Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 57)

Red Rose Football Blog Edition 57

November 21st 2017


Red Rose County Player of the Week

Danny Rowe; AFC Fylde

There was no shortage of contenders for “Player of the Week”. Kevin de Bruyne and Mohammed Salah, the impressive return of Paul Pogba and both Eoin Doyle and Marcus Antonsson were amongst the goals once more in League 1. But there is some excellent football being played in Non-League circles and AFC Fylde has a most remarkable striker. Danny Rowe (pictured) is a Blackpool boy. He is tall, strong and a lethal finisher: head and either foot.
Involved at Manchester United as a youngster, he drifted around the Non-League circuit when released. He played at Fleetwood Town, Lincoln City, Macclesfield Town and Stockport County, always scoring goals wherever he played. In the summer of 2014, he arrived at Fylde at the age of 24. The Coasters are full time professionals and Rowe’s goals have taken them into the 5th Tier of English football. An old school centre forward, he has already passed the century mark for the Mill Farm club. He knocked in 50 last season and in the tough, full time National League, he is now topping the goal scoring charts once more. There is no doubt that he could play in League 2 and interestingly he played alongside Jamie Vardy whilst with the Cod Army. Danny Rowe may not achieve as much as the English international, but he destroyed Torquay United on Saturday and is a deserved winner of the Red Rose County Player of the Week award.

The Premier League; still the world’s most competitive?

Pundits have talked about the ”Big 4”, the “Big 5” and last season it was the “Big 6” in the Premier League, with  the two Manchester clubs and often Liverpool occupying three of those slots.  Normally you would expect a chasing pack followed by a group tailed off, but with the exception of Burnley (and possibly Watford), the other thirteen clubs are already also-rans. There is a very good reason for this; they are simply not good enough. So although there is always going to be an occasional upset, it is looking more and more that the old adage of the “Prem” being the most competitive league in the world” is a thing of the past. On Saturday for example, as hard as Leicester City tried, they were always kicking uphill against Manchester City. They failed to register a single shot on target and the “Sky Blues” could have easily added to the strikes of Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne. Likewise at Old Trafford, although Newcastle United were the first to score, they were swamped by a rampant Manchester United side in which the returning Paul Pogba ran the show. It was a similar show at Anfield. Liverpool could have run up a cricket score against a Southampton side which eventually conceded three goals, two to Mohamed Salah, now the league’s leading scorer, and Phillipe Coutinho. The press had been writing up the start Leicester had made since Claude Puel took over, the fact that Newcastle were much more difficult to beat this season and that the “Saints” had only conceded an average of one goal per game, but all of this meant nothing as each one crumbled against much superior opposition. The situation at Burnley is not too dissimilar. Pre-season, we would have deduced that they too would be rolled over by the top six and have to battle to win sufficient points against other strugglers to survive at the top level for another season. Against a struggling Swansea City on Saturday, they coasted to a 2-0 victory.

I know the season is not quite one third over, but the statistics do bear out that upsets are a rarity. The chart below shows that of the 120 Premier League games played so far this season, only 5 have resulted in a win for a lower team against a Top 7 club. The other 11 defeats collected by the teams below have been inflicted by fellow Top 7 sides. 

No of Defeats
Victorious Opponents
Manchester City

Manchester United
Huddersfield Town
Crystal Palace
Tottenham Hotspur


Stoke City & Watford
West Bromwich Albion

If only another half dozen or so clubs could lift their performance level to that of “the low budget extraordinaire” Burnley, we really would have a Premier League that, in terms of competitive value, is the best in the world.

Other interesting results from the weekend

It was a predictable 0-0 result at Deepdale on Friday evening in the Championship. We had a Preston North End side desperate to avoid losing five on the spin against Bolton Wanderers who, having had their confidence ripped away by the worst of all starts to the season, were reluctant to over-commit, preferring to increase their unbeaten run to six games rather than chasing the 3 points. North End are still relatively safe in a lower mid-table position and although the Wanderers remain in the bottom three, they are no longer isolated from the rest of the pack.

