So, the League of Ireland comes to a close, with a dead rubber series of games. Sligo Rovers party was only slightly ruined by a home loss to Shamrock Rovers (and the moronic behaviour of Shams fans throughout) and nothing too surprising happened elsewhere. It was a pedestrian final week in the league.
Sligo are deserved winners, good on the counter, competent in defence. Didn’t show up last Friday, but I warrant they were in a celebratory mood more than anything. Hard to see the better players sticking around though, with Shamrock Rovers looking to bring in a whole new raft of players.
Elsewhere, Waterford United finished the job at home to Longford, killing the game off with an early strike and settling for a 1-1 draw in the second leg of this promotion play-off tie. Longford’s dire run of form, which has seen them go on a streak of seven lost games and this draw, has reached its culmination point. All that remains is to see who they will be left facing next season in the graveyard.
Waterford face Dundalk then. I’ll be doing a preview of this tie for LLF in the next week, but for now I’ll just say that I favour Waterford. They have momentum, they have Maguire and I think they are a better team overall than Dundalk.
Across the pond then. Lots to talk about with United/Chelsea of course. Valencia and Rafael just dominated the right wing, and Chelsea were badly exposed on numerous occasions when the visitors burst forward. Hazard and company do not seem to be good when they do not have the ball. United were well worth their 2-0 lead, even if Chelsea dominated possession afterward. The defence was doing good and everything was looking well.
Chelsea’s fight back was testament to the skill of their new squad, a great free kick from Mata and finely worked header for the equaliser. It was not really a dirty game up to that point, but the subsequent decisions turned it into one.
Ivanovic had to go, that’s beyond doubt. Torres, not so much. The rules of the game say that players can be cautioned for “feigning injury”, not just for diving, so maybe that’s what Clattenburg was going for. But the implementation of such a rule is so rare as to raise eyebrows.
Of course, Torres went studs first into the chest of Tom Cleverly at the end of the first half, which should have been red, not yellow, so my sympathy for him and Chelsea fans moaning about a pro-United conspiracy is limited.
I have more sympathy on the grounds of the winner, with Hernandez half a yard offside, though I can understand, give the placing and movement of the players involved, why a linesman failed to spot it. They need help. Technological help.
Some good defensive work, some good goalkeeping, some threatening flank displays and a clinical performance from those upfront. A critical result for United on every level.
A big win as they move through thus awful bit of scheduling, that started back on the 19th of September at home to Galtasaray, and has seen games against Liverpool, Newcastle (twice), Spurs, Braga, Cluj, Stoke and Chelsea. Next is Arsenal at home, eager to make up for the 8-2 result in this fixture last season.
It was business as usual elsewhere. Arsenal, City, Spurs coming up with wins, though none of them were especially impressive. Suarez acting like a moron. Everton seem to have a bit of lethargy about them now, struggling to keep u with a very poor Liverpool side at times. Pool face Newcastle next week, which will be an interesting test of their level of improvement.
Southampton are already doomed as far as I’m concerned, leaking goals, few offensive options, unable to fill their stadium for top tier games. Shame, I used to really admire the club, but they seem woefully unprepared for life in the Premier League. Aston Villa are pretty much in the same boat, limping to a 1-1 home draw with Norwich. Bad times for them, and for football at the less famous southern clubs.