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Friday, September 29, 2006

Bill Shankly: 25 years today

Arsenal football club celebrated yesterday a decade of Arsene Wenger at the helm of the team, a period that has brought the club three titles, four FA cup wins and four Community Shield victories. They almost, almost obtained the most sought after accolade in European football in May in Paris, the European Cup. Congratulations to Wenger who has managed 324 wins, 139 draws and 100 defeats.

Today is not another one for celebration in that sense, maybe one in reflection of one's memory. One of the most famous managers in British football, maybe worldwide, Bill Shankly of Liverpool FC, passed away on this day in 1981 age 67, due to a heart attack. Shankly joined Liverpool in 1959 after managerial stints with Carlisle, Grimsby and Huddersfield, and help materialise a club into one of the best in Europe with a pedigree and a reputation that has made it a legendary one.

Four league titles, two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup and a number of finals and semi-finals, in all a period of almost fifteen years at Anfield that involved 393 wins, 185 draws and 175 defeats, before retiring from football in 1974 and receiving the award of the OBE. Compared to his successor, Bob Paisley, Shankly's honours are not as numerous but his presence at Liverpool set the trend for a milestone.

Thank you, Bill Shankly.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Champions League: Inter 'in ta' a crisis?

All four British clubs engaging in wins over the past 48 hours. Liverpool started excellently last night with Peter Crouch returning to score first, Jermaine Pennant chipping for Luis Garcia to add a second and Crouch finishing off with a sweet ovehead effort, though we almost allowed Galatasaray back into it. Manchester United took 'revenge', as it has been labelled, on Benfica with a superb Louis Saha left foot shot, Christiano Ronaldo was his usual fast pace self yet the media tuned into Wayne Rooney's performance as a sign of concern since returning back in the Celtic game two weeks back.

Arsenal signed off well against 2004 winners FC Porto with Thierry Henry then Aleksander Hleb providing the goals and a concern over Willam Gallas' fitness. Chelsea went to Bulgaria and provided a one-man Drogba show as the Ivorian secured victory with a hat-trick. Celtic won nervously through a Kenny Miller penalty as Shunsuke Nakamura was tripped in the box and I'm routing for the Hoops to go far as Rangers did last season.

The crux of my focus within the Champions League is Inter Milan. Currently top of Serie A with three wins and a draw from four games, one win at the San Siro and much made of drawing at home to Sampdoria. They held Fiorentina on their travels, who are currently bottom, at 0-3 up to the hour and then conceded twice. Then the draw with Sampdoria courtesy of a Massimo Bonanni own goal, this coming after the loss to Sporting Lisbon. A win away at Roma through Hernan Crespo's goal and Patrick Vieira sent off then the home win against Chievo, where they were four-nil up on 78mins then conceded three in 10mins. Vieira was off against Arsenal last season for Juventus in Europe and he saw red again in the defeat to Sporting over a fortnight ago.

Last night at the San Siro, the discipline seemed somewhat in anarchy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic clamoured all over Bayern Munich's Belgian former Manchester City player Daniel van Buyten and aimed an unsavoury arm around Van Buyten's chin that earned the Swede a booking. In the second half Ibrahimovic went in for the ball and was late, catching a Bayern player full on the shin. He received his second booking and another dismissal against Bayern to follow the previous one in November last year as a Juve player. Ibrahimovic and Vieira, both sent off in Europe for Juve, both come to Inter and sent off again in Europe.

Then the home side went behind twenty or so minutes later to a Claudio Pizarro run and dink that preceded another dismissal, through World Cup hero Fabio Grosso for an intended forearm blocking off a Bayern player on the run. On ninety minutes Inter's Ivan Cordoba, usually a pillor of a defender with the same stature of Fabio Cannavaro, seemed oblivious of the threat of Lukas Podolski behind him until the last second where he looked in two minds and weakly aimed to pass back to Julio Cesar in goal. Podolski pounced, rounded Cesar and finished.

Four games in Serie A, two in the Champions League. In one they are winning, not losing, scoring yet conceding, it's early. In the other, no goals, two defeats, three dismissals for a side renowned for its European pedigree. Early to talk perhaps for a side consisting of Luis Figo, Adriano, Javier Zanetti, Cordoba, Vieira, Walter Samuel, Crespo, Esteban Cambiasso and love him or like him Marco Materazzi, amongst others. But their performance has been strong then weakened in Italy, in Europe it is increasingly shaky.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

A first at The Emirates as Chelsea move to the top

Fulham 0 Chelsea 2

With the number of injuries and absentees Fulham had, it was expected Chelsea would romp through this game from the kick off but the first half brought a no-goals score line which must have impressed even Chris Coleman. Loanee Wayne Routledge thumped a shot at Petr Cech, Arjen Robben was found on the left and he released a fierce strike at the goal that cannoned off the underside and out. Chelsea made some pressure on the home side but to no avail. The second half found Fulham in confidence of matching the champions, Michael Brown picked on a loose ball in the box and charged in on the ball as Cech came out to gather it. The Czech keeper was superb in meeting the ball with Brown coming in on him and a freekick went Chelsea's way. Fulham appealed for a penalty that was turned down.

Papa Dioup went closer with a header from Franck Queudrue's freekick, unmarked, but he unbelievably missed. Chelsea hit back with Salomon Kalou had a shot blocked, Andriy Shevchenko had his follow up blocked, then Didier Drogba fired his effort down, it came up, struck the bar and over. The game did get a penalty in the end as Kalou took on Leroy Rosenior and the right back fell down, his arm touching the ball. Right decision, Frank Lampard stepped up to execute the spot kick. Next, the ball came to Drogba and he pulled it back for Lampard to strike for no.2.

