THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 1 All the action in Man Utd’s 3‑2 win at Fulham happens before half-time. Despite his team’s defeat, Chris Coleman senses a weakness: “Defensively, I didn’t think they were great.” Spurs come back from two down to win 3‑2 at Charlton, but stay behind them in third on goal difference. Blackburn fans get their first sightings of Shefki Kuqi’s rupture-threatening bellyflop celebration after he scores both goals in a 2‑0 defeat of West Brom, who drop to 19th. “I was happy for once with a scrappy goal,” says Arsène, who is ageing quickly, after Arsenal need a late deflection to beat Birmingham. Sunderland’s 1‑1 draw with West Ham takes them out of the bottom three. Sheffield Utd’s eight-match winning run ends in a 2‑1 defeat to their nearest Championship challengers, Reading; Neil Warnock will face an FA charge after eyeballing the referee over not getting a late penalty. “The laws of football are black and white and the referee has seen purple,” say Blackpool keeper Les Pogliacomi of League One leaders Swansea’s decisive goal in their 3‑2 win when striker Lee Trundle, in an offside position, backs away from a cross that goes in while the defence stand still, appealing. Swindon are five points adrift at the foot after a 3‑1 defeat at second-bottom MK Dons. Wycombe remain the League’s only unbeaten team, but slip to third in League Two after a 3‑3 draw with Chester. In the SPL, Hearts finally drop points, needing an injury-time equaliser to draw 2‑2 with Falkirk. Celtic, 5‑0 winners at Livingston, are three points behind.

Sunday 2 “I think it’s time to respect my players,” says José as Chelsea plough on, their 4‑1 victory at Anfield being Liverpool’s first home defeat by that score since 1969. Everton remain stranded at the foot, losing 2‑0 at Man City in an 11.15am kick-off, the earliest ever Sky game. David Moyes airs doubts about some players: “We’ll find out who can handle the pressure and we’re beginning to see the ones who can’t.” Erratic Boro belie the theory that European trips affect league form by winning 3‑2 at Villa, though Bolton lose 2‑1 at Wigan.

Tuesday 4 A Manchester United player is to be questioned by police over an alleged rape at a London hotel on Sunday. Mark Ward, former midfielder with West Ham and Birmingham among others, receives eight years in jail for drug dealing. George Best is in intensive care with a kidney infection.

Thursday 6 Rio Ferdinand is dropped by England in favour of Sol Campbell, so against Austria there will be no Man Utd player in the starting line-up for the first time since 1996. Djibril Cissé says he’ll leave Liverpool in January if he is not a first choice: “I need more time on the pitch as being on the bench annoys me.”

Friday 7 Wycombe replace Grimsby at the top of League Two after beating them 1‑0 at Blundell Park. Liverpool will receive compensation claims from Sunderland and the Premier League for cancelling their televised fixture at the Stadium of Light in December, which clashes with the World Club Championship.

Saturday 8 England qualify for the World Cup. A Frank Lampard penalty settles a mediocre match with Austria, during which David Beckham is sent off; then the Czech Republic lose to Holland, so England will be at least one of the best runners-up. “I know we have struggled this season but today I was very pleased,” says Sven. Scotland’s chances have gone with a 1‑0 home defeat by Belarus: “We’ve had one poor 45 minutes since Walter took over and it has cost us,” says captain Christian Dailly. The Republic of Ireland get a lucky win in Cyprus, where Shay Given saves a penalty. Wales get their first competitive win in 15 attempts, 3‑2 in Belfast. Cameroon fail to make the finals in the most dramatic way, missing a 95th-minute penalty for the win they needed over Egypt. A 2‑1 defeat by Port Vale leaves managerless Swindon six points adrift in League One.

Sunday 9 Southend’s 1‑0 win over Forest makes them the new leaders of League One. Velimir Zajec is to resign as Portsmouth’s director of football.

