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Watford 2 Birmingham City 0 (25/08/2012) 25/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
17 comments

Five thunks from a reassuring win at Vicarage Road.

1- Back at the Vic for a second time in a week. And if Tuesday’s defeat was an enactment of so many of our fears with regard to this season, then the unholy deluge that escorted many of the crowd to the game, as had happened on Tuesday, brought us to kick off damp, already miserable and less than optimistic. This was a considerably heavier downpour, as if the pre-Ipswich rain had been a mere Olympic heat, the big guns saving their season’s-best performance for the Final. And here it was, mercilessly rinsing us down Occupation Road. Briefly, we worried whether the match would go ahead.

That concern lasted until we saw the pitch, holding up fine with no evidence of standing water. Incoming respite – much as we were already safe under the Rookery roof – was also evident above the Vicarage Road end, the sky clearing to the north even as it continued to teem down. In similar fashion, Watford started the game at a furious pace and rapidly dispelled fears of a re-enactment of Tuesday on the pitch. Caldwell’s comical shove on Matej Vydra rapidly presented us an early advantage, Almen Abdi swiping home the spot kick in a manner quite inconsistent with Watford tradition. Caldwell’s lack of further punishment a curiosity, an afterthought.

From then on, and for the first hour of the contest, it was farcically one-sided. Vydra doubled the advantage when put through by Yeates, his dinked finish over the onrushing Butland more exquisite with every replay. And thereon it was merciless possession. Let’s not beat about the bush – Birmingham were absolutely shocking, having started slowly and presumably not bothered to send anyone to watch us on Tuesday evening they afforded us ample space in midfield where Ipswich had chased us down. As such Yeates had the time to put in what’s probably the best performance I’ve seen from him in a Watford shirt whilst Almen Abdi looked every inch a Craig Ramage tribute act; arrogantly comfortable in possession, sharp with either foot, languid, not overly interested in chasing back (although he did snap into one challenge to mercilessly dispossess Redmond in the first half), and far too much for City’s midfield in this mood. Hogg, to whom too much responsibility had been abdicated (Abdi-Yeated? Sorry) on Tuesday was much more comfortable. The magnificent Pudil and Doyley rampaged up either wing, Sean Murray looked the part for the first time this season, Almunia wasn’t troubled. The only concern was that we didn’t crown our superiority with further goals.

2- There are many arguments in favour of playing a possession game when in the lead in such a situation. Principally, of course, it’s quite hard for the other lot to score without the ball (if not completely impossible, as we’ve demonstrated before). In addition, you can probably count on their legs going and gaps opening up if you get them chasing around enough earlier on.

Where this fell down today, of course, is that City weren’t really doing much of that chasing around earlier in the game. Added to which, Lee Clark not unreasonably replaced his two most culpable wasters, the invisible Darren Ambrose who had shuffled around in a half-arsed fashion for the entire first half, and the frustrating Zigic, with Morgano Gomis and Peter Lovenkrands. Gomis in particular made a difference, Prince Buaben’s former Dundee United sidekick getting hold of the ball and ensuring that City finally strung some moves together, Chris Burke getting involved for the first time. The threat remained largely theoretical… there wasn’t much in the way of efforts on target and we defended solidly enough to keep City at arm’s length. But it would have been interesting to see how we would have stood up to conceding… a two-goal lead notoriously precarious.

3- Our own use of subs was interesting… Carl Dickinson and Lee Hodson replacing Vydra and Murray in the second half leaving us with four full backs on the pitch, albeit with two, Hodson and Pudil, in nominally wide midfield possessions. The Dickinson introduction looked particularly odd, costing us in Vydra – who admittedly may still be being used cautiously – what pace we had to test City’s high defensive line. Dickinson looked cumbersome and ill-at-ease; one wonders to what extent his employment was a shop-window decision; inconceivable that we won’t be trying to shift more players before the end of the week given the numbers still to make the first team squad (who else had forgotten Fitz Hall), recently signed or mooted.

4- Chris Iwelumo is another whose name has been assumed to be on the “available for transfer” list, but he was magnificent today, infinitely more effective than Garner has been to date – even if we played to his strength with a slightly more direct game. Looking so much more mobile than at this stage last season, he gave Curtis Davies a hell of an afternoon… this, like that game at Leeds last season, was what we had hoped for when he signed. If he does leave, he could still be someone else’s gain.


5- I know that these things don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, I know that it’s twenty-odd years since the old scoreboard went, that that’s longer that it was ever there. But the jumping men are unavoidably associated with the most successful period in the club’s history, a period which saw so many of us sucked in. And not before time, they’re back. Well hurrah. Big smiles all round.

Watford 0 Ipswich Town 1 (21/08/2012) 22/08/2012

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
30 comments

1. All is unfamiliar. Sunshine and joyous victory in Croydon; torrential rain for the first home game, followed by last-minute defeat to our favourite opponents. The names of the new loan signings currently resemble a set of characters from an obscure role-playing game: “Vydra – The Scorpion” (X-Factor: 4.9); “Abdi – The Thinker” (Patience: 0.7%); “Pudil – The Unknown” (?: ?); “Anya – The Midget” (Turning Circle: 0.1); “Geijo – The Ghost” (Invisibility: 95%); “Beleck – The Giant” (Fear Factor: x3). It’s all a bit weird. There’s a moment when Manuel Almunia cack-handedly fumbles a cross onto the penalty spot and everyone almost breathes a sigh of relief at seeing something so thoroughly in its place.

1a. (Speaking of which, where does the animosity towards Scott Loach come from? These days, the Rookery rarely reacts to anything with such intensity of feeling: vitriol and affection in roughly equal measure and with more than a suggestion of an imminent punch-up between the factions. Why? Genuinely, why? An amnesty from abuse and contradiction for anyone capable of explaining it in plain English in the comments…)

2. Not much sign of familiarity on the newly-laid pitch either. For now, we’re the opposition any self-respecting Championship bovver unit would choose: a team intent on playing a proper, grown-up, like-we’ve-seen-on-the-telly passing game, yet several country miles from realising it in any coherent form. We’re the team Sean Dyche’s Watford would’ve loved to get its snarling teeth into, the buck-toothed wimp with a bit of lunch money in the school playground. We should start thinking up excuses to get out of playing Leeds right now.

