Saturday, 26 October 2013

Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal (Arteta 47' (pen), Giroud, 87')

Ian Holloway is one of football's more passionate individuals. Strange then, that the first match after his resignation saw his old Crystal Palace side deliver one of their more energetic performances of the season. Perhaps that in itself is a mark of how burnt out he had become, that his side no longer bore that hallmark.

Against Arsenal however, you need more than passion and energy. Arsene Wenger's men are masters at sitting back, lulling you into a false sense of security, then leave you dumbfound with a ten-second array of tricks and treats. Their second goal today was one of those moments. With Palace pushing forward, attempting to press home their man advantage, gaps were left, and Aaron Ramsey's beautifully weighted cross was headed home by Oliver Giroud with the force and aplomb that betrayed the feelings of a man in the form of his life, secure in the knowledge that he is currently Wenger's go-to man up front.

Keith Millen, Palace's caretaker manager, sent his side out determined to nullify an Arsenal side that saw the return of both Mathieu Flamini and Santi Cazorla, and for the first quarter of an hour, despite hardly touching the ball, he would have been satisfied that their goalkeeper was rarely in possession either.

Flamini, making his return after concussion, lasted only eight of those minutes before limping off with some sort of groin complaint. He seemed to leave his spirit on the pitch however, as Arsenal continued to dominate the midfield in those early exchanges. Serge Gnabry gave more thrust going forward, while Ramsey and Mikel Arteta sat back, blunting Palace's energetic forays forward.

Those forays did become more frequent however as the half wore on - the home side's confidence growing, with Marouane Chamakh putting himself about impressively against his former club, with a couple of decent efforts and a poorly timed free-header attempt showing Palace's growing influence in the game.

The turning point arrived right after the break. In a similar fashion to Monday night's meltdown against Fulham, a moment of madness from Adlene Guedioura to chop down Gnabry allowed Arteta to slam home a well-taken penalty, and Arsenal were well on their way to another easy three points.

Or so they perhaps thought. Chamakh again causing problems; Arteta went from hero to zero as he pulled back his ex-teammate. The red card he received was harsh, as it was by no means the clearest goalscoring opportunity you would ever see.

Buoyed by this sudden numerical advantage, Palace poured forward, and so began a phase of the match where Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny proved his class, keeping his side's nose in front. Two world-class flying saves from two thunderous right-footed shots - one from Joel Ward and the other from Mile Jedinak - were the standout attacking moments that had the stadium on their feet, and rightly so.

Palace were giving it everything, but after that you sensed that they had peaked. Arsenal had ridden out the storm - Giroud's header sealing the three points - and Wenger was content to see his side move five clear at the top of the table. After years of struggling to even reach the top four, could he be about to deliver one last great side to remember him by?

Crystal Palace

  • 01 Speroni
  • 02 Ward
  • 21 Moxey
  • 08 Dikgacoi
  • 19 Gabbidon
  • 27 Delaney
  • 46 Bannan (Gayle - 77' )
  • 15 Jedinak
  • 29 Chamakh
  • 31 Guédioura (Kébé - 72' )
  • 14 Thomas (Bolasie - 58' )


  • 03 Mariappa
  • 07 Bolasie
  • 12 O'Keefe
  • 13 Puncheon
  • 16 Gayle
  • 28 Kébé
  • 34 Price


  • 01 Szczesny
  • 03 Sagna
  • 28 Gibbs
  • 20 Flamini (Wilshere - 8' )
  • 04 Mertesacker
  • 06 Koscielny
  • 16 Ramsey
  • 08 Arteta Dismissed
  • 12 Giroud
  • 11 Özil
  • 19 Cazorla (Monreal - 72' )


  • 05 Vermaelen
  • 07 Rosicky
  • 10 Wilshere
  • 17 Monreal
  • 21 Fabianski
  • 23 Bendtner
  • 44 Gnabry (Wilshere - 69' )
Ref: Chris Foy
Att: 20,050

Monday, 21 October 2013

Crystal Palace 1-4 Fulham

Two wonder strikes and two corners undid Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park as Fulham came from behind to inflict a 4-1 defeat on their fellow strugglers.

Pajtim Kasami will be on all tomorrow's back pages, as the newly capped Swiss international all but dared his national coach Otmar Hitzfeld not to pick him for the World Cup Finals next summer.

His wonderful volleyed equaliser will surely be goal of the season by the time he makes his inevitable trip to Brazil, and it was a strike that lit Fulham's blue touchpaper right when they needed it most.

