ALEKSANDAR Kolarov, I can reveal, will not win the BBC’s Goal of the Month competition for February. His free kick for Manchester City against Birmingham at the start of the month was spectacular. But not quite spectacular enough.
People say, with a degree of justification, that the FA Cup has lost its lustre, of which more in a moment. But at least some people genuinely still give a stuff about the competition. (Chelsea seem to have been quite fond of it in recent years, and I don’t think either of the two Manchester clubs would say no to winning it this season.)
Match of the Day’s Goal of the Month/Season contest, on the other hand, has been reduced to an inconvenience, something dropped into the show with a shrug of the shoulders and a sigh. It’s no more a significant part of MOTD than Manish Bhasin’s trailers for the Football League Show (“Eighty-six goals this week, Gary!”), which Gary Lineker introduces with the weary air of a parent forced to listen to his offspring’s tuneless rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ on the recorder for the 78th time.
It doesn’t help that the BBC don’t run it as a competition any more, because various broadcasting rules dictate that they would have to send every participant a text confirming their entry, which is worth neither the hassle nor the cost. Instead, it has become a montage of great goals, backed by the muzak du jour and this or that commentator yelling ‘Oh, what a goal’ at the top of their voice.
Last year’s Goal of the Season got pushed so far down the priority list that the BBC didn’t get round to revealing it until September. (Maynor Figueroa for Wigan at Stoke, if you’re interested.) And Lineker only told us last night who won the Goal of the Month for January. (It was Raul Meireles for Liverpool at Wolves, a game played so long ago that Andy Gray commentated on it for Sky.)
“And we can immediately move on the February Goal of the Month competition,” Lineker said. “No competition, but probably not a difficult choice anyway.”
Not promising news for Kolarov, whose free kick at St Andrew’s was among the choices as Goal 1. We can probably expect Lineker to tell us sometime around mid-April that Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick in the Manchester derby (Goal 5) was the winner.
Actually, that’s probably the Goal of the Season sorted too.
MOTD’s final match: Manchester City 1 Wigan 0
Commentator: Jonathan Pearce
Call it naivety on my part, call it a sign that the FA Cup has lost its spark. But it didn’t even occur to me to question Kolo Toure’s absence from the Manchester City line-up when I covered their fifth-round tie against Aston Villa on Wednesday night.
Toure’s name was not on the team sheet I received in the press box around 40 minutes before kick off. I assumed he was just being rested. I suspect I wasn’t the only one.
Besides, most of the reporters present at Eastlands that night were too busy mulling over Gerard Houllier’s bizarre decision to rest most of his first team for a not-particularly-crucial Premier League trip to Bolton to notice that anything was amiss.
Some people will try to convince you that they knew Toure had failed a drug test long before the news became public on Thursday evening. But rumours were certainly starting to spread by that afternoon. Around tea-time, a well-connected City-supporting colleague of mine got in touch to ask if I knew anything. By then, it seemed that a lot of people knew something. It wasn’t long before everyone knew.
No one knows when Toure will play again. He watched on from the stand at Eastlands as City laboured to a 1-0 victory over bottom-of-the-table Wigan.
Here’s a sign of how far City have progressed in recent times: Three years ago, they hosted Wigan, a tea-time kick off on the first Saturday in March. Thaksin Shinawatra, the club’s then-owner, had just declared his intention to make City one of the top clubs in the world. They huffed and puffed to a 0-0 draw. It wasn’t the kind of statement Thaksin wanted to make, and it might well have spelt the beginning of the end for Sven-Goran Eriksson as the club’s manager.
Yesterday, with Thaksin long gone too, City hosted Wigan, a tea-time kick off on the first Saturday in March. The club hierarchy aren’t keen these days on boasting about world domination. They’d prefer to win something first. City huffed and puffed to a 1-0 win. It wasn’t the kind of statement you’d expect from a team chasing Champions League football, but it was a victory – thanks to David Silva’s creativity and a huge blunder by Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.
Having adjusted to the English game following his move from Spain, Silva is proving to be one of the Premier League most exciting talents. He is king of the assists at City, but yesterday it was Al Habsi who assisted him. The keeper should have stopped Silva’s tame shot on the near post. Instead, he somehow let it trickle through his legs, a la Ray Clemence against Kenny Dalglish at Hampden Park in 1976.
Wigan still had chances to equalise, with Alvaro Alcaraz hitting the post and Connor Sammon shooting wide late on. It was a scrappy game – scrappy enough to ensure City were last on Match of the Day for the first time since December 2008. But it was the sort of game City would have failed to win three years ago.
Mancini’s team have as much chance of winning the Gubbometer as they have with the February Goal of the Month competition. Mancini, though will be much happier with a top-four Premier League finish, and perhaps the FA Cup to go with it.
1. Fulham: 9 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 8 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. Stoke: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 6)
4. Bolton: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
5. West Brom: 4 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
6. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 8)
7. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
8. Newcastle: 4 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
9. Everton: 3 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
10. West Ham: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
11. Wolves: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
12. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
13. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
14. Aston Villa: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
15. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
16. Manchester City: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
17. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
18=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
18=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
20. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L=On second last (Newcastle 1 Everton 2)
3L=On third last (West Ham 3 Stoke 0)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in Newport, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Tony Gubba, Mario Balotelli and a giant snood, with music from the Manic Street Preachers.)