Tuesday 11 Renowned anti‑corporate campaigner Sepp Blatter stokes up FIFA’s war with the G-14 clubs by criticising “the greed ruling the world of football” and the activities of certain club owners: “Having set foot in the sport seemingly out of nowhere, they proceed to throw pornographic amounts of money at it.” Swindon are to receive a winding-up order from the Inland Revenue over an unpaid tax bill, but vice-chairman Mark Devlin says it will be settled: “Publicity of these sorts of issues just causes people to panic.”

Wednesday 12 The Republic of Ireland fail to reach the World Cup play-offs; needing a win, they draw 0‑0 with Switzerland. “There are a lot of critics out there who have not done particularly well in management,” says Brian Kerr after Liam Brady, among others, calls for him to be replaced. A much improved England beat Poland 2‑1 with a late winner from Frank Lampard. Sven looks ahead: “We are one of four, five or six teams who could win it with a bit of luck.” Scotland finish third in their group with a 3‑0 win in Slovenia. “Ryan has become our Pied Piper,” says John Toshack after two Giggs goals defeat Azerbaijan; Northern Ireland lose 2‑0 in Austria, where Damien Johnson is sent off with Boro’s Emmanuel Pogatetz. A mismatch according to Lawrie Sanchez: “He is a small man from Ireland while his opponent is a big man from Austria.”

Saturday 15 Chelsea trail Bolton at half-time, but win 5‑1. Spurs’ 2‑0 defeat of their favourite opponents, Everton, takes them up to second. Martin Jol will settle for being the best of the rest: “I would like to catch Chelsea but it’s impossible.” Eighth-placed Arsenal’s 2‑1 loss at West Brom makes this their worst start since 1994. Wigan’s 1‑0 win over Newcastle takes them fifth, though a Shearer equaliser is ruled out despite appearing to cross the line. Graeme Souness breathes deeply: “I can’t keep giving the FA the money I have been.” “I really wanted to score to show those stupid fans,” says Djibril Cissé after getting the only goal of Liverpool’s game with Blackburn, whose supporters had chanted about the broken leg he suffered at Ewood Park last season. In the Championship, Sheffield Utd are nine points clear of third place after a 1‑0 win over Wolves. A 3‑1 defeat of Walsall puts Huddersfield back on top of League One, as Southend’s club record eight-match winning run ends with a 2‑0 defeat at Doncaster. Grimsby, who won last night, keep the League Two lead in after Wycombe are held at home by struggling Rushden. Hearts retain their three-point cushion in the SPL with a 1‑1 draw at Celtic.

Sunday 16 Villa get their first top-level win over Birmingham in 22 years through a Kevin Phillips goal at St Andrew’s; David O’Leary may be in trouble for sprinting across the pitch at the end to celebrate with his directors. Andy Cole’s arrival at Maine Road was greeted with dismay by some Man City fans, but his two goals in the 2‑1 win over West Ham take the team up to fourth.

Monday 17 Middlesbrough’s Abel Xavier fails a drugs test taken after the match against Xanthi. Fulham’s 1‑1 draw at Charlton takes them out of the bottom three. Milan Mandaric denies that David Pleat and Sir Bobby Robson have been approached to be Pompey’s director of football, “but these are the sort of people we want”.

Tuesday 18 Arsenal continue to save their best for Europe, Thierry Henry breaking the club’s all‑time scoring record with both goals in a 2‑0 win at Sparta Prague. Not many laughs at Old Trafford, where Paul Scholes is sent off and Ryan Giggs breaks his cheekbone during a 0‑0 draw with Lille. Sheffield Utd’s 4‑0 win at Millwall keeps them five points clear in League One. Swansea City’s new ground finally receives a name – it is to be the Liberty Stadium after a local property company (the other option was the Communications Direct Stadium). Simon Jordan will contest an FA disrepute charge related to comments made about the referee of Palace’s 3‑2 defeat at Reading. Former Fulham and England captain Johnny Haynes dies aged 71.

Wednesday 19 “I think everyone now knows that we want to score goals,” says José after Chelsea stroll on with a 4‑0 home win over Betis. Liverpool are also odds-on to make the CL knockout stage following a 1‑0 win at Anderlecht, with Djibril Cissé scoring again. Rangers are held 0‑0 at home by Artmedia. Cristiano Ronaldo is arrested in connection with the alleged London rape of two weeks ago, but Carlos Queiroz sniffs a stitch-up: “This information has to be a joke.” Brian Kerr is sacked as Republic of Ireland manager.

