Monday, 3 April 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog Number 24

                               Number 24                                                                          April 3 2017

Big Sam; a case of what might have been

I always look on Sam Allardyce as one of ours even though he was a West Midlands lad, possibly because much of his playing and managerial career was in the Red Rose County, He made over 290 league appearances with Bolton and subsequently Preston, a moustachioed, macho defender who either headed the ball or the centre forward or preferably both a long way. He later commenced his fledgling coaching and managing career at Preston and then Blackpool. He was extremely successful at Bolton for almost 7 years, taking them out of Tier 2 and into the Premier League, to Wembley for the League Cup Final and into the Europe. He later worked at Blackburn for 2 seasons, saving them from relegation and giving the club stability before being sacked by the Venkys, allegedly because they found his tactical approach too negative. Since then he has continued to be regarded as a manager who can save clubs from the drop and then steady the ship. He did so at West Ham, completed the first part of the task at Sunderland and is now performing miracles at Crystal Palace. All of this begs the question, what would have happened if he had not allowed himself to become entrapped by Daily Telegraph journalists, being forced to resign from the England job after just 1 game? I have been impressed so far by the work of Gareth Southgate who appears to be a very honest, intelligent and hard-working manager who will hopefully bring success in Russia next year. But Allardyce has special qualities; different than the self-styled “Special one” at Old Trafford but special nonetheless. He has managed at 11 different clubs over a period of 25 years, each one inherited with problems galore yet never once been relegated. I could have foreseen him marching his squad into Moscow, steadfastly refusing to even think about defeat, defending in depth and coming through the group stages of the World Cup. He would have set the side up to withstand wave after wave of attacks from German, Brazilian, Italian or Uruguayan hordes and probably conjured something up from set plays to take us into the very late stages of a World Cup for the first time 1990. This is his stock-in-trade; this is what he does week in and week out. It would not have been pretty but damned effective; often the antithesis of an England performance. Of course all this is mere speculation because we will never know, but there are clues in Crystal Palace’s game plan at Stamford Bridge last Saturday. A master class in defensive strategy from the maestro.

Blackpool FC; their Finest Hour

Blackpool was never a Lancashire footballing giant; the cotton mill towns were the pioneers of the professional game and the club did not join the Football League until 1896. For the next 40 years, Blackpool was recognised as a 2nd Division side. Despite a brief excursion into the 1st Division in 1930, they only became an established “top club” in 1937 in the early part of Joe Smith’s 23 year tenure as manager. This was Blackpool’s golden era. With Stanley Matthews (signed from Stoke City in 1947) creating havoc on the right wing and setting up goal after goal for the voracious Stan Mortensen, the Tangerines reached 3 FA Cup Finals. They won the legendary “Matthews final” in 1953 and were league runners-up to the “Busby Babes” 3 season’s later. By 1961, the gloss was fading and the “wizard of the dribble” was sold back to Stoke at 46 years of age. They somehow retained Tier 1 status until 1967 when the inevitable relegation occurred. For the next 43 years there were more downs than ups with 20 different permanent (!!) managerial appointments. By 2009 Ian Holloway was at the helm. With his winning (albeit quirky) personality, he persuaded the Board to pay a record £500,000 for the mercurial Glasgow Rangers’ star Charlie Adam. The Scot notched 16 league goals and Brett Ormerod also reached double figures. There were a number of journeyman professionals who were stalwarts of the side including Matthew Gilks, Alex Baptiste, Ian Evatt, Stephen Crainey, David Vaughan, Keith Southern and Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Everton’s Seamus Coleman also featured 9 times on loan. Blackpool sneaked into the play-offs in 6th position with a home 1-1 draw v Bristol City and was drawn to meet Notts Forest in the semi-final Play-Off. A 2-1 home win was followed by an amazing 4-3 win at the City ground, on loan DJ Campbell scoring a hat-trick. The Play-Off final against Cardiff City was so typically “Blackpudlian”; a roller coaster with the Lancashire club leading 3-2 at half-time. An inevitable Adam free kick, a Taylor-Fletcher header and Ormerod, with what turned out to be the winner, did the damage; the second half remaining goalless. The club had set a record as the first to gain promotion from each Division of the Football League via the Play-Offs. The Golden Mile was packed on their return but despite a valiant effort, the Premier League was just too tough and since then it has been downhill all the way. 2009-10 was not quite Matthews vintage, but it was their finest hour for 50 years.
                     Charlie Adam; his left-footed magic illuminated Blackpool’s Golden Mile

Performances of the last week

The preliminaries before the 196th Merseyside derby were littered with moans from Klopp and Koeman about wounded players returning from International games. As it was, Liverpool coped far better with the situation (if one ever existed) and ran out comfortable 3-1 winners in this vital Premier League encounter, the goals coming from Mane, the influential Coutinho and Origi. Fourth place is still a potential scenario but Everton, for whom Matthew Pennington scored his first goal, now look like Europa League contenders.  

