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Sunday, September 23, 2007

(Hopefully) normal service resumed

TDH was so down and out after that horrendous loss to Derby, which TDH witnessed in its entirety, that it was difficult to clock back in here. (Yes, even despite the appearance of American international Benny Feilhaber as an effective Derby sub.) The week's Champions League fixtures did little to pep TDH up, being some of the most insipid matches TDH had seen for a long time.

Only The Goon Show's tireless industry against Sevilla merited much mention. Who says you can't win anything with kids? Arsene's toddlers may end this season with a trophy or two, if the rest of the league's - and the continent's - clubs can't sort it out. No, TDH doesn't think the Goons can upset the resurgent Merengues or even, probably, a bolshy Milan. But what with the turbulence in the league, they're in with more than a chance... no matter what Wes Brown says.

That's right, Manure still don't have a reliable striker besides Kiki Ron, and then there's the Billionaire Boys Club. Whoa! TDH didn't expect The Special One to get the axe so soon, and certainly not because he wasn't playing Sheva enough. (Against Rosenborg, Sheva only continued his streak of scoring on mediocre teams....) And if Roman thinks that replacing Jose with a relatively unknown Israeli is going to save the Blues, he'd better think again. What will they do when Drogba and Essien go on African Nations Cup duty? TDH shudders to think. Finally, Liverpool haven't really hit their stride yet, and Spurs are lost in the wilderness.

So basically it's down to Arsenal and us for the title. Ha, TDH got you there, eh? Well, the win at Whammers was very reassuring, but we still don't have the playmaker on the pitch. Bloody Alan Smith! Has he done anything this season? Why does Sam love him so much? Because he's the nearest thing to Joey Barton, even if he lacks the fundamental ability to launch the telling ball? Please, Joey - please, Emre - come back, come back!


Meanwhile, it's USA v Brazil in another less-than-marquee World Cup. Let's hope the result is the same as it was in the U-20 version. We're looking dangerous, but they spanked us in the Pan-American Games. (Football fans around the world are saying, "The whaaat?" Yes, TDH is aware.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Now this looks like football

TDH didn't get a chance to see the Israel match at the weekend, but the Russia match was front and center today after a leisurely lunch in drizzly Buenos Aires, where there seemed to be a whiff of London in the air. Perhaps, indeed, there was something of an intercontinental climate swap going on, as the weather at Wembley looked delightful.

The rain, of course, came in the form of shots by our and England's No. 10. The BBC's Phil McNulty supplied plenty of effusiveness, letting TDH off the hook, but TDH will say a few words. Five goals in four games. (Five words did the trick.)

TDH spent much of the second half praying that Owen wouldn't get injured, and TDH surely wasn't alone among Toon supporters. So far, so good. But the real story was how well this England squad played. No silly shots from Fat Frank, no over-reliance on Becks. Stevie G was off-target, and it didn't matter. Barry swept with skill and presence, and the overlaps of Richards and SWP on one side and the Cole brothers on the other were enough to keep the Russians occupied.

Meanwhile, Heskey showed he could be every bit as scary as Crouch, and his flicks were pretty good. TDH has never been a big Heskey fan, but as long as he keeps supplying good flicks to people who can actually hit the side of a barn, TDH will not complain. He just has to hope all referees have the same laissez-faire attitude as today's Swede did.

TDH could still swap Lamps for Gerrard - it probably doesn't make too much difference, as long as Junior keeps his shooting under control. But Becks showed up for his last match completely wasted from jetlag, and his style of play doesn't tire out the opposition as much as SWP's. There's not much sense having him on the bench, though. What to do? As for Sol, Rio's goal won't help him to get back into the team. But Sol's a good egg and a reliable England performer, so TDH won't lobby either way.


In other news, the Serbs and the Portuguese ended up throwing punches. Let's write that again: the Serbs and Felipao ended up throwing punches. TDH was neither surprised nor, as if it needed saying, amused.

