Despite His White Boots

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This Is Where Honesty Gets You

I found this report depressing for more than one reason :

James dropped by BBC Wales

First of all, I feel that James has been singled out because he has busted the myth of "we all want other local teams to do well". This comes up more often when English clubs are playing in the Champions league, but in this case, James has expressed the views of I would guess 99% of Swansea fans. The last thing they want in the world is Cardiff winning the cup. He hasn't said "I hate Cardiff" or "Cardiff are all wankers", all he said is, once again :

"To see Cardiff in the final would be hard to take for Swansea fans. So, to be brutally honest, I think I'm behind Barnsley on this one."

And more to the point IMO he didn't even say it in his capacity as a BBC commentator. He said it in a newspaper column. He was being honest, he said it as politely as he could, and the vast majority of people who get off their arses and actually watch football at the gate know exactly what he means and feel exactly the same way.

However, Auntie Beeb and all the people watching who think that John Motson is the country's leading football expert can't have their cosy little world disrupted like this. And the worst thing of all is they're complete hypocrites. You've got Gary Lineker mumbling his way through "and Scotland miss out again for another year, commiserations to them" while trying not to laugh, or Alan Green trying to commentate on a Liverpool win without creaming his pants, but as long as they don't actually say anything they really mean, there's no problem.

As ever, the correct role model to follow is Jeff Stelling. He supports Hartlepool, makes no secret of it, but is able to work this into his presentation without being unprofessional because he's any good. Because he's clever, witty and a genuine fan, and those of us who prefer to see the world as it is rather than have "everything's great and we all love each other" spoon fed to us the whole time can respect that.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

UEFA's Cold Balls

There's an excellent rumour going around that the Champions League draw was fixed. Just google "Champions league draw fixed" like I did and you'll get the flavour. What appears to be beyond dispute is that at 10.28am yesterday someone posted this on a Liverpool Echo football forum :

"Rumour going around draw has been leaked….. this is no doubt rubbish but if Rumour is true it’s LFC - arsenal and Chelsea - fenerbache and manure v roma. No bookies will take bets on the draw either……. "

The bookies bit is a red herring because none of them take bets on Cup draws ever. As much as I'd like to cry foul, I suspect this is just coincidence, exacerbated by our old friend hindsight bias. How many posts like these have been made over the last 10 years, to be forgotten within a day because they were wrong ?

As a nerd though I am interested in the actual odds against one person guessing this correctly in one go. Not least because I once Emailed Football 365 after a suspicious Euro Championships playoff draw in which the four higher ranked teams were all drawn against the four lower ranked teams, with the higher playing away first. One of F365's football writers quoted my odds from the Email, only for a slew of follow-up Emails to arrive the next day pointing out that I had botched the calculation.

When I googled as above, I picked up various answers of 63-1, 119-1, 191-1 and "less than 1%". The later being a more sensible line to take (although not as sensible as avoiding the odds question entirely). I reckon those are all wrong and it's quite simple. One ball is drawn. The second must match the first as predicted, probability = 1/7. Then the third ball, which could be anyone. Fourth must match the prediction, 1/5. Fifth, again could be anyone, sixth must match, 1/3, last two fall into place. So I make it 1/(7*5*3) or 104-1. Any more offers accepted in the comments :-)

QPR 3 Scunthorpe 1

A different test for Rangers today as they had to come from behind against a dogged Scunthorpe. Rangers were unchanged, with Rowan Vine on the left in place of the suspended Hogan Ephraim, and it was nice to see Ian Baraclough at left-back for the Iron, one of very few players to emerge with any credit from the Harford/Francis era. Whatever did happen to Stuart Wardley ?

Anyway, the game had barely taken shape when Grant McCann swept a free kick past the wrong-footed, and probably at fault, Lee Camp to give the visitors the lead. Rangers almost replied immediately when Joe Murphy spilled Martin Rowlands' shot and Patrick Agyemang tapped in the rebound, sadly from an offside position. Murphy also saved well from a close-range Agyemang volley, and Damien Delaney dragged a shot narrowly wide after a quick break. Rangers didn't really threaten any time the visitors were set, but had a couple of breakaways that should have come to more with a better final pass. Five minutes before the break though, Rowan Vine burst through from the left wing and was bundled over for a penalty. After a long delay, Rowlands obliged from the spot with minimum fuss.

Scunthorpe seemed happy to settle for a point in the second half, which seemed odd to me given how far adrift they are in the bottom three, but perhaps they didn't really believe that they could score a second goal. For at least 25 minutes, it didn't look as though Rangers believed they could either. Finally some gaps started to appear as Mikele Leigertwood dragged a shot wide and Akos Buszaky's lob managed to evade both the far post and the onrushing Dexter Blackstock. Two minutes later Buszaky and Agyemang combined sublimely to free the latter, and he made a welcome return to the scorers list with a clean finish into the roof of the net.

The visitors bunged on another big striker and did their best, and had a good chance when Camp didn't collect a cross, but took too long and Rangers scrambled it away. Deep into injury time, Gavin Mahon opted to swing a ball into the area instead of keeping it in the corner ; this seemed to surprise the visiting defence and Vine was left free to clip home a third at the far post. 3-1 was probably quite flattering in a game that Rangers had to work very hard to win, but win it they did, and credit is due for keeping at it in a game that didn't really mean a lot to us.