The game had another nasty moment from Brown who went in almost two-footed on Ashley Cole. I would like to think there is no precedent in this but Brown committed a nasty foul on Ryan Giggs earlier in the season and like a certain Man City right back needs to cool down.

Reading 1 Manchester United 1

Considered an actual real test for Reading, they found a Utd team who were aiming to lift from their home defeat last week. Wayne Rooney started brightly, latching onto the chance to shoot early, Christiano Ronaldo was his feverish self, running, dummying, darting here and there. Louis Saha couldn't make the starting XI so Paul Scholes aided and abetted Rooney upfront. Reading took the lead through a debatable penalty decision as Gary Neville was judged to have deliberately handled Seol Ki-Hyeon's cross using his arm. Kevin Doyle stepped up and almost pulled a good save from Edwin van der Sar. While Utd made impact after impact on Reading, they couldn't make the final distribution in front of goal count. Yet on 73mins Ronaldo took on Reading skipper Graham Murty, turned him one way then the other until he came onto his favourite right and drilled a shot through into goal.

Aston Villa 2 Charlton 0

This is another fairytale start for a side not renowned for being unbeaten in their first six games, three wins and three draws. Gareth Barry picked up on the left and delivered a cross into the box and as Herman Hreidarsson pondered no one was behind him to allow the ball to go out, Gabriel Agbonlahor had other ideas and steamed in front of the Icelander to meet the cross with a side-foot volley past Scott Carson. In the second half Juan Pablo Angel picked up a pass from Luke Moore and then reciprocated by passing sweetly for Moore to run onto and, despite the pressure of Talal El Karkouri on him, Moore touched the ball past Carson. New owner, new finances, new manager, practically new team.

I wonder if Martin O'Neill's reputation has proceeded him for the running and energy expected from a fairly young Villa side is emerging. The emergence of Agbonlahor and Moore (the latter had been crying for a first team break since David O'Leary was in charge) has been inspirational, the pace of those two has reaped rewards. Local boy Lee Hendrie has to contemplate a loan move and Milan Baros, expected to lift Villa since moving from Liverpool, had the last ten minutes. The Villa side looks set while currently 4th in the table, unbeaten.

Liverpool 3 Spurs 0

The first half here was evenly contested. Xabi Alonso speculatively aimed a wide left foot shot from outside the box, Ledley King had a good chance with a missed header from Danny Murphy's freekick while a Liverpool corner came off Pascal Chimbonda onto the post. Craig Bellamy got on the end of a Mark Gonzalez touch after a Steven Gerrard run to force Paul Robinson into a save. Liverpool appealed for a penalty as Gerrard's shot found King sticking out an elbow to it and then going in on Bellamy on the ball, but replays showed the handball was correct but outside the box and the tackle was legitimate and crucial for Spurs. The second half found Liverpool attacking more on Spurs, during which Steve Finnan missed with a header to Alonso for Edgar Davis to latch on to, making a one-two with Jermaine Defoe and haring down the left with John Arne Riise in pursuit, Alonso not keeping up with the equally haring Jermaine Jenas. One sweet square ball later and Liverpool rode some luck as Jenas inexplicably missed connecting.

Over thirty seconds later, Steven Gerrard twisted Benoit Assou-Ekotto and then squared across for Spurs to endure the same fortune as Bellamy equally missed from close range, but the ball came off the post for Gonzalez to slot in. Gerrard inspired another move by passing to Luis Garcia and as Gerrard ran but stumbled, Spurs felt Garcia had played in the England man offside but instead the Spaniard passed to Dirk Kuyt, who gathered then thumped a low shot past Robinson, the keeper appearing to rely on an offside decision. Riise picked up the ball in the centre and again, after running with it, thumped a fierce drive past Robinson.

Andy Gray had rubbished Liverpool's title chances last weekend and now with two wins out of two since, they are five points off the top. Spurs appear to be suffering from Dimitar Berbatov's injury, Michael Carrick's sale and a lack of form between Defoe and Robbie Keane, Mido on the bench up until the last ten minutes.

Arsenal 3 Sheff Utd 0

In what was to mark Neil Warnock's 1,000th game in football, bottom side Sheff Utd certainly held up the home side despite Arsenal coming close through Freddie Ljungberg on a couple of occasions. And as the resistance went on into the interval, it continued afterwards up until the 65th minute, 25mins away from what would have been a miraculous draw. Thierry Henry had returned, fighting fit, raring to go. It was his chip into the box that found the running Cesc Fabregas but William Gallas had started the move by passing to Henry and he too was resident in the box to pick up the ball and smash it into the net to break his scoring duck. Henry was instrumental again in the second goal, dragging Keith Gillespie and David Sommeil with him as he crossed, Phil Jagielka not concentrating on the ball as it glided off his side into the net. Emmanuel Eboue went on one of his many runs to be found by sub Julio Baptista on the right, and he crossed for Henry to drift unmarked between two players and head the third.

Middlesbrough 0 Blackburn 1

A baptism of fire after the heights of beating Chelsea. The Carling Cup exit for a side who were the 2004 winners against League Two Notts County on Wednesday was damning, particularly at The Riverside and not having scored. They came against the 2002 winners of Blackburn, who had a firm home win last week against Man City, and were exposed at the back for the second time in the week. David Bentley crossed from the right for Shabani Nonda to head in his first goal for the club. It was Jason Euell instead of Aiyegbeni Yakubu who found two excellent chances to equalise. A poor header from a Gaizka Mendieta cross at Brad Friedel while unmarked and the second came through steering the ball wide after Fabio Rochemback put him through with the keeper to beat.

