THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Wednesday 1 England beat Uruguay 2‑1 at Anfield in their final friendly before the World Cup squad is picked. Darren Bent makes his debut, Peter Crouch and Joe Cole score. Scotland lose 3‑1 to Switzerland, extending their ten‑year run without a friendly win at Hampden. Northern Ireland beat Estonia 1‑0, Ivan Sproule scoring after 78 seconds. England’s World Cup group opponents Sweden lose 3‑0 to Ireland, while Paraguay draw 0-0 with Wales, Derby’s 17-year-old Lewin Nyatanga becoming the youngest ever Welsh international. Former Chelsea and England striker Peter Osgood dies aged 59.

Thursday 2 Ashley Cole starts legal action against the News of the World and the Sun over rumours linking him to the “gay Premiership orgy” story last month.

Saturday 4 Bryan Robson and José Mourinho could be in trouble after swapping insults on the touchline as Chelsea beat West Brom 2‑1 in a very niggly match in which Arjen Robben is sent off. Birmingham are still three points from a safe spot after losing 1‑0 at Boro, who have now won seven in nine. “The best team lost – it’s the same old story,” insists Steve Bruce. Thierry Henry scores twice as Arsenal win 4‑0 at Fulham to close the gap on Spurs. Alan Shearer scores as Newcastle beat Bolton 3‑1 at home. “There’s no one else in the world with his style,” says Glenn Roeder. Reading go 14 points clear at the top of the Championship with a 3‑0 win at Burnley, following Sheffield United and Crewe’s 0‑0 draw the night before. Leeds win at Crystal Palace and Cardiff go level on points with sixth-placed Preston. At the bottom Millwall creep closer to safety, scoring in injury time to beat Luton 2‑1, whose manager Mike Newell isn’t happy: “The chairman and directors might think we’re doing well, but they know nothing about football.” Southend go six points clear in League One after a 3‑0 Essex derby win at Colchester and in League Two just two points separate the top five after Wycombe lose at Cheltenham. In Scotland the entire lower-division fixture list is postponed due to snow.

Sunday 5 “Fourth spot is ours to throw away now,” says Martin Jol as Spurs beat Blackburn 3‑2 at White Hart Lane to go five points clear of Arsenal. Giorgios Samaras scores twice in two minutes and Gary Breen is sent off for handball as Man City beat Sunderland 2‑1. “There is no explanation for what Gary did,” explains Mick McCarthy. Hearts win 3‑2 at Livingston to go eight points clear of Rangers.

Monday 6
Sunderland sack Mick McCarthy after two wins in 28 games this season. “It’s been brilliant,” he says, possibly not striking the right note. A last-minute own goal sends Wigan to a 2‑1 defeat against Man Utd, but Paul Jewell spurns sympathy: “I hate glorious losers.”

Tuesday 7 “We have not seen two games with eleven v eleven,” says José, clutching a handful of straws after Chelsea’s 1‑1 draw at Barcelona that sends them out of the Champions League in the last 16. Brentford’s 2‑1 win at Yeovil takes them up to second in League One. Carlisle reach the Football League Trophy (previously LDV Vans) final, beating Macclesfield on away goals.

Wednesday 8 Arsenal’s 0‑0 Champions League draw with Real Madrid puts them in the quarter-finals. Arsène feels all paternal: “I feel we have grown as a team during the last two months.” “I will not blame my strikers,” says Rafa as Liverpool go out after missing chances in a 2‑0 home defeat by Benfica. UEFA are to investigate an alleged attack on Villarreal’s team bus by Rangers fans, before a 1‑1 draw that takes the Spanish side through.

Thursday 9
An early penalty from Yakubu Aiyegbeni gives Middlesbrough a narrow lead over Roma in their UEFA Cup tie. Wayne Rooney agrees a £5 million book deal with Harper Collins that will involve him producing a minimum of five books over the next 12 years. Bolton sign Israeli winger Idan Tal, whose former agent may protest over Sam Allardyce’s son, Craig, replacing him as the player’s representative before the transfer. Arsène responds to criticism from Alan Pardew about Arsenal’s lack of English players: “We represent a football club which is about values and not about passports.”

