Gratton’s World of Wrestling: Hi, I’m Mark

Last week’s debut blog on CM Punk sparked much debate amongst Wrestling Inc readers, many of whom branded me a ‘mark’.

First off, I’d love to say thank you to all of those who read the blog’s debut on Wrestling Inc – and an even bigger thank you to those of you who took the time to comment, whether you agreed with me or not.

Right, that’s the pleasantries out of the way, now let’s get down to business.

I took the time to read through many of your comments last week, both good and bad, and many came to the conclusion that I am a ‘mark’.

What exactly is a ‘mark’?                                                

Well, a ‘mark’ is someone who generally thinks it’s all real and likes what they are in effect told to. So, let’s take CM Punk for example – he’s now being used as one of the main attractions by WWE and overtook John Cena in shirt sales last year. This now means that it’s deemed uncool to like Punk, especially by the IWC who notoriously big up underused/indie talent.

I admit; I am a huge fan of Punk, because he’s bloody good at what he does… I have been ever since I first saw him debut on WWE’s ECW, long before he was anywhere near the top end of the roster.

Many have followed Punk since he first started in the independents… Punk was an internet darling… but now he’s big time it seems a large number of fans who read dirt sheets are no longer pro Punk. Look up and down the big names, and you quickly see that Punk is far from the first this has happened to.

Randy Orton was once the hottest names on internet forums – say you were an Orton fan 10 years ago and you would have a lot of approving comments. Now, Orton is seen to be boring by the forums. Yes, a lot of the blame can go with creative for misuse of an incredibly talented performer, but is a lot of the criticism unfair?

I, like many, agree that Orton is much better heel (or at least a ‘tweener’). He is unquestionably limited in what his character can do and it’s no secret that Orton himself would much rather go back to being heel. You could be forgiven for forgetting that Orton, towards the end of his heel run, was beginning to be heavily cheered by crowds – over or not, heels shouldn’t be cheered. This led to his eventual face turn and his current character.

I much preferred Orton as ‘The Legend Killer’ rather than ‘The Apex Predator’, but sooner or later, Orton had to drop the nickname – there’s only so many legends that one can kill. It worked to build him up to the stature that he has today, but it’s hard to call a veteran on the roster with a Hall of Fame career a legend killer. Rather than having Orton go back to his legend killer days, I’d much rather creative continue to evolve his character. Maybe then fans would get back on side.

Zack Ryder benefited from being an internet darling, although it seems to have died down a bit since he had a run on TV (not too long a run, it has to be said), you still see the occasional ‘Ryder or Riot’ sign. Would Ryder have such a strong following had he become a regular feature on TV? Or would the IWC have got tired of watching him shout out ‘Woo Woo Woo, You Know It’?

If you read the blog before it made the move over to Wrestling Inc (you can view all previous entries at aarongratton.com) you’ll know that I practically begged for Dean Ambrose to debut on the main roster. How did I know of Ambrose? Answer: the internet. I heard about him on the forums and proceeded to watch video after video of him on YouTube.

His matches against William Regal in FCW were amazing and from then I became a fan. I saw how good he was on the mic, in the ring and the sheer charisma the guy has I feel he could leave Christian without a nickname.

Here lies the predicament with the internet’s current favourite son – how long until being a fan brands you a ‘mark’? Surely it’s only a matter of time? It happened with Orton, it’s happened to Punk and, sadly, in a few years’ time it will happen with Ambrose.

Am I a ‘mark’ because I continue to be a fan of someone now that he’s one of the top guys and other fans don’t like him? Or am I simply a fan with an opinion?

I’ll leave you to decide that.

You can follow the author on Twitter: @ABGratton24.

Ladbrokes Weekend Tips – Football Treble

English: Paolo Di Canio signing autographs for...

Paulo Di Canio ordered pizzas for volunteers who helped clear the snow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not done one of these since before the festive period – so it’s time to impart some betting wisdom!

This weekend’s bet is:

Liverpool to beat Norwich, Swindon to beat Shrewsbury and Doncaster to beat Leyton Orient: £10 wins £39.73.

I know. You saw Liverpool winning and immediately had reservations about it. It’s okay, I understand. But trust me, Liverpool will win – Norwich’s last five league games have plundered just one point. ONE. Even against what most certainly isn’t Liverpool’s greatest side, Anfield is an intimidating place to go.

Daniel Sturridge looks like he’s settling in on Merseyside splendidly, and seems to be the piece of the jigsaw that Brendan Rodgers was missing, especially with such a lack of option upfront. The bookies’ are all in agreement of a home win – all making Liverpool big odds-on favourites.

The snow has hit a lot of games in the lower-leagues, but League One high flyers Swindon and Doncaster have both managed to get their games on – Paulo Di Canio even spending his Friday evening shoveling snow off the pitch and ordering pizzas for all fans who volunteered to help clear the snow, what a guy!

