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Friday, 24 February 2012

The Demise of the Arsh

It could have been so much better for the little maestro that was, or is Andrei Arshavin.  After so much promise in Euro 2008 for his national side everybody believed that there would be a new star in world football.

2008 was quite a Summer for the winger, who won the Uefa Cup with Zenit St. Petersburg as well as being voted Man of the Match in the 2-0 Final win against Rangers before going on to win the European Super Cup; beating Manchester United 2-1.

Arshavin celebrates his team's Uefa Cup triumph
A few months later saw Arshavin playing in Euro 2008 where, despite missing the first two Russian games due to suspension showed his class as he tormented Sweden by scoring one and assisting in another and repeating this feat against The Netherlands (winning Man of the Match) before his side bowed out of the competition with defeat to Spain in the semi-finals.

Arshavin's form at the Euros had clubs chasing his signature
Fastforward to January 2009 and Arshavin swapped cold Russia for cold England as he joined Arsenal for a club-record £15million fee.

It was an up-and-down career at Arsenal - The first two seasons he was pretty much unplayable, the obvious highlight was Arshavin netting four at Anfield in a 4-4 draw with Liverpool.  In the same season he was voted The Gunners' Player of the Month for April and finished second in Arsenal's Player of the Season award despite only playing half a season and playing in fewer than a quarter of the club's games all season.  His second season in English football was similar to the first as the Russian assisted and scored in a season that saw Arsene Wenger's side end in 3rd place, 11 points off of Champions Chelsea.

The final two campaigns weren't as successful as the goals, assists and game time dried up and apart from his first ever Champions League goal for the north Londoners; a winning goal in a 2-1 win against Barcelona at the Emirates little else happened for the little man and the fans began to criticise their one time hero.

Arshavin had gone from hero to zero
His final season or half season at the club saw the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a summer buy from Championship side Southampton as Arshavin found himself mostly on the bench for the final months of his Gunners career.

There was one last hurrah though as, in injury time at Sunderland he crossed for club legend Thierry Henry to volley home; a final Arsenal appearance for both players, the assist similar to the Arshavin of old,  just a parting gift to the Arsenal faithful as weeks later he returned to Zenit on loan till the end of the season.

And so, as we wave goodbye to the player, who, with his contract up at the end of the season, I predict it is highly unlikely he will return to the Emirates.  A shame in my opinion that an extremely talented player never showed his talent for a longer period of time in the Premier League.

Arsh is back at Zenit

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Crawley Dream Ended For Another Year

I was looking forward to another monumental day in Crawley's history as Premier League side Stoke City came to West Sussex in a clash that would see one of the sides head into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

A 12pm kick off time meant that instead of the usual shenanigans of wasting a morning waiting for the usual 3pm kick off was out of the window and instead, it was out of bed, shower, change and off to the football.  It was definitely strange to be playing on the Sunday though; Saturday becoming rather boring this week despite a day in listening to Jeff Stelling get excited!

Dad and I entered the stadium at about 10.45 - Probably the earliest I have taken my space in the ground for a Reds game in almost 14 years but it was a big'un so it was acceptable!

Where the action happens - The Broadfield Stadium
The teams were announced, we were exactly as I was expecting; the midfield five with Kyle McFadzean seemingly holding the fort whilst Josh Simpson came into the side at the expense of the cup-tied Billy Clarke.  Steve Evans opting for Tyrone Barnett as the lone soldier up front with Sanchez Watt helping out the striker by playing "in the hole".  The Crawley XI:

26. Rene Gilmartin 

 13. David Hunt  28. Claude Davis  4. Pablo Mills (c)  3. Dean Howell 

5. Kyle McFadzean

 11. Josh Simpson  15.Dannie Bulman  8. Sergio Torres

10. Sanchez Watt 

23. Tyrone Barnett

Stoke looked and sounded as strong as everyone knows they are and named a very experienced side, certainly more of the so called "big names" as I was expecting considering they played Valencia in the Europa League on Thursday and face the return leg at the Mestalla fast approaching.  The Stoke XI:

1. Asmir Begovic

30. Ryan Shotton  17. Ryan Shawcross (c)  20. Matt Upson  5. Danny Collins

6. Glenn Whelan

24. Rory Delap  18. Dean Whitehead  19. Jon Walters

25. Peter Crouch  33. Cameron Jerome

AWKWARD: Crouch started the game

It wasn't long until the packed stadium, basking in the Sussex sun found it's voice as the teams found their way onto the pitch led by captains Pablo Mills and Ryan Shawcross.