Yakubu had a chance to influence the score, his low effort across goal in the second half just missed the outstretched foot of Mark Viduka. The team were booed at half time and full time, Gareth Southgate managed to bring in Jonathan Woodgate on loan and the move could become permanent if Woodgate really enjoys returning home. I don't see anything wrong with Woodgate and Emanuel Pogatetz in central defence but the line needs some cohesion, while at the front the likes of Yakubu, Viduka and now Euell need to be hitting hard.

Newcastle 1 Everton 1

The first half started brightly, but then descended into farce. A freekick on the Newcastle left was taken by Emre and the Everton defence ran out well for the offside trap that caught at least two Newcastle players. One such player was Shola Ameobi yet the usually eagle-eye of the linesmen failed to spot the offence and Ameobi looked right to see no decision before scoring, Tim Howard unfortunate to have not stopped the shot as it deflected from under him. However the feeling was Newcastle did not have enough to threaten Everton and increase their lead, Obafemi Martins lacking in control and focus on the ball. Ameobi then came off for Antoine Sibierski, who made a good introduction with his presence. Newcastle seemed shaky at the back but were comfortable in dealing with threats, using Steve Harper for comfort. But an Everton corner exposed the back line as Mikel Arteta delivered for Tim Cahill to pop up and head in.

Now with Cahill on a booking but nonetheless very energetic, it seemed he would pick up another. But it was Titus Bramble who was sent off with quarter of the game to go. Having been judged to have attempted to 'dissuade' Andy Johnson's run in the first half, he came in from behind on Leo Osman. Two minutes later Tony Hibbert did likewise on Sibierski, and having been booked already for clipping Scott Parker's run, he too was off. Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports said referee Steve Bennent would not have sent off Hibbert were it not for Bramble's dismissal and I think that is quite scandalous. All four bookings were correct for me and to say an official balances a sending off with another from the opposition is to say the merits were not followed and instead were replaced with a desire to be seen fair for both sides.

This match followed that of Southend v Cardiff, in which the away side won 0-3 and inspirational in the first and second goals was Michael Chopra, formerly of Newcastle. I state this because it is ironic how Chopra couldn't get a regular first team place until Michael Owen was injured, and as a result he wanted to leave for more action. He has been a revelation at Cardiff this season and although it is early they are currently top with six wins, two draws out of nine. Chopra has six goals so far, two in the previous game against Luton town and two before that against Plymouth.

Man City 2 West Ham 0

Well documented that, as with another former England colleague in Southgate, Stuart Pearce is keen to get over a Carling cup exit, to League One Chesterfield. With Andy Cole and David James gone to Portsmouth, Sibierski on loan, Darius Vassell unfit, Bradley Wright-Phillips at Southampton, the City of old that started excellently last season has broken, and like Pearce mentioned, the man is at a best when the pressure is on him. What Pearce is not showing is teacups across the changing room, or boots, no tantrums or rantings, the way to get out of a rut is through pure strategic football. However, that can be hampered if certain players, or certain abilities, are missing.

I am not convinced about Bernando Corradi and now is the time for him to really show some flair as he appeared alongside Georgios Samaras upfront. Micah Richards was much better, maybe he felt better with Hatem Trabelsi out for a month, and he ran down the right twice to threaten the West Ham goal, producing an excellent cutback for Corradi. The goals came from Samaras, who reminds me of Drogba. Height, strength, perhaps not as much gifted as the Ivorian but on Saturday he showed he can produce great finishes. Ishmael Miller's run from near his own box push him past Yossi Benayoun and then simply Mach-1 past Hayden Mullins to end up in the opposite box. His shot came off Christian Dailly into Samaras' path, and the Greek international chest controlled then sent a sweet volley past Roy Carroll.

For his second, the ball dropped to Corradi and the Italian spotted Samaras on the run and found him with a chip that left the West Ham defence still, and Samaras time to meet and then dink past Carroll. West Ham had offered little all match, another side who began life last season well but have fallen flat, despite the hype over their Argentinian signings. Why the likes of Marlon Harewood, Nigel Reo-Coker and Bobby Zamora are not hitting the net more often is a question. The European game with Palermo on Thursday could be a tricky tie to pull back. Perhaps Alan Pardew will start the two Argentinians from the start.

Wigan 1 Watford 1

A point on their travels for Watford. Malky MacKay went up with Emile Heskey to meet the ball after a Chris Kirkland kick was not dealt with properly by Jordan Stewart, and the ball fell to Henri Camara, who was in an offside position. Camara scored, the goal was flagged out but Rob Styles overruled the linesman after consultation, Watford were incensed. The replays showed keen eyesight as the ball came off MacKay, therefore Camara was played into a legal position. But Watford equalised in the second half, and how. Skipper Gavin Mahon was fouled outside the box, Marlon King, Ashley Young and Hameur Bouazza were present over the ball, King played it to the right, young ran left, slight distraction, and Bouazza thumped a low drive past Kirkland. Watford are showing good courage in their approach to their games but they need some more to preserve their Premiership status, with Championship hit-man assassinating only the once so far.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Premiership 'bungs': Panorama investigation

I watched the Tuesday night showing of Panorama undercover operation to expose those in the Premiership who are alleged to be involved in accepting payments for influencing the transfer of a player to their club. A UEFA football coach posed as a willing fresh football agent and made contact with another agent who was believed to be involved in the 'bungs', Teni Yerima, someone based in France. Together with two other agents, Peter Harrison and Charles Collymore, these agents were alleged to have revealed certain managers in the Premiership who are interested in receiving ex gratia payments for the influencing of a player signing for a club.

