Despite His White Boots

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

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Barnet 0 Bristol Rovers 1

This was a missed opportunity for Barnet. Jason Puncheon missed a penalty after barely two minutes ; scoring would have changed the game completely. As it was, Barnet had the better of the first half but only created a couple of half chances. Rovers struck five minutes into the second half when Lambert headed in a low cross, and were rarely troubled after that as they sat back, kept their shape and dealt with what little Barnet had to offer very comfortably.

Oh well, win some lose some, and at least they managed to wedge 5000 people into Underhill for a half-decent payday. It was surprising how arsey some people were about actually having to take up the seat that their ticket applied to. One guy seemed to think that because he'd been to an away game or two this season, he could settle himself down wherever he liked. Although it was a shame I couldn't have sloped off to another vantage point in the second half, as the bloke behind me reached super-annoying heights with his squeaky voice, complete lack of knowledge of football and, worst of all, parrot-like small child repeating everything he said. Live football's like live poker, it would be great if it wasn't for other people :-)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Barnet 1 Swindon 1 (2-0 on penalties)

Barnet battled hard with 10 men for almost an hour to hold the higher division outfit off and win a penalty shootout. The first half was fairly even but Barnet really do miss Liam Hatch, and the current incumbent Cliff Akurang is nowhere near as much of a threat. Three minutes before the break the mostly anonymous Billy Paynter was given enough room to trundle away from his marker and slot home through keeper Rob Beckwith's legs to give Swindon the lead.

The home supporters, newly housed in a South Stand that has been put up remarkably quickly, were still fairly optimistic though as we've seen the Bees turn over many a half time deficit kicking down the slope. Akurang somehow managed to get tangled up with a defender in the six yard box with the keeper nowhere, and Swindon smuggled the ball away, but soon enough Jason Puncheon, who was excellent as usual, tricked his way to the byline and sent in a fierce cross which the hapless Paynter deflected into his own net. Unfortunately when Michael Leary was sent off for a nasty two-footed lunge, Barnet lost all momentum and created little for the rest of the game. However, they defended well and Beckwith only had to make a couple of good blocks to keep the scores level and force the dreaded penalty shootout.

In all my time of watching football I honestly can't remember seeing a live shootout before (I was mercifully absent for the QPR - Vauxhall Motors debacle). Unsurprisingly, it's good fun being behind the goal in use so you can wave your arms and shout "Wanker arrrrrrgh" at journeyman League 1 pros. Whether this helped or not who knows, but criminally, Swindon failed to hit the target with any of their first three kicks. Paynter hit the bar, Roberts pulled his shot wide and Aljofree blasted over. Yakubu prodded his shot wide for the Bees, but either side of that Thomas and O'Cearuill slotted home. With four kicks to go Swindon needed to score both theirs and save both of Barnet's to keep the tie alive ; however only one was needed as some egg proved John Gregory's theory of left-footed penalty takers being crap (really) by popping his shot up at a good height for Beckwith to make a save.

And so, anticlimactically, Barnet face more League One opposition on Saturday as Bristol Rovers overcame mighty (ha) Fulham tonight in their replay. I should be there and if any readers fancy a trip to Underhill for the magic of the Cup, let me know.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

QPR 2 Barnsley 0

A good choice today, especially as Barnet's game was postponed :-). Rangers had so many home debutants and ex-loan players making their first full home start that the PA guy would have had an easier job announcing who wasn't making a debut. Of players I hadn't seen in the hoops, Fitz Hall, Damian Delaney and Matthew Connolly filled out a brand new defence, while Patrick Agyemang started up front. Mikele Leigertwood returned in midfield in place of the ill (apparently) Gavin Mahon. For every in there's an out, so there was no sign at all of Bolder, Ainsworth, Barker or (LDO) Rehman.

