Month: April 2012

What’s missing from Town’s 3-man midfield?

In recent weeks, Grimsby Town joint-managers Rob Scott and Paul Hurst have tinkered with the formation in preparation for next season. The 4-4-2 used for the majority of the season has been ditched in favour of the 4-3-3 that they used at times earlier in the season. Whether this is a sign of things to come for next season or not, only time will tell. But if 4-3-3 is a system that Scott and Hurst will look to favour when the 2012-2013 kick off in August, it will need a lot of work on the training ground as well as a new player or two.

Looking at the final fixture of the season, in which The Mariners suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Southport, the lone frontman Anthony Elding was generally isolated and the midfield three were too often in a straight line across the pitch.

There isn’t too much criticism you can throw at the players that played in midfield for Town. Captain Craig Disley, Frankie Artus and Andi Thanoj are all good players. They all work hard enough and want to play football in the right way. The problem with playing them as a three is that they all like to play in a similar way – stay quite deep, pick the ball up from defenders and pass it.

The team needed an extra dimension yesterday in midfield as it became a flat 3 in the middle. In the first 10 minutes Artus made a few runs forward off the ball and I thought he would be the one that would continue to do that and get closer to Elding when Town attacked. But that didn’t really happen and the only time the midfield broke from being a flat 3, was when Disley or Thanoj came deep to get the ball from McKeown or the centre-backs.

Ideally – and he has the ability to do it – I would have liked to have seen Thanoj pass the ball into the striker’s feet and follow his pass straight away, running forward wanting it back (as shown below).

Thanoj plays the ball into Elding’s feet and follows his pass forwards

After Elding lays the ball back into Thanoj’s path, he now has creative options

As the second diagram shows, Thanoj can follow his pass forward and Elding returns it into his path. At the time Elding lays the ball back, Hearn and Soares make a diagonal run in towards the penalty box. Elding’s part isn’t finished either as further movement from him can drag a defender with him and create more space for either Hearn or Soares to be played in. So Thanoj now has options. He can play in either Hearn or Soares, find Elding himself if the centre-back chooses to close down Thanoj and leave Elding in space, or he can take the ball on himself and shoot. The other option not shown on the diagram above is that as Hearn/Soares run infield, the Town full-backs suddenly have yards of space to attack down the flanks. A square ball from Thanoj plays one of the full backs in and gives them a chance to put a cross into the box. If they do hit an early ball into the box, there should be enough bodies in there to hit. Elding would have been joined by Hearn and Soares coming in off the flanks. And Thanoj can either join them in the middle or hold his position on the edge of the box. If he hangs back on the edge of the box he can gather any slack clearances that come his way, or even be available for the full back in possession to cut the ball back along the floor for Thanoj to shoot.

New Players?

What Town really need is a Groves/Bolland type midfielder who will break from the midfield line and get close to the striker. Someone to arrive late in the box to get on the end of crosses. Someone to get onto knock-downs from the front man after a long-ball up. Someone for the full-backs to find with neat passes as they make forward runs towards the opposition box.

Town could also do with a Manny Panther-type holding midfielder. A disciplined and intelligent player to do the simple things when in possession, and be the man that plugs the gaps when others go forward to attack. Someone with the tactical nouse of Panther would have held the position to prevent York scoring their last minute winner at Blundell Park in March – where the York full-back intercepted a pass and ran half the length of the pitch before hitting a winning goal from just over 20 yards. Games against the top five sides in the league have shown that it is necessary to have such a player. And a strong, mobile presence in midfield would enable Town’s other midfielders to play a few yards higher up the pitch when in possession.

Scott and Hurst don’t need to make major changes to the squad, but there are some vital areas where we do need to bring players in. And I feel this approach to rebuilding the midfield would go a long way to giving the team a midfield that could compete with anyone in the league.

Why Redknapp leaving for England will benefit Spurs

The speculation surrounding the vacant England managerial position still seems to point to Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp being the favourite to be approached for the job. I believe the Tottenham hierarchy should accept any FA approach to speak with Harry Redknapp as it could be the key to turning the North London club from a team challenging the top four of the Premier League into to a club challenging to win the Premier League.

At one point this season Tottenham were within touching distance of the two Manchester clubs and were in a position where you could genuinely count them as title contenders. But then they stuttered, going on a run of 5 games without a win including defeats against Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton. I put the collapse of Tottenham’s season down to several factors:

  • Injuries to Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon
  • Moving Modric out of the centre
  • Transfer activity in January
  • Lack of strength in depth
  • No ‘Plan B’

The injuries to Bale and Lennon at different times gave Tottenham a major problem. They are two key players in Tottenham’s pacey attacking style and they didn’t really have any like-for-like replacements of anywhere near similar quality to replace them with. That said, it was a mistake to move the pivotal figure of his team (Modric) out of the centre of his midfield. All this did was disrupt another position in the team, forcing a further change to the line-up, whilst also restricting the influence Modric was able to have on games from a wider starting position. Kranjcar or Rose coming in for Lennon or Bale would have been a better option and would have caused less disruption to a side that was previously in good form. With Rose replacing Bale on the left, the side could have retained the 4-4-1-1 shape and Rose’s pace could have even maintained the way in which they attacked down that flank. Similarly on the right, putting Kranjcar in for Lennon would have meant only one change to the team and would have seen a clever player in a position that he has played many times during his time in England.

