“What is the furthest away from goal someone has been sent off for a professional foul?” muses Robert Davies.
Our thoughts immediately settled on Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s gloriously cynical scything down of Newcastle’s Rob Lee at Old Trafford in 1998 but by the time the Norwegian actually made contact with Lee’s shins, he was only around 30 yards from goal. How about this shocking decision from the 1991 League Cup quarter-finals then, when Southampton’s Jimmy Case was sent for an early bath after hauling down Bryan Robson – hardly known for his blistering pace – a good 40 yards from goal with two covering defenders for company? At the beginning of the season referees had been instructed to tighten up punishment for fouls that denied a clear goalscoring opportunity and, on this evidence, they had a loose understanding of what that meant.
Another example from September 2018, in which Aberdeen’s Michael Devlin was given his marching orders for a foul around 45 yards from goal, suggested officials were still struggling many years later.
Simon Kaplan has a potential winner. “I’d suggest Gary Cahill playing for Bolton against Tottenham in December 2011,” he writes. “He got a red card (rescinded on appeal) for denying Scott Parker a ‘clear goalscoring opportunity’ by taking him out about five yards inside the Bolton half.” Owen Coyle measured it for us in his post-match rant:
If you understand the terminology it has to be a clear goalscoring opportunity. Now, Scott Parker is a fantastic player but he took a touch with his left foot, went out to the wing, 50 yards from goal. We had Zat Knight in the middle and other defenders coming back.
However, if this video evidence is anything to go by, we reckon Mikel Arteta can match those 50 yards after bundling over Marouane Chamakh at Crystal Palace in 2013. “He was far from goal, it was an accidental foul, he was not the last man,” protested Arsène Wenger. Arsenal didn’t appeal, so the red card stood.
Are United the highest-scoring Champions League flops?
“Has any club scored as many goals in the Champions League group stages as Manchester United this year (15) and not qualified for the knockouts?” wonders Tim Leehan.
While we’ve been polishing off the last few Quality Street, Yorben Geerinckx has done the hard yards for us. “If I’m correct, this only happened twice,” he suggests. “The first time was in 2012-13 when Chelsea scored 16 and amassed 10 points, as many as Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainian side went through because they scored more away goals in the games between the two, with later-to-be-Chelsea player Willian scoring twice at Stamford Bridge in a 3-2 loss, which would prove sufficient to progress after a 2-1 home win. Juventus topped that group and Chelsea would go on to win the Europa League.
“The second time was last season. RB Salzburg introduced Erling Braut Haaland to the world and also scored 16. Liverpool won that group and Salzburg finished five points behind runners-up Napoli, progressing to the Europa League, where they were eliminated by Eintracht Frankfurt in last 32.”
Paul Moran unearthed the same examples and came up with some new ones. “In poring over 27 years of Champions League group stages, I found that Group D of the 2005-06 competition surprisingly only featured 12 goals across the 12 games. Two 2-1 results were the highest-scoring fixtures and, incredibly, Lille managed to secure six points and third place (transferring to the Uefa Cup) despite only scoring once – they were helped by an impressive defence which conceded just two goals.” Perhaps Jorge Valdano was right about that particular era of European football. Anyway, back to Paul. “Has any other group stage in a competition (or even a whole competition) featured a goals-per-game figure of less than one? Or has any team in a group stage/competition had a lower figure of goals-per-game (scored + conceded) than Lille’s 0.5?”
No shots on target, no problem
“Portsmouth won 2-0 at Hull with only one shot on target and it didn’t come from Pompey (there were two own goals),” writes Eddy Reynolds. “Is this a record?”
Nope. Burnley have gone one (none? – Knowledge Ed) better. “I watched Fulham lose 2-1 at Burnley in January 2019,” writes Jon Gundry. “That Fulham lost was not a surprise. We haven’t won at Turf Moor since 1951. Even in a desperately poor season ending in relegation from the Premier League, it was a surprise to lose when Burnley did not have a shot on target. Fulham conceded two own goals by Joe Bryan and Denis Odoi. André Schürrle scored a cracker at the right end.”
Worthy of note is this from Mike Dunford, who recalls Southampton’s 6-0 smash-and-grab win at Wolves in 2007. “Memory serves that we had five shots on target. Mick McCarthy’s team were so unfortunate – and I speak as a Saints fan who saw it – that the home supporters applauded their team off. Has that ever happened in a bigger home defeat? And has anyone ever won by more goals in which every shot on target went in?”
Patrick Brennan has one, at least. “Luton beat Blackburn 3-2 on the last day of the 2019-20 season with one shot on target (a penalty) and two own goals,” he tweets. “If they hadn’t won they’d have gone down.”
“Arsenal have been beaten home and away by Manchester United and Chelsea,” noted Paul Brazier in March 2010. “Has any side become champions of England despite losing all four games against the teams in second and third place?”
In short, no. There have been a few examples of the champions losing three and drawing one, the most recent being Aston Villa in the 1980-81 season. They drew 1-1 at home to third-placed Arsenal, losing 2-0 at Highbury (the day they clinched the title), and lost both fixtures to second-placed Ipswich: 2-1 at Villa Park in mid-April and 1-0 at Portman Road.
Can you help?
“Wikipedia reliably informs me there are five clubs that Sam Allardyce has played for and managed: Limerick, Preston, Bolton, Sunderland and West Brom. Can any manager beat that?” asks David Skinner.
“In the Boxing Day match between Dover Athletic and Dagenham & Redbridge, the referee was James Durkin, son of former top-flight referee Paul, who officiated Dover Athletic v Cheltenham Town in the 1998 FA Trophy semi-final,” reports Alex Crane. “Are there any other instances of a father and son refereeing at the same ground at National League level or higher?”
“After an FA Cup tie on 1 February 1913, Burnley, then riding high in the Second Division, beat Midland League Gainsborough Trinity 4-1,” begins John Spooner. Trinity led until the last half hour, largely due to the efforts of goalkeeper Ronnie Sewell and his full-backs Cliff Jones and Sam Gunton. At full-time, Burnley made a bid to buy the trio en bloc. The deal was sealed by 6.20pm that evening. Has a similar instance of players being signed by the opposition at the final whistle happened since?” Or similar bulk buys?