December 2004

Wednesday 1 A David Bellion goal after 18 seconds is enough for Man Utd reserves to beat their counterparts from Arsenal in the Carling Cup. Liverpool also put out a shadow side, but still knock out Spurs on penalties after a 1-1 draw nicked through a Fredi Kanouté handball (“unforgivable” says Martin Jol) four minutes from the end of extra time.X

Thursday 2 Scotland’s new manager is announced and it’s Johan Cruyff. No, hold on, it’s Walter Smith, who says: “I don’t agree with those who say we have the worst group of international players ever.” Other results in their group mean that Middlesbrough qualify for the knockout stage of the UEFA Cup. A match in Newcastle’s section, Panionios’s 5-2 win over Dinamo Tblisi after being 1-0 down at half-time, may be investigated after bookmakers stopped taking bets on it several hours before kick-off, due to odd wagers. Rangers lose 1-0 at AZ Alkmaar. Liverpool chairman David Moores may step down after being heavily criticised at their AGM – property developer Steve Morgan is favourite to take over.

Friday 3 Wrexham drop down to 22nd place in League One after having ten points deducted for going into administration. Manager Denis Smith is upbeat: “There’s half the season to go and every chance of us surviving in this league.”

Saturday 4 Newcastle are the latest team to be thrashed by Chelsea, 4-0 at Stamford Bridge, all the goals coming in the final 30 minutes. Still, the visitors’ chairman Freddy Shepherd expects a trophy this season: “Graeme’s argument would be that it’s not his team, but all the ingredients are there and it’s got to happen.” With Jens Lehmann dropped for Manuel Almunia, Arsenal keep a clean sheet for the first time in two months, beating Birmingham 3-0. Everton stay a point behind in third after a 3-2 defeat of Bolton that Sam Allardyce blames on referee Howard Webb: “He’s a newcomer and couldn’t handle the melting pot here.” The season’s first Saturday 3pm kick-off at Old Trafford sees a seventh successive win for Man Utd, 3-0 against Southampton. “If you go to sleep you will get punished,” warns Bryan Robson after West Brom lead at Portsmouth in the 85th minute only to lose 3-2, Lomana LuaLua getting the winner. Fulham move clear of immediate danger with a 1-0 win at Norwich; Nigel Worthington seems resigned to sticking by his squad: “It would take millions to buy the sort of striker we need.” Ipswich stay top of the Championship after coming back from two down to draw 2-2 at Crewe. Bizarre goings-on at Millwall, where Kevin Muscat and Sheffield Utd keeper Paddy Kenny are sent off for a half-time fight in the tunnel. With no back-up keeper, United put Phil Jagielka in goal and go on to win 2-1. Neil Warnock will personally deliver a video of the incident to FA HQ. At the bottom, Forest move to within two points of safety after a 2-1 victory over QPR, who’ve never won at the City Ground in 26 attempts. Exeter cause the only surprise in the FA Cup second round, beating Doncaster 2-1. Yeading of the Ryman Premier are the other non-League club through, by beating Slough.

Sunday 5 “It was nice but I doubt it will shut some of my critics up,” says Dennis Rommedahl after his first League goal in injury time gives Charlton a 1-0 win at Palace, for whom Andy Johnson misses a penalty. In the FA Cup third round, Exeter are drawn away to Man Utd and there are 11 ties between Premiership and Championship clubs. Yeading don’t get Reading, but Newcastle, whom they will reluctantly host at their 3,000-capacity ground because a new FA rule prevents a switch to St James’ Park. Brentford miss a penalty in drawing 0-0 at Hinckley in their second-round tie.

