Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Red Rose Football Bllog (Number 44)


Red Rose Football Blog Edition 44

August 22nd 2017

Red Rose Player of the Week

The likes of Michael Keane and his co-centre backs plus the young Dominic Calvert-Lewin may have been extremely impressive in Everton’s hard fought draw at Manchester City on Monday evening but if someone in the game scores their 200th Tier 1 goal, there can only be one Red Rose Player of the Week. Wayne Rooney is  only the 29th player since 1888 to reach this total and with Tony Cottee on 214 in 17th spot, Wayne could be well into the Top Twenty before this season ends. The goal at the Etihad may not be the best he has ever scored; in fact it went through the legs of Ederson, City’s new goalkeeper but it needed scoring and Rooney was the man on the spot. And to use a much used but eminently true cliché, “they all count”.

Great Red Rose Strikers

When the “Tiger” comic first presented its new weekly strip based upon the exploits of a young footballer called Roy Race in 1954, it was no coincidence that the soon-to-be Melchester Rovers super star was a centre forward. He wore the number 9 shirt, as did all the strikers of that time, and he was every boy’s hero. There was something about playing centre forward that appealed (and still appeals) to youngsters. Roy of the Rovers was the one who scored the goals, he was the one they all talked about, he was one you wanted to emulate. Physiologically, the characteristics of a main striker have generally remained the same. It helps if you are tall and can jump higher than the defenders, it helps to be powerful because defenders are out to bully you and a lethal shot was always a pre-requisite. As the game has developed, mobility, pace, awareness and intelligence have also entered the equation as seen in the likes of Gary Lineker, Thierry Henry and recently in Jermaine Defoe, but the archetypal striker a la Shearer or Lukaku is still in demand. The list below contains 39 of the best strikers, showing that the Red Rose County has had its share of super goal scorers, the majority whom you would class as natural centre forwards. The 70s introduced the concept of double strikers and you will notice that Keegan and Toshack are in the list. This Anglo-Welsh partnership, something of a “little and large” duo, ran amok in the 1st Division in that decade as Liverpool took a stranglehold on the top honours. Ferguson at Old Trafford used a similar format with any combination of Yorke, Cole, Solskjaer and Sheringham when winning the treble in 1999. There have been “withdrawn” or “deep lying” centre forwards; Cantona played this role for United as did Don Revie in the 50s across the city. The current buzz word is “a number 10” who arrives late into the space created by the main striker to knock in the loose ball. Wayne Rooney was used in this role towards the end of his time in Manchester but basically they have one thing in common; goal lust. In this concluding article, the criteria will still centre on having played in 150 league games or more for the club and been awarded a minimum of 10 international caps in that period of time. 

Eric Cantona, Manchester United

Manchester United: Tommy Taylor (England 19 caps),  Denis Law (Scotland 55 caps), Lou Macari (Scotland 24 caps), Frank Stapleton (Republic of Ireland 71 caps), Norman Whiteside (Northern Ireland 38 caps), Mark Hughes (Wales 72 caps), Brian McClair (Scotland 30 caps), Eric Cantona (France 45 caps), Andy Cole (England 15 caps), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Norway 67 caps), Ruud van Nistelrooy (Netherlands 70 caps), Wayne Rooney (England 119 caps),

Stan Mortensen, the Blackpool goal scoring hero

Blackpool: Stanley Mortensen (England 25 caps), Jackie Mudie (Scotland 17 caps), James Quinn (Northern Ireland 50 caps).

Bolton Wanderers: Nat Lofthouse (England 33 caps), Wyn Davies (Wales 33 caps), John McGinlay (Scotland 13 caps),

Burnley: Billy Hamilton (Northern Ireland 41 caps), Sam Vokes (Wales 50 caps),

Blackburn Rovers: Alan Shearer (England 63 caps).

Everton: Roy Vernon (Wales 32 caps), Bob Latchford (England 12 caps), Graeme Sharp (Scotland 12 caps), Romelu Lukaku (Belgium 57 caps).

