There is a portion of the pitch in this corner of north London that keeps claiming Irishmen like the Bermuda Triangle swallows light aircraft. Last week it was Robbie Keane, red-carded for a poor tackle against Birmingham; this time it was the Manchester City midfielder Stephen Ireland who was dismissed for a show of studs at Lee Young-Pyo on virtually the same piece of turf.
Ireland’s 82nd-minute ejection cost City as within a minute substitute Jermain Defoe had won the game with his first Premier League goal of the season
In truth, justice was done. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side would have reclaimed a Champions League spot with a draw and that would have been a travesty given the paucity of their attacking play. Their first effort on target took an hour to arrive, although it did bring them level.
Ireland, who gained an odd notoriety earlier in the season for falsely declaring the death of both grand-mothers, now joins Keane on the banned list. He can sit and watch the next three games, either from the stands or at home in his Superman underpants.
As soon as he was back in the dressing room Eriksson called over the Corkman to watch the incident on a laptop and it was quickly concluded that referee Mark Halsey had made the correct call. “When we saw it together, we said: ‘Well, well.’ There was nothing more to say,” he said.
Pascal Chimbonda’s opener in first-half stoppage time appeared to be less valid as the Frenchman was not only offside but also used an arm to deflect Dimitar Berbatov’s clever flick past goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson. Indeed, the free-kick Berbatov had won in the first place had looked a soft award but one thing was clear — Berbatov’s marker-losing movement to meet Jermaine Jenas’s free-kick was top-class.
Eriksson admitted he could not say whether Halsey had blundered. “Everything went so quickly,” he said. “From the bench you can’t say if it is handball or offside but the reaction of my players was very strong. But it was difficult for the referee to see and referees in this country are honest. They always try to do their best.”
The former England manager sent on striker Rolando Bianchi just before the hour mark and within three minutes the Italian had peeled away from marker Younes Kaboul to power home an equaliser from Martin Petrov’s corner. City at last looked like they might mount regular assaults on Paul Robinson’s goal but when Ireland was too reckless in his challenge on Lee, Defoe made City pay, lashing past Isaksson after a shot from Steed Malbranque had smacked back off a post. The result allowed Tottenham manager Juande Ramos to taste league victory for only the second time since replacing Martin Jol and the Londoners moved up to a more healthy-looking 13th place.
Robinson 6, Chimbonda 7, Dawson 7, Kaboul 6, Lee 6, Lennon 6 (Boateng 68, 5), Zokora 6, Jenas 7, Malbranque 7, Berbatov 8 (Tainio 90), Bent 5 (Defoe 76, 7).
Isaksson 7, Corluka 7, Richards 7, Dunne 7, Garrido 5, Gelson 6, Etuhu 6 (Bianchi 58, 7), Johnson 6, Ireland 5, Petrov 6, Vassell 5 (Geovanni 84, 4).
Hart, Sun, Onuoha.
Mark Halsey (Lancashire) 6: About as alert as the City defence for Chimbonda’s goal — the defender used an arm. Ireland red card appeared to be a fair call though.
*** Not a great advert for the top flight — both sides were guilty of being far too frantic far too often.