Posts Tagged ‘Etherington’

TCUP and an overhaul, tiresome cheating, Messi, Roy

November 12th, 2013 No comments

Saturday’s results led to Stoke City sliding into the relegation zone.  In Sunday at Swansea we saw why we our league position is so precarious.  Our inability to win games from the most promising positions continues.  Even when we raced into a 2-0 lead  we looked unlikely to see the job through and emerge victorious. The key to  improvement is  TCUP…. Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.  We make far too many errors when a game is running against us.  From needlessly giving away free kicks to being caught in possession, the most fundamental tasks become insurmountable.   While Swansea’s fight back showed resilience on their part, we shouldn’t have allowed them into the game.  It was only good fortune which allowed us to scramble a draw and see us crawl guiltily out of the bottom three.  Charlie Adam’s penalty was a fortuitous award which was ruthlessly executed.  We next face Sunderland in a crucial game which will go some way to determining how the next six months will develop for both clubs.  Our need for victory is clear for all to see while three points for Sunderland will bring their season, and Poyet’s reign, to life.  matches like this can be delicately balanced.  We need to make sure we are on the right side of what could be a very fine line.  If we are to retain our status big changes are required.  Too often the lack of depth in our squad is exposed.  Some of the squad seem to be a spent force.  Matty Etherington has been fantastic for us at times.  His great run of form was pivotal in us reaching the FA Cup Final back in 2011 and we’ll always remember his role in our evolution.  For all that, He’s clearly lost so much pace he contributes very little to the team effort.  Is the Shawcross and Huth defensive partnership drawing to a close?  Huth gets too many yellow cards these days and conceding so many simple goals suggests it’s time for an overhaul.  In the 1994/95 season Manchester United emerged trophyless.  Alex Ferguson realised his team had reached the end and major surgery was required.  In a blitz Ferguson controversially got rid of several of the old guard… one of whom was Mark Hughes.  Hughes will do well to remember his ex manager’s ruthlessness.  Admittedly it was easier to move on players of that calibre but things have to change at Stoke City… and it won’t be a painless exercise.

Diving is a very real blight on modern football.   We rarely get a weekend go by without some huge dive related controversy.  One problem is few people in the game are prepared to give anything away for the good of the game.  Ramires dived on Saturday to get Chelsea a penalty and  a last gasp point.  Jose Mourinho  inexplicably claimed the referee was right to award it.  While understanding Mourinho’s need to be seen to support his player, Surely there has to come a time where authority figures in the game are prepared to address the issue.  It was Mourinho himself who recently claimed he didn’t want his players to dive and would reprimand them for doing so.  Can we not see posthumous suspensions introduced as they are for violent conduct? Neymar Suarez and Ronaldo.  Three players who could illuminate any era of football, yet their names generate much more derision than admiration.  Three players who are so gloriously talented we should never have to consider their devious side but too often the conning outweighs the brilliance.  It betrays fellow professionals and football as a whole.  Our game is worth much more than that.

Thankfully, the greatest player of the current era, Lionel Messi, isn’t prone to habitual cheating.  In recent months however he has become prone to injuries.  The timing is very unfortunate for Messi who, in Brazil next year, has the chance to seal his status as the greatest player ever.  Despite what some of UEFA’s  sponsors and marketing executives would like us to believe, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of world football.  At a World Cup players are often out of their comfort zone and face a series of different challenges to the norm.  Hopefully, by June, Messi will have a clean bill of health and we’ll be treated to a masterclass from a true great.

Martin O’Neill is the new manager of Ireland.  However, most attention was focused on the appointment of Roy Keane as assistant.  Keane won a sackful of medals as a Manchester United player and led from the front.  Internationally his career was blighted by the Saipan incident which resulted in Keane storming out of the 2002 World Cup squad.  As a man who demands total focus and bloody minded resilience he’ll need his thick skin in the new job.  He’ll have to get used to Saipan being thrown in his face each time something goes wrong.

