Saturday, 10 March 2018

Seething Cauldrons

Kenedy scored his first two goals for yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Newcastle as The Magpies eased their relegation fears with a fine three-nil win over a desperately poor Southampton. The hosts - whose hard-fought victory over The Scum three weeks ago appears to have given the players a small dose of self-belief which had been missing-in-action for much of the season so far - went ahead after just sixty three seconds. Kenedy, on loan from Moscow Chelski FC, collected Jonjo Shelvey's pass on his chest, spun and shot on the half-volley past Alex McCarthy. Kenedy then doubled the advantage, finishing off a quick counter-attack from a Southampton corner after good work by Ayoze Perez and Dwight Gayle. The hosts added a third in the second-half when the impressive Shelvey set up an unmarked Matt Ritchie, who steered his shot from twenty yards into the bottom corner. Southampton's best chance fell to substitute Josh Sims, but his strike was well saved by Martin Dubravka. Newcastle - who have lost just one of their last six league games - moved up from sixteenth to thirteenth in the Premier League, five points clear of the bottom three.
Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho said that he 'doesn't care' whether people think his The Scum side deserved the two-one victory over The Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws which strengthened their grip on second place in the Premiership. Marcus Rashford scored twice on his recall to the starting eleven to give The Special One's side the points despite a largely defensive display in which they had just thirty two per cent of possession and only two shots on target. 'It was a complete performance by us with two different halves,' Mourinho said. 'If people don't think we deserved it, I don't care.' The win meant that The Scum narrowed the gap on runaway leaders Sheikh Yer Man City to a mere thirteen points - at least until City play at Dirty Stoke on Monday - but, more pertinently, The Scum are now five points clear of the third-placed Merseysiders. Cenk Tosun scored for the second successive game to seal a third straight home win for Everton as Brighton & Hove Albinos finished with ten men at Goodison Park. The Toffees took the lead when Gaetan Bong steered the ball into his own net when trying to clear a curling cross by Yannick Bolasie intended for Theo Walcott. Tosun, who scored his first Everton goal at Burnley last week following a move from Besiktas in January, doubled the lead with a quality finish from outside the penalty area. Anthony Knockaert was sent off for an ugly challenge on Leighton Baines before Wayne Rooney had a penalty saved by Brighton keeper Mathew Ryan after Shane Duffy brought down Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Swansea hung on for a hard-earned point at Huddersfield despite having Jordan Ayew sent off after only eleven minutes. Ayew was shown a straight red card by referee Michael Oliver after a challenge on Jonathan Hogg when he caught the Huddersfield captain high on the leg with his studs. The Terriers dominated afterwards but could not force a way through, going close when Steve Mounie's volley was brilliantly touched onto the bar by Lukasz Fabianski. Tom Ince hit the post in the last minute of normal time for the hosts, but Swansea held out for a draw despite not having a single shot in the entire match. In the day's late kick-off Moscow Chelski FC revived their hopes of a top four finish as they got back to winning ways with a two-one victory over lowly Crystal Palace. The Blues remain fifth but their win saw Antonio Conte's team close the gap on fourth placed Stottingtot Hotshots to two points - at least until Spurs play Bournemouth on Sunday. Palace remain in the bottom three, a point behind Southampton.
West Bromwich Albino's manager Alan Pardew's position is under further scrutiny after a heavy defeat by Leicester left The Baggies eight points adrift of safety. The hosts had taken the lead when Salomon Rondon poked home from close range from Oliver Burke's low cross. Leicester equalised in spectacular fashion when Jamie Vardy volleyed past Ben Foster from Riyad Mahrez's ball. Mahrez then got on the scoresheet himself after half-time. Kelechi Iheanacho put the game beyond West Brom when he headed in Ben Chilwell's cross. Leicester completed the rout in injury time when Vicente Iborra headed home from a corner. With fixtures against The Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws, The Scum and Stottingtot Hotshots to come in their remaining eight matches, West Brom's survival hopes look somewhat forlorn if not, yet, mathematically impossible. West Hamsters United fans invaded the pitch at London Stadium after three second-half Burnley goals condemned the hosts to a third consecutive defeat. 'Shameful, shameful scenes,' noted Soccer Saturday's Jeff Stelling, adding: 'The team have disgraced themselves on the field, the fans have disgraced themselves off it.' He didn't add 'oh, the humanity,' but it was touch-and-go at one point. Hamsters captain Mark Noble pushed one pitch invader away and another sprinted on holding a corner flag shortly after Chris Wood added to Ashley Barnes' opener for the visitors as things started to turn ugly. Following a dreadful mistake by Hamsters' 'keeper Wankhands Hart, Wood made it three for Sean Dyche's men, who closed the gap on sixth-placed The Arse to two points and won their first away game since November. Hamsters' owners David Sullivan and David Gold were forced to leave the directors' box with a police escort near the end of the game as anger boiled over and supporters chanted 'sack the board' and got all uppity and discombobulated and The London Stadium became a seething cauldron of hate and recrimination. The Hamsters are in sixteenth place, three points above the bottom three.
Still on the subject of the malarkey that was kicking-off at The London Stadium, this blogger feels compelled to highlight comments made by Match Of The Day's Martin Fisher when describing what was taking place. Yes, absolutely no one wants people running on the pitch; that's a criminal act anyway and is punishable by - quite severe - legal measures for those doing so. But, whilst Fisher was - rightly - saying things like: 'I've never seen such scenes at a Premier League venue' and talking about the 'toxic' atmosphere inside the stadium, this blogger was far less happy about his extremely hyperbolic comments regarding the fan protest which was taking place in front of the directors box. 'Is this really the way to protest about it?' asked Fisher, rhetorically (failing to suggest any alternatives which those unhappy fans might have wished to practice instead) and also talking about these being 'disgusting scenes.' Now, admittedly, viewers only saw what the BBC coverage allowed them to but that 'disgusting scenes' comment accompanied not the blokes running on the pitch but, rather, pictures of what appeared to this blogger to be merely a bunch of working people who had paid a great deal of presumably hard-earned money to watch their favourite football team, voicing their (not inconsiderable) displeasure at the 'entertainment' they were being served. Is that really 'disgusting', Martin? It's a Hell of strong word to be throwing into a box of fireworks like a lit match. Interestingly exactly the same point was made by Sam Wallace the chief sports writer at the Torygraph and John Cross of the Mirra on Sky's Sunday Supplement the next day. Dissent is good. Protestation is important and a basic individual right so long as it's done within the boundaries of the law as it currently stands (and, in certain circumstances even if it isn't). Without loud and - with certain sections of backward-looking society, very unpopular - protest, women would not have the vote in this country. Without protest, civil rights legislation would not have been passed in the US and people of colour would still be second-class citizens in Alabama. Without protest, South Africa would still be living under an Apartheid regime. Without protest, gay rights would not be a de facto accepted part of life. Some people may regard football supporters protesting that they don't like the way their clubs are being run as very small potatoes compared to the overthrow of Apartheid and they're probably right but, nevertheless the point still remains. Wallace noted on Sunday Supplement, rightly, that football supporters have a long and - in some ways quite noble - tradition of protesting against unpopular club owners. So, whilst no one in their right mind condones people running on the pitch - 'crossing a red line' was the phrase Wallace used ... even though it's actually a white line - what, exactly, is so wrong about telling the owner of your football club that you'd like him to either spend more money or go away and let someone else do the job? This blogger has to say there appears to be, in his opinion, too damn much of this sort of nonsense in football punditry. This blogger well recalls an incident a few years ago when an England match featured a section is the Wembley crowd indulging in a bit of booing at that over-paid full-of-his-own-importance prima donna Ashley Cole for what they considered to be a poor performance. After the game, the panel (this was ITV so it was largely made up of former Arsenal players, obviously) seemed to be suggesting how dare these grubby punters voice their displeasure at Ashley Cole? 'Who the Hell do these working class oiks think they are?' appeared to be the general consensus of Wright, Dixon, Chiles et al. Let's just get this into perspective here, this is working men and women who had - particularly in the case of Wembley for an England match - paid positively obscene amounts of coin to be there, being criticised for speaking their mind by barely articulate glakes who haven't paid a single penny to be there but, rather, were being paid to pass their, usually worthless, comments on what was going on. This blogger has said this before, dear blog reader, but it bears repeating, football generally and football clubs in particular take for granted the goodwill of their paying punters at their peril. Because, there might just come a day where those supporters decide, 'do you know what, I'm sick and tired of having my support (and my money) taken for granted, I'm not going this weekend, I'll do some shopping instead.' At which point, presumably, all of the wide boys and absentee landlords who run our football clubs would crap in their collective pants and run a collective mile. Just sayin'. Here endeth the lecture. Except to add that the Match Of The Day coverage also wasn't helped by the BBC's decision to employ 'a plank of wood in the shape of Frank Lampard' to give some thoughts from his 'once in a generation' mind on matters involving one of his former clubs. Presumably, their 'plank of wood in the shape of Ian Wright' was busy that afternoon.