As we all know, there’s no such thing as a certainty in football, and you can guarantee that Di Canio will be drilling it into his players’ heads that he doesn’t want all his efforts to have gone into a fruitless game. Shrewsbury are 18th and, while being seven points above the drop zone, have played a game or two more than all the sides below them. Again, home advantage is key when marking prices and the bookies’ make Swindon clear odds-on favourites to take all three points and climb closer towards an automatic promotion spot.

Lastly, Doncaster take on Leyton Orient – many consider Donny to be the best team in the third-tier. It’s not often you find a team in second place welcome a new manager, but that’s exactly what’s happening at the Keepmoat Stadium as former Wales U21 boss, Brian Flynn, takes the reigns following Dean Saunders departure to Wolves. Flynn had been in caretaker charge and overseeing Donny’s 2-1 away win over Stevenage was enough to convince chairman John Ryan he was the man for the job. Many times has ‘the new manager factor’ seen a dramatic change in fortune – which, ironically, is exactly what Doncaster don’t want. According to the bookies’, whilst still making Donny favourites, this could be the potential banana skin to this weekend’s treble.

Fancy this bet? Or have a feeling on anything else happening?  Sign up to Ladbrokes by clicking here and place your bets.

Aaron Gratton (@ABGratton24)

In Conversation with Jani Haavisto

Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Finnish sensation Jani Haavisto spoke with Aaron Gratton on what it was like playing at Ally Pally, the SDC and his hopes of qualifying from Q-School…

Aaron Gratton: How did it feel playing at Alexandra Palace? Describe your emotions as you walked out to play your fellow SDC qualifier Jarkko Komula in the preliminary round and winning to advance to the first round proper.

Jani Haavisto: Playing at Ally Pally was amazing. I felt nervous during the walk on, but my nerves settled when I started playing. Beating Jarkko on the BIG stage and getting to the first round was amazing, knowing I had made it to the first round and was about to play a top seeded player.

AG: You announced yourself with a good performance against Jarkko and made fans who had not previously heard of you sit up and take notice, you were the outsider with the bookies. Were you aware of the reaction everyone had to your performance and how did you take the confidence of already winning on the stage into your game later that night with Gary Anderson?

JH: During my match with Jarkko, I did not notice the crowd much because I was so focused on my game. It was when I hit the doubles I noticed them shouting and cheering. As for my confidence going on stage to play Anderson, well, you have to be confident and believe you will win or there is no point in playing.

AG:  You troubled Anderson, especially in the earlier sets – keeping the scores level when he was throwing at around a 105 average. Were you aware of how well your opponent was throwing and, if so, did that increase your confidence?

JH: I knew how well Anderson was playing, it’s hard not to notice. I was confident throwing against him, if only I could have had a shot at a few more doubles.

AG: Despite losing to Gary, you left a lasting impression on fans, and even the commentators. Does the experience of playing in a big game on the biggest stage in darts only make you more hungry to qualify through Q-School? And how do you see your chances of doing so?

JH: Throwing on the big stage has made me want to make it through Q-School and get the tour card. I want to experience more games on the big stage against world-class players. My chances of doing so are unknown. All I can do is play the best I can and hope that it is enough.

AG: There a few players that competed on the SDC tour this past year trying their luck at Q-School – with the tour still in its infancy, do you feel that playing on the SDC tour has improved your game? And has it made you change how your prepare? Such as putting in more hours on the board or even just getting the chance to play more regular tournaments?

JH: The SDC tour has made me throw better darts, I had to beat the best in Scandinavia and that meant having to throw better darts. I practice about the same as before. I played the best in Scandinavia and that meant I had to throw better to beat them.

AG: Did playing on the tour help prepare you for the World Championships?

JH: The SDC was a great help in preparing me.

AG: Are you still planning on playing on the SDC tour next year? Or does it mostly come down to whether your’re successful or not at Q-School?

JH: I would like to do the SDC tour again and I would also like to make it through Q-School. It all depends on home and family obligations and money needed to go to competitions.

AG: Do you think that this is just the start for a big influx of Scandinavian talent? Is the talent already there or are tours like the SDC needed to produce and develop it?

JH: The SDC tour is very important and must be upheld to find the top Scandinavian players that could go far in this game.

AG: Finally, what are your hopes for the next year or two? Are you hoping to become a regular on the PDC Pro Tour and where do you feel your game could take you?

JH: My hopes for the next few years are to do well in the upcoming competitions. I would like to be a regular on the PDC Pro Tour. I feel the game could take me to earning a living, but that will take a lot of time and money, so I will just have to take it one game at a time and see what happens.