You could point to the transfer activity in January as key to the failure to deal with the injuries and lack of squad depth. Spurs allowed Steven Pienaar to sign for Everton on loan late on transfer deadline day and failed to ensure they signed a replacement. As it turned out, Pienaar would undoubtedly have been the first name in Harry Redknapp’s thoughts when Lennon, and later Bale, were injured. There could also have been raised eyebrows over the decision to allow Vedran Corluka to leave on loan whilst not bringing in a replacement who could provide back-up for Kyle Walker at right back. Kaboul has deputised at right back when necessary but hasn’t looked entirely comfortable with his positioning in this role.

The lack of strength in depth at Tottenham is well documented and I’ve already hinted at two instances of this when they suffered injuries in wide areas. You could look at the manager for not looking to bring in reinforcements in the right areas. You could suggest it is down to the manager to rotate the side slightly and give game-time to fringe players to keep them at a level where they could step into the team at any moment and perform to the required standard. You could counter that with the argument that that back-up players just aren’t good enough, but then you’re back to the initial failings of the manager’s transfer activity.

All of the above points have contributed to Redknapp being exposed as not having a successful ‘Plan B’ to turn to when his thin-on-quality squad was stretched in key areas. In some games Redknapp has adopted a 4-3-3 formation with Bale and van der Vaart in floating attacking roles behind a main striker. This is not a formation Redknapp has used before and should not be confused with the 4-4-1-1 regularly used with van der Vaart behind Adebayor in attack. This change to 4-3-3 was only implemented because Aaron Lennon was still out injured Redknapp didn’t trust anyone else to step into his boots on the right of midfield without continuing to waste Luka Modric in this position. When the difficult run of fixtures began, Rafael van der Vaart was also unfit and struggling with injury. Against Manchester United and Everton, Redknapp went with a 4-4-2 formation and lost both in the absence of the Dutch creator.

As well as the injuries to Tottenham players forcing changes to their own team, there is also the suggestion that other teams had found a way to play against them. That they had found a way to counteract Spurs’ quick attacking style and attack them when the time was right. Chelsea demonstrated at Wembley in the FA Cup Semi-Final how to absorb Tottenham’s attacking play, limit them to just a few shots on target, and exploit frailties in a tired defence. Even during this game, Redknapp’s choice of substitution and tactical alteration in the second half directly led to Chelsea ceasing the initiative in the final 15 minutes and running our comfortable winners.

Tottenham need to capitalise on their improvement in the last few years and take this opportunity to develop themselves so that they can become title contendors. But to take the next step it is vital that they have a manager who is as tactically aware as they come. Someone who could mastermind victories in high-pressure games, implement suitable tactics for different opponents and positively change games with substitutions and tactical tweaks. There’s no doubting Harry Redknapp is a good manager. But as Kevin Keegan showed with Newcastle in 1996 – man management and motivational skills will get you so far, but you need that extra tactical awareness to implement a ‘Plan B’ or even a ‘Plan C’ when things aren’t going well or when teams find a way to play against you. I would suggest Redknapp has taken Tottenham as far as he can, and that they need a manager of the tactical astuteness of someone like Rafa Benitez to take them forward and compete with the best teams in England and Europe.

So whilst the uncertainty around the England job remains, Daniel Levy and the Tottenham Board would be wise to accept any approach from the FA to speak to their current manager.

Pictures courtesy of and

Five players to watch in the Blue Square Premier

As the fifth tier of the English football pyramid continues to bridge the gap in quality to that of League Two, here is a selection of five players to watch. As promoted teams from the Blue Square Bet Premier Division continue to impress once they reach the football league, the rest of the division is also steadily improving. Many teams in the top half of this league would feel comfortable pitting their wits against many of the outfits in League Two, with clubs such as Luton, Grimsby, Wrexham, Mansfield, Lincoln and Stockport all capable of attracting bigger gates than plenty of teams in the Football League. So whilst the division as a whole improves, here are the five players to look out for next season:

Matty Blair (York City)

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The York City winger is comfortable on either flank and is at his best when running with the ball at the full back. He does possess a trick and keeps full-backs guessing whether he’ll cut inside or hit the by-line to deliver a cross. He has that special commodity of pace, which combined with his undoubted ability, makes him destined for a career in the Football League sooner or later. York have had a good season and are on course to make the play-offs, where they will stand as good a chance as any of reaching Wembley and winning promotion. Blair has already reached double figures in goals for the season and will look to add to that to help his side to promotion. York will be pleased they signed him on a 2-year deal when he arrived from Kidderminster Harriers last summer as they may receive an enquiry or two for the talented winger.

