The international break arrives at the right time for Stoke City. Two weeks to take stock and for the new players to train together and prepare for the challenges ahead. The performance at Chelsea had some positive points. We got some much needed luck when Lampard wasted his penalty. After going behind we stayed strong together and the floodgate remained locked. Whelan’s long shot was nearly one of the goals of the season. It’s disappointing that after grafting so hard to stay in the game we clumsily gifted them the decisive penalty, it’s hard enough going to Stamford Bridge without helping them out. Jonesy and Walters looks as if they could become real stars for us. Walters has shown quick feet in the box and can give our attacking play an extra dimension. Only three games played but an encouraging start for him. Overall on Saturday we showed resilience and if we continue as we have in the last game and a half we will soon get some points on the board. But with two home games to come we really do have the chance to get points on the board…. and that chance mustn’t be wasted.
It occured to me the other day that Tony Pulis has spent more time managing Stoke than anyone since the great Tony Waddington. In November it’ll be eight years since his first dugout appearance at Walsall. We are a much different club than we were then. I, like many thousands of Stokies, love being in the Premier League. Long may we stay at football’s top table.
It’s amusing that after Manchester City’s masterful dismantling of Liverpool, they came down to earth with a reality induced bang against Sunderland. Wasting first half dominance and succumbing to a late late penalty is the kind of thing the Man Citeh of old would have done. The Tevez open goal miss was astounding! The ruthless winning mentality Mancini needs to instill is a quality money can’t buy…. however much you might have. Overturning a culture of hard luck stories and glorious failure is his biggest challenge. If he could spend a few million on some resilience and the knowledge his side could turn an even game into a winning one he’d do it in a shot.
Talking of big money takeovers, are QPR finally starting to justify the vast sums of money the club has at it’s disposal? For a while the only difference the high profile gold encrusted owners had made was Naomi Campbell in the directors boxes and extortionately high ticket prices. Elsewhere at Loftus Road, their late comeback at Derby suggests Neil Warnock may have instilled some of that resilience into his players. He might have to lend some to Mancini!
Barcelona have carried on where they left off last season. The effortless win over Racing Santander was as every bit as easy as the 3-0 scoreline suggests. Racing Santander held out for three lengthy minutes until Messi put his side ahead. It was game over from that stage. At 0-2 down they missed a penalty but they rarely looked capable of troubling Barcelona for sustained periods. The self proclaimed ‘Special one’ will be only too aware that the season has barely started and already his new team are two points behind their nemesis. Barcelona only lost once all last season so Mourinho won’t be allowed many more mishaps.
On Friday Brisbane Roar beat Wellington in a patient measured performance. Three games seven points and no goals conceded. Things are looking good. Another pleasing thing about the game here is that two players who dived at the weekend have been suspended by the FFA. (Football Federation of Australia) It’s a common sense measure that appropriately punishes cheats. It would be good to think other administrative bodies in the game could adopt the same rule for diving and implement it as swiftly and effectively as it has been here. Is that really such a pipe dream?
As a football fanatic and shameless football propogandist I can only look on with feint amused detachment at the Pakistan cricket match fixing scandal. I take no great pleasure in seeing a sport facing this scale of corruption (even a sport that isn’t football) but the pompous sanctimonious way in which the media swoon with mock horror at any level of inappropriate behaviour when it’s football related….and often refer to nurses wages in the process, is as melodramatic as it is empty. The way rugby is seen as a beacon of righteousness is especially nauseating. There have been times when a footballer has shown dissent on the pitch and some have shook their head and mentioned that it wouldn’t happen in rugby. This overlooks the ‘bloodgate’ scandal of last year. Or Lawrence Dallaglio’s drug scandal of 1999. Or the accusations of inappropriate behaviour made towards England’s team in New Zealand. I can’t and wouldn’t ever pretend football is a game of moral purity. But in the future it would be pleasing if we are spared the head shaking and the pretending to be shocked to the core from the press the next time a footballer’s ethical mishap is exposed.
