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Monday, 28 May 2012

England Expects... Or Do They?

I doubt many managers have a CV like new England manager Roy Hodgson's.  The Croydon-born national gaffer has managed all around the world, for high calibre sides such as Inter Milan and Liverpool but with his chance with England sees Roy return to the national stage for the first time in five years.

Hodgson has plenty of experience. He isn't like a Fabio Capello or a Steve McLaren in making their first national appearance as England manager; Roy managing the likes of Finland, UAE and an impressive stint in charge of Switzerland shows he knows what to do at this level.

With the Swiss, he managed to finish an extremely impressive 3rd in the Fifa World Rankings in 1993 and, after leaving the post in 1996 was it any surprise that they failed to qualify for a major tournament for the next eight years?!

The Swiss were on a roll under Roy
It shows what he can do when not under any real pressure.  At Fulham, Hodgson took them from a mid-table Premier league side to the Europa League runners up; suffering defeat a 2-1 defeat, after extra time to an Atheltico Madrid side including stars such as Simao, Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio Aguero and eventual two goal hero Diego Forlan.

Fulham lost in the Final
Of course, the forgettable stint at Liverpool slightly overshadows his roller-coaster of a career but his time at West Bromwich Albion increased his reputation further by turning a side that is renowned as a "yo-yo club" (Relegated to the Championship and then promoted again) into an established top flight team, leading the Baggies to a top half finish of 10th, playing some attractive football and being hard to beat - Something England haven't had.

Finally here he is, having the honour to manage his country.  It's taken Roy a long time to reach the pinnacle.

For once, England as a nation aren't expectant.  Instead of picking the same old players, Roy has brought in the odd unknown in the shape of Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; one of the brightest young hopes for the future, in a bid to surprise the opposition.

Without the pressure or expectancy, Hodgson has shown that he has the talents to do well, with England there is always these two components although this time, less of the latter.

He can't do it all on his own, obviously the big names like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry and a late coming from Wayne Rooney would help but an England without expectancy maybe, just maybe could help Roy and his boys.

THE FANTASTIC FOUR: England need them on their game
As an Englishman I'm pleased with the selection; experience at an international level, knows the game inside out and is English.  Admittedly I was never on the "He has to be English" bandwagon and personally I wanted Guus Hiddink, another who has tremendous experience worldwide but, I have a feeling that Roy will do well; he seems respected and knowledgeable as well as media friendly which is always a plus as England manager.

Also, I suppose that if it is a boring 0-0 game, at least he's entertaining on the touchline...


C'mon England!

Until next week...

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Drog's Final Farewell

It's been a remarkable last eight years in west London for Chelsea forward Didier Drogba; countless trophies later and it looks as if his career at Stamford Bridge has come to an end.

The striker joined from Marseille in 2004 for a fee of around £24million, a high figure for someone who had only joined the French club a year previously for a mere £3.3million.

Drogba at Marseille
It took the Ivorian a while to get going. Many were admiring his talents at acting rather than his goals.

His first two seasons saw him bag 16 goals in both campaigns; including a special goal against Liverpool in the 2006/2007 season - Drogba chesting down a cross before swivelling and rifling a ferocious shot, left footed past 'keeper Pepe Reina.

It's fair to say that the 2009/2010 season was his best; netting an impressive 37 goals in 44 games (all competitions).

The last two seasons for Drogba haven;t been as great with just 13 a piece however, he has showed his value over the years by grabbing important goals, notably in Cup Finals; Drogba himself became the first player to score in four different FA Cup Finals after scoring in the 2012 show-piece against Liverpool.

Of course, it wasn't just the FA Cup where his came alive - In the League Cup he totalled 9 in 15, European competitions has seen Drogba find the net 34 times, making him number one goalscorer for Chelsea in Europe.

We all watched the final, we all know what happened and we know Bayern dominated the majority of the match.  I did have a feeling it would be Chelsea's night - There were so many similarities to the Barcelona semi final n the Nou Camp it was unreal; Drogba giving the penalties away in both games, both number 10s (Messi and Robben) missing the penalties, Chelsea under the cosh for long periods, getting a goal from a rare foray up field.

It was fitting that his final touch of a football in a Chelsea shirt was slotting in the winning penalty against Bayern Munich in the Final of the Champions League?  Banishing the memory of the 2008 Final defeat where Drogba was sent off - He would have been the man to take the fifth penalty that day, instead, John Terry took it and we all know what happened.