Cardiff continued to pile the pressure on Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderings with a three-two victory over relegation-threatened Birmingham. The Bluebirds had a sixth straight win wrapped up by half-time thanks to goals from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Craig Bryson and Callum Patterson. Birmingham reduced the deficit early in the second half through Craig Gardner's penalty and Maxime Colin scored a second deep into stoppage time but Cardiff held on to move back to within three points of Wolves ahead of the leaders' derby clash at Aston Villains. Which ultimately saw Wolves fall to their heaviest Championship defeat of the season as they were given a right good - four-one - hiding by The Villains. Aleksandar Mitrovic continued his stunning start to life at Fulham with both goals as the Cottagers snatched a two-one win at play-off chasing Preston Both Ends. The on-loan Newcastle striker opened the scoring on sixty nine minutes and made it seven goals in five games in stoppage time to stretch Fulham's unbeaten run to fifteen matches. The Middlesbrough Smog Monsters consolidated their place in the play-off spots with a third successive victory to deepen Barnsley's relegation fears. Daniel Ayala set sixth-placed Boro on their way in the first minute before in-form pair Adama Traore and Patrick Bamford put the hosts in full control. Kieffer Moore got one back for Barnsley but the defeat sees them remain a place above the bottom three. Bristol City and Sheffield United lost ground on the top six following goalless draws at Burton Albinos and Ipswich Town respectively. Millwall leapfrogged Brentford and stretched their unbeaten run to eleven games as George Saville scored in the first minute for the second time this week. His previous such effort came on Tuesday against Hull, who on Saturday eased their relegation fears in thrilling fashion with a four-three victory over Norwich in a manic match. Jackson Irvine put the Tigers in front early on but they found themselves three-one down with half-time approaching after James Maddison scored a second penalty to complete his hat-trick. Abel Hernandez netted a spot-kick either side of the break to level the scores before Harry Wilson earned Hull a memorable win. Blunderland remain rock bottom of the Championship after Eberechi Eze netted the only goal to ensure Queens Park Strangers took advantage of The Mackems goalkeeper Jason Steele's red card just after half-time. Aaron Wilbraham's stoppage-time header earned lowly Notlob a draw at Sheffield Wednesday, who thought they had sealed the points through George Boyd's seventy eighth-minute strike. Dirty Leeds appeared to be on course for a morale-boosting win at Reading only to draw two-two following Eunan O'Kane's own goal.
Things just go from bad to worse for Blunderland. This week they announced that they will close The Stadium of Plight's upper concourse to home fans from next season, in an effort to save on staffing costs and 'improve match atmosphere.' The decision was prompted by a significant drop in attendances this season to an average of twenty seven thousand six hundred per game in a forty nine thousand-seat stadium. About fifteen hundred season ticket holders are affected by the move and have been sent a letter offering different seats at the same price for the next three seasons. Away supporters will remain in the upper tier of the stadium. Corporate hostility and the directors box will also continue to be seated in that part of the ground. The letter states: 'The decision has now been taken to close the Premier Concourse at the end of this season to both season card holders and match sales, unless demand dictates that additional capacity is required. We believe that closing the Premier Concourse will help us to improve match atmosphere, whilst also reducing the costs associated with safety stewards and kiosk staff in the area.' Although attendances are down, The Mackem Filth's average crowd is still the fourth best in The Championship - but the team's disastrous form this season means that they could be playing in League One next season. If they are relegated, it would be the first time in thirty years that the club had dropped as low as the third tier. Several other clubs have opted to shut sections of the ground in the past, including Cardiff City and Dirty Leeds.
John Motson will deliver his final live BBC commentary this weekend when The Arse face Watford in the lunchtime kick-off on Sunday. Motty will be in the commentary box for Radio 5Live forty eight years after his first live radio broadcast. He announced in September that he would call time on his BBC career at the end of the season and he will continue to appear on Match Of The Day until May. His first radio commentary was Everton versus Derby in December 1969. During his career he has covered ten World Cups, ten European Championships, twenty nine FA Cup finals and more than two hundred England games. Plus this blogger's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies against Hereford in 1972 which remains the only game Motty commentated on that anybody ever talks about.
Sick aggro broke out in the second division of Dutch football when De Graafschap players were attacked by Go Ahead Eagles fans after their four-nil win. Footage from Fox Sports Netherlands shows fans running on to the pitch at full-time, kicking and punching players with kids gettin' lamped and aal sorts before stewards intervened (and, gave most of the thugs a damned good chinning). Go Ahead said in a statement they were 'deeply ashamed' by the actions and 'condemn the behaviour' of their fans. Fox Sports Netherlands reported that police had made seven arrests. The opening of the match was held up by ten minutes because of fireworks being thrown on to the pitch. Go Ahead added in their statement: 'The club makes every effort to take appropriate measures against those responsible.' Henk de Jong, whose De Graafschap side had more four hundred travelling supporters, said: 'Why can we not cheer? Our supporters did not know what they were going through, I think. It could have been eight-nil. They did not know what to do with our tactics and our football was top.'
A player was sent off after a referee mistook his name for dissent. Referee Dean Hulme asked Sanchez Watt, who was playing for Hemel Hempstead Town, for his name as he was about to be booked in a National League South game against East Thurrock United. The twenty seven-year-old repeatedly replied: 'Watt' but Hulme believed he was saying 'what?' and sent him off for dissent. Hulme rescinded the card when it was explained that Watt was not showing dissent. 'It was a human error,' Hemel Hempstead chairman Dave Boggins told BBC Sport. 'The referee was man enough to rectify it. I think everybody found it amusing afterwards - including the referee. He came into the boardroom after the game and explained how he had made the mistake. He was very apologetic and saw the funny side of it. He was a good ref on the night to be fair to him.' The incident happened towards the end of Hemel Hempstead's two-nil win on Tuesday. Watt played three games for The Arse in the League Cup as an eighteen-year-old, scoring against West Bromwich Albinos at the Emirates Stadium in September 2009. He has also played in the Championship for Dirty Leeds and had spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Southend, Crawley and Colchester.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

God, Help Us!

The BBC has renewed its Premier League football highlights licence for another three years. That means Match Of The Day will continue to be on our screens until at least 2022. Match of the Day 2, Football Focus, The Premier League Show and the Sunday repeat of MOTD are also staying put for the time being. The Director of BBC Sport, Barbara Slater said: 'To keep Premier League highlights on the BBC is testament to the continued success and popularity of Match Of The Day. Our long-standing partnership with the Premier League continues to flourish and evolve, as seen with the recently launched Super Movers initiative. The new deal strengthens that relationship even further and ensures the nation's favourite sport will continue to be seen by the widest possible audience.'
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies loan signing of Islam Slimani from Leicester City on transfer deadline day means Th' Toon now have Islam, Mohamed (Diame), Jesus (Games) and a Christian (Clark) currently on their books. As their supporters look for some sort of divine intervention to keep us up, no doubt. (This blogger is indebted to the lads over at the always excellent website for that joke!)
West Hamsters United have extremely sacked their director of player recruitment, Tony Henry, over claims that he said the club would not sign any more African players. The decision follows a report by the Daily Scum Mail which carried alleged quotes allegedly from Henry stating that African players 'cause mayhem' when they are not in the team. The club said that his alleged comments were 'unacceptable,' adding that they had conducted 'a full and thorough investigation.' West Hamsters United said that they will not tolerate any type of discrimination and have 'therefore, acted swiftly due to the serious nature of these claims.' A statement continued: 'The West Ham United family is an inclusive one where, regardless of gender, age, ability, race, religion or sexual orientation, everybody feels welcome and included.' The Professional Footballers' Association said that it was 'shocked'and 'stunned' by the reported comments and was 'encouraged' by West Ham's response. 'The PFA strongly condemn any such views and there is no place for them in football,' it said. West Hamsters United currently have six first-team squad members of African descent: Cheikhou Kouyate, Pedro Obiang, Joao Mario, Angelo Ogbonna, Arthur Masuaku and Edimilson Fernandes. Senegal striker Diafra Sakho left the club in the January transfer window to join Rennes, with Ghana international Andre Ayew heading to Swansea. Henry, who has previously worked for Everton, Blunderland and Moscow Chelski FC, joined West Hamsters United in 2014. He played professionally for several clubs, including Sheikh Yer Man City, Notlob and Oldham Not Very Athletic.