There’s no question that Bale’s second was an impressive strike but, the point has to be made that Lennon being allowed to carry the ball unchecked was shoddy on our behalf. And for the first Collins was caught square and ballwatching as Bale ghosted in past him. Its going to be tough if we give sides that kind of help. Especially sides with the quality of Spurs. The second half we played well. Tuncay’s introduction added some much needed skill and our forward play got a new dimension but that header was a bad miss. When Jonesy returns and is fully fit hopefully he’ll put chances like that away with the minimum of fuss. After half time we took the game to Spurs and we were worth a point. The point we’d have got if the ref had given the goal we scored. It’s depressingly similar to Shawcross’ disallowed goal at home to Manchester Citeh last season. The ref was right next to the incident yet got it horribly wrong. That Huth fouled the keeper is irrelevant. If the ref had thought it was a foul he’d have immediately blown for a free kick. Chelsea next week. One good thing about going to Stamford Bridge in August is that we’ll get it over with. it’ll be an exercise in damage limitation so we have to hope we limitate it better than we did last time there! Barring a miracle next week it seems we’ll head into the international break with zero points. Obviously there’s a long long way to go and no need to panic. If Jonesy returns fit and we can show the same appetite we did in the second half against Spurs we should be OK. But we mustn’t forget to win games of football.
One of the fascinations of this season is to see how Jose Mourinho fares at Real Madrid. The club who regard style and panache as important to the culture of their club as their illustrious historical trophy haul. In choosing Mourinho they have effectively chosen a U turn. Mourinho’s brilliance is as a motivator and his tactical manoeuvring. His teams, as successful as they are, haven’t always played exhilarating thrilling football. The pragmatism and attention to detail being the cornerstones of his glittering career. Moving to Madrid is actually a masterstroke. His previous connections with Barcelona are now forgotten and there is animosoty between the self proclaimed special one and the club that was his football classroom. This will only help to endear him to the Bernebau. It’s known Real Madrid is a notorious managerial graveyard. If the internal politics are too much and he walks away he’ll probably be able to do so with reputation intact and will still be able to pick up a job at a European powerhouse. That Jose isn’t stupid!
**The debate about goal line technology rumbles on. Surely if it’s available it’s foolish not to use it. It’s unlike many topics of debate that arise that surround refereeing decisions in a game of football. For example, last week Joe Cole was sent off for Liverpool. It was my opinion that the red card was harsh and a yellow would suffice. However, mates I spoke with and looking at assorted internet message boards many felt it was a good decision by the ref and the sending off was fully justified. There are varying opinions and that is part of the soul of football. The difference between a situation like that and whether a ball crosses the line or not is that whether the ball crosses the line isn’t a subject of debate, it’s a matter of fact, and also the key factor in a match…. scoring a goal, or not as the case may be. In these days where lost points can lose a club millions, and to implement the change would be relatively straight forward, isn’t it prehistoric to refuse to accept it? Mr Blatter would be OK, he should think of the favours it could generate from the companies who want to get the contracts to put the equipment in place!
Talking of Blatter, how kind of him to visit England! We can hope he enjoyed beer and crisps at Downing Street. And Nick Clegg was appropriately ambassadorial is meeting him and his delegates. This visit is an important part of the bid, especially at this late stage. But where was the Prime Minister? It’s understandable that he wants time with his family but Prime Ministers don’t have holidays. Hosting the 2018 World Cup could be one of the biggest things in the history of England. It reaches parts of the nation the Olympics can’t. The big cheeses of FIFA have egos the size of Heathrow airport. Hopefully the decisive factor won’t be that Vladimir Putin went to meet them last week.
It’s pleasing that Brisbane Roar have made a healthy start to the A league season. A win and a draw is a vast improvement on last seasons lame capitulation. Some stylish football has been played too which is an important factor in Australia. The league here is a huge marketing exercise to generate interest in the game of football. It’ll be more pleasing if Brisbane’s enterprising start can be maintained. The politics of football here can be overwhelming. Hopefully we, the people of Brisbane, can focus on the pitch instead of the meeting rooms. Home to Wellington Friday night!
** The bit about goal line technology was written before our incident against Spurs on Saturday. Honestly.
Welcome back football, my friend, my strength, my passion and of course, my eternal frustration! Over a month since the World Cup ended and Weekends are just inconsequential without you football my darling. A return to midnight (or 1am) kick offs then retiring to bed accompanied by liberal doses of fatigue and deflation.
