Blues grab a point to end losing run

maxresdefault.jpgBlues forward Ashley Worsfold opened the scoring.

Gainsborough were left to hang on for a point at home to Worcester as a late onslaught almost sent all three points down to Worcestershire.

Ashley Worsfold had put Trinity ahead with a cool finish before Steven Craig headed home unmarked from a corner.

Former Premier League forward Lee Hughes rattled the crossbar late on as Trinity defended stoically for the last half hour.

Before the game Blues boss Dom Roma continued with the 3-5-2 used in recent games, which had shored up the defence but resulted in poor form in front of goal.

Trinity however took the lead within 11 minutes here when a defensive slip allowed Ashley Worsfold to latch onto a Josh Lacey through ball and finish through the keeper’s legs.

Gainsborough should have extended their lead two minutes later but Jack McGovern elected to shoot from the edge of the box rather than slot in Noel Burdett who was unmarked on the left hand side of the area.

Worcester did little in response until Jordan Murphy cut in from the right hand side and found the side netting.

The chance spurred on the visitors and midway through the half they levelled from a corner.

A Danny Jackman corner was flicked on at the near post and Steven Craig, unmarked at the far, nodded into the net.

The City leveller buoyed them on and they deserved to be on level terms at half time.

Trinity had a chance before the break to go back in front when Laurie Wilson hit a volley on target with Worcester keeper Ethan Ross reacting smartly to stop him.

Despite conceding the equaliser Gainsborough came out from the changing rooms in confident mood, creating a couple of chances within the first five minutes of the half.

A cushioned chest from McGovern unleashed Worsfold down the left flank. The striker repaid the favour and squared to McGovern who shot over the bar.

Minutes later, Lacey got forward from his wing back position and linked up with Worsfold once more but there was no goal this time as a tame shot found the keeper’s arms.

City survived the scares and from the hour began to dominate the play as the Trinity defensive line dropped deeper and deeper.

The Blues were frugal with the opportunities they handed out with George Willis forced into only one save despite the amount of possession the visitors had.

Worcester did break the defence once though, with left back Cieron Keane putting a superb cross into the box for veteran Lee Hughes to canon a shot off the crossbar.

Gainsborough had a late opportunity themselves to snatch the points when on loan Scunthorpe winger Noel Burdett had a shot deflected agonisingly wide with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.

McGovern then won a header from a corner which was comfortably claimed.

A point is a point though and it could be a momentum builder for the double header with Boston over the Christmas period.

Gainsborough Trinity: Willis 6, Lacey 7, Templeton 6, M Wilson 7, Evans 7, Beatson 6, L Wilson 7, Chapman 6 (Thornhill 73 6), Worsfold 8 (Thewlis 67 6), McGovern 7, Burdett 6 . Subs (not used): Hands, Quinn, Wiles.

Worcester City: Ross 6, Weir 7, C Keane 8, Sharpe 6 (Oji 63), Hutchinson 6, J Keane 6, English 7, Jackman 7, Craig 6 (L Hughes 66 7), Murphy 6 (C Hughes 80 6), Evans 8. Subs (not used): Addy, Gallinagh.

Half Time: 1-1

Gainsborough Goalscorers: Worsfold 11.

Worcester Goalscorers: Craig 26.

Bookings: Worsfold.

Referee: Simon Mather

Attendance: 469

Falling back in with the FA Cup

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Tomorrow marks the start of the Third Qualifying round of the FA Cup and I for one will be at a ground embracing what is readily coined the “Greatest Domestic Cup Competition in the World”.

We all know that this phrase will be milked by the media over the coming season and their chase of the great underdog tale.

Pretty much similar to the approach used this week to glorify the trades of San Marino or as any normal person can see it, outwardly mocking a nation.

Little do the media know but that the San Marinese could quite openly mock us. They have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe and have a highly stable economy, something which is alien over the majority of the Earth.

My point here is that ‘minnows’ should be respected and it is the respective domestic minnows that are fighting to be a part of a major tournament this weekend.

The attention of the media will not turn to the ‘Greatest Competition’ for over a month now, when the first round proper begins on November 8th.

The lowest rank team left in the competition at the Third Qualifying phase, Willand Rovers, have already been sniffed out by the BBC.

Luckily they now have the pressure of this tag.

Willand succeed last year’s title holders Daventry Town as benefactors of the lowest rank.

Daventry proved last season that they were anything but ‘minnows’ as they graduated to the first round for the only time in their history to face Chesterfield at the ProAct Stadium.

I was there during my stint working with the Spireites and it was clear to see that Daventry had been mightily underestimated by their Football League opponents.

The Northamptonshire club were confident and comfortable in possession, whilst at stages creating chances with relative ease.

This is about the time I list the actual professions of the team that played that day.

Footballer, footballer, footballer.

That is what they were that day and arguably the better ones if you had never seen a football game before.

In the end, the pace of the fixture took its toll on the team from the ninth tier of the English footballing pyramid and they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat thanks to two late goals.

At the end of the day, they had won in many people’s eyes.

In the chairman’s eyes even more so, as his club were £30,000 richer. (This figure does not take into account gate receipts and everything else that goes along with success in football.)

Winning a couple of games is massive at this level and every chairman, regardless of whether the manager agrees with them, wants to have a successful cup run.

This is why when we come to the nitty gritty tomorrow, almost all, if not every, team will be playing a full strength team.

I have been following the exploits of Gainsborough Trinity, my hometown club, this season, writing for the local paper.

They came out with their first XI against Farsley AFC in the round prior, where they entered the competition, against a team two divisions below them.

The fixture ended 4-1 to Trinity but there was not a significant gulf in skill on show, but a clinical edge was shown by one team.