Ian Holloway's Palace side had made the more promising start, a fact underlined when Adrian Mariappa headed in from a looping and deflected Jason Puncheon cross in the seventh minute.

Yet for all Palace's early endeavour, they lacked the composure and quality on the ball to control the match, and it wasn't long before Fulham found their range.

Martin Jol's side had provided a somewhat limp opening quarter of an hour, but when Kasami chested down a long pass from Sascha Riether and expertly volleyed past Julian Speroni, Fulham were in dreamland, with the under pressure Jol thanking his lucky stars that owner Shahid Khan had picked this match to show his face.

The match petered out for a time, as both sets of fans got their breath back after what they had seen. There was one last sucker punch before the break however, as Steven Sidwell pounced on a blocked free-kick to volley a goal that in any other match would have been the pick of the bunch.

Two of the best goals Fulham will score this season had left Palace punch drunk at the break, and the Cottagers' superiority was confirmed in the second half.

Darren Bent almost made it three soon after the teams switched sides, but Speroni's outstretched leg merely delayed the inevitable. From the resulting corner, Dimitar Berbatov outmuscled Palace's earlier hero Marriapa to glance home Fulham's third of the night.

Five minutes later, another right-hand corner found Philippe Senderos at the back post, and Speroni's best attempts could not stop his volley from creeping over the line.

While Palace could not really be faulted in the first half - Fulham's two goals the definition of unstoppable - Holloway would have been disappointed with his side's lack of organisation at set pieces, as any hopes of remaining competitive in the game subsided.

To the Eagles' credit, they embodied the same never-say-die spirit of their manager, and Dwight Gayle had a consolation goal dubiously ruled offside midway through the second half.

In the end however, it was Kasami who nearly made it 5-1 as he channeled his undoubted confidence into an ambitious outside-of-the-left-boot shot, which Speroni did well to tip wide.

Dean Moxey nearly got in on the act at the other end with a good long-range effort, but the damage was already done.

Jol and Fulham may look back on Kasami's outrageous moment of brilliance as the moment that turned their season around. The Dutchman has been feeling the heat this year as form has dipped, but he still possesses a squad capable of brilliance. He must hope Scott Parker's return can add some brawn to a side occasionally lacking in a solid engine room.

For Palace, a seventh defeat in eight league games spells danger. Holloway was much-maligned by some observers for his gung-ho style at Blackpool, but a more conservative approach at Palace with an admittedly inferior squad looks like resulting in the same outcome of relegation, although in today's panic culture, he sadly may not even survive to see the drop.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Irish League round up

Linfield's seven-match winning run was ended as Crusaders held them to a 0-0 draw at Windsor Park. However, results elsewhere meant they increased their lead to four points at the top of the league.

This is a welcome turn around in fortunes for the Blues, after a poor start of two points from four games.

Crusaders were reduced to ten men after the 72nd minute sending-off of Declan Caddell, but lie joint second with Glenavon after a solid start to the season.

Elsewhere, Ards returned to their home-from-home of Clandeboye Park with a bang and a third win of the season, beating title challengers Portadown 3-1 - although they remain bottom of the table on goal difference.

Fellow newly promoted outfit Warrenpoint also can leave this weekend with their head held high, after coming close to shocking the champions Cliftonville. Martin Murray salvaged a late 1-1 draw at Solitude as the home side's title defence continues to falter.

Dungannon fell to a third straight defeat, while Ballymena secured a first away win in seven attempts as they beat the Swifts 3-2 in the rain at Stangmore Park.

Glentoran made it three wins on the spin as they remain in the top six with a 3-1 win at Coleraine, but Eddie Patterson will not be satisfied as they fix their eyes on rivals Linfield - five points above them in top spot.

On Friday, Ballinamallard's topsy-turvy season continued with a 3-2 win at Glenavon, but like last season, the Fermanagh side look to be in no danger of relegation.

West Ham 1-3 Manchester City

A Sergio Aguero-inspired Manchester City outclassed West Ham to record their first away league win of the season.

A clinical fnish from Aguero after 16 minutes set City on their way, before he doubled his account six minutes after the break with a free header from David Silva's free-kick.

Ricardo Vaz Te sparked a West Ham fightback with a well-executed finish, but Silva's thumping strike sealed the points late on.

Most of the pre-match talk was of West Ham's continuing lack of strikers, with the returning Carlton Cole confined to the bench for the 90 minutes, and the progress of the youngster Ravel Morrison.

