Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Premier League: 2012/13 season review so far

As we approach the buys Christmas period of games, we look and review at the past few months in the Barclay's Premier League.

picture: dailymail.co.uk
Having claimed the title so dramatically last May, Roberto Mancini's Manchester City went into the season looking to defend it. Since August, City have only lost the once in the league to rivals Man United to end their long undefeated run at home. The defeat did not come as much of as a surprise as City's current defensive situation has not been anywhere as secure as last year. Mancini's summer signings included Matija Nastasic, Jack Rodwell and Maicon whereas Alex Ferguson brought in the class of Robin Van Persie from Arsenal. The difference in quality of signings between the clubs has told over the early months of the season which currently sees United sit six points clear of their city rivals.

Every year we see a surprise team who upset the odds and this year was no different with West Brom. New boss Steve Clarke got off to the perfect start as he faced his old side Liverpool on the opening day of the season. A 3-0 home win then saw the Baggies take points of Spurs, Chelsea and Everton to sit in the top four. The loan signing of Roman Lukaku from Chelsea has proved an excellent acquisition as he and strike partner Shane Long have seen the pair score 12 goals between them. Inconsistency in the last few games though has seem them since drop down to seventh.

At the bottom of the table, newly promoted Reading have been lurking in the bottom three since August which has seen them only win once all season. Their poor form currently sees The Royals sit bottom of the league with only nine points, six from safety. Brian McDermott's side have struggled to keep clean sheets, particularly at home which has seen them leak 36 goals so far. Alongside Reading are QPR who under new manager Harry Redknapp have started to look more of a team than under former manager Mark Hughes. Rangers had gone 16 games without a win, the longest in Premier League history, until recently when they recorded a 2-1 win at home to Fulham.

picture: football365.com
Hughes was the second manager to lose his job in the current season, after the surprising sacking of Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo. Di Matteo only spent six months at Stamford Bridge having won the Champions League and FA Cup as caretaker manager last year. Poor results and performances saw him laid off and Rafa Benitez brought in as an interim manager until the end of the season.

The Christmas period will be critical for some clubs in how their seasons will take shape. In particular at the bottom, Reading and QPR will need to pick up some consistent form if they are to avoid the elusive drop at the end of the season. The race for the title will once again go close and alongside the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea are still within a shout of challenging. The top four places are again too close to tell currently and a number of clubs will fancy their chances of making the Champions League places.

Final Table Predictions:
1: Man United
2: Man City
3: Chelsea
4: Arsenal
5: Tottenham Hotspur
6: Liverpool
7: Everton
8: West Brom
9: Stoke City
10: West Ham Utd
11: Newcastle United
12: Fulham
13: Swansea
14: Norwich City
15: Sunderland
16: Aston Villa
17: Southampton
18: Wigan Athletic
19: QPR
20: Reading

Friday, 30 November 2012

In Brendan we trust: Why Liverpool fans should look forward to the future

A couple months ago I wrote an article on the youth at Liverpool and why they are so key to the success of the football club. Now in November, Liverpool find themselves mid table and ten points away from the top four. Despite this, as a fan, I feel there have been plenty of signs over the last couple of months to be positive about where the club is going under the reign of Brendan Rogers.

picture: mirror.co.uk
Having only won three games this season, it's far too easy to criticise and complain about the manager. Look at Chelsea, despite winning the FA Cup and the Champions League, Roberto Di Matteo was sacked only 6 months into the job just because of a few poor team performances.

With Liverpool and Rogers, progress is being made. The input of young players has had a big impact on the team and has shown that the football club has a very bright future. Looking back over the past couple of seasons, it has been hard to watch a team struggle to make any impact on the top half of the league. Big signings were made and these players didn't perform.

As mentioned, we have only three league wins this season which could well be doubled based on a number of games. Having lost to Spurs on Wednesday, Liverpool's eight game unbeaten run came to an end. Despite losing this game, looking back at the highlights of the game, we should have easily come out with a draw, maybe a win. Last season's fixture at White Hart Lane saw the home side win 4-0 in a resounding performance  One season on we were unlucky to suffer a 2-1 defeat. The difference in performances is obvious, we looked stronger, quicker and competed much better with a very strong Spurs outfit.

What I am trying to get at is the progression in the small amount of time under Rogers. Not just in the Spurs game but in general over the beginning of the season. Yes we didn't get off to the best start to the season, but the unbeaten run showed what a good side we can be. The draw against Swansea last weekend was one which should have been a win. The same can be said for the Everton game where we were denied a clear winner. Now it is easy to say 'we could have won that' but having witnessed these games it was disappointing to come out with just a point.

picture: telegraph.co.uk
The form of Luis Suarez is one I could not miss out and but for him, yes we would be a lot further down the table. Rogers has put a lot of faith in the Uruguayan and he has repaid that with some excellent form and some superb performances. This is where my only criticism of Rogers comes in. His signings in the summer lacked another forward, it's been clearly made in the media and the football world and I'm very sure he regrets that now. January will be massive for Rogers and bringing in another striker to aid Suarez is vital. There have been mentions of a number of forwards but with Darren Bent out of favour at Villa, signing him I believe would be an excellent addition.

The form and performances of the younger players in the squad is a massive positive that I can take out of the season so far. In particular Jonjo Shelvey, Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Suso have taken to the Premier League excellently and have proven their selection by Rogers. These performances have been rewarded and noticed at national level seeing Shelvey and Sterling called up to the England national squad, and Wisdom and Suso called up to their respective national under 21 teams.

The faith Rogers has shown to these youngsters is great to see from a fans perspective and have proven a good decision. If performances continue the way they have been over the past couple of months then there is a lot to look forward to for the fans of Liverpool. For me Rogers is proving to be the right man for the job and as long as he is given the backing, Liverpool will eventually get back to where they once belonged.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

FA Vase: Peterborough Northern Star 1-3 Dunstable Town

17/11/12- FA Vase 2nd Round
Peterborough Northern Star 1-3 Dunstable Town

Two goals from Dunstable striker Lee Roache was enough to take his side through to the next round of the FA Vase after beating Peterborough Northern Star 3-1.

Picture by Steve Sharman: Star scorer Billy Smith
The former Barnet man put in a man of the match performance to guide his side past last year’s quarter finalists Northern Star at Chestnut Avenue.

Two headers from Roache and a strike from winger Tony Burnett saw the Spartan South Midlands Premier League side beat Star whose only goal came from a Billy Smith penalty.

The game got off to a slow start with both teams struggling to break each other down creating little at either end.

It was the visitors though that opened the scoring in the 29th minute as Roache headed home from close range from a Newman Carney corner.

The goal spurred Dunstable into life and they continued to pressure their hosts throughout the rest of the half but failing to add to their advantage.

The second half began as the first had ended with Dunstable looking for a second goal. The goal nearly arrived as Tony Burnett’s run and shot from the right was well saved by Star keeper Nick Conroy.

Burnett was once again in the action as he doubled Dorchester’s advantage with a well struck shot. Good work on the wing from Roache saw his cross pulled back by Wayne Mills for Burnett to strike the ball in off the post.

The goal spurred Star into life as they tried to create their first real opportunity in the game having been pegged back for much of the game.

Picture by Steve Sharman: Action from today's game
Dunstable though wanted to close the game and came within inches of doing so as Jon Cooper’s low shot was somehow blocked on the line by Roache.

Having been let off moment before, Star responded instantly with a goal of their own. A weaving run down the left from substitute Adam Scotcher saw the striker tripped in the box, giving the ref with no option but to award a penalty which was expertly despatched by Billy Smith.

But it was Dunstable who responded immediately by scoring next and closing the game as Roache scored his second of the game, heading in unmarked from another Newman Carney set piece.