A footballer has described being 'taunted' by fellow players and opposition fans after he spoke out publicly about his mental health struggles. David Cox, who plays for Scottish League Two side Cowdenbeath, said that he had been called 'a psycho' and mocked about 'slitting his wrists.' The twenty eight-year-old has called for the game's authorities to act on the abuse in the same way they do against racism. Speaking to Radio Scotland's John Beattie, Cox claimed that he had been abused by football fans and colleagues alike since revealing that he had self-harmed and attempted suicide. He said: 'I had fans shouting on the pitch to me shortly after I did my story, "go and hang yourself and do it right this time." I've had other players mentioning me slitting my wrists and stuff. You get the fans that come in and pay their money, they say what they want and then they go home and forget about it and I'm the one that it affects. It bothers me for the rest of the weekend. It gets me in a bad place again.' The former Forfar Athletic striker claimed that on the pitch, opponents had used his depression to 'undermine his efforts' during games. He said: 'Maybe after a bad tackle, or if it's been rough and stuff like that, [they'd say] "watch your wrists wee man, oh, I better not wind you up cos you're a psycho."' He added: 'I've had them apologising and messaging me after games and stuff. What makes it even worse is that they will say things like "I'm really sorry, I had a mate who killed himself through mental health" and I'm like "why would you even mention that?." It's all good and fine saying you're sorry, but to have that bit in you to mention it in the first place, when you know you've seen someone deal with that situation or you've seen people go through that kind of thing. Why does it make it okay for you to say it to someone else just because you don't like the way they're playing against you? It's a game of football.' Cox said that attempts to deal with the stigma surrounding mental health had to be matched with efforts to challenge other social issues, such as racism and bigotry. He said: 'It's just as bad as being racist for me. If you were racist on the pitch, if a fan was racist at football games, you'd get done for it. People don't see mental health as an illness, you can't physically see it, it doesn't mean it's not there. It's got to the point that if somebody shouts it to me again in a park, I will walk off.' He said that unless clubs and the authorities were willing to take the taunts seriously, his abusers would continue to feel they could behave as they pleased. 'I'm not saying what I've been through is the worst thing that anybody could ever go through, because there's people out there that are worse off than me. But for me, I've been through the worst period of my life ever and to have people mocking you about it and making fun, and to think that it's okay and just shake hands with you after the game and it's forgotten about, it's not on.' A Scottish government spokeswoman said: 'One of our priorities is to work on achieving parity between mental and physical health. Already work is being carried out by the players' union, PFA Scotland and the Sports Chaplaincy Network, which provides support and advice to players and staff. The SPFL Trust has also undertaken mental health first aid training for club staff, which players will benefit from.'

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Mistakes, I've Made A Few, But I'm Only Human, You've Made Mistakes Too!

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) Magpies' season continued to resemble all of the consistency of a wobbly jelly. Substitute Joselu scored within four minutes of coming on to earn Newcastle a draw against bottom side Swansea City. The visitors, who were denied a first-half penalty when Mo Diame appeared to handle in the area, nevertheless, took the lead through Jordan Ayew's header after Karl Darlow had parried his first effort. Newcastle equalised eight minutes later when Ayoze Perez's deflected shot fell for Joselu and he shot through the legs of Alfie Mawson. Swansea are now four points behind seventeenth-placed Bournemouth, while Newcastle are three points above the relegation zone in fourteenth. The Swans nearly grabbed a dramatic winner in injury time but Wilfried Bony's shot was cleared off the line by Newcastle's DeAndre Yedlin.
Elsewhere, ten-man Leicester produced an outstanding display to earn a point at third-placed Moscow Chelsea FC although they should probably have come away from Torpedo Stamford Bridge with all three. The Foxes dominated possession for large periods and created the better chances but had the sting taken out of their display when defender Ben Chilwell received two yellow cards in the space of five second-half minutes. He was shown no mercy by referee Mike Jones when he brought down Victor Moses, shortly after fouling Willian. Bakary Sako scored the only goal as Crystal Palace continued their revival under Roy Hodgson with victory over Burnley at Selhurst Park. The Mali international cut in powerfully from the left after good work by Christian Benteke and then drilled a left-footed shot that went straight through Clarets goalkeeper Nick Pope. West Hamsters United manager David Moyes became only the fourth manager to win two hundred Premier League matches as his side thrashed out of form Huddersfield four-one. Victory means The Hamsters, who have gone five games unbeaten in all competitions, move five points away from the drop zone and overtake Huddersfield in the process. West Bromwich Albions ended a twenty-match winless streak in the Premier League with victory over Brighton & Hove Albinos, thanks to goals from defenders Jonny Evans and Craig Dawson. The victory was Alan Pardew's first in the league since he replaced Tony Pulis in charge at The Hawthorns at the end of November. The only negative for The Baggies was a bizarre gesture from Jay Rodriguez which may land him in big trouble. After an argument with Gaeten Bong, Rodriguez appeared to pinch his own nose, prompting an angry reaction from the Brighton defender. Referee Martin Atkinson did not take any action on the pitch but made a note of the incident. The Seagulls slip from twelfth to eighteenth spot while West Brom remain in the relegation zone, a place below them in nineteenth, but are only two points behind seventeenth-placed Bournemouth. Abdoulaye Doucoure bundled home a controversial last-minute equaliser as Watford fought back from two goals down to draw with Southampton. Doucoure seemed to use his right hand to divert Troy Deeney's header past Alex McCarthy from close range to snatch a point for The Hornets. Two goals from James Ward-Prowse had given the Saints a two-nil lead at half-time as they looked to be on course to end a run of nine Premier League games without a win. But Watford came out stronger in the second half, thanks largely to the introduction of Deeney.
Wolverhampton Wanderings lead at the top of The Championship was cut to ten points as they were held to a goalless draw at Barnsley while Derby won three-nil at Birmingham. Nuno Espirito Santo's table-toppers are now unbeaten in thirteen league matches but were reined in by The Rams, who moved back up to second place with their victory over the second-bottom Blues. Johnny Russell put Derby ahead against Rams boss Gary Rowett's former club, Matej Vydra added a second and Andreas Weimann rounded off the scoring in the eighty ninth minute. Rowett's side had been pushed into third by Cardiff City, whose four-match losing streak in the league came to an end as they thrashed basement boys Blunderland four-nil at home in the lunchtime kick-off. Callum Paterson opened the scoring in the first minute of the second half, Black Cats midfielder Didier Ndong was sent off three minutes later for a nasty challenge on Junior Hoilett and Joe Ralls then extended the hosts' lead soon afterwards. Paterson later added his second goal and substitute Anthony Pilkington's stoppage-time effort completed the rout as The Mackem Filth's ex-Wales boss Chris Coleman endured a thoroughly miserable return to the Cardiff City Stadium. Although the forty seven-year-old had overseen some of Welsh football's finest moments in recent memory at this ground - such as their 2015 win against Belgium and the celebration of qualifying for Euro 2016 - his Swansea roots meant that the Cardiff fans greeted him with mockery rather than reverence. Bristol City's promotion push suffered another setback as they were beaten at home by Norwich, their third league defeat in a row, James Maddison netting for the away side in the seventy ninth minute. Seventh-placed Dirty Leeds had Eunan O'Kane sent off in the first half at Ipswich and succumbed to a Bersant Celina goal at Portman Road. Poor Bloody Fulham moved above The Middlesbrough Smog Monsters into eighth place following their victory over The Smoggies at the Riverside Stadium, where Oliver Norwood converted a late penalty. Burton Albinos remain twenty second following their three-one home defeat to Queens Park Strangers, who are now nine points clear of the relegation zone. Notlob, a point better off than Burton, dropped to twenty first as they lost two-nil at Brentford. Hull are just outside the relegation zone, level on points with Notlob, having drawn nil-nil with Reading at The KCOM Stadium. Millwall and Preston drew one-one at The Den, Aiden O'Brien putting the hosts in front before Callum Robinson equalised.
