Posts Tagged ‘Begovic’

Win required, retirement, Blatter’s bluster, Rudi’s challenge, supporting football.

November 7th, 2013 No comments

Stoke City’s season so far has been dogged with a chronic lack of goals.  Those who felt a stroke of good fortune was required have been granted their wish.  Asmir Begovic’s goal against Southampton was a gloriously crazy way to start any game!  To take the lead after a matter of seconds, to a goal so bizarre  was the kind of good fortune any team experiences once a decade at the most!  Initially Southampton seemed unsettled.  We pressed forward and looked capable of adding to our lead.  However, when Ryan Shawcross squandered a great chance of adding a second it was  ominous.  Shawcross should have done better.  It could be argued a defender shouldn’t be expected to finish clinically but, as a professional footballer, he should have made contact to get a shot on target. From that point Southampton grew in confidence and their equaliser on the stroke of half time wasn’t a shock.  The second half consisted of both teams trying to carve out an opening with neither creating enough to win the game.  While we can have no complaints about the result it’s frustrating to have failed to win another home game.  It was particularly disheartening to gain only a draw from a game in which we had such a marvellous, albeit outlandish, start.   It’s a simple request, but soon, as soon as possible, we need to start winning games of football.

Mark Schwarzer’s retirement from international football came as a surprise.  At the age of 41 he has 109 international caps…. an Australian record.   Having experienced two World Cup campaigns with the national team there seemed every possibility he’d again play on the biggest stage next year in Brazil.    Australia will miss his presence stature and experience.  Schwarzer himself might have made a mistake when he still has a World Cup left in him.  In June he may come to rue this decision.

Joe Hart in another keeper in the news.  Did Hart’s omission from Manchester City’s starting line up really merit the media attention it generated?  His form has been erratic for months.  Manuel Pellegrini’s decision was relatively straight forward.  Costel Pantilimon performed steadily against Newcastle in midweek so keeping him in the team was a sensible decision in the best interests of the team and the club as a whole…. including Hart himself.  Off form he can use the time away to rest, recuperate and return to his best.  The press have exaggerated the importance of this.

Roma’s perfect start to the season finally reached it’s conclusion when they drew 1-1 at Torino.  Winning the first ten games of any season is impressive for anyone.  The odd thing is after such a dominant start the leaders find themselves only three points ahead of second place Napoli who, worryingly for Roma, are only ahead of Juventus on goal difference.  Manager Rudi Garcia has made a staggering start to his reign in Rome, he now needs to ensure his players can maintain their brilliant start and remember they are still on top and the team to beat.  Also, at the start of the season they wouldn’t have turned down the chance to be three points clear after eleven games!

Brisbane Roar’s 3-0 victory over Melbourne Heart was the archetypal game of two halves.  At half time nobody watching could have guessed the second half would be something of a stroll for Brisbane.  In the first period Heart wasted several great opportunities to take the lead and at half time there was a feeling they may have blown their chance.  To see the hosts effortlessly glide to victory in the second half was a huge surprise!  After the game it was disappointing to get chatting to several football fans who rarely attend A-League matches because they consider the quality of football on offer to be poor.  Of all the reasons not to go to matches the perceived low quality of play is lame.  Not least because the A-League is improving.  It isn’t, and has never claimed to be, a rival to the European Champions League.  It does however have some decent matches and holds it’s own as a national competition.  To dismiss an entire league on the basis of poor quality is to suggest the only football worth spending time on is the absolute pinnacle.  Why watch Brentford when they aren’t as good as Chelsea?  Why watch Piacenza when you can watch Milan?  For that matter, only Bayern Munich Barcelona and Real Madrid would attract crowds at all.  Is this a healthy scenario?

Sepp Blatter has pledged to seek explanations from Qatari authorities regarding the continuing controversy surrounding the 2022 World Cup.  His posturing and talk may be an attempt to recover some integrity.  If his organisation is to regain any credibility at all he needs to assert governance and strip Qatar of hosting rights and re-open the bidding process….. before resigning.





Goalless again, 100% for Brisbane, foolish expectations, Wayne’s world

October 21st, 2013 No comments

While it’d be melodramatic to describe Stoke City’s recent problems as a crisis, few can deny we have hit a dead-end.   A mere four goals in eight league games tells its own story.  Every aspect of our forward play needs work.  Too often we rely on crosses (which vary in quality) from which we rarely have enough players in the box to trouble opposition defences.  When Stephen Ireland squandered a glorious opportunity against West Brom, it was clear we’d draw another blank.  Another disappointing aspect of our play is how wasteful we usually are with set pieces.  Our corners are cleared with the minimum of fuss and free kicks rarely trouble the opposing keeper.  Asmir Begovic made a string of  saves to keep us level.  We should all be grateful to Begovic because our attacking play is so fruitless the moment we concede a goal it may well be game over.    Our decent start to the season has fizzled out as we slide closer to the relegation places.  Within our squad we have the ability to comfortably address the problems and get back to winning games of football. There is often talk of systems and strategy but the key to lifting the assembling clouds could be the result of something as simple as shooting practice.

