Aug 312012

Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, PSG, Dinamo Zagreb

Petro-dollars FC (Paris St. Germain) have an excellent opportunity in Group A. After a poor start in Ligue 1 following a summer of heavy spending including the capture of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. The Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, Portuguese side Porto, Ukrainians Dynamo Kiev complete Group A. All eyes are on PSG and their star-studded squad.

Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier

Olivier Giroud will return back to Montpellier sooner than expected after the French Ligue 1 Champions were drawn with Arsenal in Group A. The Gunners have lost Robin van Persie, but will be pleased with their Champions League draw. Realistically, they will aim to top their group but Montpellier and Schalke will challenge for the remaining spot in the Round of 16.

Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga

Malaga, despite their financial difficulties that prompted the sale of Santi Cazorla to Arsenal, navigated the Champions League playoff round into the lucrative Group Stages. Zenit St. Petersburg provided a tough match in the Round of 16 with Benfica and only just missed out on a clash with Chelsea in the quarter-finals last season. Anderlecht also qualified via the playoff round and will look to perform far better than fellow Belgians RSC Genk did last season. A leaky Genk defence conceded 16 goals in six Group Stage matches. The minnows were bait for the top sides in the Group, but Anderlecht have a reasonable chance in Group C. AC Milan are never to be discounted, but the loss of Thiago Silva, Ibrahimovic and others may prove to disrupt the Italian giants this season.

Group D(eath): Real Madrid, Man City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund

What more can you say? Almost the epitome of the cliché “Group of Death”. La Liga, Premier League, Bundesliga, and Eredivisie Champions make Group D certainly worth watching. Real Madrid made Barcelona look comparatively average in La Liga after a record-breaking season, and a Champions League semi-final penalty-shootout defeat at the hands of runners-up Bayern Munich furthered Madrid’s credentials as one of the elite European sides.

Premier League winners Manchester City find themselves in another tough Champions League group after crashing out at the Group Stage last season despite a solid debut campaign. Borussia Dortmund may well be ready for a European assault, despite losing influential playmaker Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. Home matches will, once again, be crucial for the back-to-back Bundesliga winners. Highly unlikely that Ajax will find themselves in the knockout stages.

Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Nordsjaelland

Chelsea – The European Champions after defying the odds – find themselves back in the Champions League despite a sixth place finish in the Premier League. Their penalty shootout win over Bayern Munich, much to the chagrin of the football majority, brought them back in the Champions League and delivered the first European Cup to London. Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea are probable joint-favourites with Juventus; The Serie A Champions will be gunning for the Champions of Europe. Minnows FC Nordsjaelland offer little threat but the Ukrainian champions, Shakhtar Donetsk, will be tricky opponents especially on home soil.

Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE

Last season’s Champions League runners-up, Bayern Munich, will be raw with emotion after missing out on winning the European Cup at their home stadium. Valencia, who were brushed aside by Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea in the group stages last year, will be the biggest threat to Bayern. Lille, after losing Eden Hazard to Chelsea in a big-money move, may struggle to challenge Bayern Munich and Valencia. BATE will be pleased to collect some television money, and leave with their pride intact.

Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic
Pep Guardiola may have left the Nou Camp but Tito Vilanova’s
Barcelona remain relatively similar in approach. Handed a relatively easy group, the 2011/12 semi-finalists will expect a painless passage into the knockout rounds; A heavy-weight amongst continental light-weights. Benfica, Spartak Moscow, and Celtic will fight for the second spot in the group but that positioning in Group G is very tricky to predict.

Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj

After a pitiful group stage campaign last season, following their 2010/11 Champions League final appearance, Manchester United have strengthened heavily in the summer. Mere seconds away from a twentieth Premier League title – Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero dashed those hopes – Sir Alex Ferguson’s side added Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie as United look to keep Manchester red. Braga and Galatasaray, the Portuguese and Turkish league champions respectively, will battle for second spot in the group. CFR Cluj will be thankful for the TV money, and hopeful of a famous result for the club.

Aug 312012

West Ham v Fulham – 12:45

• After a promising start to the season with a 1-0 victory over Villa, Swansea brought West Ham back down to earth subjecting them to a 3-0 defeat at the weekend
• Mark Noble once again covered the most ground for the Hammers with 6.67 miles
• Noble also holds the honour of having attempted the longest shot in the Premier League so far this season, with a hopeful effort of 43 yards
• Mohamed Diame was the Hammers’ fastest player on the pitch against Swansea, registering a top speed of 20.4 mph
• Diame has also completed the most passes in his opponent’s half so far this season for the Hammers, with 28 passes completed.
• That stat puts Sam Allerdyce’s traditional long ball tactic into perspective, as the player who tops the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for passes in his opponent’s half is Yaya Toure with a massive 123, almost 5 times more than Diame. Meanwhile Mark Noble has completed 22 passes backwards and sprayed 562m of long passes around the field so far this season.
• In Fulham’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford, Damien Duff scored and Nemanja Vidic could only head a Matthew Briggs cross into his own net for Fulham’s goals
• Briggs registered a top speed of 20.4 miles per hour, only just behind Mladen Petric who was the fastest player on the pitch according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index registering 20.43 miles per hour
• Fulham have done well playing from the back so far this season, with defender Aaron Hughes completing more successful passes in the defensive third than any other player with 38
• Meanwhile, Mahamadou Diarra has proved the focal point for his team, having received the ball 98 times, the third highest in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index after Yaya Toure and Mikel Arteta
• Mouassa Dembele has also received the ball more often than any other striker in the league with 65 ball receptions, so Fulham must be wary of becoming too predictable in their play and relying on those two players

Swansea v Sunderland 15:00

• Swansea followed up their 5-0 victory on the first weekend of the season with a 3-0 win on the second, to continue their very impressive start to the season
• Goals from Angel Rangel, Miguel Michu and Danny Graham made sure the Swans are second in the Premier League after two games, only behind Chelsea who have a game in hand
• Rangel and Michu also topped the charts for distance covered among the Swansea players with 6.3 and 6.15 miles respectively, while Michu was the fastest Swansea player on the pitch registering 20.87 miles per hour
• Swansea are also looking strong at the other end of the pitch, with Neil Taylor having won 10 tackles out of the 11 he has attempted, the highest number of tackles won in the league so far this season
• Wayne Routledge has the second highest number of assists in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index with 3, after Chelsea’s Eden Hazard who has six, but has played an extra game to Routledge
• Sunderland had their match suspended last weekend due to a waterlogged pitch, leaving the Black Cats to focus their action on the transfer market with the signings of Adam Johnson and Stephen Fletcher
• Fletcher was one of the hardest working strikers in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index last season, covering 146.56 miles
• Fletcher also scored and impressive 12 goals last season, the third highest scoring British striker in the Premier League last season
• Adam Johnson had limited opportunities at Manchester City last season, but still managed to contribute six goals and six assists in the Premier League. That averages out at a goal or assist every 106 minutes. If we discount players who played less than 1,000 minutes for their clubs last season this make Johnson the 9th most frequent supplier of goals and / or assists in the Premier League

Tottenham v Norwich 15:00

• New Spurs boss Andre Villas Boas is still waiting for his first win with Spurs after a late equaliser meant his team could only manage a 1-1 draw with West Brom
• Benoit Assou-Ekotto scored for Spurs, while young star Jake Livermore put in a huge contribution with 7.09 miles covered, the third highest distance covered by an individual player so far this season
• Spurs striker Jermain Defoe is a player who divides opinion, but so far this season his shooting stats have matched those of Manchester City hotshot Carlos Tevez. Both have had 11 attempts at goal in the first two games, with 8 on target.
• Defoe has also made the second highest number of attacking runs off the ball in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index with 111, showing the work he does in creating space for his team mates
• Norwich came up against QPR at the weekend as both teams looked to bounce back from 5-0 defeats on the opening weekend of the season
• The Canaries had to settle for a point in the end, with Simeon Jackson scoring in a 1-1 draw
• Anthony Pilkington provided the cross for that goal, and covered 5.9 miles during the game, second only to new signing Robert Snodgrass who covered the most distance for Norwich with 5.97 miles
• Snodgrass also delivered seven crosses in the game, the joint highest of the second round of matches, shared with his opponent this weekend Gareth Bale
• Meanwhile, midfielder Bradley Johnson has committed more fouls than any other player in the league so far this season with ten
• Jonathon Howson has completed more passes in his own half than any other player who will be on display in this game with 42, ahead of Spurs’ Sandro with 39
• However, Norwich will need to turn their attacking play into chances to have a chance against Spurs. Only Bradley Johnson has managed more than one shot on target for the Canaries so far this season.

West Brom v Everton 15:00

• West Brom snatched a late equaliser to take a point away from White Hart Lane in their last game
• James Morrison scored the equaliser for the Baggies, while Graham Dorrans clocked the fastest top speed with 21.6 miles per hour and Liam Ridgewell covered the most distance with 6.05 miles
• Gareth McAuley made 7 clearances in the game, the most any player has made in a single game this season
• Marouane Fellaini continued his impressive start to the season with a goal in Everton’s 3-1 win over Villa at the weekend
• As well as getting on the score sheet for the second game in a row, Fellaini topped the charts for distance covered among the Everton players, clocking up an impressive 6.72 miles in the game
• That was just ahead of fellow goal scorer Steven Pienaar who covered 6.61 miles
• Overall Everton covered 65.16 miles, the fourth highest for a team in an individual game so far this season
• Fellaini also attempted 11 tackles against Villa, the most attempted by a player in a single game this season. That takes his total number of tackles attempted to 17 so far this season, more than any other player. However, looking a little more closely, Fellaini has won just 5 of those tackles and has conceded 7 fouls
• Fellaini has also completed 69 passes in his opponent’s half this season, more than any other player who will be on display in the game against West Brom. In fact, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the top five passers on display in this game are all Everton players. The West Brom player to have completed the most passes in his opponent’s half is Claudio Yacob with 38.