These things take time. I’m no great advocate of a passing game…but if that’s the route you really want to take, you have to keep playing through it, you have to keep making positive mistakes, you have to take defeats like this on the chin and move on. You must have some courage, some conviction. It takes months, maybe even seasons. In the meantime, you have an awkward and somewhat tetchy mix: new kids with the technical skills but none of the streetwise stuff, always requiring that fraction more time than is offered; seasoned veterans understanding that, in this league, the ball is a liability as much as an asset.

Thus, we spent the vast majority of these ninety minutes being steered into dark alleys and ruthlessly mugged by a well-equipped Ipswich side. Almen Abdi, in particular, has the air of a visiting royal abandoned by his aides and left to fend for himself in an East End street market. For half an hour, we could barely get over the halfway line without losing possession, the result a seemingly endless series of pacy, direct counter-attacks from the likes of Carlos Edwards and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. With everything so suffocatingly tight, there must’ve been acres of space elsewhere on the pitch…but we carried little threat of getting in behind Ipswich or of stretching them in wide areas…and we couldn’t get our heads up for long enough to have a look anyway. Really, we were very fortunate indeed to be level at the break.

3. That we carried a greater threat after the arrival of Chris Iwelumo is indisputable. We might well have stolen a win, in fact. But if that’s not where we’re headed in terms of development, it’s slightly irrelevant: it’ll always be easier to play the percentages than to stick with the passing principle, so we learn nothing new and get no closer to our stated ideal. (Three points is always nice, mind…)

I’d be more encouraged by the five-minute spell at the end of that almost irredeemable first half, when, despite all that’d gone before, we finally held onto the ball, started to get it moving at a bright tempo, and exerted some pressure on the Ipswich defence. No chances, but a clear sense of collective purpose…and an immediate response from the stands, starved of attacking football until that point. All is not lost, as long as we remember what we’re trying to do and insistently return to it at every opportunity, even if it went wrong last time. Even if it goes wrong again.

4. If I have an underlying concern, it’s with the defence. A defence that was living a rather charmed life towards the end of last season, exposed by pace and spared by outstanding goalkeeping on a number of occasions. There’s little not to like about Messrs Taylor and Nosworthy, but the absence of Adrian Mariappa’s extra yard is keenly felt…especially when the midfield is lightened by the absence of John Eustace. We haven’t really addressed all of that, have we?

Passing football requires a firm foundation. Looking back at Adrian Boothroyd’s post-Premiership season – yeah, sorry – there was a clear intent towards playing a shorter passing game, for all that history will record yer man as a one-trick donkey with a bit of a wind problem. We frequently started matches with a frenetic and potentially successful interpretation of what we’d picked up in the top flight…and then equally frequently conceded a stupid goal and let it all fall apart. We didn’t ever buy ourselves any time. We went back to being a long ball team – and a lesser one at that – not because we weren’t any good at being more constructive, but because our constructions were built on sand and we didn’t bother to buy any concrete until it was far too late.

Me, I’d like to see some clean sheets.

5. But more than anything, I’d like to believe that we were all prepared to give this six months, a year, whatever. There’s been understandable cynicism about the use of the word “project” in connection with the summer takeover…but that is what it feels like, for better or worse.

Thanks to a variety of factors – the widening gap to the Premiership, increasing parachute payments for the relegated clubs, EPPP, endless recession, and so on – our slice of the football pyramid is under threat like never before. We have to set out what our future will be, a viable and distinct agenda for ourselves rather than the vain hope that we might just survive in a world dominated by a handful of clubs with stratospheric budgets. It feels like we’re doing something in response. Something different, innovative, potentially brilliant, potentially disastrous. But, crucially, something. It’s far too soon for conclusions.

Season Preview Part 6 16/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
11 comments

Final instalment…

PETERBOROUGH UNITED

INS: Tyrone Barnett (Crawley Town, £1,100,000), Shaun Brisley (Macclesfield Town, £300,000), Robert Olejnik (Torquay United, £300,000), Michael Bostwick (Stevenage, Undisclosed), Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Wolves, Undisclosed), Jonson Clarke-Harris (Coventry City, Free), Nat Knight-Percival (Wrexham, Free), Danny Swanson, Dundee United, Free)

OUTS: David Ball (Fleetwood Town, Undisclosed), Paul Jones (Crawley Town, Free), Joe Lewis (Cardiff City, Free), Nathan Ralph (Yeovil Town, Free), Danny Mills

OUR EX-POSH: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: The pivotal match of the season, a 3-2 victory at Vicarage Road on an early Family Day that precipitated a much needed run of form up to Christmas, and an eventful 2-2 at London Road in the last away trip of the campaign.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Olejnik
Little         Zakuani        Brisley       Alcock
Bostwick     McCann
Boyd                  Swanson            Taylor
Barnett

VERDICT: Posh will inevitably be amongst the names talked about for the drop, but there’s quality here and Darren Ferguson has been very active in the transfer market – with a bizarre penchant for double-barrelled surnames.  Slightly surprisingly both Paul Taylor and George Boyd remain at the time of writing (although Taylor remains transfer-listed having turned down a new contract), and nobody’s doing the lower-league diamond-polishing thing with greater conviction than Peterborough.  You’ve got to worry about a side that plays such an open game… you kinda feel that the goals are more likely to dry up at the one end than the other, if you know what I mean.  Still, I said that last year.  You do rather root for Peterborough, much as Ferguson is so very hard to like… there’s something to be said for trying to score more goals than the other lot.  More teams should try it.  Sixteenth.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

INS: Michel Antonio (Reading, Undisclosed), Chris Maguire (Derby County, Undisclosed), Diogo Amado (Estoril, Free), Anthony Gardner (Crystal Palace, Free), Chris Kirkland (Wigan Athletic, Free), Kieran Lee (Oldham Athletic, Free), Joe Mattock (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Rhys McCabe (Rangers, Free), Nejc Pecnik (CD Nacional, Free)

