Wednesday, 27 June 2012

England: Euro 2012 review

So just like in previous major tournaments, England once again fell at the quarter final stage on penalties. Despite there being such little expectation before the tournament, every England fan wanted and hoped that they would break the 'hoodoo' of the quarter finals and progress to a semi for the first time since Euro 96. Unfortunately for them, Italy ended England's campaign and sent them home wondering what would have been.

However looking back at England's tournament, there is plenty to take to be positive about. Firstly the group that we progressed from was never as easy as anyone would it out to be. Going into the tournament, France were on a 21 game unbeaten run and looked a real force in their pre tournament friendlies. With the likes of Frank Ribery, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri all playing to their best, it looked unlikely that England would finish above them.

With Sweden and Ukraine also in the group, England were facing two teams they had struggled to beat in previous encounters. Despite beating them in a friendly in November, England had never beaten Sweden in a competitive game having drawn their last encounter with them in World Cup 2006. The last time England faced Ukraine was in the qualifying group for the World Cup two years ago. Having beaten them narrowly at Wembley 2-1, England's last group game was away in Ukraine and were beaten 1-0 thanks to a goal from Sergiy Nazarenko.

Having only been appointed months before the tournament, Roy Hodgson had very little time to select and prepare a squad to take to the Championships. Despite the limited time, Hodgson gathered a squad full of youth and experience. Dropping Rio Ferdinand out of the squad, caused a massive uproar with both the media and the fans and threw questions into whether Hodgson was right in doing it. The selection of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain though was one that was praised and welcomed by many. Hodgson was not helped with his preparation with the timing of injuries to certain players. Both Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard were ruled out of the tournament before a ball was kicked, while central defender Gary Cahill joined them after suffering a jaw injury during the friendly with Belgium.

Having lost such experience in the centre of midfield, Jordan Henderson and Phil Jagielka were brought in as replacements, questioning whether England's midfield was good enough to cope with their opponents further on in the tournament. With both Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker ageing and injury prone, the lack of experience as back up was something  that caused serious concern.

Having won both their pre tournament friendlies 1-0 against Norway and Belgium, England went into their tournament with no pressure and nothing to lose. The opening game against France ended a 1-1 draw and meant a good start to their campaign. England's second game ended in a 3-2 win over Sweden and by far their best performance under Hodgson. Having gone behind early on in the second half, Hodgson's substitutions gave England more of an attacking threat and resulted in the two goals that won them the game. Needing only a point from their last game to qualify, England battled hard to a 1-0 win thanks to a Rooney header. Despite winning the game, England struggled to create other chances and were penned in their half for much of the game.

The inability to hold onto possession for lengths of the game and the lack of chances created was something that needed to improve if they were to make any progress in the competition. 
Having topped their group, England faced the task of Italy in their quarter final avoiding the much fancied Spain. At this point expectation back home was a lot higher and a place in the semi finals was a realistic possibility. However this possibility quickly disappeared as England lacked a serious attacking threat throughout much of the game leaving Italy to dominate with Andrea Pirlo dominating the midfield. Having just about got away with similar performaces in the group games, England battled through 120 minutes of the game before falling to the lottery of a penalty shootout. It was fair on Italy who deserved to go through, but for England, the lack of chances and the inability to keep the ball in the game ended their hopes of progressing to the semis.

Despite all this, the progress England made under Hodgson in a short period of time, is something to be proud of. The spirit within the camp was a lot better than in previous tournaments and the inclusion of some promising youngsters in the squad is one step in building a team for the future. Though if England are to compete and cope with the likes of Spain, Germany and Netherlands, then there is a lot of hard work to be done if we are to see an England captain lifting either a World Cup or a European Championship in the near future. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Euro 2012 result: England 0-0 Italy AET (2-4 pens)

England suffered penalty heart ache in a major tournament once again as they were beaten by Italy in their Euro 2012 quarter final game in Kiev.

England were second best through much of the tie which saw Ashley Young and Ashley Cole miss the decisive penalties resulting in the Italians progressing to the semi finals where they will face Germany.

Despite going out, Roy Hodgson and his team will take great credit in their defensive displays which saw them frustrate the Italians for 120 minutes.