Liverpool: Roger Hunt (England 34 caps), Ian St John (Scotland 21 caps), Kevin Keegan (England 63 caps), John Toshack (Wales 40 caps), Kenny Dalglish (Scotland 102 caps), Ian Rush (Wales 73 caps), Robbie Fowler (England 26 caps), Michael Owen (England 89 caps), Emile Heskey (England 62 caps), Dirk Kuyt (Netherlands 104 caps),

Manchester City: Francis Lee (England 27 caps), Niall Quinn (Republic of Ireland 92 caps), Shaun Goater (Bermuda 36 caps), Sergio Aguero (Argentina 82 caps),

The leading League goal scorers at North West clubs in Tier 1 since the 1946

Career Dates
Nat Lofthouse
Bolton Wanderers
1946 – 1960
Ian Rush
1981 – 1996
Denis Law
Man United / Man City
1960 – 1973
Wayne Rooney
Manchester Utd / Everton
2002 – 2017
Bobby Charlton
Manchester United
1956 – 1972
Stanley Mortensen
1946 – 1955
Ray Charnley
1957 – 1966
Jack Rowley
Manchester United
1938 – 1954
Roger Hunt
1962 – 1968
Tom Finney
Preston North End
1946 – 1959

Performances of the last week

Talk about a flying start!! The Premier League’s Manchester United made it 8 goals in 2 games by eventually thumping  Swansea City 4-0 down in Wales. Many more games need to be won before the Reds can equal their best ever start to the season (10 straight wins in 1985-86 when incidentally, they finally finished 4th in Ron Atkinson’s last full season at the club) but they have certainly shown already that they can over power and out football the poorer sides. Swansea relied on dogged defence, but once the flood gates opened, United were able to score three times in under 4 minutes towards the end of the game, the goals being shared around between Bailly, Lukaku, Pogba and Martial. Stronger tests will be waiting down the road but for the moment, Jose Mourinho must be a happy man. Liverpool’s flamboyant boss Juergen Klopp will no doubt be expressing similar emotions, but with a huge slice of relief thrown into the mix following his sides’ 1-0 victory at Anfield over Crystal Palace. Andrew Robertson, their new signing from Hull City, certainly made a difference, storming forward from the left back position and creating chances, but Sadio Mane scored the decisive goal in a game which Liverpool totally dominated despite taking until the 73rd minute to clinch victory. There were so many talking points after Manchester City’s 1-1 draw at the Etihad with Everton. With £360 million of new signings (£220 City, £140 the Toffees) either on the pitch or bench, an extremely harsh sending off, a question mark about the shot saving ability of yet another Guardiola goalkeeper and Wayne Rooney’s 200th Premier League goal, the media have had a field day. City showed their fighting spirit after Kyle Walker’s 44th minute dismissal and Sterling’s volleyed goal was certainly well deserved but Everton seem determined to be one of the main players this season, and this with 8 Englishmen in their starting XI. 
Andrew Robertson, Liverpool

You would have to be brave to bet on Preston North End gaining automatic promotion from the Championship this season but Alex Neil appears to have replicated the work of the previous manager Simon Grayson, making “Fort Deepdale” such a hostile environment for visitors. Two of last year’s Play-Off sides (Sheffield Wednesday and now Reading) have already tasted defeat there and PNE currently sit in 7th place. Once again, away form could be their “Achilles Heel”, but it was good to see Jordan Hugill, last season’s leading scorer, find the net for the first time in this campaign on Saturday. The highlight in League 1 was at Valley Parade as Bradford City suffered their first home league defeat for over a year. It was Blackburn Rovers who at last found some form, a Dominic Samuel low header registering their first points for the season as the Rovers suddenly remembered how to defend. No such problems for Fleetwood Town who kept their third straight clean sheet, Devante Cole scoring twice to sweep away AFC Wimbledon to top the table. Keeping them company are Peterborough, Shrewsbury and a rejuvenated Wigan Athletic who travelled to Boundary Park to comfortably defeat Oldham Athletic, Ivan Toney and Michael Jacobs both scoring early without reply. John Sheridan’s side have made a dreadful start to the season, propping up the other 23 clubs on zero points.