OUTS: Ryan Lowe (Franchise FC, Undisclosed), Rob Jones (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Clinton Morrison (Colchester United, Free), Richard O’Donnell (Chesterfield, Free), Jon Otsemobor (Franchise FC, Free), Sean Cuff, Vadaine Oliver, Chris Sedgwick, Liam Palmer (Tranmere Rovers, Six Month Loan), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen, Season Loan)

OUR EX-OWLS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Paul Wilkinson (Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A 4-1 romp at Vicarage Road three years ago with Tom Cleverley and Henri Lansbury in full flow, and a 2-1 defeat later in the season which saw Cleverley’s last goal for the ‘orns.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Kirkland
Buxton    Llera         Gardner          Mattock
J.Johnson    Lines     Semedo       Antonio
Pecnik     Madine

VERDICT: Wednesday snuck back  into the automatic promotion places at the end of last season to deny their Steel City rivals, which obviously won’t have been enjoyed at all.  Hardly an unstoppable charge back to the second tier, then, but some serious investment by the Owls over the summer comes across as a statement which says “we’re not bloody going through that again”.  They won’t either, not imminently, despite what Dave Jones described as “the worst 45 minutes I’ve ever seen” in the opening half of their League Cup tie with Oldham on Tuesday night.  The wingers look particularly strong (assuming that Johnson stays interested) and there are options up front.  Defensively it looks a bit wobblier as it stands (albeit there’s talk of further investment before the end of the month) but Kirkland is obviously an asset if he stays fit – and in fairness, he’s had “good” seasons with injury in three of the last four.  Overall, more than enough to safely nestle them in mid-table although, despite probably being the best equipped of the promoted sides, it’s hard to see them sustaining a play-off challenge, even with a prevailing wind.

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS

INS: Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson (Lillestrøm, £2,430,000), Jamie Tank (Walsall, Undisclosed), Frank Nouble (West Ham United, Free), Tongo Doumbia (Rennes, Season Loan), Slawomir Peszko (1.F.C.Cologne, Season Loan)

OUTS: Adlene Guedioura (Nottingham Forest, Undisclosed), Michael Kightly (Stoke City, Undisclosed), Sam Vokes (Burnley, Undisclosed), Louis Harris (AFC Wimbledon, Free), Ashley Hemmings (Walsall, Free), Jamie Spray (AFC Telford, Free), Jake Cassidy (Tranmere Rovers, Six Month Loan), Jonny Gorman (Plymouth Argyle, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-WOLVES: Chris Iwelumo

THEIR EX-ORNS: Tony Daley (Fitness/Conditioning Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two defeats as Wolves were promoted in 2008/09, Chris Iwelumo giving us a battering in an eventful 3-2 defeat at Vicarage Road and Adrian Mariappa scoring his first senior goal at Molineux as Brendan Rodgers’ side dropped into the bottom three.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Hennessey
Foley      Johnson     Stearman        Ward
Peszko        Henry     Doumbia        Jarvis
Doyle      Sigurðarson

VERDICT: Last season was monstrous for Wolves, whichever way you cut it.  Easy to forget that when Mick McCarthy was sacked in February, they were only in the drop zone on goal difference.  I’m no fan of McCarthy, but the dismissal felt a little premature… he’d been the first manager since John Barnwell in 1981 to keep the Wolves in the top flight.  I guess I didn’t have to watch the team every week though, as someone pointed out at the time.  What was looking like a difficult season soon became farcical;  a stated intention to cherry pick an experienced manager failed to find any takers and the well-meaning but utterly out of his depth Terry Connor, a long-term coach at the club, was left with the indignity of leading a plunge back into the second tier.  He failed to win any of his thirteen games in charge.

It was a car crash, all the more peculiar because from the outside, it didn’t look as if Wolves had a squad that should be struggling.  They were particularly well catered for in attacking positions;  we’d seen at close hand, albeit in the Championship, what a devastating weapon Michael Kightly was;  Matt Jarvis capped by England, Doyle, Fletcher, Ebanks-Blake a perfectly respectable deputy.  The problems were at the other end, where the signing of Roger Johnson was only the most well-publicised disaster of a calamitous defence that conceded more goals than anyone else.

Enter Stale Solbakken, who had spent a year with Cologne – and was relegated with the Bundesliga’s definitive yo-yo club – following huge success at Copenhagen.  The thing hasn’t settled down yet… several top players, inevitably, wanted out; Fletcher and Jarvis seem certain to leave, although both remain at the time of writing, and Michael Kightly provoked fury by leaving for Stoke after three injury-dominated years during which he was given a new contract.  Something of the Lee Cook about that one.  Meanwhile Solbakken has taken the odd step of announcing his transfer targets before they’ve been secured, thus courting unnecessary pressure as several have turned him down.  Nonetheless, this is a capable guy and a remarkably sensible appointment.  Fletcher and Jarvis, not having anticipated the recent turn of events, have three or four years left on contract, so their sale would provide funds to bolster what already looks like a strong squad.  The defence could still need some attention, although Roger Johnson’s re-emergence should be encouraging for Wolves fans, and there’s a lack of creativity in midfield without Jarvis but you’d expect these areas to be addressed by the end of the month.  In Doyle, Ebanks-Blake, Sigurðarson(lots to be said for signing lunatic Icelandic centre-forwards from Lillestrøm of course), Nouble and (for the moment) Fletcher there are loads of attacking options.  Play-offs would be a disappointment.

And finally…

WATFORD

INS: Manuel Almunia (Arsenal, Free), Fitz Hall (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Almen Abdi (Udinese, Season Loan), Ikechi Anya (Granada, Season Loan), Alex Geijo (Udinese, Season Loan), Steve Leo Beleck (Udinese, Season Loan), Daniel Pudil (Granada, Season Loan), Matej Vydra (Udinese, Season Loan)

OUTS: Scott Loach (Ipswich Town, Undisclosed), Adrian Mariappa (Reading, Undisclosed), Rene Gilmartin (Plymouth Argyle, Free), Chez Isaac (Borehamwood, Free), Tom James (Nuneaton Town, Free), David Mirfin (Scunthorpe United, Free), Josh Walker (Scunthorpe United, Free), Michael Bryan

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Almunia
Hodson   Nosworthy    Taylor       Pudil
Eustace     Hogg     Abdi
Vydra            Geijo             Murray

VERDICT: Well where the hell do you start?

