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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dowie and Johnson move on, but will Jordan?

Iain Dowie was unveiled at The Valley as their new manager, being one of a four-man team to make up a new management system at Charlton Athletic. Andy Johnson has passed a medical with Everton and completes a £8.6m move to Goodison Park, to be announced tomorrow. Crystal Palace Football Club are due to witness two main members of their cause for promotion joining two independent Premiership clubs. The thought I perceive at first was that either one of those two left because they heard the other was leaving. The media stated Dowie and Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan possibly fell out over not gaining promotion after being beaten comprehensively at their own ground by eventual play-off winners Watford. Then again, with the added fact that the media had built up Johnson's international prospects as Sven Goran-Eriksson contemplated his final squad members. Johnson may have decided he wanted to leave Palace to play in the Premiership to enhance his selection chances. Dowie announced he would be leaving Palace on account of his desire to be nearer to family and a yearning for a new challenge.

At the unveiling, it appeared Dowie certainly took on a challenge in taking over at Charlton and then received confirmation of another challenge, from Jordan. While the former Northern Ireland international contemplated new horizons elsewhere in South East London, again, a man attempted to enter the conference and serve a legal writ on Dowie on behalf of Crystal Palace Football Club, effectively on the instructions of Jordan. The man was prevented from serving the writ, instead he was, what I would call, ushered out through the door, not violently at all. Later on, a Sky Sports reporter interviewed the man briefly, who confirmed seeking to serve the writ on Dowie for the reason provided in the writ, that Dowie provided 'fraudulent representations' to Jordan before leaving Selhurst Park. This refers to a conversation between Dowie and Jordan where Dowie cited reasons for leaving, reasons which Jordan said, during a telephone conversation with Sky Sports News, he relied on for ending Dowie's contract. Dowie stating he wanted to leave to be further up north is therefore contradicted when he is managing within the same exact geographical location as he was before.

While the issue may come before the courts, it is yet another unsavoury moment in football. Palace fans are behind Jordan, while it is split with neutrals which way matters should have happened. For me, Dowie expressed a desire to leave, regardless of the reasons, and once he is adamant he wants to leave, then so be it. Serving a writ is to sue, and were the issue to go to court and be resolved in Jordan's favour, I would say it could go into Palace's coffers for future use, but I wouldn't bank on such an award being of a substantial level to aid Palace any further than they would have been without. From what has been said, Dowie left Palace to be out of Selhurst Park. Apparently Charlton approached Dowie the following day, when he was shown around The Valley, as mere coincidence. There is the lure of Premiership football, and as Dowie said himself during the leaving conference, while Jordan expressed he would not be happy if Dowie took over at Charlton, Dowie is not as wealthy as Jordan and needs to consider his next source of employment.

At the least, Dowie's appointment is a coincidence. At the most, he wanted to leave Selhurst Park. Jordan can prove false representations persuaded him to break off the contract that Dowie had to honour, it is a court issue. At the end of the day, Dowie wanted to leave and we know the old adage about that. Jordan should let it go.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

England B 1 Belarus 2

We were not to expect much from this game other than seeing an XI aiming to support their inclusion in the squad and a run out for the little known in the Three Lions shirt. The match kept up to a lively pace and I thought England began well enough, particularly through Aaron Lennon on the right wing, similar to Shaun Wright-Phillips. On occasion he would jig a little then touch and go, and the Belarussians had no answer to his immediate bursts of pace. Michael Owen had a chance on the left, came to a tight angle, could have played it easier to Peter Crouch parallel to him but decided to go with a shot instead which cannoned off the keeper, Crouch indicating the easier choice. Crouch was more or less in the game and showed his ability to hold the ball and touch it off, played in one or two or simply played it back so he had a decent game, albeit I wished he could have been utilised more in the box. Stuart Downing looked good, again good co-ordination with Ashley Cole on the left, Jermaine Jenas took time to come into the game and had a excellent run to increase the lead, Owen to his left but then ran out of focus and was fouled.

Jenas' goal came courtesy of a Downing floated freekick that actually found Owen in an offside position, blatantly so I wondered what it would take for the officials to have noticed it. Owen headed on well, it came off the post, the keeper was stranded and an open goal invited Jenas to head in. Jamie Carragher and Sol Campbell kept good command at the back, David James keeping well in goal. Come the second half, come one change of James for Robert Green, who then quite incredibly went to take a goal kick and miskicked the ball, dropping to the ground in some major discomfort. The ball came to Sampdoria man Vitaly Kutuzov and he deposited the goal into the net. It has been suggested Green had ruptured his groin initially by going down to stop a Maksim Romashchenko freekick, which went through his hands and legs but wide, and then it was aggravated when he took the goal kick. This spells a non-participation for the Norwich keeper in the World Cup, sadly, and our best wishes for a full and speedy recovery go to him. Liverpool's Scott Carson took over.

So the goal counted and the game went on. Crouch was getting into the game much more with some neat touches and ball control, at one time leaving three Belarus players behind during one attack, but nonetheless England couldn't make out enough pressure on the Belarus goal to score. Belarus continued to have trouble with Lennon's pace, and Sergey Omelianchuk fell to the bait on occasion, booked for one foul and then again unceremoniously minutes later for his dismissal. I think David Platt said it best that though England linked up well in Belarus' half, we didn't have enough cohesion to actually make more of an impression on the visitors. Matt Dawson came on for Stuart Downing, Carragher would move to right-back, Owen Hargreaves to centre mid, Cole to left midfield, Dawson with Campbell. Two minutes later Belarus picked up in our half and were allowed to break into the box through Sergey Kornilenko , who was followed by Dawson but still managed to cut an angled effort before Dawson's block, past Carson. I think England hadn't recovered from Green's injury.

That is how it ended. The result for me was not an issue, the individual performances were. Overall we had done good, Lennon clearly showed he has something he can add to our strengths to give us an edge, Theo Walcott came on officially for Jenas but replaced Owen upfront and he made his mark quickly in the game with an abruptively stopped dash and then a shot from some 25 yards. Downing and Michael Carrick had a decent game too, there were a number of pluses which were good and that is what we needed to come out of the game more than a result.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Close but no cigar for fighting Gunners

Last night Arsenal took on the Spanish champions and widely renowned best club team in Europe in the European Champions League Cup final and after a titanic effort fell to a late defeat. Disappointment is a part of football - and yesterday it was the Gunners turn to suffer as the rain poured down in the Stade de France.