There is no doubt that local derbies boost gates and two of our League 1 clubs recorded attendances close to double the average for this season. There were 6,129 spectators at the “El Flatcapico” at Boundary Park to see an excellent scrap decided by two late Eoin Doyle’s goals, handing Oldham Athletic a 3-1 win over a battling Rochdale who have dropped into the bottom four once again. An even bigger gate of 7,159 was at Gigg Lane but Bury simply did not possess enough of anything to take on Blackburn Rovers, remaining rock bottom whilst the Rovers moved into the top 6 with games in hand of their rivals. Marcus Antonsson, (pictured) the Leeds United loanee, helped himself to a couple of goals in their 3-0 victory.
Wigan Athletic lost 2-1 at home to the talented Bradford City to fall behind leaders Shrewsbury Town but Blackpool returned to winning ways after an extremely commendable 1-0 win at Peterborough United; Kyle Vassell scoring the goal.

A draw can be a good result; it can also be quite disappointing. It is all down to circumstance and situation. Accrington Stanley, fresh from their shock FA Cup elimination to Non-League Guiseley following a penalty shoot-out, must have fancied 3 points from their home fixture against Newport County. In fact they had to wait until an 88th minute equaliser from substitute Mallik Wilks to claim a 1-1 draw, whereas Morecambe, faced with a tough trip to Colchester United, were pleased to travel back north with a point from a goalless draw. Stanley have slipped to 3rd in League 2 and the “Shrimps”, now unbeaten in two successive league games, are 4 points clear of the relegation zone in 20th place.

Barrow produced arguably the performance of the day for a Red Rose County club by ending a long barren spell, winning 2-0 at Eastleigh, a wealthy club from Hampshire. Striker Byron Harrison and defender Jimmy Dunne were on target as the “Bluebirds” extricated themselves from the relegation spots in the National League. Meanwhile AFC Fylde picked up another three points with a 2-0 win over strugglers Torquay United, that man Danny Rowe once again on the score sheet….twice.

Games to watch out for this weekend

With the chase behind leaders Manchester City hotting up, there are two exciting Premier League fixtures this weekend. The Liverpool v Chelsea clash is the perfect aperitif prior to a Saturday night out. Both sides have improved considerably over the last month. Antonio Conte appears to have re-found that essential dressing room harmony and by playing “will of the wisp” Eden Hazard virtually alongside Alvaro Morata, he has effectively compensated for the loss of Diego Costa. The emergence of Mohamed Salah as perhaps the most exciting striker in English football and the return of Sadio Mane have revitalised the Merseyside club and we need to remember that Adam Lallana, possibly the best English player prior to his long term injury, is now back in training. He is unlikely to feature against the “Blues”, but providing their Achilles heel (the Back 4) show up on the day, the “Reds” will have a wonderful opportunity to press their claims to the runners-up spot. Turf Moor will be packed to the rafters on Sunday afternoon for the visit of Arsenal. East Lancashire can be an inhospitable place for Southerners, particularly if the weather is traditionally wet, windy and autumnal and this Burnley side is currently taking no prisoners.
Jack Cork has proved to be an inspired signing, complementing the skills of the Irish duo of Brady (pictured) and Hendrick and whether the manager plays Wood, Vokes or Barnes up front makes little difference; each one is a serious threat. Arsenal have a tremendous home record this season but have been flaky on their travels. Messrs Ozil and Sanchez will have to be really up for the fight to prevent the Clarets lengthening their winning streak. The “west coast” derby at Highbury Stadium on Saturday will be an interesting game. Just one point and three league placings separate Fleetwood Town and Blackpool in this League 1 encounter, with both clubs still harbouring dreams of a Play-Off place. The “Cod Army”, forced to sell two of their star players in the summer, have had a decent season, but lack the cutting edge of last season’s eleven. The “Tangerines”, fresh from a welcome win on the road at Peterborough, are an unpredictable side so a close game could be in prospect. The FA Trophy Qualifying Round 3 has paired two of our struggling clubs. Marine from the Northern Premier League play host to FC United of Manchester from the National League North. Both clubs need a win here to help them to kick start their season, enabling them to pull away from the prospect of relegation, but this game is too close to call. In the same competition, National League North leaders Salford City have been given the toughest possible draw, away to Brackley. The Northamptonshire side are equally pushing hard for promotion. The Greater Manchester side has never before progressed beyond this point so a win in the Midlands will add to their ever lengthening CV. Prescot Cables welcome table toppers South Shields to Valerie Park for a Northern Premier League 1 North game. The “Geordies” are pulling in tremendous crowds but the “Cables” are having a much improved season and may give the leaders a run for their money.

