Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 27)


                                    Number 27                                                                   April 24 2017

Red Rose County players in PFA Divisional Teams of the Year

The professional players have voted for their best XI in each of the top four divisions. Our area contains 17.4% of the teams in the 4 leagues so to have only 7.6% (7 players) selected indicates a disappointing Red Rose season. Of the 44 selected, 27 are from clubs currently in the top two positions of their leagues. Bolton is our only club so well placed, therefore the “poor show” was to be expected. But where were Ibrahimovic and Silva in the Premier League selection and Connor Ripley, the Oldham goalkeeper must have come close in League 1? With the impact that Accrington Stanley’s Shay McCartan has made over the last few months, a place in the eleven for him would not have come as a surprise although a lack of Championship players is no shock. Here are those honoured by their peers.  

Premier League:- David de Gea (Manchester United), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Romelu Lukaku (Everton).

There are no representatives from our three Championship teams.

Division 1:- Mark Beevers and David Wheater (Bolton Wanderers), James Vaughan (Bury).

Division 2:- Kelvin Mellor (Blackpool).

Marc Beevers; one of the reasons why Bolton have conceded only 36 goals this season

Is the success of English football slowly killing English football?

These are strange times for the English national game. In days gone by, England was the flag bearer for football world-wide. The organisation of the game through the FA Cup and the Football League was the blue print for the rest of the world. The national side never lost at home to foreign opposition, leading to the FA refusing to enter the first three World Cups on the grounds that it was a second class competition. There were scarcely any non-British players plying their trade and the stadiums at the top level were packed as working class men poured in at 3.00 pm on a Saturday, standing throughout the games where gates of 50,000 and more were not uncommon. It was well publicised, mainly through the back pages of the newspapers and occasional Pathe News films prior to the main film at the local cinemas. The footballers were heroes then, but very much working class heroes. Did not Tom Finney sit upstairs on the bus amongst the spectators when travelling to home games? There have been massive changes since then of course with the advent of television, the internet and digital technology plus the ubiquitous motor car, increased leisure time and far more choices as to where and how we spend our money; changing society forever. Football has changed with it, the players now being socially out of reach of the masses and money is swilling around the game. Some of our leading clubs have as many supporters in random countries across the globe than at home. Foreign players, coaches and even owners fight to be employed and involved in English football, the Mecca of the world game, drawn by the bottomless pit of money that underwrites the Premier League. English football should be out of sight in the race for honours, but reality tells a different story.  The national team will qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but hand on heart, how many of us truly believe that Southgate’s squad will be capable of progressing further than the last 16. It is a similar tale with our club football as the Premier League, over indulged by the media, markets itself as the best in the world. In terms of merchandising and in excitement, there is an obvious case to be put but in terms of quality and judged by recent results, it is simply untrue. We have known golden ages in European competition; in the 10 years leading up to 1985 and from 2005, but in the last 4 years, there has been little to shout about. Our last Champions’ League winner was Chelsea in 2012, last runner-up Manchester United the year before. Last semi-finalist was Manchester City in 2016, but only Leicester City in the last 8 this time around. This is not what we expect from clubs representing the greatest league on earth. Manchester United is now the World’s richest club, but the richness of their play does not match their income. None of our top clubs now employ English coaches and there is an average of 3 Englishmen starting each Premier League game. This average drops to around 1.5 amongst the top 6 clubs. Even more worrying is that since August 2016, 336 adult sides in this country from Tier 11 down to local amateur leagues have folded. When I started to play in the Blackburn Combination in 1970, it had 5 Saturday afternoon divisions. Now there are 2, a statistic which is replicated across the country. Yet the Premier League, bolstered by massive influxes of TV money from across the globe grows ever stronger, but could it be true to say that the financial success of English football is slowly killing English football?

The latest on who is going up and going down in Tiers 1 to 10

Teams close to going down:- Tier 1 Burnley (just possibly) 2 Wigan Athletic (almost definitely), Blackburn Rovers (probably).

