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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Goodison Park honours the passing of a young fan; EFT remembers others

On Wednesday night, when England faced Germany in the New Wembley friendly, eleven year old Everton fan Rhys Jones was shot at as he played football in a pub car park. The fatal bullet went through his neck. His parents Stephen and Melanie with son Owen attended Goodison Park on Saturday to see Everton play Blackburn, where both sets of fans and club members joined the Jones' in applauding in Rhys' memory. EFT sends its condolences to the Jones'.

Rhys Jones

Goodison Park join the Jones' in memory of Rhys.

Saturday's football began with the announcement of another young death. On Monday 20th August, Anton Reid of Walsall's youth side collapsed during training and died. Yesterday, Ray Jones, an 18-yr old QPR striker, died in the early hours after being in a vehicle collision with a bus, which also killed two other occupants in the same vehicle. EFT sends its condolences too to those who knew and were involved with both players.

Anton Reid

Ray Jones

During the La Liga match on Saturday evening between Sevilla and Getafe, which ended in a 4-1 home win, Sevilla's left wing-back Spanish international Antonio Puerta collapsed around the 35th minute in Sevilla's penalty area. It appeared he suffered unconsciousness but walked off the pitch, only to collapse again in the dressing room. He was taken to hospital where he was given cardiopulmonary resuscitation to revive him and was said to have suffered from a breakdown in the circulation of his blood, which is very serious to have placed him in the Intensive Care Unit. EFT sends all the best for Puerta's speedy recovery.

Antonio Puerta

[Tuesday 28th August 2007: Yesterday, Antonio Puerta died as he failed to regain consciousness in the Virgen del Rocio hospital where he was taken to after his collapse. Something which compounds his death is that he was due to be a first-time father in six weeks time. Sevilla was due to kick off their game with AEK Athens last night in the Champions League third round qualifier in Greece but that was understandably postponed. The European Super Cup fixture with the European Champions AC Milan this Friday may well go ahead. EFT conveys its condolences to Antonio Puerta's family, friends, team-mates and those who knew him.]

Football is competitive, thrilling, snarly, ecstatic and heartbreaking. When there is a death in connection, it is a time to reflect on how life holds no one back in any aspect of society if is their time of calling. Three young lives have perished, two of which were within the footballing ranks, one a possibility, all three in the making. Cameroon and Manchester City midfielder Marc Vivien-Foe collapsed during play on duty for country in June 2003, and died. Hungary and Benfica striker Miklos Feher collapsed during the domestic game with Vitoria Guimares in January 2004, and later died in hospital. You may recall I wrote an article on Hinckley United's Matt Gadsby, who collapsed during the game with Conference North rivals Harrogate United in September 2006 and died in hospital.

Leicester City's Clive Clarke collapsed in the dressing-room at half-time last night and had to be resuscitated via a defibrillator after mouth-to-mouth techniques failed to revive him. Clarke's current status is he is up and jovial in hospital. The Nottm Forest v Leicester City Carling Cup match was abandoned at half time, to be rescheduled.

Football as a profession can be lucrative or fun, or even both, but mainly it is to be enjoyed. I joined some friends on Saturday evening, among whom was a Manchester United fan, a Spurs fan and a Chelsea fan, and we usually have a discussion or debate on our teams' coming matches and the respective records against each other. We reflected on Saturday on the deaths this month connected to football and past fatalities, and toasted in their memory. Football is about more than life and death, until one happens. And then it is put back into its perspective.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Richard Dunne deserves high recognition

Table-topping Manchester City visit Arsenal this afternoon in what promises to be a fascinating match-up. And while all the talk - deservedly so too - has been of Micah Richards continued rise and rise in the Premier League, I want to mention recognition for his centre-back partner in the Manchester City defence, Richard Dunne.

In my reckoning he is the most underrated centre-back in the Premier League and has done well to rescue his career which at one stage looked to be going downhill harp due to unprofessionalism off the pitch. From what I remember then Man City manager, Kevin Keegan, told Dunne to mend his ways or there would be no future for him at Man City.

He did and how. When he first started in the Premier League he looked to be carrying a few extra pounds and did not look the most focused of individuals - which was in line with the talk that he was not looking after himself correctly. But now when you look at him he is physically fit, has good athleticism and speed across the ground for a big man, and wears the captain's armband with authority. He rarely misses a game through injury and when I see Man City he always has a strong game.

It is clear from Man City's obstruction of Man Utd last week that Richard Dunne was relishing the challenge of defending his team's one goal lead - a sign of a true defender with defensive mentality. It is also clear that Micah Richards is relishing playing alongside the Irish centre-back - towards the end of that match he did a big high five with Dunne after both combined to thwart another Man Utd attack. This is a partnership that has clear high potential and Eriksson must be very satisifed that he can build his team around this solid defensive duo.