Elsewhere you really wonder who is going to finally flop over the finish line at the top of the Championship, and how embarrassed they will be. Probably not as embarrassed as next season, when whichever three sides are promoted are liable to make Derby County look like Real Madrid.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Speaking The Truth

I quite enjoyed this, for the punchline if nothing else :

Premier League Hopefuls

When answering the question "What has got you into this position", everyone bestows praise upon a certain aspect of their club, be it attack, defence, teamwork, the manager, the board, etc. All except the Palace fan who just says "it's a shit division". Hats off to him, because it is, basically. There's really not a lot between the vast majority of the teams and probably the only club who deserve unconditional praise for their progress this season would be Bristol City. The rest simply have to be measured by the yardstick of the overall standard.

Oh and as for Ipswich being "arguably the best footballing side in the division", this is a great example of how the word "arguably" should almost always be replaced by the word "not". And I'm not punting QPR for this, West Brom are the best footballing side in the division by a million miles.

Monday, March 03, 2008

That's Specious Reasoning Dad. Thanks Honey !

OK my bets suck but at least I'm not employed by Betfair to explain them with completely spurious logic. Check this out :

Using The Stats To Profit On In Running Football

Here are the salient extracts :

- "You'll note the performance of Everton. In terms of percentages, when the Toffees score first in a match they go on to win it 88% of the time." Or 16 times out of 18 for those of us who think sample size is relevant.

- "that figure suggests they should have been around (1.13) to win as soon as they took the lead." Doesn't sound totally unreasonable if you put it like that.

- "Furthermore ... you could have gone in again at much bigger odds even after Pompey drew level. Why? Because the statistics show that Everton win 88% of these matches. That includes matches where the opposition don't score at all or draw level (even if they go ahead)." Doh ! Yes, that includes matches where the opposition don't score at all. Which this isn't. So they don't count. The relevant stat now, if it is at all relevant, is how many matches Everton win when they score first and the other team equalise which, as I have nothing better to do right now, is 3/5. And while looking at these stats, I notice that the 88% includes cup games against Metallist Kharkhiv, Larissa, Luton Town, etc.

Still it's more amusing than annoying. I'll have to keep an eye out on Betfair for this guy wanting to back Everton @ 1.2 when they're 4-1 down with 10 minutes left after scoring first. Value IMO, whatever the stats say.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

QPR 3 Stoke 0

Another promotion chasing outfit were knocked back at Loftus Road as the Rs produced an excellent display. Stoke forced a few corners early on and clipped the bar in a goalmouth scramble before Rangers managed to hack the ball clear. Just as I was thinking "there's goals in this game" Rangers moved it up the field and when Michele Leigertwood wasn't closed down 25 yards out he clearly had the same thought as me, that he might as well have a pop. He caught the half-volley beautifully and it beat Simonsen low to his left.

Within 20 minutes, "Legs" doubled his tally when Akos Buzsaky's deep cross was headed into space by Rowan Vine. Leigertwood was unchallenged but showed good technique to smash a 12-yard volley into the roof of the net. From then on Rangers dominated proceedings as the visitors, belying their lofty league position, were completely unable to keep the ball. Worse was to follow for them as Andy Griffin launched into a 50/50 with Hogan Ephraim, and referee d'Urso deemed it an aerial two-footed challenge and sent him off. While most reports called this "controversial" or "harsh", I had a very good view of it (from the other side of the pitch to the press box) and, while it might not have been a 100% straight red, I could see why he gave it, Griffin seemed to dive in with both feet off the ground. At the least it was a very reckless challenge from an experienced pro who should have known better.

Ricardo Fuller, Stoke's best player by a street, pulled out a scare right on half time when his shot scuffed off a post, although I think Damian Delaney might have had it covered chasing back. In the second half, Martin Rowlands continued to run the game for Rangers, and soon enough Stoke conceded a third that was reminiscent of our own struggles at the start of the season. The visitors made a complete hash of a free kick in a dangerous area, and after the Rangers wall had tackled each other to see who would bring it clear, they set off on a 4 vs 3 break. The chance appeared to have gone when Patrick Agyemang got the ball stuck under his feet, but he managed to free Buzsaky and the magic Magyar made no mistake from 10 yards.

When Simonsen had to pull out a fine save to deny Ephraim within 10 seconds of Stoke's kickoff, I think I saw Tony Pulis chewing his hat. Despite Pulis' fearsome glare from the sidelines, the rest of the game was a virtual training session. Lee Camp saved from the otherwise anonymous Glenn Whelan, and Simonsen also saved from Vine and Blackstock. As the game meandered to a close, the official man of the match was named as Rowan Vine, as selected by the committee of someone whose dog Leigertwood ran over once, a crack cocaine addict and Mrs. R. Vine. Hardly anyone cared though as Rangers continune to gel and show increasing promise, especially as Fitz Hall and Matthew Connolly forge a very useful centre-half partnership. And if West Brom and Charlton were rubbing their hands at this result, they should know that their own trips to W12 later in the season could be very testing indeed.

As for Stoke, anyone's going to find it difficult at Loftus Road with 10 men when Rangers are playing well, but even so I was surprised by the lack of fight from reputedly the most combative side in the division. To quote Roger Meyers Jr., they weren't proactive, they had no attitude and I don't know what they were in but it wasn't our face. Still, not our problem. Forza QPR.