The striker could and should have had his hat trick moments later after an excellent run saw him evade three defenders and the goalkeeper only to see his effort roll agonisingly wide of the post.

The goal had given  supporters hope of a comeback for Star, who were denied another penalty after a Dunstable defender seemed to handle the ball in the box.

Star had one more chance to pull a second goal back as Scotcher raced through one on one with the keeper only to see his effort saved by the legs of Paul Taylor.

The victory takes Dunstable through to the third round of the competition and continues their unbeaten run in all competitions this season.

PNS: Conroy, Challinor, Wason, Morris © Kilby, Cox, Balde, Stain (Moore-Papworth), Smith, Furnell (Kerrison), Davey (Scotcher)

Dunstable Town: Taylor, Mills, Pickering © Mead, George, Olaleye, Cooper, Carney, Francis (Frater), Burnett (Junior), Roache

Friday, 16 November 2012

What a hit! Some of football's great strikes

Having witnessed an unbelievable overhead kick from Zlatan Ibrahimovich this week for Sweden, we have put together a few of the best goals scored in England or by English players over the past few years. Enjoy!

1. Joe Cole v Sweden (WC 2006)
Joe Cole scored a sensational volley against Sweden in England's final group game of the World Cup in Germany. Cole took the ball on his chest and volleyed home superbly from 35 yards to give England a lead after 32 minutes. The game went onto finish 2-2 with Steven Gerrard scoring the other goal for England. The draw meant England progressed through to the round of 16 where they played Ecuador.

2. Peter Crouch v Man City (24/03/12)
Peter Crouch scored a stunning volley in the Premier League clash between Stoke and Manchester City last season. Crouch received the ball from Pennant on the right side of the box and expertly volleyed the ball over Joe Hart into the far side of the net.

3. Papiss Cisse v Chelsea (02/05/12)
Newcastle centre forward Papiss Cisse scored a wonderful half volley against Chelsea as his two goals meant Newcastle recorded a rare away win at Stamford Bridge. The Senegal striker collected the ball from a Demba Ba header and half volleyed home from the left edge of the box, watching the ball loop over Petr Cech and in off the bar for one of the goals of the season. 

4. Steven Gerrard v Middlesbrough (30/04/05)
Steven Gerrard has scored many a screamer but not many better than his wonderful volley against Middlesbrough. Gerrard received the ball from John Arne Riise 40 yards from goal, and after taking the ball down and letting it bounce twice, Gerrard struck an amazing strike that swerved into the top left corner of the goal. 2005 turned out to be an excellent season for the Liverpool skipper as he captained his side to Champions League glory.

5. George Boyd v Huddersfield (23/10/12)
Peterborough United's George Boyd scored a stunning 50 yard effort this season in a 3-1 home win against Huddersfield. Boyd received the ball in the centre circle and unleashed a stunning hit that looped over the Huddersfield keeper to score one of the current goals of the season. 

FA Cup: Second Round Draw

We saw a cracking beginning to the FA Cup first round this month, with cup upsets and plenty of drama in the ties. The second round of the competition will see 11 non league clubs all within a shout of getting a third round tie where the Premier League clubs enter the fray.

picture: chelmsfordcityfc.com
The first round of the competition threw us goals, upsets and controversy. Chelmsford City upset the odds when they beat League One side Colchester United by three goals to one. A double for Donovan Simmonds and one for Jamie Slabber was enough to see the Blue Square Bet South side to the second round. Despite financial problems in the club, Conference side Hereford had something to cheer about as they came out on top beating League Two side Shrewsbury Town by three goals to one. They have been drawn away from home to Cheltenham Town in the second round.

Alongside Hereford and Chelmsford were Dorchester who completely upset the odds coming out 1-0 winners in the televised home clash to Plymouth Argyle. A goal early on in the second half from former Plymouth man Jake Gosling saw the Blue Square Bet south side progress to the second round of the cup.

Macclesfield also upset the apple-cart as they beat League One high flyers Swindon Town 2-0 away from home. Harrogate Town joined them in the second round as they caused a shock of their own beating League Two side Torquay United 1-0.

The second round of the cup through up a few tasty ties. MK Dons will face AFC Wimbledon in the tie of the round. AFC Wimbledon were set up in 2002 by the supporters and will face the Dons for the first time.

There are four all non league ties in the second round meaning that there will be four non league sides guaranteed a place in the third round and the chance for a tie against one of the big guns in the Premier League. Chelmsford's reward for beating Colchester in the first round is an away trip to League One side Crawley Town.

All ties will be played over the weekend of 1st and 2nd December. Hereford's clash with Cheltenham Town will be played on Monday 3rd December due to the tie being televised on ESPN.

FA Cup second round fixtures:

Accrington Stanley v Oxford United
Barrow v Macclesfield
Bradford v Brentford
Bury v Southend Utd
Carlisle v Bournemouth
Coventry City v Morecambe
Crawley Town v Chelmsford City
Crewe Alexandra v Burton Albion
Fleetwood Town v Aldershot Town
Harrogate Town v Hastings Utd
Lincoln City v Mansfield
Luton Town v Dorchester
Oldham Town v Doncaster
Preston North End v Gillingham
Rotherham v Notts County
Sheff United v Port Vale
Tranmere v Chesterfield
MK Dons v AFC Wimbledon
Alfreton Town v Leyton Orient
Cheltenham v Hereford

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Capital One Cup: Quarter Finals

The fourth round of the Capital One Cup saw some of the best League Cup games in its existence. The eight games saw a total of 37 goals scored in some enthralling encounters.

The stand out game of the round saw Arsenal make a remarkable comeback away at Reading in front of the Sky cameras winning 7-5. It all looked rosy for the home side after 35 minutes, as Brian McDermott's men lead 4-0 through Jason Roberts, Noel Hunt, Mikele Leigertwood and a Laurent Koscielny own goal. Despite an awful first half display Arsenal went in at the break with one goal to their name and a slither of hope as Theo Walcott chipped home after through on goal.

picture: ozsportsreviews.com
The second half of the game started as the first half finished. Arsene Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud who made an immediate impact to head home a Walcott cross and to make the scoreline 4-2. As the half came to a close, it looked like Reading had withstood the Arsenal comeback but in the 89th minute Koscielny made amends for his own goal as he headed home another fine Walcott corner. It was the winger though that completed a remarkable game as his 95th minute shot crept over the line despite the efforts of Nicky Shorey to stop the strike.

The equaliser took the game to extra time, and the 30 minutes did not disappoint as the Gunners went ahead for the first time in the game as Marouane Chamakh drilled home from outside the box. Chamakh's goal had looked like it was to be the vital goal to take Arsenal through but Reading had other ideas. As extra time neared the end, Pavel Pogrebnyak popped up to head home their fifth from a Chris Gunter cross. The game looked set for penalties but it was Walcott again who blasted home from six yards after Andrey Arshavin's cross was blocked to complete his hat trick. Chamakh lobbed home in the dying moments to end a remarkable game and one that will be remembered for a long time.

The drama on Tuesday night continued on Wednesday as Chelsea faced Manchester United at Stamford Bridge for the second time in four days. Like Arsenal, this game was in front of the Sky cameras and didn't disappoint either as Chelsea won 5-4 after extra time. Goals from David Luiz, Daniel Sturridge, Eden Hazard, Ramires and Gary Cahill were enough to overcome a reletively inexperienced United side whose goals came from the boots of Giggs (2), Hernandez and Nani.

picture: theguardian.co.uk
The cup wasn't completely dominated this week by the goal fests but with a shocks too as both Wigan and Sunderland were beaten by lower league opposition. Sunderland fell down to Championship side Middlesbrough 1-0 at the Stadium of Light as Scott McDonald's goal was enough for them to win the Wear-Tees derby. Wigan were embarrassed at home as League Two Bradford City beat them 4-2 on penalties to take them to the quarter finals. Both Liverpool and Spurs were eliminated from the competition as Brendan Rogers side were beaten by his former side Swansea 3-1. Spurs were beaten 2-1 away at Norwich with Spurs' Clint Dempsey missing a penalty in the dying moments of the game to end their involvement in the competition.