Their match-up this afternoon with the likes of van Persie, Adebayor and Eduardo promises to be fascinating and although I won't make a prediction on the outcome I'm sure Dunne will have another 7-8 out of 10 performance as befitting someone who I consider to be a top centre-back.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Friendly at Wembley: England 1 Germany 2

With Steven Gerrard, Darren Bent, Andy Johnson, Owen Hargreaves, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole unavailable England fielded a side that still contained practically eight players who should be chosen to feature against Israel in the qualifier in a fortnight's time. Paul Robinson, Micah Richards, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, David Beckham, Michael Owen. Why is this the case? Why are these eight guaranteed selection come September 8th? Terry is the national captain and if fit will feature, but the others have to justify their selection. Is that justification made easier because we have no one else for their positions? Does anyone think Campbell and David James are too old to be playing for England?

England featured Nicky Shorey for Cole, Michael Carrick for Hargreaves, Alan Smith alongside Michael Owen. The Germans were missing Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose, Lucas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Torsten Frings, Tim Borowski, Oliver Neuville, and in came debutant Christian Pander at left-back, former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, Piotr Trochowski and Kevin Kuranyi with Bernd Schneider as vice-captain in the starting XI. Much was made of Jens Lehmann in goal following two blunders in Arsenal's opening league games but the keeper was unfazed with the press and relished turning out at the new Wembley.

England got off to a good start in the opening twenty minutes. I felt we were sturdy at the back with the lone man in Kuranyi, I earmarked Daniel Odonkor as a potential danger with his pace and position supporting Kuranyi but Odonkor saw little of the ball, so too did Kuranyi in those 20mins. england kept possession well and passed around quicker and sharper, players were moving into spaces in anticipation a lot more than before. Micah Richards had a superb time thwarting Man Utd at the weekend and took on the flanks like a winger, always taking on Pander who struggled to keep up with him. Richards went on a little run to tuck the ball to Lampard, who turned and shot a fierce drive past Lehmann. Alan Shearer said at half time that Lehmann should have done better at his near post, but it was a fierce drive.

Now Lampard was stated as being "[b]ooed on his last appearance at Wembley against Brazil" and "he had a point to prove - and he certainly did just that with his early goal.
If he had got on the end of [Shaun] Wright-Phillips' cross to equalise late on, then he would have been England's hero. Even so, he still vindicated his continued selection." I felt Lampard was OK but could have contributed much more, He was on hand to dispossess on occasion and joined up in the nuild-up towards the Germany goal. Scoring a goal doesn't vindicate anyone on its own. England were quite comfortable with Germany offering little in return until a blunder from Robinson suddenly gifted the opposition with confidence.

Past the half-way point of the half, Hitzlsperger came forward and shot at Robinson to which the Spurs keeper got down well to stop but the ball was loose for Nicky Shorey to gather and clear. The clearance fell straight to Schneider on the right wing, who touched it forward, keeping it from going off for a throw, and then delivered a cross. Robinson had at this time anticipated a curling ball to the penalty spot and was off his line. The cross instead directed towards the goal and Robinson had a split-second to react, stepping back hurriedly and diving to tip the ball away from goal. The ball fell directly to Kuranyi and before either Terry or Ferdinand could even react, the Schalke 04 forward had tucked the ball away into an unguarded net.

What could Robinson have done otherwise? He could have positioned himself better, he could have palmed the ball back in the same direction it came from, but in palming the ball to Kuranyi it showed he did not look or have an idea of Kuranyi's presence. England could have equalised when a Beckham free-kick was just missed at the far post after Smith flicked it on. Lampard was found on the left and as he took two extra touches he was closed down and Lehmann saved comfortably. From then the Germans played with more poise and came forward more often. Christoph Metzelder's header from a Pander curling left-foot free-kick would have been dismissed due to a flag but Robinson came out and completely missed the ball in the process.

We lost some of the panache we had in the first 20mins and Germany took the lead as Pander shrugged off his Richards endurance to smack a left foot strike from 20-25 yards past Robinson. No one closed him down. Owen should have scored when Smith again flicked on the ball and Lehmann could only parry the ball into Owen's path. Owen was inches away from an open goal and from an angle he has scored from before, he hooked the ball high over the bar. The second half had England coming forward but they failed to have the sharpness they had in the first half first 20mins. James and Wes Brown came on for Robinson and Ferdinand for the second half, Gareth Barry came on for Carrick mid-way, Peter Crouch and Kieron Dyer came on for Smith and Owen and lastly Wright-Phillips took over from Cole on the left wing.

James was due to replace Robinson at half-time, apparently, and Ferdinand was off with a slight injury, which moved Richards to centre-back and brown to right-back. Lampard went close getting on the end of a SWP cross but the ball came off his toe away from goal. Dyer was found on the right but couldnt tee up his shot after Beckham played him through. England should have pushed on more after Lampard's goal and despite Robinson's error should have restarted their drive again to put pressure back on the Germans, but instead the error had gotten to them and that allowed Germany back into the game. MOTM was Richards, looking better and better for club and country.

