Monday, 6 March 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 20)

             Number 20                                                                                         March 6 2017

Blackburn Rovers; Their finest hour
The Rovers’ greatest moment may have been at the Racecourse Ground in Derby in 1886 where they defeated West Brom 2-0 in the replayed FA Cup Final to make it three consecutive wins in the competition; a still unparalleled feat. The club won 3 other FA Cups and 2 League titles in the succeeding years but their fortunes then slumped after the last triumph in 1928. You have to fast forward to the 1990s to find a similar outpouring of joy in the town. Jack Walker made his fortune in the steel industry in Blackburn and as a fanatical “Roverite”, he grabbed the opportunity to take over the club during the 1990-91 season. At the time they were a 2nd Tier side and he quickly brought in the biggest possible name to manage the club. Kenny Dalglish was a legend in the game and he secured promotion in his first season. Alan Shearer was bought from Southampton for a then record £3.5 million and Dalglish’s side finished 4th and 2nd in their first two years in the Premier League. In 1994-95, they went head to head with Manchester United and Shearer, playing in every game, knocked in 34 goals. He was ably supported by his strike partner Chris Sutton who netted 15 times, but the solid defensive set up featuring internationals Hendry, Berg and Le Saux was  equally as important. The title was decided on the final day of the season; United at Upton Park, the Blues at Anfield. Liverpool dominated but the Rovers hung on until the last minute; a Jamie Rednapp free kick appearing to scupper them. But then news filtered in that United had only drawn so Blackburn were champions by 1 point. Notts Forest limped home third, 11 points behind, as the town celebrated the Rovers’ finest hour within living memory.

        Alan Shearer; scored a staggering 112 goals in 138 Premier League games for the Rovers

The “haves and have nots” in Premier League history
Everton’s valiant defeat at Tottenham on Sunday was the last nail in the coffin for teams trying to break into the “Top 6” this season. It now seems certain to be a North West/London carve up as Tottenham, Arsenal, the 2 Manchester clubs and Liverpool scrap over the final 2nd-6th placings behind runaway leaders Chelsea. These are the current royalty of the English game with upstarts like Leicester banished to the Tower. There has always been footballing aristocracy, but the participants and locations in this annual drama do change. Those of you who have only known the Sky TV years may believe that these have always been the top clubs and accountants will confirm that that they are the wealthiest amongst the current crop, but their places in the hierarchy are certainly not set in stone. Owning a football club is not a license to print money; in fact it is often a money pit and the Oligarchs, the Arab Princes and American billionaire business men may tire of throwing money at pampered players. Sky may also discover a more profitable sport to promote so it will then be down to the real fans again to provide the cash. This is when the likes of Newcastle United, Sunderland and Everton, Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa, all sleeping giants with huge fan bases, could have a renaissance. They have fanatical working class fans; all they currently need is a combination of stronger investment and sounder management. As long as the game remains “sexy”, promoted to the hilt by Sky and its acolytes, there is the possibility that the Brightons and the Bournemouths, havens of the wealthy, will continue to make progress. The small town clubs from the working class areas of the North and Midlands where money is in short supply will struggle to compete. But this is where professional football began and interestingly, only Accrington of the 12 original clubs has failed to last the distance, although the game does continue in “Accy” under the guise of the Stanley. The only 2 clubs not to have been relegated since 1954 are Arsenal and Everton, while Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have spent just one season in Tier 2, but during the 60 plus years that I have avidly followed the sport, there have been many changes in the Top 6. Arsenal, Tottenham, Portsmouth, Manchester United, Wolves and Newcastle were the elite when I was first taken to games but by the mid-70s, Leeds, Liverpool and Notts Forest had joined the party as Newcastle, Pompey and Wolves went into decline. In 1992, immediately before the birth of the Premier League, the pecking order was Leeds United, Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. Six members of the League that season are no longer in the top 2 Divisions, with only Sheffield United showing signs of resurgence. Oldham Athletic, Notts County, Coventry City, Wimbledon/MK Dons and Luton Town seem destined for further spells in the lower reaches of the game, as do the once formidable Portsmouth.  And like Roman candles on November 5th, other clubs have briefly burned brightly and been crowned champions before fizzling out, some massively so. These include Burnley, Ipswich Town, Derby County, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and (I suspect) Leicester City. But Newcastle and possibly Leeds are on their way back, Burnley have found a toe-hold in the Premier League and let us not forget that Man City were briefly in the 3rd Tier this millennium. Because of promotion and relegation, the game is never dormant. It is active and fluid with an ever-changing scenery. If it seems that a small group of clubs have cornered the market, fear not because history tells us that it will not be forever. So if you support the sky blues or the reds from Manchester, the reds, whites or blues from London or the reds from Merseyside, enjoy it while you can. You could be facing an away trip to Plymouth or Crawley in 10 years’ time.

