Sunday, 30 September 2012

The alternative Sunday paper..

There's only one place to start dissecting yesterday's action, and that place is Old Trafford, where Tottenham grabbed their first league win at the home of Man United for 23 years. It's fair to say that Andre Villas-Boas' reign as Spurs manager, having begun to gather momentum since those awkward opening encounters, has just slipped into a high gear. It's only one match, but the mental effect of claiming such a prized scalp can only benefit all concerned.

A key criticism of AVB's ill-fated period in charge of Chelsea was his poor record against the league's bigger sides. He certainly never managed an away win against any of the superpowers. Yesterday's 3-2 win puts that issue to bed. Admittedly, the ease with which the likes of Lennon and Bale waltzed through the United defence is not befitting of a club aiming to win back their title from the noisy neighbours. Still, the counter-attacking verve shown by Spurs in that first-half was well-deserving of all three points.

The main cause for concern in Sir Alex's post-match post-mortem would be the holes that his defence left - in particular Rio Ferdinand, whose inability to keep pace with Gareth Bale for the second goal will have given his boss food for thought ahead of the January transfer window. Many scoffed at the millions spent on Robin Van Persie when reinforcements were so desperately needed further back. Having said that, a midfield containing the ageing trio of Scholes, Giggs and Carrick is hardly likely to provide the most energetic or solid cover.

To add a touch of comedy to proceeedings, Sir Alex then had the gall to complain about the amount of time added on at the end of the game. Apparently four minutes wasn't enough. We all have a good laugh about 'Fergie time' but he verges on self-parody with this comment.

I quote, "It denies you a proper chance to win a football match." Where to start!? Well first of all, Spurs seemed to be able to win the match just fine. Also, one can't help but notice the liberal use of the word 'win'. Did he really think his team would score two goals in the time he claims that should have been added on? I suppose the man has been spoilt with late comebacks of that nature. I also suppose that he was merely deflecting criticism away from his side's sub-par performance. But hey, the man gives good soundbites - who am I to ignore them.

Moving on then, and the Brendan Rogers era is also looking much brighter this morning, after Liverpool's 5-2 win at Norwich, featuring a hat-trick from their main man Luis Suarez - a few other players even decided to pitch in at last. They also could potentially have had a sixth goal - if only someone other than the Uruguayan had been on the recieving end of that Leon Barnett challenge.

Edin Dzeko rescued Man City from dropping more points at Fulham, while boss Mancini attempted to paper over the gaping cracks in their title defence by claiming that the decisions are going against his side.

The one team where everything seems rosy in the garden (well maybe not John Terry) is Chelsea. A 2-1 win over Arsenal sent them three points clear, which is a hell of a lot at this early stage of the season. They benefited from some wayward shooting from Arsenal's Oliver Giroud - although it wasn't quite as easy as some were claiming, considering the widening angle and defender in his way.

As for Newcastle - Demba Ba again salvaged a point for his side with another two goals. The rest of Pardew's side better start turning up soon though, or this year's European sojourn will not be repeated next year. It's ok though - Pardew has eight years to get it right.

I wouldn't bet against Everton being this year's surprise package - but is it that much of a surprise? Three more points for them, and they climb to second.

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Not So Keen Anymore..

It's finally happened. Steve Kean has fallen on his own bluntest of swords, resigning as Blackburn boss after a turbulent 22 months in charge.

In truth this has been coming since the day he took office, and the inevitability was underlined by relegation from the Premier League earlier this year, and that laughable Shebby Singh press conference threatening him with the sack on the eve of the new Championship season filled the Sky Sports News 24-hour bulletins with worrying ease.

Any Seinfeld fans amongst these readers will no doubt see shades of George Costanza in Kean's steadfast refusal to quit. Even Costanza knew the game was up when he found the door to his office plastered over. One can only imagine when the penny dropped for Kean.

The decision he took can hardly come has a complete surprise, but the timing of it was somewhat unexpected. Earlier that same day he insisted that "positive talks" had been held with the board. Certain sections (probably the majority) of the Ewood Park fanbase would still call this outcome positive.

Rovers have been the butt of far too many jokes since the Venkys takeover, and while the target of most of fans hatred has been removed of its own volition, the board must now fear that they themselves will become the sole destination of dissent. Tim Sherwood is rumoured to be the man wanted to take Blackburn back to the Premier League.

Kean's successor will have an admittedly solid base to work from, and a strikeforce containing Jordan Rhodes and Nuno Gomes will not require much tweaking to score the required goals. However a greater sense of unity is surely required. Ironically the man to get this job done would probably be Sam Allardyce, the vanquished ex-boss whose sacking started this epic downward spiral. It has certainly be a couple of years to forget for those in blue and white.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Balls Of All Kinds. Also Cars.

