Despite His White Boots

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

Sunday, December 24, 2006

How Low Can You Go

I haven't gone yet, this still counts :-). Having a flick through the League Paper and its chip-wrapper companion the Non-League Paper, I did see something that shocked me. I could date this properly with Google, but I'd rather do it from memory ; at some point in the early nineties, Cambridge United were very high up in what is now the Championship with a couple of months of the season to go. They had some good players : Dion Dublin and Steve Claridge off the top of my head, although I'm not sure whether they were in the same team. I saw them beat Sunderland 3-0 at home and Ipswich 2-1 away with my own eyes. In Claridge's book he relates how teams finally sussed out their long-ball game to the point where Guy Butters taunted him "Go on, go inside me. You're not allowed to are you ?", and then whacked him into the stand. Cambridge missed out on the play-offs and started a slow but steady slide down the leagues.

Two seasons ago they dropped out of the Football League. Now I read that not only are they bottom six in the Conference, but last week they played local neighbours Histon in the FA Trophy. When I was around Cambridge, Histon were a village team. A guy I knew used to play for them part-time, that kind of thing. We're not even talking St Albans or Enfield Town here. More like Baldock Town. If that. As Cambridge sank, they rose. And last week Histon beat Cambridge United 5-0 in the FA Trophy. I suppose Histon are to Cambridge as Vauxhall Motors are to QPR, although it must be 10 times worse with the local connection.

That's how far down you can go if you try hard enough. And maybe it's not over yet. Still, darkest just before the dawn and all that ...

Wikipedia update : Dublin and Claridge did play in the same team. Cambridge actually reached the playoffs but lost 5-0 to Leicester.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

QPR 1 Barnsley 0

Rangers had to grind this one out and the result, if not quite the performance, was certainly a tonic. Gregory named what I reckon is pretty much our best XI. Cook and Lomas were back in midfield and, praise the saints, Rehman was on the bench. Rangers started brightly but the game turned on the quarter hour mark. Mauro Milanese, inside his own penalty area, appeared to place both hands directly in his opponent's back and give him a good shove. Half the ground sucked their breath in with an "ooh bloody hell" but somehow, from our POV, the ref didn't give it and there weren't even any appeals from the visiting team. Strange. Rangers went straight up the other end and Martin Rowlands' innocuous shot found a way through the Barnsley custodian and into the net.

Frankly I can hardly remember anything that happened after that. Stewart's slip allowed the ever-popular Leon Knight a run on goal but, as I said to the Camel, the difference between Stewart and Rehman is that while they both fuck up on a regular basis, Stewart at least has the pace to recover sometimes, as he did here, blocking the first shot and clearing the second off the line. Let's see, what else, Cook (who was mostly quiet) fired in an vicious free kick which either of Smith or Jones could have touched in but didn't ; Nardiello was blocked by the excellent Mancienne and also chipped a free kick over the bar ; and Rehman came on but managed not to ruin everything, somehow, and Rangers held on.

As I said, Mancienne was top class, looking twice the player at centre half that he did at right-back. It sounds like Rangers will be able to keep him for the rest of the season too. Jones had a decent game up front and Lomas tightened up the midfield with his presence, organisational skills and ability to con the ref. Having seen Southend, Hull and Barnsley now they are all rather poor and really anyone who can't finish ahead of those three deserves to go down. At least Rangers have put six points between themselves and the relegation zone before I head out West (and likewise Barnet eight), so we'll see what happens. This blog will be on hiatus till I get back, the main edge I have on here is actually going to games so without that you'll know as much as I do !

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Barnet 2 Mansfield 1

Another decent win for the Bees. I seem to be a lucky charm at Underhill lately. There's a fair chance it's me because only 1700 other brave souls escaped the Christmas shopping to freeze their nuts off on the icy slope. Mansfield hit the post in the first minute and were the better side until Barnet made a vital change to their corner routine. Instead of tapping it short and blasting it into an onrushing defender, captain Ian Hendon pointedly told Jason Puncheon to "get it into the box". Hendon is not a man to argue with, especially as in this case he was immediately proved right. Ishmael Yakubu headed in and although I looked straight at the referee expecting it to be chalked off for climbing, the goal stood.

If Yakubu was an unlikely scorer, the next goal surprised all 1700 of us. Left-back Adam Gross seemed to be about to lose the ball 40 yards from the Mansfield goal when he neatly stepped inside his man, played two one-twos, surged into the box and with the entire defence converging on him, struck the ball sweetly into the corner. The entire team mobbed the scorer, with the exception of keeper Lee Harrison who very clearly made the international gesture for "we're never going to hear the end of this" to us die-hards behind the goal. It's a hard gesture to describe, but unmistakeable when you see it.

