Friday, 30 August 2013

Portsmouth vs Morecambe (17/08/13)

Match 206

Ground #: 162

Ground: Fratton Park

Competition: English League 2

Kick Off: 3pm

Cost: £15 (concession)

Programme: £3

Attendance: 14,590

Portsmouth 3

Wallace 20’, Connolly 26’, Agyemang 39’

Morecambe 0

Wright s/off 35’


When Morecambe had confirmed their place in League 2 for 2013/14, I began to look at the teams who were dropping down and coming up to take on the Shrimps for this season. One team that stood out like a sore thumb were Portsmouth who were about to complete their fall from grace. Luckily the fixture computer was kind to me and gave the Shrimps the long trip down south early on in the season. This was a no-brainer.


Portsmouth is the second largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast. There had been settlements in the area before Roman times, mostly being offshoots of Portchester, which was a Roman base. In the Domesday Book there is no mention of Portsmouth. However, settlements that were later to form part of Portsmouth are listed. In 1200, King John's desire to invade Normandy resulted in the establishment of Portsmouth as a permanent naval base, and soon afterward construction began on the first docks. During the thirteenth century Portsmouth was commonly used by Henry III and Edward I as a base for attacks against France. By the 14th century commercial interests had grown considerably. Common imports included wool, grain and wheat, however the port's largest trade was in wine from France. In May 1787 11 ships sailed from Portsmouth, to establish the first European colony in Australia; it also marked the beginning of prisoner transports to that continent. It is known today as the First Fleet in Australia. Portsmouth has a long history of supporting the Royal Navy logistically; leading to its importance in the development of the Industrial Revolution and at its height, the Dockyard was the largest industrial site in the world. After WW2, the severe bombings the city suffered meant a mass rebuilding job had to be undertaken but waves of new developments since then has brought the city well into the 21st Century.


Portsmouth FC was founded in 1898 and quickly joined the Southern League a year later. Despite a mixed start of finishing runners up and then promptly relegated, they joined the Football League’s 3rd Division in 1920 and began to rise through the league and played 1st Division football in 1928. After some brushes with the FA Cup (including winning the trophy against Wolves in 1939) they took advantage of the local Royal Navy and Royal Marine players to become Champions of England in 1949 and 1950. The post war normality kicked in soon after and Pompey found their natural level in the lower leagues of the FL. In the 1970s, Pompey hit their first financial struggle after their owner John Deacon stopped bankrolling the club and they lurched through to the 90s overcoming a couple more bankruptcy threats. With Jim Smith in charge they nearly made the Premier League in 1992 but just missed out by one goal and another bankruptcy threat came in 1998. However with Milan Mandarić in control by 1999, the club began to spend and made the top flight in 2002. With it seemingly going well and more money being invested through Alexandre Gaydamak, the club won the FA Cup in 2008 and reached the UEFA Cup group stage in 2008/2009. However everyone could see how it would end, again and the club hit another financial meltdown and flew down the leagues as they came their closest yet to going bankrupt. After losing points in 3 out of the last 4 seasons, they start back in the basement, with new club ownership and hopefully, a lesson learnt.


Fratton Park is a classic venue however that has been home to the club since 1898. It is dominated by the large Fratton End that stands behind one of the goals where the away end in (Milton End) is opposite it and is quite small in comparison. The Milton End only had a roof added in 2007 which finally removed another of the “away from home and getting drenched” experiences from the league. The other two stands in the North and South are fairly similar with both being small two tiered numbers that look to provide a decent view. With some artistic graffiti around the place and a number of decent pubs – this is great venue that will be used for the foreseeable future while Pompey get their finances in order and not spunk it all on trying to build a needless new ground.


Their drop into the basement is probably a culture shock for the newer generations of Portsmouth fans and the minority of fans who thought it would be a walk in the park were also shocked as they came into this game with no wins. A 4-1 tonking by Oxford United was followed by an unlucky 2-2 draw against Accrington while their League Cup campaign lasted 1 game as Bournemouth saw them off. For Morecambe, it was also no league wins as a defeat at Wycombe and a draw against Torquay was sandwiched by a great 1-0 win over Wolves in the League Cup. With a massive test against a 5 figure crowd and a set of fans who most likely had never heard of us, this was one to look forward to. The game had also been made slightly tetchy by a ridiculous article by some tinpot local paper that mentioned and tried to suggest Morecambe would only be bringing 4 fans to the game. Completely ignoring the pay on the day factor and then the story made national news.


Myself included in the 113 Morecambe fans that did make the trip quickly watched on in horror as the game got away from the Shrimps by half-time. Playing a different formation with only 3 defenders and having Andreas Arestidou in goal (who provides me with fear quite honestly) we had an early scare when Jed Wallace was found alone at the back post and his shot hit Mark Hughes and rolled across the line before being cleared to safety. We were not playing well as Pompey brushed us aside but it didn’t help referee Darren Drysdale was also inept, booking Andy Wright for winning the ball in a tackle. (Pompey match report described it as ‘cynical’, laughable) Opening goal was always going to come and when Patrick Agyemang rolled the ball through a static defence, Wallace was on head to lift the ball past Arestidou to make it 1-0. This woke us up as we won a corner that had a massive hint of handball in it as we saw another goal, at the other end. Portsmouth broke through David Connolly and after Andy Barcham had his shot blocked, the ball fell kindly to Connolly to make it 2. I did wonder how it could get worse and when Barcham again went down like a sack of shit to get Andy Wright his 2nd yellow card, we knew it was going to be a long day. Connolly had a header brilliantly saved off the line by Arestidou but Agyemang made it 3-0 before HT when he had time on the edge of the area to curl a shot off the post and in. “The worst performance of the Jim Bentley era.”


