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A Funny Old Game?
Well, It Sure Can Be Exciting!
The hype surrounding English football frequently gets right up my nose but every so often I sit on front of my TV and think WOW!!!
On several occasions over the past week I've been blown away by some of the action from 'Darn Sarf''. Lawrenson and Hansen, the Statler and Waldorf of fitba punditry, can whinge forever and a day about dodgy defending but it doesn't half make for brilliant entertainment and, while winning will always be the name of the game, if the punters can't get excited by what they are watching, they will soon be spending their leisure time elsewhere.
It all started with the unlikeliest of thrillers last Saturday when Reading and Fulham shared the spoils in a six goal thriller. Twice in the closing stages Fulham were 2-1 and 3-2 ahead but Reading battled every inch of the way and sure were worthy of a point. It turned out to be no more than an appetizer for an amazing weekend and more.
While I was watching the Gers shake off the awayday hoodoo by beating Clyde 2-0, my Skybox was recording the Merseyside derby. Liverpool looked like skooshing it when a Suarez double fired them 2-0 up but Everton got a goal back quickly, then Judas Naismith levelled the scores before half-time.
It was end-to-end stuff, Everton probably had the better of the second half, with Nikica Jelavic again catching the eye, but it was Liverpool who finished stronger and they looked to have won it in injury time when Suarez battered the ball into the roof of the net. But the linesman cut his celebrations short and, while the striker was clearly onside, I'm inclined to think the flag was for Coates climbing all over Jagielka as he headed the ball across the face of the goal.
What an ending...but I'd seen nothing yet!
Chelsea v Man Utd at Stamford Bridge lived up to all expectations. Just like on Merseyside, the red team quickly ran into a two goal lead, the blue team got it back to 2-2 and it looked like the game could go either way. Chelsea were reduced to ten men when Ivanovic was red-carded, then Torres was controversially shown a second yellow for diving and United were never going to let nine men off the hook. Chicarito grabbed the winner from a suspiciously offside position to push ManUre back into the title race and narrow Chelsea's lead at the top of the table.
And still it got better!
The top teams have for quite some time now treated the League Cup as a testing ground to give young players a taste of the big time and, while naivety often leads to mistakes, downright gallusness can generate great excitement and makes for compulsive viewing. I'm told locals refer to Reading's Madejski Stadium as the MadStad and, after the weekend's drama against Fulham, it got pure mad mental when Arsenal dropped in on Tuesday night.
When leading 4-0 in the first half, Reading were in so much control they looked capable of going into double figures against Arsene Wenger's much-changed line-up. 'We want our Arsenal back' sang the Gooners and the TV cameras even caught a few of them leaving. A Theo Walcott goal just before half-time was surely no more than a consolation prize. Don't you believe it!
When they got it back to 4-2, it was 'game on' again but Reading stood firm, might even have got a fifth goal on the break, but they only had to hold out for the final few seconds to book their place in the quarter-finals. But Koscielny, whose OG had presented Reading with their second goal, made it 4-3 in the 89th minute and, when four minutes of injury time was somehow stretched to six, Walcott sent the game into extra-time.
The goal fest continued with Walcott giving Arsenal the lead for the first time, only for Pobrebnyak to level the scores again and a penalty kick shoot-out was on the cards until the visitors managed to score twice in yet more prolonged stoppage time to clinch an amazing 7-5 win.
How do you follow such a sensational game? Well, thoroughly depressed by the Gers being gubbed by Caley Thistle, I sat down to watch the Chelsea v Man Utd League Cup rematch and it was yet another helping of thrill-a-minute stuff. Ryan Giggs 0-1, David Luiz 1-1, Chicarito 1-2, Gary Cahill 2-2, Nani 2-3, all sorts of thrills and spills going into three minutes of stoppage time then, right at the death, young defender Scott Wootton barged into Ramires, it was a clear penalty kick and Eden Hazard duly did the business.
Maybe giving away the penalty was still on Wootton's mind in the early stages of extra-time when he gifted Daniel Sturridge the opportunity to shoot Chelsea into the lead for the first time and Ramires finally wrapped up yet another amazing game near the end, rendering Giggs' later-than-later penalty meaningless.
I don't always buy into the 'best league in the world' hype being preached from South of Hadrian's Wall. The Bundesliga on ITV4, La Liga on Sky and Serie A on ESPN are all capable of claiming to be better than the rest but, even to my ever-critical eye, last week's fare was definitely hard to beat.
Now I'm off to watch the recordings over and over again. Sad eh?
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