Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the box: MNF - Martin Never Fails

By Billy Weir

They certainly saved the best to last as the final Monday Night Football of the season on Sky Sports was an absolute belter.

I'll hold my hands up here right away and pay thanks to the wonders of Sky + here as I was flicking between Liverpool's trip to Crystal Palace and watching the snooker over on BBC2 – and they say men can't multi-task.

The World Championships at the Crucible are no stranger to nerve-tingling, last-gasp come-backs that would have Lazarus nodding in approval, but although Mark Selby's turning of the tables (perhaps that's why he won?) on Ronnie O'Sullivan was nothing compared to what was happening at Selhurst Park.

Before the late drama there was the early knockabout session with presenter Ed Chamberlin, in very un-Sky-like fashion warning 'this will not be easy for the visitors.' Your uncle, Neville, couldn't have put it better.

Of course there was another Neville a bit closer at hand with Gary renewing hostilities with Jamie Carragher, the figureheads of two bitter opposing empires being brought together at the start of the season and the unlikeliest of odd couples has blossomed.

"I was never in a position like this as a player, so close to a title," began Jamie, only to be rudely interrupted by the noise of medals being poured out of a box onto a table.

Chamberlin, in no mood for appeasement, stirred the pot a little more, looking at Sunderland's own amazing great escape and poking gently at Jamie by asking 'didn't you say that the games in hand would only make their goal difference worse?'

I thought someone had brought a dolphin into the studio and was tickling it with a feather duster as a strange, high-pitched, giggling began and Jamie, sheepishly, or dolphinly, tried to justify his ill-chosen words.

"It looks stupid now and I think the biggest thing I've probably learnt in my first year at Sky is not to make predictions," he said, or not being caught off camera saying he'd love to smash something.

This allowed Sky the chance to show some of Jamie and Gary's best bits from the season and Mr BT Sport must have been chucking his remote at the telly as the best line-up in the business showed just how good they are.

He must have been green with envy, but not as peaky as Luis Suarez as we popped over to the warm-up where the Liverpool striker was decidedly off colour. Probably something he had eaten – a defender's arm, perhaps?

That was just a starter, the main course was served up to us by another deadly duo in Martin Tyler and Alan Smith, the latter no stranger to kicking Liverpool where it hurts in late horror shows.

With John Motson a mere caricature of the commentator he used to be, Barry Davies only now heard on celebrity shows with a sporting element in them, it means that Tyler is the grand-daddy of them all.

I'm of an age when the Big Match would hand over to a game in the north-west and Brian Moore would utter the immortal words – the pictures are from Granada, the commentator is Martin Tyler – and suddenly the world was good. You also had Gerry Harrison at Ipswich or Norwich, Gerald Sinstadt in Liverpool, Roger Tames in the north-east and my personal favourite, Huw Johns, in the Midlands.

What is different is that Tyler now stands out so much as the guv'nor that he even had his own catchphrase, rather than the collection of high-pitched, camp, oohs and aahs that now maketh a Motson commentary.

No match can begin without Tyler's say so.

"After seeing Manchester City come to their own city and knock them off the top of the table on Saturday, they've come south to try and regain the Premier League high ground this evening, It's Liverpool at Crystal Palace and it's liveeeeeeeeeee," he growled.

Even he and Smith struggled to be heard above the din though at the start, although that was quelled a little when Joe Allen headed Liverpool in front in the first-half, his first league goal for the club and Tyler laughed that 'he hasn't got a celebration in him.' Nor had I, and nipped off to the snooker.

I returned to hear Tyler reveal that 'no team has scored 90 goals or more and not won the title since 1966', but, thankfully, that was the only thing of footballing interest that can be recounted from that year. Get your money on England now for the World Cup, you heard it here first.

If you think that's a bold prediction it was nothing to Smith's as after goals two and three had shaken the Palace more than James Hewitt popping in to borrow a cup of sugar, soothsayer Smith provided this gem.

"We've seen far too many shocks down the years to take anything for granted," he warned, as we all wondered what Michael Thomas is up to these days, and I sloped off to Sheffield, via the TV, to resume snooker duties.

When I turned back, out of idle curiosity, all hell had broken loose, and Tyler was going ballistic – '3-0 up has become 3-2 for the title contenders – it's Gayle force for Palace' with striker, Dwight, on target.

As Steven Gerrard, now looking as green as Suarez, appeared on screen, there were calms words of reassurance from Smith for Reds fans.

"It's time for the captain to galvanise his troops and make sure they don't do anything silly now," he said, only someone forget to tell him.

Tyler wasn't listening, frantically leafing through his Big Boy's Book of Weather-based Puns.

"The wind of change has come from Gayle in this match and feeling the force are Liverpool," he added and then went into over-drive as 3-2 became 3-3.

"It's an amazing night at Selhurst Park. Liverpool have caved in. Suddenly it has become Dwight's Night. What was all right on the night has become all wrong," he said, as we waited for Denis Norden to appear.

There was still time for more drama, Moses appearing to try and find a path through the Red sea of despair and deliver his people to the promised land but unfortunately it was Victor in a pair of sandals and he blew it.

"Crystal Palace's comeback has thwarted Liverpool here – Dwight Gayle came on to devastating effect," as Tyler's nurses doubled his Horlicks dose in trepidation of the giddy state he would be in on returning to the home he shares with Motty and Davies.

It was back to the studio and very differing reactions, Jamie looking like he was about to cry, Gary desperately trying not to laugh, and they proceeded to put the boot in, which was really the message that Brendan Rodgers should have given his men.

"The final Monday Night Football of the season and for so long it looked so good for Liverpool but in the end it ended in heartbreak," concluded Ed, as Martin climbed into his Austin Maxi, stuck Crystal Gayle into the eight track and the strains of Don't It Make My Red Eyes Blue filled the South London night air.

Belfast Telegraph


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