Wedesday 28 January ~
While Manchester United’s recent performances have given them breathing space in the title race, the battle at the bottom has intensified. Spurs’ victory yesterday has propelled them up the table and away from danger for the time being. Harry Redknapp, who had looked increasingly jittery in recent days, has got his confidence back but is still bemoaning the absence of tough tacklers: “It’s an open looking team but I’m confident we'll be OK.” Tonight five more troubled teams take to the field. Middlesbrough have the daunting task of going to Stamford Bridge while Manchester City and Newcastle face each other, as do Blackburn and Bolton, with some familiar faces appearing against previous employers.
It has been another eventful week for the richest club in the world. Their record signing Robinho has returned after his unauthorised trip home to Brazil, to face a police investigation into an assault. City’s insistence that he didn’t fly home in a huff about the non-arrival of Kaka may therefore have had a basis in the truth. They also unveiled their two latest signings, Nigel de Jong – who they could have got for £15 million less in the summer – and Craig Bellamy. The latter has accepted that he probably won’t be able to get rid of his “bad–boy” reputation, joking that any autobiography he writes will be titled Don’t Google Me (“golf club” added to his name generates 54,000 results). It’s good job that he hasn’t attempted to add his various clubs’ names to his many tattoos as he would have run out of spare skin by now.
Bellamy is likely to line up tonight against his former employers, against whom he has already scored this year for West Ham. However, it looks likely that he won’t be required to beat Shay Given, who is looking for a move away with City showing an interest – the trusty deputy Steve Harper will keep goal instead. Former Rangers winger Peter Lovenkrands could make his debut for Newcastle and midfielder Joey Barton – who generates an even wider range of Google results than Bellamy – is set for his first return to Eastlands. Meanwhile, manager Joe Kinnear has been fined £500 and warned of his future conduct after comments he made about referee Martin Atkinson.
Kinnear’s predecessor at Newcastle knows that a derby win for his new club Blackburn will keep not one but two former teams in the relegation mire. Allardyce stoked the fires in his customarily charming manner this week by pointing out how much the team have struggled since he (and his two dozen backroom staff) departed. But Wanderers’ current manager Gary Megson only had good things to say about Allardyce in return, and praised him for his achievements at the club. Expect a terse handshake before and after tonight’s match. Daniel Smith