Teams Relegated:- Tier 5 Southport, Tier 7 Skelmersdale United, Tier 8 Burscough, Tier 9 Nelson, Tier 10 Ashton Town.

Teams Promoted:- Tier 6 AFC Fylde, Tier 8 Lancaster City, Tier 9 Atherton Collieries, Tier 10 Widnes

Teams close to automatic promotion:- Tier 3 Bolton Wanderers (probably), Fleetwood Town (just possibly). Tier 10 Charnock Richard (most probably), Litherland REMYCA (just possibly).

Teams challenging for Champions’ League places:- Tier 1 Manchester City (possibly), Liverpool (possibly), Manchester United (probably).

Teams in Play–Offs:- Tier 3 Bolton Wanderers (definitely), Fleetwood Town (definitely), Rochdale (just possibly). Tier 4 Blackpool (possibly), Accrington Stanley (just possibly). Tier 6 Chorley (possibly), Salford City (possibly). Tier 8 Colne (definitely), Tier 10 Charnock Richard (definitely),  City of Liverpool (definitely), Litherland REMYCA (definitely).

The class of 92; will they see Salford City promoted again?
Since May 1st 2016, 63 clubs out of the 116 in the country’s 5 professional leagues (53.5%) have changed their managers. The principle reason for change is the sack, although the phrase “by mutual agreement” is appearing more and more. Does this mean the same thing? The answer is almost certainly “yes”. We might have hoped that the Red Rose County, usually more traditional in its ways, may have contributed somewhat less to this figure, but regrettably this is not the case. Of the 18 clubs in the 5 Divisions, 11 have made the change; a percentage of 61. Messrs Dyche and Klopp from the Premier League, Grayson from the Championship, Hill from Division 1, Bentley and Coleman from Division 2 and Cox from the National League are the survivors. Hopefully there can be some stability over the summer, the traditional time for the night of the long knives, but I am not betting on it.   

                                                   Performances of the last week

Manchester United edged their way into the last 4 of the Europa League by beating RSA Anderlecht 2-1 and then won away at Burnley 2-0 three days later to enhance their prospects of qualifying for next season’s Champions’ League. Once again in the cup tie, it was a case of how many do you miss, as United failed to take advantage of numerous chances created; the exceptions being an early Henrikh Mkhitaryan opener and yet another classy finish from Marcus Rashford towards the end of extra-time. The opposition for the Reds in the semi-final will come from Northern Spain’s Celta Vigo, currently 10th in La Liga. Wayne Rooney scored at Turf Moor, a collector’s item these days to add to Anthony Martial’s opener but Burnley have only won once in their last 11 games.  

In the Championship, four out of the six bottom clubs recorded victories, the exceptions being Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers. Both teams produced goalless draws, the Latics at home to Cardiff City making their escape from relegation almost impossible. The Rovers drew away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a decent result in normal circumstances but one that now makes it difficult to avoid the drop.

The result of the day was Fleetwood Town’s come from behind 3-2 win at Gillingham to keep them in the race for automatic promotion from League 1, but Bolton Wanderers retain their 2 point advantage following a 2-0 win at Port Vale. Bury are almost safe after thumping Northampton Town 3-0 with two from goal machine James Vaughan. Oldham Athletic and Rochdale fought out a 1-1 draw in the “EL Flatcapico”, the Dale still hanging on to a possible Play-Off spot if the final results go their way next Sunday, whilst Oldham are absolutely safe.

Accrington Stanley’s 15 game unbeaten run came to an end on a ploughed field at Newport County, blowing away their Play-Off hopes in League 2. Blackpool however comprehensively despatched Cheltenham 3-0 and 4 points from their remaining 2 games ought to ensure a Play-Off spot.

