Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (number 28)

                                   Number 28                                                                   May 1 2017

The race for a place in Europe

For those who like a bet, a double on the two Manchester clubs winning on Sunday afternoon would have seemed like a simple way to finance a night on the town. A double on the two draws may have paid for a weekend away but few of us would have been silly enough to throw good money away on that particular bet. But we are talking about Mourinho’s United and Guardiola’s City here and each are in charge of a side incapable of playing to its full potential. As a result, the Red’s 1-1 draw against Swansea at Old Trafford and the Sky Blues’ 2-2 draw up at Middlesbrough should have shocked no-one. Each of the two Mancunian elevens were also recipients of extremely generous penalty decisions, so perhaps they should have been grateful to the referees for their single point gained. Liverpool meanwhile stole a march on their two rivals by winning at Watford on Monday evening. It was a poor match, a real scrappy affair only brightened by a goal of sublime athleticism and technique by the unlikeliest of goal scorers, Emre Can. The German midfield player of Turkish descent executed a scissors kick at a ball played slightly behind him by Lucas and the ball nestled inside the Watford net, raising the hopes of Champions' League qualification for Jürgen Klopp’s side.

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

Teams close to going down:-  Tier 2 , Blackburn Rovers (probably).

Teams Relegated:- Tier 2 Wigan Athletic Tier 5 Southport, Tier 7 Skelmersdale United, Tier 8 Burscough, Tier 9 Nelson, Tier 10 Ashton Town.

Teams promoted:- Tier 3 Bolton Wanderers, Tier 6 AFC Fylde, Tier 8 Lancaster City, Tier 9 Atherton Collieries, Tier 10 Widnes, Charnock Richard.

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

Teams in Play–Offs:- Tier 3 Fleetwood Town, Tier 4 Blackpool (probably). Tier 6 Chorley, Salford City. Tier 10 City of Liverpool, Litherland REMYCA.

Red Rose County Footballing Legends (Number 1)

Kenny Dalglish

When you look at Kenny’s special abilities, where do you begin? With his low sense of gravity and ‘superglue’ touch, you simply could not take the ball from him. He was no flyer, but being a yard quicker in the head and sharp over five yards was speed enough. He could both dribble or pass the ball round an opponent and frequently score with either foot. If you add a mental and physical toughness to a desire to win whatever the odds against, you had some player. Only the burden of a Scottish birth rite, which precluded him from the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, denied him the opportunity to be compared with Platini, Rossi and of course Maradona on the greatest stage of all. Unlike many of today’s star players, he was no special athlete, but he was first and foremost a supreme footballer. He was at Celtic from his teenage years, winning every conceivable honour. When Bob Paisley bought him in 1977 to replace Kevin Keegan, he was replacing a legend with a future icon. Kenny was too good a player to be an out and out striker; he would have been the 21st Century’s ultimate number 10, yet he scored 230 league goals to sit beside 10 league titles, 6 FA Cups, 5 League Cups and, the biggest of them all, 3 European Cups. He is Scotland’s most decorated player (102 caps), all-time leading scorer with 30 goals and certainly the best British footballer of his day. It came as a shock when Joe Fagan resigned as Liverpool manager in 1985 and an even bigger shock was the anointing of Kenny as player-manager. He immediately had to deal with the aftermath of the Heysel disaster and subsequent banning of English clubs from Europe. On the playing pitch however, it was a seamless handover as the Dalglish inspired side continued to dominate the English game. In a six year tenure, he won three titles and two FA Cups including the double in his first season. The shadow of stadia tragedies was to revisit him a second time with the Hillsborough disaster and Kenny, a passionate family man, inextricably found himself drawn into helping the bereaved families within a city in mourning. Eventually, unable to cope with its aftermath, he resigned but almost immediately found himself back in employment in Blackburn. This then second division club presented a far-less claustrophobic environment with a much lower level of expectation, and Kenny soon rediscovered his passion for the game. He bought arguably the world’s best striker of the generation in Alan Shearer but the majority of his side consisted of good journeymen professionals whom he welded together into a formidable unit. Well drilled, the side played to its strengths and massively over-achieved. Throughout his six years at Ewood Park, Kenny Dalglish brought hope and joy in equal measures to the depressed mill town, the apotheosis being the 1995 Premiership title. Since then he has been involved in managerial roles at Newcastle, Celtic and Liverpool again without ever attaining his former glories. He remains however the “King of the Kop” and whenever Gerry Marsden’s “You’ll never walk alone” is played, memories are evoked of Kenny Dalglish, a footballing legend.

Performances of the last week

Bolton Wanderers’ stay in Division 1 was of minimum length, just 12 months as they cruised past Peterborough United 3-0 to clinch the second automatic promotion place. It was another triumph for manager Phil Parkinson who, after one season at the Macron, now has the opportunity to test his skills in the Championship.