My congratulations go to Barcelona for victory. But my congratulations also go to my team for a fantastic effort in Paris last night. There is a lot of pride to take out of this defeat. To go down to ten men after twenty minutes and still yet take the lead and hold onto it against a rampaging team until 14 minutes left on the clock is a feat that shows what fantastic spirit and effort our team has. I can go across each player in the Arsenal side and know they gave it their absolute best to fight for the cause. And when I can do this, I am proud irrespective of the result.

Alex Hleb, Freddie (who played his best game of the season), Gilberto and young Francesc showed their fantastic character yesterday with tremendous performances on and off the ball. Henry took on Barca's defence in great style and if not for more deadly finishing should have had two goals (the one he failed to hit cleanly in the 70th min surely would have closed the match in our favour) - and he would have earned them. Eboue showed once again he is a Cafu in the making for Arsenal - his thrilling attacking surges really intimidated Barcelona and led to a freekick for Arsenal's goal through a towering Sol Campell header. Toure and Campbell did a good job trying to withstand the amazing number of probing Barca players converging into their area. And Ashley Cole put in some excellent last-ditch challenges to save the team. Finally, Manuel Almunia did very well to come on into the most prestigious match in Europe and make a few good saves - plus an exceptional one from Eto'o in first half injury time. I definitely don’t hold him at fault for either of the goals.

It's a big shame that Arsenal played the vast majority of this huge match with a man less after Jens Lehmann's sending off - but Jens only has himself to blame for rashly bringing down Eto'o. Yes, the ref could have played advantage, and therefore allow Arsenal to play on with eleven. But it is not mandatory that he should have done this. I feel especially sorry for Robert Pires - he looked really up for the match in the opening minutes and to see his dejected face as he walked off so early in the game was bad to see. Not being picked for the French world cup squad followed by an early departure from the biggest match of his life means that it has been an undeserved bad week for this massively underrated player.

Amid the natural massive disappointment of cup final defeat I think its only right to end with some context. In mid-February, Arsenal were severely rocking from their worst period of football perhaps ever seen in the Wenger era. We had just been sucker-punched out of the League and FA Cup, had an enormous number of defensive injuries, seemed unable to recover from the shock of losing Vieira, and in a very lame and low-in-confidence performance at Anfield had just accumulated our ninth Premiership defeat of the season. Many people thought we were down and out for this season - and certainly did not give us a chance of progressing in Europe.

Since then, Arsenal have fought back with tremendous spirit, character and playability. The next 18 matches (before last night) in both the Premiership and Champs League saw only two defeats and many fantastic victories: including great wins against Real Madrid, Juventus and Liverpool, and three in seven days scoring ten goals to clinch fourth spot and send-off Highbury in great fashion. All this with a team featuring many players just starting their careers, including a young defence that stayed strong against the best in Europe, and a player in Fabregas who underlined his massive potential combining fantastic playmaker ability with an outstanding big-match temperament.

In the last few months, this next-generation Arsenal has shown they can comeback against the odds to produce big results and superb team performances. Now, if Thierry stays or goes (and of course like every Gunner I really hope he stays to lead our young team), I would like to see Wenger bolster the squad this summer with two or three high quality players to ensure that this side continues to progress and not fall behind our Premiership rivals. We have just built one of the best stadiums in the world to play our football - now it is crucial that we build upon the immensely promising squad that took us to our first European Cup final.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Alan Shearer: English legend of football

Last month, Alan Shearer ended his 18 year striking career. His final game was away at Sunderland, and it was fitting that he scored the crucial second goal from the penalty-spot in a 4-1 win before picking up a knee ligament injury that prematurely bought his retirement forward a month early.

I definitely consider Alan Shearer to be one of the best English strikers of all-time, and perhaps the best I've seen in my time watching football. These stats go some way to explaining why:

43 goals in 158 games for Southampton
130 goals in 171 games for Blackburn (and a Premiership medal in 1994-95 season)
206 goals in 404 games for Newcastle (club record goalscorer)
260 goals in 441 Premiership games (Premiership record goalscorer)
30 goals in 63 games for England (national captain from 1996-2000)
409 goals in 796 games (total career goals)

What I especially like about Shearer is that he was a master at scoring a variety of different goals. He was a specialist at hammering them in from 25 yards; power-heading them in from 10 yards; drilling them in from 4 yards… and before picking up a terrible cruciate knee-injury in 1997 he also had explosive pace that would see him surge past defences onto passes from midfield. He really was an all-round great striker.

Although he will be best remembered as Newcastle's prolific all-time record goalscorer and captain, I feel his absolute peak was at Blackburn Rovers where he won a Premiership medal. At that time I thought he was the most complete striker in Europe, and he finished as top scorer at the 1996 European Championships.

At the start of the season we at EFT put his picture on the site so to mark his final season as a player. And now with the close of his final season, check out this video tribute of some of Shearer's best goals in the Newcastle shirt (plus a couple for England). It features excellent multiple camera angles of those great goals against Everton and Chelsea, plus what I consider to be a classy celebration following a fantastic volleyed finished against Villa.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Liverpool repeat Istanbul heroics

I would love to know what the odds were on the FA Cup final ending 3-3 and then Liverpool winning on penalties. I thought I would never see anything like Istanbul again; I was wrong. West Ham were awesome and very unlucky to lose the game but Liverpool just kept going and going in and Steven Gerrard we truly have one of the greatest players in the world at the moment. His goal to make it 2-2 was fantastic; his goal to make it 3-3 was simply majestic. The game was so similar to the Champions League final that even at the end of extra-extra time Reina had to make a great save to deny the Hammers, just like Dudek made against Shevchenko. I take my hats off to both teams for giving us one of the best FA Cup finals ever.

As a Liverpool fan I am delighted that we have ended the season winning some silverware. Rafa has been here for two seasons and has delivered two trophies in that time, and we have also, this season, achieved our highest ever points tally in the Premiership. Under Houllier we had the potential to be a great side; under Benitez we are realising that potential. Benitez knows that Liverpool need to improve even further to win the league and this is where Houllier failed. His signings were simply awful and we ended up going backwards. I cannot see Benitez making the same mistakes and if he can get the right players in, then we really will be serious title contenders.

This is a great time to be Liverpool fan.

Liverpool & West Ham send off the Millennium in style

The FA Cup final 2006 marked more than being the last (hopefully) one to be held in the fantastic stadium in Cardiff - it marked one which had a tremendous blend of passion and support. The West Ham fans were hugely marking the occasion for the first time since 1980. the only scorer in that game with Arsenal was present in his capacity of Director of Football Development at the FA, Sir Trevor Brooking. When West Ham faced relegation 2002/2003, Glenn Roeder collapsed from a brain tumour in April and Sir Trevor took over the reins and almost pulled West Ham to safety. For the 2003/2004 season Roeder thankfully recovered to continue his management but had to leave when results started off badly, Sir Trevor again taking over for some weeks until Alan Pardew left Reading to join the Hammers in October. Very few stood behind the former Crystal Palace defender and once again contemplation of a new manager was spoken of.