Others who were implicated in the programme were Chelsea's head of development and scouting, Frank Arnesen, Liverpool youth representatives, Portsmouth's Harry Redknapp, former Portsmouth and current Newcastle first team coach Kevin Bond, Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce and his son, former agent Craig Allardyce.

There are ample voices in football who state there is nothing substantial on the footage to categorically show an official accepting personally, physically, monies clearly earmarked as illegal payments. Luton Town manager Mike Newell came forward and stated he was approached with an offer of an illegal payment and he indicated Collymore as the agent in question. That is about as substantial as it gets, for me.

Yerima, Collymore and Harrison were seen to state there are certain managers in the EPL who will accept illegal payments, with a few names mentioned. The crux of the investigation fell on one particularly named manager, Allardyce, and his son Craig. Craig was said to accept illegal payments on his father's behalf, with particular regard to the purchases of Hidetoshi Nakata, Tal Ben Haim, and reserve keeper Ali Al-Habsi. Harrison attended meetings with the undercover 'agent', Knut auf dem Berge, at Chelsea and Liverpool to discuss purchasing a Middlesbrough youth player Nathan Porritt, without the club's knowledge, much less permission. Middlesbrough are more concerned about Harrison and will report him to the FA.

It is easier to say a payment is for one thing when it is in fact for something else. How Lord Stevens will come to any significant conclusions after his investigation will be interesting. For those in the know, the illegal conduct is certainly there, but I want to know who and how rife. Two other points. Wasn't there an Italian official, possibly from Juventus though it could be from another club or aspect in Italian football, who gave the hint or made a question of corruption in the EPL? Also, Craig Allardyce believes his workings as an agent, as he has now resigned, went against his father being chosen as England coach to replace Sven Goran Eriksson. Were the FA aware of something earlier in the grapevine, then?


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

EFT goal of the week: Didier Drogba!

The first time I rated Didier Drogba was nine months before his move to Chelsea when I saw him play for Marseille in the Champs League group stages and saw him score a complete hat-trick (header, left foot shot, and right foot shot) against Partizan Belgrade. I saw that he had pace, power, athleticism, finishing ability and big passion in his celebrations- and reckoned that he was definitely one to watch.

Now at the start of his third season at the club he has started the season in excellent form scoring an impressive four goals in five Premiership games. The fourth was a goal outstanding in its execution against Liverpool last Sunday and is a deserving winner of the EFT goal of the week award. Check it out below.

And the picture of Tiger Woods clapping is good to watch too!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Benitez gets it wrong . . . again

I had a bad feeling when I saw the teamsheet against Chelsea this afternoon - no Crouch and Gerrard playing on the left. How could Benitez leave out his best striker and play one of the best central midfielders in the world on the left? These team selections are not the first time every Liverpool fan has raised an eyebrow. Against Everton we had Crouch and Fowler up front - two players with no pace at all - why didn't we see either bBllamy or Kuyt to partner Crouch? Against PSV in midweek Gerrard and Crouch were on the bench and Fowler didn't even make the squad. And what about the likes of Luis Garcia and Gonzalez - are they on holiday?

2 defeats in the first 4 Premiership games does not bode well. Liverpool can count themselves lucky that Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal have all lost at least one game and that they still have a game in hand. I have been very impressed with Benitez in his first two seasons at the helm but this season, so far, bears a remarkable resemblance to when Houllier got things all wrong when things were going so well. I sincerely hope we don't go down that route again.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

EFT Player of the month for August: Nwankwo Kanu!

Andy Johnson, Ryan Giggs and Louis Saha all featured in the race for our player of the month award but with three first choice votes and one second choice vote from the regular five-man EFT panel we can announce that Portsmouth's Nwankwo Kanu is the winner of our Player of the month award for August (and on behalf of the EFT team I admit we are late in announcing this award... there were communication problems that can be blamed on early season rustiness!).

Not only was Kanu sensational in scoring 4 goals to help propel Pompey to an excellent start in the Premiership, but even more sensationally this comes after spending the majority of the summer as a free agent struggling to find a club to play to play for.

Check out Kanu at his best when scoring the fourth of his four goals last month away at Middlesbrough.

The chipped finish was superb!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Matthew Gadsby - Hinckley United

Hearing of bad injuries in football is one thing for me, I despise hearing such news. Hearing of one's death during the game is another matter. Matthew Gadsby was a central defender for the Nationwide Conference North side Hinckley United and during the game on Saturday against Harrogate Town, Gadsby suddenly collapsed on the field. He was treated for more than an hour after the medical staff saw he was in a serious condition and afterwards the game was abandoned.

Matthew was taken to the Harrogate Royal Infirmary, where he failed to respond to treatment.
He was twenty seven, a former Walsall and Kiddermisnter Harriers player, and was survived by his wife and a young child. Hinckley were due to play tonight at Moor Green but that has now been postponed.

My condolences to Matthew's family and friends and colleagues at Hinckley United.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Premiership weekend review

I didn't get to see Chelsea v Charlton and Bolton v Watford unfortunately, so anyone who wishes to write in a review for those respective matches, feel free. But this will be a short review.

Newcastle 1 Fulham 2

Jimmy Bullard suffered a terrible injury as Scott Parker's momentum make contact during a challenge with Bullard's right leg, which momentarily bent the knee joint at an extreme angle and dislocated the kneecap. I heard this on Gillette Super Soccer Saturday with Jeff Sterling and feared the worse. The Fulham medical staff treated the dislocation within 25 seconds, which was superb, and Bullard is recovering, so all the best to Jimmy. It effected Parker to some degree with Glenn Roeder consoling him during the treatment.

