Early Doors

Stop press! Striker scores with head!

Early Doors

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Yet again, Wayne Rooney scoring a header has sent people into frenzy after the striker came off the bench to win the Carling Cup final for Manchester United against Aston Villa.

Eight of Rooney's last nine goals have been aerial ones. Admittedly that's noteworthy, but hardly headline-making. Yet, once again, he's described as 'head boy' on at least one of today's tabloid headlines.

When you have a winger like Antonio Valencia pinging in such great crosses, you're going to score your fair share of headers. When you lose a player like him, you stop scoring altogether. Just ask Wigan.

Had Rooney been popping up in the same positions last season, he wouldn't be nodding in nearly as many goals. Cristiano Ronaldo would have shot from the same areas from which Valencia crosses.

Rooney's match-winning contribution from the bench reduced Nemanja Vidic avoiding a red card to a historical footnote, as Martin O'Neill was resigned to admit.

The Villa boss said: "I think it would be universally accepted they should have been down to 10 men. There's no other decision to make. It's not a good decision by an otherwise fine referee. It's the major point of the match. In two or three weeks it's forgotten and the trophy's on their mantlepiece, but it's a poor decision. It's hard to take."

Phil Dowd is one of the Premier League's better referees, but there is no real way to back his decision to keep his cards in his pocket after the Serb brought down Gabriel Agbonlahor, despite giving the penalty. Had the game been less than five minutes old, Surely he would have walked.

Vidic's own half-hearted excuses in an interview on the pitch after the final whistle showed that a) he knew he was lucky to avoid an early bath and b) he didn't care, because he had another winner's medal.

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It was the most anticipated handshake since the one shared by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993. It was to be the most iconic pressing of flesh since the Anglo-French meeting underneath the English Channel in 1990. But, of course, it didn't happen.

Wayne Bridge walked right past John Terry's outstretched hand during the pre-match handshakes before Manchester City's 4-2 win at Chelsea. Fair play to the Bridge for resisting the temptation to sweep his hand through his hair at the last second or, as Perry Groves put it on the radio beforehand, "give him the nose".

The whole episode was played exactly as we had been told it would in Saturday's tabloids. 'Sources' from the Bridge camp revealed he was not going to do it, while Terry let it be known that, as Chelsea captain, he felt compelled to at least extend his hand out of duty. Still, ED greeted the snub with excited yelping and applause, stopping just short of screaming "you got served, girl!" at the TV.

It's sad for Bridge that his private turmoil had to be played to be played out in front of the nation, but then that's the trade-off for a young life spent with unimaginable wealth, widespread adoration and your pick of French underwear models.

With Bridge's withdrawal from the England squad, the whole sorry matter has now been put to rest. At least until the first City-Chelsea clash next season. And then the return fixture...

- - -

The day may have began with comedy at the Bridge, but it ended in sombre fashion at the Britannia.

Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey broke his leg in two places following a 50/50 tackle with Stoke's Ryan Shawcross. The injury means the young Welshman will now miss the rest of the season at the very least.

The Stoke defender had enjoyed an excellent game against the Gunners up until that point, and his performances this season have warranted his England call. Credit should go to Fabio Capello for sticking to his decision despite what happened.

As physical as Shawcross as a player and Stoke as a team are, there is no real sign of any intent to harm Ramsey. Indeed, referee Peter Walton seemed only to show Shawcross a red card after seeing the severity of Ramsey's injury.

For further evidence that there were no bad intentions, see the defender's tearful exit after he was sent off.

The incident is a tragic one for Ramsey, a 19-year-old with an immensely promising career ahead of him, and all connected with football can only wish him a swift and full recovery.

However, any knee-jerk calls for changes to the rules, banning Shawcross for as long as Ramsey is out or accusations that Arsenal are especially targeted for that sort of treatment are wide of the mark.

Football fans too often bemoan the fact that the game is becoming a non-contact sport. The visceral pleasure of seeing solid tackles going in at pace is one of the big attractions of the Premier League. It's also the reason why John Terry is often seen as a better defender than he actually is, making up for his lack of positioning and pace with plenty of crunching last-ditch tackles. It's the USP of the English game.

Simply saying that accidents happen on the football pitch may sound like a cop-out response, and will provide little comfort to Ramsey, but it's the truth.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I think it is a model for all the managers around the world, their style of football, his behaviour. It is the perfect model for all the kids and I'm sure all parents will enjoy this model and encourage their kids to be the same. The style of football, I think, Barcelona are thinking of copying." - Sarcasm is hard to convey in print, but something tells ED that Rafel Benitez is not serious in his appraisal of Blackburn's - ahem - 'physical' style during the 2-1 win at Anfield on Sunday.

CLARKE CARLISLE'S WORD OF THE DAY: The Burnley defender's highly enjoyable run on Countdown ended on Friday, denying Eurosport-Yahoo! drones any further excuse to watch the daytime game show in the office and debate the aesthetic merits of letters and numbers girl Rachel Riley. Carlisle was denied a hat-trick of wins, but bowed out in style with eight-letter zinger 'libation'. Shame he couldn't handle the nine-letter 'Piquionne' doing his day job, as he had a mare in the 2-1 defeat to Portsmouth.

FOREIGN VIEW: "Juve's ugly slide. Palermo overtake" - La Gazzetta dello Sport reports on how, despite an upturn in form since Alberto Zaccheroni replaced Ciro Ferrara, a dismal 2-0 home defeat to Palermo saw the Sicilian's leapfrog them and take fourth spot in Serie A.

COMING UP: All the usual Monday stuff, with Team of the Week, Winners and Losers, Matchday Stats, Paul Parker's blog and the latest Eurosport-Yahoo! football podcast. And this evening there's live scoring of matches in France, Germany, Portugal and Argentina, including Alemannia Aachen v Fortuna Dusseldorf. Don't say we're not good to you.

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