The quarter finals saw the 'bigger' teams avoid each other and will see Chelsea travel to Leeds who have already deposited of Everton and Southampton in the competition so far. Bradford's reward is a home tie to Arsenal while Middlesbrough face an away trip to Swansea. In the final tie of the quarter finals, Paul Lambert will face his former side as his Villa team will travel to Norwich City.

All games will be played the week commencing the 10th December whilst Chelsea's game at Leeds will be played on 19th December due to their commitment to the Club World Cup which they will play in after their Champions League success.

Quarter Final ties:

Bradford v Arsenal
Leeds United v Chelsea
Swansea v Middlesbrough
Norwich City v Aston Villa

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Merseyside derby day madness

Everton v Liverpool is one of the biggest derbies in the Premier League and has given football fans over the world some great moments. With the first Merseyside derby of the season happening on Sunday, we look at the top four stand out moments from past games over the years.

#1 -13/03/12 -Steven Gerrard hat trick at Anfield
picture: mirrorfootball.co.uk
Liverpool's captain took centre stage during this game with a sublime hat trick at Anfield. Liverpool had not won a Premier League game in four games up till the derby and a comfortable 3-0 victory gave a much needed boost to the club's season. Gerrard's first goal saw the midfielder delicately chip the ball from the edge of the box with his left foot, evading Everton centre back Phil Jagielka who could only watch helplessly as it hit the net. Gerrard's next goal came soon after half time as he thumped home a Luis Suarez cross from close range. He sealed a fine display and hat trick as Suarez once again laid the ball on late on for Gerrard to net his second ever career hat trick for Liverpool. A memorable display.

#2 -20/10/07 -Tale of two penalties for Liverpool as Everton finish with nine men
picture: dailymail.co.uk
Two Dirk Kuyt penalties was enough to take all three points at Goodison Park as ended the game with only nine players on the pitch. It was Everton that were deservedly ahead at the break after Sami Hyypia inexplicably turned the ball into his own net. The previous season had seen Everton stroll to a 3-0 home win in the derby leaving the red side of Merseyside humiliated. Times changed in the second half for Liverpool as they were awarded an early penalty after the break as Tony Hibbert brought down Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. Up stepped Dirk Kuyt who place the ball into the right hand corner to level the scores. Hibbert was subsequently sent off leaving the Toffees a man down. Liverpool were awarded a last ditch penalty in the dying moments of the game as Phil Neville deliberately blocked a Lucas Leiva shot on the line with his arm leaving Kuyt with the responsibility of earning three points. Neville was rightly sent off as Kuyt expertly tucked the penalty away to give Liverpool a hard fought win.

#3 -09/09/06 -Everton 3-0 Liverpool 
picture: virginmedia.com
Everton continued there excellent start to the season as they thumped rivals Liverpool at Goodison Park. It was there first win over their rivals in 2 years leaving the red side of Merseyside humiliated. Tim Cahill gave the hosts an early lead finishing from close range with a side footed effort. Liverpool had a number of chances in the game, but were not as clinical as their opponents. Everton soon doubled their lead as Andy Johnson took advantage of some poor defending from Jamie Carragher to arrow a shot past Pepe Reina. Chances came a plenty in the second half for the visitors but either were off target or were expertly denied by Everton keeper Tim Howard. Everton re-established control of the game nearer the end of the game and Andy Johnson capped a excellent performance by adding his second and the team's third late on. Pepe Reina fumbled a Lee Carsley shot allowing the alert Johnson to nod home. A poor day for the reds.

#4 -16/04/01 -Late McAllister goal takes all three points in Merseyside thriller
One of the greatest Merseyside derbies in the last ten years. The game included a missed penalty, 12 yellow cards and a red card. Five goals were shared between the two clubs in a thriller at Goodison which saw Liverpool come away with all three points. The win for Liverpool ensured a successful double over their rivals, and kept their Champions League qualification hopes still alive. It was the red side of Merseyside that took the lead as Emile Heskey raced away on 4 minutes to clinically score his 21st goal of the season. Despite their lead, Liverpool looked edgy and poor defending on the stroke of half time gave Everton an equaliser. A mix up between Stephane Henchoz and Jamie Carragher allowed Duncan Ferguson to power home a left footed strike. Having been pegged back, Liverpool took the initiative after the break as they regained the lead.
A wonderful through ball from Didi Hamann released Robbie Fowler whose ball across the six yard box was struck home by defender Markus Babbel. Fowler was once again involved moments later as he was given the chance to close the game for the visitors. Having been fouled in the box, Fowler stepped up for the penalty only to see his effort strike the inside of the post and roll away. The final third of the game continued at an astounding pace. Igor Biscan was sent off having received a second yellow card after fouling David Unsworth and moments after, Everton were given the chance to once again pull the game level. Sami Hyypia was adjudged to have fouled Duncan Ferguson in the box leaving Unsworth with the responsibility of the penalty. The Everton defender had no problems as he slammed the ball home to pull the game back level for the second time. It wasn't over there as Liverpool had one more chance to take the three points. Having been awarded a free kick mid way in the Everton half, four minutes into stoppage time, Gary McAllister took aim and hit a stunning effort from 40 yards, deceiving Paul Gerrard in goal to cap off an amazing afternoon on Merseyside.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

FA Cup: First Round Draw

Having seen rounds upon rounds of qualifying, the first round of the FA Cup begins seeing clubs from non-league face clubs from League One and Two. Teams in the Championship and Premier League don't come into the competition until the third round, giving some of the lower sides the opportunity for a cup run. 

picture: uk.eurosport.yahoo.com
Last years final was played in front of a massive crowd at Wembley which saw Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1. Goals from Ramires and Didier Drogba saw the London side win the cup beating Liverpool whose goal was scored by Andy Carroll. Chelsea's win saw them go level with FA Cup final wins with Liverpool with both clubs on seven wins. Manchester United lead the table with 11 wins.

This year's final will be once again played at Wembley on Saturday 11th May 2013.

The first round will see 40 ties played between clubs from as low as the fourth tier of non-league in the Evo-Stick league. Arlesey Town of the Evo Stick Southern Premier league will face 1987 winners Coventry City in one of the ties of the round. Isthmian League side Met Police have also progressed through qualifying and face a first round game at home to League One side Crawley Town. 

Current conference leaders Newport County needed two late goals in their final qualifying game to take their tie against Yate Town to a replay. If they come through the test against the Evo-Stick southern south and west side then they will face League Two side Cheltenham Town. Cambridge City will host MK Dons while an Essex derby is guaranteed as Colchester United face the winner of Chelmsford City and East Thurrock who need a replay. 

Luton Town and Wrexham both made it through their qualifying games as they both face non-league opposition. The Welsh team face Alfreton Town while Luton have to also wait for a replay as they will host either Nuneaton or Telford United. Winners of the competition in 2008, Portsmouth, face fellow League One side Notts County, while Sheffield United travel to League Two side Bristol Rovers. 

The ties will be played the weekend of 3rd/4th November 2012. 