Quiz of the Week (Answers at the foot of the Blog)
All the questions relate to Wembley Cup Finals
1 For which team did this man win his only FA Cup winner's medal?
2 This man's header won the FA Cup for which team?
3 This goalkeeper played for which team?

4 With which club did this man win 2 FA Cup Winner's medals? 

5 With which club did Bill Shankly (pictured far left) win his only FA Cup medal?

6 Which is the team playing in white?

7 Which team won the FA Cup this particular year?

8 Which Red Rose County team had these three internationals just beaten in the FA Cup Final?

9 Who was the last man to be presented with the FA Cup?

10 Against whom did this man score twice in the last final played at the old Wembley?

Non-League Chatter

The Ashton United v Barwell 1-1 draw in the Northern Premier League may seem like a run of the mill result, but it was actually filled with drama. With 15 minutes remaining and the score goalless, Ashton were reduced to ten men and with 5 minutes still on the clock, were further reduced to nine. Amazingly they gained a penalty which Dan Pilkington converted but were denied a heroic victory when Barwell equalised well into time added. The Greater Manchester side slipped out of the Play-Off spots as a result. Warrington Town remain in second place after coming from behind to win 3-1 at Mickleover Sports. The best performance in Northern Premier League 1 North was Ramsbottom United’s 3-2 win at league leader’s Bamber Bridge. “Rammy” led 3-0 well into the second half, “Brig” came roaring back but failed to find the equaliser. Bootle will be disappointed by their efforts this season, failing to match the fluency of last year when promotion was achieved. They did however record a comfortable 4-0 away win at a struggling Maine Road on Saturday to enable them to hang on to 5th place in the North West Counties Premier League. The shock result of the day however came in the North West Counties League 1 where Holker Old Boys ended Silsden’s 17 game winning streak, Nathan Reid scoring a last minute winner.

Non-League Club of the Week

Abbey Hey FC

Deep in the East End of Manchester, within the Gorton district is an area known as Abbey Hey. There has been a football club there bearing that name on and off since 1902, but it was in the 60s that they began to be taken seriously. Having transferred to the Manchester League in 1970, they were Premier League Champions five times before being accepted into the North West Counties League 1 in 1998. They quickly gained promotion to the NWC Premier League and, apart from a three year hiatus, have become Tier 9 regulars. The club play in dark red shirts with black shorts and they supervised the building of their own Abbey Stadium in near-by Chorlton-cum-Hardy over 20 years ago. They have failed to break into the top ten in the Premier League, their best finish being 10th in 2016. Their best national competition performance was in the FA Vase in 2003 when they lost 3-1 at Fleetwood Town in Round 3, although they did hold the mighty Altrincham to a 3-3 draw in the 1st Qualifying Round of the FA Cup this season. Managed by Luke Gibson, they currently sit 16th in a 23 team table, relatively secure from relegation, but as the City of Manchester’s number 5 team and now so experienced at this level, I am assuming that they will at least continue as a mid-table side for some time yet.

Schools’ Football; a possible solution to gun and knife crime?