 

Many thanks to Jani Haavisto for taking time out to speak – be sure to keep an eye on his progress over the next couple of years.

 

Aaron Gratton (@ABGratton24)

 

Gratton’s World of Wrestling – Every Thursday on Wrestling Inc

Gratton's World of Wrestling every Thursday in Wrestling Inc.

Gratton’s World of Wrestling every Thursday on Wrestling Inc.

I can finally confirm that Gratton’s World of Wrestling has a new home and will now become a weekly column at Wrestling Inc.

Take a look into my weird, wonderful and, sometimes, twisted world of wrestling every Thursday – this move will see the already successful blog become BIGGER than the Big Show, BETTER than CM Punk and BOLDER than Steve Austin!

What happens when a crazed wrestling blogger gains a massive audience? Log onto Wrestling Inc on Thursday to see…

Gratton’s World of Wrestling: CM Punk’s Life Defining Match

English: Is the wrestler CM Punk signing autog...

CM Punk defied the odds to be a success. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some things are bigger and mean more than they were originally meant to be – CM Punk v The Rock is just that.

It’s funny how things work out – CM Punk has spent, not only his entire career, but his entire life as the underdog. Time-after-time, the Chicago born star has broken the glass ceiling – going against the mainstream, against what was popular. How apt that the guy who has made a living as the anti-hero will compete in quite possibly the biggest match of his career against ‘The Peoples’ Champion’?

I recently watched CM Punk’s Best in the World DVD – it was amazing to say the least (seriously, if you haven’t already, watch it). What you learn about Punk is that from day one he was an outcast, always fighting against the odds. Punk revealed in the DVD that he hadn’t a very good relationship with his family, seeing his father continually drunk/hung over, not having a particularly close relationship with his mother and that he hasn’t spoken to his brother in 12-years.

What you also learn is that this isn’t just a schoolboy dream come true through being in the right place at the right time – nothing was handed to him, he had to work for it. From forming the LWF (Lunatic Wrestling Federation) with some friends and a DIY dangerous as anything ring, attracting a near 1,000 paying crowd and busting his ass off in various independent shows to fighting for his spot in the WWE – you realise this means the world to CM Punk.

Sure, you can say the same about many other wrestlers that they made sacrifice after sacrifice to get to where they are today, and kudos to them. But Punk had nothing else, wrestling is CM Punk and, more importantly, CM Punk is Phil Brooks.

Why am I giving you a brief life story? Well here’s why, the Royal Rumble represents the struggle of CM Punk’s life, fighting against what society says he should be, when he faces The Rock who is the ideological ‘sports entertainer’.

The Rock or, as he likes to be known in more recent years, Dwayne Johnson, was born from a wrestling family. He grew up with wrestling all around him and with ‘the look’ that the sports entertainment industry has based its very foundation.

Rock: a former college football player with (quite literally) Hollywood looks – exactly what Vince McMahon looks for in any new talent and trained by some of the best the business has ever seen.

Punk: slender and never been one for being bulky, not what you would conventionally call ‘poster boy material’, self-trained and perfected his craft on the independent circuit.

The Rock represents everything that CM Punk has had to overcome; you couldn’t throw together two guys at further ends of the spectrum (no matter what John Cena said for a year). What you’ll see at the Royal Rumble isn’t just a wrestling match, it’s CM Punk’s life.

So, what happens? Does CM Punk carry on defying the odds and come away from the Royal Rumble as WWE Champion (clean or otherwise), or does The Rock get his way? Does ‘Rocky’ come back at the biggest time of the year (the road to Wrestlemania) and play the leading role?

I can tell you what should happen; CM Punk should win, and win fairly. Why have The Rock come back and defeat your two biggest stars (including Cena last year)? How is that good for business?

Just how would he carry the title up until Wrestlemania? Not forgetting Elimination Chamber in between – surely he wouldn’t be used in such a risky match? Unless he was to enter the chamber last and take a quick win (but then surely you’re crapping all over the last PPV before the big one?).

There’s also the political side of it, much of the locker room isn’t overly keen on having Rock come in and take the spotlight once again, and who can blame them? I know I wouldn’t be overly keen on working a near 24/7 schedule only for someone who only turns up on the odd night to get the big pay check.

A win for Punk is a win for wrestling, wrestlers and fans alike. Let’s just hope WWE does the sensible thing.

 

Aaron Gratton

Follow the author on Twitter: @ABGratton24

Touchy BDO – Can the Winner really be Called ‘World Champion’?

English: Original description was I took this ...

The truth hurts – BDO goes on a blocking spree.

To the true darts fan, darts is darts, that’s why we’re enjoying Lakeside, the BDO World Championship, even though the standard doesn’t match up with the PDC.

