Posts Tagged ‘crouch’

Halfway to 40, Brisbane’s burnout, JFT96, making the difference, Sepp’s stupidity

December 23rd, 2013 No comments

Stoke City’s hard earned 2-1 victory over Aston Villa was very welcome indeed.  Stoke have now lost only once in eight games.   Too many of those games have been draws so Saturday’s win gave us some points in the bank… with away games to come at Newcastle and Spurs those points were  a much needed deposit!   Mark Hughes’ introduction of Charlie Adam paid off almost immediately when he gave us the lead.  While the build up to the goal looked simple and traditionally Stokesque it was actually a very well crafted goal.  Adam  received the headed flick from Crouch and the way he used his chest to steer the ball away from the defender and create his own space was good thinking and guile we rarely show in the opponents penalty box.  Having battled so hard to gain the advantage we were aghast at how cheaply  Villa were allowed to equalise.  Erik Pieters must have been the most relieved man in Stoke-on-Trent when Peter Crouch slammed the winner in.  A matter of seconds before his inexplicable error Pieters was involved in an incident on the touchline during which he squared up to an opponent.  It could be he’d momentarily lost his concentration.  The lesson to be learnt for all players is instead  of willfully getting embroiled in unnecessary petty confrontations just concentrate on playing the game.  It’s to  Pieters’ credit he soon put his error behind him and was solid when we had to defend our lead late in the game.  We are now halfway to the 40 points mark and are gradually improving.  During most games we see small signs of improvement which, if not spectacular, is quietly satisfying.  We all knew 2013/14 would be not revolution but evolution.

Brisbane Roar’s recent impressive form came to an abrupt end with the bleak 0-2 defeat at home to Newcastle Jets.  Many Roar fans have been aware all season about fine results accompanied by patchy performances.  There has been a feeling if a team with rigorous discipline faced Brisbane it could provide an upset… and so it proved.  Mike Mulvey and his players now need to develop methods of breaking down well drilled defences and ways of breaking those defences down despite being outnumbered.  It might not be an easy task but it is Mulvey’s  job to work on these issues.  Poor as Friday’s showing was from Brisbane there is no need for despondency.  There’s no reason the top of the A-League can’t remain orange.

Manchester City’s recent victory over Bayern Munich was impressive.  Coming back from two goals down and win any game is a substantial feat, to do so at the home of the European Champions is a huge achievement… even if both sides had already confirmed their place in the last 16.  Their glory was tarnished somewhat when Pellegrini admitted he hadn’t done his maths and didn’t realise an extra goal would ensure his team finish top of the group.  Every side in the tournament at this stage will cause problems but to prefer to face Bayer Leverkusen or Olympiacos over  Barcelona is common sense.  Manchester City could pay a heavy price for Pellegrini’s miscalculation.  Sometimes the key is in the details.

Anne Williams tireless work for the Hillsborough justice campaign was honoured at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.  Williams’ 15 years old son Kevin was killed in the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989.  In September 2012, 23 years after the disaster, the verdicts were quashed.  On 31 March 2014 a new inquiry will open.  During the inquiry the 25th anniversary of the disaster will pass.  For so many people the whole situation is one of the most heartbreaking tragic and unjust ordeals imaginable.  The unflagging resolve of Anne Williams  testament to the resilience of all those associated with the Hillsborough Justice campaign.  Justice for the 96.

Sepp Blatter has gone to court to try and ban publication of a book in which he is the subject of  satirical cartoons.  Predictably, his legal action has served only to draw attention to it.  Blatter’s lawyers have explained he “has a good reputation and if the cartoons were published he would never be able to repair the damage.”  Blatter is seemingly oblivious to the clamour for change at the big  Swiss ivory tower.  One of the problems is he is taken seriously….  but, as a sport administrator, should the situation be as serious as it’s become?  The lack of transparency and ongoing allegations of impropriety have led to an air of distrust across the planet.   If his organisation is to regain any credibility at all he needs to assert governance and strip Qatar of hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup and re-open the bidding process…..  before resigning.

The three nominees to win the Ballon d’Or have been announced.  The winner will be either Franck Ribery Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.  An axiom of greatness is the ability and poise to make the difference at crucial moments.  With this in mind this years award surely has to go to Cristiano Ronaldo.  When his Portugal team was under pressure to qualify for the World Cup he stood up, was counted, and demonstrated the magnitude of his brilliance by almost single handedly leading his team to Brazil.  It was a performance which also emphasises why international football remains the clearest way for  players to seal their place in history. Ronaldo was under pressure, out of his comfort zone and playing with players he rarely works with.  On every level he delivered.  If  Ronaldo doesn’t win the award this time he could sue the voters.

