while Middlesbrough get over their Highbury shellshock with a 5‑2 victory over Nuneaton. Colchester’s 3‑2 defeat of Bristol City takes them to second in League One. A good day for headline writers as Marcus Bent joins Darren at Charlton.

Wednesday 18 Man Utd 5 Burton Albion 0. “We had chances to make it a really big score, but there is no point humiliating anyone,” says a benign Sir Alex. Tim Cahill decides not to do his new “corner flag boxing” celebration after knocking his old club Millwall out with the only goal at Goodison Park. Carlisle go second in League Two after a 5‑0 win at Rochdale. Wigan’s Dave Whelan wants Sven sacked over Sheikhgate, even if it means losing his manager: “My choice would be Paul Jewell and Stuart Pearce – the nation would back them to the hilt.” Former BBC director general Greg Dyke will become the chairman of Brentford when supporters group Bees United complete their takeover later this week.

Friday 20 Sven is to sue the News of the World over his encounter with the ersatz sheikh. The Premier League charge Portsmouth with making an illegal approach for Harry Redknapp: “It appears this is entirely led by a man called Lowe,” says a Pompey spokesman, though Saints are busy selling Theo Walcott to Arsenal for an initial £5m. West Ham sign Dean Ashton from Norwich for £7.25m. More peculiar transfer dealings at Everton: Per Kroldrup joins Fiorentina after just one league match, while Alan Stubbs returns to Goodison Park from Sunderland and apologises for having criticised the club when he was released last summer. QPR manager Ian Holloway volunteers to join Mike Newell in the FA’s hotseat, claiming to have been offered a bribe when signing Argentine defender Gino Padula in 2002. Reading drop points for only the second time in 14 games, coming from behind in a game of two late goals to draw 1‑1 at Palace.

Saturday 21
Birmingham move to within three points of that vital 17th spot after thrashing Portsmouth 5‑0, after which Steve Bruce pays tribute to Chris Sutton: “You can see why he has been transferred for all those millions of pounds during his career.” “I told our fans not to just expect Sunderland to lay down and be rolled over,” says Bryan Robson, as fourth-bottom West Brom lose 1‑0 at home to Mick McCarthy’s men and a deflected goal. But the Baggies stay above Middlesbrough, beaten 3‑2 by Wigan, for whom debutants David Thompson and Neil Mellor both score, the latter after Boro come back from 2-0 down. Everton get a fourth successive win, 1‑0 against uneasy travellers Arsenal, who have scored fewer away goals than Sunderland. Heroics from Thomas Sorensen preserve a point for Villa in a goalless draw at Spurs. There are fan demos at Newcastle, where Blackburn’s Morten Pedersen punches in the only goal, and Southampton, who suffer a fifth defeat in six games, 2‑0 to Ipswich, to a background of “Lowe Out!”. At the other end of the Championship, Sheffield Utd and Leeds make a small dent in runaway Reading’s lead with home wins over Brighton and Sheffield Wed respectively. Hull keeper Boaz Myhill saves two Stoke penalties in his side’s 3‑0 win; Dennis Wise scores on his Coventry debut and, naturally, is booked, in a 6‑1 victory over Derby. Crewe are four points adrift after losing 2‑1 at home to Plymouth. Colchester, who have the lowest home gates in League One, lead the division after a 2‑1 win over Port Vale while Southend draw at Tranmere. “I can’t defend the indefensible,” says the ever‑more‑irate Gary Megson, as ninth‑placed Forest, who haven’t won away since August, draw 1‑1 at struggling Rotherham. The top three in League One all draw, while the bottom-of-the-table clash between Stockport and Rushden ends 2‑2.

Sunday 22 In the latest NOTW revelations, Sven is quoted as saying that some English managers accept money for transfers and that the bungs inquiry ought to look at deals involving three Premiership clubs (named by Sven, but not by the paper). Plus, the Pope’s a Catholic and Ronnie Corbett is really short. Chelsea drop their first home league points, debutant Marcus Bent scoring Charlton’s goal in a 1‑1 draw. Man Utd move four points clear of Liverpool after beating them 1‑0 with a last-minute goal from Rio Ferdinand; Gary Neville may be charged by the FA after gesticulating at away fans, of which he says: “That is how local rivals have always been. Do they want a game of robots?” Celtic extend their SPL lead over Hearts, beaten at Kilmarnock yesterday, to ten points with a 3‑1 win at Motherwell.

Monday 23
Sven will leave the England job after the World Cup. The NOTW story seems to have forced the issue, though the FA’s Brian Barwick admits that talks about a post-World Cup departure had begun a year ago. Amid the usual blather about the need for an English replacement, Guus Hiddink, currently with PSV and Australia, is being heavily tipped. The Premier League are to set up their own bungs inquiry, at which Sven will be asked to name the three knavish clubs – “It’s not acceptable to call us corrupt,” says chief executive Richard Scudamore, all stern and unyielding.

