In the Firing Line? – Dan Raywood blog

Today in football, West Bromwich Albion fired their manager. So what some of you may say, football managers get fired all of the time? Well there are two factors to this that make it interesting.

Firstly, the former manager Tony Pulis has never got a team relegated. The team is skating close to the edge this season, but the likelihood of relegation looks slim bearing in mind the manager’s past capabilities.

The second factor is the appointment this summer of Gary Megson, who served as manager of WBA many years ago and this summer returned to the club as assistant to Pulis.

So why is this interesting? Well Pulis will likely get another job and do a satisfactory job at another club, although a move to Wales looks likely. What about WBA? They could go with someone completely different and the fans will be left figuring out what will happen – will the new manager play a different game, more open and attacking and get the club relegated? If so, what does that make the fans think of the consistency of Pulis?

Also, did the appointment of Megson undermine Pulis? Was the intention all along to remove the head coach and replace him with a fan favorite?

It’s all so hard to tell when you’re on the outside, but in the case of football management as with other professions, the supporters are the customers in this case and the returning legend is seen as the saviour. With a short transfer window opening in just over a month, West Brom’s fortunes could stay the same, improve or get worse, and if things do get worse, the fans will long bear in mind that Pulis was never relegated as a manager.

 

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FA Cup rolls on – Fourth Qualifying round

As the season speeds towards the middle of October, that can mean only one thing in domestic cup competitions, the last of the qualifying rounds are here and the draw for the First Round proper takes place on Monday evening.

This Saturday saw sixty four teams battle it out for a place in the first round where they can have a chance of joining other small teams in football giantkilling folklore, noticeably in this round we see former Football League clubs hoping to earn more cash too. Teams like Wrexham, Tranmere, Stockport County, Torquay all looking to get a chance to knock out former league rivals. Tranmere went down 2-1 to Barrow, Wrexham drew whilst Stockport and Torquay both made it into the bag.

Seven games found themselves finishing level. Teams such as Margate, Hemel Hempstead Town and Curzon Ashton look for replay victories and money spinning ties.Some teams stamped their authority in reaching the first round. Dover Athletic, Brackley Town scored 5-0 wins away whilst Eastleigh & Kidderminster thumped their opposition 6-0.

Mixed fortunes for Lincoln as United went out to Spennymoor Town, but City travel to Guiseley. Stamford looked to cause an upset as they hosted Wrexham, they came from behind to earn a replay at the Racecourse Ground and an even bigger upset.

A reasonably good day for Kent clubs in the FA Cup, Dover, Maidstone Utd (3-1 Billericay) and Dartford (3-0 Tonbridge), not so good for Ebsfleet who went down 2-1 to Merstham.

Euro 2016 Last 16 review

The group stages were finally over and it was down to the finer points of tournament football, yes that’s right the knockout stages. With the expanded tournament and four best third place nations joining in on the fun, we would see some interesting matchups and first time records.

Kicking off the knockout stages were Switzerland and Poland. This one seemed like it was always going to be a tight affair. The Swiss managed only two goals as did their opponents. Their defence was even stingier with only the Swiss conceding a single goal out of the two nations, so it seemed inevitable that the two sides would end up going to penalties after seeing one of the goals of the tournament.

Wales and Northern Ireland came face to face in a game where one home nation would be guaranteed in the quarter finals saw a quiet start but then the game got going when the tackles flying in. Gareth Bale was not as busy as he was previously, but it just took one moment for him to make impact and he didnt even score. His cross put pressure, with Kanu-Robson waiting in the centre, on McAuley who in trying to deny the Wales player, could only put it in his own net. It was a terrible way for the Irish to go out having contributed so much, but that is how the game goes.

Croatia faced a Portugal side who looked like they could be there for the taking. Croatia looked like the dark horse of the tournament, whilst Portugal were grateful for the expansion of the group stage qualifiers as they finished third. Sadly though for what seemed like a potential game of the tournament, it turned into a dour affair where the game entered into extra time. The stats showed a disappointing reflection of the match. Croatia had 17 shots and none on target.Portugal had 6 shots and two on target of which one came in the form of the winning goal in extra time. Ronaldo too was also below par again. Whilst Poland only won on penalties, Portugal will have to be better prepared when facing an unpredictable Poland side.

France came back from an early set back to beat the Republic of Ireland. The Irish took an early lead through a penalty and held the lead to half time. The lack of firepower would sadly be the downfall of the Irish. The goal would be the only one of the six that they would get on target. The French however would bounce with two quickfire goals leaving the Irish rocked. The final to Irish hopes would come just a few minutes later when they were reduced to 10 men following Duffy’s red card. Irish eyes may not have been smiling but at least they could go home with some pride.

Germany faced Slovakia  in a game that showed England’s scoring issues when they took apart Slovakia with a 3-0 hammering. The World Cup holder were in fine form and really should have been more. An interchangeable line up dominated possession having just over 60% but unlike other nations they converted that possession into shots and goals. A total of 21 shots with 7 on target. The Germans nette through Boateng, Gomez and Draxler and based on this performance, they look like sure fire favourites.

