x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

EPL best and worst: Al Habsi raised the bar in vain

The Wigan goalkeeper was outstanding between the posts, but sadly the defence was found wanting.

Best equality strike - Massey

English football appeared to have regressed to the mid-1900s for much of the previous two weeks, with three separate rows relating to racism breaking out across the Premier League.

Luis Suarez, the Liverpool striker, is still under investigation after being accused by Patrice Evra, the Manchester United defender.

As the clouds have banked, so the goals have dried up for the Uruguay striker. Worse still, his side were deprived victory against plucky Swansea City at Anfield by a woman!

Sian Massey, the referee's assistant, flagged for offside to prevent a goal for Dirk Kuyt. It was a tight decision at a significant stage of the game, but she was 100 per cent correct.

So a woman really can understand the offside rule, after all. Who would have guessed it, Andy?

Worst injustice - Al Habsi

How, precisely, did I end up on the losing team? It would have been a fair question for Ali Al Habsi to ask last night, after his extraordinary display between the posts against Wolverhampton Wanderers. There is a simple answer: you play for Wigan Athletic, Ali.

The Omani No 1 has always been thankful for everything that has been afforded to him since he swapped life as an apprentice firefighter for that as a professional footballer.

He does not ask for much, but it would not be unfair of him to ask for one thing from his manager, Roberto Martinez. Any chance of a defence, gaffer? Please?

Best homage - Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor is doing a perfectly good job of endearing himself to Newcastle United fans at present, without any help from anyone else.

Still, there is never a bad time to evoke the memory of a proper club icon. One fan site dedicated to Alan Shearer ranks the former No 9s 25-yard volley against Everton in 2001 as the finest goal in a career full of them.

Most people who remember that strike will have felt like they were watching a passable Phoenix from the Flames impersonation of it when Taylor rattled one in off the underside against the same opposition on Saturday.

Worst celebration - Eagles

By rights, a goal as good as that mustered by Chris Eagles for Bolton Wanderers yesterday should be met with a celebration of equal brilliance.

So good was his slide-rule, first-time finish from the left flank against Stoke City, it deserved to be accompanied by Kool and the Gang on the stadium loudspeaker, while his teammates gave him a foot-massage and the crowd showered him with his favourite chocolates.

Instead he did a vague pogo bounce, then wiggled his left hand like he had just been stung by a bee. Which was average.

Best feeder club - Man Utd

If you had been coming through Manchester United's youth ranks in 1992, there is a fair chance you would have gone on to win trophy after trophy, become a club legend and retire happy.

If you were making your way through the same development process a decade later, the chances are you would have ended up at Sunderland.

With a former Red Devil, Steve Bruce, as their manager, the Black Cats have done well out of United in recent years. The trouble is, sometimes former "Fergie Fledglings" find it difficult to sever the umbilical cord with Sir Alex.

Wes Brown, one of three former United players - along with Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson - in Sunderland's back four, must have forgotten he left Old Trafford in the summer as he gifted United the points with an own goal.

Worst tattoo - Heitinga

What is it with footballers and body art? There are about as many unblemished arms in the Premier League these days as there are Ford Fiestas in the team car parks.

Not that it is a bad thing, per say. Tattoo artists adore David Beckham for what he has done for their industry, and he is not the only one who suits his artwork. Jonny Heitinga, though, has been late on the uptake and his effort thus far has been poor.

Where other players have sleeves full of intricate etchings, the Everton defender has a cuff which might as well have been drawn on in ball-point pen.

Scoring an own goal and holding his head in his hands only draws attention to it.

He had a nightmare at Newcastle United on Saturday. Appropriately, he was substituted by Tim Cahill, a player with a proper Samoan pe'a. That is the way it should be done.