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Sunday, December 31, 2006

The end of 2006 and the start of 2007

Talking points of the Premiership matches from the last football weekend of 2006. No fixtures spared for today, continuation tomorrow with two matches on Tuesday. I want to know why it is the matches could not be all arranged for Tuesday instead? Being that a Saturday match with one team could be followed by another match on the following Tuesday for the same team, thus ensuring a clear respite of at least 48 hours, is it regarded the players are paid so well and are so physically conditioned that they should be fine to play on a Tuesday after a Saturday performance? What of Charlton and Aston Villa kicking off early on Saturday and now late on Tuesday? Arsenal kicked off late on Saturday, Chelsea played on Saturday and both playing Tuesday evening, are these teams at a potential advantage? Discuss.

In the Charlton v Aston Villa match, Alan Pardew is now two games unbeaten, four points the better. Villa on the other hand have slumped in form, Olof Mellberg allowing, for an international and World Cup defender, quite a poor form of judgement when the long ball came over for Darren Bent to latch onto and head in. When results and form go poorly and there is a change of manager, the change in the players can be much more positive and that looks to be at The Valley where the hosts simply laid seige on Villa particularly with Gareth Barry dismissed. If that is so, the major test is the next match at The Emirates.

Equally the notion on changed management applies at Upton Park. West Ham had a strong victory over Man Utd, drew with Charlton and lost to Man City to a very late but nice finish by the US international DaMarcus Beasley. Coincidence both sides met with a player each suspended after respective failed appeals to the FA. Man City earned the spoils in the end, I understand City are interested in another US international, Clint Dempsey, who impressed me in the WC2006 with pace and passing, someone who I earmarked for Liverpool on the right wing before Jermaine Pennant's arrival. West Ham await Dean Ashton's appearance to further rejuvenate their fortunes, both Charlton and West Ham meet in late February at The Valley.

Referring back to Arsenal, they kicked off at Bramall Lane where the hosts made history with a win against a side unheard of since 1973. It was a superb dummy by Christian Node to outwit Kolo Toure and with Jens Lehmann so far out of goal it seemed to have made up Node's mind on what to do next, as I felt Toure could have recovered to thwart the Frenchman. Defensively, Phillippe Senderos was far away from Toure and should have been nearer to cover but the goal wasn't the main story. Paddy Kenny strained his groin and was replaced with Phil Jagielka with no keeper cover on the bench. So for the last half an hour, Arsenal faced an inexperienced keeper but couldn't get to put him to a thorough test until late with Robin Van Persie's touch tipped over. If Sheffield United become relegated, they will no doubt look on this result with some pride, considering that only Charlton from the teams beneath prospered too.

Then there's the two horse race at the top. The question on the BBC site raised was whether Chelsea would miss John Terry? I felt yes. So far one could argue the writing was on the wall from the Everton game, having to come back twice to eventually win. Superb commitment no doubt but concerningly they were conceding goals. They went to the JJB Stadium to squander a 0-2 lead and again eventually win in the dying minutes, again conceding twice. They have conceded twice now in their last two games, both at home. Jose Mourinho says they cannot defend but the media herald Chelsea for having a 22 of players who would enter into any Premiership side. They had a replacement for any first-team member absent, only that their replacement for Petr Cech in Carlo Cudicini is also injured. So Henrique Hilario steps in but after an initial appearance that seemed to supplement the goal, the keeper has been exposed by the defence. For Terry they have Khalid Boulahrouz but in Terry there was a harmony at the back that appears disrupted now in his absence.

Man Utd in the meanwhile have looked aside at their Upton Park defeat and have struck Aston Villa, Wigan and Reading for three each with only three conceded. They were almost pushed to the limit when Leroy Lita scored but like Leighton Baines' penalty, it came too late. Key to their surge has been Christiano Ronaldo. Last season Wayne Rooney was that player, this season has seen Ronaldo with both Rooney and Louis Saha early on and currently just Ronaldo. He is moving, running, passing and taking chances like someone on a clear mission with one thing in mind, and nothing from anyone outside of that covenant is effecting him. Where Utd have gotten this burst of energy since the season began is questionable considering how they were last season. Little has been added in pre-season, the same players from last season are the ones making a difference currently. Crucial has been Edwin van der Sar, who seems to not only fill Peter Schmeichel's boots, literally, but does so after the list of other keepers in Fabien Barthez, Tim Howard and Roy Carroll though I felt Raimond van der Gouw could have made a good keeper.

With tomorrow being their fourth game in 10 days, Liverpool narrowly lost out to Blackburn previously before having to go to a tough venue in White Hart Lane, where to my recollection Spurs have not lost at home in all competitions since Everton. Though both sides have good chances in the first half, Spurs came looking for the equaliser in the second and simply laid on the pressure in the last twenty minutes that we struggled to restrict. How Spurs didn't score is something, how the ball didn't go in off Steve Finnan's head is something else. With Bolton coming tomorrow to Anfield, the Reds are looking to continue their good home form to hopefully overwhelm their visitors and climb into 3rd place. It will be tough but such games are seldom not between top half teams.

Still on Merseyside, Phil Neville deserves a mention for his sweet finish against Newcastle to record his first for Everton, leading the side and since scoring for Man Utd four years ago. While Everton are missing the contributions of Tim Cahill, it was a ball from Mikel Arteta to Neville that provided him the opportunity and although he mis-kicked it, the ball went up and almost over but for a fingertip touch by Shay Given to little avail. Meanwhile Andy Johnson is still being a nuisance with his pace and his determination to go anywhere and pressurise defenders, while Arteta is the dead ball man who should simply be a contender for the Spainish national side.

And there you have it, it is 23.36hrs, 20 minutes plus to the end of 2006 and I thank all those who contributed to this site, thank you for 2006, from the EFT members to the commenters, for this is the sport we love, containing the teams we support indivdually, containing the special players that make them up, managed by those who aim one day to be the top of the league, the number one at the end of the season particularly in the Premiership, the indecisions, the streakers, the goals, the misses, the clangers, the chanting, the frustration, the half time break, the bad injuries, the competitions, the Football Association and lack of, the shirts, the pride that makes football the sport it is today, from the sport it began so many, many years ago.

Happy New Year 2007,

Friday, December 29, 2006

Valley Clanger enhances video replays calls??

On Wednesday, Charlton hosted Fulham for the last post-Xmas fixture and toasted Alan Pardew's introduction as their new manager, inevitably replacing Les Reed. Book must be a best seller. Charlton went behind to a poor defensive error that failed to clear a freekick, Carlos Bocanegra headed against the bar and the ball came down to Brian McBride to score. So it looked as if doom would settle again in a defeat, albeit early in the game, but later Fulham defended poorly themselves. Jerome Thomas miskicked a high ball and Antii Niemi aimed a lame punch that fell to Darren Ambrose, whose strike went in off the post. A goalkick later from Scott Carson and both Bocanegra and Liam Rosenior confused each other and allowed Darren Bent to run on and score past Niemi.

Fulham looked more likely to score next but Charlton were plucky, and resisted the advances right into the dying seconds of injury time. As it looked that Pardew's introduction could start a mini-revival from the first match, Radostin Kishishev stretched to reach the ball in the centre, it was chased by Tomasz Radzinski and Djimi Traore and bounced off Radzinski's chest for a throw to Charlton, yet the nearest linesman flagged the decision Fulham's way, the referee gave a freekick. So presumably it was for a handball. Michael Brown took the kick, mere seconds remaining, Herman Hreidarsson jumped to clear rashly and headed against Talal El Karkouri, the ball then dropped for Franck Queudrue to hit right-footed, off a player into the net. A simple stay of execution for Fulham and though the one win would have not made a season, to be that close under a new manager and a performance of grit to three points to see it snatched like that must have been wretched.

How the linesman gave the decision Fulham's way is sheer bewilderment. Nonetheless the other side is the kick was not near, the further it was lessened the danger element and Charlton had to simply call, jump and clear the ball and surely that would have been it. Though the argument can then be made for video replays to ensure the clarity of any decision, perhaps not from the outset but in the long run, I would still say no to them. I sense the practicality of the replays will deaden the pace of the game and potentially kill it off. It was a poor decision in the Charlton game, one which I would put on the same level as the Pedro Mendes goal against Man Utd at Old Trafford at the expense of Roy Carroll, a blatant decision to have made that simply went to contravene vision and sense.

