Thursday, 31 March 2011

Bittersweet Season for Birmingham?

Birmingham City pulled off a huge upset in the Carling Cup final last month when they defeated heavy favourites Arsenal to win their first League Cup since 1963. That was a massive achievement for the Second City club, however, their form in the Premier League has them languishing in the relegation zone. It would surely be a bittersweet season for the Blues if they coupled a major trophy win with relegation to the Championship.

With only one win in their last five Premier League games, the shine has quickly worn off that memorable Carling Cup win and Birmingham need to re-find the form that served them so well last season when they finished 9th overall.

Like many teams that get promoted to the Premiership, Birmingham's current squad are experiencing the phenomenon that is “second-season-syndrome”. Usually, after over-achieving in their first season in the top flight, teams suffer pretty badly in their second season. Why is that?

Well, if you think about it, it boils down to two reasons, the mentality of the players and the expectation surrounding the club. The players have a different mind-set in their second season compared to that of their first. When a team is promoted, there is little expectation for them to do well. In fact, they are expected to lose most of their games and to either be relegated or just avoid relegation. Therefore, the squad plays with a “nothing-to-lose” mentality that can often have very positive side effects as the team will play without nerves or the weight of expectation.

However, in a club's second season, things change drastically. The team suddenly has something to lose and is now expected to stay up. This change in expectation causes a change in the player's mentality, often producing negative side-effects that can lead to a disappointing League campaign.

The Blues are suffering from a cup success hangover
Birmingham have the squad and the manager to stay up. They are also a well supported club and have the pedigree to play in Europe's best League. However, they are currently playing like a team who believes it has done its job after winning a major trophy. With only nine Premier League games to go, including games against Sunderland, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea, Birmingham need to start playing desperately.

I'm not sure that they can turn things around at this late stage. Other teams around them are currently playing better than they are and are finding the form that Birmingham so desperately crave.

If things don't change, this could very much be a bittersweet season for Birmingham City's fans.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Daily News: NHL and EPL

NHL News: 
 
Malhotra prognosis 6-8 weeks away – Manny Malhotra underwent successful eye-surgery but it is too early to say whether he will return to the game or not.

Tim Brent comfortable in visor – After receiving a high-stick to the eye, Tim Brent has realised the importance of a visor.

Crosby cleared for practice – This is simply huge news for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Canucks claim clinch No. 1 seed in West – It has only been a matter of time for the Canucks, but they have finally clinched the top spot in the Western Conference.

Bruins' Thornton leaves game early after facial cut – How lucky was Shawn Thornton? A couple of inches lower and he loses an eye.

EPL News:
 
Charlie Adam concentrating on the present – Blackpool captain, Charlie Adam is only concentrating on keeping Blackpool in the Premier League, despite rumours linking him with several other clubs.

Lucas signs new deal at Liverpool – Lucas Leiva has signed a new long-term deal at Liverpool after enjoying his best season yet at the Merseyside club.

Perma-crock Woodgate gets new injury – Jonathon Woodgate has picked up yet another injury. What a surprise.

Ferguson happy with one trophy – Despite being in the hunt for three trophies, Alex Ferguson would be happy with only one. Doesn't sound like Ferguson at all.

McCarthy: It's never been tighter – Mick McCarthy cannot remember a Premiership season that was a tight as this one. A sign that the game is improving? Definitely.

More tomorrow!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Top 50 NHL Blog 2011

Great news just in! This blog has been voted one of the top 50 NHL Blogs for 2011!




As chosen by SportsMemorabilia.com readers!

Onwards and upwards!

Daily News: NHL and EPL


 NHL NEWS:

Ovechkin ready and Arnott close to return – Alexander Ovechkin feels that he is ready to return to action for the Caps, while Jason Arnott should be back very soon. Good news for the Caps.

Selanne proving age doesn't matter – At 40 years old, Teemu Selanne is proving to the NHL world that he still has the ability to be a top player. He scored 5 points in last night's win over the Avalanche and has 75 points on the season.

Bertuzzi ejected from game, could face suspension – Todd Bertuzzi's reckless hit on Ryan Johnson last night earned him a 5 minute penalty and a game misconduct call. With the NHL clamping down on bad hits, I wouldn't be surprised to see Bertuzzi get a suspension.

Alfredsson practices for the first time since February - Sens' forward, Daniel Alfredsson has finally returned to practice. He has been out with an injured back since February the 9th.

Penner returns to Oil City, Kings lose Kopitar til next season - Dustin Penner is returning to Edmonton for the first time since he was traded from the Oilers to the Kings. News has also come out that Anze Kopitar will not return this season. 