Tuesday 7 Arsenal reach the knockout stage of the Champions League with a 5-1 win over Rosenborg, though Manuel Almunia again looks unsteady in goal. “This was not a money evening for us, we could have survived being knocked out,” says Arsène, like he believed it. Chelsea lose 2-1 at Porto after taking the lead. José is miffed: “I cannot be pleased when my team loses because I am a professional. Only stupid people don’t understand that.” Celtic fail to qualify for the UEFA Cup after a goalless draw with AC Milan. A trio of managerial appointments: Glenn Hoddle takes over at Wolves on a six-month contract – “It’s clear I’ve got to assess the squad quickly,” he says after watching their 2-1 home defeat by Millwall – while Danny Wilson joins MK Dons and Stan Ternent will be growling on behalf of Gillingham.

Wednesday 8 England will have four teams in the latter stages of the Champions League after Liverpool progress through beating Olympiakos by the required two-goal margin, Steven Gerrard getting the vital goal in a 3-1 win four minutes from time. “Steven can win all he wants with us and we need him,” says Rafa, referring to speculation that Gerrard is looking for a move. Man Utd, already through, lose 3-0 to Fenerbahce. “I don’t see it as an act of betrayal,” says Harry Redknapp on joining Southampton, who supposedly only approached him two days ago (ha, yes).

Thursday 9 Oxford United make the most surprising managerial appointment of the 21st century: Ramón Díaz, a former international team-mate of Diego Maradona and coach of River Plate, will join them until the end of the season. The FA will allow Yeading to move their Cup tie with Newcastle to a bigger ground nearby. Liverpool and Millwall are charged over the crowd disturbances during their Carling Cup tie in October.

Saturday 11 Everton go second after beating Liverpool 1-0, their first derby win at home since 1997. “It’s not just about the three points, it’s about the 33 that have gone before it,” says David Moyes. West Brom are set fair to be bottom at Christmas after a 1-0 home defeat by Charlton. Bryan Robson demands action: “The players have to turn it around, it’s no good looking at the January window.” “We need some points and five Croats on free transfers,” says Harry Redknapp (OK, he didn’t say the second bit) as Southampton stay in the bottom three after Boro score twice in the last minute to get a 2-2 draw. Blackburn and Palace are third and fourth bottom after a testy goalless draw at Selhurst Park, where David Thompson is dismissed in a late flare-up. Norwich hurtle up to 15th with a 3-2 victory over Bolton, who haven’t won in six. Big Sam is aquiver: “We are pathetic at the moment.” “Some of our stuff is good and some of it is rubbish,” says Graeme Souness (could Argos use that?) after Newcastle drop to 12th and are booed off following a 1-1 draw with Portsmouth. Wigan and Ipswich top the Championship after wins over Gillingham and QPR respectively. Forest fans aim several choruses of “You don’t know what you’re doing” at Joe Kinnear as their side stay deep in trouble after a 3-0 defeat at Derby. Luton stay four points clear of Hull in League One where Wrexham, who are to appeal against their ten-point deduction, slip to second bottom after losing 3-0 at MK Dons. Scunthorpe’s seventh successive win, 1-0 over nearest rivals Swansea, takes them seven points clear in League Two.

Sunday 12 In the fixture that Sky brand “Judgement Day”, Chelsea come back to draw 2-2 after Thierry Henry had twice put Arsenal ahead, the first inside two minutes, the second from a quickly taken free-kick controversially allowed by Graham Poll, which sends José into a thunderous sulk: “I am more than unhappy but I cannot say the words in my heart and soul.” Another derby day goalkeeping howler by a Villa keeper helps Birmingham to a 2-1 win, Thomas Sorensen spilling Clinton Morrison’s tame shot after only two minutes; David Dunn adds a second before Gareth Barry’s late reply. Hervé Renard is sacked by Cambridge, second bottom of League Two. Chairman Gary Harwood puts it nicely: “We haven’t got time for his philosophy to flow through to our team.” Glenn Hoddle denies reports that he is part of consortium planning to buy Spurs. Porto take the World Club Championship after beating Once Caldas in a shoot-out during which midfielder Diego is sent off for taunting the opposition keeper.

