The first round-up of the new year, and indeed, new decade (unless you’re pedantic about when the decade starts and ends), has seen Scott Sinclair score a rare goal for Wigan Athletic, whilst Tom Taiwo impressed against Premier League opposition. At the other end of the scale, Liam Bridcutt became the third loanee to return to Chelsea inside a week.
Before we get to the new year’s FA Cup weekend action, there was late 2009 football for Sinclair, as he came off the bench in the second half for the Latics’ trip to Old Trafford in the Premier League. It wasn’t an outing he or his teammates will want to remember, as they crashed to a 5-0 defeat and sit just one point out of the relegation zone. At least their cup fortunes were more favourable, as Saturday saw them sweep aside Hull at the DW Stadium with an emphatic 4-1 win. Receiving a rare starting berth, the Bath-born winger had arguably his best performance of the season, with a performance full of pace and verve, and he capped it in stoppage time with a fine goal. Picking up the ball outside the area from a James McCarthy pass, he beat two men outside before rifling the ball into the back of the net from a tight angle. It was a showing which will hopefully turn his season around and make for a better 2010 thn 2009.
The cup’s other outstanding weekend performance came from Tom Taiwo in what might yet be his last appearance in a Carlisle shirt. The Cumbrian side were drawn away to Europa League chasing Everton and put up a fabulous effort in a valiant 3-1 defeat, with the deciding goals coming late in the day. For much of the match they were at least as good as their top-flight opponents, and Tom was at the heart of everything good. He played the through ball for their equaliser, which came from an Adam Clayton shot and a Kevan Hurst tap-in, and broke up play superbly, not in the slightest overawed by the more illustrious counterparts he was up against. His loan deal at Brunton Park is due to expire early this week and manager Greg Abbott is still trying to extend it through to the end of the season. Carlisle fans are desperately hoping he stays, such has been his impression.
Ryan Bertrand was also able to impress, and in front of live television cameras, as Reading held Liverpool to a well-earned 1-1 draw at the Madejski Stadium. After issuing a rallying call to his teammates for a better second half to their so-far torrid campaign, he led by example against the struggling Merseysiders with an all-energy, dynamic display, getting forward well and looking solid at the back. It was his free kick, deep to the far post, which created the Royals’ goal, Rasiak heading it back into the goal mouth for Simon Church to bundle the ball past Jose Reina. Brian McDermott’s team earned a replay at Anfield in a week’s time.
Franco Di Santo started for Blackburn away to Aston Villa for the first of a clutch of meetings between the two teams, as they reconvene this midweek for the first of a two-legged Carling Cup Semi Final. Sam Allardyce’s team lost 3-1 and after a quiet first half, Franco was replaced at the break in a tactical reshuffle enforced by El-Hadji Diouf’s red card for a diabolical tackle on Habib Beye. The Argentinian striker has extended his deal at Ewood Park until the end of the season and will be looking to add goals to his useful performances to date.
With the cup taking over the calendar for the weekend, it was much quieter for the rest of the group. Jack Cork, now Chelsea’s sole loanee at Coventry, was precluded from playing for the Sky Blues away to Portsmouth at Chelsea’s request, should they want to use him later in the season in the same competition. It seems a strange request for a player who is scheduled to stay at the Ricoh Arena until May, but emergencies might arise which would see him needed, one figures. Patrick van Aanholt, of course, returned to Stamford Bridge last week despite Chris Coleman wanting to keep him around, but the Chelsea coaching staff apparently have an interest in him as a potential member of the first team squad this month at least.
The same applies to Jacob Mellis, who returned from Southampton, but probably not Liam Bridcutt. The Reserve team captain has finished his spell at Stockport, racking up 19 appearances and his first professional goal, but suffering from a knee injury, he is now back at Chelsea. Stockport have lost eleven straight fixtures and it is their poor form which has led heavily to the club recalling the defensive midfielder, and a second loan move is in the pipeline when he returns to full fitness.
Sunday’s cup action gave Michael Mancienne another opportunity to impress in midfield for Wolves away to Tranmere. The Under-21 international played 90 minutes in the 1-0 win and continues to look useful in the middle of the park. He is at Molineux until the end of the season and right now, Mick McCarthy looks set to continue with Michael in his new position, in perhaps a similar squad role to that which Juliano Belletti serves under Carlo Ancelotti right now.
Rhys Taylor was once again an unused substitute for QPR, who earned a 1-1 draw at Sheffield United and therefore a replay at Loftus Road next week. The diminished League Two schedule meant that Nana Ofori-Twumasi had no fixture for Dagenham & Redbridge and has just one more opportunity to play before his deal expires next weekend. FC Twente duo Miroslav Stoch and Slobodan Rajkovic are enjoying a winter break and will head off to a brief training camp in mid-January before the Dutch league resumes, and Matej Delac is back in Croatia after training with Chelsea in December.