Blackpool: Is it approaching midnight for our Cinderella story?

What a preposterous question to ask – Blackpool are confounding expectations; they sit in 10th place in the Premier League and just did the league double over Liverpool. However, recent seasons have told us to expect a big drop off in performance from the side promoted through the playoffs and it normally starts about now.

Cast your minds back to 2009 to an even more unlikely hero Hull City, in the top flight for the first time in their history. The Bantams had famous back-to-back wins away to Arsenal and Tottenham, a heroic 3-4 defeat at Old Trafford and were lauded for not following the conventional defensive mindset of promoted teams.

A team mostly filled with journeymen pro’s that worked hard on the field was supplemented by the Brazilian Geovanni, a creative midfielder picked up on a free transfer, who was winning praise for his play and spectacular goals; and they had a young English, media friendly manager. What was not to like?

Unfortunately, we know the bubble burst, winning only 1 of their last 21 league games that season Hull squeaked home in 17th place, which gave rise to some terrible Phil Brown karaoke.

Undoubtedly, Hull would have taken 17th place had it been offered to them before the start of the season, but it was a substantial drop off in form that foretold their eventual relegation the following season.

Burnley had a similarly delirious start to Premier League life, with consecutive home wins against Manchester United and Everton, and were a top half team going into December, but 3 wins from their last 27 games consigned them to only 30pts and relegation.

Even Derby, who by no means set the world alight in their 11 point 2007-8 campaign front-loaded their points, winning over 50% in the first 10 games.

Coming up through the playoffs seems to provide clubs with a momentum to take into their first Premier League campaign, but the consistent complaints of managers are that the Playoffs doesn’t give them the same time to prepare as their rivals. Are clubs being found out in the second half of the season because of this?

Looking at the last three playoff winners before Blackpool, they each had between 64-77% of their points by this stage in the season. If Blackpool falls into this range they would end up with between 36-44 points.

In recent seasons that would be enough to stay up – but the relative failure of teams at the top of the division compared with previous years should return the number of points need for survival towards the traditional 40 mark.

There are ominous signs for Blackpool. They have conceded 36 goals, the 16th worst defence in the league; Liverpool aside they have lost 3 of their last 4 league games, and two of those to teams in the relegation fight (Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion); and they may be losing their best player – Charlie Adam.

If the notably frugal Blackpool Chairman decides to cash in on Adam, who has 18 months left on his contract thinking the Seasiders are safe. I’d urge him to think again. Selling Adam may secure £5million but losing Premier League status is worth a lot more than that – of course his continued presence is no guarantee of anything either, anyone can get injured or lose form.

It is true that Blackpool have games in hand, they have played the joint fewest games in the division, but most of those games in hand come at Bloomfield Road, where they have a worse record than on the road. Perhaps finding teams more difficult to break down with fewer counter attacking opportunities. However, playing more games than your rivals in the same space of time is difficult, less time for rest and niggles to subside, and Ian Holloway isn’t exactly blessed with the deepest squad.

Norwich (1995) and Sunderland (1997) fans can attest that being well placed in January is no guarantee of safety come May.

Blackpool are 6 points off the relegation zone, and for me 9/2 looks a big price for them to be relegated.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dann’s injury a huge blow to Birmingham

Declaration of Interest: I am a Birmingham City Fan

I really fear that Blues could go down, because Scott Dann has been ruled out for the rest of the season.

Scott Dann has been one of the best English Central Defenders this season; he was an integral part of a defensive unit that played almost every game together; and yesterday against Villa we looked shaky at the back for the first time in a long while.

Birmingham have only conceeded 26 Premier League goals, far fewer than most teams around the relegation places, if that tenet of success is compromised then things could get seriously bad at St. Andrews.

David Murphy grew into the game at left back, but Liam Ridgewell who has moved in from the flank to cover Dann’s berth did not display his same high performance standard in the middle despite this being his supposed natural position.

The partnership that Dann and Roger Johnson have fostered has been built on a understanding of how to defend as a pair and whole defensive unit. It was clear that understanding and confidence wasn’t there between Johnson and Ridgewell and Ridgewell and Murphy on Sunday, with goalkeeper Ben Foster noticeably hesitant on a number of occassions as well.