But Pardew was made of thicker skin than most would give credit for. Taking over a side that had to release Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Trevor Sinclair, David James, Jermaine Defoe, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson, some of many to had left following relegation. He signed Hayden Mullins from Crystal Palace, and crucially Marlon Harewood from Nottingham Forest, who was quite prolific for Forest at the time. West Ham came off the pitch to boos from their fans following a 1-1 draw with Coventry in November, with Pardew's name linked with groans of impatience. He continued with purchases of Nigel Reo-Coker from MK Dons and Bobby Zamora from Spurs, and, despite the immense criticism and lack of faith in him, Pardew raised the side to the play-off position of 4th, losing to and then beating Ipswich to reach the final, only to lose to Crystal Palace 1-0. Back to the drawing board, he brought in those who he felt were suitable in his wisdom to lift the team. Matthew Etherington came from Spurs in August, and many fans began to voice a contrary opinion when he was rumoured to be interested in Teddy Sheringham from Portsmouth, a former Millwall, Spurs and Manchester United player. One fan stated Sheringham was second to Paul Ince as the player he mostly despised.

But Pardew continued with his plan, and took West Ham into the play-offs again by finishing 6th last season. They faced Ipswich Town again and again defeated them with a draw and a win to reach the finals again, this time to face Preston North End to an eventual victory through a single goal from Zamora. They were promoted back into the top flight after two seasons. Considered one of those to drop down again, West Ham have surpassed all odds to encapsulate a great first season, starting off very well and not only maintaining their Premiership status, not only a top ten position, but a UEFA Cup place by virtue of facing Champions League-placed Liverpool in the FA Cup final.

The pressure on Liverpool as expectant winners may have made its toll as the Reds seemed subdued from opening the match. Steven Gerrard raced down the right and was fouled for a freekick, but from then Liverpool didn't make the expected possession and play they are renowned for and West Ham took opportunities to come forward, so it was very much an open game, not the one-sided encounter anticipated. As a result of being sluggish, Liverpool were rocked on 21mins when Xabi Alonso tried to square to John Arne Riise with his weaker foot, Yossi Benayoun picked up on the ball and fed Dean Ashton. Ashton held on and then thread a sublime ball behind the Liverpool defence for the running Argentinian Lionel Scaloni, and Scaloni had time and space to square the ball across the box, which should have been comfortable to deal with by Jamie Carragher, but Carragher went to back-heel it and mistimed the ball, and it came off his left foot to go tightly inside the goal.

Then some six minutes later the Hammers struck again. A Benayoun cross was headed on by Ashton to come over to Etherington, who paused and then moved aside to get past Sami Hyypia, Gerrard and Carragher simultaneously sprinting across to block but Etherington's low shot went under, squirming towards Pepe Reina. The Spanish keeper should have comfortably saved but inexplicably spilled the ball, and Ashton reacted the fastest by making contact with the ball, managing to squirm it under Reina's body to trickle into the net. Two sloppy goals that were very uncharacteristic of Liverpool and their season, and it looked to be going horribly wrong for them. But they have been in tough situations before and there were still over 60mins to play for. Liverpool took the impact of the Hammer blow and were struck into action. A freekick outside the West Ham box was taken quickly by Gerrard and finished off superbly by Peter Crouch, who had little opportunity to come into the game more in the first half, but it was ruled out for offside, although replays showed it was the merest of elbows!

Not to be perturbed, Liverpool pressed on and it was yet another Gerrard ball from the right that went over the West Ham defence to meet the sweeping right boot of Djibril Cisse, who also had little to do in the half. Five minutes after Ashton's goal, his foot hit the ball for a sweet first touch volley that pulled the Reds back into the game. Half-time, and while the Reds had got one back, if they didn't get a grip and realise the danger of their sluggish start, they would become victims to an impressive Hammers side who were undisturbed by reputation, dogged, pacy and keen to strike at goal when close, and that all spelt a major danger if Liverpool were more than interested in winning the final. Yet from the second half the Hammers poured on the heat, as seconds from the kick off Etherington went down the left and squared delightfully for Harewood, whose touch was blocked by Reina's legs. The ball was picked up by Benayoun, who cut in past one Liverpool player and had time to shoot, only to have his effort equally blocked by Reina.

Liverpool had to pick up the pace and dictate the game. Harry Kewell had been mediocre at best and struggled with an injury, coming off for Fernando Morientes, Cisse drifted to the right, Gerrard had a free role on the left. On 54mins, their pressure going forward produced a freekick, quickly taken by Alonso, who squared to Gerrard. Gerrard was quickly closed down and back-heeled it to Alonso, the Spaniard then chipped the ball into the penalty area, Morientes and Crouch went to challenge and it was Crouch to made the contact, the ball dropped down for Gerrard to run in and strike high into the net. Now it looked as if Liverpool would get into the regular playing game and dictate it. But ten minutes on, fate had its call on dictating proceedings. Etherington again involved, he found Paul Konchesky on the left, Konchesky went on and aimed a high cross that deceived Reina and dropped into the net. To the delight of the nearby West Ham fans, Konchesky had scored to reclaim the lead, and it would be fitting for the Barking-born West Ham supporting left back to win it before his birthday on Monday, in the memory of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, after 26 years, after relegation, after two play-off finals and eventual promotion.

Another setback for the Reds, after coming from 0-2 down to level. Alonso displayed some discomfort and was replaced by Jan Kromkamp, Gerrard moving to the middle, Cisse on the left. A number of opportunities went both ways, Liverpool having to maintain pressure but not enough leeway, West Ham not lying down and relying on their lead to get them through. With twenty minutes to go, changes were made by both sides, Dietmar Hamann replaced Crouch and Pardew threw on Zamora for Ashton. Liverpool had now used up their substitutions, while Pardew went on to introduce Christian Dailly for Carl Fletcher six minutes later and then Sheringham for Etherington with five minutes of normal time to go. As the clock ticked on, I felt compelled to accept West Ham would very much lift the cup and it would be a hurtful feeling to lose, but the way in which West Ham played they would be worthy winners.

