The old adage goes that Tragedy + Time = Comedy but, for all the criticism you can levy at the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump’s commitment to streamlining that process certainly is incredible. In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, where seventeen people were killed by a gun-toting Al Capone wannabe who’d probably never been kissed, the be-rugged President declared that there aren’t ENOUGH guns in schools. The only way to stop people being killed by guns is giving more people more guns. Tighter gun laws, and preventing literally anyone getting their hands on a gun, will not prevent people being killed by guns and that’s a fact. Just look at all the mass shootings in the UK, where owning a gun isn’t dressed up as some kind of human right. It looks as though the latest pile of mess that the next poor fucker in the White House is going to have to clean up will be the introduction of armed teachers in schools. Like some kind of dystopian novel written by a fifteen year old whose older sibling introduced them to Philip K Dick. There was a teacher at my school who was mercilessly bullied by his students to the point of tears, and received basically no support from senior staff. Arm him, and the whole of Year 11 is going down. Unfortunately it may take a few more school shootings, and more loss of life, before any semblance of sense prevails.
[Handbrake turn into football chat]
A little closer to home, and away from politics, the Premier League returned after last weekend’s FA Cup action. Saturday threw up some pretty uninspiring looking televised games, sandwiching an afternoon of relegation dog-fights. Kicking off at the King Power on Saturday lunchtime, Leicester City welcomed their own gun for hire back to the starting line up, as Riyad Mahrez was named as a starter for the first time since his post-deadline day tantrum. It’s perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that Leicester, who’s victory over Sheffield United last weekend earned them an FA Cup Quarter-Final tie against Chelsea, may have taken their eye off the ball in recent weeks as the opportunity for silverware presents itself away from the Premier League. Since their Fourth Round victory at Peterborough, the Foxes have lost two and drawn one, but the visit of a Stoke City side with one win in seven presented the perfect opportunity for Claude Puel’s side to improve their league form. Having had two weeks to recover from the frantic draw at home to Brighton which saw Charlie Adam miss a late penalty, Paul Lambert made four changes to his starting line-up, most pertinently replacing Adam with Geoff Cameron. A drab first half saw both sides struggle to get into the rhythm of the game, though Mahrez did at least look lively, perhaps too keen to make amends for his rebellion when shooting wide from distance halfway through the opening forty-five. Stoke, looking considerably less nervy than in recent weeks, grew in confidence as the half went on, and on the stroke of half time took the lead through a trademark Xherdan Shaqiri goal. Picking the ball up in the Leicester half, the Swiss bullet drove towards goal before curling a shot into the bottom corner.
The Foxes huffed and puffed in the second half, with Foussani Diabate and Kelechi Iheanacho both being introduced on the hour, but their equaliser had more than a hint of fortune about it. Marc Albrighton raced towards the touchline, fired in a cross, and Jack Butland fisted the ball into his own goal. From that point on, the hapless England ‘keeper found his goal under siege, with Leicester piling forward looking for a winner. First, Butland made an acrobatic save from Mahrez’s shot, only for Harry Maguire to hit the post on the follow up, before a weak header from Adam, on as a substitute, gave Mahrez a clean run at goal, before Kurt Zouma’s timely intervention prevented the Algerian from shooting at goal. In the dying embers of the game Matty James planted a header against the post, but despite an ensuing scramble, Stoke held on to take a well-earned point. With Leicester now four points from almost guaranteed safety, and little else to play for besides being ‘the best of the rest’ its unsurprising that Puel is targeting cup success over league points. Stoke, meanwhile, keep themselves in touch, but will have to pick up a few more wins if they’re to beat the drop.
Two sides who’ve looked odds-on to survive the relegation scrap in recent weeks met at the Amex Stadium for a 3pm kick-off on Saturday, with Brighton and Hove Albion looking to complete their second Premier League double, having dispatched West Ham so comfortably in their last home game. In their way stood a revitalised Swansea City who, under Carlos Carvalhal, came into the game with one defeat in seven, having pulled themselves out of the bottom three with a win against Burnley last time out. Once again, manager Chris Hughton picked Glenn Murray to lead the line for the Seagulls ahead of January signings Jurgen Locadia and Leonardo Ulloa, while Swansea continued with their compact 5-4-1 formation, looking to suffocate Brighton’s attacks and hit them on the counter. That gameplan worked for a little under twenty minutes, as Murray found a sight of goal before being pulled back by Mike Van Der Hoorn, and Mike Dean became the fifth referee to award Brighton a penalty this season. Added to the ELEVEN they were awarded in last season’s promotion campaign, it’s clear Hughton’s side know a thing or two about earning an advantage. Murray slotted the penalty away to give Brighton the lead, and it could have been two when Shane Duffy rose highest at a corner to bounce a header off the top of the crossbar. Swansea had their chances in the first half, most notably an effort from Jordan Ayew that bounced off the post and onto ‘keeper Mat Ryan’s back, but Hughton’s horseshoe collection came to the rescue again as the ball somehow bounced to safety.