Football is certainly currency with the younger kids. Until the age of eleven there is massive engagement; they wear the shirt, talk up their team, collect the stickers and constantly kick a ball around. The professional clubs help, attracting boys and girls from as young as 6 years of age to become involved in coaching schemes and they are backed up by local authority summer camps and by an ocean of junior clubs who may run up to as many as four 5 aside or 7 aside teams per age group. From eleven onwards, the fall out begins; at first a trickle leading to an avalanche by the age of 18. The local clubs have done a great job but they are mainly run by dads who often lack the skills to deal with problem “teens” with absentee fathers and no transport. They are subsequently lost to the game and the game’s loss is society’s loss because many of these youngsters develop into testosterone fuelled hell-raisers who look for an outlet for their pent-up energy; finding it in the gang culture. Hence there are far too many boys in this age bracket who are being locked up and on the road to becoming career criminals. Once upon a day there was schools’ football with the pupils playing 20 plus games a season for their school and if they had problems getting home, the teacher would drop them off. Schools’ football is now on its last legs and the English Schools’ FA, the parent body which had overall responsibility for providing an opportunity for millions of boys and lately girls to play the game, will soon cease to exist, the FA taking over the responsibility for inter-school competitions. The PE Teacher was generally looked up to in a school. He was the one they would listen to, the one who knew what was going on amongst the kids, a positive role model with often (quite literally) the clout to sort them out. For many young people, football is an outlet for excess energy and aggression. It creates excitement; it produces team bonding and loyalty. It is a force for the good in society and helps to make worthy citizens. Bizarrely however, the gang culture offers some of the same to its crews. Just like football, it provides a sense of belonging, makes similar demands of its members, has its own code of conduct and role models to look up to. Sadly however with its reliance on knives, guns and drugs, it not only ruins the lives of its intended victims but also the majority of its participants. We didn’t always win with troublesome pupils but if we could get them playing sport through those troublesome years, we had a chance and I am certain that many teachers who were involved in schools’ football have virtually saved the lives of numerous potential thugs and drug addicts. Now they are simply cannon fodder for the gangsters, all because governments have played down competition in schools and have put far too much emphasis on the delivery of the National Curriculum to the detriment of extra-curricular activities. The fear factor surrounding teachers giving lifts to youngsters has certainly not helped and the Premier League, who said that the coaching of young footballers could not be trusted to amateur school teachers, and the power-lusting FA have sounded the death knell for the ESFA. Is an organisation which worked for free, helped produce the likes of Charlton and Moore, Robson, Shilton and Giggs but most importantly gave millions of kids, often from unstable and dysfunctional families a feeling of self-worth and a positive buzz from their lives, not worth saving?

Post Weekend Musings

It will be an interesting return to East Anglia for Alex Neil on Saturday as his Preston North End side meet Norwich City in the Championship. The Canaries sacked the Scotsman part way through last season but their situation has shown no significant improvement and North End likewise, who lost manager Simon Grayson to Sunderland prior to replacing him with Neil, are still a mid-table club. It makes one wonder whether we don’t attach too much significance to the role of a manager these days. Pre-1st World War, the committee would pick the side, throw the ball to the skipper just before the game and say “here you are, sort it out, get on with it”. Would that still work? It would be interesting to find out.

It’s European football midweek, with six of our clubs in action. It is difficult however to drum up a sense of excitement in what is on offer. With two games still to be played in the group games of the Champions League, Manchester City have already qualified and a home win over Feyenoord on Tuesday will guarantee top spot (and a seeded draw). Manchester United travel to FC Basel the following evening, knowing that a draw will be sufficient to top the group. Liverpool have the most difficult task. A draw at Sevilla on Tuesday will help the cause, but a win would guarantee qualification. It has been a most encouraging set of results for our sides thus far, but some of the opposition has been poor. I suggest that the likes of NK Maribor, Feyenoord, Olympiakos, FK Qarabag and RSC Anderlecht would be amongst the dead wood in our Premier League and Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Benfica and Atletico Madrid have disappointed. Hopefully the knock-out stages will be far more competitive once the rubbish has been binned and we can really enjoy the games. It also asks questions about the long-mooted European Super League and how competitive that might be.

The success gained by David Moyes (pictured) at Preston North End and Everton was quite remarkable. Both clubs were in a poor state on and off the field when he was appointed, but by sheer hard work, this unglamorous Glaswegian somehow found a rapport with players and spectators alike, steadying the ship on both occasions. I defy anyone (except perhaps the most ardent of City fans amongst us) to turn down the Old Trafford job; what a massive compliment to be the chosen replacement to Sir Alex, but it all went downhill from that point.

Following failures at Real Sociedad and Sunderland, West Ham United have been brave to take him on but he was an adopted Red Rose man for many years and without an ounce of bull-shit in him. For those reasons, I really wish him all the best in the East End of London. I do however wonder if they will understand his “lingo”. 