This was my first qualifying experience for a long time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The opportunity to potentially play a team like Sheffield United at Bramall Lane or even a return to Chesterfield, is high on my list of achievements for this team.

They have had another ‘helpful’ draw in the form of Marine of the Northern Premier League for tomorrow and I am already looking forward to the game.

People will of course be talking about pressure but that is the nature of the beast in football and in every other profession.

Another day at the office if you will.

Personally, I have not felt this excitement for the FA Cup for a long time. It is definitely a dying ember at the top level, as they hastily choose to rotate the squad without a moments thought to the paying public.

The thought of being so close to playing at a football league ground, will mean a sleepless Sunday night for many fans, who’s team will be involved in Monday’s draw.

I share the same view of the Gainsborough chairman, Nick Tinker, that a local draw with either Lincoln City or Grimsby Town would be the best option for the club in terms of finances. Obviously another kind draw would be preferable to give the opportunity to spar against Football League opposition.

There are still many an obstacle left, no less the arrival of the Vanarama Conference teams in Monday’s hat.

That is the danger of a knockout tournament. You could face the highest ranked teams consistently and win every time.

On the flip side you may face the lowest and be eliminated.

That is why I will head to the Northolme tomorrow knowing that whatever happens, the fondness of the FA Cup from yesteryear has truly been rekindled within me.

To me that is a fantastic conclusion.

PS. I also vow to cease rotating my squads on FIFA or Football Manager when it is FA Cup weekend.

Non-League: The New Proving Ground

With Antoni Sarcevic being named in the PFA League 2 Team of the Season, many young footballers who have been released by big clubs are showing there is a huge wealth of talent at the lower levels.

Former Celtic youngster Dan Gardner believes there is a large crop of unspotted talent in the non-league system and is not surprised that players have been making a big impact in the football league.

Gardner came into league football with Chesterfield after a successful spell with Skrill Premier side FC Halifax. Arriving at the ProAct Stadium in the January transfer window, the wide man has settled well into life in League 2.

He said: “Obviously, full time football is a lot better, it’s a lot better for me and it has improved me as a player already.”

Discussing his release from the Bhoys, he said: “It was horrible to be let go, it is from any club.”

The Mancunian continued: “I did miss quite a bit of football to be fair. It’s not nice when you’re not playing and aren’t involved with all the lads.”

After a successful first year in league football, the former non-league star is hoping to cause more problems in League 1 next season.

Match Report from the FA cup first round

This is my match report from Chesterfield versus Daventry Town in the FA Cup first round.

Debutants Daventry Town received a standing ovation from the crowd as their heart warming performance ended in defeat as Chesterfield got back to winning ways after a period of 5 games without a win.

It was a difficult game for Paul Cook and his players as a defiant non league opposition defended stoically for 90 minutes until Gary Roberts broke the deadlock in the 69th minute.

It was a fairly lively start with both teams enjoying possession of the football, a bruising tackle from Liam cooper left Daventry’s Tom Lorraine sprawling on the floor and the spirieite was lucky not to find himself in the referees book in the early proceedings.

In the 12th minute of the game, a marauding run from Ollie Banks let the central midfielder with time to shoot. On his weaker side, the effort drifted past Vikings keeper Richard Morris’ near post.

Lorraine was again brought down minutes later, this time by Chesterfield wide man Gary McSheffrey, and the former Coventry star was booked in the 18th minute.

The first real chance of the game fell to the yellow carded McSheffrey. Following a brilliant run by Drew Talbot down the chesterfield right, his cross ricocheted off a Daventry defender into his path. The first time effort was drilled across the six yard box, millimetres in front of eoin Doyle and wide of the post.

Another chance escaped Doyle in the 28th minute. The ball broke from a mcsheffrey cross around 12 yards out on the left hand side of the Daventry box. The curled effort from the Irishman was headed clear by marcel Simpson in front of his goal line.

From the clearance Daventry had their first real chance as Mykel Beckley ran clear of his man, crossing to find Lorraine who headed over the crossbar.

The pressure increased from the Northamptonshire club as they forced their first corner of the game. Curled in by Beckley, a half clearance from spireites keeper Tommy Lee fell to skipper Liam Dolman and his shot bobbled around before being cleared. The momentum continued as Lorraine ran clear, as the ball came back, forcing a save from Lee low down at his near post.

The weather began to turn for the worse, as the rain pounded down at the ProAct. Doyle continued to be bright as he had a penalty appeal waved away. He intercepted in the opponents half, taking on two defenders before being rather abruptly stopped by centre half Dolman. The referee quickly waved away any appeals, believing the big centre back had nowhere to go.

Against the run of play, Daventry nearly took the lead. A slip from Cooper left right winger Ross Oulton in space on the edge of the Chesterfield area and his curling left footed shot was easily saved by lee diving to his right.

The half ended in a stalemate much to the disappointment of the home side. It had been surprisingly equal despite 4 leagues being between the two sides. A lot of discontent was bubbling within the home support.

The second term started as miserable, weather wise, as it ended 15 minutes prior.

Chesterfield were certainly buoyed at half time as only a few minutes had transpired when McSheffrey stung the palms of visiting keeper Morris. The attack was built from the right flank and a pass into Doyle outside the opposing box, was controlled by the former Hibernian man and caressed into the path of number 28 mcsheffrey, who let off a ferocious strike.

A minute later and the home fans were incorrectly elated as Ollie Banks side footed strike from a corner appeared to go in. However, his effort narrowly went past the post rippling the back of the net for good measure.

Following a lengthy pause in play after an injury to Daventry man Beckley, Chesterfield broke clear and a whipped ball from Banks across the box left Doyle stretching and he duely fired over from around 4 yards out. It was the clearest opportunity of goal all game thus far and it was in the 67th minute.