Cancellation of the Soccerex convention in Rio brought further embarrassment to organisers of next year’s World Cup.  Fear of civil unrest led to the Rio state secretary calling the event off.  The convention required public funding which would have served to exacerbate public discord towards monies for corporate and sporting events at the expense of services to the populace.  While it doesn’t jeopardise the tournament itself it hardly inspires confidence things will go smoothly in June.


Nearly safe, the approach at the Bridge, costly indiscipline, Harry’s challenges,

March 7th, 2012 No comments

Two consecutive home wins have lifted much of the  the gloom and Stoke City are now in a strong position to reach the magical 40 points mark and confirm a fifth consecutive season the Premier League.  Against Norwich on Saturday we retained possession with more confidence than previous matches and Etherington’s masterful strike broke the visitors stubborn resistance.  Having displayed  characteristic tenacity to get ahead we never looked like losing the lead in the closing minutes.  Throughout the game we were on top all over the pitch.  We still aren’t creative enough, but few can deny we deserved the points.  With that in mind, Norwich manager Paul Lambert’s claim that the whole game hinged on the throw in that led to Matty’s winner is lame to say the least.  We were indeed lucky to get the throw but Lambert would be better off addressing  the slack defending that allowed Jerome to flick the throw on and Matty the time and space to pick his spot!  My grapes taste sweet Mr Lambert, how about yours?

Our next game is away to Chelsea.  There will be intense media scrutiny on how our opponents respond to the departure of Andre Villa Boas.  Much of our focus will be on how we approach the game.  Too often we have gone to away games overly consumed with the strengths of our opponent.  While fully aware that every team you face will cause problems, we must remember the problems we can cause them!  Chelsea are not the team they were and  lack confidence.  If we can unsettle them doubts will creep in and maybe we can squeeze mistakes and take advantage. Most importantly, we mustn’t accept defeat before a ball is kicked.

It’s hard to work out who the ideal candidate for the manager’s job at Stamford Bridge would be.  To remove Ancelotti and replace him with AVB was a costly time absorbing exercise.  Had they used the same energy and resources to support their managers they may well be in a stronger position.  In all this it could still be AVB who gets the last laugh.  He’s only 34 years old and still has the potential to become one of European football’s big hitters.  In five years time he may be in a position to reflect on his 257 days managing Chelsea as a learning curve…. and he won’t even be 40.

Discipline is a vital element in any successful football team.  Players must be able and prepared to stay on task and fulfill responsibilities to their club and it’s supporters.  In the last minute of Brisbane Roar’s game against Melbourne Heart at the weekend, a high price was paid for the previous weeks indiscipline.  With the score at 1-1 Brisbane spent the final ten minutes laying siege to the Heart goal.  For all of Brisbane’s possession, Heart defended with admirable composure and rugged tenacity.  Just as it seemed Heart had weathered the orange storm, Brisbane were awarded a penalty.  A precious opportunity to reach the top of the table with three games of the regular season remaining.  Mohamed Adnan, the Roar’s Bahraini centre back, stepped forward to seal a priceless victory.  Heart keeper Clint Bolton saved the spot kick.  While not wanting to belittle Bolton’s save, the point has to be made that Adnan’s penalty wasn’t the best.  It was ideal height for the keeper who gratefully palmed the ball away.  That Adnan was taking the penalty at all was due to the regular taker,  Henrique, serving a suspension.  In the previous game in Perth, when Roar were 3-0 ahead and cruising to victory, Henrique inexplicably slapped an opponent and saw red.  I don’t doubt that had Henrique played he’d have scored the penalty with ruthless precision.  That he was unavailable is due to foolish indiscipline which has proved to be costly.  Players need to be aware of the full implications of their actions.

