GILES SMITH: MORE THAN ONE WAY
Matthew Harding Stand season ticket holder and columnist Giles Smith is feeling a trifle spoilt this week - spoilt for memorable matches and certainly spoilt for subjects on which to write…
What a performance - a superb combination of exquisite bus-parking, gritty sandbag deployment and military-standard trench-work, plus the requisite silkiness and speed to get forward at the critical moment (45+2).
And amid Biblical quantities of rainfall, as well. For a while there, it looked as though our team would not only have to contain and out-run Barcelona, but would also have to build an Ark out of advertising hoardings. And given the kind of form Gary Cahill was in, I'd have tipped him to pull it off.
What a goal, too - cleverly sprung and beautifully timed. It's one of football's truisms that 'right on half time' is 'a good time to score'. But Didier Drogba's goal was so late in the half that it practically came during the half-time interval - which, on reflection, would be an even better time to score, if you could arrange it. Stick one away while they're working through the oranges. That'll do it to a team's morale, every time.
Now purists (and also, if experience is anything to go by, one or two Barcelona players) tend to come out after games like these and, producing the shots-at-goal statistics and the possession percentages by way of support, suggest that 'only one team came to play football'. But that doesn't really make any sense, does it? After all, there are numerous ways to skin a cat and defending is football, too.
What they probably mean is that there was only one team playing 'tippy tappy.' And there one would have no disagreement. And, of course, one knows that 'tippy tappy', as produced by Barcelona, is a wonder of the natural world, a work of art, one of the greatest feats of civil engineering since Brunel built the Clifton Suspension bridge, etc. etc.
One knows, too, that 'tippy tappy' may yet undo us royally in the Nou Camp in less than a week's time, because 'tippy tappy' is capable of that.
But blimey, it can be maddening to watch, can't it? All that waiting until the opposition has got everyone behind the ball before you come forward, all that noodling around in triangles in neutral areas of the field, all that fetishizing of possession, all that working the ball out wide, only to work it back inside again… I can see that it takes immense amounts of skill, and that probably no team has ever possessed that kind of skill in such concentrated abundance as this present Barcelona side. But if I had to watch it all the time, rather than four or five times a year, on special occasions, I think I would go nuts with frustration.
On the other hand, bus-parking, sandbag deployment, trench-work, the goal on the break… strangely enough, these prove to be things one never tires of looking at.
So, a victory over the European Champions that no one was especially predicting came just three days after a five-goal festival of fun at Wembley. That Roberto Di Matteo - he spoils us, he really does.
And, to make it even better, in the case of no fewer than four of those five goals last Sunday, the ball actually went in the net.
Martin Atkinson, the referee, has been widely pilloried for his willingness to blow his whistle and set off back towards the centre circle after that Juan Mata shot went quite near the goal in the 50th minute, but it wasn't the worst decision one has ever seen, was it? Many papers the following morning produced captions along the lines of 'How could he call this a goal?' - but normally alongside pictures of the incident which, if anything, showed how easily Atkinson could have been deceived, given the angle he had.
Harry Redknapp seemed a bit cross about it afterwards, though, and, in the circumstances, one can probably understand why. But maybe he should heed the traditional wisdom about such events - namely, that these things tend to even themselves out over the course of the FA Cup.
Or is that 'over the course of the season'?
It's one or the other.
Anyway, now it's Liverpool on May 5th- another stiff challenge, not least because Kenny Dalglish's future as manager will probably rest on his team landing this trophy to redeem a season of woeful under-performance and poor political calls.
That said, the history of cup finals involving Liverpool strongly suggests that if you can stop them nicking it on penalties, then you've got a good chance. Here's hoping.
So, Mario Balotelli can do his best to remove Alex Song's leg at the knee, but the Football Association can't take any retrospective action - whereas Branislav Ivanovic can get caught up in a slightly hissy slapping match with Wigan's Shaun Maloney, so far away from notice that the two proponents barely saw it themselves, and the FA can whack a three-match ban on him, meaning we didn't have him at Wembley at we won't have him against Arsenal, either, nor at home to QPR the following weekend - a critical period in which to be missing perhaps your team's player of the season.
Hard to keep up with the judicial thinking, though, isn't it? Essentially, as far as I understand it, the point is that the FA only acts later on incidents that none of the officials saw. Otherwise the FA would be technically 're-refereeing' the game. And re-refereeing games is not something the FA wants to get involved in, especially not these days, because then they would never find time to do any of the other important things they have to do, such as appoint the England manager, and sit around in offices at Wembley and, er, all those other things.
Then again, one hates to get into the muddy area of definition here, but in what sense did the referee 'see' Balotelli's studded chop on Song? If the ref had 'seen' it, he would have sent Balotelli off, surely. But he obviously didn't 'see' it, because Balotelli stayed on the pitch (and had to be sent off later, instead). So, in that case, there would be grounds for arguing that the referee didn't 'see' the incident, and therefore grounds for ruling on it retrospectively.
Or perhaps we should keep quiet on this one. If the FA suddenly has a brief to comb back through the tapes and mend flagrant errors, they may eventually notice that goal that Alan Hudson scored here against Ipswich in the Seventies - the fabled 'goal that never was', the one that 'bounced out again' off the stanchion (but in fact hit the stanchion on the outside of the net).
And if they find that, we're all doomed. Fixture congestion is a big enough issue already, without having to replay the whole of the 1970-71 season.