I love a surprise or three…

The reason most of us love Christmas football is because it’s capable of throwing up surprises.

And few come bigger than the Manchester clubs both being beaten over the past two days. If you are a supporter of Blackburn Rovers, you probably gave your side little hope heading to Old Trafford. All the talk was about Fergie, how great he is, the records he has set and how his side have managed to claw City back as we look towards 2012.

There wasn’t a question that Rovers were capable of pulling off a surprise – both because of United’s form and on the back of the visitors’ own well-documented struggles. Once all the cheesy singing was completed (I’m by no means saying Fergie isn’t worth the fuss, but this was a competitive fixture), Blackburn quickly took the lead through a penalty (Was anyone else REALLY surprised to see Dimitar Berbatov in the United box?) but once they went 2-0 ahead, I sensed trouble.

In the past, scoring against United would only stir a response. And that you didn’t want. The game that changed all that was City’s 6-1 win earlier this year when football fans, just like myself, simply couldn’t believe what they were watching. United’s current streak began after their Champions League exit, of course, and as Roberto Mancini pointed out this week, the Red Devils haven’t really played anyone of note since.

But then are Blackburn a club of note right now? Maybe, but for all the wrong reasons. What they did do at Old Trafford was work their socks off for Steve Kean and, for once, got their just rewards. When United pulled one goal back, I feared for Rovers; when they levelled matters, I presumed (like many no doubt!) that the home side would go on to win the fixture. However, for all the return to form in recent weeks, the 2011-2012 season hasn’t quite gone to plan – at least not in the way it would have done in the past.

City’s defeat at Sunderland was also unexpected, even if a little more understandable. Stats show that most clubs receive a bounce when they appoint a new manager. Whether or not Martin O’Neill will be able to work his magic in the longer term is another matter (his time at Villa, afterall, wasn’t exactly a stunning success).

The Black Cats would appear to be sleeping giants in the north of England but Roy Keane and now Steve Bruce have shown that the hot seat at Sunderland isn’t a walk in the park either. O’Neill has his work cut out but, as Manchester City are now well aware, he has already made them a much more difficult side to beat in a few short weeks.

One matter that was not such a surprise – the performance of James McClean. I am an Airtricity League fan. I know a good player when I see one and there is plenty of talent to be seen at the local grounds around Ireland on a weekly basis – in both Divisions. McClean has not become a massively improved player overnight, but then neither did Kevin Doyle, Keith Fahey or Seamus Coleman.

Signing off for now.


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