Monthly Archives: October 2012

Caution in the cup

Wigan on a League Cup night

And then there were three.

Middlesbrough, Leeds and Bradford are the only Football League clubs left in this season’s Capitol One Cup (League Cup in old money) after they beat Premier League clubs Sunderland, Southampton and Wigan respectively.

You’re unlikely to find a harsher critic of the Capitol One Cup than myself but Boro, Leeds and Bradford have all done brilliantly to reach the quarter finals.

However it’s Bradford that’ll receive most of my attention in this entry. Nearly half the 11,777 attendance at Wigan’s DW Stadium had travelled from Yorkshire and the Bradford fans played a massive part in a great night for the Bantams.

On the pitch a unified, stoic display from the League 2 side took the game to a penalty shoot-out, which Bradford won 4-3.

As is expected in the much-maligned cup, Wigan made several changes but their team still included Premier League regulars like Al-Habsi, Ramis and Gomez. Bradford’s changes on the other hand were forced upon them due to injuries and suspensions picked up in their 1-0 loss to Burton.

But Phil Parkinson’s side showed their spirit, combating Wigan’s free-flowing passing and limiting their opponent’s chances. When Wigan got their rare shooting opportunities they were denied.

Bradford’s resilience paid dividends as they held out for penalties. Doyle, Jones, Darby and Connell all converted their spot-kicks for Bradford. Scottish international Shaun Maloney blasted his over the bar for Wigan before Gomez capped off his miserable night watching his tame effort get saved by the brilliant Matt Duke.

Incidentally this was City’s seventh penalty shoot-out victory in the last three years.

Tough Times

Last night was a great night for a club that’s enjoyed very little success or luck since its relegation from the Premier League in 2001. Following their relegation from the top flight the Bantams have suffered three relegations, numerous brushes with bankruptcy and very little success. Since arriving in League 2 they’ve constantly finished closer to the bottom of the league than the top and last year they had a real relegation scare.

However this year for the first time in many years there’s an air of positivity around Valley Parade. The club are currently in the play-off spots after a good start to the season which sees them unbeaten at home.

City have some very good players in their current squad. Matt Duke is a goal-keeper that I’ve long admired; a confident shot-stopper that for some reason has failed to settle at any club he’s joined since leaving Hull City. Zavon Hines is a tricky, attack-minded winger who should be playing at a higher level.

In truth the club should be playing at a higher level. For the past few seasons they’ve had by far the highest attendances in the division despite constantly underperforming. This season they’ve averaged 9,977 fans at home; more than 21 League 1 clubs and two Championship clubs. They’re the third best supported club in Yorkshire behind the two Sheffield giants and Leeds United.

Caution

Because of the reasons listed above I hope they don’t get too wrapped up in the hype of the cup. Cup runs, particularly Capital One Cup runs have a horrible tendency to destroy seasons for clubs in the Football League. Teams that have looked destined for promotion have seen their hopes dashed by over-involvement in the cup.

Of course the cup can give clubs a major short-term boost but more often than not it consumes everybody’s thoughts. No matter how much you try to put the cup to the back of your head it’s always there! After all the prospect of playing Arsenal or Man Utd is far more exciting than an away game against Exeter on a Tuesday night!

For the first time in over a decade Bradford City have the chance to get promoted. Bradford fans finally have good reason to be proud of their club once again. They finally have a team that matches the club’s size and stature.

I just hope the cup doesn’t derail their promotion push. Because it’s a very long season, and though they may feel fresh and excited now, these extra games could haunt them in February, March or April.

Bradford City are a whale in a fishbowl in League 2. They need promotion and Phil Parkinson needs to let everybody remember what the ultimate aim is for this season.

Why is Freedman leaving Palace?

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As I write this Crystal Palace are preparing for their away game at Barnsley, knowing that Dougie Freedman won’t be on the touchline. Instead he’ll be in Wolverhampton, watching his new team, Bolton Wanderers at Molineux.

Many Palace fans will feel deeply hurt by Freedman’s decision to leave the club with the team riding high, 4th in Championship and just two points off the top spot.

His decision to leave was surprising because having worked hard over the past two years on a very limited budget he’d managed to build a unified, formidable side that looked set to challenge for a place in the Premier League.

Freedman’s transformed Palace from relegation favourites to promotion chasers and also took them within a penalty shoot-out of Wembley in last season’s League Cup.