As the ball came across the West Ham goal, Cisse went to chase with Scaloni and then pulled up with cramp. Scaloni sportingly kicked the ball out for Cisse to receive treatment. Hamann picked up the ball and returned it to Scaloni, who kicked it forwards but it landed to Gerrard. He passed to Riise, Riise chipped the ball into the box, the announcer over the tannoy then mentioned 4mins of stoppage time, the ball was headed out by Danny Gabbidon, it bounced between Mohamed Sissoko and Benayoun, and Gerrard stepped up to fire a volley from some 35 yards into the net that Shaka Hislop could not even react to, much less move to. The delight of the Liverpool fans was ecstatic. I didn't think it was possible but it was now level.

As it remained level, extra-time loomed. The 30mins that ensued found both sides equal in their determination to supersede each other, almost like two fighters having boxed each other well and both looking for one avenue to land even a sucker punch. That sucker punch almost came for West Ham as near the end of extra time Benayoun's freekick was headed on and looped to go in, but for the outstretched left-hand of the diving Reina, tipping it onto the post. The ball went across goal, Hyypia couldn't get enough contact to clear it and out of three West Ham players in nearby vicinity, Harewood aimed with his now injured left leg and couldn't get it round the ball to make sufficient contact, the ball going wide. Hearts in mouths, I needed medical attention. As Alan Wiley blew for full time and the end of the match, Liverpool had once again drawn 3-3 after being behind in a major Cup final and taken the game into penalties. I wondered if lightening would strike twice.

Then the penalty takers step up, those who are brave enough in front of over 74,000 fans to take the spot kicks, something which is not as easy as shooting from mere yards past the keeper anymore. Liverpool have been there recently, West Ham were new to the experience. First up was Hamann, one of those who scored in Istanbul last year, and he did it again. Up for West Ham was Zamora, left footed, but was denied by Reina's dive to the keeper's right. Next up was Hyypia but he tamely shot down the middle for Hislop to gather well. Sheringham restored the Hammers to level, fists clenched, urging the crowd to keep up the support. Captain Gerrard took stage and deposited his effort well. Local lad Konchesky was next to further his contribution to the cause, but he too was denied with an effort down the middle that was stopped by Reina's legs, the third time for the former Villarreal keeper renowned in Spain for his penalty kick stops.

Riise was next for Liverpool, their fourth kick and something for the Norwegian to make amends for after his denied effort in the Ataturk stadium. He scored, fists clenched and then rub his eyes with palms as if a personal ghost had been exorcised. Anton Ferdinand stepped up to take West Ham's fourth penalty. If he scored, then another kick apiece would ensue. If he missed, Liverpool would win. As the defender stepped back he aimed his effort to Reina's right and the keeper stopped it.

Liverpool ended the first FA Cup final in the Millennium stadium in 2001 as winners. Liverpool now ended the last FA Cup final in the Millennium stadium in 2006 as winners.

The jubilation that followed came after a pulsating match that looked to end on the wrong note for the eventual winners. West Ham United were stupendous in their efforts, and I have commented previously in the season on particularly the pace and play their midfielders have brought to the East End side. This is an exciting Hammers side with just rewards after a turbulent Pardew beginning, they have a strong, pacy striker in Harewood who I have said should be going to Germany. Reo-Coker has the captaincy and his running and creation in midfield engages many options in attack, Ferdinand and Gabbidon had played very well in stopping Liverpool's progression on occasion, Benayoun forever running around along with Etherington, on the flanks. While their goals maybe considered somewhat fortuitous, their playability certainly was not and they gave Liverpool more of a match than anticipated, almost to victory.

Pardew stated he was obviously disappointed with the ending but proud of his players. He wasn't the only one, as both fans applauded both teams during their presentation, and I think Mr Greenwood and Mr Lyall would be proud too.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Man Utd close up 2nd; Alonso concern; Arsenal end Highbury in 4th; Spurs suffer suspected foul play; the Championship play-offs

Though most of the current football headlines concern mostly of the national squad's preparation for its voyage to Germany's hosting of the World Cup, here is a word or two regarding the end of the top flight season in the Premiership. Being that Portsmouth won its game against Wigan and condemned West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham to the Championship, the last match decider involved the race for 2nd and 4th place.

Man Utd 4 Charlton 0

Ruud Van Nistelrooy apparently made good his departure from Old Trafford on Sunday after hearing he would not feature in the first eleven. Having drawn goalless against Middlesbrough, during which VNR had a penalty to not only get on the score sheet but put Utd clear of Liverpool but failed, the last game at home had to be made a certainty, no more, no less. Charlton were defeated at home by Blackburn Rovers and heard they would lose their manager of 15 years at the end of the season. The home side made good their crowd advantage, the absence of Rooney and an appearance off the bench for Paul Scholes, with a four-goal salute from Louis Saha, Christiano Ronaldo, a Jason Euell own goal and Kieran Richardson. Job done, automatic Champions League qualification secured. It will be good to see a rejuvenated Utd from that which performed last season in Europe, they should be strong contenders to win it.

VNR was said to have traded words of the insulting kind with Ronaldo during training on Saturday, where he referred Ronaldo to see his 'father', a reference to Carlos Quieroz. Ronaldo's biological father passed away in September this year. VNR departed to his native Holland on Sunday after leaving, and was not even given an invite to Roy Keane's testimonial tonight. With Quieroz said to have influence on who is chosen for matches, VNR sealed his omission from the team-sheet.

Man Utd: 25 wins, 8 draws, 5 defeats

Charlton: 13 wins, 8 draws, 17 defeats

Portsmouth 1 Liverpool 3

I had this guess right too, though on one hand some would say Portsmouth would win against a cut-down Liverpool side six days from the FA Cup final. Others, like myself, insisted Liverpool would win because I felt Portsmouth now need not push for points for survivial and a cut-down Liverpool can nonetheless play very well all the same. Robbie Fowler celebrated an extended contract with the first followed by Crouch for the second. Serbian Ognjen Koroman pulled one back and Djibril Cisse replaced the 2-goal lead to the end. Xabi Alonso fell awkwardly yet could still make it to the final. Portsmouth sit on whether Harry Redknapp can be content enough to remain, now the club can enjoy another season at the top.

A Royal Mail van was entered into and its contents of 1,600 FA Cup Final tickets for Liverpool supporters were stolen. Unsurprising if reports do not go further, but the tickets are already located on the Millennium Stadium system and anyone who turns up and sits in the respective seats will be removed and potentially arrested. With the fact that the tickets are known and therefore no one can turn up with them legitimately, surely there is a way for those who had paid for them to be otherwise accommodated at the stadium? They have bought those tickets and should be entitled to alternative seating arrangements or a refund.

I wonder if the tickets were stolen along with other mail. It sounds like an inside tip-off and one that should come to no avail.