And deflation is the key word to describe the lasting effect of our performance at Wolves. After Jonesy went off injured our players joined us in the deflation collective and allowed Wolves to get over the top of us and dominate. Our inability to keep the ball combined with our players bad decisions all over the pitch led to a very, well, deflating day for us. There can be no doubt at all the first goal we conceded was a brilliant piece of skill but we have to remember our part in it. Whitehead lunging into that challenge was foolish and unnecessary. Foley was actually moving away from goal when Dean steamed in. The physical approach is part of what we do but football is a bit of everything if and when it’s needed and flying in like that was just asking for trouble. The second goal may have been slightly unlucky for us but to cling to that for comfort after a performance as undisciplined as Saturday would be to hide our heads in the sand. Even when we got the goal back we rarely showed the required energy or imagination to drag an unlikely point out. In the last minute Rory had a throw that, to the euphoric gloating of the home fans, just skidded out of his hands… an appropriately embarassing end to a bleak day for Stoke City. Ah well, upwards and onwards. Easy games to come…. Spurs and Chelsea. Will we get a point on the board before the international break? It feels like we won’t BUT, this feeling of dread is nothing a win wouldn’t put right! I wonder when it’ll be.
Could it be that Capello’s comment that Beckham is too old was a joke that missed the mark? His lack of English skills render that a feasible possibility. If that’s an irrational suggestion it’s no more irrational than the media pandemonium that followed his comment. Saying that publicly before discussing it with Beckham was ill advised and clumsy but does it really merit the media examination that followed? The Telegraph declared that Capello had reached a “New low”. The News of the world solemnly announed that it’s been “One of the worst weeks of his (Beckham’s) soccer career”. Both melodramic statements which are more in line with Fabio Capello’s current lowly standing than any substantial rational coverage. The News of the World in particular should be aware of the ups and downs of Beckham’s career and that he’s had much worse weeks than this. It was after all, that very tabloid organ which gleefully printed the story of his affair with Rebecca Loos in 2004. In fact, Sunday’s comment came as they kindly told the world that his sister has had to claim benefit payments. After the 1998 World Cup Beckham had to face the prospect of an effigy of himself hanging from a roof and The Mirror bullishly gave readers a David Beckham dartboard. The England manager forgetting to tell him he’s out of future plans isn’t going to mortally wound him…. or anyone else for that matter.
Spurs and Man City started the Premier League season with a fantastic entertaining game. Spurs started at an incredible pace and made their possession count by creating a sequence of excellent chances. Hart was a colossus. Surely Hart is now well and truly England’s number one keeper…. better late than never I suppose! It was a much better game than 0-0 suggests but if Spurs can maintain that level of pace and creativity to their play surely they can contend for a top four spot again. Blackpool were the romantic story of the first day of the season. Whatever else happens this season, their fans will always be able to treasure that memory, the kind of memory we all love this game for. Wigan Athletic and their fans will remember the day less fondly! The real daunting thing about Chelsea’s effortless dismantling of WBA is that WBA didn’t really do much wrong. In fact for much of the game they tried to get forward and got a few decent crosses in. That Chelsea hit six without really breaking sweat hammers out a warning to Man Utd. Talking of Man utd, I sit typing thins during their game against Newcastle and the main talking point has to be Joey Barton’s moustache! What’s he done that for? Apparently he’s refusing to shave it until they win a league game. Now that’s risky! Otherwise Rooney looks as if he’s carried his world cup form into the new season. Berbatov just scored.
Aston Villa’s win over West Ham had an air of crisis what crisis? O’Neill’s decsion to go hardly the ideal way to prepare any team for the first game of a season. We can only come to the conclusiion that Villa is now a hard club to manage and Randy Lerner a difficulty man to work for. The ongoing talk of funding players and having to sell to buy and whether the Milner money would be available must have just worn O’Neill down. Can anyone blame him? Does a manager of his reputation need that kind of aggravation? Where will he work next? Will he work anywhere? All will be revealed now the emotional rollercoaster of football has returned!!