Yet I think the humanity of the officials help make the entertainment and the flow of the game rise to contentment within the fans, who simply pay to come and watch and take in. Decisions can go your way, then they don't but a good measure of it is predominantly rested on the shoulders of the officials. Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports made the point of another bad decision involving Graeme Poll, but it could have been any official out there. The officials have to simply train a keen eye on all in their control, not for it to be left to a camera lens and electronic technology.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Premiership review 23rd December 2006

Hello all and welcome to the last EPL review of 2006. Because the festive season has thrown up so many games in a short space of days, I will only look to any talking points from the various games. My colleague T has supplied an in-depth look over the Arsenal v Blackburn match so leave your comments in regard to that match along his article. Needless to say the Gunners publicly stuffed their Lancashire turkey for the celebrations.

Newcastle 3 v Spurs 1

Believe me, honest to God and on all sacred and holy, I watched the Gillette Soccer Saturday and thought back to when Newcastle won 7-1 against Spurs, which was ten years ago on the 30th December, I think Les Ferdinand was playing for Newcastle then. Something told me it would end in a 3-1 home win but I thought nothing more of it. Pity, they should perhaps work the lottery on the scores instead of the pools.

Jermaine Defoe injured his knee in the warm-up so he was excluded. Newcastle went ahead through Kieron Dyer as he took on Ledley King and then dinked a ball around him into the goal. Then controversy as James Milner went to cross and it was deflected to Scott Parker, who was blatantly offside by the lane of grass he was in. He was the nearest person to goal but it was strangely not spotted and he crossed for Obafemi Martins to head in an excellent header. Funny thing was Spurs had a break in Dimitar Berbatov, who was just offside, but that too wasn't given albeit the Bulgarian couldn't score.

But Spurs earned their bite back as the ball came across the box and Danny Murphy's kick deflected off Steven Taylor past Shay Given. But Newcastle regained their two-goal cushion as Milner's freekick was spilled by Paul Robinson and after a short melee of a scramble between Matt Dawson and Martins, the ball span into the air for Scott Parker to head in. Four goals within 35mins of the start, should have been the same in the second half that would have made this game the one of the weekend. One thing for certain, if Dyer continues in this vein of form, he must be included in the national squad.

Pavel Srnicek came on for Given to a raptuous appreciation from the St James' Park crowd and the Irishman may not be fit for the next game, paving the way for Srnicek to return to his old haunt.

Reading 0 v Everton 2

Reading had little to contain the Merseyside Blues and particularly Andy Johnson. Mikel Arteta ran down the right and crossed for Johnson to aim a shot that deflected off Ibrahima Sonko into the net. That advantage into the second half was doubled through Johnson again as he chased the bouncing ball after Ivar Ingimarsson and pounced on the Icelander's hesitency to pass for James McFadden to poise and score well. Reading made a shout for a penalty when Seol Ki-Hyeon turned Gary Naysmith too quickly for the Scotsman to impede him, but replays showed it was just on the line of the penalty box, so Reading should have had a freekick.

The BBC web-site report on the match had this: "Arteta was the creator with a cross from the right flank, Portsmouth allowing the England striker too much time to turn and score via a slight deflection off Ibrahima Sonko." I was watching Reading, right? Or had Sonko beaten the January transfer window, something which would have delighted Lord Stevens into actually reporting something.

Liverpool 2 v Watford 0

Watford have not endured a comfy ride at all in their first season in the Premiership and most had predicted a comfortable home win but any manager, well most, would say there is little of such a thing in existence until after 90mins+. Indeed, albeit Ben Foster had to act on a number of chances coming his way, Watford held out the Reds well into the first half. After the break Liverpool broke through as Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy combined for the Welshman to pick up in the box and turn to finish.

That was forty-seven minutes and we almost tok that time to add a second after a wave of chances went awry. Dirk Kuyt bustled for the ball in his half and ran on to aim a lame shot that was blocked, so he picked up the rebound and fed Xabi Alonso to strike a shot at goal, Foster getting a hand to it to no avail.

Aston Villa 0 v Man Utd 3

Former manager Ron Saunders made an appearance before the 42,000 plus at Villa Park, twenty five years after his departure from Villa when he won the title. The honour after then was bestowed onto one player, Christiano Ronaldo. We are constantly reminded of the Ronaldo-Wayne Rooney moment in the World Cup, how it would lead to Ronaldo leaving, he stated a need to go to Spain. Frankly Ronaldo was not responsible for anything in the World Cup and the two have not worked together better. As for Ronaldo, he spluttered to rise from the beginning, changed boots and then it was 'MEEP MEEP!!', as he seemed to gallop all over the pitch.

Goalless for the first half, first goal, first blood to Utd on the hour as Villa's resistence finally broke. Ronaldo broke free on the left as Villa struggled to keep up much less detain him. He veered to the right and shot, which was blocked, and was given a second bite of the cherry from which he scored high past Gabor Kiraly. Next, a corner was cleared out and Paul Scholes simply unleashed yet another of his superb volleys up and over Kiraly for number two. Finally on the break Rooney was found on the right, he passed into the box that eluded all but Ronaldo at the back, unmarked, unchallenged, unfazed.

Portsmouth 3 v Sheff Utd 1

The visitors almost started on their way to another victory as Derek Geary crossed over Sol Campbell for Rob Hulse to head in but Portsmouth had other ideas than capitulation. Bizarrely, Benjamin Mwaruwari crossed at the touchline for Phil Jagielka to miskick, apparently Rob Kuzlok was credited with the own goal, though I felt it fell to Jagielka. Then Campbell came round the defence in a crowded penalty are to head in higher than all and Noe Paramot produced another firm header to cement the win. Redknapp for England manager?!?!?!??!?

Wigan 2 v Chelsea 3

Eight goals at The Emirates stadium seemd a sure bet for live TV but that fell to this fixture, and rightly too. Five goals instead of eight but how they came was superb. Arjen Robben drew fear on the right and as he stalled, he played in Frank Lampard onside and the vice skipper made no mistake. Corner for Chelsea and Mohammed Kalou, who played superbly, got ahead quickly to head in a superb goal. Emile Heskey had a personal vendetta for Chelsea and earned a freekick from the touch of Khalid Boulahrouz more from his theatrical face than the contact. Up chipped Josip Skoko and Heskey got ahead of Didier Drogba to pull Wigan back.

Then Wigan started the second half on the onslaught and Chelsea buckled, albeit under controversy. The ball played in and headed out by Boulahrouz under Heskey's challenge, Boulahrouz came off the field due to his momentum but Heskey was quickly back on, Michael Essien allowed Danny Landzaat time to shoot at goal, Heskey deflecting it in. But in the dying moments of injury time Chelsea did it again. Robben on the right hand side, slowly coming in, cutting inside onto his left and that can spell danger. One left foot strike later and Chelsea had snatched the victory.

Middlesbrough 2 v Charlton 0

Middlesbrough needed a boost after losing to Fulham and gained an advantage through Mark Viduka running at the Charlton defence, passing short to James Morrison who passed to Aiyegbeni Yakubu. Yakubu then used quick feet to evade a challenge and slot in past Scott Carson. Boro doubled the lead from a Stewart Downing corner that was headed back by Viduka, Julio Arca was unmarked to score from 18 yards. Charlton had moments, Bryan Hughes aimed at the goal after Mark Schwarzer came and failed to collect, but Emmanuel Pogatetz cleared in front of goal. It didnt help that Darren Bent went across Hughes' line of fire.

Alan Pardew has made a rapid recovery from the JobCentre to replace Less Reed, who left under mutual consent. This comes after chairman Richard Murray said: "It's unfair on Les at the moment. His record is similar to Iain's but are both at fault? We will spend in January but we will wheel and deal Les is getting hammered at the moment and it is tough spell for the club. Very tough." This was Thursday gone. Charlton have the former Hammers boss, and vice versa. With the results of Charlton and a good manager out of work, Reed's number was up. It's the battle of the London side as to who stays up and who doesn't.

Man City 0 v Bolton 2

It ended on another sour note at home for City and even more so for Joey Barton. Nicolas Anelka had haunted old club Arsenal and he was at it again to net a brace under a chorus of boos from the home fans who must have regretted it afterwards. First Kevin Nolan found Nicky Hunt on the right and Hunt's pass was picked up by Anelka to slot inside Nicky Weaver's near post. Second, Henrik Pedersen ran down the Bolton left and came inside to touch the ball across the penalty area, where either of El-Hadji Diouf or Anelka could have had a chance but the Frenchman called for the ball and scored his and Bolton's second.

