Archive for November, 2010

Halfway to the magical 40 and Machiavellian administrators

November 30th, 2010 No comments

It’s understandable that a manager wants to defend his team.  It’s easy to appreciate that a manager might want to publicly focus on the positive aspects that come from a game.  But even bearing those things in mind it’s hard to believe that Roberto Mancini seriously honestly believes that Man City deserved to beat us on Saturday.  If so you have to engage, as Tone did, that well worn mantra for all football supporters when a view on a game differs from their own… “What game was he watching?”   To engage yet another football cliche, it was clearly a game of two halves.  There was a story that on arrival on the pitch at the Brit to warm up Balotelli, to the amusement of the Stoke coaching staff, dashed down the tunnel clearly unsettled by the cold.  In the first half it seemed not so super Mario’s discomfort had become a virus which spread throughout the team.  For the first 45 minutes we played with impressive intelligence, one aspect of which was that we allowed them to have the ball where it couldn’t hurt us.  They could indeed play 10 passes in a row but if that’s done in areas which can’t hurt us, and angles are closed to limit their options, why waste energy frantically hassling and clattering?   We paid a  price for our inability to gain a lead from our first half dominance.  For much of the second half we had difficulty breaking forward, but for all Man City’s possession they didn’t create many clear cut chances.  There were several potshots but little seriously tested our defence.  It took a combination of skill and opportunism from Richards to out us behind.  Richards dummy and turn combined with Collins lack of concentration led to a shot on goal he buried in style.  Some might blame Begovic but it’s hard for any keeper to save a shot hit with such power and accuracy.  It looked as if that was that, especially as we seemed unable to rally to launch the usually obligatory  siege on their penalty area.   But in the end, and it really was the end, that marvellous bit of skill from Tuncay let to Ethers ruthless finish to gain us a well deserved point.  So precise was that little piece of Turkish delight (sorry) that Ethers didn’t even have to break stride to take his shot.  There was little time for anything else in the game so all that was left was for Mancini to attempt to rewrite history.  One point that has to be made about Man City is that they do have some great talent in their side, but are a long way from being substantial title challengers.  Stoke away is a serious test of character and how the challenge is dealt with demonstrates whether you have the resilience to stay competitive.  For all the millions spent they didn’t do nearly enough to win this game and in the first half didn’t want to be out in the cold.  Their collection of superstars need to be reminded that points win leagues. not hairstyles.    That puts us halfway to the magical 40 mark.  Lets hope we can maintain the desire of the last four games 40 won’t be too far away!  Well done Stoke, we have a team to be proud of long may it continue.

It’s commonplace for Barcelona to dismantle sides.   The striking difference  this time is that  it was done against a top team filled with stars and a tactical master at the helm.  Aside from the initial humiliation, Real Madrid don’t actually have that much to worry about.  There is still a long way to go and despite the obvious psychological advantage many twists and turns lie ahead.  Many bemoan the fact that the Premier League is unbalanced in terms of TV money distribution, yet in Spain each club negotiates their independent TV rights deal.  This means that Barcelona and Real Madrid can maintain their dominance almost totally unthreatened  by the minions.  There are murmurs that they are both seriously considering sharing some of  the money to assist their poorer brethren, it’s  hard to imagine the English mega giants choosing such altruism. 

It’s pleasing to see the British home office report stating that arrests at football are down 10%.  Apparently, in a World cup year,  there were no arrests for England fans abroad.  Is it the first time ever this has happened?

The announcement of World Cup hosts for 2018 and 2022 is imminent.  It’s actually more crucial for the national football health of Australia to host 2022 than it is for England to host 2018.  In England football exists continues to generate interest and income and remains prominent.   Here it’s different.  The energy and expense that goes into a bid like this is phenomenal and if the show arrives here in 2022 it looks like a shrewd investment.  If the party takes place elsewhere the resources used by the bid could appear to be seriously wasteful.  Bearing in mind the A-league has several clubs in financial disarray, it will be suggested that the money used to fund the bid could have been more wisely spent by helping to provide infrastructure for the game here.  The irony is that while moving to FIFA’s Asian section was an intelligent step to take, if Australia had stayed with Oceania they would be near certainties to host the tournament. 

