Despite His White Boots

Football, football, football and, if the mood takes me, more football.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Charlton 1 Arsenal 2

I must try not to gush too much about this. I'm not used to this kind of quality. But Arsenal were very good. I heard on the radio Arsenal had something like 70% of possession, which I could well believe. On the day it seemed like they had the ball all the time. Charlton just couldn't keep it for more than three passes.

So for the first 20 minutes Arsenal basically just passed it around, and created one chance when Henry juggled the ball across for Fabregas to head over. Out of nothing though, Charlton punted one forward and Hasselbaink, looking clearly offside to me but post-match reports suggest it was "marginal", ran clear and squared to Bent for a tap-in. This woke Arsenal up and for about 15 minutes they tore Charlton to ribbons. Somehow it took them that long before Hleb danced around three defenders and, just as I was saying "penalty spot", pulled it back to that very place for Van Persie to control expertly and drive home. From then until half-time Clattenburg tried his very best to spoil the game with constant whistling and cards, managing to enrage both sets of fans in the process, which usually takes some doing.

Two minutes into the second half Van Persie scored probably as good a goal as I've ever seen, in 18 years, and I was there when Trevor Sinclair scored that overhead kick. Hleb sent Eboue off down the right wing yet again, only for the latter to realise when he reached the byeline that everyone else was 30 yards behind him. So he belted the ball in the general direction of the onrushing Van Persie and Henry. Without breaking stride the Dutchman somehow blasted the ball, on the volley, from 3 feet off the ground, straight into the top corner. It was a literally unbelievable goal, I'm sitting here typing this and I still cannot believe that he scored it.

Arsenal created a bunch more chances after that but Carson saved well from Henry, Fabregas and Henry again. Despite his one mistake against Portsmouth, I've seen enough of Carson to wonder why Liverpool have let him go on loan, especially looking at some of the goals Reina has conceded lately. What I wondered at this point, though, was whether Arsenal really had the killer instinct to finish the game off. Maybe players as good as these look casual whatever they do, but one or two mistakes allowed Charlton a sniff of a draw. Lehmann saved from Reid, a decent penalty shout was turned down and Hasselbaink lived up to my comment yesterday by missing a free header.

In the end though, anything other than an away win would have been an utter travesty, whatever bollocks Charlton fans have been coming out with on the radio this evening. They need to smell the coffee, or should that be the deep shit they're in. Just to finish it off, there were four minutes of injury time and I think Charlton had the ball for about 10 seconds of it.

Elsewhere an awesome result for Rangers against Southampton, John Gregory is clearly a football genius, 10 days is plenty long enough for that to be stated with complete statistical certainty :-)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Valley Of Death

I received a begging letter from Charlton Athletic this morning, saying please please please come to some more of our games. Please ! We still have tickets for Arsenal on Saturday ! You'd think they'd be embarrassed about that but apparently necessity over-rides their shame. Last time I was there, there were a lot of empty seats, on close examination, because they do the common trick where the seats are red so aren't so obviously empty among the red shirts.

Chief Executive Peter Varney might have spared himself the cost of a stamp in my case, not to mention the time dictating my personal letter, because I already blagged a ticket for Arsenal earlier in the week. Arsene Wenger has been at Arsenal for 10 years now and I've never seen his team play, so it's long overdue (fortunately I was absent when Arsenal reserves gubbed QPR 6-0 in the FA Cup). I hope Henry's playing, but having said that, they played pretty damn well without him at Old Trafford. And begging letters notwithstanding, Charlton's a pretty good deal for Premiership football. £20 for most games, £35 for the big nobs, not too hard to get to, nice ground, and, er, well at least the oppostion might play some decent stuff :-)

In other news, Martin Rowlands signed a contract extension today which is good news. This means that the only two QPR players who anyone could possibly want to buy (Rowlands and Cook) are now signed up for the medium term. I didn't realise that Rowlands has scored 20 goals from midfield in 107 games for Rangers, that's damn good considering he can actually pass and tackle as well, unlike certain other self-obsessed pie-eating "goalscoring midfielders" we know and love !

Saturday, September 23, 2006

QPR 2 Hull 0

It's difficult to know how much to read into this result because it all has to be taken with the consideration that Hull were a bit crap. Gregory certainly rang a few changes, Milanese was nowhere to be seen, Stefan Bailey made a surprise start in midfield, Bircham wore the armband and, most importantly, Rowlands and Blackstock returned from injury. The first half featured much huffage and puffage from both sides, Myhill saved from Rowlands and er that was about it. Obviously Danny Mills is a cut above most of the fullbacks Lee Cook tortures on a weekly basis, and with Rangers' main outlet shut down, it was difficult to see where a goal was coming from.

