Month: December 2013

Sunderland 1-2 Tottenham

(Originally posted December 7th 2013)

Tottenham earned a deserved 1-2 win over Sunderland to ­lift them up to 6th in the table after Paulinho and a John O’Shea own goal put them ahead following Adam Johnson giving the home side the lead at The Stadium of Light.

Tottenham had the first real effort on goal when Paulinho fizzed a long range shot narrowly over the bar on the 12 minute mark.  Sunderland hit back 5 minutes later though when a long ball over the top from Phil Bardsley found Steven Fletcher, but he hit a tame volley well wide.

This started a manic two minutes with the away side hitting back next, German Lewis Holtby shrugged of Ki 30 yards from goal and had a shot that was already going wide but Vito Mannone tipped it past the post to make sure. Sunderland had another great chance a minute later when Jozy Altidore laid the ball off to Jack Colback who blasted over the bar from the left of the box.

An end to end opening 25 minutes continued when Paulinho played a nice through ball to Aaron Lennon who dinked the ball back to the Brazilian but his shot was deflected wide. Holtby and Jermaine Defoe then both dragged poor shots past the post.

Defoe tried to cause Sunderland trouble again in the 34th minute when he surged at the Tottenham defence but his goal bound effort was brilliantly blocked wide.

The opening goal of the game went Sunderland’s way after a horrific error from Hugo Lloris. A nice build up in the middle of the park made its way to right back Ondrej Celustka who whipped in what looked like an aimless cross to no-one however Frenchman Lloris went for a needless punch that landed at the feet of Adam Johnson who had no choice but to lash it home for 1-0 Sunderland.

Tottenham didn’t have to wait long for the equalizer though, levelling the scores in equally fortunate fashion 7 minutes later. Kyle Walker delivered a fantastic freekick from the right into the area and Paulinho nicked infront of Bardsley to poke Tottenham level after Nacer Chadli headed the ball across goal.

The half finished with Lloris again looking unconvincing in goal. Celustka hit an ambitious shot from outside the box which Lloris should catch but nervously fumbled it away.

Tottenham started the second half the brighter though, finding the back of the net again just 5 minutes into the second period. Moussa Dembele broke free on the left hand side and cut the ball back that unfortunately hit John O’Shea went over the line for 1-2.

This started a great spell of dominance from them. Chadli broke free of the Sunderland defence and with all the space in the world, squared the ball to Defoe who would’ve tucked it away for 1-3 if it wasn’t for an outstanding interception from goal scorer Johnson, sliding the ball out for a corner.

Spurs were having lots of joy down the Right hand side with first Walker and then Lennon breaking free putting balls into the box, Holtby had a shot blocked after Walker’s pass and then Defoe had a header hit the post following Lennon’s.

A bad day got worse for Defoe when he was put in after a nice through ball put a right foot shot on the turn wasn’t good enough and again went wide. Should’ve scored.

Sunderland’s first chance of the second half didn’t come until 20 minutes from time but it wasn’t worth waiting for, Sebastian Larsson delivered cross into the box but Fletcher headed wide.

Sunderland then had a Penalty claim 15 minutes from time when a Corner was knocked out by substitute Sandro who stuck his arm out and deliberately handballed it. Sunderland rightfully aggravated that no spot kick was given.

Despite Defoe’s wastefulness in front of goal through the course of the game he almost scored a fantastic goal to seal the after a Tottenham winger broke free of the defence yet again, this time Townsend who’d been on the pitch a matter of minutes, he found Defoe who flicked it against the post.

The Black Cats did finally push for the equalizer, their main strategy being crosses from Swede Sebastian Larsson. He first had one from the right headed wide by Fletcher before one the other side caused the Tottenham defence havoc, faling to be cleared but Borini could only hit a weak shot straight at Lloris from 6 yards out.

The game petered out with Tottenham wasting one more golden chance. Yet another cross, this one from Townsend again finding Paulinho who should’ve scored with a free header. Townsend then had a shot tipped over from Mannone from the edge of the box in injury time.

Is 2013-14 The Season Luton Finally Reach The Promised Land?

(Originally posted November 27th 2013)

When Luton Town started Conference life in the 2009-10 season, they were expected to get Promoted at the first time of asking, and every year since, but in 2013-14, they still find themselves in Tier 5 of the English Football Pyramid. Why?

The Hatters arrived in the Conference following a series of horrible seasons from 2007-2009 which took them from one League below the Premier League to outside the Football League altogether following financial difficulty. Luton were not helped with having numerous points deductions during this time, a 10 point penalty in their League 1 campaign was followed by a whopping 30 point deduction the following year as they were Relegated from League 2.