Saturday 11 Portsmouth are only six points adrift after two spectacular Pedro Mendes goals, the second in the last minute, beat Man City 2‑1. “It was like Sunday morning football,” Steve Bruce says as third-bottom Birmingham draw 1‑1 with West Brom at St Andrew’s, maintaining the three-point gap between them. William Gallas scores in the last minute as Chelsea beat Spurs 2‑1 to extend their lead to 18 points. “There’s a time and a place for that kind of thing,” says Kevin Ball as a minority of Sunderland fans demand chairman Bob Murray’s resignation after a 1‑0 defeat at home to Wigan, Ball’s first game in charge. In the battle for Europe Bolton beat West Ham 4‑1 and Blackburn see off Villa 2‑0. David O’Leary has a word of warning about the Champions League though: “You only have to look where some of these teams end up the following season to see how tough it is.” James Beattie scores twice as Everton win 3‑1 at home to Fulham. In the Championship, Reading and Watford draw 0‑0 and Sheffield United lose 2‑0 at Coventry City – “Our season starts now,” says Neil Warnock. Wolves move into the play-off places after a 2‑0 home win against Cardiff which is delayed at half-time by disturbances in the crowd, reportedly started by bar staff refusing to serve visiting fans. Brentford beat Barnsley 3‑1 to stay in second place in League One. Oldham edge nearer the last play-off spot with a 1‑0 defeat of Colchester. In League Two, Orient, Wycombe and Grimsby all win to close the gap on leaders Carlisle. In the Conference, Accrington draw at second-placed Hereford to stay 16 points clear.

Sunday 12 Wayne Rooney scores twice as Man Utd beat Newcastle 2‑0 to open up a five-point gap on second-placed Liverpool, who lose 2‑1 at Arsenal, Thierry Henry scoring both. Two goals also for Darren Bent, as Charlton beat Boro 2‑1 at The Valley. “He’s got to get in Sven’s face,” enthuses Alan Curbishley, the same day the News of the World publishes pictures of him meeting FA officials for “secret talks”. “He doesn’t just want the job – he really, really wants it,” says an insider. Celtic beat Hibs 2‑1 at Easter Road to go 15 points clear of Hearts in second. Paul Le Guen is confirmed as the next Rangers manager.

Monday 13 Jimmy Johnstone, a key player in Celtic’s 1967 European Cup-winning team, dies, aged 61. José is confident that Chelsea will sign Michael Ballack and keep Frank Lampard, who is said to interest Barcelona: “This will be a dream couple.”

Tuesday 14 Man City win their FA Cup fifth-round replay with Villa, 2‑1. “I could retire happy if we won it,” says Stuart Pearce; David O’Leary declines to criticise his players, having “said enough in the dressing room”. Brian Talbot is sacked by Oxford, who are third bottom of League Two without a win in ten games. Three Middlesbrough supporters are stabbed in clashes with Roma fans.

Wednesday 15
West Ham knock Bolton out of the Cup, but Alan Pardew is frustrated that the next game, against Man City, is on Monday evening: “I feel aggrieved for the players. Both sides will be on automatic.” “This has to be the best night in the club’s history,” says Gareth Southgate as Middlesbrough advance to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals with an away-goals win over Roma. Robbie Fowler scores his first since returning to Liverpool in a 5‑1 thrashing of queasy travellers Fulham. Oxford fans demonstrate against the board before their 1‑0 win over Bristol Rovers.

Thursday 16 Under new FIFA rules, clubs whose fans are guilty of racist abuse could lose points or be relegated if the offences continue. “Events have demonstrated there is a need for concerted action,” says Sepp. Rafa admits that he turned down an offer from Real Madrid before accepting a contract extension with Liverpool.