The appointment of Harry Redknapp as England manager  is seemingly inevitable.   The excellent job he’s done at Spurs combined with a clamour for an Englishman at the helm appears to have secured him the role.  Not that anything will be confirmed yet.  The FA have acknowledged that the new manager may not be  announced until the end of the domestic season.   Whether Harry is suited to the job is hard to tell.  There is no doubt he communicates well with players.  One point that has to be raised however is that  his achievements at Spurs are the result of working closely  day to day with players and having the time to spend with them individually and collectively.  Managing England can be thankless task with many hours of isolation involved.   Also, Redknapp’s biggest strength is working the transfer market and that facility is unavailable at international level.  But, whatever happens, don’t call him a “Wheeler dealer”!!   *Warning, contains bad language*

In December when the draw for the European Championship was made it was surprising that much of the media regarded England’s qualification for the quarter finals of Euro 2012 as a mere formality. Every side you face in a tournament will cause you problems. The opening game against a resurgent France will shape the group. If France’s impressive win in Germany is a pointer it will be a tough challenge for the England team… whoever the manager is.

Looking ahead to 2014 FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke has publicly criticised Brazil’s World Cup organising committee for their 2014 preparations.  This led to the Brazilian Sports Minister, Aldo Rebelo, demanding Valcke be replaced as the FIFA representative they have to predominantly deal with.  As a nation looking to establish itself as an economic superpower a smooth World Cup is crucial to Brazil’s credibility.  For the sake of their own integrity, instead of lashing out at Valcke, they would be better advised to take the steps to ensure that they will be ready in June 2014.




And they’re off! Clean sheets, a law of my own, Brisbane’s next challenge,

August 17th, 2011 No comments

Welcome back into my life football. My friend, my strength, my passion and of course, my eternal frustration!  Weekends are  inconsequential without you football my darling.   The big kick off symbolises a  return to midnight (or 1am) kick offs before retiring to bed usually accompanied by liberal doses of fatigue and deflation.   It’s August, time to start all over again.  

Stoke City’s 4th consecutive Premier League season started with characteristic tenacity.  In our hard earned draw at home to Chelsea, we displayed many of the positive factors that have underpinned our recent success.  While we rarely looked likely to score, our rugged defensive play and overall workrate ensured we got a point.  As expected against a team of Chelsea’s undoubted quality, we were  pegged  back for much of the game.  We handled their threat by outnumbering them, cutting down angles and stifling their movement.  Shawcross showed why his international credentials still need to be questioned when he was caught out by Torres’ quick feet early on.  It’s to Ryan’s credit that despite playing so long with a yellow card he was rarely flustered.  Woodgate  looked as impressive as he did in Split, if he can stay fit he could prove to be a great piece of business.  The man of the match for me though was Begovic.   In the second half phase where we were overran it was Begovic who saved us the precious point with a spate of impressive saves. 

One worrying aspect of the game was to see Matty Etherington taken off with an injury.  It emphasised further how paperthinour options are.  When Matty painfully struggled off the pitch, with him went a huge portion of our attacking armory.  This season we have played three games and emerged with three clean sheets, which is impressive.  The other end of the park however is a concern.  Lack of numbers and lack of quality limit our possibilities.  Pulis Rudge and Coates will all know this area needs hefty investment.  Securing the right players, at a cost which won’t endanger our clubs financial stability, is a monotonous often fruitless task.  It’s one part of their job we don’t envy.  here’s hoping that by the end of the month we have some fresh attacking personnel.

Where does that result leave Chelsea?   Well Torres certainly seems to be regaining some his old vitality.  While they lack the ruthless swagger of a few years ago, Villa Boas will be imposing his own philosophy on the team which, being a stickler for detail, will involve more thought than flair.  At the moment though they will be painfully aware, as Arsenal will, that the season is barely underway …and already they are two points behind Man United.

The next league game is at Norwich.  In all fairness it’s a game we should set out to win.   The away form must improve and Sunday 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. 

