Posts Tagged ‘Walters’

8 wins from 40 games, Waynes world, time for technology and true greatness

March 13th, 2013 No comments

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.

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.

Predictable rubbish, an A League renewal, Milan sunshine, Chelsea’s chaos

March 1st, 2013 No comments

The most depressing aspect of Stoke City’s dreadful showing at Fulham is the predictability.  Yet another failure to impose ourselves on the game, yet another glaring display of tepid inadequacy on the road and inevitably, yet another predictable away defeat.  Sometimes when Stoke play I get a warm thrill of nostalgia.  If we get a corner and the Stokies present give a roar of excitement it sounds like an old friend.  A good Delilah still gets the blood pumping.  When the TV cameras scan the aforementioned Stokies I instinctively look for faces I recognise and smile when one is located.  Saturday night’s game at Craven Cottage was certainly not one such occasion.  From the start our team seemed set up to try and squeeze out a grim 0-0 draw.  Despite failing to sustain any pressure on our opponents we seemed relatively comfortable for most of the first half.  Those few seconds before half time exposed one of the great failings of the approach, Dimitir Berbatov’s volley was the kind of brilliance nobody can really legislate for and the original gameplan has to be altered to get back into the game.  From that stage, especially against a side as devoid of creativity as Stoke are, it’s pretty simple to hold onto a lead…. you just keep discipline and hold positions and play the game out.  Predictably, Fulham easily managed to stifle our laboured efforts to reach parity.  Some of us may choose to hide behind the fanciful notion that had Jon Walters converted his penalty we’d have rallied to win the game, but comfort in ifs and buts is as lame as it is desperate.  The point also has to be made that as Jon Walters stepped up to take the spot kick many of us had little confidence he’d score.  His miss was utterly predictable.  This wretched ‘performance’ also carried some absurd displays of indiscipline.  Steven Nzonzi was outrageously, undeservedly fortunate not to get a red card for smacking Ruiz in the mouth.  That Nzonzi was fired up and seeking retribution for his earlier elbow in the face proves his intent.  Robert Huth may not be so lucky.  His elbow on Senderos was sheer thuggery.  He now faces the prospect of a three match ban and he can have nobody to blame but himself.  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Surely he’s fully aware that every moment of every match is filmed. Hopefully Tony Pulis has asserted his authority and punished him appropriately.  Our next away match is at Newcastle.  Next time it needs to be different.  Our away displays are now worse than at any time since promotion.  For side known to be combative and resilient, away from home we are increasingly easy to beat, a soft touch, dull, insipid and utterly predictable.

There was good news for the A-league last week with confirmation that Alessandro Del Piero will stay with Sydney FC for at least another season.  Despite his clubs lowly league position Del Piero is a huge success for the game here.  His arrival raised football’s profile on the Australian sporting landscape and his decision to activate the second year of his contract increases the league’s credibility.   In addition to all this he can still show moments of intrinsic skill few others can match.  Many of us are already excited about seeing him next season!

Milan’s 2-0 victory over Barcelona was thoroughly deserved.  The Rossoneri played with focus and discipline and stifled Barcelona’s glittering collection of superstars.  Even Lionel Messi couldn’t get out of the red and black  cage.  Milan pressed, took their chances and emerged worthy victors.  At the final whistle the San Siro almost exploded with delight, 80,000  together as one!  The cameras scanned to manager Massimiliano Allegri who was most entitled to savour the euphoria.  At the start of the season Allegri was under serious pressure.  His employers indicated they wanted Pep Guardiola to replace him and his sacking seemed a formality, every match they played had the air of a public execution.  It’s a cliche, but Milan’s passage to the quarter final is far from guaranteed.  While they are in a strong position to go through, Barcelona are fully capable of overturning the deficit.  The point has to be made however, having weathered the early season storm Allegri must have cherished last weeks sunshine.