Wigan v Stoke 15:00

• Wigan continued an impressive start to the season with a 2-0 victory over Southampton at the weekend
• Goals from Franco and Arouna Kone showed that the Latics can survive without Victor Moses, whose protracted transfer to Chelsea has now been completed
• James McArthur covered the most ground for Wigan with 6.43 miles and also registered the fastest top speed with 19.81 miles per hour
• Wigan frequently disrupted Southampton’s play in the game, with Caldwell making 16 interceptions and Ivan Ramis making 14, the top two highest number of interceptions by a player in a single game this season
• That takes Gary Caldwell’s defensive contributions for that game across tackles, clearances, blocks and interceptions up to 24, the busiest defender in the Premier League last weekend
• Meanwhile Ali Al Habsi made ten saves in the game to earn his clean sheet, matching Petr Cech in the first weekend of the season as the most saves made by a keeper so far
• At the other end of the pitch, full back Maynor Figueroa has delivered 11 crosses so far this season, more than any other player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index
• Stoke held an Arsenal team still to score their first goal since the departure of Robin van Persie to a 0-0 draw at the weekend
• Jonathan Walters put in a typically hard working performance as he once again topped the charts for distance covered with 6.68 miles as Stoke out ran the Gunners by 62.37 miles to 60.32 miles
• Jermaine Pennant showed the impact playing a former club can have, registering the fastest top speed of any Stoke player with 23 miles per hour, the fourth highest top speed registered by a player so far this season
• Martinez’s passing style is apparent when you compare the two team’s stats for passes completed in their own area. The top seven players, when comparing players from both sides, for passes completed are all Wigan players with James McCarthy topping the index with 61 passes in his own area. Jonathan Walters is Stoke’s top passer with 25 passes completed in his own area
• However, Stoke have the superior work rate, with the top seven players among the two teams for distance covered all coming from the Potters, topped again by Walters and striker Peter Crouch

Manchester City v QPR 17:30

• Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City were lucky to come away from Anfield with a point at the weekend after a gripping 2-2 draw
• Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez were both on target for the blues
• Tevez has had 11 shots on target so far this season, with 8 on target and 2 goals. Only Luis Suarez has had more shots at goal, although the Liverpool strikers lack’s Tevez’s accuracy as he has got just 5 of his 12 shots at goal on target
• Nigel de Jong covered the most ground for City against Liverpool with 6.36 miles
• Overall, City covered 64.23 miles in the game, the fifth highest total for a team in an individual game so far this season
• Yaya Toure became the first player to complete over 100 passes in his opponent’s half this season against Liverpool, taking his total to 123 so far. That’s especially impressive considering the second highest total, belonging to Chelsea’s Juan Mata, is 97, 26 behind the City midfielder
• Toure has also completed more forward passes than any other player this season with 69, showing the attacking intent which has made City so dangerous over the last two seasons
• It’s no wonder that his team mates look to Toure so often, having received the ball more often than any other player this season with 144 ball receptions
• QPR bounced back from a 5-0 defeat in their first game to earn a point in a 1-1 draw with Norwich
• Bobby Zamora scored for QPR tucking in the rebound from a John Ruddy penalty save, although replays showed he entered the area before Djibril Cisse took his penalty
• Jamie Mackie topped the performance data charts for QPR for both overall distance covered and top speed registered, clocking a speed of 21.17 miles per hour and covering 5.69 miles
• QPR should be wary that as well as being the league’s most exciting passing team, City also have a high work rate. When comparing the two teams head to head, Ji-Sung Park is the only player that makes the top five for overall distance covered so far this season.
• Park also breaks into the top four for passes completed in their opponent’s half, having completed 60 so far this season, behind City’s Yaya Toure with 123, Juan Mata with 97 and Samir Nasri with 73.

Aug 302012

Ross Hannah had a large slice of bad luck during his first full season in professional football, after joining Bradford City from NPL Premier Division’s Matlock Town. He scored 52 goals in his last season at Matlock before being brought to League Two on a free transfer in May 2011.

This season he is back fitter than ever and looked sharp in the friendlies. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me recently.

Hannah was initially signed by Peter Jackson in the summer 2011. A number of clubs were reported to be chasing him, so I asked him why he chose Bradford City. “No one person made me choose City, it was the club itself with everything; the fans, the ground and the club’s structure.”

Having played at a non-professional level for clubs like Stocksbridge Park Steels and Belper Town, scoring 170 league goals in 275 games, Hannah was 24-years-old when he was rewarded with his first professional contract. Some players struggle to make the transition and Hannah acknowledges it took him some time to make the required jump to be good enough.

“The transition was very hard looking back you don’t realise until you do it,” he said. “You have to take all sorts of things into account and it takes a certain individual to do it. I’d say it was only this pre season where I felt I was up to speed and my body was right. There wasn’t just one specific aspect that I had to work on it was both mental and physical things that needed improving.”

Hannah’s first goal for Bradford City came in a 1-1 draw against Oxford City, scoring three minutes after being subbed on for former Manchester United midfielder, Ritchie Jones.

“The best moment was scoring my first league goal at Oxford, amazing feeling,” he said.

Hannah had seemed to have got to grips with things at Valley Parade, stringing a number of appearances together in November, before an unfortunate injury during the warm-up just a week after his first goal at Valley Parade in the FA Cup 2nd round victory over Wimbledon.

“It did knock me back a bit as I was just starting to find my feet and playing well,” he said. “But in football anything can happen; good or bad, you just have to keep strong and bounce back stronger.”

Since then he has struggled to nail down a starting place for Phil Parkinson’s side, despite the manager renewing his contract in March.

“In an ideal world every player would want it to be easy and be guaranteed to get into the team,” he said. “Football isn’t like that. You have to earn your place in the team. Sometimes things go against you but that’s just part of the game. It is very frustrating watching on, but at the same time you never know when you may be needed so you have to be focused and ready when needed.”

Having enjoyed a successful career of sorts before coming to Bradford, Hannah would obviously like to recreate that kind of form and start scoring regularly again.

“Personally, I always set myself targets and this season is no different,” he said. “I’d like to make sure I play on a more consistent basis and anything beyond 10 goals I’ll be happy with. The team is in very good shape and the squad is stronger this year. Our league isn’t predictable as the teams always expected to be successful aren’t always the teams that do well, but if you can put a consistent run of games together then we can be certainly in the mix.”

You might think that Hannah might not have had many opportunities to play with any football stars in his career to date. However, the striker who started his career at the youth teams of Sheffield Wednesday and United, got to join up with Wednesday legend when he was just a teenager playing at Worksop.

“The best player I’ve played with has to be Chris Waddle. I was lucky enough to play in the same team as him at Worksop Town and at 40 was still amazing to watch.”

Aug 292012

On Monday morning came the long awaited news. Luka Modric was gone. The bags and suitcases which were long since packed were finally put to good use as he officially made the move from the old, slightly tatty, homely feel of White Hart Lane to the vast, wonderful, intimidating cathedral that is the stadium of Real Madrid which no Englishman can pronounce properly.

The feeling amongst most Spurs fans that I’ve encountered is not so much anger as relief he’s gone. This summer and last summer hasn’t been a ‘saga’ as you’ll see it termed in the press (sagas are surely stories about love, romance, death, betrayal, that sort of stuff. Not a case of an employee wanting to move from one organisation to another) but has seen weeks upon weeks of newspaper articles, blog posts, Twitter rows, innuendo and waffle.

Modric has been keen to leave for a while. Taking off my replica Spurs 1984 UEFA Cup final shirt, I can see why. As good as Spurs have been the last few seasons, we were never going to be good enough for Lil’ Luka. Modric is good enough to play for any side in the world. With the exception of Barcelona he’d start for any team in the world. He’s that good a player. Good enough to win league titles and Champions League titles, which Spurs frankly are a million trillion miles from doing.

Aside from King Ledley, I’ve never seen a better player at the Lane. I was only born in 1992 so I never saw Hoddle, Ardiles, Gazza, Waddle, even Klinsmann or a peak Teddy Sheringham. But I’ve seen the likes of Bale, Berbatov, Ginola, a veteran Sheringham, and Modric comfortably outshines them all.

I’ve never seen a player as comfortable on the ball as Luka was. The ball really did look stuck to his feet. You’d see a hairy-arsed defensive midfielder look to tackle him and ‘welcome’ him to the game with an over-aggressive challenge designed to hurt the player more than win back possession. Luka would calmly move away from the ‘passionate’ (i.e dangerous) opponent with the minimum of movement and plonk the ball perfectly to a teammate’s instep.  

If you watch great sportsmen, they almost always look to have time. Watch say Viv Richards bat, he always looks as if he has about half an hour to decide what shot to play and how to play it. Look at the great players, how they always look to have time and space which inferior players simply don’t have. Modric has that magical ability to find time and space that us mere mortals can only dream of.

I am perhaps unlucky to have born in an era where the likes of Ben Thatcher, Steffen Freund, Gary Doherty and Anthony Gardner clearly spelt out the concept of a Spurs player’s second touch always being a mistimed, clumsy tackle. But truly Modric had great passing, superb ball control, time and space and the ability to dictate a game that few other midfielders I’ve seen have had. I feel he’ll be a big asset to Real Madrid.

It almost feels like a shame that after being such a brilliant player for Spurs, that him leaving should be felt with not anger or real sadness but relief that he’s finally gone. There has been the odd berk saying he’s overrated because ‘he doesn’t score enough or get enough assists’. Modric indeed was notoriously poor in front of goal and wasn’t a prodigious provider of assists.