Birmingham have two very difficult next league games (Man Utd – Away, Man City – Home) if points aren’t acquired in those two games Birmingham will probably find themselves in the relegation places and with a less healthy goal difference than the current -5.

4/1 on Birmingham to go down (William Hill) looks a big price.

January normally brings reinforcements to Blues, and David Bentley has already arrived on loan, but apparently Robbie Keane’s wages are too high, Kenny Miller wants to wait for a Bosman and Ian Holloway won’t sell Big ‘Eck Charlie Adam.

If scoring remains an issue, then Birmingham will be in big trouble.

Posted in Birmingham | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Premier League 1-11s

Henry Winter got excited during the West Ham v Birmingham Carling Cup Semi Final because after Scott Dann was substituted the Birmingham back four were number 2 5 6 3 from RB to LB (Carr, Johnson, Ridgewell, Murphy).

It got me thinking what would be the lineups if teams fielded their 1-11s.

The last time a side fielded a 1-11 line-up in the Premier League was the Manchester United team that faced Manchester City on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, however those numbers did not correspond with squad numbers.

The last time a 1-11 squad numbered team has been selected for a Premier League game, you have to go back to 1995-6 and the third Premier League season of squad numbers and a Queens Park Rangers side that featured Trevor Sinclair (11), Ian Holloway (8) and Kevin Gallen (10)

Only 5 Premier League teams today could name a 1-11 line up.

Can

Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Manchester United, Newcastle United, and Sunderland.

Can’t

Arsenal (No #9), Aston Villa (No #4), Blackburn Rovers (No #2), Blackpool (No #2), Chelsea (No #4, 6 or 9), Everton (No #4 or 11), Fulham (No #9 or 10), Liverpool (No #7 or 11) Manchester City (No #3), Stoke City (No #2), West Bromwich Albion (No #2), West Ham United (No #3 or 6), Wigan (No #9 since Boselli has been loaned to Genoa) Wolverhampton Wanderes (No #2)

Birmingham

————- Maik Taylor —————

Carr — Johnson — Ridgewell — Murphy

Larsson — Bowyer — Gardener — Bentley

———– Jerome — Phillips ————-

Bolton

————- Bogdan ——————

Steinsson — Cahill — Robinson — Samuel

Holden — Muamba — Taylor — Gardener

————— Petrov —————-

————— Elmander —————-

Manchester United

————- Van Der Sar —————

Neville— Brown — Ferdinand — Evra

— Anderson— Hargreaves — Giggs —

—– Owen— Berbatov— Rooney —-

Newcastle United

——————– Harper ——————–

Coloccini — Williamson — Campbell — Jose Enrique

— Routledge — Guthrie — Nolan — Barton—

———– Carroll — Lovenkrands ———-

Sunderland

————- Gordon —————

Bardsley — Turner — Mensah — Richardson

Malbranque — Cattermole — Henderson — Zenden

———– Campbell — Bent ————-

Of those teams I think it is most likely that Sunderland would field a 1-11 starting team. The main sticking point being around Frazier Campbell who is fourth choice striker when Bent, Gyan and Welbeck are fit and thus only has 3 PL starts to his name this season.

Twice (Wolves Away and Everton Home) have Sunderland fielded a starting line up with 8 players numbered 1-11, on both occassions Nedum Onuhua, Anton Ferdinand and Danny Welbeck were included to foil Henry Winter’s dream.

Posted in XIs | Leave a comment

FIFA kicking technology into the long grass

FIFA President Sepp Blatter will view 2010 as one of the high points of his time in office.

Blatter was completely vindicated taking the 2010 World Cup to Africa, and he has led the Executive Committee towards two more pioneering choices in Russia & Qatar for the 2018 & 2022 tournaments.

In the wake of the successful organisation of an African World Cup, one where the best footballing team won – no mean PR feat, when many detractors said that taking the tournament to the continent would be a mistake you can understand why Blatter may feel emboldened.

