Ed Chamberlin reflects on a magic afternoon in Sunderland and praises Manchester City's resilience.
Last Updated: 06/01/12 1:31pm
A superb week of Premier League football, a nightmare week for punters!
I wonder if anyone managed to pull off a winning accumulator last weekend as the top four all failed to win and there were shock results left, right and centre? It started with Chelsea's defeat against Aston Villa and ended with Newcastle's stunning victory against the champions on Wednesday night. A crazy few days and a dramatic start to 2012
It's all left Manchester City much shorter in Sky Bet's betting to win the title at 4/9. United are only three points behind yet have drifted dramatically from 5/4 to 11/4, while Tottenham are in to single figures for the first time this season at 9/1 (from 16/1).
The highlight for me from a brilliant week of football came four seconds from the end of the Super Sunday game at the Stadium of Light. Manchester City had thrown the kitchen sink at Martin O'Neill's resilient Sunderland side in their attempt to go three points clear at the top of the table but could not find a breakthrough.
The Black Cats were out on their feet yet still managed to go the length of the field to score with virtually the last kick of the game. The stadium literally took off as did the studio with Niall Quinn and Peter Reid out of their chairs and I imagine plenty of people at home were off the sofa and on their feet at home. It was an incredible finish.
I shall remember three things from the day: 1) the noise inside the Stadium of Light and sheer joy on people's faces. I have not seen scenes like that at Sunderland since Peter Reid's time in charge when Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips got the fans going and the stadium rocking, 2) the class David Platt showed in telling Martin O'Neill at the final whistle that Roberto Mancini had already gone down the tunnel and no offense was intended, and 3) Martin Tyler's sensational commentary. "He's done it" as Ji Dong-Won put the ball in the net will live long in the memory and his line "Ji whizz" was vintage Tyler.
City restored some kind of normality on Tuesday night by beating Liverpool 3-0. It wasn't a vintage City performance but my word they looked strong and resilient; key qualities in potential champions. In contrast, Manchester United were blown away in a gale at St James' Park the following night. The gap is only three points but the price disparity, 4/9 and 11/4, suggests Sky Bet think this week's games were decisive. Sunday's FA Cup meeting between the top two could play a big psychological role in the title race too (Sunday's odds: 11/10 Manchester City, 23/10 Draw, 5/2 Manchester United).
The Monday Night Football summed up the festive period in the Premier League and its unpredictability this season. For 70 minutes of the game at Craven Cottage, I was preparing to ask Gary Neville if Arsenal were now serious title contenders again as they led Fulham 1-0 and looked in total control. A few minutes later, I was asking if Arsenal could still finish in the top four. The only thing that remains predictable about the Premier League is its unpredictability.
We can now take a breather for FA Cup third-round weekend, which promises to be a minefield for punters as managers ring the changes and rest key players. The Premier League rollercoaster ride resumes next weekend.
I was lucky enough to spend New Year's Eve with Niall Quinn and his family in Sunderland. I shared plenty of football stories with Niall but also talked horse racing at length and we were both excited about the thought of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival. Cheltenham is a major feature in the Quinns' sporting calendar and he has some hilarious memories of Festivals past and as far as the future we both agreed that Hurricane Fly is becoming an attractive price to successfully defend his Champion Hurdle crown.
A lot seems to be being made of 'The Fly's' absence so far this season but I don't see that as a major problem. Even if Willie Mullins decided to give the Irish Champion Hurdle a miss, I still think Hurricane Fly will be very hard to beat. Mullins is training him for one race this season - at Cheltenham in March - and just look at the way he's primed Quevega to win on her seasonal reappearance each year at the Festival. He clearly doesn't see it as a major issue.
More worrying is the absence so far this season of one of my horses to follow - Spirit Son. He doesn't have nearly as much experience as Hurricane Fly and surely needs to see the racecourse before March?
Our other horses to follow have done pretty well. Emma Lavelle's Penny Max followed up his impressive Newbury at 4/1 with another success on New Year's Day at 13/8, while Darlan has won two out of two this season but doesn't seem to be the superstar that AP McCoy thought he was going to be.
He was a workmanlike winner at Cheltenham last time, which left the champion jockey scratching his head as he'd told us Darlan could be something special. He still might be but is entered next at Taunton on Monday, which suggests that they are not aiming too high - yet.
The one sadness from the four horses to follow was the crashing fall Kid Cassidy took when set to bolt up at Lingfield in November. Mentally, I don't think this horse has ever recovered from nearly being electrocuted at Newbury, which is such a shame as he has the engine of a Rolls Royce but has had no luck whatsoever meaning we are never likely to see the best of him.