A minute later, a foul on Drew Talbot down the right hand side gave the spireites a chance. The free kick, taken by substitute Jay O’Shea, arched over the Daventry defence to the far post, where Gary Roberts who was unmarked, volleyed home. A lovely controlled finish from the Liverpudlian eased the heavy burden on his manager and teammates.

The goal galvanised the league 2 side and the pressure began building once more. Good work from Talbot left O’Shea with time to take on his man and fire a left footed strike inches over the bar.

The 75 minute mark resulted in another chance. Slow build up down the left gave way to a further Doyle opportunity. Armand Gnanduillet, another substitute, chipped the ball into the Irishman who controlled on his chest and poked wide after a good low stop from Morris in the Daventry goal.

It was the substitutes which changed the game for the home team and the three of them combined to force another save from Morris. Tendayi Darikwa, the third change, lifted the ball over Vikings left back josh Blake, which O’Shea trapped before turning and firing his shot away. Morris parried it badly into the 6 yard box but had a lucky escape as his defence cleared.

The combination was reaping rewards as another quick break from Darikwa left him in the opposition box. The Nottingham born winger squared the ball across to O’Shea who had another shot tipped over by the away stopper.

From the corner, the ball came out to Jimmy Ryan who’s effort from the edge of the box sealed the game. The strike took a major deflection before hitting the crossbar and bouncing in. The 88th minute strike was his first for the club he joined in the summer and settled the nerves of the 5,000 home fans.

The second goal didn’t dampen the spirit of the away side as they pressed for a goal on their fa cup debut late on. Substitute Joe Henderson out strengthened Banks before pulling the ball back for Oulton who’s side footed effort from the penalty spot was blocked by Ashley Robinson, his own teammate, as the ball looked to be going in.

When the final whistle blew after 6 minutes of injury time, the Daventry players, staff and fans were mightily impressed with their own teams performance, of whom several avid fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate with their team. The Vikings will take a lot of heart from their performance today and can focus on building momentum towards a hopeful promotion campaign.

Can Christmas Predict The Future?

It is that time of year again. Christmas, New Years, alcohol, food, family and a guarantee of at least 4 episodes of Match of the Day within the space of 10 days to annoy your sister. Hallelujah and praise Jebus.

It’s exciting, stressful, awe-inspiring and teary eyed. That’s just the visit to the pub on Christmas Eve.

It is the hardest time of the year for your mother and for a football league manager. With the opportunity of around 4-5 fixtures within such a short space of time, it can make or break a career. It is what lost Andre Villas Boas his position at Chelsea last year and I imagine someone will feel the ice cold guillotine of a tumultuous leader in January.

The be all and end all to a successful festive period is the ability to perform a bounty of squad rotation without an alarming drop in quality. It is why when you think of the great Premier League team of Christmas past, you will notice around two players for each position. It is this depth which defines success. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, any Manchester United squad and the Arsenal Invincibles all had solid grounding. Pascal Cygan was even an international defender at this point. Learning from the past creates an inevitability of success, in the present or the future. David Moyes has begun to utilise this method this season. He has brought in Bryan Oviedo from FC Copenhagen to ease the strain on Leighton Baines and Kevin Mirallas (Olympiakos) to add greater options on each flank. Certainly this year, the oncoming period may be the most important for Everton football club under Moyes.

An important Christmas for Moyes

An important Christmas for Moyes

It is not just Everton who will be looking for a strong points tally. Tottenham, Arsenal and everyone pushing for the Champions League will be looking to really kick on now to the end of the season. A strong performance this weekend will create a domino effect over the next 10 days. The same can be said at the other end of the table.

Even though QPR have only just won their first game of the season, a Premier League record, it could not have come at a better time. Fixtures against Newcastle, West Brom and Liverpool in their next three ties present a great opportunity to build on the excellent performance given against Fulham. Two wins here will undoubtedly show they have the capability to move out of the relegation zone before the end of the season. Harry Redknapp’s man management and their new found belief after ending their terrible run, will give a vast quantity of hope to the clubs fans.

It is the title which I now turn my attention to. Sir Alex Ferguson always states the need, the desire to do well over the Christmas fixtures. It is the prequel to the infamous ‘squeaky bum time’, determining how much squeak you get per pound at Easter. Especially with the top teams, it is the ultimate test of your squad. It shows how well they will deal with the pressure in the final echelons of the seasons when the multiple competitions come to a close. Playing big games, 3 times a week for a large proportion of the spring calendar with the Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup at the business end of their stories, truly examines the mental and physical strength of the squad of players. It can of course lead to knee-jerk reactions in the January transfer window.

In examining the last decade of results over the Christmas periods, some trends have been found. If you are a fan of either Manchester club then it is probably best to read on and decide for yourself the outcome at the end of the season.

The criteria for the study were as follows. To make sure it was a fair test I have selected a set arrangement of fixtures to include. These are from the first game prior to boxing game up until the FA Cup third round fixtures, simple enough. The amount of fixtures ranges from 3-5 games depending on the alignment of the moon.

Secondly, I have narrowed it down to the results of the teams which finished first and second at the end of the season as it seems highly unlikely that any other club will separate the Mancunians.

Thirdly, as aforementioned the study is over the last ten seasons of the Premier League.

Initially, the first noticeable trend is that of the teams involved. From United-Arsenal, to Arsenal-Chelsea, Chelsea-United and finally where we are today, the Manchester impasse. Some fantastic teams and individuals have circled over the past decade and we should feel blessed to have witnessed the talents of Oleg Luzhny, David Bellion and Gael Kakuta. Superb.