Frustration boiled over for Barton as he aimed but lost out on the ball to Abdoulaye Faye and then followed with what I would call a lunge at the Senegalese defender with his right foot roughly reaching waist level as he did. He received a straight red. I initially understood it to be a two-footed tackle according to the immediate reports over the radio but now I say it was one but a clumsy challenge and worthy of a booking only. I urge that the FA agree with me.

Fulham 0 v West Ham 0

It's a well earned point for the Hammers and their fortunes are early in rising but they certainly did not deserve to have Paul Konchesky sent off for what was a clear touch of the ball before making contact with Wayne Routledge. Replays showed Chris Foy was behind catching up but not too far and he made the decision clearly without consultation with the linesman, who made no indication of a foul whatsoever. Foy doesn't have to consult the linesman but I can't see how his vision could be 100% for he would have clearly seen the touch on the ball. That too should be rescinded.

To all who have come to EFT, to look and/or contribute, a Merry Xmas. Mind how you all go over the festive spirits and look forward to you all returning.


Super-charged and super-confident Adebayor is to be believed in

Arsenal 6- 2 Blackburn

This performance by the Gunners demands a short review. The incision, collection team cohesion and pace of our play was outstanding and demonstrated that when the team gets into its rhythm its potential for producing scintillating total-football is unlimited.

After this match the tough Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes, severely contradicted himself. Being someone who admires bravery and not backing down to an opponent, he praised himself for selecting a team for the match at the Emirates that would not sit-back but rather play an open game of football. But then in the same stream of thought he seriously questioned the wisdom of his decision given how his team for large parts of the match were cut open by wave after wave of electric pass and move attacking play.

Personally, I don't think that even if Hughes had selected a 4-5-1 system he would have stopped the attacking 4-4-2/4-1-3-2 system used by the Gunners yesterday. Wenger has now definitely reverted back to the two strikers up front option which I was advocating before the Spurs match, and yesterday with a super-charged and super-confident Adebayor causing havoc and van Persie displaying more technical excellence the Blackburn defence was stretched to breaking point.

Adebayor is to be believed in! He has put on some muscle to give him a real physical presence that when added to a 6 foot 4 frame gives Arsenal an imposing physical option up-front that has not been seen in the Wenger era and is much needed against some/most Premiership defences. And where before he looked to lack some confidence on the pitch, he is now striding across the pitch like he owns it and is even now choosing himself to take on the responsibility to take penalties. Add that he has close control similar to the deft Kanu and is not afraid to dribble with pace and power into the heart of defences and it is really clear that there is massive potential in the Adder.

His teammates must love that we now have an outlet who has the sheer physical qualities to stand up to any defence. And personally I was really impressed by how he made John Terry look more normal than any other Premiership striker has managed to do in recent times.

Yesterday Adebayor was superb in taking the game to the Blackburn defence. Whenever he collected the ball he looked a serious threat and the Blackburn defenders simply were hanging on trying to handle him. He set up Hleb for Arsenal's second, scored the third from the penalty spot, produced excellent combination play with Rosicky which saw the Czech play-maker strike the cross-bar at 3-1, and then went on a massive dribble followed by playing an acute through-pass to Fabregas who then found an open van Persie for the fifth goal. These were his major moments, but there was so much more in his all-round play which meant that he was fully deserving of the standing ovation given to him when he was subbed.

It will be significant to see how Thierry links up with Adebayor. To me this has the makings of a really complementary and exciting parternship. A super-charged and super-confident Adebayor can only inspire Henry to re-find his fighting best upon his return from rest. And Henry will ensure that Adebayor remains humble and focused on improving and producing for the team.

I have focused on Adebayor but I don’t want to take away from the whole Arsenal team for their collective performance yesterday. Although at times there was defensive indecision which is indicative of this season being one season to soon in terms of having the overall maturity and consistency to challenge for the title, they showed in their total-attacking cohesiveness the definite potential in future seasons for this young squad to make their mark.

Because when they get into their stride - as they did yesterday - their football is quite irresistible and for me its truly fantastic to watch.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Van Persie vs Essien vs Taylor vs Tugay

The last couple of months have seen a purple patch of stunning strikes in the Premiership. When Arsenal's Robin van Persie scored his soaring kung-fu volley against Charlton back in October it seemed he had opened and closed the book on the goal of the season. But Matthew Taylor's forty-five yard thumping volley against Everton two weeks ago had Mark Lawrenson on Match Of The Day concluding that the emerging Portsmouth midfielder had 'undoubtedly' scored the goal of the season. A day later Chelsea's Michael Essien powered a reverse banana shot into the top corner of the Arsenal net which arguably given the context of the goal coupled with its sheer technical perfection had surpassed Taylor's effort. Add to these magnificent contenders the peach of a sweet volley struck by Blackburn's Tugay against Spurs and you have quite a sensational battle already heating up for Premiership goal of the season.

Enjoy and check out these goals again (plus some excellent celebrations and commentaries) below:

If I had to vote for one above the others I would edge for the strike by Robin van Persie: the way he flew in the air to volley the ball for me is simply scintillating. But that does not take away from the other superb strikes each of which sum up just how fantastic and awesome football can be.

Whose goal do you think edges it as the best of the Premiership season so far?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Look forward to watching Denilson

Tonight should be the first opportunity I get to watch one of the little-talked about signings of 2006: Arsenal's £3.4m signing of the Brazilian under 19 international captain midfielder, Denilson.

Wenger is incredibly tight in the transfer market, and with only a few exceptions, very astute. Therefore, to spend this much on an 18 year old suggests that Denilson has a lot of quality and I am really looking forward to seeing what he offers as he is expected to start in the Arsenal side visiting Anfield in the League Cup.

I have read that Wenger compares Denilson as a mix between (a primarily defensive midfielder) Gilberto and (a primarily attacking playmaker) Tomas Rosicky. If this is right, it sounds like he could be similar to the ex-Arsenal Brazilian midfielder, Edu. I was a massive fan of Edu: seeing him as a rolls-royce-smooth quick passing and intercepting midfielder. If I see hints of Edu in the play of Denilson I will be happy.

In the meantime, if anyone has already seen Denilson in action I - and I reckon other readers - will be interested to have your views on what type of player he looks to be and if he particularly resembles anyone.

P.S. Good to see that dependable 'man-of-steel' Lauren is set for his first appearance in eleven months. His experience and toughness is vital to the predominantly young Arsenal squad.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Premiership weekend review 16-17/12/06

I was meant to mention last week that the goals came flooding in, and the weekend just gone was no exception, that and great football entertainment. Discuss.

Newcastle 2 v Watford 1

On thr rise in some extreme injury circumstances, Newcastle suffered a blip, a slight blip, at Stamford Bridge in the mid-week but went straight back to winning ways against Watford. Nicky Butt is another who has developed good form and it was his build-up that led to James Milner on the right crossing for Obafemi Martins to head in the opening goal. Newcastle wanted a goalscorer, bought £17m Michael Owen but have had little from him owing to injury. £10m+ Martins is currently filling the number 9 shirt all over again. Watford hit back to equalise through Hameur Bouazza as Ashley Young's corner was flicked on for Bouazza to bundle in, but it was Martins again on the end of a deflected Damien Duff cross.

Aston Villa 0 v Bolton 1

This was yet another Sam Allardyce smash-and-grab as Bolton snatched another away win by a single goal with a clean sheet and weathering a wave of Villa attacks. With two-thirds the possession the hosts could not turn chances into goals and it came to the 75th minute for a breakthrough where Stilian Petrov came from behind to tackle Nicolas Anelka in the box, and a penatly ensued. Gary Speed duly obliged to score. Despite this defeat being Villa's second at home in the league, Martin O'Neill has rejuvenated the team, holding Arsenal and Chelsea to a draw away and now to face Man Utd after their defeat at West Ham. Could O'Neill make it a hat-trick of top three games avoiding defeat? Also I admire Gabor Kiraly, who I felt was good for Crystal Palace and should get a longer term in the top flight to improve, and has now got his chance. I hope it goes well for him, except against Liverpool!