The champagne corks were popping at Boston United as AFC Fylde won 3-0 to wrap up the National League North title, Danny Rowe’s double strike taking him past the 100 goal mark for the Coasters in just 3 seasons. In the race for the Play-Off spots, Salford City strengthened their claim by winning 2-1 at lowly Worcester City whilst Chorley twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Gloucester City.

It was the final league fixtures in the Northern Premier League and Marine signed off with a crazy 5-5 draw against Buxton. In Division 1 North however, Lancaster City scored 5 before half-time, Jordan Connerton netting another hat-trick en route to a 5-2 win at Glossop North End. Even more importantly, the win gave them the title and promotion to the NPL next season. In the fight for the Play-Offs, both Colne and Trafford could only draw, the East Lancashire side battling out a 0-0 score line at home to Droylsden, a result which squeezed them into the all-important 5th place. Trafford’s 1-1 draw at Ossett Town meant they missed out by 1 point.

Atherton Collieries beat Abbey Hey 1-0 to clinch the North West Counties Premier League and are promoted to the NPL Division 1 North, playing at Tier 8 for the first time in their history. In Division 1, Widnes have gone from strength to strength and after edging out Charnock Richard 2-1, are now Champions. Charnock Richard only managed a draw at City of Liverpool but will almost certainly be promoted. Litherland REMYCA and City of Liverpool are secure in the Play-Offs.

Games to look forward to this week

The game of the week is on Thursday evening; the Premier League fixture between Manchester City and Manchester United. It has consequences which may seriously affect next season. City have one opportunity to reach the Champions’ League, by finishing 4th or above. United have a similar scenario but with a fall-back position; winning the Europa League. Failure to qualify will be disastrous for both sets of fans as it will also for Liverpool who visit Watford on Sunday. The result of each of these games is vital to all of the three Red Rose County clubs. Only two from three can qualify. Which will be the odd one out?

                      Jesus Navas; his selection at right back has not pleased every Sky Blue fan.

The sands of time are ebbing away for Blackburn Rovers as they attempt to remain in the Championship. On Saturday they play host to Aston Villa, a fixture of great historical significance. The Rovers won their first home clash against the Villa by a 5-1 score line in 1888 but any victory this Saturday will satisfy the Ewood faithful and enable them to travel to Brentford the following weekend with a hope of staving off relegation to Tier 3 for the first time since 1979.

The situation in League 1 is simple. The games kick off at 12.00 on Sunday and if Bolton Wanderers draw against Peterborough at the Macron, they are up. If they fail to do so, a Fleetwood Town victory over Port Vale will steal their spot. The odds say that the Cod Army will have to go through the Play-Offs where they may be joined by Rochdale, providing they can defeat Bradford City at Spotland and other results go their way.

League 2 spotlight is on Blackpool who travel to meet a Notts County side resurgent under ex-Bolton star Kevin Nolan. The Tangerines need at least a draw to reach the Play-Offs.

In the National League North, Chorley (home to FC Halifax Town) and Salford City who play host to Darlington have tough hurdles to negotiate if they are to feature in the Play-Offs. Both sides of course are playing clubs with a much stronger fan base and with Football League traditions, but home advantage may give them the edge. Everything is settled in the  North West Counties Premier League, but in the North West Counties League 1, the game at St Helens Town where Charnock Richard are the visitors, will give the village side an opportunity to bag automatic promotion; a draw being sufficient to consign Litherland REMYCA to the Play-Offs. In the Manchester Premier League, if Rochdale Sacred Heart beat East Manchester, they will probably be crowned champions.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County connection

1                     Who in 1976 became the first man to win the Football League Cup as a manager, having previously been on the winning side as a player?

2                     Two clubs have eliminated Manchester United on 4 occasions from the knock-out stages of the European Cup/Champions League since 1956. Real Madrid and .......?

3                     The career of which Blackburn Rovers forward never recovered after a near-tragic holiday motor cycle accident soon after almost making the 2002 England World Cup squad?

4                     When promoted in 2009, which town is reputed to be the smallest ever to host a Premier League club?

