THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 1 “We will make sure it is exciting until the end of the title race,” says Arsène, as Arsenal scrape a 2-1 win over Fulham with a Robert Pires goal in the last minute. Man Utd are six points behind in second after winning 2-0 at Southampton. “We are capable of getting out of our mess,” says Gary Megson as West Brom move off the bottom after a 2-1 win at Man City. Sunderland score three goals in eight first-half minutes, but all are for Charlton, who win 3-1. “I have never been in or watched a game like it,” sighs Howard, whose team now prop up the table. Bolton put a four-point gap between themselves and the bottom three after beating Birmingham 4-2. Peter Ridsdale is barracked by Leeds fans during their 2-0 defeat at Everton but there are cheers for El Tel, who doesn’t know whether he is staying or going: “I don’t see my position clearly at the moment.” In the First, Sheffield Utd’s chances of catching Portsmouth and Leicester subside with a 1-0 defeat at Millwall, while their rivals both win. Brighton, with 43-year-old debutant Dave Beasant in goal, stay bottom with a 1-0 defeat at Walsall. Wigan are held to a goalless draw at home by bottom-place Cheltenham but still lead the Second by eight points. Boston slip back into the drop zone in the Third after conceding two goals in injury time to lose 2-1 at Bournemouth.

Sunday 2 Graeme Souness takes Blackburn’s 3-0 defeat at Villa rather badly, claiming that Ronny Johnsen attempted get James McEveley sent off: “I thought he was a proper player but now he’s just another Johnny Foreigner.” “Players get frightened in our situation,” says Glenn Roeder as the West Ham revival screeches to a halt with a 3-0 home defeat by Liverpool. The Hammers play Leeds next – spectators won’t be able to see for angry banners.

Tuesday 4 Manchester United move to within two points of Arsenal after a Ruud van Nistelrooy goal beats Birmingham, who are moving towards the bottom three. Leeds beat Gillingham 2-1 in their FA Cup fourth-round replay with Mark Viduka, sent off in the first game, getting the opener. Gills manager Andy Hessenthaler thinks his opposite number could have been more friendly: “It would have been nice to shake his hand but he has coached Barcelona so perhaps he’s a bit too big for us.”

Wednesday 5 Liverpool’s treble hopes are dashed by Crystal Palace who win 2-0 at Anfield in their FA Cup fourth-round replay despite having Dougie Freedman sent off. “This could be a blessing in disguise,” says Gérard, who thinks his 2002 World Cup players are looking a bit peaky. “We have got rid of the fear on the field,” says Howard after Sunderland beat Blackburn on penalties after a 2-2 draw; Southampton win 2-1 at Millwall.

Saturday 8 Teddy Sheringham scores his 300th goal in domestic football in Spurs’ 4-1 win over Sunderland, who stay bottom a point behind West Ham, beaten 1-0 at Leeds where Freddie Kanouté is sent off. Howard is still chipper – “No part of me believes we cannot get out of this situation” – Glenn Roeder less so: “I wouldn’t use the word desperate but we are concerned.” West Brom get an injury-time equaliser at home to Bolton who remain four points ahead of them in 17th place, just behind Birmingham whose 3-1 home defeat by Chelsea is their ninth match without a win. Geremi scores Middles­brough’s first away goal in five months in a 1-1 draw at Anfield. In the First, Nigerian striker Yakubu Ayegbeni scores twice in Portsmouth’s 6-2 thrashing of Derby. Leicester win too, 4-1 at Walsall, but Sheffield United drop further behind the top two after ten-man Ipswich come back from two down to beat them 3-2. Grimsby move out of the relegation zone and dump Stoke in it after beating them 2-0. Wigan hold a nine-point lead over Crewe in the Second; Hartlepool are ten ahead of Rushden in the Third, where Bristol Rovers drop to the bottom despite an away draw at Southend. In the Conference, Burton Albion fans get value for money but might have preferred not to as their team lose 7-4 at home to Telford United. Wayne Rooney is set to become England’s youngest ever international after being one of nine uncapped players named in the squad to play Australia.

Sunday 9 “This certainly feel like a defeat,” says Sir Alex as Shaun Goater scores a late equaliser for Man City in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford just nine seconds after coming on as a sub. Kev fesses up: “If Arsène or Alex had done that it would be tactical genius, with me it’s luck. It was luck, to be honest.” Arsenal keep their three-point lead after a 1-1 at Newcastle, whose scorer Laurent Robert is sent off for obstructing a free-kick, a decision which does not sit well with Sir Bobby: “That ruined our chances. You are not allowed to referee with common sense these days.”