Charlton 0 v Liverpool 3

Focus homed on a tense atmosphere between Steven Gerrard and Les Reed during the England days where Reed was part of Kevin Keegan's reign alongside former Newcastle coach Derek Fazackerley. Reed and Fazackerley, according to Gerrard, would talk at Gerrard about bucking up his performance rather than to the midfielder which made for some resentment. Reed had welcomed Gerrard coming to The Valley with compliments, presumably because Gerrard is a more advanced player now since 2000. OK, enough talk. The crust of this encounter was it was live, first, and it was a six-pointer. An early call was made when Mark Gonzalez delivered a god cross from the left and Jermaine Pennant ran in to nod it ahead of Djimi Traore in the box, the left-back catching Pennant with a boot to the face. Penalty given, Xabi Alonso duly obliged.

That was the third minute, and what happened from then to the next goal, almost 80mins later, was a plethora of chances for the visitors that seemed to just miss the target. Charlton had chances through Herman Hreidarsson after Andy Reid's shot was parried by Pepe Reina, Darren Ambrose volleyed over from close range and Darren Bent had an effort narrowly miss the post. Craig Bellamy is finding his form feet lately and ran onto a delightful through ball from Luis Garcia to volley first time on the turn for no.2. From not converting for 80mins Liverpool scored again six minutes later as Gerrard picked up on the edge of the box, stalled in finding someone to pass to and then decided to curl an effort at goal as Charlton simply allowed him time.

Wigan 0 v Sheff Utd 1

Sheffield United are now unbeaten in four games, it could have been twelve out of those four had Milan Baros not got through last week. Rob Hulse was on hand to divert Stephen Quinn's squared ball picked up from Keith Gillespie on the right, minutes into the second half. Talking point was another incident on Chris Morgan, where Lee McCullouch and he tussled for a corner and McCullouch siimply raised his right arm and punched Morgan below the right eye. Result was no action but a swelling for Morgan, who stated McCulloch came to the away dressing room to apologise after the game and therefore nothing more should be made of it.

Yet while that maybe fine for Morgan, for the game it is not. Juan Pablo Angel and now McCullouch, regardless it was on the same player, both displayed misconduct captured on camera but nothing was to follow from one and possibly from the other. The powers that be are simply not as powerful as they should be.

Arsenal 2 v Portsmouth 2

Following on from a good performance last week and three points at Wigan, I felt this could have been a draw, but not with the home side going down two goals before coming back. I felt Emmanuel Adebayor would start with Robin Van Persie, Jeramie Aliadiere was a surprise. Nonetheless Arsenal started much the better and Portsmotuh weathered the storm until deep into injury time where Matt Taylor dropped a freekick for David Thompson to head against the crossbar, the ball coming nicely to Noe Paramot to head in. Early into the second half Arsenal were pushed back further as an attack in the box was headed out by vice-skipper Gilberto Silva and came to Taylor, who hooked another sweet shot on the volley over and in. Arsenal borught on Adebayor and his performance against Chelsea was enough for me to warrant a starting place and he was a major influence again.

Theo Walcott ran down the right and delivered another cross into the box for the Togolese striker to pull Arsenal one back almost on the hour. Minutes later another Arsenal attack found Kolo Toure thumping a shot at David James, Adebayor gathered with ample time and space and chipped across goal for Walcott to aim a scuffed shot, from which Silva aimed at and scored. No disrespect to Thierry Henry but I like Silva as skipper, he seems more welcoming, more of a advisory figure than Henry and his position in the centre is ideal for captaincy.

Everton 2 v Chelsea 3

This was a battle. Chelsea were in Everton's backyard and Goodison has been unkind to visitors other than Aston Villa. Given Chelsea kicked off before Utd it was necessary to make a point and grab three. Everton fielded Victor Anichebe, Nigerian-born and grown up in Toxteth, and Andrew Johnson and welcomed Mikel Arteta who for me was a strong contender for MOTM. One setback for Chelsea was John Terry missing out with a back problem, replaced by Khalid Boulahrouz. someone who impressed me during an international friendly for Holland against England. Chelsea seemed strained in raising their game, of whom Michael Ballack seemed off-colour, while Everton stifled attacks and make a number of their own down the flanks through Arteta and Simon Davies. Andrew Johnson made movements that concerned Boulahrouz and the Duchman seemed to push Johnson in the box, something which Jose Mourinho protested was a dive, with David Moyes urging the Chelsea boss to look at the TV screens in the home dug-out.

For me it seemd a push that was not enough to topple Johnson and he made more of it. But Everton did get a penalty when Boulahrouz was careless in approaching Anichebe in the box and ended up holding the striker back. Arteta scored from the penalty. What we have gathered from Chelsea is to expect an onslaught to equalise. Mohammed Kalou was on for Geremi at the break, Michael Essien at right back, where I felt Ballack should have gone off but then Lee Carsley committed a needless handball. Ballack stepped up to deposit the kick superbly around the ball, coming off the post inside but also off Tim Howard's back. That did not stifle Everton. An Arteta corner past the hour was headed in by Joseph Yobo, Essien holding onto the defender's left arm. Yet with nine minutes remaining vice-captain Frank Lampard felt he was fouled and was annoyed in receiving nothing, only seconds later to receive the ball and just simply aimed a shot at goal that had exact power, flight and dip to go up, over and in. Superb strike.

Yet that equaliser was surpassed. The game seemed to follow into the remnants of a draw but with Didier Drogba turnign earlier to hit the post, the Ivorian still had designs on the Everton goal. He took the ball on his chest, turned, and as both Yobo and Alan Stubbs stood off expecting nothing to occur of danger so far out from goal, Drogba struck a sublime volley that was simply a worthy winning goal. It has been compared to that he scored against Liverpool but they have their differences. That one at The Bridge was gathered and then struck on the turn instinctively without looking. This one was gathered and set-up with little expectation yet urged by Chelsea to make it and it just simply did. I felt the match was a great 2-2 draw, but Drogba is something else now. Scoring late in the Nou Camp, against Newcastle, yesterday, he is like a strikeforce on his own. He languished at Marseille, the danger is he is now flourishing at Chelsea.

West Ham 1 v Man Utd 0

So Chelsea's dramatic late win then left the tennis ball in Utd's court. The feeling was Utd would have that much more incentive to come at West Ham. West Ham changed chairman, changed manager, adn through Alan Curbishley, hoped to changed fortunes. A first game to change such fortunes against Man utd is similar to requiring a plaster for a cut but supplied with salt. The only thing was while the salt burned, the wound healed. Utd had a number of chances to gain the lead through Wayne Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo who came inside to strike low for Robert Green to save excellently, and Ryan Giggs from yards out firing high. Other than that West Ham had the objective of heading or kicking out balls when under attack, and through Bobby Zamora outmuscling Rio Ferdinand for a one-on-one with Edwin van der Sar, a gilt-edge chance of scoring instead. But van der Sar got down excellently himself to his right to gather the shot.

Everton v Chelsea was a bout, this was a bout. West Ham got back to defend but also came forward occasionally, with Marlon Harewood proving something of a nuisance on the Utd defence. But so far when they need someone to break through, Teddy Sheringham has been an influence. Coming on for Zamora on the hour, Sheringham picked up a Lee Bowyer pass on the right with 15mins remaining, drawing Nemanja Vidic with him then squaring through his legs for Harewood, who was been shadowed by Ferdinand and Gabriel Heinze. Ferdinand went in too rash and Harewood kept the ball in before the touchline to square across for Nigel Reo-Coker to run in and stab past the keeper, no one picking his run up. And from then it was as if for all their efforts, Utd had little to fight back with, as they now chased an equaliser much less a winner. West Ham have enjoyed home wins against Utd and Arsenal, they too could be onto a hat-trick when Chelsea visit.

As for Curbishley, it's a dream start of a win and one against the odds, and the homework is yet uncompleted. For Man Utd, it was not long ago they were nine points ahead of Chelsea. It is now two.

Man City 1 v Spurs 2

Following from their home show against Dimano Bucharest, Spurs notched their first away win. With Matt Dawson suspended, Calum Davenport partnered Ledley King in central defence and was on hand to open the scoring with a header from Tom Huddlestone's freekick. Huddlestone himself has been of fine form recently and added a second with a curling half volley. Joey Barton pulled City back with a finish from the right, though he apparently had a good shout for a penalty from being tripped by Steed Malbranque. Stuart Pearce said "The referee said he thought it was a penalty but the linesman didn't flag so he didn't give it." I understood it that if the referee was in doubt he would consult a linesman, otherwise it was his discretion, not to consider an offence occurred but ignored it because the linesman didn't flag.

