THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 1 Chelsea stride on, with a controversial 1-0 win at Liverpool who are denied a clear penalty in the first half before Joe Cole gets the late, deflected, winner. “Sometimes you have the luck of champions,” says José, cupping an ear for the squawks of outrage from Old Trafford and Highbury. Arsenal stay in pursuit after a 3-1 win at Charlton. “No one is playing as well as us,” says Sir Alex following Man Utd’s eighth win in nine, 2-0 at Middlesbrough, though Spurs might contest that after their 5-2 thrashing of Everton. Bolton stop the rot, just, a late equaliser forcing a 1-1  home draw with West Brom. Palace’s 3-1 defeat to Fulham returns them to the bottom three, below Norwich who play 85 minutes with ten men after Marc Edworthy’s dismissal at Portsmouth but still get a  1-1 draw. Wigan regain the lead in the Championship, winning 2-0 at Sheffield Utd, while Ipswich lose by the same score at home to West Ham. In League One Hull’s 2-1 victory over Huddersfield brings them level with leaders Luton, held at home by Sheffield Wed. Yeovil’s 2-0 defeat  of Swansea allows them to catch up League Two leaders Scunthorpe, beaten at home by Darlington. The FA will probe a half-time incident during Bristol City’s 2-0 win over Peterborough that makes it a happy new year for  City defender Tony Butler, who suffers “eight displaced teeth”.

Tuesday 4 There’s an extraordinary end to Man Utd’s goalless home draw with Spurs as the officials fail to spot that home keeper Roy Carroll has spilled Pedro Mendes’ 50-yard punt into the net. “I was a bit surprised,” says Martin Jol, understating magnificently; Sir Alex accepts the need for video referees: “We must use the technology now.” Arsenal fall seven points behind Chelsea after being held 1-1 at home by Man City, who had the  temerity to go in front, while the leaders beat Middlesbrough 2-0. In front of new signing James Beattie, Everton beat Portsmouth 2-1 with a 93rd-minute goal from Leon Osman; Bolton win by the same score, also in the dying seconds, at Birmingham. Newcastle are to pay £8 million for French defender Jean-Alain Boumsong, whom Rangers acquired on a free in the summer.

Wednesday 5
Fulham miss a chance to win at Southampton for the first time in 70 years as a Liam Rosenior own goal gives the home side, featuring debutant Jamie Redknapp, a point in a fluctuating 3-3 draw. Rob Lewis, the assistant referee who didn’t see Spurs’ “goal” at Old Trafford, defends himself: “When the ball landed I was still 25 yards away. There was nothing else I could have done apart from run faster than Linford Christie.”

Thursday 6 “With me out of the way, it’ll give everyone a boost,” says Peter Reid, wishing Coventry well after stepping down with the club fifth from bottom in the Championship. Robbie Savage, still mustard-keen on a move  to Blackburn, is booed by Birmingham fans while playing for their reserves.

Saturday 8
Exeter take Man Utd to a replay after a goalless draw at Old Trafford in their FA Cup third-round tie. “This was worst performance from my team in the Cup since I came here 18 years ago,” says Sir Alex, who may field a full-strength side for the replay. Notts County score the quickest goal  of the day after two minutes against Middlesbrough, but go on to lose 2-1. Chelsea trail, too, at home to Scunthorpe, before rallying for a 3-1 win. José seems to like the Cup and has an idea: “Premiership clubs should always play at the stadium of lower-division clubs in knockout competitions.” Man City are the biggest giants smitten, losing 1-0 at windswept Oldham where Little Kev withdraws moodily into his big coat just like he did before leaving Newcastle. Villa’s woeful Cup form continues with a 3-1 defeat at Sheffield United, who are helped by  a couple of questionable refereeing decisions. David just about keeps the lid on a scream:  “I could say a lot about what went on out there, but I won’t.” Yeovil reach the fourth round for the first time since their big Cup run of 1949 with a 3-0 win at Rotherham. Norwich lose  1-0 at West Ham, Sunderland beat Palace 2-1, Reading scrape a 1-1 home draw with Swansea after a late equaliser.

Sunday 9 “That was hard work but it’s what the FA Cup is all about,” says Graeme Souness as Newcastle edge to  a 2-0 win over Ryman League Yeading – it’s the first time they’ve beaten a non-League team without the benefit of |a replay. Arsenal are made to sweat, too, coming from behind to beat Stoke 2-1 with a recalled Jens Lehmann having another tremulous afternoon in goal. A John Hartson goal clinches Celtic’s 2-1 win over Rangers in their Scottish Cup third-round tie.