Portsmouth: 10 wins, 8 draws, 20 defeats

Liverpool: 25 wins, 7 draws, 6 defeats

Arsenal 4 Wigan 2

The grand finale, the last Arsenal game at Highbury (well the last Highbury game) after 83 years, was the last game for Arsenal for 2005-2006. Robert Pires earned the lead for the home side, who were then pegged back by two swift goals from Paul Scharner and David Thompson. Then the Thierry Henry show took centre stage, and who else to finish off such a game of rememberence, producing the equaliser before half time and then another, ten minutes into the second half. Then to cap it off, Andreas Johansson brought down Freddie Ljungberg for a professional foul in the box and the Frenchman coolly deposited the spot-kick, kissing the spot afterwards. News came in of Spurs' fortune at Upton Park after Dennis Bergkamp, another talisman of the red-and-white North London club, made an introduction for the final 10mins+ to help round off a sensational moment in Arsenal football history.

All the best for the recovery back to full fitness of Abou Diaby, who was horribly and disgracefully injured by the reckless, despical lunge of Dan Smith of Sunderland in his FIRST match for the Black Cats at The Stadium of Light. A fractured and dislocated right ankle was the outcome and is second to a broken leg injury. How Kevin Ball looked to defend it is incredible and Arsene Wenger was rightly incensed.

Arsenal: 20 wins, 7 draws, 11 defeats

Wigan: 15 wins, 6 draws, 17 defeats

West Ham United 2 Spurs 1

Prior to the game, a number of Spurs' players came down with food poisoning. Discussions with the authorities, including the police, Spurs and the FA, decided that there were enough players fit enough to produce a full side from. Those who made it to play were Paul Robinson, Stephen Kelly, Matt Dawson, Antony Gardner, Young-Pyo Lee, Aaron Lennon, Michael Carrick, Edgar Davids, Teemu Tainio, Robbie Keane, and Jermaine Defoe. On paper it is still a good side, little different from the usual line-up but the question is how many of these players were affected, physically and mentally. It's not an exclusive that if it is food poisoning, that it was deliberate and therefore was to influence either West Ham's progress or that of Arsenal's for 4th place. Gunners' fans won't miss on a chance to poke fun but this is serious, they earned a 4-2 win and surely would have preferred to know they earned it rightly, not through the acts of a third party and in such a manner.

The Premier League seem content that the result stands, though Spurs chairman Daniel Levy states a majority of the Premiership clubs support his case for a replay. The options opened to Spurs were they either could play on with those they have available or postpone the game and appeal to the Premier League, which could initially have seen them docked points. There was even the option that kick-off could be delayed until players were certified as feeling better but this clashed with security concerns of the police, who were prepared to allow only two hours, not enough time for players to be considered to have recovered substantially. Therefore Spurs felt pressured, not to upset Premier League rules and not to upset the fans, to reluctantly play the game. In the circumstances, I don't think the game should have been allowed to go on.

The home side took the early lead through Carl Fletcher but it was a clash between the old boys from there on. Former West Ham favourite Defoe equalised before half time but into the second half Tainio bundled into former Spurs man Bobby Zamora in the Spurs box and another in Teddy Sheringham stepped up for the spot-kick, only to scuff it. So Spurs hung on in a draw, one goal needed to boost their grip on 4th place, which they have held on to since December. Henry's hat-trick was made aware to the travelling fans and with ten minutes to go the Spurs fans raised voices to push their side forward. But it wasn't to be, as Nigel Reo-Coker set up Yossi Benyaoun to shoot past Robinson. That is how it ended at Upton Park.

West Ham: 16 wins, 7 draws, 15 defeats

Tottenham Hotspur: 18 wins, 11 draws, 9 defeats

The Championship play-offs: Preston North End 0 (1) Leeds United 2 (3)

I watched both legs. Preston North End ended the stronger in the 1st leg, Eddie Lewis scored a touching freekick for Leeds' equaliser to level David Nugent's finish, and Billy Davies punched the air with delight at the final whistle, as if he was content home advantage would see his side through. I thought he was making too much of it and it wasn't as clear cut as that, and Leeds prove me right. Preston had a number of chances through Nugent and Danny Dichio but first Rob Hulse scored then he set up another for Frazer Richardson to take Leeds through.

The Championship play-offs: Watford 0 (3) Crystal Palace 0 (0)

I watched these two legs as well and felt these two sides were very even and would make for a tight game and possibly a good one at that, but Palace were in third gear as Watford took off from first into second. Palace started well and came close through Andrew Johnson and Jobi McAnuff but Ben Foster, who looks an interesting prospect for England, was not really tested, as Watford made more of the chances in the first half. In the second, it took a minute for a breakthrough as Marlon King collected a goalkick with his back to goal and swivelled to hit a low left foot effort past Gabor Kiraly. Twenty minutes later a freekick for Watford produced a curling effort from Ashley Young for no.2, leaving Kiraly heavily frustrated with his wall, and then Matthew Springs ran into the box and turned away from players to hit a high left foot shot past the keeper. These goals went on to take Watford into the play-offs to meet Leeds.

Come the 21st May, the Championship play-off final will determine which side joins Reading and Sheffied United to ascend to the top flight, who will open up their ground for the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd and Spurs, either Elland or Vicarage Road. For me, Leeds have to fear the movements and tenacity of King, Young, Man Utd loanee Chris Eagles, and get past keeper Foster or face another season in the Championship, for Watford seem to have pace and an eye for goal more so than Leeds. It's another date for football in May.

Let me add that Adrian Boothroyd became animated with Palace's Fitz Hall near the touchline which was as unsavoury as the ensuing melee involving both sets of players and dug-outs. The FA will no doubt look into it but it wasn't pleasant and I can't understand why the Watford manager became like that when his side had good advantage.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Sven adopts Madrid mentality by selecting Walcott for World Cup 2006

Today, the England squad for World Cup 2006 was announced by manager Sven Goran Eriksson. And I think it is fair to say that nobody in England would have predicted the full 23 that have made the cut, which includes a little-seen Arsenal teenager.

The squad is:

Provisional squad:Robinson (Tottenham), James (Manchester City), Green (Norwich); G Neville (Manchester United), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Terry (Chelsea), Cole (Arsenal), Campbell (Arsenal), Carragher (Liverpool), Bridge (Chelsea), Beckham (Real Madrid), Carrick (Tottenham), Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Jenas (Tottenham), Downing (Middlesbrough), J Cole (Chelsea), Lennon (Tottenham), Rooney (Manchester United), Owen (Newcastle), Crouch (Liverpool), Walcott (Arsenal).

Standby:Carson (Liverpool), Young (Charlton), Reo-Coker (West Ham), Defoe (Tottenham), Johnson (Crystal Palace).

