7 points in 7 days – tough week for Bruce
It has been a truly incredible week of football – some of the things that have gone on frankly beggar belief. From an accidental entry into the FA Youth Cup to a substitute hattrick in the Bundesliga via a 17-goal thriller and a vegetable-based assault, there is plenty to talk about.
The FA Youth Cup likes an underdog story just as much as its parent competition does, but there can be few better beginnings to a fairy-tale cup run than a side being entered by mistake. This was exactly what happened to Ynysddu Welfare, a Welsh side who found themselves entered into the youth draw despite the minor detail that they did not have a youth team. Less resourceful clubs may have forfeited the fixture; Ynysddu were not so quick to give up. They took to Twitter asking for players, and were inundated with responses from as far afield as Northern Ireland. In the end it was a squad of 23 local under-18s who were selected. This would have been a great story regardless of the outcome, but unbelievably the makeshift team advanced to the next round. The match ended 2-2, and the team that had not existed just days before triumphed 7-6 on penalties. Remarkable.
If this wasn’t a good enough advert for the FA Youth Cup, how about the seventeen goals scored in the game between Nuneaton Borough and Halesowen Town? The 83-strong crowd probably weren’t expecting to see a fightback with Nuneaton leading 7-2 at the hour mark,but the few who turned out to watch might just have witnessed the greatest turnaround in the history of the sport. Halesowen still trailed 8-7 with five minutes left to play, but ended up running out 9-8 winners thanks to two late strikes from Emlyn Tudgay. Luis Corcoran will surely feel aggrieved to have scored five goals and still found himself on the losing side, but he may at least have succeeded in catching the eye of the senior coach – the first team exited the FA Cup in the second qualifying round courtesy of a comparatively pedestrian 2-0 defeat to Brackley Town.
Borussia Dortmund’s meeting with Augsburg in the Bundesliga was perhaps not quite this thrilling, but it wasn’t all that far off. Augsburg took a deserved lead through Finnbogason in the 22nd minute – after an hour, the score remained at 1-0. It did not appear as though the game would turn into a classic. Enter Paco Alcacer. The Spaniard who arrived from Barcelona this summer had been introduced from the bench, and scored the equaliser after 62 minutes. Philipp Max then restored Augsburg’s lead with 71 minutes on the clock, but Alcacer netted again with ten minutes to go to level things up. Mario Gotze, getting his first chance to shine this season, then scored in the 84th minute; you could have been forgiven for presuming this would be the winner. As it was, there were to be two more goals. Augsburg restored parity once more just three minutes later after converting from a corner, but the final twist came six minutes into stoppage time. Alcacer took charge of a free kick some twenty-five yards from goal, and proceeded to rifle home the goal that sealed both the win and his hat-trick in the most dramatic of fashions. He is now averaging a goal every fourteen minutes since joining Dortmund, and has undoubtedly earned his Spain recall.
In any other week, consecutive losses for Real Madrid at the hands of CSKA Moscow and Alavés would be the most shocking part of the column; this time it is frankly a little tame! It is nonetheless shocking to see Los Blancos struggling so badly – they were in desperate need of a good run to bounce back from the loss to Sevilla and draw with Atletico, but instead they were defeated twice more and again failed to find the back of the net. They trailed inside two minutes in their Group G meeting with CSKA: on-loan Everton man Nikola Vlašić fired the Russian side in front. They managed to protect this lead for the whole game, despite a 95th minute red card for veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. The 95th minute again provided drama when Real travelled to Alavés, the surprise package so far in La Liga. Despite a bright start, Lopetegui’s men had failed to find a way through. The match looked to be heading towards a draw, but Garcia struck deep into added time to secure a sensational win for the side that now find themselves just a point behind Barcelona and two points off the top.
A team enjoying more success in Europe so far is Steven Gerrard’s Rangers. The Scottish side triumphed 3-1 over Rapid Wien, coming back from a goal down to move up to four points from their opening two matches. The third strike was a marvellous counter-attacking move; Daniel Candeias produced an outrageous backheel on the halfway line to resurrect a breakaway that looked in danger of coming to nothing, and Alfredo Morelos ran onto the end of it and tucked the ball home to seal the win. This will have made Celtic’s loss all the harder for their fans to take; Brendan Rodgers’ side fell to a 3-1 defeat against Red Bull Salzburg, suffering a mirror fate to their Glasgow neighbours having led early on. James Forrest was at least able to unleash his frustrations upon an unwitting St Johnstone – he scored four on the way to a 6-0 rout.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: Steve Bruce endured a tough week, first having a cabbage thrown at him and then getting sacked by Aston Villa. Fans had been growing frustrated with the manager for some time, but this bizarre form of protest that took place before kick-off against Preston is of course unacceptable. Things went from bad to worse for the English manager, as he saw his side throw away a 2-0 lead to ultimately draw 3-3. There was a chance to clinch it at the death, but Glenn Whelan missed a 97th minute penalty and the points were duly shared. This sealed Bruce’s fate, and the board rounded off a miserable few days by sacking him. Thierry Henry has been hotly tipped to take over, with rumours that newly-retired John Terry will take up a role as his assistant.
Terry will be pleased with the progress of his former club, Chelsea. They strolled to victory against Southampton on Sunday, emerging as 3-0 winners courtesy of goals from Hazard, Barkley and Morata. This means that they are still yet to lose this season. Surprisingly, they are one of three teams to hold this record after eight games; Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea have all gone unbeaten so far with more than 20% of the campaign now complete. Liverpool and City put this record on the line when they went head-to-head at Anfield, but a late penalty miss from Mahrez meant that the points were shared. The much-hyped match ultimately disappointed, with the referee providing most of the biggest talking points in a game that finished goalless. This leaves all three teams level on 20 points – City lead on goal difference.