Next weeks Champions League 2nd leg between Real Madrid and Manchester United could prove to be a defining moment of Jose Mourihno’s reign at the Bernebeau.  The tie is finely poised with Manchester United securing a precious away goal in Madrid but knowing the sheer quality of Real Madrid’s players (one player in particular) suggests deciding to sit back and invite pressure could be football suicide.  The remains of the tie will be shaped by the next goal.  Most importantly Manchester United must make sure they aren’t in a position where they have to chase the game. When Real Madrid took the lead at the Nou Camp Barcelona were forced to press forward in search of an equaliser.  The visitors  played the ball forward with unerring accuracy to expose the spaces behind the hosts increasingly populated attack.  You can be sure Alex Ferguson will have taken note.

The malaise at Stamford Bridge continues.  Talking to the media after the FA Cup victory over Middlesborough, Rafael Benitez criticised Owner Roman Abramavic and the supporters.  During his press conference Benitez emphasized his disappointment at being given the title ‘interim manager’.  His contract only lasts until the end of the season but it’s hard to imagine him lasting that long.  Some may suggest his outburst was ill advised but if he is being undermined by his employer why shouldn’t he speak out?  It’s almost ten years since Roman Abramovic bought and bankrolled Chelsea.  Despite the bottomless pit of spending money, and the chance to work with some very talented footballers, Chelsea remains a very difficult club to manage.


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.

Green shoots continue to grow but we need a win, political wrangling, football is the best

September 26th, 2012 No comments

In the opening phase of the game at Stamford Bridge we were under persistent pressure.  Stoke couldn’t clear the ball and were overpowered and outmanoeuvred by Chelsea.  We couldn’t  keep the ball and  conceded possession cheaply.  Despite the brilliant sunshine, it seemed we could be facing a long bleak afternoon.  To our players credit we managed to grow into the game.  For all Chelsea’s possession it was Stoke who came closest to opening the scoring when, from a glorious free kick by Glenn Whelan,  Jon Walters header hit the crossbar.  It was noticeable that it was Whelan not Charlie Adam taking the free kick.  Adam was based in a surprisingly advanced position but saw little of the ball.  He also seemed inhibited after collecting a yellow card.  In the second half however he floated in a dangerous corner that Peter Crouch almost got to.  Methinks Glenn Whelan and Charlie Adam could soon become set piece rivals!  As the game wore on we continued to defend with admirable discipline, we combined this with bold forward play.  We carved out few clear chances but it was a refreshing change to  impose ourselves on the game.  At the point we dared to dream we may be able to earn a precious point our hopes were dashed. Ashley Cole’s ghosted run caught us out completely.  Against a team of Chelsea’s quality there are moments you can’t legislate for, Cole’s awareness and  movement was one thing we couldn’t match.  It wasn’t a bad finish either.  All that remained in the game was a vicious lunge by David  Luiz on Jon Walters.  On this blog last week I stated clearly that Andy Wilkinson was foolish to lash out Mario Balotelli, as a result he received a deserved three match ban.  With that in mind it isn’t bias that leaves me aghast that referee Michael Oliver chose not to send Luiz off.  Oliver was next to the incident and saw Luiz fly in two footed.  A red card wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the match, nor is this yet another plea for consistency, quite simply,  is it too much to ask for  officials to correctly apply the laws of football?  We emerged from the game with reasons to be optimistic.  We put the European Champions under pressure on  their homeground and at 0-0 Tony Pulis made substitutions to try and win the game.  Our evolution continues!

As encouraging as the early season signs have been we need to start winning some games of football.  The next league match is at home to Swansea.  In all fairness, and with all respect due, it’s a game we should set out to win.  Every opponent in this league will cause problems but this is an opportunity to chalk up three points. If we maintain our recent levels of enterprise we have every chance of doing so.

The Football Federation of Kosovo have sent a letter, signed by several European players, demanding that Kosovo be allowed to participate in international football.  Both FIFA and UEFA have rules stating that only nations acknowledged by the United nations are allowed to join.  Since gaining independence in 2008 the UN still refuses to accept them as a member…. on these grounds Serbia have publicly opposed Kosovan attempts to join the football family.  The powers that be may have to draw on all their political and diplomatic expertise to ensure an outcome to appease everyone concerned.

