Monday, 6 February 2017

Number 16                                                                                         February 6 2017

Considered opinions; not many of these around in football

Everyone who follows football from the press to the ordinary fan quickly jumps to conclusions. It may be harsh criticism or lavish praise but we ought to take stock of the situation before having a rant. The Jürgen Klopp situation at Anfield is the perfect example. We all love him for his larger than life personality. Because of the way he handles the press, the relationship he has built up with his players and his generosity of spirit to spectators and opposition alike, few would object too much if his team lifted the Premier League Trophy. To Liverpool supporters he was their saviour, the man that would deliver their first title since 1990. Newspapers, Radio and TV could not get enough of him. But suddenly questions are being asked; questions about his tactical knowledge in particular. Now Herr Klopp is no longer flavour of the month. Pundits from all areas of the media are telling us that they play too narrow, that he finds it difficult to change tactics mid-match and that there are defensive deficiencies in his side, not least in goal. They say he loses his cool too quickly so speculation about his successor can only be a couple of defeats away. Trying to think rationally, it might be reasonable to conclude that the German is a great motivator and a magnificent man manager but is perhaps limited in technical knowledge. The ex-Dortmund boss has a first and second assistant coach, both of whom joined him from Germany. Is the long-haired Zelijko Buvak the tactician, but does it matter who it is providing “Team Klopp” delivers? They were worryingly inept against Hull, defending like a Sunday League side; an eleven lacking in confidence. Yet the general consensus after the 1-1 midweek draw at Anfield versus Chelsea was that the Reds were probably the better side and his keeper brilliantly saved a Costa penalty. So is Klopp the Messiah or is he the showman imposter living on borrowed time? I don’t really know because I don’t frequent the Melwood Training Ground, but it now seems almost impossible to find a thoughtful, considered opinion in the hot house which is modern English football. But one thing is certain. Should Liverpool win their next 4 games and the strikers start to hit the back of the net, all will be forgotten as the media rush to praise Klopp, the “tactical genius”. As Jimmy Greaves used to say to a former Liverpool striker, “it’s a funny old game Saint.”


The FA Cup began in 1871 and since then, 24 sides from the 2nd Tier have contested the final. Red Rose County clubs feature on this list 3 times. Bolton Wanderers lost to Manchester City in 1904, Burnley went down to Charlton Athletic in 1947 and Preston reached Wembley in 1964. The Lilywhites, as they used to be known, were one of the strongest sides in English football during the 1950s with 2 runners-up and a 3rd place finish, but the retirement of Tom Finney in 1960 was the precursor to relegation the following season. PNE have never returned to Tier 1 in the subsequent 56 years, but they came closest in the 1963-64 season under the management of Scotsman Jimmy Milne. They had been amongst the front runners throughout but they lost twice in the final 4 games at Rotherham and Bury to finish 3rd behind an emerging Leeds United and Sunderland. There was no play-off system in those days. Milne had put together a side with a balance of youth and experience including the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Alan Kelly (Senior), 2 ex Busby babes in captain Nobby Lawton and powerhouse centre forward Alex Dawson plus England international winger Dougie Holden. He was a veteran of 2 previous Wembley finals with Bolton Wanderers. In the FA Cup, they defeated 2 First Division sides after replays in the 3rd and 4th Rounds, Nottingham Forest and Bolton. This was followed by odd goal victories over Carlisle United and Oxford United, both from the 4th Division. The semi-final draw paired them with Swansea City, also from Division 2. In the tie played at Villa Park, Preston came from behind to scrape a 2-1 victory with goals from Dawson and centre half Singleton. The final was London v Lancashire and 2 future legends of the English game, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst lined up in a young and vibrant West Ham side. Milne was not afraid to blood a youngster either and the 17 year old Howard Kendall became the youngest FA Cup finalist since 1879. North End led twice with goals by Holden and Dawson, but the Hammers twice levelled the game through 18 year old Sissons and Hurst. As the 90th minute approached, Ronnie Boyce became front page news when he headed home and the Hammers serenaded  with “I’m forever blowing bubbles”. Looking back over Preston’s long history, it was not quite their most magical moment but it was their finest hour post Sir Tom’s retirement.

A young Howard Kendall in his North End strip.

Performances of the last week

West Ham United 0 Manchester City 4 (Premier League)

Pep Guardiola compared Gabriel de Jesus to a “water melon”, but it’s more like a “lucky dip” with City. You simply don’t know what you will pick from game to game. They certainly do enjoy going to the 50,000 capacity London Stadium where their January aggregate score from 2 games is 9-0. Interestingly the manager has just made the point that I made in my blog last week; namely this could be his side for the future. Goals from Sterling, de Bruyne, de Jesus and penalty king Yaya Toure closed the gap in the race for second spot.