There is a quiet confidence around Accrington Stanley at the moment and no wonder after defeating the strongly fancied Mansfield Town to move into the Play-Off positions in League 2. Kayden Jackson, their new signing from Barnsley, but who was on loan at Grimsby Town for most of last season, scored his 4th goal in 3 games and after the Stags had equalised, Billy Kee scrambled the ball home at the death to give Stanley a deserved 2-1 victory.
Billy Kee, Accrington Stanley

The Red Rose County’s big 2 in the National League North made further progress over the weekend.  Southport eased their way to a 1-0 victory in Derbyshire v Alfreton, the one-time England U/19 captain Steven Schumacher driving home the winner. Salford City survived a first half Kidderminster Harriers’ penalty to take complete second half control, Jack Redshaw coming on as a second half substitute and scoring a hat-trick. Warrington Town are showing promotion form in the Northern Premier League, winning at Coalville Town to set the early pace at the top of the league. Ashton United upset the previous incumbents with a fine 2-1 home win over Grantham Town to move into the top ten.

It was FA Cup Preliminary Round day for Tiers 8, 9 and 10 and seven Northern Premier League 1 North sides have already progressed through to the 1st Qualifying Round to earn a bonus payment of £1925 from the FA. Bamber Bridge won at home but Mossley, Droylsden, Skelmersdale United, Colne, and Clitheroe all won on their travels. The best performance however was reserved for Atherton Collieries who won 4-1 at Hallam, the prolific scoring Jordan Cover netting a hat-trick. Two North West Counties Premier League sides won through also, Ashton Athletic and Barnoldswick Town but the biggest gate of the day was at Prescott Cables where 973 spectators watched their 2-2 draw with  City of Liverpool. This coming week’s replay will be interesting.

In the league, Bootle thrashed Barnton 5-0, last season’s leading scorer Ryan Cox notching a 4 timer as they chase the league’s surprise packets, newly promoted early leaders Charnock Richard. In the North West Counties Division 1, Bacup Borough are flying the Red Rose County flag, winning 2-1 at AFC Blackpool to move into the 3rd spot.

Games to look forward to this week

The two Merseyside giants have European engagements this week. On Wednesday Liverpool take a 2-1 lead back to Anfield in the Champions League against Germany’s 1899 Hoffenheim whilst on Thursday, Everton defend a 2-0 lead in Croatia against Hajduk Split in the Europa League. It will be a surprise if either of our two clubs fail to qualify for the group stages. There is a big Premier League game for Burnley on Sunday when they travel south to meet Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. The Clarets have turned last season’s form book upside down, winning at Stamford Bridge then losing at home to West Brom. Spurs have a poor record at their temporary new home but they made chances galore when they lost to Chelsea. It will be a tough ask for Burnley who will probably debut Chris Wood, newly signed from Leeds United. He scored goals a plenty in the Championship and Sean Dyche, with his record of developing players from lower divisions, will hope that he can make the Kiwi into a Premier League player, replacing the recently sold  Andre Gray. Bolton Wanderers have lost both of their home games, drawing the two away from the Macron so they may well be pleased to be on their travels on Friday evening as they visit Hull City for a vital Championship clash. The East Yorkshire side has made an indifferent start also, so a win against one of last year’s relegated Premier League teams will go a long way to improve the confidence at the Wanderers; hopefully setting them up for a successful relegation battle. Two other Red Rose County teams with relegation on their minds meet at Spotland in the League 1 M66 derby. Bury began with a win but have conceded 7 goals in their last two games. Rochdale have had a tough set of opening fixtures but competed strongly in all 3 games in spite of gaining just 1 point, Perhaps with home advantage, they may just have the edge on the Shakers. In another Friday evening fixture, Accrington Stanley journey into the Midlands to take on Notts County. Both sides have started well and whoever wins this tussle will be looking at a League 2 automatic promotion position. Barrow are unbeaten in their last 4 National League games, but 3 draws in that period mean they occupy a mid- table position. On Saturday they entertain newly promoted Maidenhead United, managed on and off for years by West Ham United legend Alan Devonshire. They have made a decent start but will not be relishing a coach ride to the far North West coast. A win for Barrow here? Chorley have come close to promotion from the National League North several times recently so it is surprising to see them currently struggling in 17th position. Saturday’s opponents at Victory Park are Brackley who have won all five of their games thus far. A much improved performance from Matt Jansen’s side will be required to take anything from this fixture. In the Northern Premier League, unbeaten Lancaster City will look forward to a trip to lowly Hednesford Town whilst in Division 1 North, leaders Bamber Bridge are away to the much heralded South Shields; a real table top clash. In the North West Counties Premier League, relegated Burscough will look to kick start their season at AFC Darwen and in NWC League 1, two unbeaten sides, Litherland REMYCA and Chadderton clash on Merseyside.

