Monday, 10 April 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog Number 25

                                    Number 25                                                                   April 10 2017

Mourning the Passage of Time

Having had the privilege of being involved in the 1990s at the highest echelon of Schools’ Football, I witnessed the emergence of Wes Brown at close range. A Manchester boy, he played for England U/15 Schoolboys in the 1995 season, starring at Wembley on a couple of occasions. The pick of the crop along with Michael Owen, he was strong on the ground and in the air but it was his acceleration that caught the eye. If a forward raced past him, he flicked the overdrive switch and would always be first to the ball. Watching him 22 years on at Ewood Park last Saturday was a sadder than sad moment. Called up from his coaching duties to play because the Rovers’ were extremely short at centre back, he simply could not run anymore. He therefore had to defend deep, was uncomfortable on the ball and consequently gave it away far too often. His Trophy Cabinet is packed, including 2 Champions League and 5 Premier League medals, plus 23 England caps. But when you see a one-time Ferrari of an athlete unable to contribute positively to Blackburn’s worst side for 4 decades, you realise that like us all, footballers succumb to the passing of time.

Wes Brown; celebrating his 2nd Champions’ League winning medal, Moscow in 2008

Whom do you support when you dislike both sides?

At the start of the season I was convinced that the Premier League Trophy would return north. The Manchester clubs had, according to the popular press, employed the best two managers in world football. It seemed a straight choice between a Guardiola or a Mourinho title; I fancied the “Sky Blues”. But what about Klopp at Liverpool? Had he not put the entire nation on “red” alert in his first season at Anfield? Surely now was the time for the Merseysiders to capitalise and win their first title for 26 years. Lightning does not strike twice so no chance for Leicester, Arsenal always under-achieve, the Chelsea bubble had surely burst and Tottenham are just a cup side. As someone said about their last season’s performance, “Spurs finished 3rd in a 2 horse race”. A northern win was a no-brainer and I would have been happy with any of our top 3 clubs claiming the spoils.

But how wrong could I have been? Who do I want to win? To be honest neither because I hate (well perhaps absolutely dislike) Chelsea. It’s their arrogance, the King’s Road swagger, the snootiness of the Hooray Henrys, not to mention the Abramovich billions. As for the Spurs, I warmed to them in the 60s. That genial Irishman Danny Blanchflower was orchestrating the side from mid-field and Jimmy Greaves was on his way to collecting a haul of 357 Tier 1 goals; the all-time “Top Trump” in English football. Harry Rednapp’s recent side, featuring Gareth Bale prior to his move to Madrid, also captured my imagination but at the end of the day they are just another London team. It is with a sad heart that I have to accept that Stamford Bridge’s Trophy Room will house the Premier League Trophy for the next 12 months. And with the impending disaster at Ewood Park, perhaps I ought to become a hedgehog and hibernate until next season. But wait a moment; the spiky creatures hibernate in winter so I have to support the team I hate the least. “C’mon you Spurs!”

A young Gareth Bale; his blistering runs at Spurs made him a household name

Burnley FC; their Finest Hour

            A finest hour is the maximum possible achievement, but it can also be the occasion which delivers all-consuming relief; the back from the grave situation. Burnley have twice been Champions of England and won the FA Cup, but it could be said (and this has been suggested to me by lifelong Claret Mike Duffy) that Burnley’s great escape of 1987 impacted most on the Turf Moor faithful. The Clarets were a major club from 1947–1976, twice reaching FA Cup Finals and in 1960 they were crowned Champions. They had 18 top ten finishes in 26 years but by 1976, the glory days were over and they bade farewell to the top flight of English football. Ten years later they were bottom of Division 4 and only a dog fight could save professional football in the town. Legendary wing-half Brian Miller was manager but the attendances were lamentable; just 1696 saw the home win against Colchester United. Leighton James, the multi-capped Welshman now 34 and in his 3rd spell at the club, was leading scorer with 10 goals. Billy Rodaway, another returnee from their better days, played all season aged 32. It appeared that even their experience would be unable to save the club, particularly when Hereford United beat them 6-0 at Turf Moor. A run of 10 games without a win from January 1 seemed to be the writing on the wall and although they managed to win 4 and draw 2 of their next 13 games, they approached the final day of the season in 24th and bottom spot. Being 1 point behind Torquay United and 2 behind Lincoln City, Burnley were dependent on winning with at least one of their rivals failing to do so. Orient (without the Leyton prefix for several seasons) were visitors to a packed Turf Moor, the gate being 5 times the season’s average. They prayed for salvation but feared damnation although the mood was lifted when by the 50th minute; the Clarets led 2-0 courtesy of Neil Grewcock and Ian Britton. Orient pulled one back; 25 left on the clock. Portable radios transmitted scores from the Lincoln and Torquay matches. The Londoners battered the Burnley defence but it held firm as news filtered through; Lincoln had lost, Torquay drew. Lincoln dropped to the Conference and the town celebrated as if they were Champions instead of the country’s 90th best club. Burnley had escaped and the collective sigh of relief at the final whistle heralded their finest hour.