First Round Fixtures:

Kidderminster Harriers v Oldham Athletic
Boreham Wood v Brentford
Chelmsford City/East Thurrock v Colchester United
Met Police v Crawley Town
Luton Town v Telford Utd/Nuneaton
Portsmouth v Notts County
Bishop's Stortford v Hastings Utd
Fleetwood Town v Bromley
Forest Green Rovers/Dartford v Port Vale
Torquay Utd v Hyde/Harrogate Town
Bournemouth v Dag & Red
Morecambe v Rochdale
Swindon Town v Macclesfied Town
Cambridge City v MK Dons
Cheltenham Town v Yate Town/Newport County
Dorchester Utd v Plymouth Argyle
Coventry City v Arlesey Town
York City v AFC Wimbledon
Bury v Exeter City
Chesterfield v Hartlepool Utd
Doncaster Rovers v Bradford Park Ave
Gillingham v Scunthorpe Utd
Aldershot Town v Hendon
Lincoln City/Halifax Town v Walsall
Wrexham v Alfreton Town
Southend Utd v Stockport County
Crewe v Wycombe
Bristol Rovers v Sheff Utd
Hereford Utd v Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield v SLough Town/Gosport Boro
Barnet v Oxford Utd
Rotherham Utd v Stevenage
AFC Fylde/Ilkeston Town v Accrington Stanley
Gloucester City v Leyton Orient
Burton Albion v Altrincham
Guiseley v Barrow
Northampton Town v Bradford City
Preston NE v Yeovil Town
Braintree Town v Tranmere Rovers
Carlisle Utd v Ebbsfleet Utd

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Capital One Cup: Fourth Round Draw

The newly named Capital One Cup continued this week as we saw the third round of the competition take place. This round saw the remaining seven Premier League clubs enter the fray including current holders Liverpool and Premier League winners Manchester City.

picture: whoateallthepies.tv
It was City though, who surprised everyone as they were beaten 4-2 at home by Aston Villa after extra time at the Etihad Stadium. Roberto Mancini fielded a strong side which included Kolo Toure, Jack Rodwell, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez. It was the Italian striker that opened the scoring in the game after an excellent through pass from James Milner. It was another former Villa man in the City line up, Gareth Barry, who scored a deserved equaliser for Villa as he put through his own net after good work down the right from Andreas Weimann. An Aleksander Kolarov free kick and a Gabby Agbonlahor goal in the second half, saw the game go to extra time. It was Villa though, who took the initiative in extra time as goals from Charlies N'Zogbia and Gabby Agbonlahor gave Paul Lambert and his Villa side a surprise victory away from home.

Another shock in the third round of the competition came at Elland Road as Championship outfit Leeds United beat high flying Everton 2-1. The game was largely dominated by Leeds who could have easily scored more. They opened the scoring in the first half as Aidan White was given time and space to beautifully curl home. David Moyes fielded a strong line up which included Steven Pienaar and his side should have been level when Steven Naismith headed wide from 3 yards. Leeds effectively ended the game in the second half as midfielder Rodolph Austin flicked home after a well worked free kick from the left. A late Sylvain Distin header made an exciting end to the game but the Premier League team were unable to take the game to extra time.

picture: theguardian.co.uk
Having beaten Stoke in the last round, Swindon were at it again causing another upset beating Championship team Burnley 3-1 at home. They were joined in the fourth round by Bradford, who came down from two goals down at home to Burton to win the all League Two clash 3-2 after extra time. Arsenal and Chelsea set up their Premier League clash beautifully on Saturday, as they both hit their opponents for six. The Gunners faced League One Coventry City at home and two goals for Theo Walcott and a first goal for Olivier Giroud, saw Arsene Wenger's side came out 6-1 winners. Chelsea fielded a strong side against Wolves and that was evident as they beat the Championship club 6-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Current holders of the cup Liverpool, faced a tricky tie away at West Brom who beat them on the opening day of the league season 3-0. Brendan Rogers young outfit though came away 2-1 winners thanks to two goals from Nuri Sahin. Tottenham, Southampton and Sunderland all eased past lower league opposition and were joined by Man United who came out top against Newcastle United.

As the competition progresses nicely, the fourth round draw was made immediately after the third round and threw up Chelsea v Man United in the tie of the round. Arsenal face a tough tie away at Reading, while holders Liverpool are at home to Swansea which will see Brendan Rogers come up against his former team. Aston Villas reward for beating Man City is a tricky tie away at League One Swindon Town. Bradford are the lowest league side left in the competition and will travel to Wigan, whilst Sunderland will face north east rivals Middlesbrough.

All ties will be played the week commencing the 29th October 2012.

Fourth Round Fixtures:

Sunderland v Middlesbrough
Swindon v Aston Villa
Liverpool v Swansea City
Chelsea v Man United
Wigan v Bradford City
Norwich City v Tottenham
Reading v Arsenal
Leeds v Southampton

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

England: JT retires, but who will replace him at the back?

With Chelsea captain and centre back John Terry having controversially retired on Sunday, England have lost one of their key members of their back four. Despite the shock decision, the World Cup is still two years away, leaving national manager Roy Hodgson time to find an ideal replacement. We have listed the potential candidates who can fill the gap, and become central to the heart of the England back line.

Gary Cahill: (Chelsea)
Caps: 10 Goals: 2

picture: teamtalk.com
Former Bolton defender Gary Cahill is Terry's team mate at Chelsea and has been unlucky with his opportunities in the national set up. The 26 year old joined the London team last January and finished the season with a Champions League and FA Cup final medal. Cahill fitted in the Chelsea team quickly and became a regular fixture alongside Terry in their back four towards the end of last year. In England's recent World Cup qualifier against Ukraine, Cahill was overlooked by Roy Hodgson, who selected Everton's Phil Jagielka ahead of the Chelsea man. Having suffered a jaw injury before the Euros last June, Cahill was unlucky to miss out on travelling to the tournament. But with him likely to face Champions League opposition with Chelsea this season, Hodgson may favour Cahill ahead of Jagielka in the upcoming qualifiers.

Phil Jagielka: (Everton)
Caps: 14 Goals: 1

picture: guardian.co.uk
Everton centre back Phil Jagielka will be keen to claim the gap left in the England defence by John Terry. Jagielka was chosen ahead of Gary Cahill in the recent qualifier against Ukraine and also featured and scored in the summer friendly with Italy. Having played together with Joleon Lescott when the Man City defender was at Everton, Roy Hodgson may be tempted to choose Jagielka ahead of Cahill. The two have played together for England four times on which they have come out winners on all occasions. Both centre backs look set to be regular fixtures for their club this season, and having forged a partnership at Everton, this partnership at the back could well be the future for the Three Lions.

Joleon Lescott: (Manchester City)
Caps: 23 Goals: 1

Lescott has established himself as Terry's partner in the England defence and has been a regular feature in Roy Hodgson's games. The former Everton defender is almost a definite starter in England's World Cup qualifying campaign over the next two years, but the question is, who will partner the Man City defender? Lescott partnered Terry at every game in the European Championships, including scoring England's first goal of the tournament against France in the group stages. He was involved heavily in City's title winning season last year alongside Vincent Kompany, but with the side leaking goals early on this year, Lescott's performances will need to improve if he is to be a dead cert in the England side.

Chris Smalling: (Manchester United)
Caps: 3

picture: popeandswift.co.uk
Despite only managing three England caps to his name, Chris Smalling certainly has a bright future wearing the national shirt. Smalling is currently injured, and is working his way back to full fitness. The former Fulham defender has two solid seasons behind him for United in the top league, and his versatility is key to his inclusion in the national set up. As well as being able at centre back, Smalling has featured at right back at Old Trafford and will be just as reliable there as he is in the centre. Smalling's only appearances for England came at the end of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign under Fabio Capello. Smalling also has plenty of experience at U21 level and will certainly feature for England again when back to full match fitness.