However, a combination of Aguero, Silva, and some poor defending cost the Hammers all three points as Man City moved up to fourth in the table.

Manuel Pellegrini's side settled quicker, taking control of the middle of the park, setting the tempo without creating many clear-cut opportunities early on.

Aguero soon left his first mark on the contest however, and sped clear to finish off a well-worked move after 16 minutes.

The half went on with several more City opportunities going begging, and West Ham struggling to impose themselves.

After the break, Aguero doubled his tally after some woeful Hammers defending, finding himself unmarked from a Silva free-kick.

Sam Allardyce had clearly urged his side to up the tempo however, and West Ham soon fought back. Good work from wonderkid Ravel Morrison allowed Vaz Te to hook the ball over Joe Hart in the 58th minute.

West Ham's lack of an out-and-out striker was telling though, with the likes of Noble and Nolan not able to fully fill the gap left by an injured Andy Carroll and an unfit Cole.

City eventually finished off a spirited home side with Aguero turning provider for Silva with a lovely backheel, before Silva's unstoppable effort into the top corner.

It was a welcome victorious away day for Pellegrini as his side kept up the pressure on the top sides.

  • 22 Jääskeläinen
  • 20 Demel (O'Brien - 65' )
  • 08 Rat
  • 16 Noble
  • 05 Tomkins
  • 02 Reid
  • 23 Downing
  • 04 Nolan Booked (Petric - 83' )
  • 21 Diamé
  • 15 Morrison
  • 12 Vaz Te (Jarvis - 65' ) 


  • 01 Hart
  • 02 Richards
  • 22 Clichy Booked
  • 42 Yaya Touré
  • 14 Javi García
  • 33 Nastasic
  • 08 Nasri (Milner - 74' )
  • 25 Fernandinho
  • 16 Agüero (Jovetic - 82' )
  • 09 Negredo (Kolarov - 66' )
  • 21 Silva Booked

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

England 2-0 Poland

'Look at him go,' exclaimed one particularly fawning co-commentator to describe Andros Townsend. It was another stirring performance from the young man, but it was the more experienced pair of Wayne Rooney and captain Steven Gerrard who sealed England's passage to Rio.

It was a nervy night at Wembley, with Poland settling the quicker, but Rooney's 41st minute header and Gerrard's 88th minute goal rounded off two halves of football that unfolded in similar manners.

England were early on proving susceptible to fast counter attacks, with the central pairing of Gerrard and Michael Carrick slow at getting back occasionally and after a relatively uneventful opening 15 minutes Waldemar Sobota hit a warning shot for England to tighten up with an effort that under-pressure keeper Joe Hart saw wide at his near post.

Eight minutes later Dortmund hotshot Robert Lewandowski came even closer with a shot that he pulled just wide, and perhaps might have slotted home had he been draped in his club colours.

England's newest starlet Townsend however was finding plenty of space down the right-hand side and was injecting the home side's attacks with some much-needed vigour and trickery.

The Spurs winger gave Wojciech Szczesny his first real scare in the Poland goal around 25 minutes in with a wonderful curling effort after he cut inside. Townsend hit the bar, and Daniel Sturridge forced a good save from the follow-up.

Everton left-back Leighton Baines was getting even more space down the opposite flank, and also proved useful with his customary set plays - a corner of his gave Daniel Welbeck an opportunity from six yards which the Man United man spurned.

Wayne Rooney also was proving a menace, as he forced another good save from the Arsenal keeper Szczesny.

Baines and Rooney were not to be denied however, as a pinpoint delivery from one of Baines' many forays forward gave Rooney the chance to head home a priceless goal as England got the goal their most recent efforts had deserved.

Just on half time Sobota had a tight offside decision go against him as he thought he had levelled Poland up.

The second half followed a similar trajectory with Poland putting some early pressure on the England goal. Lewandowski almost gobbled up Poland's best chance of the match on the hour mark as he lost Gary Cahill, forcing Hart to rush out and make himself big - sticking out a valuable arm to protect England's lead.

Again however, Poland's influence on the game waned and England took back control. Rooney and Sturridge both forced good saves from Szczcesny.

Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere and James Milner were all brought on as Roy Hodgson looked to push on and get a second goal.

That second goal arrived as Gerrard fought his way past a couple of defenders on one of his typical bursts forward to dink the ball over the on-rushing Sczczseny.