It’s now highly unlikely the Joeinoz dream of successive tournaments in England and Australia will come to fruition.  Consecutive World Cups in predominantly white predominantly English speaking nations doesn’t sit well with FIFA liking to present themselves and as a globally inclusive entity which is trying to save the world from the tyranny of oppression.  Admittedly this image of universal harmony didn’t stretch as far as asking delegates to consider a nations  history of racist abuse  when voting, but why get off the train when the gravy is still simmering?   Combine this with the sickening way that English journalists  daring to expose corruption in the bidding process has damaged the English bid, it’s unlikely to court favour with those whose gravy train is in danger of being derailed.  The odious Jack Warner of CONCACAF has been wined and dined by David Cameron seeking forgiveness and votes.  It’s increasingly clear that hosting a tournament is little to do with suitability to do so, it’s all politically motivated.  The internal wrangling gives Machiavellian a complex for not living up to itself.

Three in a row and Wenger through the wringer

November 23rd, 2010 No comments

Three top flight wins in a row for the first time since 1984’s  Huddy inspired great escape.  The final game was by far the least enthralling installment of the trilogy, but who is really complaining about that?    After a first half when both sides were as poor as each other, few could have predicted what became an emphatic victory for us.  Not that we didn’t deserve the victory overall I hasten to add.  The plethora of bad refereeing decisions that have gone against us this season are embedded in our collective psyche, leaving a dark bitter stain.  The point has to be made however that we were the recipients of good fortune at The Hawthorns when Jonesy, shall we say, tumbled a bit too easily and Foy kindly gave us the penalty.   I think he dived but there is one glaring factor which has to be brought into the debate…. why did WBA keeper Frank Carson feel the need to dash from his goal?  Jonesy still had a lot to do.  But dash he did to lead us to Matty’s ruthlessly executed penalty to give us a lead we rarely looked likely to lose.   Our opponents looked demoralised and we continued to grind and graft and got a second, with a more valid penalty, which Jon Walters hammered home with much aplomb.  Right at the death Jonesy did some great jinky work on the left which put Walters in again.  The hapless Frank Carson saved the first effort with rare competence but the rebound deflected to Walters who ruthlessly swept the ball home for his second and our third.  Admittedly, the third gave the scoreline a flattering complexion, but that’s football it happens, it feels good to be on the right side of some (minor) injustice!  So our strangely, phenomenally, bizarrely, amazingly brilliant record against WBA continues.  On Saturday the Baggies heads went down from the moment we scored as if being behind to Stoke City was such a depressingly familiar feeling.  That’s hardly surprising.  It’s probably as depressing for them as it is awe inspiring for us!  So, three wins in a row and two clean sheets.  It’s fair to say things are looking up.   Life is good!   The elephants have made a sharp exit!!  Hopefully that’s the last we’ve seen of the unwelcome big grey floppy eared tusky sods!!!  They are beautiful animals but not what I want in the loungeroom on Saturday night whilst watching Stoke play!! 

After their hopeless display against Sunderland Chelsea were much improved against Birmingham.  Birmingham mustered one shot at goal while Chelsea had twenty five, yet, amusingly, Chelsea still lost!   It’d be fanciful to suggest the behind the scenes wrangling was responsible for their Saturday’s defeat but the aforemtioned  wrangling is clearly having a detrimental effect on the club as a whole.  The dismissal of Wilkins and the subsequent internal squabbling is as undignified as it is funny!  Abramavic bought Chelsea seven years ago and while the money has bought success the ongoing meddling from administrators at the club is obstructive to whoever the manager may be.  The Independent reported on Monday that Ancelotti might be on the verge of resignation because he doesn’t have the power his contemporaries have at their respective clubs.  It seems resignation rumours were somewhat melodratic, but it does demonstrate how difficult Chelsea can be to manage.  A bottomless pit of transfer funds doesn’t compensate for the impracticalities of big club decisions being made behind your back.  On buying the club in 2003 Abramovic’s mission statement was to win two European Cups (Champions league my arse!) in the first ten years.  That they are yet to win one proves that a winning culture to match the cream of world football can’t just be bought, it has to be built over a period of years… even with that bottomless pit.