Saturday 18 Portsmouth win 4-2 against a West Ham team selected with one eye on the FA Cup quarter-finals. West Brom lose 2‑1 at home to Man Utd, with some fans angry after Bryan Robson waves at the United support. “Am I supposed to give them V‑signs?” Bryan wonders. Spurs win 2‑0 at St Andrew’s to keep hold of fourth. “The foundation and the walls are in place, but the roof isn’t there,” cautions Martin Jol. David Gold sounds a bit less optimistic about Steve Bruce: “We have always been very loyal. That should not be mistaken for blind loyalty.” In the Championship, Reading and Wolves draw 1‑1, as do Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday. “There’s extra pressure at this club – everybody wants to beat Leeds,” says Kevin Blackwell. Sheffield United lose 2‑1 at Norwich, with Neil Warnock flicking the Vs at Nigel Worthington after he declines to shake hands. League One leaders Southend lose 2‑1 at bottom club MK Dons, while Oldham close in on Barnsley in sixth with a 4‑1 win at Bradford. Carlisle win 5‑0 at Darlington in the league’s least local derby to stay top of League Two. Chester fall to the bottom after a 14th defeat in 16 games; just seven points separate the bottom nine.

Sunday 19 Fulham beat Chelsea 1‑0, Luis Boa Morte scoring the goal and William Gallas receiving a red card in injury time for a hack at Heidar Helguson. With Didier Drogba having a goal disallowed, the game ends in a pitch invasion and scuffles between fans, although only one arrest is made. Liverpool beat Newcastle 3‑1 at St James’ Park. Jean‑Alain Boumsong, at fault for the first two goals, concedes a penalty and gets himself sent off for the third. “What you won’t get me to do is criticise him publicly,” says Glenn Roeder. “But the mistakes have got to stop.” Celtic win the CIS Cup, beating Dunfermline 3‑0 at Hampden, Gordon Strachan’s first trophy. Hearts stay six points clear of Rangers in second after a 1‑1 draw between the teams at Tynecastle. Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari is the latest manager to be interviewed by the FA for the England job, the News of the World claims, adding that Scolari often holds pre‑match prayer meetings and carries figurines of his favourite saints.

Monday 20 West Ham reach the last four of the Cup for the first time in 14 years with a Dean Ashton double in a 2‑1 win at Man City. Chelsea deny an FA charge for failing to control their players during the general unpleasantness at The Hawthorns.

Tuesday 21 “I’m shell-shocked, disappointed and humiliated,” says Steve Bruce after Birmingham’s worst home defeat, 7‑0 to Liverpool in the Cup. Earlier, the club have plans for a “supercasino” at a proposed new ground turned down by the council. Leeds stay four points behind Sheffield United after losing 1‑0 at home to Palace. Iain Dowie is still thinking of second: “I did statistics at university and I know it’s feasible. Mind you, I got a ‘D’.”
Wednesday 22 An early John Terry goal is enough for Chelsea to knock Newcastle out of the Cup; Alan Shearer fumes over a Shaun Wright-Phillips tumble that gets Robbie Elliott sent off: “It’s creeping into our game more and more and it is not nice.” Oxford chairman Firoz Kassam sells the club to a consortium who will bring back Jim Smith as manager. Graham Rix is sacked by Hearts: “He insisted on buying players in January who had a devastating effect on our team,” says owner Vladimir Romanovs.