Helgar Osieck’s removal from the Australia manager’s job is no shock.  Nobody denies Brazil and France are very good teams but to lose both 0-6, and look utterly helpless in doing so is indicative of deeper problems in the camp.  Osieck’s reign wasn’t a failure.  Reaching the final of the Asian Cup in 2011 was a substantial achievement.  Combine this with World Cup qualification and his tenure was far from a calamity.  Despite this, the national team had stagnated.  Too few youngsters gained experience and, as a collective, the old guard look a spent force.  Thoughts immediately turned to a successor.  There has been a clamour for an Australian manager to be appointed.  Understandably, Ange Postecoglou’s name had been mentioned. It should be borne in mind club and international management are two different kinds of jobs with different demands and expectations.  Postecoglou’s success at Brisbane Roar was borne of intense work with the players as a team and as  individuals.  At international level managers don’t get so much time to impose themselves.  In addition to the World Cup the new manager has to be aware of the Asian Cup in 2015.  As host nation, Australia will be expected to challenge for the trophy.  The days of Australia being a football backwater are long gone.  One thing is for certain….. the new Australia manager will have to be prepared for pressure.

Brisbane Roar have started the A-League season in style with a 100% record from the first two games.  Saturday night’s 4-0 thrashing of Sydney was a boost for everyone.  Without wanting to belittle a very good performance, the point has to be made, it’s difficult to ascertain Roar’s potential for the season from Saturday mainly because Sydney were so poor.  They looked utterly demoralised and from the moment Brisbane took the lead the result was never in doubt.  Frank Farina must feel bewildered by such a lethargic display from his players.  It’s a fantastic start to the season for Brisbane but bigger challenges lie ahead.

England have qualified for the 2014 World Cup.  Sensibly, Roy Hodgson has acknowledged England aren’t among the favourites to lift the trophy.  His words may be seen as negative or defeatist when it was merely a realistic appraisal of England’s possibilities.  The quarter finals are by any historical measure a good performance for England and the problem is  some  people seem unable to accept it. Our record since 1966* isn’t great. In the last 47 years we’ve reached a World Cup semi a Euro semi and several World Cup quarter finals. In the same period Holland have reached three WC finals, a World Cup semi final and won the European championship. Bulgaria have reached a World Cup  semi final. Sweden have got to a World Cup semi final and a European  semi final. Poland have reached a World Cup semi final and finished 3rd in 1974.  Soviet Union reached two European Finals. Belgium have reached a European  final and a World Cup semi final. Turkey have reached a World Cup semi final and a European semi final and, of course, Greece were European champions. They are all middle ranking European teams and their records  easily match England’s.  Looking at Europe’s elite, In 2002 and 2008 the Germans were considered to be poor yet still reached the final of the respective competitions. Similarly, Italy were unfancied in last years Euros yet reached the final.  France have twice been European champions as well as World Cup winners.  So since 66 our record, when compared to other European football nations, rarely rises above mediocre.  Despite this people got annoyed because, for example, we didn’t ‘win anything with Sven.’ It’s unlikely we’ll win a competition whoever the manager is! We’d all love to but  actually expecting England to win a tournament is wishful thinking. There’s no great tradition to justify that sort of demand. In a tournament, if we get past the group stage we’ve fulfilled expectancy. From that point we may or may not make progress but we certainly need the luck of the draw….. as soon as we face a side with genuine aspirations to win a tournament we get knocked out.  1990  was great fun but, with all respect, Belgium and Cameroon weren’t contenders to lift the trophy.  Next year we should enjoy the tournament and enjoy England’s presence… and leave silly groundless expectation s to one side.
*our record before 66 wasn’t great…Bela Horizonte anyone?

As required, England won the final two qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland.  Both victories were put on track with goals by Wayne Rooney.  In the aftermath of qualification Rooney’s contribution has been overlooked. Some have suggested throughout his career  Rooney has failed to fulfill his potential so let’s examine the facts.  At the age of 27 Rooney has won five Premier league winners medals.  He also has a Champions League winners medal and two runners-up medals.  For England he’s scored 38 goals in 86 appearances and still has the potential to reach 100 caps and may yet  beat Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 goals.  His failure to score in the two World Cups he’s played in remains a source of frustration.  Hopefully in Brazil next year he’ll rectify that and make a lasting impression on football’s biggest show.  It’s ludicrous to suggest his career is anything but successful.

Lethargy,rerun the vote, excellent journalism flawed motivational methods, Jimmy’s Legacy