The stand-out selection is Arsenal's star-in-the-making youngster, Theo Walcott. Bought from Southampton in January for a world record fee for a 16 year old - £12m - Walcott is yet to make even a first-team substitute appearance for the Gunners. Despite this lack of top club level experience, Sven is willing to gamble that he has the superstar potential to make an impact on the World Cup stage.

When Rooney picked up THAT injury, Arsene Wenger publicly suggested that Walcott be selected in his place. And today, Sven has commented that he spoke to Wenger at length about Walcott before making his squad selection.

So it looks like Sven has followed the Real Madrid philosophy which I remember reading about last summer. After purchasing Wenger targets, Baptista and Robinho, one of Perez/Butragueno/Valdano reputedly said that part of their transfer policy was simply to find out who Wenger wanted for Arsenal- and bring them to Madrid instead. By selecting a player who has just turned 17 and has not played one Premiership game, it is clear that Sven is another person who is willing to place great faith in Wenger's opinion.

Personally, I support Sven's decision to gamble on Walcott. He is an immensely exciting prospect- I remember when I first saw Walcott play for Southampton at the start of the season I asked my brother for the name of this new player who instantly impressed me with amazing pace, dribbling control, and attacking drive- and I like to think, as Sven also presumably does, that he has the capability to make an Owen-esque WC1998 impact.

Walcott's inclsuion has come at the expense of Tottenham's Jermaine Defoe and Charlton's Darren Bent. I feel sorry for both players, especially Defoe who has been an England squad regular for a few seasons. That said, I can understand and accept both omissions. I think it is fair to say that Defoe has had a disappointing season for Spurs - who have relied upon the fantastic Robbie Keane for goals - and he has paid the price for this. And I think the reason for Bent's exclusion is that although he has a good all-round game - that is still developing - he does not have any areas of his game that are exceptional.

Last week I wrote on EFT that I would have Downing and the Overmars-like Aaron Lennon in my squad - and leave out Chelsea's £21m purchase Shaun Wright-Phillips. Today, Sven also reached this conclusion, who could not even find a place for SWP on the standby list. I feel bad for SWP. He is a player I wanted to see sign for Arsenal last summer- but instead he went to Stamford Bridge where he has become a bit-part player and suffered the unnecessary ignominy of being subbed after just twenty five minutes against Fulham in March. If he has another season of sporadic appearances, I would advise him to put in a transfer request because his talent is deserving of better treament.

Overall, this is an England squad that I really like. There is strength, variety, and world class talent in all departments. Plus, in Lennon and Walcott we have two wild-cards with exceptional pace, attacking drive and fresh minds who offer England something which has been lacking in recent past major tournaments- players with the raw talent to hurt the opposition off the bench. Its an exciting selection- and I hope it also turns out to be a winning one!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rooney can make can England

Having suffered from another broken bone in the same foot on Saturday in which he broke a bone during the England v Portugal match in the Euro2004 tournament, Wayne Rooney was exactly six weeks away from England's first World Cup match against Paraguay. That could be enough time for his foot to heal, not so much that he will be able to play in that game. But if Rooney remains on course for recovery, then selecting him for the squad for Germany is good enough, where he can continue recovery and fitness under the national squad's medical staff and potentially come into contention for the last game with Sweden on 20th June.

I don't think pitches and particular boots, or even boots in general, are to blame, otherwise we would have an epidemic of metatarsal injuries. To date the likes of Danny Murphy, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard, Ledley King, Arjen Robben, and David Nugent of Preston North End have suffered identical injuries. Nugent injured his right foot on March 14 and has been mentioned recently as his diagnosis at the time was he would be out for the reminder of the season, but he was on the bench for Sunday's game, almost seven weeks later.

Eriksson announces his squad on 15th this month, with a preliminary list next week Monday. My choice for Germany:

Paul Robinson
David James
Robert Green

Gary Neville
Jamie Carragher
Ashley Cole
Wayne Bridge/Paul Konchesky
Rio Ferdinand
John Terry
Sol Campbell
Wes Brown
Ledley King

Frank Lampard
Steven Gerrard
Michael Carrick
Shaun Wright-Phillips
Joe Cole
Aaron Lennon
David Beckham

Michael Owen
Peter Crouch
Darren Bent
Wayne Rooney/Marlon Harewood

IF Rooney is considered not suitable to travel, then Marlon Harewood should be considered. I think he has pace, strength and has been in good form for West Ham goals wise. While Jermaine Defoe looked very good last season, this season he has been fazed by the presence of Ahmed Mido and the Egyptian's partnership with Robbie Keane, considered more successful than any other upfront at Spurs. Against Bolton Defoe struggled to get into the game with his talent of pace and eye for the most acute of angles to shoot through, and on occasion couldn't hold up the ball long enough to be a major threat, therefore he is not in my squad.

The usual suspects of David Beckham, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard appear and all four have been impressive for their teams. Shaun Wright-Phillips could be a doubt for some but we know what he can do and I hope he chooses any opportunity in the tournament to really prove something to Jose Mourinho. Michael Carrick can play a holding role in midfield, pass, tackle and attack, and has been doing that very well for his club. I said before I felt Aaron Lennon's inclusion would be one too soon but in reflection, with Rooney possibly not travelling, Lennon could provide a great option with his pace to race down the wing and cross low for players to tap in, something which our forwards are more than capable of doing.

I have been impressed with Paul Konchesky, although of late he has turned in an average performance. My first choice to deputise for Ashley Cole would automatically be Wayne Bridge but I feel both players are now as good as each other. If pushed, I would go for Bridge. Jamie Carragher is Mr. Versatile and can cover for Gary Neville if need be, so too could Wes Brown. Ledley King still recovers from his broken foot but should be OK by the time June comes. When you mention King, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, none of these should be left out, and when you add Carragher and Brown into the central defensive equation, England has that area solidly secured, partly why I see we can win it.

Finally, Paul Robinson has established being England's no.1 keeper. Nuff said. David James has had his comical moments but he does have the experience and know-how to pull great saves, though if Chris Kirkland wasn't injured, James would be third choice. That would have rendered Robert Green omitted from the squad. I haven't seen him play to determine his current playability but English keepers in the Premiership are very very limited other than Nigel Martyn (injured or unfit) and Wigan's Mike Pollitt.