Luton started Non League life reasonably well, securing 88 points in a season that would see them finish 2nd and in a Play off spot with Stevenage winning the league by a comfortable 11 points clear of Luton, with 99. Luton would go onto lose the Play off Semi Final 2-0 to York who were then defeated by Oxford in the Wembley Final.

The following campaign would see a familiar story. Although Luton finished 3rd this time, losing out to a simply magnificent Crawley Town, helped of course by their funding, winning the league with a record 105 points and also shone in the FA Cup, reaching round 5. They beat 3 teams in higher divisions in the process (Swindon Town, Derby County and Torquay) before losing out to a single goal away to Manchester United. AFC Wimbledon were Luton’s other hurdle during this campaign, a side also in the Blue Square Premier due to off the field events and it was them who would beat Luton at Wembley thanks to a Penalty Shootout.

Third time lucky? Far from it. Luton again scuppered by a side with great financial backing, this time Fleetwood who romped to the title with 103 points. Luton would only finish 5th, reaching the Play offs by a measly 5 points. Luton got to the final again though, this time beating Wrexham in the Semis. York would break Hatters Hearts at Wembley again however with a 2-1 win.

Last Season though was Luton’s worst by far. They didn’t even make the Play offs under Manager Paul Buckle, who took Torquay to the League 2 play offs two Years previous, he was sacked in Febuary and replaced by John Still by he couldn’t guide Luton to where they need to be. Mansfield winning the league with Newport overcoming Wrexham in the Play offs this time out.

So, can Luton Town make it this season?

They have all the makings of a side that can make League 2 and beyond. They have a Manager, John Still, who, in 9 Years in charge of Dagenham and Redbridge brought in highly unknown players from the lower leagues and turned them into starts. Most notable additions include Craig Mackail-Smith (now at Bright0n), Sam Saunders (Brentford) and Paul Benson who won promotion from League 2 with both Dagenham and Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon with a stint at then League 1 Charlton in-between. Benson is now back at Luton with Still and his reputation of being in the right place at the right time will prove invaluable come the end of the season (he has 5 in 13 at the time of writing).  Still also knows how to get a side Promoted, taking Dagenham from the lower ebbs of the Conference to League 1 while he was there before leaving for Luton.

Luton Town "Still" stuck in the Conference.
Luton Town “Still” stuck in the Conference.

Luton also have a side full of experienced players who know how to get Promoted. Players such as Jon Smith (Swindon), Steve McNulty (Fleetwood) and the aforementioned Paul Benson amongst others.

As it stands Luton are on course for a successful season. They currently lie in 2nd with 41 points from 21 games and are unbeaten in 13. League leaders Cambridge have 45 points and have played a game less.

Arsenal 2-0 Marseille

(Originally posted November 26th 2013)

Arsenal took another huge step to Champions League qualification with a 2-0 win over Group whipping boys Marseille in what was a far from packed Emirates Stadium with Jack Wilshere scoring his first ever brace in an Arsenal shirt.

It was a rather dull first half by all accounts but you wouldn’t have thought that after the opening exchange. Arsenal kicked off and lost the ball straight away after a wayward backwards pass; French Forward Andre-Pierre Gignac surged onto the loose ball and ran at a gap in the Gunners back line however he couldn’t capitalise on this great chance and Arsenal won the ball back.

Arsenal didn’t waste any time in getting the ball up the other end either, a Sagna through ball on the right found its way to Jack Wilshere after some nice build up play and the young Englishman dribbled down the flank before cutting inside and finding the back of the net with a nice Left footed finish after just 27 seconds.

It should’ve been 2-0 moments later when Wilshere, set free on the right again, found Aaron Ramsey with a squared pass who fired a shot at Steve Mandanda that was saved at point blank range.

Marseille didn’t cause Wojciech Szczęsny any bother at all in the first 45, their only shot coming from a tame Gignac header that sailed over from a right sided Jordan Ayew cross. This was followed by Ayew finding Gignac again with a neat little through ball but instead of shooting, Gignac attempted to dribble past the Polish stopper; Szczęsny smothered though.

Tomas Rosicky then fired a poor shot wide before Ramsey won a controversial penalty for the Home side. A neat little flick over N’Koulou set him free from the Cameroonian Defender who went onto trip him outside the area and was booked for his troubles. Justice prevailed though as Ozil’s spot kick was saved…eventually, taking an age to take it, but Mandanda wasn’t fazed, saving to his right.