The pitiful opening performance from Belgium seems a very long time ago and they showed in this last sixteen tie against Hungary that they should not be underestimated although to be honest had the Hungarians taken their chances when it was 1-0, they might have made it a little more difficult for the hotly  tipped Belgians. They shall go home with some pride and positivity as they look towards the Russia 2018 qualifying campaign.

In what was to be an unexpected big nation tie, defending champions Spain fell to a second defeat in a row. Spain seemed out of sorts for a team looking to defend their title and had it not been for David De Gea, it could have been the reverse scoreline from their Euro 2012 final match up. It seems that it could well be the end of the dominant Spain on the international front and when the second goal went in to finish off the game the faces of the Spanish players said it all.

They say about leaving the best till last and they certainly did…from an Icelandic position. England were taking on Iceland in what should have been a win albeit a narrow one. Sadly it was the same old story and an embarrassing exit. Apart from the penalty England barely turned up. We saw Sterling start, misplaced passes, goalkeeping blunders, Harry Kane taking free kicks.

Fair play to the Icelandic team who have impressed and taken the tournament by force. French fans beware of what may come.

My Euro 2016 Group stage predictions – The results

So, at the start of the competition I wrote two blog posts covering the six groups. In these posts I shared my predictions and with the group stages at an end, it’s time to see how well or not so well I have done.

Group A

So this group looked like being quite a reasonable one to predict. The hosts France would top the group with Romania coming second on goal difference. Switzerland would finish third together with Albania finishing bottom. Well what do I know. Turns out France would finish top  of the group. They wouldnt be held by Romania, who would end up finishing bottom. The Swiss would go unbeaten with one win and two draws.

Group B

The group featuring two of the home nations was always going to be an interesting one to watch. The top two in my predictions would see both home nations finishing in the top two with Slovakia finishing third. I wasnt too far wrong, a solid defence by Slovakia denied England a win and top of the group. I did though predict Slovakia finishing third and Russia bottom.

Group C

Thia group saw another home nation representative, this time Nothern Ireland. In a group containing Germany, Poland and the Ukraine, very few would have given them hope of getting anything. For me though the determination would see them get third and thats exactly how it finished. I was spot on with my predictions on places so that was quite impressive.

Group D

This group seemed to be an easy one to predict, Spain would come top with Croatia and the Czech Republic battling it out for second spot…..Turns out it wasnt. It had started well, Croatia and Spain opening with victories followed with a draw between Czech Republic and Croatia. Come the last round though, both Croatia and Turkey both changed the script. The Balkan nation beat the holders to win the group and Turkey decided to find where the opposition goal was. Thanks Group D for literally nothing.

Group E

This saw the Republic of Ireland in amongst Italy, Sweden and Belgium. It looked pretty tricky for the Irish, who would have to be on their top form to progress. Italy won the group ahead of Belgium who started off slowly. After their indifferent opener, they beat Ireland 3-0. Sweden with the mighty Ibrahimovic, continued their Euro finals woe. They came bottom with a point, thanks to the unfortunate own goal from Ireland. The Irish did fulfil one prediction of beating Italy and claiming third spot.

Group F

The final group saw one that was a little drab but actually come the group matches, it turned into something more interesting. I was quite bold in my predictions. For me I tipped Hungary to win with Portugal second. Little did I know that Portugal didnt fancy their shooting boots till late on. The Hungarian side would get the draw against Portugal but also Iceland, who themselves surprise.

Euro 2016 – My predictions The group stages Part 1

It’s that  time again, yep a major football tournament finals finally arrives. Eighteen years after the World Cup was there, we are back in France. Euro 2016 sees the first expanded Euro finals for years and sees it take a leaf from FIFA’s book. With the top two in each group qualifying together with the best four third place teams. So thanks to Sky Sports wall chart predictor, I give to you my predictions.

Group A sees host France battle it out with Switzerland, Romania and new boy Albania. for me its a case of no surprises. Les Bleus, whilst opening up with  a draw against Romania, find themselves beating the Swiss and new boys Albania. Romania also remain unbeaten and it comes down to goal difference and the host nation taking top spot. The Swiss having managed two pre tournament friendly wins, will  continue to see their disappointing form continue as they only muster a win against debut nation Albania.

Group B is the interesting one for Home nation fans as it features England and Wales. They are joined by Slovakia and Russia. It looks to be a tight group. England go into the group with genuine positivity of progressing far in the tournament. Wales in the first finals since 1958 look to stake a claim in the top two. The Russians and Slovakians look to upset Engand and Wales, but in my opinion they will fall far short.

This is how I see Group B finishing. England will top the group whilst Slovakia will battle for second against Wales.finish second. What will lack in experiencec for Wales, will be made up with passion and unpredictablility. The Welsh will make it a home nations top two. Russia having struggled pre tournament will struggle in the finals only gaining two points.