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

             Each question has a Red Rose County club connection

1                    Who was capped 5 times for England in 2003 and immediately preceded John Coleman in his second stint as manager of Accrington Stanley?

2                    Which Englishman was manager of Liverpool in between the tenures of Rafa Benitez and Kenny Dalglish (his second “reign”)?

3                    David Healy, Northern Ireland’s leading ever goal scorer, scored 45 goals in 139 appearances for which Red Rose County club between 2001 and 2003?

David Healy; the Northern Ireland legend

4                    Which Premier League club started the opening fixture of the 2017-18 season last Saturday with 4 Brazilians and only 2 Englishmen in their starting line up?

5                    In 2008, which Red Rose county club broke their transfer record when signing Sweden’s Johan Elmander from Toulouse for £8.25 million?

6                    What is the nationality of the 22 year old Sandro Ramirez, a striker signed by Everton during the summer?

7                    Who is currently manager of Swindon Town, having made over 100 appearances for both Rochdale and Bury as a player as well as being Assistant Manager of “The Dale” and manager of “The Shakers” respectively?

8                     Jimmy Bullard has starred at Hull City and Fulham in the Premier League and been a star of Reality TV as well as appearing on numerous shows, but which Red Rose County club did he make 145 appearances for between 2003 and 2006?

                                   Jimmy Bullard, playing in the Hull City colours

9                    Which French international goalkeeper made a total of 139 appearances for Manchester United?

10                Burnley have sold Andre Gray to which Premier League side this summer for a club record fee?

Post Weekend Musings

Early doors predictions for the Champions of our leagues (Just for fun)

Premier League
Manchester City
The strongest squad and money in the bank.
Pedigree, hungry manager and resources.
League 1
Peterborough United
Made the perfect start and recruited well.
League 2
Coventry City
A one-time big club turning the corner
National League
Dagenham & Redbridge
Unbeaten and with recent experience in the club of playing at a  higher level.
National League North
Salford City
Made a good start, plenty of resources and well supported.
Northern Premier League
Warrington Town
An excellent infrastructure and steady progress in recent years.
NPL 1 North
South Shields
Money to burn and well supported.
North West Counties Premier League
Runcorn Linnets
Well supported and been close several times before
NWC League 1
Litherland REMYCA
The class of the league.

All of our Tier 11 leagues have now started and none of the reigning champions from each of the five sought promotion to the North West Counties League 1. Here are the early indicators of what may be the 2017 -18 final tables.

2016-17 Champions
Early Indications
West Lancs League
Longridge Town
Last year, Blackpool Wren Rovers pushed Longridge all the way and this term looks like a repeat.
Manchester Premier League
Rochdale Sacred Heart
Runners up Wythenshawe Amateurs from last year have started like a train and have the ambition to succeed this time.
Liverpool County League
Aigburth Peoples’ Hall
It is early days. Aigburth have been champions for the last 5 years but it could be close this year, as they have already lost.
Cheshire League
Whaley Bridge
Knutsford are flying and the best placed Red Rose club is Rylands from Warrington in 3rd.
West Cheshire League
The historic South Liverpool are 3 points clear of Newton after 3 games.