Vitaly Mutko has stepped down from his role as chief organiser for next summer's World Cup in Russia, two days after he temporarily left his post as Russian Football Union President. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister was extremely banned from the Olympics for life having been accused of running a huge 'state-directed' doping programme. Mutko stood down from his RFU position on Monday while he contests the ban. He has now also left his World Cup role to 'concentrate on government work.' Allegedly. Mutko said that Alexei Sorokin will instead chair the World Cup 2018 organising committee. 'There is still a lot of work, but I am absolutely sure that everything will be ready on time,' he told R Sports. The organising committee spoke of its 'great regret' at Mutko's decision, but added it would not affect its plans for the tournament, which starts on 14 June. Football's world governing body, those well known appeasers of corruption FIFA said it had 'taken note of the decision' and thanked Mutko for his work so far. Whistleblower Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping agency worker, told the International Olympic Committee that Mutko, a former Sports Minister, 'created and ran' the country's 'state-directed' doping programme. He has always denied being part of a doping programme - to paraphrase Mandy Rice Rice Davies, 'well, he would, wouldn't he?' - but Russia was, nevertheless, very banned from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
England's opening two World Cup group matches against Tunisia and Panama will be broadcast live across BBC television, radio and online. Gareth Southgate's side face Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday 18 June at 7pm UK time before playing Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday 24 June at 1pm. Both Group G games will be broadcast on BBC1, Radio 5Live and online. Euro 2016 champions Portugal's Group B game with Spain is also on the BBC at 7pm on Friday 15 June. England's final group match, against group favourites Belgium on Thursday 28 June at 7pm, will be shown live on ITV, who will have first pick in the last sixteen if England make it that far (which, give their performance at the last couple of tournaments, is doubtful). The BBC will then have the first two choices of quarter-final games, including England's if they progress that far. Both BBC and ITV will broadcast the final live from Moscow on Sunday 15 July at 4pm. Reigning world champions Germany open against Mexico on Sunday 17 June and viewers will be able to watch that game live on the BBC. Philip Bernie, BBC head of TV Sport, said: 'We're delighted with our selection of matches, which sees the BBC bring England's first two games of the competition live to our audiences - as well as their potential quarter final. We are also very pleased to be showcasing the skills of the world's best players, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, in five of their group matches. The BBC is proud to be offering such an enticing array of games on football's biggest stage, as we look to deliver to audiences unprecedented, extensive access to World Cup content across TV, radio, online and social media.'
The referee who awarded a controversial penalty against Northern Ireland during their World Cup play-off defeat by Switzerland says that he made a mistake. As pretty much everyone who saw the incident, including all the players, already knew. Romanian Ovidiu Hategan ruled that Corry Evans had blocked a shot with his arm during the first leg, despite TV replays showing the ball struck the player's shoulder. 'It was a sad and unpleasant moment for me, sad because I made that mistake,' Hategan told Romanian media. Hategan will not be used as a referee at the World Cup in Russia. World governing body FIFA has released the list of thirty six match referees who will take charge of matches at this year's tournament and Hategan has accepted that his decision during the first leg at Windsor Park 'may have played a factor' in his omission. 'Unfortunately I'm not among the thirty six, but I'll see if I'm going to be a video referee,' he added, hopefully. 'Surely it has had a big influence and what happened in the play-off game. It's not a secret and I'm not hiding behind words. In our world, the referees are the same as the goalkeepers - everyone sees the mistake. I've got over that moment, I'm a strong man. My family were there for me.' Swiss defender Ricardo Rodríguez scored the subsequent spot-kick to secure the only goal of the play-off, which ended Northern Ireland's hopes of qualifying for Russia.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Cup Tied

Once upon a time, dear blog reader - and not all that long ago either - 3pm on the first Saturday in January would see sixty four professional football teams kick-off in the Third Cup of the Football Association Cup. Unless, of course, the early January weather had been inclement and there was a postponement or several. This would occur in stadia usually full to the rafters with excited punters, each of them dreaming of a decent cup run for their team. For some smaller clubs it was often a question of a good financial pay day or two and a chance to pit themselves against one of The Big Boys but, for many clubs, and not just in the top division either, there was the tantalising vision of Wembley glory at the end of the rainbow. The forty four first and second division clubs were joined by twenty from the third and fourth divisions and, usually, one or two semi-professional non-league side all of whom had survived the earlier qualifying round to reach this point in the competition. And each of them - both players and fans - had their own specific ideas about what constituted 'the magic of the FA Cup.' There was no question of any manager playing a weakened team, they wouldn't have even dreamed of such a thing - and, if they had, their supporters (and FA itself) would never have stood for it. The BBC would cover three games on Match Of The Day (rather than the standard two league matches per week) and would always send their cameras to at least one tie at a lower-league ground in the hope of capturing a genuine moment of so-called 'giant-killing' (like the infamous occasion when non-league Hereford Town dumped this blogger's beloved - though, even then, unsellable - Magpies out of the competition in 1972). Sadly, those days are now long gone and the FA Cup appears, to many, to be a rather inconvenient chore to be got out of the way as soon as possible so that they can concentrate with the really important job of making sure they don't get sucked into a relegation fight in the Premier League and, thus, miss out on mega-millions of television money and sponsorship wonga. Just one more example, dear blog reader, of ways in which crass greed and dreams of filthy lucre have utterly ruined The People's Game. This Third Round weekend, we still had thirty two ties - that much hasn't changed. But, now they were spread across four days - Friday to Monday.
Virgil van Dijk (Dick's son. Possibly) made a dream start for The Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws (seven times previous winners of the competition) following his seventy five million knicker move from Southampton as his late header settled a highly competitive Merseyside derby against Everton (five times winners) at Anfield. The visitors looked on course for a replay at Goodison Park until goalkeeper Jordan Pickford misjudged a corner allowing Van Dijk, who cost a world record fee for a defender, to steal in six minutes from time and send The Reds into the Fourth Round. And he was certainly dancin' his Old Bamboo after scoring. Gylfi Sigurdsson's smooth finish from the edge of the area put Everton level in the second half after Liverpool had taken the lead ten minutes before half-time, with James Milner scoring from the penalty spot following Mason Holgate's foul on Adam Lallana. In a fiercely fought game there was a first-half flashpoint when Holgate foolishly pushed Reds forward Roberto Firmino over the advertising hoardings and into the crowd, with the Everton defender left furious after the pair subsequently 'exchanged words.' The clash is currently being investigated by the Football Association amid - unconfirmed, let it be noted - media reports that some of the 'exchanged words' may have included alleged racist malarkey and other naughty shenanigans. Also on Friday, The Scum (twelve times competition winners) left it late to beat Derby County (the 1946 Cup winners) in an entertaining game at Old Trafford. A replay looked on the cards until Romelu Lukaku laid the ball off to Jesse Lingard, who took a touch and sent a twenty-yard shot on the bounce into the top corner, seven minutes from time. Half-time substitute Lukaku sealed the win moments later after playing a one-two with Anthony Martial. Marcus Rashford had hit the post in both halves - with a close-range header that he should have buried and a fierce shot across goal.
The bulk of the ties were still played on Saturday on a weekend in which, for the first time in sixty seven years, no non-league club was represented in the Third Round. In the lunchtime kick-off, League One Fleetwood Town - who, as recently as five years ago were a non-league side - held Premiership Leicester City (who have never won the Cup but have finished runners-up four times) to a goalless draw at Highbury (no, the other one) and earn a replay at the King Power Stadium. Ex-Fleetwood striker Jamie Vardy was left out of the Leicester squad by manager Claude Puel having, allegedly, 'failed to recover fully from a groin injury.' One or two people even believed him. The Premier League side - who demonstrated more than a hint of contempt for both the competition and their opponents by fielding a much-changed side from the team which beat Huddersfield in the League on New Year's Day - did not manage a single shot on target in Vardy's absence and withstood huge and sustained pressure from their plucky hosts. Ashley Hunter was denied a late winner for Fleetwood when his deflected shot hit the post. Fleetwood have never progressed beyond the Third Round of the competition and this the first time in their history that the club has faced top-flight opposition. Or, in this particular case, top-flight reserves opposition. Goals from Rudy Gestede and Martin Braithwaite gave The Middlesbrough Smog Monsters (the 1997 runners-up) a rather routine victory over two-time Cup winners, The Mackem Filth, in the Tees-Wear derby. Gestede opened the scoring in the tenth minute when he slid the ball under Blunderland goalkeeper Jason Steele. Braithwaite added Boro's second three minutes before half-time after Steele failed to deal with a corner. Josh Maja came closest for The Mackems when he headed off the crossbar at a corner early in the second half. The only other meaningful opportunity for Chris Coleman's struggling side, who currently sit extremely at the bottom of the Championship, came from another second-half corner but Darren Randolph spectacularly tipped over Tyias Browning's header. Victory for The Smoggies puts them into the Fourth Round for a second successive season - having reached the quarter-finals last year - and gives new manager Tony Pulis a second win in a row.