5                     What is the nationality of Alberto Moreno, the Liverpool left-back/left wing back?

         Alberto Moreno; struggled to keep his place due to outstanding form of James Milner

6                     Who captained Everton from 2007 to 2013 including in the 2009 FA Cup Final?

7                     Chris Maxwell the Preston North End first choice goal keeper was signed from which Red Rose County club in the summer of 2016?

                                                      Chris Maxwell; a future Welsh international?

8                     In 2012, the Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba momentarily died on the pitch during a Premier League game; thankfully recovering. What was the ground?

9                     Which Tameside club which plays at the Butcher’s Arms in the Northern Premier League North, is nicknamed the “Bloods”?

10                 Bury’s fixture with which club is known as the M66 derby?

                                                   Post Weekend Musings

London had cornered the market in the Premier League and has now completed the double by adding the FA Cup to its list of 2016-17 conquests. Following Chelsea’s defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final on Saturday, Arsenal achieved a 2-1 extra-time victory over Manchester City on Sunday, qualifying to meet the West London club in the Wembley final. It will be the first all London final since the same two sides clashed in 2002, but it is the first time ever that the capital has provided both finalists plus the top two in the Premier League/1st Division in the same season. Red Rose County clubs have long been more successful than their southern rivals and have actually performed this outstanding double 5 times since the war, namely 2013, 1995, 1986, 1985 and 1977.

Tim Sherwood, winning Premier League captain in that great Red Rose County season of 1995
In the West Cheshire League, the hopes of 4 clubs from the Liverpool area lie in tatters as Newton from the north of the Wirral cruised to the Division 1 title with 3 games remaining. Each of Rainhill Town, Maghull, Mosley Hill Athletic and South Liverpool forced themselves into contention during the season, but Newton have emerged as worthy champions.

Meanwhile in the Cheshire League, Wythenshawe Town from South Manchester is the only Red Rose County club to have met ground grading criteria for promotion to the North West Counties Division 1. They are currently in 2nd position and with a top 5 finish, they will be promoted. They have however played far more games than at least 4 of their rivals, each of whom can pass them in the next 3 weeks. Wythenshawe must win their last 2 games and then pray for a miracle.

In January of this year, Southport FC went public with their plans to ensure Football League status by 2019. Since then they have sacked their manager, been relegated to Tier 6 and now the Chairman and Vice-Chairman have resigned; the plans for the future no doubt binned. It is a stark reminder of just how difficult it is to be successful in non-league football, particularly in a holiday resort like Southport where the fan base can be transient and where the competition from the two Merseyside giants must be suffocating in the extreme.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Red Rose Football Blog (Number 26)


                                   Number 26                                                                   April 17 2017

Six months; where did it all go?

It seems only the other day but it was actually October 25th when I sent out my first Blog by email to about a dozen friends and football fanatics. Thanks to all of you who have read and commented on it and the circulation figure has grown somewhat. There is much that I ought to have done to improve the presentation and certainly to have publicised it far more, but hopefully it has caught your interest and perhaps added to your football education. I have learnt so much about the game in the Red Rose County area and realised just what a hot bed of football it is. Surprisingly, items about the smallest of clubs (e.g. Turton and Daisy Hill) have attracted responses, all of which proves (to coin a hackneyed phrase) that there is much more to football than the Premier League and the Championship. Thanks again for your interest; the plan is to keep it going over the summer, so you won’t get rid of me yet and hopefully the Blog will have improved by the time we kick-off again in August.

For those of you who are not sure about the exact location of my mythical “Red Rose County”, it is within the pre-1974 Lancashire boundary. From the South Lakes to the Mersey and from the Yorkshire border to the Irish Sea (see pink outline below).

