Sunday, 30 January 2011

Mighty United Edge Brave Saints

125 Years of Southampton Football Club
Memories of the 1976 Cup final were always going to be in the minds of every Southampton fan up and down the country. Could Southampton do the unthinkable and knock out a Man Utd team that have only lost once this season? Well, no they couldn't, but they pushed the mighty United all the way and deserved more than a defeat.

Saints played this game with no fear and with nothing to lose. They were massive underdogs but they certainly did not look it at times. The first 45 minutes were easily Southampton's as they controlled the game with some slick passing, nice touches and timely runs. Dan Harding, playing at left-back for Saints, was particularly effective running down the wing and caused John O'Shea all sorts of issues. In fact, Harding had the ball in the Man Utd net early on, only to see his effort ruled out for offside.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked every bit as good as the papers are saying he is and was giving the United midfield and back four plenty to think about with his pace and eye for a pass. Morgan Schneiderlin, so often Southampton's “get-out-of-jail” player in the holding midfield position, was as assured against this United side as he is week in week out in League One. He is a class act and deserves to play at a higher level. Richard Chaplow provided the forward momentum from the centre of midfield while Lambert used his size and strength to hold up the ball. Butterfield also had a great game at right-back.

I couldn't really pick out a player from the United team that had a good first half apart from Fabio who, like Harding for Saints, provided United with plenty of running from his left-back position. Why were United so poor? You could argue that they were not playing some of their best players, but to their credit, Southampton were making it very hard for them to do anything at all. They had no time on the ball and they were out-jumped and out-fought across the pitch.

Saints continued to probe at the Man Utd defence until, with only moments remaining in the first half, they made a deserved breakthrough. Chaplow followed his own throw-in on the right side of the pitch and, when the ball was headed back in his direction, he controlled the ball nicely before he let fly from around 12 yards with a monster of a volley that flew past Lindegaard in the United goal.

Chaplow smashes home the opener
1-0 to Saints at half time!

The second half was always going to be more difficult for Southampton after that goal. United were going to come at them harder than ever to find an equaliser. A United that included Nani, Giggs, Rooney and Berbatov on the bench. Fergie still had plenty of options and talent at his disposal.

The second 45 minutes started much like the first, with Southampton in control. However, Saints were not making as many runs, in an effort to conserve some energy that they would surely need in the latter stages of the game. This allowed Man Utd more time on the ball and that meant they started to create chances. At around the 60 minute mark, Fergie introduced Ryan Giggs and Nani, two of his best players and the difference they made was almost immediate. Nani's pace and trickery made life very difficult for Butterfield who had been so solid up to that point and Ryan Giggs' accurate passing was finding gaps in the Saints' back four. The difference in class was beginning to show.

Owen: Still a deadly finisher.
It took United only five minutes, once Nani and Giggs were on the pitch, to score. A cross from Obertan on the right ricocheted off a Saints body in the box and Owen reacted quickest to put a great header past Bialkowski in the Southampton net.

65 Mins – 1-1

10 minutes later, United made it 2-1. More sloppy play, this time from substitute Ryan Dickson, meant that Giggs found himself with the ball on the edge of the Saints 18 yard box. His perfectly weighted pass found Hernandez inside the box and he put a lovely finish past the onrushing Bialkowski. Dickson held his head in shame and I think at that point the crowd at St Mary's realised that the fairytale was over. United had only had two proper chances and had taken them both.

However, once more to the credit of the League One side, they did not just give up. In fact, Southampton continued to make some chances and nearly found an equaliser late on after a well worked corner between Chamberlain and Harding ended up with the ball flashing just wide of the United post.

The game ended with Man Utd winning 2-1 but that did not matter to the 28,000 Saints fans inside St. Mary's. They were magnificent all day and had kept St Mary's rocking for 94 minutes plus.

Those Southampton players who played today all walked off the pitch with their heads held high. They played hard and with passion and matched, if not outclassed, the best team in England for most of the game. They played proper football, keeping the ball on the ground and played with intelligence. In the end it was not to be but the future is very, very bright.

The Squads:

Southampton (4-3-3): Bialkowski; Butterfield, Fonte, Seaborne, Harding; Guly (N’Guessan 80), Chaplow (Gobern 83), Schneiderlin, Chamberlain; Barnard (Dickson 73), Lambert.

Subs not used: Davis, Richardson, Martin, Doble.

Goals: Chaplow 43

Manchester United (4-3-3) then (4-4-2): Lindegaard; O’Shea, Smalling, Evans, Fabio da Silva (Brown 45); Anderson (Nani 58), Gibson (Giggs 58), Scholes, Obertan; Owen, Hernandez.

Subs not used: Kuszczak, Bebe, Rooney, Berbatov.

Goals: Owen 65, Hernandez 75

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Desert Dog All-Star

3: Keith Yandle
Last night against the Colorado Avalanche, Keith Yandle showed the NHL just why he should have been included in the All-Star Game all along instead of being a late entry due to injuries. Yes he was up against some stiff competition but anyone who thinks he isn't an All-Star based on this season should go watch some of his highlights or, even easier, go look at the standings for NHL defensemen.