Reading 1 v Blackburn 2

Reading almost made it another three points on Saturday but didn't figure for a strong Blackburn comeback. The hosts took the lead as Stephen Hunt threaded a through ball for James Harper to sprint onto and score past Brad Friedel. Benni McCarthy had something like three goals cancelled for offside, the second one being a very tight decision and Reading took no lesson from them. So when he scored for the fourth time with a diving head to Lucas Neill's cross, he gathered the ball and dropped it with direction to the linesman and would have been fine but for what he said. Referee Graeme Poll was there to usher him away from the linesman just in case and therefore was in earshot to hear something indiscreet and booked the South African, meaning he will be absent from the visit to Arsenal on Saturday.

That being that, Blackburn came at Reading and scored a winner of great quality. David Bentley pounced on a mistake by John Oster and left Nicky Shorey on the turn as he ran on to goal and then released a shot that flew past Marcus Hehnemann into the top left corner, great finish to win the match.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Just how important is Didier Drogba to Chelsea FC?!

As everyone on this site knows, I have a lot of time for Didier Drogba. For me he has so many good qualities and latent potential given his combination of high quality athleticism, power, passion, shooting ability and prowess in the air. When he was at Marseille I hoped that he would join Arsenal - seeing him as a great option partner for Henry and someone that Wenger should admire given his obvious potential.

Of course, this was not meant to be and instead it was Jose Mourinho who - in one of his first signings as Chelsea manager - selected him to be the striker he wanted leading his team. Although he was slow to win over football supporters with regard to his qualities as a striker I don’t think anyone can now doubt that in his third season at Chelsea he is proving that his worth and quality is very high. Indeed, with Crespo and Gudjohnsen gone and Shevchenko and Kalou nowhere near setting the high standards required of forwards in a title-chasing team, the importance of Didier Drogba consistently exploding his potential this season is even more significant.

His winning goal today at Everton was stunning: chest-controlling the ball and in the same movement swivelling and clean-striking a thirty yard dipping volley over Tim Howard. The technique was reminiscent of his winning goal against Liverpool earlier this season and I don’t believe many can have been surprised by the quality of Drogba's goal given his general quality of play this season which includes ten Premiership goals and two decisive Champs League goals home and away against Barcelona.

Drogba's goal completed a significant come-back over Everton when with ten minutes to go it looked likely that Chelsea would end the day a challenging eight points behind Man Utd. Instead, the gap is now just two points given Man Utd's later loss at West Ham… which underlines just what an important strike it was from the Ivorian and just how important a player he is truly turning out to be to Chelsea FC.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Reed's tough task against momentum-building Liverpool

Intriguing match of the day is languishing Charlton at home to momentum-building Liverpool.

The after-effects of Alan Curbishley's summer departure was always going to be tricky for Charlton, but this was badly compounded in my opinion by the decision to sack Iain Dowie after only a few months in the job. Dowie strikes me as a thoughtful and passionate coach and I still don’t understand why the Charlton board decided to cause further upheaval and dismiss him with such haste.

The new coach, Les Reed, was promoted from within Dowie's newly recruited coaching staff and with five games played his record is three away defeats (including a 5-1 mauling at Spurs last weekend), one home draw and a last minute home win to Blackburn. His side is still in rooted in the bottom three and need to build some sort of momentum soon if they are not going to keep plumbing the Premiership depths. A home win against a Liverpool side that for most of the season has had a poor away record will be an excellent way to signal an intent to retain their Premiership status. It will be a great test of Les Reed's credentials as a Premiership manager.

For Liverpool, I remember that it was this time last year that they strung win after win together to drive themselves up the table, and there are signs from there impressive last two matches which saw 4-0 wins at Wigan and at home to Fulham that they are looking good to again excel during the early winter period. Steven Gerrard, significantly, looks to be getting more in the action and with comments I saw yesterday that he harbours a resentment against Les Reed during the days when the Charlton manager was part of Kevin Keegan's England coaching staff, I expect that the dynamic version of Gerrard will again be on show today.

It is also significant that Liverpool have kept five Premiership clean sheets in a row - this defensive solidity is the trademark of Benitez teams and he will be delighted that it has be re-found. This coincides with the inclusion of young Daniel Agger who looks to have now cemented a first-team place at the exclusion of the ageing Sami Hyppia.

So Liverpool will be travelling to the Valley with confidence that they are building a good momentum. On the other hand Charlton are dependant on home games to get them up the table and I am really interested in seeing Les Reed's coaching and motivational prowess in what is easily the biggest game of his managing career. Coming off the back of the embarrassment at Spurs they could do with the type of result that reassures them of their Premiership worth.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Premiership review 09-10-11/12/06

Because of the rhythm of the Premiership that dictates mid-week games, I hardly, if at all, report on them. For last week though I am making an exception for a couple of talking points, albeit late ones.

Midweek (last week)

Charlton 1 v Blackburn 0

Les Reed's first win for Charlton, first home win, and how. Late into second half injury time, virtually the last kick of the game, Talal El Karkouri hits a freekick into the bottom right corner to ensure those vital three points. It was short-lived, the tide before the storm.

Spurs 2 v Boro 1

A game that kicked off literally. Spurs took the lead through Dimitar Berbatov after Tom Huddlestone's freekick was headed down by Pascal Chimbonda. The Bulgarian then turned and struck the ball past Mark Schwarzer. That was early into the second half but Boro hit back with ten minutes to go as Stewart Downing's freekick was not cleared and Robert Huth slapped in from close range. Immediately Robbie Keane came on and three minutes later Huddlestone kicked a quick freekick to Keane for the Irishman to hit into the bottom right corner. Later George Boateng and Aaron Lennon went chasing the ball that seemed to run out, Lennon then pushing Boateng over. The Dutchman got up to confront Lennon and Didier Zokora came across to block off Boateng and a melee ensued, resulting in both Boateng and Zokora being dismissed.

Earlier this week Boateng successfully appealed and his red card was quashed. Martin Jol was admirable again in saying at first he felt Zokora was innocent but looking again, he felt the red card was sufficient in the circumstances.

"At first I thought Zokora was unlucky to be sent off because he tried to prevent any trouble breaking out. I've seen it again now and I felt he probably deserved the sending offbecause if you are so far awayfrom a situationand run it it does look aggresive. You then get a crowd of players coming together and you don't want that."

Newcastle 3 v Reading 2

I commend Newcastle for this result more than Reading but not much more. That is because this followed a week from their impressive show against Portsmouth and witht he injuries they have it would be easy for them to lose that rhythm. Reading are valiant under Steve Coppell and are still without their renowned scorer Dave Kitson. They took the lead after Nolberto Solano scored with a brace from James Harper, quite unheard of from the midfielder. One-two down for the second half Newcastle went on to fight and gained their win. Ibrahima Sonko poorly raised a foot to Obafemi Martins' chest and gave the penalty away from which Martins scored. Then Emre showed hsi form from the Portsmouth game to go on a run that ended with a 25-yard slammer of a shot past Marcus Hehnemann.

West Ham 0 v Wigan 2

The rain before the storm, perhaps. Upton Park was laid siege by the visiting Lancashire team and the Hammers had little answer to it. David Connelly stepped up to collect Kevin Kilbane's pass to turn and shoot past Robert Green. A speculative Leighton Baines drive came off Jonathan Spector and in past Green for Wigan's number two. West Ham had the first half won but not the conversion of chances, with Carlos Tevez again proving to be picking up good form again following from the Everton game.


Spurs 5 v Charlton 1

A London derby where all the goals were scored by Spurs. A thrashing, a landslide, a tremor occurred at White Hart Lane. Lennon collected a pass from Huddlestone to feed Berbatov for the first. Lennon came inside from the left to feed square to Teemu Tainio to shoot from outside the box for number two. Charlton got back into the game having taken on the hosts until the half hour, Andy Reid sent a pass across goal for Matt Dawson to interfere and spin the ball over Paul Robinson. A mere setback until the second half. Berbatov chested down the ball for Steed Malbranque to hit low for number three. Lennon then went quickly to close down the sleepy Bryan Hughes and the ball ricocheted to Jermaine Defoe, who ran on to slam away confidently number four.