The Second Half didn’t start as lively as the First but Arsenal were as dominant as in the opening period. Their dominance began in the 55th minute when an Olivier Giroud volley from the left of the area was deflected wide and out for a Corner. The Premier League leaders threatened again just a minute later when a fantastic Wilshere pass found Giroud again who used his arm to knock it past the Marseille defender before having his shot tipped wide by Mandanda.

Arsenal doubled their lead with 25 minutes left. The Marseille left flank being exposed yet again. Ramsey had all the time in the World 25 yards from goal and his pass found Ozil who hit a first time ball to Wilshere who tapped in a simple finish for his and Arsenal’s second of the night.

Marseille burst into life when they brought on France U20 World Cup Winner Florian Thauvin for Ginaulli Imbrula with 57 minutes played.  The Substitute hit a volley into the ground that Szczęsny can’t keep out but fortunately for him Nacho Monreal was there to clear it off the line. Thauvin troubled the Pole again minutes later, fizzing a shot towards the bottom left of his goal, but he got down brilliantly keeping it out.

Three minutes from time, a drilled Theo Walcott cross was deflected into the path of Substitute Santi Cazorla who blazed over. Walcott threatened again when he was in the clear but he dragged his shot wide when he really should’ve scored.

Arsenal now lead the group with 12 points, ahead of Dortmund in 2nd with 9 along with 3rd place Napoli with Marseille on a pitiful 0 from this Group of Death. The only way Arsenal won’t reach the last 16 now is if Dortmund beat Marseille in France and Napoli beat Arsenal by more than two goals at the Stadio San Paolo.

Diamond in the rough or just rough? The curious case of Nile Ranger

(Originally posted November 15th 2013)
Nile Ranger, 22, was tipped for great things in his Newcastle days when he joined the club in 2009, aged 18, but four years down the line he finds himself in League 1 and in danger of people remembering him more for his off the field antics than his football ability.

Ranger’s problems off the field are nothing new however, back in the days when he was on Southampton’s books as a 15-year-old he showed promise but found himself imprisoned in a Young Offender’s institute for 11 Weeks following an armed robbery. He returned to The Saints after, briefly, before being released due to his behaviour.

He was somewhat fortunate to be signed up by Premiership outfit Newcastle United then but he earned his place, scoring 15 goals for the Under 18’s and 7 for the Reserve team and was rewarded with a 3 and a half year deal by Alan Shearer as Newcastle prepared their assault on The Championship following their unexpected Relegation.

Ranger was awarded his Magpies début in the season opener against West Brom as an injury time substitute  for Shola Ameobi before winning his first start, getting the Man of the Match award in a 1-0 victory over Leicester City three weeks later. Ranger proved he could get goals in tier two after netting in the 2-0 wins over Coventry and Crystal Palace.

Ranger wouldn’t make much more of an impact as Newcastle romped to The Championship title and didn’t feature much in the following Premiership season either, mostly limited to Carling Cup games. He took whatever chance he got however and managed to score in two of those fixtures in wins over Accrington Stanley and Chelsea. Ranger made his Premiership début as an 89th minute substitute vs Wigan and went on to make a number of sub appearances, most notably against Arsenal where he turned past Laurent Koscielny who fouled him and got sent off, maintaining a 0-1 win for Newcastle. Bad-Boy Nile also started a few games that season following injuries to Andy Carroll and Leon Best, failing to add to his goals tally but he was still awarded a 5 and a half year deal by Chris Hughton.

Whilst 2010 was a good year for Nile Ranger on the field, his behaviour in 2011 would cause him problems off it. On 27 August he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a man in Newcastle city centre leaving the victim unconscious in the street, but was found not guilty in October 2012 and then in October 2011 he was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Newcastle’s Cathedral Square. The charge came only days after Ranger had been reinstated to Newcastle United’s first-team training after a three-month exile in the club’s reserves. Prior to this, in May 2011 Ranger was questioned by Newcastle after posing with a gun in a photograph. The gun was later handed in.

Striker Ranger in Shooting training...of sorts.

Striker Ranger in Shooting training…of sorts.

 

In what was an eventful 2011 for him, Ranger joined Championship side Barnsley to try and get his mind in football gear again, however it didn’t work out for him, five appearances, no goals and a foot injury had his loan cut short and back to Newcastle he went. He would try again in March 2012, this time opting for Sheffield Wednesday, then in League One.  Two goals in eight games was satisfactory as Wednesday won Promotion back to The Championship, however Ranger was still getting into trouble. Firstly making a homophobic comment on Twitter for which he was fined, then he was arrested again for breaching bail whilst awaiting trial for four assault charges. Then in September, Ranger was accused of criminal damage to a front door of someone else’s property, the charges were dropped 2 Months later however after the Court agreed that the Newcastle Front-man had damaged the door fearing his Girlfriend was being kidnapped.