After the break, Hull had their best spell of the match and Jones made a fine save for Rangers from a close range header. However, Rangers broke the deadlock (I can fire these cliches out all day) from a free kick, Stewart's towering header was knocked in by Ray Jones from about 3 inches. From this point, there was a definite improvement in how Rangers defended their lead. I can think of at least 4 games already this season where Rangers have scored first and failed to win. This time they kept the ball, forced the game into the opposition half and finished off with an excellent second goal, Cook finally finding some space to send in a fine cross which Blackstock headed home.

So John Gregory sees his charges climb out of the bottom three, to be replaced at the foot of the table by Hull who, as I said, offered very little creatively but competed physically throughout. I think the gap between top and bottom in this division is wider than usual this season, and there will be much tougher tests ahead for Rangers, but this was a welcome step forward. Perhaps it's just good luck for me to borrow The Camel's season ticket. A few more poetry festivals and Rangers will shoot up the table.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Desperate Times

call for desperate measures. Can QPR's appointment of John Gregory be classed as desperate ? I don't think so myself. I don't have to try too hard to see a lot of positives in this.

For a start, something had to be done. No question. One win in something like 20 league games brooks no argument there. Having met Gary Waddock and been so impressed by him as a person I really wanted him to do well but it just looks like it was too much for him at this stage of his career. I don't think he's been helped by some of the players, or the board in that he was clearly being given players he knew nothing about. I'm very pleased that Gary has been kept on as coach. I always think it's harsh when, for example, Dave Merrington who was 25 years at Southampton, stepped up to manage the club, it didn't work out, and they just kicked him out. Reading between the lines, Waddock seems quite relieved to be, er, relieved of the manager's job.

As for Gregory, he is a man with a chequered past. The main criticisms against him seem to be that he spent a lot of money on bad players (£6 million for Balaban being the pick) ; he has a history of falling out with "star" players ; and he was dismissed for misconduct by Derby County. These are easily answered, in turn, as follows : one, we have no money for him to spend ; two, we have no star players ; and three, Gregory sued Derby for unfair dismissal and won. I'm prepared to give the guy a chance and I hope that fans will be patient. No one can wave a magic wand and make the same group of players suddenly better. Except maybe Martin O'Neill :-)

Another point worth making is, who else was available ? Especially given that Leeds and West Brom are looking for managers. Don't tell me Dennis Wise is suddenly a great manager on the back of 6 games at Swindon. I would have like to see Martin Allen approached at some point before he joined MK Dons, but that's in the past. Hopefully we can move onwards and upwards. After all, there's no other way to go, at least for this season !

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Football / Corruption Shock

Quite the least surprising thing about the great bungs expose is that everyone who gets caught comes out with the classic Grobbelaar defence - "Ah ha, I was just saying that to find out who he was working for". Yeah great. And I suppose you and your friends drive around in a van solving mysteries all the time. Or at least every Tuesday afternoon (those were the days).

Back in the real world though, if I was just pretending to do something completely corrupt in order to nobly investigate the problem myself, the first thing I would do is contact the authorities to keep them informed and make sure I was in the clear from the start, right ? Right ? Where'd he go ? He was here a minute ago ...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Charlton 0 Portsmouth 1

Another enjoyable game, and in terms of quality, the best I have seen for a while. Most of this was down to Portsmouth who look the part. I could see them pushing for the top six which is about the maximum expectation for anyone outside the 4 big nobs. After an early scare when both of the Bent brothers struck the woodwork inside the first minute, James didn't have a save to make. He and Campbell have plenty left in the tank on today's performance, and should prove to be excellent signings. Mwurani looked lively and Kanu, who I've never seen play before, has so much time on the ball it's uncanny. The visitors should have been at least one up by half-time, but not to worry as Lua-Lua squeezed in the winner from 20 yards. I did think that Carson ought to have saved it.

Charlton, by contrast, looked flat. A bold 4-3-3 formation, with Ambrose and Rommedahl part of the 3-man midfield, was maybe too adventurous and Dowie had little alternative but to sacrifice Marcus Bent (who was perhaps unfortunate to get the hook) at half time. After that, they did manage to restrict Portsmouth more effectively, but still offered next to nothing going forward. Basically if you stop Darren Bent from getting in behind you, you're sorted as far as I can see. Dowie's comment that Portsmouth scored from their only attempt on target in the second half was a good attempt to spin away the fact that I don't remember Charlton hitting the target all day. I just checked Betfair for a price for relegation, but 2.4 doesn't appeal too much given that I think Watford and Sheffield United are virtual shoe-ins. Nonetheless it could be a very long winter in South East London.