But his game isn’t about scoring goals or playing through balls for strikers to run on to. His game is about keeping possession and knitting his team’s play together. If he had scored goals and got a sackful of assists, he’d have left Tottenham long ago and would be widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best midfielder in the world.

Mostly, now he’s gone, there’s a feeling of relief that finally all the newspaper talk about his future will cease. That all the wannabe bloggers and fake ‘ITK’ agent accounts can stop popping up on Twitter timelines with made up nonsense about Modric. That we no longer have a prized, expensive commodity who wasn’t actually playing.

Also we now have reportedly £30m more to spend on new players, with Fulham’s Moussa Dembélé seemingly the first player on the shopping list. This money is badly needed. Andre Villas-Boas not only needs money for some strepsils and beard trimmers but reinforcements on the pitch. A replacement for Modric in midfield is needed to partner guitar playing, kung-fu kickin’, defensive midfielder maestro Sandro. Brad Friedel in goal isn’t well suited to AVB’s defensive high line while a striker or a winger would also be handy. Dembélé put in a great shift at Old Trafford at the weekend and will be an excellent addition, as would rumoured arrival of Hugo Lloris.

Whether Modric’s departure will be good or bad for Spurs is totally dependent on the players who replace him. If Spurs do a Dalglish and spend large sums on mediocre players (not the defending a player found guilty of racist abuse bit) losing Modric will be a disaster. But if we copy Newcastle’s blueprint, buy wisely like they did after selling Andy Carroll, we should see that reflected in improved performances on the pitch. Lloris and Dembele would be a good start.

Perhaps another reason why Modric leaving has been a sombre rather than angry affair is the fact that Spurs fans have suffered far worse in the past. The Sol Campbell shambles was horrific. The club’s one and only world class player, the pride of the club, leaving for the hated local rival for free when he could have been sold for record amounts. That was bad. I’m not sure any club in history has ever felt as bad about a transfer as Spurs did that off-season. It was both humiliating and soul-destroying.

By comparison, Modric leaving is nothing. It’s not even as bad as when Dimitar Berbatov left. Berbatov was a wonderful player who virtually went on strike to force a move to Manchester United while Spurs in typical fashion beat Roma 5-0 in pre-season, raised hopes of a top four finish then garnered two points from our first eight league games.

Modric at least played after Spurs refused to sell him last year and then left for a club not in England. It’s the lightest of breezes compared to the devastating tornado that was Campbell moving up the Seven Sisters Road to play in red and white rather than blue and white.

Had Modric left for Chelsea like he was purported to last summer that would have been a real kick in the bollocks. Our best player leaving for Chelsea after they beat us 5-1 in the FA Cup and knocked us out of the Champions League would have been like having your missus cheat on you then taunt you by having a naked photo of her lover on your bedroom wall. Modric in Madrid, well away from England, won’t be haunting us twice a season. As a fan, thank god for that.

Modric may have behaved poorly at the end, not going on a pre-season tour to America and sitting out our season opener against Man United last season. But part of me doesn’t blame him for that. I knew, he knew, Levy knew that he had outgrown Spurs and it was only a matter of time until he left.

A better team offering three, four times his current salary were out there for him. Most people I think would be a pain in the backside if it meant getting a better job that paid four times more than what you were currently getting. That’s not ‘football these days’ as some deluded Talksport moron might say, harking back to the halcyon days of player loyalty that hardly existed or only did due to a shameful lack of basic rights for footballers. That’s just life.

Mostly, I’m happy that Modric has gone. Happy that he and Spurs can move on, happy that Spurs now have money to spend in the last week of the transfer window with Daniel Levy controlling the purse strings, and ever so slightly happy for Luka.

My affection for him has been tempered by him not being a willing participant in Tottenham’s last two pre-seasons, but four seasons of him bestriding the Spurs midfield like a colossus despite only being 5 ft 7 and having a face like Gail Platt outweigh his obvious hankering for a transfer the last two seasons. He’s a magnificent player who’s contributed significantly to some of my greatest moments as a Spurs fan over the last few seasons.

Bye bye Luka. You will be missed. And thank god you’re not playing for Chelsea.

Aug 292012

It won’t have escaped many people’s attention that there is something of a circus going on at Blackburn Rovers Football Club. Not an actual and literal circus of course, we’re a little short of elephants, ringmasters and trapeze artists for that sort of extravaganza. Although we’ve certainly got enough clowns for one.

And we’d probably take that sort of entertainment and light hearted tomfoolery over the metaphorical equivalent the fans of the club are currently suffering and have continued to endure over the course of the last 22 months.

If you’re a football fan you’ve probably seen the unfolding developments at Blackburn Rovers, the club I support, by now – Foreign chicken and pharmaceutical giants buy football club, promise the earth, deliver a fraction of this, sack respected manager, replace him with slightly less respected manager, he promises the earth, delivers a fraction of this, Ronaldinho and David Beckham are touted as signings, David Goodwillie and Radosav Petrovic are bought in as actual signings, best players are sold, untruths are told, relegation is suffered, tears are shed, and throughout, fans are up in arms at being led a merry dance and not having a proper explanation for the mess created.

Even worse, the fans are held up as a scapegoat for sending the club down whilst the real villains use the media to play the victims.

And with a new season brings a new problem. Once loyal fans and die hards are no longer coming to see their team. Those who once committed their precious time and limited funds to follow a cause they believed in have become so sick and tired of the people running the club that they stay away. They’d rather not give any further money to fund an operation they see as a farce and that’s why you’ll see Rovers with quite a comparatively large away following this season – they’re going to the away games as a way around giving the owners money.

Even the more casual and elderly fan no longer comes to support the Rovers because the fun has been sucked out of the experience. The atmosphere at Ewood Park last season was horrendous and the negativity on all four sides of the ground was tangible and very noticeable. Why would you go to the game? Where is the enjoyment in seeing truck loads of abuse and an increasingly poor standard of management/football generating a cauldron of hate?

They’ve seen worse days – back when we were languishing in the Old Divison Three. It’s not the relegation and the lack of glamour that’s a problem to them, it’s the lack of trust they can extend to the people in charge and the overriding fear of another Saturday listening to disgruntled fans barrack a manager who just doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

Blackburn Rovers first two home games of the Championship season produced gates of sub-14,000 attendees. That’s the two lowest gates in over 20 years and even back then that was when half the ground was being rebuilt under Jack Walker’s dream. For a club that normally attracts attendances of around 20,000-23,000 it’s a sign of unrest and of mass exodus.

Right now there doesn’t appear to be a sensible way out of this mess. We could end up being Pompey version 2.0, or we could end up being passed to another owner who’s sole interest is themselves after having the funds and the assets withdrawn from us. We could even end up back in the Premier League with a proper club infrastructure and a manger who doesn’t sit there tooting the company horn without the action following to back it up, but that seems a stretch of the imagination I can’t fathom right now.

The evidence of this carefully thought out, individual choice boycott is plain and easy to see. I’ve read two articles in the recent past which clearly underline the thinking behind the “boycott” – one from Football 365’s Matthew Stanger and one from lifetime Rovers fan Michael Taylor on the Marple Leaf Blog, both clarifying their unhappiness and disgust at the way Venky’s run the club and the atmosphere that is generated as a bi-product of that. The useless bullshit machine that is Steve Kean is still manager, the club has fractions in administration and on the training ground, there is just no light at the end of the tunnel. Why should these likeable and thought conscience people go to Ewood Park?

I respect their views and they have my support as every fan of our club does. The problem in my own head is that I just can’t do it, I can’t stay away. I’m a Blackburn Rovers addict and I intend to stay strong no matter how bad the situation gets.

I believe in backing my team and I’ll continue to do so even against what a lot of straight thinking people would call better judgement, my stance has a lot of holes and pitfalls in it, I accept that, but my love for my team overrides all of the nagging doubts and principles that come with supporting the boycott.

I’ll still buy my tickets and my shirt and go to the games on match days because I want to watch my team play, I still enjoy the banter and I live in hope that the good days will return. I’m not talking about a Premier League trophy or a glorious European run, I’m talking about a time in the future where fans of Rovers can stand in the pub on a Saturday or weekday night and talk about football.

Like many other Rovers fans, I’ve taken a heap load of criticism and abuse from fans of other teams. I’ve even sat by and seen my club ripped apart whilst trying to keep a straight face and an objective view, many have buckled and I don’t blame them for a second but I’ll still keep going. I don’t believe in quitting just because things are hard. I’m born of the train of thought that you only get one football team in this life and I’ll stick with mine until the bitter end.

I guess you could call this riding the storm out, I’ll go to games, I’ll support the players and the team like I always have done because in my own head I know what’s going on at Ewood Park is wrong. I shouldn’t be endorsing or even be seen to be abiding by a regime that doesn’t give a damn about me.

But my mindset is that I’ll be here for many years to come, long after Venky’s and their propaganda producing backers have gone. You’ll see me in the stands this season and that stance won’t change, it’s the type of stoic loyalty that only some would understand. Am I right to feel this way? That’s down you I guess.

As my Father-in-Law once said to me sat in the car park, freezing and unable to feel my feet after a 0-2 loss to Stoke on Boxing Day two seasons ago, “I signed up for the life ticket.” And he’s right. Foolishly, I did as well.

Aug 282012

As the new England U21 campaign begins next month it will bring questions about what direction England are heading towards and whether there is even a plan at all.

FA chairman David Bernstein said:

“Continuity is vital as we continue to build our club ethos, and Stuart [Pearce] is an important member of the England coaching structure. I know he was as disappointed as anyone at the Under-21s‘ most recent tournament results at the European Championships in Denmark, but we mustn’t forget the team had an excellent qualifying campaign and continues to produce young players ready and prepared for senior team experience.”

This announcement was certainly an interesting one from the newly appointed chairman.

What Are the Expectations?

