Highs and lows of the football season

BLACKPOOL'S BARGAIN BUY: Winger Tom Ince, signed on a free transfer from Liverpool. An inspired steal from Anfield, and a call-up to Stuart Pearce's England Under-21 international squad cannot be far away.
BLACKPOOL'S BARGAIN BUY: Winger Tom Ince, signed on a free transfer from Liverpool. An inspired steal from Anfield, and a call-up to Stuart Pearce's England Under-21 international squad cannot be far away.
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AS the final whistle approaches on another eventful domestic football season, here are the Soapbox highs and lows...

GOAL OF THE SEASON

Peter Crouch’s could-have-gone-anywhere strike for Stoke against Manchester City has to be a prime candidate, as has Papisse Cisse’s spectacular effort for Newcastle that so bamboozled Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and the rest of the crowd that saw it.

Luis Suarez’s long-range, inspired, miles-out, scoop-shot for Liverpool against Norwich has to come into the reckoning.

However, the vote goes to Yaya Toure for his 70th minute deadlock-breaker in the match with Newcastle.

It came at a time when Manchester City’s title challenge was hanging in the balance, and it takes a lot of bottle – and skill – to pass the ball into the net from so far out with so much riding on it.

WORST VALUE TRANSFER

The £20 million that Liverpool shelled out to Aston Villa for Stewart Downing – the Army or security services should consider hiring him as a camouflage expert as he has a habit of disappearing from view without anyone noticing that he was on the pitch in the first place.

Liverpool did so much pussy-footing about in the Premier League this season that the Anfield Cat even had a shout in being named on the shortlist for player of the year.

MATCH OF THE SEASON

Manchester United 4, Everton 4.

It was a game of high excitement and one that probably cost United the title.

United led 4-2 with seven minutes left, before Everton, who hadn’t read the script, scored two late goals through Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar.

For some unfathomable reason, it is not on Fergie’s list of must-watch DVDs.

BIGGEST LOST CAUSE

Joey Barton, who faces a lengthy ban at the start of next season after the latest, oafish, idiotic episode before, during and after his sending-off for Queens Park Rangers at Manchester City.

But what does it say about the people who ‘follow’ him on Twitter, all 1.5m of them?

Presumably, the bulk of that number of people condemn his actions – therefore why do they hang on his every word?

When you follow a dust-cart, there is an inherent risk of getting covered from head to toe in muck.

TOP PUNDIT

After a slightly uncertain start, Gary Neville, now an England coach, has gradually grown into the role, giving insights and opinions that leave his rivals on BBC and ITV miles behind.

He can even be forgiven for making what sounded like slow strangulation as Fernando Torres scored for Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final with Barcelona.

Match Of The Day’s pundits have become too much of a cosy club, consumed by their own self-importance.

TV NEWS EVENT OF THE YEAR

Transfer deadline-day, which Sky Sports News has made into the biggest news happening of the year.

In the past, it used to be on the old BBC Light Programme on the radio, when the draw was made for the third round of the FA Cup.

Maybe you recall the FA Cup Final – it used to be the most important competition in the world, don’t you know?

Wake up your grandad and ask him – he might just be able to call it to mind.

BEST IMPRESSION

By Blackburn Rovers’ Steve Kean, who does a fantastic take-off of the Peter Sellers character in ‘Being There’ Chauncey Gardiner, who is suddenly jettisoned into a position of power without the remotest idea of how to do the job.

That said, nobody deserved the type of disgraceful dog’s abuse that he suffered from the fans.

It was the same kind of fan power that cost Alex McLeish his job at Villa, but Kean clings on.

BEST CHANT

From the long-suffering Portsmouth fans after they sang about their re-routing from Wembley following their relegation: “Que Sera, Sera, We’re going to Shrews-bury...”

EUROPEAN TEAM OF THE YEAR

Not Real Madrid or Barcelona and certainly not Manchester City, but Juventus, who completed the Serie A season in Italy with a remarkable unbeaten record.

They didn’t need goal difference to win the title, and showed how it should be done.

MISS OF THE SEASON

Wales striker Rob Earnshaw being guilty of the proverbial sitter in a vital European Championship qualifier – and weren’t England happy that he did?

MOST TRAGIC LOSS

that of Wales manager Gary Speed, whose death was as baffling as it was so very sad, and had the football community united in mourning.

PREMIER LEAGUE TEAM OF THE SEASON

Joe Hart (Manchester City), Kyle Walker (Spurs), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), David Silva (Manchester City), Yaya Toure (Manchester City), Paul Scholes (Manchester United), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Robin Van Persie (Arsenal), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).

WORST TIMING

Having the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool kicking off at 5.15pm, instead of the traditional 3pm, purely to service the needs of TV and to serve as a warm-up act for some cavorting canine to jump about on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent and earn £500,000, which pays for a lot of Pedigree Chum.

UNSUNG HERO

Swansea’s Leon Britton, who has played in all four divisions, and despite starting at the ‘bottom’ he is regarded as one of the most accurate passers in the Premier League and one of the foremost in Europe, according to the statisticians who follow these things so religiously.

Not bad for a former Home Secretary! Ha-ha!

MOST MEANINGLESS SOCCER SACKING

that of Mick McCarthy at Wolves, bringing in the untried – and unprotected – Terry Connor. Wolves might well still have gone down, but McCarthy deserved a crack until the end of the season.

Wolves chairman Steve Morgan missed out on the golden rule not having a proper plan in place once he had axed Big Mick.

WORST ON-AIR RANT

by Bournemouth chairman Eddie Mitchell, who went into foul-mouth mode on Radio Five Live, forcing presenter Mark Chapman to cut him off. Mitchell later apologised, but the damage had been done.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Wigan’s Roberto Martínez for sticking to his principles, despite losing eight matches on the bounce and never once criticising his players or losing his composure, showing commendable Spanish sang-froid

He is a shoo-in to get one of the top jobs, and his philosophy of keeping possession and passing from the back is in its own quiet, undemonstrative way changing the face of all coaching in this country.

BEST IDEA TO ENCOURAGE THE ENGLAND TEAM

Give extra money from the massive Premier League TV and sponsorship pot to those clubs that field English players rather than foreign imports.

In that way, the current pool available to new England manager Roy Hodgson would go up markedly from the current 38 per cent of Premier League players available for his selection.

The risk is that some clubs will use such a handsome windfall... to buy foreign players!