Everton 6 Bournemouth 3 (Premier League)

Only 1 name was on everyone’s lips at Goodison Park as Romelu Lukaku scored 4 plus 1 assist in this 9 goal thriller. It was the first 4 timer in the league since Georginio Wijnaldum’s quartet for Newcastle 15 months ago and the first for Everton since Louis Saha achieved the same feat in 2011 against Blackpool. The Belgian is now the league’s leading scorer with 16 goals as Everton move a little closer to a possible Europa Cup place.

Blackburn Rovers 1 Queen’s Park Rangers 0 (EFL Championship)

Before the match, the word was that the Rovers had to win their next 2 games to have any chance of staying up. When the 4th official signalled 3 extra minutes, they had surely blown it. But loan signing Marvin Emnes, who had literally achieved nothing since coming on as a substitute, produced a touch of magic and Sam Gallagher blasted the ball home. Other Saturday results went against the Rovers but the light is still shining at the end of the tunnel.

Chesterfield 0 Oldham Athletic 1 (EFL Division 1)

John Sheridan saved Oldham from relegation last year and he has returned as manager. This win at relegation rivals Chesterfield has lifted them to the fringes of safety, so the longest incumbents of Division 1 may still be around for their 21st season in Division 1 in August.

On the Non-League Scene, Barrow battled through against Kidderminster Harriers to reach the last 8 of the FA Trophy, the game’s only goal being scored just after half time by Richie Bennett. A sensational Salford City smashed a stumbling AFC Fylde 5-0 at the head of the National League North, Jordan Hulme netting a hat-trick as the Reds go second. The Battle of the Roses in the Northern Premier North Division produced the expected thrills and spills as Lancaster City fought back from 2 down to beat title challengers Farsley Celtic 3-2. In the North West Counties Premier Division Bootle hit a hapless AFC Darwen with an avalanche of goals, their 9-0 victory keeping them top of the league on goal difference. In Division 1, Litherland REMYCA moved into the top slot with an easy 5-1 win over bottom club Ashton Town, aided by newcomers Prestwich Heys producing the performance of the day to dislodge the leaders Whitchurch Alport, winning 3-1 away from home.
Games to look forward to this week

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League) Saturday February 11, 17.30

The scrap for places 2-6 goes on unabated and this is another big game. Liverpool have yet to turn up in 2017 but Spurs are quite capable of dropping points away from home. The African Nations Cup is now out of the way and Coutinho is returning to full fitness. Liverpool at Anfield might just have too much going forward for an injury hit Tottenham back line, but putting your money on the Mersey Reds has often been a coupon buster this season.

Rotherham United v Blackburn Rovers (EFL Championship) Saturday February 11, 15.00

This could be the last train waiting in the station for the Rovers and to quote the old 50s skiffle classic, “If you miss this one, you’ll never get another one”. The Rovers struggled to make any signings of note in January and there is an air of resignation among the fans now who believe that there is no future for the club as long as the Venkys are there. Blackburn battled through against QPR on Saturday but if they cannot beat relegation fodder like Rotherham, who can they beat. It is no fun being a fan at Ewood Park at the moment.

 Fleetwood Town v Rochdale (EFL Division 1) Saturday February 11, 15.00

Three Division 1 sides have never played at a higher level and 2 clash at the Highbury Stadium. Both have had tremendous runs this season but there is a feeling that the magic is beginning to evaporate at Rochdale. Fleetwood however are unbeaten in 13 and with David Ball scoring regularly, must be firm favourites here in this 4th v 7th fixture. But a win can be just around the corner in football so Keith Hill’s men could upset the apple cart.

David Ball; Fleetwood Town’s leading goalscorer

Atherton Collieries v Bootle (North West Counties Premier League) Monday Feb13, 19.45

The biggest game in the non-league world takes place in Atherton on Monday evening as the “Colls” take on Bootle. The clubs are neck and neck at the top of the league, level on 64 points although the Merseysiders have played 1 game more. It is certainly not a 2 horse race as Cheshire teams 1874 Northwich, Runcorn Town and Runcorn Linnets are hot on their heels. Any positive result would help Atherton’s cause but it is a must win game for Bootle,

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

All of the answers have Red Rose County connections

1                    Everton bought John Stones from which current Championship club in 2013?

John Stones; a prodigious talent but not yet the finished article

2                    Rochdale manager Keith Hill made 96 appearances at centre back for which current Red Rose County club between 1987 and 1992?

3                    Who was the left back who scored the only goal of the 1990 FA Cup Final replay, giving Manchester United their first trophy for 5 years?

4                    Which EFL Division 1 club from the Red Rose County plays on the second highest league ground in the country?