For the opening 20 minutes of the first half, early chances were exchanged for both sides. It was almost a terrible start for England as De Rossi unleashed a swerving left footed half volley which cannoned off Hart's post. Moments later it was England who almost took the lead with Glen Johnson being denied by Gigi Buffon's strong left hand.

Good combination play between, Johnson, Ashley Young and James Milner, saw the Man City midfielder's cross arrive at Johnson's feet who did well to scoop an effort from six yards, only to see Buffon deny him a goal.

The opening period of the game was by far the best display by England in the tournament and they almost went ahead when Rooney headed over from a well directed cross from Glen Johnson.

With the pressure coming from England, Italy started to work their way into the game with Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings from midfield. Pirlo's ball over the top was collected by Mario Balotelli whose attempted chip was well blocked by the on rushing John Terry.

Pirlo was once again involved in Italy's next chance of the half. The Juventus man sent over a delicious far post ball which was headed across goal by Cassano. With Balotelli waiting for an easy tap in, he could only watch as he was denied by his club team mate Joleon Lescott who cleared the ball over his own crossbar.

Despite losing control of the game, England created one more chance before the break. Having played with each other all season at Old Trafford, the combination of Welbeck and Rooney engineered a chance for Welbeck who could only side foot his shot wide, when really he should have done better.

Italy continued their dominance after the break with Pirlo continually bossing the midfield. Having hit the post in the second half, De Rossi tried his luck again from range. This time Hart palmed it straight to Balotelli, whose shot was saved by the legs of the goal keeper. With the goal gaping, Montolivo managed to hit the second rebound over the bar.

England once again escaped going behind as De Rossi shot wide from the easiest of positions after he had been set up by the head of Marchisio.

With the team tiring and pinned back into their own half, Hodgson made the first move bringing Theo Walcott and Andy Carroll on for Milner and Welbeck. Both were involved in England's notable chance in the second half when Ashley Young's goal bound shot was blocked by the Italian defence out for a corner.

With extra time looming, Italy brought on ex West Ham man Alessandro Diamanti who was denied by a sharp stop from Joe Hart. Glen Johnson did well to deny sub Nocerino when his goal bound shot looked set for the net. At the other end, Wayne Rooney nearly stole it for England as his overhead kick went miles over the bar after Andy Carroll had nodded the ball back across goal.

With extra time to be played, England looked shattered and happy to settle for a penalty shoot out. Scott Parker was replaced by Jordan Henderson to freshen up the midfield early on in the first half.

With eleven players behind the ball, England escaped once again as a Diamanti cross come shot evaded everyone and struck the base of the post with Joe Hart beaten. Nocerino had a goal rightly ruled out in the second half of extra time for offside which meant the tie would be decided on a penalty shoot out.

With England ahead after the first two penalties, belief started to build that we would make the semis. But after a nonchalant chip from Pirlo to draw the Italians level, Ashley Young saw his penalty smack the bar. Nocerino converted Italy's fourth penalty meaning Ashley Cole needed to score England's next penalty.

Having converted his spot kick in the recent Champions League final, Cole could only stare in disbelief as his kick was saved by Buffon. Up stepped Diamanti knowing if he found the net, he would knock England out. Sending Hart the wrong way, Diamanti ran with his team mates to celebrate the deserved win with Buffon and a semi final tie with Germany on Thursday.

For England, the same old story of losing in a quarter final on penalties continues, but with little expectation before the tournament, England have made some progress. Having only had little time to prepare before the tournament, Roy Hodgson will have great hope for the future of the England team.

England: Hart, G.Johnson, Terry, Lescott, A.Cole, Gerrard, Parker (Henderson 94') Milner (Walcott 60') Young, Rooney, Welbeck (Carroll 61')

Italy: Buffon, Balzaretti, Abate (Maggio 90') Barzagli, Bonucci, Marchisio, De Rossi (Nocerino 80') Montolivo, Pirlo, Balotelli, Cassano (Diamanti 78')

Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal)

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Euro 2012 result: England 1-0 Ukraine

England progressed through to the quarter finals of Euro 2012 last night, beating tournament hosts Ukraine 1-0, thanks to a Wayne Rooney header early in the second half.