The final whistle brought relief all round - Ukraine's expected 8-0 trouncing of San Marino meant that only a win would do for England if they wanted automatic qualification. That win came in relative comfort, the group leaders remaining unbeaten.

England: Hart, Smalling, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Carrick (Lampard, 71), Gerrard, Townsend (Milner, 86), Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge (Wilshere, 82). Unused subs: Ruddy, Jones, Gibbs, Barkley, Defoe, Sterling, Lambert, Forster.

Poland: Szczesny, Wojtkowiak, Jedrzejczyk, Glik, Celeban, Blaszczykowski, Mierzejewski (Zielinski, 75), Krychowiak, Sobota (Peszko 65), Mariusz Lewandowski (Klich, 45), Robert Lewandowski. Unused subs: Boruc, Wasilewski, Jodlowiec, Polanski, Wawrzyniak, Sobiech, Rzezniczak, Fabianski.

Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)

England's latest D-Day.

With real football taking a back seat to the endless home nation hand-wringing that is an international break, Roy Hodgson as I write is attempting to avoid joining the ranks of Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren, two former England managers who fancied their respective summers putting their feet up.

Another 4-1 win against the Poles will no doubt prompt a media frenzy, and awake previously sleeping expectations of a successful World Cup campaign in Rio. What was once an uninspired bunch of plodders being led by a soporific old gent will become a tight-knit bunch of sweat-bleeding lion-taming warriors being led to war by the calming voice of experience. That's certainly how it worked in the Sven era anyway - yet a series of wake-up calls on the field and the much maligned world rankings have given the country a sense of humility, and most importantly perspective.

Certainly, England would not swap with any of their fellow home nations right now - Scotland hoping to avoid finishing bottom of their group with a first home win of the campaign; Wales losing twice as many as they have won, despite the world-class talents of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, and the enigmatic managerial genius of Chris Coleman; and Northern Ireland passing themselves off the park with a string of powderpuff displays.

Things are comparitively rosy in the English country garden, and they presumably always will be with the obvious advantage in having a money-drenched top division. Despite being doomed to toil in the constant shadows of rank outsiderhood, what is the genuine chance of a team to match the technical prowess of the Spanish, German, French, Dutch, Portugese... and then there's the Africans and the small matter of South 'Messi' America.

Without turning into the English cricket team in terms of 'imported' talent, movement and technique will remain generations away, and it's best to love our national sides for what they are, not what they could be.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Glenavon 1-3 Linfield

Linfield moved top of the league on goal difference with a comfortable 3-1 win over Glenavon at Mourneview.

Seeking six wins on the spin, the Blues fell behind midway through the first half through a Guy Bates header, but the deficit did not reflect their dominance of the game.

Before the break, Carville slotted home the equaliser, followed by two goals in two second-half minutes from a Waterworth penalty and a Lowry header.

A big talking point of Linfield’s trip to Glenavon was William Murphy being named as captain against his former club.

Murphy and the rest of the Glenavon defence were busy in the first half as Linfield set up camp in the Lurgan Blues’ half.

Andy Waterworth had a rebound effort disallowed for offside in the eighth minute.

Murphy made his presence felt with a tackle on Peter Thompson which caused a fracas between the two captains as Michael Gault squared up to him, leaving David Jeffrey an unhappy man on the sidelines as he loudly appealed for action from the referee.

After 18 minutes, Michael Carville had long-range effort well tipped over by keeper John Connolly as Linfield began to exert some pressure. Soon after, Waterworth pulled a shot wide when in a good position after being put off by Glenavon’s defensive attentions.

Against the run of play however, Glenavon took the lead, with a fantastic looping Guy Bates header from an Andy McGrory right-wing cross in the 22nd minute.

Linfield merely came back stronger though, not to be denied a say in proceedings. A Peter Thompson effort was quickly blocked by Murphy to keep the Glenavon lead intact.

If Linfield were feeling the frustration, it was beginning to show, as captain Gault was perhaps lucky to get away with just a yellow card following a feisty challenge on Ciaran Martyn.

Andy Mcgrory almost got on the scoresheet himself after his earlier assist, with a cross-come-shot which nearly left Jonathan Tuffey stranded in the Linfield goals.

Linfield got the equaliser their play deserved when Waterworth got down the right-hand side, and cut a good ball across for Thompson to shoot. His shot was blocked but Carville was there to tap in.

Two minutes into the second half, Jamie Mulgrew was well through before a Martyn tackle stopped him in his tracks.

