Month: March 2014

League 2’s Top 10 Players of 2013/14 Announced

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The Football League have revealed the top 10 players from each of its three divisions this afternoon as voted for by the Managers as part of the Football League awards that took place on the 16th of March. Here are League 2’s shining stars.

10th: Sam Clucas (Mansfield)

Clucas has been the stand out performer for newly promoted Mansfield as the Stags attempt to secure their place in the division next season. The 23 year old is the club’s top scorer this season with 8 goals from midfield in the league from a total of just 35 shots, all of which have been on target, along with one assist to his name.

9th: Ian Henderson (Rochdale)

The first of two players featuring in the list that ply their trade at Spotland, Ian Henderson has been a vital component of the current League 2 leaders’ season so far with 10 of his 11 goals this season coming in the league. His ability to find the net will become more and more crucial as the season goes on with Dale looking to return to League 1 after a two year absence.

8th: Tommy Lee (Chesterfield)

Chesterfield are the most prominent team in this season’s top 10 with a grand total of three players making an appearance. The first of which is long serving Spireite Goalkeeper Tommy Lee who has kept 20 clean sheets in 40 games so far this this season, conceding just 36, the lowest amount in the division.

7th: David Syers (Scunthorpe)

The Midfielder has been in fine form this season, scoring an impressive 10 goals for a midfielder as the Iron look in good stead for promotion back to the third tier. His 10 strikes have come from 26 shots, all have which have been on target which shows what an accurate finisher the 26 year old is.

6th: Jimmy Ryan (Chesterfield)

Ryan has been a useful member of the Chesterfield midfield this season contributing four assists and one goal this season following his Summer move from Scunthorpe. The Liverpool academy product has also been an ever present in the starting 11, playing in 35 out of the 40 games the club have played this season and been a consistent performer throughout for the JPT finalists.

5th: John-Joe O’Toole (Bristol Rovers)

League 2’s fifth top scorer so far this campaign with 13 goals is an impressive tally for anyone, even more so when you’re a midfielder so it won’t shock many to see O’Toole’s name appear in the latter stages of this list. A fine player at this level and one of the main reasons we’ll Bristol Rovers in League 2 again next year. Despite the former Republic of Ireland U21 International’s claims the club has underperformed this season.

4th: Rhys Murphy (Dagenham and Redbridge)

The Arsenal youth graduate has finally found his feet this season after signing for Dagenham following two loan spells in League 1 where he failed to score and a season in Holland’s second division. At Dagenham however he has been a scoresheet regular, netting 13 in 39 as Dagenham currently find themselves in a very respectable 10th.

3rd: Scott Hogan (Rochdale)

Hogan began his career at Rochdale in 2010 but having failed to break into the first team set up, he left for pastures new. In 2014 though he finds himself back at Spotland having showed tremendous attitude in the non leagues to make his return to professional football. He has 17 goals in 29 games this season, six of which came thanks to two hattricks in three weeks against AFC Wimbledon and Oxford United. Hogan is one of the main reasons why Rochdale find themselves as table toppers as it stands.

2nd: Scott Winnall (Scunthorpe)

The league’s top scorer with 21 goals in 39 games, there is no real surprise why Winnall is awarded 2nd place in this year’s awards. The Scunthorpe man has been in fine form this season and could well be attracting interested from higher division clubs in the near future, whether Scunny achieve promotion or not.

1st: Gary Roberts (Chesterfield)

League 2’s player of the year for 2013/14 is Gary Roberts. A new addition to the Proact Stadium this Summer following a less than enjoyable time at Swindon that culminated in a play off semi final loss, Roberts has rediscovered his form in a Chesterfield shirt. The 31 year old winger has 10 league goals this season, the most by any Chesterfield and also leads their assist charts with 12, eight above their second highest. A deserved winner. 

 

 

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Have Chelsea finally found Claude Makelele’s successor in Nemanja Matic?

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Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Oriol Romeu. Chelsea have tried and failed to find the man to fill Claude Makelele’s boots since his 2008 departure. While the trio have had relative success in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield, none of them have come close to having the influence Makelele did. In Nemanja Matic though, Chelsea may have found the solution.

Claude Makelele arrived at Stamford Bridge in the Summer of 2003 for a fee of £16.8 million after being outcast by Real Madrid as they denied his request of a better contract and continued building their “Galacticos” squad without him. The defining mistake by Florentino Perez and possibly the main reason why Real failed to add to their ninth Champions League win in 2002 where Makelele was a regular.