Phil Jones: (Manchester United)
Caps: 5

picture: the-football-blog.co.uk
Just like club team mate Chris Smalling, Phil Jones is another useful defender to have in the national squad. At only 20 years old, Jones was involved in the European qualifying campaign and was also taken to the finals by Hodgson where he played no part. Jones has been used mainly at right back for United but is also able to play in central defence and even in midfield where he played whilst at Blackburn. His tireless box to box runs and attacking threat makes him a dead cert to be involved in Hodgson's squads in the near future.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Deadline Day: A Summer of Transfer Madness

We saw a huge amount of activity last week as the transfer window came to an end on Friday. We look at the winners and losers of the window and round up which players made the biggest moves to and from England on the final day.

Deadline Day Winners:
picture: Manchester City
Unlike their rivals, Manchester City left it to the final day to make any moves. Roberto Mancini had only brought in Jack Rodwell in the window before the last day, with the former Everton youngster moving for £12million. The midfielder was joined by a number of players on the final day, as Mancini left it late to improve his squad. Brazilian full back Maicon made the move to the Etihad from Inter Milan for around £3million. The new arrival was joined by another defender with Fiorentina centre back Matija Nastasic moving to Manchester in a part exchange deal which saw Stefan Savic go in the opposite direction. Other arrivals brought in by Mancini included winger Scott Sinclair moving from Swansea, and Benfica midfielder Javi Martinez who cost the club £16million. Moving out of Manchester, winger Adam Johnson went to Sunderland, midfielder Nigel De Jong went to AC Milan whilst striker Roque Santa Cruz went to Malaga on a season long loan.

picture: dailymail.co.uk
As well as City, Tottenham Hotspur had a successful last day as new manager Andre Villas Boas took advantage of the window. AVB had previously completed the permanent signing of Emmanuel Adebayor who had spent the previous season on loan at White Hart Lane. The Portuguese manager had already captured Gylfi Sigurdsson and defender Jan Vertonghen earlier on in the summer. The surprise move of the summer was American Clint Dempsey who had looked set to move to Liverpool. Spurs had taken advantage of the Merseyside club's inability to match the asking fee for Dempsey who made the move across London for £6million. Dempsey joins his former Fulham team mate Moussa Dembele who also joined Spurs the previous day for a fee of £15million. Moving out of Spurs, Luka Modric made the expected move to Real Madrid for £30million which also saw Rafa Van Der Vaart return to Hamburg where he played before moving to Spurs.

Deadline Day Losers: 
picture: liverpoolfc.com
It was a deadline day to forget for Liverpool and Brendan Rogers. Despite managing to bring in Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin and Fabio Borini earlier on in the window, Rogers was unable to strengthen the squad much to many fans annoyance. Having let £35million man Andy Carroll leave on loan to West Ham the previous day, Liverpool were expected to replace the striker. American Clint Dempsey had been linked with the reds all summer but having fallen short of the valuation of the midfielder, Liverpool missed out meaning he made a last gasp move to Spurs. Having failed to sign another striker during the window, it leaves Rogers with only Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini as options in attack. Deadline day at Anfield saw midfielders Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing leave, with the latter on a loan deal to Bolton Wanderers. Adam, who had only spent a year at Liverpool, made a £4million move to Stoke City where he signed a four year deal.

No-one may have been as unlucky or as unfortunate as Liverpool in the window, but Arsenal may feel they could have done slightly better over the summer. Having already brought in Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, Arsene Wenger was keen to bring in an additional midfielder. Having lost Alex Song to Barcelona, and with Jack Wilshere still injured, Arsenal had been close to capturing playmaker Nuri Sahin on loan. But having failed to come to an agreement, Sahin moved to Liverpool leaving Arsenal finding themselves one Abou Diaby injury away from having to play youngster Francis Coquelin.

Premier League round up:
picture: stokecityfc.com
Fulham were heavily involved in transfer activity this summer seeing players come in and out of Craven Cottage. Bulgarian front man Dimitar Berbatov made the switch on deadline day making the move from Manchester United for a fee in the region of £4million. He was joined by Kieran Richardson who moved from Sunderland for £3million. Stoke City were also busy in the window and captured the services of free agent Michael Owen. The 32 year old had been released from Manchester United in June and signed a one year deal with The Potters. Tony Pulis had looked set to bring in Spurs midfielder Tom Huddlestone on loan but having failed to reach an agreement, Pulis brought in Blackburn man Steven N'Zonzi, paying £3million for his services.

Other Deadline Day movers:

Yossi Benayoun: Chelsea - West Ham (season long loan)
Danny Rose: Tottenham - Sunderland (season long loan)
Gaston Ramirez: Bologna - Southampton (£12million)
Hugo Lloris: Lyon - Tottenham (£11.8million)
Stephane Mbia: Marseille - QPR (£4.5million)
Bryan Oviedo: FC Copenhagen - Everton (£5million)
Christian Benteke: Genk - Aston Villa (£7million)
Pablo Hernandez: Valencia - Swansea (£5.5million)

Football League round up:
picture: examiner.co.uk
Blackburn Rovers sealed one of the biggest deals of the window by capturing Jordan Rhodes who moved from Huddersfield Town for £8million. It looked likely that Rhodes would stay with the Terriers, but with Leon Best out through injury, Steve Kean needed a replacement. Fellow forward David Goodwillie moved out of Ewood Park though going to Crystal Palace on a season long loan. Palace were again involved on deadline day as they captured defender Damien Delaney who moved on a free transfer from Ipswich Town. The Tractor Boys were the talk of the Championship on deadline day as they were in talks with Peterborough United duo George Boyd and Paul Taylor. Both were transfer listed at London Road and it was the latter of the two that made a permanent move. Despite on going talks, Boyd rejected the chance and remains at Peterborough for the forthcoming months.

picture: pnefc.net
In League One, Sheffield United were involved in transfer activity on deadline day as they brought in Dave Kitson from Portsmouth and saw midfielder Stephen Quinn move out as he went to Hull City. Promoted from League Two last year, Paolo Di Canio's Swindon saw many comings and goings during the window. The Italian brought in striker Adam Rooney from Birmingham City, with Paul Caddis moving in the opposite direction. Despite financial worry, Portsmouth were able to make deadline day moves as they saw Darel Russell, Josh Thompson and Johnny Ertle all make their move to Fratton Park on free transfers.

In League Two, Southend striker Kane Ferdinand made the step up to the Championship as he went to Peterborough United for £200,000. Another mover out of League Two was Wycombe forward Stuart Beavon who moved to Preston North End for an undisclosed fee. Beavon had scored 25 times for Wycombe last season. Despite losing Beavon, Wycombe had previously brought in striker Jo Kuffour who moved from fellow League Two side Gillingham on a free transfer.

Other Deadline Day movers:

Jay Bothroyd: QPR - Sheffield Wednesday (season long loan)
Craig Noone: Brighton - Cardiff (£1million)
Billy Sharp: Southampton - Notts Forest (season long loan)
Andrea Orlandi: Swansea - Brighton (undisclosed fee)
Nicky Maynard: West Ham - Cardiff (£2.5million)
Iain Hume: Preston - Doncaster (season long loan)
Martin Taylor: Watford - Sheffield Wednesday (undisclosed fee)
David Stephens: Hibernian - Barnet (Free transfer)

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

World Cup 2014 Qualifier: England V Moldova Preview

With all focus on the domestic season, the beginning of the qualifying campaign for the World Cup in two years begins this weekend. After falling to Italy in the quarter finals at Euro 2012, England beat the Italians 2-1 in a recent friendly. Their opponents this Friday come in the shape of Moldova who last played England back in 1996 where they were comfortably beaten 4-0 at Wembley.