The win ensured England finished the group as winners and will face Italy in their quarter final on Sunday. Roy Hodgson's men win meant they finished ahead of France after they were beaten by Sweden in their final group game.

The game was marred by controversy though as Ukraine were denied a certain goal when striker Marko Devic's shot looked to have crossed the line before John Terry managed to hack the ball clear.

It was Ukraine that started the better of the sides pinning England in their own half for much of the first period. The first opportunity of the games fell the host's way with Denys Garmash firing a long range effort over the crossbar. The chances didn't stop their for Ukraine as Devic's strike was excellently blocked by Scott Parker.

Devic was involved in much of Ukraine's attacks and was involved in setting up the impressive Andriy Yarmolenko whose shot was comfortably dealt with by Joe Hart.

The inclusion of Wayne Rooney was the only change made by Roy Hodgson, and the Manchester United striker struggled to get into the early stages of the game with poor touches and loose passes. 

England's best chance of the half fell to the striker, glancing a header wide from an Ashley Young cross when really Rooney should have done much better.

Ukraine continued their dominance of the half when Oleh Gusev took advantage of Ashley Young's misjudgement of a cross field pass, before shooting narrowly over Joe Hart's bar.

Despite being under pressure for the majority of the first half, it was England and Rooney that took advantage of some sloppy Ukrainian defending to take the lead. After seeing his corner cleared, captain Steven Gerrard received the ball wide from Glen Johnson. The Liverpool captain skipped past one challenge and after seeing the cross deflected twice, Wayne Rooney lurked at the back post to score quite possibly his easiest goal for England.

The goal struck life into both sets of players with Ukraine needing a win to have any chance of qualification. Breaking from a corner Gerrard played Rooney in on goal who could only hold the ball up and set up Milner whose poor shot was easily blocked by the Ukrainian defence.

The chances were coming thick and fast in the game with Artem Milevskiy heading over from a quickly taken corner when really he should have done a lot better. Joe Hart palmed a dangerous looking Gusev cross over the bar before the games controversial talking point took place.

A long punt forward by the Ukraine defence fell nicely for the offside looking Milevskiy who played in the on rushing Marko Devic. The strikers shot was half saved by Joe Hart's foot who could only watch as John Terry heroically volleyed the ball clear from beneath the bar. To the naked eye the ball didn't look over but TV replays clearly showed the ball was over the line. Despite an assistant referee and an additional assistant, the goal was not given, giving more reason for the introduction of goal line technology.

With the whole of Ukraine aggrieved with the decsion, Scott Parker broke forward only to be brought down on the edge of the box. The resulting free kick though was narrowly stuck wide by Rooney.

Joe Hart was once again showed why he is so vital to England, as he magnificently palmed away a swerving 30 yard effort from Konoplienka with Joleon Lescott on hand to clear away the loose ball.

Changes were made by both teams with Hodgson introducing Walcott, Oxlade- Chamberlain and Andy Carroll with Ukraine's talisman Andriy Shevchenko brought on for his final international appearance. Despite the ex-Chelsea's heroics in the country's opening group game against Sweden, he couldn't inspire a comeback this time.

Chances were exchanged late on with Ashley Cole nearly doubling England's lead late on after his shot was excellently palmed away by the Ukrainian goalkeeper. Yarmolenko shot wide for Ukraine when well placed outside the box.

England's solid defensive unit saw the game through and will now face Italy in their quarter final on Sunday in Kiev. With France losing to Sweden in the other group game, England avoid Spain and from no expectation at the beginning of the tournament, England fans are starting to believe.

England: Hart, G.Johnson, Terry, Lescott, A.Cole, Gerrard, Parker, Milner (Walcott 69') Young, Rooney (Oxlade Chamberlain 87'), Welbeck (Carroll 82')

Ukraine: Pyatov, Selin, Khacheridi, Rakitskiy, Tymoshchuk, Garmash (Nazarenko 78') Gusev, Yarmolenko, Konoplienka, Milevskiy (Butko 77'), Devic (Shevchenko 70')

Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)

Friday, 15 June 2012

Euro 2012 result: England 3-2 Sweden

England came back from a goal down to secure a memorable comeback in their second group game against Sweden in Kiev.