During the close season I invented a new law.  Whilst listening to a phone in on Talksport after England’s 2-2 draw with Switzerland it was apparent that legislation was required.   Somewhat narcissistically I named this new rule after myself and hereby announce Joe’s law!   Some may be aware of ‘Godwins Law’.  An American lawyer Mike Godwin created his own law  which declares that as online discussions grow longer, the likelihood of a comparison with Hitler and the nazis increases.  When the aforementioned subjects do enter the conversation the discussion loses all relevance. I have a lot to thank QI for!  The Joe in oz law hereby states that whilst discussing the England football team, as soon as the word ‘passion’ is mentioned, the comment loses all relevance and is deemed null and void.  Sven was unpopular because he didn’t stand on the touchline with contorted face and clenched fists displaying the ‘passion’ the English crave.   What’s the thing always thrown at the  England set up?  Passion. England lack ‘passion’. ‘Passion’ manifests itself by way of crashing tackles and sticking your bonce amongst the boots to win a header. These aren’t bad attributes but at international level you need more than blood and thunder. Englands players are lacking because many have never had to consider a wider range to their game. Partly because of the nature of English football.  That’s not to say it can’t change.  Spain have proven that a football culture can evolve.  If England are to develop into a side capable of challenging the worlds best physical clashes and gritted teeth won’t be the primary requirement.

The start of the A-League season here in Australia still two months away.  Brisbane Roar captain Matty Mckay has agreed terms to join Rangers.  The move is dependent on a work permit being secured.   Whether the transfer goes through or not it’s indicative of the respect the reigning Australian champions command.  Striker Kosta Barbarouses has already left for Russian club Alania Vladikavkaz.  It’s beyond doubt that coach Ange Postecoglou would have loved to keep the championship winning team together to have a shot at the Asian Champi0ns league.  There are some cold hard truths of football life to contend with though.  If one of the players gets the chance to play overseas could he really afford to refuse that opportunity?  Similarly, would it be right of the club to hold the player back?  How the club addresses these issues will be instrumental in building on current success… or fading back into mediocrity.  Good luck Ange.

4 consecutive seasons, managing success, heroes, TCUP

April 27th, 2011 No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An RIP, a lethargic start, and a cacophony of FA Cup emotions

April 12th, 2011 No comments

The most frustrating thing about Stoke on Saturday is that we started so sluggishly.  We were up against a team of genuine quality, but allowing them to totally dominate us proved suicidal.   We did however score two brilliant goals.  Hopefully Jonesy’s blast will bolster his confidence and lead him and us to a bright finish to the season.  Despite having spent most of the first half frantically trying (and usually failing) to clear the ball, at half time we were only 2-3 down and alive in the game.  For large spells of the second half we matched our opponents.  We imposed ourselves on the game and kept the ball well in their half.  We couldn’t quite force an equaliser and our spirited resurgence proved  fruitless.  The truly costly aspect of the game was the lethargic start.  For most of the first half we were dreadful, and for that reason it’s hard  to feel that we really deserved anything from the game.

Sadly, Friday April 15th marks the 22nd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.   Policing at football grounds has, for many years, been a sore point amongst supporters.   It was  former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police John Stalker in the 80s who said he was aware that many police knew that football matches were one time they were “Let off the leash”.      On the 31st January1989  we had an FA Cup replay at Barnsley. Thousands of Stoke supporters arrived late due to traffic congestion.   Outside the ground a crush developed and people were getting hurt.  Initial action was to send a police horse running in to the crowd which  only added to the chaos.   To ease the congestion the police opened one of the huge exit gates which allowed the crowd  to get into the game for free. This was the response  the same force used two months later at Hillsborough.  Had there been more Stoke supporters on the away terrace that night we could have suffered that awful disaster.    Same situation, same police force, same reaction.   We, like all football supporters, were actually riding our luck,  not just on that  night, but for years before.   There was very little consideration for the issue of crowd safety over crowd control.  It could have been any of us  with the loss of life…..  and the same scandalous tabloid allegations.  RIP the 96.

Paul Gascoigne and Jimmy Greaves will soon be touring the UK with a roadshow.  This will consist of them both telling stories from their playing careers and discussing openly their well publicised alcohol problems.  The end of the shows will consist of no-holds-barred question and answer sessions.  Showing admirable resilience Greaves has been tee total since 1978.  Paul Gasciogne’s story however has been a much more painful one.   Living out his traumas in the full glare of the media couldn’t have helped him.  I can’t be the only one to fear the worst when seeing his name in a headline.  It is however pleasing to learn that he’s been dry since Christmas.  Hopefully Gazza’s found himself a new focus that can help maintain his sobriety and prevent his life from unravelling again. 