However, Blatter had some downs as well as ups. Two members of his Executive Committee have been found guilty of corruption, and more have had allegations levelled against them. The FIFA image has been somewhat tarnished, though through more the entrapment of the Sunday Times than Andrew Jenning’s continuing campaign against the corruption he sees at the heart of the Zurich based organisation.

The refereeing howler made by the Uruguayan officials in the England v Germany match at the World Cup, and the injustice felt round the world by every single person of Irish ancestry intensified the pressure for some form of technological assistance to supplement the officiating crew, something which hitherto had been an anathema for FIFA.

When Blatter announced that the International Football Association Board, which comprises FIFA and the Home Nation FAs would examine technology in March 2011, it was somewhat of a surprise as he personally has always before been a sceptic if not an outright critic of the role technology could play.

However, Paul Hawking the man behind the Hawk-eye technology used in Tennis and Cricket has revealed some of the caveats of FIFA’s invitation, and it looks about as transparent a process as bidding for the World Cup itself.

Companies wishing to display their technology will only be allowed access to the Stadium seven hours prior to the test beginning, when Hawking says that an installation time of four days is normal. This stipulation seems designed to make failure more likely, and curious given that FIFA require access to stadia for major events more than seven hours in advance.

‘FIFA say the demonstration has to be on their pitches, which are AstroTurf, which means embedding our chipping equipment won’t be easy,’ said Hawkins.

Any business wishing to take part will also have to pay 200,000 Swiss Francs (£133,000) for the commercial cost of the FIFA appointed independent assessors with no guarantee that even if their product is demonstrated to be 100% successful that it will be adopted by the IFAB.

What happens in other Sports?

Two basic systems of technological assistance exist in world sport today.

Official Instigated Review – this happens in Rugby Union, Rugby League, Ice Hockey, Basketball and Baseball.

Referees and Umpires can check video to decide whether certain scoring plays are valid. The challenges are restricted to scoring events and can only be requested by the match officials.

Sometimes the use of technology is extremely limited, e.g. in Basketball it is only used to determine ‘buzzer beater’ shots at the end of quarters; but more often it is available for certain types of activity: goals in Ice Hockey, tries in Rugby and home runs in Baseball.

Ice Hockey is perhaps the best sport to draw comparisons with a potential system of technological review in Football. The amount of scoring in the two sports is roughly similar so therefore goals and incidents that could be goals take on roughly similar levels of importance.

All goals in the NHL are checked by a replay official to ensure they are correctly awarded before the game is restarted. Events not given as goals are checked live by the replay official, who can overrule the on ice crew and put right any errors. The checks are speedy and have removed much controversy.

Participant Instigated Review – these systems such as the one that operates in Tennis allow the participants a limited number of occasions that they can challenge the ruling of officials.

Tennis uses Hawk-Eye, which says it is accurate to within 3.6 mm. However, American Football requires the on-field officials to re-examine their decision.

Some sports like American Football and Cricket actually have hybrids of these two methods of instigating review, dependent on some game specific factors.

Most sports (Tennis being the only high profile exception) have a presumption that if doubt persists after resorting to technology the view of the on field officials will take precedence; and all deal with their review systems in a reasonably swift manner. We have become used to stoppages in play every time a player goes down with cramp despite countless directives that the game should continue – would 60 seconds to see whether that was a penalty or not be the end of the world?

Issues do remain with review systems, however, making sure the live audience are as well informed about the decisions as the television one being chief amongst them. Large Screens at grounds to allow the live audience to be privy to the replayed action is one solution, another is explanation from the officials. Cricket found itself alienating the spectator at the ground when they were denied access to the replayed images and were then only privy to a hand signal indicating reversal or not – they wanted to know why.

Most worryingly for proponents of adoption or experimentation with technology in the beautiful game is FIFA’s insistence of an instantaneous, automated, foolproof system. Such level of rigour is not demanded by any other governing body in the world. FIFA will not countenance any form of review – official instigated or not. It only wants to address one aspect of disputed goals – was that over the line or not.