Despite all of this however the Newcastle man still continued to get in the papers for all the wrong reasons. The 25th of January would prove to be the day that Ranger’s reputation would hit rock bottom. Ranger was arrested on suspicion of rape in a Newcastle hotel room and was charged for this on the 8th July and is due in court again in the New Year. His 2013 didn’t end there though, he was convicted of assault in March and hit the headlines again in July after getting “Ranger” tattooed on his forehead, coinciding with a Smiley face on his bottom lip which he isn’t shy on showing.

Smile for the Camera. Ranger's tattoo
Smile for the Camera. Ranger’s tattoo

Newcastle had got fed up with Ranger’s behaviour and released him by Mutual Consent in September. Two goals in 51 league games was not enough to justify his behaviour and Ranger was temporarily unemployed.

That was until League 1 outfit Swindon Town decided to take the risk. Despite negative press and an understandable annoyance from supporters, Ranger signed a 1 year deal on the dotted line in Wiltshire with the option of a second depending on his Court Case outcome. At the beginning it looked like a master-stroke by new boss Mark Cooper, Ranger repaid the faith shown in him, scoring 6 goals in 15 games including an 87th winner against West Country rivals Bristol City. However, now, Ranger seems to be showing his true colours. He’s missed several training sessions in the last Month, some from Swindon giving him time off for his court case, some for unknown reasons. Ranger has now gone AWOL and shows no signs of being in Cooper’s plans for the time being.

And this is what ultimately lets Nile Ranger down. He’s proved he has talent, he’s been capped for the England U-19’s 11 times, scoring 6 goals and although he may not be cut out for The Premiership, he may have been if he concentrated on his football more than his life of crime. One level he looks to have found himself at is League One with Championship chasing Swindon where he could really prove himself.

If Ranger is found innocent in January and Swindon forgive him for his missed training sessions and he finally learns to keep his head down and get on with his Football he could become the good player everyone expected back in 2009. However, it could all be too late for Nile if he gets found guilty in Court and then he’ll be added to the never ending “what might have been” list.

Can Gus Poyet keep Sunderland up?

(Originally posted November 1st 2013)

Sunderland have hired Gus Poyet following the sacking of controversial Italian Paolo Di Canio after just 7 games into the new season. Out goes one maverick, in comes…a Man who left his last club Brighton and Hove Albion acrimoniously after being sacked for “Gross Misconduct”. Interesting decision from Ellis Short.

Poyet’s coaching career began as assistant to Dennis Wise at then League 2 Swindon Town in 2007 where the pair had great success with 9 wins in 17 before leaving in October to join Leeds. This wasn’t as successful, they were relegated to League 1, not helped by a 10 point penalty for entering Administration. Poyet left Leeds to be Assistant at Tottenham under Juande Ramos but departed White Hart Lane after a year for his first stint as the main man at a club. Poyet enjoyed fantastic success at Brighton leading them to 13th in his first season having joined in November before winning the League 1 title in his first full season at the Seasiders. Brighton’s first season in The Championship under Poyet was a good one, finishing in 10th, 9 points off the Play-offs. They would make the Play-offs the season after however, finishing 4th, the beginning of the end for Poyet.

The whole saga of Poyet’s dismissal from Brighton was, and still is, an embarrassing mess for the South Coast side with Poyet and Brighton firing shot after shot at each other that resembled a Hollywood Divorce more than a Football Manager leaving a Championship team.

It all started with Poyet and his coaching staff being suspended after what can only be described as excrement was found in the away dressing room at the AMEX following Brighton’s 0-2 play-off semi final second leg defeat against near neighbours Crystal Palace who would of course go on to be promoted after beating Watford 1-0 at Wembley. Poyet sent an E-Mail to the powers that be at Brighton. This was not taken well.

A bad week got worse when Vicente, a player who got released after the Palace game, lambasted Poyet in the Brighton Argus “He is the worst person I’ve come across in football. For me he is a selfish person, very egocentric. What I think is unacceptable is that the manager makes fun of his players. I’ve seen things here that I have never seen in my career.”

Then came the infamous sacking on Live TV. Brighton say they told Poyet before the Uruguayan was dismissed on BBC Television while doing punditry for their coverage of Spain’s 0-3 win over Nigeria. Poyet denies this, Poyet sued Brighton, and lost.

Poyet's infamous sacking.
Poyet’s infamous sacking.