As for Steve McLaren, I see him as a scapegoat. The players yesterday showed they can play well but then waned and lost sharpness overall. The names of Joleon Lescott, Dean Ashton, Stephen Taylor, pass around but it's more to do with their mentality on the pitch, I don't think it is strong enough to endure for 90mins. McLaren has as much to do with that as the players do but he seems to get most of the criticism. The thing is if he was to poll the nation for who should play where, he would still dissatisfy many. Within the next fortnight the squad need to pray for two things: they have a full fit squad and they all want to eat, drink, sleep football. Otherwise they will not have the appetite to qualify for Euro2008, much less issue that first win in new Wembley.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Anfield level as the Gunners are held and Blues win derby

Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1

Liverpool needed to win to jump some places from the bottom half of the table as Chelsea went into their third game looking to continue their 100% record. Both sides looked arguably evens at Anfield yesterday pre-match and if I was a betting man I would have wagered on a draw.

It was the 16th minute when Steven Gerrard knocked a sublime ball down the left flaank inside Tal Ben Haim for Fernando Torres to chase. The Spaniard ran, paused with the ball then quickly continued towards goal, touching the ball wide of Petr Cech. Chelsea gained an equaliser after the hour as Shaun Wright-Phillips knocked a pass across the box and Florent Malouda was judged to have been fouled by Steve Finnan, something which was met by aghast Liverpool faces. Replays showed Malouda had jumped onto Finnan without the Irishman even making contact. Frank Lampard scored from the spot.

The decision given by the ref added further to encapsulate some bizarre refereeing by Rob Styles, to the degree where Styles has been demoted, for the interim, to not officiate at the weekend. Styles had a good view of the incident but this does not, for me, negate the argument against having video footage to rely on for such moments. I am yet to be convinced but maybe such technology would be better introduced after Xmas where points are more crucial.

Keith Hackett, a former referee, is the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Limited, who are responsible for the supervision of referees, and he said:

"I spoke to Rob [Styles] this morning and obviously he is extremely disappointed with the decision and admitted he got it wrong. I left a message with Rafael Benitez to apologise. Having looked at a video and seen a better angle and a better view, clearly [Rob Styles] now recognises that he got it wrong and he's deeply apologetic for that. I think, in fact, he too will be making contact with Liverpool in order to offer his apologies."

At one point, Torres went down from a Ben Haim challenge and John Terry came across to have words with Torres, Torres then pushed Terry away lightly. Styles then blew immediately and signalled a booking for Terry with the yellow card, wrote on his card and then handed the ball to Torres with Michael Essien standing by. Styles then showed the yellow card again in front of Essien, who was already booked. Essien had hands on his head thinking he was being dismissed for nothing until Styles indicated the booking was for Terry, and Styles' hand in the air with the yellow card was to merely indicate a direct free-kick to Liverpool, without realisng he had the card in hand.

I found Rob Styles farcical. But the decision won't change either at the time or afterwards, and while we may 'moan' where some fans are concerned, the time now is to move on and concentrate on our game with Sunderland next Saturday.

Blackburn Rovers 1 Arsenal 1

I didn't get to see this game as it was not live so I welcome any insight for any Blackburn Rovers or Arsenal fan, or anyone who went to the game or saw it elsewhere. I understand fromt he morning press that Jens Lehmann committed another clanger, Ryan Nelsen was dismissed with some 15mins to go, robin Van Persie and David Dunn both scored the goals.

Manchester City 1 Manchester United 0

Talking of bets, no one would have wagered on this scoreline. Three games in Utd have gained two draws, two points, and 16th in the table. No Wayne Rooney until perhaps Xmas, no Christiano Ronaldo for the next two games now, one goal scored, two conceded. This does not spell anything whatsoever, thirty-five games more remaining in the league. Plus in Ronaldo's absence there is Nani. In Rooney's, there is Carlos Tevez. It is almost like for like. Yet as Utd used more of the possession, they could not convert any of it into a goal.

City had weathered some storm in Utd's attack and when they actually began to use the players and space around to pass the ball and open up the Utd mifield, up stepped Geovanni to hit a strike at Edwin van der Sar, which spun off the heel of Nemanja Vidic into the net. Bragging rights to City, under Sven-Goran Eriksson, but I didn't expect the match to finish like this. I suspected Eriksson would add some 'flavour', if you will, to the team, on his appointment but it was more a combination of Richard Dunne and Micah Richards to the rescue, with young Kasper Schmeichel keeping out his father's former club.

Worst beginning of a season for Utd in fifteen years. But this one is an early one thus far. Alex Ferguson spoke of a worry regarding defending the title, which I think is quite premature.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Wigan top the table as little Sam feels big heat

Wigan 3 Sunderland 0

Having started with a narrow defeat at Goodison Park, Chris Hutchings' new look Wigan Athletic have notched two consecutive wins with four goals and none conceded to rise to the summit of the Premiership, even if it is for the interim. Kevin Kilbane fills in at left back in the permanent absence of Leighton Baines, Titus Bramble and Andreas Granqvist hold the central defence as opposed to Stephane Henchoz and Arjan De Zeeuw, and Mario Melchiot is skippering at right-back. Antonie Sibierski partners Emile Heskey upfront. I would have chosen Kilbane on the left wing with Paul Scharner at left-back, Denny Landzaat central midfield with Jason Koumas, Luis Valencia on the right wing. When the current formation play as Wigan did yesterday, there is little to debate changing.