With a goal and an assist against Colorado, Keith Yandle became the highest scoring defenseman in the NHL. That's right, he is ahead of the legendary Lidstrom and is also ahead of Byfuglien, Enstrom, Letang and Visnovsky. Yandle was the NHL's first star of the game, and with last night's points, he extends his scoring streak to nine games.

The Boston native has been a part of the Coyotes franchise since 2005 when he was drafted in the 4th round (105th overall). The last couple of years have been big for Yandle in terms of progression with Coyotes fans having seen Yandle transform from a rookie to an All-Star in only 252 games. Shane Doan, captain of the Coyotes, had plenty of great things to say about his team-mate following the news that Yandle would be heading to the All-Star game.

“He's a legitimate, bona fide No. 1 d-man and we're lucky to have him. He is an incredible player and the players in the League understand and know how incredibly talented he is."

High praise indeed from his captain. Dave Tippett also had some nice things to say about the way his leading points scorer has improved his game, “It’s not just the points, it’s his all-around game that has really come to the forefront. He’s got a very bright future ahead of him."

Dave Tippett is pleased with Yandle's progress.
He certainly does at that. Yandle always looked like he could be a potential offensive threat from the blue-line but he seems to have worked a lot on the defensive side of his game in the last year as well. He now regularly plays against the best players the opposition has and, more often than not, he has come up trumps. Out of the 51 games he has played, he has a +4 rating which may not be the best on the team or in the NHL but it is certainly respectable. With a career high 44 points gained already and with 31 games to go, Yandle could find himself around the 60 point mark at the end of the regular season.

Coyotes fans will be desperate for Don Maloney to sit down with Yandle and sort out a lengthy contract as the Coyotes try to improve the franchise both on and off the ice. With so much time on Yandle's side, the chance to build a competitive team around him and the likes of Bryzgalov should be enough to convince Maloney to splash the cash on Yandle should he demand it.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Inside Hockey

Just to let my regulars know. I am now writing for Inside Hockey as well as this blog.

Inside Hockey produces some great content so I hope you will take a peek.

My portfolio of work for Inside Hockey can be reached via this link.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Fresh Faces needed at Anfield

It is no secret that Liverpool have been struggling this season. Roy Hodgson couldn't do much with an inherited squad that cost many times more than the Fulham team he had done so well with. After a run of poor results and after purchasing a few overly expensive players who have failed to impress, Hodgson got the boot. Too early? Yes, of course it was, but that doesn't seem to matter these days. Managers are getting hired and fired and an alarming rate and Hodgson knew that going in to the Liverpool job.

In comes King Kenny, the Liverpool legend. Will he do a better job that Hodgson? Doubtful. Dalglish has been out of management for a long time and when he was last in it he was rubbish. Unless he gets rid of some of the awful players at the club and brings in a few new faces, Liverpool are going to be languishing in mid-table for a few years to come...

...Which brings me nicely onto the point of this blog. Liverpool's rebuild.

What do they need? A long list of players actually, but the main ones would be a winger, another striker, a full-back and two centre-backs. Liverpool are lucky, in a way, because they already have talent down the spine of their team. Reina is a solid goalie, Gerrard is still one of the best midfielders in the world and Torres is a great striker. However, their supporting cast have not been so good this year.

Rodriguez: What a disappointment.
Some of their new players have been rubbish. None more so than Maxi Rodriguez and Christian Poulsen. Raul Miereles was in with a shout but he has started to improve and looks much more like the player we know he can be. Some of their new players have been OK, such as Kelly, who is looking like he could be a decent centre-back. He is a little inexperienced however and that has shown from time to time. None of their new players have been fantastic and none of those players would get into a Man Utd, Arsenal or Chelsea team.

Who is a potential target? Rumours have been floating around for a while that Liverpool want to sign Luis Suarez from Ajax. The striker has been in prolific form for the last few years and impressed representing Uruguay at the World Cup. He would be an excellent addition to the Liverpool squad because, right now, the Reds don't have someone, other than Torres, who can shoot properly. Kuyt works hard and Babel shows class on occasion but neither can be described as lethal finishers and neither hit enough goals in a season. The same could be said for David Ngog.

The Reds are also sniffing around Blackpool's Charlie Adam who has looked very good this year. Calm and assured, Adam's greatest asset is his vision and ability to pass the ball. Liverpool have not had that type of player since they sold Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid. Because Miereles and Gerrard are playing more of an attacking role for Liverpool, you would assume that Adam would fit perfectly behind them, bossing the midfield.

However, it is reported that Suarez is going to cost around 28 million pounds and Ian Holloway has stated that Liverpool's bid of 4 million for Adam is an “insult”. SO that means it is going to cost Liverpool at least 35 million pounds to capture just two players. If they want any more, then Dalglish could be looking at around 50 million pounds worth of spending, which is a lot of money. He has to get his decisions right as Liverpool have a recent history of wasting money. Perhaps some of King Kenny's worst players could be used in part exchange deals to reduce the overall costs.