Easter; it’s always make or break time

The results of the Bank Holiday Easter fixtures have always been a pointer to the winners and losers in an English football season. The crowds come out and the three day gap between the Good Friday and Easter Monday makes for a nail-biting period for fans. This year, Easter is late with scarcely any opportunity for a come-back from disastrous results, particularly in the EFL and the non-league world. The Premier League with around 15% of the season remaining is the exception to the rule. Nonetheless, our best clubs are faced with a breath taking rush of matches in the FA Cup, European competitions and full-on twice weekly league fixtures which determine the history making sides and the clubs which ignominiously slither out of the league. In terms of the Red Rose County, we need the two Manchester clubs to bring home the silverware; City in the FA Cup and United in the Europa League. Liverpool can show their improvement by qualifying for the Champions’ League. For our clubs in Tiers 2 – 10, the chart below explains clearly which teams still live in hope of promotion. For those at the other end of the table, it shows (to put it in biblical terms) those facing crucifixion and those still in hope of resurrection.

Who is going up and going down in Tiers 1 to 10

Teams close to going down:- Tier 2 Wigan Athletic (most probably), Blackburn Rovers (possibly). Tier 3 Bury (50/50). Tier 10 Ashton Town (probably).

Teams Relegated:- Tier 5 Southport, Tier 7 Skelmersdale United, Tier 8 Burscough, Tier 9 Nelson.

Teams close to automatic promotion:- Tier 3 Bolton Wanderers (probably), Fleetwood Town (just possibly). Tier 6 AFC Fylde (probably), Tier 8 Lancaster City (possibly) Tier 9 Atherton Collieries (probably) Bootle (possibly) Tier 10 Charnock Richard (probably) Widnes (possibly), Litherland REMYCA (possibly).

Teams in Play–Offs:- Tier 3 Bolton Wanderers (definitely), Fleetwood Town (definitely), Rochdale (just possibly). Tier 4 Blackpool (possibly), Accrington Stanley (just possibly). Tier 6 AFC Fylde (definitely), Chorley (probably), Salford City (possibly). Tier 8 Lancaster City (definitely), Colne (probably), Trafford (possibly), Tier 10 Charnock Richard (definitely), Widnes (definitely) City of Liverpool (definitely) Litherland REMYCA (definitely).

         Phil Parkinson; saw Colchester into the Championship, can he repeat the feat with Bolton?

Everton FC; their best XI

 The Goodison Park club has been resident in the top strand of English football since 1954, so the best ever side is going to be picked from that date onwards.

(League appearances for club in brackets, minimum games 100)

Neville Southall


Seamus Coleman  Brian Labone  Kevin Ratcliffe  Ray Wilson

                                   (206)                   (451)                (348)                (116)

Trevor Steven  Peter Reid  Alan Ball  Kevin Sheedy

(210)              (159)         (208)           (274)

Romelu Lukaku  Joe Royle

                                                              (104)               (474)

Captain Brian Labone                                   Manager Howard Kendal                                                                           Substitutes, Gordon West, Gary Stevens, Graeme Sharpe, Bob Latchford, Howard Kendall, Roy Vernon and Alex Young

Ray Wilson was aged 29 when he signed from Huddersfield Town in 1964. He played in all of England’s game in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups, being the first player to win a World Cup and FA Cup winners medal in the same season. Arsenal players Viera and Petit (1998) and Ozil and Mertesacker (2014) have equalled the feat.

                     Ray Wilson with the Jules Rimet Trophy in English football’s finest hour

Performances of the last week

Both Liverpool and Manchester City won away from home in the Premier League to preserve their Champions’ League places over the weekend, but it is Manchester United who deserve the plaudits. The 2-0 win over Chelsea ensured that United are still very much in the race for a European place. A precise finish from the lightning fast Marcus Rashford and a massively ricocheted effort from Ander Herrera were far too much for a strangely ineffective Chelsea side. It is no picnic going to the Hawthorns but Liverpool stayed strong in a mainly midfield battle and Roberto Firmino headed in a James Milner free kick to secure the points. City are back to their best and although Southampton pressed hard and saw a lot of the ball in the first half, the second period was a different story. It was good to see Vincent Kompany back in the side and on the scoresheet as the Sky Blues coasted to a 3-0 away victory. What a pity that these three tremendous results have come too late to bring the title back to the north.