Monday 10 Gary Megson sees off competition  from David Jones and Micky Adams to get the Forest manager’s job. “I could see it coming,” sighs Harry Redknapp as Southampton get Portsmouth at home  in the next round of the Cup.

Tuesday 11 Steven Gerrard is the man again, scoring the only goal of Liverpool’s Carling Cup semi-final first leg with Watford at Anfield. “I always say in England it is difficult to win comfortably,” says Rafa, who can’t have seen many Chelsea games lately. Wayne Routledge will not be dropped by Palace despite infuriating their easily infuriated chairman Simon Jordan by refusing to sign a new contract. “I live in the real world,” says Iain Dowie.

Wednesday 12 No goals at the Bridge in the second Carling Cup semi, with José suspecting that Man Utd were favoured by the ref with whom Sir Alex supposedly had words at half-time: “It is a question of a big personality influencing a person without much prestige in the world of football.” Having signed Kevin Campbell on a free from Everton, West Brom are looking to offload Kanu, but may not be besieged by buyers as he’s on £27,000 a week.

Friday 14 Fernando Morientes leaves Real Madrid for Liverpool for £6m (“I am going to learn English fast to tell Steve Gerrard he must stay”) just as Thomas Gravesen is flying in to seal a move from Everton for £2.5m. With United’s February trip to Highbury in mind, Sir Alex reheats Pizzagate, saying he told Arsène off for criticising his players: “He came sprinting towards me with his hands raised saying, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ ”

Saturday 15 Jerzy Dudek fumbles a speculative Wayne Rooney shot to give Man Utd all three points at Anfield. Rooney may get into trouble for his celebration in front of the Kop, during which he’s nearly hit by a mobile phone (if there was a text message, he didn’t read it). Chelsea’s unbeaten league run against Spurs stretches to 30 games after their 2-0 win at White Hart Lane. “We’ve sussed their formation,” says Sam Allardyce as Stelios’s goal beats Arsenal in the evening game. Arsène, meanwhile, is mightily steamed up about Sir Alex’s attack: “In England it is too easy to prepare an explosive. I will never answer any questions anymore about this man.” After six defeats in seven, Villa perk up with a 3-0 win over Norwich, whose new £2m singing from Crewe, striker Dean Ashton, contributes an own goal after nine minutes. After 12 matches out, Alan Shearer scores from the spot in Newcastle’s 2-1 win over Southampton, who stay in the bottom three. Fourth-bottom Palace lose 3-1 at Man City, for whom Shaun Wright-Phillips stars again, prompting Little Kev to say that the club would be “selling their soul” if he were allowed to leave. Portsmouth have Amdy Faye and Lomana LuaLua dismissed by the officious Andy D’Urso, who also hands out nine yellow cards during Blackburn’s 1-0 win. Mark Hughes shakes his head: “I don’t think I’d have much of a career if I’d started out now.” Championship leaders Ipswich and Wigan win again, but Gary Megson may be planning a promotion campaign soon as Nottingham Forest fall seven points adrift of safety, losing 2-1 to Millwall while their rivals pick up points, Gillingham beating Plymouth and Cardiff drawing 1-1 at Leeds, where ten people are arrested for fighting outside the ground. Luton regain the lead in League One after beating bottom placed Stockport 3-0 while Hull are held at home by Peterborough. In League Two, Scunthorpe’s point at Bury allows them to draw level with leaders Yeovil, beaten 2-1 at Oxford.
   
Sunday 16 Middlesbrough’s 1-1 draw with Everton ends in a mass bundle in the goalmouth where, fortunately, there’s not enough room to land a haymaker – FA action expected. A Papa Bouba Diop goal  in injury time sends West Brom to their seventh defeat under Bryan Robson, who goes tonto about two pens not given; Chris Coleman sighs with relief: “We were rubbish, but if we’re rubbish again next week and get three points, I’ll settle for it.” Sunderland stay three points off the top on the Championship after a 2-0 win at Derby. Mick McCarthy expects to see “a few backsides twitching up and down the country” during the run-in.

Tuesday 18 Burnley are gifted an FA Cup win over a weakened Liverpool thanks to a nimbly back-heeled own goal from Djimi Traoré. “We don’t have the squad to play in four competitions at the top level,” says Rafa, who also has Antonio Núñez sent off for a flying elbow. Villa receive an “official reprimand” from the FA for tapping up James Beattie last summer and they miss out on another transfer target when Salif Diao opts to join Birmingham from Liverpool. “Football is about how far you can push yourself and I am up for this cause,” says former Portsmouth captain Nigel Quashie on rejoining Harry Redknapp at Southampton.