Morecambe reverted back to their normal back 4 for the 2nd half and surprise surprise played far better than the first 45 minute shambles. The Portsmouth match report makes it sound like they played like Brazil in the 2nd half and played with an “attacking mindset” but in all truth, nothing happened. We were far stronger and held a good shape while Portsmouth were clearly happy to keep it at 3-0 and created not that much. There was a spell in the final 10 minutes where we won a few corners and played ok but with Jack Sampson isolated upfront on his own, Paul Smith in the Pompey goal picked up his easiest clean sheet bonus ever. Damage done in the horror of the 1st half, but thankfully it didn’t get worse!


A Morecambe team missing Jack Redshaw and Kevin Ellison is a poorer one and this was proved in the next league game with Ellison coming back and scoring in the 2-0 win over Exeter. Another brave performance in the League Cup when we battered Newcastle but just couldn’t find the net as two late goals from the Geordies saw them through. With some key games coming up it remains to be seen what end of the table we are likely to be occupying. One of those coming up is at Southend where I will next be watching the Shrimps on another of their southern adventures in a few weeks. Portsmouth was an ok trip, despite the patronising nature of many of the fans, with Fratton Park a recommended ground to visit. I still think they will just miss out on automatic promotion this season as their away form needs to be sorted as they dropped more points in their next match with a 2-2 draw vs Mansfield. If Morecambe just play to their strengths in the return game in January then I’m confident we’ll win.

Photos from Portsmouth vs Morecambe


Match Ratings:

- Match: 4/10 (neither myself or the neutral would have enjoyed this)

- Value for money: 6/10 (have paid more, but have paid less)

- Ground: 7/10 (good classic structure)

- Atmosphere: 7/10 (good noise from the away fans)

- Food: 5/10 (average cheese pasty)

- Programme: 7/10 (informative and well presented)

- Referee: Darren Drysdale – 3/10 (useless sack of shit)

Ports vs More prog

Ports vs More stub

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Leyton Orient vs Coventry City (06/08/13)

Match 204

Ground #: 161

Ground: Brisbane Road

Competition: Capital One Cup 1st Round

Kick Off: 7:45pm

Cost: £15

Programme: £2

Attendance: 2,871

Leyton Orient 3

Lisbie 26’, 89’, Cox 37’

Coventry City 2

Baker 22’, Moussa 59’, Baker s/off 55’, Clarke m/pen 76’


In one of my moments of madness last season, I went to watch Coventry City vs Leyton Orient in the league. There I witnessed one of the worst games of football I had seen as Orient grinded out a 1-0 win. Fast forward 4 months and when Coventry were sent to Orient in the League Cup 1st Round, myself and my new flatmate were keen for another 90 minutes of misery. I’m a sucker for punishment.


Leyton is an area of east London and part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest, located 6.2 miles north-east of Charing Cross. Paleolithic implements and fossil bones show that early man hunted in Leyton and a Roman cemetery and the foundations of a Roman villa have been found here. The name means "settlement (tun) on the River Lea" and was also known until 1921 as "Low Leyton". In the Domesday Book, the name is rendered as Leintun. at which time the population was 43. In WW1, the area was damaged by Zeppelin raids, but by the 1920s, it had become a built-up and thriving urban industrial area known for manufacturing neckties and for its Thermos factory. During the Blitz of WW2, Leyton suffered as a target because of its proximity to the London Docks and Temple Mills rail yard. After WW2, Leyton suffered from large-scale industrial decline in the second half of the 20th century. But, like much of east London, Leyton, which also borders the Olympic Park, has benefited from significant regeneration projects over the past decade. Parks have been spruced up, some new small parks and gardens created and several tower blocks have been demolished. And, most recently, in the build-up to the Olympics, Waltham Forest Borough Council restored shopfronts on Leyton High Road which was close to the 2012 London Olympic Games site.


Leyton Orient was originally formed by members of the Glyn Cricket Club in 1881, many of whom were former students of Homerton College. The team has had several name changes since, first as Eagle Cricket Club in 1886 then as Orient Football Club in 1888. The O's are the second-oldest league club in London behind Fulham and are the 24th oldest club currently playing in the Football League. They played in the 2nd Division of the Southern Federation's League in 1904, joining the Football League in 1905. History was made on Saturday 30 April 1921 when the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VIII, visited Millfields Road to see the O's play Notts County. Orient won 3–0 and this was the first time a member of royalty had attended a Football League match. The royal visit was to show gratitude for Orient's patriotic example during the Great War where 41 members of staff signed up. Orient's golden years were in the 60s and 70s. In the 1961/62 season Orient were promoted to the top tier of English football, for the only time in their history. The team struggled in the top flight and were relegated from the top division the following season. Nonetheless, they did defeat local rivals West Ham United at home. They spent the whole of the 1970s in Division Two.


In the 1980s Leyton Orient fared less well, and after two relegations found themselves in the fourth tier of English football. However, they ended the decade on a high, as they were promoted in the 1988/89 season. The early 1990s saw steady progress in the Third Division, missing out on a play-off place in the 1992/93 season on goal difference. However, the financial crisis at the club caused by then-chairman Tony Wood losing his business in the Rwandan Civil War led to a relegation back to the fourth tier. Under manager Tommy Taylor, Orient were defeated in the 1999 and 2001 Third Division Play-Off Finals. They finally won promotion to League 1 in 2005/06 with the famous do or die game against Oxford United when a late winner, sent the O’s up and the U’s down. They’ve since stayed at League 1 level where they have either just missed out on the play-offs or have been fighting relegation. Don’t do the middleground this club!