We will not miss Makélelé. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and 90% percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways. He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres. Younger players will arrive who will cause Makélelé to be forgotten.” – Perez (2003)

On arriving in West London, then Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri said of Makelele that he would be “the battery” of the Chelsea side, and right he was too. Thanks to the Frenchman, and Chelsea’s other signings that year in the first season under Roman Abramovich’s era, Chelsea finished Premiership runners up and reached the Champions League semi finals for the first time ever, losing to Monaco who would go on to be beat by Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the final.

Mourinho was appointed Chelsea manager the following season of course and under him, Chelsea would transform into the European superpower we know them as today. Makelele blossomed in Mourinho’s style of play, his defensive work, along with a solid back five of Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry and William Gallas, meant that Chelsea conceded just 15 goals all season while his passing ability allowed players such as Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, Damien Duff and Didier Drogba to attack the opposition at will. “The Makelele role”, as it would be known, was born.

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Every team across the land it seemed was after their very own Claude Makelele. Liverpool signed Javier Mascherano, Arsenal opted for Alex Song, Manchester United acquired Michael Carrick while Tottenham snapped up Didier Zokora. Although three quarters of these signings were no doubt successful (Zokora being the exception), none of them were, or are, as good as Makelele.

The role has been adapted slightly in modern times with the fancy named “Deep Lying Playmaker” or “Regista” role being the latest fashionable term. Well known “DLPs” are Cesc Fabregas, Luka Modric and Jack Wilshere while Sergio Busquets is regarded as an efficient Regista.

Makelele continued to shine in a Chelsea shirt for the next three seasons but his last game was to come, aptly in Chelsea’s first ever Champions League final, the 2008 clash with Manchester United. It would only have been more fitting if Chelsea had won that night in Moscow’s Red City, to give the mercurial Frenchman the greatest of send offs, much like Drogba’s in 2012.

Chelsea’s number four departed West London for Paris Saint Germain where he spent three seasons, won a Coupe de France in 09/10 and retired the following year to become Assistant Manager, which he remains as today.

Nemanja Matic put pen to paper on a four year deal at Chelsea in 2009 for a £1.5 million fee having spent time on trial at Middlesbrough and he was clearly signed as 2006 World Cup runner up Makelele’s long term replacement. Matic made two appearances in his first spell as a Chelsea player before joining feeder club Vitesse Arnhem on loan where he scored twice in 27 games for the Eridivisie club. Having failed to make a mark on the Premier League though he was sold to Benfica in a player plus cash deal worth £21 million plus David Luiz.

Matic announced himself onto the European stage in the Portuguese Capital, scoring six goals in 56 games over the course of three seasons, including one strike against Porto that finished second in the Puskas Award (given to the year’s best goal) of last season, losing out to Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s acrobatic effort against England before rejoining the 2012 Champions League winners for £21 million in January of this year.

Like Makelele, Matic has the ability to break down the play and slow down the midfield to tire the opposition with accurate passing to support his pinpoint tackles, and what’s more intimidating for his rivals is that Matic might even become better than his predecessor. He’s more dynamic than Makelele was and at a younger age too, and more impressively, is a larger threat going forward making him a more versatile player than his French counterpart. Already this season we’ve seen the Serbian crack the woodwork from long range against Manchester City at the Etihad and have a goal disallowed against Aston Villa for a questionable handball. Makelele only scored two goals in a Chelsea shirt, a rebounded Penalty against Charlton (which he originally had saved) and an 18 yard curler against Tottenham, which as great as it was, was his only shot of the entire season.

With Nemanja Matic the latest man being given the job of controlling the Blues’ midfield and so far looking more in control than anyone has in a good while, Chelsea seem to have finally found the man who has filled the Claude Makelele shaped void in the centre of the pitch.

Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies and staff fail to turn up to training

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Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies and his staff have been absent from training at the Championship club.

This follows the news that Billy Davies is reportedly facing the sack and that Neil Warnock had a meeting with the Nottingham Forest owners on Sunday.

Warnock, 65, has previously guided both Sheffield United and Queens Park Rangers to the Premier League but currently finds himself unemployed having failed to do the same at previous club Leeds United.

Pre season promotion favourites Nottingham Forest lost 5-0 to Derby on the weekend and are currently sat in 7th, two points off the play offs.

Forest are winless in eight and nine points off Saturday’s opponents Derby who are third and a staggering 26 points behind enemy Leicester who are currently top of the tree

It is understood that Neil Warnock will be appointed imminently and Ronnie Jepson will become part of the backroom staff along with Keith Curle, former manager at arch rivals Notts County.

Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona

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Barcelona celebrated an El Clasico league double over arch rivals Real Madrid following a 3-4 win at the Santiago Bernabeu thanks to a Lionel Messi hattrick in a match that also included a red card for Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.