EPL NEWS:

Ibrahimovic to City? - AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is cooling any rumours that he will be moving to Manchester City in the summer. I don't see the point in City buying another striker, especially one who is nearing the end of his career.

Neymar dreaming of Blues – 19-year-old Brazilian sensation Neymar has revealed he would love to play for Chelsea. I think this guy could be a player Chelsea really need. They have an ageing squad and could do with some youthful talent.

Gallas staying at Spurs – William Gallas has signed a new deal at Spurs and with that, will probably end his long career at White Hart Lane.

Bale in race to be fit to play Real – Gareth Bale is desperate to be fit for Tottenham's Champion's League clash with Real Madrid. He suffered a minor hamstring injury training with the Welsh squad last week.

Pardew is confident of summer spending – Alan Pardew is hoping that he will have some money to spend this summer. Newcastle received 35 million pounds for the sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool and Pardew is confident he will be able to use it all to strengthen the Toon squad. 


More news tomorrow!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Daily News: NHL and EPL

Busy weekend for me so let's start off Monday with some more NHL and EPL news!

 NHL News:

 Crosby impresses during training - Sidney Crosby is getting closer and closer to his NHL return as he continues to impress during practices.

Kovalchuk injured? - Ilya Kovalchuk missed Monday's practice with the Devils with a sore leg. Is there more to it?

Kopitar out for the season with broken ankle - Anze Kopitar's injury has weakened the King's chances of a Stanley Cup this year.

Bruins clinch playoff spot - After beating the Flyers, the Bruins have made it into the playoffs and look strong.

Savard's concussion worsening? - Marc Savard's concussion issues are leading to memory loss.

EPL News:

Pardew sweating on Best fitness  - Alan Pardew is hoping striker Leon Best will be fit for this weekend's crucial clash with Wolves. Really? Things are desperate up North.

Redknapp likened to Mourinho  - Rafael Van Der Vaart has made a comparison between Harry Redknapp and Jose Mourinho's management styles. Pretty big compliment for Redknapp. 

Doyle out for 1-2 months - Wolverhampton's hard working striker Kevin Doyle could be out of action for the rest of the season. That could be damaging to Wolves' survival hopes.

Kean confirms interest in Ruud Van Nistelrooy - Blackburn boss Steve Kean has made his interest in veteran striker Van Nistelrooy public.

Richards targets a swift return to action - Talented, but injury prone, defender Micah Richards is hoping his latest injury will not keep him out for too long.


Enjoy!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Weekly Poll: NHL and EPL

Should video technology be used in the EPL?


Can Vancouver finally win a Stanley Cup?

Daily News: NHL and EPL

Welcome to the new daily news blog post. In addition to the regular discussions and weekly poll, I am now going to throw a few links out every day to the biggest news stories of the day. This means you can come to one place and find all the news you need to know without searching around the other sites. I'll do it for you!

Thank me later.

NHL News:

Bettman warns Habs and Bruins - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has warned the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens not to let things get out of hand in their final game against each other in the regular season.

Penguins performing well without Crosby and Malkin - The Pittsburgh Penguins have been getting along very well even without their two biggest stars. With Crosby set to return soon, things can only get better.

Osgood on injured list - The Wings have placed veteran goalie Chris Osgood on the injured list but hope to have him back in time for the playoffs.

Most points ever for non-playoff team? - The race for the playoffs has been so tight all season in the Western Conference that we could see a final points total of 96 not being enough! Crazy.

EPL News:

Dalglish targets Dann - Kenny Dalglish has Birmingham City defender Scott Dann on his list of potential summer transfer targets. It seems Dalglish is looking to young British players to change The Red's recent fortunes, which is excellent for British football.

Walker to return to White Hart Lane - Harry Redknapp is insisting that 20-year-old English right back Kyle Walker (currently on loan at Aston Villa) will return to Spurs at the end of the season to fight for his place. Redknapp sees great potential in the youngster and won't want to lose him to a rival EPL club.

Pardew hopes Barton will stay calm  - Alan Pardew is sweating on Joey Barton keeping his emotions inside as Newcastle prepare for the crucial end-of-season run in. Barton is a key component of the United squad but has a history of violence on and off the field. He has already been banned for three matches earlier in the year for punching Morten Gamst Pedersen.

Mourinho heading back to Blighty! - Cracking news for any EPL fans. One of the best managers and best characters in the game insists his next managerial job will be in the Premier League!

Fabregas is back - Hugely important for Arsenal if they have any hopes of rectifying a season which has, in the last month, gone horribly wrong.

Check back tomorrow for more news!