FIFA indicate a desire to move from a system of human infallibility where the referee is never wrong to a system of technological infallibility in one bound; ignoring a huge swathe of good practice that shows a happy medium can exist

A cynic might argue that the conditions laid out are designed to give FIFA and the IFAB every opportunity to say ‘no’, while being able to tell people that they tried.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leeds United… Nine Years Ago

The FA Cup 3rd Round has marked Leeds United’s revival in the past two years. Today Arsenal just managed to snatch a draw at home, and last year Jermain Beckford’s goal stunned Manchester United, but nine years ago it was a very different story.

On January 6 2002 Leeds United were top of the Premier League, in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup and facing Second Division Cardiff City in the FA Cup Third Roud.

You may remember then Cardiff Chairman, Sam Hamman’s antics that night – he paraded himself round the perimiter of the pitch, encouraging his partisans to make the atmosphere as hostile as possible for the big time visitors.

Cardiff scrapped and battled, and emerged 2-1 victors – Graham Kavanagh had an excellent game that night, but Leeds were hurt more by Alan Smith’s sending off and Rio Ferdinand’s injury. Ferdinand’s injury meant that Jonathan Woodgate was partnered in defence by Michael Dubbery – a man he had not spoken to for six months – since Duberry testified against him in that infamous trial.

In their next Premier League game Leeds lost to Newcastle, who were one of five sides challenging for the title. A 3-1 reverse which knocked Leeds off top spot and saw Danny Mills red carded.

Leeds had begun a 10 game stretch without a victory.

Harry Kewell publicly fell out with O’Leary and Assistant Eddie Gray with a row about the Australian’s fitness.

Chelsea beat Leeds 2-0, and Liverpool thrashed them 4-0 at Elland Road. Emile Heskey who had scored twice in his previous 35 games netting twice.

Draws against Arsenal and Middlesbrough further helped detatch Leeds from the leaders, while PSV dumped them out of the UEFA Cup. Leeds failing to score in 180 minutes of football.

Off-field problems mounted as during this time Leeds had four players found guilty of Misconduct by the FA (Mills, Smith, Viduka and Bowyer) giving DOL less freedom with selection.

The Elland Road faithful had to endure two further 0-0 draws, at home to Charlton and away to Everton before finally winning against Ipswich Town on March 6. Even so Leeds finished 19 points behind champions Arsenal.

We all know about the sand the finances were based upon, the relegations and the goldfish – but its hard not to get nostalgic thinking about what might have been, had the gamble to secure regular CL football come off. Could they have eventually balanced the books?

The Champions League campaign was abosrbing and although it was hard to feel sympathy at the time for Bowyer and Woodgate – it must have been very hard for two young men to have that level of public scrutiny.

It wasn’t to be – but Leeds took their punishment for failure with dignity, and I never ceased to be amazed about how loyal their support stayed during the wildnerness years.

Now, they are riding high in the Championship and have pulled off another Third Round shock I hope it’s not too painful to remember the role the Thirs Round played in their downfall.

Posted in FA Cup, Leeds | Tagged | Leave a comment

King Kenny Returns

There have been 7261 days since Kenny Dalglish last managed Liverpool FC, and in that time Liverpool have played 1423 matches, won 3 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 UEFA Cup and the 2005 Champions League. They have not won the league since.

Dalglish famously resigned after a 4-4 FA Cup 5th round draw with Everton – which remains to this day one of the all time classic games. However, it was often assumed that the toll of Hillsborough made him want to relinquish management at Liverpool.

His strike partner Ian Rush said, “He used to take all the pressure off the players and heap it on himself. Looking back, you can see how it all built up inside him and he didn’t tell anyone. It does take a toll when you manage a big club, and he had things to cope with that no one else had experienced – I think he went to every funeral after Hillsborough.”

“It would have been great if he could have just taken a year out and then come back refreshed but it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen.”

Liverpool dynastically passed the torch to Souness and then to Roy Evans, before the club lost faith in the Boot Room, and Dalglish became King again but this time at Blackburn Rovers. Who will ever forget the Kop willing Rovers to defeat Liverpool to deny Manchester United the title?