The Catalan giants opened the scoring after just six minutes when a neat pass from Lionel Messi 20 yards out found Andres Iniesta who lost his marker Daniel Carvajal before firing a powerful shot past Diego Lopez, off the underside of the bar, and into the back of the net for 0-1.

Real levelled the scores soon after though. On the 20 minute mark, a left sided flighted ball from one of Madrid’s top performers on the night Angel Di Maria, was powerfully converted by the head of Karim Benzema. Victor Valdes got a hand to it but it wasn’t convincing enough and the scores were levelled.

Madrid’s modern day Galacticos didn’t waste any time in getting their second of the match either, Benzema doubling his tally just three minutes later. It was Di Maria who provided the assist again. His cross was missed horribly by Javier Mascherano and the ball landed at Benzema who took a touch before blasting it past Valdes.

Barcelona dragged it back to 2-2 before the half time whistle and it was that man Lionel Messi with the goal. The Argentine teed up Neymar who returned it to Messi to tie the game up again. Just in the nick of time as well with Real Madrid defender closing in

The second half started as lively as the opening 45 but this time the hosts scored first. Madrid’s third goal came shortly after Benzema was denied his hattrick by a smart reaction stop by Valdes from point blank range. Barca cried foul play after Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was tripped by Daniel Alves and a penalty was awarded. Television replays showed that the powerful Portuguese was brought down outside the area though. The ex-Manchester United forward converted to Valdes’ right.

La Liga holders Barcelona were awarded a penalty of their own when Neymar was tripped, inside the area, by Sergio Ramos, who was sent off for his troubles with a straight red card for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity, a great decision by the referee in the circumstances, knowing the reputation of a hostile El Clasico crowd. Messi equalized with a perfect penalty to Lopez’s left.

Lionel Messi completed his hattrick with his second, and the match’s third penalty. It was Iniesta this time who was fouled, being sandwiched in between Xabi Alonso and Carvajal with Alonso committing the foul with an uncharacteristic error. Messi the magician was on task to complete the comeback to make it 3-4 to the visitors and ensure that Barcelona closed the gap on Madrid rivals Atletico and Real to one point in what promises to be the most exciting La Liga title race in years.

Always look on the bright side of life – Why Swindon fans should not be moaning

After Swindon’s latest loss, this time a 1-4 home trouncing by Wolves, Town fans are not in high spirits. Being eight points behind sixth place Peterborough with Posh having a game in hand doesn’t look encouraging as Swindon’s play off ambitions are fading fast. Here are five reasons why Swindon supporters should still be smiling though.

1) Few thought we’d get a play off spot in pre season anyway

Following then Chairman Jed McCrory’s decision to slash the wage budget from £5 million to £2.5 million, 12 players decided to leave the club. The two departures that left fans most upset were fan favourite Simon Ferry and club captain Alan McCormack who left on frees and then signed on at Portsmouth and Brentford respectively. The mood following these departures was at an all time low, if memory serves correctly, a lot of the doom mongers were thinking relegation was looming. Manager Kevin MacDonald was not the man who captured the imagination of many of the Town faithful either. He resigned pre season but at a terrible time and spirits at the County Ground didn’t look like they’d raise any time soon. A new Manager was forthcoming though.

2) We have an inexperienced Manager, who is doing admirably

Mark “cheap option” Cooper was MacDonald’s assistant when the Scot arrived on February 28th and was appointed full time boss August 20th after one win and two defeats as caretaker in the first three games of the season. Cooper was seen as the cheap option as he was hired from within when people such as Neil Warnock and Paul Tisdale were linked to the job as well as club legends Glen Hoddle and Martin Ling. Even Tim Sherwood’s name, Tottenham reserve Manager at the time, was mentioned due to Swindon’s new link with Spurs, an appointment that would have made sense with a fair few Tottenham reserve team players now plying their trade at Swindon. Sherwood now has the top job at White Hart Lane of course.  

Mark Cooper is not known across the footballing world, having previously managed at Tamworth, Kettering, Darlington and Telford, along with an ill fated spell at Peterborough. Despite this though he is doing a good job, leading Swindon to the brink of a Wembley final, only being denied by former club Peterborough on penalties and challenging for the playoffs with an inexperienced squad, which leads onto my next point.

3) Swindon have a young team

Out of Town’s 16 new faces (14 in the Summer, then Dany N’Guessan in September and Ben Gladwin in November followed by Michael Smith and George Barker in January), only 3 are above the age of 23 (N’Guessan, Ryan Harley and Mohamed El Gabas). El Gabas has since left the club, which means that Swindon Town have a squad average age of 22.8, (23 if you want to round it up), the lowest in the division.*

*All players calculated had played at least 5 times this season at the time of writing.

"Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life"

“Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”

4) Injuries

Swindon have been dogged by injuries for what seems like all season.  The most notable of these would include number one Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham who has been ruled out with a groin injury since the trip to then league leaders Leyton Orient, which Town lost 2-0 with Tyrell Belford in goal. The Robins were 4 points off a play off spot before that game but as Peterborough won and Swindon lost, the gap was increased to 7 points. Swindon have not won since Foderingham has picked up his injury.

Another key man sat on the treatment table is joint top scorer Nile Ranger. The 22-year-old former Newcastle man is out for the rest of the season after tearing his hamstring in the Valentines Day draw at home to Colchester. Ranger has scored 10 goals this season and shares that tally with Nicky Ajose who was lively in a Red shirt but his loan has now expired and has returned to parent club Peterborough, he has four in six for them.

The club’s player of the season last year Nathan Thompson also looks to be out for the remainder of the season now with an ankle injury, Grant Hall has been nursing a calf injury since mid January, Alex Pritchard has just returned from a medical ligament strain while Ryan Mason, a highly rated youngster, has missed more games than he’s played.

5) Swindon are producing fine talents

One of the club’s many Tottenham youth players at SN1, Alex Pritchard, has blossomed since joining the club on a season long loan following England’s abject display at the Under 20 World Cup which he featured in. The 20 year old winger has been nominated for both young player of the year, and player of the year awards for League 1 which, should he win the player of the year award, would be the second Swindon player in a row to do so after Matt Ritchie won it last season. Ritchie also scooped up the League 2 player of the season award when Town surged to the title win in the 2011/12 season.

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Along with this, Massimo Luongo, another addition from Tottenham, a permanent one this time, has recently received his first International call up for Australia as he now tries to book himself a place on the plane for the World Cup no less. Should Luongo make The Socceroos’ 23 man squad he’d be the third player in Swindon’s history to go to a World Cup while being at the club. Alan McLoughlin (Italy 1990 for Ireland) and Jan Aage Fjortoft (USA 1994 for Norway) are the other two. Yaser Kasim has also just been called up to his country’s last squad, and made his debut in a 3-0 win over China as Iraq sealed their place at the 2015 Asia Cup, which will be held in Australia next January.

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Cheltenham Town to continue ground share with Gloucester

 

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League 2 side Cheltenham Town have agreed to allow Gloucester City from the Conference North to ground share with them at Whaddon Road for next season.

Gloucester’s stadium was destroyed by floods in 2007 and since then have ground shared with fellow non league clubs Forest Green Rovers and Cirencester Town.

The Tigers have been based at Whaddon Road since 2010 and they are currently in the process of appealing to the council for a stadium rebuid on the same place as old ground Meadow Park.

Nile Ranger cleared of rape

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Swindon Town striker Nile Ranger has been cleared of rape, following a week long trial.

The former Newcastle man, 22, denied the charge and insisted the woman had consented to sex at a hotel in January 2013.

Ranger always insisted he had never has sex with a woman against her will and Newcastle Crown Court also heard that the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had no memory of the night in question until she woke up in bed with Ranger the following morning.

The striker was clearly delighted following the verdict as he “tore his tie off as he walked out of court saying “Yes” and smiling.

“Ranger thanked the jury on his way out and says “What a joke.

“Witnesses say Ranger sprinted down a court corridor with arms outstretched as if he had scored a goal after being cleared”

Swindon forward Ranger is currently injured with a torn hamstring and is likely to miss the remainder of the season.

He’s out of contract at the Wiltshire club in the Summer.

Charlton may lose players to Standard Liege

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Championship club Charlton Athletic may face the possibility of its key names being sold to Belgian outfit Standard Liege, according to new owner Roland Duchatelet.

Duchatelet owns both Charlton and Standard Liege, along with Alcorcan in Spain, Carl Zeiss Jena in Germany and formerly K.Sint-Truidense in his native Belgium. His son owns Ujpest in Hungary.

Since arriving in January, four players have swapped life in Liege for a part time stay in South London with Yohann Thuram-Ulien, Anil Koc and Astrit Ajdarevic joining on loan and Reza Ghoochannejhad signing permanently. Loic Nego also signed from fellow Duchatelet family owned club Ujpest. He too has spent time at Standard on loan.

Standard Liege are currently pushing for a Champions League spot and Duchatelet has refused to rule out Charlton’s star players being sold to play Champions League football.

The Belgian Giants have produced stars such as Christian Benteke, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas through its impressive youth academy in recent years.

Duchatelet seems to have a hierarchy of his preferred clubs with Liege top of the tree, closely followed by Charlton, however this could change if the Addicks ever reach the Premier League again.

Liege would receive £8 million for Champions League qualification while Charlton would earn around £120 million should they earn promotion back to England’s top flight.