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Future Looks Bright for the Phoenix Coyotes

A long battle between the GWI (Gold Water Institute) and prospective Phoenix Coyotes owner Matt Hulsizer might finally be coming to an end. After several months of a stand-off between the two parties, it looks like the deal is going to move forward and Hulsizer will be able to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes and keep them in Glendale, Arizona.

Some quick facts about the deal:
  • The Coyotes will cost $170 million to buy
  • Hulsizer will pay $70 million
  • The City of Glendale will pay Hulsizer the remaining $100 million to help him buy the team.

The problems started a few months ago when the GWI declared that the payment of $100 million from the City of Glendale to Matt Hulsizer is illegal. To generate that money the City is trying to sell municipal bonds to investors. In return for the money, the City will receive, among other things, the rights to parking revenues at Jobing.com Arena and naming rights for the parking area.

What the GWI stress, beyond the fact that paying a businessman a “gift” of $100 million is illegal, is that the parking revenues will not cover the loss of that $100 million so the deal would be a bad one for the taxpayer. The GWI were threatening to sue anyone who purchased the bonds which pretty much froze any interest in the bonds. With no investors ready to buy the bonds, the City can't pay Hulsizer the $100 million and he can  not buy the team.

However, as stated earlier, things have finally started to move forward. During the first intermission of last night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks (a hard-fought, but disappointing 2-1 loss), Matt Hulsizer declared that of the $100 million he would be payed, the City would get $25 million back straight away. He also said, in a bid to move things forward and satisfy the “gift” clause that has been so problematic, that his party would cover the other $75 million, meaning that the City's taxpayers will pay nothing towards the deal and the City itself will still receive the rights to the parking revenues. 

Hulsizer (centre) watches the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.
 In addition to the above, Hulsizer and his party will be paying between $5 and $10 million to the City of Glendale every year. Although there is a sense that Hulsizer has given in to some of the GWI's demands, I think everyone who wants to see the Coyotes stay in Arizona will be happy with this news.

It is about time too.

Last night also saw Senator John McCain also being interviewed, along with former Attorney General Grant Woods, both of whom stated their support for Hulsizer and the deal that keeps the Coyotes in the desert for the long term future. In fact, the Senator stated that, “ It is to the greater good of the state of Arizona that the Coyotes stay here.” Strong words.

While I have to stress that the deal is not yet done, last night's news does mean that the GWI should back down and allow the bonds to be sold which will allow the deal to be completed.

The ball is back in the court of the GWI and we should be hearing from them very soon indeed.

Watch this space...

Friday, 18 March 2011

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

EPL News Round-up

What's new in the EPL this week?

Alex Ferguson has been handed a five-game ban by the FA following his criticism of referee Martin Atkinson. I like this move by the FA. I get a little tired of managers blaming any loss their team suffers on the performance of the referee when everyone knows how hard that job is. Of course the ref is going to make mistakes, there are 22 players out there on the pitch who are trying to cheat, dive and influence the referee in some way. I wish it wasn't like that but, let's face it, that is a big part of professional football these days.

Fergie wouldn't be whinging if his team had gained an advantage through poor refereeing. In fact, more often than not it is Fergie who gains the advantage, so I'm glad the FA gave him this ban. Perhaps they could duct-tape his mouth up too.

Adam Johnson looks like he is set to return for Manchester City. This is great news for The Citizens and for England fans. The sooner he gets back on the pitch the better.

Nani is still pissed at Jamie Carragher for the nasty tackle he received in Manchester United's 3-1 loss to Liverpool a couple of weeks ago. I guess he has every right to be angry, the tackle was pretty awful but I think he could let it go. It didn't seriously injure him (he was back on Tuesday night to feature in United's Champion's League clash with Marseille) and Carragher did apologise.

I'm not a fan of Nani, he prances round like a fairy half the time, but I do agree with him when he asks the referees to be fair. Carragher should have been sent off but there is far too much inconsistency with how the refs deal with bad tackles.

Bale is back
Gareth Bale is back! This is excellent news for everyone. He was playing so well up until his injury so I hope he gets back to his best as soon as possible. It's a shame he will, like Ryan Giggs, waste his international career with Wales but I guess you can't have it all.

I'll have a wee look at some of this weekend's upcoming games shall I?

SATURDAY:


Nice London derby to kick things off on Saturday. West Ham have been pretty good recently but I can't see Tottenham losing this one. Maybe a draw, but I reckon Spurs will win.


Bent and Young have been so good playing up front for Villa that I cannot see how Wolves will contend with them. However, Villa are suspect at the back (the Bolton game anyone?) and Wolves have the physicality to cause any team problems.