Any worries about the team gelling were eased by an early goal. Dexter Blackstock played Agyemang in and although the chance appeared to have gone for a moment, he muscled his way past goalkeeper and defender to nod into an empty net. Barnsley then had a large majority of possession without doing a single thing with it, thanks in part to Hall's organisation of the defence. Just before half time Rangers finally woke up going forward, and Akos Buzsaky's fierce cross barely evaded Rowan Vine. Moments later, Vine cut in from the right flank, beat a couple of players, sent Agyemang free in the area and was in the right place to tap in his return cross for an excellent goal.

For 15 minutes in the second half, Rangers played really well and showed a very encouraging taste of what they might be capable of in the future. Martin Rowlands' fantastic run looked destined to end in a goal until he took on the keeper as well and, despite beating him, was forced too wide to finish. Connolly's deft chip floated inches wide with the keeper beaten, a remarkable piece of skill from a young defender. They teach them well at Arsenal all right. Then Leigertwood was sent clear by Agyemang's intelligent leave and thrashed in a shot which keeper Muller did well to push away. Unfortunately Rangers couldn't find the goal this spell deserved to finish the game off, and Barnsley, who played some tidy football, made a couple of changes and could have pulled one back when the nippy Campbell-Ryce latched on to a slip by Hall. Fortunately Lee Camp made a good save, and more fortunately still Odejayi failed to latch on to a deep cross with the goal gaping. That was about it though, and Rangers saw out a comfortable win, the only concern being a nasty-looking late injury to Damion Stewart.

The fact that I have, I think, managed to mention the entire starting eleven in a brief report is a testament to the overall quality of the team and the new players. It's highly unclear who is actually responsible for choosing the players to buy, but whoever it is deserves a lot of credit. I can't see a lemon in the whole bunch, and while we have spent quite a lot in Championship terms, it's about a quarter of what Premiership dropouts get in "parachute payments" over two seasons, and comparable to what Birmingham have just spent on James McFadden who, while by all accounts a very skilful player, couldn't get much of a game at Everton. To top that off, today was the biggest gate of the season, although it's only fair to note that there was a family special offer today. Having Rangers fans in the School End lower helps a lot with the atmosphere and that's something we'd all like to see more often. Hopefully starting against Bristol City in two weeks time which should be a good one.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Place To Be

I was toying with the idea of going to Barnet on Saturday, they're playing Peterboro who racked up 8 against Accchhhhrington Schtanley the other night. However, Rangers have sucked me in with the old "tickets running out fast" ploy. Seriously, it said on the site today they had already sold 14,000 for the visit of those glamour-boy crowd-pullers Barnsley. Heady times indeed. I seem to waver on a daily basis between thinking "this is really exciting" and "this is kind of fake and a bit lame". I expect I will settle down in the middle in time.

As for Underhill that can wait till Tuesday when the Bees take on Swindon in the 3rd round replay. It would be very interesting to see how they handle having 3 days to sell tickets for the visit of Fulham, given the fiasco last time they actually had to handle a high demand (the relegation showdown against Torquay). But that's a very big if right now. It was quite a surprise to see the Bees triumph away to league leaders Franchise FC last weekend though, so we'll see.

Update : One final FA Cup point, does anyone else want to see Havant & Waterlooville get absolutely battered at Anfield ? Like 15-0 ? Or is that just me.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wheeling and Dealing

Saturday morning : Harry Redknapp announces that he is staying at Portsmouth. "I have a job to do to take this club forward, and to walk away would not have been the right thing to do," said Redknapp. "I'm happy here, people treat me well and I felt a loyalty to the club and the fans."

Saturday afternoon : A Newcastle spokesman indicates that talks with Redknapp broke down because the club were not prepared to let him do the job while commuting from the South Coast.

Sunday morning : Press reports claim that Portsmouth have now doubled Redknapp's salary.

Lovely jubbly !