Whatever we expected at the start of the summer, a complete redefinition of our club wasn’t it.  The most recent manifestation of this has been the announcement that our application for Category 1 Academy status has been withdrawn in favour of Category 3 status.  The whys and hows and wherefores of this decision are still to be clarified at the time of writing;  my instinct is that this is the first of a number of hard-nosed decisions by our new owners (we’ll get to them), who promised to get the club running at a profit.  That was never going to be easy.  But something which downplays our traditional emphasis on youth development just feels so alien; given that the a big attraction, supposedly, of Watford (rather than anyone else) to the Pozzos was our youth development, one can only hope that this decision is well founded and that our youth development can survive despite it.  Beyond question is that the utterly selfish, grasping vanity of the Premier League’s EPPP, an initiative as shameless and morally repugnant as the creation of the Premier League itself, is ultimately the root cause of this decision;  the Pozzos’ judgement might be questioned, but they didn’t create the situation.

Contributing to said situation, presumably, is the financial chaos left behind by our erstwhile owner.  Defaulting on bond conditions to the extent that the club was sold from under him and appeared to run up a tax bill that provoked a transfer embargo was never going to be a matter of small misjudgement or loose change, and it’s not as if we were running at a profit anyway.  Much as there’s part of me that yearns for continued status as a well-run small-town club and all the limitations that that brings, another part recognises that that option really wasn’t on offer- and that “continued” would not be an accurate adjective in any case.  Whilst this club has been well-run at times over the past decade or so, such periods have never been sufficiently successful to render the periods in between insignificant.  The Pozzo takeover, given the alternative, is without question a positive development; we must hold them to their commitment to respect the club’s identity and community traditions.

As for stuff on the pitch… it’s very difficult not to hark back to the last time an Italian ex-Chelsea forward became manager and tried to impose a passing game.  Indeed, the League Cup game against Wycombe brought that period back into sharp focus, in case anyone had forgotten, in the ease with which Wanderers stifled us and found a way to play us.  Harsh to pass judgement on the first game of the season, but it’s going to need to get much sharper very quickly.

Encouragingly, as far as it’s been possible to judge, the players brought in look excellent;  certainly the three who played against Wycombe did well, Pudil, Geijo and Beleck address areas of weakness in the squad, and Fitz Hall brings an option in following the sale of Mariappa (even if a quicker option to complement Nos and Taylor might have been nice…).  It’s tempting to urge caution as regards expecting too much too early, but the first person to use the phrase “time to gel” in dispatches will, you can be assured, be punched very hard in the face.

It’s always harder to predict what will happen to Watford, much easier to make glib, half-arsed statements about any other club, but calling Watford’s fortunes this year is surely next to impossible even if one ignores emotional involvement.  Ultimately though, the core of what made us punch above our weight so comprehensively last season – the strong base at centre-back and centre-mid, despite the loss of the magnificent Mariappa, and the genius of Murray, is still there.  It is far from inconceivable that Almunia, being talked of as an England keeper a few years ago, could replace Kuszczak effectively.  As such I don’t expect us to struggle.  But quite how close we get to meeting the stated objective of top flight football this season is anybody’s guess.

Still.  You wouldn’t want life to be dull, would you.  You ‘orns.

Season Preview Part 5 14/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
5 comments

Part Five. And we’re only at Leicester.  How does that work?  Last chunk on Thursday…

LEICESTER CITY

INS: Ritchie de Laet & Matty James (both Manchester United, £2,000,000 combined), Jamie Vardy (Fleetwood Town, £1,000,000 rising to £1,700,000), Jacob Blyth (Leamington, Undisclosed), Marko Futacs (Portsmouth, Undisclosed), Anthony Knockaert (Guingamp, Undisclosed), Zak Whitbread (Norwich City, Free)

OUTS: Sol Bamba (Trabzonspor, £750,000), Matt Mills (Bolton Wanderers, Undisclosed), Lee Peltier (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Steve Howard (Hartlepool United, Free), Oliver Norburn (Bristol Rovers, Free), Matt Oakley (Exeter City, Free), John Paintsil (Hapoel Tel Aviv, Free), Matt Robinson (Luton Town, Free), Chris Weale (Shrewsbury Town, Free), Elliott Chamberlain, Franck Moussa, Aleksandar Tunchev, Darius Vassell

OUR EX-FOXES: Mark Yeates

THEIR EX-ORNS: Danny Drinkwater

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A comprehensive defeat at the KP Stadium in October which, with the benefit of hindsight, featured the green shoots built on in subsequent games, and the now customary thriller at Vicarage Road (November 3rd this year, boys and girls), concluded with a belter from Craig Forsyth.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Schmeichel
de Laet        Whitbread     Morgan        Konchesky
Marshall        Drinkwater      Danns          Knockaert
Nugent          Beckford

VERDICT: Last year was supposed to be City’s year… big investment in the playing squad, Sven in charge, the Foxes were amongst the favourites for the title.  Instead, they fizzled out badly and finished the season just two points above ourselves. Sven has departed, Nigel Pearson has returned, a whole load of players have been shipped out, a whole load more shipped in, and City again look to have a strong squad, albeit that once again there might be a period of getting-to-know-each-other before things bed in.  There appears to be better balance in the squad… the presence of genuine wide players in midfield is a popular development, French youngster Knockaert having shown up well in pre-season, and there are options and cover in every position.  Their challenge should be a little less peripheral this time around, but it all feels a little humdrum to me… much will depend on how well Pearson blends the elements, since no area of the team jumps out as outstanding of its own right.  Seventh.