Sunderland gained four points out of six and came down with a thump. Their defending was scrappy and desperate with a number of decisions that appeared to warrant intervention from the referee Mike Riley going ignored. Nyron Nosworthy seemed to have had a hold on Heskey but Heskey looked to go down easily, perhaps to show Nosworthy's grip on him. Greg Halford came in with a tackle to eventually bring down Koumas which looked a clear penalty and then clearly barged Heskey away as the striker chased a back-pass. But Wigan made the breakthrough on 19mins with Valencia crossing for Heskey, the ball deflecting off Nosworthy but still making its way to the striker to cut into the goal.

Paul McShane came to a high ball in the second half and clashed heads, with blood seeping from a head wound. As he was being treated, play continued with Danny Collins covering from midfield for McShane and then holding back on Sibierski in the box. Landzaat stepped up to deposit the spot-kick just past the hour. Minutes later and Wigan were awarded another penalty via more clumsy defending as McShane's replacement Russell Anderson came in on Heskey in the box. Replays showed the challenge was as late as Heskey going down rather tamely. This time Sibierski scored from the penalty spot.

Reading 1 Everton 0

Two wins out of two placed Everton at the top before this game. Reading had one point out of six and were unfortunate against Chelsea, though having a man dismissed in your opening two games helps none. Mikel Arteta touched back a high chip in the box for Andy Johnson but the shot was blocked. Everton escaped with a penalty claim when the ball struck Joleon Lescott on the forearm but a corner was given. Reading took the lead as Lescott stood behind Arteta marshalling who to watch but as the ball was thrown in it caught Lescott off-guard, bounced into the box, Kevin Doyle outmuscled Alan Stubbs for Stephen Hunt to react the fastest ahead of Tony Hibbert and step in to cut across Tim Howard from close range.

Everton brought on James McFadden for Hibbert and the Scotsman jingled on the right before cutting onto his left and chipping the ball off the crossbar. Johnson then pounced as Ulises de la Cruz stumbled, escaped Marcus Hahnemann yet hit the post.

Newcastle 0 Aston Villa 0

Not much to report on this game, not particularly an exciting no score draw. Oh yes, Michael Owen made an appearance with 27mins remaining for Obafemi Martins so we can assume he will start against Germany on Wednesday. Mark Viduka came off for Shola Ameobi and captain Geremi was subbed for new defender Claudio Roberto da Silva, or Ca├žapa, a signing from Lyon. I felt the subs were not appropriate if Sam Allardyce wanted to win the game. Martin O'Neill felt Villa had the better chances of the game and I would grant him that. Although Steve Harper deputised well again in Shay Given's absence with a save from Nigel Reo-Coker's bending effort, loanee Scott Carson kept out David Rozehnal from close-range.

Fulham 1 Middlesbrough 2

Lawrie Sanchez is rightly aggrieved with the failure of the linesman in one incident but we will get to that. Boro have lost their opening two games and desperately seeked a point much less three. Fulham were on hand in the week to defeat Bolton and had home advantage to add another win to their notch. Steven Davis found Alexei Smertin, the Russian racing to the line to cut back for David Healy. Healy had Lee Cattermole shadowing him and dummied, the ball finding its way to the unmarked captain Brian McBride, who cut in a shot past Mark Schwarzer. In the process McBride dislocated his left kneecap with no one challenging him, and is expected to be out for several months so all the best to recovery for the American and good to see him give the thumbs up as he was taken off on a stretcher.

Fifteen minutes on Hameur Bouazza dislocated his shoulder in an innocuous challenge and joined McBride on the way to hospital. Considering Jimmy Bullard dislocated his knee last season, I hope there is not a trend at Craven Cottage.

The lead held for the half time break but in the second half new signing Mido found space on the left to accept the ball from Julio Arca and then aimed a low but comfort shot for Tony Warner to gather. But the ball came off his gloves and into the net. Sub Jeremie Aliadiere worked excellently to collect a through ball and round Warner but he knocked the ball too hard and Paul Konchesky got in front of him, the Frenchman pulling the defender back to score to no avail.

McBride replacement Diomansy Kamara scored but Clint Dempsey had come charging into Andrew Davies quite stupidly beforehand so no goal. Depmsey then had a superb open goal to score but missed from mere yards to compound what would be Fulham's defeat. Aliadiere was watched by Konchesky but he cleverly turned a reverse pass inside Carlos Bocanegra for Cattermole to run onto and hit first time past Warner. Fulham were fuming in injury time as Healy got onto a low cross in the box to prod the ball towards goal, Schwarzer managed to stop it but the whole ball had crossed the line, almost of Roy Carroll proportions against Spurs back in January 2005.

