Category Archives: Blackburn Blackpool Bolton Burnley Wigan

Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn and Fulham

As we drove to White Hart Lane for the QPR game our talk focused upon golf difference. For me we needed to put away Rangers in an effort to try and catch up United, City and Chelsea once we have played (and hopefully won) our game in hand against Everton. G on the other hand felt we should want to do the best we could in that department but winning the games was what it was all about.

G’s right, of course he is, but with Arsenal finding some form and Liverpool likely to have some decent wins at home we could find ourselves sweating a little if we don’t score sufficient goals when we are playing well. Then there is Newcastle who can’t seem to put a foot wrong at the moment and walk away with another +2 from Stoke.

We met my brother in law in Park Lane and he wanted to see a good performance from Gareth Bale. “It’s about time” he said “as he hasn’t done much recently”. We readily agreed. Despite Rangers improvement both in personnel and performance they had struggled to put away 9 men Chelsea so could they present us with any serious problems. We figured maybe not but following G’s logic they would be rightly ecstatic at that victory.

We all went home delighted, Bale scored two fabulous goals, our performance for most of the game was fabulous and another 3 points to the 3 we had won at Blackburn just deserves for those performances.

But was it enough? At this stage of the season it was but as we’ve come to expect we conceded a goal to give Rangers hope and ended the game clearing it off the line. Our first half was outstanding but as Harry rightly said we could have been 4 or 5 up. We shouldn’t complain – or should we? 

When Martin Jol was starting to turn the cruiseliner that is Tottenham Hotspur around G and I often left the ground thinking “how did we win that?” These days we are much improved upon that but sometimes we don’t reap enough of what we’ve sown in the build up. Sunday was a prime example. Was Adebayor unlucky or wasteful? Certainly Van Der Vaart spent much of the second half trying to thread a pass through into space for him and had one come off he might have added to his tally. Elsewhere though he did miss a couple of sitters.

His quick thinking, however, robbed Paddy Kenny of the ball and allowed us to get it back in front of goal where Bale hit a blazing drive that produced an unbelievable save to keep it out. In essence he was not quite firing on all cylinders but his forward play assisted in producing the first goal and keeping Rangers stretched. 

Kenny made other good saves. Two from Van Der Vaart prevented him opening the scoring in the first couple of minutes and again just after half time. Had one of those gone in the floodgates might have opened – as they might have done for Chelsea in the opening minutes against Arsenal – but it just wasn’t to be.

All our goals were well taken. Bales goals in particular were outstanding with Lennon working inside on both laying a super pass for the powerful cross shot and then making a triangle of short passes before Bale curled a powerful shot into the net. Brilliant goals indeed that sent the crowd into raptures and Van Der Vaart’s shot from Ledley’s deflected shot was also clinical in the extreme. 

As we ate lunch before I left Mac Junior told me that a goal for Rafa would equal or break a record for goals scored in games on the trot. Between courses we identified it to be a Premiership record and a quick look in my (soon to be replaced) complete record 1882 to 1991 showed that a certain Mr Greaves scored in 10 on the trot in 1962-63. Others among you will be able to instantly tell me if that is in fact the record but it seems that the BBC are now following Sky and failing to accept football existed before the Premier League. On that basis Liverpool have hardly any history – mind games from Manchester perhaps but let’s get it right guys.

Biggest praise from the QPR game goes to Scott Parker who had an incredible afternoon particularly in the first half dominance. The guy was a colossus in midfield competing for every ball. Surely Luka is happy he stayed to play alongside him? As you probably recall I  wasn’t that keen thinking about how it would effect Sandro’s position but I have to admit that the young Brazilian must be learning loads from Scott who also now seems to have nicked Pav’s song…

Previously at Blackburn we had picked up another valuable three points from a game which my computer wouldn’t feed me. I’ve talked about the luxury of having both Rafa and Luka in the side when we travel but Rafa once again showed his mettle with two tremendous efforts that demonstrate why Harry is right to play him. 

Jermain Defoe must be disappointed to only get a run out alongside Pav in the Europa League games but you cant argue with the thought process behind it whilst we are winning. Once again we allowed Blackburn back into the game as we did at Newcastle but this time we were able to hold out. Will we be able to continue this trend at Fulham come Sunday? 

Whilst we won at The Cottage last season it has been a stadium of disappointment and this year with Martin Jol at their helm there is a risk that he inspires them to a win and some vindication of his unacceptably handled sacking. Realistically on current form that shouldn’t be possible and whilst Fulham have no travel problems their first team have played a Europa game tonight whilst with the exception of maybe Gallas ours have not. 

