Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 29)

                                     Number 29                                                                   May 8 2017

50+ points = safety (True or False)

“They” say that if you earn over 50 points in a 24 team league, you are safe for another season. Try telling that to Blackburn Rovers who crossed that line at Brentford on Saturday, straining every sinew to deny an extremely lively and talented side. The 50 point barrier (just like 40 points in the Premier League) is an old wives tale and although often true, this is the 4th time since the millennium that it has proved fallible. Walsall and Leicester City were both relegated with 52 points in 2004 and 2008 respectively and Peterborough United incredibly dropped a division after collecting 54 points in 2013. Seven of our clubs are relegated this season and somehow, they have to quickly work out the appropriate strategy to arrest the slump, speculate on good players at the level they will be at and bring the fans back through the turnstiles. Howard Kendall did it in one season at Ewood Park in 1980 the club having been relegated under Jim Iley with a mere 30 points in a 22 team/2 points per win league the previous year. Gary Caldwell was similarly effective at Wigan two years ago, having dropped down with 39 points. Unfortunately Blackpool achieved exactly the opposite result in 2015 and 2016, falling  two divisions in two years, so a fast return is sadly no given.

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

Teams Relegated:- Tier 2 Blackburn Rovers, 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).

Europa League:- Tier 1 Everton.

Teams in Play–Offs:- Tier 4 Blackpool. Tier 6 Chorley. Tier 10 City of Liverpool, Litherland REMYCA.

Red Rose County Footballing Legends (Number 2)

Ryan Giggs

This week, we have a “Red Rose Footballing Legend” that not only played a full career in the North-West; he was also actually raised in this area from a young age. To be a great sports’ performer, it helps to have at least one parent with quality athletic credentials and Danny Wilson, Ryan’s father, was a fly half of repute at Cardiff RFC who switched to the 13 aside code on moving to Swinton when Ryan was 6. The young Wilson was a child prodigy and Manchester United quickly snaffled him up at 14. I first came across him playing for Salford and Greater Manchester schoolboys where he was responsible for the destruction of the Blackburn & Darwen Town team and then the Lancashire County side; both times in vital cup ties. He went on to captain England Schoolboys and then completely disappeared from view. In actual fact he had changed his name by deed poll to Ryan Giggs (his mother’s maiden name) following his parents’ divorce. On medals alone, Ryan is the most successful footballer in the history of the English game, but football aficionados remember, and probably relate more, to the flamboyant way he played the game. In many ways, he was the ultimate left winger; lightning quick, a veritable wizard of the dribble and blessed with a knack of popping up in the penalty area and scoring vital goals. When he received the ball, you sat further forward in your seat, your excitement level clicked into overdrive and an adrenalin rush surged through your body. There was always a doubt over his crossing ability but in actual fact, his flashier skills hid the fact that he was a most accomplished passer of a ball. It was only when he lost a touch of pace and Ferguson began to play him in the middle of the park that we began to realise that he was the finished article, a fully rounded and complete footballer. He was in the first team at 17 and was of course part of the famous “class of 92”. He made 672 league appearances for the Old Trafford side scoring 114 goals. His medal haul includes 13 as a Premier League winner and 4 apiece from FA Cup and Football League Cup victories. The pride of place must be reserved for 2 Champions’ League winning medals before he retired at the top, aged 40. He was capped 64 times for Wales; what a tragedy he was born on the wrong side of the River Severn and if you have forgotten how good he was, click on to the You Tube video of the 1999 FA Cup semi-final. The goal he scored was against Dixon, Adams, Keown and Winterburn, Arsenal’s long revered back 4, the year United won the treble of course. Ryan Giggs, a true Red Rose football legend.  

The young Giggs with the typical early 90s look; baggy shirt and wavy hair.

Performances of the last week

Fortunately there was no pitch invasion to curtail the League 2 season at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool cruising into the Play-Offs against an already condemned Leyton Orient. In spite of a pre-match demonstration march, the match passed off peacefully with Mark Cullen scoring again in a 3-1 victory. Accrington Stanley finished off their campaign with a bang, thwarting Stevenage’s Play-Off hopes with a comprehensive 3-0 away win in Hertfordshire.

Blackburn Rovers produced probably their best performance of the season, attacking with pace and defending valiantly to win 3-1 at Brentford, Mulgrew scoring with a memorable free kick. Unfortunately it was to no avail as both Notts Forest and Birmingham City also won to send the Rovers down from the Championship (Tier 2) for the first time since 1979.

 Manchester City took advantage of their early kick-off to post their intent to rivals by comfortably crushing a woeful Crystal Palace side 5-0 at the Etihad. The goals were shared around but typically, the performance was orchestrated by the returning David Silva who opened the scoring within 90 seconds. Keep him fit and City will play in Europe next season. Liverpool were involved in what was probably the most boring game of the season, drawing 0-0 at home to Southampton where the only shot on target was James Milner’s saved penalty; his first miss from the spot since 2009. Burnley hit the magical 40 point safety mark in an entertaining home draw against West Brom, Sam Vokes helping himself to a Premier League double.