Jack Mackreth (Barrow AFC)

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Part-time Barrow’s 20 year old right winger has had a great first season in the Blue Square Premier. After being released from Tranmere Rovers having not made an appearance at the club, Barrow signed the scouse talent on a one-year deal last summer. Very slight in build, the young winger is lightning quick and terrorised several left backs in the division. He has been an important part of a Barrow team that had only lost at home twice up until the beginning of March – when they began a terrible run of results that has seen them slip into the bottom half of the table. Whilst only managing a handful of goals this season, his fearless approach to attacking the full-back and dribbling past players has certainly not gone unnoticed. There is sure to be a queue of clubs wanting to offer him terms as his contract expires in the summer.

Aswad Thomas (Braintree Town)

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After joining Charlton Athletic as a trainee, Thomas had loan spells at Accrington Stanley, Barnet and Lewes before signing on a free transfer for Woking in 2009. He spent two seasons with Woking before signing for Braintree after they clinched promotion to the Blue Square Premier last summer. The 22 year old left back has shone in a Braintree side that has adapted well in their first season at this level. He’s a classy, pacey full-back who loves to get forward, as shown by his five goals this season. He’s certainly one to watch as full-backs in this mould are often in demand higher up the leagues, possibly even more so with left footed full backs who seem a slightly rarer breed. Braintree will do well to hold on to a player who is comfortable defending against tricky wingers and shows his pedigree in the elegance with which he controls the ball in possession.

James Norwood (Forest Green Rovers)

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At only 21 years of age, Norwood has already proved to be one of the most dangerous wingers in the division. His senior career started at Eastbourne Borough, where he made just a handful of appearances before signing for Exeter City. He only made a handful of appearances in the Football League with Exeter and was loaned out to Sutton United, Forest Green Rovers and Eastbourne Borough during his two year spell with the Grecians. In the summer of 2011 he signed on a permanent deal for Forest Green Rovers and hasn’t looked back since. He has been a regular in the side all season when available, and has shown huge promise as a right footed attacker on the left of a three. His goal return isn’t great as he won’t get close to double figure for the season, but for a first full season of football it has been a big success for the former Brighton and Crystal Palace trainee. He is strong on the ball, skilful and can run with the ball under control at speed. There are sure to be bigger clubs impressed by Norwood, but he may opt to stay at Forest Green where financial security has been secured under new owners. Either way, he has a bright future in the game and is destined to play at a higher level.

Liam Hearn (Grimsby Town)

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As the only centre-forward on this list, the 26 year old Hearn has been a huge success for Grimsby Town. At the time of writing only Football League-bound Jamie Vardy has scored more league goals than Hearn – a great achievement for a man playing his first season in full-time football. Hearn has worked hard to climb the footballing ladder, playing for Hucknall Town, Eastwood Town, Chasetown and Quorn before a fantastic spell at Alfreton Town forced bigger clubs to take notice of his talent. Grimsby paid a fee thought to be in the region of £30,000 for him last summer. As he began to adapt to his first season at this level, Hearn failed to score in his first ten games. His performances showed signs there were goals to come though, and after notching his first Grimsby goal against Wrexham at the end of September, he hasn’t looked back. He has hit 3 hat-tricks as well as smashing four past previous club Alfreton in October. His confidence has grown as the season has progressed and he helped Grimsby get over a terrible start to the season to force a late attempt to gate-crash the play-offs. With his first full season under his belt and the rate of improvement he has already shown, Hearn will be a key part of Grimsby’s next attempt at returning to the Football League.

Pictures courtesy of,,, and

Phantom goal shouldn’t mask Chelsea dominance

Whilst most of the post-match talk will be of the goal that shouldn’t have been, Chelsea gave their finest performance of the season to show they mean business as they remain in 2 cup competitions and chase a top 4 league finish.

Back to his best?

Didier Drogba reminded us all of what he can do with a fantastic goal that was a throw-back to the Drogba that physically dominated opposition defences prior to his malaria scare in late-2010. Holding off ex-Chelsea defender William Gallas, Drogba pulled a long ball from Frank Lampard out of the sky and rolled Gallas beautifully before lashing an unstoppable shot past another former blue Carlo Cudicini in the Tottenham goal. This has become an increasingly rare sight in the last 18 months as Drogba doesn’t seem to bully centre-halves or have the explosive burst of acceleration that he did before suffering from the disease. But he showed he still has the ability to score goals in the big games with one of the best goals to grace the new Wembley stadium.

That goal came two minutes before half time and gave Chelsea a lead they deserved after seeing off an enthusiastic start from Tottenham and eventually controlling the pace of the game. Tottenham’s only effort on goal in the first half being a Rafael van der Vaart header cleared off the line by John Terry.

Second Half

As the second half began it was Chelsea who started quickly and looked the likely team to score the next goal. They couldn’t have predicted that it would come in such controversial circumstances though, as replays showed the ball hadn’t actually reached the goal-line before it was cleared. Referee Martin Atkinson, who was in charge at the Emirates Stadium one week ago and failed to punish Mario Balotelli for a dreadful tackle on Alex Song, gave the decision without the help of his assistant and awarded Chelsea their second goal.