Carvalhal signaled his intent for the second half by introducing Luciano Narsingh for Van Der Hoorn, and the attacking substitution almost paid dividends as Ki Sung-Yueng forced a good save from Ryan. Luck then briefly evaded Brighton as a perfectly good goal from Anthony Knockaert was ruled out for offside – Murray had been adjudged to have touched a cross that sailed directly in – but the Seagulls didn’t have to wait much longer to double their lead. Knockaert and Jose Izquierdo combining on the left flank to provide the ball on a plate for Murray to lash in his second of the afternoon. Four minutes later, the points were safe. Murray this time the provider, as his through ball was poked past Lukas Fabianksi by Knockaert. Swansea did manage to get on the scoresheet with five minutes remaining, as a powerful run by subsititute Tammy Abraham was deflected in by Lewis Dunk – his fourth own goal of the season – but in stoppage time, Locadia added to his FA Cup goal last week with a tap in from Dale Stephens’ knock-down to put the gloss on a commanding Brighton performance. Off the strength of this game, it seems likely Hughton’s side will be enjoying a second Premier League season, while Swansea, in spite of their good run, aren’t out of the woods yet.
Fellow promoted side Huddersfield Town had looked dead and buried leading up to their last Premier League outing at home to Bournemouth. David Wagner’s team had gone eight games without a win, but their demolition of the Cherries lifted them back out of the relegation zone ahead of a six-pointer at West Bromwich Albion. The week leading up to the game had been dominated by the fall-out from the Baggies trip to Barcelona, and Alan Pardew’s proclamations that “God teaches us to forgive”. Presumably God was also working with a limited squad when he came up with that one. Thanks to divine intervention, Gareth Barry and Jonny Evans returned to the West Brom starting line-up, while Steve Mounie was once again given the nod up front for Huddersfield, having scored twice against Bournemouth. Unsurprisingly it was the Terriers with the bit between their teeth in the first half, and but for a timely intervention from his own player, Jonathan Hogg might have given the visitors the lead. At the other end James McClean spurned the Baggies best chance of the opening period, volleying clean over from Matt Phillips’ cut-back.
The inevitable opener from Wagner’s side arrived just three minutes after half-time, as Collin Quaner’s cross was met by a scuffed effort from Rajiv Van La Parra and West Brom ‘keeper Ben Foster watched as the ball agonisingly trickled over the line. Mission:Quite Difficult become Mission:Improbable eight minutes later, when Alex Pritchard’s slide rule pass found the run of Mounie, and the Frenchman cooly slotted past the onrushing Foster. Craig Dawson’s header brought the Baggies back into the game with 25 minutes remaining, and both sides had opportunities to add to the scoresheet as Danny Williams and Van La Parra both spurned opportunities for Huddersfield, while a sharp save from Jonas Lossl prevented Chris Brunt from equalising. Dawson had an opportunity to nick a point at the death, but his header cleared the bar and summed up West Brom’s day. If reports are true and Alan Pardew had two games to save his job before this one, then he’d perhaps be wise to start clearing his desk – the Baggies look all but doomed.
Elsewhere, Newcastle United blew the opportunity to extend the gap above the bottom three, throwing away a two-goal lead in the final ten minutes to draw at Bournemouth. West Ham received a schooling at the hands of Mo Salah and co. as Liverpool ran out 4-1 winners at Anfield, and Southampton picked up a decent looking point away at Burnley.