Terry slips and hands United the trophy
I'm not a fan of Chelsea, admittedly I wanted the English team to win on Saturday, but I was happy for Drogba to sign off his Blues career in a way that he will always be remembered for - Of course, he will always be remembered as a Chelsea great but to see him, especially put the penalty away was a good sight to see and, of course, as an Englishman, there isn't a much better sight in football than seeing the German's crying after a penalty shoot out defeat is there?!.

YOU SCHWEIN: Bastian's tears
Who will fill the boots of "The Drog" now? Can Torres step up to the plate? Will they bring in someone such as Radamel Falcao from Athletico Madrid? Hulk from Porto? Edinson Cavani from Napoli?

DROGBA: Got there in the end
Where next for the Drog?  Will he join former strike partner Nicolas Anelka in Shanghai? Whatever happens in the future, Drogba will always be forever a Chelsea legend.

Oh, and before I leave you, Drogba's statistics during his time at Stamford Bridge:

341 appearances
157 goals
3 Premier Leagues
4 FA Cups
2 Carling Cups
1 Champions League

Not a bad record I suppose!

Until next week....

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

One 'Eck of a Year at Villa Park

Alex McLeish.  The man that twice won the SPL title with Rangers as a manager along with Carling Cup success at Birmingham was sacked from fellow midlands side Aston Villa.

HAPPIER TIMES: McLeish with the Carling Cup
It wasn't a great 11 months for club or manager at Villa Park.  After Gerard Houllier left the club due to a heart scare, McLeish was appointed boss just five days after leaving arch rivals Birmingham City.

The appointment didn't fill Villa fans with joy, anti-McLeish graffiti was sprayed on the walls of Villa's training ground and fans protested when news came through about the move a few days prior.

His arrival came less than a week after winger Ashley Young's reported £20million move to Manchester United  and by the looks of things, there was money to spend on new players; this was enhanced by the sale of another winger, this time Stewart Downing making the move to the north-west however, he joined Liverpool, the fee, again being £20million.

EXIT DOOR:  Young (L) and Downing (R) headed north
The Scot set to work on finding suitable replacements for the duo and, a year after trying to bring Charles N'Zogbia from Wigan to Birmingham, McLeish finally got his way with the Frenchman joining in a £9.5million deal.

Next was Shay Given; a consistent performer with Newcastle United previously in his career, the goalkeeper completed his cut price £3.5million move from Manchester City - An astute move from McLeish in his bid to replace fellow veteran 'keeper Brad Friedel who moved to Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer.

That was about that though in terms of high profile signings incoming through Villa Park.  There were tools to work with though; Of those left behind there were the likes of Stiliyan Petrov, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Darren Bent and Richard Dunne - Standard type of players for a club such as Villa in my opinion.

Things started off well for 'Eck as he tried to shake off the Birmingham cobwebs; the team went unbeaten for the first five Premier League games, albeit only one win from these five.

However, things didn't really happen for him or his team with a lot of draws and defeats in a season of disappointment and a season that saw Emile Heskey play twenty nine times in all competitions! (No disrespect to Emile but he really isn't very good!)... added to that is that he was played left wing for a chunk of it I suppose one goal in twenty nine (Against Blackburn!) is a good record for a "striker"! (Stop laughing!)

The final table showed a massive SEVEN Premier League wins out of thirty eight under the guidance of Alex McLeish and, with just FOUR home wins all season, can you really blame the Villa fans slagging him off when they have had recent "success" and high finishes under Martin O'Neill?

The likes of N'Zogbia, a goalscoring attacker for Wigan, only found the net twice but, if it wasn't for Given throughout the season I really do feel that Villa would have gone down (Pulled off an absolute masterclass when Newcastle came to Villa Park IIRC).

N'Zogbia has been poor all season
The same could be said for the departed Downing however who managed a whopping 0 goals and 0 assists in his first full season at Anfield.

McLeish withstood the heavy Villa pressure all season however, just one day after the season finished - Villa themselves lost 2-0 away at Norwich, the former Scotland manager was sacked, just eleven months after he was appointed.  Trying to keep hold of his job was not helped by the news of James Collins, Chris Herd and Fabian Delph being involved in a nightclub scuffle before the season was even over and before they had secured Premier League safety.