Quiz Answers:  1 James Beattie, 2 Roy Hodgson, 3 Preston North End, 4 Manchester City, 5 Bolton Wanderers, 6 Spanish, 7 David Flitcroft, 8 Fabien Barthez, 9 Watford, 10 Wigan Athletic.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Red Rose Football Blog (Number 43)


Red Rose Football Blog Edition 43

August 16th 2017

Red Rose Player of the Week

Romelu Lukaku

With all the pressure on him following his move from Everton to Manchester United for at least £75 million and playing in a United shirt for the first time at Old Trafford, full marks to the Belgian for doing what he is paid to do; scoring twice v West Ham United. He is the perfect shape and size for an English league centre forward, his pace, strength and power capable of frightening the life out of opponents with the ball in the air and on the floor. He will compete against much better defensive sides than the Hammers during the ensuing 9 months, but what a way to endear yourself to your new fans.

Great Red Rose Wide Players

They used to be referred to as wingers. They stayed in a wide position and their task was to receive the ball, dance or fly past the full back and play in a cross which the centre forward would despatch without ceremony. Occasionally they jogged back to the half way line but first and foremost they were attackers. They said it was Alf Ramsey that killed off the breed in 1966 with his reliance on a 4-3-3 system and in more recent years, we have seen the emergence of the attacking full back. Innovative developments in technology have determined the evolution of the modern day football, aiding the emergence of the likes of David Beckham.
The easiest ball to head is the one coming towards you which you can meet full on, but in days gone by, the ball sailed straight and true. It was virtually impossible to swerve or bend the old leather case and bladder so the winger had to reach the by-line before pulling the ball back. Beckham, playing with a much lighter ball whipped in crosses from a much deeper position which had bent so much by the time it reached its destination that it was almost coming back towards the attacker. Hence the post-Beckham generation do not need guile and electrifying pace to go past the defender in order to deliver the most dangerous of crosses. They do however have to defend, a concept which was totally alien to the pre-1966 wingers. The first defensive wide man I saw was Jimmy Leadbetter, a spindly Scottish left winger for Ipswich Town, Champions of England in 1962. By playing deep at Ewood Park, he made it difficult for the Rovers to thread the ball to Bryan Douglas. It took me a long time to realise that I had witnessed a new development in the game, but now the link is obvious. The manager of Ipswich Town through that period was none other than Sir Alf himself. But irrespective of the category of the wide players, the Red Rose County clubs have produced, developed and played many great exponents of this particular art and the list below includes all those having played in 150 league games or more for the club and been awarded a minimum of 10 international caps in that period of time.

Blackburn Rovers: Bryan Douglas (England 36 caps), Damian Duff (Republic of Ireland 100 caps), Morten Gamst Pedersen (Norway 83 caps) Brett Emerton (Australia 95 caps)

Burnley: John Connelly (England 20 caps), Leighton James (Wales 54 caps).

Preston North End: Tom Finney (England 76 caps),   

Manchester City: Roy Clarke (Wales 22 caps), Peter Barnes (England 22 caps), Shaun Wright-Phillips (England 36 caps), James Milner (England 61 caps),  

Blackpool: Stanley Matthews (England 54 caps).

The wizard of the dribble was for years, the most famous footballer on the Planet. Wherever he played, clubs could be guaranteed a full house. He played his last game in the 1st division (Tier 1) for Stoke City at the age of 50. His acceleration, pace, superb touch and balance simply destroyed the best of full backs. It was a different game back in those days and so I cannot believe we will ever again see a player performing at the highest level in the land at such an advanced age.

Everton: Tommy Eglington (Republic of Ireland 30 caps), Kevin Mirallas (Belgium 56 caps).