The smallest man on the pitch, but Ian Britton heads a never to be forgotten goal

Performances of the last week

In the Premier League, Burnley with a 1-0 home victory over Stoke City and a goalless draw at Middlesbrough look to have booked their place in the top tier again for next season, their first consecutive stint at this level since 1976. Stoke were also recipients of another defeat, this time at home to Liverpool by a 2-1 margin. The Brazilian duo of Coutinho and Firmino secured the points for Jürgen Klopp’s side whose noses stay ever so slightly in front in the chase for a Champions’ League place. Everton in the meantime took 4 points from an away trip to Manchester United (1-1) and a home 4-2 win over a weakened Leicester City side, Lukaku netting a brace as the Toffees moved 10 points clear in the final Europa League slot.

Preston North End thrashed Bristol City 5-0 in the Championship with Callum Robinson contributing a couple, but yet another disappointing away display, losing 3-0 at Leeds United, makes it even harder for them to clinch a Play-Off place. Wigan Athletic look down but not quite out, finding a late flourish from Nick Powell to defeat the already doomed Rotherham United 3-2.

It was a topsy-turvy week in League 1, but Bolton Wanderers have virtually clinched automatic promotion virtue of a 1-0 away win at Southend even though they came unstuck by the same margin at Scunthorpe 3 days later. Fleetwood Town had an excellent 3-1 away win at Oxford, but their automatic promotion hopes have all but evaporated after a 2-0 defeat at Oldham Athletic who have improved their chances no end of avoiding relegation.

The current runaway train in League 2 is Accrington Stanley, unbeaten in their last 12 games. They were 2-0 down to Crewe Alexandra at half time but John Coleman typically sorted them out in the dressing room and they scored 3 without reply in the second 45.

On the non-league scene, the already relegated Skelmersdale United are a club in crisis on and off the pitch with the probability of losing their ground due to the action of developers. They did however have a rare victory, 3-1 over lowly Frickley Athletic following 7 straight defeats in the Northern Premier League. In Division 1 North, it is now a straight shoot-out between Farsley Celtic and Lancaster City for automatic promotion with the latter holding a fractional advantage following their1-0 victory over Goole. Colne march on remorselessly and are now 3rd after they thumped Tadcaster Albion 4-0 and Prescot Cables have suddenly found some goal power having flirted with relegation all season. Remarkable 4-0 and 7-2 victories, the latter over high-flying Glossop North End have banished fears of relegation.

In the North West Counties Premier League, Atherton Collieries continue to look like champions with successive 2-1 away wins at Barnoldswick Town and Congleton. Bootle, still in 3rd position, had no game but Padiham had a conclusive 3-0 victory at Hanley Town to further cement 6th place. In Division 1, Litherland REMYCA also had an open date and in the process were overtaken at the top by both City of Liverpool and Charnock Richard, the 2 favourites for automatic promotion. Widnes however are coming up fast on the rails and they hammered St Helens Town 8-0, George Lomax scoring the first four.

Games to look forward to this week

The stand-out fixture in the Premier League is on Sunday, Manchester United taking on Chelsea in the late match. They will have seen action against Anderlecht on Thursday, travelling to Belgium for their Europa League game, so they may struggle against the league leaders. Jose Mourinho may have to put all his eggs in one basket to guarantee a Champions’ League place via the “Europa” route because if they fail to beat Chelsea, they could  be giving up ground to Manchester City and Liverpool in the race for a Top 4 finish. In the Championship, it could be anything but a “Good Friday” for Blackburn Rovers on their visit to Notts Forest. The Lancashire side were a shambles last Saturday, smitten with injuries and simply lacking the quality to hurt sides at this level. It is almost game over for them but it will certainly be so if they cannot return from the City Ground with 3 points.

The League 1 clash between Oldham Athletic and Bolton Wanderers on Saturday is a potential thriller. The Wanderers will want to put automatic promotion to bed as quickly as possible but we know that John Sheridan’s Oldham will sweat blood to retain their place at this level for a 21st consecutive season. This lunch time game deserves a big Easter gate.

John Sheridan; he has given the Latics a fighting chance to avoid relegation

It is not inconceivable that Accrington Stanley could make the Play-Offs, a resurrection of Lazarus proportions. Blackpool themselves are even closer to the so-important 7th place and the all Lancashire Good Friday League 2 seaside confrontation will provide clues to the immediate future of the 2 clubs. The momentum will be with the Stanley and they have experience in these situations from last season’s near miss, although Blackpool is the bigger club. A draw is a possibility, a result  which may fail to satisfy either Bowyer or Coleman.

In the National League, Barrow still have an outside chance of the Play-Offs but a visit to Bromley, a London Borough south of the Thames will not be easy. This is another Good Friday fixture and time is fast ebbing away for Barrow to make a decisive move.

On the same day in National League 1 North, West Yorkshire stages a classic “Roses” clash at FC Halifax Town, a club which has made strong progress of late. AFC Fylde has led the table all season but 4 wins in the last 10 games is not promotion form. A draw may be an acceptable result, albeit one which will put extra pressure on their 3 remaining fixtures.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County connection

1                     Which current Manchester United player was bought from Chelsea for £37.1 million in 2014?

2                     Who was the striker that Burnley signed from Brighton and Hove Albion in 2014?

3                     Who scored 55 goals in 155 games for Liverpool in all competitions in spite of many of these appearances being from the bench, thus becoming known as “super sub”?