Monday 10 Ipswich go into administration with debts of £10 million. Chairman David Sheepshanks blames “the huge monetary gap between the Premiership and the First Division”. Charlton fail in their bid to have last month’s match at Chelsea replayed because of the state of the pitch. Roy Keane decides against making an international comeback for Ireland, allegedly on the advice of his employers.

Wednesday 12 England’s youngsters get a 1-1 draw with Australia with a debut goal from Francis Jeffers. Unfortunately the first-choice team, substituted en masse at half time, were already two goals down. Sven defends his selection policy: “Some wanted to play on in the second half but I said no because I didn’t want to exhaust them.” Brian Kerr’s Ireland win 2-0 in Scotland. Wales’ 2-2 draw with Bosnia is their ninth match without defeat, a national record. Northern Ireland’s 1-0 home defeat by Finland is their sixth successive match without scoring.

Thursday 13 The FA are to hold meetings between Sven and Premier League chairmen to address the clubs’ objections to international friendlies. “There has to be a better way to support the national team while recognising the interests of the clubs. It is our responsibility to find it,” says acting chief executive David Davies. Alf-Inge Haaland is said to be “shocked and upset” by Man City’s decision to release him on medical advice.

Saturday 15 Arsenal record their first FA Cup win at Old Trafford since 1906, 2-0. Sir Alex is unhappy with Arsenal’s supposed ref-baiting: “There were nine or ten players around him all the time as if every tackle was a massacre.” Amazingly, Arsène take a different view: “They tried to intimidate us but we kept our heads.” Howard Wilkinson feels “angry, bitterly disappointed and cheated” after Watford win 1-0 at Sunderland with a controversially awarded and twice-taken penalty, the first kick having been saved by Thomas Sorensen who is adjudged to have come off his line too soon. Sheffield United and Southampton are also through to the last eight with 2-0 wins over Walsall and Norwich respectively. Wednesday drop to the foot of the First (after a 2-2 draw at Derby, who play most of the match with ten men), replacing Brighton, who win 1-0 at Bradford. It’s Exeter’s turn to prop up the League after losing 2-0 at home to Boston. Uri had better work some magic soon.

Sunday 16 After seeing his side draw 1-1 at home with Burnley in their FA Cup fifth-round tie, Jean Tigana wonders whether he should stay on at Fulham after this season: “Will we build for the long term? If not, I’ll stop and start fishing.” At Selhurst Park Leeds get what their manager sees as “the lucky break we have been looking for” after the officials fail to see a shot from Palace’s Tommy Black hit Michael Duberry’s arm then cross the line with the scores level at 1-1; Harry Kewell goes on to get a winner for the visitors. Chelsea win 2-0 at Stoke and Wolves beat Rochdale 3-1.

Monday 17 It is revealed that David Beckham was cut in the face after the Arsenal cup-tie by a boot allegedly kicked at him in the dressing room by an enraged Sir Alex, who describes the incident as “one of those freak acts of nature”. “In a way this match was a waste of time,” says a nonchalant Micky Adams as First Division flyers Leicester and Portsmouth edge closer to Saturday nights with Des after a 1-1 draw at the Walkers Stadium. The brother of Southampton’s restless Ecuadorian striker Agustin Delgado explains why the player took an unauthorised trip home: “English supporters are cold people who didn’t even say anything to Agustin on his birthday.”

Tuesday 18 Happier birthday news today as Newcastle mark Sir Bobby’s 70th with a 3-1 win away to Leverkusen in the Champions League. Arsenal draw 1-1 at home with Ajax and may soon have to play rush goalie after David Seaman joins new signing Guillaume Warmuz on the injury list. We all need time to heal after the injury to Becks but he is prepared to put it behind him: “The dressing-room incident was just one of those things.” Reading’s 3-1 win at Sheffield United takes them up to third in the First.

Wednesday 19 David Beckham makes the first of Man Utd’s goals, a header by Wes Brown, in a 2-1 Champions League win over Juventus that leaves them needing only a point to make the knockout stages. Sir Alex puts us straight: “If people thought he wouldn’t start they don’t understand the mentality of this club.” West Brom concede three in four minutes in losing 3-0 at Fulham. Gary Megson pulls no punches: “There are 11 big ones ahead but if we defend like we did tonight, we won’t win any of them.” Wolves move back into a play-off place with a 4-2 win at Ipswich. Port Vale’s administrators accept a takeover bid from a supporters group, Valiant 2001, in preference to four others bidders including the owners of Stoke City.

Thursday 20 Another “Battle of Britain” looms as Liverpool beat Auxerre 1-0 away in their UEFA Cup fourth-round tie, the winners of which will play either Stuttgart or Celtic, who take a 3-1 lead from their first leg at Parkhead. Sir Alex makes mischief, claiming that Sven-Göran Eriksson would have been his successor at Man Utd had he not decided to stay on: “I think they’d shaken hands. He would have been a nice easy choice for them.”