Monday 13 Man Utd are nine points off the top after Pape Bouba Diop’s spectacular late equaliser for Fulham in a 1-1 draw, Alan Smith having put the visitors ahead. Sir Alex rages lyrically at the missed chances: “We should have been over the sunrise long before the end.” Andriy Shevchenko wins the European Footballer of the Year award – Thierry Henry comes fourth.

Tuesday 14 Despite another spectacular goal from Steve Gerrard, Liverpool can only draw 1-1 at home with Portsmouth, who equalise through Lomana LuaLua in the final minute. “We have dropped two points but gained one,” says Rafa. Non-League Hinckley are knocked out of the FA Cup 2-1 at Brentford in their second-round replay. League Two’s Swansea beat managerless Stockport of League One by the same score. Graeme Souness has banned Newcastle players’ planned Christmas party in Edinburgh because “all sorts of people would be up there waiting for them”.

Wednesday 15 Rangers are out of the UEFA Cup after losing 2-0 at home to Auxerre. Middlesbrough win their section by beating Partizan Belgrade 3-0. Their next cup tie will be against Notts County, who beat Swindon 2-0 in a an FA Cup replay.

Thursday 16 Newcastle top their UEFA Cup group with a 1-1 draw against Sporting Lisbon. Scottish representation in Europe ends with Hearts’ 1-0 home defeat by Ferencvaros. Joe Kinnear resigns as Forest manager, meaning fans have to call off the mass protest against him planned for this Saturday. Arsène is fined a record £15,000 for calling Ruud van Nistelrooy a cheat. Chris Turner takes over at Stockport.

Saturday 18
There are some seasonal hidings for teams at the bottom. Southampton crash 5-1 at Spurs (“I will have to get my magic wand out,” says Harry); Man Utd recover from a penalty miss by Wayne Rooney to beat Palace 5-2; West Brom fans declare that there is only one Gary Megson during their 4-0 defeat at Birmingham; Norwich lose by the same score at Chelsea, who lead by six points, second-placed Everton having drawn 0-0 at Blackburn. José’s players will train on Christmas Day: ”Our families will suffer but we are doing it for our ambition.” In the Championship, Sunderland go joint second after a 2-1 win over Burnley; Gillingham and a Kinnear-free Forest win and are only a point behind fourth-bottom Cardiff. In the top match in League One, Tranmere lose both their goalkeepers to first-half injuries at Hull. Trailing 1-0 at the break, they go on to lose 6-1. Luton still lead by four points. Scunthorpe are seven ahead of Yeovil in League Two.

Sunday 19 “Christmas started today,” says Arsène as Arsenal return to second after a Sol Campbell goal beats Portsmouth. Graeme Souness rips his trousers after leaping up from the bench to berate the world in general during his side’s 3-1 defeat at Liverpool. But he waves away a complaint made by the Ritz hotel about some Newcastle players’ behaviour at a pre-Xmas bash: “They were over-boisterous? Good.”

Monday 20 A 2-1 win over Fulham takes Charlton up to seventh but Alan Curbishley expects more: “I don’t think we’ve got going yet.” Gordon Strachan having said no, Portsmouth appoint Velimir Zajec manager. Ronaldinho is FIFA World Player of the Year; Thierry Henry’s second.
Tuesday 21 The Spanish FA are fined £45,000 by FIFA for the racist chanting during November’s match with England, a punishment seen as “far too lenient”by the PFA’s Gordon Taylor. Ipswich supplant Wigan at the top of the Championship after beating them 2-1 with an 89th-minute winner from Darren Bent, who says he’d be “silly” to leave for a Premiership club in January. Man City’s Christmas do ends in a scrap involving a youth-team player, Joey Barton dressed as Jimmy Saville and a cigar. Now then.

Thursday 23 Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Achilles injury will keep him out for at least another two months. Blackburn’s £2m offer for Robbie Savage is derided by Birmingham’s Karren Brady as “not worth the fax paper it was printed on”. Newcastle are likely to join Liverpool in bidding for Real Madrid’s Fernando Morientes.