The most consistent rivalry has been Manchester United and Chelsea. Ever since Abramovich’s money entered the fray in the summer of 2003 with top buys such as Geremi, the contest has been fiercely fought. I decided to start here and see how the two have fared in relation to each other.

United Chelsea Champions Second
02/03 6 4 6 10
03/04 9 6 7 6
04/05 13 15 15 13
05/06 11 15 15 11
06/07 10 6 10 6
07/08 9 10 9 10
08/09 7 5 7 7
09/10 6 5 5 6
10/11 13 5 13 5
11/12 6 4 7 6
Total 90 75 94 80

The first six seasons are split 3 each but since 2008, Ferguson’s men have outscored the Blues every time. Some may argue this is due to the lack of continuity at the club and the period for which a lot of unrest is caused by John Terry. I don’t mean to single a scapegoat but… It is the Red Devils who score an average of 1.5 more points per season over this period. A further statistic is that Chelsea is the only team to score maximum points (15 from a possible 15) and go on to win the title. Both under Jose Mourinho and both by a large margin. In the 2004/5 season Chelsea won the title by a meagre 12 points over Arsenal.

The Special One

The Special One

Now, to the more important matter of predicting what will happen in May. The results are posted in the table prior. These are the points gained by the teams that finished first and second since the 2002/3 season.

The clear answer is that the title winners outscored those around them by an average of 1.4 points. This is only a small margin, but it is clearly a significant enough one. Specific seasons can really prove how key this period is.

In the 2010/11 season Manchester United claimed 8 more points over Chelsea at Christmas. The title was won by 9 points.

In 2006/7, Chelsea dropped 6 points. One win and three draws from four games. Ferguson’s men won the title by 6 points.

We all now the outcome of last season. AGUERRROOOOOOO. The yuletide resulted in City claiming one more point the United. The Red Devils lost to Blackburn and Newcastle over this period. Grant Hanley’s header with five minutes left at Old Trafford won it for Blackburn and lost the champions a valuable point.

Out of the ten seasons, the champions have outscored the runners-up 6 times to 3 with one stalemate. Therefore, you are 50% more likely to be crowned Barclays Premier League winners if you can outscore your closest challenger over Christmas and New Years. I like this stat and it could be the answer for anyone wondering who will be superior at the end of the season. I am not saying it is the Mystic Meg of stats, but if City can outscore United over the next 4 games, then it will be without doubt as close as last year. Maybe there will be another hero on the lips of a Sky Sports commentator. BUTTTNNERRRRRRR…

Kissinger, Superfans and big Keith Alexander

So you are at the pub. The Quiz is on. The next question engulfing the drums of the populace is as follows. Which current German Bundesliga football team is former US Secretary of State and Nobel Peace prize winner Henry Kissinger, a supporter of?

Pause.

SpVgg Greuther Fürth.

Now that is someone you want on your side. You can give me Mick Hucknall. You can give me Fatboy Slim. In all honesty I don’t see anything that comes as close as that. These are genuine fans and have followed teams all their life. I know some berk you meet will claim that Kurt Cobain was an avid Havant & Waterlooville fan, but that guy needs to be told extremely impolitely that him in flames and your unwanted fluids will never be able to co-exist in this Universe.

Following on from the perennially lost Aesop’s fable aforementioned, there is a back story to Kissinger and Fürth.

Superfan Kissinger was born in Fürth, Bavaria, in 1923 before fleeing with his family to America in 1938. The story goes that the Nobel Peace Prize winner used to sneak into football games against the best wishes off his parents, to snatch a glimpse of the mighty Cloverleaves or Kleeblätter as they are known locally. Despite the love of the game and his local team, he was never able to make a return to the now renamed Trolli Arena until this season. It is rumoured that even during his time in office, he was always asked to be informed of the results of his hometown club every monday morning. Kissinger is quoted as saying that he would only come back to watch the club once they were back into the top flight of German football. Finally in his 89th year he has been able to do so.

The Bundesliga is in its 50th season this term and this is Greuter Fürth’s first attempt. A remarkable turn of events you may say, especially as it is James Bond season. The Cloverleaves were most admired during the 1920’s and 1930’s, when they enjoyed their golden period. It was at this time when Kissinger joined the schoolboy ranks of his beloved Fürth. Ever since the departure of Kissinger, I imagine entirely coincidentally but he has been coined the Political Johnny Heitinga, the club similarly followed suit in departing the top division of German football for half a century.

Last season the hurdle was completely straddled. Over the past decade they have finished 5th 6 times and 4th in the 2010-11 season (in German football the top two teams get automatic promotion and the third placed team enter into a relegation/promotion playoff). Remarkable consistency. In a sense I have a lot of similarities, footballing wise, with the great man. Lincoln City, my team, featured in the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. That included two trips to the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Of course we were defeated on both occasions, being robbed in the second final. I will not get into to this but Simon Yeo was onside. We have not been the same since, well since big Keith Alexander passed. Anyway I digress.

Big Keith in his playing days for the Imps

Promotion and cup semi finalists, saw the Bavarian team earn promotion in style.

Kissinger finally arrived then at the Trolli Arena this season, for the arrival of Schalke 04 in September. Despite losing 2-0 to the men from Gelsenkirchen, it was a special occasion for everyone there.

The start to the season has been a decidedly low-key affair for the cloverleaves. A single point earned at home so far last time out against Werder Bremen has left them bottom of the table on goal difference. In the same game they scored their first goal at the Trolli Arena in the Bundesliga. It is clear where the problems lie.

Away from home, they have been much more solid. 5 points from 4 games and conceding only 6 is a solid starting point to develop from. On away form alone they would be mid table.

Goals will come, as will points. The ultimate goal is consolidation this term, by any means necessary. Thus a stingy defensive record will provide a greater chance of achieving said target.

