Premier League -Week Nine

Another week in the Premier League is done and things are looking very close indeed so far. A single point separates teams from 1st to fifth and five more between leaders Man City and Everton. Not for a while have we seen teams so close after nine games.

Spurs went to Bournemouth looking to win and put themselves top after the lunch time kickoff, but they were held to a goalless draw by a home side looking difficult to beat at the Vitality stadium. Both sides had chances as well as testing the opposing goalkeepers. Lloris had to lively as he did well to keep out Charlie Daniels opportunity. Spurs themselve were unlucky not to break the deadlock as they tried and tried. Spurs  were also considered fortunate to not end up finishing with ten men after Sissoko’s elbow to Harry Arter’s face was missed by the referee.

As the game ended, Spurs would now hope that teams around them would drop points so they wouldnt drop away.

Arsenal found themselves cursing the inability to break through a difficult Middlesbrough who claimed a rare clean sheet in London. I guess Arsenal fans may have gone into the game with a healthy confidence following their European escapades, but it seemed a typical opposite.  They seem to barely test Victor Valdes in the Boro goal, but the home fans could be grateful for an alert Petr Cech. His saves kept the game level and a slightly better birthday for Arsene Wenger had they lost. Thanks to Cech, the only thing lost was a six game winning streak.

Everton found to their cost that having all the possession doesn’t bring the points if you dont convert the chances. They looked like securing a point at Turf Moor but with only eight shots out of twenty on target, it wasnt too be as Bolasie’s equaliser was too be for nothing as Scott Arfield bagged a 90th minute winner. It was the home sides third win of the season and second over Merseyside opposition.

When Liverpool kicked off on the Saturday tea time, they looked to get three points and secure top spot by scoring two goals or more goals against West Brom. The Baggies were never going to a rollover having previously come close to ending Tottenham’s unbeaten run. For the home side, the reds were graced with Coutinho,Firminho and Mane in the mix. It was a Firminho with a sweet cross that saw Mane on the end of it to give the Reds a deserved lead. The home side then went 2-0 up ten minutes before half time when Brazilian wonderkid Coutinho netted home. This scoreline would have sent Liverpool top, but a poorly defended corner allowed McAuley to pull one back. Visions of last seasons 2-2 draw may have caught the minds of Liverpool fans, but they were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the Reds held out to win 2-1 and take their unbeaten run to nine games.

Having taken a point at Anfield, Mourinho was now taking his first visit to Stamford Bridge since his time with Inter Milan. A victory for either side would keep them within touch of the top four. A big enough win for Chelsea could see them overtake Spurs, whilst a victory for Mourinho’s men would see them leapfrog Chelsea and move to within three points of City, Arsenal and Liverpool. A good start was needed by either side and it was the hosts who struck first. Defensive errors allowed Pedro to get through the back line and send the ball home. The game would get no better for United as a poorly cleared set piece saw Gary Cahill strike home.

Chelsea did ride some luck when a high tackle by David Luiz was only met with a yellow card. With them being 2-0 up it may have not affected the overall result, but it may have kept a lower scoreline. Arsenal fans watching the game may have felt a tad peeved at the card considering Granit Xhaka was given his marching orders against Swansea City for a lesser offence. Alas for United there were still goals to come. Eden Hazard struck from fifteen yards and Kante finished the rout eight minutes later. Having started so brightly, it is puzzling to see how United have had a little wobble.

At the other end of the table it’s looking bleak for Sunderland. A measly two points from twenty seven is not what any Mackem wants to see and especially not David Moyes.  I wonder if he regrets ever leaving Everton for Manchester United. The North West club who find themselves one point worse off than this time last season, travelled to West Ham who themselves also had a poor start to the season. It looked like it would finish with teams taking a point each, but a winner deep into second half stoppage time condemned the visitors to another defeat. They escaped last season but sadly for them it appears that time has run out.

It doesnt fair any better for Swansea who are one place above. The opening day win seems a distant memory and relegation looks certain to rear its ugly head for the Welsh club. Five points behind on what they were last season where they recovered to finish 12th doesnt look like happening any time soon. Close results against Liverpool and Arsenal could show promise but they may have a chance to take a step forward on Monday night when they play Stoke City. If they dont take a chance then it will definitely be good night Swansea.

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The League One and Two play offs – Goals for glory

With the playoffs being the final opportunity to take the final promotion spots, teams will do their best to ensure their fans see that day of glory at Wembley and a chance of seeing their team go up to the next division and big games to play.

