Category Archives: Stoke City

Ah! That’s Champion(ship / League, but only the latter part)!

Apologies for the use of the first person throughout this post, but something has been niggling at me.

I felt a little ashamed in being a Manchester United fan yesterday afternoon. While sat next to an avid Stoke fan, it made me realise that the Premier League is severely lacking in one, important aspect that makes football the game that endears so many – spontaneity.

The Championship’s denouement was one of those special afternoons in football. It left you lost, perplexed, and yet, you didn’t care – clarity wasn’t necessary. You just went along with the journey, wondering where you would end up at the end. For the neutral, there’s no finer feeling (it is maybe why the play-offs tend to be the best games all season); for the Stoke, Leicester and Southampton fans, it was perhaps of a sort of masochistic torture.

Ever since that momentous FA Cup quarter-final between Barnsley and Chelsea, Mick McCarthy’s comments in the post-match analysis have stuck with me. Fans of Barnsley have experienced Premier League football, relegation, more relegation, promotion, and now the FA Cup in the space of ten years.

Excitement and despair, those two feelings so closely aligned with one another, consistently experienced by Barnsley fans. As he put it, it’s exciting to be a Barnsley fan, because the spontaneity is always there.

This is not the case with the Premier League, with one of the top four guaranteed to win the division and claim those Champions League spots. Supporting a team like United means that the result is almost predictable week-in, week-out.

When the unpredictable does happen, it’s almost treated with distain by some United fans; the prospect of losing means that everything they’ve bought into has been demolished completely – like losing does not happen for those supporting what is once again the richest club in the world. Well it does, and at times (and dare I say it), it’s a refreshing change.

This is why as a United fan, I live for the Champions League more than the Premier League;  for a start, the Premier League doesn’t force me into a nervous, drunken stupor like last Tuesday. My appetite for the European Cup isn’t just in terms of the history United have with ol’ Big Ears, but because it’s where that sense of unpredictability is most likely to be (in the latter rounds, anyway; the group stage feels like an irrelevance at times). The quest for another European Cup is what feeds me more than another  almost-certain Premier League title.

However, today’s game between Newcastle and Chelsea is intriguing: Newcastle, the masters of spontaneity within the Premier League over the last two decades, could unexpectedly hand the title to United if they beat Chelsea this afternoon; yet a Chelsea win will make next Sunday a day of relevance, even if it may be only slight. I’m not sure which one I want.

Even so, it’s very easy for me to write the above – I know that all too well. But I guess there is something that United for once lack, which most other clubs at least have. Perhaps this is why I’ve gone to a lot of Stockport County games this season.

God, I’m confused.

David.

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Match Report: Stoke City 0-0 Newcastle United

Stoke City 0-0 Newcastle United

FA Cup: Third Round

Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent

Att: 22,681

It was built up as the match that could determine Sam Allardyce’s fate as Newcastle manager; it now holds more significance, but for now at least, Allardyce remains safe.

Meanwhile Stoke, while being pleased in keeping the Premier League outfit at bay, forcing the replay and with it the extra cash needed to boost their attempt in reaching the top flight, will be somewhat disappointed with the goalless draw after playing the better football and having a 67-minute Jon Parkin header cleared off the line – a minute after he arrived as a substitute.

It was an astute tactical decision by Tony Pulis, still under pressure by some Stoke fans despite their current 4th position in the Championship, which was almost enough for Stoke to claim a famous win. Parkin’s intimidating (to say the least) stature was a nuisance for the Newcastle defence, and also caused a goal-mouth mêlée seconds after his headed effort, which Liam Cresswell couldn’t capitalise on.

Parkin came on for Malian international Mamady Sidibe, who looked deeply annoyed at being substituted. He had a right to be, as he was industrious and selfless, and did all he could to try and be inventive in a game that lacked a lot of it.

He used his towering presence to assist with defending, but was also threatening with his vision and through-balls to Ricardo Fuller that constantly questioned Newcastle’s Abdoulaye Faye, who was composed throughout the 90 minutes.

But ominously for Allardyce, Newcastle and Fabio Capello’s England, Michael Owen is a long distance away from his best. The loneliness of being a long distance away from your best showed, as he cut an at-times isolated and beleaguered figure in the cold and wet of Stoke-on-Trent.

Owen was sluggish, rusty, and struggled to generate any sort of basic pace, impetus or threat. On 55 minutes, Owen failed to connect with a clear chance after Steven Taylor’s header hit the post and goalkeeper Steve Simonsen was left stranded. Allardyce eventually gave him the full ninety minutes, but he’s going to need many more not just for his sake, but for his club and Allardyce himself.