For a European semi-final, it ought to have been a walk in the park for Manchester United against Celta Vigo, but their inability to take gift-wrapped chances may come back to haunt them once again next Thursday. Fortunately Marcus Rashford was on hand to gain and then exquisitely convert a free kick to give his side an away victory (and the vital away goal) to take into the Europa League semi-final second leg. However with a less than full strength side, United slipped to a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal in the Premier League 3 days later. With both City and Liverpool pulling away from them and Arsenal coming up fast behind, the Reds are looking outsiders in the race for Europe………as far as the Premier League is concerned.

The curse of the penalty shoot-out struck Salford City who lost out to AFC Halifax Town after drawing 1-1 at the Shay in the National League North semi-final Play-Off. But local rivals Chorley overturned a 1-0 deficit, winning 2-0 at Kidderminster Harriers to qualify for the final against the Yorkshire side. It was double joy for the Red Rose County with a pair of victories for Litherland REMYCA and City of Liverpool in the North West Counties League 1 Play-Off semi-finals. The games, staged a mile apart, saw “Remy” defeat Sandbach United and ”the Purps” extinguish the challenge of Whitchurch Alport, both by a 1-0 margin.

In the Manchester Premier League, Rochdale Sacred Heart finally clinched promotion and their first ever title at this level by beating Manchester Gregorians 2-0. Sacred Heart will not be seeking promotion to the NWCFL for next season.

Games to look forward to this week

Chorley may have finished 6th in the National League North but they are just 90 minutes away from joining AFC Fylde in Tier 5 of the pyramid next season. On Saturday they travel to AFC Halifax Town in the final of the Play-Off; a golden opportunity for Matt Jansen’s side to take a step closer to the world of full-time professional football.

Litherland REMYCA host the North West Counties League 1 Play Off final on Saturday against local rivals City of Liverpool. The winner will join fellow Red Rose County clubs Widnes and Charnock Richard in the Premier Division next season. The game of the season in the West Lancashire League is on the last day of fixtures on Saturday. Blackpool Wren Rovers and Longridge Town; two sides who have been locked together all season clash in a title decider. Over in the Liverpool County Premier League, reigning champions Aigburth People’s Hall need only a draw at home to Liverpool Nalgo to clinch their 5th title in 6 years.

The Europa League is now Jose Mourinho’s chosen Champions League route and Manchester United bring a 1-0 lead back to Old Trafford on Thursday for the second leg semi-final. Even with more than their fair share of injuries, United must have the advantage in class and experience to comfortably defeat Celta Vigo and reach the final in Stockholm where Ajax of Amsterdam are favourites to join them. The attention of the footballing world now settles on the Premier League. With Burnley safe and Everton definitely competing in the Europa League next season, the Red Rose County community will watch our big three clubs battle it out for the two remaining Champions’ League spots. Arsenal can still be a threat, but realistically, it is a three way East Lancs Road dog-fight. Only Manchester City are at home this weekend, hosting Leicester City on Saturday lunch time. They have by far the easiest run-in as Liverpool travel to the east of the capital to meet West Ham United on Sunday whilst Manchester United have a similar journey on the same day, this time to north London where the rampant Tottenham Hotspur awaits. The pundits seem to be predicting a City, Liverpool and then United 3-4-5, but they have been hopelessly wrong before.

Nicolas Otamendi; the Argentinian scored a rare goal for City v Crystal Palace on Saturday

The Play–Offs for Division 2 commence on Sunday at 18.30. Blackpool, by virtue of finishing 7th have the toughest foe, 4th placed Luton Town. The Tangerines are at home in the 1st leg and hopefully they can take a lead and a clean sheet to Bedfordshire for the return.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County connection

1                     On whose ground did Eric Cantona deliver his famous karate kick at a spectator in 1995?

Eric Cantona; considered by some to be France’s greatest export to England, (red wine apart)

2                     Which English Club’s only European success was a 2-1 win v Gornik of Poland in the 1970 UEFA Cup-Winners’ Cup?

3                     Which current Red Rose County Manager scored a goal in the 1997 FA Cup semi-final for Chesterfield v Middlesbrough?

4                     David Ball is the leading goal scorer for which Red Rose County club in League 1 this season?

5                     Bolton Wanderers have finished second to which club in this year’s league 1?

6                     Who played 5 times for England, scored 68 Premier League goals for Southampton and managed Accrington Stanley from 2013 to 2014?

7                     Of the current Liverpool squad, Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane were bought from Southampton, along with which other player?

