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.

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