Robinson collected the ball under attack and then sent a long throw to Berbatov who ran on and on to slot away through Scott Carson's legs for number five. Carson looked partially dejected to really try to stop it, as the defence was opened like bay doors. Even when Darren Bent was almost through on goal, his shot was saved and that of Dennis Rommedahl's follow-up, by Robinson.

Liverpool 4 v Fulham 0

Fulham had defeated Arsenal before leaving for Ewood Park and Anfield respectively and they enjoyed neither. In the first half at Anfield, Liverpool huffed and puffed but found the little Cottagers would not budge. Bouba Papa Dioup was instrumental in midfield along with captain Luis Boa Morte and as Liverpool made chances, they could not convert them up til half time. Then Dioup had to go due to injury and that may have eased on Fulham's guard in the centre to give Liverpool less resistence. Ian Pearce survivied a penalty scare when Dirk Kuyt's shot struck his arms and when it happened again ref Uriah Rennie had no doubts of an infringement. Pearce was booked, Steven Gerrard stepped up and rookie keeper Jan Lastuvka, on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk and in for injured Antii Niemi, saved to his left but couldn't prevent the ball bounding out. Gerrard redeemed his error.

From then Liverpool picked up a second via a Gerrard corner that was flicked on by Daniel Agger for Jamie Carragher to sneak around the rear to side-foot in the second, his first since scoring in the 7-1 win over Southampton on 16th January 1999. Rennie was the referee for that game too. Agger was involved again as he came inside from the left and crossed for Luis Garcia to loop a header over Lastuvka. Mark Gonzalez and Xabi Alonso stood poised over a freekick earned by Robbie Fowler being challenged unfairly. Gonzalez stepped up to stroke the ball into the corner.

Chelsea 1 v Arsenal 1

A good match, better than Man Utd v Chelsea albeit same result and Chelsea coming back after going behind again. Arsenal showed little nerve with their younglings and minus Kolo Toure and William Gallas, Tomas Rosicky and Thierry Henry. Johan Djourou and Philipp Senderos anchored in central defence against Didier Drogba with Senderos slightly nervy on a couple of occasions. Chelsea was another side who huffed and puffed yet couldn't break their visitors. Jose Mourinho introudced Arjen Robben and the impetus of attack was far more in Chelsea's favour as the Dutchman looked to influence an eventual goal. However it was Arsenal who made the breakthrough as Robin Van Persie, Mathieu Flamini, Aleksander Hleb combined well to pass between themselves and then Hleb set up Flamini to shoot from the edge of the box, Henrique Hilario got a hand and a half to it but couldnt prevent the goal, the Chelsea keeper should have saved it given the expected standards under Mourinho and the height of the shot.

It looked as if Chelsea could well be on route to their first home defeat as it seemed they would not break through Arsenal's defence. But if Michael Essien doing what comes naturally to any soldier in doing what needs to be done to get the job done, things changed. First Shaun Wright-Phillips came on for right-back Geremi, meaning Essien moving to right back, then the Ghanian ran up to attack and thump a Frank Lampard pass curling out then in around Jens Lehmann for the equaliser and a contender for goal of the season. Even then the celebrations were short-lived as the Blues knew business meant another goal to win within the remaining six minutes plus injury time.

And both sides went close. Hleb had a chance given to him in the penalty area when the ball dropped to him only to hit it high, a Lampard corner was nodded on towards goal and Essien was mere inches away to only steer the ball up and off the crossbar, and then Lehmann uncharacteristically spilled a shot for Lampard to latch onto, guide away from the keeper and then strike towards goal, for only either Flamini or the post to deny him. Flamini was superb to recover behind Lehmann so quickly.

Blackburn 1 v Newcastle 3

This is why I currently admire Newcastle. They are finding good form, players are playing with more desire, more need, more vigour than before. The down side was losing Emre to injury. Martins altched onto a weighted Antoine Sibierski ball to smack home the opening goal. Stephen Taylor enjoyed scoring as Nicky Butt challenged Michael Gray down the right to chip across goal, Charles N'Zogbia headed back across goal with Lucas Neill and Andre Oojier getting in each other's way. Rovers went a man down as a bouncing ball was not controlled enough by Stephane Henchoz and as Martins looked to capitalise on the error, the Swiss defender pulled him down. The foul and booking was excepted, the red card though was questionable as Martins seemed to have an angle to overcome before being through on goal. In reflection the Nigerian could have cut inside and sped away for another goal.

With 10 men, Blackburn came the better in the second half and came at Newcastle. Morten Gamst Pedersen came inside from the left (seems a favourable move this weekend) and struck right footed past Shay Given to halve the deficit but Rovers couldn't equalise. Deep in injury time Brad Friedel came up for a corner, and remained for an immediate second one. Given got up to fist away, N'Zogbia picked it up and fed Martins on the left wing, Martins simply skipped over Tugay's tackle and came inside of Robbie Savage to strike the ball towards the empty goal.

Bolton 4 v West Ham 0

The match against Wigan was the rain before the storm, this was Hurricane Sam. It looked a capitulation and few have come to the Reebok stadium to leave content. Not Arsenal, not Liverpool, and now certainly not West Ham. Gary Speed sealed his 500th appearance in football with a presentation before the game, then presented Kevin Davies with a goal. Nicolas Anelka ran on and found El-Hadji Diouf, who chipped for Speed, who headed back for Davies to strike from close range. Bolton were 1-0 up at half time and it was possible for the Hammers to surge for an equaliser, if they had actually applied any urgency into their game.

They didn't and allowed Bolton to come at them, Ivan Campo heading on for Davies to convert for number two with seven inutes on the second half gone. Diouf collected on the Bolton left and simply danced through two players to slip the ball past Green for number three on 77mins and then Speed finished off the rout with a through ball for Anelka to run onto and score. Alan Pardew sacked, former Charlton manager and West Ham player Alan Curbishley confirmed today as his replacement. Primary objective: avoid relegation. Do that and have funds available for next season and we could see some progress. Progress from the players as they now have to impress the new boss or progress from exchanging old for new.

Watford 0 v Reading 0

I'm sorry for the respective fans but I found little to nothing to report on this match, other than it seemed more impressive for Reading to come away with a point than it was poor for Watford to drop two. If any fan or anyone feel they can provide a report of more depth then feel free to email on:

Portsmouth 2 v Everton 0

The game that contained one of the goals of the season contenders that EVERYONE in the sports media are like happy seals about. Everton seemed depleted with Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta missing, James Beattie not clicking with Andrew Johnson and Johnson looking for some form recently. Nwankwo Kanu came to challenge with Simon Davies and the ball then came up and sat waiting for Matt Taylor to thump a volley from 45 yards up high and over Tim Howard, who didn't move. Reminiscent of his strike against Sunderland last season. Gary O'Neil crossed over and as the ball reached Kanu he smacked it first time past Howard for number two.

Middlesbrough 1 v Wigan 1

I do not know what the MOTD commentator was looking at in this match. Wigan gained a penalty as Paul Scharner was impeded by his compatriot Emanuel Pogatetz as Scharner aimed to meet a Josip Skoko chip into the box. The commentator said Scharner ran onto Pogatetz but replays showed Scharner had eyes looking for the ball and Pogatetz came onto HIM with impact. The penalty was right and Henri Camara scored for the lead.

Chris Kirkland took a blow to the head and had to be replaced with Mike Pollitt. Kirkland was in the dressing room and spoke of dizzyness and as a precaution he was taken to hospital, thankfully to be discharged later with no effects. Boro came back to equalise as Mark Viduka held up the ball and played in James Morrison, whose ball across goal was touched in by Aiyegbeni Yakubu.

Man Utd 3 v Man City 1

Another derby, another Reds v Blues meeting, another match important to the title challenge. First blood to the home side within six minutes, as Christiano Ronaldo was allowed time to cross from the right, Sylvain Distin aimed a dire hopeful leg to cut out the ball and failed, Wayne Rooney lurked behind Richard Dunne to poke in the ball. Next came some confusion between Hatem Trabelsi and Dunne in clearing the ball from the corner area, the Tunisian passing back poorly leading to Dunne miscontrolling. Gabriel Heinze picked up and crossed, Distin didn't approach it well and Louis Saha got ahead to bundle the ball in.

In the second half Utd stepped down a gear which give City more confidence in making some headway to wards goal, which successfully occurred with 18mins on the time remaining. Trabelsi ran on at goal from the right side and without anyone closing him down he lashed a left-foot drive past Edwin van der Sar. Now Utd needed to raise that gear again and City aided them. Rooney was not closed down by Distin and he managed to squirm a pass across goal which Dunne should have cleared but hashed at, allowing Ronaldo to strike for Utd's third.