Quiz Answers: 1 Tottenham Hotspur, 2 Wigan Athletic, 3 Manchester City, 4 Manchester United, 5 Preston North End, 6 Bolton Wanderers, 7 Everton, 8 Burnley, 9 Per Mertesacker, 10 Arsenal.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Red Rose Football Blog (Number 56)

Red Rose Football Blog Edition 56

November 14th 2017


Red Rose County Player of the Week

Jordan Pickford

It always used to be said that if as a youngster, you wanted to improve as a goalkeeper, play for a poor side; the type of eleven which scarcely finds its way past the half way line. This way you get more practice. Last season, Jordan Pickford (pictured) could not have been at a better club. Born in
Washington (that’s the one close to Sunderland), he joined the “Black Cats” as an 8 year old and when he signed a professional contract, the club loaned him out to a variety of clubs to further his experience. For example he played 24 times for Preston North End two seasons ago. When David Moyes arrived at the Stadium of Light, he threw the young keeper in at the deep end and in front of a threadbare defence, he was magnificent. With Sunderland being relegated, it was no surprise that Everton came calling, armed with a cheque for £30million but Pickford has had to earn his wages at Goodison also. He needed a touch of luck and with injuries to Jack Butland and Tom Heaton, he became the de facto number 2 keeper for England this season. As soon as the opportunity arose, Gareth Southgate gave him the number 1 shirt against the Germans and his performance was flawless, being instrumental in keeping them at bay in the first half in particular. It was a display worthy of a Red Rose Player of the Week.    

                                                                                                                                                                                                Premier League

After the International friendlies and, in the case of the two Irelands, World Cup Qualifying Play-Offs, it is back to the Premier League fixtures this coming weekend. For once, all five of the Red Rose County sides are in action on Saturday, all with a 3.00 kick-off apart from Manchester United who host Newcastle United at 5.30. The Old Trafford side have only won one of their last 4 league games, a single goal win over Spurs and they have failed to score more than once in any of them. Now 8 points adrift of the leaders, they are currently locked into a battle for the runners-up spot with two of their London rivals but an exciting performance against the Toon Army will silence any fans who are less than happy with Jose Mourinho’s way of playing. In a rare clash of English managers, Sean Dyche’s Burnley are at home to Paul Clements’s Swansea City. We all think we know just how much the “Claret’s” have over-achieved, but maybe they haven’t. Possibly this rich vein of form could be the norm and the club is simply establishing itself in the top half of Europe’s most competitive league. Time will tell of course but their Welsh opponents are really struggling, having scored a meagre 7 goals in 11 games. No doubt Jack Cork would be happy to put one over on his former team mates and it’s the type of fixture that the Turf Moor side must win if their hopes of qualifying for Europe are to be taken seriously. Probably the most fascinating of the games featuring our clubs takes place at Selhurst Park where Everton provide the opposition for Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace. The Londoner’s are still propping up the table but the ex-England boss appears to be coming to grips with the job in hand and in Wilfred Zaha, they have one of the most potent attackers in the league. It may be David Unsworth’s (pictured) last chance to show the Everton hierarchy that
he is the right man for the job and we can expect fireworks from two sides desperate for 3 points. Leaders Manchester City visit Leicester City, looking in their rear view mirrors for any sign of the opposition. The East Midland side are unpredictable, have several extremely talented players (Mahrez, Vardy, Schmeichel etc) and they can do damage when they counter at speed. New manager Claude Puel however has the same conundrum as all other coaches when facing Pep Guardiola’s side. Can they defend for long stretches against a side simply full of magical players; long enough to eventually have enough of the ball to stretch the City defence on the break? We saw the damage Leroy Sane did to the England defence on Friday and Pep will be pleased that Ilkay Gundogan played 85 minutes in the same game, all part of his rehabilitation from a very serious cruciate ligament injury which has caused him to miss 9 months of football. Finally Liverpool welcome Southampton to Anfield. They should know everything about the south coast side, having pinched so many of their players in recent times and suddenly, J├╝rgen Klopp has the “Reds” playing in his preferred style. They have quality attacking players and will definitely test the strength of opposition centre back Virgil van Dijk, surely the German’s number one target in the fast approaching transfer window where Liverpool will look to shore up their defence. The Saints often provide a surprise or two on their travels but you have to fancy the home side to keep up the pressure on Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal who meet on Saturday lunch time.

The Championship

Our two Championship clubs meet on Friday evening at Deepdale. Five weeks ago, it would have been purely damage limitation for Phil Parkinson’s Bolton Wanderers side, but such has been their recent progress and so startling has been the decline by a Preston North End side decimated by injuries that this is a genuine 50/50 game. With a two week break, Alex Neil’s staff hopefully will have cleared much of the treatment room, but this is a game that both elevens will genuinely feel that they can win. Whichever side triumphs will give us a strong indication of the direction they will be taking for the rest of the season but home advantage may just tip the balance in this Mid-Lancashire derby.