Brisbane Road is actually one of the grounds, especially in London, that I wish I’d made the effort to see earlier. A short walk from Leyton tube station, the ground is dominated by the new large West Stand with the shiny entrance and supporter’s club bar. The West Stand seats offer a great view already, but you can pay more to sit on the balcony and probably get an even better view of the game. The stand opposite is the classic side to the stadium with the old East Stand. With wooden seats and the old style entrance on the outside, this is a great contrast to the stand opposite. It was shut for this game, although both stands behind the goals were open as Coventry had brought an impressive 400 odd down for this game. Finally, the great feature at Brisbane Road is the blocks of flats in every corner of the ground. With balconies overlooking the pitch, it means the owners can have a free ticket in with some beer (as some residents did) while I presume the sale of the land and flats brought in Orient a fair bit of money. Wins all round.


Orient had just missed out on the play-offs last season and despite being (normally) slow starters they had opened the season with a comprehensive 5-1 win at hapless Carlisle. Despite all of Coventry’s problems they nearly started with an instant fightback into the points deduction, but lost out to a late goal in their opening game with a 3-2 defeat at Crawley Town. Cov fans were discussing on their main forum the bizarre (but understandable) thinking that they would rather lose this game only for current owners SISU not to get money from a good cup run. With Orient in seemingly brilliant form and Coventry just trying to survive, this looked like only going one way. Didn’t it?


Orient must have also thought this way too as their early performance seemed to suggest that they believed if they turned up, that would be enough. Coventry, driven on by Steven Pressley from the touchline were chasing down every ball and harassing Orient into making lots of early mistakes. Coventry were also creating chances too with Carl Baker destroying Gary Sawyer time and time again. A ball in from the right nearly gave Cov the lead early on with Orient captain Scott Cuthbert diverting it towards his own net, only to be saved by Jamie Jones. The Orient goalie had to save his team again when a delightful throughball from Callum Wilson set up Franck Moussa, but his shot was fired against Jones’ legs. Coventry were well on top however so it was no surprise to see them take the lead on 22 minutes. A long punt upfield from Joe Murphy found Baker vs Sawyer. With only one winner, Baker beat his man twice and curled the ball into the bottom corner. It was what Coventry deserved but with a young and inexperienced team, they quickly switched off and paid for it. Lloyd James’ cross was met by Romain Vincelot who forced a great save from Murphy. However the away defence sat and watched Kevin Lisbie fire the ball into the bottom corner. Cov’s defence were a shambles 11 minutes later too and a poor free kick was barely cleared and Dean Cox fired past Murphy to give Orient a barely deserved lead at HT.


The 2nd half looked to be as good as the first when both sides missed early chances as James and Clarke swopped chances. However, then the turning point came on 55 minutes. Baker and Vincelot both went for a 50-50 challenge which in my eyes Baker won and took the ball. However, Vincelot rolled around like a sack of shite until referee Dean Whitestone sent Baker off and the home player made a sudden recovery. While most expected Cov to be killed off now, they used the red card to show a lot of passion and bang an unlikely equaliser in. With Cox also rolling around on the floor, Cov played on and and Moussa was put through on goal and smashed the ball into the bottom corner. Karma. Cov were well on top as Orient seemed to not be able to deal with the away side and should have won the game late on. A long ball forward saw Clarke and Cuthbert grappling and with Clarke getting past him, the Orient captain took him out. It was a clear cut penalty but Whitestone got another key decision wrong by only showing the Orient player a yellow card. Clarke himself stepped up to take the penalty but it was well saved by Jones. This seemed to galvanise Orient into one final push for the last 10 minutes as they wanted to avoid ET. They got the winner really late on when a deep ball in from Moses Odubajo was met by Lisbie whose diving header was unsaveable. Sad for Coventry as they deserved ET at least.


Considering how poor the reverse game was last season, this was a brilliant 90 minutes of football. It’s a shame we didn’t get ET as that would have no doubt been a great watch as well. Orient’s win meant they earnt a 2nd Round tie at home to Premiership Hull City. With Orient starting well in the league, they will fancy their chances against the Tigers as they currently sit top of the league on 9 points after wins against Shrewsbury and Stevenage. Coventry are also getting stuck into their 10 point deduction to try and not be left behind with an outrageous 5-4 win over Bristol City and a 4-0 hammering over League 2 bound Carlisle means they are only 4 points behind already. If they show the same fight they showed in this cup tie throughout the season, they’ll be fine. Brisbane Road is a fine ground and leaves me with only 2 more professional venues left in London to visit. I’ll be back at the Orient though – a great club.

Photos from Leyton Orient vs Coventry City


Match Ratings:

- Match: 8.5/10 (more of this please)

- Value for money: 6/10 (have had cheaper League Cup tickets)

- Ground: 7/10 (smart, compact ground)

- Atmosphere: 6/10 (decent stuff from both sides)

- Food: N/A – didn’t eat at ground

- Programme: 7/10 (reasonable for £2)

- Referee: Dean Whitestone – 5/10 (got the big calls wrong)

LO vs Cov prog

LO vs Cov stub

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Predictions 2013/14

For some reason this post always seems to attract a massive amount of views. Probably because fans from teams I’ve tipped to struggle want to come and gloat at the end of the season when they do so much better. (I apologise Swansea City for tipping you for relegation last season) Last season I actually got a fair few right, so let’s go again. It’s the annual season predictions!