Be careful when voicing your opinion on the standard of the BDO, or you could face being shunned, just as I was blocked by the BDO on Twitter for questioning the validity of the title the winner will have of world champion.

Why did I question it? Simple – at the time of tweeting my concern of the title’s validity, there had been just the two averages over 90 in the whole tournament (one of those being Tony Eccles, who lost his first-round game). Now, at the time of writing this, another four over 90 have been added.

That’s six 90+ averages in the tournament coming into the quarter-final stage. Compare that with 26 90+ averages made in just the opening round of the PDC World Championship and you easily understand the gulf in standard.

Make no mistake; this is no dig at the standard of the BDO – as said in the opening line, darts is darts. Whether it’s a 70, 80, 90 or ton plus average, darts is great to watch, it’s competitive. To use a football analogy – many consider The Championship (English football’s second-tier, for non-football fans) to be the most competitive division in the Football League. But when the teams at the end of the season are promoted to the Premier League, 9/10 times they struggle.

They struggle because the standard is greater in the Premier League – and that is where the comparison fits perfectly. Take the BDO, as highly competitive as it is, the standard is below that of the PDC.

When a football team finishes top of The Championship, they aren’t crowned the champions of England – that title rests with the Premier League winners because it’s the higher tier, the standard is greater. So, how can the winner of Lakeside be given the same title as Phil Taylor (after winning the 2013 PDC World Championship) for winning a lower standard tournament?

Yes, you can argue that the BDO has more history, and you’d be right. But when you look beyond the history, even looking beyond television coverage and prize money, the fact is that the overall standard of play in the PDC is better than the BDO.

The BDO can try and ignore that fact as much as they like by blocking anyone that is merely speaking the truth, and I’ve seen many cases where this has been the case during the last few days. Winning at Lakeside does not make you a world champion, it makes you BDO Champion, and that’s still pretty darn good, but not a world champion.

Being a world champion means that you have beaten the best in the world, and that title currently belongs to Phil Taylor.

 

I’m sure everyone who reads this will have an opinion and I’d love to hear them, you can tweet me: @ABGratton24

Aaron Gratton

*Note: These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of UK Darts Magazine

UEFA Champions League Last 16 Draw: Battle of the Heavyweights

On Thursday (20 December) the UEFA Champions League last 16 draw took place – Real Madrid v Manchester United being the stand-out tie.

Legend and twice Champions League winner Steve McManaman had a wry smile on his face when he drew out Man United to face his former side, Real Madrid, in the competition’s first knockout round.

This marks the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford and, with that, Madrid boss Jose Mourinho returns to the place where he effectively announced himself to the world. Who will ever forget Mourinho running along the touchline as Porto scored late on to knock out Sir Alex Ferguson’s side?

It’s a game so big, it’s saved the world – that’s right, it’s just been confirmed that God has called off the impending apocalypse so as he can eat his own weight of chips while sitting in front of the TV watching two of the world’s biggest teams go head-to-head.

It’s true, even the big man upstairs puts off chores for sport.

Whilst Madrid v United is the stand-out fixture of a (Christmas) cracker of a draw, there are seven other games that will get the excitement flowing, see the full draw below:

Galatasaray v Schalke

Celtic v Juventus

Arsenal v Bayern Munich

Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund

AC Milan v Barcelona

Real Madrid v Man United

Valencia v Paris Saint-Germain

Porto v Malaga

First-Leg ties to be played 12/13 and 19/20 February
Second-Leg ties to be played 5/6 and 12/13 March

You might be forgiven for this all looks familiar, like, you’ve seen this before somewhere. You’d be right, as in a coincidental twist, the draw threw up the exact same ties as the rehearsal did on Wednesday. Spooky, eh?

It doesn’t do much to silence the UEFA conspiracists who believe the draws are fabricated to suit television demand. What would they have to gain through doing that? Apart from a lot of money, of course.

If television ratings are what UEFA wanted, then that’s exactly what they’ll get with, on top of the stellar Madrid/United tie, AC Milan and Barcelona being drawn together. This seems somewhat familiar territory once again – Milan and Barca have been drawn together in the group stage in recent years’, but this time it’s winner take all.

Four-time winner’s Barcelona face seven-time winner’s AC Milan in a tie full of history, one for the romanticists. But, Milan are far from the juggernaut they once were. Having undergone a much needed facelift, Milan are in a rebuilding phase having finally cut ties with players’ who, had been great servants to the club but, were simply not up to it anymore.

It would be unfair to speculate on where Barcelona might be come when the competition restarts in February with much more important issues at the forefront of the club’s mind as Tito Vilanova suffered a cancer relapse – get well soon, Tito!