In the 50th minute, a more illegal challenge was rightly punished Linfield were awarded a penalty after Gault was brought down by Gareth McKeown in the box. Waterworth slotted home the resulting spot kick as the away side took the lead.

David Jeffrey had clearly asked his side to just carry on as they had been before the break, and a minute later the lead was extended as Lowry headed home a pinpoint Mulgrew cross.

In the 63rd minute, Lowry had a further sight of goal but his shot screwed well wide as Linfield pressed to extend their lead.

Gary Hamilton rolled the dice in the 64th minute with a double change, bringing himself on for David Rainey, and Kyle Neill on for Mark Patton.

Glenavon began to up the tempo after the changes, but Linfield remained dangerous on the counter attack.

Waterworth made a good burst down the right hand side in the 69th minute but had his shot well tipped wide by Connolly in the Glenavon goal.

Jamie Mulgrew was taken off for Aaron Burns in the 83rd minute as Linfield looked to rest the midfield man before the clash with the Glens on Tuesday.

The home fans began to stream for the exits as Glenavon failed to put the Linfield goal under any sustained pressure, although near the end, Bates dribbled his way down the right hand side, forcing a good save from Tuffey on his far post.

Linfield nearly got a fourth in stoppage time as Carville rattled the crossbar with a fine effort.
In the end it was a professional performance from Linfield as they took advantage of Portadown’s draw with Warrenpoint Town to top the table for the first time in two seasons.

Glenavon - Connelly, Murphy (c), Kilmartin, Bates, Rainey (sub Hamilton 64), Patton (sub Neill 64), McGrory, Marshall, McKeown, Martyn (sub Farren 78), Singleton.

Goals – Bates (22)

Subs not used – McCallion, Lyndsay.

Linfield - Tuffey, Mcvey, Gault (c), Waterworth, Lowry, Thompson, Carville, B.J. Burns, Ward, Mulgrew (sub A. Burns 83), Quinn.

Goals – Carville (39), Waterworth (pen, 50), Lowry (51)
Subs not used – Knowles, Tipton, Ervin, McCaul.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Can The Moyes Era Gather Some Momentum?

For the first time since 2007, Man United have failed to score in back-to-back league games. It is a fact that will not have gone unnoticed amongs the traditionalists in the Stretford End. The main question being - would this have happened with Fergie in charge?

A quick look at the history books, not very far back, would give David Moyes a bit of relief. As recently as Fergie's penultimate home match in charge, Chelsea took all three points from Old Trafford, and that was with an unwanted manager, not with the 'Special One', who many believe will take the power back from the recent Manchester duopoly.

The Liverpool record is even less of a concern. Before last season, Fergie went four league visits to Anfield without success. Anyone suggesting Moyes is under any serious pressure to start winning games is under pressure themselves to attract readers, although victory tomorrow, and a first home goal or three, against Crystal Palace will do a lot to ensure the Scot sleeps that bit easier as he eases his feet under the table.

What most concerns many United fans is Moyes' lack of European experience, with his only taste of Champions League action coming in Everton's qualifier defeat to Villarreal in 2005. His first true 'acid' test will come on Tuesday night, with Bayer Leverkusen visiting in the first round of action. Victory, and a convincing one, against Palace, will ensure the challenge is greeted with firm optimism by most of the naysayers.

Robin Van Persie, the much-adored top scorer of last season will be hoping to pick up where he left off against Swansea, while Marouane Fellani will finally make his long-awaited debut. Although the big Belgian does not provide the midfield wizardry so craved at Old Trafford, he does perhaps bring a bullying threat from set-pieces, and more bite to the midfield - which could give the flair players more chance to shine. Michael Carrick's eye for a pass should not be underestimated, and Shinji Kagawa's criminally under-used craft could be a route to victory, particularly against the weaker sides who come to park the bus.

Fortunately for the neutral, Ian Holloway seldom parks the bus, even against the big boys. It is a high-risk strategy which did not bear fruit over a full season at Blackpool, but very occasionally paid off in thrilling style, such as in the 2-1 win over an admittedly ailing Liverpool. Tomorrow lunchtime will provide some clue as to whether he has curbed his enthusiasm - yet as is often repeated, to invite pressure against the big boys is often merely an exercise in keeping the scoreline respectable.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Arsenal's Warchest

Arsenal's unleashing of their self-styled warchest turned out to be the equivalent of an accidental round of fire with the safety off, rather than a carefully planned multi-staged assault. With the transfer deadline fast approaching, a monstrous bid was tabled for a player whose position no outside observer thought needed strengthening.