Tonight the Cold War starts away at the other promoted team, Eintracht Frankfurt who remarkably sit third in the table going into tonight’s game. It has been the form of Japanese playmaker Takashi Inui that has elevated them to such a position. Unbeaten at home, scoring 13 goals in the 5 games they have played here, could provide a real problem for Kissinger’s men. The cloverleaves go into the game unbeaten in two and will be hoping to Fürther this run.

I for one will be following closely for the rest of the season to see what develops for the Bundesliga debutants.

Ps. Please feel free to provide appropriate sources if Cobain is a Havant fan or any other legitimate famous superfans.

PPS. More info on the history of Greuter Furth can be found in reading this http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story/_/id/1022970/uli-hesse:-go-furth-and-conquer?cc=5739#

Greuter Furth and the future

Guten Abend mein freunds. This is just a quick post to mark out the future posts and ideas which I have been working on since my last publication.

I have generally been quite busy of late, doing overtime at work to fund a trip to Denmark next month and of course indulging in the release of FIFA 13, but I have been contemplating what is next for this blog.

Firstly, I have decided to split between two projects, one for each of the two loves; football and tennis.

So for starters, I am going to get heavy into the future of the ATP tour. This is key to maintain interest in a sport which has seen it’s most competitive age since the 1980’s. Where is the talent coming from and who will hopefully fulfill their potential? The first post will be soon and it will be on the subject of Grigor Dimitrov. A brilliantly talented Bulgarian who has yet to really kick on fully from the junior stage.

All is exciting here for the reader and for me. I really enjoying following great talent rise ever since the great tales of Arjen Robben, Kim Kallstrom and Alberto Gilardino from Championship Manager 01/02. FYI I still play this game…a lot.

The reason for the Germanic greeting at the beginning will now be clarified.

Ever since ITV4 have begun showing the Bundesliga highlights on monday night I have seemingly become addicted. It’s not as if this is a new revolution. I have been a firm follower of Schalke 04 ever since the mighty Raul Gonzalez transferred here from the Santiago Bernanbeu. They are in fact my supported club on FIFA 13. However, this isn’t the news.

Through watching the highlights I have become obsessed with a team who are in the first season in the top flight; SpVgg Greuter Furth (phonetically Groyter Fert). Partly because it is their first season but also due to Henry Kissinger being a fan and also the acquisition of Gerald Asamoah.

Therefore, from now until the end of the season I will actively be following and supporting the Cloverleafs. This could be dramatic and as WE sit bottom of the table, progress needs to be made. (PS this is mainly due to my team being so dire it is ridiculous).

I hope you can be a passenger with me on both of these trips. You can follow the blog by clicking on the top of the page or on twitter via the bottom of the page.

Auf Wiedersehn.

The 31st of August. Deadline day cometh.

In only a couple of days the most dramatic, frustrating, agonising and joyful day of the year arrives once more. It’s only deadline day! The end of the summer transfer window for the European football season is within sniffing distance and speculation is once more increasing as rapidly as Tiger Woods’ phonebook.

Managers are worried. Players are worried. Chief Executives are worried. Most importantly the fans are worried. It’s an ambivalent time for football clubs. Should we console are losses and risk the possibility for stagnation with performance? Or go hell for leather regardless of knowing how much money we can afford to throw at rival clubs and agents a la Portsmouth? The scenario is stick or twist.

One club guaranteed not to be involved in acquisitions is Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken to the media already declaring business is complete at Old Trafford. With Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa added to the team that lost the title with 90 seconds left of the season. Enough senior talent has joined to make sure the title doesn’t remain with the ‘Noisy Neighbours’. For the 19 remaining Premier League teams an aggressive twist approach is being formalised as I write. Some need only minor tweaks, whereas others need total upheaval of the first team if they wish to perform to creditable standards.

Over the last few summers, the last day of the window has seen constant action up until midnight. The most iconic is surely 2008 with Robinho moving to Manchester City and Dimitar Berbatov arriving at Manchester United in the early hours. Last year Arsenal were the big movers in the market with Mikel Arteta, Yossi Benayoun and Park Chu Young arriving from Everton, Chelsea and AS Monaco respectively. We can only speculate about the goings on of this year but it will be interesting to see which club car park Chris Kamara will end up at on the eve of September.

Arsenal

A lot of talk has been about replacements for Alex Song and Robin van Persie. Pundits are already vilifying them for not scoring in there opening games and the scapegoat is the summer arrival Olivier Giroud. Harshly criticised for his performances so far, people are always open to scrutinise Arsene Wenger and his dealings. Personally, the public have been ignorant towards Giroud. He should have scored against Sunderland but it’s about how you adapt physically to the English game. Against Stoke the Frenchman held the ball up well, was strong in the air and adept at bringing others into the attack. The only issue is that there seems to be a lack of match sharpness. This will come, as will the goals that in time Giroud will be rated on.

Arsenal arguably needs another striker and one who has a proven record in the Premier League. Not many have been mooted but an attempt to grab Clint Dempsey may be a good idea. In fairness, looking internally could solve the issue. If Nicklas Bendtner is given a chance he has the potential. Prolific for Denmark and superb at Euro 2012 many see the Dane as a nuisance. At times his attitude stinks, but by turning this into motivation for him, the goals may flow. If Wenger isn’t willing to aid, Bendtner needs to leave. Nobody wants a bad egg.

Focus on Alex Song’s transfer to Barcelona has according to many left a chasm in the centre of midfield. Wenger has publicly backed the midfield. With Santi Cazorla coming in and the returns of Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Frimpong, there is clearly quality in abundance at the Emirates.

Areas to strengthen: Central Midfield and Attack.