October 1st, 2013 No comments

Football can be a cruel game.  There are times when a team doesn’t get what it deserves from a game.  Stoke City v Norwich on Sunday was no such occasion.  The only injustice emerging from the Britannia Stadium on Sunday was how Stoke had somehow managed to stay in the game to the end and have any chance at all of salvaging an unlikely point.  Not that there was ever any serious doubt about the result.  From the moment Jonathan Howson’s speculative effort caught Begovic out and put the visitors ahead, the game was only ever destined to be an away win.   Howson’s goal exposed many of the faults on Sunday.  As Howson carried the ball forward Huth stood off far too deep allowing Howson a strike on goal. The shot itself was decent enough but Begovic was far too slow to get down, allowing the ball  to bounce past him into the net.  Stoke’s play consisted of a litany of misplaced or under hit passes combined with miscontrolled balls and a discordant series of vague disjointed attempts to perhaps create a chance of scoring a goal.  Our only route to goal appeared to be a series of underhit crosses dealt with far too easily by the Norwich defence.  Too often our players were caught in possession which is indicative of the sluggish lethargic approach our players took to the game.   Our next game is at Craven Cottage and Fulham manager Martin Jol is under pressure…. as  Chris Hughton was on Sunday. We must ensure Jol and his team aren’t gifted victory as feebly as Norwich were.   Mark Hughes has made a bright start to his Stoke city career.  How he deals with his first major setback will be a challenge of his motivational and strategic expertise.  Hopefully he addresses the issues properly and we are spared another appalling ‘performance’.

Preparations for the 2022 World cup in Qatar were coated in yet another layer of filth last week when The Guardian exposed the treatment of migrant workers in the country. many of the workers in Qatar are treated as slaves.  This report even ruffled the feathers of those who hide behind empty soundbites.  FIFA’s vice president Jim Boyce called for an examination of working conditions.  The 2022 organising committee have also announced they are “appalled” by such barbaric treatment.  It’s strange to hear FIFA’s surprise at the latest revelations.  Are they not regular visitors to Qatar?  Qatar are after all going to host the World Cup.  If they do visit how do they spend their time?  How can they be shocked when it’s a nation they have to work with so closely?  More importantly, now they have been informed what are they going to do about it?  Do they want it to just blow over and hope everyone forgets?  The article itself was a great piece of work from The Guardian.  An example of media working for the common good.  Tenacious investigative journalism and the public’s clamour for truth and justice saw Lance Armstrong exposed as the cheat he’s been.  It’d be easy to see the Armstrong case in isolation but the clamour for truth over football’s administrators is just as strong.  So many unanswered questions yet the ruling body rolls on.  Resilient journalism and public pressure can yet shake the complacency of those who hide away in Swiss ivory towers.  It may be a long drawn out struggle but the Lance Armstrong story proves it can be done. Have your say here.

Paolo Di Canio’s brief reign at the Stadium of Light came to an abrupt end.  His departure, following an explosive team meeting, concluded a bizarre  episode in Sunderland’s history.  Despite leaving in the wake of a 0-3 defeat at West Brom the point has to be made he wasn’t a total disaster.  His initial aim was to avoid relegation… which he did.  In doing so they beat Newcastle 3-0 at St James Park, a game which will surely go down in Mackem folklore.  For all that he failed to adapt to the differences involved in managing at the top.  At Swindon Di Canio would publicly lambast players and shamelessly expose their weaknesses to all and sundry.  In the Premier League that style of humiliation wasn’t going to work.  Instead of players feeling motivated through it they felt resentful.  Some things have to be kept behind closed doors.  His failings at Sunderland have a precedent.  When Brian Clough  arrived at Leeds in 1974 he instructed his new players (who Clough had ruthlessly slated in the press for several years previously) to throw their medals in the bin because it was time to do things properly.  At Hartlepool or Derby that eccentricity might have amused the players or stimulated them.  At Leeds, dealing with top level players who’d been around the block… and had the medals to prove it… it was just foolish.  For Brian Clough 1974 see Paolo Di Canio 2013. If he manages again Di Canio would be best advised to treat players as adults.

The majority of football fans in Germany feel the games administrators aren’t doing enough to address the issue of bigotry in football.  18% of German supporters feel the German Football Federation doesn’t do enough to deal with homophobia and 46% would like more done to handle racial discrimination.  German football is often considered to be amongst the world’s most fan friendly and progressive.  It will be interesting to see if the administrative bodies take action on these issues.

It was sad to learn football innovator and pundit Jimmy Hill is in a nursing home suffering Alzheimer’s.  In 1961, as chairman of the PFA Hill motivated the campaign to abolish the 20 pound a week minimum wage.  The threat of unanimous strike action pressured the FA to drop the rule.  While some may feel this is partly responsible for some of the modern  games ills, the campaign was entirely appropriate and shrewdly co-ordinated.  It was Jimmy Hill who proposed a new system of three points for a win.  Like many others, he felt attacking football needed greater reward.  In 1981 three points for a win was introduced in England and is now the accepted format across the globe.   Hill is best known for presenting football programmes on television.  He revolutionised football coverage while working for ITV on the 1970 World Cup by introducing the panel.  In the modern age, punditry is often regarded as a credible career for ex players, yet until 1970 no such job existed.  In short, he understood the power of television.  For a long time Jimmy Hill was unpopular.  He often seemed pompous and isolated from the fan on the street.  For all that it’d be harsh to deny his legacy.  Hopefully, his final years will be as comfortable as they can be.