Mansfield huffed and puffed and, with their fans chanting the old "Someone Out" (there were too few of them for me to catch the name although you would have to assume it was manager Peter Shirtliff), archetypal lay-the-ball-off-and-score-thats-all-I-do lower league striker Richie Barker headed home from a well-struck dead ball routine. Barnet hung on fairly comfortably though, with the excellent Simon King reliable as ever at centre-half. He isn't the greatest with the ball at his feet but I'm sure he'd do a better job at QPR than most of the current line-up. As would Orient's Matthew Lockwood at left back.

Speaking of which, another reverse for the increasingly less super hoops, that's five on the spin with one goal to show for it. Difficult times for the Rs, and apparently still more allegations of "financial irregularities" for Paladini to deny. Rangers are right in it now, it's becoming a mini-league down at the bottom : Southend, Hull, Leeds, Barnsley, QPR and Luton are all in the thick of it. You would have to expect Leeds to pull out at some point, although it's happened to clubs nearly as "big" (I mean Man City and Forest not QPR). Oh well, what can you do.

Hooray It's Saturday

As you may have noticed I am easing up on the betting - it's a leak don't you know. We poker professionals have to be disciplined. But if you still ache to be told what to bet on, this guy's not too bad. Quite entertaining as well. I like his tip for Wigan today and I have placed a small investment @ 1.95 on Betfair.

As an aside, it only came to my attention yesterday that Zara Phillips won Sports Personality Of The Year. I haven't been taking these smoke-blowing contests seriously for several years ; if you still do after this, then you are an egg of the highest order. I'd love to know how many of the voters actually realised that Zara Phillips did whatever the hell she did at the time when she did it. I was expecting Darren Clarke to waltz home with this one but I was told yesterday by a friend who is slightly more in touch with the paperazzi world that he has found a new love. This is great for him, really, he does seem like a top man, I've no bones with the guy at all. I'm sure though that the tragedy-loving British voting public then thought "oh, well fuck him then". What a country. I'd have given it to that pie bloke from Wigan myself.

The point I am rambling towards, however, is that even in a World Cup year there wasn't a single footballer in list of 10. How about that ? It seems to me that people in general (both TV voting eggs and otherwise) have had about enough of them. Cashley, Ferdinand, Lampard, Rooney, Owen - who out there respects a single one of them, as a man ? They are pampered, self-obsessed twats. And everyone is also sick of their stupid WAGs. If only High Class Hookers made a more media-friendly acronym.

Anyway I'm off to Underhill today ; this is the first time in a while I have deliberately plumped for Barnet ahead of Loftus Road. There are a lot of reasons jumbled in together that just make me feel like that's what I want to do today. So, as a slave to no man, that's what I'm going to do. I shall pop down to Rangers next Saturday for the Barnsley game, just to see them off before I hit the US.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Merry-Go-Round

Well, off we go then. 'Tis clearly the season, as any chairman with half a brain (obviously this excludes the likes of those who run Newcastle) will make the change before the transfer window opens, not just after it closes. Pardew, from what I can gather, can feel let down by some of his players, but you can't say he's handled the Argentinians particularly well. In the last game Tevez was on the wing and Mascherano on the bench watching Christian Dailly play the defensive midfield role.

I don't want to large it with the old "I told you so", even though I did kind of tell you so, but let's just clarify what I meant. I didn't mean that Pardew sucked and was going to be found out ; not at all. He did a great job last season and he conducts himself very well. I just meant that it was a bit hopeful to give the guy a five-year contract two months into his first season in the Premiership. In two or three seasons West Ham would be odds on to have a sackworthy run of results somewhere along the way, never mind five. To be fair the people who gave him the contract stuck with him earlier this season - I think at just about any other club, the Chesterfield result would have been the last straw. The biscuit men, however, believe that relegation would be a crippling blow, and have done the necessary. I personally don't think that relegation is necessarily disastrous now, given the parachute payments and the huge advantage they give relegated teams over serial Championship plodders. Anyway, back to the now, and Curbs looks like a shoe-in (or is it shoo-in) for the job, as it's clearly the one he's been waiting for.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Pardew pitch up at Charlton the way they're going. Is it more like Musical Chairs than a merry-go-round ? Meanwhile Iain Dowie is talking to Hull City. There was a vox pop comment on BBC Sport (it's gone now and nuts to looking through forums for it) to the effect that Dowie wasn't the man for Hull and that they needed someone, I can't remember the word damn this hangover, with an "outstanding" or "excellent" record in the Championship. If you don't think taking Palace from the relegation zone to promotion in half a season is any good, then I'm sorry, you're going to be disappointed with whoever takes over at Hull City !