Wednesday 19 Man Utd edge past Exeter 2-0, but don’t kill the game off until Wayne Rooney doubles the score in the 87th minute. Sir Alex is barely placated: “There’s no point in trying to say that we were brilliant. This is a reminder to everyone at the club.” “I can’t tell you what a relief this is,” says Robbie Savage, sobbing quietly after he finally moves to Blackburn from Birmingham for £3m. His new club, meanwhile, struggle to put Cardiff out of the Cup, finally winning their replay 3-2. Bournemouth chairman Peter Phillips, whose club now face Burnley in the fourth round, criticises Liverpool for putting out a weakened team at Turf Moor: “We are upset with the disrespect they have shown to the FA Cup. A tie  at Anfield would have given us breathing space with our finances.” York’s City’s Bootham Crescent is to be renamed KitKat Crescent as part of a sponsorship deal with Nestle-Rowntree that will fund the club’s purchase  of the ground. “The product is made in York and, like our home kit, is red and white,” says managing director Jason McGill. It’s brown, Jason.

Friday 21 “I want one more challenge and I think this is it,” says 73-year-old Ken Bates on taking over at Leeds, to general surprise, for around £10m. The Midlands game  of managerial musical chairs carries on with Micky Adams taking over at Coventry.

Saturday 22 Seven straight wins for Chelsea, Portsmouth the latest to roll over at the Bridge for a comfortable 3-0. “Now we can go home, have a nice glass of red wine and relax,” says assistant manager Steve Clarke, idly flicking through a timeshare brochure. José, meanwhile, wafts away reported interest in David Beckham: “All you need is a strong group of players – you don’t need a Hollywood star.” Man Utd are second, for a day at least, the 3-1 win over Villa their 13th game without defeat. With Liverpool losing 2-0 at Southampton in an early kick-off, Everton miss a chance to put ten points between themselves and the chasing pack by losing  1-0 at home to Charlton. Alan Curbishley’s men thus draw level with Liverpool and Middlesbrough, the latter incredibly throwing away a three-goal lead in the last ten minutes in drawing  4-4 at Norwich (“Shocking... the defending was shocking,” whispers an ashen  Steve McClaren). There are victories for  the other strugglers, West Brom beating Man City 2-0 – “I did start thinking the win might never come,” says Robbo, chancing a smile – and Palace pasting Spurs 3-0, with Iain Dowie effusive about unsettled Wayne Routledge,  who may yet fetch up at the Lane: “He’s a little bit like Maradona is the way he drifts inside.” Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat of Sheffield Utd moves them a point behind second-placed Wigan, held 2-2 by Watford. Leaders Ipswich take a 90th-minute lead at Reading but concede themselves within seconds for a 1-1 draw. Spanish striker Juan Ugarte scores all of Wrexham’s goals in their 4-2  win at Chesterfield, though they stay in the relegation  area in League One. A three-cornered scrap for the two promotion places seems likely as Tranmere move to three points off the lead by beating Walsall while Luton and Hull draw and lose respectively.  In League Two, Yeovil extend their lead to three points despite needing a late penalty  to beat bottom-placed Cambridge.

Sunday 23 With Arsène making a pre-match demand for “14 wins out of the last  15” his side stay a distant second after a 1-0 victory over Newcastle. The latter leave cranky Craig Bellamy out of their squad  after he again refuses to play in midfield – “He’s gone about showing his displeasure in totally the wrong way,” says Graeme Souness. Tense times for Alan Pardew as West Ham stay outside the Championship  play-off zone after a third straight defeat, 2-1 at home to Derby. “It’s a results business,” says the club’s managing director, ominously.
   
Monday 24 El-Hadji Diouf hits the headlines again, winning a dubious penalty at Blackburn with a tumble  in the vague vicinity of Brad Friedel. Diouf converts the  spot-kick himself, via a rebound, for the only goal. He’s then substituted straight away after the “cupped ear” routine to home crowd. “The lad has got a reputation for diving and enhanced it. The referee should have done his homework,” says a livid Mark Hughes. Craig Bellamy  may have played his last match for Newcastle after a further bust-up with his quivering manager, whom he accuses of lying in a TV interview. Graeme hits back:  “He said in front of our new signings, Boumsong  and Babayaro,‘This is a rubbish club with a rubbish manager’.” Don’t stand for that, Graeme. Birmingham are to take Jermaine Pennant on loan from Arsenal, but may not be able to use for a while after he’s arrested for drink driving while being banned for a previous offence.

