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Sunday, 17 August 2008

Squarefootball Diary; Chelsea's Pompey Rompey; Toon Make A Point; Hughes' Sorry Blues

Squarefootball Diary - Sunday August 17 2008

Last season's Premier League title race protagonists are in action this Sunday, with Manchester United and Chelsea experiencing differing fortunes.

First up are Luiz Felipe Scolari's Blues, who crush FA Cup holders Portsmouth at Stamford Bridge.  Harry Redknapp's side are rocked by first half goals from Joe Cole, Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard, and although they tighten up in the second half they are breached once more by a Deco blockbuster a minute from time;

"Portsmouth didn't think we would play like we did and we were more aggressive than last season. I think they were surprised by our team." reckons Scolari;

"The top four are on another level." complains Redknapp, ever the optimist;

"Spurs have got a squad and can't even win at Middlesbrough, so you start forgetting about them." he adds needlessly, cheaply and with a good dollop of irrelevance;

"We've improved our standard in the last three or four years but, today, you step up into a different level."

Manchester United failed to win any of their first three games of last season's successful title campaign, so they shouldn't be too worried at being held 1-1 by Newcastle United in their 2008/09 opener.  The Toon take a surprise lead through Obafemi Martins' header, but the advantage is wiped away almost instantly when Darren Fletcher gets to Ryan Giggs' cross first;

"We had possession of the ball but didn't make it count at times - but in light of the people we had missing, it was a creditable result for us." suggests Sir Alex, who had to go in without Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Owen Hargreaves among others, and saw his side further hit by injuries to Michael Carrick and Giggs;

"Newcastle fans will go away saying how they witnessed a team playing for the supporters, playing for the badge, playing for the club - and that's what they deserve." believes Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan;

"There were lots of good things for us to build on but we mustn't get carried away as there are a lot of tough games to come." he warns.

Also in action today are Aston Villa and Manchester City.  Mark Hughes' first Premier League match in charge at the Eastlands club is as sorry as his European bow in midweek, with City going down 4-2 at Villa Park.  Gabriel Agbonlahor helps himself to a hat-trick, that after John Carew had opened the scoring and Elano had equalised from the penalty spot.  City have the last word through Vedran Corluka, but Hughes must remain a worried man;

"We had 10 minutes of madness. We made some bad decisions at the back and stopped defending set-plays - and you cannot afford to do that against Villa." he comments, while Villa boss Martin O'Neill manages to get through an entire interview without mentioning Gareth Barry;

"I am delighted. It was a big victory for us and we played particularly well going forward." he notes;

"It was as important for us to stay tight defensively but I knew that we would create things in attack."

Well, you were playing Manchester City so that was a safe assumption.

Portsmouth's Peter Crouch and Aston Villa's Ashley Young are the surprise omissions from the England squad to face the Czech Republic on Wednesday (August 20).  Manager Fabio Capello names 23 players, offering a recall to Wigan Athletic striker Emile Heskey.  West Ham United's Matthew Upson is also included as are Glen Johnson of Portsmouth and Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart.  Midfielder Michael Carrick has to withdraw after picking up an ankle injury during the clash with Newcastle United.

For the last word it is up north to Scotland, where Dundee United snatch a late point at home to SPL champions Celtic.  Paul Hartley puts Celtic in front just after half-time, but when Francisco Sandaza nets late on the Bhoys have to settle for a draw.  All of which leaves manager Gordon Strachan with nothing to do except prove that if you are subjected to enough crap you'll get a taste for it;

"I saw Hamilton against Dundee United on Monday and Hibs-Falkirk yesterday." he begins;

"That's three good games and this was a terrific game of football." he adds, proving that his counting skills are as sharp as his judgement of what does and does not constitute quality football;

"We just lacked a bit of physical presence at the goal, but the guys usually do better than that." he concludes.

By Stephen Orford

17 August 2008



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