The £42.4m arrival of Mezut Ozil raised many an eyebrow on transfer deadline, representing the most expensive incoming British transfer of the summer. This was also the biggest transfer Arsenal had ever been involved in - absolutely shattering the £15m paid for Andrei Arshavin. With Arsene Wenger coming under increased pressure after an opening-day 3-1 humbling at home to Aston Villa, the focus naturally came upon their transfer activity, with the side requiring maintenance beyond the freebie of Yaya Sonogo.

However, was attacking midfield really the area in most need of attention for such a sum? Sure, Mathieu Flamini's re-signing on a free will represent a shrewd accquisition, but that is the best Arsenal could attract as a midfield enforcer? A look across at White Hart Lane, or even further afield to the Etihad Stadium would suggest that thee are plenty of midfield generals available (or at least there were before AVB snapped them all up).

Wenger has always been the most complicated of judges of a player. Ivan Gazidis, the Arsenal chief executive, probably puts it best when he says, "He is pretty blind to price tags, he looks at what he sees with his eyes and makes judgements based on that, not on reputations and prices."

But in today's era of directors of football and increasingly impatient fans, Wenger is putting his reputation and managerial future on the line by only trusting those instincts of his.

His apparent ignorance of central defence, which has never truly convinced since the departures of both Kolo Toure and then Gael Clichy, threatens to dwarf any magic at the other end of the park. Jack Wilshere, Ozil, Theo Walcott, and Santi Carzola provide a fearsome supply line of tricks and goals, yet if one of their moves breaks down and Flamini is either out-of-form or injured, what happens then? Counter-attack city, my friend. The defence needs a leader, an experienced head to gather round, not to muddle around and grow together as a group. By the time their flaws are ironed out, Arsenal may already have surrendered their top four spot.

As far as their front-line goes, well Oliver Giroud scored the vital goal in the North London derby, yet question marks remain over his consistency. Perhaps with Ozil's arrival, now is Walcott's time to finally prove his worth as the frontline goalscorer he so desperately craves to be. The nagging suspiscion remains however, that a reliable replacement for Robin Van Persie would have been a better use of the Ozil money.

The future does look bright at Arsenal. However, the brightness, as ever of late remains slightly hazy. The Gunners look set to remain as easy as ever on the eye, but with that fatal soft centre gaping ever wider at the heart of their midfield and defence. I suppose someone has to provide the entertainment - but can Wenger provide the trophies his fans, and Ozil himself, expect?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Murky Waters Of The Tyne.

The bell for round two was sounded on Monday evening, taking the form of a referee’s whistle. This season threatened to be more of the same for Newcastle before a ball had even been kicked, with a summer of unsatisfactory transfer (in)activity behind them.

Within 45 minutes at the Etihad Stadium, two goals down and a man light, the Magpies were on the ropes, already struggling for breath, looking to their corner for inspiration. They could have been forgiven for wondering exactly who to turn to. Alan Pardew brought smiles to the faces of players and fans alike with a stunning first full season in charge, but lately has been giving the impression of a joyless puppet, as the walls close in around him.

Joe Kinnear was brought in to help the boss with transfers, yet the only addition to the squad has been the on-loan signing of a player, Loic Remy, who Newcastle nearly signed in January. Oh, and since then he has become embroiled in controversial off-the-pitch legal stew. Valid questions can be asked about his temperament, but his ability and strike-rate for another struggling side in QPR cannot be denied.

The summer has mainly seen the dream team of Pardew and Kinnear making noises about possible signings, with ‘getting them over the line’ being the buzz phrase of choice. Well as things stand, getting the ball over one line and keeping it from crossing another are both proving troublesome. With Steven Taylor banned for three games, and Santon remaining inexplicably injured, Mike Williamson is within touching distance of game time, an outcome that will leave many heads in hands.

To get the season on the right track, and avoid a relegation scrap, many things are required. Unfortunately, a change of manager (and director of football for that matter) should be high on the agenda, as even that would lead to better performances from a group of players that have lost their motivation, their drive, and pride for the shirt, if it ever existed in the first place for the Frenchmen.

Next, is a replacement for Yohan Cabaye, who, while immensely talented, is obviously unhappy on Tyneside. A winger, a forward, and another centre-back are also needed, before anyone else even leaves. One thing is for sure – Cabaye is what attracted a lot of the better French players to the club. With his departure, many will follow.

