Since the players could not blow their nose without that wretch awarding another penalty this afternoon, it might simplify things to report on things by giving names to the various spot-kicks. So the one that involved Lampard, Lamela and possibly a gust of wind we shall christen ‘Reginald’; the red card fiasco will be ‘Phyllis’; our glorious opportunity shall be known as ‘Maxine’; and the other one can be ‘Greg’.
Opening blows had already been exchanged when Reginald struck. Lamela appeared to tickle Lampard with a feather, and that proved all the encouragement needed for our resident law-enforcer.
A salutary lesson here for young Lamela. Like Dier against Liverpool earlier this season (let’s call that one ‘Jan-Michael’, for simplicity), the alleged foul was as soft as the luxurious fur of some endangered species of animal, but the moral of the story is clear enough – just don’t give the referee the option to make such calls. There was no reason for Lamela to nestle up to Lampard from behind, as the City man waddled into the area. Leave him alone man, leave that to one of those chaps facing the right way. (Although ardent followers of ‘Greg’ might beg to differ, but more on that later).
I rather lost track of the chronology of the thing, but Greg was the clearest penalty of the lot, involving as it did Monsieur Kaboul’s latest real-time demonstration of his waning powers. Once upon a time this chap was quite the colossus - all barrel chest, thundering pace and perfectly-sculpted eyebrows. These days it seems that he has it in his contract to magic from thin air a seismic blunder, as if to illustrate to young protégé Chiriches in vivid HD precisely how one should create catastrophe in the heart of the defence. Bang on cue he flew into a needless, mis-timed lunge, and Greg was born. ‘Sacre bleu’, poor old Hugo presumably mutters to himself, as he views the carnage ahead of him, before pulling off his latest astonishing save. He deserves better.
Another from the Chiriches School of Complete Mental Absence, there could be no doubt that Fazio yanked back the forward, practically shoving the ref out of the way in order to do so. The whole wretched performance was delivered with all the surreptitiousness of a four year-old standing with hand in cookie jar and chocolate smeared all over their mouth, and for that this oak-tree of a man deserves nothing less than to have a limb hacked off with a rusty saw. It would not be stretching things to suggest that liberal quantities of salt be sprinkled across the bloody stump either.
But a red card? Dash it all, in order to be a ‘goalscoring opportunity’ the ball had to bypass two defenders, the striker had to gallop another ten yards and a nearby elephant had to jump through a flaming hoop. Admittedly, I suspect that if Phyllis had not been awarded our heroes would have found a way to concede anyway, but the nub of the thing is that there was a heck of a sequence of bits and bobs that needed crossing and dotting before the goalscoring chance actually materialised. And as such, the red card was even more cryptic than that slapped in Kyle Naughton’s face against West Ham on the opening day of the season.
Easy to forget when you slink off 4-1 down at the culmination of things, but with 20 minutes to go an unlikely heist was on the verge of execution. Penalty to our lot, with a chance to reach parity, if you recall.
In truth Maxine was a devious mistress, because the foul appeared to occur a smidgeon or two outside the area. However, the ref by this stage was well into party mood, pointing to the spot with all the gay abandon of a champagne-quaffing reveller, and frankly it was nice to be remembered by him.
Poor old Soldado’s was not the worst penalty ever - it ticked some of the standard boxes one dreams up for this thing (on target; low; heading more or less for the corner;) - but thus do cookies crumble.
Elsewhere – Capoue & Mason
Aside from the penalties there were all manner of bells, whistles, character developments and sub-plots. And none of them seemed to involve Capoue, on whom I kept a particularly watchful eye today, just for sport. What purpose did the chap serve? He held his position religiously enough, bobbing around five yards in front of the comedy act known as our back-four, but seasons will change and empires rise and fall before the blighter ever makes an intervention of note.
By contrast, young Master Mason bounded around with all the enthusiasm of a young puppy released into the back garden for his daily jaunt. The brio will presumably fade and cynicism settle in (a la Dembele and Soldado, par example), but he did not waste an opportunity to burst a lung for the cause today, and could frequently be sighted trying to socialise with his elders in the attacking triumvirate. Not afraid to fly into a tackle either, his challenge creating our goal.
All told, the outcome was rather a blow to the solar plexus, but for over an hour our lot dug away, and a point looked possible. The drill against Top Four teams seems to be clear enough – keep things tight (through team shape, rather than dazzling defensive prowess from the individual personnel), and scamper forward via Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela at every opportunity. At times this front three looked razor-sharp, but the salient point this season is likely to be whether they can score more at one end than the assorted clowns concede at the other, week in and out.