League 1 and League 2

The international programme also took its toll of League 1 fixtures, only three of our sides playing on Saturday. Bury, somewhat surprisingly, were the only club to emerge with a point, gained from a 1-1 draw on the road at Gillingham. The veteran midfield player Neil Danns (pictured), unbelievably
playing for his 6th club beginning with a letter “B”, opened the scoring just before the interval but conceded from a corner with 5 minutes remaining. A draw away is always a good point but ironically, other results conspired to send the “Shakers” to the bottom of the league. They face an FA Cup replay at home to Woking from The National League on Tuesday before welcoming local rivals Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. They ought to win the cup encounter which will then qualify them for a 2nd Round home tie to either Tranmere Rovers or Peterborough United but the local derby v Blackburn will be difficult for the still manager-less Gigg Lane club. If there was ever a time for icing to be layered on to the cake, it was at Bloomfield Road on Saturday. Following the defeat in the High Court for the Oyston’s on Monday and the news that the unpopular owners were putting the club up for sale, over 5,000 spectators came through the gates to watch the game against Portsmouth. With 5 goals, 4 in the last few minutes, they certainly had value for money, but unfortunately Blackpool lost 3-2.  Solomon-Otabor had put the “Tangerines” ahead and then a late Hawkins own goal brought them back to 2-2 before “Pompey” stole an even later winner. Gary Bowyer’s side has lost its last 3 league matches plus the ignominy of an FA Cup defeat to Non-League Boreham Wood and although they are still comfortably mid-table, alarm bells will be ringing prior to their tricky away trip to Peterborough United. Fleetwood Town will be disappointed with their 1-0 defeat at MK Dons. With only two shots on target all afternoon, it was always going to be a tight game, but MK scored theirs whilst Jordy Hiwula’s effort for the “Cod Army” was magnificently saved. Uwe Rosler’s side will be favourites to return to winning ways at home to Doncaster Rovers and 3 points is certainly needed to prevent other Play-Off candidates from creating daylight between them in the league table. It is the “El Flatcapico” at Boundary Park on Saturday afternoon when Oldham Athletic welcome their rivals from the other side of the M62; Rochdale no less. Both clubs are dangling just above the drop zone but both have shown improvement of late. Three points will be a lifeline for either club in their fight to ensure safety and it is impossible to pick a winner in what could either be a cagey, tactical affair or a rip-roaring battle. Wigan Athletic will be fresh from their two week break but Bradford City, their Trans-Pennine opponents’, will not make it easy for them. The “Latics” are 6 points clear of the “Bantams” in 4th place, but Stuart McCall’s outfit are once more challenging for promotion and a close encounter is on the cards.

It always looked like a tough League 2 engagement for Accrington Stanley at Cambridge United and so it turned out to be; a 0-0 draw. Billy Kee was twice denied for Stanley but at the other end, Aaron Chapman (pictured) had to be alert on a number of occasions to keep a clean slate. It was a
fair result if not a true reflection of the excitement on show. After they have hopefully disposed of Guiseley in the FA Cup replay on Tuesday, the “Reds” are home to an improved Newport County side; the Welsh club being handily placed in 9th spot. We are into mid-November and the Accringtonians I know can scarcely believe that they are still occupying second spot. They think they are still dreaming!! Morecambe’s win over Hartlepool United in last week’s FA Cup turned out to be no flash in the pan, because they showed a similar fighting spirit to edge out Wycombe Wanderers 2-1. Two first half goals from Stephen Old and Adam McGurk were a bonus but they certainly did not put the game out of reach. Wycombe roared back in the second half, peppering Barry Roche’s goal for 45 minutes, the Irishman’s heroics restricting the response to just one Adebayo “the beast” Akinfenwa headed goal. The victory lifts the “Shrimps” to 19th in the table as they prepare for a long trip to Colchester United on Saturday.

Quiz of the Week (Answers at the foot of the Blog)

1                    England’s worst ever international tournament defeat was versus the part-timers of the USA in the World Cup in Brazil. Their 2nd worst was in the European Championships against Iceland, but in which country was the game staged?