Firstly, it seems bizarre to define the qualifying campaign as ‘excellent’. It simply wasn’t. Many games were terrible in performance, team selection, team approach and non-existent plans. The home game against Greece in 2011 was one of the worst England games I have seen at any level (which says a lot). Wilshere played out wide all game and barely touched the ball, and the game seemed to be one continuous long ball from Micah Richards towards Andy Carroll over and over. If this was only one poor display it could be ignored but it was an error strewn mess of a campaign – continuously. England are simply not good enough, whether it’s U21 or the senior national team.

It is always a hard task to figure out what The FA actually expects from the coach of the U21 role. Bernstein mentions that Pearcecontinues to produce young players ready and prepared for senior team experience.’ ­but I, for one, have never understood this point. If you are the U21 coach you are always going to bring through players regardless of how badly you do it. The way your team plays and where players play in your team doesn’t seem to matter. So is that all that is expected from an U21 coach? To pick a team and let them get on with it?

The ‘English’ Style at U21 Level

Stuart Pearce has never mentioned specifically how his team should play or how he wants them to play. The only plan or aim he has mentioned is the need to win youth tournaments to then have success at senior level. But this has no logic if you then evidently have no actual footballing philosophy that will prove worthwhile at senior level. What confused things more was that Pearce then backed off from this claim of needing to win tournaments when the team began to fail to win the group games against Spain and Ukraine respectively.

The direction and style of the team has been very basic during the past two tournaments. Pearce has deployed two defensive midfielders to do nothing more than protect the defence and mainly pass sideways, mainly relying on quick counter attacking and set pieces for goals. The idea of a safety first approach mainly aimed at wider players creating. Numerous games have involved players being isolated for large periods.

The idea that this is the approach that we must continuously use with an obsession on winning the U21 tournament regardless has not got the team anywhere. Why can the team not play to be creative, with vision and work on possession? Work on movement off the ball which has been largely non-existent for such long spells in so many games? It’s very hard to figure out what the approach actually is most of the time and the rumours that numerous club coaches are bemused by the approach at this level exemplifies the issue.

U21 level should be the pinnacle of youth international football for the nation to look at for an example of how to play. Spain won the most recent tournament playing with their own style and philosophy just as the Germans did two years before. But we remain playing in a style with a demand to win that I don’t even believe has any benefit to our individual players or for their development if they actually do get promoted to senior level in the future.

The Question That Begs

With hard to decipher approach and aim at U21 level, it remains another campaign with quite a few talented players preparing to step up but no real idea of where we are going. What we are actually planning for?

Aug 272012

So Pete Sixsmith got away with his act of desertion, truanting from the first home game of the season to watch oval ball at Wembley, and still the treat of Reading at home to come. Here he offers thoughts on the more than slightly embarrassing postponement – and Warrington’s comfortable victory over Leeds in t’other game…

“Bit of a cock-up on the old drainage front,” as Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law, Jimmy, might have put it, had he been in the Kings Arms or on the Metro en route to the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

It seems that the new pitch, laid after the Coldplay and Springsteen shows, does not drain. As Joan Dawson said: “They will probably open a cupboard in the bowels of the stadium and say ‘I wonder what these pipes are for’.”

The disappointment felt by 40,000 people in the North East was not as great as that felt by the 30,000 Leeds fans at Wembley on Saturday. To lose one cup final is disappointing, to lose again the next year is doubly so, but to lose three in a row is enough to make a man do a Reggie Perrin and disappear from the face of the earth, leaving one’s clothes nicely folded up at the waterside.

The game at Wembley was by no means a classic, with Warrington showing more flair and determination than a rather limp and flaccid Leeds. They had outstanding players in Hodgson and Hill and moved the ball around quicker than Leeds did. The absence of playmaker Danny McGuire and the fact that he was replaced by an 18 year old was akin to us losing Sess and replacing him with Billy Knott.

The game could have gone the way of my team had it not been for a controversial refereeing decision. A crunching tackle by Kylie Leulai on Brett Hodgson, dislodged the ball from the Warrington man’s grasp. The Leeds prop Brett Delaney picked the loose ball up and went over the line. Had the try been awarded, Leeds would have been ahead and who knows what might have happened.

The referee Richard Silverwood looked at the replay so many times that I thought he was going to yell “Cut: let’s do that scene again” before deciding that Leulai had made contact with the ball and knocked it on. No try and it gave Warrington the chance to push up, up and away to win the cup for the third time in four years.

Mr Silverwood will be well advised to keep away from the Original Oak and Headingley Taps for the next few weeks as he will be as welcome there as Alan Pardew would be at the Linesmen’s Christmas Party – although Pards could always push his way past the bouncers.

There was a torrential storm with thunder crashing and lightning flashing, but Wembley had fitted all the pipes and the pitch drained well. As at all Rugby League games, the crowd was well behaved with the traditional friendly atmosphere prevailing. To my left were a pair of Wakefield Trinity supporters, to my right a family of Warrington fans, with Leeds followers all round. Not a bad word was uttered and hands were shaken as the Leeds fans left before the end.

Wembley is much improved and looks good with a big crowd in. The middle tier was hardly populated (Club Wembley and all that) and some of the upper tier behind the posts had large gaps, but the atmosphere was good. Rugby League goes for razzamatazz and they do it quite well. There were male voice choirs, an opera singer and Olympic medallists. However, they were yachting types who few had heard of, presumably the clay pigeon man and the dressage horses were busy opening jumble sales and fetes.

I got news of the postponement at Sunderland at 1.45pm and assumed there had been a downpour of Dublinesque proportions. It appeared that it was persistent rain and that the water was sitting on the surface. Maybe, with hindsight, the referee could have waited for an hour and seen whether the forecast rain materialised and whether the water drained away, but we all know better after the event.

It means that Morecambe now become the first team to pit their wits against the new look O’Neill Special. I would imagine that Fletcher and Johnson will play some part on Tuesday night and that should boost the crowd into the mid 20s.

Of course, if it rains, we may end up playing at Ryhope CW whose game did go ahead on Saturday – but then it’s easy for them; they are on the top of a hill…

Aug 272012

I’ve always said I don’t believe player loyalty to be a characteristic of the greatest importance as when it boils down to it football is a profession like any other and looking to further your career financially or professionally will always be an incentive. That isn’t to say I don’t value loyalty very highly when it exists nor that it has no place in football. This past week was a prime example of that when Daniele De Rossi rejected what would have been a mega money move to Manchester City.

I was amazed by reports that, in an attempt to lure De Rossi to Manchester, Roberto Mancini told the player that he didn’t want to end up like Totti. In his press conference De Rossi said that he was shocked at some of the reports in the media and I believe that comment would have been one of them. It wasn’t a wise move on Mancini’s part to try and convince De Rossi by insulting a player who likely would have been his idol growing up. It also would make a mockery of someone who valued his club loyalty above more likely success and blatant disrespect to one of the greatest footballer’s in this and in fact any generation.

Obviously they aren’t the only example across the world, with Manchester United still boasting the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Barcelona have their numerous academy graduates who have known nothing outside La Masia and the Nou Camp. Yet, these are two of the most successful clubs in the world and a move away to progress their career would seem unlikely as they are at the pinnacle of world football with their respective clubs. Which begs the question, why do some of these one club men stay at their team despite a lack of success? Why do they not cash in for money or for glory?

In the case of Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, the answers are relatively simple and make for the foundations of a Hollywood love story, except this is the love between a boy and a club, a player and the fans, a man and a city. Let me begin the explanation by telling you that both were born in Rome, both grew up with the Stadio Olimpico not far away and would’ve dreamt to be playing there in front of a packed stadium. So there is the first stage, the childhood dream, the love for a club before ever having kicked a ball. It is widely known that Totti’s mother rejected a move to AC Milan for her son when he was still a boy in favour of staying in the capital. Not many footballers manage to play for their boyhood club and even less then decide to leave the club.

Still it isn’t enough. There are plenty of scenarios when players have played for the club they supported as a child but when they exceeded the talent of those around, sought out transfers to teams that were more capable of meeting their expectations. At Roma both players have gone beyond the status of being the best players at the club, they have gone on to symbolise what it means to be a Roma player for the better part of two decades. Totti and more recently De Rossi are what every footballing fan pictures when Roma are mentioned. They’ve gone on to become heroes at the club and contextually to the city they were born and raised in, they’ve both acquired a gladiatorial like image: De Rossi for his determination and strength is seen as a midfield general; whilst Totti is the ever graceful and deadly trequarista, the position that has become synonymous with Italian football. Both players have a dark side to them but it only adds to the aura of the pair and delights the home fans.

Their passion for the club is plain to see, their love for a city and the fans is even stronger. During his press conference De Rossi made it clear that being a Roman was an important motive for him staying. He also paid tribute to the fans at the club who during a pre-season friendly only a few days before made it clear that they wanted their talismanic midfielder to remain at the club.

It is also a lot easier when the city you share this love for happens to be the eternal city of Rome. There are very few places in Europe that have more allure to them than the capital of Italy and equally very few that have the great history that the city can offer. I personally have never been, but that isn’t to say it is for a lack of wanting. One day I will get to see what all the fuss is about but it is the same admiration I have for London and the city I’ve grown up in… but they have better weather! These may seem trivial points but playing football is only a part of a footballers life and the surrounding environment is an important aspect to where someone may ply his trade.

It isn’t all a fairytale reason why the players have decided to stay at the club though. They may have turned down better offers from clubs around Europe but they are hardly in need of more money. Both players are duly rewarded for their loyalty and it would be a different story if Roma were unable to afford adequate wages. Yet, don’t let that take away anything from two players who clearly love the club they play for and almost feel like they owe their services to them and the fans.