2012/13 Predictions

2011/12 Predictions

2010/11 Predictions

2009/10 Predictions

PREMIERSHIP: Winner – Man City –> Now, those eagled eyed among you will have also noticed I tipped Citeh to win last season and they didn’t. However, with a top manager now in place in Manuel Pellegrini and an array of striking talent with Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetić now on board too, they are the team to beat. Will also be so determined to improve upon weak performances last season.

2nd – Chelsea –> Now the main man is back, Chelsea should be challenging more closely than they did for the past two seasons. Much will depend on Mourinho’s ability to get more out of their strikeforce, but I’m looking forward to seeing André Schürrle in the league. Will importantly, also have backing of the dressing room.

3rd – Man Utd –> A season of stability for United? A team that won the league so easily last season is far too reliant on Van Persie for goals. An injury to him and other players will need to pull their fingers out fast. With Rooney wanting to go too, United will need to strengthen to keep up with their city rivals. And I’ve not even touched upon the big question yet. Is Moyes good enough?

4th – Arsenal –> I am writing this with the Gunners still having not signed Suarez but if they do, they’ll have the firepower to just cling onto 4th place. A squad that is nowhere near good enough to challenge for the Top 3 places, although with Wenger still deluded enough to believe so, it looks like more signs of slipping backwards.

Europe (5th & 6th) - Spurs & Liverpool –> Both of these clubs will be reliant on keeping key players to make the task a lot easier but just aren’t good enough for a Top 4 spot. For Spurs, if Gareth Bale does fancy some tiempo en el sol then the £80m they will apparently get for him will need to be spent wisely. Paulinho will add some bite to the midfield but a lack of firepower (exacerbated if Bale leaves) will leave them short. As for Pool, selling Suarez would be overcome if Diego Costa comes in but you still think they are one or two players short.

Relegation – Hull City –> They did do their best to try and throw it away at the end of last season but a squad that looks nowhere near ready for the top flight will get found out rather quickly. Won’t be helped by Steve Bruce’s safety first tactics where top teams will batter them.

Crystal Palace –> When you get promoted and are favourites to go down, it then won’t help when you lose your best two players too. José Campaña is an interesting signing from Sevilla, paying £1.7m is a fair bit for a 20 year old. Add the hapless Marouane Chamakh into the mix too and you are looking at a quick return to the Championship.

Stoke City –> Probably looking at the next Charlton. Pulis did extremely well to keep them up for so long without ever being in too much danger. Punt him and brilliantly bring in relegation master Mark Hughes. Despite players commenting on the fact training is now refreshing under the new boss (sound familiar?) Stoke don’t seem to have improved a particularly average squad while the dross around them have. Do like the signing of Erik Pieters though. He might be a busy man.

Final positions: 1st – Manchester City, 2nd – Chelsea, 3rd – Manchester United, 4th – Arsenal, 5th – Tottenham, 6th – Liverpool, 7th – Everton, 8th – Norwich City, 9th – Swansea City, 10th – Fulham, 11th – Sunderland, 12th – Southampton, 13th – West Ham, 14th – Newcastle, 15th – West Brom, 16th – Aston Villa, 17th – Cardiff City, 18th – Stoke City, 19th – Crystal Palace, 20th – Hull City

CHAMPIONSHIP: Winner – Wigan –> Amazingly have kept a large chunk of their team that should be far too good for this league. With a midfield of McArthur and McCarthy to break up attacks and Maloney and McManaman to create them they should tear most teams in this division apart. Add Grant Holt up front and you have yourselves some Champions. Europa League could be a distraction but I can’t see them lasting long in it.

2nd – Watford –> Very close to going up last year and despite signing a raft of new players on ‘permanent’ deals, they should be right up there again. Zola has the squad playing good football and with players coming in who have talent and a point to prove, promotion should be achievable. Matěj Vydra going back to Udinese will be a loss though.

Playoffs – QPR –> Has Harry finally woken up? Getting rid of the useless and overpriced mercenaries that took them down last year and brought in hungry players that should do well. Bite in midfield with Barton (however long he stays for) and Karl Henry and up front a strike force of Andy Johnson and Charlie Austin to score goals, playoffs look likely. Will need to avoid the excuses if things do go wrong though.

Leeds Utd –> Had them down for a playoff place last year but Neil Warnock was useless as they finished nowhere near. Now with Brian McDermott in charge and new owners in GFH upstairs, surely they are good enough to finish in the top 6.

Brighton & Hove Albion –> Despite all of the controversy surrounding Poyet’s departure in the summer, new boss Oscar Garcia looks to be an inspired appointment. Have a mix of bite and flair to propel them up there and keeping hold of key players has also helped. Remains to be seen how well they play when they come up against a team of more bite as tika-taka at Doncaster et al will be worth watching.

Derby County –> Always one team that comes from left field and nicks a playoff place and I reckon that’s Derby this season. A team that has steadily improved over the years, Clough is under pressure to deliver a better promotion tilt this time out. However with some exciting talent (and Conor Sammon) the Rams will be there or thereabouts.

Relegation – Millwall –> A side that has slowly slipped closer to relegation each time, a poor season was only lifted by the surprise FA Cup Semi-Final appearance. Steve Lomas will not get much time from the fans with his West Ham connection and a squad that looks fairly light means Lomas needs to add before it turns into a long season.

Barnsley –> Probably above their natural level, David Flitcroft did wonders by keeping Barnsley up last season. Teams who have come up look better however which means it looks likely for another struggle this season.