Saturday, January 12, 2008

84-1 certainty

Well, not really, but Nigel Pearson is huge on Betfair for next Newcastle manager. The caretaker manager is always over-priced in these markets IMO, and while it's not too likely, consider Newcastle going on a run for 5 or 6 games now they don't have to do pilates in training any more, and/or the manager they really want being unavailable till the summer, and Pearson staying on till then. 84-1 ? Come on.

Update : LOL, someone got £11 on at 1000. I wouldn't mind a bit of that. This is the trade-off for not being on Betfair 24/7 I suppose :-)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

We Sold Our Souls For Rock And Roll

I've been having a discussion with Paul S (who posts on here as Lionel Hutz) on Facebook about the whole "QPR are the new Chelsea" issue. While I suspect that Paul is projecting a little bit, he does make some fair points. After reading a particularly spiteful piece from the Daily Express (via a blog which reproduces press related to the club), I begin to have a degree of sympathy with long-term Chelsea fans who had no say in what happened. But then I remember that this is Chelsea we're talking about and everyone hated them a long time before Abramovich :-).

At the E of the D, there isn't anything that we can do about the situation as fans, any more than there was anything we could do when the club was stony broke, apart from turn up and pay at the gate. I'm a bit concerned about how many players have come in so quickly (although this can be attributed to the transfer window system), and feel some sympathy for players like Rehman and Nygaard who have been working hard to do their best despite their obvious limitations, and also the likes of Walton and Nardiello who might get frozen out without ever being able to prove themselves. Then again, the key word there is "might". They might still get their chance. The new players coming in might be mercenaries or they might grow to have a real connection with club and fans. We'll just have to wait and see - sorry to keep pitching this line but it's the truth and I don't have to make a bunch of pointlessly dogmatic snap judgements because I'm not here to sell anything and it makes no difference to me if this is read by 5 people or 5000.

What we can do as fans is take the right attitude going forward. I think this is very important and would like to make an open appeal to any Rangers fans reading this to, basically, celebrate the positive without being twats about it. Don't large it over other clubs who aren't as fortunate, don't moan about not being in Europe within two seasons and try not to bite when people carp at us. Just enjoy watching good players play good football (hopefully) and be grateful for how fortunate we are at the moment. Not least because, as The Camel pointed out, it might still all go tits up at some point. While it would be a great shame for our club, or any club, to go under, I think that would be even worse if you didn't even enjoy yourself while it was there.

Update : Almost within the hour, reports indicate that Nardiello has been transfer-listed and a number of players, basically Rehman, Moore and four young players, have been told to look for another club (although this hasn't been confirmed on the official site yet). Of the young players cited, I did think Pat Kanyuka had a chance and he might find himself a gig at this level or close to it.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Queens Park Strangers

I have to credit the official website for that title, which grates a little, but for all my sins I don't like to plagiarise :-). Seven new players have come in this week, and there's still talk of two or three more. Akos Buzsaky signed permanently (woo hoo !) and Hogan Ephraim has returned, so we know all about those two. Kieran Lee (a 20-year old right back) came in on loan from Manchester United just before the new year, as did Gavin Mahon. I expect the latter is much more likely to be here for more than half a season. Fitz Hall and Matthew Connolly (also 20, from Arsenal) have signed up in defence. Those are all understandable ; the odd one is Patrick Agyemang who has arrived from Preston, which is a strange one, he hasn't been in the side much at Preston, he doesn't have a great reputation and he's never particularly caught my eye. Still, the management must see something in him.

The idea seems to be to put together a squad of 22 with genuine competition for every place, which would definitely be something we're not used to :-). You can see how much healthier this is ; in the past, when a regular first-teamer was suspended or injured, then either someone would play out of position or a squad player would come in who everyone knew wasn't good enough. As soon as the regular was fit, he'd be back in. Now players like Leigertwood might think twice about getting themselves 4-match bans for dissent, as they'll wonder how long they might be out of the picture for.