Blackpool will be looking to get back to winning ways now they have dropped firmly into the relegation battle. Blackburn are just one place above Blackpool on the same points so this game is easily a six-pointer.


Man Utd have lost their last two Premiership games in a row and Bolton are never an easy team to play. I can see this one being close but Man Utd's home advantage might see them through.


This is going to be a tough game for Newcastle. Stoke are very physical and will put plenty of balls into the Newcastle box. I'm not totally convinced by Newcastle's back four so I think they will concede. Can Best and Lovenkrands do enough up front for the Toon? I don't think they can.


This should be a walk in the park for Arsenal but as any Gunner fan will know, these games never seem to be easy anymore. With Man Utd involved in such a tough game against Bolton, Arsenal should be looking to win this game comfortably to keep the pressure on the Red Devils.


Wigan desperately need the points, as do Birmingham, who need to shake off that Cup winning hangover quickly if they want to stay in the Premiership. This one should be a cautious game so I can't see too many goals.


It has been the same story for both of these teams all year. You never know which team is going to turn up. The really good one or the really poor one. I guess the lack of consistency is the main reason why they are both languishing in mid-table obscurity. I literally couldn't hazard a guess at what will happen in this game.

SUNDAY:


I can see Liverpool keeping up their current good form with a win at the Stadium of Light. Suarez looks a fantastic player and I can't see the Sunderland defence coping with him.


This is a huge game for the end-of-season bragging rights. Which of these teams is going to finish third? It should be, I stress should be, a fantastic game. I'm going with Chelsea.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Thursday Poll: NHL and EPL

Are Tottenham a legit challenge to the top four?


Do you want to see the Coyotes franchise relocated?

Should the NHL Change Rule 48?

Howdy gang.

In case you didn't know, Rule 48, adopted this season, outlaws blindside hits where the head is the primary target. The offenders are punished with game-misconduct calls, major penalties and suspensions in the hope that this will deter anyone from attempting a check to the head. The NHL also believe this will lessen the number of injuries (mainly concussions) suffered by the players.

I am in full agreement with this rule. Hard, legal checking still has a huge place in the game, but now there is more protection for the players. Why would you want to watch a sport in which the best and most skillful players are rarely playing because of injuries?

Take Sidney Crosby for example. This year he was leading the NHL in points and on course for his best season yet, but he suffered a concussion (from a couple of bad hits) and hasn't played since January 5th



Along with that, serial offender Matt Cooke has, over the years, damaged the careers of Vincent Lecavalier and Marc Savard by going after the head. Watch the above video for his disgraceful portfolio. It's a crime and people like Cooke and Trevor Gillies are being rightly punished for it.

However, the rule does not cover accidental hits to the head. This is where I would like to see a change. I believe that accidental hits should also be punished every time. Just because the offender did not know or did not mean to deliver a check to the head, does not make it any less dangerous. As Penguins GM Ray Shero puts it,

“We are a league where you can accidentally hit a guy in the head with your shoulder and not be penalised, but if you clear a puck out of your zone and it accidentally goes in the stands they give you two minutes. Does that make sense?"

The NHL should be handing out at least major penalties for all head-shots no matter how harsh it may seem in pursuit of the greater good. It takes away any grey areas and makes the rule black and white. Did he hit the head? Yes: major penalty and possible suspension. It's that simple.

Thoughts?

On a slightly different note. What about that hit Zdeno Chara landed on Max Pacioretty the other night? It was late, stupid and utterly unnecessary. Pacioretty was stretchered off the ice and taken directly to hospital. He suffered a severe concussion and a fractured vertebrae. The good news is that shortly after his arrival he was moving all extremities, conscious and talking in hospital.

Chara was not suspended.

Should he have been suspended? I say yes. He did not hit Pacioretty in the head (which is probably why Chara escaped a suspension) but he still seriously injured his target with an illegal hit. The NHL should be looking to discourage these things with harsh deterrents before they ever happen.

What do you think?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Can Arsenal be successful?

It has become apparent over the last few seasons that, while Arsenal possess great talent and skill, they lack a certain grittiness that can help them win crucial games. They also suffer from defensive and physical frailty. Too often are they out-battled in the important games and too often are they second to the ball or not 100% committed to a challenge.

When they are playing at their best, you could argue that there is no better team to watch in the world, apart from possibly Barcelona. Arsene Wenger has plenty of attacking talent at the club with players such as Walcott, Nasri, Van Persie, Arshavin, Rosicky, Chamakh and, although I'm loathe to say it...Niklas Bendtner. However, he doesn't have any really solid defensive players apart from Thomas Vermaelen who has been injured for a while now.