Damien Duff, who filled in for the ill James Miller, is also some way off his best; while Mark Viduka had a frustrating evening, with his only decent effort coming after 18 minutes thanks to a Charles N’Zogbia ball into the penalty area. N’Zogbia was the pick of the Newcastle players, and worked extremely hard on the left-hand side to pressurise an occasionally uncertain Simonsen with an array of crosses.

Newcastle were almost saved from an awkward replay as substitute Andrew Carroll’s desperate lunge at an N’Zogbia cross hit the post.

Allardyce looked pleased as the final whistle went, but the tie has now gained even more significance, for a loss at St. James’ would surely signal the premature end of Sam Allardyce.

That’s if it doesn’t happen beforehand, that is.

David.

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Filed under Barclays Premier League, BBC, FA Cup, Football, Football League, Match Report, Michael Owen, Newcastle United, Sam Allardyce, Sport, Stoke City

Here to save us all – The FA Cup.

Here we are once again in the first week of the new year, a very appropriate time for football’s annual shot at redemption: The FA Cup, to begin in earnest with its third round.

These are dark days for football. Greed is a necessity for success; rampant violence, criminality and generally vulgar behaviour amongst players are tolerated by the biggest clubs; the rich/poor gap is wider than ever, and trophy winning is reserved for a priveleged few. In addition, satellite TV continues to saturate the airwaves with an insane number of matches, and erode the atmosphere at grounds by bamboozling the already over-fed supporters with its bizarre range of kick-off times.

It’s all a far cry from the days that this particular weekend in the football calendar always reminds us of. Yet it is surely the FA Cup that provides the rest of the footballing nation with its one chance to get their own back; to redress the balance; to turn back the clock and yet dream of a brighter future, even if only for a day.

This is of course because anything’s possible when the Premiership megacelebs and the part-time cloggers get thrown into the mix together. In truth, giant-killings, which in the past were almost inevitable, are now very few and far between, due to the increased professionalism of the bigger clubs (at least on the pitch). But there’s always a chance, and my goodness how football needs someone to prove that to us this weekend.

Nowadays, that chance tends to present itself as the big clubs increasingly treat the early rounds of the cup as an annoyance, and large amounts of first-teamers get dropped. Whether you call it arrogance, or a panicked desire to wrap players in cotton-wool with that we-dare-not-miss-out-on-all-that-cash Champions League fixture on the horizon, it still provides David with the chance of a lifetime to slay Goliath.

Some may argue that it rather takes the shine off a giant-killing when the famous team appears to have announced with its team selection that it doesn’t care. I disagree. Firstly, you can still bet your life that the favourites don’t want to lose, and secondly it makes no difference to how good the score sounds in the classified check.

Manchester United‘s adoption of this risky strategy has seen them involved in a couple of spectacular near-misses in recent years. They could surely have fielded a 5th team that could beat Exeter City in 2005, and yet back to Devon they all went after a 0-0 draw. Having failed to learn from that mistake, United promptly made it again 12 months later at Burton Albion, where they once more escaped humiliation in a replay.

Another such near miss brings us nicely onto this years fixtures. Two years ago, when Luton Town were 3-1 up and playing Liverpool off the park, live on the BBC, the classic cup upset appeared to be on the cards. Liverpool spoiled everyone’s fun by storming back to win the game 5-3. The two clubs meet again on Sunday, with Luton now in a far worse position; threatened with relegation to League Two, and finances in a mess. Yet their impressive home record this season demands respect, and with Liverpool‘s manager appearing to think that the aim of his job is to get his best players on the pitch as rarely as possible, who knows what set of misfits The Hatters might come up against?

Let’s look at where else we can pin our hopes for a dose of footballing equality:

The other three members of football’s royal family all have fascinating draws. It says a lot about the state of football today that if Aston Villa, currently plumbing the depths of 7th in the Premiership, were to turn Manchester United over at home, it would be regarded as a major giant-killing. It would probably come as an almighty shock to Villa fans as well, given their team’s abysmal recent record against the champions. Nevertheless, it’s by far the best chance we have of seeing one of the big four sent packing early.

You can bet that Burnley is one of the last places Arsenal would fancy spending a sunday afternoon. Yet however intimidating an atmosphere the Turf Moor fans create, it’s difficult to see the Premiership leaders slipping up here. The new Burnley manager Owen Coyle once famously helped a second division Bolton dump Arsenal out in a replay at Highbury, but is yet to get his side going in the short time he’s been in charge, despite being dubbed ‘the new Bill Shankly’ by his chairman.

No game this weekend quite encapsulates football’s plight like Chelsea v QPR. This one is fascinating for all the wrong reasons, as it brings together football’s two richest clubs. Chelsea, the cup holders, have earned their status thanks entirely to the riches of Roman Abramovich. Poor west London relations QPR are now making an attempt to catch up with the Joneses; not content with the billions of Formula 1’s hierarchy, Rangers have recently brought on board an Asian businessman with even deeper pockets. They are however yet to spend any of this loot, meaning their chances of winning this local derby are still extremely remote, but their surging league form of late suggests the players may be playing with a greater incentive (I wonder what that could be?). Couple this with Chelsea‘s injury crisis, and maybe it’s not so clearcut.

