Chase for The Championship – Down to the wire?

With Brighton winning away in London on the Friday and Newcastle United losing on the Saturday, it saw the two teams swap places as they aim for glory. It was the seagulls third win in six days and looks enough to keep them in the automatic promotion spots, but as we have seen, nothing is quite guaranteed. For Friday’s game it looked like it could fizzle out in to a draw that would have quite suited their rivals Newcastle.

Glenn Murray had bagged his 21st of the season and his goals going on in the final few games will prove crucial to the South Coast outfit’s promotion chances. Chances were few and far between either of the clubs (eight out of twenty eight combined) but sometimes you just need to convert the ones you take and two out of three for Brighton was enough.

For Newcastle United, their day was the opposite. They were up against it playing Sheffield Wednesday who themselves aiming for a play off spot. It didn’t get any better after 29 minutes when they lost their star striker Dwight Gayle. Despite having the more shots and possession, Rafa Benitez’s men showed that stats don’t count for nothing. Like the game at Loftus Road, it was one of second half showing. A goal on hour and one ten minutes later had most certainly secured the points for the Owls, even though Jonjo Shelvey had netted for Newcastle close to the end.

Huddersfield who are currently third, may have a game in hand but they have a ten point deficit and it could very well be the Easter weekend fixtures that seal the automatic promotion or see oportunities still open. Huddersfield host Preston on Friday and travel to Derby County on the Monday. Two top ten teams battling for position more than anything as they seem too far back in hoping for a playoff spot but for Huddersfield automatic promotion is the feint hope they have whilst they look to cement their playoff spot. Seven points separate Huddersfield and Derby County so points will be crucial come this weekend.

Brighton face Wolves on Good Friday and host Wigan on Easter Monday whilst Newcastle host another promotion chaser in the form of Leeds United and struggling Ipswich. Brighton should be the happier of the two clubs come Tuesday morning as they should take six points, whilst Newcastle United may find themselves only picking up four, especially if they are without their top scorer Dwight Gayle.

Reading, who are a point behind Huddersfield will be hoping to reclaim third spot, which for a number of weeks was their home. Their last game was one to forget as they went crashing to a 7-1 defeat away to Norwich City. Their run in though gives them hope for securing a playoff spot, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest break up the two games against relegation favourites Wigan and doomed Rotherham. Whilst Nottingham Forest find themselves at the wrong end of the table, they should be safe from the drop.

Having had a bad start to the season, Leeds United are doing their bit to make sure they have a playoff hope and a return to the top flight once more. They though have a marginally easier run in. Apart from the trip to Newcastle on Good Friday and a home game against promotion rivals Norwich City at the end of April, it’s a case of the strugglers. Of course though never understimate the strugglers. They will have all to play for and will no doubt not have a care in the world with regards to who is challenging for the title or chasing a play off place.

Fulham who lie just outside the playoff spots by two points will be hoping that their recent good form will keep them moving higher and into the playoff spots although for the West London club, it will be a little more trickier journey. Fulham travel to Norwich on Good Friday whilst hosting Villa on the Monday. Fellow promotion chasers Huddersfield, who will have their own place to secure host Fulham in the penultimate game whilst a game against midtable Brentford brings their season to a close.

It’s going to be quite close and exciting for fans of the top six seven although for Brighton given their position, they will be the more happier. A top two spot for them is definitely going to happen, it’s just down to whether they or Newcastle have the bottle to go the stay the course. Newcastle with the experience and leadership of Rafa Benitez should guide them to another championship trophy and return to the Premier League.

Playoffs? well that’s where the fun starts and although the current spot takers are Huddersfield, Reading Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, I think one of the later could find themselves losing out to Fulham.

That Giggs goal and Dan’s top 5 – Dan Raywood blog post

Today marks 17 years since that Ryan Giggs goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi final. It’s a goal that has been analysed over and over since.

As a Spurs fan, I should take some pleasure in the goal, but part of me feels it lacks some of the magic of other “long and winding goals”. So I decided to present my top five similar efforts, including one by Giggs himself.

Number 5 – Ryan Giggs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quI_LkMj4HI

Let’s start with this, as Giggs picks it up in his own half, is mostly unchallenged until Patrick Viera makes an effort, pushes past Dixon and Keown and scores a nice finish with a shot over Seaman.

Number 4 – George Weah https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDuZpma_Oxs

Slightly better as it does involve a longer run having collected it in his own penalty box, and he gets past two paltry Verona challenges before rolling it in.

Number 3 – Saeed Al-Owaira https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8w89sl7Grc

A legendary goal from an excellent tournament. He gets the ball in his own half, is generally unchallenged by the Belgian running alongside him, gets past one dizzy defender on the 18 yard line and executes a very nice finish.