In League One, Wycombe Wanderers who had missed out on automatic promotion by a point, faced a tie against Plymouth Argyle, who finished thirteen points below. The league game between the two at Home Park had produced just a solitary goal. It certainly wasnt going to be the case in the first leg. Plymouth who hadn’t beaten Wycombe in the league at home since 2004, had looked dead and buried. Two goals in the first twenty-two minutes from the visitors left Plymouth rocking and a third goal not long into the second half looked like seeing a possible rout. With Wycombe only losing once away from home in the previous eighteen games, things were looking very bleak for the Argyle. As the game was heading to an end, the tie was wide open again. The final five minutes though saw goals from Ansah and Banton.

Hopes for a Plymouth day out at Wembley were killed off early in the first half of the second league. A goal in the first and final ten minutes of the first half virtually ended the tie. At 5-2 on aggregate with a whole second half to play, it would have taken a lot to come back with. The visitors did manage one reply, but that was as far as it went. Plymouth would be destined to another season in League Two, whilst Wycombe gave themselves an opportunity of promotion that would come just a season after avoiding relegation out of the Football League.

The other tie saw Stevenage and Southend battling for a promotion place, as Southend looked to bounce back into League one after last seasons relegation. A much quieter affair saw a 1-1 draw in a game that was held up due to a nasty head collision. Both goals came within the opening fifteen minutes of the second half. The Stevenage substitutes bench saw a familiar face to football fans in the form of Dave Beasant at the wise age of 56.

The second leg saw another 1-1 affair. Southend who had lost out on automatic promotion on the final game of the season, missed a stoppage time penalty which sent the game into extra time. The home side who were hoping to avoid three play off semi final defeats in fours seasons, broke through in the second half of extra time and then sealed the victory in the final minute of extra time.

Southend and Wycombe do battle once more in a tie that saw nine goals scored between them over the home and away league ties. The two sides have only met once in a tie to be decided over 90 minutes. The Auto Windscreens Shield back in 1997 saw Wycombe win by a single goal.

Having avoided the defeat that could have seen them miss out on the Play Offs, the luck seemed to be deserting Sheffield United. A first half lead turned into a second half defeat when Swindon grabbed an injury time winner. If they had thought that was bad, the Blades found themselves being battered two goals in the first ten became three in the first twenty. Swindon were 5-1 up on aggregate. The visiting fans suddenly wondered if the luck was coming back, as an own goal a minute later and a second in the 38th minute pulled the score to 3-2 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate. Could United end their dismal play off run or was there still another sting in the tail.

Swindon were back in control with a penalty on the hour mark, it was 4-2 on the night and 6-3 on aggregate,  but it seemed that the visitors were not giving up. Davies pulled a goal back. Sheffield United had 25 minutes to grab three goals. A doable task but Obika scored a 5th in the 84th minute to surely put the nail in the coffin and make it 5-3 and 7-4 on aggregate. Not only was the score against them, but the time was against them. Three goals needed to level the tie and take it to extra time. They came close by getting two to close the aggregate score to 7-6. The defeat condemned Sheffield United to their eighth play off campaign defeat.

Swindon will face Preston North End, who beat Chesterfield in a one-sided affair. Preston scored a solitary 1-0 win in the first leg and a 3-0 win in the second. Preston will be hoping to repeat the score of the home game from this season, that saw them beat Swindon 3-0.

Whatever happens in the Wembley finals, I’m sure the fans will be hoping for respective wins and the neutrals for some more goals.

Euro Championship 2016 – Qualifying Review Part 2

Welcome to Part Two of my Euro Championship Qualifying Review. With Uefa trying to make as many nations qualifying for the finals as possible, there are a total of 9 groups which will see 24 nations qualify from a total of 54 participants. So without wasting anymore time lets crack on with the second part of the review which starts off with Group E, featuring Roy Hodgson’s England.

Group E

England found themselves in a relatively easy qualifying group. The trickiest ties being most likely against Switzerland and Slovenia. The problem is that with groups like this it is a no win situation. England zoom through, it’s expected, an England failure and all hell breaks loose. After an opening win against the Swiss, England had to face San Marino and Estonia. With three points guaranteed against San Marino, it would be down to goals and how many England bagged. This is where England find themselves in a no win situation. A large victory is expected, but then at the same time no one comes to be surprised as it is expected. The end result saw England put five past their part time opponents. This though seemed not enough, the fans wanted more, Germany after all put thirteen past the San Marino goalkeeper. The thing though is where does it stop? when does the result hit the level of ridiculous?