Liverpool: Billy Liddell (Scotland 26 caps), Peter Thompson (England 16 caps), Steve Heighway (Republic of Ireland 34 caps), John Barnes (England 79 caps),

John Barnes has probably been England’s finest left winger in the last 30 years. He had mesmeric ball skills to go with blistering pace. His individual goal against Brazil in 1984 at the Maracanã Stadium will go down as one of the greatest ever scored by an England international, selling dummies and drifting past the world’s best defenders.

Manchester United: George Best (Northern Ireland 37 caps), Willie Morgan (Scotland 21 caps), Steve Coppell (England 42 caps), Ryan Giggs (Wales 64 caps), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal 143 caps), Nani (Portugal 110 caps),


                                                     Performances of the last week

There is only one place to start this review; down the King’s Road at Stamford Bridge. In my mind, it was a home banker. Would you have backed Burnley, my tip to go down this year, to win at the home of the reigning Premier League Champions? Not a chance in hell. It helps of course when one of the opposition’s key defenders (Gary Cahill) leaves for an extremely early bath but the Clarets scored 3 memorable goals, a Sam Vokes volley, a Stephen Ward screamer and a typical Big Sam header to go 3-0 up at the break. The second half was always going to test Burnley’s morale but they finally survived, in spite of Chelsea pulling a couple back. One swallow of course does not make a summer, but what a confidence boost to this small town, low budget club who last won at the “Bridge” in 1971. That win came courtesy of Steve Kindon’s last minute goal, but worryingly for those who believe in omens, the Turf Moor side went down at the end of that season. There was of course another 2 goal hero this weekend, this one making his debut in a red shirt. Romelu Lukaku left Everton during the summer, Manchester United paying a whopping £75 million and he immediately did the business, scoring twice against a flaky West Ham United who were thrashed 4-0. There have been suggestions that the Belgian is something of a bully boy who scores his goals against weaker opposition, but he certainly knows where the net is. Time will tell if he can do it on a regular basis, especially in Europe. The highlight of Everton’s 1-0 win over Stoke was Wayne Rooneu’s headed debut goal. 

I believe that the majority of neutral fans will want to see the ex-England captain having at least 2 good years at Goodison Park before he hangs up his boots and even his critics will find it difficult to argue against a 15 year run of goal scoring at the top level. The next celebration could happen quite quickly as he needs one more for 200 Premier League goals. He is unlikely to catch Alan Shearer but his 2nd place will certainly be secure for a while because it will probably take Sergio Aguero (even if he stays that long) another 4 years to catch Rooney. And talking of the Argentinian, his goal plus an own goal was sufficient to see Manchester City over the line at Brighton. It was a potential banana skin opening game but the Sky Blues had too much of everything for their recently promoted opponents. Their line-up is scary with quality all over the pitch and on the bench. If they can defend better than last season, the title should be theirs.
In the Championship, Preston North End showed battling skills galore at Elland Road, defending for half an hour with 10 men following Ben Pearson’s dismissal. Leeds United were roared on by over 32,000 supporters but Chris Maxwell made a couple of good saves and PNE held on for a most worthy point after the 0-0 draw; unbeaten in 2 games. The 2 Fylde Coast League 1 clubs both gained valuable 1-0 victories. Blackpool had a tough task on paper against Milton Keynes Dons in their League 1 fixture, but an early goal from Sam Longstaff, a loanee from Newcastle United, settled the nerves, the Tangerines holding on to their slender lead to register their first points of the season. The club started with 7 new faces but there was little change in the attendance, just a meagre 3412 coming through the turnstiles. Fleetwood Town meanwhile travelled to Northampton Town and made it 2 out of 2. The Cobblers were searching for their first points and goalkeeper Alex Cairns had to be at his best to keep Northampton at bay.