Potential Winner

Looking at the way the draw’s panned out and taking into consideration how the group stage went, Borussia Dortmund look like decent contenders for the crown. Robert Lewandowski is the star man in a well-oiled machine, scoring 13 in 21 this season exclaiming how big an influence the Polish striker is.

Dortmund topped the toughest group of the tournament which included; Spanish champions Real Madrid, Dutch champions Ajax and English champions Manchester City. The German champions came out on top of a group that many experts said their best chances were to finish runners-up.
Dortmund have already beaten as good a sides as could possibly be thrown at them in Europe’s elite competition – who’s to say they can’t go the whole way?

Aaron Gratton (@ABGratton24)

United Stay Clear, Chelsea Shed a Tear – The Weekend’s Football (Updated)

160

The latest from the English Premier League. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Manchester United remained six-points clear at the top of the league whilst Chelsea was reduced to tears after surprise defeat in World Club Cup.

Saturday’s Results

Newcastle 1-3 Man City

Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa

Man United 3-1 Sunderland

Norwich 2-1 Wigan

QPR 2-1 Fulham

Stoke 1-1 Everton

Sunday’s Results

Chelsea 0-1 Corinthians (World Club Cup Final)

Tottenham 1-0 Swansea

West Brom 0-0 West Ham

Monday’s Result

Reading 2-5 Arsenal

 

Saturday

Man City kicked-off the weekend’s action in Saturday’s early game with a 3-1 win away to Newcastle – a game they were expected to win comfortably, and did. Alan Pardew cited bad luck for yet another bad result for the Geordie side, who are slowly getting dragged into the midst a relegation battle. Ironic that Newcastle’s terrible run of form coincides with Pardew signing a new eight-year contract.

This result brought City back to within three-points of Man United at the top (temporarily, at least) following last weekend’s dramatic defeat against their local rivals.

That lunchtime result meant that United had to win at home against Sunderland in order to keep their dominant position at the top of the league. Robin van Persie, who scored the late winner against City last week, scored the opening goal early on to send United on their way to a 3-1 win against The Black Cats. Another notable mention for United fans was the return of defender Nemanja Vidic to the bench – Sir Alex Ferguson will be delighted to have the Serbian available again after a run of poor defensive displays.

Bad defending or not, United are six-points clear at the top of the Premier League coming into the festive period – a position every club would love to be in.

On a day when 3-1 score-lines seemed to be the fashion, Anfield played host to the day’s third 3-1 as Liverpool hosted Aston Villa. Coming into the game, with Ladbrokes, Liverpool were 4/11 odds-on favourites for the win, an astonishingly short price for a side sitting mid-table with a less than impressive home record. Aston Villa gave the bookies’ red faces as they, with more than a little help from summer signing, Benteke, captured a much-needed three-points to push them clear of the relegation zone.

Joe Cole was given another run-out from Brendan Rodgers – the once forgotten man seems to be impressing the new boss just a couple of months after Rodgers labelled Cole ‘not worth the money’ after a poor showing in the Europa League. An interesting story in the tabloids, how true is another matter; Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are set to do battle for Raheem Stirling’s signature.

One would assume that, particularly after the fuss Ferguson made over Liverpool wanting to sign Gabriele Heinze a few years back, Man United have more chance of signing Lionel Messi than acquiring Sterling. If the story has substance, it could signal that Theo Walcott is on his way out of Arsenal and looking for pastures new.

Looking at where both Liverpool and Arsenal are right now, it’s difficult to say that going from one to the other is a step up – Sterling should stay at the Merseyside club, at least until he’s had a chance to grow rather than jump ship at the first opportunity. Look at what moving early did to Francis Jeffers’ career.

After losing in the League Cup during the week, Norwich got back to winning ways against Wigan, who drop into the bottom three for the first time this season after a promising start to the campaign. Chris Hughton’s Canaries notched up a 2-1 home win against Roberto Martinez’s Wigan side, thanks to two goals from Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan either side of half-time. Shaun Maloney had scored an equaliser shortly after the break for Wigan but it wasn’t enough to take anything back to the DW Stadium.

“Christmas is cancelled as we haven’t anything to celebrate” – Harry Redknapp on QPR’s cancelled Christmas. Now, the London club can finally celebrate their first league win of the season thanks to a brace from Adel Taarabt in a 2-1 win at home to fellow London side Fulham. The win takes QPR off bottom.

Is this the start of another Redknapp revolution? Quite possibly, and, with the January transfer-window looming, look forward to more car window interviews on Sky Sports News as ‘Arry wheels and deals!

Following a sensational 2-1 win at home to Spurs last week, a game that Spurs were winning until the 90th minute before Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic turned the game on its head, Everton travelled to the Britannia Stadium. Notoriously one of the hardest places to go to in England, Stoke stayed true to their reputation as they held Everton to a 1-1 draw – opening the door for Tottenham to move back into fourth the next day.