Keep your eyes on Liverpool for now...

Could Suarez be on his way to Liverpool?

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Shuffling the Pack

The trade deadline is fast approaching and we are bound to see some big names moving around and switching franchises. The way things have panned out so far this season, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a mass exodus of players from New Jersey all looking for new homes.

The Devils have been utterly terrible this season and have zero cap space left after acquiring Ilya Kovalchuk for stupid money last year in a deal that really has not worked out. Kovalchuk is a skilled player who puts up points but I sometimes wonder about his work ethic and his ability to be a team player.

After a fantastic season last year, the Phoenix Coyotes are finding things a little more difficult this year. They are struggling for consistency and are crying out for someone to take the initiative up front and start putting up some serious points. Shane Doan has had a decent month and a half and even Lee Stempniak has started scoring again, but, while there are several Coyotes who have reached the 10 goal mark, none of them have managed to get to 15. They are a team in the truest essence of the word but that hard work and pack mentality alone is not going to win them a Stanley Cup.

What can the Coyotes do during this window of opportunity to keep the team in the playoff hunt?

Well first of all, it should be pointed out that since Hulsizer took over as owner of the franchise, GM Don Maloney will have much more of a say, money-wise, during this trade window than the Coyotes had last year. Phoenix will not be struggling for cap space, that much is certain.

Maloney is going to want to look at his current players very carefully. Several of them are in the final year of their contracts and it will be up to Maloney to decide whether or not they are worth keeping around.

Players such as Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin (not in his final year), who have been great servants of the franchise but are coming rapidly towards the end of their careers could be moved to struggling teams for picks or young prospects. Petr Prucha and Andrew Ebbet will probably also leave. Bryzgalov is also in his final year but he is one Coyote that should certainly be resigned. Great goaltending is the first step towards a great team and, with Bryzgalov between the pipes, Phoenix undoubtedly have great goaltending. Fiddler should also be resigned as players such as he, who bring 100% every game, are invaluable.

The Coyotes have already picked up Michal Rozsival from the Rangers in exchange for struggling forward, Wojtek Wolski, who has not been the player Maloney hoped he would have been when he signed for Phoenix in the latter half of last season from the Colorado Avalanche. Rozsival is a solid, if unspectacular, acquisition who will be a good addition to the Phoenix blueline.

Another younger defenseman for Phoenix in the mould of Zbynek Michalek (who the franchise let go last year for nothing) would be a great pick-up for this team. As mentioned in a previous article, I think Carolina's Joni Pitkanen would be the best bet. Kevin Bieksa will no doubt be resigned in Vancouver but he too would be a great choice. There are several more options available but what is definitely the case is that Phoenix need strengthening at the back.

91 Turris: one for the future.
A top centre should also be high on Maloney's list. Let's look at who Phoenix already have in that position. With Turris and Hanzal, there is potential for the future. Turris, with his stick skills, speed and shot could become a great second or third line centre, whereas Hanzal's size and strength on the puck make him a great candidate for the fourth line centre. Fiddler brings a hard working and physical side of play to his game and could easily be shifted out to the wing on the fourth line. Belanger, who has a great technical game, could also be moved out to the wing on the potential Turris line which would free up two spots to fill with players who have the ability to hit over 60 points a season.

Available to fill those slots are Tomas Fleischmann and Brad Richards, who are both coming to the end of their contracts. Richards is having another great season for Dallas and Fleischmann, since his move from the Capitals to the Avalanche has been putting up major points. David Backes should also be on the radar.

Hard work ahead for Maloney
Maloney is going to have to work hard to acquire even one of those players mentioned, but things are looking far more positive down in Arizona than they have in recent years. The team is on the up and, with a new owner in place, the money issues are gone. The desert doesn't seem like such a bad place to go anymore.

If Phoenix manage to get their targets, assuming Maloney's targets are the same as the ones outlined here, then the desert dogs might find getting to the playoffs (and maybe past the first round) a little easier.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Canucks Going Strong

Could this be the year for the Vancouver Canucks? Much like San Jose, the Canucks are perennial under achievers in the post-season, with last year being another good example of that. In the conference Semi-Finals, the Canucks took game one of their series against eventual Stanley Cup champs Chicago by a score of five to one. After that first game you wouldn't have been alone if you had thought that Vancouver could have gone at least one stage further last year. Instead they lost the series 4-2.

So what makes me think differently this year? Well it is hard to say really because, aesthetically, not much has changed in Vancouver. The same big name players are producing great form while the rest of the team is working hard. There has not been a massive personal change like we have seen in Toronto and Calgary and they still have the same coach.

At the time of writing (19/01/11) the Vancouver Canucks sit at the top of the Western Conference and lead the League along with the Flyers. They are scoring goals at one end (ranked 3rd in the NHL in goals for) and doing a great job of keeping them out at the other end (ranked 4th in the NHL in goals against). The latter stat is due, in no small part, to Roberto Luongo, who is looking as solid as ever between the pipes.