Emphatic defeat, importance of managers, a great ambassador

January 17th, 2013 No comments

Losing to Chelsea is no disgrace.  Until they took the lead on the stroke of half time Stoke had matched them.  When Kenwyne Jones squandered a great opportunity early on many of us got the feeling we may have blown our best chance… and so it proved.  Throughout a very entertaining first half Chelsea broke with precision and pace and their movement stretched us.  It was the fluidity which led to Frank Lampard’s opening bringing an impressive save from Asmir Begovic.  We were undone by the aforementioned movement in first half injury time.  The overlap and cross by Hazard created confusion in our defence and Jon Walters ensuing own goal proved to be the turning point in the match.  We started the second half with a burst of pressure, the highpoint of which was N’Zonzi’s thunderous drive being palmed away by Cech.  Unfortunately, having to press and chase the game led to space behind the midfield, space that Chelsea were more than capable of exploiting.  When Jon Walters bagged his second own goal of the game it marked the end of the match as a contest.  4 down after 73 minutes we could have been forgiven for fearing a repeat of the 0-7 battering we took at Stamford Bridge in 2010.  Thankfully we were spared a repeat of that humiliation.  All that remained was for Jon Walters to compound his own miserable day by missing a penalty.  Nobody can deny Chelsea’s quality but losing 0-4 at home to anyone is distressing.  From being a team with an inpenetrable defence we’ve now conceded ten goals in the last three league games.  In the aftermath we can look ahead and disperse many of the gathering clouds in the embryonic stage by bouncing straight back at Swansea.  Most importantly, we must remember that while the defence needs work we still have the attacking armory to press forward and win games.  Intending to play out 0-0 draws would be as unnecessary and inexcusable as ever.

Much of the media attention has understandably focused on Jon Walters.  Scoring two own goals and missing a penalty certainly equates to a bad day at the office!  It was great to hear Stoke City fans giving support by singing his name. Hopefully he understands these things happen in football from time to time and much worse things in life can occur.  If his two goal haul in the FA Cup replay against Crystal Palace is an indicator he’s coming to terms with it!!

Brisbane Roar are languishing 3 places from the bottom of the A-League.  Saturday’s dismal 0-1 defeat at Newcastle was a poor showing from a team whose fall from dominance is as complete as their rise was impressive.  The fall from grace is more striking when considering the players are the same ones who became the most successful team in the history of Australian sport.  The lesson to be learnt is never to underestimate the manager’s influence.  When Ange Postecoglou left the club for Melbourne Victory some demeaned his influence in Brisbane’s success.  It was suggested the real mastermind behind the operation was his assistant Rado Vidosic and Vidosic’s promotion to manager would be a seamless transition.  As has often been the case internal promotion didn’t work out.  Managing a football team can be a good cop bad cop dynamic and often the link between players and manager is the assistant.  Vidosic was replaced as manager a month ago but the club’s current malaise can be traced back to the lazy decision to replace Ange Postecoglou with Rado Vidosic.

The speculation is over.  Pep Guardiola has confirmed that he’ll be working for Bayern Munich next season.  Speculation was rife that he’d move to the Premier League, which, in effect, meant Manchester City or Chelsea.  His decision is understandable.  In moving to Bayern he’ll get a free rein to fulfill his vision at a club with great stature.  Another positive aspect of the move is it increases the prestige of the Bundesliga.  In an age  when fans in many nations are indoctrinated into believing their exploitation is essential for the clubs to prosper, German clubs have proven there are different methods to sustain success.

The build up to the Arsenal v Manchester City match was dominated by the news of Manchester City being unable to sell their full allocation.  The main factor in this was the extortionate 62 pound ticket price.  At the match Manchester City fan Richard Taylor protested about the hefty cost of watching his team.  His demonstration took the form of displaying a banner asking the simple inoffensive question.. 62pounds!! WHERE WILL IT STOP? A reasonable statement made peacefully.  That didn’t stop a  steward removing the banner.  The steward informed Taylor the banner was in breach of club regulations.  An Arsenal official later stated that the only reason the banner was removed was because it impeded the view of supporters.  This explanation would carry a semblance of credibility were it not for the fact it was taken away before the match had kicked off.

As a gesture of friendship Bobby Charlton invited families of victims of the Hillsborough disaster into the directors box for Sunday’s Manchester United v Liverpool match. It was a magnificent gesture from English football’s finest ambassador.  As a man he exhibits the sheer class he showed as a player.  Bobby Charlton is the embodiment of everything that makes football great.

Relief, chaotic preparation, drama and dignity,

November 15th, 2012 No comments

The overriding feeling after Stoke City’s victory over Queens Park Rangers was relief.  Nobody can pretend we saw a scintillating performance from The Potters but the most important thing was to halt our slide towards the relegation zone.  Stoke spent much of the first half vainly trying to get a foothold on the game.  QPR made attempts to put us under sustained pressure, fortunately for us their passing was as poor as ours!  For large spells watching the first half of the game was akin to watching two drunks arguing about control of a steering wheel.  We started the second half in a much more assertive manner. We quickly got the perfect reward when Charlie Adam took advantage of hesitant QPR defending to give us the lead.  It was a ruthless finish from Charlie… his first for Stoke…  hopefully the first of many.   The goal lifted our anxiety but the comfort was transient, to secure the precious win meant we had onto hold on to the lead for 38 long minutes.  In those minutes were generally in control.  Asmir Begovic  was called into action to make two excellent saves but  we were marginally on top and we held the lead with characteristic tenacity.  The match itself wasn’t a classic but three points and a clean sheet were exactly what was required.  Now we are re-gaining a foothold on the season it’d help if we can try to add more variation to the attacking play.  In our squad we now have ball players capable of unlocking defences with craft as well as force.  These qualities need to be applied.  Too often we are too predictable.  We need to evolve.