Roy Hodgson was treated poorly by Liverpool fans, but when Dalglish made it publicly clear that he thought he should succeed Benitez, it was almost in their interest that Hodgson should fail. Liverpool and Dalglish only seperated due to exceptional circumstances it’s only right that he is given the chance to return to club to former glories.

Such was the body blow of Dalglish’s sudden departure in 1991 that Liverpool, lost their next 3 matches. 3-1 Away at Luton who were 17th in the League, the FA Cup replay against Everton, and 1-0 at home to Arsenal who leapfrogged them at the top of the table.

Liverpool lost 6 of their 14 remaining league games in the 1990-91 season, and ended up 13 points adrift of eventual champions Arsenal.

It will be a big ask for Dalglish – quality players will be reluctant to come to a club with no guarantee of European football and an interim manager. Besides NESV might not be too keen to give him money to burn this January, instead relying on his man-management to propel Liverpool up the table.

His past record in the transfer record is mixed. Most recently his time at Newcastle saw the shrewd acquisitions of Shay Given, Nobby Solano and Gary Speed alongside the less remarkable Temuri Ketsbaia, Stephane Gui’varch and the nepotistic John Barnes (35) and Ian Rush (36) .

At Blackburn he obviously had a lot of money to spend, but no one would argue breaking the British Transfer Record for Alan Shearer was a bad bit of business. Especially, when it delivered a league title and an £11m profit in four years.

Bruce Grobbelaar tells a story on the after dinner speaking circuit that one of the reasons for Dalglish’s departure at Liverpool was the board’s refusal to sanction a £2.5m transfer of Shearer from Southampton. A signing that Grobbelaar says Dalglish told the Liverpool board would secure their place as the top club in England for the next 10 years.

Dalglish’s transfer dealings at Liverpool were significantly less successful after Hillsborough than before. Pre Hillsborough it is hard to point to a signing and say that there was an error, which may be as much a statement about the strength of scouting at Liverpool, but the manager had the final say, and to start with Dalglish did not buy rubbish.

Steve McMahon his first signing from Aston Villa (£350k) was a central figure for 6 years, and sold for £900k to Manchester City when he was past the peak of his powers.

Stan Staunton was brought from Irish League side Dundalk (£20k) and made 148 appearance before Aston Villa paid £1.1m for his services.

John Alridge, Barry Venison and Nigel Spackman gave solid service and were again sold on for more than they cost.

Barnes arriving from Watford for £900k was a steal, Ian Rush returned from Juventus for less than he was sold for and Peter Beardsley (£1.9m) enjoyed four fantastic seasons before Souness disgarded the player in favour of Dean Saunders, he would later come to admit that as a mistake.

So it’s apparent that shrewd transfers were a large part of Dalglish’s winning formula. However, post Hillsborough his signings were not at the same level.

Jamie Redknapp aside the acquisitions between Hillsborough and his departure were poor. It’s completely fair to give him and the club and pass on this, some things are more important than football – but the network did not deliver as it once had. The poor nature of Dalglish’s later signings go some way to excuse Graham Souness’ tenure. However, his own transfer policy does not cover him in glory (think Paul Stewart).

Glenn Hysen was 29 when he arrived and solid – but his capture from under the noses of Manchester United promted SAF to get Gary Pallister from Middlesbrough. An undoubtedly better long term signing, and one that helped Utd bridge and overcome the gap between the rivals.

Steve Harkness stayed at Liverpool for eight years but only averaged 13 appearances a season over that time. It is fair to say he was not the sort of player a title side required.

Don Hutchinson was a disappointing acquisition on the field, but did turn a nice profit – when the club sold him following a “nads out” incident in one of city’s nightspots.

Jimmy Carter a £800k signing from Millwall played 8 games for Liverpool, David Speedie (£675k) managed 12 and Ronnie Rosenthal was signed for £1m. Ronnie initially impressed the Kop scoring 7 times in his first 8 league appearances, but only managed 14 more in the next three seasons and was shipped on for a £750k loss.