It is stretching things to say that Manchester City are in the running for performance of the weekend but when only 2 out of 18 Red Rose County clubs from Tiers 1-5 actually won, a 2-2 draw at the Etihad cannot be sniffed at. It was actually a poor result for both clubs and, short of winning at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening; City surely cannot be Premier League champions. Even more worrying is that Spurs are now 4 points clear in 2nd place, but let us celebrate the fact that City led twice through Sane and Aguero and created the best chances. We will ignore their failure to hold a lead once again.

Accrington Stanley stretched their unbeaten run to 12 games in League 2 with a 2-0 home win over Cambridge United, followed by a magnificent 1-0 victory at 2nd placed Plymouth Argyle. The deadly “Mac” duo, Sean McConville and Shay McCartan were the goal scorers against Cambridge and Jordan Clark notched for the first time at Home Park. Marek Rodak, the Slovakian loanee goalkeeper from Fulham was the Stanley hero as they completely eased any relegation worries, even giving themselves a faint sniff of the Play-Offs.

AFC Fylde returned to form by crushing highly rated Darlington 4-1 in the National League North, with Danny Rowe taking his total to 44 for the season. Another 9 points from 5 games will ensure that Fylde are Champions. Encouraging results for Salford City and Chorley enabled them both to consolidate their positions in the Play-Offs. The Ammies struggled to beat bottom placed Altrincham 2-1 to stay 4th, but Jason Walker struck twice in Chorley’s 4-0 thrashing of relegation threatened Gainsborough Trinity to return to 5th place.

In the Northern Premier League, Ryan Crowther scored twice as Ashton United defeated Corby Town 3-1 whilst Warrington Town won 2-0 at Barwell to keep their Play-Off hopes alive. In the NPL League 1 North, Lancaster City slipped one point behind Farsley Celtic at the top, albeit with a game in hand. They lost 2-1 at home to Colne, who can now be classed as legitimate contenders. Clitheroe, 1-0 winners at Goole, can still join them.

364 spectators witnessed a rare defeat for Atherton Collieries, narrowly losing 1-0 to title rivals Runcorn Linnets as the Cheshire side move into top spot in the North West Counties Premier. Bootle drew 1-1 at 1874 Northwich to stay 3rd. Nelson’s Sebastian Julian scored all 5 in his side’s 5-1 victory at AFC Liverpool, the real newsworthy item of the week. In Division 1, Charnock Richard won 2-1 at Alsager, giving themselves a favourite’s chance of silverware, particularly as leaders Litherland REMYCA lost by the same margin to Silsden. Bacup Borough gained a rare victory, 2-1 v Stockport Town in front of just 32 spectators.

Games to look forward to this week

Following Chelsea’s shock home defeat to Crystal Palace in the Premier League, all eyes return to Stamford Bridge once more this Wednesday as the leaders play host to challengers Manchester City. Chelsea’s shock home defeat to Crystal Palace has at least robbed them of the “invincible” tag, but it will probably make them work even harder against the Sky Blues. Their attacking quartet of Aguero, de Bruyne, Sane and Sterling will keep the West Londoners’ defence busy but City’s problem is a lack of quality at the other end of the pitch. If Hazard, Costa and co hit it off, it is difficult to invent a scenario where the Etihad side can win. Even if they do, they will need other clubs to take points from Chelsea and Spurs.

It really is now or never for Championship side Blackburn Rovers on Saturday as they welcome visitors Barnsley to Ewood Park. The Rovers lost narrowly at high-flying Brighton on Saturday and travel to contenders Reading on Tuesday evening where points will be hard to come by. It has been a difficult season for Tony Mowbray’s side but at least he keeps a settled eleven which is always competitive. But at this stage of the season, it is the 3 point gains which keep you up and this can be the only acceptable result against the Tykes.      
                                    Craig Conway; always gives everything for Blackburn Rovers

The one point gained at home by Bolton Wanderers against 23rd placed Chesterfield was disappointing in front of a 23,000 plus attendance, but they are still in pole position for automatic promotion in League 1. Their visit to rivals Scunthorpe United could still be pivotal to the final placings although a 7 point cushion over nearest rivals Fleetwood Town is always comforting with just 6 games to play.

Blackpool performed well at Luton on Saturday in League 1 before conceding an injury time winner. The defeat has pushed them just outside the Play-Off places, making Saturday’s home game with Grimsby Town an extremely important fixture. The Mariners are safe down in 14th place in their first season back in the Football League so this should be a home banker. The Tangerines as ever will give it everything, but it has to be a 3 point haul.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County connection

1                     Which is the only club to have been founder members of the Football League and Premier League and be champions of both?

2                     Who was the only Liverpool player to start for England v Germany in the ’96 Euro semi Final?

3                     Who was the Everton player who chased Diego Maradona in vain when the superstar scored his brilliant individual goal in the 1986 World Cup quarter final?

4                     Daniel Sturridge played 16 league games for which Premier League club prior to leaving them for Chelsea in 2009 as a 19 year old?