2                    Who was Manchester City’s manager when the Abu Dhabi group took over in August 2008, a man they sacked 16 months later?

3                    Which club did Brendan Rogers (pictured) leave before becoming manager at Liverpool in 2012?

4                    Who was the Grenada international striker Blackburn Rovers bought from Wigan Athletic in 2006, who went on to score 24 goals in 134 league matches at Ewood Park?

5                    Only 3 Red Rose County clubs have won the FA Trophy; Morecambe, Burscough and which other club that won in 1990 and 2010?

6                    Only 5 clubs have won all 3 legs of the European treble, the European Cup/Champions League, the Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA/Europa League Cup. They are Juventus, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and which other club?

7                    In 2006, Wigan Athletic’s Pascal Chimbonda (pictured) was selected for the PFA Premier League Team of the Year and then sold to which club at the season’s end?

8                    Blackburn Rovers were a selling club in the 60s and to which club did they transfer Welsh international Roy Vernon and England internationals Fred Pickering and Keith Newton?

9                    Which member of the England 1966 World Cup winning side played at Oldham Athletic for the 1969-70 season?

10                Who is the current Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper with a goalkeeping brother who signed for Glasgow Rangers from Port Vale in January?

The Non-League Scene

There were disappointing results in the National League with AFC Fylde losing 2-1 at Aldershot Town, a Danny Rowe goal being insufficient to secure a draw after Jack Muldoon was sent off. Barrow were no match for championship chasing Macclesfield Town, losing 2-0. The “Coasters” next host relegation threatened Torquay United whilst the Cumbrian side travel to Hampshire to meet mid-table Eastleigh. Salford City now find themselves 7 points clear at the head of National League North following their come from behind victory at Tamworth, Mark Shelton and Michael Phenix delivering the goals and it was good to see FC United of Manchester climb out of the relegation zone with a 3-1 home win over AFC Telford United. Since being relegated in 2009, Prescot Cables have never finished in the top ten of the Northern Premier League 1 North, but that could all change this season. They are much improved and currently in 5th position, one point behind Scarborough Athletic whom they defeated 3-1 on Saturday. With their Youth Team also making everyone sit up and take notice by reaching the last 64 of the FA Youth Cup, it could be a year to remember at Valerie Park. The performance of the day in the North West Counties Premier League had to be at the Anchor Ground. Faced by runaway leaders Runcorn Town, it was the “away” banker of the day. The relegation threatened AFC Darwen however had not read the script and after scoring twice by the 50th minute, they defended stoutly to hang on for a 2-2 draw.

Non-League Club of the Week

Burscough FC

Burscough is a large village on the A59 between Preston and Liverpool, but as a football club, it has often punched above its weight. Founded in 1946, they had great success locally and climbed their way, via the Lancashire Combination, Cheshire League, North West Counties and Northern Premier leagues, to  the dizzy heights of the (then) Conference North at Tier 6 in 2008. En route they played at Villa Park (Wembley being renovated), winning the FA Trophy in 2003 with a 2-1 win over Tamworth. They are the smallest club to win this national trophy and they reached the 2nd Round of the FA Cup in 2005-06, finally being eliminated away at Burton Albion. John Davison, the old Altrincham stalwart, managed the club through many of their glory days, but since then, financial problems and Boardroom disputes have contributed to a fairly rapid decline. They now find themselves struggling towards the bottom of the North West Counties Premier League with massive question marks over the future of their Victoria Park ground. Recent results have shown some improvement for the Linnets who play in green, but before any real progress can be made, the off the field situation must be sorted.

Post Weekend Musings

One has to feel sorry for Phil Jones (pictured), the Manchester United and England centre-back.
The threat of injury is ever-present and once again he had to leave the field in the Germany friendly fixture over the weekend. There is no doubt that the Preston born defender has John Terry qualities being hard, intelligent and strong in the air; a “big item” who will not be bullied by opposition strikers. It is unfair to label him with the “sick note” nickname, but since breaking through at Blackburn Rovers in 2010, he has played just 168 Premier League games in 8 full seasons; 29 in 2012 topping the list. England will need him in Russia and certainly United will require his services if they are going to challenge for honours on four fronts, but you have to worry about his long term fitness.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek made his debut for England after only 29 league appearances for Chelsea and Crystal Palace. It is rare for the country to pick someone so inexperienced although I am certain it is not a modern-day record. Both Michael Owen (at Liverpool) and Wayne Rooney (at Everton) must have played fewer games at the time of their first cap. I cannot find the exact numbers, but I would guess Rooney has the record. Interestingly, Rooney and Owen were 17 and 18 years old respectively on their debuts whereas Loftus-Cheek is 21, but when you sign for Chelsea as a youngster, they hardly ever play you.