Thursday 20 “Our supporters love these European games,” says Steve McClaren, delighted to be applauded for once as a Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink goal beats Grasshoppers. Jared Borghetti scores Bolton’s equaliser in a 1‑1 draw at Besiktas. Wrexham regain the freehold on the Racecourse Ground after the High Court removes it from the control of majority shareholder Alex Hamilton. Djibril Cissé is cautioned for assault after admitting that he hit a teenage boy in a London park while filming an advert.

Friday 21 Arsène admits to being “scared” that Thierry Henry, critical of Arsenal’s recent lack of spending, will leave for Barcelona. Former Darlington chairman George Reynolds is jailed for three years for tax fraud.

Saturday 22 Charlton come from behind to win 2‑1 at Portsmouth and retake second. Alan Curbishley rallied his losing team at half-time by saying: “I only have three players, eight of you haven’t done it.” Jermaine Jenas earns third-placed Spurs a 1‑1 draw at Man Utd. Sir Alex is sounding forlorn: “We have to try and stick as close to Chelsea as possible.” Wigan are fourth after a 2‑0 win at Villa, but Paul Jewell is not excited yet: “At the moment we are only focusing on being here next year.” Arsenal beat Man City with a Robert Pires penalty, but he later makes a hash of a second spot-kick: in trying to pass the ball to Thierry Henry he appears instead to take two touches, leading (wrongly) to a free-kick for City. Thierry takes the rap, sort of: “I’m to blame but it wasn’t my fault Robert had a numb leg.” Liverpool amble down to 12th after a 2‑0 defeat at Fulham. Reading’s 16th match without defeat, a 1‑0 win at Stoke, takes them to within three points of Championship leaders Sheffield Utd and six ahead of third-placed Luton, who draw at home to Plymouth. Millwall stay bottom after a fifth home defeat, 2‑0 to Southampton; next-to-bottom Crewe also look set for a grim winter, conceding five after half-time in a 6‑1 mauling at Cardiff. Wolves’ Vio Ganea, back after more than a year injured, is booked for over-zealously celebrating his goal in the team’s 1‑1 draw, then is later sent off for a second yellow. Huddersfield’s 4‑3 defeat at Chesterfield takes Southend top of League One, despite their only drawing at home with Barnsley. Gary Megson bemoans Forest’s “arrogant and disgusting” display in a 3‑0 defeat at Yeovil that drops them four places to 11th. Grimsby lose the League Two lead in a 1‑0 defeat by Leyton Orient, who go second; Wycombe are top again after winning 2‑1 at Lincoln. Mansfield leap off the bottom with a 4‑0 thrashing of Barnet. George Burley leaves Hearts, apparently in a dispute over owner Vladimir Romanov’s involvement in transfers; the team plough on, though, with a 2‑0 win over Dunfermline.

Sunday 23 Everton celebrate a first home point in a 1‑1 draw with Chelsea, after which José stews over a Didier Drogba goal disallowed for offside: “The referee should apologise and I am not happy.” Bryan Robson is equally vexed by West Brom’s 2‑0 defeat at Bolton, where they miss a retaken penalty then concede from a disputed free-kick – “The referee has cost us the game. I told him that but he blanked me” – while Steve McClaren is “devastated” to lose to a West Ham goal that did not cross the line. A spectacular strike by Emre gives Newcastle a 3‑2 victory over Sunderland who had twice come back to equalise. In Madrid, there’s proof that Wayne Rooney can be a bad influence on impressionable kids: David Beckham is sent off for applauding a referee who had just given him a yellow card for dissent.

Tuesday 25 The Carling Cup draws Sunderland’s first capacity crowd of the season, lured by £5 entry, but Arsenal’s reserves beat their second-string opponents 3‑0. Junichi Inamoto scores the clincher in West Brom’s 3‑2 win at his former club, Fulham. Liverpool’s 2‑1 defeat at Palace is the only surprise (“We are thinking about the next game and nothing else,” says Rafa), though Watford take Wigan to extra time before losing 3‑0. David Beckham’s red card is rescinded after Real officials argue that his clapping was “neither scornful nor sarcastic”.