That means that it should be the right time to play them. These days we are better in such circumstance and have the players available to make it count. Our issue is whether we can get ahead sufficiently to close down the shop and go Sandro/Parker.

That seems to take us full circle to where I began; goal difference. G has a theory that we will get better at this part of the game as we get more experienced. The quality of the squad has not been this good for ever so maybe one good hiding will set us up for a period. It certainly helped Manchester City after their visit to the Lane.

After Newcastle the next six games all looked winnable. Two down, four to go and if we were to do it we would undoubtedly surprise ourselves but maybe for this team now is the time.       

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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions Tottenham Hotspur 1 Blackpool 1

At this level decisions are all important to achieving a result. Unfortunately for Spurs I don’t believe we got enough of them right to get the three points we were looking for. I was unable to complete my preview piece for this match but after our 27 chance defeat at Bloomfield Road we had to hit the target to secure the win.

“Can we do it?” I asked, answering, “In truth I am not sure. It should be straightforward enough to hit the target but our strikers have proved convincingly this term that this is not the case despite the fact that they all have international experience”. 

Therefore, Decision 1, for me was who to start up front. After the Chelsea game that man would not have been Pav. Hopeless on that occasion he was equally hopeless here. For me it had to be Crouch and he came on after Bale’s injury. Unfortunately with 25 minutes left it ended up route one towards him and many of you will cite this as a reason for Pav. Yet in the first half when we put in a number of crosses would he not have offered more? It is an interesting point to consider why you would want to create so much width and crosses when they often produce no output.   

Decision 2 was whether to start Lennon or not? In my book he has had a raw deal since Real Madrid and when he came on after half time we saw a liveliness about our play down the right hand side that created a few chances. In the first half Kaboul had provided the output on the right and some of it was ok but in truth he is not an attacking right back. Yes he can make occasional runs to overlap the right winger but when that man is Rafa he won’t be there and therefore there is too much work to do.

The problem here is how to fit Van Der Vaart into the side. Lennon drops out to allow Rafa to play a roving role. He drops deep, makes passes and tries to arrive at the right time. Yesterday he nearly made a Bale cross and it would have been a great goal. When Lennon came on Rafa pushed up front but only for 10 minutes. That leaves Defoe on his own and maybe isolated and both Rafa and Luka Modric roaming wherever they fancy. Great when it works but it can leave others out of position if or when we lose the ball.

Decision 3 rests with our goalkeeper. My draft preview piece looked at this problem;

“Then at the back we have a goalkeeper who can no longer be relied upon following the latest of his errors and despite a week having passed I still want to see Carlo Cudicini see out the season. Whilst Harry publically supported the player in his TV interviews last weekend his more private comments must have questioned what the heck was going on. 

In many ways this could be the end of the road for Gomes for next season we need to push on and mount a serious challenge. Whilst he remains a good shot stopper he like many of the current goalkeepers does not appear to dominate his area or back four when it comes to instructions and therefore misunderstandings take place. 

Being a bit older I remember a league of home grown keepers who were able to get their message across. That might not be the way of the modern workplace with HR issuing memo’s about bullying but it clearly got across some responsibility to each defender in those days. 

I’m also informed that when Pat Jennings first played he was dodgy on crosses yet improved and in the end could catch them one handed. So it all comes down to whether we think Gomes can make that level of improvement to offer his team mates more support. The Jury is out for me on this point but I tend to favour the “he can’t” argument.”

Knowing that Harry was going to pick him I looked at his performance yesterday with some interest. In the first half two decent saves from Charlie Adam but one came as a result of a hasty throw out which got intercepted meaning he brought the save upon himself and on another occasion another quick throw put Rose under pressure on the edge of the pitch level with the edge of the box.  One problem he did have was only being able to clear to Bale but that appears to be lost to him until next season now.

Then came the penalties. The first a brilliant save, much celebration, vindicating Harry’s call to keep him in the team. Fair play I thought and turned to say as much to the bloke behind at which point the corner was taken and I turned back to see him away from his goal bringing down the man for the second. It can only be Tottenham Hotspur!

Decision 4 rests with Gomes inability to make the correct decision. How many more times can we see this level of nonsense take place before the opportunity is taken away from him. Yes I agree he can make the most brilliant of saves, like keeping out DJ Campbell, but his general decision making is extremely suspect and allows him to get into these tangles with forwards from which there will only ever be one outcome. 

Another Decision rests with our defence. Have they got confidence in the man behind them? If they have it is now wearing extremely thin and I suspect that if a change was made they would not be that concerned however nice a fella Gomes is.