Returning to group matters, after losing to England, the Swiss then faced Slovenia, the other nation making a serious challenge to the automatic qualification. It was a game that they needed to get something out of especially with them being at home to Slovenia. It wasnt too be as Slovenia came away with a solitary goal for a 1-0 win and the opportunity to trail hot on the heels of England. Lithuania could provide the surprise of the group and had they have beaten Slovenia, they would have found themselves level on points with England. Pre match day one, it would not have been expected that the Swiss would be losing two of their opening three qualifying fixtures and giving themselves a mountain to climb (no pun intended).

Match Day four will see England host Slovenia, will the three lions extend their lead or will the former Yugoslavian state pull themselves level at the end of ninety minutes.  with Estonia playing San Marino, the Swiss find themselves in the situation where if they dont win, they could find themselves with all but San Marino above them. Three defeats in four and it would be very much likely good night playoff hopes.

Group F

Another group featuring one of the home nations, this time in the form of Northern Ireland. The Irish have been the surprise outfit of the group. They have won all three games including a victory in Greece. Given that the group consists of Romania, Hungary, Finland and the seeded Greece, the Northern Ireland lads were probably not given much hope. They have a real good chance to finish in the top three especially with two of the wins against Hungary and Greece coming away from home. The Greeks only point has come against Finland in match day two.

The next round of matches will see Northern Ireland travel to Romania in a top of the table clash. It might only be match day four, but come the end of 90 minutes, Northern Ireland will either still be top or second with at least a two point margin ahead of Finland or Hungary. Greece will hope that they can take three points against the Faroe’s and that other results go their way, if they are to have a chance of top three.

Group G

This group which doesnt exactly come with big game interest, sees Russia and Sweden looking to take the automatic qualifying spots. Austria who are qualifying flops, will hope to make this a second European Championship finals, the previous being Euro 2008 which they co hosted. The Austrians have this time made a positive start with seven points from nine. They drew at home to Sweden in Match Day One. Russia will be hoping to make the finals once more and a fourth straight European Championship qualification. The same could be said for Sweden, they will be looking to qualify again for the fifth consecutive finals. They will though need to put their foot down if they are to qualify, given that their unbeaten run has seen only a win against the lowly Liechtenstein. Whilst of course its good to be unbeaten, it tends to get a bit more tricky when the draw column is larger than the win column. There is though still plenty of time for things to even out and predicted fortunes to go their way.

In the next round of Group G games, leaders Austria, face Russia at home, whilst Sweden travel to Montenegro. Results could see Austria pull away with a win or even fall to third if Sweden also win.

Group H

Group H sees Italy and Croatia battle for the top two spots whilst Bulgaria and Norway will more than likely battle for the playoff place. Football as we know can be unpredictable at times, but so far the predictability is winning. Both the Croats and Italians have 100% unbeaten records, but it is the manner of which Croatia are going about the job that makes it all the more interesting. The nation that once brought the end of Steve McLaren’s England coaching career, have bossed their way to not only nine points but have bagged nine goals and not conceded a solitary goal in the opening three games. In contrast to Italy who have managed wins by no more than two goals and that came against Norway. Should the Italians slip up, Norway or Bulgaria will be more than happy to take advantage especially if they can get more goals and even take points off the Italians.

Match Day 4 for this group sees the top two battle it out whilst Norway travel to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria host Malta. The Norwegians will not have a better opportunity to close the gap either by a point if they win and the other game is a draw, or Norway win and there is a winner from the Italy v Croatia game.

Group I

The troublesome group of all. On the footballing terms it should have been a three horse race between Serbia, Portugal and Denmark for the top three spots. Unfortunately it has not been that straight forward. Albania who started the group with an away win in Portugal and a home draw against the Danes, could have seen them topping the group and upsetting the apple cart. The game though would be brought to a premature end through technology and not the right reasons. A drone was flown into the stadium causing a brawl to take place between Serbian and Albanian players. The match resulted in being cancelled. At a disciplinary hearing, Serbia were awarded the game with a 3-0 win but with the three points taken away.

Match Day four in this group sees a Denmark side who can maintain control of the group with a win over Serbia, who will be hoping to put the events of the last game behind them. With Albania not playing in this round due to a five nation group, Portugal could find themselves back on top with a win and a Danish loss or draw. It would be what they needed as they look to get their campaign back and running once more. Anything else and the Portuguese could find themselves dropping behind.