But the Canucks did well in the regular season last year as well. That is true, but there is something different about Vancouver this year. Perhaps it is that they finally have someone other than the Sedin twins doing something up front. Ryan Kesler is having a fantastic season so far and has scored 25 goals, just one short of his best ever total in an NHL season.

Can Kesler keep his hot streak going?
Indeed, five of those goals have been game winners so the Canucks can thank Kesler for an extra ten points this year that puts Vancouver on 65 points instead of 55, the latter of which is only good enough for 6th in the Western Conference. He is well on the way to a 30 or 40 goal season and is spending the more time on the ice than any other Canuck forward.

Perhaps Vancouver are mentally and physically stronger this year as well. They seem to be killing off teams when they get the lead and they are chasing down pucks hard for the full 60 minutes. I wouldn't say that last year's team was lazy by any means but the work ethic of the Canucks seems to have risen by another 20%.

Whatever the reason is, I am sensing something different about this team. I feel like they really do have it in themselves to lift the Cup. Of course, there is a fair way to go and who is to say that they will keep up their current form?

However, if they do...

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Dull Derby Day Draws

On Sunday, Premier League fans were treated to three big derby matches. The Tyne and Wear derby between Newcastle and Sunderland, the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton and the Second City derby between Birmingham and Aston Villa. As you have probably gathered from the aptly chosen title, all three games ended in draws. It is never surprising when these matches end in draws because of a few reasons.

  1. Both sides know how much it means to win so, while the games are full of effort, emotion and energy, there is usually a loss of focus and judgement making the games physical, scrappy affairs.
  2. I would say that both teams do not want to lose more than they want to win so, naturally, the players are a little more cautious.
  3. Sometimes, when a game gets hyped up as much as these derby games do, they can be a little disappointing. Perhaps we expect too much.

In defence of the Merseyside derby, the game was pretty good. The second half in particular, after Everton's explosive comeback, set the game up for a fantastic last 30 minutes. Also, in the Tyne and Wear derby we were treated to a last gasp equalizer from Sunderland's Asamoah Gyan. So it is not as though the games were totally devoid of drama, it's just that they won't go down in history as memorable encounters.

Furthermore, in regard to League position, these games did nothing. None of the teams greatly benefited or are now disadvantaged because of the results. Along with that, none of the fans of any team go home from these particular games with bragging rights, which is arguably the point of a derby game.

I was hoping to write a fairly lengthy article discussing the red cards, penalties, hat-tricks, defensive mistakes, goalkeeping howlers or bad refereeing but there was only the Kuyt penalty in the Liverpool game that springs to mind and that was a penalty so there really are no talking points.

"But hold on!" I hear you cry, "Spurs played Man Utd today...there is still hope!" Fair enough, what about the Tottenham v Man Utd game? Surely that would have had some drama? Both teams would have benefited greatly from a win; Man Utd would have gone back to the top with games in hand over their rivals or Tottenham would have broken back into the top four. With that in mind let's check the sco...oh well, at least there was a sending off.

Maybe next week? 

My thoughts exactly.
Sundays games:

Sunderland 1-1 Newcastle United
Birmingham City 1-1 Aston Villa
Liverpool 2-2 Everton
Tottenham Hostpur 0-0 Manchester United

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Saints' starlets attracting attention.

17 year old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

For a number of years now the Southampton FC Youth Academy has been producing some of the brightest young talents in the UK. Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Wayne Bridge and even the great Alan Shearer are all products of the Southampton youth system. All have since left the Saints to go on to bigger and better things in the Premiership. Walcott plays for Arsenal, Bale for Spurs and Bridge now plays for West Ham but had stints at Man City and Chelsea too. Alan Shearer initially left Southampton for Blackburn before returning to his home town of Newcastle, where he played for the majority of his career.

Anyways, enough of the history lesson. The fact is, two new youngsters, both products of the Saints Youth Academy, are being watched by Premier League clubs. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam “I don't-have-a-fancy-double-barrelled-second-name” Lallana are playing some great football for Southampton down in League One.

Adam Lallana (Right)
Lallana had a breakout season last year, scoring 20 goals as Saints marched towards success in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and a 7th place finish in the League (they started the season with -10 points). Oxlade-Chamberlain, on the other hand, is currently in the middle of his breakout season. His recent form on the wing for Southampton has been nothing short of astonishing and he deserves all the plaudits he is getting.

Despite the undoubted talent of both players, whether or not they could play in the Premier League, at least right now, is disputable. If either player moved to a club like Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea, they wouldn't get anywhere near the first team. They would be playing reserve team football or warming the bench. They might get 10 minutes of game time here or there in the cup competitions but they won't progress as players.

Theo Walcott made the mistake of leaving Saints for Arsenal at too young an age and sat on the Gunners' bench for two years before playing. In contrast, Gareth Bale stayed at Saints for an extra year after gaining the Premier League's attention, learned his trade by playing regularly, and is now thought of as one of the best left wingers in the world.