                                           Daniel Sturridge; are his days numbered at Anfield?

5                     Which is the only Red Rose County club to have won the Football League Trophy this Millennium, doing so in both 2002 and 2004?

6                     The current manager of which Red Rose County club played at right back in the 1997 League Cup Final for Leicester City, winners over Middlesbrough at Wembley?

7                     From which Red Rose County club did Tottenham Hotspur sign Kieron Trippier for £3.5 million in 2016?

8                     Which is the only Red Rose County club that Steve Bruce has managed?

Steve Bruce; a formidable centre back in his Manchester United days

9                     Billy Kee is the leading goal scorer this season for which Red Rose County Football League club?

10                 Who was the last Frenchman to score for Manchester United in an FA Cup Final?  

Post Weekend Musings

With the end of the season looming ever nearer, there are some vital Non-League games this weekend. National League side Barrow have slipped out of the Play-Off places again following a defeat at Maidstone and must beat the much improved Woking to keep their season alive. In National League North, a Salford City victory at mid-table Harrogate Town will consolidate 4th place. Marine are edging towards safety in the Northern Premier League and a win over Mickleover Sports will enhance their prospects, whilst in 4th place in the Northern Premier League North, Trafford must beat Kendal Town to hold Colne and Ossett Town at bay. Atherton Collieries travel down to a faltering AFC Liverpool on Friday evening in the North West Counties Premier, desperate not to drop any more points at the summit of the league. Finally in NWC League 1, City of Liverpool has a tricky fixture at Alsager Town as they attempt to hunt down Litherland REMYCA at the top of the table

I hated Ronald Koeman in 1993 when he rugby tackled David Platt in a crucial World Cup qualifying game in Rotterdam. England had to win to qualify, Platt was clean through and Koeman cynically hauled him down on the edge of the penalty area. The referee only gave him a yellow card and England a free kick from which they failed to score. Moments later, the Dutch gained a free kick in a similar position and Koeman (who should not have been on the field) chipped it over the wall and into the net. England failed to reach the 1994 finals in the USA and Graham Taylor was sacked. Now 24 years later, the blonde haired Dutchman is annoying me again. He has been around long enough as a manager to know that players can return injured from International duty. It goes with the territory and the clubs have 25 man squads as a minimum, so what is the fuss? Was it a case of making his excuses early, because Everton were well beaten by Liverpool? Poetic justice some would say!

David Platt; scoring a penalty v Spain in the ’96 Euros at Wembley

Rotherham United from Tier 2 are the first to be relegated so it is time to look at Red Rose County clubs from Tiers 1 to 10 which are now in danger of the drop. No relegation fears for Tiers 4 and 6.

Tier 1 Burnley (possibly). Tier 2 Wigan Athletic (probably), Blackburn Rovers (50/50). Tier 3 Oldham Athletic and Bury (both possibly). Tier 5 Southport (definitely). Tier 7 Marine (just possibly), Skelmersdale United (relegated). Tier 8 Burscough (probably), Prescot Cables (possibly), Mossley (just possibly). Tier 9 Nelson (probably), AFC Darwen and Squires Gate (both just possibly). Tier 10 Ashton Town (definitely), Atherton LR (possibly), AFC Blackpool (just possibly).

Red Rose County Player of the Week

Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool

He is the class act at Anfield. After taking time to recover from injury, the little Brazilian is back to his best. With the game level at 1-1, he beat 2 Everton defenders and curled the ball into the net. Then using a level of skill normally only seen on the bridge of a 2nd World War battleship, he plotted a route for his pass to Origi who put the result beyond doubt. It was a performance of consummate skill from possibly the finest technician in the Premier League.

Tier 10 Club of the Week

City of Liverpool FC

It is rare for a club to be involved in Tier 10 football immediately on formation, but this is the case with City of Liverpool FC. The club was founded in 2015 in readiness for this current season, the raison d’etre being that the city of Liverpool needed a third club of substance to play within the city boundary. It is funded by members, totalling well over 1000 at the last count. That success has been replicated on the pitch as they currently stand in 2nd place, joint favourites to be automatically promoted. Success however has been less easy in finding a venue within Liverpool. The city is infamous for its lack of enclosed grounds and the club has had to ground share with Tier 9 club Bootle in the Borough of Sefton. Their support, averaging over 400 per game is outstanding for this level of football and their loyal travelling support has massively boosted the gate at every away game. They are exceedingly proud of representing Liverpool and their badge and strip is heavily purple, the traditional colour of the city. With this level of support and hopefully a local ground, progress could continue on the pitch; a tribute to the hard work and business acumen of the founders.

Quiz Answers

1 Blackburn Rovers, 2 Steve McManaman, 3 Peter Reid, 4 Manchester City, 5 Blackpool,

6 Simon Grayson, 7 Burnley, 8 Wigan Athletic, 9 Accrington Stanley, 10 Eric Cantona,

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