Initially, that goal seemed to spark a bit of urgency into Tottenham. And they pulled a goal back 7 minutes later when a Scott Parker through ball found Adebayor one-on-one with Chelsea ‘keeper Petr Cech. The Togolese front man rounded Cech and was brought down, but referee Atkinson rightly waived play-on as Gareth Bale was there to pass the ball into an empty net unchallenged. There was then a lengthy delay before the action re-started, as David Luiz received treatment before eventually leaving the field to be replaced by Gary Cahill. This allowed emotions to simmer down on the pitch and the momentum that the goal would have given Tottenham had lessened somewhat when the action did re-start several minutes later.

Spurs began to throw more bodies forward in search of an equaliser. But Chelsea still looked the more likely scorers, looking dangerous on the counter attack with Kalou, Ramires, Mata and Drogba all looking dangerous. A spell consisting of 4 successive Tottenham corners was about as dangerous as Tottenham looked as they struggled to test Cech enough in the Chelsea goal.

Spurs Collapse

With 15 minutes remaining, Harry Redknapp replaced Dutchman van der Vaart with striker Jermain Defoe and as such changed to a 4-4-2 formation. This proved to be part of Tottenham’s downfall. Although they had to do something to try and rescue the match, this change allowed Mata, who had become more influential in this second half and had outshone Luka Modric all afternoon, to get on the ball a lot more and find space in between the Tottenham midfield and their under-performing defence. It was Mata who, after playing a simple but effective one-two with Frank Lampard, advanced towards the Spurs goal unchallenged through the centre of the pitch and lofted a brilliant ball for Ramires to lift over the advancing Cudicini to make it 3-1 on 77 minutes.

Frank Lampard added a fourth for Chelsea with 9 minutes left. Hitting the back of the net directly from a free kick, although questions should be asked of Cudicini as the ball sailed into his net at a good height for a goalkeeper and into the side of the goal he was covering. Chelsea then brought on Malouda for Ramires, and shortly after Torres for Drogba, as concentration on the Blues bench undoubtedly turned to Wednesday evening’s clash with European Champions Barcelona. The one blemish on this Chelsea performance was John Obi Mikel’s kick out at Scott Parker for which he was lucky to only receive a yellow card. Parker was uncharacteristically enraged at this, perhaps showing his frustration as it dawned on Spurs that they would face a fourth successive trophy-less season, and was booked for his reaction. Sandro then replaced Parker in the 90th minute to prevent the situation escalating.

The scoring wasn’t finished yet though as Mata capped a fine second half performance by playing another lovely ball through to substitute Florent Malouda to slot past Cudicini to ensure the final score was Chelsea 5-1 Tottenham.

Mata and Drogba will have to be at their very best if Chelsea are to have any chance against Barcelona over two legs. But this dominant and clinical victory means they will appear in at least one final this season when they return to Wembley in three weeks to face Liverpool in the FA Cup final.

Bravery and Belief The Missing Ingredients For Fulham

Fulham have earned a lot of plaudits for their performances in recent weeks. Two matches in particular stand out when The Cottagers played well against higher-placed opposition but only came away with one point out of a possible six from the two games. The games I refer to are the 1-0 defeat against Manchester United and the 1-1 draw with Chelsea. With more belief in their own ability and bravery to take the game to their opponents, Fulham could well have come away with anything up to six points from these two games.

Old Trafford

In both matches, Fulham played with their 4-2-3-1 formation. Although the three attack-minded midfielders were so deep it practically made it a 4-5-1 set-up that began both games. At Old Trafford against United, there is still a certain fear that exists amongst visiting teams that prevents them from really believing they can get a result at the biggest club ground in England. I wouldn’t say Fulham had too much of this fear as such, more a lack of belief in their own ability to take the game to United without allowing the champions to take control of the game. Fulham played some nice football in the first half and were unlucky to go in at half time a goal down after Wayne Rooney struck three minutes before the interval. Dembele and Dempsey in particular had caused the United midfield problems with their movement and Pogrebnyak ensured it wasn’t an easy night for Ferdinand and Evans despite not having many chances himself. In the second half, United began to dominate possession but without really threatening to add to their one goal advantage. But Fulham still didn’t throw caution to the wind against a United side clearly not at the races.

It wasn’t until Martin Jol sent on captain Danny Murphy with just under 20 minutes to go that Fulham began to play higher up the pitch and get more bodies forward in support of the previously isolated Pogrebnyak. In the dying minutes, United were hanging on against a side that suddenly had the belief that they could get something out of the game. And a Michael Carrick tackle on Danny Murphy as the former Liverpool midfielder surged into the penalty area failed to make contact with the ball and was wrongly ignored by referee Michael Oliver. That was a huge let-off for United. The closing stages must have left Fulham fans thinking if they had gone for it a little earlier in the game, that United were there for the taking and their side could have managed to rescue at least a point.

The visit of Chelsea

For Chelsea’s visit to Craven Cottage, Fulham were missing Pavel Pogrebnyak. Clint Dempsey played the lone striker role just a few days after becoming the club’s highest scorer in a single Premier League season. Fulham again started the game very cautiously, having good spells of possession but not really testing Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal or getting their attacking midfielders high enough up the pitch to do any real damage to their West London neighbours. As at Old Trafford just a few weeks previously, Fulham found themselves on the wrong end of a questionable penalty decision. Despite replays suggesting he might have been wrong to do so, referee Mark Clattenburg awarded Chelsea a penalty which Frank Lampard tucked away just before half-time.

