Man City get 'real deal' nod
Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column
In line with their rather better fortunes of late, the blue half of Manchester are getting increasingly rave reviews at the expense of once imperious United on the Neil Andrews-hosted Monday Night Football chat show (SS3).
It continues to be a decent, generally hour-long assessment of the weekend’s soccer activity, mostly in the English Premiership but also not ignoring the leagues of Spain, Italy, France and Germany.
I’ve always felt that Andrews steers discussion deftly and articulately, even if it is hamstrung to a minor extent at times when some callers, for whom English is clearly not their first language, labour to get their point – or question for the studio panel – across. (Mind you, so do some conversing in their mother tongue!)
You get the feeling that, whether they are specifically Man City fans or more neutral, many callers as well as the studio triumvirate of Andrews, Shaun Bartlett and Terry Paine are being seduced more and more by the legitimacy and competence of their title challenge – even if we are only a third of the way through the campaign.
They’ve made a uniquely impressive start to a Premiership season, after all – they’re five points clear of neighbours and champions United and play moderate Norwich at home this Saturday – and Bartlett enthusiastically backed Andrews’ contention that Spanish playmaker David Silva was an unsung hero in their stirring advance.
Crusty pundit Paine – born in the year World War II started! – made the pertinent point that bringing on tempestuous striker Mario Balotelli deep in the second half at Anfield in Sunday’s enthralling 1-1 draw seemed a strange move by Roberto Mancini.
Balotelli, who seems to give new meaning to the term “loose cannon”, duly got sent off for two yellows in his mere 18 minutes on the pitch.
Paine said when City probably needed an all-hands-to-the-pump, seriously disciplined approach in the closing stages against impressive Liverpool, bringing on the smoking gun nearly turned into a costly step.
Where have all the United fans gone? Perhaps confirming the view that alongside their genuine, massive support base lie plenty of “fair weather” followers, they weren’t nearly as prominent as usual on MNF this week.
Oh yes, one did ring in to grumble about the (levelling goal) Newcastle penalty at Old Trafford last weekend and even this staunch Toon man concedes that the officials got that one badly wrong.
But otherwise the normally forceful United phone-in “choir” was remarkably silent. Nevertheless, this season could yet offer up many devilish twists and turns – remember it’s the Red Devils who have been there and done that much more often in modern times so if they’re thereabouts in the last few weeks ...
Rob’s Awesome Foursome:
1. Sevens World Series rugby
Dubai, Friday & Saturday 07:30, SS6, CSN & some M-Net
The Blitzbokke lie a reasonable enough third after the Gold Coast opening leg of the tournament, and now the action switches to Dubai at the mercifully “temperate” time of the year there – it’s tipped to be around 26 deg C maximum over the two days in the desert metropolis. Catch their day one games against Portugal at 09:10, USA at 12:54 and then a biggie, as always, against New Zealand at 17:30. The Cup final is scheduled for 18:05 on Saturday. I just hope Paul Treu’s outfit soaked in some lessons from the Fijian hammering they took in Oz.
2. Knights v Warriors, 1-Day Cup semi-final cricket
Bloemfontein, Sunday 10:00, SS2 & CSN
Embattled Cricket South Africa may not have found a sponsor for this year’s limited-overs competition, but they must get some credit for avoiding two semi-finals (a little silly when there are only six franchises anyway) and fast-tracking the round-robin log-leaders – the Cape Cobras – straight into the final next Friday. Fighting in the lone semi for the right to travel to Newlands, then, are the Knights and Warriors, who ended second and third respectively with the former thus getting the advantage of hosting rights on Sunday. It’s tough to call and will hopefully provide a thriller: each beat the other once in the earlier phase of the competition.
3. Nedbank Challenge golf
Sun City, to Sunday 09:30, M-Net, SS1 & SHD
OK, this year’s event didn’t lure all of the most charismatic names many wished it would, but the closer it got to 2011 tee-off the better the field suddenly looked! You can’t complain, after all, about the presence of three of the world’s current four best golfers. Commentary chores are in the hands of a similarly credible bunch, including Dale Hayes, Sam Torrance, Andrew Coltart and Ewen Murray, whilst SuperSport is boasting about the presence of 200 crew, 42 on-course cameras, some 50km of cabling and 8,500 SS-branded serviettes. OK, I might have made the last one up ...
4. Mamelodi Sundowns v Kaizer Chiefs, PSL soccer
Pretoria, Sunday 15:30, SABC1 & SS4
I always think Loftus is an atmospheric place for soccer if the big rugby cauldron is pretty close to packed – the Ghana v Serbia match I attended there during my 2010 World Cup travels took some beating, even if it was hardly the sexiest fixture of the tournament on paper. It should attract a large crowd again on Sunday afternoon for the Brazilians, lying second on the table, against the fourth-placed Amakhosi. Chiefs will be smarting from a midweek loss to SuperSport United, whilst ‘Downs come off a stirring 5-2 away win against Santos. Colleague Ray Silinga, although unashamedly partial to the Mamelodi side, offers a cagey 1-1 suggestion, despite his pride and joy winning the equivalent game 2-0 last season ...