Players such as Kieran Gibbs, Gael Clichy, Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny would not get into the Man Utd, Chelsea or Man City squads because they cannot defend properly. A point which I believe is well supported by Arsenal's defensive performance in last weekend's Carling Cup final.

Arsene Wenger is a great manager and he has crafted a very good squad at Arsenal without spending a lot of money, unlike his rivals. The fact that the squad's average age is only 23 is quite unbelievable as well. However, there is an argument that perhaps Wenger should spend a bit of money to bring in one or two big, experienced defenders and defensive midfielders. With some strength down the spine of the team Arsenal would be much better placed to challenge properly for titles and cups.

Tony Adams
There is evidence to prove that fact as well. Remember the Arsenal of the late 90s and early 00s? With Tony Adams' and Martin Keown's uncompromising attitude at the back along with Patrick Viera's physical approach in midfield, few teams were able to match Arsenal's effort over 90 minutes and they were certainly never kicked around like they are now. Put it this way, if Arsenal still had Martin Keown and Tony Adams playing at centre-back, Birmingham would not have scored the two goals they got in the Carling Cup Final. Arsenal could do with a decent goalkeeper too, although I have to admit Szczesny looks OK.

Arsenal's season suffered another minor setback today. With one game in hand over Manchester United, three points against Sunderland would have put Arsenal to within one point of the league leaders. Instead Arsenal could only manage a tame 0-0 draw.

What do you think Wenger should do? Stick to the formula and hope his team finds some fight? Or spend some money and bring in a couple of players who can provide the physical backbone this team desperately needs?

Friday, 4 March 2011

Thursday Poll: NHL and EPL

Ahhh busy busy. Yes it's Thursday's poll and yes for USA and Canadian viewers it will still look like Thursday's poll but this is going up early Friday morning in the UK...I slipped up...Im an eejit.

Nevermind, on with the good stuff.

Should Trevor Gillies be banned from the NHL?


Is Alex Ferguson a whingey bitch?



Tuesday, 1 March 2011

NHL Trade Deadline Day Round-up

I'll start this one off by saying that I was mightily disappointed by the lack of action in the last 24 hours of the trade deadline. We didn't really see any massive trades which I believe is partly due to how tight the race for the playoffs in the Western Conference is. There are so many teams that can still make the playoffs that only a couple of teams were selling. It would also seem that those that were selling were asking for a lot in return for their players.

The biggest trades were the ones listed below, many of which occurred in the last couple of weeks.


Looking at those trades above you have to say that Edmonton did well to get what they did for Dustin Penner. He is a 30+ goals a year man but he is surplus to requirements in Oil City because of his age (28) and what Edmonton are trying to achieve there.

Toronto did very well as they enter a rebuilding phase by selling off the likes of Kaberle, Versteeg and Beauchemin. In fact, here is exactly what they got:
  • Joffrey Lupul  
  • Aaron 
  • Joe Colborne
  • Jake Gardiner    
  • No. 1 pick in 2011           
  • No. 1 pick in 2011      
  • No. 3 pick in 2011        
  • No. 2 pick in 2012 (conditional) 
  • No. 7 pick in 2012    
  • No. 4 pick in 2013 (conditional)

What a haul for the Maple Leafs! GM Brian Burke certainly has grabbed himself plenty of pieces with which he can rebuild his fallen franchise.

It wasn't just Toronto and Edmonton who did well out of selling. The Sens managed to collect a hoard of picks too.
  • Craig Anderson    
  • Ryan Potulny       
  • No.1 pick in 2011 
  • No. 2 pick in 2011
  • No. 2 pick in 2011 (conditional)       
  • No. 6 pick in 2011
  • No. 6 or 7 pick in 2011
  • No. 2 or 3 in 2012 (conditional)

Not only did they get those picks and great potential in net with Anderson, but they also managed to clear a ton of cap space too. Ottawa are primed to rebuild in a massive way this summer.

The same goes for the Florida Panthers who mimicked the Sens' activity.

I guess after looking at what the Sens, Leafs, Panthers and Oilers managed to do over the last couple of weeks, you would have to say they biggest winners after the deadline were the sellers.

Boston were fairly active over the last couple of weeks and I think they were the team that got the strongest out of the trades. They acquired Kaberle (a target of theirs for the past couple of years) and added more depth to their forward lines. They are obviously hoping this will be their year as they gear up for a big Cup run.

I guess Washington also did well in finally acquiring a good second-line centre in Jason Arnott. With that move some of the pressure is taken off the top line of Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom.

Here is a link showing the activity of all 30 teams leading up to the deadline.
I don't know how I manged to make this blog post a big one.

Anyways, enjoy!

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