Yeovil Town –> Don’t really know anyone unbias who won’t have tipped Yeovil to go down, but the squad just doesn’t look like one of the best 21 in the league. I would love them to stay up and no doubt they’ll surprise many at Huish Park but I don’t think it will be enough.

Final positions: 1st – Wigan Athletic, 2nd – Watford, 3rd – QPR, 4th – Leeds United, 5th – Brighton, 6th – Derby County, 7th – Nottingham Forest, 8th – Reading, 9th – Leicester City, 10th – Bolton, 11th – Ipswich Town, 12th – Bournemouth, 13th – Doncaster Rovers, 14th – Sheffield Wednesday, 15th – Blackburn Rovers, 16th – Middlesbrough, 17th – Burnley, 18th – Blackpool, 19th – Charlton Athletic, 20th – Huddersfield Town, 21st – Birmingham City, 22nd – Millwall, 23rd – Barnsley, 24th – Yeovil Town

LEAGUE ONE: Winner – Wolves –> Couldn’t have been the only one to find it hilarious when Wolves went down last season but we’ve seen it all before. Leicester and Norwich were in a shambles when they came down, took a wee bit of time to sort it out and then proceed to smash the Division. Can only see it happening again with Wolves.

2nd – Brentford –> Just a penalty kick away from promotion but Uwe Rösler’s men need to do it all again. Will surely use the memories of last May to make sure they go up automatically this time. Have also importantly kept the pretty much all of the squad that got them there last season (with the exception of Harry Forrester and Simon Moore) and also added to a good team. Massively keen to see Villarreal hero Javi Venta strut his stuff too.

Play-offs – Peterborough United –> Just couldn’t keep up the 5-4 wins all the time and went down on the last day. While they continue to play this gun-ho style of football, they’ll win friends but probably too weak in defence to nick an automatic spot. Will need to replace Dwight Gayle’s goals however.

Leyton Orient –> Always tipped by me in extremes, two seasons ago I tipped them up, last season it was down so may as well continue the pattern. In all seriousness, a close squad that finished off last season well should be right up there again. If they can get over their normal slow starts then they might even be higher.

Rotherham United –> With a good financial backing and growing crowds you get the feeling the Millers will pick up where they left off. Steve Evans always seems to get the best out of Matt Tubbs and his goals until January (and maybe longer) should push them up the table.

Sheffield United –> We’ve been here before, for two years. People tip the Blades to go up and then they bottle the playoffs. While I can see them too good for a lot of teams in the league, I don’t think they are anywhere near good enough for automatic promotion so playoff lottery will have to do again!

Relegation – Gillingham –> Powered their way to promotion last season but brute strength can only get you so far. Will need to continue the momentum early on otherwise teams who will comfortably deal with long balls will see them off and their stay at Level 3 will be a short one.

Carlisle United –> Slightly surprised Greg Abbot is still in a job after slowly taking the Cumbrians down the table. Can only see Abbot complete the job this season with a squad that doesn’t look like it will cope. Only plus-point is Lee Miller will score goals in this league. Can’t do it all on his own though.

Colchester United –> Another team that has slowly slipped down the table in recent seasons. Probably the one of the four I tipped to go down most likely to prove me wrong but much will depend on the new young players they have brought in. Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt have much to prove.

Coventry City –> When I look at the struggles Hearts are going through and beginning to worry, I only need to look at Coventry to see how it could be much much worse. Playing 60 miles away in Northampton, one of their holding companies now liquidated and less than 70 season tickets sold. The squad on paper should be ok, but a points deduction and a general shambles going on around them doesn’t bode well.

Final positions: 1st – Wolves, 2nd – Brentford, 3rd – Peterborough, 4th – Leyton Orient, 5th – Rotherham United, 6th – Sheffield United, 7th – Bristol City, 8th – Preston North End, 9th – Notts County, 10th – MK Dons, 11th – Tranmere Rovers, 12th – Shrewsbury Town, 13th – Bradford City, 14th – Walsall, 15th – Crewe Alexandra, 16th – Stevenage, 17th – Swindon Town, 18th – Oldham Athletic, 19th – Port Vale, 20th – Crawley Town, 21st – Gillingham, 22nd – Carlisle United, 23rd – Colchester United, 24th – Coventry City

LEAGUE TWO: Winner – Oxford United –> I think the penny has finally dropped for boss Chris Wilder. If he fails to win promotion then he is out of a job. A squad that looks good and some fine additions should probably see the O’s up.

2nd – Chesterfield –> Surprisingly saw their promotion challenge fizzle out last season but shouldn’t have that problem this time. Upfront, Marc Richards and Eoin Doyle should bag the goals and have a solid midfield to create chances for them.

3rd – Fleetwood Town –> Moneybags had a fairly dull first season in the Football League finishing nowhere near either promotion or relegation. Graham Alexander is under pressure to deliver however so Town have splurged more money on Steven Schumacher and Jeff Hughes amongst other players. A squad that knows what they need to do, should be able to do it.

Play-offs – Portsmouth –> Despite the support they get and the players they will be able to attract, I think Pompey still might not have enough this season for automatic promotion. League 2 also won’t be the piece of piss that their fans will expect as everyone who comes to Fratton Park this season will want a scalp.

Scunthorpe United –> Brian Laws very nearly kept the Iron up last season with a late good turn of form. If they can keep that form going, then playoffs will be a minimum. Good signings have come in with Andy Dawson and Chris Iwelumo the biggest ones.