 

Sunday

In Yokohama, Chelsea looked to become world champions as they played Brazilian outfit Corinthians. Interim boss, Rafael Benitez, experienced at winning the crown, having already done so with Internazionale in 2010. The FIFA tournament is taken a lot more seriously in South America compared to how it is in Europe – that showed as over 20,000 Corinthians fans went crazy as Paolo Guerrero headed the only goal of the game following a block from Gary Cahill with just over 20-minutes left of the final.

To say that the competition meant little to Chelsea would be unfair as the European champions rallied for an equaliser – Fernando Torres could, and should, have put Chelsea level as he blasted the ball straight at Corinthians ‘keeper, Cassio, from close-range. In added-time, Torres thought he’d saved Chelsea with a glancing header that found the net, only for it to be ruled rightly offside.

Chelsea must now up themselves following their disappointment in Japan, and quickly, as they travel to Elland Road to play Leeds in a League Cup quarter-final on Wednesday night. Considering they aren’t due back at Heathrow until Tuesday afternoon, Benitez could very well be looking at playing a significantly weakened side.

Back to the Premier League, and Spurs got back to winning way, and back into the top four, 1-0 at home to Swansea. Michael Laudrup will be disappointed his side failed to test Spurs ‘keeper Hugo Lloris, not hitting a single shot on target. Despite the stats siding heavily in the home side’s favour, it wasn’t until the 75th-minute that the deadlock was broken by Jan Vertonghen with a half-volley from Kyle Walker’s free-kick.

A welcome win at home against a potential banana-skin, Andre Villas-Boas can now get his team ready for the hectic festive period, starting with a home game versus Stoke on Saturday. Swansea, however, have the un-enviable task of league leaders Manchester United at home to contend with on Sunday.

Jan Vertonghen’s strike proved to be the only goal in the Premier League on Sunday as West Brom and West Ham played out a poor 0-0 draw. Whilst the fans might not be content with the lack of entertainment, Steve Clarke and Sam Allardyce will both be happy with a point apiece as The Baggies keep their tremendous home form intact and The Hammers claim an away point as they look to consolidate their Premier League status.

Monday

On Monday night, Reading played host to Arsenal who were desperate to forget about their midweek League Cup penalty shoot-out defeat to League Two Bradford City.

Arsenal, and everyone else, will have remembered what happened last time they travelled to the Madejski Stadium, also in this season’s League Cup. Arsenal flirted with embarrassment, going in at half-time 4-0 down to The Royals – only to hit back and take the game to extra-time at 4-4. Arsenal rode their luck and won the tie 7-5 after extra-time.

It was unlikely to be another 7-5, but it wasn’t far off as Arsene Wenger’s Gunners came away with a 5-2 victory. Santi Cazorla being the main man as he took home the match ball after helping himself to a hat-trick after Podolski opened the scoring. Adam Le Fondre and Jimmy Kebe threatened to reverse the comeback from their League Cup meeting before Theo Walcott made sure there was no question that Arsenal would be leaving with the points.

Reading are now six-points from safety and have lost each of their last six games – The Royals seriously need to pick up form before they’re long gone. Arsenal, from what was a mediocre position before Monday’s game, move up to fifth and just a couple of points below North-London rivals, Spurs.

Aaron Gratton (ABGratton24)

United Stay Clear, Chelsea Shed a Tear – The Weekend’s Football

Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United F.C.

Sir Alex Ferguson oversees Man United’s dominant league position. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Manchester United remained six-points clear at the top of the league whilst Chelsea was reduced to tears after surprise defeat in World Club Cup.

Saturday’s Results

Newcastle 1-3 Man City

Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa

Man United 3-1 Sunderland

Norwich 2-1 Wigan

QPR 2-1 Fulham

Stoke 1-1 Everton

Sunday’s Results

Chelsea 0-1 Corinthians (World Club Cup Final)

Tottenham 1-0 Swansea

West Brom 0-0 West Ham

Saturday

Man City kicked-off the weekend’s action in Saturday’s early game with a 3-1 win away to Newcastle – a game they were expected to win comfortably, and did. Alan Pardew cited bad luck for yet another bad result for the Geordie side, who are slowly getting dragged into the midst a relegation battle. Ironic that Newcastle’s terrible run of form coincides with Pardew signing a new eight-year contract.

This result brought City back to within three-points of Man United at the top (temporarily, at least) following last weekend’s dramatic defeat against their local rivals.

That lunchtime result meant that United had to win at home against Sunderland in order to keep their dominant position at the top of the league. Robin van Persie, who scored the late winner against City last week, scored the opening goal early on to send United on their way to a 3-1 win against The Black Cats. Another notable mention for United fans was the return of defender Nemanja Vidic to the bench – Sir Alex Ferguson will be delighted to have the Serbian available again after a run of poor defensive displays.