Wigan Athletic, with 3 late goals from Nick Powell defeated Barnsley 3-2 at home to initially rekindle their faint hopes of Championship survival but a predictable 2-1 loss at Brighton scuppers almost any hope of staying up. It was nearly a case of “heads always wins” for Blackburn Rovers as headed goals from Tommy Hoban, in a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest and Sam Gallagher, in the 1-1 home draw v Bristol City mean they live to fight another day.

In League 1, Bolton Wanderers’ 1-0 defeat at Oldham Athletic has given Fleetwood Town half a chance of automatic promotion following odd goal wins at Peterborough and at home to Millwall. Rochdale won twice over Easter to offer a slim chance of the Play-Offs, an Ian Henderson brace seeing off the already relegated Coventry City while a Callum Camps free kick was too much for Bury. At the bottom, Oldham are almost safe in spite of losing to 1-0 to Bristol Rovers but Bury sit one place and one point above the relegation places.

Having gone 9 games without a win, Morecambe caused an upset when travelling to high-flying Stevenage and coming away with a 1-0 victory. Lee Molyneux once again scored a vital away goal which has surely cemented their place in League 2 for next season. The real newsworthy items however concern Blackpool and Accrington Stanley who fought out a goalless draw at Bloomfield Road on Friday. Both clubs won on Monday. Stanley defeated Crawley 1-0 at home, the Tangerines winning by the same margin at promoted Doncaster. With 3 to play, Blackpool are back in the final play-off spot whereas Stanley on a 15 game unbeaten run stand just 2 points behind.

In the National League North, leaders AFC Fylde stuttered once more, rescuing a late 1-1 draw against lowly Bradford Park Avenue. The club is still favourite for automatic promotion while Chorley and Salford City each won 1-0 against Stalybridge Celtic and Curzon Ashton respectively, both strengthening their hold on the Play-Off places. Warrington Town’s faint Play-Off hopes came to nothing, drawing 1-1 at home to Ashton United in the Northern Premier League. In spite of losing 2-0 at Prescot Cables in mid-week, Lancaster City once more sit on top of Division 1, courtesy of a Jordan Connerton hat-trick in their 3-0 win over Kendal. Atherton Collieries came out of the Easter weekend in fine style following a 2-1 away win at 1874 Northwich and a thumping 5-1 home victory over AFC Darwen. Two wins from their final three games will see them as Champions of the North West Counties Premier League with Bootle, winners over AFC Liverpool and Nelson the only realistic challengers. In Division 2 Charnock Richard continue to lead the way with conclusive wins over Prestwich Heys and Sandbach, with Widnes odds on to join them in automatic promotion.

Games to look forward to this week

To steal a line from the Sky Sports publicity machine, what a line up for “Super Sunday”. It kicks-off with Burnley v Manchester United, the follow up is the FA Cup Semi-Final between Arsenal and Manchester City and the final game is Liverpool v Crystal Palace. The Wembley fixture ought to be a walk in the park for City on current form, but no-one remembers semi-final losers so surely Arsenal will stir themselves and make this a match to remember between two technically gifted football teams. In the two Premier League fixtures, the Merseysiders will not have it all their own way against an Allardyce revitalised Crystal Palace, particularly as they need every available point to win the three way shoot-out for places 3 and 4. In one sense it is easier for Jose Mourinho, having two routes available for the same prize. On the other hand however, he is fighting a war on two fronts and juggling the energy capabilities of his squad is a problem on its own. He requires a sufficiently strong eleven to defeat Anderlecht on Thursday in the Europa League and then find a fit enough squad to combat the physicality of what will be an extremely well-prepared Burnley side on Sunday.

