Wednesday 2 England surprise many by playing Wayne Rooney from the start and go on to beat Turkey 2-0 at the Stadium of Light, with late goals from Darius Vassell and a penalty by David Beckham, who says: “It wasn’t a bad display for a team of no-hopers, was it?” Around 100 England supporters are arrested before the match after trouble in Sunderland city centre and at the ground and there is a pitch invasion after the second goal during which a spectator appears to strike Turkey defender Alpay. There is also allegedly a punch-up in the players’ tunnel. UEFA are to investigate. Scotland concede a dubious penalty to lose 1-0 in Lithuania. Northern Ireland have two sent off in a 2-0 home defeat by Greece (“There is not a thought in my head about not carrying on,” says Sammy McIlroy), while the Republic draw 0-0 in Albania. Fulham announce that they are considering a “revised plan” to move back to Craven Cottage.
Saturday 1 Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink thumps in a header at St James’ Park, but it’s for Newcastle who go on to win 2-1 and move into joint second place. Debutant Jonathan Woodgate chances a prediction: “Yes, I think we can win the title.” Juninho marks his Middlesbrough comeback with the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Everton, who move up into the fourth Champions League spot, though David Moyes is taking it steady: “Our next target is a top-half finish.” “This match was about the players who spilt blood,” says Glenn Roeder as a Di Canio-less West Ham draw level with Bolton after beating Spurs 2-0. Hope is receding for the other two in the relegation area, though Howard talks of a “near top-drawer performance” as Sunderland slide to a late and unlucky defeat, their sixth in a row in the league, 1-0 at Fulham. West Brom lose by the same score at Southampton. Portsmouth fans, banned from visiting the New Den, miss seeing their team thrash Millwall 5-0 . Wigan go 15 points clear in the Second with 3-1 win over Chesterfield. In the Third, Hartlepool’s stately progress is slowed slightly by a 2-2 draw with local rivals Darlington. At the bottom end, Exeter stem a run of four defeats with a home point against the equally desperate Bristol Rovers.
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.
Wednesday 1 Arsenal stay five points clear but only after a nervous last few minutes in which Chelsea score twice before losing 3-2. “I like to win games like that when you’re tired,” says Arsène, making an excuse even though he doesn’t need to. “It was like watching the tide coming in,” says Howard Wilkinson as Man Utd score two late goals to beat Sunderland 2-1 having trailed for 75 minutes. Liverpool drop down to seventh after a tenth winless match, a 1-0 defeat at Newcastle, but Gérard sticks his chin out, sort of: “I don’t want to commit suicide before the end of the season.” Several fixtures are postponed due to bad weather, and one, Reading v Leicester, is called off at half-time due to a waterlogged pitch.
Sunday 1 A Jerzy Dudek howler allows goal-machine Diego Forlan to score the first of his two as Man Utd win 2-1 at Anfield. “It seems that every time we make a mistake, we pay for it,” says a disgruntled Gérard. Yet more trouble for Tel as Leeds crash to their fifth successive league defeat at home, 2-1 against Charlton, who score twice in the last ten minutes. “When the players Terry has are fit, they should be too good to go down,” says Alan Curbishley encouragingly. David Batty is said to be considering legal action over comments allegedly made by Peter Ridsdale at the Leeds AGM to the effect that knee injuries have effectively ended his career. Everton’s run of wins comes to an end at Newcastle, who come from behind with two late goals, after Joseph Yobo is sent off early in the game. David Moyes has an unusual criticism to make of the officials: “Too many referees hide behind the laws
Friday 1 Tony Pulis, out of work since leaving Portsmouth two years ago, takes over at Stoke. Steve McLaren resigns as Sven’s assistant, saying: “It was never intended to be long-term and it has dragged on.”
Tuesday 1 “We’re in the qualification comfort zone,” says Sir Alex, lolling in his hammock after a 4-0 win over Olympiakos. Newcastle lose again, 2-0 at Juventus, though they have a goal wrongly disallowed for offside when one down. Sir Bobby isn’t sure whether he’s given up yet: “It’s almost impossible, but we won’t say that at the moment.” Oxford Utd make the headlines in the Worthington Cup, beating Charlton on penalties after a goalless draw at The Valley. West Ham are also taken to spotkicks, finally beating Chesterfield 4-3. Sunderland treble their goals tally for the season in winning 7-0 at Cambridge. The FA are to investigate a “throat-cutting” gesture made by Eyal Berkovic to a Man City fan who had allegedly been barracking him during the team’s 3-2 win over Crewe.
Sunday 1 Business as usual at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal sees Patrick Vieira sent off and a David Seaman blunder. Bolton move off the bottom with a 1-0 win over non-scoring Aston Villa, thanks to a goal from Birmingham-born Michael Ricketts and a disallowed goal from Juan Pablo Angel. “In this country we have got good referees who are being let down by assistants who are not so good,” says Graham Taylor. Lloyd Owusu’s goal with his first touch for the club puts Wednesday on their way to a 2-0 win in the Sheffield derby.
Thursday 1 The Football League lose their court case against ITV Digital on the basis that the TV companies were not contractually bound to pay the full amount owed, £178.5 million of which is outstanding. The League may sue the legal advisers who drew up the contract with Carlton and Granada. Bradford City come out of administration after agreeing a repayment schedule with their creditors. Chairman Geoffrey Richmond is remorseful about the club’s over-spending: “I wish I had played it a different way. It looked right at the time though.” Dave Watson is sacked by Tranmere. Debt-ridden Fiorentina go bust, but may be allowed to restart in Italy’s fourth division.
Monday 1 Airdrie United acquire the rights to Clydebank’s name and seem set to replace them in the Scottish Second Division. “If this takeover goes ahead, a franchise system for Scottish football will have been validated,” says a spokesman for the Clydebank supporters group, who had been hoping to take control of the club themselves. Mick Wadsworth, who left Oldham during last season, is Huddersfield’s new manager.