Another player to benefit from the principle of moments was Inter’s Rodrigo Palacio.  On Sunday the Milan derby had been an intense struggle.  As the game rolled towards a 0-0 draw Palacio seized the moment and with a moment of opportunism secured his place in Milanese folklore with an exquisite backheel to seal three points.   Watch it here, then watch it again and again.

We received  sad news at the weekend with the announcement ex BBC sports broadcaster David Coleman has died.  It’s hard to comprehend now but there was a time when a football match televised live was a novelty.  Only the very biggest games were shown live and for many years those  games were played to a backdrop of David Coleman’s commentary.  Coleman had the knack of making grand pronouncements at dramatic moments.  My own favourite came when Liverpool took the lead in the 1974 FA Cup Final.  “Goals pay the rent and Keegan does his shift” A gloriously poetic way to describe the moment!   Marvellous memories from one of football’s greatest voices.

Ware,Williams,Relief, Sycophantic to Sydney, Suarez stupidity

April 23rd, 2013 No comments

The loss of Paul Ware is terrible on so many levels. Being honest, Warey was never a Hudson or Greenhoff, but we had a player we could identify with. A player who gave us the 100% we demand and played his part when we had some success. I , like many Stokies, will always cherish the moment at Peterborough when his free kick sent us to Wembley. That moment alone is enough to secure our affection forever. Many people don’t, and will never relate that…. which, quite frankly, is their loss. RIP Paul Ware.

At Queens Park Rangers on Saturday Stoke City finally registered the victory we’ve needed for so long.  We gained three thoroughly deserved points against a home side destined for relegation.  From the moment Peter Crouch gave us the lead shortly before half time the result rarely looked in any doubt.  Our approach to the game was a refreshing change.  It demonstrated that if a team goes all out to win  and commits men forward to support the forwards, you have a chance of winning a game of football!  We now go into the final four games of the season six points ahead of the relegation zone.   Even taking into account our horrendous start to 2013 we can be forgiven for feeling a sixth consecutive Premier League campaign is in touching distance.  After the trauma of recent months many of us will be relieved to see the back of this season and take stock.  Everyone involved must do all they can to ensure a long sparse period like the one we’ve suffered isn’t repeated. The powers that be at Stoke City will have some big decisions to make in the close season.

The A-League season reached it’s climax with Central Coast Mariners crowned champions for the first time.  In the Grand Final Central Coast deservedly beat Western Sydney Wanderers 2-0. Despite losing the final Western Sydney can be justifiably proud of their first season…. their vociferous support has added much needed noise and colour to the Australian sporting landscape.  In the wider perspective, few could deny the arrival of Heskey Ono and Del Piero has raised football’s profile here.  One bone of contention has to be the way the Grand Final was reported.  Much of the media have lauded the crowd of over 42,000 as a sign football has well and truly arrived in Australia.  The point has to be made that the previous two Grand Finals, both played in Brisbane, each attracted crowds of over 50,000.  The A-League has attracted more media attention than ever this season which obviously is beneficial to football’s profile… but the game here isn’t just a product of the last twelve months.  We shouldn’t have to wait until we have a successful team from Sydney to see the game’s growth acknowledged and celebrated.

Throughout last season’s controversy over the Luis Suarez racism charge, Liverpool Football Club stood by the player.  Kenny Dalglish’ support for Suarez was so absolute it’s hard to believe it had no influence on his eventual dismissal.  Suarez has repaid this support by demonstrating he is, quite simply, a loose cannon not to be trusted.  Many  players have made rash tackles or foolishly lashed out but on Sunday overstepped every conceivable mark by biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.  If the FA take appropriate action and give out a lengthy ban it’s possible he’ll never play for Liverpool again. Nobody denies Suarez is a marvellous footballer but, at this stage, Brendan Rogers should assert some self governance and get rid of him. It is however sickening to think by moving him on Suarez will probably  get a move to a glamour club and a pay rise.

We saw the other end of the scale at Anfield on Sunday when a minutes applause was held in honour of Anne Williams.  She was a marvellous woman whose tireless campaigning has been an integral factor in the marvellous work of the Hillsborough justice campaign.  After losing her 15 year old son Kevin in the disaster Anne Williams spent her life challenging authority figures and gathering evidence to confront the lies associated with that tragic day. RIP Anne Williams.  Justice for the 96.

The PFA’s player of the year ceremony takes place on Sunday.    However, 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, yet nominations start in February.  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.

