After the Newcastle v Stoke match on Sunday, Tony Pulis stated “Away from home we’ve played better this season than at any time in our five years in the Premier League”. Reflecting on the season so far it’s hard to see where that view comes from. We have only won once on the road and the draws we have collected have been the result of stifling tactics as opposed to any great will to attack and win the game. Sunday was particularly sickening. Taking the lead on 67 minutes shouldn’t lead to a defeat. Against a tired and lethargic Newcastle we rarely threatened but snatched the lead through a Jon Walters penalty. Given recent spot kick traumas it showed great character for Walters to step up and put us ahead. We shot ourselves in the foot when Glen Whelan’s careless backpass needlessly put the defence under pressure. In the ensuing chaos Whelan brought down Sissoko on the edge of the area… handing a free kick to our opponents. Yohan Cabaye’s free kick was brilliant, inch perfect bouncing into the goal from the underside of the bar. From securing a precious lead we were back to square one immediately, a golden opportunity squandered, and nobody to blame but ourselves. In the final stages of the game Tony Pulis appeared to settle for the draw when he replaced Cameron Jerome with Dean Whitehead. The game was indeed fizzling out to a draw until injury time when our central defence failed to play the offside trap properly, Marc Wilson failed to step out leaving Papiss Cisse with plenty of time to control the ball and gratefully volley home a winner. Yet another dismal away day. We hadn’t actually played too badly, we failed to trouble the hosts but having edged ahead should have gone on to win the game and to lose was calamitous. Next up we face West Brom and it isn’t melodramatic to suggest it’s a must win game for us. There is a lot at stake. We have only won 8 league matches in the last 40. Failing to win will only exacerbate the mutterings of discontent amongst supporters and it’d be a relief to go into the international break on the back of a victory.
The aftermath of Real Madrid’s Champions League victory over Man Utd continues to resonate. Attention shifted from Nani’s controversial red card to Alex Ferguson’s decision to omit Wayne Rooney from the starting line up. Amid the media coverage some have seen fit to re-write history with the assertion that Wayne Rooney has failed to fulfill his potential. Lets examine the facts. At the age of 27 Rooney has won four Premier league winners medals… with the fifth a formality. He also has a Champions League winners medal and two runners up medals. His England form can be hit and miss but he has scored 33 games in 79 appearances, he still has the potential to reach 100 caps. With those achievements in mind some of the press appear to be blowing the situation out of all rational proportion.
For a long time many people felt that ex players should fill the game’s administrative roles. The thinking was that a players have devoted a huge part of their lives to football, therefore they will be more likely to care about it, protect it and ensure progressive ethical governance. Since being elected president of UEFA Michel Platini has proved this theory to be flawed. He has decided to expand the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams, a move which will dilute the quality of what is often a tremendous competition. As a result of this expansion, and with UEFA seemingly oblivious to the precarious state of the global economy, the 2020 tournament was short of bidders so will have to be shared across the continent. Despite attempting to introduce financial fair play rules he contradicted himself by welcoming Qatar Sports Investments bankrolling Paris Saint Germain. Coincidentally, Platini’s son Laurent is a lawyer employed by PSG. On the global stage Platini voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, despite now demanding conditions that weren’t part of the bid during the election in 2010. As a player Michel Platini embodied much of what makes the game great. A skillful elegant player able to pass a ball onto the proverbial sixpence. As an administrator he’s untrustworthy and self serving… just like the rest of them.
In the Scottish Premier League Hearts and Hibs drew the Edinburgh derby 0-0. Hearts must be relieved with the draw given the astonishing stroke of luck they received. Surely instances like this give further credence to the introduction of goal line technology. Leigh Griffiths was denied a place in Hibs folklore. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3996Mg9qppA
Barcelona’s majestic dismantling of Milan will live long on the memory. A remarkable performance from a remarkable football team. It was clear that to overturn the 0-2 deficit Barcelona really need an early goal. Messi delivered the goal with stunning accuracy. At the moment he struck the ball the Argentinian genius was well and truly locked in the cage. Four Milan players surrounded him yet, with a deft flick of the boot, he found the net with power and precision. In the 38th minute M’Baye Niang rattled the post for Milan but two minutes later Messi drew Barcelona level. From that point on the result wasn’t really in doubt. Barcelona’s passage to the quarter final seemed a formality and so it proved. On reflection it’s hard to say that Milan actually did anything wrong. They were simply outplayed and overpowered by the greatest football team of the modern era that contains the greatest footballer of the era.