Andy Carroll opened the scoring for England with an excellent header before Swedish defender Olof Mellberg scored two quick fire goals to give Sweden the lead. Substitute Theo Walcott inspired the fightback with a long range strike before crossing for Danny Welbeck to complete an extraordinary comeback.

The victory comes as a first competitive win against the Swedes and leaves Roy Hodgson's men only needing a point to qualify for the quarter finals.

Theo Walcott celebrates his goal against Sweden
It was England that started the better of the sides with Swedish keeper Andreas Isaksson saving a Scott Parker shot after the midfielder was set up by Welbeck. It was Welbeck who had the next chance guiding a James Milner cross wide of the post with his head.

Just like the game against France, it was England that opened the scoring with an excellent goal. Having been  brought in the team in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain. Andy Carroll bagged his first competitive goal for England heading in a world class cross from captain Steven Gerrard.

Sweden offered very little in the first half with Seb Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovich bringing comfortable saves out of Joe Hart. Ashley Young had England's next notable chance of the half dragging a shot into the side netting, when crossing the ball across the box looked a better option for the Man United winger.

Having started the first half well, it was the complete opposite in the second. England found themselves 2-1 down after only 15 minutes of the second half. Hero in the first half, Andy Carroll needlessly conceded a free kick 30 yards from goal. Hitting the wall with his first attempt, Ibrahimovich's second effort fell to the feet of Olof Mellberg. The centre back's shot was brilliantly saved by Hart who could only watch in despair as the ball ricocheted off Glen Johnson's stomach and into the net off the post.

It got a lot worse for England as ten minutes later, Mellberg was once again involved, heading in unmarked past Joe Hart to give Sweden a shock lead. The once solid defensive unit we were so used to before the tournament was no where to be seen as the former Aston Villa centre back gave England a mountain to climb.

Within moments of going behind, Hodgson brought Walcott on for the weary James Milner who had offered little in attack throughout the game. England had to score quickly if they were to mount a comeback to secure the much needed win. The equaliser came so close when John Terry was denied by a superb save from Isaksson at point blank range.

But from the resulting corner, super sub Walcott received the ball 25 yards out and struck a superb effort down the centre of the goal leaving Isaksson stranded. This was Walcott's fourth competitive goal for England having scored the previous three in his hat trick against Croatia four years ago.

With many England teams before, we would have seen them sit back and take a draw. But having seen group rivals France earlier win their game against Ukraine, England needed to take three points. Joe Hart was once again called upon turning round an Ibrahimovich shot past the post before England completed a remarkable comeback. Arsenal man Walcott drove to the byline cutting back a cross to which Danny Welbeck turned home brilliantly.

With ten minutes left to hold on, England dug deep to prevent their opponents from taking anything from the game. It could have been four near the end when Walcott crossed for Gerrard, whose volley was excellently saved by Isaksson.

The win leaves England within a point of the quarter finals, and leaves boss Hodgson with decisions to make over who will start up front with talisman Rooney available after serving his suspension.

England: Hart, G.Johnson, Terry, Lescott, A.Cole, Gerrard, Parker, Milner (Walcott 60') Young, Carroll, Welbeck (Oxlade- Chamberlain 89')

Sweden: Isaksson, Mellberg, Granqvist (Lustig 66') M.Olsson, Olsson, Elm (Wilhelmsson 81') Larsson, Svensson, Kallstrom, Ibrahimovich, Elmander (Rosenberg 79')
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Capital One Cup: First Round Draw

With the fixtures for the new season set to be announced next week, the newly named Capital One Cup first round draw has taken place today. Formerly known as the Carling Cup, the competition was renamed after the company Capital One, a credit card company, agreed a four year sponsorship deal with the Football League.

The draw has thrown up some excellent ties which sees relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers host League Two side Aldershot Town. Blackburn and Bolton, who were also relegated alongside Wolves last season, will enter the competition in round two. Other ties that catch the eye include Fleetwood Town, who were promoted from the Conference last season, host Championship side Nottingham Forest. York City, who also gained promotion to the Football League face a trip to Doncaster Rovers. Runners up in last season's final Cardiff City, start with an away trip to Northampton Town. League Two side Barnet face a tricky tie with an away tie to Championship Birmingham City who reached the Championship play off's last season.

