Early Doors

Back to abnormality

Early Doors

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Question: When does abnormality become normality?

Answer: Yesterday.

That was the day when Stoke and Hull won Premier League games against prestigious opponents and nobody batted so much as an eyelash.

That's Stoke City and Hull City.

Hull overcame West Ham at the KC Stadium to place themselves third, just behind Chelsea and Liverpool, and just in front of Arsenal and Manchester United.

And yet their triumph surprised nobody, least of all anyone who has seen West Ham's early season form evaporate like the contents of an Icelandic savings account.

So routine was the victory that Early Doors shouldn't have wasted its time and yours by writing about it. So it will stop.

Stoke's 2-1 win at home to Tottenham proved remarkable not for the scoreline but for having more bizarre coincidences and unexplainable plot lines than an episode of The OC.

It also provided ample adolescent tomfoolery courtesy of Gareth Bale (pictured) who, judging by his face, would have to be 'the funny one' in any US teen drama.

What exactly was most calamitous about the Tottenham performance?

Spurs conceded two goals, had two players sent off, gave away two penalties and saw their goalkeeper attempt to maim team-mate Vedran Corluka twice in the space of about two minutes. They even played 11 minutes of stoppage time, which looks a bit like two in Roman numerals.

Not since Noah's Ark has there been so many pairs of rubbish things gathered in the same place. (Wasps? Tapeworms? What was the Almighty thinking?)

Stoke got so cocky towards the end that they started imitating Johan Cruyff. Not with the sublime passing, silky turns and inventive finishing, of course. Goodness no. They might have beaten Spurs but they're still Stoke.

Ricardo Fuller did, however, provide a living embodiment of Cruyff's quote about the best way to humiliate sub-standard opposition.

"When you are 4-0 ahead with 10 minutes to go, it's better to hit the post a couple of times so the crowd can go 'oooh!' and 'aaaah!'," Cruyff once claimed.

"Then you get angry as if you hadn't meant to. I just always loved that sound when the ball hits the post hard."

Stoke obviously love the sound of the ball hitting the post hard so much that they had to hear it four times in stoppage time yesterday.

Fuller's penalty hit one upright, then travelled across the goalline and bounced off the other falling to Rory Delap who forced the rebound onto the bar. The Jamaican then completed his own connoisseur's hat-trick of woodwork strikes by pinging a shot off the bar.

Neither man could match Sunderland's Kieran Richardson who, in cahoots with Fulham's Mark Schwarzer, hit the post three times with the same free-kick.

Richardson located one upright, then the other, then the ball retraced its trip across the goalline, hit Schwarzer and came back off the post yet again.

Unfortunately, Richardson had obviously forgotten the bit about being 4-0 up, and the game ended goalless.

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Liverpool are joint top of the Premier League after claiming 20 points from their first eight games.

If Premier League matches were only 72 minute long (not an overly likely scenario, granted), they would be level with relegation fodder Stoke and Fulham on seven.

Rafa Benitez's side have picked up no fewer than 13 points thanks to late goals in five games.

They have had late winners against Manchester United and Sunderland, and come from behind to beat Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Wigan.

And it's all thanks to goals scored in the 73rd, 77th, 80th, 83rd, 85th, 86th, 92nd and 94th. They have not conceded a league goal in the last 20 minutes all season.

So what does it all mean?

Do Liverpool have an indomitable, never-say-die spirit that will surely lead them to glory?

Are they just a phenomenally lucky side whose hot streak is bound to come to an end soon?

Should they start trying a bit sooner?

Or it is just a bit of a statistical fluke?

Despite being the one to bring up the subject, Early Doors finds this obsession with the timing of goals baffling.

You've got to score your goals at some point, so why not in the last quarter of the game?

The 90th minute is just as valid a time to score as the first, or indeed the 31st, yet people always assume there is something lucky about late goals.

As though the 'real' game is played out over 85 minutes and the rest is just an opportunity for some lucky chancer to scramble a barely-deserved equaliser.

People also seem to think it is better to score at certain times, despite the clear evidence that goals are all worth one.

Late in the first half, in particular, is seen as the perfect time to score.

The argument goes that your opponent won't have time to respond (er, what about the second half?), and as an added bonus the other manager will have the near-impossible task of altering his team talk at short notice.

Let's accept, for a moment, the faintly ludicrous notion that a Premier League manager needs a good 20 minutes to construct a decent half-time team talk, even though any subtlety consists entirely of altering the pitch and volume at which you shout the word 'f***'.

But if we believe that these pep-talks represent a Shakespearean call to arms, rich with nuance, texture and gravitas, it still doesn't make any difference.

Because if your opposite number has to change his team-talk from "This is good, don't cock it up" to "This is rubbish, pull your finger out," surely you have to do the opposite?

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: More from Johan Cruyff. It's not recent, but it's worth repeating: "I don't understand why players cross themselves before they come onto the pitch. If it works, and all 22 players cross themselves, every game is going to end in a draw."

FOREIGN VIEW: After decades of claims from disgruntled Spanish fans that referees favour them, Real Madrid have hit back. Apparently, the opposite is true. "They don't want us to win a third straight Liga!" screams Marca after skim-reading some confidential report.

In unrelated news, Real beat Atletico in the derby on Saturday courtesy of a 96th-minute penalty.

COMING UP: Remember when Sky nicked the 'Monday Night Football' concept from the NFL? Then, to strengthen the brand, called Tuesday matches 'Monday Night Football - Extra'? In that spirit, tonight we bring you Sunday Afternoon Football: It Takes Two. Newcastle take on Manchester City at 20:00 UK time and we've got full coverage. It should be a laugh riot.

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