MIDDLESBROUGH

INS: Mustapha Carayol (Bristol Rovers, Undisclosed), George Friend (Doncaster Rovers, Undisclosed),  Grant Leadbitter (Ipswich Town, Free), Emmanuel Ledesma (Walsall, Free), Jayson Leutwiler (Basel, Free),Jonathan Woodgate (Stoke City, Free), Christian Burgess (no club), Stuart Parnaby (no club)

OUTS: Jonathan Franks (Hartlepool United, Free), Jonathan Grounds (Oldham Athletic, Free), Tony McMahon (Sheffield United, Free), Barry Robson (Vancouver Whitecaps, Free), Danny Coyne

OUR EX-BORO: John Eustace, Mark Yeates

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A slightly unfortunate defeat on the telly in November, and a season-closing victory that confirmed all sorts of inconsequentially pleasing statistics on the final day.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Steele
Hoyte         Williams      Woodgate      Friend
Bailey         Thomson      Leadbitter    Carayol
Emnes       Jutkiewicz

VERDICT: Boro have gradually improved under Tony Mowbray, to the point where they arrived at Vicarage Road at the end of last season harbouring hopes of breaking into the play-off picture.  Those hopes were to be dashed, first by events elsewhere and then by Troy and Big Chris, and it may be that Boro’s best chance of promotion went with them.  Whilst Boro have hung on to their key players thus far – not least the coveted Rhys Williams – they don’t appear to have solved the goalscoring problem that ultimately blighted last season’s promotion campaign.  They’ve adopted the strategy of trying to cherry pick from the lower divisions, and all power to them for that, whether adopted out of choice or necessity.  They’ve also brought back Jonathan Woodgate, who should be an asset if he stays fit… but that’s rather a big if.  In what looks like a very open division, Boro will finish top half but no cigar.

MILLWALL

INS: Scott Malone (AFC Bournemouth, Part Exchange), Karleigh Osbourne (Brentford, Free), Danny Shittu (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Chris Taylor (Oldham Athletic, Free), Maik Taylor (Leeds United, Free)

OUTS: Tony Craig (Brentford, Undisclosed), Danny McQuoid (AFC Bournemouth, Part Exchange), Ryan Allsop (Höttur, Free), Hameur Bouazza (Omonia Nicosia, Free), Chris Hackett (Northampton Town, Free), Jake Gallagher, Connor McLaren, Jordan Stewart

OUR EX-LIONS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Joe Gallen (Assistant Manager), Darius Henderson, Kenny Jackett (Manager), Danny Shittu, Jack Smith, Darren Ward

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Another double over the Lions: a rare early season triumph and an improbable, hugely impressive win at the New Den on the last day of the transfer window in the wake of Sordell and Mariappa hurly-burly.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

  Forde
Dunne     Robinson      Ward        Malone
Henry        Abdou       Trotter       C.Taylor
Keogh      Henderson

VERDICT: After a bolshy first year back in the second tier, the Lions slipped back into the bottom half morass last season.  Never really in danger of going down – and pulling away from the bottom after a strong finish – Millwall never quite looked capable of doing more than just holding their own.  The signing of Andy Keogh, who has been around for ever but is somehow still only 26, proved inspired with 10 goals in 18 as the season closed; the Lions could be heavily dependent upon him if Darius Henderson’s trial next week doesn’t go well.  Otherwise the Lions have been cherry picking in the transfer market whilst Liam Trotter is still being mentioned in transfer gossip columns, a loss that would leave Millwall particularly light in midfield.  They’ve got enough to stay up – you’d always back Kenny Jackett to come up with a tough defence.  But not much more than that.  Which is good, ‘cos with four wins in two seasons we’re doing quite well out of them.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

INS: Danny Collins (Stoke City, Undisclosed), Simon Cox (West Bromwich Albion, Undisclosed), Adlene Guedioura (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Undisclosed), Greg Halford (Portsmouth, Undisclosed), Dan Harding (Southampton, Undisclosed), Simon Gillett (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Daniel Ayala (Norwich City, Season Loan)

OUTS: Chris Gunter (Reading, £2,300,000), Paul Anderson (Bristol City, Free), Luke Chambers (Ipswich Town, Free),Joel Lynch (Huddersfield Town, Free), Garath McCleary (Reading, Free), Danny Meadows (Alfreton Town, Free), Marlon Harewood

OUR EX-FOREST: Joe Garner

THEIR EX-ORNS: Steve Hodge (U16 Manager)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A horrible September defeat to an appalling Steve McClaren side, and a much more creditable point at the City Ground in February.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Camp
Halford       Ayala       Collins         Harding
McGugan    Guedioura     Moussi                Reid
Cox           Blackstock

VERDICT: A season after making the play-offs, Forest were a train crash last season.  The Steve McClaren thing was a catastrophe followed up by the bizarre recruitment of Steve Cotterill  who does a good line in looking desperate and/or affronted in post match interviews but hasn’t had a good season in the Championship for at least five years.  Two shocking appointments in one season, then, and Forest were a point off the bottom in mid-February although  Pompey’s points deduction took the pressure off and it was comfortable enough in the end. The big news of the summer has been a Kuwaiti takeover following the death of Nigel Doughty in February.  The appointment of a big-name manager was promised, so the arrival of Sean O’Driscoll, part of Cotterill’s team, was perhaps a surprise.  I’d have been encouraged, frankly… some frankly terrifying names were being knocked around and more generally you’d have worried about owners that favoured big-name grandstanding over, you know, a decent manager.  Won’t be easy or rapid for O’Driscoll though… some key players, key players in a side that was very bottom half for much of the season, have left and Lee Camp will be playing behind a brand new back four.  I’m not overly convinced by those names to be honest… Halford,in particular, is a wild card, Collins is a solid bit-part player at best.  No revolution at Forest, although I suspect that comfortably mid-table would do just fine for the time being.  Work in progress.