We now look forward to Sunday April 17th and what could prove to be a very special day in our lives.  There are reasons to dislike the semi finals being played at Wembley but this isn’t the time for that debate.  The important thing is that we have reached a stage in the FA Cup that we haven’t reached for 39 long barren years.  In 148 years of history we have only reached three FA Cup Semi Finals.  39 years ago our dreams were brutally shattered.  The game was delicately poised at 1-1 when Arsenal’s John Radford was put clean through on goal but  clearly offside.  Inexplicably, the linesman kept his flag down and Radford gleefully scored to bury our hopes of reaching the final for another 39 years.  Following much confusion over Radford’s goal it transpired that on the far side of the pitch from the useless lino, there was a man in a white coat selling programmes to the crowd.  Stoke wore white that night and the flag carrying cretin thought the seller was a Stoke player.  This allowed Radford to put us out of the cup and generations of Stoke City fans to carry a chip on our shoulder the size of Heathrow Airport!  Surely on Sunday we can’t suffer such a deep injustice?  By the way, I have never ever seen Radford’s horrible goal and I’m not sure it was even televised at all.   But if anyone has a copy and can upload it to You Tube it’d be fantastic to see.  I must be a masochist! 

By the time our game against Bolton kicks off the first finalist will be decided.  It’s fair to say that if Manchester City are as poor as they were at Anfield their loathed red neighbours will effectively receive a bye to the final.  Why did Mancini start without Silva or De Jong?  Their sole consolation is that they can’t play so badly in two consecutive matches.

Our game against Bolton will be an intense tight affair.  Two evenly matched teams playing with a huge prize at stake.  Ties like this are often decided by a moment of  inspiration.  We’ll be hoping It’ll be a Fuller or Etherington making the difference as much as the Bolton fans will be hoping it comes from an Elmander or Davies!  It is great that one grand old club will be in the final. Stan and Nat will be watching proudly from above. Stan with a glass of fruit juice and Nat with a pint of brown ale!  I’ll be in the Pig n Whistle pub in the centre of  Brisbane, anxiously watching the clock and begging our players to take the sacred step 148 years of predecessors have failed to take.

Hearing Abide With Me has always brought a lump to my throat. From childhood, 2.45 on FA Cup Final day symbolised a huge slice of football heritage.  The huge noisy crowd gathered doffs it’s cap in reverence.  When The song starts the mood isn’t just about the game on the day.  We reflect on, and celebrate, the glorious history of the competition.  Cardiff’s shock win over Arsenal in 1927.  It’s George Mutch’s late dramatic winner in 1938.  Stan’s final in 1953.  Nat Lofthouse’s controversial goalkeeper charge in the 1958 final and Bob Stokoe’s ecstatic dash across the lush green turf to embrace Jim Montgomery after his Sunderland team embarrassed Don Revie’s Leeds.   If we win at Wembley we will have the chance to carve our name in history.  The memories Sunday may bring could live with us all forever.  In years to come we could cry tears of joy and reflect fondly  on that day in April 2011 when we finally, after so long, reached an FA Cup Final.  Players might find this hard to believe but that means more than money… much much more.   Come on Stoke.   Our time is now.