The group stage of the Champions League commenced last week and arrived with a bang.  Unlike the usual dull group matches, several games were filled with intense dramatic twists and turns.  During the Olympics  a pomposity developed which sneered at football.  In fact, a recent trend has evolved which involves unfavourably comparing football to other sports. With monotonous regularity the question is asked why footballers don’t behave with the integrity of Olympians.  Their hubris overlooks the fact that many Olympic sports are a mere novelty to be enjoyed once every four years. What we have as football supporters isn’t a passing fad, it’s an essential organic part of our lives.  And when football is as absorbing and exciting as last weeks, it reminds us  we have something that can’t be matched.  As a shameless football propagandist I say that with bombastic pride!!!


Stoke City – Characteristic tenacity, a new boss and a worrying trend

August 27th, 2012 No comments

To use a football cliche, our draw with Arsenal brought the reward of a ‘hard earned point’.  We rarely looked likely to trouble the Arsenal goal, similarly, our opponents were stifled by our characteristic tenacity. There were several phases of the game during which our midfield  struggled to handle Arsenal’s movement but our back four were focused and played with discipline.  The one worrying aspect of our defensive play is how often we lunge into tackles.  At Reading Dean Whitehead saw red for two unnecessary challenges.  On Sunday Huth and Wilkinson steamed into tackles and, as well as receiving cautions, gave away free kicks in very dangerous territory.  Wilkinson stayed on his feet, had he slid in his may well have been a straight red.  As a team we are physical but that needn’t equate to recklessness.

Geoff Cameron made an encouraging start to his Stoke City career. He broke Arsenal’s midfield play up well and made simple passes to maintain possession.  Again it was Michael Kightly who looked our most potent attacking threat.  Kightly also threaded a defence unlocking ball  through for Jon Walters… a rare delight from a Stoke player!

So, two games gone and two points earned.  A solid if unspectacular start to our season.  Meanwhile Arsenal will be painfully aware that the season has barely begun and they are already seven points behind the leaders.

The next league game is at Wigan.  In all fairness it’s a game we should set out to win.   The away form must improve and Saturday will be a good way to send the message out that we are no longer a soft touch on our travels.  It’d be a relief if we have some new personnel in time for that game.

Last week Football Federation Australia appointed ex rugby league supremo David Gallop as their new CEO. Gallop is an established respected sports administrator having held the same role as head of the National Rugby League.  The move has been generally well received.  While it does seem to be a good appointment the whole spectre of administration of football in Australia continues to be draining.

On arrival here in 1996 I was looking forward to acquainting myself with the Australian game.  The main TV show which covered local football issues was an hour long magazine programme on a channel called SBS on Monday nights.  The first time I watched, most of the show was taken up with a radical discussion regarding an internal issue in the corridors of power.  Over 16 years later the ongoing internal wrangling in football’s corridors of power continue to cast a dark shadow over our game.   The game here won’t fulfill it’s rich potential until headlines are made by players instead of administrators.  I hasten to add that I, along with all football supporters, wish David Gallop every success in his new role.

It’s disturbing to see the pre season here in Australia  tarnished by crowd violence. In Australia some youngsters have a sickening infatuation with the whole culture of football related thuggery.  I overheard some talking excitedly about trouble at a game and asked them why they were so fascinated by people bashing each other peoples heads in…… they didn’t know.  As a teenager, many of my contemporaries regarded becoming involved in fighting almost as a natural progression…. as if it was a rite of passage.  I specifically remember, even as a nine year old, standing in Glebe Street watching Millwall and Stoke’s hooligans fighting and being confused that so many people felt the need to smash people’s faces in over what was, essentially, wanting a different team to win a game of football.  Violence at football has resulted in lives damaged, people even killed.  It has given police the excuse (but not justification) to treat supporters as second class citizens.  There is nothing positive about football violence.

Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid have made a shaky start to the season.  A defeat and a draw are not what was expected at the Bernabeu.  While they were crowned champions last season, Mourinho was appointed to bring the European Cup to Madrid.  The semi final exit to Bayern Munich hangs in the air.  If form doesn’t improve quickly the managers position may be called into question.  What could save him could be the huge question of who could possibly replace him.  At Real Madrid  style and panache are as important to the culture of the club as their illustrious historical trophy haul.   In choosing Mourinho they  effectively made a U turn.  Mourinho’s brilliance is motivation and 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.  Real Madrid is known to be a notorious  managerial graveyard.  If the internal politics become too much and he walks away he’ll be able to do so with reputation intact and will still be able to pick up a job at another  European powerhouse.  When he was appointed the Galactico was the manager.  He  was the one that couldn’t possibly fail….. and nobody is more aware of that than Mourinho himself.  That Jose isn’t stupid!


The need to exorcise demons, brilliant orange, a solution for Fabio.

November 23rd, 2011 No comments

Psychiatrists often advise people to confront their demons.  Using this as a template, Tony Pulis would be well advised to take his players to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium for a day out.  We discovered on Saturday that we still bear the scars of the thrashing we received a fortnight before.

The Bolton aftermath haunted the build up to the QPR game.  Oddly, Tony Pulis even stated publicly that he’d been too harsh on the players.  It was odd but understandable.  We were preparing for a home game we expected to win.  A win was crucial to wash  the pain of Bolton away.  Initially it seemed our players had responded to the challenge.  We started at a blistering pace and immediately carried the game to the opposition.  On eight minutes we took the lead with an impressive finish from Walters.  Our early dominance had got it’s reward.  When Crouch squandered an excellent opportunity it seemed a matter of time before we doubled the lead.  On 22 minutes static defending led to Helguson equalising for QPR.  That was the pivotal point of the match.  From being in complete control of the contest we were at Bolton again…. visibly shaken, confidence shattered and discipline lost.   The early zest disintegrated  completely and yet again we were reduced to chasing the opposition.  It wasn’t a huge shock to go in down at half time.  For a right back Luke Young’s finish was masterful but why we stood off and failed to challenge is a mystery.  Having to chase games is a depressingly familiar feeling. 

The second half started as the first concluded… with QPR passing through us. When Helguson put us 1-3 down the game was all but over.  It’s to the credit of our players that they did rally to try and get us back into the game.  Shawcross scored to get us back to 2-3.  This should have been a signal to lay siege to the QPR goal but the  onslaught never arrived.  Lacking the craft to open them up again we were stifled in relative comfort.  There’s no doubt we should have been awarded a penalty but it’s important not to cling to that grievance too tightly.  We made too many mistakes to deserve anything from the game. 

We face Blackburn next in yet another winnable game.  As with all bad runs of form, the current malaise is nothing a win won’t put right.  But to ensure we get that win out players must remember that if we face a setback it’s vital to be mentally strong and to continue to do the things they do well.  Then, and only then, will get the crucial victory we need…. and start to exorcise the Bolton demons. 

The remarkable thing about Brisbane Roar’s 2-1 victory away to Newcastle Jets is that Brisbane for long spells were second best.  For most of the first half Roar’s play lacked it’s usual  fluidity.  Newcastle had set out to play a high tempo physical game and to their credit it worked.  The Jets deserved their half time lead and it seemed likely that the day had arrived when Roar’s record breaking run would come to an end.  In the second half however Brisbane showed a side to their game rarely seen.  Instead of bemoaning their lot they outnumbered Newcastle in midfield which helped them to match the physical prowess of the home team.  It was also noticable that the incisive through ball from Brisbane was coming from deeper positions, this could prove a useful plan B to accompany the usual style.  At half time a win was highly unlikely, but displaying variation and application, three precious well earned points were accompanying the team back to the river city.  Overall it wasn’t the stylish total football that has underpinned this amazing run but it’s sometimes worth remembering… an ugly win is still a win. 

Brisbane’s win was a milestone because it equalled the longest unbeaten streak in the history of Australian sport.  The record was set 74 years ago by an Eastern Suburbs rugby League team who enjoyed a 35 game unbeaten run.  The home game against Perth on Saturday could prove to be a huge piece of Australian sporting history.   Hopefully the Australian sporting landscape will be bathing in a sea of orange!