Nonetheless Parker came out the second half as he did in the first, with good form, to head the opener from Emre's cross. Newcastle had the possession, Parker marshalling the attacks and 10mins to go when the skipper came off for Nicky Butt, and from then Fulham took over. Wayne Routledge capitalised on a Peter Ramage slip and crossed for Brian McBride to volley in from close range behind Titus Bramble. A minute from time, a corner found McBride heading off the crossbar and Carlos Bocanegra was inches by the goalline to touch it in.

Everton 3 Liverpool 0

Unfocused, unsettled, uncharacteristic, lethargic, calamitous. That last adjective was for Pepe Reina's handling for the third goal. Everton came at Liverpool with raw determinatin and pace and Liverpool were not settled for it. We usually are, particularly in the derbies, but this was reminiscent to when Chelsea beat us 1-4 last season, same aggregate. Mikel Arteta crosses, Lee Carsley nods on, Lee Osman and Steve Finnan miss the ball and it fell to Andy Johnson and Tim Cahill, the Aussie striking the first goal. Next, the ball finds its way into our defence, Jamie Carragher misclears and Johnson is on hand to pounce and beat Reina at his near post.

Liverpool came back in the second half with chance after chance, one of them was a carbon copy of Steven Gerrard's Andorra goal but this time it went wide for the Reds skipper. A minute before time, Carsley strikes a shot from outside the box, Reina parries it up and as it came down it threatened to go over the line so Reina attempts to scoop it out. Johnson was on hand again to quickly head it in just as Reina scoops the ball out.

Manchester Utd 1 Spurs 0

Manchester United are looking in a strong position so far to challenge for the title, perhaps parallel with Chelsea if not stronger than. Ledley King returned for Spurs and while the visitors resisted the home attack, they could have had a goal themselves due to chances that fell to Jermaine Defoe, Matt Dawson, Ledley King and Mido. Edwin van der Sar came out to thwart Dawson as the defender approached a floated ball and tried to touch it over the keeper. As van der Sar saved that attempt, King followed up on the ground only to denied too by the Man Utd keeper.

The single goal came via a Christiano Ronaldo freekick that Paul Robinson seemed to have seen at the last moment and could only parry into the air for Ryan Giggs to head in the rebound. Michael Carrick was dictating play in midfield and he set Louis Saha on his own to round Robinson but the Frenchman shot instead and Robinson palmed it away. Defoe's chance came from a Benoit Assou-Ekotto's cross but while unchallenged his header went over. Mido had a similar chance from Reto Ziegler's cross but headed off target.

Arsenal 1 Middlesbrough 1

Middlesbrough suffered a thumping at home last time to Portsmouth and headed to an Arsenal who have enjoyed good results against the North East side. Boro came equipped with new signing Jonathan Woodgate in defence and Jason Euell upfront. Arsenal came at Boro with a number of opportunities to score but for some reason they could not finish. The telling point in the half came via James Morrison at the expense of new signing William Gallas. Gallas was said to be unhappy with a full back role at Chelsea, but he actually said he was unhappy with it on a regular basis, so this one game in that position should not count. Nonetheless Morrison paid a one-two with Euell to get pass Gallas and attack the goal, hitting with the outside of his right boot past Jens Lehmann. It remained that way come the half-time whistle.

In the second half, another telling point occurred between skipper George Boateng and Freddie Ljungberg. Ljungberg touched the ball past Boateng and the Dutchman made a slight contact with his shoulder and Ljungberg went down. It seemed innocuous and though it was a shoulder towards the left, Ljungberg went forwards. Boateng was already in the book in the first half so another meant he was dismissed and 10-men Boro. Minutes later, Emmanuel Eboue charged down the right into the box, Stewart Downing came to challenge and Eboue went down. Again it seemed innocuous but the decision was given, Downing was booked, Thierry Henry stepped up to equalise from the spot.

[The following Chelsea v Charlton report was given to EFT courtesy of Blindjak, with our thanks.]

Chelsea 2 Charlton 1

Chelsea triumphed in this proverbial game of two halves. The first half saw Chelsea dominate proceedings and open the scoring after only 5 minutes when Ballack headed the ball goal wards from a corner only for Hughes to clear the ball strait to Drogba who slotted the ball home from 8 yards. Charlton did begin to claw their way into the game as substitute Rommedahl (on for injured Reid) injected pace on the wings and fashioned a superb chance for Bent which he failed to convert. But with Drogba missing credible chances Charlton were luck to make the break with a single goal deficit.

The second half saw Chelsea pace and control drop as Charlton excreted their influence on proceedings and this paid dividends barely 10 minutes in when Rommedahl passed a square ball into Hasslebaink which Carvalho committed himself to trying to intercept. He missed and the ball fell to Hasslebaink now facing goal with a large defensive hole. Give such an opportunity it’s not wonder that he picked out the bottom corner to score the equaliser.

Having been a former Bridge hero who still has an excellent relationship with the fans Hasslebaink declined to celebrate and even made an apologetic gesture to the fans behind the goal. This display of affection for the club and relationship with the fans from Jimmy led to the majority of the stadium spontaneously applauding Jimmy and even singing his name. Quite astounding when you consider his goal could have cost us two points.

In what has been a negative week for Chelsea press wise it’s a shame that something as positive as this was spun by the press to suggest Chelsea fans are arrogant as we only applauded because we knew we’d still win.