The current season is drifting to it’s conclusion and it’s something of an anti climax.  Across Europe titles are a formality, most leagues currently have a runaway leader.  Bayern Munich secured their latest Bundesliga title with six games to spare.  In the Dutch league Ajax and PSV Eindhoven were neck and neck but Ajax have started to break ahead and now carry a four point lead.  Hopefully the cup competitions will provide some much needed thrills and spills.



A win at last, anticipation, a new season arrives and a loss to the football menu

October 2nd, 2012 No comments

Statistics can be deceptive.  Data shows that on Saturday Swansea had 61% possession over Stoke’s 39%. Swansea may have seen more of the ball than us  but rarely looked capable of gaining anything from the game.  In fact, from the moment Peter Crouch headed us into the lead we were in total control of the game.  When Crouch doubled our lead in the 36th minute it sealed the points.  To have three points in the bag by half time was a rare luxury for Stoke.  Swansea started the second half with more urgency but rarely looked likely to trouble us too much.  We weathered the storm and comfortably played the game out.  It was slightly disappointing not to score again, we’d have all loved Crouch to grab our first Premier League hat trick, but it was a thoroughly deserved and much needed victory. …. and the statistics can say whatever they like!

Our victory was crucial.  We hadn’t won since April 7th.  The green shoots of our evolution are refreshing but we maintain our status with points.  It’s unlikely we’ll get much at all from the next two fixtures, at Anfield and Old Trafford, so it was crucial to  deposit points in the bank.  Anfield next, the kind of game in recent years in which we’ve seemed unwilling to break forward.  With out recent acquisitions and the memory of giving Chelsea a tough game there is no reason not to set up to ensure we impose ourselves on the game.  If we emerge defeated it shouldn’t be due to an over cautious approach.

The goal of the weekend came in Serie A.  Fabrizio Miccoli’s strike for Palermo against Chievo was a magical piece of opportunism combining skill and grace.  Watch it here then watch it again.  And again and again.

The coming weekend will see the start of the most eagerly anticipated A-League season yet.  The arrival of Alessandro Del Piero has thrown domestic football in Australia into the spotlight like never before.  Since landing here a fortnight ago, Del Piero has behaved with ambassadorial dignity.  Exuding charm and humility he’s absorbed the attention with statesmanlike grace.  Emile Heskey arrived with considerably less fanfare than the Italian but the Newcastle Jets club shop has sold thousands of shirts bearing his name.  So pre season  we’ve had some much needed fresh interest in the game.  Sydney and Newcastle have the men, but the key question is, do they have the team?  Risking accusations of bias, it’s worth remembering that Brisbane Roar are the current champions and will again be a team to fear. The team that has emerged as champions twice in a row has been kept together with the addition of  some promising new faces.  Losing manager Ange Postecoglou to Melbourne Victory was a blow but the nucleus of the team remains. If Postecoglou’s successor, Rado Vidosic, can maintain the style and grace of recent seasons his promotion could yet prove to be a seamless transition.  The big names are exciting and provide a welcome drawcard, but that isn’t the only way forward.

Behind the scenes documentary ‘Being Liverpool’ has recently been televised here in Australia.  Try though I may it’s hard to see the point behind this programme.  It carries little insight and has the aura of a huge PR stunt.  The most illuminating discovery from the first episode was the staggering revelation that Steve Gerrard invites his mates round to his house to watch football matches on television.  The best fly on the wall look at a football club was Hunter Davies ‘The Glory Game’.  The author was granted access to the inner workings of Tottenham Hotspur football club for a season and the results were controversial, enlightening and for many involved deeply embarrassing.  Perhaps the most telling fact is that few outsiders have been allowed such free access since.  However, if Being Liverpool was produced in book form it’d carry all the cutting edge potency of an IKEA catalogue.

One of the weekend’s major surprises was Manchester United’s home defeat to Spurs.  It was Spurs first victory at Old Trafford since December 1989.  I attended that game many years ago and it was a memorable day for several reasons.  It was the game I knew for sure that Paul Gascoigne could become a star and had to be in England’s World Cup squad.  Another abiding memory is the anti Alex Ferguson sentiments among the home fans. In the pub pre match there was ongoing fury over Ferguson having been there for ‘four years’ and nothing had improved and sacking the manager was the only course of action.  History has proven them all wrong of course, but that perception is all the more baffling when bearing in mind that, at that stage,  Ferguson had been there for three years!!  Manchester United are a different club and Alex Ferguson is a different manager than on that chilly day nearly 23 years ago, but Saturday’s improved second half performance suggests he’s still got his half time hairdryer!

