Posts Tagged ‘Pennant’

Evolution underway, losing Hope, three mediocre lions, Australia’s challenges

September 11th, 2013 No comments

Stoke City’s long-awaited evolution is underway.  At West Ham we played with style and panache, emerging worthy winners.  The most telling difference was simply going all out to win an away game.  Steve Nzonzi carrying the ball forward and initiating play combined with overlapping full backs gave is a platform to dictate the play and apply pressure to our lacklustre opponents.  Jermaine Pennant’s impressive winner was just reward for an impressive showing from The Potters.  However we still have a long way to go and we have a precedent to limit our expectation.  At the end of the 1996/97 season Lou Macari left Stoke.  Despite his popularity it did seem he’d reached the end of the road with us.  During a poor run of form near the end of the season Macari repeated with monotonous regularity his belief Stoke had to play 100 mph football to be effective.  Many of us felt he recited his mantra to hide a lack of ideas.  In October of the 1997/98 campaign we won 1-0 at Maine Road to move up to a handily placed 6th in the table.  Macari’s replacement Chic Bates had adopted a softer approach and we played with more craft.  The wheels fell off soon after however.  We quickly became a shambles and were deservedly relegated.  Mark Hughes has made an impressive start to his Stoke City career.  We must however keep expectations in check.  Hopefully the coming years will be as enjoyable as the first three games have been.

England women’s football coach Hope Powell was sacked.  Powell had been in the job for fifteen years and oversaw a complete overhaul of the women’s game in England.  As a result  women’s football has a much higher profile.  That experience shouldn’t be wasted.  When the FA didn’t renew Bobby Robson’s contract in 1990 it wasn’t just  his managerial services that were lost.  It meant eight years of experience were also dismissed and the new manager had to start from scratch and grow into the role.  The same mistake shouldn’t be repeated.  Powell has an understanding of what is required and her experience and familiarity with the various challenges involved could prove useful to her successor and the FA as a whole. To repeat the mistake of 1990 would be foolish, she could still be a useful asset to football.

In World Cup qualifying England showed  discipline to play out a 0-0 draw away to Ukraine.  The game itself was hardly a classic but the visitors earned a priceless point and took a significant step to Brazil.  While England’s focus was a positive from the game the ongoing deficiencies continue to blight the team.  In particular, the inability to keep possession is a glaring fault which never gets addressed.  This ongoing flaw is why we should be spared any bombastic posturing from anyone attached to the Three Lions next year.  Of course, there are still people who inexplicably expect England to challenge for trophies.

One of the main talking points emerging in recent weeks is the increasingly fragile Joe Hart.  His errors are too common and it’s  surely only a lack of competition ensuring his place in the England team.  His error in the recent friendly against Scotland was indefensible and with some crucial qualifiers imminent it’s a legitimate point of concern.  For many years David James was a frustrating figure.  James could make saves no other keeper could.  He had a valuable combination of sharp reflexes and rare agility, yet he never had the nuts and bolts of the job right.  Too often positioning was flawed and crosses were flapped at… these flaws overshadowing his many positive qualities.  Hart is only 26, if he is prepared to apply himself and strive  to improve he can avoid being the next David James.

In a friendly match Melbourne Heart’s new signing Orlando Engelaar broke his right leg.  He’ll now miss a significant part of the forthcoming A-League season. Injuries are a horrible part of the game for any player.  Hopefully he can make a full recovery and make a contribution to the season.

If anyone was in denial over the scale of Australia’s task to prepare for next year’s World Cup, their 0-6 defeat to Brazil will have been a rude awakening.  There are some crumbs of comfort though.  The point has to be made Brazil are one of the favourites to lift the trophy next year, it’s not as if Australia were expected to win the match, and, of course, it was only a friendly!  There is also a friendly against France in October in which Osieck can start to work on the defensive flaws and, more importantly, how to help his players to keep and use the ball more. Australia’s outlook and expectations will be largely determined by who they face in the group stage.  2014 will be Australia’s third consecutive World Cup and after drawing Brazil and Germany in 2006 and 2010 respectively, Aussies can be forgiven if they hope for  a kinder draw in December.

The Serie A season is underway.  After two consecutive titles Juventus began the campaign with an ominous statement of intent as they hammered Lazio 4-0 in the Italian Supercup.  The acquisition of Carlos Tevez suggests it wouldn’t be a major shock if they added a third consecutive Scudetto to their trophy cabinet. The match also highlighted some of Serie A’s ongoing troubles as racial abuse was heard from the stands.  The issue of bigotry combined with run down stadiums hooliganism and the lingering issue of match fixing have resulted in Serie A losing much of its stature in recent years.  Juventus manager Antonio Conte has stated it could be years before an italian club wins the Champions league again.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Some of the clubs signed some big name players in the close season but all the owners fans coaches and managers involved will be hoping Antonio Conte’s words don’t prove to be prophetic.