It didn’t take Chelsea long to restore their lead as 10 minutes later Charlton lost another player to injury and while they still only had 10 men on the pitch and were reorganising Chelsea won a corner from which Carvalho redeemed his defensive lapse as he eased the ball home.

Charlton continued to press forward in search of an equaliser and fashions several chances but Chelsea had the perfect chance to wrap thing up as on 82 mins ref Alan Wiley gave one of the softest penalties you’ll see all season. However Chelsea failed to capitalise on this generosity as Scot Carson saved excellently from Lampard.

Sheff Utd 0 Blackburn 0

This appeared to not be a match of entertainment except for three penalty saves. Utd's David Unsworth was harshly judged to have shoved Benni McCarthy, while the replays showed the Soth African must have dropped on his own accord as the most unsworth had done was have hands on the striker but not commited a shove at all. Lucas Neill stepped up to take the spotr kick and Paddy Kenny dived right to save it well. Another penalty appeal came as Zurab Khizanishvili was judged to have grabbed or pulled Rob Hulse when, again, the replays showed nothing untoward. Up stepped Unsworth to exact revenge after surviving from the first decision, but Brad Friedel was equal to Kenny, diving well to deny the former Everton and West Ham defender.

Another penalty decision, another awarded to Blackburn as Andre Ooijer once again gave it away. Replays showed the Dutchman had chested the ball and the nearest linesman had an eagle eye on the player, yet still raised his flag. Incredulous. This time Hulse stepped up to take the spot kick and Friedel saved it again. This game needed more goal chances, a few shots off the post and crossbar, a disallowed goal for either side and a streaker and it would contend for the match of the season.

Portsmouth 1 Wigan 0

Another win, another clean sheet, and come the middle of September Portsmouth are 2nd in the league. This team battled and fought off relegation after relegation, Harry Redknapp departed to the enemy and returned and to do that the manager must have a kinship with the club. If they continue with this belief of how well they can perform, there's little stopping them from exceeding the merest of expectations. Glen Johnson, Linvoy Primus, Sol Campbell and Dejan Stefanovic are enjoying a settled defensive wall, while Redknapp had no hesitations in introducing Pedro Mendes back into the starting line-up. Welcome back.

The goal came in the second half, Campbell's header found Benjani Mwaruwari reacting faster than Fitz Hall to meet the ball and clip it over Chris Kirkland. Wigan came close with new signing Luis Valencia chipping the ball that David James had to tip over, and then on the attack Wigan required the attention of Campbell and James in the box, the keeper needing a second opportunity to then gather the ball as it trickled towards the goal.

Weat Ham 1 Aston Villa 1

The two Argentinian new signings were kept on the bench as Alan Pardew threw out a side that aimed to snatch three points from an impressing Villa side under Martin O'Neill. But it was Villa who struck first through Liam Ridgewell, and Villa were the better in the first half. From a corner, olof Mellberg came to head and the ball dropped for Ridgewell to poke in. No West Ham player was on the very post where the ball dropped near to. Juan Pablo Angel almost headed in but instead headed off the crossbar from another corner, Luke Moore had bursted down the left to square for another chance, and Villa were imposing some questions on the home defence.

The second half found a West Ham equaliser through Bobby Zamora, who is having a good time at the moment. A corner was hit across for Paul Konchesky to meet and the left-back headed the ball towards goal which glanced off Zamora's right thigh past Thomas Sorensen, otherwise the Dane may well have stopped it. In reply Villa almost went ahead again twice. Stilian Petrov ran on to touch the ball over Roy Carroll but with some excellent defending right back Tyrone Mears got to the goalline and cleared it out. Then Gareth Barry ran down the left and cut inside to shoot right footed for Carroll to parry away, then Gabriel Agbonlahor quickly latched on to the loose ball to square it back, only for Steven Davis to agonisingly miss and Anton Ferdinand to clear.

Reading 1 Manchester City 0

Reading have had two wins, two defeats out of four and sit in 8th place. Man City are first in the bottom half of the table. I expected this to be a draw or away win but City surprised me. Bernardo Corradi had little to offer in the entire match, how he survived being taken off is something, whereas Paul Dickov had provided more came off for Georgios Samaras on the hour, the Greek striker gave more in the remaining half hour than most did together. City's momentum was solid from the kick-off, with Joey Barton orchestrating the attacks and Trevor Sinclair linking well with Micah Richards on the right. Richards ran down the flank to cut the ball across for Dickov to strike but the Scotsman could only scuff his effort.

Reading took in the attacks and then came forward with enthusiasm. Leroy Lita and Kevin doyle run onto most balls delivered their way and they both gave Sylvain Distin a difficult time. Lita dragged in Distin and then turned him but Distin's flailing right hand was judged to have struck Lita, which was harsh. From Bobby convey's freekick, I expected Distin or Dunne to come and meet the ball but it was allowed to come over all and it was defender Ivar Ingimarsson who met with a header after Richards failed to mark him properly, leaving Nicky Weaver with no chance.

City didn't panic but in the second half their possession made for so much of the game yet they simply failed to keep control of passes and failed to apply them appropriately in Reading's third. All the bookings came City's way, Sinclair unceremoniously dived in on Convey for his. Ousmane Dabo has played for Inter Milan, Monaco and Lazio before Eastlands, and played for France. He siad there had been a number of clubs interested in him before City, so why was we wasteful last night? Two freekicks went awry, the second albeit was a deflection and his passing at been on occasion wasteful, though he was not the only one. Booked already in the first half, he challenged Steve Sidwell and his left forearm made contact with Sidwell's face.