On Sunday one of world football’s most eagerly anticipated fixtures will take place when Real Madrid face Barcelona at the Nou Camp.  From Santiago to Tokyo, hundreds of millions throughout the world will tune in….. but not in Australia.  ESPN televised the Spanish league in recent years but the increased cost of broadcast rights have led to La Liga being dropped from the station’s schedule.  In consequence, for the first time in many years, this compelling war of footballing attrition won’t be shown here.  The sun will continue to rise, the earth will continue to spin, but it’s a sad loss to the Australian football menu.

In the League Cup tie last week Nicolas Yennaris played for Arsenal against Coventry.  As unremarkable as that may seem there was a quirky aside involved.  The last time Arsenal hosted  Coventry in 2000, Nicolas Yennaris  was the mascot!



Stoke City vs Man City “Reasons To Be Cheerful, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”

September 15th, 2012 No comments

Another episode of “Reasons To Be Cheerful, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” this time the opponents to visit Fortress Britannia were Premier League Champions Manchester City.

Reasons to be Cheerful

Oatcake Front Cover Stoke City vs Man City 15/09/12

25 years on from it’s birth the boys at the Oatcake still make me smile – A cracking front cover 🙂


N’Zonzi – I guessed he would start after Dave Kemp singled him out for praise in midweek. An early shout for player of the season!

The sun shines on the righteous

Great performances from the whole team. Marc Wilson was solid, Wilko as gritty as ever and Ryan’s last second clearance was top notch.

The pre match optimism

Crouch getting a decision that I’ve seen so many referees disallow goals for before now. Handball – Was it, wasn’t it? TP said post match  “If Crouchies got away with one,I’m delighted. It makes a change if a small club has got a decision over a big one”                 Crouch said ” yes…. I did handball for the goal… I have to admit… but you have to take the breaks when u get them”

Stoke’s domination of the game, I pinched myself as we kept possession, progression 🙂

Stoke fans raising our game for Man City again – remember the 70th minute roar in our first season at the Brit against them? This wasn’t far away from that.

Man City fans – loved the No Limits Toure song

It’s all gone quiet over there

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

Man City fans – sung ’til they went behind, not a patch on their neighbours.

Ballotelli – for a guy built like a brick outhouse he spends too much time lying on the turf.


Stoke City

  • 01 Begovic
  • 04 Huth
  • 12 Wilson
  • 17 Shawcross
  • 28 Wilkinson
  • 06 Whelan
  • 15 Nzonzi
  • 16 Adam
  • 21 Kightly
  • 19 Walters
  • 25 Crouch


  • 29 Sorensen
  • 02 Cameron
  • 20 Upson
  • 18 Whitehead
  • 26 Etherington
  • 10 Owen
  • 33 Jerome

Manchester City

  • 01 Hart
  • 03 Maicon
  • 04 Kompany
  • 06 Lescott
  • 22 Clichy
  • 08 Nasri
  • 11 Sinclair
  • 14 Garcia
  • 42 Y Toure
  • 32 Tevez
  • 45 Balotelli


  • 29 Wright
  • 13 Kolarov
  • 28 K Toure
  • 17 Rodwell
  • 18 Barry
  • 21 Silva
  • 10 Dzeko


SCFC F5 Refresh – Revitalised Potters. Boss in the trough, strong management required

September 4th, 2012 No comments

From the moment new signing Charlie Adam was introduced in Saturday’s game against Wigan, Stoke played with increased  creative energy.  We carried the game to the opposition and  showed much more fluidity.  Even at this early stage we could all see that Charlie can provide that craft and guile we’ve been looking for.  Combine that with his natural tendency to be industrious and cover ground, we may have finally found the missing link in our evolution.  It could prove to be a masterstroke from Tony Pulis.

The first half was tale of two penalties, both correctly awarded.  Having got to half time on level terms it was infuriating to again fall behind early in the second half to such a sloppy goal.  Our defence got dragged all over the park.  It was a decent finish by Di  Santo but from our perspective it was catastrophic that he managed to get such an opportunity.  For a side like Stoke, known for defensive organisation, it was an awful way to fall behind.  To our players credit they drove forward in search of the equaliser.  The deserved leveller eventually arrived in the 76th minute through Peter Crouch.  It was pleasing for Crouch to get on the score sheet as so far this season he’s rarely had a sniff of goal.  However, Saturday proved that with service he’s still a huge asset and our most likely scorer.  The remainder of the game saw us pressing for the winner.  We’d have snatched the victory but for Ali Al Habsi’s remarkable reflex save from Charlie Adam’s free kick.  All in all a draw was a fair result.  Most pleasing is that in Charlie Adam we finally have a playmaker.   A refreshing performance from The Potters.


Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice for Real Madrid but celebrated neither goal.  After the game he told the press “It could be because I am a bit sad. That is the only reason. When I don’t celebrate goals, I am not happy.”  Predictably,  his words sparked a barrage of intrigue.  Is he trying to manipulate a transfer?  Unless he’s prepared to take a pay cut there may only be two clubs in the world who could afford him.  If Paris Saint Germain aren’t prepared to splash out he could be moving back to Manchester… and he wouldn’t be wearing red this time!

Bizarrely, head of UEFA Michel Platini has welcomed the influx of QSI (Qatar Sports Investments)  money to PSG.  This is in contradiction to the financial fair play rules he’s instigating.  Platini and Qatar seem to have a thing for each other.  Platini also voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.  Platini and Qatar could be seen as a love wholesome and pure… until you remind yourself that Laurent Platini, son of Michel, is QSI’s legal advisor.  Platine was a truly great player but once he became a powerbroker he dipped his head in the trough…. just like the rest of them.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has received a two match touchline ban for pushing assistant referee Paul Kirkup.  Two matches is remarkably lenient.  Since the incident Pardew has been humble and apologetic but manhandling officials should be treated with utmost seriousness.  Referees should unite and take action about this episode.

Attention now turns to the forthcoming World Cup qualifying matches.  England’s preparation has been disrupted by injuries to Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll.  Roy Hodgson took the odd step of choosing not to replace Carroll in the squad.  Rooney’s absence could be a blessing in disguise.  Statistics show that England are more likely to win without Rooney in the team.  Since illuminating the  the 2004 European Championship, Rooney has played in three tournaments and made little impression.  While few would doubt he is the outstanding English player of his generation, at international level he can’t be trusted to deliver. One factor is everything England do goes through him, which seems to inhibit his colleagues.  There is a precedent we can reflect on.  In one of his early press conferences as Spain manager Luis Aragones was forcefully questioned about the omission of Raul.  Aragones reached breaking point and asked the gathered media how many tournaments Raul has played in and how many of them had Spain won?  When the answer was that with Raul Spain had won nothing Aragones turned the questions back on his inquisitors by demanding to know why they insist on Raul.  That was one of the pivotal points that turned Spain into football’s dominant power. If the games against Moldova and Ukraine go well, and Rooney is fully fit for the qualifiers in October, Roy Hodgson would be wise to copy Aragones’ strategy.  It’d be a huge decision but management involves making those decisions.  Reputations alone shouldn’t make an automatic starter.

Fabio Capello‘s Russia start their campaign with a match against Northern Ireland.  Capello sat down with Andrei Arshavin recently to tell him he would be continuing as captain.  When the squad was announced Arshavin hadn’t been selected.  Following the ongoing traumas in his previous job it does raise the question…. what is it with Capello and captaincy?


Reflecting on brilliance, low key preparation and a get well soon.

August 9th, 2012 No comments

The greatest team ever?  There is no doubt that Spain are the outstanding team of the modern era.  The graceful dismantling of Italy leaves no doubt over the current status of this remarkable football team.  The statistical bombardment we received during Euro 2012 became tiresome.  However, one unmistakable piece of data is that Spain have achieved something no European nation has done before in winning three consecutive tournaments.

A recurring point of discussion throughout the tournament was Vincente del Bosque’s decision to  pick his team without a recognised forward.  Surprising though it was, it hardy merited the incredulous responses it generated.  Several years ago Carlos Alberto Parreira predicted that in the future football teams would be deployed without strikers.  His words resulted in raised eyebrows. It suggested a dull defensive future where rigid shape would exceed invention.  In reality, if Spain’s dazzling display of kaleidoscopic movement is a template, we may have a lot to look forward to.  And Parreira’s words will be proved to be prophetic.

The participation of Team GB in the Olympic football tournament finally arrived…. and left. For Britain it’s been a phenomenally successful Olympic Games.  For all the achievements of the British sporting fraternity nothing has united the nation as the football did….. when GB were knocked out  on penalties the Welsh Scottish and Northern Irish learned how it feels to be English!  The whole air surrounding British participation was laced with negativity. After several years of discussing whether it undermines the individual status of the home nations,  it was eventually decided to field a team.  Again, after much  discussion and media speculation Stuart Pearce was appointed head coach and hurriedly assembled a team.  Did anything arise from GB’s involvement that would encourage the populace to demand involvement in future Olmpic football tournaments?  Probably not.  London hosting meant clubs were preared to allow players to miss a significant part of pre-season, it’s hard to imagine them being so compliant in the future.  Combine that with the political implications of a GB team.  Could it lead to  FIFA demanding a united Britain team?  In short there would be too many obstacles and not a great deal to gain.  So that’s the end of that.

