Andy Townsend and Niall Quinn (shared award)
Townsend proved this season that he is a moron of the highest order, and totally deserving of his position as the main co-commentator for ITV. ITV are the most infuriating channel on which to watch football – virtually no build up to any of the games, adverts that break up what small build up there is with a ridiculous regularity, and no particular analysis post-match. Townsend babbles his way through, spouting the highest ratio of clichés/minute of any of the very many cliché-mongers in the world of broadcast media.
Quinn plumbs the depths of inadequacy. I’m reminded of that old line that Irish comics don’t need any funny material to be good, such are the reserves of love we have for our friends from the emerald isle and the warmth their timbre provides in the depths of hearts. This obviously isn’t true. Quinn though goes some way to proving that TV executives love an Irish voice no matter what sort of nonsense it is eschewing. This man played football for nearly 20 years for some big clubs, under some excellent managers and with some very good players. How then does he offer so little? Baffling.
Let’s all jump on the @GNev2 bandwagon, and ride around basking in its awesomeness. Gary Neville has raised the bar consistently all season; surprisingly unbiased, genuinely insightful, and essential viewing on Monday nights. And he’s quite funny, which came as more than a bit of a shock.
Vicarage Road – Watford. Sort it out! If you have never been to watch Watford in the flesh then you probably won’t have a full understanding of what an absolute shambles Vicarage Road is. Now, I’ve been to stadiums before with one side missing, but I’ve never seen a ground that is apparently in permanent disrepair, and the missing stand is viewed as a feature. It looks ugly. And Leicester lost there twice. This might be why I hate it so much actually. I’m projecting as psychologist might say.
Honourable mention must go to The Emirates stadium here too. The ground itself is beautiful, but the acoustics (let’s be kind to the fans and blame the acoustics) ensure this is comfortably the quietest place I’ve been when surrounded by 60,000 other people. An old gripe, but a valid one. Bloody acoustics.
Best Twitter account
If you don’t follow @usasoccerguy then you really should. Hilarious. Even better when someone doesn’t get it too. Read through his old tweets and it will make you laugh. Hard.
Across all the Leagues in British football you cannot look beyond Gareth Bale, who has been ridiculously good. However, if you do want to look beyond freak of nature who now seems to be known as ‘Welsh Wizard Gareth Bale’, or you support Liverpool or Man Utd, then you could choose Luis Suarez or Robin van Persie. This seems to be the consensus of people. I think that Michael Carrick also needs a shout – not a glamour position in this country, the deep-lying playmaker is something of a rare treat for me, as it is always the first position I ensure all my teams have in Football Manager. Not that that has a single thing to do with anything.
Big hands to some others too Pablo Zabaleta, Michu, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Tim Krul,
Most exciting discovery
I was going to write Matija Nastasic, because he has been awesome at the back for Man City considering he is not even 21 yet. But he’s a centre half, and they are not exciting. Very rarely so anyway.
Liverpool have shown this season that they are actually putting together a good team ethic again, and have bought and introduced some very exciting forwards and wide players. Sterling and Suso at the start of the season looked great, if a bit raw still, but the additions of Coutinho and Sturridge in January, although not exactly unknowns, were great. Sturridge has always had an ego the size of a house, and he showed some of the form at Anfield that he hit when on loan at Bolton a couple of seasons ago. Coutinho is a sexy little footballer – slip passes, head up at all times, tight control. A bargain.
Also, Christian Benteke looks like he could be a striker for anyone in the league. He his massive. Despite scoring a number of superb goals this year, my favourite memory of him this season was against Bradford at Villa Park. He jumped up and at the ball but jumped too high and tried to chest the ball in. A BEAST.
Top discovery for me though this season is definitely Shinji Kagawa. I know he had shown his ability in Germany for a couple of seasons previously, but to us Englishmen that doesn’t count. This season he proved that he was able to influence games for Man Utd, and showed some beautiful touches – I must have rewatched his side-footed finish against Norwich at least 20,000 times already. If you missed it before, have a look at how he totally does the keeper. Gorgeous.
Big mention to Callum McManaman as well, who will most likely be playing in the Championship next season, but who has shown that with a trick or two, some balls to run right at and around full backs, the winger as we have always known it is not dead. Don’t mention his tackling though.
Best piece of business
Michu or Van Persie? It depends how you look at it.
Michu was a massive bargain at £2 million, and inspired them to a safe mid-table position in the League, which also gave them the impetus to go and win the League Cup. Superb to watch, loping about the pitch and scoring lots of goals.
Van Persie was also a bit of a bargain at £24million, admittedly at a different end of the market, but with his goals providing a razor sharp end to the team, and his mere presence scaring the bijeesus out of the opposition, he has proved a great signing as Sir Alex was able to finish off his career at United with an emphatic 20th league title.
Funniest bit of commentary – Stan Collymore
Stand up Stan, who has a peculiar ‘shout-over-the-top-of-everyone’ delivery on TalkSport, but who is normally pretty solid in terms of his opinions, leapt in to the realms of stupidity normally reserved for Andy Townsend, Niall Quinn or Alan Shearer while commentating on Chelsea this year. Showing an enormous lack of research, and a disregard for the mechanics of his profession, he declared to Sam Matterface that Juan Mata is a great player but he needs to start scoring 10-15 goals a season to make the next step up. Matterface pointed out to Stan that Big John had already scored 18 at time of broadcast…
Outrage of the Season
FIFA? Suarez? I can’t even be bothered to go in to this again. They are both disgraceful in their own manner.