Having spend most of November and December playing like a bunch of complete and utter girls yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved - though still, seemingly, unsellable - Magpies got their season slightly back on track with successive away Premier League victories over the Christmas period at West Hamsters United and Dirty Stoke. Six-times Cup winners and seven times runners-up Newcastle (albeit, the last win was when Jimmy Scoular held aloft the trophy in 1955) struck three goals in a nine-minute first-half spell as they saw off a spirited display by the League Two leaders Luton Town in front of a crowd of over forty seven thousand at St James' Park. Ayoze Perez pounced on goalkeeper Marek Stech's error and then added a second after Stech had denied Dwight Gayle. Jonjo Shelvey extended the lead, side-footing home a first goal since April. Luton rallied as Danny Hylton steered in after rounding United's debutant keeper Freddie Woodman and also had another effort ruled out for offside before Elliot Lee struck the woodwork. Lee came off the bench to join his brother, Olly - their father, Rob, was of course a Magpies legend for a decade from 1992. The 1959 finalists Luton's energy in the second period impressed a seven thousand-strong away support, who thought they were back in the game when Hylton celebrated wildly after finding the net a second time, only for the assistant's flag to deny him. Nathan Jones' side - who have only been outscored by Sheikh Yer Man City in England's top five leagues this season - will rue their first-half capitulation but showed a spirit befitting a side topping the League Two table by four points though they were unable to repeat the efforts of previous Luton teams of 1973 and 1994 and knock the Magpies out the Cup. Notlob Wanderers against Huddersfield Town might've been a decent bet to be the actual Cup Final ... in the 1920s. Huddersfield - the 1922 Cup winners - scored two goals in two second-half minutes to beat Championship side Notlob (four-time winners of the trophy). After a dull first-half, substitute Rajiv van la Parra gave the Premier League side the lead when he bundled in from close range following a corner. Straight from kick-off, Danny Williams' deflected thirty-yard strike caught out the Notlob keeper. Derik Osede gave home side hope, heading in a corner, but Huddersfield held on.
The major giant-killing act of day occurred at the Ricoh Arena. League Two Coventry City (the 1987 Cup winners but having, dramatically, fallen on hard times of late) pulled off the shock of the round by beating Premier League strugglers Dirty Stoke City (the 2011 runners-up) and heaping further misery on The Potters' beleaguered boss, Mark Hughes (who got his ass very sacked within hours of the result). It was a game of two managers, both previous cup winners as teammates in The Scum's 1990 side, as Coventry boss Mark Robins plotted the downfall of Hughes's (now former) club. Jordan Willis's towering header put the hosts ahead, before the defender felled Ramadan Sobhi shortly after the break and Charlie Adam levelled from the spot. But Coventry full-back Jack Grimmer fired his side back ahead from outside the area with twenty minutes to play and the Sky Blues held on for an historic victory. Stoke have now lost six of the last eight matches so, in that regard, it's hardly surprising Old Sparky has, finally, got the Tin Tack. The day's other big giant-killing act saw League One Peterborough score three late goals to knock out Championship side Aston Villa (seven times competition winners). Villa's Keinan Davis opened the scoring early in the first-half from close range after The Posh's defence failed to clear Ritchie De Laet's cross. Posh equalised as Jack Marriott headed in before Ryan Tafazolli converted Marcus Maddison's corner on eighty three minutes. Villa pushed forward, but Maddison set up Marriott to score on the break and seal a deserved win in injury-time and, no doubt, put a geet big nasty scowl on Villa boss Steve Bruce's geet big nasty mush. Which was funny, admittedly. Another League One side, MK Dons, produced a battling performance to knock out another Championship club, Queens Park Strangers. Jack Robinson and Matt Smith spurned close-range chances for The Strangers (the 1982 runners-up) before Ousseynou Cisse curled one into the top corner to give The MK Dons the lead. Steve Cook headed in an injury-time equaliser to save Premiership AFC Bournemouth from a shock exit against League One leaders Wigan Not-Very-Athletic. The Latics, who famously won the competition in 2013, had been two-nil ahead, but The Cherries fought back to earn a replay. Will Grigg had put Wigan ahead early on from six yards after Gavin Massey had headed on Reece James' cross. Nick Powell's free-kick deflected off Emerson Hyndman for two-nil, before Lys Mousset scored Bournemouth's first. Despite having to defend deep in the second period, The Latics still created a couple of chances, but substitute Ivan Toney shot wide and Max Power also missed the target when well placed. The was some geet rive-on late in the game at the Vitality Stadium, Wigan's assistant manager Leam Richardson was sent to the stands after complaining that a foul on Toney in the penalty area had not been given. Subsequent TV replays suggested that the on-loan striker had merely tripped over his own feet. Cherries manager Eddie Howe said that he had 'no regrets' after seeing his much-altered side fight back to stay in the competition. Howe made eight changes from the side that drew at Brighton on New Year's Day. 'Vindicated or not, I thought the decisions were right for us, for this game, I don't regret them,' said Howe.
Alan Pardew (a Cup finalist as a player with Crystal Palace in 1990) finally got his first win as West Bromwich Albinos manager as his side made it past League Two Exeter City at (the other) St James' Park. Saloman Rondon fired The Baggies ahead after less than seventy five seconds before Jay Rodriguez doubled the lead, pouncing on a defensive error. Hal Robson-Kanu had a third disallowed and missed a penalty for West Brom (five time Cup winners). Birmingham City (the 1931 and 1956 runners-up) edged a scrappy tie against fellow Championship strugglers Burton Albinos thanks to Sam Gallagher's second-half strike. Another Championship side, Hull City (the 2014 runners-up_, progressed with an uneventful victory over League One Blackburn Vindaloos at Ewood Park. Full-back Ola Aina, on loan from Moscow Chelski FC, scored the only goal of the game, heading in Jon Toral's corner just before the hour mark. Blackburn (six time winners, albeit, the last one being in 1928) almost took the lead in the first half as Paul Caddis' twenty-yard volley hit the top of the crossbar. Danny Graham had the chance to equalise but fired inches over. Hull, who are twenty first in the second tier, have now progressed from the Third Round in six of the past seven seasons (they were, of course, runners-up to The Arse in 2014). For Tony Mowbray's Vindaloos, third in League One, it was a first defeat in eighteen games in all competitions.
Veteran striker Jon Stead's stunning second-half strike earned League Two side Notts County (the 1894 Cup winners) a surprise at Championship Brentford. The thirty four-year-old twice went close before finding his range on sixty five minutes when he cut inside and curled the ball into the old onion bag. A weakened Bees side settled after a slow start and The (Other) Magpies keeper Ross Fitzsimons made several fine saves. James Ward-Prowse's first-half goal was enough to see Southampton (the 1976 Cup winners) progress at Poor Bloody Fulham (the 1975 runners-up). The Saints midfielder latched onto a rebound off Fulham's Kevin McDonald to shoot past David Button. Jack Stephens headed against the bar for the Premier League side, but Fulham responded strongly with Lucas Piazon and Denis Odoi going close. The result ends a run of nine games without a win for Mauricio Pellegrino's side. Sergio Aguero scored twice in two second-half minutes to help Premier League leaders and five-time Cup winners Sheikh Yer Man City fight back and beat fellow Premiership side Burnley (the 1914 Cup winners). A John Stones mistake let in Ashley Barnes to give Burnley the lead. However, Aguero levelled from a quickly-taken free-kick and then made it two-one from Ilkay Gundogan's back-heel. Leroy Sane ran on to David Silva's pass to add the third before Bernardo Silva slotted the fourth into an empty net. City's win stretched their domestic unbeaten run to twenty six games this season and keeps alive their chances of winning four trophies. Watford (1984 runners-up) beat a much-changed Bristol City (1909 runners-up) with goals from Andre Carrillo, Troy Deeney and Etienne Capoue. The Championship club struggled to get going, playing three days before their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at Sheikh Yer Man City. Promotion-chasing City, preparing for their first major competition semi-final for twenty eight years, made seven changes for the match at Vicarage Road and spent most of the match defending in their own half.
Cardiff City were held to a goalless draw by League Two Mansfield Town. With a crowd of only just over six thousand at the thirty three thousand-capacity Cardiff City Stadium, the hosts had the better chances in a scrappy first-half. Mansfield had a golden opportunity to score after the break when Lee Angol's close-range shot was saved by Brian Murphy. The Stags, who last reached Round Four in 2008, will host the replay in the week starting 15 January. It is safe to say that Cardiff - Cup runners-up in 2008 and, famously, the only non-English winners of the competition back in 1927 - have not been charmed by the romance of this competition in recent seasons. League Two side Carlisle United earned an replay at the Championship's Sheffield Wednesday (three time Cup winners) after a goalless draw at Brunton Park. Atdhe Nuhiu headed against the bar for the visitors in the first minute and also saw a close-range shot saved. Lucas Joao headed narrowly wide for The Owls early in the second-half, while Reggie Lambe went close for the hosts. Sam Cosgrove had a Carlisle goal ruled out for offside before Jack Bonham brilliantly kept out a Nuhiu header. The result means Lee Bullen finishes with one win in four games as Owls caretaker boss, with new manager Jos Luhukay watching the game from the stands. League Two Stevenage increased the pressure on Reading's boss Jaap Stam as they held the Championship side to a draw. Ben Wilmot's header was tipped over by Royals keeper Anssi Jaakkola as the hosts impressed early on. Dave Edwards had the visitors' best chance of the first half, but Tom King reacted quickly to stop his header.