Another game, another Cup Final for Blackburn Rovers in the Championship. The Rovers are ravaged by injuries and so poor in midfield. They probably need to win 2 out of 3 to survive and they will have to scrap at Wolverhampton Wanderers in a game between Paul Lambert’s past and present clubs.

League 1 has a plot equal in complexity to a Sherlock Holmes novel as all five Red Rose County clubs are still fighting to either go up or fend off relegation and whose fate is intertwined with that of a near neighbour. Bolton Wanderers play tonight at Bury (too late for inclusion in the Blog) and are at home to Port Vale on Saturday where they can give a lift to Bury (who are at home to Northampton Town at weekend) by beating The Shakers’ closest rivals for the drop. The Wanderers basically need 2 wins out of 3 to gain automatic promotion, thus forcing Fleetwood Town (away at Gillingham) down to the Play-Offs.  Confused? I haven’t finished yet so read on. Rochdale’s faint Play-Off hopes rest on winning both games and then depending on other results. They are at Oldham Athletic on Saturday for the “El Flatcapico”; a game the Latics will be desperate to win to confirm their safety.

The situation in League 2 is equally intriguing as both Blackpool and Accrington Stanley chase the Play-Offs. The Tangerines host lowly Cheltenham and Stanley travel to Wales to face 23rd placed Newport County who shipped 6 goals at Plymouth on Monday. Both opponents can still survive so our two clubs will have to give everything, because dropping points at this stage can be terminal.

On the Non-League scene, wins for AFC Fylde at Boston and Chorley at Gloucester City will give the title for the Coasters and a Play-Off spot for the Magpies with a game to spare in the National League North. Salford City may have to wait another week to join Chorley, even if they win at Worcester City. Similarly, in the Northern Premier League 1 North’s final fixtures of the season, wins for Lancaster City at Glossop North End and Colne at home to Droylsden will crown a new Champion and produce a Play-Off place respectively. To join them, Trafford have to win at Ossett Town and hope that Scarborough Athletic fail to gain 3 points at Colwyn Bay. Atherton Collieries need to continue their winning run at Winsford United to take their penultimate step to promotion from the North West Counties Premier League. All Bootle can do is win at Abbey Hey and hope the “Colls” slip up along the way. The biggest game of the day is arguably at Widnes where the top two meet, a shoot-out with Charnock Richard to determine the final resting place for the North West Counties League 1 title. Finally with the rumour that there may only be one side promoted from Tier 11, a win at St Helens on Thursday evening may just help Ashton Town to stave off relegation.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County connection

1                     Only 2 current Premier League managers have actually played in the Premier League. Slaven Bilic at West Ham and who else?

                                        Slaven Bilic; played for West Ham, managed West Ham

2                     Who was the last English manager to win a European Club Trophy (Champions League, UEFA Cup, Cup Winners Cup or Europa league) with an English club?

3                     Who is the only player with a Red Rose County club to be nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award in 2017?

4                     Which Manchester United player topped the 2002-03 Premier league goal scoring charts?

5                     Jim and Jeff Whitley, brothers who both represented Norther Ireland around the turn of the Millennium, played for which current Premier League club?

6                     Liverpool’s Sadio Mane holds the record for the Premier League’s fastest ever hat-trick, achieved when at Southampton. He took the record from which 1995 Liverpool striker?

7                     Oldham manager John Sheridan scored the winning goal in the 1991 League Cup Final for which club?

8                     Who did Burnley sell to Liverpool in 2015 and has only played 6 times because of injury?

9                     South Africa’s leading all-time scorer Benni McCarthy played 109 games for which Premier League team between 2006 and 2010?

Benni McCarthy in his South African strip during the 2010 World Cup

10                 Which National League North club play at Victory Park?        

Post Weekend Musings

It is topical, although completely irrelevant to Thursday but in 1956, Manchester United played their first home European tie; the visitors being Anderlecht. Having won the first leg 2-0 in Brussels, they thrashed the Belgians 10-0 at Old Trafford, still the club’s record win. This was the Busby babes of course, Champions of England and, but for the air disaster, probable Champions of Europe. Of the goal scorers, only Denis Violet ever played again post Munich. Taylor and Whelan sadly died and Berry was forced to retire from the game.