Then he ended up at Sunderland…

Gus was hired on the 8th October, coming across as a Paolo Di Canio lite following excrement gate, losing his first game 4-0 away to Swansea 11 days later in what would be an uninspiring start, hardly filling the Mackem faithful with much hope.  Poyet fared much better in his second game in charge however, beating fierce rivals Newcastle 2-1 at home, taking the lead twice, a Borini screamer sealing the win six minutes from time.

Can Poyet keep Sunderland up then?

Well, Gus inherits a side with 14 new faces in it, thanks to Paolo Di Canio trying to create a Sunderland side in his own image, something he wasn’t shy of doing at Swindon either, signing 29 players in just two seasons while in Wiltshire. What works well in Poyet’s favour however is that most, if not all, Sunderland players will want to play for him as they’ll just be glad to see the back of Dictator Di Canio, especially one John O’Shea.

The Verdict: Can Poyet keep Sunderland up? Yes.

Although having failed to hit top note currently, Sunderland have some top class players at their disposal, most notably Italy International Emanuele Giaccherini. Sunderland have the potential to be the Banana skin to any of the top teams in the League. Sunderland also have some winnable games coming up such as Hull and Stoke away. What works in Sunderland’s favour as well is they have a lot of top flight experience which cannot be said for newly promoted sides Cardiff,  Hull and Crystal Palace who are all expected to be fighting to stay in the Division come May. Also, with the likes of Stoke City who are changing the less aesthetically pleasing long ball system to a new possession based game which isn’t having much success which puts them in early danger.

This all adds to the momentum Sunderland should now have after the Derby win last Weekend. Although worth remembering Di Canio won his first Tyne-Wear Derby by three goals to nil, and that was away.

England 2-0 Poland. Job done.

(Originally posted October 15th 2013)

England secured qualification to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with a convincing 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley. Hodgson made two changes to his side that beat Montenegro 4-1 on Friday with Smalling in for suspended Walker at Right Back and Carrick in for Lampard in the Heart of the Midfield.

The early stages in London were a tense and tight affair with fans having to wait 9 minutes for the first chance of the match and it was travelling Poland who created it. A break-away from an England corner found its way to danger man Robert Lewandowski who ran with the ball before hitting a timid shot at Joe Hart from 25 yards. England didn’t have to wait long for their first chance however with man of the moment Andros Townsend having a turn and shot from 25 yards that was parried by Polish ‘keeper for the night, Wojciech Szczęsny of Arsenal stepping in for usual Poland stopper Artur Boruc. The ball looked to be dropping to Welbeck, however a Polish defender put off the Manchester United striker and a Goal Kick was the outcome.

Already eliminated Poland had a Golden opportunity to dent England hopes when Mierzejewski  played in Sobota who drilled a low shot into the side netting when he should’ve done better as the England marking was lacklustre, most notably from stand in Smalling.
Poland’s best chance came in the 22nd Minute when another counter attack from a Corner found its way to Lewandowski after another through ball from Mierzejewski was dummied and Lewandowski should score but he screws his shot wide.

England came closest in the first period when Andros Townsend had a decent curling effort from 20 yards out which smacked the bar leaving Szczęsny grasping at thin air in the Poland Goal. Sturridge managed to get to the rebound but by that stage Szczęsny had rediscovered his boundaries and parried the shot away from danger.

England really should’ve taken the lead on the 31 Minute mark when a Gerrard Corner found itself at the feet of a below par Welbeck who somehow fired way wide from about 4 yards. This led to two more chances, first, a Sturridge shot that sailed harmlessly wide from outside the Box and then a Rooney shot that was pushed out and away by Szczęsny.

England finally got their vital goal when Carrick fed the ball to Baines in acres of space on the Left who put in a Peach of a cross onto the head of Rooney who planted it right in the bottom corner out of Szczęsny’s reach from about 8 yards out. Relief in Wembley.

The half ended with a lacklustre Sturridge header from a Gerrard Corner when he really should’ve done better and a disallowed Poland goal for a narrow Offiside call, correct decision but that didn’t stop Polish appeals.

HT: England 1-0 Poland

The Second half was a largely drab affair with England more than happy to secure a one goal lead and the wind well out of Poland’s sails who had nothing but pride to play for, and they didn’t even salvage that on Tuesday night. Poland did create an early Second half chance though when just a Minute into the second 45, when a Mateusz Klich right footed shot from the centre of the box was blocked by Gary Cahill. Klich threatened again from the following Corner when he blazed over high and wide of Hart’s Goalmouth.