Follow me @mckrisp
Over the last few weeks Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have left the entire footballing world in their wakes as they have marched to the Champions League final. Dortmund beat Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate to get to the final whereas Bayer Munich beat the so called best team of all time Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate to emphatically march into the final. This left footballing fans all over the globe in shock as they watched in awe Munich humiliate Barcelona home and away not by a small margin but absolutely destroying them, whereas Dortmund destroyed Madrid 4-1 at home but nearly threw it away at the Santiago Bernabeu when they conceded twice late on and Madrid nearly scored a winner at the death but Dortmund just held on to the end.
In the wake of both these German sides getting the Champions League final many people have claimed that the Bundesliga is the best league around today especially after the two Spanish giants were humiliated by them. It is easy to agree out of hand that this is now the strongest league in the world but if you look over the entire league is it really the strongest around?
The Champions League finalists are both the top two German football sides who have come first and second the last three years in a row. This year Munich has destroyed all in their path domestically and in Europe to storm to the verge of a treble. Whereas Dortmund has been poor so far this year in domestic competitions but in Europe have been superb so far and has impressed many neutral supporters so far this year. Both sides play great fluid attacking football, which has been unstoppable for the majority of teams that they have faced this season.
However it is easy to judge how good a league is on just two teams but to get a real reflection of how good a league is it is vital that you look at the entire league and teams. The Bundesliga has two dominant teams in Munich and Dortmund but after that they have nothing. Whereas in Spain you have a very good team fighting for third in Athletico Madrid and in the Premier league you have four, if not five, very strong teams but the top two of Manchester United and Manchester City are just too strong for them to keep up. In the German league after Dortmund you have Bayer Leverkusen who are not an overly strong side that could challenge in Europe for example, whereas Atletico Madrid last season won the Europa League and Chelsea won the Champions League last season and the Europa League this season.
Germany appears to have two very strong teams but not much depth after this for sides that are really going to challenge at the highest of levels with the rest of Europe. To make matters worse for German football it is highly expected that Dortmund will lose stars Lewandowski and Mario Gotze who are a vital part of Dortmund’s success over the last few seasons and are a vital part of Dortmund’s European journey so far. Without them the Bundesliga may now become the biggest one team league in Europe with Munich storming to glory for many years to come domestically, leaving all the other sides trailing in their wake.
I think we are blessed to see two very strong teams challenging for the Champions League as it adds another two teams into the mix that for now on could win it instead of the usual names such as Barcelona. But I think it is very premature to claim the Bundesliga is the strongest league in the world because if you look at the Bundesliga table thye really only have two strong teams in comparison to the Premier League which has four to five teams that could do well in the Champions League. I think the German league holds the two greatest powers in football at this moment in time and if Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp can keep their teams going in this dominant fashion and carry on to bring through their own youngsters but splash the cash when needed I think that we have our two new dominant forces in Europe for many years to come as I cannot see many teams being able to cope with them, particularly Bayern Munich who look insanely good so far this year and if they play like this for several years they could win multiple Champions leagues. As for Dortmund it all depends on how they cope without Gotze and Lewandowski if they can get good replacements, the rumours being Edin Dzeko is one of them, then they will have the ability to dominate Europe side by side with their fierce rivals Bayern Munich.
Do Germany have the strongest two teams? Yes they do. But do they have the strongest league? No I do not think they do.
I think that the Premier league holds onto that title just because of the fact that it has so many sides that would do well in Europe compared to the La Liga and the Bundesliga.
Brazil 2014: The year and tournament Scotland believed the hoodoo would be broken and we would qualify for our first major tournament since France 1998. Not as we intended.
Instead, Scotland has suffered one of its most humiliating campaigns in footballing history and must now reflect on the next campaign. After no wins and 2 points from 6 games in the current campaign (only 11% points available) Craig Levein was removed as manager. Gordon Strachan was brought in to replace him and he is right to plan ahead for the Euros and is currently planning to experiment with his squad ahead of the away game to Croatia in just less than 3 weeks’ time.
On a positive note, since March, players such as Kris Commons and Charlie Mulgrew have added an SPL title to their CVs, whilst Gary Caldwell, James McArthur and Shaun Maloney helped pull of a miracle as Wigan won the FA Cup against Manchester City, despite being relegated from the Premiership. Likewise a strong Cardiff City managed by Malkay Mackay won the Championship with a similar contingent. However, despite Celtic flying the flag in Europe with their extraordinary win over Barcelona and reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, there is still so much wrong within the Scottish game. Celtic have won the league without breaking a sweat, then you have the on-going saga at Rangers which is proving to be more dramatic than an Eastenders episode, whilst Hearts are in dire straits and Dunfermline could still be liquidated.
Just as well international football can provide the perfect distraction, and another competition at the end of the month might just enhance another player’s reputation and determine why he should be in the Scotland squad. The man in question is Leigh Griffiths. Griffiths may be a surprising choice to some. He will be playing in League One next season with Wolves after the club suffered two successive relegations. He will leave behind a Hibs side that have been lauding his performances all season. Some may take a snobbish look at a player performing in League One but Jordan Rhodes has already shown it can make you an £8million player. Griffiths has brought an air of excitement to Easter Road with his technical ability and ball control and despite his antics he has bagged 28 goals this season. You only had to see the last Edinburgh derby to see how he has developed, scoring a stunning free kick to level the game, before harassing the Hearts defence which led to the winner. His form is the main reason of a year extension at Wolves, described as the “normal practice in this situation” by Kevin Thelwell, Head of Football Development and Recruitment at the club, due to relegation and the sacking of Dean Saunders. Griffiths has already been awarded the Player of the Year award, along with SPFA Young Player of the Year and more recently won the Scottish Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year. If this form continues, surely Strachan would have him as a certainty to be in the squad.