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.

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.

Turkish Delight and Brazilian brilliance

January 19th, 2011 No comments

Our win against Bolton was solid if unspectacular.  After edging ahead we rarely looked likely to relinquish the lead.  We were on top all over the park.  The only phase of the game that Bolton got involved in was the period after half time when they looked as if they had received the proverbial rocket up their collective backside, but we soon extinguished that fire.  Keeping clean sheets is a priceless habit and Bolton couldn’t find a way through, this in itself was the most pleasing aspect of the game.  Another great positive was the performance of Tuncay.   He was instrumental in our attacking play often adding those quirky little touches that gave our game an extra dimension, and his pass for Ethers run, which led to the penalty, was simple but perfect!   The real endearing thing about Tuncay is that he smiles when he plays!  In a football world where players can look thoroughly indifferent after reaching a European Cup Final, it’s refreshing to see a player who actually looks as if he enjoys playing football.  Some of his supercilious fellow professionals could do with following his lead.  Another memorable point from the game was late on when the black bin liner blew across the pitch.  Not as amusing as the halcyon days of a dog on the pitch but  memorable all the same.

After a comprehensive victory it may seem overly niggly to pick fault BUT is there any chance at all of our players improving the free kicks at goal?  Wilson’s on Saturday was dire.  They either go into the wall or fly miles over the top.  Pennant hit the bar away to  Bolton but apart from that there has been  no threat at all.  For a side that doesn’t create much from open play a free kick gives a great chance to get a shot on goal but after each one I can’t be the only aghast Stokie pondering what they do in training all week.  If the time spent practicing Rory’s throw ins, (which are increasingly looking a spent force) was taken working on free kicks on goal, and shooting in general for that matter we’d increase our scorability, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all!

It’s quietly pleasing to have made some progress in the FA Cup.  The game at Cardiff certainly wasn’t a cup classic but you can’t do more than win.  Several of the fringe players got a much needed game and came through.  Soares involvement was a surprise as I’d totally forgotten about him!  It all provides more experience for Ryan Shotton too who appears to be one of our bright young things.  Walters leaague form is patchy but scoring those two goals won’t harm his confidence at all.  Wolves away next and it would be preferable not to face a Premier team away.  However, I don’t like to focus on omens too much but in the last two seasons the team that has knocked Cardiff out has gone on to lift the trophy.  Is that a reason for optimism?  No, probably not. 

Despite being a lover of football traditions, it’s foolish to deny that the FA Cup has lost much of it’s polish in recent years.  Seeing games played out on front of half full stadiums and managers clearly regarding the whole competition as a nuisance isn’t an inspiring spectacle.  The FA holding this years final on a weekend of a full Premier League programme hardly suggests that it’s a priority for anyone.   But that  shouldn’t  stop us dreaming!! 

Such was the media furore surrounding Avram Grant’s position at West Ham, their game against Arsenal had the air of a public execution.  Each close up shot of the beleagured gaffer greeted with a comment about his impending sacking.  By half time Grant had become little more than a figure of pity.  The mismanagement of his proposed dismissal from the powers that be at Upton Park is as haphazard as it is disrespectful.  Treating the manager with that kind of contempt is ludicrous.  Allowing the approach to Martin O’Neill to become public was clumsy and damaging, esspecially as they were to be in a live televised game later that day.  If you want to sack a manager you sack them and pay them off.  That O’Neill has rejected the offer leaves Gold and Sullivan with some much derserved egg on their faces.  Amazing that after undermining Grant, David Sullivan had the audacity to come out and call for everyone to support him…..  even in the glib world of football speak that was a bit rich.  As for Martin  O’Neill, At 58 O’Neill has one big job left in him.  Methinks West Ham isn’t it. But if Dalglish doesn’t fancy it long term it wouldn’t be a huge shock if he was to turn up at Anfield.

Steve Bruce has expressed his disappointment that Darren Bent has chosen to join Aston Villa.  Shouldn’t he have balanced that with showing his elation at the size of the fee?  18m which could rise to 24m.  Despite the initial shock of the fee, if Bent injects the goals that Villa’s forward line is missing it could prove to be a shrewd investment.  Houllier will be painfully aware of the ramifications if Bent doesn’t succeed at Villa Park.  

One of the best moments of the weekend’s football came here in the A-League, Alex Terra’s goal for Melbourne Heart against Perth Glory was spectacular.  You could drag out the well worn cliche about ‘if a Brazlilian had done that’…  but for the fact that Alex Terra actually  is a Brazilian!

Stoke, Liverpool, Nigeria, England, Montengro

October 6th, 2010 No comments

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

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

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

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

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