England came relatively close three minutes later when a chipped ball in by Rooney from the edge of the box was turned goalwards by a Sturridge sliding shot tackle, this was cleared over the bar by Jedrzejczyk however. The Corner led to a header from Gary Cahill that Szczęsny was yet again equal to and England were denied for an Umpteenth time by the Arsenal Number 1 whose performance was starting to resemble that of Tomaszewski in 1973.

England’s more ambitious chances in the half included a trademark Gerrard strike that didn’t quite go to plan, just going wide of the post on this occasion and a Townsend shot that was easily smothered. Poland managed to force one more effort on goal in the hour mark when Lewandowski, who claimed he only needed 1 chance to sink England pre match, failed to live up to his own hype when his attempted dink over Hart was easily foiled.

A tense closing period with England securing the points and a place in Brazil when substitute James Milner found Gerrard with a nice through ball which the England and Liverpool Skipper ran with before turning Krychowiak inside out and then chipping the Goalkeeper into the bottom right corner of the Goal.

England will be one of the 32 teams in Brazil next Summer, not as convincing in Qualifying as it looked on paper but Manager Roy Hodgson has a solid base and time on his side to prepare, 8 Months this time around,  7 more than he had ahead of Euro 2012.

England 4-1 Montenegro: Half way to Brazil.

(Originally posted October 11th 2013)

England got a vital 3 points at Wembley on Friday as they took a significant step in booking their place in next year’s World Cup in Brazil. Hodgson’s team included a few shocks, most notably Andros Townsend in right midfield ahead of Milner and Danny Welbeck on the left rather than his preferred striker position. Both decisions paid off. Roy also kept faith with out of form Goalkeeper Joe Hart.

England came flying out the blocks with Welbeck firing over with his left foot from 25 yards with just 2 minutes on the clock. Welbeck was also involved in another half chance again just a minute later when an Andros Townsend pass found him and his attempted pass to Rooney was deflected out for a Corner.

England had a second shot on the 7 minute mark when England poster boy Wayne Rooney had a shot deflected over for a Corner which came to nothing. Just 3 minutes later the man in form, Daniel Sturridge curled a shot from the left hand side of the box narrowly over the top. Montenegro’s first shot of the game was a torrid one from 40 yards that went well wide of Hart’s goal. They did score in the 16th minute however when Damjanovic lobbed Hart, but he was well offside and the whistle went well before he had the shot.

Another England half chance came when Gerrard had one of his curled shots with his left foot from the edge of the area, but like efforts earlier on in the game, it sailed harmlessly over the bar. Jovetic forced Montenegro’s second shot of the contest when his half volley was blocked by Cahill and sailed safely into Hart’s hands. England came close again when Gerrard hit a powerful curling shot from far out which was tipped wide by Montenegro goalkeeper Poleksic.

The half ended with two more Welbeck shots, one deflected over after Sturridge fed him with the resulting corner, finding the United Striker again as he sliced wide with his left foot and a Sturridge flick that went out for a corner after he was set up by a nice move with Lampard finding Rooney who drove in a low cross from the right of box. England’s best chance of the half however was a surging Townsend run and shot which was fumbled into the path of Rooney who, from a relatively tight angle, fired wide, he should’ve scored though

HT: England 0-0 Montenegro

The second half started perfectly for England, with a goal. Just 3 minutes into the second half a Townsend ball from the right was poorly headed out by a Montenegro defender which landed at the feet of Welbeck who had his first time shot saved and Rooney pounced on the rebound to make it 1-0 to the hosts.

Joe Hart had to make his first, and only, major save of the game in the 55th minute when a Freekick from the left was headed at Goal by danger man Damjanovic, Hart dived to his left and tipped it away.

England forced another save from Poleksic when Lampard took a Corner shot and ITV Man of The Match Andros Townsend cut inside and had a shot. Easy save though. 3 Minutes later though England had the ball in the net again, in fortuitous circumstances. Sturridge had a nice flick on the left which was picked up by Welbeck who ran down the left and squared it to seemingly no-one. Until Boskovic sliced it from the edge of the box into the back of the net for a calamitous own goal, 2-0. Job done? Not quite.

Just 60 seconds after England got their second, Manchester City Summer Signing Stefan Jovetic hit a stunning shot that cannoned off the bar where Hart had no chance. England went straight down the other end though and in a neat passing move where Rooney found Welbeck who then found Lampard, Frank went on to blaze it over from 20 yards. Carrick then replaced Lampard and a crazy 5 minutes ended when Welbeck played a nice low through ball into the box for Rooney who could’ve shot but instead opted to square the ball to Gerrard who had a shot cleared for a corner.