With Griffiths’ personal issues however, it is not an easy decision to make. Although he has deserved these accolades, it is his appearance on the front pages that has caused more grief than pleasure for the striker. He has been labelled a “ned,” had public bust ups with his girlfriend and been in fights with players and his manager Pat Fenlon. This has led to him being seen as a target for abuse from opposition fans. It was only last year he head-butted Fenlon and punched his assistant, Billy Brown, emptied his locker and was expected to head back to Molineux. Nevertheless he was given a second chance and revelled in his renewed environment. Griffiths revealed he has opened up to his older brother and his manager, Fenlon has helped distract him from off field issues and to produce where it matters: on the pitch. In addition, it does not help Griffiths that his future is now uncertain as Wolves have put themselves into a good position by keeping an in-form striker by activating a new 1 year deal and additionally a transfer fee has now been added on for financial benefits for the English side. For Hibs this is difficult due to the financial constraints in the Scottish game, with Fenlon admitting he has started to look for replacements, despite wishing to keep him at Easter Road.
Now is an important time for Griffiths’ career. A Scottish Cup final beckons at Hampden against Celtic on the 26th May. It seems certain this will be Griffiths’ last game for Hibs, and if Hibs lift the cup for the first time since 1902 they will be seen as legends. If Griffiths scores a winner, he would be the King of Kings on Leith and probably have a statue in his honour! On a footballing perspective Griffiths, at 22, has time on his hands. He adores his family, especially his kids, and has people around him to help him. He will need this at Wolves to succeed too. It was only a few years ago Derek Riordan, an ex-Hibs player seemed destined to move on to a successful career, but a failure at Celtic meant a return to Hibs, a spell in China, a stint at St Johnstone and a 3 month spell at Bristol Rovers and is now currently a free agent. Griffiths cannot afford to follow Riordan’s path. Let’s picture a crossroads. One path leads to uncertainty, a new future, is unclear, further away from home with no guidance but has signs of prosperity and wealth in the distance. The second path also shows prosperity, but shows togetherness, guidance, help and support. If Hibs can keep Griffiths, as unlikely as it will happen, it may just benefit the player and could provide him another year of learning before moving on to a new club.
Based on this evidence Strachan needs to call up Griffiths for the Croatia game to experiment his attacking options. Due to Steven Fletcher’s injury only Steven Naismith and Jordan Rhodes are certainties to be selected as Scotland’s attackers. Griffiths’ form has propelled him forward. If his temperament can be curbed, and still show his natural ability, he can tell us whether he should deserve to be in the Scotland team for the short and long term. After all, being a livelong Hibbee, and being surrounded by his family, home is where the heart is…
I have to admit, when Leroy Lita joined Sheffield Wednesday on loan for the rest of the season when it was nearing the end of the January transfer window, I was a bit skeptical. I’d never really rated Lita very highly (partly due to a failed Football Manager save with Swansea City back in 2012, where I was forced to make Jonathan Walters my marquee signing just not to get the sack), but partly because he only scored 2 goals throughout the entire 2011-12 season. Wednesday were a team fighting relegation battles all season, so we needed a goalscorer, especially after the failure of Jay Bothroyd who joined on loan in August.
Coincidentally, Lita joined us on loan around a month after we picked up that remarkable run of form from the shock 1-0 win at Bolton on Boxing Day, in which Mamady Sidibe, Stoke’s forgotten man, scored his first goal for over three years, to the 2-0 win at home to Middlesborough on the final day of the season which sealed survival in the Championship. Statistically speaking, if the first half of the season was erased from the history books, then Wednesday, despite finishing 18th overall, would be sitting pretty in the play-off places, only behind league champions Cardiff on goal difference. This shows the difference in quality between the signings made in the summer, and the loan signings made throughout the season.
I suppose the inability to buy a goalscoring striker proven at Championship level led to the series of loan signings throughout the season made by the Wednesday hierarchy, which started off with former Sevilla and current Barcelona striker Rodri, who joined on loan way back in August. He is well regarded as a flop by the Wednesday faithful, who saw just one goal in 11 appearances from the Spaniard, before he was shipped off back to the Catalan club after 5 months in Yorkshire. On deadline day in August, Wednesday signed a striker who many expected to be a very good capture for the Owls, QPR’s Jay Bothroyd, a former England international. Much like Rodri, Bothroyd was also a flop, netting just one goal (in a 1-1 draw with Leeds) in fourteen appearances for the club, before rejoining QPR at the end of his loan spell in January.
This is where the emergency loan signings started to come in. First up was Stoke City’s Malian striker Mamady Sidibe, who joined the Owls for a couple of months from November 2012 to January 2013. Sidibe’s only goal for the club came in the afore-mentioned win at Bolton Wanderers, although after nine appearances, Sidibe returned to Stoke-on-Trent, without too much of a fanfare from the Wednesdayites. In February 2013 (after Lita had been captured from Swansea), Wednesday announced the signing of Sunderland and England under-21 striker Connor Wickham on a one-month loan. Much like the other loan signings, Wickham only scored one goal (in a surprising 1-0 win away at play-off hopefuls Leicester City in March) in six appearances before rejoining his parent club up in the north-east.
So what makes Lita stand out from all these flops? I believe it’s his goals, which is the boring, obvious answer. I didn’t think he’d get many when he came in from south Wales, but boy was I wrong. His first game for the Owls came away to Charlton Athletic at Valley Parade in one of the day’s late kick-offs. I’d been to watch Manchester City’s win away at the Britannia the same day, so was already in a good mood after that, and then this game just completed the game. I knew we were 1-0 down to Charlton whilst we were driving back from Stoke, and we were still trailing going past the 80 minute mark. Suddenly, two quick-fire goals from Reda Johnson and Lita (on as a substitute) gave us a hard-fought 2-1 win, and my opinion on Lita was beginning to change.