In fairness, the linesman may not have seen the whole of the ball for some reason and preferred not to give in doubt.

Spurs 4 Derby 0

If you were not aware of Spurs' beginning, you probably didnt read the sports pages. For a side consisting of Dimitar Berbatov, Darren Bent, Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe as striker options, they seem destined to disrupt the 'top four's positioning and practically grab honours this season. Yet two games, two defeats in, rumours flew high on Martin Jol's position itself, much less that of Spurs. How can anyone speak on two games so early? Easily, because it provides buzzing sensationalism. Berbatov pulls out domestically and internationally with a groin problem, France U21 skipper Younes Kaboul is out already with a hamstring problem. Both players are expected to be unavailable for two and four weeks respectively. Gareth Bale has yet to kick a Premiership ball but is said to be getting better.

Derby started well at home against Portsmouth but were defeated away at Manchester City. They didn't fare well away from home again, and how. Bent accompanied Keane up front but it was Jermaine Jenas' quick free-kick to Steed Malbranque and the Frenchman's low drive that opened up the scoring. Malbranque did it again, once again left alone free to fire past Stephen Bywater. Jenas went on a little run towards goal and scuffed the ball through Darren Moore's legs for number three, and in the second half a high ball with Bywater out of goal fell to Defoe and Bent, the former Ipswich man nodding in for his first Spurs goal.

Portsmouth 3 Bolton 1

Such a different Portsmouth from the one who was always relegation fodder. Pompey had to do without captain Sol Campbell so Herman Hreidarsson covered with Sylvain Distin as captain. Due to absentees, Pompey had Djimi Traore at right-back. Bolton has lost some ethos from Big sam's departure and it has not been replaced. There is a sense of lost perceived from their play, as if they are not settled enough to maintain their usual strong attacking approach. Kevin Nolan started upfront alongside Niclas Anelka to compensate for Kevin Davies and Ricardo Vaz Te being injured. I'm yet to be convinced of Gerald Cid, signed from Bordeaux, and I dont see him as a replacement for Tal Ben Haim. Also I know of Christian Wilhelmsson from the World Cup and think he should have started on the right, leaving Andranik Teymourian on the left, Nolan alongside Gary Speed in central midfield and not up front. Anelka should have partnered El Hadji-Diouf.

But Bolton took the lead on 12mins as El Hadji-Diouf passed down the left flank for Anelka to run onto and strike low and hard to deflect the ball in through David James' legs. Portsmouth scored after when Nwankwo Kanu headed in well from a corner but the referee Steve Tanner blew for an infringement, which I couldn't see.

Bolton were incensed as Hreidarsson appeared to pull on Anelka before passing for Gary O'Neil down the right. O'Neil crossed over where Teymourian was left alone to deal with John Utaka and Kanu. The Rennes midfielder chested to the Nigerian to easily score the equaliser from close range. Utaka scored against Derby and was on hand again for Portsmouth to take the lead. Kanu managed to flick on the ball to Utaka and the winger simply collected and sped off despite the efforts of Gerald Cid and Nicky Hunt, who were both out of position to offer any resistance. Utaka even rounded Jussi Jaaskelainen to score. The final nail came minutes from normal time as Cid was judged to have fouled Kanu in the box and Matt Taylor stepped up to score from the spot.

Birmingham 0 West Ham 1

Quite a scrappy uneventful first half of little point. I felt West Ham had a penalty when Stephen Kelly clearly blocked Kieron Dyer in the box with his arm across Dyer's throat and then holding dyer's left arm but it was not given, bizarre as it seemed. A West ham free-kick after a Raidi Jahdi handball was thumped off the post by Mark Noble. A Birmingham free-kick ended with a shot by Mikael Forssell that was blocked and Jahdi's follow-up palmed away by Robert Green. In the second half West Ham were the better side. Bobby Zamora volleyed over from close range, Craig Bellamy mis-hit when Noble cut back to him from the touchline. Matthew Etherington went on a gallop with Bellamy as West Ham were 2-1 on the attack towards Birmingham's goal, Dyer sprinted up and collected a pass but then his first touched was bad.

But West Ham emerged victorious as Bellamy went to chase a Noble pass into the box. I was critical of Birmingham keeper Colin Doyle against Chelsea for the goals and he was suspect yesterday as well. As Bellamy raced on, Jahdi had him covered and the threat was heading away from goal but Doyle came out to gather the ball when he would have been better to stay and let Jahdi deal with it. Or, having come out, he should have blocked Bellamy out until defenders arrived to quell the threat. But instead he went to gather the ball and was 2nd to it, and if you do that as a keeper you risk giving away a penalty, no matter how harsh such a decision would be. Bellamy seemed content to go down. Noble scored from the spot.