Sunday 26 A 1-0 win over Villa keeps Chelsea five points clear. “We always think we can be better tomorrow than yesterday,” says Arsène, at the cracker mottoes after his side’s 2-0 win over Fulham. Man Utd beat Bolton by the same score; Sir Alex is annoyed at the prospect of the FA reviewing Wayne Rooney’s unpunished shove in the face of Tal Ben-Haim: “Did he punch him? No.” Joey Barton is omitted from Man City’s team for their 2-1 defeat at Everton, where Robbie Fowler is booked for responding to crowd taunts after scoring. Stranded West Brom have Cosmin Contra sent off during the first half of their 5-0 home thrashing by Liverpool, Norwich’s 2-0 defeat at Carrow Road makes them the fifth successive team to be beaten by Spurs and Palace lose to Linvoy Primus’s goal for Portsmouth, but Iain Dowie is undaunted: “We will race until the line is out of sight.” Harry Redknapp talks of “buying some confident players” after his side stay 19th with a goalless home draw against Charlton. With the top three in the Championship losing, Reading’s 3-0 win over Watford takes them to within two points of leaders Ipswich. Brighton come from behind to win their relegation battle with Gillingham 2-1, while rock-bottom Rotherham get their second win inside a month, 1-0 at Leicester. In League One, Hull go five points clear in second place by beating Blackpool 2-0; Luton retain their lead with a 1-0 win at Chesterfield. The League’s bottom club Kidderminster lose 5-1 at home to Swansea despite playing against ten men for over an hour.

Tuesday 28 With two late goals beating Portsmouth, Chelsea’s lead is eight points. José is unhappy that Arsenal don’t play until tomorrow: “They seem to get an extra day’s rest over these periods.” A Ryan Giggs goal at sliding Villa takes Man Utd up to third, Everton having lost 2-0 at Charlton. Norwich and Southampton stay in the bottom three after defeats at Boro and Liverpool respectively. West Brom double their points tally under Bryan Robson, a shinned own goal from Richard Dunne bringing a 1-1 draw at Man City. “I have not had anything as massive as this in my time here,” says Sam as Bolton slip to a sixth successive defeat, 1-0 at home to Blackburn. Ipswich, top scorers in the League, go five points clear in the Championship after a Darren Bent goal beats miserly Stoke (whose past 11 games have finished either 1-0, 0-1 or goalless). Sunderland go second after a 2-1 win at Forest. West Ham slip out of the top six after sneaking a 2-2 draw at Rotherham with two controversial penalties. “If I had a cat I would probably kick it,” says Glenn Hoddle after Wolves’ fourth successive 1-1 draw, against Brighton. In League One Sheffield Wed move into the play-off places after a 2-0 win at Port Vale while their former manager Chris Turner stirs up bottom-club Stockport, who recover from three down for a 3-3 draw at Barnsley. Watched by new boss Steve Thompson, Cambridge drop to the foot of the League after losing 5-3 to Yeovil, while Kidderminster win 2-0 at Oxford. Scunthorpe’s lead is down to three points after their draw with Notts County.

Wednesday 29 “It will be tight right until the end,” says Arsène as Arsenal restore the five-point gap at the top, a Patrick Vieira goal beating Newcastle, now winless in six. Hull’s 2-1 win over Doncaster takes them to within two points of League One leaders Luton. “Since Benítez arrived he has treated me like the lowest arsehole on earth,” says Stéphane Henchoz, set to dive head first through the transfer window after not playing a Premiership match this season.

Thursday 30 Sir Alex says the FA’s disciplinary system is “flawed and immoral” after Wayne Rooney is banned for three matches for his contretemps with Tal Ben-Haim, who also faces a misconduct charge. Brazilian Wanderley Luxemburgo becomes Real Madrid’s third coach this season.

From WSC 216 February 2005. What was happening this month