Sheff Utd 2 v Aston Villa 2

Another referee indecisionthat beggars belief. The game opened with Villa scoring on 76 seconds, Chris Sutton and Stilian Petrov passing between themselves and the Bulgarian striking home after Sutton's shot was blocked. Utd made more of the pressure on the visitors in search of an equaliser but fell flat in Villa's third. Come the second half, come a changed Sheff Utd. Robert Kuzlok threw in the ball, Liam Ridgewell mis-headed and the ball fell to Stephen Quinn, one of three Quinns' on Utd's books, who struck with his right to equalise. Almost a quarter of an hour later Utd took the lead as a short corner was crossed for Chris Morgan to head into Danny Webber's direction. Webber then hooked the ball towards goal with his back to goal past Stuart Taylor.

Utd's performance should have held well to either confirm the 2-1 socre or add to it but seconds later they rued a lapse of concentration. Neil Warnock was frustrated Webber had lost the ball that started the attack leading to Villa's equaliser. Chris Sutton picked up on Stephen Davis' cross and drawing two defenders with him, the ball then sat up for Milan Baros to set up and drive in from close range. Villa had a corner at which Morgan marked Juan Pablo Angel and replays showed Angel aiming a clear left elbow at the Utd skipper.

Ref Mark Halsey reported he had seen the incident but if he did, he clearly should have sent off the Colombian. Because he said he saw it, the FA say they are powerless to intervene, so YET AGAIN the Football Association of England and Wales fail to adjudicate an incident clearly seen and recorded on live TV. They can claim FIFA forbades them from doing so, but they did take action in the Ben Thatcher/Pedro Mendes incident under 'exceptional circumstances'. Circumstances no doubt dictated by public reaction.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Too hasty to dismiss the progressive Pardew

I was really disappointed to see the news yesterday that Alan Pardew had been dismissed by the new Icelandic owners of West Ham. For me as a neutral it was hasty and an over-reaction to sack one of the very few promising young English managers in the Premiership.

What I liked most about Pardew - as I wrote about in a post written on 28 Oct called "Alan Pardew should not be dismissed" - was that he was dedicated to playing an attractive brand of smooth-passing, attacking football. I simply enjoyed watching his team play in the Premiership last season.

This season West Ham have struggled to find any momentum amid what I consider to have been the destabilising context of takeover talk from owners with questionable agendas. I thought Pardew did well to sail the ship during this time and with them beating my team, Arsenal, they did look to have been moving again in the right direction until a tough last week of defeats at Everton (where they played well in defeat at a tough venue), Wigan at home and then Bolton away (which again as a Gunner I know is a tough fixture).

The fact that he had gained West Ham promotion to the Premiership and that in their first season back in the top flight they had finished ninth and were seconds away from lifting the FA Cup final didn't count for anything yesterday as the new owners wielded the axe. Its a shame and I hope that it isn't long until Pardew is back in the Premiership leading a team with the vision of playing good quality attacking football.

As for Alan Curbishley coming back to West Ham: I like the match-up. But in the long-run how much better is he an option that retaining the progressive Pardew? In my opinion I think there is very little between them in terms of coaching quality.

Arsenal - better off without Henry?

The next few weeks promise to be interesting times for Arsenal fans without Thierry Henry in the lineup. Henry has been without doubt the best player in the Premiership era. His touch, skill and mesmerizing goals have lit up the English league for so many years that I am astounded that he has not yet won the European or World Footballer of the year.

However, witnessing some recent perfomances from this young and exciting Arsenal team, you cannot help but wonder whether Henry is holding back Arsenal. The big games against United, Porto and Chelsea were all played without Henry and resulted in Arsenal's best results this season.

The Arsenal youngsters seem less inhibited when he is not around, they look less like a bunch of kids trying desperately to impress the most popular kid in the class and be his mate.

Adebayor in my mind is a perfect example of this. Adda put in a tireless and highly skillful perfomance on Sunday and did the same against United where he scored a wonderful goal. In short, he looked a completely different player than when he is paired with Henry and subjected to the big mans stares of despair and frustration with every misplaced pass. I saw a similar relationship between Henry and Jose Reyes, with Reyes never quite being allowed to impose his own character and learn by making mistakes in "Henry's" team.

Gilberto Silva seems to be a much better leader of the Arsenal youth. Unimposing, yet experienced and quietly vocal and with a very level head, Silva seems a natural leader - somthing I have never felt about Henry.

Add in to the mix that Henry does not seem to be quite the same player he has been in recent years - by all accounts his performance against Fulham was abysmal by anyones standards - and the fact that he is beginning to pick up injuries players his age tend to do, the question must be asked:
Are Arsenal better off without Thierry Henry?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Will the gulf of experience between the Chelsea and Arsenal teams prove decisive?

This afternoon Chelsea will take on Arsenal in what for me has been the footballing fixture of the past few seasons. Good, high-quality football is guaranteed when these two teams meet and I consider there to be healthy respect between the two sets of players which helps the flow of their matches.

Until last season Arsenal had the better of these matches. But last season Chelsea played and beat Arsenal three times in the space of four months as the Gunners were still shaking off the after-effects of Vieira's departure while Chelsea's players were full of confidence in cementing their position as the new powerhouse of English football. Where before Arsenal had the psychological edge entering this match, it is now probably Chelsea that have the greater inner-confidence of gaining victory.

Chelsea are a team of seasoned dependables. There is massive experience and proven quality throughout the side. Their core players never seem to be injured. And their level of performance is consistently of a high standard. Today, aside from Petr Cech's long-term absence in goal, Chelsea will once again be able to pick their best side.

On the other hand it will be a case of Arsenal's young guns taking to the field this afternoon. Injuries to experienced, core players like Gallas, Rosicky and Henry plus a suspension for Toure will mean that Wenger has no choice but to utilise his pipeline of young talent. Arsenal will field a defence of Eboue (23), Senderos (21), Djourou (19) and Clichy (21): surely one of the most inexperienced backlines that the Gunners have ever fielded in a top division match. With Fabregas (19), Van Persie (23) and Adebayor (21) also expected to start there is no doubt that there will be a gulf of experience between the collective sides that take to the pitch at Stamford Bridge.

Add the factor of home advantage to Chelsea's greater weight of experience and I edge them as favourites for today's match. Yet having said this I consider that player-for-player Arsenal have the talent to be a match for Mourinho's men and I am again expecting a closely-fought, highly-technical, excellent football match between these two teams. Whatever the result I am sure fans of good football will enjoy this encounter.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Premiership weekend review 02-03/12/06

Wigan 0 v Liverpool 4

Well, at last an away win and not only one away goal but three, four including a helping hand...or leg. Craig Bellamy may have been troubled by the attention of the authorities and the pending court appearance to the degree of affecting his performance. That may have not been the case internationally but domestically Bellamy tried and tried. Now with it all over and behind him, he came into this fixture and delivered a brace towards winning the game, and an assist for Dirk Kuyt. Steven Gerrard had a hand in two of the goals at least and it was a good day for the Reds as it was bad for Wigan and Lee McCullouch.

Arsenal 3 v Spurs 0

Having lost two in a row away from home and the beginnings of a fall-out rumour where Thierry Henry is said to have been upset at not being selected for the derby, Arsenal aimed to revitalise their current fortunes. Henry himself was fashionably clad in black and sat behind the bench. Spurs' away form has been troubling at best and they came from a goal behind at home to beat Wigan with three well taken goals of their own. Without Henry and with the two defeats, Spurs looked to enhance on the Gunner woes.

All three of the goals are questionable. Dimitar Berbatov was ruled offside at one point and the margin shown seemed very slim, yet by the same token Emmanuel Adebayor was ruled onside and slipped away the first goal. When tomas Rosicky was through on goal but was challenged, replays showed Pascal Chimbonda had touched the ball and not the player, which in a sense meant Rosicky made more of the challenge. Graeme Poll ruled for a penalty and acting skipper Gilberto Silva coolly deposited the spot-kick. Robin van Persie was being chased by Ledley King and Jermaine Jenas, though Jenas should have dealt with the high ball comfortably but instead allowed the Dutch international to gain more advantage on him. In the process replays showed van Persie had handballed with his right hand, nothing given. Jenas unintentionally caught van Persie but he didn't go down until a second after. Nonetheless, from the initial contact another penalty was given and again the captain slotted home the ball.