Premier League strugglers Swansea City and Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderings (four time Cup winners) played out another goalless draw as both sides ended the game with ten men. Wolves' Ruben Vinagre was sent off in the fortieth minute for a high lunge on Swans midfielder Nathan Dyer. Swansea's Leroy Fer was also shown a straight red for a cynical trip on Helder Costa in the sixty seventh minute. Calvin Andrew's goal was enough for Rochdale to beat League One rivals Doncaster Rovers. Andrew glanced in Joseph Bunney's free-kick after eighteen minutes to give the away side a lead to hold onto. John Marquis hit the post, Andy Butler headed wide and Tommy Rowe missed a good chance to earn Doncaster a replay. Southampton loanee Marcus Barnes' debut goal helped League Two Yeovil Town, the lowest-ranked side left in the competition, knock out Bradford City. League One Bradford (the 1911 Cup winners) were second best in a goalless first-half before improving after half-time at Huish Park. But, on the counter, Barnes slotted in the opener for The Glovers, before Jordan Green slotted in from Francois Zoko's pass to double the lead. The visitors have now failed to score in four away FA Cup games since winning at Stamford Bridge against Moscow Chelski FC in 2015. The Glovers will play in the fourth round for only the third time since famously eliminating top-flight Blunderland in Round Four in 1949. Championship side Preston Both Ends (twice winners of the competition, in 1889 and 1938) eased into the Fourth Round with a thumping five-one victory at League Two Wycombe Wanderers. Josh Harrop's fine free-kick put The Lilywhites ahead after just eighty seven seconds and Alan Browne's volley doubled their lead. Luke O'Nien pulled one back for Wycombe before the break as his deflected cross went in. Preston then ran riot with Daryl Horgan scoring from distance, Browne adding a penalty after Dan Scarr fouled Paul Huntington and Harrop heading in a fifth.
Nathan Thomas' spectacular long-range effort gave four-time Cup winners Sheffield United an away victory against fellow Championship side Ipswich Town (the 1978 Cup winners). Thomas scored in the twenty fifth minute with a powerful strike that went into the top corner, past Town's Bartosz Bialkowksi. Ipswich, who have not won an FA Cup tie since January 2010, did not record a shot on target, but did have a late attempt as Luke Chambers headed wide. The hosts thought they should have had a first-half penalty, claiming the ball struck Lavery's arm - but referee Michael Jones was not interested. Ten-man Barnsley (the 1912 Cup winners) were dumped out of the competition after a comprehensive thrashing away at 2004 finalists Millwall. The Reds started brightly and even took the lead through Brad Potts' early strike. But Millwall were stirred after conceding and scored three times after the break to capitalise on Joe Williams' reckless sending-off. The Reds have not progressed beyond the Third Round in five seasons since they reached the quarter-finals before being thrashed five-nil by Sheikh Yer Man City. Aiden O'Brien (with two), Ben Thompson and Fred Onyedinma scored the Millwall goals. In Saturday's late game, Championship side Norwich City held a much-changed Moscow Chelski FC (seven times Cup winners) to a goalless draw at Carrow Road. The Canaries had the better of the first-half without creating a clear-cut chance, Josh Murphy drilling well wide, while Alex Pritchard could not capitalise on an error from the returning David Luiz.
On Sunday League Two Newport County defeated Championship side (the 1972 Cup winners and three-times runners-up) Leeds United thanks to Shawn McCoulsky's late header at a rocking Rodney Parade. McCoulsky's winner in the eighty ninth minute was deserved reward for the home side, who were probably the better side throughout. Conor Shaughnessy's own goal drew them level with fifteen minutes remaining after Gaetano Berardi's deflected ninth-minute opener for the visitors. Leeds' misery was completed when Samuel Saiz was sent off in added time, apparently for spitting at one of the Newport players. Which really isn't a very nice thing to do. Newport's dramatic recovery caps an incredible few months for The Exiles, who only stayed in the Football League last season with a winner in the closing stages of their final match of the campaign. Dirty Leeds looked vulnerable and lacked fluency, which was perhaps no surprise given that only Berardi and Kalvin Phillips maintained their places from the side that started the goalless draw with Nottingham Forest in their last league game. Shrewsbury Town earned an replay after a goalless draw against three times winners West Hamsters United. The hosts, who are currently second in League One, put in an impressive performance throughout but were unable to find the winner. Ben Godfrey almost poked home from Shaun Whalley's free-kick and Mat Sadler saw his chance saved by goalkeeper Wankhands Hart. The Hamsters, who made four changes from Thursday's Premier League draw with Stottingtot Hotshots, looked lethargic playing their third match in six days. They were pinned into their own area for most of the game and could only register two shots on target - both from Andre Ayew. It means the Shrews will now travel to London Stadium later this month with the hope of reaching the Fourth Round for only the second time in fourteen seasons. The Hamsters, meanwhile, will be hoping to avoid being knocked out in the Third Round for the sixth time in eight years. Harry Kane scored twice in two second-half minutes as The Stottingtot Hotshots broke AFC Wimbledon's resistance. The England international poked in from close range in the sixty third minute before sweeping home another after Spurs (eight times Cup winners) had been frustrated by the League One strugglers. Defender Jan Vertonghen made it three-nil in the seventy first minute with a deflected long-range strike for his first goal since October 2013. And, finally, the Sunday teatime game gave sour-faced Arsene Wenger something else to whinge about besides his recent three game touchline ban as The Arse (the holders and thirteen times previous winners of the competition) were beaten four-two at Nottingham Forest (twice Cup winners). In a game packed with incident at The City Ground, Eric Lichaj twice gave Forest the lead either side of a Per Mertesacker equaliser. Forest pulled further clear in the second-half when Ben Brereton sent David Ospina the wrong way from the penalty spot after Rob Holding had upended Matty Cash. Danny Welbeck reduced the deficit with eleven minutes remaining after Forest keeper Jordan Smith failed to hold a through-ball. The Arse's first defeat in the Third Round since losing a replay to Sheffield United in 1996 was confirmed courtesy of Kieran Dowell's eighty fifth-minute penalty, before Joe Worrall was shown a straight red card for the home side in the closing stages following a late tackle on Chuba Akpom. There was some geet rive-on at the end with The Arse's players getting all stroppy and discombobulated at the referee, Jon Moss. Probably because they didn't like his drumming on 'Karma Chameleon'. Or something. The thirty-second - and final - tie of the Third Round, between two teams who have never previously won the Cup but who have both been beaten finalists in the competition, Brighton & Hove Albinos and Crystal Palace, will take place on Monday evening. The Video Assistant Referee system will be used for the first time in a competitive club match in England at this match.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Who's Got Us, Then?

England have been drawn with Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in Group G at next year's World Cup in Russia. Gareth Southgate's men will begin their tournament against Tunisia on Monday 18 June in Volgograd. They will then face World Cup debutants Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on 24 June before playing top seeds Belgium four days later in Kaliningrad. Russia play Saudi Arabia in the opening game in Moscow on 14 June. There is no one group that obviously stands above the rest as being the toughest. In terms of ranking positions, Group B appears to be the most difficult. European champions Portugal, ranked third in the world, have been drawn with 2010 World Cup winners Spain as well as Iran - who went unbeaten in ten Asian qualifying matches - and Morocco, who topped an African group that featured Côte d'Ivoire. Group F also looks tricky for the reigning champions. Germany, who beat Argentina 1-0 in the 2014 final, will likely face three robust examinations against Mexico, Sweden and South Korea as they try to retain the title for the first time since Brazil did so in 1962. Resurgent Brazil - thrashed seven-one by the Germans in the 2014 semi-final in Belo Horizonte - have also been handed what looks like a quietly exacting group. Alongside Brazil in Group E are Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia while Lionel Messi and his Argentina team-mates play debutants Iceland - who reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 - Croatia and Nigeria. Egypt and Uruguay complete Group A with Russia and Saudi Arabia, Group C consists of France, Australia, Peru and Denmark and Group H features Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan. England will know all about Belgium, given the large number of their squad who play in the Premier League. Moscow Chelski FC's Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne of Sheikh Yer Man City are both enjoying superb seasons so far while The Scum's Romelu Lukaku recently became the country's leading all-time top scorer. England have not lost to Belgium in their past eleven meetings - and their only defeat against them in twenty games was in 1936. Although, it should be noted that this current side is the best Belgian squad in the country's history. The Three Lions have met Tunisia twice before, drawing a friendly in 1990 and beating the North Africans in their opening game of the 1998 World Cup in France. Tunisia's coach Nabil Maaloul says he 'knows all about' England's players and when asked about whether he was happy to be in the same group as them, he said: 'Yes and we will win.' England have never met Panama at international level and won't be overly familiar with their players with only three of their current squad playing in Europe. The Panamanians sealed their place at a first World Cup at the expense of the USA when they defeated Costa Rica two-one.