England boss Roy Hodgson named his squad for the qualifiers last week and has included a number of players who weren't involved in the Euros. Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick has been included in the squad having revealed in January he didn't want to be considered for international selection. He has been joined by Sunderland winger Adam Johnson and Daniel Sturridge who were overlooked in the summer.

picture: skysports.com
With Andy Carroll and Wayne Rooney both out through injury, Hodgson has only three strikers in his squad having made the decision not to replace Carroll, who had to pull out due to an injury sustained for West Ham at the weekend. Alongside Sturridge, the former West Brom boss has Danny Welbeck and Jermain Defoe as other options upfront. At the back John Terry has been included having missed their recent game against Newcastle with a neck injury. In goal, Joe Hart is backed up by John Ruddy and Jack Butland with QPR keeper Rob Green overlooked.  Left back Ashley Cole was set to make his 100th international appearance against Ukraine next week but has pulled out due to an ankle injury, meaning Everton defender Leighton Baines looking set to take his place in the team.

Opponents Moldova are ranked 137 in the world and should be relatively easy for England. As mentioned above, England's last game against Moldova came back in 1997 when they comfortably came out 4-0 winners. That day Glen Hoddle's men included legendary keeper David Seaman, David Beckham and Stan Collymore. Goals that day came from Paul Scholes, Paul Gascoigne and a double from Ian Wright. The game was  a World Cup qualifier as they aimed for a place at France '98

picture: sportinglife.com
Moldova finished second bottom in their Euro 2012 qualifying group with nine points having recorded wins against Finland and twice against San Marino. The majority of their squad play their trade in Moldova and are managed by Ion Caras. Captain Alexandru Epureanu is currently the most capped player in the squad at the moment having played 43 times for his country.

England's group for the World Cup contains five other teams including Ukraine and Montenegro who England previously faced in their Euro 2012 qualifying group. Alongside them are Poland and San Marino who should be easier opponents for England. The fixtures will be played over the next year and will also include friendlies against Sweden and Scotland.

Roy Hodgson's men will play their first game in the Zimbru Stadium in Moldova on Friday evening and will follow their first game with a home fixture against Ukraine five days later.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Capital One Cup: Third Round Draw

Having witnessed many upsets in the first round, the Capital One Cup the theme of David beating Goliath continued in the second round of the competition. 

picture: sportinglife.com
The second stage saw the entrance of 13 Premier League sides with only Fulham and Stoke City failing to progress. The Cottagers were beaten 1-0 away to Sheffield Wednesday thanks to a Gary Madine penalty whilst Stoke were beaten at home by Swindon Town in extra time 4-3. The League One side had gone into half time two goals to the good, but were pegged back in the second half after Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones had made the game level. Despite throwing away the lead, Swindon's James Collins grabbed a late winner in extra time to take Paolo Di Canio's men to the third round where they will play Burnley. 

The upsets continuted in the second round with plenty of Championship clubs falling victim to lower league opposition. The most notable game involved Leicester City who were comfortably beaten 4-2 at home to League Two side Burton Albion. Midlands rivals Birmingham City and Coventry went head to head, and it was the Sky Blues who came out on top beating their opponents 3-2 after extra time. Both Blackburn and Bolton were knocked out after both sides were beaten away to League One opposition. Blackburn were beaten 2-1 by MK Dons whilst Bolton came away from Crawley also losing 2-1. 

With the third round upon us already, the remaining seven Premier League sides enter the competition. Winners from last year Liverpool will travel to West Brom who comfortably beat them 3-0 on the opening day of the season. Coventry's reward for beating Birmingham in the last round is a trip to the Emirates where they will face Arsenal. Both Manchester clubs both have home fixtures in the third round with United facing a tricky test against Newcastle United. Rivals City have a slightly easier task as they come up against Paul Lambert and Aston Villa. 

Having comfortably come through their second round tie against Leyton Orient, Everton face a difficult game as they travel to Championship side Leeds United. The Toffee's came away 5-0 winners in their second round game, and have got off to a flyer in the league. Neil Warnock's men have also had a good start in the Championship having taken seven points from their first four games. 

All ties will be played the week commencing the 24th September 2012.

Third Round Fixtures: 

Man United v Newcastle United
Man City v Aston Villa
MK Dons v Sunderland
West Brom v Liverpool
Crawley v Swansea City
QPR v Reading
Norwich v Doncaster Rovers
Bradford v Burton Albion
Preston v Middlesbrough
Arsenal v Coventry City
Southampton v Sheffield Wednesday
Chelsea v Wolves
Carlisle v Tottenham Hotspur
Swindon v Burnley
West Ham v Wigan Athletic
Leeds United v Everton

Monday, 27 August 2012

The future's bright: Why the youth at Liverpool is key to their success

Despite only managing a draw against Manchester City yesterday, Liverpool fans can still take a lot away from the game. Losing 3-0 away on the opening day of the season, things hadn't gone to plan for Brendan Rogers and as per, immediate pressure was heaped upon him. Rogers appointment brought a young fresh approach to the club, which was immediately shown in his line up yesterdays afternoon.

picture: bbc.co.uk
With the average age of the team under 25, it was the youngest fielded line up the club had fielded since 2003. In his line up, saw the selection of 17 year old Raheem Sterling. Despite being so young, the winger had a fine game and proved the justification for his selection. Sterling had figured last week in the club's Europa League game at Hearts where again, he showed his excellent talent. Sterling's selection meant that fellow wide man and England international Stewart Downing, was left sat on the bench. The former Middlesbrough man was at the heart of much criticism last season having failed to register a single goal or assist for Liverpool in the Premier League. Having witnessed Sterling's admirable display yesterday, Downing will have to expect to be sitting on the bench more regularly, especially with the way Rogers now has them playing.

Alongside Downing sat Jordan Henderson, who also had to settle for a seat on the bench. Much like Downing, Henderson also received a lot of criticism last season having cost the Merseyside club £16million. Henderson was a key figure in his former club Sunderland's side, but the step up to Liverpool for Henderson was a difficult one and was not helped with such a big fee paid for him. Performances last year under Dalglish were below par and a call up to the England squad for the Euro's last summer sparked much controversy. In his place though yesterday was Joe Allen. Having only played one season for Swansea in the top division, Allen was brought in by Rogers. At £15million, you may say that Liverpool have once again paid over the odds for a young midfield player. However in his first two games Allen has shown why he will be a valuable asset to them this year. In yesterdays game against Manchester City, Allen completed 93.5 per cent of his passes. At just 22, Allen could well be one of the signings of the season, especially if he has a similar season to the one he had with Swansea. But just like Downing, if Allen continues the way he's started, Jordan Henderson will be twiddling his thumbs on the Liverpool bench.

At the back, Sebastian Coates, the Uruguayan centre back, was used to partner Martin Skrtel ahead of club legend Jamie Carragher. Coates was brought in by Dalglish last season, and only featured ten times last season at the back. With Daniel Agger out through suspension, Coates was given his first start of the season yesterday and would have been happy with his performance against Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. The 21 year old may be used more as a back up this year but certainly has a long future at Anfield and definitely under Brendan Rogers.

picture: dailymail.co.uk
The three above weren't the only youngsters to feature in yesterdays game. Apart from Steven Gerrard, the remaining members of the team were all aged under 30. Rogers is keen to take on the youngsters at the club and give them a chance. Jonjo Shelvey was brought on the injured Lucas yesterday, ahead of Jordan Henderson, and Charlie Adam, who didn't even make the bench. Shelvey is only 20, but his display yesterday showed maturity and a willing to do well in the team. Martin Kelly has become a regular feature into the team and his call up to the England squad in the summer showed the progress the young right back has made whilst at Liverpool. Nuri Sahin has recently been brought in on loan from Real Madrid, and the 23 year old will add an exciting talent to the squad. Rogers took a wealth of youngsters to the club's pre season tour, with Adam Morgan, Suso Fernandez and Connor Coady making the trip and have all progressed through Melwood.