The game began and we had the first real half chance when Watt tried to slip a ball into Barnett however the Stoke rearguard just showed the ball out for a goal kick.

It was all Crawley in the opening stages and after a number of attacks were hacked away for corners from the nervous-looking full backs Ryan Shotton and Danny Collins it was Crouch who nearly handed the lead to the home side;  David Hunt's whipped, out-swinging corner was flicked on at the near post from Collins before hitting the gangly striker on the thigh and crack the crossbar in an almost slow-motion action from where I was behind Asmir Begovic's goal.

Soon, Stoke's physicality got the better of them as long throw maestro Rory Delap was shown red from referee Mike Jones as he dived in horrendously (Can you tell I'm slightly biased here?) okay, his 50/50 challenge with Hunt had studs raised and, after Evans was on his feet and on the pitch by the dugout, the card was raised leaving Potters' boss Tony Pulis pacing up the touchline to remonstrate with probably steam coming out of his ears. (To be fair to the referee, word tonight is that Hunt left the ground on crutches so it must be pretty bad).

HIGH: Delap goes in hard on Hunt
The man reduction seemed to galvanise the visitors as they seemed to up the tempo; an impressive counter attack saw Crouch's exquisite volleyed pass (with backspin) found the pacy Cameron Jerome but the former Birmingham City man saw his effort find the side netting.

A period in the home half lasted until Reds made another foray upfield with McFadzean probably suffering a nose bleed being so far in the opponents half as he tried to curl an effort past Begovic that saw the Bosnian 'keeper easily claim.

Crawley felt they should have had a penalty as a high ball in the box saw Barnett rise, get caught in a Shotton-Shawcross sandwich and despite what looked like a stonewall Crawley penalty for a barge in the back, the official saw it differently and (wrongly) gave a free kick to Stoke to the disgust of the home faithful.

The deadlock was soon broken against the run of play as, minutes after the Barnett stonewaller wasn't given the visitors got their own spot kick; Jones adjudging McFadzean of clipping Shawcross before Jon Walters dispatched the penalty to the bottom left of Rene Gilmartin's goal for 1-0 Stoke and the honour of being the first man to find away past the Crawley side in this year's FA Cup.

O-PEN-ER: Walters fires home
Five minutes later and the referee blew for half time as the Red Devils' fans applauded their team off and Potters' supporters booed the man in the middle off the field of play.

After the refreshments of oranges and Lucozade were finished both sets of players were back out and it didn't take Pulis' side long to find a second goal as Glenn Whelan's free kick saw Crouch tower above Claude Davis at the back post to loop his header past Gilmartin and into the top corner of the net.  Unfortunately he failed to bring his famed "Robot" dance out to play once again which was a bit of a disappointment

Crouch celebrates scoring his side's second goal
As the old saying goes "2-0 is always a dangerous score" and many believed that we still had a chance to get back into the game and, as Stoke seemed to take their foot off the gas, Watt saw his left footed drive swerve just over Begovic's goal as Crawley looked for an instant reply.

Wave after wave of attack came from the hosts as Watt in particular was finding more space, left back Howell was pushing forward and substitute Scott Neilson who came on for the injured Hunt using his electric pace and causing Danny Collins problems as Josh Simpson slotted into Hunt's available right back spot.

Josh Simpson gets stuck into Glenn Whelan
It was Neilson himself who saw his lofted cross deflect onto the bar and out for the corner as Begovic was left hanging onto his cross piece and his clean sheet.