As far as Stoke City are concerned this could be the most low key build up to a football season ever. The signing of Michael Kightly has livened things up slightly but it’s hard to remember a pre season so devoid of activity.  Peter Coates has made public his understandable instruction that to bring players in we must reduce the wage bill.  For too long we have had players clogging up the squad who are clearly not going to take part in league matches.  We are approaching our fifth consecutive season in the top flight.  To put it bluntly, it’s time to cut out the deadwood.

One thing that is clear is that if we start the coming season as we finished the last one we could find ourselves in serious trouble.  In 2012 we have only won four league games.  Throughout last season the quality of our play deteriorated.  Our attacking play constantly lacked any  fluidity and we rarely played well for an entire 90 minutes.  Any team with a competent defence can handle our forward play.  A series of balls hit long, usually to Peter Crouch, who may or may not flick a header onto a teammate.  The teammate in question is double marked and stifled.  Our midfield rarely pushes forward quickly enough to effectively support the attack so within seconds the ball comes straight back at us and we are under pressure again.  We aren’t creative enough we aren’t positive enough.  We’ll always be eternally grateful to Tony Pulis for taking us to the Premier League and keeping us here but things have got to change.  In 2012/13 can we have a Stoke City with a precise cohesive attacking plan that approaching games with a fresh philosophy please?  This road has become dark.  A brighter route is required  or we could pay the ultimate heavy price.

It was alarming to hear that Robert Huth  is in hospital with suspected meningitis.  We have to hope he makes a full recovery and is back to playing as soon as possible.  Good luck Rob.



England Euro 2012 Update – Assertive changes lead to recovery

June 17th, 2012 No comments

Litany of errors though it undoubtedly was, beating Sweden is a huge step towards the quarter finals.  It was a  strange match in which neither team actually played with cohesion or incisive power.  The second half must have been a thriller for neutrals.  Infuriating for England and Sweden fans but thrilling for neutrals!

Roy Hodgson acknowledged before the game that England needed a more attacking set up against the Swedes.  It wasn’t a major shock to see Andy Carroll start the game.  The inclusion of Carroll was due to Sweden’s inability  to defend against crosses.  This observation  proved to be  unfathomably wise when Carroll’s brilliant glancing header put us ahead.  It also silenced the doubters who have felt aggrieved by the exclusion of Peter Crouch.  The only problem with Carroll’s involvement is that it is too tempting to hit long balls to him… long balls that too often get comfortably dealt with by the opposition.  The start of the second half was calamitous for England.  For fifteen minutes we were completely overwhelmed and our players looked woefully out of their depth.  It’s difficult to give Sweden too much credit for finding their way into the game as it was almost entirely due to England’s careless avoidable errors.  The equaliser came from a free kick given because Carroll inexplicably lunged and gave a free kick away.  Defending at the free kick itself  was slapdash and clumsy.  The kick itself was poor and his straight into the wall.  The ball was hit back into the dangerzone and,  for no apparent reason, Glen Johnson didn’t push out and we were exposed.  A few minutes later we feared the worst when Milner foolishly lunged at Olsson.  Fears were justified when Mellberg gratefully headed home a free header.  From being in control of the game we’d become a shambles.

It’s to Hodgson’s credit that he had the nous to change things immediately. Theo Walcott’s introduction immediately changed things.  Fortuitous though his equaliser was it boosted his confidence immeasurably.  It was Walcott’s burst of pace and skill that led to Welbeck’s wonderfully improvised winner.  Some of the criticism Theo has received in recent years has been over the top to say the least. Making the difference in such a big game may be a pivotal point in him starting to fulfill his considerable potential.  It was disappointing to look around the internet and see suggestions that Welbeck’s goal was a fluke.  If a Spaniard or Brazilian had done that we’d look on with admiration and envy. An England player does it and we try to pick fault. Give credit where it’s due. Well done Danny Welbeck!!  Our players made it hard for themselves but we won the because we were incisive in the attacking third and the substitutions  were good decisions.  Positive changes from Roy Hodgson were decisive.  Wayne Rooney will finally make an appearance in the Ukraine game.  It presents the manager with the problem of who will be replaced.  It’ll be a tough decision but that’s his job.

To progress to the quarter final we need a draw against Ukraine in the final group game.  It may seem to be a simple task but like everything with England, don’t expect it to be straight forward.  That may seem excessively gloomy but there is a precedent to reflect on.  It’s fair to say that should we reach the knockout stage the powerhouse nations have little to fear from us.  It should be noted however that England have already had a better tournament than many dared to wish for.