Arsenal have made their worst ever start under Arsene Wenger.  At the moment The Gunners are in eighth place with Everton handily placed in fourth.  Despite being trophyless since 2005, Arsenal have reached the Champions League every year and the club’s status and credibility hinges on a top four finish.  Should they fail to do so this season it could mark the end of Wenger’s reign.  Eighteen months  ago it was Wenger who stated his belief that second was good enough.  It’s hard to believe  an American entrepreneur who  spent millions acquiring a football club agreeing that second is good enough.  If no trophy arrives and they fail to secure a top four position Stan Kroenke could make a ruthless statement of intent.

Brazil’s ongoing struggle to prepare for 2014 World Cup received a timely boost last week when FIFA confirmed the 2013 Confederations Cup would go ahead as planned.  Organisers didn’t have any time to enjoy the announcement as concerns remain over stadium construction and infrastructure requirements.  Another obstacle has arrived in the shape of a new tax law regarding oil revenue.  A bill passed by Congress would share out oil income  among Brazil’s 27 states, with Rio, which has been experiencing a boom stimulated largely by oil, standing to miss out on an estimated $2 billion.  State governor Sergio Cabral has suggested both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics could be under threat if the bill is passed.  Cabral’s words may be a form of emotional blackmail but stadium delays and inadequate public transport have cast doubts over Brazil’s suitability to host the tournament. To compound the organisational malaise, the cost of staging the tournament has been raised by a staggering $1.7billion.  Brazil’s national Audit court recently announced that airport upgrades and stadium construction are proving much more costly than first anticipated.  For all the worries and political wrangling, Brazil remain highly unlikely to be stripped of the hosting rights.  It’s hard to imagine any authority in Brazil surviving a football related humiliation on that scale, and all the administrative bodies, political and sporting, will be fully aware of that. By hook or by crook, they all know that to retain their status Brazil must be ready.

Modern football can get weighed down with talk of balance sheets, manipulative agents and administrators steeped in self interest.  Amid the skullduggery it’s important to remember the thing we are besotted with is that actual football itself!  Our game can provide drama intensity rarely experienced elsewhere in life.  Celtic’s victory over Barcelona was one such occasion.   It was one of the season’s real shocks and a night that will live forever in the hearts and minds of Celtic supporters throughout the world.  An endearing aspect of the game was the dignity with which Barcelona accepted the defeat.  Xavi even took to Twitter to congratulate the victors and stated how fantastic the atmosphere at Parkhead had been.  It was a huge  relief to hear a club respond so graciously.

Fighting back from 0-2 down to dig out a draw against Ajax wasn’t enough for Manchester City.  Roberto Mancini’s charge across the pitch at the end combined with  berating a cameraman left him with the air of a man not waving but drowning.  All is not lost.  They remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League and are still handily placed to have a tilt at retaining their title.  For all that there is still a feeling that something in the camp isn’t quite right.  Mancini’s credibility has hardly been helped by  the appointment of Txiki Begiristain as director of football and Ferran Soriano as Chief Executive… both were instrumental in revolutionising Barcelona. While Pep Guardiola remains out of work Mancini could be forgiven for thinking his days are numbered.

4 consecutive seasons, managing success, heroes, TCUP

April 27th, 2011 No comments

In the grand scheme of things Villa away was a point gained.  It’s a relief to get our first away point of 2011, but for much of the first half we were poised to take all three.  For twenty minutes after Jonesy put us ahead we were in complete control of the game.  With the home crowd getting restless Villa looked edgy and frustrated.  However, at this level one slight error can prove costly, and so it proved.  From a basic cross from the right Shawcross allowed Bent to get across him and put them back into the game. Bent’s glancing header was skillful and perfectly placed but from Ryan’s perspective it was avoidable and sloppy.  Defenders have to attack crossed balls.  From that point we never looked like winning. In the second half there were plenty of chances to hit them on the break but our distribution was so poor we just gave the ball back to them. With our midfield reluctant to support forwards it was clear we just wanted a draw to end the diabolical away form. We contained them comfortably though. Apart from gathering crosses, Begovic  had little to trouble him in the second half.  So all in all not a bad afternoon’s work from Stoke City. 

The decent afternoons work was succeeded by a tremendous evening’s work at home to Wolves.  We dominated the game from start to finish and got the three points we richly deserved.  This excellent performance has almost confirmed our presence in the Premier League for the fourth consecutive seasona marvellous achievement from Tony Pulis and his players.   This was Jermaine Pennant’s finest performance in a Stoke shirt.  His goal was the icing on a delicious football cake.  The one obvious heartbreaking aspect of the game was Etherington’s  injury.  It’s awful that a player so important to us seems likely to miss such a momentous conclusion to a season he’s enhanced with some glittering football.  We just have to hope his condition isn’t as bad as it first looked.   It’s a tough game sometimes.