Southampton do not have to sell their prize players any more (thank you Markus Liebherr), but if the players really want to leave and would like to ply their trade at a higher level, they should really make sure they are ready to do so. Lallana seems to have already made his decision by signing a four-and-a-half year deal with Saints in a move that will delight the fans.

It is worth noting that Southampton have yet to recieve any offers for either player despite Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain being linked to Newcastle United and Liverpool respectively.

'Yotes trade Wolski for Rozsival

On Tuesday night the Phoenix Coyotes traded forward Wojtek Wolski for New York Rangers' defenseman, Michal Rozsival in a move that should benefit both teams. The Coyotes are so much better offensively, and worse defensively, this year than they were last year and the misfiring Wolski was finding it hard to get more ice time. The Rangers have just lost Frolov for the rest of the season and need some offensive talent for back up.

Wojtek Wolski
Wolski is young and has undoubted talent. What he managed in the latter half of last season for the Coyotes was remarkable. He was scoring at a rate of a point per game and continued his good form into the playoffs. However, this year, he has struggled to find any sort of consistency and sits towards the bottom of the Coyotes pack with only six goals and 10 assists in 36 games. He was a player in need of a big game or a move and due to a lack of ice time, he got the latter. 

Michal Rozsival
Rozsival is a veteran defenseman and brings more experience to the Phoenix blue-line He will be a great mentor for the younger guys such as Ekman-Larsson, Yandle and Schlemko, although Yandle is having the best season of all the Coyotes' defensemen so far and looks to have matured a lot since last season. Rozsival also has the ability to put up points and score goals as well, something so crucial to the Phoenix organisation, who play defensively and look to their blue-line to contribute along with the forwards.

Rozsival also brings depth to the Coyotes defence that has, at times, looked a little prone to making mistakes. This is especially the case for the younger defensemen. Of course, making mistakes is all part of the learning process, but Phoenix did need another experienced defenseman who, by and large, knows his trade inside out and will not make as many errors.

Phoenix could do with another player built in the Rozsival mould, who is perhaps a little younger and speedier on the ice. I like the look of Joni Pitkanen to fill that role. Whether the franchise can acquire such a player is another matter, but the Yotes should have plenty of cap space if they do go for a big signing.

The 'Yotes also still need a sniper as Stempniak, despite scoring in the last game, has not been putting up the points and goals he should. Doan, Korpikoski and Upshall are all around the 10 goals mark so it's not like players aren't contributing, the 'Yotes just need someone to come in and light the lamp for 82+ games. 

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Monday, 10 January 2011

The FA Cup Fourth Round Draw

The FA Cup enters the Fourth Round
The draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup followed the game between Manchester United and Liverpool yesterday, which United won 1-0. The fixtures are listed below:

Torquay v Crawley Town or Derby
Watford v Brighton
Bolton v Wigan
Arsenal or Leeds v Huddersfield
Fuham v Spurs
Everton v Chelsea
Southampton v Manchester Utd
Swansea v Leyton Orient
Burnley v Burton
Birmingham v Coventry
Doncaster or Wolves v Stoke or Cardiff
Notts County v Leicester or Manchester City
Stevenage v Reading
Aston Villa v Blackburn
West Ham v Nottingham Forest
Sheffield Wed v Wycombe or Hereford

Some interesting ties there. Saints v Man Utd is a good one and should be a great game. Maybe Saints will be able to pull off a shock like the one in the 1976 FA Cup final? Fulham v Spurs, Bolton v Wigan, Everton v Chelsea and Aston Villa v Blackburn are all Premier League ties and will be interesting to keep an eye on too.

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The Romance of the Cup lives on...

The FA Cup
The FA Cup has to be my favourite cup competition out of all the sports I follow. Nothing even comes remotely close to the size of it or provide half the drama that it brings. For the smaller clubs it is a chance to play against some of the best teams and players in the world and possibly cause an upset or two along the way. For the bigger clubs, it is a chance to achieve glory and win one of the most coveted trophies in football.

For me, the single best thing about the cup are the upsets. To see a smaller club play against the odds and defeat a bigger club is fantastic and every neutral fan wants it to happen. On Saturday, the FA Cup proved once more that there is still magic in the competition as we saw plenty of higher ranked teams toppled by lower league opposition.

Southampton (League One) defeated Blackpool (Premier League) 2-0

Southampton controlled this game from start to finish and won the game by two goals to nil that included a wonder strike from substitute Guly Do Prado. Both sides made plenty of changes to their squads before the game started and it is testament to the second string players that Saints have that they were able to overcome a squad that plies its trade in the Premiership.

Stevenage (League Two) defeated Newcastle (Premier League) 3-1

Were Stevenage out for revenge for what happened 13 years ago? I think you can safely assume that they were. Stevenage came out and played this game like their lives depended on it and embarrassed a pretty strong Newcastle side. It wasn't just a smash and grab victory either. Stevenage scored three goals and only conceded a wonder strike from Joey Barton. Of course Newcastle are focused on Premier League survival, but this one will sting for a while, no doubts there.