At any other point in his managerial tenure nobody would have blamed him for leaving the cash-strapped Londoners for a “bigger club.” But now seems a strange time to make the switch from Palace in 4th to Bolton in 16th.

Under Freedman the Eagles have shown great maturity, style and determination following a poor start to the season. They lost their first three games but turned it around, winning six and drawing just twice in their unbeaten surge up the Championship table.

Bolton on the other hand have struggled to adapt to life in the Championship after a painful final-day relegation from the Premier League last season. At times the Trotters have looked promising but all too often they’ve disappointed. Results under Owen Coyle were inconsistent and it’s easy to see why the Bolton board wanted a replacement.

It’s obvious why Bolton have gone for Freedman. He’s worked wonders at Palace with limited funds and a small squad. He’s been very astute in the transfer market, something that couldn’t always be said of Coyle. Freedman’s also shown plenty of faith in youngsters and appears to be a talented man-manager.

So why has Freedman gone to Bolton?

Yes, Bolton are a bigger club than Palace (though I’m sure many Palace fans would disagree with me), Freedman will probably get more funds to work with at Bolton than he received at Palace and I think it’s fair to say that the Bolton squad, on paper at least, looks stronger than Palace’s.

But I can’t be the only one struggling to understand the timing of Freedman’s departure. He’s left just when his carefully moulded team’s clicked and began turning heads. It’s like spending two years building a model aeroplane then throwing it away before even playing with it.

Freedman has the materials at his disposal at Bolton to get promoted this season and to accomplish more in the long-term than he ever could at Palace.

Having said that, wouldn’t it have looked better on his CV had he taken his carefully nurtured Palace squad into the Premier League? In my opinion promotion with Palace this season, or even a top-6 finish would have triggered job offers from Premier League clubs.

I understand why Crystal Palace fans would be slightly confused by Freedman’s departure but I sincerely hope they remember his enormous contribution to their club over the years. Fans will greet his move with sadness and anger but in the long run I hope they can forgive him because despite his questionable decision to leave Selhurst Park, he’s done enough to merit a warm welcome when he returns there in January.

And who’s to say with the right appointment, Palace’s new manager can’t carry on Freedman’s good work?

Yorkshire derby marred by fan’s attack on keeper

A Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United was never likely to be a tame affair, but unfortunately a Leeds fan ventured way beyond the realms of acceptability and stole all the headlines for himself.

Michael Tonge had just scored a stunning equaliser in front of the 5,000 travelling contingent to send United fans wild. The appearance of Leeds fans invading the pitch to celebrate isn’t as uncommon as it may seem, although it’s never ideal to have supporters on the field of play. Out of the blue one young fan blindsided Wednesday keeper Chris Kirkland and landed a two-fisted punch in his face.

The thug ran into the crowd with a wide grin on his face, proudly looking over his shoulder at Kirkland lying on the turf, holding his face. The smug fan might not be so happy when he finds out that the entire attack and escape was filmed by Sky Sports, who zoomed in for a good look at his face, and will probably pass the footage on to the police.

Friday night’s clash at Hillsborough was the first time the two white rose giants had met in five years and from the off it was obvious that no love had been lost since their last encounter.

The first half was full of talking points.

Wednesday were very unlucky when a seemingly blatant handball in the Leeds box by Argentine striker Luciano Becchio went unpunished by the officials. Soon after the cameo by the Hand of God, Michael Brown, a player who likes to let his opponents know when they’ve been tackled, left his foot in on Owls striker Chris O’Grady, before falling to the ground and feigning injury to avoid suspicion.

Wednesday defender Miguel Llera was fortunate to stay on the field when he thrust his hands in Brown’s face in order to get rid of the combative midfielder.

Jay Bothroyd’s 44th minute headed goal was almost overshadowed by the more unsavory incidents in the bad-tempered first half, which remarkably did not produce a single yellow card.

Sheffield Wednesday were the better team in the first half, and they continued to outmanoeuvre their lacklustre opponents in the second half. Bothroyd, Antonio and Barkley all looked lively and creative throughout the messy affair.

The evening’s main talking point came in the 77th minute, but unfortunately it wasn’t Tonge’s superb 25-yard strike. Once the former Sheffield United midfielder smashed the ball into the Wednesday net he sprinted off to celebrate. During these celebrations several Leeds United fans ran onto the pitch.