Gareth Bale has received the PFA’s player of the year award.  In itself an unremarkable little fact.  One question that has to be asked is why does the voting have to take place so early in the season?  The awards are dished out before the seasons climax when there is plenty of time for players to impose themselves on a season’s story.  The PFA awards remain the games most prestigious.  Acclaim from fellow professionals remains a great accolade.  But to maintain credibility the timing of the ceremony and the voting procedure needs a revamp. 

A principle of football is that possession is 9/10 of the law.  So watching games recently it’s flabbergasting to see teams give away priceless possession by conceding so many unnecessary free kicks.  Players in their own half, and going nowhere in particular, get carelessly shoved or ankles clipped.  It’s utterly baffling that professionals can make these brainless decisions with such monotonous regularity.  The principle is TCUP…. Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.  Some players need to learn how to make the right decisions during a game.

Brisbane Roar forward Kosta Barbarouseshas reportedly been on trial with a high-profile Italian club.  Whether Barbarouses gets a contract in Italy or not it’s indicative of the respect the reigning Australian champions command.  It’s beyond doubt that coach Ange Postecoglou would love to keep the team together.  There are some cold hard truths of football life to contend with though.  If one of the players gets the chance to play overseas could he really afford to refuse that opportunity?  Similarly, would it be right of the club to hold the player back?  How the club addresses these issues will be instrumental in building on current success… or fading back into mediocrity.  Good luck Ange.

Arsenal are about to end their sixth consecutive season without a trophy.  The defeat at Bolton confirmed what millions of football followers throughout the world had realised months ago.  That  for all their skill and style they still lack that priceless winner mentality that makes some teams, well, winners.  For the first time the question marks over the manager’s  position could hold some validity.  Two weeks ago Arsene Wenger stated his belief that second was good enough.  It’s hard to believe that an American entrepeneur who  spent millions acquiring a football club agreeing that second isgood enough.  Stan Kroenke could make his first major decision a ruthless statement of intent. 

During a trip to England in 1999, I was asked if I’d make a special visit if we were to reach an FA Cup final.  Coming at the end of the calamitous Brian Little fiasco, this was akin to him asking me to bear his children!   My response to this glorious hypothetical piece of  dreaming was to promise my fanciful inquisitor that if Stoke got to the FA Cup Final, I’d pay for him and his family to travel to Australia and watch it here with me.  This was of course, the safest promise in history.  Not only would we never ever get to an FA Cup Final, no way would he drag himself and his family to the other side of the planet when he’d prefer be at Wembley watching Stoke.  As we know the preposterous notion has become a reality.  May 14th will be a huge moment in the lives of all Stoke City fans.  It will be the conclusion of the first phase of major investment into Manchester City.  As such it’s entirely conceivable that they will appear in another showpiece under the vast arch in the next few years.  We don’t have that comfort.  For Stoke City 148 years of yearning and dreaming will come to fruition. We’d love it to be the first of many but there is also the possibility that this occasion won’t return in our lifetime.  On May 14th we can be heroes… just for one day.

Infuriatingly craftless, shameless nostalgia, Brisbane’s excitement

March 2nd, 2011 No comments

Arsenal away wasn’t the catastrophe some of us feared.  After going behind so early it seemed we could easily be on the wrong end of a thrashing.  Admittedly, we were fortunate to only be one down after the first fifteen minutes but we grew into the game and stifled their constant stream of creativity and went in 0-1 down at half time.  Then in the second half something strange happened… Stoke City attacked and put Arsenal on the backfoot.  Instead of bleakly clinging on to nothing and seemingly defending a 0-1 deficit we got forward and gave our illustrious opponents something to worry about. It was such a refreshing change to give one of the big boys a headache.  That final defence unlocking ball was lacking but periods of sustained pressure in the the half of an opponent so famous was a thrill in itself.  The real lesson to be learned from that second half is that we now know it is possible to play away to top quality sides and have a plan to attack.  With a bit of luck and some opportunism we can get something.  When we face Chelsea there is no excuse not to have a gameplan with attacking potential.  The other good thing now we reflect on Arsenal away is that we know we don’t have to go there again this season!  So plenty of reasons for optimism as we faced WBA at home…. yeah right.

WBA’s late equaliser was slightly offside but to focus solely on that is to dismiss some crucial factors.  Throughout the game our attacking play was so shapeless we were unable to craft any worthwhile opportunities.  OK, we did put them under pressure for much of the first half but balls lumped forward time after time were dealt with in relative comfort by the WBA defence.  WBA were much more physical than we could have expected and were up to the challengeof the Britannia battering ram.  When the battering ram lacks subtle accompaniments it de-generates to an artless lottery.  After huffing and puffing we took the lead through a well worked corner (what was Carson actually diving after?) and that goal should have been a signal to shake off the inhibitions, attack and finish them off.  As Woy made changes to salvage something and leave space at the back we should have been able to exploit those areas and snatch a points assuring second.  Instead, we got pegged back and eventually got what we deserved by conceding a late equaliser.  It’s only the brilliance of Begovic that secured us a draw.  Had we emerged from this game empty handed we’d have nobody to blame but ourselves.  Before the game we were 7   points from 40.  Now are 6 points away from that magical mark so it wasn’t a complete tragedy but, as far as forward play is concerned, it is infuriating to look so creatively hopeless.  Carew and Jonesy are too similar and chasing flck ons can be easily dealt with by any competent defenders, especially after the 328th time it’s been tried.  It makes no sense to start the one player we have who can carry the ball into the box and turn defenders inside out on the bench.   If we play like we did against WBA and West Ham played like they did against Liverpool we’ll get hammered (excuse the pun) and talk cup semi finals will be forgotten.. perhaps for another 39 years.  