Notts County (League One) defeated Sunderland (Premier League) 2-1

Despite Notts Country being a whole league higher than Stevenage, this result was a bigger shock than the Newcastle one because this game was played at Sunderland's home ground. They weren't beaten on some awful pitch, they were beaten in their own back yard. Steve Bruce will not be happy with his side after this one and we could see a dip in form for the Black Cats if they don't bounce back quickly.

Burton Albion (League Two) defeated Middlesbrough (Championship) 2-1

If you had read my other article then you would know that I called this result before the game kicked off. It was written in the stars. Middlesbrough have been so rubbish all season and they were playing away from was meant to be that Burton would further compound the misery of the teeside club. This result does nothing to lift the already depressed spirit of the players and fans of Middlesbrough football club and we could see a relegation to League One if they don't sort themselves out. 

There were also some great efforts from lower league teams that forced replays.

Leeds United (Championship) drew with Arsenal (Premier League) 1-1

Leeds were only a few minutes away from beating Arsenal at the Emirates before Fabregas scored a 90th minute penalty. A draw was probably a fair result on reflection and now Leeds get to entertain Arsenal at Elland Road in the replay. I think Arsenal will probably get the job done at the second time of asking but the game served to highlight, once more, just how inconsistent this Arsenal team has been at home.

Leicester City (Championship) drew with Manchester City (Premier League) 2-2

Sven managed to pull off a great result by guiding his Leicester side to a deserved draw with the mighty Manchester City, his former club. The return fixture, at the City of Manchester Stadium, will probably be a different story but Leicester can enjoy the moment for now.

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Saturday, 8 January 2011

Saluting a legend.

Number 55:  Jovanovski
Today I'm going to be a bit cheeky and just write about the Coyotes. In particular, one Coyote – Mr Ed Jovanovski. Tonight, before the game against the Buffalo Sabres, there will be a small ceremony to congratulate Jovanovski on reaching 1000 NHL games. That is some feat and Jovanovski becomes the 256th player to reach that milestone. 256 players that include team-mate Shane Doan who has not only played over 1000 NHL games, but has played them all for the same franchise (Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes).

Jovanovski, the top pick in the 1994 Entry Draft, joined the Yotes in the 2006/07 season from the Vancouver Canucks whom he had been with since the 1998/99 season. He immediately established himself as one of the key players in the Coyotes franchise and remains as such today. Jovanovski reached the final of the Stanley Cup with the Florida Panthers in his rookie year, although he has not returned since, and he won an Olympic Gold Medal with Canada in 2002. He has appeared in five All-Star games in his career and was a Calder Memorial Trophy runner-up in 1996.

If the Coyotes manage to get to the playoffs this year then you can be sure Jovanovski will be one of the main reasons for that achievement. The 'Yotes will hope that Jovo, even at 34, still has a few years left in him to provide the Coyotes defence with experience and to mentor some of the younger defensemen such as Yandle and Ekman-Larsson.

So here's to you Jovanovski, cap this moment with a win over the Sabres.

And well done.

FA Cup Weekend: A look at some of the tastier ties.

The FA Cup


Arsenal v Leeds:

Two great clubs with great history will clash at the Emirates on Saturday. While one has fallen quite spectacularly from grace, the other finds itself chasing Man Utd for the Premiership title. A forgone conclusion then? I'm not so sure. Arsenal have not been entirely convincing at home this season and Leeds are a tough side to face on their day. They will be pumped up for this game and could, with a bit of luck, pull off a big upset here. Arsenal are the favourites of course, but keep your eyes on this one. Leeds have already proven they are giant killers after dumping Man Utd out of the FA Cup at this point last year.

Brighton v Portsmouth:

South coast rivals Brighton and Portsmouth face each other this saturday in what should be a fiery affair. Red hot Brighton, who top League One, will find themselves to be the underdogs in this game despite the fact that Portsmouth, 18th in the Championship, are struggling at the moment. I fancy Brighton in this one although manager, Gus Poyet, will surely ring some changes as he has one eye on the League One title race.

Burton v Middlesbrough:

Look to this game for an FA Cup upset. Middlesbrough are having an awful season in the Championship and find themselves sat just outside the relegation zone despite being favourites for the league title before the season started. Burton Albion (currently 17th in League Two) will be playing on their own turf in front of their own fans and will very much believe that they can pull off a shock here. This one could be very interesting indeed. The Teesiders simply cannot afford to lose this game.

Southampton v Blackpool:

Blackpool, with their focus on Premier League survival and Southampton, with their focus on promotion from League One, will probably both make several changes to their squads. This will cast the spotlight on some of the fringe players from both squads who will be looking to stake a claim for their respective first teams. Southampton come into the game in the better form of the two sides but Blackpool are a Premiership club and will be heavy favourites. I fancy Saints to take the game to Blackpool, possibly forcing a replay. A cup run is hardly in either club's plans this year but they are always welcome for the morale boost they bring.

