FESTIVE season recap
Manchester City’s record-breaking 18-match winning run came to an end on New Year’s Eve when they drew 0-0 at Crystal Palace. Nevertheless, Pep Guardiola’s side still entered 2018 with a 12 point lead over neighbours United (recent 2-0 winners at Everton) at the top of the PL.
Arsene Wenger’s record 811th Premiership game in charge of Arsenal ended in a 1-1 draw at West Brom, but the long-standing French boss wasn’t at all happy with referee Mike Dean’s decision to award Albion a late penalty. What about the blatant spot-kick not given against the Baggies earlier in the season at The Emirates, Mr. Grumpy?
In-form Spurs are still winning (thanks to Mr Kane who’s certainly been ‘able’ of late); so too are Chelsea and Liverpool, the latter’s success coming at Burnley in New Year’s Day, courtesy of a dramatic late goal from Ragmar Klaven. Meanwhile, Reds’ boss Jürgen Klopp has signed Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for a world record fee for a defender of £75m.
In-form Wolves are racing away from the pack in the Championship (they beat Bristol City over the festive season); Wigan Atrhletic and Shrewsbury Town are still first and second in FL1, while Luton Town lead FL2, despite a heavy ‘festive season’ 4-0 defeat at Port Vale. And in Scotland, the old firm derby ended Celtic 0 Rangers 0.
And with football’s transfer window now open, we can expect plenty of activity between clubs over the next few days with several Premiership players moving to pastures new… with perhaps Coutinho, Sanchez and Walcott, among them! An expected 300+ deals will take place during this month.
Alastair Cook scored a majestic 244 not out in England’s first innings total of 491 in the drawn fourth Test with Australia in Melbourne. In fact, only the rain prevented Joe Root’s team from gaining a consolation win. Cook’s knock, by the way, was the biggest by an overseas player in Australia.
In Rugby Union, Exeter Chiefs started 2018 ten points clear at the top of the AVIVA Premiership… Ulster stormed back from 17 points to nil down to beat Munster 24-17 in the Pro-12 League… the impressive 6-4 favourite Might Bite won the Boxing Day King George VI Steeplechase at Kempton Park…. GB tennis star Johanna Konta started the year by beating Madison Keys in the first round of the Brisbane Open… and Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, playing in his last competition before retirement, was beaten 7-2 by debutant outsider Rob Cross in the PDC darts final.
FA CUP 3rd ROUND WEEKEND
There are 32 FA Cup third round ties coming up, starting on Friday with the Liverpool v Everton clash at Anfield and twelve-time winners Manchester United against Derby County at Old Trafford.
On Sunday, holders Arsenal, 13-time winners and 29-time semi-finalists, visit Nottingham Forest, Wimbledon play Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, West Ham United travel to Shrewsbury Town and Leeds United travel 216 miles to South Wales to oppose Newport County.
In between times, Saturday’s 25 games feature Norwich City against Chelsea, Fulham v Southampton, Newcastle United v Luton Town, favourites Manchester City v Burnley; Bournemouth v Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers v Huddersfield Town, Jamie Vardy’s old club Fleetwood Town v Leicester City, Coventry City v Stoke; Wolves v Swansea City; Watford v Bristol City; Exeter City v West Bromwich Albion, Middlesbrough v Sunderland, Aston Villa v Peterborough United, Birmingham City v Burton Albion, Cardiff City v Mansfield Town, Blackburn Rovers v Hull City, Brentford v Notts County, Carlisle United v Sheffield Wednesday, Doncaster Rovers v Rochdale, Ipswich Town v Sheffield United, Millwall v Barnsley, QPR v MK Dons, Stevenage v Reading, Wycombe Wanderers v Preston North End and Yeovil Town v Bradford City. The last third round tie is Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace on Monday.
CUP FACT FILE
* The last final to be decided on penalties saw Liverpool beat West Ham United 3-1 in 2006.
* Arsenal have won three of the last four FA Cup finals, retaining the trophy in 2015.
* The losers of the last 12 finals have all been different clubs!
* The last Cup final to end goalless was the Arsenal-Manchester United encounter in 2005.
* Fifteen of the 18 finals played since 2000 have involved a London club.
* The last non-London showdown was Wigan Athletic’s 1-0 win over Manchester City in 2013.
* The biggest win in a final has been 6-0 by Bury over Derby County in 1903.
* The biggest win since WW2 is 4-0 – achieved twice by Manchester United v Brighton in the 1983 replay and against Chelsea in 1994 and by Arsenal over Aston Villa in 2015.
* The final has gone into extra-time five times in the last 13 years – and Manchester United have been involved in three of them.
* So far a total of 43 different clubs have won the FA Cup since 1872 – the Wanderers were the first.
There’ll be a shock result – there always is in the third round!