I remember Roma being on TV during a European campaign and one of the pundits claimed that, had Totti been good enough, he would’ve moved elsewhere a long time ago. Roma remain one of the giants of world football, even if it is only as a name, and still continually challenge for domestic glory. A player who decides to remain at a club for love should not have his ambition put to question. Their ambition lies in wanting to win the same tournaments the bigger clubs strive for but they simply want to achieve it with the club they have grown up with. These select few players who sacrifice everything for their club deserve to be praised, not ridiculed for their decision.

As the 2012/2013 season in Serie A is about to commence, Totti enters his 20th season at the club and his 14th year in charge of the captaincy. The man the club refer to as “Il Bimbo d’Oro” (The Golden Boy) is the highest capped player at the club and their all time leading goal scorer. Meanwhile, De Rossi begins his 11th season with the Giallorossi and the man the fans call “Captain Futuro” (The future captain) has done nothing but strengthen the love between him and fans and in doing so only made it pretty sure that he will go on to be Roma’s next permanent captain if he is to remain at the club when Totti retires.

Finally, I leave you with a few quotes, one from Totti himself, which may help to explain his and De Rossi’s decision, whilst the others are testament to the ability of someone who could easily have played anywhere he wanted but he chose Roma and wore the shirt eternally.

“Winning one league title at Roma to me is worth winning 10 at Juventus or Real Madrid.” – Francesco Totti

“Above all on the eve of a match like this one, when on the other side, wearing a captain band on his arm, there’s a player like Francesco Totti. If we put together our goals scored, it’s over 500. If we sum up the years of career, wearing the same shirt – it comes up to 35. We won the World Cup together and those memories unite us forever… We have a great relationship with plenty of admiration on both sides even if we don’t call each other up. Francesco is great.” – Alessandro Del Piero

“There are many star players in Italy, but the only one I would bring to Bayern Munich would be Totti. I know him well and he deserves to win the Ballon d’Or” – Franz Beckenbauer

“Of course I know Totti is a fantastic player…Totti is the symbol of Roma.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“I agree with Pelé, Totti is the best player in the world… Totti is the history of Roma.” – Luciano Spalletti (Ex Manager)

Aug 252012

BFTGT: What would have to happen this season for you to class it as a successful one for your club?

Aidran Roberts: In terms of England, it’s all about ensuring a healthy balance of young and old in the Senior setup. Beyond that, you simply hope that Roy moves away from some of the tactics seen throughout Euro 2012. Given his limited time with the squad, you can give him a free pass there, but as we shift into qualification matches, let’s hope for a fundamental change.

BFTGT: How do you feel about England prospects thanks to movement in the transfer window?

AR: Hodgson recently lamented that there are times he will be calling up players who might not be featuring in the first team. In terms of business – upward mobility from the Football League of English players, as well as the hope for solid loans for the likes of McEachran et al.

BFTGT: Who do you think will be England’s most important player this season?

AR: I’ll spin this back to the manager. Roy will be incredibly important in his first full season in charge. A true litmus test.

BFTGT: How do you rate your manager’s ability to take your club forward?

AR: Highly. I think with the launch of St. George’s Park, a man like Hodgson will start to lay a solid foundation for England youth teams and we can hopefully progress from there.

BFTGT: Who do you think will win the league this season?

AR: Arsenal and Chelsea will offer City a fresh challenge, but going off English players alone, it has to be Manchester United for me.

Aug 242012

With the 2012-13 Premier League season now underway, I thought I’d take a look back through previous opening-day results to see how the eventual champions and relegated clubs have fared:


The following table shows how the eventual champions fared on the opening day of each of the 20 Premier League seasons:

– The combined record of the eventual champions reads: Won 12 / Drawn 6 / Lost 2
– Not since the 1995-96 season has the title been won by a team that lost on the opening day
– The last 13 title winners have conceded no more than a single goal on the opening day of their successful campaign
– Ten of the last 12 champions have recorded a victory on the opening day of their title-winning season
– Eight of the last 12 champions have kept a clean sheet on the opening day of their successful campaign
– In the previous six seasons, the eventual champions have scored 0 goals, 1 goal, 2 goals, 3 goals, 4 goals and 5 goals on the opening day (though not in that order)
– The eventual title-winners have found the net on the opening day in 19 of the previous 20 seasons


The following table shows how the clubs that were eventually relegated fared on the opening day of each of the 20 Premier League seasons:

– The combined record of the eventual relegated clubs reads: Won 11 / Drawn 18 / Lost 32
– Three of the six clubs relegated in the previous two seasons have recorded a victory on the opening day of their unsuccessful campaign
– Clubs that were eventually relegated together have met on the opening day of the season four times in Premier League history
– Just 12 clean sheets out of a possible 61 have been kept on the opening day of the season by clubs that were eventually relegated
– A total of 39 of the 61 clubs that were eventually relegated have found the net on the opening day of their unsuccessful season


Although it would be foolish to read too much into this, the numbers suggest that, of the likely title contenders, Chelsea are best-placed to be crowned champions come May. The relegation waters are far muddier, though supporters of Fulham and Swansea, both 5-0 winners in the first game, should be aware that Blackpool and Bolton have each lost their top-flight status in recent seasons following comprehensive opening-day victories. Nobody knows for sure what will happen in the upcoming Premier League campaign, though we do know that the tide of recent history will have to be swum against if the title is to reside in either half of Manchester.

Aug 242012

Ahead of Saturday’s fixtures, EA Sports Player Performance Index have all the stats from the opening game of the season, looking at which players worked hardest offensively and defensively, how much ground they covered, how many fouls they were guilty of, amongst others.

Swansea v West Ham 12:45

• Swansea showed great defensive determination last weekend, as well as being impressive in front of goal with that 5-0 win, by completing the third highest number of defensive duties of any team. That comprised 76 defensive interventions across tackles, interceptions, clearances, and blocks, a shift that was needed as surprisingly QPR registered the joint highest number of shots for the opening round with 20 attempts at goal.
• However, Wayne Routledge was one of only three players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index to commit four or more fouls in the opening round of games. The others were Everton’s Marouane Fellaini and Norwich’s Bradley Johnson.
• Routledge shares another honour in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, being one of only two players along with Eden Hazard to be credited with two assists in the first round of games
• New Swansea signing Chico covered the most ground for the Swans in the game with 5.64 miles, just ahead of Routledge who covered 5.55 miles
• West Ham also found their back line busy on their return to the Premier League, contributing 78 tackles, blocks, clearances and interceptions en route to a clean sheet and a 1-0 win against Villa
• That included the highest number of tackles of any team, with 39 tackles attempted by the Hammers, led by goal scorer Kevin Nolan with seven tackles
• Mark Noble also put in an all action performance, covering 6.47 miles, the highest among West Ham players and 4th highest of any player in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for the first round of games

Aston Villa v Everton 15:00

• Aston Villa fans had a difficult time last season, and this season got off to a tough start with a 1-0 loss against fellow claret and blues West Ham
• Villa’s backline was put to the test, having to chip in with a total of 70 tackles, blocks, clearances and interceptions… the 5th busiest defence in EA SPORTS Player Performance Index after the opening weekend
• Villa were also out run by West Ham’s 57.32 miles to their 55.85 miles, with Stephen Ireland covering the most ground for Villa with 5.78 miles
• Ireland also clocked the fastest top speed of the Villa squad with 21.31 mph
• Everton meanwhile put in a terrific performance to beat Manchester United on Monday night, with Marouane Fellaini scoring the only goal
• Everton outran United in that game by 57.05 miles to 55.39 miles, led by Fellaini with 6.13 miles
• Everton went on the attack against last season’s runners up, and had 16 attempts at goal, the third highest from the opening round of fixtures, with Fellaini contributing 5.
• However, Fellaini also committed more fouls in that game than any other player in the first round of fixtures, with five fouls on the United
• An attacking game was rewarded by two great goalkeeping performances. Howard and de Gea made seven saves each during the game, a number bettered only by Petr Cech in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index
• At the other end of the pitch, Phil Jagielka made seven clearances in the game against United, more than any other player in the opening round of games

Man Utd v Fulham 15:00

• Manchester United fans hoping for a bright start to the season were disappointed as they were defeated by North West neighbours Everton in their first game
• Paul Scholes and new signing Shiji Kagawa also shone in midfield and were each in the EA SPORTS Player Performance index’s top five for passes completed in the opponent’s half from the first games with 56 and 50 passes respectively
• Kagawa also covered more ground than any other player for United with 6.11 miles, ahead of the evergreen Paul Scholes with 5.68 miles
• Overall United completed 324 passes in Everton’s half during the game, a number bettered only by neighbours Man City in the opening fixtures
• United may also rue their chances having had 18 shots at goal, the second highest from the teams in their first matches
• Fulham fans will be delighted with their 5-0 win against Norwich in the first match of the season, with new signing Mladen Petric contributing a brace and Alex Kacaniklic also getting on the score sheet
• Fulham boss Martin Jol seems to have done some inspired business in the transfer market, as Kacaniklic also covered the most ground for the Cottagers with 6.2 miles and put in the third highest registered top speed in the Premier League with 23.05 miles per hour
• Fulham also covered the fourth highest amount of ground in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index as team en route to the win with 61.73 miles

Norwich v QPR 15:00

• Norwich had a great season in 2011/12 on their return to the Premier League, but their first performance in 2012/13 was one to forget, falling to a 5-0 loss against Fulham
• In a game that brought few bright points, one was new signing Jonathon Howson who clocked the fastest speed of any Premier League player from the first round of games clocking 23.12 mph, while another Canary Russell Martin put in the fourth fastest time with 22.74 mph
• QPR will also be looking to bounce back after being on the wrong end of a 5-0 loss in the last game against Swansea
• Despite drawing a blank in that game, QPR had 20 attempts at goal, the joint highest in the first round of games after reigning champions Manchester City, led by Adel Taarabt with 7 attempts at goal
• They also attempted the fourth highest number of tackles with 33, led by new signing Fabio de Silva with 8
• New QPR signing Ji Sung Park was renowned for his work rate at Manchester United, and covered more ground than any other QPR player with 6.2 miles, ahead of his fellow former United team mate Fabio da Silva who covered 5.4 miles