Group C sees another home nation in the form of Northern Ireland. The Irish face a tricky group but they are on a great run and could certainly throw a spanner in the works. I cant see them finishing in the top two but they could find themselves finishing a respectable third. In their group are Germany, Ukraine and Poland. Germany will look to add to their World Cup win and bring the Spanish dominance to an end. An uninspiring pre tournament run will of course count for nothing as the Germans turn it on for the main event. Poland will look to push forward and make up for the disappointing Euro 2012 performance that saw them finish bottom of their group.

Group C will end with Germany pipping the Poles to second, Northern Ireland finishing third with the Ukraine missing out once more.

Well thats all for Part one, the next part will be coming very soon.

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.

Euro Championship 2016 – Qualifying Review Part One

So the European Championship qualifiers reached the third round of games and two match day rounds that produced some interesting outcomes and some not so welcome scenes. For the UK representatives it would continue to be a good start, for the defending champions however it would not be a straightforward one.

Group A

Iceland and the Czech Republic appear to be storming away from the pack having both maintained 100% records. Iceland currently lead the group with 8 goals scored and 0 conceded, which considering they have played the Netherlands, is quite an impressive feat. The Czech Republic who rival them for the lead and the notching of 8 goals have also played the Dutch. It seems at this rate the Dutch will be hoping to get home victories against the Czech’s and Icelandic sides, otherwise the Orange men will be battling to even make the third spot and a playoff place. Turkey surprisingly find themselves bottom of a group that features Kazakhstan, who claimed their only point so far against the Turks. The Dutch will be hoping that Latvia don’t pick up points although they can be relieved that their only points have come from draws against Kazakhstan and Turkey.

The final round of qualifiers in 2014 will see the Dutch travel to Latvia and the Czech’s taking on the Icelandic team. A victory for the Dutch is essential anything else and in theory it could already be curtains for the side that has impressed so much previously under Van Gaal. They will of course be hoping that there is a winning outcome in the Czech Republic v Iceland game to give them a hope of automatic qualification.

Group B

This group contains one of the home nations, in the form of Wales. They weren’t given the greatest qualifying group, what with the likes of Israel and Belgium, but they would do themselves no harm by getting off to the best start that they could. Despite being only facing Andorra, Cyprus and Bosnia Herzegovina, the Welsh would have hoped to get close to maximum points as they possibly could. That is of course what they achieved. A total of seven out of nine gives them a really good start especially as they will be facing the hot favourites Belgium who have played a game less than the Welsh. Notably, the Belgians could only take a point from their meeting with Bosnia. Israel will also find themselves believing that they have their best chance of making their first ever European Championship finals and second only major international championship finals.

Match Day Four sees Wales and Belgium clash which gives the Israeli team a chance of going top if they beat Bosnia and the Welsh lose. Group B in fact looks a close one to call and could end up going to the final round of qualifiers to see who goes through automatically and who goes to the play off if the best third place team isn’t from this group.

Group C

Spain who were going into the qualifying as defending champions, had looked to maintain a positive start to their qualifying, but came unstuck against a surprise Slovak side. Slovakia, captained by Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, lead his team to victory. The Ukraine who seemed the natural threat to the Spaniards find themselves level pegging with the holders having themselves lost to Slovakia. Naturally it would appear that the top three would come from either Slovakia, Ukraine or Spain but given the nature of how football seems to run these days, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Spain either missing out or having to hope they are the best third place team, or the possibility of a play off which given they are the holders will certainly be a bitter pill to swallow.

The next round of group fixtures should see Spain return to form with a home game against Belarus, the Ukraine keep the pressure on with a trip to Luxembourg and Slovakia playing Macedonia. Given the World Cup disaster, qualifying automatically would not only be a standard practice for the Spanish, but also a matter of footballing importance.

Group D

This group was certainly a mix. World Cup winners Germany, home nation Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Poland and newcomers Gibraltar. Given that the World Champions were in this group, it would seem that one thing was going to be guaranteed, Germany would steam roll their way through the group. With the first round of matches having taken the expected route. Match Day 2 saw the Irish maintain their 100% record with a victory against the new boys Gibraltar. Scotland bounced back with a win over Georgia, but the surprising result of the night saw Poland beat Germany 2-0 in Warsaw. A result not many would have come to expect. In the next game for Germany, victory was denied against Ireland in injury time. John O’Shea grabbed a point to maintain the Irish unbeaten record and a total of 7 points from 9 games. Scotland faced a tricky tie away to Poland and given the Polish win over Germany, not too many would have given the Tartan Army much hope. The Scots though had other ideas and looked certain to score a famous victory. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as the home side levelled in the 76th minute. The visitors could be pleased with their performance which could have seen them go second behind Ireland.

Next up The Irish face Scotland, Germany can bounce back against Gibraltar and Poland travel to Georgia. As this group moves closer to the halfway point, it is something to most certainly keep an eye on.

That’s it for Part One, look out for Part Two of the review plus more over the next few days. Don’t forget that you can find more observations and thoughts by following Match of The Doy on Twitter.