With 20 minutes to play, Montenegro made things nervy for England when they halved the deficit after a shot from sub Vukcevic which was going well wide was turned in by the outstretched leg of Damjovic into the bottom corner which Hart could do nothing about. These nerves lasted a grand total of 7 minutes though as England got a third when Andros Townsend turned away from a defender, took a touch and hit a belter that bended away from the Goalkeeper, clipped the inside of the post and went in.

The final chance, and goal, of the match came in added time when Daniel Sturridge was sliced down by Montenegro number 5, Volkov who picked up the first booking of the game and was lucky to not get another one here. Liverpool Striker Sturridge picked himself up and slotted the ball into the Right hand corner, sending the Goalkeeper the wrong way for a convincing England victory.

Another England Goalkeeping Crisis? Already?

(Originally posted October 9th 2013)

As England go into two vital qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland there’s no way we can be optimistic, with England being England some problem has to be thrown into the mix. Let’s have a Goalkeeping crisis.

England have always had good Goalkeepers that were prone to the mistake. Whether that be Seaman’s failure to jump against Brazil in 2002, “Calamity” (David) James in general, Paul Robinson’s gaffe prone Euro 2008 qualifying debacle , Scott Carson vs Croatia and Robert Green who was just one big mistake. Along with a few more, I could be here all day and I didn’t even mention Peter Bonetti…

Joe Hart looked like the answer to our problems. A surprise inclusion to the 2010 World Cup squad and 3rd choice behind Green and James it seemed he’d be waiting a while for this chance, but when Green ended his England career with “that” mistake in the opening game against America and David James being 37, Hart became England’s number 1 about a Month later. Everything seemed fine, England were unbeaten in Euro 2012 qualifying, conceding just 5 goals and despite another “crisis” (this time of the Managerial variety) England were alright. A relatively successful Euro 2012 was followed by a so far average World Cup qualifying campaign and with Hart deciding to forget how to make a save, Hodgson has a decision to make after giving Hart the dreaded vote of confidence. If Hart makes way, who will come in then?

Hart's Dandruff isn't the only problem he's got at the moment
Hart’s Dandruff isn’t the only problem he’s got at the moment

The Contenders

John Ruddy: Probably England’s number 2 at the moment. He would’ve had a spot on the plane for Euro 2012 if he didn’t break his finger, has just the one cap to his name at age 26, came on as a second half sub in a 2-1 friendly win over Italy, keeping a Clean Sheet in the 45 minutes he played after Butland conceded in the first half. Solid start.

Fraser Forster: Not yet capped at any level on the International scene, however consistently strong performances for Celtic, most notably that famous 2-1 win over Barcelona gets him high on a lot of people’s billing as stiff competition for Hart.

Jack Butland: It takes a brave man to call where abouts Butland fits into Hodgson’s England set up. A regular feature in every England age group going along with a place on the plane at Euro 2012, being Number 1 at the 2012 Olympics and 1 Senior cap. Also, being just 20, the world is at his feet, or hands, if you will, so he has plenty of time to get up the pecking order. The only thing holding Butland back right now is that he’s back in the Championship on loan at Barnsley having failed to beat Begovic to get in Stoke’s starting 11. With Begovic possibly leaving The Britannia soon though, expect Butland to be a Premiership regular in the near future.

Hodgson is likely to go with Hart just on the pure scale of these 2 games which, if they go wrong, will probably cost Roy his job so he’d like to have an experienced pro in between the sticks. Should Joe Hart have another dodgy spell though then Ruddy, Forster and Butland will be chomping at the bit to get the nod.

Southampton FC: Is Their Good Start To The Season Really A Surprise?

(Originally posted October 8th 2013)

When Southampton sacked Nigel Adkins, the man who guided The Saints from League 1 to The Premiership with back to back promotions on the 18th January 2013,  there was widespread criticism of The Board and Football in General that Managers get no time in the job, regardless of their achievements. Fast forward 9 Months and already this decision looks like a stroke of Genius.

Mauricio Pochettino, known to most English Football Fans as the Man who “Fouled” Michael Owen to give England a penalty at 2002 World Cup, took over a Southampton side 15th in the table and 3 points above the Relegation zone, he finished it in 14th place and 5 points above the dreaded drop. An unremarkable start, however M.P did guide Southampton to home wins over Man City (his first win as boss in his 4th game), Liverpool and Chelsea. Adkins would go on to be appointed Reading boss in March, but 5 points from 24 was never going to be enough to keep Reading up.