Official Howard Webb had no hesitation to produce a straight red. He would have been off in any case as I felt it warranted a yellow, but it's debatable whether it was a yellow or a red. By that time there remained 10mins plus 4mins of injury time but City huffed and puffed and had little to threaten Reading with, Marcus Hahnemann keeping cool in goal.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tevez makes a good first impression for West Ham

Carlos Tevez only played the last half hour for West Ham in today's match against Aston Villa. He did not score or assist but his impact was promising, positive and signals that he looks well worthy of the hype surrounding his move to Upton Park.

When he receives the ball his instant reaction is to get his head up and drive towards his opponent in the direction of the goal. And their were two particular moments for me that showed his excellent potential. The first was when he dribbled past one Villa defender on the left wing before getting to the byline and sidefooting an excellent left footed pass/cross across the penalty box which unfortunately no West Ham player was in the right area to slot home. Later on, and this time on the right wing, he easily went past a Villa player before putting in a cross that was well cleared by a Villa defender. Both these moments showed Tevez to have good balance, pace, skill, an ability to dribble past a player, and a clever attacking mind.

Overall he was busy and lively on the pitch. He is always looking to makes good runs into open space when without the ball and when with the ball he is positive and looks to link-up with his teammates. Plus, when West Ham scored their equaliser the camera shot of the West Ham bench showed him punch the air like he is a Hammer through and through: if I was a Hammer I would have enjoyed seeing this.

Carlos Tevez is only 22 years old and yet is already a three time South American player of the year. It was sensational news when West Ham announced that he was signing for them on a permanent deal, and the indications from just his first thirty minutes of football is that he has what it takes to convert his excellent form in South America to the Premiership. It looks to me that watching Tevez is not only going to be exciting for West Ham supporters- but it will be exciting for Premiership fans in general.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Macedonia v England

Said to be our most difficult test in the group so far, Macedonia should have been handled better than they were last night. They were eager, pacy and passed well on the break and emerged in our half often enough to cause slight concern in the first half, more in the second. England had Rio Ferdinand back and looked very tight at the back with John Terry marshalling the defence. Owen Hargreaves was again holding in the centre and again broke down any possession to bring our attack once more into their half, things are looking up and up for the Bayern Munich man. Now we are seeing that which Sven Goran Eriksson failed to emanate.

The difference between Greece, Andorra and Macedonia was the Macedonians closed down on England much more and quicker than the previous opponents. They defended practically with all players in their half and the French referee Bertrand Layec constantly blew for pedantic moments that included contact ona Macedonian player who seemed content to go to ground. Peter Crouch was picked on and to consider Jermaine Defoe was penalised for shirt-pulling, Crouch should have had a blatant penalty when his was being tugged in desperation by Nikoke Noveski in the box. The standards of refereeing still being left open to many questions.

Phil Neville provided two of our best chances with his throw-ins. One found Crouch with a header the keeper touched over for safety, another found its way to Defoe and he missed wide with an overhead kick. A third found its way off Crouch to bounce to Defoe and his attempted volley went over. Macedonia caused a scare with minutes to go to the break when Velice Sumulikoski shot from outside the box but Terry blocked it well, with Paul Robinson positioned to possibly gather the shot anyway. Terry was Man Of The Match with another do-or-die display, while Frank Lampard had a low-key, quiet game by his standards, though he shot with his left as he ran towards the box to force Jane Nikoloski into a good right handed save off for a corner.

The goal came courtesy of Lampard and another Crouch finish as Macedonia failed to clear the ball from danger and it came down off Lampard in the box. Lampard then chased to hook the ball across goal and it came off Kikoloski to spin into the air, where Crouch then volleyed it off the underside of the crossbar and just over the line. Crouch could have had a second when he latched onto a loose ball just outside the box but his shot went wide. Terry couldn't get his foot around the ball enough when it came to him from a corner, a half volley that went wide. After then Macedonia came to attack and held England up well in our half. Artim Sakiri came on as the final substitution to spice the attack and he latched onto a loose ball with some ease to send a shot wide at the far post. A touching warning.

Aaron Lennon came on for Defoe, pushing England into 4-1-4-1, Hargreaves holding behind Lampard and Gerrard, but our increased midfield made little difference on the home side in quelling their enthusiasm for attacking. Sakiri sent a corner over that was headed away twice, but he collected the ball again to send yet another cross, which was headed by Ferdinand but came off Neville for Darko Tasevski to run on to by the touchline. Ferdinand came to block and Gerrard joined too but Ferdinand jumped and turned and Gerrard did not close down the gap to goal, therefore Tasevski squeezed the ball through, Robinson got a hand to it and Cole had two attempts before clearing it from danger. It just needed a foot stuck out to poke it in. Steve McClaren responded with Lampard off for Michael Carrick and then Crouch for Andy Johnson.

Three points and a performance that could have been sharper in both halves, particularly in the second, and not helped by a first half referee of little appreciation for 6ft 7in of height and a tendency of weakness from the home side in physical contact. Gerrard was booked for what looked to me a challenge for the ball within the rules but was judged to be a high foot, something which in the spirit of the second half was justifiable and not worthy of a booking. Before ushering Cole to take the throw, Mr Layec preferred to keep quiet and then book the Chelsea defender. Rules are there to help administer the game and urge good continuous play, not to throw like a weapon when apparent discrepancies occur. Mr Layec was not a speaking official and preferred to watch moments occur rather than step in to prevent or to encourage.

