Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Gary Speed's untimely death leaves us numb

The news of Gary Speed's death on Sunday was devastating.

As a Leeds United fan, I have extremely fond memories of Gary Speed and his contribution to the winning of the last Division One Championship before the Premier League in 1992.

Speed was one of those unassuming players who plied his trade with craft and application while always remaining calm and respectful of his opponents. Therein must lie some of the reasons for his career's longevity.

I remember Speed as one of the talented midfield also consisting of Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan and David Batty. Speed was a player with poise and elegance and a knack for scoring headed goals that you really didn't expect him to manage.

Amazingly, Speed played until late 2008, with Sheffield United, in his fortieth year. It was a magnificent career of 677 games and 103 goals.

His recent role as Wales manager looked to be turning into a success with four wins in the last five games. We'll never know where Gary Speed might have taken Wales.

The high regard in which Gary Speed was held has been demonstrated by the reaction of neutral fans in the games since his death. Watch out for reactions at Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United when their first home games come around.

We are left with a numbing death of a marvellous player, and the sad mystery of why he chose to take his own life when things were apparently going so well for him.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Odds against Manchester City progressing in Champions League

Despite all their millions it looks as though Manchester City are going to be knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage.

Only a win against Bayern Munich will do for City and even then they have to rely on Napoli drawing or losing against Villareal in Spain. So far in this season's competition Villareal have yet to register a single point.

It's not looking good for Manchester City. Maybe they should make plans for the Europa Cup instead.

Yet in the Premier League they have been dominant thus far, winning 11 of 12 games and scoring 42 goals while conceding only 11.

Suddenly, Sunday's televised game for City away at Liverpool (conquerors of Chelsea last week) seems to take on huge significance. Liverpool's home record of two wins and four draws is not too impressive, but City's attacking prowess might allow Liverpool to take more of an "away game" approach.

A defeat certainly won't spell crisis for Manchester City, but will further dent confidence before the visit of Bayern Munich on 7 December.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Pity Northampton Town, but what about Gala Fairydean?

I'm sure Manchester United fans suffered when they lost 1-6 at home to Manchester City. I'm sure Chelsea fans suffered when they lost 3-5 at home to Arsenal, as well as yesterday when they lost 1-2 at home to Liverpool.

But Manchester United and Chelsea fans have far more good days than they do bad. Manchester United, for instance, haven't conceded a goal in five games since that disastrous defeat.

Get over it, big boys.

Consider poor Northampton Town fans. There were 5,039 in attendance at Sixfields on Saturday (not all home fans, of course) for the visit of Shrewsbury Town - not long back in the Football League, but in a play-off position in League One. "The Cobblers" are at the wrong end of the table, but the fans couldn't have expected the events of Saturday afternoon.

Northampton Town were 3-0 down at half-time; already a bad day. Four minutes into the second half, however, Ben Tozer pulled a goal back to give the home fans some hope. And it remained at 1-3 until the 82nd minute when Marvin Morgan made it 1-4. No doubt this was a cue for many home fans to exit, but they would have missed Ade Akinfenwa pulling another back to make it 2-4 three minutes later. A bad result, but not a disaster.

However, the next few minutes would make it a disaster. Shrewsbury Town helped themselves to three more goals in the dying minutes to make a final scoreline of Northampton Town 2, Shrewsbury Town 7. It's the kind of result you avoid buying a paper for.

A terrible day for Northampton Town's suffering fans as the team remained 20th in the table. Not bottom then! No, poor Pymouth Argyle are seven points behind Northampton.

There's always somebody worse off than your team.

What about the poor Gala Fairydean fan(s) whose team lost 11-0 to Airdrie United in the Scottish Cup on Saturday?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Unimpressive England shake the monkey off their back

England completed back-to-back1-0 victories with their win over Sweden last night.

The result against Sweden was, for once in a friendly, more important than the performance, as it shook the monkey from its back in the form of failure to beat Sweden in 12 attempts in 43 years.

However, it was another typical England performance - despite numerous personnel changes from the Spain game. A reasonable first half was rewarded half-way through with a deflected Gareth Barry header to give them the lead, but the second half was pedestrian and England failed to capitalise on their first-half performance, thereby always keeping Sweden in the game and with a chance of equalising.

It has happened so many times before, but on this occasion England held on to win.

Complaints from the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Vicente Del Bosque about England's performance and style of play ("defensive", "physical") against Spain rather smack of sour grapes. England know they are not as good as Spain, and to try to match them at their own game would be footballing suicide. There are many ways to play football - that's what makes it so fascinating - and although we can all admire and aspire to Spain's style of play, it would takes years to get anywhere close.

Having said that, as Gus Poyet says (BBC) something must be done about the lack of technical ability in England. Talk gets us nowhere; it's time for action.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Wenger had it right as Arsenal rise continues

The top four - Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle United - all won by the odd goal on Saturday. Good enough for three points, of course.

But the biggest winners on Saturday were Arsenal, who beat West Brom 3-0. Now the crisis-hit Arsenal of some weeks ago sit in 7th place, on the same points as Liverpool and Tottenham, and only three behind Chelsea.

Now it's all about Robin van Persie is single-handedly lifting them up the table. He scored one and made two on Saturday.

As usual, there is little or no perspective and it's all by the media. It's all doom and gloom or the best thing ever.

When Arsenal were struggling they had just lost two key players (Fabregas and Nasri) and had injuries too. Now they are doing well, they have centre-backs back in the team, Song back in midfield and, yes, van Persie back up front.

Arsene Wenger (quite ridiculously touted for the sack by some) was right all along, and Arsenal will be in among the challenge for honours when it matters.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Arsenal and Chelsea edge nearer qualification

Although London's two Champions League entrants only managed draws in this week's group matches, they both sit in a good position in their respective groups.

Arsenal might have expected to win their home game with Marseille, but a 0-0 draw kept them above the French team, and four and five points clear of Borussia Dortmund and Olympiakos respectively. Another win will see the Gunners through to the knock-out stage, though they will, of course, hope to win the group.

Chelsea's 1-1 draw in Genk was treated like a home victory for the Belgian team, whose home supporters' roar at the final whistle will be hard to match anywhere throughout the whole competition. The goal by Jelle Vossen was Genk's first Champions League goal in their four matches. Given the ease of Chelsea's 5-0 home win over Genk only two weeks ago, this was indeed a momentous draw for the Belgian club.

Meanwhile Chelsea's woes continue. Following their 1-0 loss at QPR and 5-3 loss at home to Arsenal (with a 2-1 carling Cup win at Everton sandwiched in between), this draw was hardly the boost they needed. But they do have some relatively easy league games coming up. As with Arsenal, another win will see them qualify.

Work still to be done.