Having suffered poor league form last season, it was Liverpool who claimed victory in last seasons competition. The Premier League side needed extra time and penalties to overcome their Championship opponents Cardiff City. Winger Joe Mason opened the scoring for the Bluebirds before Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel equalised with a scrambled effort.

Dirk Kuyt thought he had won the game in extra time for Liverpool, after scoring an excellent goal from 25 yards. But after indecision in the Liverpool box, Cardiff defender Ben Turner poked home to take the final to a penalty shoot-out. It was the Premier League side though, that came out victors winning 3-2 in the shoot-out.

Teams from the Championship to League Two will compete from the first round with 13 Premier League teams coming into the competition in the second round. The remaining seven teams are all competing in Europe this season and will therefore not enter the competition until the third round to avoid fixture congestion.

Fixtures below:

Derby County v Scunthorpe United
Rochdale v Barnsley
Port Vale v Burnley
Notts County v Bradford City
Hull City v Rotherham United
Fleetwood Town v Nottingham Forest
Carlisle United v Accrington Stanley
Doncaster Rovers v York City
Crewe Alexandra v Hartlepool United
Bury v Middlesbrough
Chesterfield v Tranmere Rovers
Sheffield United v Burton Albion
Blackpool v Morecambe
Leeds United v Shrewsbury Town
Preston North End v Huddersfield Town
Oldham Athletic v Sheffield Wednesday
Cheltenham Town v Milton Keynes Dons
Ipswich Town v Bristol Rovers
Stevenage v AFC Wimbledon
Exeter City v Crystal Palace
Yeovil Town v Colchester United
Birmingham City v Barnet
Bristol City v Gillingham
Northampton Town v Cardiff City
Plymouth Argyle v Portsmouth
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Aldershot Town 
Walsall v Brentford
Millwall v Crawley Town 
Torquay United v Leicester City 
Dagenham & Redbridge v Coventry City 
Peterborough United v Southend United
Swindon Town v Brighton & Hove Albion 
Watford v Wycombe Wanderers 
Charlton Athletic v Leyton Orient 
Oxford United v AFC Bournemouth

The first round fixtures will take place the week beginning August 13th. The final will be held at Wembley on 24th February next year.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Euro 2012 result: England 1-1 France

Joleon Lescott scored his first international goal in England's 1-1 draw with France in Donetsk. The Manchester City defender nodded in Steven Gerrard's free kick to give them the lead before Samir Nasri levelled the scores with a low drive.

England started the better of the half with James Milner spurning a good chance after rounding French keeper Hugo Lloris, after an excellent through pass from Ashley Young. Moments later Joe Hart did well to get down to his left to stop a Yohan Cabaye effort from distance.

It was England though that opened the scoring with central defender Joleon Lescott heading in Steven Gerrard's set piece. Lescott nodded in past keeper Lloris after getting the better of Alou Diarra.

Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was given his second start in two games after impressing in training and against Belgium in the recent friendly. It was Chamberlain though that conceded a free kick on France's right moments later which gave France their next opportunity. Samir Nasri's free kick was headed towards goal by Diarra, who was brilliantly denied by Joe Hart and the midfielder then headed the rebound wide after Ribery had kept the ball alive.

It didn't take France long after to equalise with Manchester City winger Samir Nasri beating his club team mate Joe Hart from 25 yards striking the ball into the corner of the net. The goal came after good work on the left between Ribery and Patrice Evra.

The goal spurned life into the French who came close again with the impressive right back Mathieu Debuchy being denied at the near post by the legs of Hart.

The second half was a much different story with chances coming very rarely. Joe Hart was once again called upon saving low down to a long range strike from Karim Benzema. The Man City number one did well again after a short back pass from James Milner let in Samir Nasri who couldn't take advantage.

England's strong defensive unit stood firm throughout the remaining part of the second half with Scott Parker and Danny Welbeck doing well do block more long range efforts from the French.