Deflated, me and Ken, a good luck and a thank you

May 10th, 2012 No comments

In many respects, the 2011/12 season has been a decent one for Stoke City.  It started as early as July when we faced Hadjuk Split in the Europa league.  Over two legs we deservedly knocked out a side with a healthy European pedigree.  Drawn in a tough group we made it through in relative comfort.  There was no disgrace in going out to a side of Valencia’s undoubted class.  In the FA cup we reached the quarter final again.  For the first time in our long history we have reached the last eight three times in a row.  Most importantly of all we were never in serious danger of relegation.  For much of the campaign we’ve looked more likely to snatch an unlikely European  spot than to go down.  So overall another steady season.  With those factors in mind the question has to be asked, why do so many of us feel so deflated?  It isn’t because of our style of play.  Neither is it because we have started to expect too much.  The primary factor is a matter of chilling simplicity… our performances are too boring.  Erring on the side of caution isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but to do so at the expense of almost everything else becomes tiresome.  Our attacking play constantly lacks fluidity and we’ve rarely played well for an entire 90 minutes.  Any team with a competent defence can handle our forward play.  A series of balls hit long, usually to Peter Crouch, who may or may not flick a header onto a teammate.  The teammate in question is double marked and stifled.  Our midfield rarely pushes forward quickly enough to effectively support the attack so within seconds the ball comes straight back at us and we are under pressure again.  We aren’t creative enough we aren’t positive enough.  We’ll always be eternally grateful to Tony Pulis for taking us to the Premier League and keeping us here.  In 2012/13 can we have a Stoke City with a precise cohesive attacking plan that approaching games with a fresh philosophy please?  This road has become dark.  A brighter route is required.

Kenny Dalglish is the greatest footballer I’ve ever seen in the flesh.  For that matter There haven’t been that many better players on TV.  He carried greatness on into management, continuing Liverpool’s dominance by building a side capable of playing enthralling winning football.  While he was their manager, if I attended to a match at Anfield I’d try to get a ticket near to the dug out.  For most of of the game I’d be awestruck watching Dalglish watching the game and barking instructions.  In addition to his football prowess, the way in which he led his club through the traumatic aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster saw him grow in stature as a man.  For all that, even I, as a Dalglish propagandist, have to say that  his mismanagement of the Suarez/racism affair  was so far wide of the mark he embarrassed himself. Seemingly oblivious to the scale of the issue at stake Dalglish looked isolated and  desperate.  The Suarez affair has cast a filthy shadow over Liverpool’s season.  A series of self inflicted wounds that grew deeper with each botched public statement.  It’s understandable that a manager needs to stand by his players but Dalglish’ blunt refusal to accept his players wrongdoings left him looking out of touch with modern football and the modern world.  Even after Suarez returned to action following the eight game ban the manager dug himself deeper into the hole by claiming he shouldn’t have been suspended.   This misplaced loyalty has left a huge stain on the perception of Liverpool Football Club.  In the last twelve months Dalglish has started to undo his own legend.

If the successful candidate had to be English, Roy Hodgson’s appointment as England manager is the correct decision, albeit a surprising one.  Harry Redknapp was the overwhelming favourite.  On SKY’s Sunday Supplement show someone even referred to “When Harry takes  over ” while Capello was in office!  The point has to be made that Harry hardly helped his own career possibilities when he stood in court announced to the world that he’s  thick.

Roy Hodgson has experience of taking teams to tournaments who are technically inferior.  Anything England achieve in Polkraine, will be almost entirely based on a rigid formation.  We can’t outplay them BUT we can outnumber them. Squeezing the opposition in the middle of the pitch, narrowing angles, stifling opposition creativity.  Hodgson is known to spend much of his time on the training pitch working on shape.  His players have to constantly repeat drills to ensure everyone is fully aware of what’s expected both as individuals and for the team collective. There will be little scope to make a tactical blunder. Good luck Roy.

After leading Brisbane Roar to two A-League championships in two full seasons, manager Ange Postecoglou has left to join Melbourne Victory.  In the early seasons of the A-League I used to dream of 50,000 packed into Suncorp Stadium to watch a grand final.  Ange fulfilled this dream twice.  Postecoglou transformed Brisbane Roar into the most formidable force in the history of Australian sport.  Playing quick crisp total football Brisbane swept aside all comers with an irresistible combination of incisive passing and an ability to create chances at will. Watching these dazzling displays of kaleidoscopic movement was an absolute privelige.  It’s appropriate that Roar wear orange shirts!  Thank you Ange.  You were magnificent.

Stupidity, frustration, luddites, corruption.