Southampton v Wigan 15:00

• Southampton announced their return to the Premier League by running champions Manchester City close in a 3-2 defeat in their first game of the season
• Last season newly promoted Norwich under pinned their great start by frequently outrunning every other team in the league, and Southampton have obviously taken a leaf out of the Canaries books as they covered more ground than any other team in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index after the opening round
• Southampton covered 66.24 miles in total, led by Schneiderlin and Lallana who covered the top two individual distances by any player in the Premier League with 7.31 and 6.87 miles respectively
• Wigan were unlucky to lose two early goals against Chelsea in their first game, and will be pleased with their overall performance
• The Latics, who ended last season on fantastic form to avoid the drop, attacked Chelsea down the wings and have three players in the top 5 for crosses delivered after the first round of games: Maynor Figueroa, Victor Moses and Antolin Alcaraz.
• Wigan can also be proud of being in illustrious company when it comes to numbers of passes completed in the opposition’s half. Wigan completed 222 against Chelsea, the fourth highest in the league and behind only City, United, and Arsenal

Sunderland v Reading 15:00

• Sunderland got their season off to a positive start with a 0-0 draw against Arsenal
• Keiran Richardson put in an all action performance, contributing more defensive duties than any other player on the opening round of games. Richardson made 20 defensive contributions across tackles, blocks, interceptions and clearances. Craig Gardner also contributed 17 defensive duties, the second highest after team mate Richardson
• Gardner and team mate Lee Cattermole are currently joint 3rd in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for interceptions, having each contributed eight interceptions in the game
• That set Sunderland up as the hardest working team in the league defensively last weekend, putting in 95 defensive duties in total
• New signing Danny Guthrie covered 6.3 miles on his debut, more than any other Reading player
• Meanwhile Jobi McAnuff clocked the highest top speed of any Reading player with 21.6 mph
• They continued their good form in their second fixture on Wednesday, running last season’s Champions League winners Chelsea close before eventually losing 4-2
• In that game against Chelsea Reading went even further, covering a massive 64.83 miles  compared to Chelsea’s 60.99 miles
• Mikele Leigertwood topped the charts for distance covered in that game with 6.61 miles while goalscorer Danny Guthrie again put in the yards covering 6.51 miles

Tottenham v West Brom 15:00

• Spurs and Newcastle are likely to be among the clubs competing for fourth place at the end of the season, so neither would have welcomed facing each other in the first weekend of the season
• Unfortunately for Spurs, it was Newcastle who came away winners this time, with Jermain Defoe scoring the only goal for Spurs in a 2-1 loss
• New boss Andre Villas Boas had little choice but to select Defoe up front as he continue to battle for Adebayor’s permanent signature, but Defoe repaid him with a return of one goal from five attempts at goal
• Spurs will look to their explosive wide players for impact this season, and Kyle Walker and Gareth Bale covered more ground at a sprint than any other players in the first round of games, with 9.6 and 8.9km respectively
• Spurs were also in the top 5 for crosses delivered with 11, making an aerial threat up front a ‘must purchase’ for AVB
• West Brom were one of the teams to pull of a shock on opening weekend, defeating Liverpool 3-0
• Zoltan Gera, Peter Odemwingie and loan signing Romelu Lukaku were all on target, as West Brom peppered the Liverpool goal with 15 attempts, the fourth highest of any team
• New Argentine midfielder Claudio Yacob was awarded man of the match for the Baggies, and an all action display saw him cover more ground than any other West Brom player with 6.05 miles
• Meanwhile defender Jonas Olsson clocked the fastest top speed of any Baggies player with 21.31 mph

Chelsea v Newcastle 17:30

• Chelsea got off to a winning start with two early goals sealing a 2-0 win against Wigan last weekend
• Hazard was one of only two players to be credited with two assists in the opening round of games, the other being Swansea’s Wayne Routledge
• Despite coming away 2-0 winners, Chelsea should thank goalkeeper Petr Cech who made ten saves against Wigan, the most of any Premier League goalkeeper in the opening weekend
• John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic also needed to be on good form, with each contributing 6 clearances, putting them joint second in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for that category after one round of games
• Full back Ryan Bertrand has been lauded by many as the long term replacement for Ashley Cole for both Chelsea and England, and the youngster covered more ground than any other Chelsea player against Wigan with 5.67 miles
• Chelsea then went on to bounce back from 2-1 down to beat Reading 4-2 in midweek. Frank Lampard showed there is still a place for him in the team as he covered the most ground for Chelsea in that game with 6.42 miles
• Juan Mata completed 52 passes in Reading’s half in that game, enough to put him into the top 5 passing performances so far for the season
• Newcastle and Spurs are likely to be among the clubs battling it out for fourth place at the end of the season, and Newcastle took the early bragging rights with a 2-1 win at the weekend
• Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Arfa continued their outstanding form from the end of last season to net for the Magpies
• Newcastle outran Spurs by 58.94 miles to 57.14 miles in that game, with Cheik Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez continuing where they left off last season by covering most ground with 5.93 miles and 5.64 miles
• Full back Danny Simpson surprised many people with his performances last season, and the young defender clocked the fastest top speed of any Newcastle player with 22.5 mph, only marginally slower than Spurs flying winger Gareth Bale who clocked 22.66 mph

Aug 242012

The other night, Sky News promoted their upcoming sports headlines with footage of Wayne Rooney’s infamous sweary episode in East London juxtaposed with a demure Jesssica Ennis bashfully waving at adoring crowds in Sheffield. What it lacked in subtlety, it more than made up for in bandwagon jumping; footballers bad, Olympians good.

The groundswell of nationalistic fervour generated by the London games has not been kind to football. The haughty derision that greeted the ‘failure’ of the Olympic football team was in stark contrast to the sanitised delirium of ‘Super Saturday’. It’s unfair to single out the footballers as failures, they weren’t the only members of the public relations orgy that was ‘Team GB’ who failed meet the British public’s child-like expectations. Much was made of the fact that these were highly paid professionals rather than the plucky factory workers competing elsewhere but so were every other team in the football tournament and none of them suffered the disadvantage of being cobbled together at two weeks notice by a managerial halfwit still dining out on an over-enthusiastic penalty celebration from sixteen years ago.

Most of all though, the sneering disparagement has centred around the difference in character between the honest, hardworking Olympian and his mouth-breathing, sandbagging Gucci-enthusiast counterpart from the world of football. Footballers, we’ve repeatedly been told, are spoiled rotten; vulgar, deceitful, overpaid brats, completely detached from the harsh reality of gas bills and Pot Noodles inhabited by Beth Tweddle and the rest of us. On the face of it, there’s some merit to this narrative. Despite their overwhelmingly working-class roots, most of us have about as much in common with the average professional footballer as we do with Louis XIV. They’re self-involved, morally cash-strapped millionaires, fully fledged members of the celebrity set in every poisonous sense of the word, far removed from the romantic, humble Olympian. It’s possible that cyclists, archers and swimmers are simply inherently better people but this self-satisfying moral crusade is sorely lacking in context.

While footballers are vain, cold-hearted mercenaries who respect nothing but money, we’re told that Olympians compete for nothing more than their love of the sport. The thing is, they have to. They’re amateurs, they don’t have anything else to compete for. We could talk about the relative merits of professional and amateur sport until Liverpool win the league (next year, apparently) but rest assured, if someone offered the Powerade, Adidas and Omega advertising Jessica Ennis £160k a week to throw a little metal ball as far as she could, she’d bite their hand off. Anyone who believes that, if an oil rich billionaire offered to double Bradley Wiggins’ salary, he wouldn’t slap Team Sky across the chops with a transfer request and talk about his excitement at joining the new ‘project’ should steer well clear of emails from Nigerian princes.

With the greatest respect in the world, the overwhelming majority of Olympians compete in sports that, not to put too fine a point on it, nobody gives a polished rodent’s sphincter about. We’re happy to bask in the reflected glory of their achievements every four years but how many of those celebrating Gemma Gibbons’ silver medal have ever been to a Judo tournament? How many of us have season tickets for the lightweight double sculls? How many can name a member of the eventing team who doesn’t have the Queen for a nan? There’s not a street in the country that Wayne Rooney can walk down without being begged for an autograph, Greg Rutheford has to pop his gold medal on to get a discount on a pasty at his local BP garage.

The reason so many footballers think the world revolves around them is because quite a lot of it actually does. For the past week, their faces have been plastered all over the very same newspapers that spent the summer deploring their position in society precisely because editors know that football sells. From Ian Rush drinking milk to avoid playing for Accrington Stanley to the ‘got, got, need, got’ frenzy of Panini stickers to George Best’s childhood home being converted into a hotel, football (and by extension, footballers) permeates every fibre of our lives in a way no other sport does. How many hours would you spend meticulously building your fantasy rowing team? It’s no coincidence that footballers are the ones Sky chose to build their empire upon (before they got the rights to the Premier League, Sky was a curious little novelty whose only content of note was ‘The Simpsons’ and a late-night German quiz show where all the contestants stripped naked), how many of us would happily slip sixty quid a month into Rupert Murdoch’s G-string to watch men’s parallel bars or slalom canoeing?