The next chance fell to McFadzean who somehow found himself lurking in the box but, although he should of shot decided to pass across the six yard box but Barnett failed to get on the end of it and the ball was cleared towards the head of Crouch.

The in-affective Jerome was replaced by defender Andy Wilkinson in a move that Pulis used to withstand the heavy Crawley pressure.

A long ball from Stoke (Yes you did read this right) found Crouch who superbly plucked the ball from out of the air with the end of his size thirteen's before sending the ball over the Bruce Winfield Stand and into orbit to chants of "He's tall, he's s**t, he doesn't fit his kit Peter Crouch Peter Crouch!" - I'm going to admit, I found this strangely enjoyable!

One more chance fell to Crawley as Tyrone Barnett saw his acrobatic bicycle kick hand-balled off the line from visiting left back Collins but somehow ref Jones didn't give another penalty and that was that.

AIRBORNE: Barnett tries his luck
To conclude, it was another proud day to be a Red and well worth coming home to see the game.

To be honest I felt we were the better side throughout and the statistics prove that however, the only important stat is the scoreline.

Onto the league though and, I'm confident that if we play as we did today every week we will be in the automatic promotion mix come May.

There's always next year!

Now lets win promotion.


Photos courtesy of 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Crawley Crushed By Rampant Robins

I was looking forward to it, a massive game for both sides and one which I believed (although there’s still a long way to go) that if we won we would go on and win the league (again).

After finishing my day at uni, it was a quick one and a bit hours “up” to Wiltshire from Southampton, 66 miles in fact.

If you are reading this and have never gone to Swindon Town FC then you won't have encountered the famous "Magic Roundabout".  Its a little hectic and I doubt you would want to partake in driving lessons around that area!

HECTIC: The Magic Roundabout, Swindon
After quickly popping into the local Tesco’s, just a stone’s throw away from The County Ground we entered their “Away Supporters Bar”, grabbed a drink, bought match ticket met up with my Dad and got in there.

Now, Swindon away brings back good memories for me.  It is up there in my top 5 Crawley Town moments after Ben Smith’s 119th minute equaliser in the FA Cup replay at their place in an enthralling 3-2 win to us.  We were undefeated there; played 1, won 1!

GREAT MOMENT!: Ben Smith's winner last season
After how much I was bigging us up to my Sports Journo mates and how we were going to “Do ‘em”, surely the lads couldn't let me down?

A surprise move from boss Steve Evans was putting Michel Kuipers in goal in place of Scott Shearer. Why? I’m not sure.  Other than that it was the same side as normal with the diamond midfield in between the two up top and the back four.

Anyway, the game started of brightly for us, straight from the off, Billy Clarke, who had the pleasure of me watching him for the first time played a neat ball to the overlapping Dean Howell; the marauding left back’s cross-cum-shot looked like it lacked power and was just going out for a goal kick but clipped the bar.  Unfortunately, no other player in a white shirt (Away colours) was there to tap in.

A less than convincing next ten minutes occurred before a bit of controversy erupted when Billy Bodin ran at Claude Davis, the defender clipped Bodin in the Swindon half – However this didn’t stop around eight of the Swindon side surrounding the referee baying for a red card.  Fortunately the official rose above the poor sportsmanship and only deemed the foul a yellow.

SPORTSMANSHIP?: Not from Swindon
Swindon soon thought they had broke the deadlock when, after a spot of pinball in the Crawley box the ball fell to Paul Benson who flicked the ball past Kuipers and into the net, but, as the former Charlton Athletic frontman was off wildly celebrating he didn’t notice the assistant referee’s flag.

OFFSIDE: Benson didn't notice the raised flag
It wasn’t long after though, when the Robins did get the breakthrough.  A free kick was given after captain Pablo Mills brought down the lively Paul Caddis and, I’ve got to admit I called it by saying “He’s gonna have a pop from here”.  Next thing Allesandro Cibochi saw his direct effort clatter against Kuipers left hand post before falling to Luke Rooney who, left footed, fired into the corner of the net.