We should also mention Mr Probert who had an in and out game. He was unsighted for the Bale tackle but did appear to lose control of the game for a period in the second half as tempers rose with the tension of the match. Both sides needed to win it and after Defoe had scored an excellent equaliser the crowd did their best to will a winner for Spurs.

It wasn’t to be, yet more damage done in a season that is finishing extremely flat. Our record against most of the bottom teams has been poor with only Wolves giving us more than half the points and we go to Manchester City and Liverpool with injuries in key positions and a team lacking form.

Having said that, Modric had another good day at the office and was unlucky not to convert a header early in the second half and Sandro continues to improve showing others it will be hard to dislodge him from the side. The Bale injury looked horrific on MoTD and I would be surprised if he takes further part this season and because of substitutions made Kranjcar got his obligatory 5 minutes to try and rescue the game for us. In my book that’s another strange decision as we could have gone three across the back and given Niko a longer run out.

That would have sacrificed Rose earlier which would have been unfortunate as he had a decent game and is likely to play at left back if Benny cannot start for our last three games. Harry suggested on the full BBC interview that he will be a left back at Premier League level as he is not good enough to be a wide man. An interesting disclosure but a wise decision? It was the story of our day.               

Bittersweet but no symphony: Wigan 0 Tottenham 0

The Wife’s Open University Graduation ceremony prevented me from watching online the Wigan Spurs game and having watched the Sky highlights I might have been handed an escape. That’s not to say we played badly but in real time and not knowing the score the last 10 minutes would have been nervous as we did our best to offer Wigan some opportunity to take all six points this season.

In my preview I suggested that the mind had to be on the job rather than more exciting fixtures in the future and I was not convinced that the team succeeded. I’d forgotten JJ who had our best opportunity of the first half and maybe the game when I suggested a team sheet and he came into midfield as Lennon was deemed not fit enough to start.

At season’s end Wigan may be another opponent that come back to haunt us. Like West Ham we allowed them to take four points from us this term and whilst you can excuse the Hammers with it being a London derby and all that I’m not sure that the same can be said for the Latics. I would be surprised if they escape the drop come mid May so their record against us will be one of their better ones and if we want to mount a serious challenge we have to despatch these sides. 

That being said I do agree with Harry that there are no easy games in the Premier League and with Arsenal and Chelsea also being held to draws the differential for the Champions League runner up qualification spots was unchanged on Saturday evening. However, City’s demolition of Sunderland did two things; made it more difficult for us point wise and widened the goal difference.

Therefore we have to defeat them and win all of our remaining games as there is little chance of us overturning the goal difference. That has been a disappointment of this campaign. Our goal scoring has dried up and without the signing of Van Der Vaart would look really poor. His problem is that opponents are now ready for him and whilst he is able to orchestrate things and retain possession often in difficult circumstances he is marked out of it in the last third. 

Yesterday he operated in midfield rather than off the striker and had a couple of snapshots which the keeper did well to hold onto but in the last couple of games he has been much deeper irrespective of position. 

At the season’s start I suggested that there was not much wrong with our strikers but we maybe needed to create more chances for them. Yesterday the highlights appeared to show us not creating much but after previous games when sack loads of chances have come they haven’t delivered. Confidence appears to be an issue and without any of them being prolific they probably all think that they should be playing. 

The reality is that at the present time none of them should be playing and in the days of Bill Nicholson the cheque book would have appeared. These days the window forces hands and make it difficult to recruit the right men mid season so we have to go with what we have and support them on the field but it is galling to me to see Berbatov sitting on the bench. I know many of you would not want him back but put him into our side and how good could we be?

Sandro continued in midfield and looked quite good to me again as did Luka Modric who like Van Der Vaart looks nearly impossible to dispossess. Jenas looked lively but came under increasing pressure in the second half when Wigan came on stronger. 

At the back Gomes was at his best making some decent saves and dealing with his crosses and Bassong made a crucial second half block after struggling with a bounce in the first before a flag came to his aid. Corluka is back to fitness and with the suggestion that Hutton is out for the season he needs to be. He like Benny played reasonably well although Benny was caught out badly near the end of the game and we were lucky to escape. 

So we come home with a point rather then the three we wanted but a point at least. “We never got going”, Harry told reporters afterwards and “did not deserve to win the game.” I won’t disagree but we picked up no more injuries and head off to Spain for the game we had in mind during the 90 minutes. Let’s hope we don’t have the Stoke game in mind when Tuesday night comes round!