Bad defending or not, United are six-points clear at the top of the Premier League coming into the festive period – a position every club would love to be in.

On a day when 3-1 score-lines seemed to be the fashion, Anfield played host to the day’s third 3-1 as Liverpool hosted Aston Villa. Coming into the game, with Ladbrokes, Liverpool were 4/11 odds-on favourites for the win, an astonishingly short price for a side sitting mid-table with a less than impressive home record. Aston Villa gave the bookies’ red faces as they, with more than a little help from summer signing, Benteke, captured a much-needed three-points to push them clear of the relegation zone.

Joe Cole was given another run-out from Brendan Rodgers – the once forgotten man seems to be impressing the new boss just a couple of months after Rodgers labelled Cole ‘not worth the money’ after a poor showing in the Europa League. An interesting story in the tabloids, how true is another matter; Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are set to do battle for Raheem Stirling’s signature.

One would assume that, particularly after the fuss Ferguson made over Liverpool wanting to sign Gabriele Heinze a few years back, Man United have more chance of signing Lionel Messi than acquiring Sterling. If the story has substance, it could signal that Theo Walcott is on his way out of Arsenal and looking for pastures new.

Looking at where both Liverpool and Arsenal are right now, it’s difficult to say that going from one to the other is a step up – Sterling should stay at the Merseyside club, at least until he’s had a chance to grow rather than jump ship at the first opportunity. Look at what moving early did to Francis Jeffers’ career.

After losing in the League Cup during the week, Norwich got back to winning ways against Wigan, who drop into the bottom three for the first time this season after a promising start to the campaign. Chris Hughton’s Canaries notched up a 2-1 home win against Roberto Martinez’s Wigan side, thanks to two goals from Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan either side of half-time. Shaun Maloney had scored an equaliser shortly after the break for Wigan but it wasn’t enough to take anything back to the DW Stadium.

“Christmas is cancelled as we haven’t anything to celebrate” – Harry Redknapp on QPR’s cancelled Christmas. Now, the London club can finally celebrate their first league win of the season thanks to a brace from Adel Taarabt in a 2-1 win at home to fellow London side Fulham. The win takes QPR off bottom.

Is this the start of another Redknapp revolution? Quite possibly, and, with the January transfer-window looming, look forward to more car window interviews on Sky Sports News as ‘Arry wheels and deals!

Following a sensational 2-1 win at home to Spurs last week, a game that Spurs were winning until the 90th minute before Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic turned the game on its head, Everton travelled to the Britannia Stadium. Notoriously one of the hardest places to go to in England, Stoke stayed true to their reputation as they held Everton to a 1-1 draw – opening the door for Tottenham to move back into fourth the next day.

Sunday

In Yokohama, Chelsea looked to become world champions as they played Brazilian outfit Corinthians. Interim boss, Rafael Benitez, experienced at winning the crown, having already done so with Internazionale in 2010. The FIFA tournament is taken a lot more seriously in South America compared to how it is in Europe – that showed as over 20,000 Corinthians fans went crazy as Paolo Guerrero headed the only goal of the game following a block from Gary Cahill with just over 20-minutes left of the final.

To say that the competition meant little to Chelsea would be unfair as the European champions rallied for an equaliser – Fernando Torres could, and should, have put Chelsea level as he blasted the ball straight at Corinthians ‘keeper, Cassio, from close-range. In added-time, Torres thought he’d saved Chelsea with a glancing header that found the net, only for it to be ruled rightly offside.

Chelsea must now up themselves following their disappointment in Japan, and quickly, as they travel to Elland Road to play Leeds in a League Cup quarter-final on Wednesday night. Considering they aren’t due back at Heathrow until Tuesday afternoon, Benitez could very well be looking at playing a significantly weakened side.

Back to the Premier League, and Spurs got back to winning way, and back into the top four, 1-0 at home to Swansea. Michael Laudrup will be disappointed his side failed to test Spurs ‘keeper Hugo Lloris, not hitting a single shot on target. Despite the stats siding heavily in the home side’s favour, it wasn’t until the 75th-minute that the deadlock was broken by Jan Vertonghen with a half-volley from Kyle Walker’s free-kick.

A welcome win at home against a potential banana-skin, Andre Villas-Boas can now get his team ready for the hectic festive period, starting with a home game versus Stoke on Saturday. Swansea, however, have the un-enviable task of league leaders Manchester United at home to contend with on Sunday.

Jan Vertonghen’s strike proved to be the only goal in the Premier League on Sunday as West Brom and West Ham played out a poor 0-0 draw. Whilst the fans might not be content with the lack of entertainment, Steve Clarke and Sam Allardyce will both be happy with a point apiece as The Baggies keep their tremendous home form intact and The Hammers claim an away point as they look to consolidate their Premier League status.