With Freddie Ljungberg injured, Matthew upson was captain andbeing a former Blues player was booed at every touch of the ball. On this display Noble should be the captain outright, he was their MOTM and hardly gives less than 90% every match.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Arsenal and Chelsea pull out wins as Utd lose Rooney

Why were these games played on Sunday? The three top teams in the league, as if to give them advantage of seeing how everyone else would do on their respective starting days. Even Arsene Wenger has made comment in regard to the schedules, where Man Utd and Chelsea play in midweek in the league as the Gunners and Liverpool go to their Champions League qualifiers. Playing on Saturday or Sunday would have made little difference where Wayne Rooney is concerned, as he broke his left foot. Not only is he a doubt for this side of the campaign and for the Euro2008 qualifiers, but there has been a crescendo of "Oh No!!!" around from those who have entered fantasy football competitions. Obviously those who had not chosen Rooney rub their hands with glee.

Arsenal 2 Fulham 1

The Gunners began their first game in The Emirates with a last-gasp draw after going behind to a 53rd min Olof Mellberg header last season. Skipper Gilberto Silva was on hand with the 84th min equaliser then, but is currently on a break after the well-earned performance in the Copa America of himself and the Brazilian team. Therefore new skipper was William Gallas, though I would have looked on Kolo Toure or even young Cesc Fabregas, or even Jens Lehmann. Had it been the German keeper it would have not gotten off to a good start when he aimed to clear a Gael Clichy back-pass and instead spilled the ball to the oncoming David Healy. The Northern Ireland forward put away the ball to give the visitors the lead.

Arsenal came at Fulham for the equaliser, which called for replacement Tony Warner to perform numerous saves to deny Tomas Rosicky, Fabregas and Robin Van Persie particularly. Fulham looked to a penalty claim as Steve Davis fell in the box but that was before Chris Baird was cleared after his challenge appeared to have brought down Alexander Hleb. It was hard to believe Arsenal were to lose their first game following on from drawing their first last season, but as Toure came hurtling through challenge after challenge he was stopped by Carlos Bocanegra to give the Gunners a chance to level from the spot. Van Persie step up to deliver and curl the effort away from Warner.

So instead Arsenal were to come from behind again to draw 1-1, it seemed, until a timed ball over the defence found Hleb, and with seconds remaining of normal time the Belarussian turned inside to slot past Warner.

Chelsea 3 Birmingham City 2

Chelsea fielded three debutants in Tal Ben-Haim, Florent Malouda and Claudio Pizarro and it was the Frenchman and the Peruvian who came to the cause as the Londoners were pushed to their victory by the newcomers. Gary McSheffrey delivered a freekick that was nodded on by recent signing and new captain Liam Ridgewell onto the head of Mikael Forssell, to go pass the wrong-footed Petr Cech for Birmingham's opening Premier goal. Chelsea equalised when Shaun Wright-Phillips combined with Malouda to pull back for Pizarro's first on his debut.

Malouda started and finished a short move when his ball made its way to Salomon Kalou and Kalou slipped a through ball for Malouda to score, though I felt the keeper should have closed down better than he did. Birmingham were not finished. Sky Sports showed before the game how Olivier Kapo could shoot and shoot well from distance, and when the Ivorian-born forward leapt on the mis-control of Glen Johnson, he ran on at goal and smacked a fierce drive past Cech.

Potentially Birmingham keeper Colin Doyle could have been at fault for Chelsea's goals as he got two hands to Pizarro's goal and should have done better. Having not closed down enough on Malouda for Chelsea's second, he was inept for the third Chelsea goal after the break. Wright-Phillips laid the ball back for Michael Essien to smack it first time, the ball curling but at a good height to stop though Doyle's positioning made the keeper flap at the effort as it went in.

Manchester United 0 Reading 0

Not the start Sir Alex Ferguson would have enjoyed but it was not a defeat. The telling moments were Ryan Giggs' volley off the post, though Marcus Hahnemann looked in a good position to cover it nonetheless. Reading seemed defensive, keeping a tight watch and shadow over key players Wayne Rooney, Christian Ronaldo and Giggs. Rooney was participating for the half but suffered a setback when he went into a challenge with Michael Duberry. Not emerging for the second 45, it was confirmed Rooney had broken his left foot, which means he will be out for a considerable length of time. Carlos Tevez, anyone?!?

As Utd aimed attack after attack at Reading's resolve to defend every Utd movement, Steve Coppell brought on Dave Kitson for Kevin Doyle in what was an incredibly short appearance. As Patrice Evra threw the ball froma throw-in, he received it back and then played it down the line immediately as Kitson came in to tackle. As the tackle came in it was late, high and so off target that not only did it make contact Evra's ankle area, but the referee gave no other sanction than a straight red. I understood such tackles were sufficient of a dismissal and as such the referee was right, though Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports seem to be of the opinion Kitson should have received a booking. Kitson lasted something like 30-35 seconds, adn the last thing Reading wanted was to be a man short at Old Trafford with a quarter of an hour to go.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Football Season 2007/08

Hello to any new comers to EliteFootballTalk and welcome to those already familiar with this site. Its been a while since the last posting, practically a month, but football in England has returned to the respective leagues and returned with some good results, depending on your standing. New signings usually follow the pre-season period between seasons and a number of new faces made their debut yesterday afternoon and in the evening. Focusing on the Premiership generally, today brings matches from The Emirates, Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford so let's review seven matches that were played yesterday.