Number 2 – Roberto Baggio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGUeRn5c3Tc

Often forgotten, but still excellent. The divine ponytail exchanges passes in the Czech half before he is given incredible amounts of space (for a player of his ability) and the finish is excellent. The Charlie George-esque celebration makes it extra special.

Number 1 – Diego Maradona https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY40__rBvSk

“You have to say that’s magnificent” declared Barry Davies. He gets past 3 England defenders, takes it around Shilton whilst under pressure. One of the greatest of all time.

Football Flashback – 15th June

With Summer not playing ball as it should be (any wonder why it’s really called ‘Flaming June’), lets take a look back to possibly sunnier summers and June 15th in years gone by and see what delights were brought to the world. These will of course be all the ones I can remember starting with World Cup 86 in Mexico.

The World Cup was lucky to be held in Mexico as not long before, the nation had suffered an earthquake. Despite that, the competition went ahead. It started towards the end of May, believe it or not. Would never happen now, but by mid June, the finals were at the knock out stage. Mexico 86 was a good tournament all round and there were plenty of goals and Belgium ensured they weren’t going to miss out. They faced the Soviet Union who had netted 9 in the group stage. Belgium themselves had netted 5. I guess with two nations with a taste for goals it would hardly be of much a surprise that there were seven goals in a game that went to extra time. Having gone 1-0 and then 2-1 up, the Soviet’s might have been thinking of progression but a goal in each period of extra time from the Belgians meant that the only joy that the Soviet’s saw was Belanov bagging a hat trick.

The tournament in Mexico saw all but Wales reach the finals and only England progress out of the group stage. We of course all know what happened in the Quarter Final against Argentina.

In 1988, World Cup finalists, West Germany hosted the European Championships. Back then it was just two groups of 4 nations with the top two taking part in the semi finals. The finals competition that featured West Germany,Italy, Spain, Netherlands and England amongst the front runners,  did not see a single sending off, a 0-0 draw or any of the knock out games go into extra time or penalties. Quite an achievement not to see the likes of West Germany and Netherlands battle it out with no sendings off, although the game will be remembered for the spitting incident.

For England it was a tournament to forget. Having been drawn alongside the USSR, Netherlands and Republic of Ireland, the work was certainly cut out. Having previously lost to Ireland in the opener, it was not a game against the Dutch. A game that would look ok after Robson levelled for England, the Dutch magician Marco Van Basten would have other ideas and would bag himself a hat trick. The Oranjemen would find themselves winning the only major tournament in their history to date an no doubt enjoyably in their ‘enemies’ back yard.

Italia 90 saw the World Cup that saw few goals but quite a number of red cards. Come the 15th June 1990, it was still group stage and the only action in this day was to see some the group where the number of goals bucked the trend. West Germany in their final tournament before unification netted 5 against the unfortunate United Arab Emirates. The West Germany scorers list showed something more akin to a whose who of footballing great. Rudi Voller bagged two, along with a certain Jurgen Klinsmann and Lothar Matthaus. Later in the tournament West Germany would face England and the start of the inevitable penalty shoot out defeats would begin. It would also be remembered for Gazza’s tears in the semi final.

Scotland would find the 15th June a date to forget as they were up against World Cup winners West Germany. The Scots could have really upset the applecart in this group. The went into the final game only requiring a point to make the next round. A simple task for most nations…except if you are Scotland and having to play West Germany to progress. The Scots lost 2-0 and went home. England failed to progress under what was Turnip Taylor’s first and only competitions finals. England having drawn 0-0 against Denmark (included due to the international situation with Yugoslavia) and against France, had to get a result against Sweden. England who had been robbed of various players through injury before the tournament, lost against the hosts in a game that was to be Gary Lineker’s last international game and replaced by Alan Smith.

The World Cup in 1994 wouldnt kick off until 17th June, although some might wish it never kicked off at all. Brazil won on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

Ah yes Euro 96 was next, now that was a Summer of football sun and nerves. Not only that but the cult hit Three Lions was echoing around the stadiums. The competition was in England and had seen a bit of controversy involving the England squad and Paul Gascoigne….surely not. Anyway 15th June 1996 saw England face Scotland, the auld enemy and what a game to be had. The sun was out, Wembley was full the fans hopeful. After a goalless first half, Alan Shearer broke the deadlock in the first ten minutes of the second half. The game seemed to edge ever closer towards a single goal win and then Seaman committed a foul and gave away a penalty. The then Arsenal goalkeeper made amends by saving the penalty from Gary McAllister. Moments later and England are on the attack and Gazza receives the ball chips it over Colin Hendry and bang, ball in the back of the net 2-0 game over. England would win the group with a 4-1 pasting of the Netherlands in the final game. The single goal from the Netherlands would prove crucial as it would deny Scotland progressing into the knock out stages.