Cheltenham Town –> Starting to consistently finish in the Top 7 with Mark Yates in charge and this season should be no different. Have also bagged an excellent striker in Jamie Cureton who should fire the Robins into the playoff places again.

Plymouth Argyle –> Seemed to have finally rid themselves of major financial problems and should be up there challenging for a playoff spot. John Sheridan will also want to prove to Chesterfield that he is still capable of getting a team promoted so look out for a steely determination from Argyle.

Relegation – Dagenham & Redbridge –> Always struggle as I’m still confused by their bizarre League 1 campaign. Now with John Still trying his luck at Luton, the Daggers could quite easily be swopping places with them as a weak side and inexperienced manager doesn’t bode well.

Accrington Stanley –> Another side with an inexperienced boss as surely James Beattie has something better to do? Still, credit to him for trying to keep Stanley in the league. Lee Molyneux is a massive loss so much will depend on Nicky Hunt’s form, but I still can’t see how Stanley will stay up.

Final positions: 1st – Oxford United, 2nd – Chesterfield, 3rd – Fleetwood Town, 4th – Portsmouth, 5th – Scunthorpe United, 6th – Cheltenham Town, 7th – Plymouth Argyle, 8th – Bristol Rovers, 9th – Northampton Town, 10th – Burton Albion, 11th – Rochdale, 12th – Wycombe Wanderers, 13th – Torquay United, 14th – Exeter City, 15th – Newport County, 16th – York City, 17th – Hartlepool United, 18th – Mansfield Town, 19th – Southend United, 20th – Morecambe, 21st – AFC Wimbledon, 22nd – Bury, 23rd – Dag & Red, 24th – Accrington Stanley

SCOTTISH PREMIERSHIP: The only key question to be answered this season will be which lucky clubs finish 2nd and 3rd to grab the Europa League spots. Celtic have the title wrapped up and I would have sadly tipped Hearts to go down anyway with such an inexperienced squad before the 15 point deduction. The added misery of –15 just makes it inevitable. That leaves 2nd and 3rd, I think Motherwell will be up there again and St Johnstone look to be going from strength to strength. Aberdeen will probably just miss out and the others aren’t good enough to get a look in. Brave new league eh?

Final positions: 1st – Celtic, 2nd – Motherwell, 3rd – St Johnstone, 4th – Aberdeen, 5th – Inverness CT, 6th – Dundee United, 7th – Ross County, 8th – Hibs, 9th – Partick Thistle, 10th – Kilmarnock, 11th – St Mirren, 12th – Hearts

The season is now well and truly in full swing! Enjoy the action.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Brighton & Hove Albion vs Villarreal C.F (27/07/13)

Match 203

Ground #: 160

Ground: Amex Stadium

Competition: Pre-season friendly

Kick Off: 7:30pm

Cost: £12

Programme: £2.50 (joint issue with Norwich game)

Attendance: 12,039

Brighton & Hove Albion 1

Barnes 2’

Villarreal C.F 3

Cani 40’, Pereira Rodriquez 67’, Pedro Rios 72’


Appledore, Blyth Spartans, Truro City and Boreham Wood. Since writing the blog these are the grounds that I have kicked my season off at for reason or another. Now 2013/14 was kicking off I was after a friendly that I could be interested in rather than pay to watch a kickabout. Enter Villarreal. My Spanish boys were over for one pre-season game at Brighton. Friendly found.


Brighton is a major part of the city of Brighton & Hove and is part of the ceremonial county of East Sussex. In the Domesday Book, Brighton was called Bristelmestune but was then burnt to the ground by French raiders in 1514. From 1780, development of the Georgian terraces had started and the fishing village became the fashionable resort of Brighton. Growth of the town was further encouraged by the patronage of the Prince Regent after his first visit in 1783. The arrival of the London and Brighton Railway in 1841 brought Brighton within the reach of day-trippers from London and population growth from around 7,000 in 1801 to over 120,000 by 1901. Many of the major attractions were built during the Victorian era such as the Grand Hotel (1864), the West Pier (1866) and the Palace Pier (1899). More recently, gentrification of Brighton has seen a return of the fashionable image which characterised the growth of the Regency period. Recent housing in the North Laine, for instance, has been designed in keeping with the area and the overall image of “London-by-the-sea”.


Brighton & Hove Albion FC in the words of a famous Fatboy Slim (who is from the area) song, “have come a long long way together.” Founded in 1901, they later became founding members of the new Football League 3rd Division in 1920. Having floated around the bottom leagues for some time, Mike Bamber became Chairman in 1972 and after Brian Clough flopped at the club, brought Alan Mullery to manage who took them up to the 1st Division in 1979. Inconsistencies hit them during their time in the top flight and were promptly relegated in 1983, where they haven’t returned since. That season they also reached the FA Cup Final but after a 2-2 draw in the first game (“and Smith must score!”) they lost the replay 4-0. Debts mounted up and in 1996 a decision was made to sell the Goldstone Ground, home since 1901. The 1996/97 season was a disaster for Albion on the pitch too as they needed a last day ‘do or die’ game against Hereford United to stay up on goal difference. Had they gone down, the club may well have died. After a couple of season groundsharing at Gillingham, they returned home (sort of) to the Withdean Stadium.