OPENER: Rooney fires home for Swindon
Crawley rallied late on in the four minutes of first half stoppage time; one of Clarke’s three successive corners was powerfully headed goal bound by Mills only to be tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Wes Foderingham.
The next chance fell to Kyle McFadzean where, after Clarke’s deep kick found the head of the giant Claude Davis who headed the ball back into the mix, McFadzean saw his header unbelievably flicked, Banks-esque around the post.

The next ball in saw home captain Paul Caddis hack clear as the referee blew for half time.

Fifteen minutes later, the teams were out and it was much of the same as Paulo Di Canio's side came out of the blocks and began to lay siege on Kuipers' goal with Rooney and Matt Ritchie having efforts before Bodin scored the second goal of the game; the former Torquay loanee saw the ball bounce up nicely before the youngster smashed a dipping volley past Kuipers for 2-0 Swindon.

Evans made the change of bringing on another striker in Karl Hawley at the same time replacing the in-affective Arsenal loanee Sanchez Watt.

Minutes after the Red Devils' boss brought on Josh Simpson for Sergio Torres Swindon grabbed their third and finished off any chance of a Crawley comeback when Benson tucked away from close range and, despite Kuipers and Co raising their hands for offside the goal was given.

BENSON: Bagged the "clincher"
The home side shut up shop, bringing off Rooney, to chants the same as which Manchester United fans shout at namesake Wayne and threw on the Italian Rafaelle DeVita and  from this moment onwards, apart from a late Davis header missing Foderingham's goal post by inches that was that and the away fans were contemplating a gloomy trip back to Sussex or, in my case Hampshire.

To sum the game up in one word was "Disappointing".  A few in the car on the way back were banging on how good Swindon were, I disagreed saying that we were absolute... and that they didn't really stand out.  I just felt that our players had their minds focussed on the Stoke game on Sunday and a few were ducking out of challenges with the big FA Cup game looming in their minds.  We were second to every ball but this blog isn't a way for me to rant and let off steam so I'll finish now.


Photos courtesy of and

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

My Top 10 January Transfers

With the January transfer window slammed shut just over a week ago, the time has now come for me to analyse the transfers and pick my top 10 transfers of the window so here goes:

10. Taye Taiwo AC Milan - Queens Park Rangers (Loan)

A very good capture for QPR in my opinion.  As well as being a complete animal on Fifa 12 for his pace and strength, the Nigerian left back also has bags of experience playing almost 200 times for Marseille in the Ligue 1 and lets be honest, if your at AC Milan then you must have something about you.  Left back was certainly a problem for Mark Hughes side who had Armand Traore, not the best full back in the world lacking consistency and the all round play needed for a side who are desperate to stay in the top flight. Taiwo will add a bit more in defence and attack - the 26 year old found the net 17 times for Marseille and is a very good free kick taker.

9. Will Hoskins Brighton & Hove Albion - Sheffield United (Loan)

Coming in at 9th place is Will Hoskins.  The striker joined Sheffield United on loan from Brighton on deadline day in a move that saw the former Watford player return to League 1.  It was only last season when the prolific frontman netted 20 goals in a Bristol Rovers side that eventually were relegated to League 2.  The hitman will be looking to find his goalscoring touch again after scoring only once in seven games for the Seagulls this season.  United will be hoping that Hoskins' probable partnership up front with Welshman Ched Evans will bear fruit and, if it does, expect the Blades to be up in those automatic promotion places come May.

8. Jonny Howson Leeds United - Norwich City (£1.5m - £2m)

8th place goes to new Norwich midfielder Jonny Howson.  Howson who was Leeds captain joined the club for a fee believed to be around £2million.  The 22 year old joins former team mate Bradley Johnson in the centre of the park for the Canaries and signals another of their players that has played his way to the top having played in League 1 with the Elland Road club.  Howson was known as one of the best young stars in the Championship and one renowned for often popping up with a goal.  A good signing for Norwich who will now look to maintain their Premier League status by the end of the season.