Some things are worth waiting for and in Burnley’s case, it was their first away win of the Premier League season. They had failed to win in 17 consecutive games on their travels but two unanswered goals from Barnes and substitute Gray at Crystal Palace righted that particular wrong. To add icing to the cake, it has surely secured their league status for another year.

          Ashley Barnes; not the most prolific of Premier League strikers but a handful nonetheless

In front of their highest league gate of the season (almost 22,000), Blackburn Rovers turned in their best performance for months in dominating and finally beating Aston Villa 1-0. A well-crafted goal converted by leading scorer Danny Graham was sufficient to raise hopes of escaping relegation from the Championship in the season-end game at Brentford.

In the scramble for Play-Off places in the National League North, a crowd of 2069 watched Salford City smash Darlington 5-1 to comprehensively book their spot. Chorley meanwhile lost at home to 3rd placed AFC Halifax Town by a 2-0 margin to finish 6th, but they will be in the Play-Offs because Darlington’s ground has failed the grading criteria. A crowd of 4064 turned up to cheer a George Thompson hat-trick as FC United of Manchester finished the season in style with a 5-1 win over Gainsborough Trinity. Charnock Richard finally clinched promotion from the North West Counties League 1 with a 3-2 victory at St Helens Town, Carl Grimshaw bagging another couple to finish the season as the league’s top scorer. There were goals galore in the NWC Premier Division and West Didsbury and Chorlton pulled off a surprise by winning 5-3 at Bootle, Matthew Kay netting a hat-trick

Games to look forward to this week

It is the final day for fixtures in the Championship which kick off at 12.00 noon on Sunday and League 2 with a 5.30 start on Saturday evening. Blackburn Rovers are still in the fray but will find it tough at Brentford, needing to better the Notts Forest and Birmingham City results to guarantee survival. Blackpool are embroiled in the tightest of tight scraps to make the Play-Offs, but they currently occupy the 7th spot and have home advantage against a demoralised Leyton Orient side  already doomed to leave the league.

The Play-Off semi-finals in League 1 are concluded this week. Fleetwood Town who missed out on promotion on the last day of the season travel to Bradford City for the first leg on Thursday and will no doubt be confronted with a large crowd. The Cod Army have had problems scoring goals in recent weeks although they have been rock solid at the back. It will be a tight affair at Valley Parade, no doubt setting up a cliff hanger at Highbury Stadium in the second leg on Sunday.

Manchester United, still unbeaten in 25 consecutive Premier League games, have two colossal away games this week. On Thursday they journey to Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi-final. The Spanish sea port has a poor record in repulsing English invaders having been overrun three times by English fleets starting with Sir Francis Drake in 1589. United should have little to fear from a side currently 11th in La Liga but who have done well to reach this stage of the competition. Sunday’s game at the Emirates against Arsenal is potentially far tougher; a game United must win to regain their top 4 position in the Premier League. Manchester City will be equally desperate to beat obdurate opposition in the shape of Crystal Palace and Everton have a tricky game at relegation threatened Swansea City as they try to make certain of a Europa League spot next season. On Sunday, Liverpool, the third of the trio battling it out for Champions’ League places, are at home to Southampton, their League Cup Semi–final conquerors.

In the National League North, the semi-final Play-Off 1st legs commence on Wednesday with Chorley at home to Kidderminster Harriers and Salford City playing host to AFC Halifax Town. The return fixtures are on Sunday, but both Red Rose County sides will be underdogs against ex-Football League teams. Knock-out games being what they are however, hope springs eternal……..

On Saturday, the North West Counties Division 1 Semi-final Play-Offs take place. The Merseyside clubs, Litherland REMYCA and City of Liverpool FC will both be disappointed that automatic promotion was not achieved following strong campaigns but they both enter the knock-out stages as clear favourites. CoLFC are in their first ever season as a club and promotion will be a tremendous achievement. They are at home to Whitchurch Alport and REMYCA to Sandbach United in one game shoot-outs on Saturday.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County connection

1                   England’s first defeat at Wembley was to Hungary in 1953 by a stunning 6-3 margin. Which Red Rose County Club supplied 4 of the starting eleven?

2                   Apart from Wayne Rooney, which ex-Liverpool striker is the only current player who has scored more than 20 goals for England?

3                   Who was bought from Scunthorpe for £45,000 by Blackburn Rovers in 1988, appearing 257 times including 34 in the title winning season and sold to “Wolves” in 1995 for £1million?

4                   Who was the only member of Preston North End’s Division 1 Play-Off starting XI at Wembley in 2015 who had cost any money; £50,000 from Aston Villa?