Wayne Rooney will be a huge talking point during England’s preparation for Euro 2012.  There is still the possibility that the 3 match ban he received be reduced to 2, but the manager could be forgiven if he’s seething.  Being placed in such a situation, for no good reason, by one of his most important players, is an unwelcome obstacle.  However, every problem contains it’s own solution.  Italy’s habitual caution is genuine and legendary.  But in 2006 Marcello Lippi, wily old fox that he is, contradicted this regular policy of football suicide by taking six forwards to Germany in 2006. SIX. More to the point, in the semi against Germany alone used five of them.  This is a lesson for Fabio Capello to take on board. Instead of filling the squad out with holding midfielders, take an extra attacker. Take 5.  You can’t have too many attacking options. Capello’s  Milan in 1994 stunned many with the unexpected display of attacking football in the European Cup Final. An England side with a variation of attacking options may surprise people.  This would address the issue of Rooney’s self imposed absence with positive sympathy.

A late point, Spanish stand off, Harry’s hype and a get well soon.

August 24th, 2011 No comments

Eventually, our injury depleted travel weary warriors emerged from Carrow Road with another  point.  We attacked  early on in the game but, as is the current way, rarely threatened to open the scoring.  Our enterprising start soon fizzled away as Norwich settled and pressed us back.  Lacking the quick feet to operate in tight areas, we too often squandered precious possession by hopelessly hitting long balls.  Jonesy can win a ball in the air but if he’s isolated it merely gives the ball back to the opposition.  For much of the first half   Kenwyne received little support. It was  tortuous  for Stokies to watch at times.  Pennant’s substitution after half an hour only increased our  despondecy… in all fairness to Danny Pugh, seeing him replace Pennant hardly boosted confidence.   When De Laet scored with a classy header it looked bleak.  Half time was a miserable place.  To our relief the second  half saw an improvement. Shorter more precise balls led to us building attacks gradually.  As a result, our midfield could support the front two. Tony Pulis was right when he stated in his post match comments that we had posed a threat before the red card was given.  It was nevertheless infuriating that we couldn’t capitalise on an outrageous piece of luck.  Barnett tussled with Walters outside the box and it’s even questionable whether it was a foul let alone a penalty.  The red card was fortuitous to say the least.  Failing to take advantage of the penalty award was frustrating.  Ruddy’s save wasn’t particularly impressive, Walters penalty was dreadful.  We continued to toil away but for all but the last two minutes of stoppage time it seemed Walters miss would prove costly.  Ryan Shotton’s introduction gave our play a much needed new dimension.  His ability to overlap on the right and put quality crosses into the box was crucial to the late pressure that culminated in our equaliser.  Jonesy’s late header finally dragged us a point from what, at times, looked a desperate situation. 

The performance of Ryan Shotton was a huge positive to take from the game.  There’s no real reason why he shouldn’t start at right back at WBA.  If you’re good enough you’re old enough.  Not that age should be a problem.  Shotton is 22.  By the age of 22 Ryan Giggs had won two Premier League winners medals and an FA Cup.  Huth is a colossus in the centre and will be certain to start.   Of course this means that Shawcross or  Woodgate would have to warm the bench.  That’s a difficult decision for the manager but it’s his job to make those decisions.  The main thought we take from the game is a simple one, one so glaringly obvious it’s almost an embarrassment to say it…. we really need to buy some new players.

Liverpool’s victory at the Emirates was just reward for a complete performance.  They bossed the game and used their extra man to good advantage following Frimpong’s dismissal.  Three points well earned.  Some sections of the media have fancifully suggested that this could be the year Liverpool finally get the monkey off their back and win the league.  Kenny Dalglish will be aware of the dangers of such misplaced optimism.  To build a structure which provides a title winning platform will take several seasons.  A huge step for that structure would be provided by winning a cup or two.  Liverpool’s cup tie at Exeter this week takes extra significance.  The days are gone when they can regard this competition as a hindrance and send out a half baked team.  Liverpool need to start winning trophies again….. that would be a meaningful step towards the big one.