Saturday 25
Chelsea beat Man City 2‑0 to go 15 points clear at the top. Didier Drogba scores twice, the second via a deliberate handball. “Sometimes I dive, sometimes I stay up,” Drogba tells the BBC, although he later claims that wasn’t what he really meant. Liverpool beat Everton 3‑1 at Anfield, despite having Steven Gerrard sent off for two early bookable offences. Andy van der Meyde follows for Everton as 12 cards are shown in all. “This experience could be positive for Steven in the future,” says Rafa, slightly creepily. Blackburn continue their charge for fourth, a 1‑0 win at Sunderland making it five wins out of six. Behind them, West Ham beat Wigan 2‑1 with a 92nd-minute own goal and Arsenal’s game at Portsmouth is called off due to a waterlogged pitch. “We’re not fickle we just don’t like you,” reads a banner in the Holte End, directed at David O’Leary, as Aston Villa and Fulham draw 0‑0 at Villa Park. Reading are guaranteed promotion with six games still to play after a 1‑1 draw at Leicester. “I’m not going out tonight or anything,” promises Steve Coppell. Skipper Graham Murty describes the team bus as “like a morgue – no one knew what so do”. It’s a good day for Sheffield United, too, as they open up a six-point cushion in second with a 3‑0 defeat of Southampton. Not one of the 14 teams immediately below them manages a win, Watford losing 2‑0 to Millwall, who stay five points from safety after fourth-bottom Sheffield Wed also win, 3‑1 at Wolves. In League One, three points separate second from seventh as Oldham are the only club in touch with the play-off spots to win, 3‑1 at home to Blackpool. Rotherham are out of the drop zone after a 3‑1 win against Bristol City. League Two leaders Carlisle beat Boston 4‑2 and Lincoln go sixth with a 5‑0 defeat of Grimsby, whose manager Russell Slade make his players sit out on the pitch with a flipchart for their half-time team talk. Celtic are one win away from the SPL title after a 2‑0 victory at Livingston.

Sunday 26 Man Utd beat Birmingham 3‑0 in front of a Premiership record attendance of 69,070 to stay two points clear of Liverpool in second. “The vast amount of letters on my desk are urging me to stay,” says Steve Bruce. Boro get the better of a 4‑3 thriller against Bolton at the Riverside, the latter’s seventh away game without a win. Charlton beat Newcastle 3‑1 at The Valley, with Darren Bent’s 20th goal of the season and an own goal by old boy Lee Bowyer, making it four straight defeats for the visitors. “It’s more than disappointing – I’m angry,” says Glenn Roeder. Liverpool try to take the heat out of the row with Spurs over rumours of a move for Jermain Defoe. “It is an experience we want to put behind us and move on from,” says chief executive Rick Parry, who sounds like he’s been watching Trisha. Man Utd chief executive David Gill says that the G-14 clubs want the Champions League second group stage back, but denies reports that they want to break away from UEFA.
 
Monday 27 Spurs go five points clear in fourth after coming from behind to beat West Brom 2‑1 with a last-minute penalty. “We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot,” says Bryan Robson, looking even more stunned than usual, if that were possible.

Tuesday 28 Arsenal march on in the Champions League with a 2‑0 home win over a lumbering Juventus, who have two players dismissed late on. “Football is fragile. One unexpected defeat and you are back again,” says Arsène, still reflecting on this season’s setbacks. Brentford’s 2‑0 win at MK Dons takes them back into second place in League One, while Carlisle’s 1‑0 win over Lincoln gives them a six-point lead in League Two.

Wednesday 29 Man Utd cut Chelsea’s lead to nine points as Ruud van Nistelrooy, starting for the first time in a month, scores the only goal against West Ham. Chester spring off the bottom of League Two after a 3‑1 win at Boston. Liverpool, looking to raise funds for a new stadium, admit to having takeover talks with Spanish telecoms tycoon Juan Villalonga among others.

Thursday 30
Middlesbrough lose 2‑0 away to Basel in their UEFA Cup quarter-final tie, but Steve McClaren is still hopeful: “In order to win trophies you have to come back from difficult situations.” Niall Quinn is said to be assembling a consortium to bid for his old club Sunderland. The FA want a new FIFA rule to punish diving players retrospectively through video evidence.

From WSC 231 May 2006. What was happening this month

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