Another London club that went through the wringer at the weekend are those lovable purists at The Emirates.  How did that happen?  Well, Arry played a blinder.   The astonishing second half comeback came with Defoe replacing Lennon and playing as a striker while Van De Vaart moved to the right.  This gave them options all over the attacking third and eventually they outnumbered poor old Arsenal into submission.  I’m sure all Stokies shed a tear for Arsene Wenger as he wandered the touchline in exasperated frustration.  It was a truly fantastic game and an example of all that is good about football.  However, one disappointing aspect is that Arsenal got three yellow cards.  The whole world was watching and their blunt violence again brings shame and disgust onto the reputation of English football.  When you reduce yourself to that kind of thuggery it ceases to be football.  

Hey get this for any oxymoron… FIFA Ethics committee!!   Honestly, it really exists.   Look at this if you don’t believe me.  They must have the easiest job in football!  Like driving the snow plough in Dubai. 

England were well beaten by France.  Technically and tactically outclassed. To slag off Capello for this performance and result is to miss some salient points.  The clamour was for different younger players to gain some international experience… which they did.  That we were comprehensively beaten just emphasises AGAIN that the technical ability of English players in inferior to that of many other countries.  France were one of few teams to have an even worse World Cup than England yet they already look to be rebuilding and preparing for the future.  If England host 2018 the role of the national football traning centre at Burton will get sharper focus as it will be a legitimate target to aim for.  By then we may have started to see the fruits of that labour (heaven knows we’ve waited long enough) and finally get English players who can trap a ball and pass it accurately and keep the ball and patiently unlock an opposing defence, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

What a difference a week makes!!!

November 16th, 2010 No comments

Inn his wisdom Harold Wilson once said that seven days was a long time in politics.  He should have triend being a Stokie!!  Seven days on it all feels so much brighter for us.  Two deserved victories and we can breathe a little easier.  The Birmingham game was one of our more hair raising days.  From being two goals up and in total control we were suddenly clinging on for a point.  Then We somehow bagged a crucial winner and the three points we seemed to have gifted away a quarter of an hour before.  It was a fantastic win albeit with a 2nd half littered with faults.  But after the awful run of defeats a win was a win and that was that.  Fuller’s goal was a real masterpiece. I don’t doubt that if that goal had been scored by certain other teams in this division it would have received maximum media exposure.  At the end of the Birmingham game the players must have felt fatigue abundance.  It was exhausting enough just watching it on television! 