With home games against West Ham and Fulham to come, four points are a minimum requirement for anyone looking to claim Newcastle are heading in the right direction. A small percentage of Newcastle fans will doubtlessly be hoping for a complete implosion in the next couple of weeks in order to rid themselves of the unholy trinity, but one would hope the eleven that takes the field will retain a decent level of support, or the club may find itself in a relegation tailspin that no manager can reverse.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

How to Ward Off Count Suarez

Luis Suarez, having revealed himself to be an unlikely rival to Edward and Bella in the 'most popular vampire' stakes, will next be striking at Newcastle's home, St James' Park. This being an occasion with many thousands of people attending, will be the perfect chance for this particular day-vampire to continue his old-fashioned brand of retribution on society.

All hope is of course not lost. There are measures dating back centuries for people wishing to rid their midst of the neck-guzzling enemy.

Rob Elliott in the Newcastle goal would be well-advised to decorate his posts with branches of wild rose and hawthorn plant. Or, to the horror of any nearby stewards and camera-men, garlic. Such a devise would ideally send Suarez scurrying back to his Anfield hideout. Human safety aside, Newcastle's hopes of securing a surely relegation-banishing three points would be boosted no end.

Alan Pardew could also hang a mirror facing outwards from the Liverpool changing room door. Vampires are said in some cultures to not have a soul, and the lack of shadow, or reflection from Suarez will scare him off.

One other method of vampire protection is quite simple - do not invite them into your home. However, Mike Ashley the Newcastle owner already made this mistake by permitting the Uruguayan on the premises during last season's 2-0 win for the Toon. Now he may come and go as he pleases.

Should these methods prove unsuccessful, there are many methods of destruction. However, with this particular author unwilling to be seen to be encouraging any criminal activity, you will have to use your imaginations and do your own research!

With Suarez now having been involved in two seperate biting incidents on a football pitch, the Magpies would be forgiven for wearing a bit more neck-protecting headwear than normal. 

They may also have concerns about how they will protect themselves in a footballing sense against the soulless South American, as they continue to struggle against another relegation. Defeat on Saturday may prove another stake to the heart of their top-flight soul, and they've been looking rather pale for awhile now.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Why Reading may have been wrong to sack McDermott

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Allow me to present you some of these statistics. Brian McDermott's somewhat surprising sacking as Reading manager yesterday again threw up the debate on whether there are too many irresponsible owners and chairman in Premier League football these days.

As I write, Reading are 19th, four points from safety, and with nine games to save their skins. While I would certainly have chosen them as the first team to go down, I never imagined the boss would get the chop. As many have already commented, McDermott performed miracles to even get the Royals this far - and they certainly haven't disgraced themselves in the top division.

What this blog is about though, is whether sacking the manager at this stage ever improves a team's position.

My own personal logic would dictate that once the January transfer window is out of the way, it is harder for a new manager to make changes, and that any improvements made can only be psychological - the 'honeymoon period'.

So here we go - in the ten years since the transfer window was introduced, let's see whether rash late-season managerial decisions ever help the league position. All sackings (and sackings only, not resignations) will be included, from February onwards.

2003 - Terry Venables (Leeds) - 15th/15th NO
            Jean Tigana (Fulham - 15th/14th YES

2004 - No sackings after January

2005 - Kevin Keegan (Man City) - 12th/8th YES

2006 - Graeme Souness (Newcastle)- 15th/7th YES
           Mick McCarthy (Sunderland) - 20th/20th NO

2007 - Chris Coleman (Fulham) - 15th/16th NO

2008 - No sackings after January (Mind you, there were eight managerial changes between the start of the season and Allardyce leaving Newcastle in January, including seven sackings... panic stations!)

2009 - Tony Adams (Portsmouth) -  16th/14th YES
           Felipe Scolari (Chelsea) - 4th/3rd YES
2010 - Phil Brown (Hull) - 19th/19th NO

2011 - Roberto Di Matteo (West Brom) - 16th/11th YES

2012 - Mick McCarthy (Wolves) - 18th/20th NO
           Andres Villas-Boas (Chelsea) - 5th/6th NO

So on 12 occasions in the last ten years, chairmen have decided to remove their managers, giving new incumbents no chance to make their own personnel changes. Does it work?

On the face of it, it seems to be an equal split. In six out of 12 scenarios, the league position was improved. Glenn Roeder, Guus Hiddink, and Stuart Pearce proving late season miracle workers at Newcastle, Chelsea, and Man City.