Ending 39 years of hurt, brilliant orange and stepping down from the perch

March 15th, 2011 No comments

For the first time since 1972 Stoke City are in the semi finals of the FA Cup.  I watched it in the pub and it was a good turnout for a  Sunday night midnight KO.  The cup has retained enough magic to persuade people to go to work with a hangover!  We started the game at a furious pace and it was refreshing to be able to keep the ball in the attacking third.  If the nature of our play was a refreshing change, the source of our first goal was very familiar!  The Delapidator providing Huthwho responded with another powerful header.  As our very own Berlin wall wheeled away in delight that could be the first time we’ve ever seen him smile!  Perhaps the most pleasing thing about our performance was the way we bounced back after experiencing adversity.  Piquionne’s goal shouldn’t have counted but the baffling thing is how none of the officials saw the handball.  We immediately tore into them after the break and were (fortuitously in my opinion) awarded a penalty.  One question that has to be asked is why Etherington took it when Higginbotham was on the pitch?  It was great to hear the crowd’s support for Ethers afterwards…an example of  the unity we need.  That miss could have proved fatal but we continued to grind away and it Higginbotham who regained the lead for us with a sweetly struck free kick.  For one awful moment I feared the ref hadn’t seen the ball cross the line but there was nothing to worry about on that score.   All that remained was to cling on for 27 more agonising  minutes.  A few near misses came and went.  Then some close misses came and went.  When the fourth official held up the board to say four minutes of injury time it might as well have said 40.  The minutes ticked painfully away and eventually we became FA Cup semi finalists.  Shortly after the end of the game a mate came to tell me we’d drawn Bolton in the semi.  This was the thrill of a lifetime.  I’m not one to prematurely evaluate the quantity of poultry.  Any team you face will cause you problems but we all know, without being arrogant, that it could have been much worse.  Will we ever have a better chance to reach an FA Cup Final?  I don’t doubt Bolton fans will be asking themselves the same question.  Hopefully this will bolster our league form too.  We really do have the taste of  Wembley in our nostrils!

TEAMS CAN’T TOP US  FLOODS CAN’T TOP US.  So said the banners from the River City Crew… an exuberant group of Brisbane Roar fans.  The occasion was the Grand final of the Australian league, AKA the A-League.  Since the league started in 2005 many of the headlines have been grabbed by financial issues. It’s frustrating at times to spend time discussing receivership and takeovers when corners and free kicks are a  more favourable conversation topic.  Thankfully, the football grabbed the media attention at the weekend.  Rightly so.  Seeing over 50,000 packed into SuncorpStadium for a football match brought a lump to the throat.  A noisy sea of orange with a pre match performance by Brisbane band Regurgitator.   It was a special occasion even before the teams  walked out onto the pitch.  Fittingly, the game itself was a footballing classic.  Brisbane’s opponents were Central Coast Mariners, a team who lack the style and panache of their opponents but play with purpose and tactical discipline.  Central Coast had  most of the early exchanges but Brisbane played their way into the game with intelligent possession football.   Half time was 0-0 but it was a gripping encounter.  The second half consisted  of  huge rainfall and Brisbane hammering the Central Coast goal.  Attack after attack yet each wave of orange was stifled by increasingly impressive defending.  Full time was 0-0 which led us into extra time.  As extra time started it felt as if we’d been in the stadium for hours and hours, the 4pm kick off time was a distant memory.  But kick off time  came and it really was 4pm again because Central Coast were the better side.  This time however they scored.  The vast majority of the crowd were stunned into silence.   Central Coast smelt the disbelief in the home crowd (and team) and had the audacity to score again.  This wasn’t meant to happen.  As the game was played out to a background of  fluorescent orange silence I reflected on the Liverpool team of 1988.  Despite being a great team they found the FA cup final  just one game too many.  They had the style and the skill but couldn’t  raise themselves one last time to secure the double… remember too they were up against a solid underrated opponent in Wimbledon.  For Liverpool 1988 see Brisbane 2011. As I sat pondering this and wondering if any of the hundreds streaming out of the ground would return next season, Brisbane broke and scored.  the orange came to life again!  There was two minutes to rescue an entire seasons work.  Piling forward a late corner was won, the final chance to save the season.  The corner was deep and a Brisbane head met it to send it into the top corner of the net.  Pandemonium.  The ferocity of the ensuing mental was raucous and heartfelt.  The whole stadium embracing itself with joy!  Impressively, despite the hive of activity, not one drop of my beer was spilt, that’s class!  With three minutes of extra time left Brisbane were 0-2 down but had again bounced back to save the unbeaten record and take us all into a penalty shootout.  There was no doubt Brisbane would win the shootout.  And they did 4-2.  Central Coast were devastated.  All that remained was to see captain Matty Mckay lift the trophy that resembles a toilet seat (honestly) then to the pub for some serious celebrating!  Then on to watch an FA Cup quarter final between Stoke and West Ham.  Two games in one day and they both worked out right!  I love football.  HAPPY DAYS!!!