4                     Jim Bentley is manager of which Red Rose County League club?

                                          Jim Bentley; a current EFL manager in the North West

5                     Sergio Aguero is usually Manchester City’s leading scorer but who scored 20 to Aguero’s 17 in the 2013-14 season?

6                     Brian Kidd left Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant in 1998 to be manager of which Red Rose County Premier League club?

Brian Kidd; 19 years of age and part of a legendary strike force in 1968

7                     Father and son Alan Kelly (Senior) and Alan Kelly (Junior) played a total of 589 games in goal for which Red Rose County club between 1958 and 1992?

8                     “Creed”, the latest “Rocky” franchise movie, was partly filmed at the ground of which North West club?

9                     Who did Bolton Wanderers sell to Nottingham Forest for £3million in January?

10                 Jill Neville, mother of Gary and Phil and wife of the late Neville Neville, is secretary of which EFL League 1 club?

Post Weekend Musings

Is Pep Guardiola going crazy or is he copying Jose Mourinho’s deflection tactics?

Quote:- Claudio Bravo is one of the best 3 goalkeepers in the world when it comes to build up play.

Statistic:- Bravo has now conceded 7 goals from the past 7 shots on target he has faced.

Suggestion:- Why not play David Silva in goal. He is an even better passer of the ball than Bravo and might have stopped at least one of the 7 goals the Chilean has conceded.

It is no dafter a comment than the City manager’s.

                           Claudio Bravo; much maligned but surely the season's worst buy

Sergio Aguero’s return to form has seen him move up to 17th in the list of all time Premier League Goal Scorers with Steven Gerrard’s haul of 120 only 3 away. Further progress will depend on playing another full season at City with Robin van Persie’s 144 strikes in 11th place being a potential target. Jermaine Defoe in 7th with 157 is the only current player in front of the Argentinian.
Interesting non-league fixtures this weekend see Warrington Town at Whitby Town in a Northern Premier League fixture on Saturday which will help to determine which club makes the Play-Offs. In the Northern Premier League 1 North, another win for Colne at Glossop North End will almost certainly guarantee a Play-Off slot for the Lancashire club. If they are to continue to top the table, Atherton Collieries need another 3 points from their visit to the strong Cheshire club, 1874 Northwich in their North West Counties Premier League encounter. Finally in North West Counties League 1, Litherland REMYCA has to beat Alsager Town to prevent rivals City of Liverpool and Charnock Richard from pulling away from them at the summit of the league.
An updated Red Rose County club list, (Tiers 1 to 10) who are now close to the drop.
Tier 2 Wigan Athletic (probably), Blackburn Rovers (probably). Tier 3 Oldham Athletic (possibly), Bury (possibly). Tier 5 Southport (definitely). Tier 7 Skelmersdale United & Tier 8 Burscough (both relegated). Tier 9 Nelson (probably), Tier 10 Ashton Town (definitely),

Red Rose County Player of the Week

Matthew Lowton; Burnley

It is rare for a full back to be awarded such an accolade but Matthew Lowton’s two out of this world goal line clearances cannot be ignored. The Clarets were struggling to keep Middlesbrough at bay, once more failing to repeat their impressive home form on their travels. As the clock ticked down at the Riverside, up stepped Stuart Downing with a perfectly executed free kick which the ex-Aston Villa player somehow managed to head clear from the goal line. Moments later his positioning was once more perfect as he safely cleared away a goal bound Daniel Ayala header, again from off the line. With such wonderful defending, he deserves to be our Player of the Week.

Tier 10 Club of the Week

Charnock Richard
Known since the late 50s for being the first motorway services in the United Kingdom, Charnock Richard can now boast a progressive football team. Situated on the A49 between Chorley and Wigan and with a population of under 2,000, football has been played in the village since the 1930s. There was a short hiatus in the 50s but since then, the club has graduated from the Chorley Alliance to be an all-conquering outfit in the West Lancashire League. Five titles in 8 years gave them the impetus to apply to join the North West Counties League 1, permission being granted for the start of this season. They have been close to the top throughout the campaign and with a management team of Andy Westwell and Dave Haslam, both of whom seem to have been there forever, they are currently favourites to top the League. Centre forward Carl Grimshaw is another veteran and he is the Division’s leading goal scorer with 31 in 34 games. Mossie Park is amongst the best grounds in the league, having everything that is required for this level of football. Should promotion materialise, it will be interesting to see how this extremely well run club fares next season.

A panoramic view of Mossie Park, impressive home of Charnock Richard FC
Quiz Answers
1 Juan Mata, 2 Ashley Barnes, 3 David Fairclough, 4 Morecambe FC, 5 Yaya Toure, 
6 Blackburn Rovers, 7 Preston North End, 8 Everton, 9 Zach Clough, 10 Bury FC.



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