By Dermot Clarke
Many alarm clocks will be set for 6 a.m. next Sunday for the Manchester United-Liverpool F.A. Cup fourth round tie at Old Trafford. The game kicks off at noon there, so again us poor, unfortunate immigrants, if we wish to view the game live, have to wend our way down to the local at 7 in the morning. Have we not suffered enough? At least this time it looks like the pilgrimage will be worthwhile.
Talk about whetting your appetite, Liverpool scored seven against Southampton and United banged in six away to Leicester last weekend. Both teams are at the top of their form and next Sunday four of the top six strikers in the premiership will be on parade for what should be a real spectacle.
Robbie Fowler is a class act, full stop. Swamped in the publicity surrounding his younger teammate Michael Owen and only recently recovered from injury, Fowler proved that he wasn’t one to bury his head in the sand by scoring a hat-trick. His goals, each of them, were strikers goals, put away with the aplomb of a man born to wear the number nine. Owen was the provider on this occasion for the “veteran” 23-year-old, but he still managed to bag one for himself and help push his team to sixth in the division and still in with a chance of the title.
The Cole-Yorke combination tore poor Leicester City apart. U.S. keeper Kasey Keller could do little to halt the gallop of this dynamic duo. Five goals between them, three to Yorke and even Jaap Stam got on the scoreboard, his first for the club. The winners of next Sunday’s clash will be hard to stop on the road to Wembley.
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While United and Liverpool were keeping in touch at the top, Arsenal, too, were serving notice that their title won’t be given up easily. A resounding 1-0 victory over bottom club Nottingham Forest keeps them well in the hunt.
I apologize for jumping on the “Boring, Boring Arsenal” bandwagon but they are. I didn’t mean that the Brazilian team would become boring immediately if they signed for the Gunners en bloc. It takes a while to settle into the Arsenal robotics. Look at it this way, the three aforementioned teams — Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal — each have gleaned 10 points from a possible 12 in their last four league games, so all are currently on form, you could say. The two points lost in each case have been lost by way of nil-nil ties. Liverpool and Arsenal played to stalemate last week, while United dropped their points against top club Chelsea and can’t play much better than that. But here’s the rub. In their other three games United scored 13 goals, Liverpool bagged 14 and Arsenal managed three, yes three. Guess what, you cannot amass 10 points from four games unless you score at the very least three goals. I rest my case.
Chelsea remain on top, thanks to a last-minute goal from Italian star Robert di Matteo. A thunderous shot from the boot of Frank Le Bouef had leveled it at one on the stroke of halftime, in form Darren Huckerby having given opposition Coventry the lead after eight minutes.
Big Niall Quinn once again worked the oracle for his Sunderland side. His two goals ensured a 2-1 victory over fellow high-flyers Ipswich, this stretches the lead to 10 points, the premiership beckons for the Geordie boys. Quinn may well have been working to improve the status of his other team (the Republic of Ireland) also, for his teammate, 26-year-old center-half Paul Butler, has just declared for Ireland, having turned down Bobby Gould’s offer of a place on the Welsh squad.
Scoring a hat-trick in the Italian Serie-A is akin to a hole-in-one in golf, a 147 break in snooker or a nine-dart finish in 501 darts. Gabriel Battistuta scored his second such of the season on Sunday to bring his Fiorentina side to the top, in a 4-2 victory over Cagliari.
In the League of Ireland, St. Pat’s moved to within a point of leaders Cork City, who dropped a point. Ian Gilzean answered taunts of “Reject” from his former club’s supporters, by grabbing a brace against Sligo Rovers in the 4-1 victory. The win sets up an intriguing encounter between the top two in Cork next week. Shamrock Rovers moved into third with a 2-0 victory over UCD at Belfield.