As repugnant as these self-important, preening, egotists are, we have to accept some of the responsibility. We’re enablers. We’re the ones who fork over the money that corrupts them, we’re the ones who print their names on the back of our shirts and buy anything from a pillowcase to industrial grade solvent because it has their picture on the front. We shower them with riches, fawn over them with wide-eyed adulation, and sing songs that imbue them with mythological powers, then seethe with hatred when we realize we can’t control them. Audley Harrison and David Haye have already provided us with frighteningly vivid examples of what can happen when the heroic amateur succumbs to the influence of the root of all evil. Chris Hoy may seem like a decent enough fella now but pay him £6m a year and have thousands of people sing about his proclivity for self abuse every week and see how long it takes for his world view to alter. Footballers might be odious, narcissistic arse-ogres but they’re monsters we created and we created them because we love what they do.

Aug 232012

The thoughts of Robert Simmons, our Voice of America, and the fellow-American supporters who made themselves known after his most recent article, prompted Colin Randall to raid the Salut! Sunderland archives for a piece, now slightly updated, describing his True Supporter Test…

Like the look of Chelsea? Gasp in admiration at Man United’s trophy cupboard or Messi’s skills for Barca?

Fine, then let’s become a supporter. We can always find out where the place is later. Conscious of my own origins as far due south of Wearside as is possible without falling into the sea, I took a whimsical look at the hoops we should expect to go through before being regarded as genuine supporters of our chosen clubs.

But what tests should a supporter pass to qualify as a real fan and not a mere bandwagon jumper?

I have my own set of rules.

You are entitled to support Sunderland or Melchester Rovers or whoever IF one of the following applies:

1 You were born or brought up in Sunderland, Melchester or whatever, or their surrounding areas

2 They were the team your dad took you to see for your first professional league game

3 Your family’s roots are in the relevant area even though you were born and/or raised far away, even abroad

4 You formed a close bond through playing or otherwise working for the club, or in the town or city where it plays

You do NOT qualify IF:

1 You decided to support the club because it seemed to be very successful or had just won something important

2 You liked the club’s name

3 All the lads at school put club names in a hat and you had to promise to support the one you pulled out

That’s all dogmatic enough and I’m aware of another rule: the one about glasshouses and stone-throwing.

I believe I match up to my own demands on proper football support on rules 1-3 of eligibility. I was born far away from Sunderland – in Hove for heaven’s sake – but my family, which had many roots in the North East, Sunderland included, moved to Shildon, County Durham when I was a few months old.

Sunderland was always known as the County Durham team, whatever fiddling was later done with local authority boundaries to create Tyne and Wear. Quite simply, if you grew up in what I do not remember being called, in those days, The Land of the Prince Bishops, you supported SAFC and Durham County Cricket Club. Allowances were made if your bit of Durham was so close to Newcastle or Middlesbrough to make one of them the more obvious choice.

You could be much stricter than this, and some people are. They argue that the right to support a club is determined by one thing and one thing alone: place of birth.

But if you applied the letter of that law, it would exclude all sorts of people with long-established family traditions of support or strong links developed in one way or another with the club in question. In Sunderland’s case, it would disenfranchise thousands upon thousands of people who have, like me, always regarded the whole of County Durham as a legitimate catchment area. If only people born and bred in Sunderland were allowed to support the team, the attendances over the years would have been much lower.

Look at this girlhood memory of Kate Adie, from an interview for our Celebrity Supporters series that began life in the magazine of the SAFC Supporters’ Association London and SE branch.

“I remember thinking how curious it was as you got nearer the ground to see all these rather ancient buses full of supporters from Tow Law or Spennymoor or Crook. They seemed such far-off places. The small towns and pit villages were somehow seen as separate from Sunderland, and the one time that the divide was breached was at the match.”

I’ll go even further. Sir Tim Rice would expect to be disqualified under my ineligibility rule number two. He and his school pals were deciding who they should follow, and young Timothy liked the name of Sunderland. Yet no one could doubt that he has become an ardent and loyal fan, albeit without attending more than a handful of games

Read the interview he gave me a few years ago and see if you agree.

I liked his reference to failing to see the point of supporting Man United or Liverpool unless you actually grew up there.

Ineligibility rule one might also shunt Lance Hardy, author of the 1973 FA Cup final book, into the sidings of football support. At home in Nottinghamshire as a very young boy, in a family without trace of North-eastenr origins, he was placed in front of the television on May 5 of that year and told to shout for the Lads against Leeds. He has supported us passionately ever since.

So maybe my rules are not rules at all but guidelines. There has to be flexibility. In a piece for the ESPN FC network blog the other day, I mentioned a friend who suddenly reinvented himself as an Arsenal fan after always having supported Forest.

Another friend, from Darlington, showed no interest in football when we were lads but became a devoted Newcastle United fan as an adult before becoming an equally devoted Boro supporter. I once saw a French teenager wearing a spotless, gleaming Sunderland top in the streets of a Mediterranean resort and couldn’t resist the temptation to ask; he idolised Lork Cana, then with us.

Aug 232012

The blogger from Chelsea Daft wrote an article attempting to answer why people hate Chelsea.

Whilst the main points were a jumbled mess of reasons why he personally wasn’t a glory supporter and how all Chelsea have done is mimic the spending of other clubs (obviously ignoring this), he struggled to produce even a semi coherent argument.

Regardless, it was his first go at writing for BFTGT, so I made all the grammatical changes required and gave him the benefit of the doubt. The picture I chose to accompany the article is the one to the left. Why? Because I felt that picture goes some way to answering why people hate Chelsea, therefore entirely relevant to the title of the article.

I have since been asked to delete the article because of the picture I chose by the blogger at Chelsea Daft. I published his ranty e-mail in its place but then threats of legal action from Chelsea Daft’s Twitter account appeared (but were then deleted).

It is fairly ironic that the blogger at Chelsea Daft did a better job of addressing why people hate Chelsea with his petulant response to a photo selected to go with his ramblings than he did with his original “article”.

So, in the absence of any article, we will fill this space with a picture montage of the reasons why people hate Chelsea… (I would include a logo for Chelsea Daft in this section, but the delicate little flower might threaten us with legal action again)

Aug 222012

With the annual resumption of Barclays Premier League action on Saturday we are all once again facing a long nine month period of drama, excitement and, depending on which club you follow, agony.

Saturday’s big kick off saw the household names of Liverpool and Arsenal begin their respective campaigns in somewhat of a new era with Brendan Rodgers taking charge of his first ever Premier League fixture with the Merseysiders against West Brom, whilst Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side began life after Robin Van Persie by welcoming Sunderland to the Emirates Stadium.

Two out of the three newly promoted clubs were in action with Brian McDermott’s Reading side starting their season with a home game against a Stoke City side who are looking to improve on their slightly disappointing fourteenth place finish last term and West Ham marking their return to England’s top flight with a home game against an Aston Villa side who are looking to finally get back on track with Paul Lambert after two disastrous seasons.

The season was to start under rather a dark cloud at Craven Cottage with Fulham left reeling on Friday evening following the news that Clint Dempsey has expressed his desire to leave the club and will not turn out in the white of the Cottagers again. However they had a chance to put that to the back of their minds with a home game against Norwich City on the opening day.

Another side who as well as beginning a new season were also beginning a new era was Swansea City with the Swans opening their campaign with a potentially tricky away trip to Loftus Road to face QPR under the guidance of their new manager Michael Laudrup, who brings a wealth of experience at the top level to the Liberty Stadium hot seat.

The opening day of the Barclays Premier League was to be concluded when Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs side travelled to St James’ Park to face last year’s surprise package, Newcastle United, whose fans were still buoyed by both last season’s fifth place finish and the recently announced signing of the versatile Vurnon Anita from Dutch Giants Ajax.

Following a summer that had looked so positive with the signings of Podolski, Giroud and finally Santi Cazorla, it was to be the same old story for Arsenal with the Gunners struggling to break down an efficient, if slightly insipid, Sunderland side in their 0-0 draw. As expected, Cazorla was the main man for Arsenal with the Spaniard being the driving creative force for Wenger’s side and also seemingly forming a partnership with Mikel Arteta in the middle of the midfield, which could well prove to be fantastic as the season goes on from an Arsenal perspective. Arsenal were left without one of the lynchpins of their midfield last season, as Alex Song was left out of the match day squad completely amid rumours the Cameroon International was on his way to Spain to finalise a transfer to Barcelona, which was confirmed after the final whistle. However, this left the door open for Abou Diaby to make his return to the Arsenal set up following a long injury layoff and he showed a number of encouraging nice touches yesterday and managed to come through the match without suffering an injury which could only come as a bit of positive news for Arsenal fans. Despite an early mistake from Per Mertesacker which nearly gifted Sunderland an early goal, the general consensus amongst the Arsenal faithful was that the team looked sharper defensively with new assistant manager Steve Bould undoubtedly having worked on this in pre-season. After pushing for the opening goal for the majority of the game, with efforts from Santi Cazorla forcing smart saves out of Simon Mignolet, it was to be Olivier Giroud who was presented with the best chance of the game when a clever reverse pass from Cazorla found the Frenchman in the box only for the former Montpellier man to fire wide when he really should have scored. It seems that Arsene Wenger cannot catch a break and when one of the first questions he received in his post match interview was “Would Robin Van Persie have scored the chance that fell to Giroud?” However, there is much cause for positivity for Arsenal fans with the Gunners creating chances and, having seemingly improved defensively, there is no reason why they can’t kick-start their season at the Britannia stadium next weekend.