Saturday 22 “They were on a different planet to us,” sighs Kev as Arsenal score four in the first 19 minutes on the way to a 5-1 win at Man City, which stretches their lead at the top to five points. To no one’s surprise, Richard Dunne is substituted at half time. Bolton concede an injury-time equaliser for the second match in succession as a Solskjaer goal rescues a point for Man Utd: “An object lesson in shooting yourself in foot,” sighs Sam Allardyce. Sunderland blow off an entire limb in crashing 3-1 at home to Middlesbrough, though they do at least attract the Premiership’s biggest crowd of the day, most of whom will be doubly depressed on learning that Newcastle are three points behind Man Utd with a game in hand after winning 3-0 at Leeds. “Why, why, why?” wonders Claudio Ranieri after Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat by Blackburn. They are now level on points with fifth-placed Everton, for whom Tomasz Radzinski scores a 90th-minute win­ner against South­ampton. Charlton can almost entertain thoughts of Europe as a fifth successive win, 3-0 against Villa, takes them up to sixth. In the First, the top two win again but Sheffield United’s poor runs continues with a 1-0 home defeat by Norwich during which they have two players sent off. Brighton move out of the relegation zone for the first time since August after winning 1-0 at Bradford. Stoke drop to the bottom after crashing 6-0 at Forest, for whom Marlon Harewood scores four in the first half. Hartlepool continue to march briskly out of the Third, going 20 points clear of the play-off places after thumping Swansea 4-0. Stranraer reach the Scottish Cup quarter-finals for the first time after a 1-0 win at Morton. Leicester City fans vote to reject the new owners’ suggestion that the club revert to the name Fosse, last used in 1919.

Sunday 23 Birmingham’s surprise 2-1 win over Liverpool lifts them six points clear of the relegation zone. Rhymin’ Gérard is unflustered: “We are coming into a spell when we usually excel.” West Ham are three points behind fourth-bottom Bolton after a bad-tempered 2-1 win at West Brom during which Tomas Repka and David James nearly have a punch-up. Glenn Roeder doesn’t mind though: “It just showed how much they care.” Paolo Di Canio does his bit for disharmony by storming off after being substituted and later claims the club have decided not to offer him a new contract.

Monday 24 An independent audit commissioned by Leeds has cleared the club of alleged financial chicanery over the transfer of Rio Ferdinand from West Ham, for which Norwegian agent Rune Hauge received a payment of £1.75 million. Gérard Houllier denies rumours that he may join Monaco: “I am here for the long haul.” Supporters raise the £50,000 needed to keep York City afloat – Saturday’s match with Bury could have been the club’s last without the cash injection. Terry Fenwick is sacked by Northampton after just seven games in charge, from which they took two points. “We know when something is not working, even if the manager had only been in charge for a short period of time,” says chairman Ken Good.

Tuesday 25 Man Utd record one of their best-ever results in Europe, beating Juventus 3-0 in Turin, with two goals, the second a spectacular solo run, from the allegedly unsettled Ryan Giggs. Sir Alex is almost bashful: “I don’t know what message this sends out to Europe, I’m just happy we’re in the quarter-finals.” Wigan are 12 points clear in the Second after a 1-0 win at nearest rivals, Crewe, now only two points ahead of third-placed Cardiff, 2-0 victors at Port Vale. Neil McNab leaves Exeter City, bottom of the Third, and will be replaced by Gary Peters. A crowd of 20,000 see Juninho’s comeback match for Middlesbrough reserves, a 9-0 win over Bradford.

Wednesday 26 Arsenal stay top of their Champions League group after a goalless draw at Ajax, who disappoint Arsène: “As long as it was 0-0, they were happy.” Ronald Koeman laughs it off: “Perhaps we were smarter than Manchester City.” Newcastle still have a chance of reaching the knockout stage after an Alan Shearer hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Leverkusen. Fulham crash out of the FA Cup, beaten 3-0 at Burnley in their fifth-round replay. Sean Davis is sent off, but Jean Tigana breaks off from dreaming of a return to his vineyards to fume about rough stuff from Burnley: “At half time I told the referee to protect my players.” Stoke move off the bottom of the First with a 1-0 win over Walsall. Reading midfielder Phil Parkinson is the surprise choice as new manager of Colchester.

Thursday 27 Start digging a shelter: Liverpool’s 2-0 UEFA Cup win over Auxerre sets up a quarter-final meeting with Celtic, who are beaten 3-2 by Stuttgart but win 5-4 on aggregate. Michael Owen for one is looking forward to it: “Their fans never shut up!”

From WSC 194 April 2003. What was happening this month

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