Season Preview Part 4 12/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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The Olympics are all well and good I suppose, but what you really wanted to be doing this summer was reading about Huddersfield Town?  No?  Next four up Tuesday…

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

INS: Oliver Norwood (Manchester United, £400,000), Keith Southern (Blackpool, £300,000), Adam Clayton (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Anthony Gerrard (Cardiff City, Undisclosed), Sean Scannell (Crystal Palace, Undisclosed), Paul Dixon (Dundee United, Free), Joel Lynch (Nottingham Forest, Free)

OUTS: Danny Cadamarteri (Carlisle United, Free), Aiden Chippendale (Accrington Stanley, Free), Nathan Clarke (Leyton Orient, Free), Antony Kay (Franchise FC, Free), Tommy Miller (Swindon Town, Free), Gary Naysmith (Aberdeen, Free), Jamie McCombe, Greg Pearson, Gary Roberts, Simon Thomas

OUR EX-TERRIERS: Joe Garner

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Going back a bit… the opening day of GT’s last season and a fortunate win courtesy of a Coxy-into-the-wall free kick that went into the net too (followed by listening to a now legendary 606 call that still enters conversation in Row SS of the Rookery on occasions some 12 years on). And a quite grotesque home defeat just before Christmas the same year in which our tumble from contention was confirmed as terminal. Having led the division in early November, the defeat left us 18 points behind Fulham.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Smithies
Dixon          Clarke            Lynch           Hunt
Southern       Clayton         Norwood
Scannell                      Rhodes                         Ward

VERDICT: Another new side  to assess, a side that we haven’t played for a while… and a side that have brought in at least half a team’s worth of replacements over the summer, so kinda difficult to make a call on.  Not to mention the Jordan Rhodes thing… Blackburn are, at the time of writing, only the most recent side to be linked with the prolific striker and if a deal goes through it’s safe to assume that some of the income will be spent on yet more replacements.  So… even harder to call. As it stands, the Terriers look heavily reliant on Rhodes up front, who has looked isolated in a 4-5-1 pre-season with fellow strikers Lee Novak, warhorse Alan Lee and youngster James Spencer not popularly expected to make the step up comfortably.  Simon Grayson will either need to replace Rhodes or find adequate cover for him; elsewhere, the new signings look decent but most were either regulars in struggling sides or bit-part players in better sides last season, so don’t expect more than a dropping of anchor in mid-table.  I’ll say bottom half, but they’ll only struggle if goalscorer Rhodes is injured or unsuccessfully replaced.

HULL CITY

INS: Nick Proschwitz (SC Paderborn 07, £2,600,000), Sone Aluko (Rangers, Free), Alex Bruce (Leeds United, Free), Abdoulaye Faye (West Ham United, Free), Eldin Jakupovic (Aris Salonika, Free), Ben Amos (Manchester United, Season Loan)

OUTS: Dele Adebola (Rochdale, Free), Will Atkinson (Bradford City, Free), Kamel Ghilas (Stade de Reims, Free), Kevin Kilbane (Coventry City, Free), James Harper (Hungerford Town, Free), Nick Barmby, Richard Garcia, Sonny Bradley (Aldershot Town, Season Loan), Mark Cullen (Bury, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-TIGERS: Mark Yeates

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Chris Iwelumo opening his Watford account in what nonetheless ended up as a 3-2 defeat at the KC Stadium in October, and a sleepy 1-1 draw at the Vic in April which concluded with Buaben at right back after Mariappa’s dismissal.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Amos
Rosenior      Hobbs      Chester      Dudgeon
Koren      McKenna      Evans        Aluko
Proschwitz     Fryatt

VERDICT: Interesting how clubs redefine themselves after brief spells in the top flight.  Some manage to yo-yo (and even end up just “yo”ing, as GT once famously put it).  Some bomb out.  Many have floundered with the uncertainty of the stick-or-twist gamble against parachute payments.

City shed themselves of the unlikeable Phil Brown, wobbled a bit, underwent a change of ownership and are now solid top half fodder, probably a notch or two higher in the pecking order than they were before their nonetheless fully deserved promotion in 2008. Now on their third manager since relegation (Steve Bruce following the brief tenures of Nigel Pearson and Nick Barmby), the side has remained solid but unspectacular throughout.  Scoring goals was the problem last season – only Reading conceded fewer, but 47 goals scored in 46 games  never felt like promotion form.  Even with Player of the Year Koren signing the new contract that he’s dawdled over all summer I can’t see that changing… Proschwitz carries a big price tag but is relatively inexperienced, with one season in the Swiss top flight and one in the German second tier at a decent level.  Big ask.  Top half, but no cigar… eleventh.
IPSWICH TOWN

INS: Elliott Hewitt (Macclesfield Town, Undisclosed), Scott Loach (Watford, Undisclosed), Luke Chambers (Nottingham Forest, Free), Massimo Luongo (Tottenham Hotspur, Season Loan)

OUTS: Grant Leadbitter (Middlesbrough, Free), Richard Wright (Preston North End, Free), Lee Bowyer, Cody Cropper, Ibrahima Sonko, Mark Kennedy (retired)

OUR EX-BLUES: Alec Chamberlain

THEIR EX-ORNS: Michael Chopra, Nathan Ellington, Scott Loach

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Lots of wins. Hurrah. In both of last seasons games Town were ahead both at the interval and with twenty minutes remaining, but ended up losing both – the second, memorably, to Troy Deeney’s Goal of the Season.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Loach
Edwards     Chambers     Smith        Cresswell
Hyam      Carson      Luongo
Emmanuel-Thomas                                               Martin
Chopra

VERDICT: Conscious as I am that it feels very much as if I’ve been kinda predicting that most clubs will finish preeeetty much where they finished last season, here’s a (small) deviation.  In a season where there are, surprisingly and rather unusually, not very many absolutely desperate clubs in the division as it stands, Ipswich could be in a spot of bother.  It’s not that there’s not quality in the side… we were terrorised for 45 minutes by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas at the Vic earlier in the year, Lee Martin is finally becoming a player, Chambers and the on-loan Luongo are both good signings.  It’s… well…  that sense of decay that I mentioned during the Bristol City bit again.  The Roy Keane charade felt like a soap opera plotline that was well telegraphed and just needed to be seen through…  and Paul Jewell’s tenure doesn’t feel any different.  Plus – getting down to, you know, details rather than hunches – the squad is rather thin as it stands .  Thin in the “useful cover” sense of course, there are a number of persona non grata eating up big wages who wouldn’t qualify as thin, Nathan Ellington for one, Jimmy Bullard for another – whom Jewell was talking up last week in what felt like a rather desperate bid to attract a presumably equally desperate suitor.  In Keane, Jewell and Bullard it does feel as if Ipswich have been making some costly decisions. All a bit precarious all in all… not favourites for the drop, but it wouldn’t take a lot…