Players Linked: Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye (both Newcastle United), Yann Mvila (Rennes).

Aston Villa

What can you say about Aston Villa? Well, they have a good youth system.

That’s all there is to say about the Villa. An awful start to the season with a battering from Everton at home last weekend, it can safely be said that the Midlanders are a team in transition. They have been so for the last couple of seasons since Martin O’Neill vacated the Villa Park dugout. The club has become a mini-Eredivisie enclave, with three players joining from the Dutch league in pre-season.

Seemingly, they have a solid spine to their team. Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Charles N’Zogbia, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Darren Bent. That’s a reasonable 5-a-side team in terms of premier league history. The problem is the rest of the squad. Made up mainly of youth team graduates and a few steady players, they lack any real depth. Barry Bannan is a player capable of developing into the team. Comfortable on the ball, with good vision and dead ball accuracy, the Scot could potential be a real gem for Villa. It is important however, to get players around him that can support this talent. Paul Lambert has a tricky few days assembling his squad for the season and a lot may ride on who he can bring on whether they stay in the division.

Areas to strengthen: Everywhere except goalkeeper.

Players Linked: Christian Benteke (Genk), Michael Owen, Nigel Reo-Coker (both free agents), Charlie Adam (Liverpool).

Chelsea

It has been a rollercoaster year for Chelsea fans and manager Roberto Di Matteo. Following the Champions League triumph in May, the Italian moved quick to acquire Eden Hazard from Lille, Oscar of Internacional and Marko Marin from Werder Bremen. Hazard has been a revelation thus far and with Cesar Azpillicueta joining from Marseille at right back they have covered the release of Jose Bosingwa.

One area they need to strengthen is in attack. Chelsea only have Fernando Torres as the sole recognised centre forward in the squad. They possess many talented wingers but no depth through the middle. There is a chance Di Matteo could enforce the Spanish ghost centre forward role but I don’t envisage any coming anywhere near to the role Cesc Fabregas so brilliantly performs. Torres can’t be expected to play in the seven competitions Chelsea are committed to this year so experienced backup is needed. Romelu Lukaku may return from West Bromwich Albion at some point and youngster Lucas Piazon has been touted as a first team player by Di Matteo in pre-season. That is not enough for a team with so much ambition. A centre forward is a must.

Areas to strengthen: Attack

Players Linked: Leandro Damaio (Internacional), Moussa Dembele (Fulham), Hulk (Porto), Falcao (Atletico Madrid).

Fulham and Liverpool

Martin Jol has had to deal with a lot this summer. Losing out on Pavel Pogrebnyak to newly promoted Reading and then having to deal with the petulant child that is Clint Dempsey (pictured right). The hoorah surrounding the American has continued into the new season, with Jol leaving Dempsey out of both matchday squads so far. Liverpool have been reported to the FA for trying to unsettle and turn the head of Fulham’s top scorer last season. It is clear that he wants to leave and similarly Jol wants him to. The Fulham manager is not one to beat around the bush when it comes to player mutiny. After the proceedings it may be preferable for Jol to treat Liverpool to a rather expensive sale or push Dempsey elsewhere. Sunderland have shown interest and Arsenal were interested last season so there is plenty of options available to palm him off.

Moussa Dembele is off greater importance to Fulham. Linked with several clubs including Real Madrid, the Belgian has been a great acquisition since Mark Hughes signed him in 2010 from AZ. Creative, physical, skilful and quick, Dembele really drives the team on. Losing him could be catastrophic for the team if they cannot get a reasonable replacement in time.

Liverpool on the other hand, would feel comfortable with their transfer dealings thus far. Nuri Sahin has been a clever bit of business thanks to Xabi Alonso’s quite word. It is adequate to suggest that Clint Dempsey aside, they may be finished in this window but another striker may be necessary if the American fails to debut for the Merseyside club. Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea is the rumoured target in the last few days. The ability of the youngster to play anywhere across the frontline is of benefit to the 4-3-3 system Brendan Rogers likes to play. Whether Chelsea are willing to let a play with such potential and versatility leave Stamford Bridge is a different matter.

Fulham: Areas to strengthen: Creative Midfielder and a striker.

Players Linked: Charlie Adam (Liverpool), Kieran Richardson (Sunderland).

Liverpool: Areas to strengthen: Frontline.

Players Linked: Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea).

Manchester City

Not a day has gone by recently where Roberto Mancini hasn’t threatened to quit over the lack of transfer activity his club has had this summer. Of course this is likely to happen. I remember when he said Carlos Tevez wouldn’t play for the club again. Has Tevez played again? Mario Balotelli wouldn’t play for the rest of last season. Balotelli definitely didn’t provide an assist for the championship winning goal. Indeed that was actually Iain Dowie.

In fairness to the Sheikh’s who own the club it is not a necessity for them to start splurging cash on big name players. They have the strongest squad in the league but Mancini will continue to come out and suggest that the owners are extremely tight with their cash.

The only potential position they need to strengthen is in central defence. Vincent Kompany lacks a consistent partner. Joleon Lescott lacks reliability and then there is the woeful Stefan Savic. The young Fiorentina centre half Matija Nastasic and Liverpool’s Daniel Agger are the wanted men. Whether Agger wants to leave or will be allowed, I am not convinced all parties involved will agree terms.

Scott Sinclair, does however, look set to join from Swansea at some point to warm Adam Johnson’s spot on the bench and get a severe lack of game time. Mancini is still ogling Daniele De Rossi as he has been ever since he arrived at The Etihad but that looks unlikely as the Gladiator is loyal to his boyhood club Roma. It could well be a rather disappointing summer for Mancini, quitting his job and all.

Areas to strengthen: Central defence and defensive midfield.