Voted “4th worst ground in English football” in the Observer in 2004, the part athletics ground, part zoo (which closed in 1955) never was a hit but at least the club started to push on after their financial difficulties. Champions of Division 3 and Division 2 in successive seasons in 2002, they have stayed in between Level 2 and 3 since. After dropping back to League 1 in 2006 and defending themselves from relegation, just, Gus Poyet came in and took the club back up to the Championship. Instead of consolidating though, he kept up the push with a 10th place finish before last season finishing 4th and a play-off place. However, “shitgate” and a semi-final defeat to Crystal Palace ended their chances and in the summer Poyet was sacked too after “gross misconduct”.


It means this coming season sees a brave new start for Brighton under the management of new boss Óscar García. Oscar coming fresh from winning the Israeli Premier League with Maccabi Tel Aviv has promised “exciting attacking football” and his time with Barcelona means he will have been taught well. My dark horses for the Championship this season, purely because of the unknown Oscar factor, Brighton may well be one to watch. In town were a team also about to have a fresh start were Villarreal. My Spanish boys since I enjoyed them punting Celtic out of the UEFA Cup in 2003/04 and their Champions League run to the semi-finals in 2005/06. After a shock relegation two seasons ago, they found an outstanding run of form late on in Segunda División to finish 2nd and bounce straight back to La Liga for this upcoming season. With some canny signings made, Villarreal will hopefully (!!) not struggle again this season and could even battle for a cheeky Europa League spot.


The Amex Stadium was opened in 2011 after years of legal battles and enquiries. Noticeable when driving past it on the A23, the structure stands out in the Sussex countryside near the small village of Falmer. Better than most of the new builds, the two larger stands of the East and West dominate the ground with multiple tiers. Two lower stands are situated behind the goals that are shallower to allow the ground to “blend into the Sussex countryside”. With padded seats and great views throughout the ground, the Amex is one I would really recommend to visit. Even in the pouring rain, you felt comfortable without feeling like you were in some corporate plastic shitebowl (hi Ricoh Arena!) and with a full capacity, this place would be rocking.


The game kicked off late due to apparent ticketing issues (the “away fans” were all moved to the East Stand for example as they had sold few too tickets to keep it open) but most likely because Villarreal had turned up late. The first few minutes went by and it was clear they were still on the team bus as they went a goal down within 120 seconds. A long punt upfield allowed Leonardo Ulloa to win a header and put Ashley Barnes through on goal and he smashed a half volley past Sergio Asenjo to give the Seagulls the lead. While Villarreal finally got some time on the ball and Cani fired a low shot that Tomasz Kuszczak saved well, their defence looked extremely shaky. It could (and should) have been 2-0 a wee bit later as the Yellow Submarine’s offside trap wasn’t even straight and Andrea Orlandi was denied by Asenjo with a 1 on 1 chance. As the game went on though, it was the away side who started to look more likely to grab goals with some classy passing and excellent movement. Hernán Pérez forced Kuszczak into a brilliant save with a long range effort around the 30 minute mark before Jonathan Pereira hit the bar from the resulting corner. Bruno Soriano was then denied by Kuszczak before Villarreal got their deserved equaliser on 40 minutes when Cani’s low drive slotted right into the bottom corner. Just rewards as they had improved throughout the half.


The 2nd half started with both sides changing into their away kits, strange. So Brighton who had started the half in white and blue were now in yellow and Villarreal who started the half in yellow were now in blue. Go figure. As with pre-season friendlies both sides made a few subs so everyone got a run out, but Villarreal brought on a few youngsters who seemed to be hungry to impress. As a result, the slick pace to the game dropped somewhat but Manuel Trigueros fired a tame shot wide on 64 minutes. Just two minutes later the away side had the lead with an early contender for goal of the season. Slick counter attacking saw Pereira faced with two defenders on the edge of the area but played a great through ball into the path of Jérémy Perbet. Instead of trying to score himself, Perbet then flicked the ball behind him where Pereira had continued his run and he fired the ball into the roof of the net as Brighton stood watching, astounded. A quite brilliant goal. The 3rd that Villarreal killed the game off with was much simpler. Javier Aquino burst down the right and his ball across goal was fired in by Pedro Rios. With the result finished, the game fizzled out for the final few moments as it seemed to be a good workout for both sides.


A decent, albeit very wet (hopefully not a sign) start to the season for me then! It was a pleasure to watch Villarreal, not just for being bias but to watch the passing and movement off the ball that this country just can’t seem to grasp. Hard work and power is one thing but if you can’t get the ball then that is useless. The Amex Stadium will probably win my end of season award for best professional ground I visited, it was that good. It will be interesting to see how both sides get on during the season but those friendly haters missed an entertaining game here. Hopefully the start of things to come for 2013/14!

Photos from Brighton & Hove Albion vs Villarreal


Match Ratings:

- Match: 7/10 (good pre-season friendly)

- Value for money: 6/10 (ok for a PSF, considering what some clubs charged for their’s)

- Ground: 8/10 (probable winner of best professional ground of the season)

- Atmosphere: 5/10 (bit mooted)

- Food: 7/10 (really good pie)

- Programme: 5/10 (only half related to this game, reasonable)

- Referee: Keith Stroud – 7/10 (don’t think he had anything to do)

BHA vs Villarreal prog

BHA vs Villarreal stub

Monday, 5 August 2013

London Skolars vs Gateshead Thunder (07/07/13)

RL Match 8

RL Ground #: 6

Ground: New River Stadium

Competition: Kingstone Press Championship 1

Kick Off: 2pm

Cost: £6 (concession)

Programme: £2.50

Attendance: 349

London Skolars 52

Tries: Bishay 1, Adebisi 1, Skee 1, Anthony 2, Robinson 1, Worrincy 1, Williams 1, Wellings 1

Goals: Skee 8

Gateshead Thunder 24

Tries: B Hardcastle 1, Nicholas 1, Caro 1, L Hardcastle 1

Goals: B Hardcastle 4


While I was still waiting for the football season to kick off, rugby league was taking advantage of the glorious weather being the summer sport. One game I had wanted to see since moving to London in 2011 was the Heed come down and play London Skolars, usually the two whipping boys of Championship 1. Since the league has changed when I saw the reverse fixture last season, both sides have kicked on slightly and after an outrageous 55-52 reverse just a few weeks earlier, this could be great.