So Liverpool fans can expect to see more of Sterling and co this year. Yesterdays performance will give fans some hope that the team can improve on last season's poor efforts. Rogers is keen to bring youth to the team and after yesterdays performance there is a lot of encouragement to take into the season.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Capital One Cup: Second Round Draw

As the football season begins to get into full swing, eyes drew to the second round of the Capital One Cup. The first round games threw up some cracking games and some excellent entertainment. Seven Championship teams fell at the first hurdle with last years runners up Cardiff losing to League Two side Northampton Town the shock of the round. Derby were involved in a ten goal thriller at Pride Park which ended 5-5 after extra time. Their opponents Scunthorpe came out the eventual winners 7-6 on penalties and will face Norwich in the second round.

picture: thisisscunthorpe.co.uk
Other Championship casualties included Brighton, who were well beaten 3-0 by Paolo Di Canio's Swindon Town. Paul Benson struck early on in the second half for the Robins, and an Alan Navarro brace soon after booked them a second round tie against Premier League side Stoke City. Bristol City also crashed out losing 2-1 to League Two side Gillingham Town at Ashton Gate. 

Relegated side Wolverhampton Wanderers needed a penalty shoot out to get past Aldershot Town at Molineux. Michel Rankine had cancelled out a Sylvain Ebanks Blake goal in the second half and after the first 13 penalty kicks had been successful, Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme kept out Jordan Robert's penalty to give the Championship side a second round tie away at Northampton Town.

All Premier League sides come into the second round bar the clubs competing in Europe meaning there are 13 top flight clubs playing for a third round tie. Everton are involved in one of the stand out games playing at home to League One side Leyton Orient. Morecambe's reward for dumping Blackpool out of the cup, is a trip to the North East where they will play Sunderland. 

Both Wigan and Fulham will have to play to their best if they are progress as they both travel to a Championship club. Having been dumped out of FA Cup by Swindon last season, Wigan face a tough task in playing Nottingham Forest. Fulham face newly promoted Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. 

All ties will commence the week beginning the 27th August 2012

Second Round Fixtures: 

Aston Villa v Tranmere Rovers
Burnley v Plymouth
Carlisle v Ipswich Town
Coventry v Birmingham City
Crawley v Bolton
Doncaster v Hull City
Gillingham v Middlesbrough
Leeds United v Oxford United
Leicester City v Burton Albion
MK Dons v Blackburn Rovers
Norwich v Scunthorpe
Notts Forest v Wigan Athletic
Preston v Crystal Palace
QPR v Walsall
Sheff Wed v Fulham
Stevenage v Southampton
Stoke City v Swindon Town
Sunderland v Morecambe
Swansea v Barnsley
Watford v Bradford
West Ham v Crewe Alex
Yeovil v West Brom
Reading v Peterborough
Everton v Leyton Orient
Northampton v Wolves

Friday, 17 August 2012

2012/13 Championship: Season Preview

With eyes firmly fixed on the Premier League beginning this weekend, we turn to the Football League and the Championship. All 72 teams begin their seasons this weekend and will all be aiming for a good start. Cardiff and Huddersfield kicked off the season on Friday night where the Bluebirds clinched a late goal to claim their first three points.

Hector Rodas Martin Petrov (R) of Bolton is put under pressure by Hector Rodas of Levante during the pre season friendly match between Bolton Wanderers and Levante at the Reebok Stadium on August 05, 2011 in Bolton, England.
picture: zimbio.com
We begin with the three relegated clubs from the Premier League. All of them will be big  favourites to make an instant return. Bolton Wanderers failed to stay up last season, failing to get a needed win against Stoke on the final game of the year. Owen Coyle's men look big favourites to go up having kept the likes of David N'gog and Martin Petrov in their ranks. The signings of Matt Mills and Keith Andrews will add further strength to the squad. Blackburn and Wolves will also look to make an immediate return, with Rovers boss Steve Kean adding Danny Murphy, Nuno Gomes and Leon Best to his squad. Since finishing bottom of the Premier League, Wolves brought in new boss Stale Solbakken who will look to regain the players confidence for the new season. Newly promoted Huddersfield Town made the jump via last seasons play off's having beaten Sheffield United in a close penalty shoot out at Wembley. Striker Jordan Rhodes looks set to remain with the Terriers and after scoring 40 goals last season, his goals will be important if they are to remain in the Championship. Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday join Huddersfield in the Championship having gained automatic promotion from League One last year. Wednesday boss Dave Jones had brought in a wealth of players including injury plagued keeper Chris Kirkland from Wigan, and defender Anthony Gardner who made the move from Crystal Palace. 

The chase for the play off's will be hotly contested this season with a number of clubs eager for one of the four places up for grabs. Cardiff City will be amongst the positions as will the likes of Leicester City and Leeds United. Nottingham Forest have been recently taken over by new investors and immediately brought in a new boss and new players. Defenders Greg Halford and Danny Collins made the move and were joined by West Brom striker Simon Cox who will add to their strikeforce, who last season struggled to find the net. New boss Sean O'Driscoll will be eager to get off to a good start as they begin their campaign against Bristol City. Watford are another side who have new owners as they were taken over by Italian Giampaolo Pozzo. He immediately brought in new manager Gianfranco Zola, who has since brought in a number of players including former Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia.

picture: posh.footballblog.co.uk
Down at the bottom of the division, the relegation battle with be contested by a number of clubs. Bristol City and Barnsley escaped last season and will once again become favourites to go down. The newly promoted sides will also find themselves down at the bottom, if they don't get a good start to their campaign, As mentioned, Jordan Rhodes will be critical to Huddersfield if they are to stay up and with Charlton, striker Bradley Wright-Phillips will also need to be hitting the net regularly if the Addicks are to remain a Championship side. Having finished in a very respectable 18th place last season, Peterborough United will want to improve their position this season. The Posh were relegated straight away the last time they achieved promotion, but boss Darren Ferguson brought in experience and quality to his squad meaning they comfortably stayed up second time around. Despite being placed on the transfer list, key players Paul Taylor and George Boyd will begin the season as Posh players, and alongside experienced midfield man Grant McCann, Posh will continue to be difficult opponents, especially at home.

2012/13: League One & Two season previews

picture: stevesfootballstats.co.uk
League One was won by Charlton Athletic last season by a massive 8 points. They achieved automatic promotion along with Sheffield Wednesday who pipped rivals Sheffield United to second place. United had go through the play offs where they were cruelly beaten on penalties to Huddersfield in the final. Along with Sheffield United, Stevenage and MK Dons were the unfortunate teams to fall short in the play offs and remained in League One. MK Dons will once again be favourites for a top six finish having finished there in the past two seasons. Relegated from the Championship were Coventry, Doncaster and Portsmouth, who will start the season with minus ten points having entered administration.

Pompey have had to clear out their squad to remain in existence and the deduction at the beginning of the season makes them strong favourites to drop another division once again. Manager Michael Appleton has done a sterling job and through fielding youth team players, he has managed to put some sort of squad together for their pre-season.

Coventry will be favourites for a return to the second tier of English football, and will be joined by Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town who won League Two last year. The Italian has a squad filled with quality with the likes of Matt Ritchie and Paul Caddis who have remained with the club over the transfer period.  Along with Swindon, Shrewsbury and Crawley Town were the other two sides to achieve automatic promotion. Crewe were the fourth and final team to achieve promotion via the play offs. They went 19 games unbeaten to reach the play offs, and with the summer signing of creative midfielder Abdul Osman, they will be looking for a good finish in the league.