Gary Lineker was busy hosting the World Cup Draw, but amid carrying out his duties, he still found the chance to have a bit of a dig at Diego Maradona. 'Diego has picked out Croatia to play against his Argentina,' Gary said. 'But, Diego has always been good with his hands.'
In fact, dear blog reader, the undoubted highlight of the World Cup draw, by a mile, was Maradona's snazzy tie.
Well, that and the fact that he was accompanied on-stage by an Ooompa Loompa, seemingly.
Jack Butland should be England's number one choice as keeper because Wankhands Joe Hart is making 'terrible mistakes,' says 1966 World Cup winner Gordon Banks. Hart is currently on-loan from Sheikh Yer Man City at a West Hamsters United side currently in the Premier League relegation zone. Wankhands Hart has won seventy five caps - and made almost as many bloody awful smug shampoo adverts - but Banksy (who knew a thing or two about shot-stopping) told BBC Sport: 'I don't think he is playing well, especially when they kick it to him and he can't pick up. I see him make terrible mistakes, lots of times he is lucky they don't score.'
If you're good enough, you're old enough is a common phrase in sporting parlance and Irish Premiership club Glenavon FC have taken it to heart by playing a goalkeeper in their first team at the age of fourteen. Conner Byrne made his debut for the Lurgan team as they triumphed against derby rivals Portadown on Monday night to reach the Mid-Ulster Cup final. The head of Glenavon's academy, Ryan Prentice, said that he was 'delighted' the teenage shot-stopper had been picked by first team manager Gary Hamilton. Prentice believes the youngster is more than capable of handling the physical demands of the modern game. 'I think it's fantastic for Conner as a player to play in the first team and credit should be given to the manager for taking the chance on youth, as it doesn't always happen at other clubs,' he said. 'He's tall, brave and dedicated to training and works very hard with the coaches. The physical side has to be managed, but the flip-side is that the game is not as physical as it maybe was twenty or thirty years ago, when goalkeepers got clattered. He's also marshalled by experienced players who will look after him. For example, the club's first team coach Kris Lindsay, who has vast experience as an Irish league player, was playing in the game against Portadown - so he was keeping an eye out for him too.' Youth has been at the heart of Glenavon's progress under Hamilton recently, with Bobby Burns, eighteen, and Mark Sykes, twenty, among the players making an impact in the first team. However, Byrne's selection is on another level in terms of age. Prentice said that the Glenavon boss had watched the boy's development 'for a number of months,' before taking the plunge. 'Our academy went through a big change about four-and-a-half years ago, with a number of us coming into the academy to restructure it, that is no criticism of what went before,' he said. 'We had various trials and that's when Conner arrived. Gary Hamilton has been aware of him for about a season-and-a-half, he regularly watches our games and has been aware of his progress. Conner has been doing very well, he has played with the under-twenty team before and has been training with the senior squad for a number of months. He has always played at a level ahead of his age.' One of Northern Ireland's most famous goalkeepers, Pat Jennings, was eighteen when he began his football career in England with Watford, while Italian international Gianluigi Donnarumma is a current star between the sticks after making his debut for AC Milan at sixteen. But Prentice says that it is important not to get carried away about his prodigy's prospects. 'You don't want to speculate at this stage, it's easy to get ahead of yourself,' he added. 'If he continues to work hard, it would be nice if he could make a living out of football.' Especially if he does shampoo adverts. Obviously.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Them World Cup Willies

World Cup qualifying has ended and we now know all thirty two teams who will compete at next summer's finals in Russia. From Europe, hosts Russia and group winners Belgium, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Serbia and Spain are joined by play-off victors Croatia, Denmark Sweden and Switzerland. Africa's representatives are Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. From North and Central America and the Caribbean, it is Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama. South America's sides are Argentina - who only clinched their qualification thanks to a Lionel Messi-inspired victory over Ecuador in the final game, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay and the Asian qualifiers are Australia, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
       The World Cup finals draw is on Friday 1 December at Moscow's State Kremlin Palace concert hall. Teams will be seeded based on the October 2017 FIFA world rankings. There are four pots - each containing eight teams. Russia will be joined in pot one by the seven highest-ranked teams, with the next eight in pot two, the following eight in pot three and the lowest ranked eight in pot four. No teams from the same confederation, with the exception of UEFA, will be drawn in the same group. A maximum of two European countries can be in any group. England will be seeded among the second batch of teams, which means they will definitely not play Spain, who are also among the second seeds, in the pool stage. A tough scenario would see them drawn in the same group as, for instance, five-time winners Brazil, seven-time Africa Cup of Nations champions Egypt and Serbia, the highest-ranked in pot four. An easier draw, on paper, would see them in a group with, for example, Poland, Iran and Panama.
     Defending champions Germany are the bookmakers' favourites, followed by Brazil, Spain, Argentina, France, Belgium and then England. Joachim Löw's Germany are bidding to become the first country to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1958 and 1962. Germany have not lost a World Cup finals or qualifying game since the 2010 semi-final against Spain. They came through 2018 qualifying with ten wins from ten - scoring forty three times and only conceding on four occasions. Belgium, Spain and England also came through European qualifying unbeaten. Albeit, in the case of the latter, often with some very uninspiring performances.
       Brazil cruised through South American qualifying - but only after replacing manager Dunga with Tite midway through the campaign. They had only won one of their opening six qualifiers, but under Tite they won ten and drew two of their final twelve games to finish ten points clear. In Asia, Iran came through two different groups unbeaten - eighteen games without defeat that included a run of twelve consecutive clean sheets. Morocco qualified without conceding a goal in their six-game African group, finishing top ahead of Côte d'Ivoire. Central American nation Panama reached their first World Cup thanks to an eighty eighth-minute winner against Costa Rica, which also eliminated the United States. President Juan Carlos Varela declared a national holiday following their qualification. Iceland are the only country with a population of under one million to have ever reached a World Cup. The Nordic nation had never qualified for a major tournament before Euro 2016, when they infamously beat England on their way to the quarter-finals.
      The biggest shock of the qualifying campaign came from Europe. Four-time winners Italy missed out on a World Cup for the first time since 1958, losing to Sweden in their play-off. The Swedes had reached the play-off on goal difference in their group ahead of the Netherlands, meaning the Dutch have failed to qualify for the past two major tournaments. The Czech Republic, Wales, Scotland, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey were among the other countries to miss out in the group stages - with the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Greece losing in the play-offs.
      In the CONCACAF region the United States finished below Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras as they failed to secure even a play-off berth. It is the first time since 1986 that the American will not compete at a World Cup. And, they are so pissed off about it they are reportedly threatening to hold their own competition. With blackjack. And hookers. Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Ghana - all of whom were in Brazil in 2014 - were among the African nations to miss out. Chile, ranked ninth in the world, went out in South American qualifying, missing out on a play-off on goal difference to Peru.

Saturday, 21 October 2017


Substitute Mikel Merino scored a late winner as yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though still unsellable ... for the moment, anyway) Newcastle beat Crystal Palace Nil to keep Roy Hodgson's side firmly rooted to the bottom of the Premier League. The Eagles had scored their first goals and got their first points of the campaign with a win against champions Moscow Chelski FC last week and looked more likely to take the three points for periods at St James' Park. But Merino headed in five minutes from time in a game that did not see a shot on target until the final twenty minutes. Yohan Cabaye's naughty late scissor tackle on DeAndre Yedlin was an early flash point, but the Palace midfielder escaped with a yellow card against his former club. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley put the club up for sale this week and several potential suitors are reported to be interested in a takeover, but while there is some uncertainty surrounding The Magpies off the pitch, on it the club have now made their best start to a Premier League season since 2011. Ashley said that he hopes to conclude a deal by Christmas - music to the ears of boss Rafa Benitez, who felt he did not get the backing he needed in the transfer market this summer following promotion from The Championship and has been quick to talk up the club's potential. The Spaniard's side have made a promising start to their first year back in the top flight, but they looked short of ideas in attack for large parts of the game against Crystal Palace Nil and Benitez will no doubt be asking for reinforcements in January. The former Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws manager brought midfielder Merino on ten minutes into the second half and it was the Spanish Under-Twenty One international who provided The Magpies' spark. He rose highest in the box to meet Matt Ritchie's corner and head into the roof of the net, earning the hosts their fourth Premier League win of the season.