The Cod Army improved in the second half and Devante Cole, son of Andy notched the winner in the 75th minute. They are up at the top of the league and have been joined by Wigan Athletic who, after a close first half, hammered Bury 4-1. Ex-Manchester United man Nick Powell helped himself to two goals and Paul Cook has certainly sent out a statement to the rest of the league after his first few weeks as Wigan manager. In the National League, Barrow made it a win and a draw from 3 games by comfortably defeating Woking 3-0 at Holker Street. The Scotsman Jordan White, a prolific goal scorer at this level of football who signed from Wrexham in the summer, scored twice in the second half. Both Southport and Salford City recorded impressive away victories in the National League North. Following their 1-0 victory at Leamington, the Sandgrounders have a 100% record after 3 games, This is most encouraging news after a poor 2016-17 season which saw them relegated from the National League and the Ammies are 3 points behind after a comfortable 2-0 win at AFC Telford United. It was the opening fixture in the Northern Premier League and the recently promoted Lancaster City gave their fans hope for a successful season with a 2-1 victory at Buxton. Equally Warrington Town, quietly fancied as promotion candidates, eased to a 2-0 triumph against the Midland side Rushall Olympic. In the Northern Premier League 1 North, the performance of the day at this level was Mossley’s 5-2 win at Kendal Town. The Seel Park outfit were 2-1 down at half time but a Jack Tuohy double set them on their way to victory. It was City of Liverpool who showed promotion form in the North West Counties Premier League on Saturday, destroying Irlam 5-0 with Karl Noon netting twice. In the NWC League 1, promotion favourites Litherland REMYCA caught the eye with an easy 4-0 victory over Stockport Town. The result of the day in Tier 11 saw Wythenshawe Amateurs lay down a marker to the rest of the league with a 3-1 victory at Springfield in the Manchester Premier League.

Games to look forward to this week

Everton have a busy 4 days in front of them, kicking off with a home Europa League Qualifying Play Off (1st leg) tie against Hadjuk Split on Thursday, followed by a trip to the Etihad for their Premier League fixture on Monday evening. It will be interesting to see how Ronald Koeman manages his starting elevens for the two games. The Europa League can be an extremely important competition, but he will also want to indicate to the fans that the Toffees can challenge at the sharp end of the Premier League. Putting it simply, will he start with Rooney on both occasions? Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola has a different problem. How do you keep happy all those stars warming the bench at Brighton last Saturday? As I predicted, the first season back in the Championship is proving to be difficult for Bolton Wanderers. Saturday’s opponents Derby County have made an equally indifferent start to the new campaign so hopefully the Wanderers can grab their first 3 points at the Macron. It is the Latics derby in League 1 at Boundary Park where Oldham entertain Wigan. John Sheridan’s side finished last season strongly to escape the drop but a “nul point” return from 2 games indicates further struggles. No such problems over in Wigan where Paul Cook’s side has an unblemished record. The supporters are already dreaming about an instant return to the Championship. The League 2 encounter at the Wham Stadium pits Accrington Stanley against the highly touted Mansfield Town, managed by the famously overweight Steve Evans. Stanley slipped up at Yeovil last week but all the signs are that John Coleman’s side will be competitive this term, so look out for a humdinger of a game this Saturday. You can argue that AFC Fylde’s haul of 3 points from 3 games in their debut National League season is relegation form, but they are yet to be beaten which bodes well for a promising year. Either way, they have to face the stiffest of opposition when Dagenham & Redbridge arrive at Kirkham this Saturday. The Londoners are also unbeaten with 7 points from 3 games and everyone’s title favourites. The result of the game will tell us much about the Coaster’s future prospects. National League North’s Salford City had some battle royals with Kidderminster Harriers last season but Worcestershire’s top side have made a stuttering start this time around. Salford however are now into their stride and tracking the leaders so will hopefully pick up another 3 points at their own Moor Lane ground. Northern Premier League side Ashton United face potentially tough opposition in Grantham Town who thrashed Marine in the season opener. Ashton defended stoutly to gain a point on their travels at Hednesford and seem prepared for yet another season at this level. It is the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup; Tier 8 clubs making their entrance. The Radcliffe Borough v Burscough tie is of interest to the Red Rose Community and there is a Manchester derby between Abbey Hey and Maine Road; games that give our clubs the opportunity to progress in the World’s oldest football competition. Finally in the North West Counties Division 1, AFC Blackpool and Bacup Borough (both of whom easily won their season openers) clash at the “Mechanics”. The winners will top the league at the day’s end.