Players Linked: Agger (Liverpool), Nastasic (Fiorentina), Sinclair (Swansea), De Rossi (Roma).

Scott SInclair looks set to complete his transfer to Manchester City this week.

QPR

It has been a transfer merry-go-round at Loftus Road this summer with seven players arriving and fourteen heading out the door, including World Footballer of the Year nominee Patrick Agyemang. Mark Hughes has been on a quest to remove the entire deadwood from the club. He has replaced them with experience and hungry young players. A surprise acquisition of Park Ji-Sung is the most eye catching of transfers but it is heavily rumoured that the 2009 and 2010 Serie A goalkeeper of the year Julio Cesar will be joining the club. The Brazilian is being moved on by Italian Giants Internazionale due to the high wages he demands and QPR are willing to satisfy him. Further movement is expected over the next couple of days in regards to their leaky defence. Talks with both Michael Dawson and Ricardo Carvalho have broken down but I am sure Hughes will try and rekindle this affair.

A lot of movement is expected with the nouveau riche West Londoners and it may well take a while for the squad to gel. This may be noteworthy come next May.

Areas to strengthen: Defence.

Players Linked: Michael Dawson (Tottenham), Ricardo Carvalho (Real Madrid), Julio Cesar (Inter), Owen Hargreaves (Free Agent).

Tottenham Hotspur

After many years of debate Luka Modric has finally been given the green light to leave Spurs. Real Madrid have taken the baton from North London and given the Croatian a real battle to even get in to the starting XI at the Bernabeu. The issue for Andre Villas Boas now is to get a replacement. Negotiations have begun with Shakhtar Donetsk over the Brazilian Willian. Fulham’s Dembele and Ibrahim Afellay of Barcelona have been discussed. What was more interesting about the Modric deal is the new ‘partnership’ between Spurs and Real Madrid. Are they now a feeder club? Do we expect Gareth Bale to be at the Bernabeu next season? One thing we do now is that opens the door for Kaka to finally arrive in the Premier League after many a year of speculation. The Brazilian is surplus to requirements now and it is of interest for Real to remove his high wages from the bill. A loan may be more likely to happen as it is well known that Spurs will not break their wage limit. Whether or not Kaka would be interested is another mitigating factor. No Champions League football may deter him, but regular first team football is surely of priority for a player who is 30 this year and has a home World Cup in two years time.

AVB is rather mysterious when it comes to transfers. He has already outlined that Harry Kane will be third choice striker with Rafael van der Vaart taking up a more advanced role to play directly with Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe. The youngster did well on loan at Millwall in the second half of last season but it would be a lot of pressure should he be needed for a regular starting berth over the season. A back up striker would be necessary but AVB is playing his cards close to his chest.

Areas to strengthen: Creative midfielder and a striker.

Players Linked: Yann Mvila (Rennes), Moussa Dembele (Fulham), Willian (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Kaka (Real Madrid), Anderson (Manchester United).

Kaka to the Premier League?

With only days left it is exciting to see who will grace the Premier League this season. Everyone has their own opinion on who they want to see in the league but I firmly believe that Kaka could be the big story this year, well apart from Michael Owen’s new club. I couldn’t talk about deadline day without mentioning Owen. Heavily linked with Everton and Stoke City so far he expects to find a club this week according to Twitter. After much deliberation, I personally believe the right choice may in fact be Wigan Athletic. Notorious for being horrendous in front of goal despite the chances they create, Owen could well be the answer to their prayers and them to his.

The Roy-ro’s

As we move ominously towards the start of the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, it is Roy Hodgson who is trudging around in the afterbirth of Fabio Capello’s England managerial career.

Albeit a successful career as England manager, the highest win percentage of any previous employee of the FA, Capello suffered with acceptance from the loyal supporters who follow the national team through thick and thin. The dismal World Cup in South Africa, when he should have been fired, was seemingly the icing on the cake for most fans. The performances improved during qualification, especially against Bulgaria and in the Millennium Stadium against Wales, but there was still lethargy in great abundance in most games.

It is Roy’s chance to remove the negative persona assimilated with the national team. His inclusion of Gary Neville into his coaching setup is a clever approach, incorporating a man who has only been out of the game for 18 months and has played on countless occasions with many of the players nominated in his 23 man squad. It provides a link between the workshop and head office, despite his pleasure at climaxing during live television. Hodgson is quite clearly a footballing intellectual and one can only hope that his intense knowledge of European football will stand English football in good stead this summer, distracting attention from Andy Murray during Wimbledon fortnight.

As we begin to discuss his selection for the championships it is clear that some form of loyalty has been kept to the players who formed the qualification team, as Roy himself mentioned in the resulting press conference.

Goalkeepers

No qualms or issues over Roy’s choice here. Arguably the simplest decision he could ever make following Ben Foster’s disdain for international football and Scott Carson’s inability to catch a football. There are question marks over Jack Butland, the 20 year old standby who had been on loan in League 2 this year with the ‘galacticos’ of Ben Burgess and Darryl Duffy at Cheltenham Town. Quite easily David Stockdale, Frank Fielding or Scott Loach would have sufficed.

Roy’s Choice: Joe Hart, Robert Green and John Ruddy.

Defenders

Despite being an England international since 1997, Rio Ferdinand has never competed at a European Championships.

The predicament here was always going to be whether to take Rio or John Terry. I’m sure that both could have played together as they are both patriotic professionals but the good of the team has to be put in front of individuals. This is how Hodgson differs from Capello. I imagine Fabio would name both players as he loved the ‘big name’ players England had to offer. It has been described as purely a footballing reason for the omission of Rio but I cannot comprehend that as a reason.Rio has been in fine form this season but the clincher has to be the partnership that Terry and Cahill have been creating at Chelsea. It must be a case of Rio not being first choice so what is the point of risking team morale? Personally I would take them both and start them together as they are the only really accomplished centre backs on the radar at the moment. Potential is one thing, experience is another.