There were few faults on Saturday against Liverpool however.  As accomplished a showing as we’ve had since reaching the Premier League in 2008.  An impressive showing that earned the win we thoroughly deserved.  In the first half we overpowered Liverpool and outfought them.  The significant factor in respect to our evolution as a team is that after going ahead we out-thought them.  Stoke left little traps for them to fall into and on winning the ball back broke forward with confidence to keep our increasingly bedraggled opposition on the backfoot.  Pennant and Etherington carrying the ball forward and, just as importantly, keeping possession when getting closed down.  We stifled their threat in relative comfort.  Our control was so comprehensive that Jonesy’s late goal just gave the scoreline a more realistic complexion, and so we achieved our first victory over Liverpool for 26 years .  Some may choose to emphasise that this Liverpool isn’t the Europe conquering powerhouse we defeated 26 years ago but to under estimate the scale of this result is to miss some salient points.  Two of Liverpool’s players returned from South Africa with World Cup winners medals.  Gerrard Torres and Reina alone would be  worth 60m pounds in transfer fees.  Torres was in excellent form before we stifled him, his finishing, as ruthless as it is graceful, had returned and less than a week before he’d scored two classy goals to see off the champions.  On Wednesday at Wigan Gerrard’s brilliant through ball had been met with a superb run and finish from their dynamic frontline leader.  That we limited Liverpool to hopeful potshots and overhit through balls is a healthy testament to both our players application and workrate and Tony Pulis and our coaching staff’s attention to detail.  The corner is turned and the elephants in the red and white room are evaporating.  We go to West Brom with a chance to win three games on the trot for the first time since promotion.  It’d be a great way to cement and celebrate the turning of the corner!  By the time Jonesy scored darkness had given way to appropriately bright rays of sunshine here in Brisbane.  Coffee tasted as luxurious as vintage champagne.  As much as we gripe some moments are golden.  This was a moment for us to be proud of our team.  What a difference a week makes!
The FIFA mismanagement of the investigations into the  bribery for votes allegations continues.  The top table are, as ever, self governed by an indecipherable set of ethics.  It seems that the Sunday Times and BBC’sPanorama expose have seriously, perhaps fatally, damaged the England bid.  This is a baffling, depressing set of circumstances.  Strangely,   Blatter and his sycophants seem particularly aghast by the cloak and dagger nature of the findings.  It does put the suits in a pickle.  A spot of mock shock and futile gestures won’t be enough to extinguish this fire, yet the England bid is suffering.  Those running the 2018 bid have felt the need to write all of the FIFA committee members to apologetically point out that they have no control of the British media… despite the articles in question being excellent pieces of journalism exposing deep seated corruption.  So instead of being active in publicly addressing the skullduggery involved they sulk and take their embarrassment out on England’s bid.  If ever there was a misplaced case of misplaced shoot the messenger it’s this.  Whoever hosts the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, expect the allegations of wrongdoing to continue.  This will run and run… and while the ruling body lacks the will to address the situation the brown paper bags will continue to be surreptitiously passed under tables in darkened rooms. 

Brisbane Roar remain in fantastic form.  A 2-1 win away to Melbourne Heart cementing the place on top of the league.  This is the best Brisbane Roar side in their (admittedly short) history.  The game against Perth glory has been re-arranged to take place on Wednesday 24th November.  Bearing in mind the Ashes starts here on Thursday 25th and the whole city will be have poms swarming all over it and Robbie Fowler plays for Perth that is a rare piece of sharp marketing from the club.  If current form is maintained the larger than average crowd will see some stylish football and a Roar win…. hopefully Robbie Fowler won’t get a touch of the ball!!

Fabio Capello’s selection of Jay Bothroyd is a surprise but primarily indicative of the dearth of English talent.  That’s nothing against  himself who has been in good form, but it’s common sense that international players have regular experience of playing against top level opposition.  The England set up has been hit by the traditional flurry of injuries that accompany get togethers which doesn’t help.  Andy Carroll has stated he’s desperate to recover from his injury and face France but when there such a lack or emerging talent he must know his chance won’t be too far away.

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.

Elephants in this red and white room, fan power and a triumph of temperance

November 1st, 2010 No comments

Of course Tuncay’s goal should have stood.    Everton well and truly rode their luck with that.  This wasn’t as conclusive as Marriner’s cowardly inaction against Man Utd though.  Everton should have had a penalty and we were fortunate the ref inexplicably chose not to book Etherington for cheating.  In the week Tony Pulis called for extended bans for diving players it was almost inevitable a Stoke player would embarrass him.  Unfortunately it embarrasses us all.  I for one don’t like our players behaving like that.  So Tuncay’s goal should have stood but to place the blame for this defeat solely in the hands of the ref is to avoid some worrying elephants in this descending room.  As you’d expect we matched Everton’s endeavour for much of the game.  We got behind the ball and squeezed the play well when Everton were in possession and we got forward  when we could.  Our attacking still isn’t as creative as it should be but Tuncay’s  jinky movement unsettled Everton at times and we competed well.  So to lose because of sloppy defensive play AGAIN is inexcusable.  Our defensive record isn’t half as good as it’s sometimes made out to be.  One clean sheet this season in the league, our defenders too often the architects of the collapses.  At the other end Jonesy appears to have hit one of his notorious dead ends.  He barely won a header at Goodison Park let alone look likely to test Tim Howard…. so a goal was an outlandish suggestion. When Fuller returns he’ll add a new dimension and some much needed fluidity to our attacking play, and we need it right now.  It’s not that we played badly, in fact in spells we played well, and it could be said we deserved a point.  In reality nobody simply ‘derserves’ anything…it has to be earned. Giving points to the opposition is clumsy and any more repeats of such inexcusable generosity could see us slide headlong into the relegation struggle.  Sunderland next and if they are as docile on Saturday as they were against Newcastle we have a chance of getting something but if we are in control we have to score.  A near miss is a miss.