As the second half progressed Fulham still seemed reluctant to come out of their shell and let their talented attacking players – Dembele, Frei and Duff – push further upfield and have a little freedom to roam and find space. Again, Fulham showed themselves to be very comfortable on the ball and not afraid to keep possession when put under pressure. In the final 15 minutes, however, the home side seemed to consciously begin to attack Chelsea. Perhaps finally sensing that this is not a great Chelsea side and that they possess enough ability in their own ranks to go toe-to-toe against anyone when they are on form, especially at Craven Cottage. Riise began bombing forward from left full-back, as he had become famous for earlier in his career at Liverpool, and Damien Duff played ten yards further forward and pinned Ryan Bertrand back for the first time in the match. The crowd could sense an equaliser was on the cards and after a run of corners were Chelsea were uncharacteristically poor at dealing with, Dempsey managed to head home for his 16th goal of the season. By this time Martin Jol had sent on Orlando Sa to add a physical presence to Fulham’s attack – further evidence of Fulham’s growing belief during the game. Fulham were still the better side in the closing stages and were looking more likely to find a winning goal. As Chelsea brought Drogba on and moved Torres to the right hand side, Ivanovic was left exposed several times, no longer receiving the support that Ramires had offered him for the first 83 minutes. This was an avenue Fulham exploited as they pushed for a winner but they eventually had to settle for a point as it finished 1-1.

What might have been

This is not intended as a criticism of Fulham or their manager Martin Jol. The Dutchman is building a good team that plays football the right way and is still in transition from the Mark Hughes team he inherited. The change in the forward line of Zamora and Johnson in front of a midfield four has been changed for the continental-style 4-2-3-1. A change which isn’t always successful straight away. Fulham now appear to be getting to grips with it and are showing they can match the ‘bigger’ clubs in the league on their day. But if Fulham had been a little braver in believing in the talent in their team, they could have come away from Old Trafford with at least a point and could easily have beaten Chelsea. Maybe next season, as Jol’s players become more and more comfortable with their formation, the manager himself will believe in his team a little more and be brave enough to take the game to the opponents in games like these.

AFC Waltham 2-1 Kings Head XI

AFC Waltham successfully defended the Jim Ainley Cup against a Kings Head XI at Mount Pleasant in an entertaining game. The Division Six side retained the trophy in the charity fundraising fixture that has become an annual event.

The AFC Waltham starting line up against Kings Head XI

Waltham lined up as above in a 4-4-2 formation, but with rolling substitutions permitted, it was a good chance to give every available player some time on the pitch. The big team news was that player-manager Paul Thompson started himself at centre-back. And he was looking comfortable until a lack of match fitness saw him substitute himself after 25 minutes, with Kent Bennett coming on at left back and Karl Wright slotting in alongside Lidgard at centre-back. Before leaving the pitch though, the Waltham boss was kind enough to let the centre-forward he was marking back out of his pocket.

Waltham started the game on the front foot and the first half saw them create several chances, only for wasteful finishing to let them down. Early in the game Dan Moore found Bryan on the left who skipped past a defender and fired inches wide of the post. As the game progressed, Stoneman at right-back was finding himself in possession more and more, and linked up well with winger James Leshone. And it was after good work down Waltham’s right that the opening goal of the game was created. Leshone bent in a Beckham-like cross from near the touchline and Moore rose like a salmon to head home perfectly into the far corner to make it 1-0.

Waltham seemed to settle into the game with some spells of possession after the goal, with Keil Thompson and Aaron Roberts pulling the strings in midfield. Waltham then made a few changes, with James Watkin coming on to play left midfield, Ceclich coming on in an unfamiliar right midfield role and Jordan Hobbins sent on up front. Hobbins soon had a chance to score after midfield playmaker Keil Thompson played a great through ball for the striker to run onto after brilliantly bending his run to beat the offside trap. Hobbins carried it towards goal and smashed it from a tight angle only for it to come back off the near post and go behind for a goal kick. Hobbins had another chance minutes later when Ceclich fed Smith who, with his back to goal, played a Zidane-esque back-flick to put Hobbins through again. This time he took his shot early and could only scoop it into the ‘keepers hands. The referee, strangely wearing gloves, blew the whistle for half time with Waltham 1-0 ahead.

Second Half

The second half began in the same way the first had ended. With Waltham shading the play but having to work hard for it with the Kings Head XI putting in a real shift and having quality in the middle of the park with Rising and Mikey Wright. Midfield general Rob Saxby came on at half time sporting a black-eye as a result of a rumoured punch-up with Mario Balotelli on a recent night out in Cleethorpes. Saxby showed several good touches as well as getting away with a few attempted assaults on ex-Waltham man Mikey Wright in the Kings Head midfield.