While the English Premier League is underway the Spanish League has been stalled by a players strike.  The issue at stake is unpaid wages.  In the lower leagues 200 players are owed in the region of 50m Euros.  A mind boggling statistic.  Before starting the season the players are demanding assurances that the outstanding wages will be paid in full.  It’s understandable that the supporters are keen to see their teams in action again. The point has to be made though that it’s refreshing to see footballers making a stand to support their poorer brethren.  And, contrary to popular belief, not all footballers are multi millionaires.

The saga is over.  Harry Kewell has finally joined Melbourne Victory. It’s a big football story here and when the A-League season starts in October the hype surrounding Kewell will be huge.  It’s sure to guarantee increased crowds and generate interest in the league.   However, as a Brisbane Roar enthusiast, I can’t say I envy Melbourne Victory their new acquisition.  The finance involved will be astronomical for an Australian club and if, for whatever reason, the signing is a flop it’d mean a lot of money has been thrown away.  It would also discourage other overseas based Australian players from returning to play.  It’s much more substantial for Brisbane (Whose spending needs to be frugal) to invest money in building the football club. Long term stability is crucial to a club of Brisbane’s limited resources.  The luxurious distraction of a hyperbolic juggernaut can roll on elsewhere!

After the recent pandemonium over the machinations of FIFA we could be forgiven for believing that the games governing body spends it’s time carrying money around in carrier bags.  But they also organise the Word Cup, it couldn’t possibly take place without them.   Recently they carried out the draw for the qualifying stages on the 2014 World Cup.  Australia were drawn against Saudi Arabia, Oman and Thailand.   Sections of the Australian media analysed the possibilities and the Socceroos’s chances of reaching the next stage.  Surely the aforementioned analysis was carried out to be polite to forthcoming opponents.  Does anyone seriously believe Australia won’t get through?  With all respect to everyone involved they should ease through with the minimum of fuss.  On a completely different note it was surprising that so much English media seem to believe England’s passage to Brazil will be straight forward.  Poland Montenegro and Ukraine are good sides who can cause significant problems.  Hopefully the England manager (whoever it is at that point) won’t be as dismissive of opponents as the press have been.  

It was announced last week that Brazilian great Socrates is in intensive care in a Sao Paolo hospital.  Socrates was part of the magical Brazil team of 1982.  They played football from the Gods.  He initiated moves whilst surrounded by colourful brilliance.  Opposition sides were mesmerised by breathtaking skill and kaleidoscopic movement.  Poor defending led to their elimination by Italy, losing 3-2 in one of the most gripping encounters in football history.  I don’t doubt that had Brazil gone on to lift the trophy in 1982, that side would be as revered as their predecessors from twelve years before.  Socrates was something of a football bohemian.  He refused to play for the national team until the age of 25 so he could complete his studies to be a doctor. Since finishing playing in 1989 he has become a doctor of philosophy.  Get well soon Socrates.

Elephants remain, some style, a slimeball, and a get well soon.