Performances of the last week

Liverpool 3 Liverpool 1 (Premier League)
Liverpool briefly nosed back into 3rd spot with this comprehensive victory. The Gunners scarcely turned up in the first half, Mane setting up Firmino for the first goal and scoring the second himself to create daylight between the sides. Welbeck pulled one back for Arsenal before a late Wijnaldum strike settled the game late on. It was exactly what Klopp’s side needed following their woeful performance at Leicester but the race for Champions’ League places shows no sign of abating; probably running till the season’s end.

Blackburn Rovers 1 Wigan Athletic 0 (EFL Championship)
Marvin Emnes scored a wonder goal, controlling a 70 yard punt from the keeper on his instep while at full speed and blasting the ball into the net. The 3 points lift the Rovers away from relegation making it 7 from 9 at the start of Tony Mowbray’s managerial tenure. Wigan came for the draw, offered nothing until they went behind and got what they deserved.

Scunthorpe United 0 Fleetwood Town 2 (EFL Division 1)
Fleetwood players and supporters may need oxygen this weekend to help to breathe in the rarefied air of second spot in this league. The Cod Army climbed above their opponents following this win at Glanford Park. It was back to the wall tactics for much of the game, but Uwe Rosler sets his side up to do just that, hitting the opposition on the break as they did for the goals at the end of each half from Devante Cole and Bobby Grant. It is now 18 unbeaten and still counting for the surprise packet of English football.

Accrington Stanley 1 Barnet 0 (EFL Division 2)
Stanley had by far the better of the game against a struggling Barnet side with only 1 win in 10 games. Shay McCartan’s 20 yard free kick extended their unbeaten run to 5 games and lifted them further from the relegation zone, 6 points above Leyton Orient in 23rd place.

In the National League North, AFC Fylde grabbed a late point in a topsy-turvy 3-3 draw at Harrogate Town, remaining 11 clear of the opposition. They were helped by FC United of Manchester edging past Kidderminster Harriers 1-0, by Salford losing at Tamworth 2-0 and Chorley battling out a goalless draw away to Stockport County. Warrington Town moved up to 8th in the Northern Premier League by virtue of a 2-0 win at lowly Ilkeston Town and in the North Division of the same league; Colne thrashed Goole AFC 4-0 to remain in 5th place. Leaders Lancaster City slipped up, losing 3-2 at home to Brighouse Town, but retained their lead, whilst Ramsbottom United climbed into the top ten by winning at Tadcaster Albion. Finally in the North West Counties Premier Division, strugglers Nelson and AFC Darwen had surprising away wins at Congleton Town 3-0 and Irlam Town 3-1 respectively, encouraging hopes that relegation could be avoided.

Games to look forward to this week
Oldham Athletic v Bury (EFL Division 1) Saturday March 11, 15.00

Both these Greater Manchester clubs have benefitted from the arrival of new managers, John Sheridan at Oldham and Lee Clark at Bury. This has enabled them both to climb out of the bottom four, but neither 19th nor 20th positions can be considered safe havens. The 3 points for a victory will considerably lessen the tension but the defeat could plunge the victims back into a relegation spot. It will be tense at Boundary Park on Saturday. A draw?

Fleetwood Town v Bolton Wanderers (EFL Division 1) Saturday March 11, 15.00
It is impossible to ignore Fleetwood Town at the moment. Twelve years ago, Bolton finished 6th in the Premier League, 8 Tiers above Fleetwood in the North West Counties League. Now this tiny town with little football pedigree or tradition will start favourites against one of the great names from the past. The Wanderers are 4 points behind in 4th place but the gap can quickly narrow so this is yet another massive 6 pointer for both sides.

Liverpool v Burnley (Premier League) Saturday March 11, 17.30
It is a banana skin scenario for the Reds; remember they only lose to lowly sides. Burnley has yet to win away from home and although 9 points clear of the drop zone, the team is still well short of the accepted safety target of 40 points. Liverpool cannot afford to drop points here whereas Burnley possibly can. The Clarets could not hold out for a draw at Swansea so they will have to be at their obdurate best to glean anything from this fixture.

Tom Heaton; he will need to be at his best at Anfield

Chelsea v Manchester United (FA Cup 6th Round) Monday March 13, 19.45
It is the tie of the round and possibly the game of the season. Two Leviathans, the two most successful clubs of this millennium, go head to head and play to the finish. United last lost in the Premier League in October, a 4-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge so revenge will be just one of a number of sub plots. Add to that the return of Mourinho, Conte desperate for a domestic cup to supplement Chelsea’s inevitable league title and a host of household names desperate to prove that they earn their inflated salaries. What a game is in prospect.

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

All of the questions have Red Rose County connections
It is a different format this week. The answer is the leading appearance maker in league games amongst the current squad at the listed club. Clues are provided.