 How on earth was David Silva missing from the PFA nomination list for Player of the Season? The Manchester City play maker has consistently cut defences to ribbons and it is easy to forget that he is close to completing 7 years in the Premier League. Such loyalty to a club from a foreign star is rare, a throwback perhaps to an age where players were simply happy to play for good clubs, not chasing “fast bucks” wherever they are offered.

It was a relief to see Ross Barkley perform well in front of his home supporters on Saturday. The Everton midfield player has had a dreadful month, being criticised by his manager, ignored by Gareth Southgate, beaten up in a bar and likened to a “gorilla” by the “Sun”. The Blues are a well-run club, not taken to making snap judgements so when it bans a publication; you know the club and the player have been hurt in the extreme.

AFC Fylde’s leading goal scorer Danny Rowe has amassed 44 league goals, twice as many as Tamworth’s Dan Newton in second place. It is his 3rd season with the Coasters having joined from Macclesfield. He previously played for Stockport County in the Football League and in three seasons at Fylde he has netted 99 times; can he make the ton before the season ends?

It is fair to assume that any side which has scored just 30 goals in 44 games would be rock bottom of the league and planning for life in a lower division next season. Not so if the club in question is Oldham Athletic. On the credit side it has conceded a mere 43, fewer than runaway leaders Sheffield United. Goal keeper Connor Ripley, a full season loanee from Middlesbrough has kept 17 clean sheets; a contributory factor to a relatively safe 17th spot.

Connor Ripley: son of Premier league winner Stuart (pictured on the day he signed his loan deal)

Nick Powell netted three times at the DW Stadium against Barnsley…. after coming on as a substitute. It was the first Wigan Athletic hat trick since Jordi Gomez in 2012 but Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer scored 4 after  coming on as a late “sub” for United against Notts Forest in their treble winning season.

Red Rose County Player of the Week 

Ander Herrera, Manchester United

The Spaniard performed magnificently at Old Trafford on Sunday, the often unsung ex-Athletic Bilbao player completely marking Eden Hazard out of the game. He did however have “Lady Luck” with him as well. He handled before setting up Rashford with an exquisite through ball for the Red’s opener and then his speculative second half shot pin-balled off a couple of defenders and past Courtois for the game clinching second. Notwithstanding the element of good fortune, he certainly made the difference in helping United win the midfield battle and is a worthy recipient of the Player of the Week award.

Tier 10 Club of the Week

Widnes FC

Widnes is another of those towns in and around the M62 corridor which is most famous for its rugby league club. The football club was only founded in 2003 and it has had a tremendous effect on the youngsters of the Halton Borough, providing soccer for hundreds of children. In 2012 they decided to move the club on and its senior side entered the West Cheshire League. Because of their outstanding facilities, they were quickly admitted to the North West Counties League Division 1 where, for the next 3 seasons, the results were quite mediocre. This season however, under the managership of Joey Dunn, they are seriously challenging for the promotion, having won their last 9 games. Widnes FC is based at the Select Security Stadium, an all seater ground covered on all sides. It is shared with Widnes Vikings Rugby League club and both the football and rugby teams play in the traditional white shirts, long associated with great rugby XIIIs of the past. With automatic promotion seeming very possible, it will be interesting to follow their progress. Can they build a successful football tradition in what is traditionally oval ball territory?

The famous white shirts of Widnes, this time proudly worn by the football team

Quiz Answers

1 Mark Hughes, 2 Howard Kendall, 3 Romelu Lukaku, 4 van Nistelrooy, 5 Manchester City, 

6 Robbie Fowler, 7 Sheffield Wednesday, 8 Danny Ings, 9 Blackburn Rovers, 10 Chorley FC.