Stevenage v Newcastle:

A replay of one of the best FA Cup ties of the last 20 years sees Stevenage take on the club they so very nearly dumped out of the Cup back in 1997/98. After drawing 1-1 with the Toon at Stevenage, the Boro were unfortunate to lose the replay 2-1 at St. James' Park where goal-line technology actually showed that Alan Shearer's opening goal in the replay did not cross the line. While we all hope the magic of the FA Cup will produce a game similar to the one we witnessed over ten years ago, I think the Magpies will overcome Stevenage at the first time of asking here.

Tottenham v Charlton:

An all London clash awaits us at White Hart Lane this Saturday as Tottenham host Charlton. This game should be a forgone conclusion, with Tottenham playing so well this season and Charlton sitting two leagues below them. However, derby games have a way of upsetting the status quo, as do FA Cup games. I would still expect Tottenham to win this one but it might be closer than first expected.

Leicester v Man City:

Sven Goran Eriksson entertains his former club at the Walkers Stadium this weekend in what should be a relatively easy game for the away side. Eriksson enjoyed a decent spell at the Manchester club (that included two derby wins over rivals Man Utd) before being rather unjustly sacked after just one season in charge. Leicester will fancy themselves, as they are playing at home, but the might of Man City will be too much for the Swede and his Foxes.

Man Utd v Liverpool:

In what is easily the pick of all the third round ties, Manchester United will host their bitter rivals Liverpool. This could be the make or break game for Roy Hodgson as Liverpool manager. Lose and he may be out of a job. Win and things could start to turn around. To beat heavy favourites United on their own turf could provide the team with a much needed spark to kick-start their season. I would like to see Liverpool win this one but they have been so naff this season that I just can't see it. Man Utd are a tough side to face even on a bad day and should have more than enough to see off the Merseysiders.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

It's tight at the top

It's getting interesting at the top of League One as favourites, Southampton (37pts), are closing in on league leaders Brighton and Hove Albion (43pts). Saints are now only six points behind their south coast rivals and have plenty of momentum following three straight wins and 11 goals in those matches. There is also the return fixture between the two sides to come in April which could be the most important game for either side this season.

Also, not counting Brighton, there are only four points between 2nd place and 7th place. Coming up behind Southampton in third place are Bournemouth (36pts), making it a south coast 1-2-3 at the top of League One. Behind Bournemouth sit Huddersfield (36pts), Charlton (34pts), Sheffield Wednesday (33pts) and Peterborough (33pts). The race for those all important playoff spots is going to be one to watch for sure as many of the teams below even Peterborough still feature. Plymouth (30pts), who are currently 12th in the league are only three points away from the playoffs which shows you just how tight things are.

As we move towards the business end of the season, those teams chasing automatic promotion and the playoffs will need to find consistency. Two or three points dropped here or there could be so very costly and just a couple of bad games could cause any team to fall by the wayside.

Personally, if Saints keep up their winning streak, I can see them taking Brighton all the way and possibly winning the league. They will need Albion to slip up at some point which is a big ask considering how good they have been all season, but as long as Southampton keep winning, the pressure on Brighton will mount and they could crack.

As for the playoffs, I can see Bournemouth sticking around, possibly finishing third. They have been scoring plenty of goals this season and that always helps. I can also see Hartlepool, who are currently 8th and in fantastic form, getting into the playoffs as well. They had, until their loss to Notts County, won five games in a row and look like a dangerous team to face right now. Joining those two sides could be any of the other teams in the top half of the table, which makes it far too difficult to predict.

Whatever happens this will be a league to keep an eye on for sure.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

NHL Predictions:

As we have reached the halfway point in the NHL season (or thereabouts) I thought it might be time for some early predictions. Who is going to make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs?

1. Washington Capitals – After bouncing back from their awful slump, I can see this team going from strength to strength and forcing their way back to the top of the Eastern pack. Possible favourites for the Stanley Cup? I think so.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins – I think Crosby and the Penguins will have their work cut out for them fending off the Flyers, but they might just be able to do it and hang on to the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

3. Boston Bruins – It`s a straight race between Boston and Montreal for top spot in the North East Division and I reckon it will be Boston who grab it. Tim Thomas is having a great season for them in net and they are proving to be consistent all over the ice.

4. Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers are continuing on from where they left off last season and look like they should make the playoffs with ease this year. I'm not sure they will go as far as they did last year however.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning – Stamkos and St. Louis are leading the charge for the Bolts and will see their team into the playoffs without too much of a problem. If Stamkos can keep scoring at the rate he is, Tampa could be the surprise package of the East.

6. Atlanta Thrashers – The Thrashers are looking like a solid team this year. Both Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom are playing very well for Atlanta and should help keep the team on course for a playoff appearance.

7. New York Rangers – The Rangers will be desperate to get into the playoffs this year after missing out so narrowly last season. With Lundqvist in net they look like they should have enough to get there too

8. Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens are going to find it tough to hold on to that last playoff spot but I think they will manage it. They have cooled down recently but still look better than most of the teams below them. I can't see them going too far in the playoffs though.