Sheikh Yer Man City moved five points clear at the top of the Premier League as second-placed The Scum's unbeaten run surprisingly ended at Huddersfield Town. City's quality eventually shone through in a three-nil home win against Burnley as Sergio Aguero equalled the club's all-time scoring record. The Argentine tucked in a first-half penalty to equal Eric Brook's tally of one hundred and seventy seven before City, who had previously been free-scoring at Etihad Stadium, wore down the visitors and added further goals though Nicolas Otamendi and Leroy Sane. Neighbours The Scum had only conceded twice in their opening eight league matches, but Jose Mourinho's side lost their defensive solidity against newly-promoted Huddersfield. Aaron Mooy and Laurent Depoitre took advantage of first-half errors as The Terriers beat The Scum for the first time since 1952, despite Marcus Rashford's strike setting up a nervy finish. In the lunchtime kick-off, Moscow Chelski FC came from behind in a thrilling four-two win against Watford. Aiming to avoid a third league defeat, Antonio Conte's side trailed two-one before two goals from substitute Michy Batshuayi and another from Cesar Azpilicueta lifted The Blues above Watford into fourth. Leicester's players might have been 'raw' after the sacking of manager Craig Shakespeare earlier in the week, but they showed few ill-effects as caretaker manager Michael Appleton began with a two-one win at Swansea. Federico Fernandez's own goal and a strike from Shinji Okazaki lifted the 2016 champions to thirteenth, despite Swans defender Alfie Mawson pulling a goal back with more than half an hour to play. Dirty Stoke dropped into the relegation zone as they paid the price for a slow start against Bournemouth. Andrew Surman and Junior Stanislas put the visitors in control inside the opening eighteen minutes and, despite Mame Biram Diouf narrowing the gap, the second-bottom Cherries held on to win and move to within one point of safety. In the evening kick-off, Sofiane Boufal scored a sensational solo goal to give Southampton a victory over West Bromwich Albinos, their first home win since August. The Baggies remain without a league win since the second day of the season. Meanwhile, West Hamsters United manager Slaven Bilic says that he is 'not worried' but is 'realistic' about his future after The Hamsters lost three-nil to Brighton & Hove Albinos at the London Stadium on Friday evening. The home fans booed throughout the game and thousands left the ground early following Brighton's third goal, which sealed the visitors' first away win of the season. West Hamsters slipped to seventeenth in the table. Brighton took the lead after ten minutes when the unmarked Glenn Murray headed in Pascal Gross' free-kick. Moments before the break Jose Izquierdo curled past Wankhands Joe Hart from distance, despite the England goalkeeper getting a hand to the ball. Murray added his second from the penalty spot in the seventy fifth minute after he was fouled by Pablo Zabaleta. Although they dominated possession, West Hamsters had only two shots on target, long-range efforts from Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini. Chris Hughton's Albinos climbed to tenth in the table.
In Sunday's two games, soon-to-get-the-tin-tack Ronald Koeman said that he can turn Everton's fortunes around after they slipped into the relegation zone with a five-two defeat by The Arse at Goodison Park. Everton were embarrassed in front of their own fans and have now not won in five games in all competitions. 'The team is underperforming. It is in a difficult situation mentally,' the Dutchman said. And, a Harry Kane double inspired Stottingtot Hotshots as they punished a poor defensive performance by Liverpool Alabama Yee-Haws at Wembley. Kane scored the opener after four minutes as Kieran Trippier's chipped pass went over Dejan Lovren's head and the England striker took the ball around Simon Mignolet, who had rushed from his goal, to score. Eight minutes later Spurs doubled their lead as Hugo Lloris' long throw was not dealt with by Lovren, who missed a header on the halfway line and Kane was able to square to Son Heung-min to slot home. Liverpool got a goal back as Jordan Henderson's cross-field pass found Mohamed Salah, who outpaced the Spurs defence and finished off the inside of the post with a scuffed shot. Liverpool boss Herr Klopp responded by taking off Lovren for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after thirty minutes, but Dele Alli added a third for Spurs just before half-time as he lashed in a volley from eighteen yards. Kane got his second in the fifty sixth minute as he followed up a rebound from Jan Vertonghen's shot after Mignolet failed to clear a free-kick.

Leo Bonatini scored twice as title favourites Wolverhampton Wanderings survived a late scare to beat Preston Both Ends three-two at Molineux and remain top of The Championship. The hosts looked set to cruise to a second successive win after Bonatini built on Ivan Cavaleiro's first-half opener with a penalty on the hour and his second from close-range five minutes later. But the visitors reduced the deficit within a minute through Jordan Hugill, before a Conor Coady own goal twelve minutes from time led to a frantic finale in which Preston's Alan Browne was sent off. Cardiff stayed second after a late Joe Ralls penalty proved enough to give Neil Warnock's men a hard-fought win at The Middlesbrough Smog Monsters. Sheffield United stayed level on points with The Bluebirds after a two-one win over struggling Reading at Bramall Lane. Paul Coutts marked his return from injury by firing The Blades in front and Billy Sharp's fifth goal of the season made it two-nil before half-time. Roy Beerens reduced the deficit for Reading six minutes from time. Dirty Leeds bounced back from three successive losses in style and ended Bristol City's run of twelve games unbeaten with an emphatic three-nil win at Ashton Gate. Samuel Saiz struck twice in the first fourteen minutes to get the visitors off to a flying start and a Pierre-Michel Lasogga header completed an impressive performance. Both sides were reduced to ten men late on when a clash between Gaetano Berardi and Matty Taylor resulted in both players receiving straight red cards. At the bottom there was more woe for Blunderland who blew a two-goal lead to draw three-three at Brentford and extend their winless run to eleven games. The Mackem Filth responded well to Nico Yannaris' early opener for the hosts, with Lewis Grabban equalising and a Daniel Bentley own goal putting Simon Grayson's men apparently in control. When Grabban hit his second from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time it looked like The Black Cats' fortunes were finally turning - but late goals from Florian Jozefzoon and Neal Maupay earned The Bees a point. Which, to be fair, was funny. Bottom club Notlob were denied a second straight win as Idrissa Sylla's seventy eighth minute strike salvaged a draw for Queens Park Strangers at the Macron Stadium. The hosts, fresh from last week's morale-boosting win over Sheffield Wednesday, had led through Darren Pratley's header. Derby capitalised on the fourth minute sending-off of Sheffield Wednesday's Glenn Loovens to cruise to a two-nil win at Pride Park. John Terry scored his first goal for Aston Villains in a two-one home win over Poor Bloody Fulham. Stefan Johansen equalised Terry's header before half-time, but Albert Adomah won the game with a goal early in the second half. Fraizer Campbell's seventy eighth-minute effort gave Hull a win at Barnsley. That victory ended a twenty four-game wait for an away win. Goals from Barry McKay and Eric Lichaj saw Nottingham Forest beat Burton Albinos at the City Ground. Millwall condemned Steve Cotterill to his first defeat as Birmingham boss with a two-nil win in the late kick-off at The New Den. Blues defender Maxime Colin turned a Steve Morison cross into his own net two minutes into the second half and Ryan Tunnicliffe sealed the Lions' win fifteen minutes from time.
The Brazilian football club Íbis Sport hadn't won a match for two years. But now, the self-styled 'worst team in the world,' which plays in the lowest division of the Pernambuco state championship, has achieved three consecutive victories – and can make it a record-breaking four if they can beat Centro Limoeirense this weekend according to the Gruniad. But, far from welcoming this sudden reversal of fortune some fans claim the club's 'roots and identity' are at stake. Following the latest one-nil victory against Ferroviário do Cabo, fans stormed a local bar where the players were enjoying a post-match barbecue and beers to demand 'please stop winning.' 'This is destroying our history,' said one protest leader, Nilsinho Filho. Other fans went on to social media to complain, or call for resignations. 'This is a worrying situation in the long term. To stop being an icon and to be just another winning team. It's the coach’s fault,' read one typical tweet. From a moron. Between 1980 and 1984, the team went three years and eleven months without winning a game' and entered the Guinness Book Of Records as 'the worst football club in the world.' The club's Maradona-permed former midfielder Mauro Shampoo, boasts that he scored just one goal in ten years and has also criticised the recent victories. 'If we keep winning, we are going to lose our brand,' he said. The club's president, Ozir Junior, however insisted that the club's ambition is to get to the first division of the state championship. He attributed the string of sudden victories to several new players who had joined the team after recently becoming unemployed. 'We are not the worst team in the world – that was a thing of the 1980s. We are not even the worst team in Pernambuco,' he said. 'The first division is our dream, but it's going to be a lot of work.'