This squad is as strong as before, if not stronger. For the first time in a while we have looked to the holding player possibility. Rooney's possible absence is not the be-all and end-all, other players in the squad are very capable of winning matches for us. Instead of looking to one player for mass inspiration, the players should look at the World Cup itself and think about winning it. With Paul Robinson in good form, a marshalled defence with Terry, Campbell and Ferdinand, Carrick to hold with Lampard and Gerrard attacking, Beckham, Lennon, Wright-Phillips and Cole using their skill down the wings, crossing, passing, and Owen, potentially Harewood and Bent put through with Crouch giving good height advantage and touch on the ball, we can give a damn good performance out there.

I think England fail to link up strongly defensively, something they are better at in attack, and as such concede silly goals that an English defence is not renowned for. A number of teams in the competition specialise on the one player who breaks through on the pass, like Thierry Henry who edges on the shoulder of an opposition player and then sprints in time to collect the pass. Rooney is classic at doing this, and in his absence Owen or even Bent can do this too. The only thing with Rooney is he is confident of creating a route for himself pass three players, prepared to take on players, whereas I cannot say the same for any other striker we have. One thing we do too often is play the ball around the opposition's box with no one willing to take the step to strike at goal, as if we are looking for the perfect ball into the box, so we should encourage less passing and more practice on shooting.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Chelsea champions; Liverpool close gap; Spurs increase on 4th; First Fulham away win; Brum/Brom duo sink as Pompey float

Chelsea 3 Man Utd 0

[Chelsea are the 2005/2006 Barclays Premiership Champions!]

It had to come down to this game. Man Utd chasing Chelsea, needing to win to still stay within distance of the Blues, Chelsea needed only a point to secure the title for the second time running. From the start Chelsea took control and were simply too strong and quick for Man Utd to settle and play. First blood went to the home side from a corner on 3mins, Mikael Silvestre marked William Gallas then inexplicably wandered off and marked no one, made no challenge, leaving Gallas alone to head in from Didier Drogba's head-on. From then Chelsea played and passed excellently, so much so Man Utd didn't actually come into play until 20-25mins, even Wayne Rooney couldn't manage to break through their defence to cause enough havoc, and it looked as if he was on his own in doing so. Louis Saha slowed down the ball and with Chelsea's defence around Rooney picked up the loose ball on his run, nudged it past Paulo Ferreira and looked odds-on to equalise but amazingly he rolled the ball wide. Petr Cech did have to make a save from him later on, diving to his right.

Chelsea increased their lead after the break through Joe Cole, who collected the ball on the right, was surrounded by Nemanja Vidic in front, Rio Ferdinand behind and Silvestre to the side, yet jiggled and turned easily from all three to shot high past Edwin Van Der Sar. Some 20mins after that Man Utd attacked, Saha was on the left and delivered the ball into the box which was gathered by Ricardo Carvalho from Ruud Van Nistelrooy's feet. the defender then fed the ball to Frank Lampard and galloped past him, Chelsea outnumbered the Utd defence, Lampard passed to Cole and Cole found Carvalho on the left in acres of space, the Portuguese man teed up and aimed a tight shot that squeezed past Van Der Sar's near post with a whip of a shot.

Utd were too hurt to give any belief they could come back, and they were hurt further. Rooney and Ferreira chased the ball towards Chelsea's goal, Ferreira made a challenge, Rooney's right boot slightly caught in the turf and the former Everton boy went down in some pain uncharacteristically. It looked a similar reaction from a broken leg, and with Rooney it had to be bad for him to go down. The Man Utd physio came over to attend, followed by Chelsea's medical staff who came with a stretcher. Man Utd later confirmed it was a broken metatarsal and Rooney will be out for six weeks, which would take into the first game against Paraguay.

Chelsea went on into mass celebrations with the fans as they secured a consecutive title win. Jose Mourinho has brought to Stamford Bridge the title twice after fifty years without success. Chief Executive Peter Kenyon assures that three players will leave as three will come to replace them, one of those coming is certain to be Germany captain Michael Ballack, so certainly they are already into strengthening the side for another title challenge. It was a fitting day to secure as champions, at home against their only rivals in the end, congratulations to Chelsea Football Club.

Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 1

With the early kick-off defeat at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool needed to win to go level with Man Utd. With Luis Garcia to miss the remainder of the season due to a dismissal against West Ham, Harry Kewell injured, and preparing players for the FA Cup Final, Rafael Benitez made some changes. In came Djimi Traore at left-back, John Arne Riise on the left wing, Jan Kromkamp in for Steve Finnan. Liverpool started as brightly as Chelsea, in 4mins Xabi Alonso picked up the ball in central midfield and again passed a sweet through ball, Fernando Morientes watched by Gary Cahill, Morientes sees the pass and immediately turns off Cahill to collect, controls it past the defender and slots it in. Some have mentioned Morientes isn't sharp enough, yet he looked sharp then and further in the game. Villa could have scored when James Milner found Gareth Barry, Barry's header just over the bar but wouldn't have counted for an earlier offside infringement by Gabriel Agbonlahor.

After the break, Villa went close through Sami Hyypia controlling the ball, it went loose and was picked up by Juan Pablo Angel, on for former Anfield favourite Milan Baros, but Pepe Reina saved his shot. Reina was almost shamed later when his clearance was blocked by Angel across goal and the Colombian was not finished. Almost on the hour, he passed down for Aaron Hughes to send across goal for Barry to tap in as Liverpool's defence ball-watched. Hyypia almost gifted the lead to the visitors, spilling the ball for Agbonlahor to take a swipe which went wide. However Liverpool went on to reclaim the lead 3mins from that equaliser, Alonso's corner was met by a quick reaction run from Steven Gerrard and his left foot touched the ball past Thomas Sorensen. Five minutes later, Robbie Fowler passed across for Gerrard to tee up and then hit a 25-30 yard shot that flew in past Sorenson without a prayer of saving it. Comfortable winners in their last home league game, the lap of honour with families went for a touching finish to football at Anfield for the season.

Spurs 1 Bolton 0

How did Bolton come away from White Hart Lane without scoring, much less winning? They held the first half clearly and came ever so close to a goal through Hidetoshi Nakata's strike that hit the inside of the post, Kevin Davies was andwiched between Lee-Young Pyo and Danny Murphy yet still managed to head on the ball for Ivan Campo to run in and hit just over, Jared Borghetti passed over to Stelios Giannakopoulos to head down for Gary Speed to hit over, and then Ricardo Gardner passed to Borghetti, the Mexican jinked a little and then found Davies, he found Giannakopoulos, whose effort was cleared from danger by Matt Dawson, who was quite immense in defence. Second half, Spurs came out much better, Robbie Keane was off and replaced by Lee Barnard, Carrick's corner was headed by Dawson and then Dawson's follow up was blocked at close range. From the corner, Aaron Lennon, who has superb instant pace, run down the left and squared, only for th eball to be headed out and reach Murphy, who aimed a volley just wide to hit the side-netting.