LEEDS UNITED

INS: Jason Pearce (Portsmouth, £500,000), Luke Varney (Portsmouth, £300,000), Rodolph Austin (SK Brann, Undisclosed), David Norris (Portsmouth, Undisclosed), Lee Peltier (Leicester City, Undisclosed), Jamie Ashdown (Portsmouth, Free), Andy Gray (Barnsley, Free), Paddy Kenny (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Adam Drury (Norwich City, Free), Paul Green (Leeds United, Free), El-Hadji Diouf (Doncaster Rovers, Non-contract)

OUTS: Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City, £3,000,000), Adam Clayton (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Alex Bruce (Hull City, Free), Andy Lonergan (Bolton Wanderers, Free), Andy O’Brien (Vancouver Whitecaps, Free), Maik Taylor (Millwall, Free), Mikael Forssell, Ben Parker, Lloyd Sam, Mika Vayrynen, Danny Webber

OUR EX-WHITES: Carl Dickinson

THEIR EX-ORNS: Leigh Bromby, Neil Redfearn (Reserve Team Coach)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Leeds nicked an unmerited point from Vicarage Road in November in a game memorable for Mariappa’s Bobby Moore tackle on Becchio and Kightly’s subsequent goal, but were flattened by Chris Iwelumo’s stand-out performance of the season at Elland Road in April.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Kenny
Peltier           Lees        Pearce          White
Green            Austin          Norris            Varney
McCormack
Becchio

VERDICT: The thing about Colin’s success at QPR was they weren’t a bunch of bruisers when he went there.  On the contrary, whilst there was talent in the squad they were something of a soft touch… so in strode Colin, did his thing, gave them a bit of nasty and completed the picture.  Leeds… weren’t quite in the same boat, were they?  So… in February, Colin arrives to replace Simon Grayson, grumbles a lot about the squad he’s inherited, manages to win three in fourteen and notches up Leeds’ biggest ever home defeat (against Forest of all people) and when he finally gets to the transfer window an already aggressive, competitive Leeds side evolves into a parody, an exaggerated super-Warnocked bunch of bruisers.  They’ve even got Paddy Kenny in goal, for goodness’ sake.

Key movers in the recent trend towards job lot transfers (and heaven knows we’re not in a position to criticise here), Leeds have reacted to shipping three quarters of their midfield to Norwich in the past twelve months (Snodgrass joining January departee Howson and last summer’s sale Bradley Johnson) by bringing in half of what was left of Portsmouth’s squad.  And a Jamaican called Rodolph Austin, signed from Norway, who Leeds’ official site describes as a “no-nonsense midfielder” who was nicknamed “The Beast” in Norway.  Naturally he was.

The well-publicised (apparent) collapse of a prolonged attempted takeover has provoked much (understandable) hand-wringing in West Yorkshire;  without the implied boost to his transfer budget, Warnock’s squad looks thin and light on both goals and creativity.  You wouldn’t want to take them on at British Bulldog, and on that basis it’s reasonable to assume that there’s no danger of Leeds actually struggling with relegation again, but not nearly enough here to challenge the top half.  Eighteenth.

Watford 1 Wycombe Wanderers 0 AET (11/08/2012) 11/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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Five thunks on the opening day of the season.  No, Messenger, it wasn’t a friendly.

1- Well that was more eventful than expected.  The summer I mean… not the game, obviously, we’ll get to that.  But doesn’t that Middlesbrough win seem an awfully long time ago.  Little suggestion then of the upheaval that was to follow (and  which still continues, I don’t think we’ve anything like finished yet…); if the long-term ownership of the club was in question there was certainly no indication that August would see us under a new manager (why would we?) or with a whole shedload of new players (how could we?).  Turbulent, unnerving and also (and let’s be absolutely clear about this) to the unquestionable benefit, ultimately, of the football club.  But quite possibly leaving a few disassociated, with nothing familiar to hold on to.  So thank heaven and earth for the First Round of the League Cup (sponsored by whoever).  Even today, a balmy Saturday afternoon instead of a cool Tuesday night.  It never disappoints, never fails to sap the start of season excitement from the marrow, grounds us, reminds us what it’s all about.  Really, there’s a case for this game being the season opener every year, this game that’s been trundling its joyless way (with the very occasional interruption of relative excitement or Douglas Rinaldi) ever since we kicked off against Cheltenham in 2000.  A parallel universe that we dip into once a year, that brings instant perspective.

2- It wasn’t great, in case you’ve missed the undertone amongst all that.  After a rather open start that saw each side threaten, Wycombe accurately deduced that their best chance would come from sitting deep, denying us space and pressurising our defenders into making mistakes as we passed it across the back.  They did so effectively… the first half was a non-event in which the visitors, through the lively Logan, had the best chance, and if we looked bolder and better in the second half and beyond, ultimately just about deserving the victory, you were left with the nagging suspicion that we’re going to see a few games like this at Vicarage Road and that perhaps, with due respect to the Chairboys, our league opponents might have sharper strikers with which to capitalise on those chances.  In all fairness, we were missing not only four of the new signings but also the indisposable Murray, so far too early (still) for any conclusions.  Geijo’s effectiveness in particular, one suspects, will be crucial in the 4-3-3 formation – Garner an ineffective pivot today.  Indeed, as Ian accurately observed, this was the classic Garner performance… frustration and encouragement in roughly equal measure, but not the slightest suggestion of a goal.