So who do they turn to now? Many bookmakers are predicting the arrival at Villa Park of Norwich boss Paul Lambert, others reckon Mick McCarthy, Wigan gaffer Roberton Martinez is another; he was the man that Villa wanted last season before McLeish got the job - Could they bring him to Villa this time around? Finally, my own choice - Rafa Benitez - Out of work and likes England, good manager who knows the game well and you have to remember, got Liverpool so close to winning the league not so long ago.

NEW GAFFER?: Benitez gets results
Until next week...

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Crawley Clinch Promotion Again!

Well, it's been quite a season for my team Crawley Town.  Another long FA Cup run before bowing out to Stoke City, brawls at Bradford City, selling our two top goalscorers for around a culminated £2million, seeing our management team depart for pastures new at League 2 rivals Rotherham United and now it all came down to this; The Crown Ground, Accrington.

An early start began on Saturday as the six Alliance coaches departed the Broadfield Stadium at 7.30.  A mixture of optimism, nerves, hope and prayers were being passed around by all on "Coach 1" as we made the long trip up to Lancashire.

We arrived at around 13.15 to be greeted by the BBC cameramen before heading down the road to a pub for a drink to calm the anxiety around the place!

We entered the ground around 45 minutes before kick off, the pitch didn't look great, but on the plus side, apart from the banned Hope Akpan, Reds had a full squad to choose from.

The teams were out and I nearly cried when I heard John Akinde was starting but, to be fair to him, he played brilliantly.

We began strong though and Akinde had a great chance to put his side 1-0 up early on as he was given space just outside the box however, smashed his effort into the 631 strong visiting support behind 'keeper Ian Dunbavin's goal.

Accrington had their first chance of the game as a ball over the top was brought down by Stanley's Irish loan striker Padraig Amond however, the forward saw his strike superbly saved by the leg of the returning Scott Shearer in the Crawley goal.

The resulting corner saw an Accrington defender fling himself at the ball in before Shearer clawed the ball away.
Soon later, Akinde had another chance as he was sent through by Josh Simpson but, the striker's attempted lob over the goalkeeper was foiled by Dunbavin just outside the box with the away supporters screaming for hand ball.

Accrington had another chance as a Craig Lindfield ball in found the head of Amond who's header was hooked off the line by Reds' right back David Hunt.

Another two chances were not finished by Crawley as firstly, Akinde's ball across couldn't find Gary Alexander who was in a good position to break the 0-0 scoreline.

Next, and just before half time, a well worked move saw Josh Simpson flick the ball to the right hand side of the box to Scott Neilson.  The winger however drove wide when one on one with Dunbavin before the referee blew the whistle for half time.

The second half began and Crawley came out looking to grab the goal that could seal promotion to League 1 - Southend winning against Macclesfield meant that the Shrimpers would be going up if Crawley failed to win.

Kyle McFadzean went the closest as David Hunt's long throw was flicked onto the bar and out for a goal kick from the defender.

Reds hit the bar again as Akinde thundered his effort on goal but Dunbavin got the slightest touch to tip it onto the bar and over the stand.

The pressure was increasing on the Accrington goal and Alexander had a chance but headed over Neilson's cross at the back post when well placed.
Next it was Akinde again as Alexander's ball across the box was met by Akinde sliding in before Dunbavin got down bravely to keep the ball out.
The visitors had an effort cleared off the line from Lindfield before the goal finally came.

McFadzean went route one, Accrington couldn't stop the pacy Neilson who brought the ball down before turning and firing into the corner of the net - finally beating Dunbavin.
ONE-NEIL: Scott fires in and celebrates below
A nervy last 25 minutes ensued for the away side however, they kept Accrington at bay and held on for a famous victory and complete a second successive promotion!
A pitch invasion ensued, the players were mobbed and boots, gloves, shirts and even player's socks were given out to the travelling fans - I managed to get a pair of Sanchez Watt's boots.

The coach home was bouncing, conga's were being danced down the aisle as the jubilant fans were in the mood to party!

A few hours later and there was a party; back in Redz bar the fans ensued and, an hour or so later a number of the players were greeted with loud cheers and songs as the drinks were flowing.

Back home at around 12.30, I felt the need to watch a bit of the Football League Show; I just had a feeling there may be something important to see on the programme!

So League 1 here we come as we look forward to the likes of Portsmouth, Coventry, Preston and maybe Sheffield United - Amazing how far we have come in such a short space of time!

Until August.....

We are going up!
THUMBS UP: Brewster celebrates


Photos courtesy of