5                    Which Republic of Ireland player was Burnley’s record buy prior to them signing his international colleague Robbie Brady for £13million last week?

6                    Red Rose County non-league clubs South Liverpool, Maghull and Rainhill Town all play in which Tier 11 league?

7                    Which Rangers legend, who has also played for Blackburn and Blackpool, holds the record for most appearances in European competitions by a Scotsman?

8                    Alan Hansen signed for Liverpool from which Glasgow club?

Alan Hansen, playing in Scotland just prior to moving south

9                    Who managed Wigan Athletic from 2001-07 which included promotion to the Premier League, before managing Derby County and Ipswich Town?

10                Which North West ground was initially built for the Commonwealth Games?

Post Weekend Musings

Apologies to “Take That’s” Mark Owen for referring to him as Mark Smith in last week’s article on Chadderton FC. I am reliably informed by Mike Ryan that Mark E Smith was/is the lead singer of the Manchester punk band “The Fall”. However as the last “Manc” band I saw was probably Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, I plead age and ignorance in mitigation.

There was the last minute torrent of transfers on deadline day. All 4 of our big city sides kept their cash in their pockets but Burnley moved late and spent big, purchasing wide left player Robbie Brady from Norwich and the experienced Villa midfielder Ashley Westwood. “Not panic buys” said Sean Dyche and I believe him. Is the Turf Moor club beginning to see itself as an established Premier League side and not the yo-yo club of recent years? Two surprising moves; Bolton selling the talented Zach Clough to Notts Forest and Wigan off-loading influential winger Yanic Wildschut to Norwich. I hope neither club has regrets at the season’s end. One pleasing move was the signing of Radcliffe Borough’s young striker Raul Correia by Blackpool following a successful week’s trial.

Ashley Westwood; swapping one claret and blue shirt for another

It is all a touch sad down Skelmersdale way where the football club is rock bottom of the Northern Premier League and they have just sacked manager Tommy Lawson. The veteran held the reins for 10 years, a tremendously long shift in football management, having taken the club from Division 1 to the Premier Division before financial constraints bit deep. Steve Burr has also been sacked at Southport. Liam Watson becomes manager for the 3rd time and he is the 3rd incumbent this season at Haig Avenue. A most unenviable job!!!

How do you motivate a team in the lower reaches of the league prior to taking on the runaway leaders away from home? Don’t pay them for a couple of months would seem to be the answer, particularly in Morecambe’s case. They travelled to Doncaster, led early and hung on for a well-deserved draw. The club is a shambles off the field as various unscrupulous wannabe owners scramble for the deeds to the club, but manager Jim Bentley and his players have proved that the club’s future is paramount; at least on the pitch.

I suspect that there is genuine sadness around the plight of Leicester City. Last year’s adventure is now a distant memory as the spectre of relegation looms ever larger. They were outclassed by Mourinho’s men on Sunday and the Old Trafford bandwagon continues to roll. Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks increasingly like the Premier League’s best buy of 2016 and full marks to the manager for taking a gamble on a 35 year old with a reputation for self-idolatry. His CV bulges with 13 league titles from Holland, Italy, Spain and France (although 2 at Juventus were revoked because of the Turin side’s corrupt practices) plus 316 league goals and still counting. He is missing a European medal but don’t bet against Manchester United winning the Europa League and if he stays and the Reds make the top 4, the Champions League beckons in 2017-18. Age is just a number for Sweden’s best export since Abba.

Tier 10 Club of the Week

Bacup Borough; when it rains it pours

The Brian Boys West View Stadium, perched up on the Pennine Moors, is the 3rd highest football ground in the country. This part of the Rossendale Valley certainly receives its share of wind and rain and postponements are regular in winter. But in spite of the demise of several clubs in the area at this level, this traditional football club soldiers on. They have played here since 1889, but have only 2 league trophies to show for their endeavours. They won the Lancashire Combination in 1947 and were North West Counties Division 1 champions in 2003. This achievement was master minded by Brent Peters who became manager in 1997. He is still in charge today, a tremendous feat of loyalty, stamina and determination. They were relegated from the Premier Division in 2015 and are struggling down in 18th place at the moment although they appear safe from relegation. They attract an average gate of around 50 hardy souls but with almost 140 years of history behind them, the club continues to look forward and provide football for the community.

West View Stadium, Bacup; it’s a scarf, hat and gloves type of ground

Quiz Answers

1        Barnsley, 2 Blackburn Rovers, 3 Lee Martin, 4 Oldham Athletic, 5 Jeff Hendrick, 

6    West Cheshire League, 7 Barry Ferguson, 8 Partick Thistle, 9 Paul Jewell, 10 Etihad,

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