Changes were made by both sides with Jordan Henderson replacing the tireless Scott Parker and Jermain Defoe coming on for young winger Chamberlain, while Hatem Ben Arfa and Marvin Martin were brought on by French boss Laurent Blanc.

Phillippe Mexes did well to cut out a James Milner cross with Danny Welbeck lurking behind, with this being the only attacking threat offered by England during the second half.

Steven Gerrard headed a curling Benzema effort out for a corner, and the Real Madrid striker was involved again soon after seeing his long range shot comfortably dealth with by Hart. Theo Walcott was introduced late on and despite some bizarre refereeing by Italian Nicola Rizzoli, who let a number of obvious fouls go, neither side could nick a winner.

Both teams will be content with a draw, but England may be concerned with their lack of being able to keep posseion for long periods of the game. France take on Ukraine on Friday whilst England will play their second group game against Sweden.


England: Hart, G.Johnson, Terry, Lescott, A.Cole, Oxlade Chamberlain (Defoe 77') Gerrard, Parker (Henderson 78') Milner, Young, Welbeck (Walcott 89')

France: Lloris, Debuchy, Evra, Mexes, Rami, Malouda (Martin 86') Diarra, Cabaye (Ben Arfa 86') Ribery, Benzema, Nasri

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

England: Euro 2012 preview

The football season is over, the squad has been selected and the pre tournament friendlies have been played. In  a few days time, Euro 2012 starts seeing 16 teams battling it out to be crowned European champions. Having missed out four years ago in Austria and Switzerland, England booked their place in this years Championships confidently topping their qualifying group. Under the management of Fabio Capello, the Three Lions cruised past their group opponents winning five of their nine games, and drawing three in their eight game campaign.

Since then, many changes have been made in the England camp, with a new manager and captain installed. After much debate of who would replace Capello, Roy Hodgson was revealed to be the man to guide England in the Euros and beyond. With a court case hovering heavily over his head, John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy, giving Liverpool talisman Steven Gerrard the chance to captain England in the upcoming Championships. The midfielder will have to perform to his greatest if England are to come out of the tournament successful.

For the first time in a while, England go into the tournament with the pressure off and expectation low. Hodgson's squad selection caused raised eyebrows here and there after leaving Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand out. Having seen Gary Cahill ruled out of the tournament, Liverpool defender Martin Kelly was drafted in, suggesting a future for England is potentially disappearing for Ferdinand. Alongside Cahill, midfielders Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard are also out through injuries meaning heavy responsibility sits on Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker to pull the stings in midfield.

Since taking charge, Hodgson has won both of his games beating Norway and Belgium 1-0 in England's two pre tournament friendlies. The former West Brom boss has clearly organised the team the way he wants with England looking very solid defensively. Both the goals scored in these friendlies came from a counter attack which looks like a key tactic for England going into the tournament. With the absence of Wayne Rooney in the first two group games, Hodgson looks set to continue playing the one striker up front and piling the midfield with attacking flare. The main decision he will have to make come Monday will be whether he plays Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll. Both strikers impressed in their respective games, linking with Ashley Young particularly well. It will be Welbeck though that looks set to get the nod after scoring a wonderful goal against Belgium at the weekend.

Opponents come in the form of France, Sweden and Ukraine with the French the first group game next Monday. The last time England faced them in a major tournament was back in 2004 where two late Zinedine Zidane goals clinched victory. Having failed to pass the group stage at the World Cup two years ago, the French have improved significantly under boss Laurent Blanc. France's front four will be the danger for England, with Ribery, Nasri, Benzema and Ben Arfa leading the line. Benzema has had an excellent season for Real Madrid and is certain to continue this from going into the Championships. Sweden and Ukraine are the other teams England will have to beat if they are to reach the quarter finals.

