Festive cheer in short supply: EPL best and worst

The quality of refereeing, defending and the lack of discipline was a feature of Boxing Day.

Referee Martin Atkinson, centre, shows Tottenham Hotspur's Jermaine Defoe, third left, the red card at Birmingham.
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Worst officiating

Martin Atkinson clearly received some new cards for Christmas as he was keen to show them off straight away.

The decision to dismiss Jermain Defoe for an apparent use of the elbow on James Collins during the first half of the match between Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur was ludicrous and the yellow card Atkinson awarded later to Alan Hutton was nearly as bad.

The fact that Defoe had not been booked this season cut little ice with Atkinson who clearly failed to appreciate that the England striker needed to use his arms to elevate his 5ft 5ins frame to even attempt to challenge the 6ft 1ins Collins.

Atkinson was lucky that Tottenham won the match. Otherwise he could have been on the receiving end of a rant from Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, in the post-match press conference. A sending off so early normally ruins a game but, on this occasion, it made for a more compelling spectacle. Atkinson, however, should take no credit for that.

Worst foresight

Karl Oyston, the Blackpool chairman, has won plaudits for his refusal to indulge agents, for his stance on capping the top salary at Bloomfield Road at a reported £10,000 (Dh56,600) a week and for his decision not to jeopardise the future of the club by spending the unexpected windfall of promotion to the Premier League on transfer fees.

However, Oyston short-changed Blackpool fans by not making provisions for the annual cold snap in England, which has been prolonged this winter. He said that installing undersoil heating was beyond the club's financial means, but Oyston could surely have taken other measures to ensure Blackpool's home games were not so severely disrupted by inclement weather.

Blackpool have now had three games called off in two weeks, and this will cause a fixture backlog that will stretch Ian Holloway's wafer-thin squad to the limit.

It is a sad state of affairs when Blackpool's game is called off yet the English non-league game between Woking and Havant & Waterlooville took place. The news yesterday that Blackpool will install undersoil heating in the summer is no help in the here and now.

Worst defending I

The beauty of the Premier League this season is its openness. There is a feeling that any team can spring an upset on their day.

That fact is evidenced by some of the results so far this season: Arsenal 2 West Bromwich Albion 3; Chelsea 0 Sunderland 3, Manchester City 1 Everton 2.

However, if you're going to take out a big-name team, you've got to start well, keep it tight at the back and give nothing away.

In other words, when you are facing a side that cost several hundred million pounds to assemble, make sure your goalkeeper does not pass the ball straight to Carlos Tevez 25 yards out with just 90 seconds of the game gone.

Newcastle United's Tim Krul did just that on Sunday. A matter of moments later, Manchester City had the ball in the back of the net and were on their way to victory.

Worst defending II

Before their trip across London to take on Fulham, West Ham United had managed just five goals in eight away games this season, a large reason why they were bottom of the table going into Sunday's round of matches.

So they must have been thanking their lucky stars as two of their strikes in the 3-1 away win at Craven Cottage were set up by Fulham players. First, midfielder Dickson Etuhu jabbed his leg at a lame cross and sent Carlton Cole, the Hammers forward, through on goal to make it 1-1. Later, Carlos Salcido's attempt to clear a long punt with his head succeeded only in cushioning the ball straight into Cole's path - 3-1 to West Ham.

Scoring is easy when the opposition are helping you out.

Worst discipline

Mario Balotelli, the obstreperous Italian, claims he does not know who Jack Wilshere, the teenage starage at Arsenal is, but he is certainly acquainting himself with the Premier League officials.

The former Inter Milan striker was relegated to the bench on Sunday after an underwhelming display against Everton and clearly failed to heed the warning from his manager, Roberto Mancini, about improving his attitude.

He was summoned on 84 minutes against Newcastle United to replace Carlos Tevez, the two-goal hero, and needed only 98 seconds to pick up his fourth yellow card in 10 appearances this season. Mancini urged Balotelli to be more consistent and he is certainly doing that, picking up yellow cards with regularity. At this rate, the gifted 20-year-old will finish the season with more cards than goals.