When dealing with the worst relegation concerns however, changing the guard has historically had no effect. Twice the departing manager has been Mick McCarthy. His Sunderland side were down anyway, and went on to become statistically the worst side in Premier League history. Wolves had more of a fighting chance, but Terry Connor blew it, managing no wins.

Ian Dowie had a similarly fruitless attempt at reviving Phil Brown's sinking Hull.

So, Mr Anton Zingarevich faces a challenging task in replacing Brian McDermott. Not one chairman of a team in the relegation zone has sacked their manager after the transfer window and escaped relegation. In each instance, they have been dismissing the manager that got them into the Premier League in the first place.

So late on in the season, with no new signings on the horizon, it is perhaps best to plan for bouncing back. Who better to do that than the man with proven success in that area? If Reading buck the trend, perhaps the men upstairs will get some credit. For now, they will earn the contempt they deserve.


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Night At The Opera

Grand larceny may have long been abolished as a crime in the UK, but it appears everyone associated with Manchester United not only want it restored, but the penalty increased to hanging. A quick trawl through the murky depths of the BBC comments section revealed one particular fan urging his fellow aggrieved to make referee Cuneyt Cakir's life a misery forever and ever more.

For anyone who blacked out around 7.30 last night from the all the pre-match excitement, here is an action replay of the incident in question, where United's Portugese winger Nani stuck a few studs in Alvaro Arbeloa:

While obviously a red card seems a harsh decision, and a yellow would normally suffice in the Premier League, we have to remember the context.

European referees have always been somewhat stricter, when it comes to applying the rules to the very letter. And the English myth of decisions never going the way of the visitors at Old Trafford can be put to bed, as United are just another quite big fish in a pond full of them - few bigger than Real Madrid.

My own take on the situation - the ball was not in a dangerous area of the pitch and there was no need for Nani's boot to be that high. He didn't get the ball and his studs made contact with the opponent. As soon as your studs start showing in a key European encounter such as this, you are asking for trouble. Man United can consider themselves unlucky to be out - the ten minutes after the sending off are when they were cut open with the most ease.

BUT. The vitriol that has poured from the United camp since smacks of bad sportsmanship. Rio Ferdinand's aggressive clapping in the face of the officials at the final whistle flies in the face of the 'Respect' campaign. Yes, emotions run high in such a scenario.. but I wonder whether he even saw the incident.

Despite all I have written, would I give a red card for the tackle? The answer would be no, but I could understand why a red was given. Cakir was a very brave man. It was hardly in the league of incorrectly disallowed goals, or a missed offside. No mistakes were made. It is a matter of interpretation, and I have seen far more clear-cut decisions. I guess the only difference is that ITV's beloved Manchester United have been knocked out as a result, and 'that night in Barcelona' can no longer be wheeled out.

Roy Keane may have been looking for a fight in the ITV studios, and looked ready to spontaneously combust if anyone dared to question his opinion in the wake of the match, but he had a point. In no way was it a definite red as he claimed, but the challenge could certainly be deemed to be dangerous within reason. It is not the outrageous miscarriage of justice that the Old Trafford PR machine would like us to believe.

It could even be argued that the controversial decisions were evened out five minutes later. Rafael's clearance against Varane's header had more than a hint of handball about it. Sure, it maybe wasn't intentional, but it stopped a goal, and his arm shouldn't have been in that position. Had that penalty been given, it would've been a certain red card.

On to the action itself, and it is hard to escape the suspicion that the red card changed the game. Man United were containing Madrid quite professionally, but Jose Mourinho earnt his stripes by sending on Modric in place of Arbeloa. He may even have been trying to spare Arbeloa a possible retribution tackle. Whatever the logic behind the decision, Modric's equalizer was wonderful.

With ten men, United looked all at sea - unable to cope with Real attacks. Ronaldo's winner was as inevitable as Fergie sending Rooney on to try and rescue the game - which he couldn't do.

The wait to replicate that fantastic 1999 treble will go on then - as will United's season. Ironically, their European exit may have been the final nail in the coffin of City's own title chances. Fergie's boys were already coping quite well with the rotation required to juggle Europe and the league. Now they can take it easy, with no unwelcome long trips away.

That will be of no consolation to the Old Trafford thousands who trudged away dripping with despair and hurt. As far as the playing staff goes, any burning injustice they feel would do well to go into next season's campaign. Fergie's team talks will be easy next season - 'You should have gone on to win last year, make sure of it yourself this time around.' For now though, it's all a bit sour grapes.