Meanwhile, speaking of relegation and long winters, a dreadful result for QPR today. Next week's game at home to Hull is about as big as it can be in September. For all the good intentions and talk, Rangers need to start winning games and quickly.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Who Says Women Don't Understand Football ?

Check out this footage of a female referee awarding a goal after a ball boy returned the ball to the pitch and kicked it over the line. The first 30 seconds gives you the gist, but you might want to stick with it for the rest of the song, which rocks. Certainly more enjoyable than Alan Green and tells you as much about what's going on.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

West Ham 1 Aston Villa 1

As I'm feeling generous today I'm going to give West Ham the benefit of the doubt and say that they may well have been distracted by recent events at least to start with, because Villa absolutely played them off the park in the first half. Not for the first time on my travels this season, the importance of killing a game off when you're on top was emphasised. Ridgwell scored almost immediately from a corner, then Angel hit the bar twice and Carroll made a couple of good saves, whereas the Hammers couldn't even work Sorenson when he kicked it straight to Harewood all on his own ten yards out.

However, the home side found an equaliser when Zamora flicked home Konchesky's header sort-of-with-his-knee. After an hour, Tevez entered the fray, and good job too. I didn't pay thirty quid to watch Bobby fucking Zamora :-). Predictably, the Argentinian looked classy but a little off the pace. West Ham managed to keep Villa at bay with two goal-line clearances and the game petered out into a draw, but a reasonably entertaining one to be fair.

Sometimes I wonder how much difference a manager can actually make, but it is amazing how well Villa are playing under O'Neill compared to last year, with mostly the same players. They were tactically flexible and looked completely unafraid to express themselves. Petrov caught the eye and even McCann, a player I've barely noticed in the past, had a good game as the visitors held an iron grip on the midfield throughout. Clearly Mascherano will be straight into the Hammers' midfield when he's fit, although it's 5/6 of two whether Mullins or Reo-Coker should be chopped in my book, the latter being particularly ineffective compared to his reputation. And finally, if anyone can tell me why Konchesky played left-back for England last year while the excellent Barry hasn't had a look in for 3 years, let me know, because it's a complete fucking mystery on today's evidence.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Hey Mascherano

A stroke of luck for me as my advance purchase of a ticket for West Ham-Aston Villa has now become the event of the weekend. If nothing else, I could probably sell it outside the ground for a barrowful of eel pies. Future plans look something like this :

16th Charlton v Portsmouth
23rd QPR v Hull
30th Barnet v Club-stealing franchise scumbags (aka MK Dons)
7th sulk because stupid internationals are on again, damn them to hell. Who are we playing this time, the Vatican ?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Barnet 1 Walsall 1

Good fun this one. Met up with Richard, Dom and a friend of his before the game and went into the Walsall end as Richard is a die-hard Saddler. Despite their high league position, Walsall weren't very good and soon fell behind when Dean Sinclair hooked in from close range after the defence failed to deal with a standard long throw. Following the goal, Walsall plumbed depths so abysmal that Dom was moved to compare them to the David Hillier/Ian Selley era at Arsenal. Needless to say though, Barnet failed to capitalise and Walsall equalised with a deflected 20-yarder shortly after half time. Both sides had chances after that, Barnet struck the bar via a Walsall head, and Simon King cleared a shot off the line at the other end. Not a bad game all in all and certainly preferable to watching England puff their chests out against the Dog and Duck reserves.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Window Shopping

It looks to me that Arsenal had the best of the deadline dealing yesterday, apart from the bizarre West Ham moves that is. Wenger shipped out two players who were desperate to leave without compromising on the price. I don't know a lot about Baptista but I'm sure that Gallas plus cash is a great deal for Ashley Cole. The biggest surprise (bar West Ham once again) was that United let Rossi go to Newcastle on loan and are now left with Rooney, Saha, Solskjaer and Smith up front. Given that Saha has always been injury-prone, Solskjaer has been out for three years, and Smith almost a year prior to which he was playing in midfield, it's very odd. It's like the England World Cup squad all over again.

Down in the Championship there were a few moves that smacked of desperation, none more so than Shefki Kuqi to Palace for £2.5 million. £2.5 million ? Is he sure ? Well, this is the manager who spent £6 million on Ade Akinbiyi, however high his stock might be with the FA. Time will tell. There wasn't much action at Rangers, which means that several transfer-listed players will remain at the club until January at least.

Update : I almost forgot, best of all for the Gunners, £2 million for Kryten :-)