His next game for the Owls was at home to Brighton, who had beaten us 3-0 at the Amex back in September. It was my first Wednesday game for a while, and I was understandably nervous, as Brighton were flying high in the table. Thankfully, a goal after just five minutes from Lita settled the nerves, and then further goals from loanee Danny Pugh and Michail Antonio sealed a 3-1 win for the Owls. After the game, I even managed to meet Leroy himself, as well as Wayne Bridge, who was on loan to Brighton at the time.
After a couple of games without scoring, Lita was starting to look less of a good signing, especially as we had won neither of these games. Next up was a tough home encounter with play-off chasing Crystal Palace, who had relegated us on this ground three years earlier. The only pre-match consolation was that star winger Wilfried Zaha was to miss the game injured, and it showed, as Palace showed little threat going forward. Wednesday capitalized on this with ten minutes of the match remaining, as a fantastic cross from Michail Antonio found the head of Lita, who bulleted a header past the Palace keeper to give Wednesday the shock win.
Next was to come a dry spell for Lita, in which he failed to score for the next six league games for Wednesday. This coincided with a loss of form at a vital time for the Owls, with just two wins out of those six games. Next up was a home game against struggling Blackburn Rovers, and it was a must-win fixture for both teams. Blackburn took the lead early on, before Jermaine Johnson equalised soon after. Ten minutes before half-time, the game took a real twist when Wednesday won a penalty, which Lita bravely stepped up to take, and stroke past Sandomierski in the Blackburn goal. Despite a Blackburn equaliser in the second half, a second goal for Johnson would seal a 3-2 win for Wednesday.
After this Blackburn game, there came five fixtures for the blue half of Sheffield which would decide their fate. Lita failed to score in the first two of these, but finally made the breakthrough in the third out of five, against Ipswich at Hillsborough. The Tractormen took the lead early on thanks to a goal from Jay Tabb, and this led to one of Wednesday’s worst performances of the season. We couldn’t get out of our half our string many decent passes together, and we were lucky to be only one down at the break. In the second half, we came out and started to play better, and somehow managed to find a goal with just under half an hour left, once again, from that man Leroy Lita. Somehow we were drawing, and had a chance to go on and win! However, the linesman took away this chance, when he disallowed Lita’s second goal of the match for offside, which did appear to be onside. However, we somehow managed to hold on for the point.
Then came the decider. The game that would decide our fate, the league we’d play in for the 2013-14 season, against Middlesborough at home. We could have sealed survival the previous weekend away at relegation rivals Peterborough, but conspired to lose 1-0 and take it to the final day. When you’re involved in final day drama like this, you’re always tense, you’re always nervous, and this conveys to the players. I was hoping for an early goal, to settle the nerves, and thankfully we got this thanks to veteran striker Steve Howard. The ground erupted with noise. Cue pandemonium. Then the focus changed to not throwing this away. Lita, however, had other ideas. When right-back Lewis Buxton whipped in a corner from the far side towards the front post, there was Lita to glance home a header in front of the Kop end, and send the Wednesday fans into sheer ecstasy once again. “We are staying up!” was the cheer reverberating around the ground, and Lita had helped make it happen. Wednesday were comfortable 2-0 in the lead at the break, although didn’t score again in the second half, and finished as 2-0 victors to ensure survival and a second season of football in England’s second tier.
I’ll happily hold my hands up high and say that I didn’t believe Lita was the right signing when he came in. I wasn’t impressed by his goal tally at Swansea, and thought that he wouldn’t be able to help us in our quest for survival. I can’t believe how wrong I was! Without Lita’s goals, we wouldn’t have survived, and I would happily see him back in the blue and white of Wednesday. Wherever he ends up, I wish him the best of luck.
Long Live Leroy.
England have four games left to secure as many points as they can in an attempt to knock Montenegro off top spot and qualify for the 2014 World Cup automatically. All Three Lions fans will adopt Ukrainian nationality on 7th June as they take on Montenegro in Podgorica as a Montenegro win will extend their lead at the top to five points.
England’s remaining four qualifiers after that are against Moldova, Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland. I will now go through each nation and provide a small preview of each game.
Date: 6th September 2013
Location: Wembley, England
Last time out: W 5-0
Star Player: Alexandru Epureanu
England know that anything less than three points will be a disappointment when they take on the team ranked 139th in the world at Wembley on 6th September. They will also be keeping one eye on the Ukraine game four days later and could rest some big name players and bring some younger players in such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Butland. In the reverse fixture in the group, England ran out 5-0 winners in Chișinău. Frank Lampard scored a brace and Jermaine Defoe, James Milner and Leighton Baines grabbed a goal each in a comfortable win. England have always been successful against the Moldovan national side in qualifying having played them three times and taking three points each time. They last met in qualifying in 1997 in preparation for the 1998 World Cup and beat them 4-0 and 3-0. Although it seems that England will have a near walkover, Moldova captain Alexandru Epureanu will have a say in the scoreline. The Dynamo Moscow defender has made over 50 appearances for the national side and is considered as one of their most valuable talents and he will not want to leave Wembley on the other side of a hammering.