AFC Waltham’s all-time record post-war goalscorer Ian Ceclich made a great chance for himself as he sprinted clear of the Kings Head defence, only for the goalkeeper to save brilliantly with his feet. James Leshone was looking for his first AFC Waltham goal and hit a free kick “just” (he said afterwards) over the bar. Midway through the second half Steve Smith thought he had found his side a second goal. Sadly for Smith, strike-partner Jordan Hobbins temporarily thought he was Vincent Kompany and he cleared Smith’s effort off the line and over the bar with a brilliant defensive clearance. Soon after, James Phillipson was sent on up front after passing a late fitness test. Phillipson made a nuisance of himself and was like a young Steve Livingstone winning headers and putting himself about.

A second goal did eventually come for Waltham. A Smith corner from the right caused panic in the box and as the ball came out to Saxby 20 yards out, he steadied himself and hit a wonderfully placed volley that bounced 17 times before nestling in the bottom corner of the net. More substitutions followed and Roberts was rested for the final period of the game after a good performance in which he was often the driving force of Waltham going forward. Manager Paul Thompson went back on at centre back alongside the faultless Lidgard. There seemed to be a different Paul Thompson on the field this time though. The Baresi-like defending of the first half was nowhere to be seen as he became an attack-minded centre-back, twisting and turning like David Luiz in his own half with mixed results.

Kings Head XI got a goal back in the last 10 minutes when captain Rising floated a free kick over the Waltham defence and Mikey Wright was at the back post to power a header past Harrison to make it 2-1. The Kings Head threw bodies forward in an attempt to force an equaliser and caused problems from a few set pieces. But Waltham held out to see the game out and retain their trophy. Special mention has to go to Paul Lidgard for keeping his name out of the referee’s book for the full 90 minutes.

Five Premier League players sure to be in demand this summer

Picture from

As the 2011/2012 season nears it’s completion, most clubs will already have a good idea of what areas they need to strengthen. Positions will have been identified as one’s that could be stronger, either in terms of back-up or a better player in the first eleven. In many cases, individual players will have been mentioned already in conversations between managers, board members, technical directors and scouting staff. Here are five players currently playing in the Premier League that are likely to attract interest amongst other clubs:

Junior Hoilett

This Canadian 21 year old has been a shining light in Blackburn’s struggle of a season. He great pace, dribbling ability and a fearless direct approach to attacking his opponents. As with most inexperienced wingers, his end product can be a little inconsistent. But this could be said of many wingers of far greater experience than Hoilet, and that is unlikely to deter any potential suitors when the transfer window re-opens. At the time of writing, Hoilet has 13 goals to his name in 60 starts for Blackburn. He’s also shown his versatility in being able to play on either flank, as well as being paired with Yakubu as a centre-forward on several occasions. He already seems to have matured and grown as a player, even since last season when he still appeared as slightly raw. But the rate at which he’s improved, created chances and scored goals for a struggling team is bound to attract interest from clubs higher up the league that have the money to put in a bid to match their interest.

James McClean

The Sunderland left-winger has had a huge impact on Sunderland’s season. After completing a £350,000 transfer from Derry City last summer, Steve Bruce was reluctant to give McClean a chance in the first team. Instead preferring him to gain some experience of English football by playing in the reserve team until Christmas. McClean only ever appeared as an unused substitute under Bruce. Bruce was then sacked as Sunderland manager in late November and was replaced by Martin O’Neill. In O’Neill’s first game in charge, McClean was sent on as a second half substitute with Blackburn leading 1-0 at the Stadium of Light. McClean helped his team complete a dramatic late comeback as the Black Cats scored twice in the final 6 minutes to turn the game on it’s head. McClean has not looked back since, going from strength to strength and being rewarded with a new three year contract in March. The fact that he has recently signed a new contract could either act as a deterrant to other clubs, or it could just push any potential transfer fee much higher than it would have been on his original contract. But for a man who turns 23 this April, he may be tempted by the lure of European football if a suitable offer comes in. His ability is not in question. He can beat players, is physically strong, decent in the air, quite quick and has an eye for goal. The only gamble for any potential interested parties is whether he can sustain such good form over a longer period of time.

Moussa Dembele

Fulham’s talented 24 year old has added to his growing reputation with a string of impressive performances in midfield this season. A key thing to note here is that Dembele’s contract expires in the summer of 2013. It is thought that Fulham are in the process of trying to agree an extension to his current deal, which as it stands could see him leave for free at the end of next season. If no new deal is agreed within the next couple of months, it may be that Fulham would rather recieve a fee for him now rather than see him leave for nothing 12 months from now. A player they only signed for £5million from AZ Alkmaar in 2010 would surely more than double their money if sold, after showing a stylish touch and technique that could see him fit comfortably in a team chasing honours or playing European football.

Mark Davies

Bolton midfielder Mark Davies is a player who has developed really well in the last couple of years. He is an energetic, intelligent midfielder who links up well with players around him. He isn’t afraid to run with the ball and always seems to have good awareness of what’s around him when he receives the ball. He seems to have flourished under the management of Owen Coyle at Bolton and at the age of 24, still has room for improvement. Much like Dembele, he doesn’t have an impressive goal return for a midfielder. And he hasn’t been a consistent starter at Bolton, with nearly half of his appearances coming as a substitute in his 3 years at the Reebok Stadium. But his quality on the ball, spatial awareness and energy in midfield could attract clubs with more financial clout than Bolton. And if Davies has ambitions to play for England, then he would surely be tempted to move to a club where history suggests players are more likely to be selected for England.