7. Clarke Carlisle Burnley - Northampton Town (Loan)

Its not often you get an intelligent footballer but this is what Northampton Town now have.  Clarke Carlisle who has appeared the television show Countdown, was playing for Burnley in the Premier League only two years ago and has decided to take the plunge to join League 2 relegation battlers Northampton Town.  The Cobblers who are managed by Carlisle's former Gaffer at Watford, Aidy Boothroyd are currently struggling at the foot of League 2 and three points from safety and conceded a whopping 56 goals so far this season.  Carlisle, Boothroyd and the Cobblers fans will be hoping the defender can help block a very leaky backline.  An experienced campaigner, Carlisle will be hoping not to add another relegation to his CV.

6. Matt Tubbs Crawley Town - AFC Bournemouth (£800,000)

In at 6 is one of my favourite ever Crawley players; Matt Tubbs.  Tubbs joined Bournemouth for a fee of around £800,000 only two days after he sealed Crawley's path into the fifth round of the FA Cup in a record breaking sale for the Red Devils and a record breaking purchase for the Cherries.  Fans favourite "Tubbsy" banged in 40 goals for the Reds in their Blue Square Premier Championship winning season and had already found the net 17 times this campaign before his move to his home-town club.  I know what your thinking ..... "He's bias and he's only putting him in there because of the Crawley connection ...." the truth is, I honestly think he can fire in the goals to get Bournemouth into those play offs / automatic promotion places come May (See you next year Matt!).  A good deal for both clubs with Crawley only singing him for circa £55,000 in July 2010.

5. Nicky Maynard Bristol City - West Ham United (£1.5m)

Number 5 in the list is striker Nicky Maynard who joined West Ham from Bristol City on deadline day.  The 25 year old was a January target for the likes of Wigan Athletic and Roy Hodgson's West Bromwich Albion however decided that east London was the place to play his football.  Prolific at Championship level, the Hammers will have felt they have a bargain for a player who was out of contract at Bristol City at the end of the season.  Having smashed in 45 goals for the Ashton Gate club over four years including a "Football League Goal of the Year" in 2009, Maynard will be hoping to replicate that at the very least at Upton Park.  This signing shows that Sam Allardyce means business in terms of winning promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

4. Steven Pienaar - Tottenham Hotspur - Everton (Loan)

A late, late deadline day signing was the loan deal of Steven Pienaar.  The hardworking South African only joined Spurs last January from the Toffees and is a signing that David Moyes' side was crying out for.  There is no doubt Pienaar will add a lot more creativity to a side that is, to be honest, lacking in that department.  A deal that seemed to be on and off for the final few hours of the window, Pienaar will be a replacement for the departed Diniyar Bilyaletdinov who was transferred to Spartak Moscow.  A signing that suits both parties - Pienaar knows Everton, Everton know Pienaar and he will actually play games, unlike his last year at White Hart Lane.

3. Sebastien Bassong Tottenham Hotspur - Wolverhampton Wanderers (Loan)

Defender Sebastien Bassong sneaks into third place for what I believe is a great bit of business from Mick McCarthy.  Frozen out at Spurs, the Cameroon international defender will shore up the Wolves defence and lets be honest here, I'm probably better than Christophe Berra and the mistake prone Richard Stearman ..... Well, maybe not but nevertheless, a superb signing for the relegation threatened Wolves.  If Mick can get Bassong back to the excellent form he showed for Newcastle that quickly prompted Spurs to splash £8million on the centre back then I feel that they might have enough to stay in the top flight.