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Third Degree

In a very early episode of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns ran for Governor. As a PR exercise, he took dinner chez Simpson and answered some staged questions for the cameras. As best I can remember, this was an exchange :

Lisa [through gritted teeth] - Mr Burns, your campaign has the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular ?

Mr Burns - Ooh, tough question ! But a fair one !

Now, obviously The Simpsons exaggerates real life to (considerable) comic effect. No one would insult us with something so blatantly staged in reality, would they ? Hmmm. As reported by Football365 (via the Times), Steve McLaren sat in for a "webchat" on the official FA website. Here are a few of the pre-submitted questions that didn't make the cut :

"Did you ditch David Beckham as a PR stunt to distance yourself from the Eriksson era?"

"Is it time to accept Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard cannot play together?"

"By appointing Terry Venables you have undermined yourself. Discuss."

I especially like that last one. The first "question" that McLaren did answer began as follows :

Firstly, I must congratulate you on the England job and for coping with the media pressure so well in recent months. I am a Man Utd fan and I remember what an excellent job you did for us and I feel you'll do the same for England."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Barnet 4 Northampton 1

The great thing about football is how it can surprise you with a completely unexpected turn of events. At half time in this game, Barnet were one down against a better team from a higher division, without Tresor Kandol who had scored more than half their goals this season. 10 minutes into the second half they were ahead and by the end they had completely blitzed the opposition with what I believe is known as a four-goal salvo.

Anyway, enough dramatic foreshadowing and back to the start of the game. Northampton looked fairly comfortable, passed the ball better and opened the scoring just before the break when ex-Barnet man Scott McGleish nodded in from six yards. McGleish eschewed the respectful muted celebration against a former club in favour of a full somersault triple pike with twist. The cunt. However, Barnet turned the game on its head in the second half, first of all Kandol's loan replacement Adam Burchill latched on to Liam Hatch's flick and poked the ball in at the near post. Then Dean Sinclair beat the defence to Jason Puncheon's cross to head the home side into the lead.

Barnet then I think surprised Northampton by (commendably) continuing to pour forward. Puncheon made his way to the by-line only for McGleish to fly in with a reckless challenge. Although he did appear to play ball and man, the referee pointed to the spot. Karma, to paraphrase Blackadder, is very quick these days. Hendon slammed in the penalty and that was pretty much it. Barnet still looked more likely to score again and did so when Puncheon worked another opening and drove in a fine low cross which Magno Vieira could hardly miss. He did his best, but it sneaked into the top corner all the same. Just for a moment it was like watching Brazil, in that Vieira is (bizarrely) Brazilian.

Puncheon had a fine game for the Bees, he is quickly maturing into a very good player at this level. He's more of a direct runner on the left than a trickster like Lee Cook, but he has a fair amount of skill to go with it and his delivery is improving all the time. Dean Sinclair was also excellent in midfield. Cobblers ? Well, they weren't that bad. Arf arf. Actually they were in the second half. Having heard Loftus Road echo to "You'll never beat the Cobblers" more than once, I did enjoy this revenge by proxy. Given the title of this blog I must mention Northampton's Bunn who, despite his white boots (TM), played in goal. I really don't think that white boots inspire confidence in a goalkeeper.

And so Barnet are into the magic hat and will be praying for an away draw against a big club. A home draw would probably be more trouble than it's worth, unless they can switch it, but we'll see what comes out.

Stop The Rock

There was a good Email in Football365 yesterday, 10 things in football that must be changed, now. A couple of people followed up with some more suggestions, and second prize goes to "Bring back chanting ooooooh you're shit aaaaaaaargh at goalkeepers", I used to love doing that. But the winner was the original correspondent's "Stop Tannoy Music After A Goal".

They do this at Loftus Road and it sucks. It's super pants. We've just scored a goal, we don't need a stupid song to make us jump up. And it is a crap song as well, that Pig Bag from years ago. This came to a head on Tuesday when Rangers apparently scored, the music started, and then it became clear that the goal had been disallowed for offside. At which point the music stopped, but then the Sunderland fans starting chanting the tune. Fair play to them. Unfair play, meanwhile, to the Rangers fans who threw bottles onto the pitch in protest at an "offside goal" that wasn't even, on video replay, offside. I know that shouldn't make a difference but it kind of does.

Anyway, I'm up for the Cup today, let's see if Barnet can upset the apple cart of League One visitors Northampton.