Football quickly took a backseat on Saturday afternoon as the Tom Lockyer news began filtering through from the Vitality Stadium.
Lockyer collapse a reminder that football is only the most important of the unimportant things
We’d all have done it, wouldn’t we? Looked at Bournemouth v Luton and gone ‘Oh, vital six-pointer there. That is a very important football match.’ But of course it isn’t. Only a football match, isn’t it? None of them really matter. At this stage, we know little about Tom Lockyer’s condition, but the reports of ‘alert and responsive’ offer tentative encouragement for good news down the line. But this is the third incident involving Lockyer in six months. His collapse at the play-off final was terrifying, and his more recent incident at half-time against Brentford inevitably increased concerns.
The sight of him prone on the Vitality Stadium turf today was just too much to bear. Rob Edwards was clearly barely holding it together when he applauded all sides of the ground in thanks for their patience and support as news came through that the game had, quite rightly, been abandoned. Only ever the most important of the unimportant things isn’t it. We’ve all got everything crossed, fella.
We all hope and pray for our leader and captain Tom Lockyer, who is thankfully responsive and has been taken to hospital.
We don’t know the full extent of what happened and what the next steps are at this stage, but we thank Bournemouth and the medical staff on both sides for… pic.twitter.com/pPCuB9ROju
— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) December 16, 2023
REPORT: Bournemouth vs Luton Town abandoned after medical incident involving defender Tom Lockyer
City drop more points as late Palace comeback stuns Pep’s stumblers
Seems vaguely weird to even be talking about the other football after that, but there was other football. And really quite a lot of it. What didn’t appear to be particularly attention-grabbing with 75 minutes on the clock was the afternoon’s action at the Etihad. Manchester City hadn’t quite been at their very best, but there’s nothing new in that. What they were was 2-0 up and cruising. Again, nothing new in that. They ended up dropping two more points, though, and they really can’t keep doing this. It’s just incredibly silly.
This wasn’t quite as ludicrous as the draw against Spurs a couple of weeks back and it’s a reminder that, while Tottenham remain Pep Guardiola’s most bafflingly unsolvable puzzle, Palace have bloodied his nose on more than one occasion. They’re not quite in the Spurs Bogey Team category, but they’re not far off. That’s now eight points for Palace from their last six Premier League visits to the Etihad, while even last year’s 4-2 win for City came after they found themselves 2-0 down at half-time. Any of City’s more direct rivals of recent years would be delighted with that record.
And Guardiola’s side do now have a problem. We all know about what his teams do in the new year and the spring. We’ve all seen it often enough. We all know they can do it again. Especially once they get Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland back in harness. But it still shouldn’t all look quite this difficult. They now sit just a single point above a Spurs side who this time last week were on a run of one point from the last 15 available. City’s own record now reads a miserable seven points from the last six matches.
As Chelsea and Spurs and now Palace have all shown in recent weeks, there is an alarming defensive vulnerability – even naivety – to City right now. They’ve always been hailed – quite rightly – for the machine-like remorseless relentlessness of their attacking threat, but at their best they’ve always been able to keep the back door bolted too. They haven’t kept a Premier League clean sheet since October’s trip to Old Trafford, and that hardly counts.
This is City and we know what they’re capable of, but they are leaving themselves an awful lot of work to do in the second half of the season. The Club World Cup commitments mean Liverpool and Aston Villa both play three Premier League games before City are back in action on December 27. Arsenal play twice. One of those games pits Arsenal against Liverpool, but the the top three already lead City by three, two and one point respectively. An already tricky-looking trip to Goodison just after Christmas is now likely to be played under extreme scoreboard pressure.
REPORT: Man City 2-2 Palace: Olise nets late penalty as Hodgson’s team earn surprise point at the Etihad
Jimenez does a madness to offer weary Newcastle a helping hand
Newcastle desperately needed that. And by ‘that’ we mean Raul Jimenez doing something truly inexplicable with barely 20 minutes on the clock at St James’ Park. Whether Sean Longstaff, starting a Premier League game for the first time in a month as he returns from injury, was quite so desperately in need of a pink-shorted professional footballer’s arse careening into his face as he innocently passed the ball is more doubtful.
There are many different flavour of bad tackle, and usually you can have a pretty good guess at what the offending player was trying to do. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘Yeah, he’s trying to absolutely do the bloke’. Usually, there is more mitigation. A more understandable explanation for a course of action that unfortunately and unintentionally ended up going significantly awry. And then there’s a player in an entirely insignificant part of the field at an insignificant time in the game launching himself into the air in what could only in the most generally and vague terms be described as the rough vicinity of the football and ending up planting his buttock on an opponent’s nose. It’s a truly astonishing sight to behold, and the fact this virtuouso bit of tackling was performed while wearing perhaps the most garishly unmissable Premier League kit ever seen – a shade we call Stabilo pink – only added to the bizarre appeal.
Here was a tackle – if it even qualifies as such – that would make Cristian Romero go ‘Steady on, old chap, that’s a bit rough’. But what it did was provide Newcastle the opportunity to drag their weary legs around for 70 minutes with a numerical advantage. And one understandably confused midfielder. It took a while for that advantage to tell, but the second half turned into a procession that will have been warmly welcomed by a team on a debilitating losing run and short on energy.
There was every expectation Fulham – after their free-scoring home exploits in recent days – could make this a very uncomfortable afternoon indeed for Newcastle. And Jimenez’s rejuvenated form was a huge part of that. Longstaff was certainly uncomfortable, but Newcastle more generally were not. And yet even here, a 3-0 win to hold back the tide, came at potentially damaging cost with both Fabian Schar and Joelinton forced off injured inside the first 37 minutes. And neither of them were even tackled in the face by a bottom.
REPORT: Newcastle 3-0 Fulham: Miley scores first senior goal as knackered Magpies down 10-man Fulham
Palmer shows his worth again as Chelsea avoid further strife
A goal and an assist in the space of seven second-half minutes from the increasingly talismanic Cole Palmer ensured a relatively comfortable afternoon in the end for Chelsea, who will be grateful for that. The more eye-catching if arguably less serious crisis enveloping Manchester United has provided cover Chelsea haven’t really deserved this season. Even this win just barely drags them back into the top half of the table, a position either Brentford or Wolves could claim from them before the weekend is out.
Palmer was not the most high-profile signing of the summer, but it’s already impossible to imagine just how grim things might be for Chelsea without him. It’s still quite bad with him.
REPORT: Chelsea 2-0 Sheff Utd: Palmer, Jackson score as Pochettino’s side return to winning ways