With Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal already assured progress to the knock-out phase of the Champions League, and Liverpool consigned to 'Euro Disney', the midweek matches this week were all about pride.
The lack of interest engendered by the above fixtures, to all except the fervent supporters of the teams involved, probably partly explains why we were still reading extensive articles on the sports pages about the schoolboy spat between Tony Pulis and James Beattie following the Arsenal/Stoke match last Saturday.
The confrontation, in case you hadn't heard, was about the cancellation, by Mr Pulis, of a players' day off after Stoke's Christmas party due to their poor performance at the Emirates.
Pulis allegedly emerged from the showers, "with his towel slipping", and attempted to headbutt Beattie. How dignified!
What an image of total professionalism this conjures up in our minds. Just the sort of example you want from your line manager. Isn't this the same Tony Pulis who recently questioned the lack of responsibility shown by Arsene Wenger's childish refusal to shake Mark Hughes' hand? Surely that's a case of the Potter calling the kettle black?
In my opinion, although Pulis appeared to have acted like a thwarted playground bully, players who are earning obscene amounts of money to entertain the paying public should get their priorities right.
If the manager calls them in for extra training rather than let them sleep off their hangovers tough s**t!
The head-butting trend continued on Monday night when Jim Magilton, the QPR manager, allegedly 'nutted' one of his players, Akos Buzsaky, during a post match rant after the Watford game.
Player confrontations in the heat of battle are not acceptable but are sort of understandable. The involvement of managers, however, is a more worrying development and is, to no small extent, a result of the increasing pressure they are under to succeed.
LUCK BE A LADY IN SOUTH AFRICA
Anyway, moving on, the increasing optimism, reinforced by an apparently favourable group draw, towards England's World Cup prospects worries me. I think I am naturally pessimistic when it comes to expectations for my teams' achievements and, I believe, history often vindicates this mindset.
Football, like most sports, involves humans with all their frailties and unpredictability and the added bonus or curse of 'lady luck'. Neither should be underestimated
.A combination of the two led to the Russian linesman judging the ball had crossed the line for Sir Geoff's third goal in the 1966 World Cup Final and a mis-hit free kick from Ronaldinho did for us in the 2002 World Cup.
As recently as Tuesday, Man U could have easily found themselves 3-0 down at half-time but for the human error/luck of Wolfsburg missing two simple headers and the referee failing to spot a nailed-on penalty when Carrick scythed down a German striker.
The fact that Owen notched his hat-trick from a swift counter attack following another Wolfsburg miss from a potential two yard tap-in, further accentuates that this was United's day.
All of which made Fat Frank's comments a couple of weeks ago rather ill advised. He was quoted as saying that he felt that this was Chelsea's season to win the Premier League and that he had had the same feelings during the season when they last won it.
And what happened next? Chelsea went to Man City, played OK but lost 2-1 with our Frank missing a penalty.
Lampard then suggested that Chelsea should guard against complacency. Make your mind up Frankie boy!
In midweek they struggled to a painful draw against Apoel. The performance provoked Carlo Ancelotti to accuse his players of being too soft and slow.
"This is the poorest we have played," he added.
Chelsea still have my vote to win the league this year but I wouldn't dare say that if they were my team. I am always very reluctant to tip my team to win anything, partly out of superstition, but mainly because I know how fickle luck and human performance can prove to be.
So it would be good to stop all this wild talk of England winning the World Cup. We ought to bury those thoughts in the darkest recesses of our minds. We shouldn't listen to Frank if he reckons that he read it in the tea leaves that England will triumph, nor should we work out the complicated permutations of future opponents that England could face after the group phase is complete.
Unfortunately, we can't help it. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast," said Alexander Pope.
This may have been written over 200 years before the first World Cup took place but Pope could easily be talking about your average England supporter couldn't he?
Because we really, really, really believe that -this time - we just may get it right. And who knows, with a bit of luck.
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