The main football (if you can call it that) story of the week has revolved around John Terry and his racial court case. Sadly in 2012 this is the state that football finds itself in. Added to the Suarez/Evra insult/handshake debacle, it has been far from a stellar year in terms of promoting football as a sport worthy of the same respect as those represented at the Olympics.

For a start, there has been no consistency shown by the FA in the scales of their punishments. Terry, the former England captain, was handed a four-game ban and a £220,000 fine for his misdemeanour, despite having been found not guilty in a Crown Court. My understanding of the legal systems in the country lead me to believe that this means he was probably guilty (he even admitted making the remarks) but that it could not be proved beyond doubt that he meant them in an insulting or racist way.

Luis Suarez was last year also found guilty of racist abuse, but was banned for eight games - twice as long as Terry. To add to the confusion he was fined only £40,000 - much less than the Chelsea skipper. I, and many other football fans, would like to know the reasoning behind this. A large part of the sentencing system in this country is based on precedence. The FA may not have exactly the same authority - nor should it - but why does one person's punishment focus on his time on the pitch, but the other's on his pocket? I'm not suggesting any preferential treatment, as both could feel hard done by, but the FA should come under pressure to outline fixed punishments for racial abuse or risk further unpleasant headlines.

Back to happier, more relevant ground, and it was a successful week for most of the bigger names in the Capital One Cup (typed Carling Cup before swiftly realising my error). Only Man City will feel they let themselves down in their 4-2 defeat to Aston Villa - but then they have always had bigger fish to fry this season. That the competition's previous two winners are Liverpool and Birmingham shows its lack of importance.

On to cricket, and England's World Twenty20 defense is creaking worse than my gran's old attic floors. The mighty Afghans were swept aside initially, before India and West Indies threatened to spin England out of contention. Eoin Morgan is doing his best, but when he watches his openers stagger to 0-2 in the first over he must think to himself: if I wanted to be the one man in a one-man team I could have stayed with Ireland.

At the time of writing, the Ryder Cup was just getting underway - the scoring is pretty even so far, but we've already seen a magical chip from Rory McIlroy to set the course alight. As I write this sentence I am passing through Holywood on the train. If that's not a sign I don't know what is.

Finally, Formula One is currently making the headlines again. This writer loves wordy metaphors, and Lewis Hamilton's decision to leave McClaren for the Brawn-backed Mercedes is ripe for the picking. The 2008 world champion is about to find out what it's like to be a man who has decided to leave his wife for another woman but has to stick around for a week for his kid's birthday. Awkwardness awaits. It is hard to imagine team principal Martin Whitmarsh going all out now to help Hamilton win his second world title. It is very easy to imagine Jenson Button silently pumping his fist and whispering to himself, "I win."

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

New York, New York

At the fifth attempt, Andy Murray has finally cast aside the shadow of British male failure in Grand Slams. It only took 76 years. My own grandmother had only been alive for two years at the time of Fred Perry's Wimbledon success.

What was most impressive of all was the plucky Scot's mental fortitude throughout his epic five-set win over Novak Djokovic in the US Open final. When the Serb broke serve at the start of the fourth set, many would surely have predicted more British heartbreak, as the momentum had undoubtedly shifted. Where once Djokvoic had been ailing, he was now prospering and sensing blood with each powerful groundstroke.

Yet somehow Murray prevailed. You got the sense that with the match back in the balance the Brit lost his nerves. Those nerves had undoubtedly been present at 4-0 up in the second set, where he somehow contrived to allow Djokovic a double break-back. But also present in that second set was the guts and drive to drag himself over the line and take it 7-5. That pattern was to be repeated as a two-set lead became the most gut-wrenching of victories. If the win over Federer at the Olympics was a walk in the park, this was a swim against the mightiest of tides, as the Serb world number two is a fearsome competitor who never gave up.

A key part of Murray's undoubtedly personal triumph was the recognition that he couldn't do it alone. That he lacked the ruthlessness and self-confidence to go that one step further. Step forward Mr Ivan Lendl. Widely thought of as a shrewd move at the time of his appointment, the Czech legend added the extra 1% that was missing to Murray's already world-class game, and you wouldn't argue if his name was etched in very small print onto this year's US Open trophy.

So where to go from here? Well, repeated Grand Slam glory will have to wait until 2013, and the Australian Open in Adelaide. But before that Murray will want to put down a real marker at the season ending ATP Championships in London. He is yet to win one of these - should he do so it would undoubtedly be classed as Murray's 2012. With the following Grand Slam record - one win, one final, one semi-final and one quarter-final - coupled with Olympic Gold, we may yet see a dominance to rival that of Djokovic in 2011.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to catch up on my sleep. Well done Andy, you've finally silenced your critics.