Tuesday 24 Wigan get to the Carling Cup final after Jason Roberts secures an away goals win over Arsenal with two minutes to go in extra time and home fans busy chanting “Ole!”. Arsenal had earlier missed their fifth penalty of the season, through José Antonio Reyes. “I might even get a new suit for the big day,” says Paul Jewell, while Arsène mutters about “naive” defending. Leicester’s sixth successive defeat, 1‑0 at Plymouth, cements their position in the bottom three of the Championship. Leroy Rosenior is sacked by Torquay, who drop into the relegation places in League Two after a 3‑1 defeat by Rochdale; Stockport move to 22nd with a 2‑1 win against Grimsby. Paul Scholes will be out for the season with an eye problem.

Wednesday 25 Man Utd reach the Carling Cup final after a niggly 2‑1 win over Blackburn, which includes a half-time tunnel bust-up. A Louis Saha mishit seals it while Ruud Van Nistelrooy has a penalty saved; Mark Hughes felt his side should have got one, too, and may be in trouble for comments about the referee: “I think tonight Mr Poll thought 61,000 spectators had come to see him.” Craig Levein leaves Leicester and Mark Wright is suspended by Peterborough, over racist comments allegedly made to a player, which he denies.
Friday 27 England’s Euro 2008 qualifying group includes Croatia, Russia and Israel. The Rep of Ireland and Wales are in the same section, with Germany and the Czech Republic. Northern Ireland face Sweden, Spain and Denmark; Scotland might as well skip this one after getting France, Italy and Ukraine. Robbie Fowler rejoins Liverpool: “He has taught me a new English phrase about being over the moon,” says Rafa. Chelsea announce annual losses of £140m, but Peter Kenyon is serenely unconcerned, blaming it on “some exceptional items” including the departures of Adrian Mutu and Juan Sebastian Verón. Southend return to the top of League One by beating Swindon 2‑0.

Saturday 28
Cup drama, if not perhaps an outright shock, at Brentford, where DJ Campbell’s 89th-minute goal, his second of the game, clinches a 2‑1 win against Sunderland. The Bees’ promotion rivals Colchester beat Derby 3‑1. Charlton also need a last-minute goal, to defeat Orient 2‑1 – “It will have only been a glorious cup run if we get out of League Two,” says beaten manager Martin Ling. Steve McClaren accentuates the positive after Middlesbrough hang on for a 1‑1 draw at Coventry: “We are not confident but we are showing the right attitude.” Frank Lampard gets Chelsea’s equaliser in a 1‑1 draw at Everton. “It is very cruel and difficult to take,” says Arsène as the holders, packed with reserves as per, go out before the semi-final stage for the first time since 2000, losing to a late Stelios goal at Bolton. Graeme Souness can afford a smile, though it looks more like a scowl, after Newcastle’s 2‑0 win at Cheltenham: “As much as people would like to think they can put me under the cosh, I’m pretty good at resisting it.” The last-minute goal conceded by Stockport in a 1‑1 draw at leaders Wycombe sends them back to the foot of League Two.

Sunday 29 A comfortable Cup win for Man Utd, 3‑0 at Wolves – though Paul Ince has a goal dubiously disallowed with the score at 1‑0 – and an edgy one for Liverpool, whose first goal in a 2‑1 defeat of Portsmouth is from a very harsh penalty. Celtic lose a two-goal lead in drawing 3‑3 at Dundee Utd – whose comeback takes place while Roy Keane, due on as a sub, is in the toile

Tuesday 31 Middlesbrough end their winless run with a 3‑0 victory at Sunderland, a result Steve McClaren sees as “probably the most important in the four-and-a-half years I’ve been here”. Spurs lose to Carlos Bocanegra’s last-minute goal for Fulham. Jason Roberts and Duncan Ferguson are sent off in Wigan’s 1‑1 draw with Everton; Ferguson faces a longer ban following a second incident after his red card. Championship leaders Reading probably need another ten points for promotion after a 4‑0 thrashing of Norwich. Preston’s 2‑0 win over Palace moves them up to fifth. Leicester’s first win in 12 league games, 3‑2 at QPR, takes them out of the bottom three at the expense of Sheffield Wednesday. Swansea miss a chance to go second in League One, losing 2‑1 at home to Gillingham, who had been the only League team without an away win. Man City’s £6 million purchase of Greek striker Giorgios Samaras from Dutch side Heerenveen is the biggest deal on transfer deadline day; Danny Murphy leaves Charlton for Spurs, West Brom sell Rob Earnshaw to Norwich and sign Nigel Quashie from Southampton, and Argentine midfielder Andrés D’Alessandro joins Portsmouth on loan – Harry’s ninth buy in three weeks. Joey Barton, however, is unable to escape Man City having put in a transfer request yesterday. Phil Brown is sacked by Derby, currently 19th in the Championship.

From WSC 229 March 2006. What was happening this month

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