Date: 10th September 2013
Last time out: D 1-1
Star Player: Andriy Yarmolenko
England relied on an 87th minute Frank Lampard penalty last time out to get a draw at Wembley to cancel out Yevhen Konoplyanka’s spectacular first half striker. They will be hoping for a less dramatic finish when they travel to Ukraine on the 10th September and a win could see them top the group as Montenegro sits out this round of games. However, England will have to stop dynamic winger Andriy Yarmolenko if they want to achieve anything from this game. The Dynamo Kyiv player has been getting rave reviews during international games and has been linked with transfers to Arsenal and AC Milan in recent years. He has also scored crucial goals in the qualifying campaign so far against Poland and Moldova and will be looking to add to his 11 international goals against England.
Date: 11th October 2013
Location: Wembley, England
Last time out: D 1-1
Star Player: Stevan Jovetić
The crucial game for England if they want to finish top of Group H ahead of Brazil 2014. If they lose this they could be entered into the play-offs and going off current standings, potential opponents could be Portugal and France. Last time the two sides met in March the game finished 1-1 as England threw away an early lead. Wayne Rooney headed England in front in the opening 10 minutes and England had many chances to extend their lead before Dejan Damjanović equalised in the 77th minute to deny England the three points. Similar to Ukraine, Montenegro have a bright young talent in the form of Stevan Jovetić. He is the same age as Andriy Yarmolenko and has been getting the same sort of press coverage. His 12 league goals have helped Fiorentina up to 4th position in the league but he has yet to score in the World Cup qualifying campaign so far. England, however, have never beaten Montenegro in a qualifying campaign in the three times that they have played them. Back in qualifying for EURO2012, the two teams drew both games with the games finishing 2-2 and 0-0.
Date: 15th October 2013
Location: Wembley, England
Last time out: D 1-1
Star Player: Robert Lewandowski
England’s final game of the qualifying group and they will take on the team ranked 63rd in the world. The last time they played each other was in October 2012 and the game was delayed by a day following heavy rain showers in Warsaw. When the game was played the day after, it finished 1-1 as Kamil Gilk cancelled out Wayne Rooney’s deflected opener to see Poland rise to 3rd in the group standings. Some of the national press put the draw down to sleeping tablets given to the players the night before but that theory was quickly ridiculed by many England fans. When England take to the field at Wembley, they will be hoping that Montenegro slip up in their final game against Moldova. It is unlikely that they will but hopefully England will have the points advantage and a win against Poland will secure automatic qualification to the 2014 World Cup. Although Robert Lewandowski is highlighted as their star player, Poland have many talents and England will need to stop the likes of Łukasz Piszczek, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Maciej Rybus if they want to get anything from the game.
As I sit down to write this preview for the Championship Play Off Final, to be played against the very same side we met on day one of the season at Selhurst Park, it is fair to say that I am still rather high on the emotion generated from Watford’s dramatic victory over Leicester City in the second leg of the semi final on Sunday.
As Anthony Knockaert stepped up to take Leicester’s penalty in the dying seconds of the game, I began to think to myself that this could end up being one of the most unlucky weeks in our recent history. We had a chance to go up automatically the previous weekend but lost at home to Leeds (having had both of our first choice goalkeepers injured), but lost, we then dominated in both legs of the Play Off semi final against the Foxes, and here we were, about to relinquish our promotion challenge altogether and to a vastly inferior side. Less than a minute later, after Almunia’s double save, that immense counter attack and Troy Deeney’s rifling shot to finish off a wonderful move, I was in dreamland. We’d turned in around – we were on our way to Wembley. A week can be a long time in football? Sometimes, even 30 seconds can be a long time in this crazy game that we all love.
Palace will provide a tough test in our third Play Off Final in 14 years, and despite my annoyance about the way Ian Holloway has conducted himself this season in regards to his overly vocal criticism of Watford’s business model and transfer policy, I am prepared to concede that I have been impressed by his side at times this season.
But not as impressed as I have been with our season. I was there on September 1st, away at Derby County, and I witnessed a completely inept performance against a bang average team to whom we ended up losing 5-1. After that particular debacle, I thought we’d be nothing but relegation fodder. From November onwards though, we played some of the best attacking football I’ve ever seen and it evidenced the fact that our flurry of new imports just needed a little bit of time to settle in and then really hit their stride. Thinking back to how bad we were at up at Pride Park that day, it now feels like it was years ago rather than the start of this campaign.
Czech international Matej Vydra broke his three month scoring duck, spectacularly, during the second leg against Leicester, and his partnership alongside Troy Deeney up front will be an important factor in unlocking Crystal Palace’s defence. If that doesn’t work, we’ve got the option of bringing on our super sub, Fernando Forestieri, who’s got more tricks than a touring circus. The service to the front two will be regular and effective from player of the year Almen Abdi, who has oozed class all season, in midfield. He will be backed up by young starlet Nathaniel Chalobah and either the unsung hero Jonathan Hogg or the skilful little Italian, Cristian Battocchio, will make up the central midfield trio. The wing back positions will be occupied by the lightning quick Ikechi Anya on the right and either Daniel Pudil or Matt Briggs on the left. The back three will contain club legend Lloyd “Lloydinho” Doyley – who is the only survivor from our last promotion campaign under Aidy Boothroyd in 2006/07 – as well as the Italian veteran Marco Cassetti and, hopefully, the returning former Palace defender Fitz Hall, who has been rock solid when he has been fit enough to play this season. The presence of acting club captain Manuel Almunia in goal should prove to be vital, given his big game experience for Arsenal over the years.