So, had Dalglish not jumped in 1991 – Liverpool may not have had such a poor run of results to the end of the season, they may even have won their 19th title. But, it is hard to see a sustained challenge from *that* Liverpool team, even if Beardsley and Staunton stay. He would have had to refresh the team, and his 89-91 signings do not give you counterfactual confidence that he would neccessarily get it right, but and here is the big but he did sign Alan Shearer for Blackburn.

Can you imagine Liverpool with Alan Shearer, knowing the partnership he forged with Beardsley for England and Newcastle?

Graham Le Saux and not Julian Dicks comes in at left back, and he befriends a young academy prospect called Robbie Fowler.

Henning Berg is added for £400k, Rob Jones is still picked up by the scouting network, Tim Flowers is the long term successor to Bruce Grobbelaar and Steve McManaman comes through the ranks.

That is a team that could have challenged for titles in the early 90s, instead King Kenny took his gifts to Ewood Park and we know he did deliver there.

Is 10 years out of management too long? Can Dalglish motivate a side of underperforming players that Liverpool (read Benitez mainly) overpaid for?

If anyone can he can – and I for one wish him all the success in the world.

Posted in Liverpool | Tagged , | Leave a comment

January Transfer XI

The transfer window has well and truly opened and I thought it opportune to look at the best players signed during the brief history of January transfer window.

It’s become fashionable to decry the January window, saying prices are over inflated but for every Jose Antonio Reyes there is a Christoph Duggary.

GK – Shay Given (2009 – Newcastle to Man City – £7m)

Not many goalkeepers get transfered in January but picking up Given gave Man City one of the best keepers in the league, and Newcastle were relegated without him.

RB – Danny Simpson (2010 – Manchester United to Newcastle – £500k)

Simpson has been one of the unsung heroes of Newcastle’s Premier League return, and looks a bargain at half a million quid.

CB – Christopher Samba (2007 – Hertha BSC to Blackburn Rovers – £450k)

Getting Samba for £450k was one of Mark Hughes’ best pieces of transfer business. Paired with fellow January arrival Ryan Nelsen, Samba has been key to Blackburn in recent years.

CB – Matthew Upson (2003 – Arsenal to Birmingham City – £1m)

Upson gambled and upped sticks to St Andrews when the Blues were in big danger of relegation. His partnership with Kenny Cunningham guided Birmingham to 13th that season and saw them challenge for Europe the next year. Six months after his move he won his first England cap

LB – Patrice Evra (2004 – Monaco to Manchester United – £5.5m)

When he was subbed off at half time of his debut against Man City he may not have looked like a good piece of business but since then Evra has gone from strength to strength.

RM – Theo Walcott (2006 – Southampton to Arsenal – £9m)

It didn’t happen overnight, but would anybody argue that Wenger’s acquisition of Walcott didn’t prove to be shrewd business. Still only 21 – what he might achieve in the next 5-6 years in frightening to imagine.

CM – Clint Dempsey (2007 – New England Revolution – Fulham – £2m)

Very tidy signing for the Cottagers who has contributed 27 league goals in 131 games.

LM – Charles N’Zogbia (2009 – Newcastle to Wigan – £6m)

Flounced out of St James’ Park when Joe Kinnear called him Charlie Insomnia. Wigan snapped him up and he was Player of the Season in his first year with the Latics.

FW – Christophe Duggary (2003 – Bordeaux to Birmingham City – £1.5m)

Many eyebrows were raised when the World Cup and Euro 2000 winner swapped Bordeaux for Birmingham. His cultured style and a run of five goals in five games earned him cult hero status amongst the Bluenoses.

FW – Jermain Defoe (2004 – West Ham to Tottenham – £6m, 2008 – Tottenham to Portsmouth – £6m & 2009 – Portsmouth – Tottenham)

I don’t think any player has been transfered more often in January than Defoe.

FW – Emmanuel Adebayor – (2006 – Monaco to Arsenal – £7m)

62 goals in 3 and a half seasons at the Emirates and a resale value of £25m mean that Adebayor is undoubtedly one of the transfer window’s success stories

Agree or Disagree? Leave a comment or tweet me @thejamesdixon

Posted in XIs | Leave a comment