March 14th, 2012 No comments

At Stamford Bridge Stoke had weathered the early storm.  We were looking increasingly comfortable and, at times, even had possession in the attacking third of the pitch!  When the home supporters were audibly restless it was a fantastic sound.  If we could stay solid and focussed we could collect our first point at Chelsea since promotion.  As we know now, Ricardo Fuller’s foolish violent stamp put paid to any hopes we had of avoiding defeat.  Fuller’s brutal attack on Ivanovic is particularly sickening when bearing in mind our team is known for being physical.  His response on being needled was to commit an act of vicious thuggery.  In short, using school playground terminology, we could be seen as a team that gives it out but can’t take it.  Drogba took his chance well, quick feet skipping through to snatch the points. Unfortunately we’ll always wonder how we would have fared with eleven players.  That is down to the stupidity of one man.  In recent years Fuller has been instrumental in our rise to the Premier league, and achieving stability thereafter.  It could prove a sad way for him to bow out of the Brit.

On Sunday, we have an FA Cup quarter final at Anfield.  Liverpool go into the tie as overwhelming favourites.  Victory would signal a return to Wembley and one step from another cup final. They will know that to match the Manchester clubs, and a few of the London ones, there is a huge ongoing rebuilding programme.  Despite what Kenny Dalglish may say in public he must know that the signings of Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, quite simply, haven’t worked out yet. This combined with  the total mismanagement of the Suarez – racism affair have led to a patchy season.  In August their priority was a trophy.  They achieved that in the League Cup.  Disposing of Manchester City and Chelsea (and Stoke!) on the way is impressive  but deep down inside many will be fully aware that in the final they required a penalty shootout to beat a Championship club.   The trophy is the same but it does lack the frisson of a winning goal.  The victory over Everton has undoubtedly raised spirits but they know that much of their season hangs on Sundays game.    It’s a tough ask for Stoke but it’s crucial to remember that Liverpool are not unbeatable.    A parked bus will achieve nothing.   Matty Etherington is essential to any ambitions we have.  To carry the ball forward with pace will be a relief to our deep players.  This could also be an opportunity for Jermaine Pennant to re-establish himself.  If they provide the ammunition for Peter Crouch to knock his old team out the FA Cup we’ll be on our way back to Wembley!!

The only word to describe Brisbane Roar’s 1-1 draw with Adelaide United is ‘frustrating’. Another chance to reach the top of the table was wasted. Falling behind to an early goal on the break, the remainder of the game saw the Adelaide half of the field covered in orange.  Clawing back to parity on 70 minutes Roar couldn’t find a winning goal.  Thomas Broich squandered several excellent chances and we all had to settle for a point. Watching table toppers Central Coast lose at Perth only exacerbated the disappointment.  Three points would have put Brisbane at the summit with only two games left of the regular season to go.  Deeply deeply frustrating.

With Clint Hill’s ‘goal’ for QPR at Bolton, hot on the heels of Sulley Muntari’s effort for Milan against Juventus, the debate about goal line technology resurfaces.  Surely if it’s available it’s  foolish not to use it.  It’s unlike many topics of debate that arise surrounding refereeing decisions in a game of football.  For example, at the start of February Robert Huth was sent off against Sunderland..  It was my opinion that the red card was harsh and a yellow would suffice.  However, friends I spoke with, and reading assorted internet message boards, many felt it was a good decision by the ref and the sending off was fully justified.  There are varying opinions and that is part of the soul of football.  The difference between a situation like that and whether a ball crosses the line or not is that whether the ball crosses the line isn’t a subject of debate, it’s a matter of fact, and also the key factor in a match…. scoring a goal. Or not as the case may be.  In these days where lost points can lose a club millions, and to implement the change would be relatively straight forward, isn’t it prehistoric to refuse to accept it?   Mr Blatter would be OK, he should think of the favours it could generate from the companies who want to get the contracts to put the equipment in place!   The bods at FIFA have stated they are keen to see it introduced in time for the next World Cup.  That’s fine but more details would be welcome.   What form will it take?  Will it be experimented with initially?   We need a feasible schedule.  Over to you Blatter.

Ricardo Texeira’s departure from the top table of Brazilian football is being widely regarded as a boost for their World Cup preparations.  He ran the CBF for 22 years and his reign was peppered with allegations of corruption and constant calls for his resignation.  President Dilma Rousseff has regarded his exit as a token of personal achievement and has arranged to meet Sepp Blatter at the weekend to discuss World Cup preparations.  She’d be wise to ensure the bill passes through parliament which ensures the infrastructure funding is available.

Texeira’s successor is Jose Maria Marin. For the sake of football, and 2014 in particular, we have to hope his rule is more transparent than that of his predecessor. Anything that compromises the integrity of the game should be publicised and addressed.  Here is Jose Maria Marin at a medal ceremony. This is transparency…. the whole world can see what he’s doing!

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.