2. Billy Sharp Doncaster Rovers - Southampton (£1.5m - £2m)

The runner up to my prestigious "Number 1 Signing Award" goes to Southampton new boy Billy Sharp.  The 26 year old has been a consistent performer in the Championship the last few years at Doncaster where he notched an impressive 25 goals in 49 games including 10 in 20 this campaign.  An excellent signing for the Saints who fought off interest from Leicester City and Ipswich Town for the lethal front-man's autograph.  Having worked with Southampton manager Nigel Adkins before at Scunthorpe United, Adkins knows what he's getting and will be hoping that a potentially potent strike-force of Sharp and the Championship's top goalscorer, Rickie Lambert up top can help push Saints into the Premier League in a few months time.

1. Nikica Jelavic Rangers - Everton (£7m)

Drum roll please .......... and the winner is ..... Nikica Jelavic!  The striker finally made his "dream move" to the Premier League by signing along with Steven Pienaar on deadline day.  David Moyes needed a clinical striker or two and that's what he has in the tall Croatian who bagged an impressive 30 goals in 45 games for Rangers albeit in the SPL where you have a 50% chance of winning the league.  A typical Everton type signing in that Jelavic didn't break the bank (Money was used from the Bilyaletdinov sale) and will score a few goals in the Prem with the service from Pienaar, Phil Neville, Royston Drenthe and of course Leighton Baines who simply loves to get forward.  Believe he will be a very good player for the Toffees.

And there we have it! ...

Feel free to leave comments below on the ones that got away and the ones that are rated too highly or not rated enough! Enjoy!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Canaries Flying High Thanks To Grassroots Football

Saying the last few years have been quite successful for Norwich City would be a slight understatement!

The amazing thing is that it was a 7-1 home defeat on the opening day of the 2009/2010 season to Paul Lambert’s Colchester United side that sparked a miraculous revival in which the Canaries earned two successive promotions and currently sit in a very creditable 9th place in the Barclays Premier League.
It wasn’t long after the humiliation to Colchester when Norwich sacked the club’s goalkeeping legend Bryan Gunn and replaced him with Lambert – A change that saw a complete turnaround in fortunes at Carrow Road.

GUNN-ED DOWN: City Legend was soon replaced by Lambert
Instant success occurred with Norwich finishing the season in 1st place, nine points clear of Leeds United.
The Summer of 2010 was a busy one for Lambert as the Glaswegian Gaffer went about signing a number of talented players to secure their Championship status including Zak Whitbread, David Fox, Andrew Crofts from Brighton, midfielder Andrew Surman, Simeon Jackson and goalkeeper John Ruddy.
The season began similarly to the last – Defeat, at home, to Watford before going on a miraculous run, being in, then out of the automatic promotion places until 2nd May 2011 when former Gillingham striker Jackson bagged a second half winner away at Portsmouth to secure second place with one game left of the season.

GOING UP: Norwich celebrate promotion at Fratton Park
So what is the secret of the Yellows’ meteoric rise from the League 1 doldrums to the glitz and the glamour of the promised land that is The Premier League?

You look at the players that Lambert has brought into the club and notice that most have plied their trade in their earlier careers in the lower leagues. The squad at the moment has the likes of Anthony Pilkington, who, just five years ago was playing in the North West Counties League First Division for Atherton Collieries, Andrew Crofts was released by Gillingham before his move to Brighton, Bradley Johnson was farmed out on loan at Gravesend and Northfleet (Now Ebbsfleet United) only a couple of years ago, Jackson himself was playing for the now defunct Rushden and Diamonds not so long ago and Steve Morison was playing and scoring in non-league with Stevenage Borough (Now Stevenage) in 2009 after being released as a youngster by Northampton Town - These players are now excelling on the Premier League stage.

FLYING CANARY: Pilkington has stepped up
The players mentioned are just a few, I haven’t spoken about Grant Holt or Russell Martin, two others that have kicked around in the lower echelons of English football but the players Norwich have, the players that worked their whole careers to finally get the chance to perform on the grand stage of top flight football.
Many were praising Blackpool a few years back for being a breath of fresh air - Norwich are better than the Tangerines and I'm certain will be a Premier League side for much longer than Ian Holloway's men.
HEARTBREAK: The Tangerine Dream was soon a distant memory