Tuesday 25 Another Gerrard goal takes Liverpool past Watford into the Carling Cup final. Walsall’s 5-0 defeat at Colchester may precipitate the departure of manager Paul Merson: “I’m considering my position because of the fans – I went to take corners and they were saying, ‘Why don’t you get lost?’ ” In League Two, Macclesfield also win by five, away to Notts County. Rodney Marsh is sacked by Sky for making a Toon Army/tsunami joke during a phone-in.

Wednesday 26 “We have sent a message to the Premier League,” says José as Chelsea reach the Carling Cup final with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford, settled by an  85th-minute blunder from Tim Howard, who allows Damien Duff’s long-range free-kick to drift in. Sir Alex reflects on the end of his domestic cup record: “In 18 years you expect to lose a semi-final at some point, I just didn’t want it to be this one.” The FA apologise for a DVD about England stars that doesn’t include any black players. The discs are for England members – perhaps it’s niche marketing. Derby’s first win over Leeds in 18 games, 2-0 at Pride Park, lifts them up to fifth place in the Championship. Roma’s Egyptian striker Mido is to join Spurs on loan. Blackburn reject Rangers’ latest bid to re-sign Barry Ferguson.

Friday 28 Chelsea are to announce pre-tax losses of a record £88m for 2003-04. Chief executive Peter Kenyon just wants to look ahead: “Two years ago we were seen as streets paved with gold – that is over. Chelsea is now being run properly.” An eventful week for Craig Bellamy could end in a £6m move to Birmingham, who have a vacancy for a tetchy blond Welshman. Little Kev will be feeling several pounds lighter as Nicolas Anelka agrees a £7m move to Fenerbahce; City, meanwhile, bring in Dutch midfielder Kiki Musampa from Atlético Madrid. Ronnie Moore is to leave Rotherham after failing to agree on a new contract with supporters’ group Millers ’05 Ltd, who took over  earlier in the month.

Saturday 29 Scarcely a surprise in the Cup, though Fulham have to come from behind to get a 1-1 draw at Derby and Yeovil give Charlton a fright before going out 3-2. Colchester’s 3-0 defeat at Blackburn includes an own goal howler from keeper Aidan Davison, who swipes at a back pass that rolls over his foot and in. After a tense build-up that included a slanging match between the two chairmen, Southampton’s tie with Portsmouth ends with a 2-1 home win, settled by  a last-minute penalty for handball that looked like ball-to-shoulder. Harry Redknapp wants to be peacemaker: “It was a strange old day. Of course I feel sorry for Pompey, I’ve got no bad feelings towards anyone.” Wayne Rooney scores two spectacular goals in Man Utd’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough. “Mike Riley is a Premiership referee and there was definitely a familiarity between him and their players,” says Glenn Hoddle after Arsenal get a dodgy penalty and don’t have a plausible one given against them in a 2-0 defeat of Wolves. Tranmere miss a chance to move into the top two in League One as leaders Luton come back for a 1-1 draw. Paul Merson’s gloom lifts a little as his Walsall team stage the comeback of the day from 3-1 down at home to Huddersfield to win 4-3. In League Two, Cambridge edge nearer the trapdoor, a 3-1 home defeat by second-bottom Kidderminster leaving them seven points adrift of safety. The Football League will institute transfer windows from next season after failing to persuade FIFA that they should remain exempt.

Sunday 30 Oldham’s Cup run ends with a 1-0 defeat  to Bolton and manager Brian Talbot has a fraught journey to the match, as he runs over someone involved in a row between two groups of Iraqis outside a polling station in Manchester. Chelsea are still on for a quadruple after beating Birmingham 2-0. Arsenal are to investigate claims that Chelsea have made a secret approach to Ashley Cole. “It would not be the first time another club has tried to speak to one of our contracted players,” says chairman Peter Hill-Wood. Other clubs can be so beastly.

Monday 31 Spurs are  the main movers on transfer deadline day, spending £8m on Forest’s Michael Dawson and Andy Reid, which means they have brought in eight new players since the start of January. Southampton get Newcastle defender Olivier Bernard and striker Henry Camara from Wolves via Celtic; Roma’s former France full-back Vincent Candela takes a pay cut to join Bolton. The troubled Craig Bellamy turns down Birmingham  in favour of a loan move to Celtic. Man Utd’s Cameroon midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba will cost Villa £1.3m. “For the money we have done very well,“ says David O’Leary, pulling his brave face.

From WSC 217 March 2005. What was happening this month

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