Beyond the Weekend

On Monday night, Reading play host to Arsenal who will be desperate to forget about their midweek League Cup penalty shoot-out defeat to League Two Bradford City. Arsenal will prefer to remember what happened the last time they travelled to the Madejski Stadium, also in this season’s League Cup. Arsenal flirted with embarrassment, going in at half-time 4-0 down to The Royals – only to hit back and take the game to extra-time at 4-4. Arsenal rode their luck and won the tie 7-5 after extra-time.

Unlikely to be another 7-5, but both sides desperately need a win to get their season’s back on-track with Reading now rock-bottom, thanks to QPR’s first win, and Arsenal just needing to move on from missing out on yet another trophy.

Aaron Gratton (ABGratton24)

Ladbrokes Weekend Tips – Great Value at Ally Pally

Ladbrokes-WC-New-LOGO1-300x207-186x136It’s the most wonderful time of the year – the Ladbrokes World Darts Championship, of course! And what better way to celebrate than to make a few pennies?

The first round of the tournament sees 64 players’ chuck tungsten inside London’s Alexandra Palace. With spicy games up and down the draw in just the tournament’s opening round, there are chances to make a tidy profit.

Potential Upsets

Adrian Lewis v Gino Vos - Adrian Lewis hasn’t been playing too well this year, but neither did he last year and look what happened. He faces young Gino Vos in the opening round – a game Lewis should win on paper, but weird things can happen in the first round, and if ‘Jackpot’ isn’t completely focused, Vos could cause the first big upset of the tournament. Gino Vos to beat Adrian Lewis @ 7/1.

Richie Burnett v James Hubbard – A real battle of youth v experience in this one as former World Champion, Richie Burnett, takes on the current World Youth Champion, James Hubbard. Burnett has been showing why he won a world title in the last year or so and has become a real force again on tour. Any of the top players will tell you, though, that James Hubbard is the next big thing and a sure fire future world champion. Could Hubbard continue to impress? James Hubbard to beat Richie Burnett @ 6/5.

John Part v Joe Cullen – Another former World Champion, John Part, takes to the stage where he’ll be greeted by another young contender in Joe Cullen. Part has been woeful for a while now, only qualifying for this year’s Grand Slam of Darts on the account of his 2008 World Championship win. Cullen has put together a few runs on tour this year, beating some of the game’s biggest names’ in doing so, and he’ll fancy himself for an upset here. Joe Cullen to beat John Part @ 13/8.

Andy Hamilton v James Richardson – This looks like a safe draw for Andy Hamilton, who has been solid this year. But then nobody gave James Richardson a chance this time last year. ‘What did he do?’ I hear you ask – he only beat Raymond van Barneveld 3-0. Who’s to say Richardson couldn’t upset the odds once more? James Richardson to beat Andy Hamilton @ 6/1.

Raymond van Barneveld v Michael Smith - Speaking of that 3-0 upset last year, ‘Barney’ looks to forget last year’s tournament against one of the Youth Tour’s best in Michael Smith, who has pushed big names’ close this year, including Phil Taylor. Smith has all the talent in the world and, with a bit of time and focus, could be a big game player in years to come. Maybe Smith could send ‘Barney’ home early for a second-straight year? Michael Smith to beat Raymond van Barneveld @ 7/2.

Ronnie Baxter v Dennis Priestley - It’s almost strange to say that a double World Champion winning would be an upset, but according to the odds, it is. Both players have had good year’s on the ProT
our, reaching the latter stages on multiple occasions. In this clash of veterans there is a distinct clash of styles that could potentially suit the slower thrower, Dennis Priestley. Add that to his wealth of experience and you could be onto a winner. Dennis Priestley to beat Ronnie Baxter @ 6/5.

Big Bets/Accumulators

Admittedly, it would be nice if some of those prices were a little bigger – so that’s why it’s time to look at potential money-spinning accumulators.

If you feel confident, or just a general risk taker, you might be interested in this eight-fold accumulator made up of odds-on favourites’ in the first round:

Robert Thornton, Paul Nicholson, Justin Pipe, Mark Walsh, Kim Huybrechts, Brendan Dolan, James Wade and Wes Newton all to win their first round games – £10 wins £67.41.

Or, if you really want to, you could put your money where your mouth is and bet on all of the aforementioned upsets to happen:

Gino Vos, James Hubbard, Joe Cullen, James Richardson, Michael Smith and Dennis Priestley all to win their first round games – £10 wins £32,016.60.

Fancy any of these? Then sign up to Ladbrokes by clicking here and place your bets.

Aaron Gratton (@ABGratton24)

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