Thursday was notable for two things. Firstly, the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, the genteel Italian who just a few short months previously had delivered the Premier League title and given Foxes fans (and the suits upstairs) the season of their lives. Boxing promoter Micky Duff used to say “if you want loyalty, get a dog” but Leicester’s treatment of Ranieri just feels really shabby.
The bottom line is they are in the league position you would expect of any team who has Robert Huth, Wes Morgan and Danny Simpson in their back four. It definitely taints what was achieved last season, when they shook up the established footballing order in this country by winning the title. The Tinker Man defied odds of 5000/1. But it just wasn’t enough.
Talking about shaking things up, what was Storm Doris all about? It wreaked havoc all over the UK on Thursday with 100mph winds and blizzard-like snowfall. Southerners were told to stay indoors, secure their properties and avoid all unnecessary journeys. Northerners were advised to wear a big coat.
On Sunday the first major silverware of the season was decided in the shape of the EFL Cup and I was all over Manchester United to beat Southampton at 8/11.
The Saints had done wonderfully well to reach the final, beating the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool en route and their run had been notable for the fact they had not even conceded a goal on the road to Wembley.
And to be fair to them they played brilliantly in the final, but cometh the hour, cometh Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The enigmatic Swede, a player no lesser authority than Michael Owen called “a stop-gap striker” in November, plundered two goals to take his tally for the season to 26. That was enough to secure a 3-2 win for the Red Devils and meant I was in a position to pay my bills this week.
Zlatan! Providing hope and inspiration for men in their late 30s with shit hair everywhere (myself included).
I’d endured a few days of ear ache from ‘er indoors so there was only one thing for it on Tuesday evening. There would be no pancake flipping in Chez Punt. It was time to slip out of the house unannounced, block her on WhatsApp and go for a few pints before watching my beloved Hartlepool United play Crewe.
Hartlepool are among the least successful ‘professional’ clubs in the country. Our history is one of struggle and perennial underachievement. The fans are often few in number but one of the main reasons I keep going back is because the terrace craic is pure gold.
Take the story of Stan, an old fella in the 1980s who used to sort out the tickets at The Vic. On one occasion Steve Cram, then at the height of his fame, a regular on A Question of Sport and a World Championship and Commonwealth gold medalist, had been invited down to watch Sunderland play Pools in a friendly. The following conversation has since passed into local folklore.
Stan: “Ticket please.”
Cram: “I’ve been invited down by the Sunderland board to watch the game.”
Stan: “Where’s your ticket son?”
Cram: “I don’t have one. I’m here as a guest of Sunderland AFC.”
Stan: “If you don’t have a ticket you better go around to the other side of the ground then and try and get one.”
Cram: “But I’m Steve Cram, the runner.”
Stan: “Well it won’t take you long to get round then will it.”
You just don’t get that level of bantz in the Champions League.
Cheeky’s Punt of the Week: Stoke to beat Middlesbrough at evens (Bet Victor)