Looking through our side, and the options we’re likely to have on the bench alongside the supremely talented Forestieri, I can’t see us not winning the game in 90 minutes if we play the way we know we can. Having said that, I didn’t give Wigan much of a chance in last weekend’s FA Cup final against Manchester City, so I’m not counting any chickens just yet. I can’t help but feel that Palace are heavily reliant on their Manchester United loan star Wilfried Zaha, particularly in the absence of their top goal scorer Glenn Murray, who’s out with a long term injury. It is also important to remember that they only managed to win two of their final ten games of the regular season in the Championship, and by all accounts played very badly during that run. If we can keep Zaha quiet, then I think we’ll keep them quiet, and we should be able to dominate possession and really give their midfield the run-around. Then of course, there’s the potential we have for breaking with lightning speed on the counter attack if we ever do come under any sustained pressure from the Eagles, and we’ve scored quite a few goals on the break over the course of this season.
Overall, I think we will have too much quality for Palace in all areas. It is vital, however, that we do not switch off in the same way we have occasionally had the tendency to do. This happened in the second half of our last match against Palace in February, where we inexcusably let a 2-0 half time lead slip from our grasp and ended up drawing the match 2-2 at Vicarage Road.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that form, or the superior quality of one set of players over another, are irrelevant in big games like the Play Off final. So, for that reason, I’m predicting a comfortable victory for my beloved Hornets. But if I’m wrong, I’ll magnanimously wish Palace the very best of luck for their Premier League adventure. I hope they’ll do the same for us.
The championship playoff final is said to be the worlds richest game of football, with the winner standing to gain a staggering £120 million from just TV money alone. On May the 27th South London outfit Crystal Palace make the journey to Wembley looking to return to the Premier League for the first time in eight years.
This season has bought the Eagles unprecedented success but it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Rewind a few months back to late August. Palace were lying rock bottom, with no points, having lost their first three league games of the season, and they were the bookies overwhelming favourites for relegation. Many if not all the CPFC faithful were fearing the worst and expecting another season fighting the drop to League 1.
However, despite all the doom and gloom the club went on and incredible run which saw them rise to the top of the league, and eventually finish in 5th. Some of the SE25 fan base were noticeably upset at the team missing out on automatic promotion, but given the chance every single fan (including myself) would have taken a playoff final spot at the beginning of the season.
The season has had many high points, a thumping victory against Ipswich, thrilling comebacks against Cardiff and Burnley, but by far the most memorable is the way in which we booked our ticket to Wembley. Having been drawn against our fierce rivals Bright*n in the playoff semi finals, fans and pundits alike continued to write us off, but in true palace style we overcame the odds. A magnificent performance provided the most important victory of the season and the scenes that followed will stay with everyone in the Amex stadium for the rest of their life. Also who can forget the Ian Holloway “chicken dance” that’s been circling round the Internet?
So what of our chances in the final? Well in typical palace style we are being billed as the underdogs. In this season’s meetings with Watford the story has been one of goals, goals, goals, but I think it will be a lot tighter at Wembley. The key to palace’s promotion will most probably lie with mercurial star Wilfried Zaha who has one last performance to give in a red and blue shirt. Many believe that the area of Watford’s weakness lies in the full back areas so Zaha and Co could well be in business. One thing you can guarantee though is that half of south London will be out in force to support their team, whatever the result. (And we don’t need plastic clappers!)
I’m predicting a tetchy affair settled by a Zaha moment of magic. Palace to win 2-1 AET and me to probably cry tears of joy into my fathers arms!
The Cobblers are known for a number of things and they mostly revolve around the F.A cup match in 1970 when George Best put six past them. No-one, of course, mentions the League tie at the County ground four and a half years earlier where Northampton drew 1-1 with United. Nor have the Cobblers received much press in the build up to the League 2 Playoff Final, instead their opposition Bradford City winning the war for column inches. Indeed, reading the Bantam’s internet forums it is like the Yorkshire fans have decided they have won already, having taken a trip up Wembley Way in the League Cup Final. As impressive an achievement that is, let’s not forget that Northampton are no strangers to the National Stadium themselves, having reached two successive Playoff finals in the late 90′s. The first they won thanks to an injury time free- kick from balding Brummie John Frain, the second the Cobblers narrowly lost to Grimsby in front of an astonishing forty-two thousand of the “Shoe Army” who had clomped down the M1.
Of course, pundits will look at the four times Northampton and Bradford have met this season and point to three Bantam’s victories as an indicator of Playoff success. But the more astute will see that two were single goal victories in competitive League matches, the third a penalty kick win in an F.A Cup replay. Results in the basement division are based on fine margins and it takes little to turn results against bogey sides into purple patches. Take Northampton’s two league defeats to Playoff Semi-Finalists Cheltenham this season which were erased in the space of a week as the Cobblers beat the Robins home and away in progressing to Wembley.
While all the talk is on Bradford’s Bermudan bullet Nakhi Wells, Cobblers fans are quietly confident that Cork Born sharpshooter Roy O’Donovan is the man who will take Wembley by storm. The Irishman scored a cracking volley in the home playoff tie with Cheltenham and before that a stonking curled effort to poop Port Vale’s promotion party. Likewise, while James Hanson is rightly congratulated for his powerful performances and cute driven goal for Bradford against Burton, Northampton’s man mountain striker Adebayo Akifenwa is hardly a shrinking violet in opposition boxes. Hanson is relatively new to the game whereas Bayo has scored over a hundred career goals and out scored the Bantam’s forward this season. Former supermarket stacker Hanson may well be own brand beans compared to Northampton’s Finest.
