Sport Soccer

Thursday 26 April 2018

Manic Wednesday restores lost faith

Eamonn Sweeney

By midnight on Wednesday, I was singing the first few lines of Comedy Tonight, the opening number of Stephen Sondheim's great musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Altogether now, "Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone, a comedy tonight. Something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone, a comedy tonight."

There are times when you're tempted to give up on the Premier League. The hype is tiresome, the eventual outcome is predictable and the analysis is so exhaustive as to become exhausting. But, on the best days, there's still little to beat it for drama.

Wednesday was one of those days. We saw three managers step to the very brink of the precipice and one take an unexpected pace back. There were a couple of totally unlikely results which made flitters of the idea that we had a five-team title race. It was a fantastic night for the Irish with three tremendous performances at a time when we seem to have become increasingly marginalised in the league. There was even a touch of tragedy.

Chelsea's defeat by Wolves scored on almost all those fronts. Even an owner far less impatient than Roman Abramovich would have suffered a severe blow to his faith in the manager after a match which seemed to suggest that the Blues are developing some kind of mental phobia about victory.

On the other hand, Wolves might well have saved Mick McCarthy with the kind of battling performance they regularly produce but which rarely ends in the right result. The difference this time was in the extra bit of quality provided by Stephen Hunt who, perhaps inspired by the publicity concerning a possible Premier League return for David Beckham, did a pretty good impersonation of Posh Spice's other half. A superb teasing corner-kick forced Jose Bosingwa into an own goal while a 25-yard free-kick which rattled the crossbar would have been one of the goals of the season. Ancelotti will hardly see out the term.

Roy Hodgson is another dead man walking. Gloomy enough in appearance when things are going well for him, the Liverpool boss now looks like a Samuel Beckett play made flesh.

At Ewood Park, he was confronted with the sight of that most deadly apparition for managers: a team who genuinely didn't seem to care whether they won or lost.

One of his predecessors, Gerard Houllier, has both feet in the grave after Aston Villa's loss to Sunderland landed them in the bottom three just a couple of seasons after they looked poised to pip Arsenal for the last Champions League slot. Outside the top four or five, the league is much of a muchness.

If the sight of Richard Dunne in decline is alarming for Irish fans, there are consolations at present. Leon Best scoring a hat-trick for Newcastle United against West Ham in his first Premier League start is one. Best has formidable weapons, he is good in the air, strong, brave and quick, but he has been held back by the fact that he's not the greatest of finishers, hence his somewhat disappointing total of 44 goals from 175 games. On Wednesday, he showed what can happen when it all comes together for him. If this isn't a flash in the pan, it's a major boost for an international team struggling to put the ball in the net.

There doesn't seem to be anything freakish about Seamus Coleman's Premier League progress. Not only did he score the winner for Everton as they shocked Spurs but he tormented the Londoners all night with his raids down the right flank. The ex-Sligo Rovers man hasn't just been one of Everton's best players all season, he's been arguably the most consistent Irish player in the top flight.

And the tragedy? Spare a thought for David Meyler, so impressive in his starts for Sunderland last year that the club gave him a five-year contract and Steve Bruce put him back in the first team after he recovered from a six-month lay off with a knee injury.

But the son of former Wexford hurling manager John was carried off again last week, clutching his knee and shedding understandable tears. The news is that it's a wrenched knee, which will keep him out for weeks, rather than a career-threatening recurrence of the old injury. So fingers crossed for a player who may well be the future of the Irish midfield at international level.

That's the Premier League. On any night, anything can happen.

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