So to France 98 and another release of three lions reworked for the World Cup. England and Scotland made the short trip across to France. A warm sunny day in Marseille saw England kick their campaign off. A relatively easy group for England. Only Tunisia, Columbia and Romania…ahem to deal. England opened with a win against Tunisia with Paul Scholes finishing the scoring with a goal one minute from the end. This World Cup would be the tournament that saw England make its damned hardest to actually not progress.

Not much happened in Euro 2000. It was wet miserable awful and that was just the England performances. We did however beat Germany 1-0. France won the tournament with a golden goal win against Italy. What they should have called it was the anti climax goal.

So to World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea. A tournament to be enjoyed…unless you were French, Argentinian, Portuguese. These three nations failed to get to the knock out stages. The 15th June was proving to be a good day for England. This time round it was the first knock out stage and a tie against the Danes. The Danes had topped their group whilst England had laboured to second after a second group draw, this time against Nigeria. There would be no slacking in the knock out round. The Danes who had looked like being a threat to England, found themselves turfed out with a 3-0 defeat. England of course would go out in the next round after Brazil beat England 2-1 with Seaman being lobbed on the line (Stop it you filthy lot).

Now if there was a competition for nations making it completely difficult for themselves, England would be record holders. It was Euro 2004 this time and England who thankfully avoided the playing on the 15th, stole defeat from the jaws of victory. England had taken the lead against France in the first half, but with the matter of a few minutes remaining saw France bag two goals in the 90th minute including a penalty. England managed to progress only to lose to Portugal on yes you know what. Having lost Rooney through an injury in normal time, the game saw extra time and then penalties. Mr Reliable David Beckham took England’s first and when he slipped and missed, it kind of summed things up.

World Cup 2006 saw England make it easier on themselves in the group stage and even recorded a win on the 15th, but alas could still not beat Sweden as they were held to a 2-2 draw. Like Euro 2004, England faced Portugal. Like last time Rooney was involved, this time he was sent off and England lost the penalty shoot out….You expected something else?

Euro 2008, no England, no real shocks. France disappointed and Spain started their international domination beating Germany in the final.

World Cup 2010 saw Fabio Cappello guiding England down in South Africa. The 15th June saw New Zealand open their group with a 1-1 draw against Slovakia whilst disappointment would reign supreme for Italy who picked up a solitary point. Controversy would come in the England match in the knock out. Lampard seeing his shot cross the line only for the referee to miss it entirely. Apart from that it was a cracking world cup which saw a fantastic game between the Netherlands and Uruguay.  The winners would be Spain after beating the Dutch by a single goal in the final.

Euro 2012 saw England feature in the finals again. Another joint held tournament saw goals a plenty England win on the 15th AND beat Sweden in a finals tournament. Who would have expected that. Surprises were to be had in the tournament. The Dutch who had looked like world beaters in the World Cup, finished bottom of their group without a win. France who had previously struggled saw themselves finish second behind England. A 2-0 defeat in the final group game costing them top spot.

Of course where you get the surprise, you also get the quelle surprise. England faced Italy in the knockout round. It finished goalless although Italy could have won in normal time. It went to penalties. Having seemed like things might change when England went 2-1 up, that’s as far as it went as Young and Cole both missed their penalties.

So there we have it June 15th is reasonably good for England and the home nations to be honest…Hang on what about World Cup 2014? Well some things are best left forgotten.

And so that brings the end to the Football Flashback, keep an eye out for another one coming soon.

On This Day 28 January – A look at what happened on this day in football through the years.

It was always cricket that fans would hope would bring the early end to a possible humiliating defeat, but on 28 January 1961, it was football and Luton Town fans that would be praying for rain and hoping the gods would intervene in an FA Cup tie against Manchester City. Luton fans would be more than happy as a young Denis Law bagged all six goals as City lead 6-2 only to see the game abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch after 69 minutes. Not only would the smile be wiped from Law’s face, but in the rescheduled game and despite scoring, City would end up losing 3-1.

It would be a double blow for Dens Law as the Scotsman would miss out on finishing out as FA Cup top scorer in the 20th century. Law would finish on 41 goals three behind Welshman and former Liverpool striker Ian Rush who would finish on 44 FA Cup goals. Those scrubbed off six goals would have seen Law finish with 47 goals and the FA Cup top scorer.

28th January 2014 saw Anfield play host to the Merseyside derby. Liverpool strolled to a thumping 4-0 win having taken a 3-0 lead after 35 minutes. It was two from Daniel Sturridge that sent the Reds on the way after Gerrard opened up the scoring. This win would help keep the red side of Merseyside keep in touch with the title race.