Moreover, on the wing, the Cobblers possess one of the best chalk-on-your-boots midfielders in the lower leagues in Chris Hackett. Northampton gaffer Aidy Boothroyd has often described Hackett as a Championship player in League 2. High praise for which the former Millwall man lived up to giving the Cheltenham defence a good going over in the home playoff tie. Not only that but the Cobblers spine is solid with Luke Guttridge adding pit pull terrier bite to long shot tekkers. At the back, Clarke Carlisle provides a manager’s voice on the pitch with his organising skills in no doubt as Chairman of the PFA. Alongside him for most of this term has been Player of the Season Kelvin Langmead, who alongside Clarke provides a real aerial menace with his heading ability. Langmead has scored eight League goals so far this season, a terrific return from the centre back. Then we have Northampton’s not so secret weapon with Ben Tozer’s long throw. Ben’s V2 missile throw in has made him the third highest assist provider in League 2 and Bradford may well find themselves under siege on Saturday.
Bradford might think, that through sheer bullishness, they have the “battle of the clarets” sown up. But they will be in for a shock if they underestimate a team who have reached Wembley on merit.
It’s that time again to look back on the season that’s just finished and announce the 11 players we feel have been a cut above the rest in the league.
So, pull up a chair, get yourself and a drink and get ready to nod your head in agreement/disagree vehemently as we announce the TattooedFootball Premiership Team of the Season!
David De Gea – Manchester United
Remember when some people actually thought Anders Lindegaard was a better goalkeeper than the ex-Atletico Madrid shot stopper?! An awful lot of humble pie has been served up this season by this man.
Still only young and he is improving all the time. When he has more experience under his belt he could become the best goalkeeper in the world
Pablo Zabaleta – Manchester City
It came to either him or Rafael but, if I’m being honest, the final outcome was never that close.
A model professional who loves a tackle but can attack like a winger and has an eye for goal. When people say Mark Hughes didn’t do anything good whilst he was at City remind them of this man. Simply outstanding.
Jan Vertonghen – Tottenham Hotspur
He can play all over the pitch, he’s hardly ever caught out of position, strong in the table and can score an absolutely fucking belter of a goal. At only 26 years old he hasn’t yet reached his peak and can only get better.
Phil Jagielka – Everton
This was a tough one to pick and it came down to 3 choices; Jagielka, Rio Ferdinand and Matija Nastasic. After a lot of though we went for the Evertonian.
He’s been a rock at the back all season and came up with some big goals when needed. Surely his best season in the premiership to date.
Leighton Baines – Everton
We’ve been saying it for years – Baines is the best left back in the league by a country mile. His set pieces are perfect, he’s got a rocket launcher where most of us have a left foot and can tackle.
A fantastic player who, if rumours are to be believed, will be strutting his stuff in the Champions League next season.
Gareth Bale – Tottenham Hotspur
He just keeps getting better and better. When he’s on song so are Tottenham. To think he used to be a left back that was considered some sort of unlucky omen for Spurs. Unthinkable now. Easily I’m the top 10 best players in the world.
Michael Carrick – Manchester United
The heartbeat of the champions. His reading of the game is second to none and he keeps United ticking over time after time. His calmness under pressure mixed with his beautiful passing ability mark him out as one of the best English players of the last 10 years, if not THE best.
Juan Mata – Chelsea
If he could tackle he would be the perfect player. Quick, agile, fast, strong, an eye for goal and lethal at set plays. He is a joy to watch and, in my opinion, he’s the best player in the Premiership.
Santi Cazorla – Arsenal
What an exceptional piece of business it was by Arsene Wenger to bring this Spanish wizard to the Emirates. His first season in the league has been nothing short of brilliant and, if he can build on it, there’s nothing to say he won’t keep improving. Phenomenal.
Luis Suarez – Liverpool
Can we all just agree that as a footballer he is magnificent but as a person he’s a bit of a cock?
Another great season for the Anfield talisman and, if he hasn’t stupidly bitten Ivanovic, he could easily have ended the term with the golden boot. If he state at Liverpool expect him to score a lot of goals next season (again!) but lets hope he has a less controversial season for a change.
Robin Van Persie – Manchester United
Do we really need to tell you anything about this man? He’s carried his sensational form from last year to his new club and finished with the golden boot and a Premiership winners medal – enough said.
Right, I am in no doubt some of you will disagree with who we’ve picked so leave your team of the season below. If you think we’ve picked the right 11 then tell us that as well – we never tire of being right
Another footballing year comes to an end, and another season in the Blue Square Premier League finishes. Woking FC finished a respectable 12th, after a season of pain and misery, but also a season filled with joy and delight, proving many wrong after their recent promotion from the Blue Square South League after a very successful campaign. As the new boys to the league, no one thought much of Woking FC, picturing them as relegation candidates, a team no one had to worry about. Nevertheless, the Cards made sure that picture wasn’t painted.
Recently promoted, and filled with eagerness to get the season underway, Woking went into the pre-season friendlies unsure what to expect. Fans wouldn’t be familiar with the Blue Square Premier League, and some of the friendlies were against strong sides. Putting the first loss against Windsor FC aside, Woking went into the friendly against Crawley Town as the underdogs, a team not even worth considering. Crawley Town had shown their strengths the previous seasons through repeated FA Cup success, as well as promotions up to League One.
The Cards put on an extremely encouraging display to overcome Crawley though, defining all odds, thanks to a goal from Kieron St Aimie. The future looked bright following the win, which led to more draws and wins against some top sides. Fans were buzzing, players were pumped, and now was the opportunity to shock off all the Blue Square Premier League.