Well its plainly obvious that I think the eight teams that are in the playoff spots now will still be there at the end of the season. Carolina could break in if they find some consistency but I'm fairly confident in my choices.

1. Detroit Red Wings – The Red Wings are back to their best this season and are looking very strong indeed. I'm not sure any more has to be said about them.

2. Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks are looking very dangerous this year. They are scoring freely and have the best defence (statistically) in the Western Conference. With Luongo in net as well, this could be Vancouver's year.

3. San Jose Sharks – The Sharks have been going about their business quite quietly after a rather poor start. They are marching up the table and racking up wins in a confident and professional manner. I think they will take back the top spot in the Pacific Division, but whether or not they can win the Cup is another thing.

4. St. Louis Blues – Another team that have been going about their business quietly are St Louis. They are proving to be very hard to beat this year without scoring a ton of goals. Currently on a five game winning streak, I think they will finish very strongly in the second half of the season.

5. Dallas Stars – If the Dallas top line keeps playing as well as it has so far, they could prove to be the most dangerous opponent to face in the first round of the playoffs. Cup contenders? They could be a great outside bet.

6. Los Angeles KingsThe Kings have cooled down a little since their fantastic start to the season but they still look dangerous and have more than enough quality to secure themselves a playoff berth.

7. Chicago Blackhawks – While they don`t look as good as they did last year, the Blackhawks are still far too good to miss out on the playoffs and they should find some form soon enough. If anything is going to keep them out of the playoffs, it will be their injury troubles.

8. Colorado Avalanche – The acquisition of Fleischmann from the Washington Capitals has proved to be a great deal for the Avalanche so far. He bagged himself a hat-trick not too long ago and has been putting up points solidly since his arrival. Anderson is playing well between the pipes too. For those reasons, they may have just that little bit more than their rivals to sneak into the last playoff spot.

So there we have it, my predictions are done. I really wanted to put the Coyotes in that last playoff spot but they have just been making far too many mistakes. Perhaps they will sort themselves out and mount a serious challenge but I just can't see how they are going to do it with the squad they have. I hope they prove me wrong.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

My New Year Wishlist...

As we have reached the halfway point for the Premiership, League One and NHL seasons, I thought I would post up where I think the teams I support need to strengthen.

Southampton: Centre Back, Left Back, Right Back

While they have a great squad that looks impressive going forward and some quality young players, Southampton have been prone to defensive inconsistency this season. Jose Fonte has been a brilliant signing and has looked solid at centre back all year but has yet to strike up a great partnership with anyone else and while Rahdi Jaidi has a tonne of experience, he is starting to show his age.

Daniel Seabourne has been less than assured, as have Dan Harding and Ryan Dickson. Frazer Richardson has been ok when called upon but I can't say that any of these defenders (other than Fonte) could cut it up in the Championship. A couple of big signings for Saints at the back would do wonders for their promotion push.

Newcastle United: Centre Back, Attacking Central Midfielder, Winger, Striker

Newcastle have barely made any changes to the squad that won them the Championship title last season. They have two quality goalkeepers in Tim Krul and Steve Harper and a quality striker in Andy Carroll. While some of the players are coping in the Premiership, such as Carroll and Jose Enrique, many are not, such as James Perch, Wayne Routledge, Danny Guthrie and Danny Simpson.

Newcastle need strengthening down the spine of their team. A quality centre back, with Premiership experience, to play alongside Williamson or Coloccini would be beneficial as Sol Campbell looks too slow these days and Steven Taylor is still largely unproven.

While Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Cheik Tiote are playing well for Newcastle in the centre of midfield, they are all devoid of creativity and flair. I guess Hatem Ben Arfa could fill the position of attacking midfielder when he returns from injury, but Newcastle will need to dip into the transfer market for a winger as Routledge looks lost in the Premiership and Gutierrez, while full of effort and running, doesn't seem to know what he wants to do when he gets the ball.

Another striker would also be a great buy for the Mags. Andy Carroll has been playing very well for Newcastle this season and certainly looks like he could be a great player in the future. However, you do worry for the Toon should he get injured at any point this season. There is no-one else even remotely good enough to play in Carroll's position up top so the need for another goal-scorer is paramount in the transfer window.

Phoenix Coyotes: Defenseman, Sniper

The Coyotes have been massively inconsistent this season and have been very frustrating to watch at times too. While they have improved on their offensive game since last season, they seem to have taken a couple of steps back defensively. They have been allowing far too many shots on Bryzgalov and do not seem to be skating with the same effort that served them so well last season.

What they need is an injection of pace in their defense and someone to score 30+ goals a season up the other end of the ice. First of all though, they need to re-sign Bryzgalov and Yandle to lengthy deals, as those two have been the standout players of the season for the 'Yotes and both need to stay in Arizona for the franchise to get better.

With a new owner in place and a secured financial future, the building blocks are in place for the Coyotes to push forward. I am certainly looking forward to this year's trade deadline.