The relegation battle last season saw Leyton Orient narrowly escape along with Walsall who finished 20th and 19th respectively. These sides will want to get off to a good start to the season to avoid another battle at the bottom. Yeovil Town are another team who will be favourites to take the drop, but will go into this season playing their eighth successive campaign in the third tier of football.

picture: ftfcphotos.com
Moving onto League Two, we welcome Fleetwood Town and York City, who achieved promotion from the Blue Square Premier League last season.  Despite it being their debut season in the Football League Fleetwood lead the way along with Southend and Cheltenham for automatic promotion. Bradford City are another side who may fancy their chances, but will need to get off to a great start if they are to be challenging anywhere near the top of the division. Manager Phil Parkinson has brought in a number of players including Gary Jones from Rochdale signalling that his side mean business this year. Don’t rule out the relegated sides from League One, as they will be desperate to make an immediate return. Wycombe, Rochdale, Chesterfield and Exeter City all struggled in League One last year and their poor form resulted in relegation. It has been a summer of change at Rochdale with John Coleman newly appointed as manager. He has made wholesale changes to the team and will want an instant return back to League One.

Oxford United fell away near the end of last season and missed out on a play off place. The team suffered with some rotten injury luck last season, with the club investing £150,000 in a new fitness and sports science department. Manager Chris Wilder has added some new faces to the squad and fans will want at least a play-off place by the end of the season. The battle for the drop was hotly contested last season and saw Hereford Town and Macclesfield Town take the tumble out of the Football League. Barnet, Northampton Town and Plymouth were all amongst the teams that were lucky enough to keep their status. Once again, these teams will be amongst the favourites to fight out the relegation spots again. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

2012/13 Premier League: Preview Part 2

As promised we look at the second half of teams in the Premier League and look at their chances this year as well as the transfer activity they have been involved in.

Queens Park Rangers: 
picture: blogs.soccernet.com
After narrowly avoiding relegation last season, Rangers have been one of the busiest clubs in the transfer market. Manager Mark Hughes has brought in a number of players which include South Korean Park Ji-Sung from Manchester United and Junior Hoilett who made the move from Blackburn Rovers. Pre season has been very productive for the London side who have gone through unbeaten winning four and drawing two in their six games. With a squad full of Premier League experience, Rangers will want a higher finish in the league this season and want to establish themselves as a Premier League club.
Prediction: 19th
Reading return to the Premier League after a four year absence from the top flight. They achieved automatic promotion last season finishing top of the Championship ahead of Southampton. Boss Brian McDermott has worked wonders at the Berkshire club and has significantly strengthened the squad during the summer transfer window. Chris Gunter has made the move from Nottingham Forest and is joined by forward Pavel Pogrebynak who chose Reading ahead of Fulham who he spent the second half of last season at. Left back Ian Harte is a set piece specialist and has gathered a number of goals and assists since he joined the Royals back in 2010. Strikers Jason Roberts and Adam Le Fondre scored a number of critical goals last year and they will be key if they are to remain in the top flight. 
Prediction: 16th
picture: saintscorner.tumblr.com
The Saints joined Norwich last season in achieving two successive promotions in two seasons. Having looked the favourites to win the league, the Saints were pipped to the title by Reading who they will join in the Premier League this season. Southampton open their campaign away at Manchester City, and will follow up with a trip to Arsenal and a home game against Manchester United. Manager Nigel Adkins paid £7million for Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez who scored 15 league goals for his former side last season. He joins a strong Saints front line with main man Rickie Lambert and fellow forward Billy Sharp expected to score the goals that will keep them in the league. 
Prediction: 20th
Stoke City:
Stoke had a busy season last year competing in four competitions and collecting plenty of air miles. Having finished runners up in the 2010/11 FA Cup, they achieved a place in the Europa League. The Potters made it comfortably past the group stages but their journey came to an end having lost to Valencia 2-0 on aggregate in the round of 32. Tony Pulis's men only managed four wins in the second half of the season meaning they finished in 14th place. The signing of Peter Crouch at the start of the season was a great acquisition by Pulis, and the frontman rewarded his manager by scoring one of the goals of the season against Manchester City. So far Pulis has only brought in three players in the window, Michael Kightly made the move from Wolves, and is joined by defender Geoff Cameron and midfielder Jamie Ness from Rangers. 
Prediction: 9th
Martin O'Neill brought in a breath of fresh air for Sunderland last season replacing former boss Steve Bruce. Bruce was sacked midway through last year having only won two games in 13. The Black Cats finished in 13th place last season, and fans will want a significant improvement this year. The development of James McLean was something positive to take from last year, with the winger making the Republic of Ireland squad at the end of the season for Euro 2012. Sunderland only mastered 45 goals last season with Nicklas Bendtner their top goal scorer with only eight league goals to his name. If they are to improve on this total this season then O'Neill will need to bring in a centre forward to give them a greater threat upfront. 
Prediction: 11th
Swansea City:
picture: thesun.co.uk
Brendan Rogers took Swansea to an impressive 11th place finish last season and excellent performances throughout the year, saw him snapped up by Liverpool. His 'Tiki Taka' style of play saw Swansea beat Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal at home and eliminated any thoughts that his team would be favourites to be relegated. The loan signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson was a masterstroke by Rogers as the Icelandic starred in many games scoring important goals. Striker Danny Graham scored 12 league goals and with Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer aiding him out wide, Graham will want to better his tally this season. With Rogers off to Liverpool, former Juventus man Michael Laudrup took the reigns at the club and has so far brought in Spanish defender Chico and Spanish striker Michu from Rayo Vallecano during the window.
Prediction: 13th
Tottenham Hotspur:
Tottenham ended last season in fourth place having been title contenders mid way through the season. Due to Chelsea's Champions League final win, Spurs will be playing Europa League football though this year and not in the Champions League. Harry Redknapp was sacked at the end of the season and was replaced by Portuguese man Andre Villas Boas. Striker Emmanuel Adebayor was the top goal scorer for Spurs last season and scored 17 league goals in his loan spell. The Togo man has since gone back to parent club Man City and a deal to keep him at White Hart Lane has yet to be agreed. AVB has so far only brought in two players during the window, snapping up midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, and defender Jan Vertonghen who signed from Ajax. 
Prediction: 6th
West Bromwich Albion:
Roy Hodgson's decision to become England manager has meant that WBA will start 2012/13 with Steve Clarke at the helm. Clarke spent the last season and a half as the number two to Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, and was also Jose Mourinho's number two when the 'special one' was manager at Chelsea. Clarke's first competitive game as West Brom manager will be against former team Liverpool as they face each other at The Hawthorns on the opening day of the season. On loan last season, keeper Ben Foster signed permanently for the Baggies from Midland rivals Birmingham City. Swedish frontman Markus Rosenberg has also been brought in from Werder Bremen and will offer a further attacking threat alongside Shane Long and Peter Odemwinge.
Prediction: 17th
West Ham United:
picture: tbhr.co.uk
West Ham made an immediate return to the Premier League coming up through the play-offs. Sam Alladyce's men looked likely to achieve automatic promotion but poor performances in vital games meant they needed to go through the play-offs to get promoted. Alladyce has been busy in the transfer window so far bringing in eight players including goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen and former Wigan man Mohamed Diame both on free transfers. West Ham will be looking to get off to a good start as they face Swansea, Aston Villa and Fulham in their first three games. Led by Kevin Nolan, goals shouldn't be a problem with Ricardo Vaz Te, Nicky Maynard and Carlton Cole all available to play up front. The experience of Matty Taylor and Mark Noble in midfield will help the younger players in the squad and guide the team through the season.
Prediction: 12th
Wigan Athletic:
Wigan made yet another remarkable escape last season avoiding relegation and finishing in 15th place above Aston Villa and QPR. This season will be their eighth successive season in the Premier League and will be manager Roberto Martinez's fourth in charge of the Lactics. The Spaniard turned down the chance to manager both Liverpool and Aston Villa to remain with Wigan. Martinez has been relatively quiet in the transfer market so far only bringing in just the two players. Fraser Fyvie has joined the club from Aberdeen and is joined by defender Ivan Ramis who decided to join Wigan when it looked like he was going to fellow Premier League side West Ham. 
Prediction: 18th