Luka Modric

After expressing a desire to leave Tottenham last summer, Modric eventually settled down to return to the Spurs side after Chairman Daniel Levy defiantly refused to sell him. He has again performed admirably this season, being an essential part of one of the most entertaining attacking teams in the country. However, Modric may be slightly frustrated that Tottenham still don’t appear to be ready to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title. As well as the way he has been forced to play on the left or the right of midfield in the absence of Gareth Bale or Aaron Lennon in recent months. For someone who is really the focal point of the Tottenham team, and is an integral part of the way they play, manager Harry Redknapp damaged the Tottenham side by limiting the influence Modric was able to have on games from this position. Last summer the potential buyers were Manchester United and Chelsea. United are still lacking that something special in central midfield so could still be interested to find a replacement for Paul Scholes. Whilst Chelsea would almost certainly welcome him into their side where he would no doubt link up well with the gifted Juan Mata. But after Tottenham’s insistence last year that he would not be leaving so soon after signing a 6 year contract, the same outcome could occur whether Modric wishes to leave or not.

Why Glenn Hoddle Should Be Considered For England

27 March 2012

It has been seven weeks since Fabio Capello left his position as England manager. And to this day we are no nearer knowing who might take the reigns for the European Championships this summer and beyond. Stuart Pearce is in temporary charge but isn’t thought to be a long-term candidate for the job.

The media circus that surrounds the job, seem to give the indication that they want Harry Redknapp to take the job. But it is worth pointing out that the television pundits and newspaper editors do not speak for a nation of supporters, despite several of them trying to imply that this is the case. Redknapp’s Spurs team have struggled since the speculation began. This could have been impacted upon by the constant speculation surrounding Redknapp. But it is undoubtedly also due to a good Spurs team being hit by a couple of injuries and what could be argued as either a lack of squad depth, or Redknapp’s lack of ability to manage his resources and find the tactics to build on what had been a good Tottenham run. This may have swayed some people’s thinking and given some people food for thought, espeically at the FA where there is often a clamour for the flavour of the month – as seen at Chelsea whenever the managerial job is vacant.

One name that has been thrown into the ring this week is that of Glenn Hoddle. The man who was appointed England manager immediately after Euro ’96 and who was sacked for non-football related comments in an interview with The Times newspaper in January 1999.

Previous Reign Re-visited

Hoddle’s last England reign was a big success on the pitch. The qualification campaign for World Cup ’98 ended successfully with a heroic 0-0 draw in Rome to ensure England won the group and Italy had to qualify via the play-offs. Earlier in the campaign there were routine wins all round, confidently seeing off Poland, Georgia and Moldova twice each. The only defeat of the campaign came with a 1-0 reverse against Italy at Wembley. A game famously remembered for Matthew Le Tissier being handed a rare England start, only for his brother to leak the team news to a global audience hours before kick off. Gianfranco Zola hit the winner in that game for a very good Italy side, whilst England were missing regular goalkeeper David Seaman and Alan Shearer’s regular international partner Teddy Sheringham.

The World Cup itself, held in France, had it’s ups and downs. It started with a 2-0 win against Tunisia in sweltering heat. Next up came a 2-1 defeat to Romania, with a mistake from Graeme Le Saux allowing Dan Petrescu to score a last minute winner. Then came a match England had to win against Columbia. David Beckham and Michael Owen were handed their first starts of the tournament and Hoddle’s England won 2-0 to set up a second round match against Argentina. An entertaining match was played out in St. Etienne but the key moment in the game was David Beckham’s sending off in the 47th minute of the game. The score at the time, 2-2, was how it finished after 90 minutes and extra time. But being reduced to ten men with so much time left to play took its toll on England and reduced their attacking threat greatly. England then exited the competition after coming out second best in the penalty shoot-out that followed.

The System

The thing that sets Hoddle apart from every other England manager in recent times is the system he used for the national team. England played a 3-5-2 formation with wing-backs under Hoddle, and this helped the team keep possession of the ball with more bodies in the midfield area. Possession is much more important in international football and is something England have struggled with both before Hoddle and after, right up to the present moment in time. England were able to control more games and dictate the pace of games using this formation, taking advatage of the extra option that the third man in central midfield gave them. It didn’t hamper the attacking side of the game either, with wing-backs such as Graeme Le Saux, Gary Neville and later Darren Anderton all given licence to get forward and almost become wingers when the team attacked. There was a growing sense during the World Cup in France that England could have gone all the way to the final playing this way, hence the over-the-top backlash David Beckham recieved after the tournament for his part in the Argentina match.

Another Chance?