Against Milan  Spurs played with admirable discipline. Discipline they have lacked for so long.  Throughout the tie Milan had far more possession yet created little worthy of mention.  In the second half at White Hart Lane Spurs seemed to accept Milan’s territorial superiority and responded accordingly by sitting deep.  Pato was a livewire, making darting runs across the width of the frontline but Ibrahimovic was subdued.  For a player of his stature to be so uninvolved in a game…. when he’s the kind of player you need to turn the game your way  was baffling.  Not that Arry will be complaining.  For many years Spurs have had talented sides but often fallen short because of careless defensive errors.  Twoseriously big  European games against Milan and two clean sheets.  In the competition’s current format Arry is the first English manager to take a side to the quarter final.  This is Arry’s finest hour.

The last decade has been awash with media speculation regarding Alex Ferguson’s retirement and successor.  There have again been suggestions that this could be his last season.  One report suggested that if Man Utd win the league again he’d be ready to abdicate.  Of all the words devoted to the subject in the last ten years, the idea he’ll bow out in May is by far the most plausible.  He once stated his finest achievement was “Knocking Liverpool off their f#^#ing perch” Should his team  stay on top they will have won 19 titles to Liverpool’s 18, by far the most poignant indicator of their absolute dominance.  It would be entirely appropriate to step down from the perch.  Fools learn by their mistakes, wise people learn from other peoples.  Ferguson will be aware of the pitfalls of retirement.  Bill Shankly died with a broken heart.  A heart broken from seeing his beloved Liverpool go onto greater success without him.  He had to suffer the indignity of Liverpool’s directors asking him to stop turning up at the training ground….  his regular appearances  undermined Bob Paisley  because the players used to call Shankly ‘boss’.  Brian Clough managed two seasons too long.  In his autobiography Clough states clearly that the right time for to leave was after the 1991 FA Cup Final defeat to Spurs.  Of course it’d hurt to go out on a defeat but Wembley was a fitting stage for a manager of his stature to leave the game.  Instead Old Big Ed signed out on relegation and degrading tabloid tales of excessive drinking and a catastrophic Shredded Wheat advert.  Ferguson is different.  His passion for the game is obvious but football isn’t his entire life.  As well as football he has an interest in politics.  One thing which frustrates him is that visiting all the places he does professionally means there are few opportunities to  experience them fully.  There is still a keen interest in learning to play the piano properly.  In addition to these interests he has a family he’d  love to spend relaxing time with.   Alex Ferguson may well choose to step down from the perch.  As he approaches 70 he’d  find the bottom of the cage an invigorating place.

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

February 8th, 2011 No comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good point, devious voters and an impulsive knee jerk reaction

December 7th, 2010 No comments

In front of some gloriously raucous travelling Stokie support, we deserved the point we earned on Saturday at Wigan.  Some aspects of the match were fortuitous, it wasn’t a foul on Fuller that led to Huth’s deflected free kick.  Wigan missed some simple chances before equalising through Collins being seemingly wrong footed to slice the ball into his own goal.  We responded immediately with in delicious style.  Jonesy released Fuller who jinked in the box and threaded a ball through for Etherington to drill home.  Again we couldn’t hold onto the lead and a hopeful Wigan punt was again deflected in, this time by Rory.  In the second half either side could have won it but our forward play was usually far too disjointed, but there is little doubt in my mind that the best strike partnership we have is Fuller and Jonesy.  On of the things a Jonesy brings to the team is that he’s so hard to mark.  Sometimes he hangs deep knowing he keeps two markers with him and that stretches defences when Etherington or Pennant break forward…. especially when they cut inside. It means he looks lazy but at times it’s deliberately done to bring colleagues into the game.  So a well earned point and another small yet crucial step en route to the magical 40 mark!  As ever, upwards and onwards and it’s Blackpool next.  In his post match comments Tony Pulis said that Blackpool would be the toughest home game of the season.  Methinks our gaffer was sensibly  managing expectation!  There are few times when we can go into a game (even a home game) confidently expecting a victory.  Trying to keep a lid on the expectancy was a wise move but he must know that Blackpool are preferable opponents to Chelsea or Man Utd!!   Not that Blackpool will be an easy game of course.  There are no easy games in this league… cliche number 112!!