Vasyl Kobin Vasyl Kobin of the Ukraine is challenged by Wayne Rooney of England during the FIFA 2010 World Cup Group 6 Qualifying match between Ukraine and England at the Dnipro Arena on October 10, 2009 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.
A 1-0 friendly win at Wembley over Sweden last November was the last fixture between the sides. The Swedes will be difficult opponents for England and will look likely candidates alongside England to reach the quarters with France. Going by the form book, Ukraine should be a doddle for England. The teams last met in 2009 where the Ukrainians beat England 1-0 in Kiev. The game turned out to be meaningless for England as they has already secured qualification to the World Cup. England had beaten Ukraine 2-1 at Wembley months before. Co-hosting the tournament, Ukraine automatically qualified for the tournament. Without a qualifying campaign to play, Ukraine have prepared with a whole host of friendlies. Results though have been generally disappointing. Striker Andriy Shevchenko will lead his country for probably the last time with persistent back problems meaning the former Chelsea striker will have to call it a day on his playing career after the tournament.

With expectation low, England can go into the tournament with nothing to lose. Defensively, England have looked fairly solid and having kept two clean sheets in the recent friendlies, teams may struggle to break them down. In goal, England may have the best keeper in the world at the moment. Joe Hart has been excellent for Manchester City this season, and with his presence and confidence in goal, we go into a tournament with a guaranteed first choice keeper. Hitting teams on the counter attack may be the best bet for England going into the tournament and if it means winning games 1-0 each time then no-one will complain. Anything past the group stages will be seen as a success for the team and something for Hodgson to build on for the up and coming World Cup qualifying campaign. It's time to get behind the team, support the boys and hope that maybe, just maybe we can pull it off!

Monday, 4 June 2012

League One and Two: 2011/12 season reviews

It was a fantastic season in both League One and League Two which saw joy and tears for both fans and players. Charlton Athletic and Swindon claimed the league title in League One and Two respectively. Both club's managers were former players and had not been in management long. Chris Powell, a former Charlton player guided the Addicks to the Championship next season. For Swindon, the ever humorous Paolo Di Canio guided his side to the League Two championship as well as an appearance at Wembley in the Johnstone Paint Trophy final where they were defeated by Chesterfield.

The race for second place and the final automatic promotion spot in League One was one of the closest race for it in a while. Sheffield Wednesday were the eventual winners taking it ahead of arch rivals Sheffield United who had to settle for the play off's. With 40 goal man Jordan Rhodes, Huddersfield were also in contention for the place during the season but like Sheffield United in the end had to settle for a play off place. They were both joined in the play off's by the ever present MK Dons and newly promoted Stevenage. Promoted via the play off's in League Two last season, Stevenage were narrowly beaten by Sheffield United in the semi finals, which saw Huddersfield overcome MK Dons in the other semi final in a close fought encounter. It was Huddersfield though that came out winners in the final at Wembley, beating Yorkshire rivals Sheffield United in a penalty shoot out. United keeper Steve Simonsen missed the decisive penalty which saw Huddersfield win 8-7.

Looking down to the bottom of the division, four teams were relegated from the League down to League Two. Having been promoted automatically from League Two last season, both Wycombe and Chesterfield failed in their bid to play another season in the third tier of English football. They were joined by Rochdale and Exeter who will bemoan a poor season in League One. Having finished in a respectable ninth the season before, Rochdale surprisingly found themselves in the bottom four for the majority of this season only managing eight wins in their 46 league games. Just like Rochdale, Exeter narrowly missed out on a play off place the season before, but by only managing two away wins all season, they will now play their football in League Two next year.

Moving onto League Two, it was Swindon Town who took the title under manager Paolo Di Canio. Having been relegated from League One last season, Di Canio's men have made an immediate return to League One. They were joined by fellow sides Crawley Town and Shrewsbury who secured automatic promotion. Having been promoted to League Two from the conference last season, Crawley secured back to back promotions. Their season also contained a memorable FA Cup run beating the likes of Hull City and Bristol City before falling to Premier League side Stoke City. Having also lost strikers Matt Tubbs and Tyrone Barnett to bigger clubs, getting promoted again this season is some achievement. With three of the four promotion places gone, there was one more promotion spot available to the four teams in the play off's. It was Crewe that took the initiative and achieved promotion after beating Cheltenham in the final at Wembley. Crewe had beaten Southend in the semi finals, while Cheltenham overcame Torquay United in their semi final tie.