In an evening kick-off presumably designed to push BT Sport subscribers to the limit of their dedication, Watford hosted Everton. With Sam Allardyce seemingly opting for the real-life equivalent of ‘Simulate Game’ every time his Toffees side leave Goodison Park, this looked like the perfect opportunity for new Watford boss Javi Gracia to add to his side’s 4-1 humbling of Chelsea in their last home game. Once again, Oumar Niasse was preferred to £27m signing Cenk Tosun up front, and it was the Senegalese that came closest to opening the deadlock in the first half – his deflected cross gathered safely by Orestis Karnezis.
In the second half The Future of English Goalkeeping™ Jordan Pickford almost gifted the hosts an opener as his delayed clearance clattered off the considerable frame of Troy Deeney, but the Hornets were unable to capitalise. A little over ten minutes from time, though, and with half of Hertfordshire losing the will to live, Stefan Okaka surged into the penalty area, pulled the ball back for Deeney, and the Watford captain’s swivel and drive outfoxed Pickford to give Gracia’s team the lead. There was still time for Okaka to bring a good save from Pickford towards the end of the game, but against an Everton side lacking any real incision the one goal proved to be enough. In this most bizarre and uneven of Premier League seasons, this was as close to a mid-table dead rubber as you’re likely to get. Well done BT Sport.
Sunday brought the promise of a pair of enticing fixtures, and an all-London tie at midday was the ideal way to enjoy your smashed avocado on toast and turmeric latte. Tottenham, fresh from scraping a draw at League One basement club Rochdale, returned their attentions to the race for top four against a Crystal Palace side that, having looked home and dry for a large chunk of the season, suddenly find themselves back in the relegation mire. The loss of Wilfried Zaha through injury and the ongoing search for Christian Benteke’s confidence has left Palace a little short up top, so the addition of Alexander Sorloth to their starting line-up offered a thin ray of hope for the Selhurst Park faithful. Spurs, on a run of five away draws in a row in all competitions, reverted to their first eleven, having given the reserves a run out at Spotland last week. Palaces attacking deficiencies were evident from the off, and it was only Wayne Hennessey’s fleet of thought that prevented them going in behind at the break, blocking Harry Kane’s close range effort.
Tottenham cranked up the pressure in the second half, and another moment of profligacy from Kane spared Roy Hodgson’s side once again. The England striker spooning a shot wide from six yards out after good work from Christian Eriksen. It wasn’t just Kane looking the gift-horse in the mouth, however, and Serge Aurier’s miss from two yards in the late stages of the game summed up a bizarre afternoon for the Ivorian. On top of missing a sitter, the full-back became the first player in Premier League history to register a hat-trick of foul throws. But then what do you expect for £23m? Luckily Kane popped up with a header two minutes from time to nick the win for Spurs, and the on-looking Roy Hodgson must have wondered whether he had his tactics wrong during Euro 2016, as he watched his erstwhile corner-taker get on the end of Eriken’s dead-ball to condemn his side to defeat. With another step towards Champions League qualification taken, Mauricio Pochettino can concentrate on beating Rochdale in midweek.
The final game of the weekend has, for so many years, promised to be a classic and struggled to deliver, but with both sides now very much occupying the position of bridesmaids to Manchester City, there was a strange air around the meeting between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford. Not even the ongoing feud between managers Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte could spice up the atmosphere, with both sets of fans having seen their sides struggling in recent weeks. Paul Pogba’s continued absence from the Manchester United starting line-up had the press pack chattering pre-match, but it was the performance of the 19 year old keeping him out of the side that drew the most attention. Scott McTominay’ first half performance wasn’t entirely without fault – as Chelsea broke away from a United attack, the young midfielder was caught ball-watching, allowing Willian a free run at goal from Eden Hazard’s pass, from which the Brazilian lashed in the opener. Seven minutes later, Mourinho’s men were back on terms through a move started by McTominay. His pass to Alexis Sanchez allowed the Chilean to pick out Anthony Martial, and the deftest touch into the path of Romelu Lukaku gave United’s #9 the simplest of finishes to level the scores.
In a second half lacking the excitement of other top six clashes this season, the game was decided with fifteen minutes to play. Lukaku was again involved, this time picking up the ball in the channel and using his considerable upper body strength to shake off his marker, before picking out Jesse Lingard with a pinpoint cross for the winger to nod in the winner. A vital win for Manchester United, who’s grasp on second place had looked to be slipping in recent weeks, while Chelsea fall out of the top four for the first time since October. On current form, you wouldn’t fancy them to get back in there by the season’s end.