The Skolars were founded during the centenary season of the Rugby Football League in 1995, initially as a club for post-grads in London but then opened up to all later. They achieved success in the London League before becoming founder members of the Southern Conference in 1997, the forerunner to the RFL Summer Conference. By also joining the BARLA National Conference, they were a club that played in both summer and winter leagues for 4 consecutive seasons. National competitions kicked off in 2002 as they became the first club in 80 years to rise up from the amateur ranks to the professional leagues. They have found the National Championship tough going at times finishing around the bottom of the league for consecutive seasons. However, the club have worked hard to improve and finished 7th last season, just 2 points off a play-off place.


The Skolars play at the White Hart Lane Community Sports Centre (also known as New River Stadium) which is short walk from Wood Green tube station. The comparisons between themselves and Gateshead in league performance is clear, however the New River Stadium also bares some similarities to the Gateshead International Stadium (albeit much smaller). One main stand that also holds the club bar, and the walk up to the top of the stand so the seats provide a decent view of the pitch. There are also uncovered standing areas that are at times open to fans if a large crowd is there. (Not this game, look at the attendance) It does the job for the Skolars and although a running track means you are quite far away from the action, the home fans have a good group that tries to get the atmosphere going. Being rugby league, the relaxed atmosphere regarding alcohol was also appreciated. Watching the game with a cool pint of Kingstone Press Cider (sponsor check!) in this heat was quality.


Championship 1 is a very different place to when I last saw it, with new teams in the form of Hemel Stags, Oxford RLFC and Gloucestershire All Golds. Thunder were used to propping up the table, but had a 3 point lead over the All Golds at the foot of the table. This was helped by the 4 bonus points Thunder had picked up compared to Gloucestershire’s 1. Skolars were also going well and challenging for a playoff place in 6th, but only 2 points off 3rd. After the defensive shambles from both sides a few weeks earlier, this game was going to be tight it seemed and Thunder were wanting to pick up their 1st away league win in 4 years.


In the glorious sunshine, the match kicked off and immediately looked a more competitive match than I saw last year. Both sides’ defences were slightly shaky but the 55-52 scoreline from a few weeks previous looked unlikely to be repeated. Skolars were putting pressure on in their sets but Thunder held on well in defence. That changed after 5 minutes when a long kick on 5th tackle from Andy McLean bounced and allowed Mike Bishay to open the scoring. Thunder were still well in the game though and equalised 5 minutes later when Dylan Skee sent across a hospital pass and Ben Hardcastle easily intercepted it to go over. Thunder then had the audacity to take the lead as the Skolars defence parted like the seas when Danny Nicholas ran at them but the lead lasted just 3 minutes as they couldn’t handle Skolars winger Ade Adebisi who scored in the corner. It was a fast paced game although with the heat, everyone knew the 2nd half would see the pace drop, but unless one team fell away you couldn’t tell who would win this.


One team did fall away however as Gateshead’s hard defensive work in the 1st half disappeared as Skolars scored 4 times in 14 minutes to take the game and even bonus point away from them. Skee’s kick to open the half blasted off Jason Payne and Skee finished off a move to start the blitz. Skolars’ other 3 tries were just simple passing in their sets that Thunder couldn’t live with as it seemed the heat had taken it out of them in the 1st half. Now 34-12 down, Thunder did threaten a fightback with two quick tries of their own. Firstly Omari Caro above a dreadful Smokie Junor jump to score in the corner before Hardcastle got his 2nd of the game just 2 minutes later to send Thunder back into bonus point territory. Skolars killed that however as they scored another 3 unanswered tries late on as they pulled the away defence around with some more easy passing. As the hooter sounded there was some handbags (as there always seems to be when these two meet) over a late challenge but Skolars had won for the 4th time in a row, the first time they had achieved this since they joined the professional leagues.


Skolars after years of struggle on the pitch are finally beginning to move forward and are well placed for a play-off challenge this season. Despite a Northern Rail Challenge Bowl Final defeat to North Wales Crusaders, they made it 5 wins in a row in the league with a 35-28 win at Gloucestershire All Golds which put them in 3rd place in the league. Thunder are also slowly improving after having to start from scratch a few years ago. They are 2nd bottom in 8th but after this match won their first away game in 4 years with a 36-30 win at South Wales Scorpions. New River Stadium is a nice venue, especially on a summers day to watch rugby league. With the league structure in RL soon about to change yet again, who knows what kind of level of RL this venue will be hosting in the future.

Photos from Skolars vs Thunder


Match Ratings:

- Match: 7/10 (great 1st half, dropped off 2nd)

- Value for money: 7/10 (good prices all round)

- Ground: 4/10 (fairly basic athletics ground)

- Atmosphere: 5/10 (home fans tried to get it going)

- Food: N/A – didn’t eat at game

- Programme: 6/10 (ok, but not that much content for £2.50)

- Referee: Jamie Bloem – 7/10 (got on with it, all you can ask)

Sko vs Thu prog

Sko vs Thu stub