Joy for some was despair for others, as two teams from League Two made the drop from the Football League into the Blue Square Premier Division. Despite a final day victory over Torquay, relegation wasn't prevented for Hereford Town. The Bulls were relying on fellow side Barnet to slip up in their game, but after they beat Burton, Hereford slipped out of League Two into the Blue Square. Defeat meant that Hereford dropped out the Football League for the first time in 15 years. Despite winning their last two games, poor form over the season was their downfall. They are joined by Macclesfield Town who endured a dreadful season. A 22 match win less run stretching to the end of December ended their 15 year stay in the Football League. The run included 15 defeats with the 2-0 home defeat to Burton the game that sent the Silkmen down. Fleetwood Town and York City will take their places after they were promoted from the Blue Square Premier Division.

After another exciting season in the Football League we are sure to see as much even more drama than we have this season in the coming twelve months. The fixtures for the Football League are released on the 18th June at 9am giving plenty of time for fans to start organising their trips to games for next season.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Championship: 2011/12 season review

It may have been a cracking season in the Premier League, but throughout the three divisions in the football league, fans have not been disappointed with the levels of excitement throughout the season. In the Championship we saw Reading crowned as champions of the Championship with Southampton and West Ham joining them in the top flight next year. Joy for some clubs meant tears for others as Portsmouth, Coventry and Doncaster were relegated from the league. The fight for a play off place also took centre stage as a number of clubs fought for a place to give them a chance of promotion to the top division.

Having been relegated from the Premier League last season, West Ham were strong favourites to make an immediate return to the top flight. New boss Sam Alladyce brought in an array of talent throughout the season which included Nicky Maynard, Kevin Nolan, Matty Taylor and Ricardo Vaz Te. With the added experience, the Hammers had one of the strongest squads in the division. Having hovered around the top two for much of the season, a dip in form saw them slip down to third behind Reading and Southampton, meaning if they were to go up, they'd have to go through the play off's. Having beaten Cardiff in the semi finals, it was Blackpool standing in the way of the Hammers. However a late Vaz Te goal secured victory at Wembley and an immediate return for Alladyce's men.

The fight for a play off position was as exciting as ever, as a number of clubs fought for a chance to gain promotion to the Premier League. Cardiff City were again in the mix and after finishing fifth, were given the difficult task of facing West Ham. Relegated from the Premier League last season, Birmingham City and Blackpool faced each other in the other semi final. The likes of Middlesbrough and Brighton were amongst the play off's throughout the season, but eventually fell short meaning another season in the Championship for them. It was West Ham and Blackpool who made it through to the final at Wembley, and it was the Hammers who won beating the Seasiders 2-1.

Despite the excitement at the top of the table, teams lower down the league were fighting it out to avoid relegation. Having been deducted ten points due to administration, Portsmouth were caught up in the relegation scrap. Having put up a valiant effort, Pompey couldn't overturn the deficit and were relegated with fellow sides Doncaster Rovers and Coventry City. Both Doncaster and Coventry spent the majority of the season in the bottom two and struggled to put any form together. Coventry only mastered up a poor nine wins throughout the whole season while Doncaster could only win eight games out of 46. Newly promoted side Peterborough United were relegated the last time they were in the Championship but after some astute signings, Darren Ferguson's side finished with a very respectable 50 points finishing in 18th position. Brighton who were also promoted with The Posh last season and enjoyed a good season, missing out on the play off's finishing in tenth position.

Scoring an impressive 27 goals, Southampton striker Rickie Lambert took away the golden boot for the Championship. The centre forward continued to show what a finisher he is and guided the Saints to second place where they gained promotion to the Premier League. His goals though, weren't enough for Southampton to claim the title having been favourites to take top spot. They were pipped to the title by Reading whose excellent second half of the season, saw the Royals finish the season as champions. Losing only two of the last 19 league games, Brian McDermott's side enjoyed victories on the road against both Southampton and West Ham. Goals were a plenty throughout the season, as the Championship saw a number of high scoring games. In particular Nottingham Forest's 7-3 win at Leeds, and Peterborough United's 7-1 home drubbing of Ipswich the stand out games.

After another exciting season, next year will be sure to be as entertaining. The Championship will welcome Wolves, Bolton and Blackburn, who were relegated from the Premier League. The division will also welcome Charlton Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield after they gained promotion from League One.