With the Gunners back into winning ways, Martin Jol was creditable for not bring attention to the referee and instead blamed his side for not playing.

Everton 2 v West Ham 0

Having watched this game live, I witnessed West Ham playing some really good football and attacking to come at Everton in their own garden. What they couldn't do is execute the final ball in their opponents' half to score, their best chance coming from a Lee Bowyer effort that went towards Tim Howard. Also on display was Carlos Tevez' best display for some time, in any shirt much less a Hammers' one. Tevez took on players, cut inside, went outside, tried shots, played others in and frankly deserved something from his performance.

As West Ham enjoyed the first half, they came unstuck in the second. Joseph Yobo hit a pass that seemed to be too hard, yet James Beattie chased it and managed to guide it into the box for Leo osman to control and strike past Robert Green. That was with 6mins of the second half gone so there was time for an equaliser, however sub James Vaughan ran on down the left in injury time and was given too much angle by Jonathan Spector. He drilled a low shot under Green's body for Everton's second.

Sheff Utd 2 v Charlton 1

Watching the highlights to this game, I wondered if it was a wise decision to have departed with Iain Dowie. The statement given was that after some careful thought and discussion, it was advised and agreed that the club should dismiss the manager in consideration of recent performances and results. To do that for improvement and to see improvement would have made that decision a superb one. But did the club actually feel they had sufficient insight into Dowie's potential to lift the club and his relations with the players to sense they were going to make the right decision? Reason I say that is the man had twelve games in charge and eight defeats out of the twelve is a loud statistic. The objective from that point on is to lift Charlton from relegation, and could Dowie do that in appropriate time? No doubt it has been the club's worst run in the top flight.

Les Reed seems to currently fare no better. He has players who are well versed in the EPL in Talal El Karkouri, Andy Reid, Matt Holland, Luke Young, Darren and Marcus Bent, Herman Hreidarsson, Darren Ambrose, Kevin Lisbie, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. What do Charlton need now to change their fortunes round? Perhaps if I had the certified guarantee of an answer I could apply to move out Mr Reed. Perhaps they didn't have the kind of resolve they should have to matched that of Utd, who came at their visitors after conceding. Charlton scrambled their goal through Reid, but Chris Morgan raised well to head excellently for the equaliser. Keith Gillespie poised himself to volley the winner from outside the box. Were it not for Scott Carson in goal, the score could have been more for Utd.

Middlesbrough 1 v Man Utd 2

Utd scrambled this win through another Louis Saha finish and Darren Fletcher, either side of James Morrison's well taken low effort, but predominately Christiano Ronaldo featured more for his diving than his qualities. Awful was his fall when Mark Schwarzer came out as they both went to greet a sublime Saha through-ball, Schwarzer made no contact with Ronaldo. MOTD's Mark Lawrenson described the moment accurately, Ronaldo waited for the contact and none came dropped shortly thereafter. I seriously doubt the refereeing in that decision. Saha scored from the spot. Equally in doubt was the decision of George Boateng foulling Ronaldo, with replays showing Ronaldo caught his foot on Boateng's rather than the foul was created. From the freekick, Ronaldo struck the ball superbly for Schwarzer to save away.

Boro equalised when Stewart Downing crossed for Gabriel Heinze to head over into the path of Morrison, however two minutes later Wayne Rooney was on the ball and passed for the sprinting Ronaldo to collect, turning away from goal and then passing back to Ryan Giggs. Giggs' cross found Fletcher in the centre with a header to win the game.

Portsmouth 2 v Aston Villa 2

This was a good game, two top sides cancelling each other almost similarly to that of Man Utd and Chelsea last week. First blood went to Villa, when Gabriel Agbonlahor raced on to guide the ball past David James, who brought him down. The question was whether the striker would have slid the ball in despite the recovery of Sol Campbell and Pedro Mendes, or was the angle he would have had to have faced made the opportunity all the more difficult to score from? The referee said a booking and a penalty, which Gareth Barry scored from. Villa held the advantage until the 52nd minute when a superb cross came over for Matt Taylor to head in. Ten minutes later Barry was judged to have handballed in the area and Taylor scored from the penalty and the home side looked to record three points after going behind, but Juan Pablo Angel shot a deflected shot off Campbell to equalise deep into normal time.

Reading 1 v Bolton 0

Wigan went on a excellent run last season as a promoted side, Reading are doing the same. Keeper Marcus Hahnemann said Martin Jol's words before the game against Spurs motivated the players for a win, and since that game Reading have now won four on the trot, having lost four consecutively before Spurs. Steve Coppell said he isn't getting carried away with it and that is good for the season has long to go. But looking at themselves in sixth place must keep the Reading faithful beaming and full of good expectation of certainly not going back to the Championship. John Oster worked well down the right and diped a cross for Kevin Doyle to add to his tally, which I believe makes him the joint top scorer. It is looking good, at the moment.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

4-4-2 Arsenal at home: now we're talking!

The only potential positive I could take from Arsenal's defeat at Fulham on Wednesday was that it may have shaken Arsene Wenger up enough to return to the 4-4-2 system for the reasons that I wrote about on Tuesday (You can check it out in the 'latest articles' section to the right).

So when I saw in the opening seconds of yesterday's match against Spurs that Van Persie (who had an excellent game and is getting better and better) was taking-up a central position with Adder and Rosicky was starting wide left I got a good feeling that we would put in a positive performance. And as it turned out Arsenal did look a lot more lethal and direct having two strikers in the central position buzzing around the centre-back pairing of Dawson and King, and the four Arsenal midfielders demonstrated that they have enough about them to not require a fifth man in the midfield to support them in home Premiership matches.

Captain Gilberto and 'perpertual motion' Fabregas combined well in the CM, Freddie was at his fighting best on the right and Rosicky was fantastic in the Pires left-midfield role that Wenger had originally stated he had been bought for. It's sad to see that Tomas picked up another injury yesterday - I hope it won't keep him out for long because not only is his creativity excellent but he is shows to me in his effort and demeanour that he is a leader.

The defence was solid too yesterday but I want to focus particularly on Johan Djourou. I wrote a post about the young Swiss centre-back back in August ("Johan Djourou has fantastic composure and acceleration off the mark") saying that the apparent ease with which Wenger felt able to accept Sol Campbell's departure was because he knew that Johan was ready for more exposure to first-team football and that I saw in him good qualities which made me agree with that assessment. Since then he has stepped-up effortlessly and gives me enormous confidence every time I see him because he exudes outstanding talent, athleticism, concentration and composure.

I am impressed with the way Djourou is so light on his feet in his anticipation to move quickly and his spring in the air is awesome. For me he has earned the right to displace the gutsy but less naturally talented Senderos - who has struggled on his return to the team in the past week - in the stakes for first-team football and is an excellent cover-option for either Toure and Gallas.

The 3-0 win was good and much needed after a demoralising week but equally important for me is that Wenger went back to the proven successful tactics of 4-4-2 for home matches. I feel a lot more confident about our ability to beat teams who look to retreat all players into our half with the system that has been so prolific for us in previous seasons under Wenger, and I'm sure the AFC players feel likewise. Well done Arsene for reviving it yesterday!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Could 3-5-2 solve Liverpool's problems?

Liverpool secured their first away win of the season today. Perhaps more importantly, Liverpool produced their best performance of the season. They played in a 3-5-2 formation. The change in formation has been unavoidable since most of Liverpool's midfield players are injured. This may be a blessing in disguise judging from today's performance.

We all know that Gerrard prefers playing in central midfield and we all know that Rafa likes to play two defensive midfielders in Alonso and Sissoko. The 3-5-2 allows all three to play with Gerrard staying in the middle. Today we saw Luis Garcia occupy one of these central positions and that again is another useful option if Rafa wants to play with more a more offensive approach. At the back too the trio of Carragher, Hyypia and Agger sound a formidable combination. Finnan and Riise too seemed to relish playing as wing backs.

So on paper 3-5-2 sounds the way forward but nearly every team in the Premiership plays 4-4-2. Perhaps Rafa needs to see how it works over a period of time, and especially against the top teams. Nevertheless, it's about time we saw Liverpool produce a decent performance and just maybe 3-5-2 is their ace in the pack.


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