Speaking of fisticuffs, that drunk who attacked Sir is lucky to be alive. Playing with fire, you're playing with fire...


And finally, back in Argentina, TDH was glad to see El Rojo pee all over Huracan, even if TDH is somewhat saddened by the trials now being endured by El Globo. Now we just have to wait and see how long it takes for Independiente to sell German Denis to some backwater Spanish outfit for another $5 million. Grrr.

TDH has little comment on US v Brazil, not having seen the match - TDH still can't believe people here would rather watch Namibia play rugby than the two continental champions slugging it out with all of their stars. At least Clint Dempsey keeps scoring. What is it about inside strikers named Clint? (Dirty Harry jokes may now commence.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Old problem solved, new problem remains

It was 90 minutes of frustration, a few seconds of euphoria, 10 minutes of tension and then ultimately lasting satisfaction. Yes, that adds up to over 100 minutes of football, and if you don't like it, then you might want to take Steve Bennet's watch in for servicing.

Seeing Owen today was a bit like reading The Ugly Duckling. For almost an entire match, he flailed, he scrambled, he dallied and wavered... he looked like a midget from the Conference, except not as hard (you know those little coffin nails TDH is talking about), who had been dumped into the boiling cauldron of Premier League action. And then, as though hit by a bolt from the blue, all the noise in his head subsided; he raised his face skyward and thought, "Oh yeah! I remember how to do this - streak towards the box, dart between two defenders, pop in a little header and run towards the sideline like that nice Alan bloke I used to see around here." He's a swan! He's a swan!

We were close many times earlier on, of course, and it was a huge testament to Big Ham's bolstering of our defense that Wigan barely had a chance to trouble Harper. TDH is already a big Cacapa fan. He seems to be taking the alpha dog duties from Rozenhal, with Geremi sweeping ably. And Taylor didn't look too bad on the right, while Zog is turning into a Cashley Hole whom you wouldn't slug in the face on sight. Let's see if our young Spaniard can fit into this setup, too. With Beye on board (TDH thinks it's only a matter of time until little yellow tags with that motto appear on Tyneside), we should be a very stingy team this year.

But let's be honest here. No one except Milner had the faintest idea how to set up a play, and Milner got rather repetitive with his infinite-jukes-then-cross act on the left. We desperately need midfield creativity, something we had plenty of until very recently. TDH would have been playing with Nobby instead of Smith these past few matchdays (and wouldn't have sold Nobby, or bought Smith, for that matter). Smith isn't even winning balls in midfield. When Emre comes back, Smith needs to ride the pine. Likewise Barton for Butt. With all the striking power we have, all we need is a creator. Then we could actually be good.


Well, after that squeaker, TDH could hardly begrudge Manure another largely underserved 1-0 win, right? Oh, yes TDH can. Rarely has TDH seen so many talented, expensive footballers playing such little football. Keano entered the Theater of Screams with the mien of an East End gangster - one of the successful ones - about to break the knees of a 20-stone grass who also happened to owe him money.

Unfortunately the fight wasn't between him and Sir. That would have been a sight to see, eh? We'd finally find out if Sir had gone soft while Keano had doubtlessly kept in shape, most likely by dunking young Mackem miscreants into garbage tips. TDH was waiting for him to strip off his trim-cut suit, pull on a jersey and give that little haircut Eagles a beating in midfield.

But hey, what is TDH saying? They're Scumderland. Let 'em roast.


The day turned a bit sour later on when Independiente went down to a more energetic Gimnasia team in La Plata. The pitch looked very, very long as El Rojo struggled to get forward. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted. Best commentary goes to Alejandro Fabbri: "Adelantado. Mas adelantado que Pedro de Mendoza."*

* Adelantado means off-side, but literally "advanced" or "ahead of himself" - as Pedro de Mendoza was when he founded the initial, doomed settlement of Buenos Aires in 1536. (The second founding, which stuck, was in 1580.) Adelantado also happens to be the name of the office Pedro de Mendoza held as the first ruler of the Rio de la Plata region.