Many England managers of the past have been good domestic level managers but haven’t had the ability to successfully lead an international team. The difference in style between the English league and the international scene is clear to see and many managers struggle to see this. Most are either too naive in thinking England can play as we do domestically and still win something, or don’t possess the managerial ability to cope with putting together a different tactical style for the international game. I believe Glenn Hoddle is the exact opposite to the usual England manager and is actually better suited to international football as opposed to domestic football. His views, philosophy on football and wish to play a continental style makes his brand of football better suited to managing an international team than it does in the up-and-at-them domestic game.

The suggestion of Hoddle returning as England manager has seen some people ridicule his chances and ruling him out without a moment’s thought. But the statistics point to Hoddle having a win ratio of 60.7 per cent. This is only bettered by World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsay and the under-appreciated Fabio Capello. Do the FA see him as a viable option? Only time will tell. But his international record and his on-the-pitch philosophies should make him one of the stronger candidates.

A Tale of Second Half Subs At The Etihad Stadium

24 March 2012

Wednesday evening saw Manchester City come from behind to beat Chelsea 2-1 and stay firmly on the heels of Manchester United in the title race. The return of Carlos Tevez has dominated most of the headlines with his six-month absence coming to an end with a substitute appearance in a game with such a dramatic turnaround. And whilst Tevez was influential in the making of City’s winning goal, the decisive factors in the game swinging in City’s favour were the 4 second half substitutions made by Roberto Di Matteo and Roberto Mancini.

After an evenly contested first half ended goalless, Mancini withdrew the ineffective Balotelli at half time and sent on Gareth Barry to release Yaya Toure to play in a more advanced role closer to Sergio Aguero. This followed a 20th minute forced Chelsea substitution when Branislav Ivanovic came off injured and was replaced by Jose Bosingwa in a straight swap. These two substitutions had little, if any, impact on the game and how it was developing. The first move that would later have significance was Roberto Di Matteo’s substitution of Raul Meireles for Michael Essien in the 58th minute. Without being spectacular, Meireles was doing a job for the team and his fitness is an advantage that allows him to quickly close the opposition down and break forward to join in with counter attacks. Essien on the other hand appears to have lost a yard of pace since his injury problems and doesn’t look as mobile and sharp across the pitch as he once did.

Despite this, Chelsea did take the lead two minutes later in slightly fortunate circumstances. A double deflection followed Gary Cahill’s strike after City failed to clear a corner and Joe Hart was helpess to stop it finding the back of the net.

City Changes

Mancini didn’t wait long after going behind before calling for attacking reinforcements. The moment previously built up in the media arrived on 66 minutes as Tevez was sent on for defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong. Ten minutes later Mancini substituted David Silva as he was replaced by Edin Dzeko. These two changes meant City now had a physical focal point in the centre of their attack, with Dzeko occupying another Chelsea centre-back where they previously only had one player to mark at times. This allowed the likes of Nasri, Aguero, Tevez and Yaya Toure to get forward and make runs forward into spaces rather than into areas where spare Chelsea defenders were waiting to pick them up. Tevez, whilst understandably not looking as sharp as he has in the previous couple of seasons, was dropping into areas between the Chelsea defence and midfield and turning to run towards goal with his trademark direct style. This saw Chelsea almost constantly on the back foot, especially when combined with Chelsea’s final change of the match, sending on Drogba for Torres in between the two second half City changes.

Inviting Pressure

Torres’ pace, willingness to run the channels and ability to run with the ball was often used as an outlet for Chelsea to relieve pressure. He helped stop the ball from coming straight back at them and even when Chelsea didn’t have the ball, was working tirelessly to close people down. Drogba, as with several senior Chelsea players, isn’t as quick as he once was, and doesn’t run the channels and get across the forward line as much as he used to. He seems to be more of a static target who will hold the ball up rather than run with it. He also doesn’t have the legs to be constantly chasing players and closing down whilst playing the lone striker role. Drogba’s inferior work rate when not in possession, and Essien causing Chelsea’s midfield to sit off City’s and invite pressure,  left City as much time as they needed to have the ball at the back and pick the right pass to go forward.

Essien and Drogba had absolutely no positive impact on the game, and both contributed to the team inviting pressure and allowing City to push the whole team 10 yards further up the pitch. They were substitutions that didn’t really need making as Chelsea’s hard-working, counter-attacking game plan was clearly working and frustrating City. Of course, Essien then gave away the penalty that allowed Sergio Aguero to fire in an equaliser from 12 yards on 78 minutes.

As Dzeko, Tevez and Aguero occupied three of the Chelsea back four, Nasri was able to join them from deep and this is how a fantastically worked winning goal came about on 85 minutes. Frenchman Nasri, arguably having his best game since his summer transfer from Arsenal, played the ball into the feet of Tevez and followed his pass forward. Tevez neatly turned and impressively found Nasri with a short reverse ball showing great awareness and weight of pass. Nasri still had a lot to do but showed great control and composure to carry it closer to the Chelsea goal and dink it over Petr Cech and into the net as the City faithful went wild.

So whilst the Tevez story will undoubtedly continue to dominate the news pages, this was a night when Mancini deserved credit as he perhaps showed his superior managerial experience over a fellow Italian in his first big job in football.