Sunderland 1 Spurs 0

The Stadium of Light kicked off the Premiership season, Roy Keane's first match as Sunderland manager at the top against a Spurs side with rich promise of something minimum of a top four place considering the signings. Keane signed former Hearts and Scotland keeper Craig Gordon, Kieran Richardson and particularly Michael Chopra who was expected to have to play up to the crowd for support following his previous link with North East rivals Newcastle. I certainly don't believe he has to, his prowess for Cardiff was superb and Chopra had unleashed a considerable amount of pent up energy untapped by Newcastle by scoring plenty of goals. Martin Jol brought in the France U21 captain Younes Kaboul and Darren Bent, and with Dimitar Berbatov, Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe available, Spurs look to have a formidable scoring force why many consider they will reach higher heights.

Spurs made good work of the ball to approach the opposite goal but in Sunderland's third they were defended out well or failed to properly connect with any effort. Sunderland were comfortable to soak up the pressure and hit on the counter however they were sluggish in taking each counter on Berbatov collected a high ball to set up Keane for a low strike at goal, only for Gordon to comfortably gather. Berbatov also ran onto the end of a long ball and looped it over the oncoming rush of Gordon, but then he had taken too long and with Paul McShane intervening, the danger was cleared to the appeal of Spurs players claiming a penalty to no avail.

Sunderland had two good chances when a Ross Wallace cross evaded all and fell to Daryl Murphy, who took too long and was eventually closed down by Paul Robinson's block. Later, Carlos Edwards dummied two Spurs players to set up Dickson Etuhu for a lifted effort just curling away from goal. Throughout the game McShane and Nyron Nosworthy were on hand to continuously thwart Spurs' efforts, Berbatov gained little in the second half to change that and was unhappily subbed for Bent. The question for me is why did Keane begin with Chopra on the bench and then, seeing his side practically offer little in front of Spurs' goal for the majority of the game, take so long to introduce him? Perhaps it was simply an ingenious plot to wait late in the game and put Chopra's energy out to field.

Tom Huddlestone came on for Dider Zokora and rifled a neat volley with little power for Gordon to gather. It was near injury time when Etuhu received the ball in the box only for it to come off his thigh to force Robinson into a timely save. Yet it was injury time when Wallace twisted Paul Stalteri inside out like a jumper to cross for Anthony Gardner to miss, and Chopra to control and curl low past Robinson. In 2005/06, Spurs were denied a win by a last minute Murphy goal, and this time Spurs were denied any point.

Middlesbrough 1 Blackburn 2

Middlesbrough have injuries in Robert Huth, Jonathan Woodgate and Emanuel Pogatetz in defence, plus have released Mark Viduka, adding Jeremie Aliadiere to partner Aiyegbeni Yakubu. We need to wait until all are well enough but currently Middlesbrough are still lacking some oomph to improve their team. Main thing is Stewart Downing is still with the club and Yakubu, two players which they must fight to keep to maintain Premiership status. Blackburn added Roque Santa Cruz from Bayern Munich on the bench. Downing gave Boro the lead with a curling freekick that squeezed literally around the wall and inside Brad Friedel's right hand post. Benni McCarthy sustained a knock to the head and then collapsed fortunately in presence of the Blackburn physio, to be treated and taken off in a neck brace for precaution, the word being he will be OK. McCarthy was replaced by Santa Cruz, the very same person McCarthy warned would have to fight for a place upfront.

Within minutes of coming on, David Bentley delivered a sweet cross for the Paraguayan to head in on his debut. Another substitute in Matt Derbyshire is continuing to prove his worth with another stunning finish, collecting on the left and then dipping a lovely effort over Matt Schwarzer.

Everton 2 Wigan 1

Everton have a strong defensive and attacking unit and with their UEFA cup route to encounter began business in good order. Having to deal with another long Tim Cahill injury, Leo Osman took advantage of a loose ball to loop a header over Chris Kirkland. Andy Johnson make good work of the ball to bring it to the touchline and pull it back for Victor Anichebe to nod in no.2, despite Titus Bramble's efforts to block. Paul Scharner latched onto an Emile Heskey flick to race down the right and pass across goal for Antoine Sibierski to touch the ball in.

Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 2

Villa added Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood from West Ham but had to have Stuart Taylor in goal to deputise for the injured Thomas Sorensen. Liverpool unveiled Fernando Torres for his Premiership debut start, with Ryan Babel and Andriy Voronin on the bench. Villa starte the brighter with Craig Gardner shooting to christen the hands of Pepe Reina while Jamie Carragher had to race rapidly to cover John Carew's effort with a good block. Then Liverpool began to take over with Torres moving around and setting up a number of chances on goal, Steven Gerrard was blocked out by Gardner, and Torres eventually opening up on goal to force a good save by Taylor, the ball trickling towards the touchline before Dirk Kuyt pulled it back for Martin Laursen to put into his own net. Laursen has been unfortunate with injuries and fared little with the ball coming at him.