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

                  Each question has a Red Rose County club connection

1                    1      Wilfred Bony has struggled at Manchester City but which club did the Sky Blues sign him from in 2015 for £28 million?

2                   The 31 year old centre back Anthony Gerrard (cousin of Steven) has currently played 39 games for which Red Rose County club? 

3                    Which defender between 1996 and 2013 played in 737 games for Liverpool in all competitions, 2nd in the club’s all-time list?

4                    Barry Roche has currently made 400 appearances in goal for which Red Rose County club?

5                    Which current Burnley Republic of Ireland international helped Blackburn Rovers to reach the FA Youth Cup final in 2001?

6                    Which Liverpool born player has currently made exactly 150 league appearances for Everton?

7                    Alan Stubbs captained which club in the 1995 Football League Cup final?

8                    Doug Holden played for Bolton Wanderers in the 1953 and 1958 Cup Finals and for whom in the 1964 final?

9                    Which England international played for Manchester United, Inter Milan and Liverpool between 1989 and 1999?

1                 Paul Pogba has played for 2 clubs. Manchester United twice and which other?

                                               Post Weekend Musings

The first time I saw Doncaster Rovers in action was at Ewood Park in the 1955-56 season. As a little boy, I was astonished to see a “black man” run on to the pitch in a Doncaster shirt; in fact I believe it was the first Afro-Caribbean man I had ever seen. He was a decent 2nd Division centre half, quick and strong and his name was Charlie Williams. Fifteen years later he was one of the stars of ITVs hit show “The Comedians” along with the likes of Bernard Manning and Frank Carson. Sixty years on and the only comedy at Ewood Park came from the Rovers’ defenders as they gifted Doncaster 3 goals, subsiding to a 3-1 defeat.``

There is one debate in football that is currently making all of the headlines; “what do the clubs do with players who make it clear that they do not want to play for the team?” To name but three, there is Virgil van Dijk at Southampton, Sanchez at Arsenal and in our neck of the woods, Coutinho at Liverpool. They are all contracted to their clubs but they know that they can earn more elsewhere and they believe that there is a better chance of silverware should they move on. In many respects, the club is in a lose/lose situation. Liverpool, for example, can sell their Brazilian play-maker for a colossal amount of money, but as they found out when they off-loaded Suarez to Barcelona in 2014 for close to £65 million, he was impossible to replace. Coutinho is also a special player. Even if they pull in around £100 million, who, with similar talent, is available? However, I have heard several ex-players state categorically in recent days that players do not want to play with someone whose heart is patently not with the club. I believe there is some truth in this, so what course of action does a club take? No matter how firm a manager may be, he will probably not keep a player who wants away. Even the dictatorial Alex Ferguson could not persuade Ronaldo to stay at Old Trafford, a club which could compete with any in the world at the time. There is also the feeling that many top stars do not want to move north. London has all the attractions for the young and rich sportsman so Chelsea and Arsenal already hold a massive advantage in the transfer game. Part of me would like to see Arsenal tell Sanchez that there is no way they are selling him and, if he sulks and performs badly, let him play for the Development Squad for the rest of the season. With the World Cup on next summer’s horizon, dare the Chilean risk being ignored by his country because he is not playing at an appropriate level? But his contract is up next year and he will be able to slink away on a “Bosman free” so the Gunners will have lost £50 million.  If Sanchez’s attitude is poor, I believe he will be quickly sold. If so, Arsenal will be yet another club with a wallet full of money but no-one worthwhile to spend it on. So the real debate is quite simple. Who now holds the power in football? It pains me to say it, particularly when you read about the obscene wages that many of these young men can command, but sadly it is the player. 

Quiz Answers:  1 Swansea City, 2 Oldham Athletic, 3 Jamie Carragher, 4 Morecambe, 5 Jonathan Walters, 6 Ross Barkley, 7 Bolton Wanderers, 8 Preston North End, 9 Paul Ince, 10 Juventus.