The second defensive issue is right back. Not because of a lack of a talent but the one place there is real competition for position. Injuries to Kyle Walker and Chris Smalling loosened the pressure only minimally. Premier League winner Micah Richards, Phil Jones, and Glen Johnson were the three up for adoption with the latter two compromising the successful contestants. The continued mistrust of Micah Richards at international level is baffling, especially when you consider the superlatives linked with Glen Johnson (spot the sarcasm). If fit I think the two injured players would have been picked over Johnson and Jones, but one can only speculate.

Roy’s Choice: Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott and John Terry. Standby: Phil Jagielka.

My Choice: Micah Richards, Phil Jones, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry. Standby: Glen Johnson.

Midfielders

With the midfield berths it was a case of six relatively automatic choices plus two others or 3 for Hodgson. Having chosen seven defenders it would have been expected that a fifth striker would have been included but midfield diversity was instead selected. It was always guaranteed that the six of Parker, Gerrard, Lampard, Barry, Young and Walcott would be the forbearers of English resistance in the Ukraine. It is the ‘Mr Versatility’ tag associated with James Milner that has grasped Hodgson’s vision and the rise in prominence of 18 year old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Hodgson discussed the performance of Chamberlain against AC Milan at the Emirates and how it convinced him that the youngster was a necessary inclusion for the summer, claiming the way he dealt with the experienced Massimo Ambrosini and Andrea Pirlo (he’s at Juventus Roy, he didn’t play) was well beyond his years. The Arsenal star believes he will play with no fear in the championships if called upon and he has assets which Theo Walcott does not possess, a footballing brain and the ability to pick a cross. These are similar resources shared with Stewart Downing. The decision I can’t believe in the squad. Tim Howard, the Everton goalkeeper, has more goals and assists than Downing this season. The rejection of Adam Johnson, who has at times been in wonderful form forManchesterCitythis season, has the essence of a forgotten man about him despite his prospective to do something brilliant. The game changing potential of Johnson coupled with Downing’s form would have put him in my squad.

A quick side note to Michael Carrick who, according to FA reports, rejected a call up for the squad because he didn’t want to be a bit part player. Not the most patriotic response but it’s hardly surprising when you consider how sparingly he has been used on England duty. I would have started him alongside Parker in midfield as he is the nearest to Paul Scholes we have on offer.

Roy’s Choice: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Barry, Stewart Downing, James Milner, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young, Scott Parker and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Standby: Jordan Henderson, Adam Johnson.

My Choice: Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker, Michael Carrick, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Johnson. Standby: Joe Cole, Tom Cleverley.

Attackers

The Wayne Rooney dilemma of 6 months ago after his malicious kick on a Montenegrin defender in the final qualifier has passed without anybody contemplating the idea of not taking him to the Euros. 27 league goals this term is only second to van Persie and 12 goals clear of the next highest Englishman, Grant Holt. A lot of debate has been made over Holt but it is clear that he is simply not good enough. One season in the Premier League is not enough for a player of his age to warrant a first call up. He works hard putting a shift in for the team but so does Danny Welbeck who is severely more talented than the veteran Cumbrian. Welbeck has been in fine form for Manchester United this season and has been selected in almost all over the big games ahead of Chicarito. If Sir Alex has belief in the mental strength of such a young player then it is obvious the youngster is more than adequate enough to be in the mind of the England manager.

Darren Bent’s performances for England over the qualification period would have guaranteed a slot in the full squad were it not for rupturing ankle ligaments in February, ruling him out for the rest of the season. This marks the third successive tournament he has missed out on. The only similar forward available to Hodgson was Jermain Defoe. Despite his lack of match time this season, Defoe managed 11 league goals proving once again the goal poaching ability that he is famous for.

Darren Bent misses out on a third straight England tournament squad.

The final pick went to Andy Carroll, whose late season form sprung him back into contention. His performance in the FA cup final was menacing and was it not for a fantastic decision by the linesman; Carroll could have taken the tie into extra time. Many have discussed the omission of Peter Crouch as a decision which could harangue the England manager. Crouch has had a good first season at Stoke but I don’t think it is too bold to say that I expected a lot better from the former Liverpool man. Overall, I believe that Carroll is a player that, on his day, no centre back would want to come up against. He is a big unit, good in the air and at feet, with pace and good link up play; attributes that Crouch doesn’t particularly possess. Personally I believe had Bobby Zamora stayed at Fulham, he would be on the plane ahead of both of these.

Similarly to the goalkeeping selection, I believe Hodgson’s choices to be the best options available to him. They cover all the bases and it also leaves speculation for Theo Walcott getting a chance to be the fifth striker.

Roy’s Choice: Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe. Standby: Daniel Sturridge.

Overall, it can be argued that the squad chosen for the European Championships is in some way homage to Capello’s regime asEnglandboss. For example, sticking with players who qualified for the tournament suggests that these fringe players, Downing, Defoe, Milner etc are not truly in the team on form but on merit. It is seemingly a last chance saloon for most of the players and instils a vision of overhaul following England’s exit from the tournament and into the next qualifying campaign. One can only hope this is the case. It is tiring as a supporter watching players who are picked in every squad yet cannot string two passes together in an England shirt.

In terms of potential in the tournament, the realistic bet is to advance from the group stage. England have had trouble doing this throughout their involvement in the competition with decent squads so to achieve this in 2012 would be as good as a semi final place. Anything less than a quarter final finish will already add strain to Hodgson’s credentials within the media and more importantly the fans.