One fan, later described by Leeds manager Neil Warnock as a “moron” ran up to the distracted Kirkland and floored the former Liverpool keeper before making his escape.

Kirkland was treated by the club physio, but looked decidedly shaken by the punch.

The game ended 1-1, but after the final whistle, Wednesday manager Dave Jones criticised Warnock and his players for applauding their supporters after the game. Warnock defended his actions, claiming that “the majority of the supporters had acted impeccably.”

The match has once again highlighted Leeds United’s problematic hooligan minority. During the 70s and 80s Leeds fans had a reputation as some of England’s most violent. Though the club has worked hard to discourage football violence, there remain a few dinosaurs that have no interest in the football and simply wish to create trouble.

Thankfully there’ll now be one less thug to worry about.

Entering the pitch carries an automatic three year ban from football, but Kirkland’s attacker can expect a lifetime ban. He may even face a prison sentence after the inevitable court case is finished.

Maybe a stint behind bars can send a message to others like him that regular football fans have no time for this kind of nonsense.

Football has thankfully moved on. It’s just a shame that some fans are still stuck in the dark ages.

Edgar Davids’s arrival at Barnet brings glamour but no quick-fix

Edgar Davids’ CV reads like a who’s who of European football; Ajax, Milan, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and now Barnet.

It’s quite possible that Davids’ Wikipedia page is the only place where you’ll ever see the Bees mentioned alongside these European giants. But as of Friday the 74-cap Dutchman is player-manager of League 2 Barnet FC, sharing the managerial duties with Mark Robson, who’s been head coach at Underhill since June.

Davids, who’s arguably as well-known for his trademark sports-goggles as he is for his tremendous footballing ability, was a tough yet stylish midfielder. Barnet hope that in his new job he can inspire the team to once again defy the odds and avoid relegation from League 2.

The Bees are renowned escapologists having left it until the final day of the last three seasons to secure their League 2 safety. This season looks set to be an even bigger struggle than usual for Barnet who were rock bottom of the Football League with just 3 points so far this season and no wins in their last 13 matches prior to Saturday’s visit from Plymouth Argyle.

However the hope is that Davids’ reputation and more importantly his knowledge of the game can save Barnet from relegation to the Blue Square Premier. Davids, who was apparently living locally, was approached by the club and he accepted their offer after seeing the club’s facilities and Academy.

Over the past few years Barnet have gained national recognition for their work in the community and their investment in the Academy. Though Barnet is one of League 2’s smallest clubs it prides itself on being family orientated.

Davids’ arrival generated much hype and excitement before Saturday’s home game against Plymouth. The West Country visitors had only won two league games this season before travelling to Barnet.

A far more positive vibe could be felt in and around Underhill before kick-off. News of the Champions League winner’s appointment sparked a wave of positivity on Barnet’s internet forums. The attendance had more than doubled since their last home game against Exeter City from 1,483 to 3,229.

Unfortunately the pre-match buzz was well and truly crushed by a typically error-strewn Barnet performance.

The Edgar Davids reign got off to the worst possible start when Mark Byrne conceded a penalty that former Llanelli striker Rhys Griffiths converted. Just 9 minutes later they were further behind thanks to a Blanchard header. David Stephens looked to have given Barnet hope with a scrappy 16th minute close-range strike. But a Cowan-Hall goal midway through the second half and an added time free-kick by Luke Young meant the game finished 4-1 to Plymouth, who are now 18th in League 2.

It was the same old story for Barnet who didn’t seem at all inspired by their big-name-manager’s arrival on Friday.

Fans left the ground feeling much the same way they’d felt before Davids’ arrival, and on internet forums after the game they vented their collective fury. Barnet fans are a patient bunch. They’re used to seeing their side in relegation scraps, but there seems to be genuine anger at the current situation.

If Davids didn’t understand the task facing him before, he surely will now.

Davids has joined a club that lacks confidence and desperately needs a turnaround in form. His celebrity status will bring a lot of attention to the London Borough of Barnet but fans are hoping that his appointment was more than just a gimmick aimed at increasing attendances in the short-term.

Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the bottom club in the Football League, Davids can take comfort in the knowledge that this is a club used to (successfully) fighting relegation. If any club in League 2 is capable of turning this situation around, it’s Barnet.

Good Luck Mr Davids, you’re probably going to need it!