The remaining non-league sides Chasetown and Havant & Waterlooville have seemingly impossible tasks against in-form welsh outfits Cardiff and Swansea respectively. In fact you could say they Havant a prayer. Sorry.

Realistically, we will probably have to settle for slightly smaller potatoes, in the shape of mid-table Premiership sides slipping up. Here are the third round fixtures I think have the best chance of producing a surprise result:

Bristol City v Middlesbrough – This is a repeat of a fourth round tie from last season, when Boro needed penalties to see off the league one version of City after twice narrowly escaping with a 2-2 draw. Since then, City have been promoted and are finding the Championship a breeze, where as beleaguered Boro edge nearer to the Premiership trap-door. Southgate is a sitting duck.

Huddersfield v Birmingham – Huddersfield are yet again failing to meet expectations in League One, languishing in mid-table. Which leaves them in a perfect position to put all their energies into this. With no promotion on the horizon, The Terriers’ large following, in their excellent stadium, will be desperate to make the most of the big occasion. Alex McLeish‘s side, with a must-win relegation battle in the league to fight, will not appreciate this distraction.

Ipswich v Portsmouth – A tie in which something has to give. Ipswich unbeatable at home, Pompey saving all their best for the road. If it goes to a replay, we’ll be no nearer sorting it out, given Harry Redknapp‘s side inability to find the net at home, and the Tractor Boys still searching for a first away win. The Premiership quality should be the difference, but anything can happen here.

Stoke v Newcastle This is the ‘you-wouldn’t-want-to-be-in-his-shoes’ game of the weekend. Sam Allardyce needs this game at the moment like he needs, say, his best central midfielder to get banged up for a fortnight. Surely it’s too soon for Joey the jailbird to make an appearance here – if he does he will be a brave man, because the Britannia Stadium, both its players and spectators, will be merciless. If Newcastle escape with a draw they’ll be absolutely delighted.

Jamie.

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The Week in Wagers: 5th-11th January

Every week, we will try and (remember to) bring you a couple of possible earners that have caught our eye on Betfair. In case you’ve never used Betfair before or use other betting websites, it couldn’t be simpler. Simply register, and if you want to back for a win, you BACK, and put in your stake.

However, this is where Betfair is a little different, because YOU can also become a BOOKMAKER by backing for a negative result – by LAYING. However, you have to watch out here as if the result goes against you, you have to pay out the winnings. I haven’t ventured towards that end due to fear of being on the end of a shocker, but if you’re more steely than I am, maybe you’ll make yourself a bit of money.

Best of all, it offers the best odds around, meaning you’re daft to go anywhere else. I got 70/1 for Padraig Harrington to win the Open on the final day, while the others were offering just over half that. Anyway, do have a look – odds at time of posting will be in Betfair terms (which are slightly different) and in the normal 5/4 etc form. Of course, these can obviously change from the time of posting.

So, this week. Since we’re in FA Cup territory, we’ve had a look at potential shocks as well as the odds for the winner. There are definitely some enticing opportunities available.

Chasetown v Cardiff City is definitely the most romantic of the ties, with the British Gas League Midland Division Chasetown at 11.5 back (10-11/1) to knock out Cardiff, so it’s definitely for the ones whose heart rules over their head (me included…). However, if you’re of a more rational composition, you can 12.5 lay (11-12/1) – just watch out, mind. A replay is 5.2 back (4/1) which is also attractive, considering Chasetown are at home against an out-of-form Cardiff side.

Swansea City v Havant and Waterlooville is yet another potential shocker, and has fantastic odds, too, with Havant being at 17.5 back (16-17/1) to win and at 22 lay (21/1). I’d say this lay is a lot safer than the Chasetown opportunity, but it is the FA Cup…

Fulham v Bristol Rovers is also worth a look, with the Rovers at 9 back (8/1) to beat Hodgson’s new but struggling Fulham.

Meanwhile, Stoke City v Newcastle United, while not as attractive odds-wise as the above three, is perhaps your most likely source of a shock this weekend. Come to think of it, the odds are rather strange, with Stoke at 3.4 back (12/5) to Newcastle‘s 2.7 back (11/8) – very close indeed. Still worth a punt, mind you.

Finally, are the odds for the winner, which are currently ridiculously high for some sides who have a realistic chance of going all the way. Aston Villa, while facing Manchester United this weekend, are at 42 back (41/1), so maybe now is the time to put a couple of quid on just in case; while Manchester City are at 38 back (37/1).

If you have any more suggestions, feel free to comment.

David.

 

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