5                   Whom did Manchester United buy from Torino for £12.7 million in July 2015?

6                   From 2003 -2013, he made 351 league appearances for Bolton Wanderers and was capped once as a substitute for England v Montenegro in 2010 at the age of 33. Who is he?

7                   Gary Lineker scored 30 league goals for Everton in the 1985-86 season before transferring to which club after that one year at Goodison Park?

                                              Gary Lineker; scored goals galore in 1 season at Everton

8                   Which current and fairly regular member of the Manchester City side was bought from Lazio for £16 million in 2010?

9                   Preston North End, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and which Red Rose County club are the only sides to have won all 4 professional divisions of English football?

10                Once considered to be a future super star, Jermaine Pennant has had a nomadic career. Which Red Rose County League 1 side has he played for this year?

       Jermaine Pennant, in better days, played for Liverpool in the 2007 Champions’ League Final.

Post Weekend Musings

It is difficult to find records for goals scored by a defender in English football although the ex-Leeds United full back, free kick and penalty kick expert Ian Harte, scored 16 for Carlisle United in the 2009-10 season. David Wheater’s 9 for Bolton Wanderers therefore need to be mentioned because there were no penalties or free kicks in his total, mainly headers as the 6’5” centre back wreaked havoc from attacking set pieces. His defensive partner Mark Beevers also scored 7 times; attacking centre backs being in vogue now at the Macron.

                                 David Wheater; doing what he does best for the Wanderers

Sadly Colne FC, after a thrilling roller coaster of a season following promotion last year, were blitzed 4-0 by Farsley Celtic in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North Play-Off semi-final. The Lancastrians qualified 5th and had to play the one-legged knockout game away to the West Yorkshire side but were hit by three first half goals. Keeper Greg Hartley atoned for an earlier blunder by saving a Farsley penalty after half time, but there was only one side in  the tie as Celtic wrapped up the game with a fourth goal. This disappointment aside, it has been an extremely encouraging season for Colne, one which will hopefully act as a springboard for an even stronger promotion push next season.

There are always winners and losers on the last day of a season. Although Bolton was our definite League 1 “winner”, there was disappointment elsewhere. Fleetwood Town came close to pipping the Wanderers at the post, but failed to score in a goalless draw at home to Port Vale and Rochdale’s faint hopes of a Play-Off place were not helped by only drawing 1-1 v Bradford City at Spotland. Fortunately there were no “losers”; Bury breathing a sigh of relief after losing at Southend United but results elsewhere conspired to keep them safe. It was also disappointing for Accrington Stanley who went down 4-1 at home to Luton Town, diminishing any chances, however distant of a return to the Play-Offs in League 2.

There has been a loser of course in the Championship with Wigan Athletic sliding back into Division 1 after a season which rarely promised much and ultimately delivered nothing. The club’s first job after next weekend will be to make a permanent managerial appointment. Will they promote temporary boss Graham Barrow (who has served the club loyally in numerous coaching roles since 2009) to a permanent position or bring in some new blood?  

Red Rose County Player of the Week 

Emre Can (Liverpool)

Stunning strikes come along far too infrequently but the Can scissor kick at Watford was like gold dust to the Anfield side as well as being a collectors’ item in its own right.

Tier 9 Club of the Week

Nelson FC

This club first came to prominence after the 1st World War. Founder members of the 3rd Division North in 1921, they were champions the following year. Promoted to the lofty heights of Division 2, this club from a town of just 40,000 inhabitants naturally struggled. They did manage to beat champions Leeds United and actually won at Old Trafford, but were relegated after their first and only season. After 7 more seasons in the Third Division North, their inevitable failure to seek re-election forced them back to non-league football. That club folded in 1936, but reforming immediately after the 2nd World War, they were a successful Lancashire Combination side. Joe Fagan, later to manage Liverpool, to European Cup success, was player-manager when they won the Combination in 1952. From the 60s onwards, the club began to fade as a force in non-league football. They were founder members of the North West Counties Division 3 in 1982, but it has been a rocky road since then with ground problems and then financial difficulties causing them to twice leave the league. The club has survived in spite of all this and they have twice been promoted to the Premier Division but have sadly finished 21st this season and will be relegated once again to Division 1. Their ground now meets all grading criteria and hopefully the blue shirted Admirals will re-group again and be a force to be reckoned with in spite of being the meat in the middle of a footballing sandwich, twixt close neighbours Burnley and Colne.

                         Victoria Park (known locally as Little Wembley), Nelson’s tidy ground

Quiz Answers

           1 Blackpool, 2 Peter Crouch, 3 Mark Atkins, 4 Daniel Johnson, 5 Matteo Darmian, 

           6 Kevin Davies, 7 Barcelona, 8 Aleksander Kolarov, 9 Burnley, 10 Bury.

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