Andy Gray mentioned (yep, I watched it all on Sky Sports live) that the game was similar to the semi-final between Middlesbrough and West Ham, where Boro were clear favourites in the first half and then West Ham came alive in the second. Paul Stalteri ran down the right and passed to Lennon, who took it on and cut in onto his left to send a shot just over, and then crucially Murphy sent a long ball over to the right from centre midfield for Lennon, Lennon took on the defence and passed to Michael Carrick, Carrick went into the box and turned to spot Lennon nearby, Lennon signals for it, Carrick passes it, Lennon collects, dashed into the box and slid the ball in under the challenge of Campo. Spurs deserved it in the second half.

But then the home fans had heart in mouths. Jay-Jay Okocha came on for Nakata, slipped a ball to Davies, Davies chipped it forward and it bounced for Giannakopoulos yards from goal, played onside by Stalteri, only for the Greek to go down from a Dawson challenge which looked more of a foul than a legitimate tackle. That looked a very cast-iron penalty. Okocha tooked a freekick that came off the wall, and then aimed a second effort with his left that was just enough for Paul Robinson to comfortably gather from the air, the keeper looking more a solid figure as England's current no.1. Then with mere seconds of normal time remaining, Jussi Jasskelainen aims a high goal kick towards Spurs' goal, Dawson jumps over Davies but mistimes it, his arms are out and the ball comes down onto his right arm. However, only Giannakopoulos appeals out of several Bolton players around and Dawson isn't looking at the ball. Some will say that's immaterial, and we have seen others penalised for it, but others have also gotten away with it. I say the decision to deny was right.

Bolton poured forward. Another long kick is headed on by Davies and it bounces behind Lee-Young for sub Henrik Pedersen to only get a head to, Robinson gathers. Jasselkainen aimes his final kick, it's headed back by Dawson and ref Alan Wiley blows for the end. A hard fought win just about deservedly earned, and Spurs need a win at Upton Park to secure definitely 4th place. Lennon looks blistering on the wing and it is 50-50 on whether he should go to Germany, for me. I think he has the pace to trouble any full-back, internationally or otherwise, but I sense it isn't right now for him to go into a major tournament. I don't know why, just a hunch I have. But if he is included, he could provide an alternative where Rooney is missing, someone else who can get forward and create with pace and good ball control.

Wigan 1 Portsmouth 2/Birmingham 0 Newcastle 0

[Portsmouth secure Premiership survival]

Vital. Portsmouth won away to Sunderland after being a goal behind, now they needed to push for another win that would secure their Premiership status, relegating West Brom without Bryan Robson's men having a say in matters, and Birmingham, if they fail to win against Newcastle at St. Andrews. For Harry Redknapp, the going got very tough when Andres D'Alessandro nutmegged Lee McCulloch and crossed sweetly for Svetoslav Todorov to head over. Benjani Mwaruwari went through but was denied by Mike Pollitt, Henri Camara was through on goal but was superbly denied by Dean Kiely's save, the keeper living up to his promise of keeping Portsmouth in the league. The linesman signalled for offside when Camara broke onto another pass and scored, replays showing the Senegalese man was onside. But it definitely got tougher for Pompey as David Thompson crossed, Matt Jackson nodded on for the ball to end up by Camara to tap in just past the half hour mark.

In the second half, D'Alessandro played in a sweet ball forward with the outside of his left foot for Gary O'Neil to run on to, but he was denied by Pollitt as he was to be again when Brian Priske's cross was met with another O'Neil effort. But past the hour, past the man. Matt Taylor evaded a tackle to aim a shot at goal that rebounded off the post and Mwaruwari tapped in his first, and potentially crucial, goal to equalise. No time to celebrate, the task was still on with less than half an hour to go. Pollitt still continued to keep out Pompey, saving away a Pedro Mendes shot on the volley, but fate played a stronger hand, excuse the pun. A deep cross from the right was met by Mwaruwari's head but Shaun Teale's hand stopped the ball from going in. Potentially Stephane Henchoz and Pollitt seemed to have recovered to be on the line but from the view of Mike Riley it was a goal scoring opportunity and Teale was dismissed.

This meant a penalty and an essential method for Pompey to grab the lead. Taylor was the man to step up and take the responsibility, and he didn't fail. Under 20mins remaining, Portsmouth were winning from 1-0 down at the JJB, and they held it. I predicted Portsmouth would win against Sunderland and Wigan, so I hope I get further with my prediction of a home defeat to Liverpool! Fortunately for Redknapp points will not be essential going into that game, because Birmingham couldn't score for love nor money, Mikael Forssell went close but was denied by Shay Given, Steve Bruce urged his side to score as Newcastle seemed not to be able to, but a hard earned draw wasn't enough and the crucial games they needed, drawing Chelsea, beating Blackburn, came to no avail. West Brom play West Ham at the Hawthorns, and it will be for pride.

The weekend also produced another astonishment in Fulham gaining their first away win of the season. Manchester City have had a contrasting few weeks compared to their great start to the season. Key injuries have played a part in subduing their performance and Stuart Pearce has had to let down to the players how they haven't been performing as they should do. But the coach should reflect on a good season for himself to begin his managerial debut with, big potential under his guidance and I expect monies will become available for purchases to strengthen the side. Fulham's man of the moment Steed Malbranque gained the vital goal for the points and what could be the first of two away wins for the season.

Again, congrats to Chelsea, the second team to win back-to-back titles in the premiership, Man Utd having done it twice in 1992-1994 at the beginning of the Premiership, 1995-1997, and three times in 1998-2001. Farewell and commiserations to Sunderland, Birmingham, West Bromwich Albion, and their respective fans. I remember when Bolton went down 1997-98 with Barnsley and Crystal Palace, and I think Colin Todd resigned after then. The Bolton fans were in tears as I believe they drew their last game but went down on goal difference, I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong but the cameras panned over very distraught fans, and that moment has stayed with me since. The three teams should take inspiration from Crystal Palace, who have campaigned themselves into the play-offs, and Sunderland themselves, who came up as Championship champions, in order to focus on coming back up again.

Finally the fiasco behind the FA's search for Sven Goran-Eriksson's replacement. Luis Felipe Scolari ruled himself out as soon as the media duged him up. the Brazilian World Cup winning coach said the press intrusion was too much to bear, and he probaly has a point. But I am not too bothered, if he was appointed, fine, but I do prefer an Englishman and feel we have a good few to choose from. More importantly, we have to give and show support for whoever is appointed.



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