Outside the Box: We really must concede that defences are getting worse

 

The extraordinary fact that there was not a single goalless draw in any of the English or Scottish Leagues last weekend would seem to give credence to those Saturday- night rants by Alan Hansen about bad defending. Betting on both teams to score has certainly proved increasingly popular – and profitable – and the number of clean sheets is going down. Up until yesterday there had been 54 of them in 119 Premier League games, the lowest figure in the past 10 years at this stage of the season. Six years ago the figure was 82, and before that 79. Of the leading clubs, Manchester United have shown the sharpest decline, with only two blanks (against Wigan and Newcastle) from 12 League games, as opposed to six this time last year. There is an exception to most rules, and it will come as little consolation to Roberto Di Matteo in this of all weeks to learn that his apparently more adventurous team had actually kept the opposition scoreless twice as often (four times) as under Andre Villas-Boas a year ago. But all those were early in the season and there has been no such instance since September, the past 10 Chelsea games in all competitions costing 21 goals – and, it could be said, Di Matteo's job.

Delicate handling needed

Another regular Match of the Day talking point is whether a particular handling offence was deliberate (as Law 12 insists it must be for a free-kick or penalty to be awarded). This turns out to be the most vexing issue uncovered in a survey of leading coaches and managers by the League Managers Association in conjunction with their official performance partners Castrol. No fewer than 83 per cent wanted "further clarification" – even though the word "deliberate" would appear to be clear enough. Less surprisingly, the next greatest area of agreement (72 per cent) was for a decrease in the number of international friendlies, followed by disagreement with the current dates of transfer windows. More than 60 per cent are in favour of video technology for more than just goal-line decisions, and for referrals by referees during a game.

Mersey mercy mission

Everton's chairman, Bill Kenwright, once said (after Nick Barmby's move across Stanley Park) that the five worst words in the English language were "I want to join Liverpool". Imagine the feelings at the club last week as two leading Evertonians followed their manager in decamping to the Reds. The players concerned are England internationals Fara Williams (107 caps, 36 goals) and Natasha Dowie, the niece of Iain Dowie, who scored two goals in the women's FA Cup final win over Arsenal in 2010. Manager Mo Marley had already moved. Unlike Barmby in 2000, the trio can hardly claim to be switching to a bigger club, Liverpool Ladies having just finished bottom of the FA Women's Super League while Everton came third. The Everton and England player Jill Scott said after Williams's departure: "I wish her all the best for the future, but I've already told her we can't be friends any more."

Tinkle tinkle big star

Things are looking up and shooting up at Port Vale, where in the week that new owners took the club out of administration, a statue of local hero Roy Sproson has finally been unveiled 11 years after it was first mooted. Roy, his brother Jess and nephew Phil are all honoured on the plinth, having made 1,400 appearances between them for the Valiants. Joyce Sproson, Roy's widow (he died in 1997) did the unveiling, telling the crowd rather unexpectedly: "Roy always said the only thing he'd get his name on was a urinal." But the best-received line came from the current Vale manager, Micky Adams, when asked by the compere whether Roy would get in his team. "I'm sure he would – he was a man mountain," he said, looking up at the sheer size of the 16ft bronze statue, before adding: "But he'd definitely get in Tony Pulis's team at Stoke City."

s.tongue@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/@stevetongue

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