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Weekend football and Manchester City’s secret plans

Stockport County are shirtless, United get lucky, and have Everton turned a corner? Danny Moran reports on teams from across the North

Published on September 1st 2009.

Weekend football and Manchester City’s secret plans

There were some hard lessons and late penalties meted in the North West this weekend. Burnley fell back down to Earth with a 3-0 drubbing at Stamford Bridge. Bury went down by the same score to Rochdale in the Spotlands derby, prompting manager Alan Knill to apologise to fans. John Barnes’ Tranmere succumbed to a four goal rout after failing to live with Division One leaders Charlton.

Liverpool were unconvincing, but the race with Man U to claim a record 19th title may still drag them along in spite of themselves.

At Edgeley Park, Stockport County – short of cash and players, captained by a 21-year-old, and in the financial hands of the administrator – lined up against Alan Pardew’s Southampton. This is another team in administration, albeit while enjoying the comparative luxury of a few Premiership scouts dropping by to check out their talent. County chose Saturday to launch a major new partnership with Leukaemia Research – though plans for a Match of the Day airing for their promotional pink and black shirts were scuppered when the two teams were unable to fit into the ones delivered on the day.

Then there was Rickie Lambert, Southampton’s burly and troublesome forward, whom County had themselves bought for £300,000 in 2002, and subsequently offloaded to Rochdale, three years later, for £30,000. Lambert was a thorn in County’s side all afternoon. When on the stroke of half time the southerners won an incomprehensible penalty, it was Lambert who powered home the spot kick before sticking out his hefty bum and cupping his ear at the Cheadle End. A moment later match referee Carl Boyeson led the teams off to a chorus of abuse.

The heavens opened and for a time Saints threatened to wash their hosts away. But County held on and in the 93rd minute their Northern Ireland forward Peter Thompson blasted a point blank ball into the elbow of Saints’ Levenshulme-born centre half Neal Trotman, and with a kind of Pavlovian inevitability Mr Boyeson pointed to the spot.

Star striker Carl Baker – who has two brothers suffering with leukaemia – slotted home the penalty, and there was bedlam. After the game, Baker confided that the chance of a spot kick had been uppermost in the Hatters’ minds. “We heard the reaction to the ref after their penalty and it sounded really loud from the pitch. We said at half time, if we keep pumping balls into the area we might get something.”

You make your own luck, as they say.

Try telling that to Abou Diaby, who, having orchestrated an hour long filleting of Manchester United, headed tamely into his own net when unchallenged at a Ryan Giggs set piece, to hand United an unlikely and undeserved 2-1 victory. This was after Andrei Arshavin had opened the scoring for Arsenal with a long range shot which appeared to intimidate United ‘keeper Ben Foster as much as it deceived him – such was its ferocity – and then Rooney had created and converted a spot kick by going down plausibly over Almunia’s outstretched arm.

There seemed to be some kind of Solomonesque wisdom behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to relegate both Owen and Berbatov to the bench, somehow reinforced when Rooney found a way to the net regardless of striking partner. But for 80 minutes United were flat, uninspired and lucky. At the death, the Gunners’ injury time equaliser was disallowed for an offside infringement by William Gallas. Upon mildly reacting, Arsène Wenger – who for an untheatrical man sometimes appears unable to avoid being menaced by the spotlight – was banished to the stands by referee Mike Dean, finding himself stranded atop the canopy between the dugouts, shrugging messianically as the home fans jeered and gurned around him.

Quite what Rafa Benitez said to Steven Gerrard following Liverpool’s two nil no-show against Villa on Monday may remain the subject of speculation. But in trying to unravel the Spaniard’s comments in the aftermath of Liverpool’s Gerrard-inspired victory over Bolton (“Steven knows he can be a Liverpool player for the rest of his career”) the inference might be drawn that Benitez warned his captain that he just as easily might not.

Whatever was said, Gerrard’s response was unequivocal and typically heroic, rolling up his sleeves to power Liverpool to victory in a see-saw contest which saw Bolton take the lead twice, only for Gary Megson’s men to be hauled back by the determination and class of Gerrard and Torres, after Sean Davis was sent off for a second yellow card. Liverpool were unconvincing, but the race with Man U to claim a record 19th title may still drag them along in spite of themselves.

Sunday saw Manchester City’s visit to Fratton Park, where the sky blues extended their 100 per cent record, and Portsmouth’s own Arab takeover was finally confirmed – at a club which has shown 18 players the door since the start of the year and seems impelled on its own downward spiral. Adebayor’s bullet header from Gareth Barry’s corner on 30 minutes was enough to settle the match. The former Arsenal man appeared to invoke his own cool, channelling the goalscoring muse in City’s white-with-diagonal-stripes retro-a-go-go away kit.

City are clearly yet to gel properly – and woe betide their opponents when they do – but a top six berth would seem to be the very least of their ambitions on this start to the season. Mark Hughes’ team are still to concede a goal. Fergie, Rafa and the rest will have taken note.

Back on Merseyside Everton grabbed their first points of the season as the dust from the Joleon Lescott affair began to settle and David Moyes’s men got back to the task of overachieving on a budget, only with a few less smarts at the back. A Louis Saha header and a last minute penalty converted by Leighton Baines gave the points to the Toffees after Paul Scharner had bundled in the ball for Wigan. Irrespective of the display, Everton will hope they have turned a corner. Blackburn Rovers, who become locked in a goalless stalemate with West Ham, are themselves evidently still trying to locate the corner.

For more information on Stockport County/ Leukaemia Research’s limited edition pre-season shirt auctions, go to www.stockportcounty.com

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