August became a month of mixed reactions, picking up nine vital points. A few games were lost, but to teams who have competed at this level for much longer. It became a successful month for the club, and was followed for the next few months, picking up more wins and the occasional draw. Woking were solidifying their position within the league, showing who they were, and what they could do. Finally, the Cards had hit the big league, the Blue Square Premier. Woking FC became a name everyone knew, and they grabbed some almighty wins to prove it.
Saturday 8th September. A date many fans would remember. The day the club really made their mark in the league. Woking were playing Nuneaton, a game that should be fairly close. However, the Cards had a different plan; they didn’t want a close game. The boys decided to go out and trounce the struggling side. Bradley Bubb decided to put in the performance of a life-time, grabbing a quartet, with all four goals coming in the second half within 25 minutes! McCallum and Sawyer decided they too both wanted a goal, making Woking the name on everyone’s lips that week.
Nevertheless, that didn’t become the most memorable game for the fans of Woking when approaching Christmas. When drawn against local rivals Farnborough in the FA Trophy, fans were ecstatic. A great game was on the cards, and a great game it was. Woking went into the game on poor form, yet to win throughout the month. Woking welcomed back Kingfield favourites Inns and Hammond, but then proved why leaving wasn’t such a great idea. Hammond and Inns would both start for Farnborough, only to find Betsy scoring after six minutes. The goals kept rocketing in, until the teams went in for the half-time break with the score 4-0. The game look settled, Woking had been victorious on the day, a day that needed a win more than ever. Even so, Gary Hill and co. decided four wasn’t enough, so decided to celebrate the final whistle with the score at 7-0. Woking had beaten their local rivals, and were through to the next round. It looked like things could be getting better for the club following the poor form they had previously through October and November.
Woking FC decided to continue with the form in 2013, winning six games in a row from New Year’s Day until mid-February, with the run halted as a result of a 3-1 loss to Newport County at the beloved Kingfield Stadium. The club went into a very busy March with a good league position thanks to the recent success, an improving squad harmony, and the hope of settling with a good league position at the end of the campaign. Although the team only managed one win throughout March, a win 5-2 demolishing of AFC Telford United, they still managed to pick up another six points through draws, only losing three games throughout March. April would be kicked off with an away to Dartford, a team well respected sitting high in the league. It would be a tough fixture, especially with the players taking to the field for the fourth time in less than a week, and it would end as a fixture that was just too tough for the side, eventually losing 4-1, although a score line unfair in the eyes of many Woking fans. A Jayden Stockley goal would give Woking some hope, but unfortunately not enough. Four games would remain, and it was safe to say Woking FC had made its mark on the Blue Square Premier League. One of these games would be the game most Woking fans will remember for a long time.
Following a brilliant 2-0 win against Wrexham, who were fighting for a spot in the play-offs, Woking had to face their Macclesfield Town, a team in a similar position to Woking, both fighting for that extra place in the league. The Cards had been ending the season with a very attractive run of home games, while old rivals Macclesfield, who had recently been relegated after a long stint in the Football League, while still having a very talented squad. Woking started the game brilliantly, with Billy Knott scoring in just 3 minutes, succeeded by a goal just four minutes later by Kevin Betsy. Stockley then aspired to getting a goal, which was achieved with a penalty in the 23rd minute. Stockley decided to grab a second in the 28th minute too. Knott then scored his second to make the score 5-0 at half time, and the game already won for Woking, surely.
Macclesfield pulled one back on the hour mark, and ending up scoring another. With 16 minutes left, Woking were 5-2 up, so Macclesfield were still seen to have a minimal chance of a comeback. They decided to play with their hearts on their sleeves though, and pulled one back. 7 minutes remaining and Woking tried everything to stop Macclesfield rampaging on the attack to try and saviour a valuable point. Macclesfield finally etched another goal on the score line, but it was still not enough. In one of the tensest matches of the season, Woking had come out victorious.
Sadly, the form could not continue, with Woking losing their final two league matches. That didn’t matter now though, as Woking had proved a point in league, and showed that they were here to stay! Woking FC. 12th place in their first season in the Blue Square Premier League.
Nonetheless, it was not only the results and league position that pleased many, both player and fan, in the 2012/2013 campaign. Bradley Bubb had a very successful loan spell from local team Aldershot Town, managing to become the club’s top scorer in the league, with 18 goals, the 5th highest in the league. Although missing the last few games of the season, Bubb managed to gain a very adequate ratio of 1 goal to 2 games for the Cards. Kevin Betsy also decided to make his mark on the club, following his return to Woking, after 15 long years away from the club, by scoring 13 league goals, as well as a cup goal. Jayden Stockley and Billy Knott also managed to hit double figures for the club, with Gavin McCallum closely behind scoring 9 goals, which including a magnificent four in the cup. Aaron Howe continued in goal for the club with some brilliant performances, becoming a starting XI regular and a fan favourite. Putnins managed to play some top games too, suggesting he could be a definite star in the future for many Blue Square teams.
Despite the success, and the glory many players got throughout the teams, times weren’t always so positive for the club. At the end of March, many Woking fans had to face the very sad, moving news that long term servant, and club legend, Ron Rawlings had passed away. Ron gave so much to the club, and became known to many for his help. When Mr Rawlings died, a part of the club was lost, a part of the club that cannot be replaced. The sadness was felt by many, and became a big moment in the season of Woking. Respects were paid to Ron at games, and his funeral, which brought the club together even more, helping spur them on for the rest of the season.
Pulling through the thick and thin, Woking showed their true colours, showed who they truly are, and most importantly, showed they are a powerful force. Woking had a very successful first season in the Blue Square Premier, which fans will hope can be improved again in the next season, under the reign of the powerful Garry Hill, once again proving wrong people all across the country.
Woking FC, a season to remember.