Whilst Adkins started the Summer of 2013 preparing for life in the Championship again, Pochettino was busy spending £33.8 million on 3 new players (Dejan Lovren, Victor Wanyama and Dani Osvaldo).

These 3 new additions add to Southampton’s already impressive squad with the likes of Captain Adam Lallana, promising full backs Nathaniel Clyne and 17 year old Luke Shaw, England’s new striker Rickie Lambert and Uruguayan Gaston Ramirez who was the big coup of last Summer and has since attracted interest from the likes of Arsenal and Juventus.

Southampton kicked off their season with a tight 0-1 win over West Brom thanks to a Rickie Lambert penalty in the dying seconds, just days after his first England goal on his debut, the winner in a 3-2 victory over “Auld” enemy Scotland.

This was followed by a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland, even then Fonte had a score a second successive late strike for The Saints, his header coming in the 88th minute. Southampton back to winning ways 3 days later though after a convincing 1-5 away win over Barnsley in the Capital One Cup.

Southampton then lost to Norwich 1-0 (Redmond ’68) followed by another draw, this time 0-0 at home to West Ham before what would be their first stand out result of the season. A 0-1 win over then unbeaten Liverpool.

This victory showcased how much Southampton have come over recent years and how much further they can progress. A solid defensive display by the away side kept Liverpool, and the man in form, Daniel Sturridge at bay, limiting the Liverbirds to just 10 shots (5 on target) while Southampton had 12 (7 on target). The winner that day coming from a Lovren header 20 minutes from time.

3 successive wins would follow (2-0 vs Bristol City in the Cup, 2-0 vs Palace and then 2-0 again vs Swansea) going into the International break where Lambert will look to shine again in two key qualifiers for England.

7 games in then, 7 scored and 2 conceded and in 4th place. Pochettino is clearly basing his Southampton side on a mean defence, there’s no reason why Southampton can’t keep on in this rich vain of form.

Should Southampton keep getting the results they are, they could be on course for a Top Half, or maybe even Europa League spot if they can maybe get more squad depth in January and keep injury free. Adkins meanwhile is Managing a Reading side 7th in The Championship. How times change quickly.

What can Arsenal expect from Giroud?

(Originally posted June 16th 2012)

Arsenal are set to sign 25 year old striker Oliver Giroud from French side Montpellier for £12 million but is he the man that can finally make the London side a title contender again?

If Giroud is going to be a central figure in the Premier League he will have to force his way into a side that also have the attacking options of German international Lukas Podolski and Captain fantastic Robin Van Persie. This will be difficult but Arsenal have a history of making relatively unknown French players stars at the club. Most notable being Robert Pires, Patrick Viera and of course Thierry Henry.

Oliver Giroud was the joint top scorer in Ligue 1 last season with 21 goals firing Montpellier to a shock title win in France. He also has 1 goal in 7 international caps for Le Blues, this was scored against the Germans for the opening goal in a 2-1 French win. Giroud has made it into Lauren Blanc’s Euro 2012 squad but has only played 15 minutes in the opening two group games, coming on for Benzema against Ukraine.

The striker has only had one spell where he wasn’t very prolific in his career. From 2005-2008 he scored 2 goals in 23 for his first club Grenoble. In the 2007-2008 season though he had a loan spell at then French 3rd division side Istres and scored 14 goals in 33 games at just 20 years of age. In 2008 Giroud moved up to Ligue 2 and joined Tours. In his two years there he scored 24 goals in 44 games. Montpellier signed Giroud in 2010 for 2 million Euros (£1.6 million) but promised Tours that he could spend another year there on loan. The man from Chambery continued to impress for them scoring a further 6 goals in 17 games. Giroud made a good start to his Montpellier career scoring on his debut, and then going on to get a further 32 in 70 to further enhance his reputation.

Despite his consistent good form in France he does have the tendency to suffer through minor goal droughts. During his loan spell at Istres he failed to score a goal in the months of November and December, key months in a league season and very busy in England. Can he cope with the pressure? His first spell at Tours didn’t get off to a flying start, not scoring his first goal for the club until October and during the same season he missed 3 games due to injury, played the following two games from the bench before re-aggravating the injury in training which forced him out for a further month. When his transfer to Montpellier was agreed later on in the season he failed to score for another three weeks. After this though he did manage to score in three consecutive games before suffering yet another barren spell, this time lasting 7 games.

So, what can Arsenal fans expect from Oliver Giroud? A good goal scorer who is likely to have a slow start at the club. However he has the potential to be the next French wonder at the Emirates. Will Giroud be a success at Arsenal? I think so, in time.