Liverpool came out the better in the second half, looking to build on their lead through Gerrard mainly as he was denied on goal yet again. But Villa surged on through the skipper Gareth Barry on the attack which culminated in a ball delivered into the box that was judged to have been handled by Carragher, a right decision. Barry scored from the spot. But moments later Gerrard went on the attack and has he aimed to turn past Stilian Petrov, the Bulgarian was judged to have impeded Gerrard's movement, which for me was another right decision. What followed was a dipping Gerrard freekick from 30-35 yards to which Taylor got a hand but couldnt keep out.

Bolton 1 Newcastle 3

Another coveted game following a North East team. Sam Allardyce returned to The Reebok stadium on his opening day, which may have been good for him to get over. There were more cheers than boos when Big Sam entered and greeted little Sam in Sammy Lee. But the boos from the home support, as minor as it was, should have been directed at the home side's first half show. Charles N'Zogbia curled a left-foot freekick from the right that dipped over and curled, a difficult one to defend and defend is certainly not the adjective Bolton used in approaching the ball. No one got a touch and it bounced comfortably into the net. Alan Smith and James Milner combined for Miner to deliver a corss from which Obafemi Martins controlled then performed an overhead kick past Jussi Jaaskelainen.

To compound Bolton's first 45mins, Martins latched onto a loose ball and raced on goal to shoot, the shot coming off Abdoulaye Faye's leg to deflect past Jaaskelainen. The Iceland keeper looked as if he conceded he was beaten, then saw he could have made it and then aimed a feeble foot as the ball trickled past. Bolton pulled one back after the break as Kevin Nolan broke on the counter and found Niclas Anelka on the right, the Frenchman chased by Stephen Carr but slotted past Steve Harper nonetheless.

West Ham 0 Man City 2

I said to many who were listening that if there was a manager needed to lift Man City, Sven-Goran Eriksson is certainly a good choice. His record with England notwithstanding, Eriksson has a contrasting one domestically in Sweden and Italy and with such influence he could bring in players of such flair that was clearly missing from the Stuart Pearce days. Not that Pearce was poor, but that the flair Pearce should have emanated from his choices just didnt materialise enough and that was down to the players in question. As tasty a player is in Joey Barton, his temperament was susceptible and to inure a team-mate to such an extent, regardless of the reason, meant the midfielder had to be released. Now in the Eriksson-era, his foreign players made their debut yesterday.

West Ham made a few signings of their own in Scott Parker, Craig Bellamy, Freddie Ljungberg, welcomed Matthew Upson to competitive football and also Dean Ashton, who was on the bench. Lucas Neill was injured so Ljungberg emerged, surprisingly, as captain when I would have prefered any out of Anton Ferdinand, Mark Noble, Lee Bowyer and Luis Boa Morte.

With Andreas Isaksson injured in stepped Kasper Schmeichel, son of Peter, in goal; Croatian Vedran Corluka and Spaniard Javier Garrido in defence; Brazilians Elano who came off for Deiberson Geovanni, Bulgarian Martin Petrov all in midfield; forwards Italian Rolano Bianchi and another Bulgarian in Valeri Bojinov, from Serie A's Reggina and Juventus respectively. Petrov was showing no first time blues as he looked to test Robert Green at almost every opportunity from long range. But it was Bianchi was the one on hand to opening his scoring as Elano bursted on past Upson with ease to square for the Italian to touch in.

West Ham came better in the second half through efforts by Bobby Zamora, Bellamy missing from inches with an open goal as a low cross by Ljungberg eluded him, but it was sub Nedum Onuoha who bursted down the right with three West Ham players hounding him, yet he turned and pushed and set up Geovanni for a low shot past Green. Not the be-all-and-end-all of course but Eriksson with his signings and influence has instilled some flair into a side that came good under Pearce then turned bad in the end. With Dieter Hamann marshalling in front of the defence alongside Michael Johnson, Elano settling between Petrov and Stephen Ireland to provide aid to Bianchi, it was a good start for the Swede.

Derby County 2 Portsmouth 2

New boys Sunderland started well in front of their fans with a 1-0 win over Spurs, and Derby fared well in their premiere match against a toughened Pompey side. Sol Campbell is captain alongside former Man City skipper Slyvain Distin but it was Derby who spilled first blood as captain Matt Oakley knocked in a bouncing ball. Benjani Mwaruwari then equalised with a tame effort in front of goal after tricking his way through, Stephen Bywater not reacting fast enough to deny. Portsmouth then looked to have all three points as new man John Utaka came to touch in the ball after a combined piece of play between Distin and Herman Hreidarsson, but new boy himself Andy Todd ran into the penalty box to meet Gary Teale's pull back with a bullet header with David James having no chance to see it, much less stop it.



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