Our attention on Wests now shifts from the Bromwich Albion to the Ham United variety.  In fact, West Ham will dominate our thoughts for a fortnight, the league game followed the week after by an FA Cup quarter final.  Any cup tie with West Ham will evoke memories of our titanic League Cup semi final en route to winning the trophy way back in 1972.  The first leg at home was a deflating 1-2 defeat. We’d confidently expected to take a lead to Upton Park but after taking an early lead found ourselves pegged back at 1-1 by a Geoff Hurst penalty.  The point has to be made though that their winner from Clyde Best was an absolute beauty.  These were the days before away goals proved decisive so all was not lost.  The second leg saw us 1-0 ahead and as the game was heading for a replay, a communication error between Pejic and Banks led to West Ham being awarded a heartbreaker penalty.  It was Geoff Hurst again to take the penalty, he  smashed it to the top corner and Gordon Banks, the greatest keeper ever, whose reflexes miraculously managed to tip Hurst’s piledriver over the top and our Wembley dreams were rescued.  Banks himself has described that penalty save as the best he ever made…. even better than this one…  Banksy’s miracle set up a replay (League Cup replays… remember them?) at  Hillsborough.  A tense affair which we had the better of but couldn’t conquer the hammers keeper Bobby Ferguson… goalkeepers making great saves was a characteristic of the tie!  The 0-0 stalemate led to another replay, this time at Old Trafford.  I know several West Ham fans here and some of them still detest Terry Conroy for injuring Bobby Ferguson after half an hour!  England World Cup legend Bobby Moore replaced Ferguson in goal and just to add to the thrills and madness of this rollercoaster of a cup tie, his first job was to face a penalty from Mick Bernard… and he saved it… only for Bernard to score the rebound! By half time the score had twisted and turned it’s way to 2-2 and anything could have happened at that point.  Shortly after the interval Terry Conroy restored our lead and the crowd must have been wondering what would happen next. What did happen next was that no more goals came next and we held on.  Finally, after 109 years of trying, Stoke City had reached a major final.  If the events of winter 1972 are anything to go by we know one thing for certain about the forthcoming encounter….  if we succeed we won’t be doing it the easy way!  The only question is about whether our nerves will be able to stand it all! 

After spending some of last weeks blog typing excitedly about the first set of European Cup knockout matches it was obvious the second lot would be as turgid as they were.  If a pack of clubs allegedly amongst Europe’s elite can churn out a pile of dross as rubbish as that they should all pack in football to go and dig roads.  

Arsenal’s long journey to a trophy continues.  The League Cup wasn’t their priority but losing after being such overwhelming favourites has got to hurt.  It might not make Arsenal feel any better but it’s healthy to diversify the trophy winning gene pool.  Man of the match was Ben Foster, making several impressive saves to keep Birmingham level.  This is a special achievement for Alex McCleish.  Could he be a contender to replace Alex Ferguson when he eventually decides to spend his time playing golf and cleaning his garage out?  The real calamity of the match was the linesman who made the inexplicable error of calling Bowyer offside early in the game.  Had the lino not made such and indefensible mistake Szczesny would have to have seen red for taking Bowyer down and the game would have been very different indeed.  The scale of the error is all the more glaring when you realise the deep defender playing Bowyer on was next to the lino.  While Richard Keys and Andy Gray are on Talksport promoting tiles or haemorrhoid cream they should take note that the official in question was male.

After winning the first leg of the finals 2-0 Brisbane Roar reached the A-League Grand Final with a thrilling 2-2 draw against Central Coast.   It was a fantastic game which contained some great stylish football, a gutsy fightback, some drama and the right result!    0-2 down at half time was a real shock as the game was meant be a little more than chance to meet friends for a beer and a chat.  Brisbane displayed the character and the stylish silky football that has led to them beiong the greatest team in the history of Australian football by bouncing back to draw 2-2.   Grand Final, 4pm Sunday March 13th Suncorp Stadium.   Whatever happens, it’ll be a great occasion for Brisbane football …. but a sell out and lifting the trophy would be most welcome!!