Despite playing the usual inane vacuous superficial lip service, FIFA  decided that the votes to decide 2018 World Cup hosts must not be influenced in any way by the subject of racism. So what was the point of that campaign they have been running? During the Russia v Andorra match the black players were targeted throughout. Wouldn’t the threat of being cast aside in the World Cup bidding process be a just action and a deterrent? So the nation in which racist abuse is commonplace get the punishment of…. hosting the 2018 World Cup.  Preposterous though it may seem, that’s FIFA justice.  The fallout from the humongous scale of the England bid’s humiliation continues to resonate.  There was some bombastic talk of withdrawal from FIFA which would ultimately prove self defeating and  futile.  An underrated aspect of England’s failure is that the ruling bodies need to learn to develop positive relationships with other associations not further isolate themselves.  The talk of betyrayal regarding promised votes that didn’t materialise was naive in the extreme.  Did those running the bid really think upstanding ethical bastions like the hideous Jack Warner could be trusted?  There is a precedent, in 1920 England did withdraw from FIFA and, in some respects, particularly in regards to internal politics, has never fully recovered from self imposed exile from the international football community.  In the immediate future England need to focus on applying long term strategies to win a tournament on the pitch, not just a bid behind the murky walls of Zurich.  

Though it was a long shot Australia’s failure to win the right to host 2022 is a huge blow to the game here.  45 million dollars have been spent with nothing to show.   It has increased  Australia’s football profile  on the world stage slightly but when A-League clubs are struggling to pay the bills, and one could have to fold at the end of the season it doesn’t look like money spent wisely at all.   It’s another watershed point for the game here.  Another stage where Australia has the sheer scale of football imposed on it.   It’s all part of the steep learning curve. 

It’s widely believed that much of the Russian infrastructure for 2018 will be funded by Roman Abramovic.  If that’s the case it’s a huge financial commitment, even for someone with that colossal wealth to their name.  With a project of that scale on his hands, could he soon lose some of his interest in Chelsea?  It’s a while now since blank cheques were handed out and the curiously timed dismissal of Ray Wilkins, ill advised though it was, may well have simply been a cost cutting exercise.   There is nothing to suggest they will be spending big in January and Carlo Ancelotti may have to sell before he can buy.  The players are clearly edgy, the manager said as much in his post match comments.  The habitual six  goal hammerings of August must feel like a lifetime ago.  Even with those backstage wranglings Chelsea is a haven of stability compared to Newcastle United.  After seeking and appointing messiahs, Chris Hughton demonstrated that the answer had been in front of their nose all along.  What more could Hughton have done and what exactly was expected?  Was he sacked solely  because of the admittedly lacklustre showing on Sunday?  There can be little else to explain it?  He took over when they were a club depressed from top to bottom, won the league to get promoted straight away and were well on their way to stabilising in the Premier League, and adding  stability to the club they have required for many years.  His reward is the sack.  Mike Ashley is known for his impulsive nature, after this debacle he’ll soon be known for his stupidity.  The perfect example of someone who doesn’t have an understanding of the game.  Isn’t Hughton a big enough name?  The word supercilious springs to mind.   

Congratulations should be offered to Alloa Athletic, in a fixture programme decimated by freezing weather and postponements and snopw and a litany of unpleasantness they managed to host the only match in Scotland at the weekend.  They might not have the best team in the land but the groundsman is a superstar.    A move to and old firm club is imminent!!

 Milan are looking increasingly comfortable on top of Serie A.  It’s Amusing that there has been talk for a few years about having to offload Gattuso yet he continues as strong as ever.  Robinho’s hunger for football has clearly returned and as well as intrinsic touches of skill, he’s working aard and supporting Ibrahimovic.  It’s hard to mention the Italian game without pondering how long Benitez will last managing Inter.   It was always goint to be tough to follow Jose Mourinho but surely the most pessimistic of the black and blue half of Milan couldn’t have anticipated a fall so rapid and comprehensive.

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.