Wednesday 26 Charlton knock the holders Chelsea out of the Carling Cup on penalties after a 1‑1 draw. José is not unduly fussed: “It is not one of those days when you go to the dressing room and want to kill half a dozen.” Barnet’s trip to Old Trafford is ruined within two minutes when keeper Ross Flitney is sent off for handling outside his area; the red card is later rescinded, but Man Utd score from the free-kick and win 4‑1. “We all talk about the problems football has but there has to be some soul and heart in the game,” says visiting manager Paul Fairclough. Alan Shearer, scorer of Newcastle’s late goal that knocks out Grimsby, is greatly displeased to have been smacked in the teeth by Justin Whittle: “It would have been easy for me to stick one on him because that is what I wanted to do.” Glen Johnson, who has played as many times for England this season as he has for Chelsea, breaks a hand after reportedly punching a wall at home. Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe wins a libel case against the Times, who said he’d behaved “shabbily” in suspending manager David Jones over child abuse allegations that were later dismissed in court.

Friday 28 After four years of lobbying, Brighton finally receive planning permission for a new 23,000-capacity ground at Falmer. “A club we could easily have lost has been saved,” says council leader Ken Bodfish. Paul Gascoigne is to be the new manager of Kettering, but will at least be assisted by ex-Arsenal midfielder Paul Davis rather than his put-upon fat best friend.

Saturday 29 Wigan are second after a fifth straight league win, though it takes a 92nd-minute goal from Pascal Chimbonda to beat Fulham, who feel several decisions by the referee went against them: “I hope he can sleep tonight, because I won’t be able to,” says Chris Coleman. Chelsea let a two-goal lead slip against Blackburn, but eventually win 4‑2 to go 11 points clear. Man Utd are thumped 4‑1 by Boro: “The players should be angry with themselves,” says Sir Alex, who may offer tips. A Robert Pires goal denies Spurs their first win over Arsenal since 1999. Everton move up to 18th after a 1‑0 win at Birmingham, who are kept off the bottom by Sunderland’s 4‑1 home defeat to Portsmouth. Sixteen-year-old Theo Walcott, a target for Chelsea, scores his third goal in three Southampton starts in their 2‑0 win over Stoke. Sheffield Utd fail to score for the first time in a 0‑0 draw with Cardiff, but they stay ten points clear of third place. Chubby showman Lee Trundle, who has just become the first lower-division player with his own merchandising deal, scores a hat-trick in the 5‑1 defeat of Chesterfield that takes Swansea back to the top of League One. Leyton Orient, unbeaten in ten, lead League Two by beating Oxford 1‑0. Stockport, the team with the League’s worst defence, crash 6‑0 at Carlisle. Hearts lose for the first time, 2‑0 to Hibernian; unwise club officials want to discuss the managerial vacancy with Kevin Keegan.

Sunday 30 Celtic lead the SPL for the first time this season after a 4‑2 win over Dundee Utd. Michael Owen gets another two for Newcastle in a 3‑0 win at West Brom. José responds to Arsène’s suggestion that Chelsea are slipping after their results at Everton and Charlton: “I think he is one of these voyeurs. I don’t know if he wants my job, but he loves Chelsea.”

Monday 31 Man City move up to fourth after Darius Vassell scores twice against Aston Villa, his previous club, in a 3‑1 win. Meanwhile, Villa confirm that they have received a takeover proposal from an Irish consortium. Hearts lose both their chief executive, who’s sacked, and their chairman who resigns over the sacking. Both will be replaced by owner Vladimir Romanov’s son, Roman. Birmingham refuse to comment on reports that Jermaine Pennant was sent home for turning up drunk to training. Welsh League champions Total Network Solutions are to be renamed Llansantffraid & Oswestry Town after their parent company is taken over by BT.

From WSC 226 December 2005. What was happening this month

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