McClaren's first away game and the same aggregate from the 2003 fixture where England also scored in the second half. A restricted match from the more-opened two matches, a slightly difficult pitch in comparison to Old Trafford and with the scare by Sumulikoski, Sakiri and Tasevski, England rode their luck well. Gerrard has ingenuity from the right and enjoys a sprint but last night called for Lennon or Shaun Wright-Phillips with good bursting pace, and I also felt Stewart Downing was not consistent enough on the left.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Chelsea claim Gallas move due to ill-discipline

Chelsea Football Club released a statement yesterday afternoon in regard to their reasons for selling their France defender William Gallas to Arsenal and in answer to claims said to have come from Gallas after his move. The statement included that:

- Gallas refused to join up with the team in pre-season in the United States, despite agreeing the dates on which he would return after the World Cup. Jose Mourinho was said to have further promised Gallas that, despite not accepting an improved offer, he would still include Gallas for selection if Gallas joined up with the team on tour and "abided by the rules." Talks after this then culminated in Gallas refusing to play for Chelsea again.

- Gallas at first refused to play in last season's FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool, to push the club into offering him an improved contract, although he did start that game and had misjudged the header that allowed Luis Garcia to run on without anyone to challenge him and score Liverpool's winning second. He also refused to make himself available for and did not feature in this season's first league game against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, which left four available defenders including John Terry nursing a niggling injury.

- Gallas threatened that if forced to play or was disciplined financially and/or otherwise, he would do something extreme and adverse to the team, including score an own goal, deliberatedly get himself dismissed or make a deliberate error.

- Gallas did not move to further his career, he was only interested in signing a lucrative contract, refusing an improved offer by Chelsea and therefore choosing instead to prefer that offered by Arsenal.

Gallas has responded by saying he did not make such threats about scoring an own goal and admitted he was determined in his wish to move and added he will eventually come forth with his reasons for doing so.

If all of these allegations are true, Chelsea must be content to rid themselves of Gallas, clearly a player unhappy with his presence at the club. Any club would wish to retain a player of Gallas' prowess but when a player is clearly unhappy it usually leads to their departure unless talks are successful of an amicable solution. For a player to threaten, much less actually carry out, to intentionally score an own goal or deliberately err against his current side is deplorable. Refusing to play is, in my opinion, surely a breach of contract?

Chelsea seemed prepared to carry on with business except for, in their opinion, Gallas still attacking Mourinnho verbally after leaving. Some have said the deal has done, business complete, Chelsea should let Gallas' words flow to, over and pass them. What I perceive from Gallas is that he has been unhappy for a while and the club have not accommodated him as he feels he deserved, yet refused to discuss letting him leave the club. It was only early March, nearly six months ago, that Gallas thumped the winning goal from outside the box, deep into second half injury time, against Spurs in the league and sparked a scene of mass celebration with Mourinho, the other players and the bench.

Was Chelsea right to issue the statement? Should they have instead ignored Gallas and consider him a disgruntled player? Are Chelsea fans glad to know of what potentially had occurred between Gallas and the club?


Saturday, September 02, 2006

England v Andorra

Some five hours from now England will begin its Euro2008 qualification quest against Andorra at Old Trafford this evening, from a group E that includes Macedonia on Wednesday, Croatia, Israel, Russia, and Estonia.

From the outset Rio Ferdinand is unavailable due to a bruised digit on his foot, and that now paves the way for either Wes Brown, Matt Dawson or maybe even Phil Neville alongside John Terry, though my bet says Brown will be picked first. He is a good defender, has not had many games recently but he still maintains fitness and can slot in after absence with hardly any rustiness. The fact that Steve McClaren was formerly of Man Utd is not that significant, the difference between Brown and Dawson is slight when you consider Dawson's form last season but to choose I would go for Brown, probably because he has had more experience at senior level.

With Gary Neville also unavailable, the back four should be Luke Young, Terry (capt.), Brown, Ashley Cole, with the midfield as Steven Gerrard, Owen Hargreaves, Frank Lampard, probably Stewart Downing, Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch. I would prefer Andy Johnson or Darren Bent on current form but Defoe is commended for his mannerism and attitude in disappointment of eventually not joining the World Cup squad in June. Talk has mentioned of Cole being a better balanced player with the transfer saga over, and I hope that is so today.

As for Andorra, McClaren spoke of their suspicious underhand tactics of rough tackling and a tendency to wind up the opposition, a summary based on the Andorra games against Holland and Romanina in the World Cup qualifiers. The Dutch won 4-0 at home and had Philip Cocu sent off for elbowing an Andorran player. Romania won away 1-5. McClaren has called for the Austrian referee Bernhard Brugger to keep a stern watch on the Andorrans. Elsewhere talk has stated an expectancy of a goal feast, once again talking too soon and underestimating. We have the players, the capability, we have known this for years and on paper there are a few teams who could possibly beat us. Andorra is not one of those few teams but with a team as low-ranking as they are, goals is not the prime focus. Our playability is, as it was against Greece.

My main concern is Macedonia on Wednesday, 8pm kick-off at the Gradski Stadion in the captial Skopje. We have only played there the once in September 2003 during the Euro qualifers for 2004, winning 1-2 with goals from Georgi Hristov in the first half followed by Wayne Rooney and David Beckham replying in the second. Neither player will be available come Wednesday, Rooney is suspended and Beckham is said to have no chance of playing for England, while I say there is. The man has stepped down as captain but clearly has some more in him to play well and we will see when he turns out for Real.

As I say for today's game, we can win 1-0 as long as we do it in the style we have come to witness from our players domestically, continuing on from the Greece game. Sir Bobby Robson is recovering from an operation on a brain tumour, to which he appears to have had a slight adverse reaction that caused a swelling to the brain and resulting in a loss of feeling down his left side. Sir Bobby continues to be in good spirits nonetheless and EFT wish him a speedy successful recovery.



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