Andy Warhol suggested that “everyone has their 15 minutes of fame” and this is what happened to Blackburn Rovers’ Corry Evans. He is a very useful midfield player, adept at keeping possession, but nowhere near the headline maker that would make every news bulletin on a Thursday evening. And all he did was not handle the ball. If ever there was a need for video replays in football, this was the occasion. Shaqiri’s shot plainly hit the Northern Ireland player on the shoulder, but the Rumanian referee decreed he had handled the ball, gave a penalty to Switzerland and a yellow card to Evans. The Swiss scored, the only goal in the vital World Cup Qualifying Play-Off game in Belfast and Evans was banned for the second leg. With the Irish valiantly going out with the one disputed goal against them over the two legs, Evans will now return to the relative obscurity of League 1.

Joe Gomez (Liverpool) and Jack Cork (Burnley) made their international debuts on Friday evening against Germany as substitutes. Cork is only the second “Claret” to be capped by England this millennium whereas Gomez is the 23rd from Anfield. He is another who also lacks experience in senior football, having made only 35 league starts for Charlton Athletic and Liverpool. Cork on the other hand is a veteran of some 360 appearances.

Marine showed much improved form to hammer Atherton Collieries 5-1 to book their place in the FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round, Danny Mitchley and James Murray each scoring twice. They are joined by Lancaster City who comfortably defeated Stratford Town 3-0, regular scorer Ryan Winder bagging a double. Droylsden, who won 2-1 at Stamford will also be in the draw with either Warrington Town or Ashton United who drew 1-1 and have to “do it all again” at Ashton under Lyne on Tuesday night. Inevitably Matthew Chadwick gave the Ashton side the lead but the “Yellows” hit back within 3 minutes with a goal from Aboubakar Sanogo. This was always going to be a tough one to call and, after their mid-week exertions, Ashton host mid-table Barwell whilst Warrington travel to the much improved Mickleover Sports.

Only two Red Rose County clubs go into the draw for the 3rd Round of the FA Vase, both there courtesy of defeating Northern League opposition. Pride of place goes to Ashton Athletic who defeated Morpeth 1-0, one of the country’s very best Tier 9 sides who sit comfortably top of their league. Danny Smith scored early and it was then backs to the wall in this stirring cup tie as the Brocstedes Park club reached Round 3 for the first time ever. City of Liverpool also deserved credit for travelling to the Sunderland area and, after leading the useful Ryhope CW 2-0 at half time (goals from Joseph Camozzi and much travelled striker Karl Noon (pictured), his 11th of the season), they
restricted the Wearsiders to a single goal in reply. This is also their first venture into the later stages of the competition, a great achievement for a club in only its second year of existence.

I have been looking at statistics supplied by the League Managers’ Association regarding the sacking of managers. The study related to the last 20 years; from the 1997-98 season to the present day and looked at the number of managers that all the 92 clubs had employed during the period. Oldham Athletic (in 4th place nationally) head the list of Red Rose County “serial sackers” with a total of 18; the national average is 12. Curiously 1997-98 was the first of the 20 years (and counting) that the Latics have currently resided in Tier 3. They finished as high as 5th in 02-03, as low as 20th in 98-99 and for the last eight seasons they have failed to achieve a top ten finish. So putting it simply, the club (no doubt in the name of progress) has employed 18 managers to remain standing still. They might as well have stayed with Neil Warnock, the incumbent at the start of this saga. To no-one’s surprise, Manchester United has the best record of our clubs, just four managers in this period

Quiz Answers: 1 France, 2 Mark Hughes, 3 Swansea City, 4 Jason Roberts, 5 Barrow, 6 Manchester United, 7 Tottenham Hotspur, 8 Everton, 9 Ray Wilson, 10 Ben Alnwick.