Nathaniel Clyne; bought from Southampton for £12.5million in 2015

8                     Ademola Lookman was signed by which Red Rose Premier League club in January 2017, costing £7.5million from Charlton Athletic?

9                     He was manager of the 2008 Derby County side, relegated from the Premier League with just 11 points’ He had also managed Wigan Athletic from 2001 to 2007. Who is he?

10                 Scotsmen Craig Brown, Billy Davies and Alan Irvine have each managed which club this century?

Post Weekend Musings

Wythenshawe Town have worked extremely hard this year to obtain the correct ground grading in order to move into the North West Counties set up for the 2017-18 season. All they needed was a top 5 finish in the Cheshire Premier League. They were comfortably situated at the top end of the league all season until a series of disastrous results ruined their dream. They will hope lightning does not strike twice in a year’s time.

Fleetwood Town’s glorious season is now over, eliminated from the League 1 Play-Offs following a goalless draw at the Highbury Stadium after a 1-0 defeat in the 1st leg at Valley Parade. It has been a valiant effort from the Cod Army, giving the hope to all small clubs that with ambition, organisation and the old maxim that you have to speculate to accumulate, it is amazing what can be achieved. It is also, by a considerable margin, their best season ever.

It was always destined to be a stressful afternoon. I watched the game in a pub with fans all around, phones on the table waiting for any change to the Birmingham and Notts Forest scores. The odds on all 3 sides winning were long, but they all were and once Blackburn Rovers had gone 3-1 up and with the “Bees” reduced to 10 men, the game at Griffin Park became immaterial. The result from Ashton Gate became the only one that mattered, but the wily old Harry Rednapp did what he was brought in to do; keep Birmingham City in the Championship. And so we quietly slipped away after 90 minutes, not really knowing what to say to each other. Life never prepares us for this type of dichotomy nor does any single emoticon cover our team playing magnificently, winning the most important game of the season but still being relegated. “It’s sad but it’s only a game” was the gist of my wife’s comment on returning home, but even 63 years on from my first Blackburn match, accepting defeat has become no easier. There is however a salutory lesson in all of this. The final league table never lies. If you finish in a relegation place, you deserve to go down.

Charlie Mulgrew; a class act at the heart of the Rover’ defence

Burnley are destined for their best season since their glory days (10th in Tier 1 in 1975). Preston North End have also equalled their best finish since Sheffield United beat them in the Championship Play-Off semi-final in 2009. Well done Messrs Dyche and Grayson.

Red Rose County Player of the Week 

Sam Vokes, Burnley

Many suggest that the Welsh international is only a Championship striker, but he has led the line for Burnley for much of their successful Premier League season. On Saturday, he was rewarded for his endeavours with a double against the rugged West Brom defence, his first 2 goal haul at the highest level of club football; a worthy recipient of the award.

A Review of the North West Counties Premier League 2016-17

Tier 9 is by far the most difficult level of football from which to advance. Only one club is promoted each year and the NWCFL has 22 sides battling for this honour. It was a 5 horse race for much of the season with the Red Rose duo of Atherton Collieries and Bootle taking on a trio of progressive Cheshire teams, namely Runcorn Linnets, (the re-born Runcorn who had been regulars in the Conference), a recently formed but well organised Runcorn Town and 1874 Northwich, the breakaway from that one time legendary non-league football club, Northwich Victoria. “The Colls” and “The “Bucks” progressed well in the FA Vase but they both came a cropper on away trips to Lincolnshire’s Cleethorpes Town, but it was these two clubs that finally fought out the title honours. The Wigan side eventually prevailed, winning by 8 points. They scored 103 goals and gained 100 points but it was their defence which caught the eye, conceding just 39 goals, less than a goal a game. Bootle eventually grabbed the runner-up spot from Runcorn Town on goal difference. West Didsbury and Chorlton was the next placed Red Rose club in 6th place, rapidly followed home by Padiham, Irlam and Ashton Athletic in the top ten. Barnoldswick Town, AFC Liverpool, Abbey Hey and Maine Road occupied the middle of the table and AFC Darwen, favourites to go down at one point, rallied to pinch 18th place from a disappointing Squires Gate. Nelson was sadly relegated along with New Mills from Derbyshire and Cammell Laird 1907 from the Wirral who finished rock bottom. Irlam performed well to finish 8th in their first ever season at this level. Atherton Collieries now must prepare for an even tougher season in the Northern Premier League 1 North, trying to emulate Colne and Glossop North End, their last two predecessors who have both been successful in their debut seasons at Tier 8.

Quiz Answers

1 Crystal Palace, 2 Manchester City, 3 Sean Dyche, 4 Fleetwood Town, 5 Sheffield United, 

6 James Beattie, 7 Dejan Lovren, 8 Everton, 9 Paul Jewell, 10 Preston North End.

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