November 8th, 2010 No comments

On Saturday at Sunderland Stoke City were awful.   The glaring referee error shouldn’t overshadow the fact that this tepid spineless showing had relegation written all over it.  We started well but Sunderland broke forward for the first time and, following a litany of lame tackles, found themselves in our box.  A weak shot that Begovic should have held fell to Gyan who  had plenty of time to put us behind.  A truly pathetic way to fall behind and our inability to create anything substantial in the attacking third of the pitch left us us with an uphill struggle.  A struggle we rarely looked likely to conquer.  Some have questioned the role of   Walters  and pondered what he brings to the team, well on Saturday he made a needless clumsy challenge and gave a penalty away.  Begovic saved the scuffed spotkick in relative comfort.  That miss emphasised how nervous Sunderland were, our inability to take advantage of such a piece of undeserved good fortune emphasised how toothless we were.    We threatened in the second half for spells until THAT bafflingly diabolical decision from another  gutless official.  The ridiculous thing about the non decision is how he couldn’t see the handball.  Atkinson was so obsessed by the issue of whether the ball had crossed the line he forgot that handling the ball isn’t actually allowed in football.   Tony Pulis was near the halfway line and immediately appealed, what was the ref watching?  A penalty and a red card would have altered the course of the game immensely as dire as we were.  From that point our players felt sorry for themselves and indiscipline spread through the team.  There was something inevitable about Ryan Shawcross’ red card… an appropriate conclusion to an horrendous day for Stoke City.   We made a poor team look average and that’s all it took to beat us. Don’t allow the bad reffing decisions to obscure the Increasing quantity of elephants in the room, and prevent the issues being addressed properly.  We now have two home games to try and find form and avoid being well and truly ensconced in the relegation struggle.  Liverpool’s impressive win over Chelsea demonstrates that they are well and truly over their rubbish start to the season, in fact they are in good form now.  A draw would be an excellent result… which makes the Birmingham game crucial.  it’s too early to talk about must win games but all at SCFC must be aware of the implications of defeat.   The Liverpool match kicks off at 3.30am here.  Whatever happens, Sunday will be riddled with fatigue, hopefully this will be  blissful fatigue. 

Brisbane Roar beat Adelaide 4-0 on Saturday night to go clear on top of the table.  It was actually a brilliant display of stylish football with moments of wonderful fluidity and movement.  When you think that shortly after half time Brisbane went down to ten men with the score 1-0 it makes the result and performance even more impressive.  13,000 attended which is an improvement.  Next time they might all bring a friend along!  Mysteriously, there was a bloke sat two rows in front of me and he kept doing everything wrong. If Roar got a throw in level with their own penalty area he’d suddenly start shouting all excitedly. If Roar got a corner he’d look on disinterested. After each goal he sat indifferent but a goal kick would give him the urge to get up and yell. A most unusual yet amusing circumstance!

Few could deny that Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the outstanding players of this era.  However, if anyone wants an explanation of why he is also one of the most loathed football figures of this era they only have to look at this clip for an example.   His cheating is, at times, so blatant it beggars belief.  For all his brilliant skill and the excitement he generates the incessant cheating is a large filthy stain on him both as a footballer and as a human being.

It’s baffling that recently Chris Hughton’s future at Newcastle has been under threat.  He’s done a marvellous job there.  Got them promoted with the minimum of fuss and are stabilising well back in the top flight.  Against Arsenal they weren’t at all overawed and played with admirable composure and discipline, scored a goal from a well worked set piece and got the win they deserved.  As an ex Spurs man it must have been the sweetest moment of all for the manager!    They wanted a big name for all them years but the answer was under their nose. They could sack Hughton, appoint Rijkaard and it watch the good work unravel.   As well as all this Andy Carroll must be worth an England call up for the game against France. 

It was bad news to read about Danny Baker dealing with cancer.  But it’s good news that he has a good chance of full recovery.  A good proper football man who publicly defended the rights of supporters, even back in the bleak mid 80s when we were social lepers Danny Baker would defend our corner with enthusiasm and humour.  Get well soon Danny.

Stoke, Liverpool, Nigeria, England, Montengro

October 6th, 2010 No comments

Excuse the title of this post…. I fancy a job working for The Sun!  Like before, the international break comes at the right time for Stoke City, except this time it’s very different reasons.  What a difference a month makes!  Four unbeaten games and we are a quarter of the way to the magical 40 points mark.  On Saturday against Blackburn we played well, and unlike at Newcastle, we attacked them from the start.  It’s great that Walters got off the mark.  In the first half he really looked like a man who had recently joined a Premier league club but had been hit and miss….. and the pressure of the situation seemed to be showing.  Snatching at passes and being over eager to make an impression.  That goal will lift a huge weight from his shoulders and now the monkey is off his back he can relax and go onto better things with us.  I, like many other Stokies, would be perfectly happy with him if he scores the winner in every game he plays!   A pleasing aspect of the Blackburn game is that it was physical and combative but there was nothingmalicious involved and the players didn’t act and roll around.  Pennant clearly isn’t match fit but in bursts his pace and, most pleasingly, the quality of his crosses were great and could prove to be a very productive asset.  All in all a good day for Stoke City.  We finally got the clean sheet we’ve needed and we rarely looked like conceding at all.   We are up to seventh now which is thrilling.   We may not stay this high for long so let’s enjoy it while we can!!   Great work Stoke!   More of the same please.  