It's maybe harsh on some of the players who have done well lately, but at least we haven't had any trouble bringing in the players we want, by the looks of it. Some of them are on longish contracts (Hall and Agyemang are both 27 and both on 4 1/2 year deals) ; I suspect that this is down to player power from players who have several offers on the table. They don't necessarily negotiate for higher wages, longer deals give them more security. Anyway, we'll have to see how it pans out. There's still talk about bringing in Rowan Vine, a backup goalkeeper and an Argentinian winger !

The game against Chelsea tomorrow is the focus for some interesting parallels ; talk about the soul of the club (as in the blog linked in a comment below) is bound to come up. I might post about that later. If you fancy a punt tomorrow I'm sure enough that Chelsea will win, but we might run them close, and the Rs might be worth a nibble on the Asian Handicap +2 or +2.5.

Meanwhile I am sparing a thought for Barnet who had to let Liam Hatch go to Peterborough ; it's a shame but as the chairman points out, having a reputation for not standing in players' way when they have a chance to better themselves is a big selling point for attracting half-decent young players to the club in the first place. A £250K bid for Jason Puncheon from Leeds has (apparently) been rejected, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone met the asking price before the month is out. At least the Bees have accumulated enough points to be fairly secure for the rest of the season.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

QPR 3 Leicester 1

A comfortable win for the super hoops, making 14 points from 7 games and, since our lowest point at the end of September (P8 Pts 3), 27 points from 18 games which is an excellent effort given the state we were in at the time.

Rangers looked reasonably threatening down the wings to start with, and took the lead from a simple set-piece routine. Leicester boss Ian Holloway would be tearing his hair out if he had any. Akos Buzsaky's first corner kick was sailing out for a throw when a Leicester defender diverted it for another corner instead. From the second, Buzsaky sent a wicked delivery to the near post for Damion Stewart to simply run across the six-yard box and nod in. This was almost a carbon-copy of Stewart's goal against Watford on Saturday, and so it was very surprising that no one blocked his run, given how pre-planned set pieces are these days.

Soon enough Rangers made it two with a goal that was all down to the tactical changes implemented by Luigi de Canio. Rowan Vine looks awkward on the left wing, but he cut inside and sent a fine inswinging cross to the far post. The Leicester keeper stranded himself and Dexter Blackstock headed across goal for Adam Bolder to nod into an empty net. Holloway had seen enough by now and threw on new signing Steve Howard. You could see why but the resulting long-ball game that Leicester adopted possibly didn't help them.

Nonetheless Howard cracked a 30-yard shot onto the post just after the break. Rangers responded through Vine again as his left-foot cross was headed gleefully home by Blackstock. It was great to see Dexter back in the goals, he's found it very difficult this season as a striker who thrives on good crosses and he hasn't had the service he was used to from Lee Cook.

3-0 should have been game over but Ian Hume curled in a beauty from a free-kick on the hour to cause a few nervous moments in the home defence. Matt Fryatt really should have set up an interesting finish 5 minutes from time but with the goal gaping, his header was too casual and Lee Camp made an outstanding save. Rangers closed the game out fairly comfortably from there.

I'm a firm believer that tactics are a lot less important than basic quality and commitment, but it looks like Signor De Canio is a sharp cookie in this regard. Basically Buszaky is now playing as a second striker, with Martin Rowlands in the centre of midfield and Vine on the left wing. Now it's been done you can see all the advantages - Buzsaky links the midfield with the main striker and more runners from midfield are pushing forward ahead of him. On top of that, the Magical Magyar has notched 6 goals in 12 games, when his strike rate at Plymouth was 1 in 10. This kind of subtle rearrangement was well beyond De Canio's predecessors (most notably Holloway who was also Buzsaky's manager at Plymouth).

With Buzsaky playing in this role, the need for a striker is much less urgent and in fact if we just bring Vine in I think we'll be OK up front. Hopefully a centre half will come in soon, although it's only fair to point out that Zesh Rehman did OK again today and might have done enough to stay as a squad player, I've criticised him very heavily in the past but I've always got time for players who improve themselves so well done to him and the coaching staff.