Flaws, positives, finishing top and a costly burst of anger

February 8th, 2011 No comments

On Wednesday at Anfield we didn’t give ourselves enough of a chance to get something from the game, or to just make a game of it.  In the first half we contained them well but never looked remotely like scoring, or even putting the home side under a period of sustained pressure.   When the pinball free kick led to Liverpool taking the lead just after half time it was game over.  Fuller came on and looked lively but a side like Liverpool enjoying the Dalglish resurgence was never going to relinquish the lead they had patiently intelligently probed for.  Liverpool were far and away the better side but the point has to be made that we didn’t really set out to get at them.  Had we started out 442 instead of 451 we may still have lost but we’d be able to reflect on what could have been a cracking game.  These words from the site sum up our lack of attacking strategy…. “Stoke were pretty poor, and had a similar problem with a lack of support for Carew. He competed well with the Liverpool back three, winning six from 10 headers, but couldn’t do it all on his own. Stoke’s real area to exploit was in their own full-back position – with Liverpool playing no natural wingers, they had time on the ball and space in front of them – but too often they simply hit the ball long”  Quite.  Begovic made a stunning save in the first half for which he hasn’t received the credit he deserves.  That was amazing. Had a keeper from a more illustrious club made that save I don’t doubt it would have grabbed attention across the globe.

Our match against Sunderland was an emotional rollercoaster.  Amid the twists and turns and the ups and downs we were only ahead for the final 120 seconds of this rugged epic struggle.  Rain and a moody sky provided a suitable backdrop.  The most satisfying aspect of the game from our perspective is simply that we won, which does tend to nullify many of the flaws in our performance.  Nullified though they are now, it’s still worth reflecting on some of them.

Why do we never win a second ball?  When we attack and balls in the box run loose it’s rarely a Stoke player attacking the ball, for a side widely considered to be physical and combative this is a serious problem.  We struggled with  pace and movement on the break, they managed to thread balls past our central defenders far too easily.  Our players lack of movement…. Sunderland’s second goal came from a good run by Etherington which came to nothing, Jones was in front of him but didn’t make an incisive run to be picked out by Matty, whoever was at fault doesn’t matter, suffice to say it proved to be a costly shambles.  This led to an excellent opportunity wasted, at the point we could have been celebrating a 2-1 lead we were back to square one a goal behind.  Muntari received a yellow card yet we never pressurised him knowing he’d be wary of tackling, in fact, for a spell in the second half he was free to run the game in the holding role.  The main flaw is, predictable though it is to mention, we simply don’t keep the ball well enough.  Possession is 9/10 of the law.

The positives were that through dogged bloody minded resilience we grafted  and  toiled and eventually got the win we needed.  Tone deserves credit as his positive substitution changed the game in our favour.  Walters contribution was vital as he provided a crucial link between midfield and attack, thus enabling Pennant and Etherington to deliver crosses in the attacking third, great work by Tony Pulis.  Despite our reputation as filthy violent kickers, we committed fewer fouls than any other premier League team at the weekend.  The quality of set piece deliveries from Pennant overwhelmed and overpowered the Sunderland defence.   The deep bending ball that Huth scored the winner from was an absolute peach.  When we departed the rollercoaster we were 3 points better off.  For large parts of the game it was an unlikely 3 points but our fortitude proved fruitful.  33 down 7 to go!!

Whilst coming down from the high of our crash bang wallop of a game I watched the first half of the Newcastle v Arsenal match.  Arsenal were magnificent in that first half.  On form they play with a stylish majestic swagger combined with ruthless efficiency.  Such was their dominance the 4-0 lead they had at half time actually flattered Newcastle and the only question seemed to be whether they could get the two goals required to equal Man Utd’s goal difference.  The TV cameras picked out some of the Geordies leaving during the first half so depressing was their predicament, reflecting on the sale of Carroll could hardly have helped their mood either.  So Diaby’s 50th minute burst of anger was very very costly indeed.  Why at that stage, in a game that was seemingly won, Diaby couldn’t keep his hands to himself is anyone’s guess. From that point Newcastle staged a stirring comeback becoming the first team since the top flight changed it’s name to the Premier League to blow a four goal lead.  They did actually close the gap on Man Utd by a point following their result at Wolves but the events on Saturday could leave a deep scar in Arsenal’s psyche.  As the title race continues they will know they had their hands on two more precious points and blew it….. completely. 

After months Brisbane Roar finally secured the championship.   Melbourne Heart’s 1-1 draw with Central Coast gave Roar an unassailable lead at the summit.   That is part of the story but by no means the whole story.  As the regular season concludes this coming weekend, a finals series starts involving all clubs in the top five clubs, the winner of the competition being determined by the winner of a grand final on Saturday March 12th.   It’s long winded but during the last five years of stuttering mediocrity I longed for Suncorp Stadium to hose an A-League grand final in front of 52,000 on a summer evening.   Sadly, this city has been the recipient of  recent tragedies and ongoing trauma.  While sporting victory doesn’t stifle the agony many are feeling it would bring some much needed moments of happiness to some local lives.  The time is now. 

In the Cologne v Bayern Munich match Cologne had Novakovic clean through and Bayern’s Badstuber brought him down to blatantly deny a goalscoring opportunity.  Inexplicably, the ref awarded a yellow card.  It was such an amazingly clear red card it isn’t even  a subject for debate.  The conclusion from the tale is that England isn’t the only place where the bigger clubs are the beneficiaries of referee bias.