At Anfield on Sunday something strange happened.  Amid the talk of financial incompetence and lawyers accountants and consortiums a football match broke out!   And in the game itself something stranger happened.  Roy  Hodgson’s players look totally demoralised.  I can’t believe Torres isn’t preparing to leave in January.  The brand name Liverpool FC should be enough to stave off the threat of administration and in that instance their history must be a relief….. unlike the burden it appears to be on the current players.  In administration Liverpool FC would cease to be an FC and would become merely a company in administration.  The sale of Torres and Gerrard would surely be ordered and a huge slice of their football dream would leave with them.  There is much melodrama on viewing their current plight.  The biggest cliche being that the current owners have ‘ripped the soul’ of of Liverpool.  That might be an appropriate expression of withering self pity but in reality the soul of Liverpool departed on February 22nd 1991.   Having wrestled with his sanity for the previous two years and in the wake of one of the greatest FA Cup ties ever played, Kenny Dalglish rersigned.  Their greatest player, having gone on to be a successful manager, leading the club and it’s fans with dignity through the tramatic aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, decided he was no longer able to deal with the stresses the job brought.  Liverpool ceased to be the dominant force in English football on that day.  It can’t help that Man Utd gleefully took over their reign.  When Alex Ferguson said his greatest achivement was “Knocking Liverpool off their fu^*ing perch” it was a reflection on 26 years of frustration.  Now it’s Liverpool’s turn to feel envy, and if the Blackpool game is any pointer  it may get much worse before it gets better.

FIFA have suspended Nigeria because of government interference in the game there.  Now, they are following their own rules in taking this action but some questions have to be asked. Has this action been taken now that Africa’s World Cup is over and any response will be less of a hot issue with the potential to backfire?  Is it right to deprive the people of Nigeria the chance to support their national team because of administrative meddling?  If the Brazilian German or English FA had a similar problem would Sepp and the old boys club be prepared to take on the might of a football nation with that power and, more importantly, capacity to generate income?  If FIFA are capable of taking such strong action will they take it to address the issue of racism which is still depressingly prominent in some areas of the world…. or will they continue to pay empty lip service to the subject?  

Kevin Davies finally got picked for an England squad!  For several years his name has been mentioned regarding an England call up and it’s finally come to fruition.  It’s pleasing to see a solid professional who has quietly gone about his job and played the game with the minimum of fuss down the years get some recognition.  Unlikely though it is that he’ll get his first cap it’s still a memory he can treasure from a long  career.   Montenegro will be no pushovers.   They are yet to concede and have won both of their games so far.   As is often the case the main problem with England will be defending as a unit.    Too often one clever ball leaves the defence flat footed and this causes problems.  Against solid underrated opposition like Montenegro our back four need to stay awake. 

I haven’t seen Gary Lineker’s documentary about whether England can win the next World Cup but he could have saved the effort of making the programme by asking me and I’ll tell him now…. no we can’t.  Brazil will be favourites obviously but will they handle the pressure?   Many South American football rivalries are borne of historical moments and Brazil are still haunted by 1950.  Imagine if Argentina met  Brazil in the knockout stages and knocked them out. The rest of  the tournament wouldn’t matter.  As far as they would be concerned they will have won their own World Cup. The European team with the mentality to go to Brazil and win it will be Germany. They will also have their exciting youngsters all matured by then too. The whole mindset of the English game needs to change to win a World Cup. And there is little chance of that happening.  Unlike many, I wouldn’t object to a winter break in principle.  But the players wouldn’t be restingon a beach….they would be whisked across the globe for money spinning friendlies so it wouldn’t actually be a break at all.    While the clubs stubbornly refuse to take action for the greater good of the game this is how it shall be.