Newcastle United, despite a slow start to the match, picked up exactly where they left off at the end of last season with a 2-1 victory over potential title challengers Tottenham Hotspur. New signing Vurnon Anita was left on the bench following his arrival earlier in the week. The Senegalese front pairing of Cisse and Demba Ba was once again utilised by Alan Pardew who feels his side can go one step further and break into the Champions League places following a summer where they have managed to not only strengthen their squad but also keep their best players. It was to be Demba Ba who opened the scoring midway through the second half with an absolutely stunning effort that flew past Brad Friedel into the top corner following a badly cleared cross from Spurs. Despite his side being in the lead, Alan Pardew, following a missed throw in decision, proceeded to push the fourth official, earning himself a red card in the process, however one can see this punishment being extended due to the nature of the incident. Spurs, despite glimpses of the infamous Andre Villas-Boas attacking football being present throughout the first half, in particular when Jermain Defoe broke free and hit the upright, there was still an element of flatness in the Londoners’ performance. However, they equalised through Defoe with just fourteen minutes remaining following a goalmouth scramble. The last laugh was to be had by Newcastle though when with just ten minutes to go Hatem Ben Arfa broke through the Spurs defence into the penalty area only to be brought down in rather a clumsy fashion by Rafael van der Vaart and the Frenchman duly despatched the resulting penalty to give Newcastle a promising start to their campaign. Spurs however, despite small signs of positive football, will still be worried about the situation regarding Luka Modric with the Croatian yet to be sold until Spurs find an appropriate replacement and this looks no closer to happening at this time.

It is fair to say Reading were guilty of a slow start to life in the Premier League following their 1-1 draw at home to Stoke with Tony Pulis’ side making much of the early running and creating chances throughout the first half. The Royals fell behind in the thirty fourth minute of play when Stoke City debutant, Michael Kightly, fired a mishit shot into the back of the net in a situation where Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici really should have done better, with the Australian stopper covering himself in very little glory as the ball went under his body and into the net. In a game that provided little else in terms of entertainment it felt almost as if the Reading bandwagon following their promotion last year had slowed down despite their much improved performance in the second half. However, the Madjeski Stadium was to be given a huge boost when deep into injury time Reading were awarded a penalty which Adam Le Fondre, who just three years ago was playing for Rochdale in League Two, put away to give Reading a share of the points on opening day. There was much to be encouraged about from Brian McDermott’s point of view with the Reading boss happy with his side’s performance although he seemed somewhat eager for more when he stated: “we could have won it at the end with Ian Harte’s free kick.” Reading face both Chelsea and Sunderland in their next two games which will give them a true indication of what life in the Premier League will be about for the next nine months or so.

Fulham seemed to be totally unaffected by the news surrounding their star man Clint Dempsey as they ran out commanding winners in a 5-0 romp against Chris Hughton’s Norwich City side. It was always going to be a difficult year for Norwich following the departure of their inspirational manager Paul Lambert, however if there is man who can dig deep and get a club out of a crisis then it is no other than Chris Hughton following his hard work getting Newcastle United back into the Premier League two years ago. With Dempsey being a creative player it was expected that Fulham may well have found it difficult to break down a physically strong Norwich City side, however this was not to be the case with Fulham creating lots of chances as well as playing nice technical football at the same time. Damien Duff opened the scoring inside the half hour and this lead was then doubled by new boy Mladen Petric following his summer move from Hamburg with a header going past John Ruddy in the Norwich goal. Things only got worse in the second half for Norwich when Petric struck again with a shot from distance, albeit slightly deflected off Michael Turner, the score line was extended to 4-0 when Alex Kacaniklic slotted the ball home from close range. The rout was completed with just three minutes of normal time left when substitute Steve Sidwell fired home from the penalty spot. The presence of Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele in the Fulham side showed a high level of creativity which can only provide a significant amount of relief for both Martin Jol and Fulham supporters with Clint Dempsey absent from the side for the foreseeable future. We knew that it would be a difficult campaign for Norwich with the loss of their manager and although Saturday was just one bad result, I saw little to dissuade me from my prediction that the Canaries will be back playing Championship football in the 2013-2014 season.

Sam Allardyce’s West Ham side marked their return to the top flight of English football with a 1-0 win at home to Aston Villa with Paul Lambert possibly realising he may well have a tougher job on his hands that he previously thought. West Ham cheered on as ever by a passionate Upton Park crowd put the disappointment of the last two years behind them as they carved out several opportunities for goals in the first half with captain Kevin Nolan firing narrowly wide from a free kick. Nolan would however be the man to open the deadlock under somewhat controversial circumstances when he coolly slotted home from inside the penalty area despite the linesman flagging for an offside. The referee Mike Dean judged the ball to have come off Ron Vlaar and not a West Ham player and subsequently overruled his linesman giving the goal. The match was near enough a dead rubber until the end with West Ham wasting a glorious opportunity to wrap the game up near the end through new signing Modibo Maiga when the Malian fired straight at Shay Given. Aston Villa fans may well have cause for concern with the lack of creative spark present yet again as a recurring theme from the last two years. Yes, the side was without its talismanic goalscorer Darren Bent but the lack of impetus going forward was a real concern and I cannot see Villa improving on their performance last season unless they sign a proven goalscorer before the window closes. West Ham boss Sam Allardyce in the run up to yesterday’s match that West Ham are still looking to strengthen their squad and on the evidence of yesterday they may well be outside contenders for a top half finish.

It was expected that following the departure of Brendan Rodgers Swansea would be in a crisis as it was rumoured that many of their best players would leave the club. However the appointment of Michael Laudrup was undoubtedly a shock but a positive one with the Dane having experience managing in the Spanish La Liga where he came up against the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid on an annual basis. There was little evidence of such a crisis however with the Swans flying to victory at Loftus Road, resoundingly beating Mark Hughes’ QPR team 5-0. New signing Michu from Rayo Vallecano, following his impressive tally of fifteen goals last season, found himself to be an instant hit with the Swans supporters when he fired Swansea ahead in just the eighth minute of play. The match was quite even from that point until just into the second half with QPR creating chances of their own through Junior Hoilett, who narrowly missed the target with a curling effort from a tight angle, and Jamie Mackie going close with a header following a pinpoint cross from the on loan left back Fabio Da Silva. QPR quickly collapsed however following Michu’s second goal of the game in the fifty fourth minute with the Spaniard putting the ball past Robert Green with expert ease and grace, Nathan Dyer made it 3-0 with a cool finish from inside the box just ten minutes later and ten minutes after that it was 4-0 following some poor defending which allowed Dyer to double his tally. The match was already more than over when with nine minutes to go the much talked about Scott Sinclair fired past Rob Green from outside the box to make it 5-0 and following rumoured interest from Manchester City and the announcement that Sinclair does not want to sign a new contract with Swansea, then that may well be the last goal we ever see him score for the Welsh outfit. Mark Hughes was blunt in his post match interview stating: “the performance wasn’t up to the standard required”. He hoped this poor result would just be a one off and that it was better to get it out of their system early on, Rangers have the perfect opportunity to bounce back from this next weekend when they travel to Carrow Road to take on fellow relegation strugglers Norwich City.

Finally we come to Liverpool, following a summer of change with new manager Brendan Rodgers pitching his ideals about fast, free flowing attacking football to the players all summer and the signings of Fabio Borini, Joe Allen and most recently Oussama Assaidi, it was to be expected that their opening game against West Brom at the Hawthorns was to be the start of something big. However it has proven to be a slow start with Liverpool being on the wrong side of a 3-0 score line. Despite starting well and keeping the ball in the most part reasonably well despite a few early jitters it would have been easy to believe that once they had eased themselves into the game it would Liverpool who would go on to win, but that was not to be the case. Liverpool missed a few chances in the first half, in particular Luis Suarez, who missed the best chance with a shot just yards from goal going over the crossbar. Liverpool were dealt a blow right before half time when Zoltan Gera scored a volley of the highest quality from twenty five yards out. There has been suggestions that Liverpool could have positioned themselves better for this corner and pushed out quicker but there is no defending against strikes like that. It was simply unstoppable. Brendan Rodgers would have told his players during the half time break to be patient, keep doing what they were doing and the goal would come because they had not been particularly bad and if anything had created the better chances. What Liverpool didn’t want was to make a mistake in the second half and that is exactly what happened. Just before the hour mark a James Morrison pass found the run of Shane Long who was brought down in the box by Daniel Agger, who as a result was shown the red card, leaving Rodgers’ men an ever bigger challenge in the remaining half hour. Shane Long in fact missed the resulting penalty which must have given Liverpool hope of saving the game however this hope was short lived when just four minutes after the Albion were awarded another penalty when Martin Skrtel was caught napping on the ball with the Slovakian international then bringing down Long when the Irishman nipped in and stole the ball from him. Nigerian Peter Odemwingie made no mistake with this penalty, calmly slotting it past Pepe Reina. The game was already over when on loan striker Romelu Lukaku headed past Reina with just over ten minutes remaining. Despite the result I believe there are positive signs coming out of for Liverpool with the long awaited return of midfield general Lucas Leiva being one of the more prominent ones. Also, there was clear evidence that Liverpool had been working on their style of play and the football that was so often seen at Swansea during Rodgers’ spell there was on occasion evident. Finally Liverpool were creating chances, despite Luis Suarez not taking them, they were creating chances which is the most important thing at this stage. As Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson once stated: “we are creating the chances, I would be more worried if we weren’t creating the chances than not taking them.” It will only be a matter of time before Suarez and Borini link together and start hitting the target. Providing they are getting the service that they received on Saturday, I can see no major reasons to panic for Liverpool at this stage. Liverpool face the Champions Manchester City next in a game that will test them. In all honesty, I can’t see them winning that game due to the strength of Manchester City’s defensive line, however should they keep managing to pass the ball around and creating the chances there is no reason why they can’t get a positive result next weekend, especially with the raucous Anfield crowd behind them. West Brom under new manager Steve Clarke were expected to struggle this year with Clarke’s credentials as a manager coming under question, however I think yesterday proved that Clarke has exactly what it takes to be a success at this level, he has been one of the best coaches in England over the past few years and impressed Jose Mourinho significantly during his time at Chelsea. Providing he has the man management skills to keep characters like Odemwingie in line then I fully believe this could be a brilliant season for the Albion with another top ten finish not being beyond them.