1                    This England international has made 386 appearances Old Trafford and his brother plays for Wrexham.

2                    He played 231 times at Oldham, then following spells at Blackburn & Bolton he is now back at Boundary Park.

3                    This England international with 301 games at Goodison is an undoubted penalty king.

4                    He started his career at Tottenham, then played 125 times for Hull City and has since logged up 202 appearances for the Turf Moor club.

5                    This England international was signed from Sunderland and has now clocked up 180 games at Anfield.

6                    He was signed from Tranmere 2 seasons ago and is now a regular in midfield with 78 games at the DW Stadium

7                    He has 1 Scottish cap, has played 161 times at Deepdale and turned out in the Premier League for another Lancashire team.

8                    He has played 184 games for Bolton having been bought from Wolves in 2009. Sadly he has missed most of this season through injury.

9                    This former England U21 international has been at Ewood Park from being a schoolboy where he has now started 161 first team league games.

10                He was bought from Hamburg, is much respected in the game and has represented Manchester City on 223 occasions.

Joe Hart; 263 league starts at the Etihad before he was shipped off to Torino

                                                    Post Weekend Musings
Southport lost for the 6th time in 7 games, this time 4-2 at Maidstone United. They are now rock bottom of the National League, staring relegation in the face.

No doubt the FA Commission for Retrospective Action will decide who was in the wrong in the first half debacle during the Manchester United and Bournemouth game. Zlatan Ibrahimović’s suggestion however that Tyrone Mings attacked his elbow with his head bore a strong resemblance to defences provided by numerous assailants in GBH cases over the years; namely “he head butted my fist m’lud”.

Romelu Lukaku’s strike at White Hart Lane on Sunday made him Everton’s leading Premier League goalscorer, eclipsing the record of Duncan Ferguson who scored 60 goals. Lukaku just needs another 250 (!!!) to surpass Dixie Dean’s club record, the all-time second best in Tier 1 behind Jimmy Greaves’ incredible 357 scored for 3 different clubs.
The legendary William Ralph “Dixie” Dean

Playing a game with 11 men can be difficult but when you have a man sent off after 16 minutes and then another in the 81st minute, it is no wonder that you finally crumple and go down to 2 late goals. Lee Croft and Brian Wilson were the villains as Oldham Athletic’s mini revival hit the buffers at Walsall.
It goes without saying that Sergio Aguero is an outstanding footballer; amongst the very best of a fine current crop of number nines in the English game. He struggled to regain his place following a suspension because of the outstanding form shown by the Brazilian Gabriel Jesus but a serious injury to the youngster enabled Guardiola to reinstate Aguero. He has since scored three times in two games and his manager has gone to great lengths to praise his performances, but we need to be realistic here. He scored against a virtual Huddersfield Town reserve side and against Sunderland. I feel that the manager ought to reserve his comments until they play against a side that knows how to defend.

Still on the Sky Blues, I feel that they are the only side in the country that have even the slightest chance of catching Chelsea. It will need consistently outstanding performances, a seismic loss of form from the Londoners and a huge chunk of luck, but it is City or nobody.

Red Rose County Player of the Week
With a goal and an assist against Arsenal on Saturday, Sadio Mane once more showed the Liverpool fans that he is possibly the most vital cog in the Klopp machine. Not only a maker and scorer of goals, his energy and determination disrupts the build-up of opposition attacks from deep, greatly contributing to Liverpool’s success against top sides this season. As a result the Senegalese wins the award for player of the week.

Tier 10 Club of the Week
Litherland REMYCA
All clubs, even the great ones, started locally and then grew into the multi-million pound businesses that they are today. Everton started life as St Domingo’s FC in 1878 whereas Litherland REMYCA, founded 81 years later was originally St Thomas’. Because of links with both REM Youth Club and Bootle YMCA however, this club in the Merseyside Borough of Sefton became REMYCA. They slowly made their way through the local leagues and Litherland (an urban district to the north of Bootle) was added as a prefix in 2013 to give the club a geographical identity. Two years later while members of the Liverpool County Premier League, they were successful with their application to join the North West Counties League Division 2. The first season saw a comfortable 9th place finish, but this year the team managed by Phil Stafford has powered its way to the top of the league and although they still have 10 more matches to play, promotion is probably odds on. Colin McDonald with 21 goals is their leading scorer, Colin Quirk was presented with the League Player of the Month Award for January and for the same month, Sean Lake received the goalkeeping award. Although Litherland REMYCA may never rise to the heights of Everton, a club has to start somewhere and who knows what will be 50 years down the line.
                               The stand at Litherland Sports Park, home of Litherland REMYCA

Quiz Answers 
1 Wayne Rooney, 2 Chris Taylor, 3 Leighton Baines, 4 Dean Marney, 5 Jordan Henderson,

6 Max Power, 7 Paul Gallagher, 8 Mark Davies, 9 Jason Lowe 10 Vincent Kompany.

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