Having moved house last week I was emptying the mountain of boxes and found my England flags.  I realised that throughout the World Cup I’d never even had the enthusiasm got them out to put around the house or take to the pub.  Reflecting, four months on, it really was an horrendous campaign.   There’s always 2018…. IF England are hosts we might reach the quarter finals, and get knocked out on penalties of course.   That sounds bleak but at least i’ll get chance to use my flags! 

Whatever happened to the Premier League’s marvellous 39th game idea?  It must filed in the great ideas draw alongside Blatter’s World Cup every two years and Havelange’s bigger goals.   A positive  result of this daft idea is that it was the outrage of supporters which brought the end to this diabolical barstewardisation of football.  A shining example of fans using their power as supporters and consumers (sorry for using that C  word) to ensure it never got off the ground.  I remember being in the FSA and before a Stoke home game we handed out about 2,500 leaflets about the campaign opposing all seater stadiums. Every person we spoke to agreed with the campaign and was repelled by the prospect of all seaters and willingly took the leaflets. Despite so much support from everyone we didn’t receive one application to join the FSA or one contact regarding any action that could be taken. Remember too that all seaters becoming compulsory was a long way away at that point. In short, nobody wanted them but at the same time nobody was actually prepared to do anything to prevent it happening.  So when people get emotional and nostalgic about terraces, remember there weren’t many people prepared to actually do anything to keep them.  Is unpopular change  inevitable?  If fans can realise their power and influence   it is far from inevitable.   Its important to remember that amid talk of TV monies sponsors and billionaire oil oligarchs supporters still have an influence that, if asserted en masse, can change decisions and rattle administrative cages. Anything which effects goings on at clubs like Man Utd  and Liverpool is BIG news. So ensure the way the vast majority of supporters feel… and what is at stake… is on appropriate agendas.  Standing in Lime Street all those years ago I naively felt that perhaps, just perhaps, we had a chance. That maybe people were motivated enough to want to actively seek to achieve something together. I was wrong. But what about this time? Write those letters send those emails ring those phone ins and make a noise…. and abuse of supporter loyalty  won’t be inevitable.

A fortnight ago Alex Ferguson confirmed Wayne Rooney wanted to leave Man Utd.  After much persuasion and a chunky pay rise  Rooney decided to stay at Old Trafford.  No more or less than that.  There was really no need for helicopters to be dispatched to cover the ‘big story’.  It was all a non event.  During our game against them on the Sunday the commentators talked of a traumatic difficult week for them.  Was it heck.  Wrexham Southend or Wimbledon know what a ‘traumatic’ time for supporters is.  The Rooney situation  merited coverage but not the melodramatic hyperbole that ensued. More important than all the tabloid tittle tattle is that he soon regains his form for England.  He is after all, even after the recent mock shock,  a footballer.

Bless Arry for defending Gomes over the Nani goal.  But even Arry must know Gomes was culpable for this moment of football oddness.  The biggest surprise is probably that it happens so rarely!  Hopefully a Stoke player will have the presence of mind to sneak in like that.  The peculiar nature of the second goal overshadowed the fact that Man Utd are returning to top form.  Unlike their sky blue neighbours who seem to have hit a momentary dead end.    Mick McCarthy’s post match interview after his teams deserved victory was amusing.  Seeing him trying to be rational and balanced when he clearly wanted to jump up yelling with his hands in the air was a triumph of temperance!