3- The biggest positive was undoubtedly the contribution of the three new boys on view, all of whom impressed.  Almunia had relatively little to do, but as in the Spurs friendly wasn’t slow to make himself heard, was decisive with absolutely everything and was quick to turn defence into attack, an ability we may rely on – Zola will surely want us to take more ruthless advantage of opportunities to get in behind the opposition in games like these. Almen Abdi looked tidy and cool in possession, doing a good line in looking in one direction whilst slipping a low, firm, accurate pass in a completely different one.  He’s robust as well, a characteristic not suggested by his first scuffle where a moderately physical challenge by an opponent saw Abdi remonstrating with the official.  He’ll need to get used to them, we thought, but the Swiss midfielder soon displayed a toughness and resilience to quell that initial concern.  And Vydra (short vowel – Vyd rhymes with kid, not hide as I’d assumed) was the best of the bunch.  Quick, clever, dynamic – the correspondent on the mailing list who drew comparison with Helguson wasn’t wrong in several respects… no challenge was ducked out of, no opponent left unharried, to the extent that at 1-0 in the dying minutes of extra time with both teams dead on their feet, Vydra chased down a ball to Wycombe’s keeper Bull and, in executing what looked like a martial arts kick across the path of the anticipated clearance stretched to give himself an attack of cramp.  But he’s much more mobile than Helguson, and his movement looked our best bet throughout.  As it turned out, Abdi played a slide rule pass between defenders to release him on the right in the second half of extra time and he squared for Iwelumo to bundle the ball over the line in an endearingly graceless fashion.

4- Can’t be many games in which both pairs of starting full backs get substituted… the unfortunate Marvin McCoy, a Watford academy graduate, was stretchered off in the first half, the other three apparently tactical changes.  The withdrawal of the cumbersome Dickinson saw Craig Forsyth introduced at left back where he looked largely comfortable with the game in front of him and, with rather more time when supporting the attack than he’s used to on the left wing, was able to pick a couple of clever passes.  Any guesser’s list of players who may still move on this month might conceivably have both Dicko and Forsyth on it… but the Scot’s got something for me.

5- Yes, I know it’s the League Cup First Round and the Olympics are on and they’re not going to open the whole stadium.  But I’d like to think that my ST guarantees me my seat, not just A seat, even for nonsense like this.  Knowing that seating was unreserved I made the classic mistake of pitching myself between all and nothing… arriving stupidly early for a match of this stature, but not  early enough to secure my seat.  Hrrmph.  Still.  Football (or close enough).  Hurrah…

Season Preview Part 3 10/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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For a horrible night, this lot disappeared into the ether.  No, in the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t have mattered but I’d rather burn up a load of time on something that actually makes the blog.  Anyway… my co-editor helped recover this situation and so we continue…

CARDIFF CITY

INS: Kim Bo-Hyung (Cerezo Osaka, £2,000,000), Heidar Helguson (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Jordon Mutch (Birmingham City, Undisclosed), Etien Velikonja (NK Maribor, Undisclosed), Joe Lewis (Peterborough United, Free)

OUTS: Anthony Gerrard (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps, Undisclosed), Tom Heaton (Bristol City, Free), Jon Parkin (Fleetwood Town, Free), Paul Quinn (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Aaron Wildig (Shrewsbury Town, Free), Alex Evans, Jon Meades, Jordan Santiago

OUR EX-BLUEBIRDS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Neal Ardley (Academy Manager), Richard Collinge (Medical), Don Cowie, Heidar Helguson, Martin Hodge (Opposition Analyst), David Kerslake (Assistant Manager), Malky Mackay (Manager), Joe McBride (First Team Coach), Iain Moody (Head of Player Recruitment), Jordon Mutch, Andrew Taylor

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two 1-1 draws last season, each concluded with a late equaliser from the away side.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Marshall
McNaughton         Turner            Hudson                  Taylor
Cowie        Gunnarsson      Whittingham        Kim
Mutch
Velikonja

VERDICT: Various developments in football in recent(ish) years have provoked pondering over what it is that we actually support. Is it the entity, the club itself, the company, the brand? Irrespective of where it plays, for example? And if not, then what? The badge? The name? Or the whole thing, the collective, the community?

The colours, in the grand scheme of things, are not in themselves vital. They’re important, of course, they’re part of our memories and associations, the stuff that loyalties are built off. But clubs have changed colourschemes before and the world didn’t collapse… we became the Hornets in the summer of 1959 and the following season saw our first Football League promotion, a cup run and Holton and Uphill scoring a millionty one goals.

It’s what the decision to switch from blue to red – or rather the imposition of this condition – indicates that’s the problem. The times when most clubs, even second tier clubs, were owned by local businessmen feel like a long time ago; when overseas takeovers happen – we should know – the line about respecting the values and traditions of the club is almost a given. Cardiff’s new owners have pissed all over that. You can argue that year upon year of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul whilst seemingly holding out for a promotion bail-out created the situation that led to City not being able to turn this preposterous condition down. But City fans have still every right to be pissed off.

Meanwhile, Malky Mackay has recruited yet more familiar faces, and if the signing of Jordon Mutch was a surprise, the capture of H is almost heartbreaking. There’s going to come a time when his little black book is going to run out of names, of course, and it will be interesting to see how City’s recruitment policy fares then; for the moment, City have loads of options in midfield and up front, and if the full back positions still look a little wobbly defensively you’d fancy Cardiff for another play-off tilt at worst.

CHARLTON ATHLETIC

INS: Lawrie Wilson (Stevenage, Undisclosed), Jordan Cook (Sunderland, Free), Salim Kerkar (Rangers, Free)

OUTS: Gary Doherty (Wycombe Wanderers, Free), Conor Gough (Bristol Rovers, Free), Freddie Warren (Barnet, Free), Mikel Alonso, Jason Euell, Tosan Popo

OUR EX-ADDICKS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Alex Dyer (Assistant Manager), Johnnie Jackson, Chris Powell (Manager)

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two wins as Charlton went down in 2008/09, the first under Aidy Boothroyd at Vicarage Road in August in a match settled by Tommy Smith, the second under Brendan Rodgers at the Valley in April in which Grzegorz Rasiak scored the Goal of the Season as the ‘orns came from behind.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Hamer
Solly                Cort         Morrison       Wiggins
Stephens          Hollands           Jackson
Haynes               Kermorgant                    Cook

VERDICT: Always hard to make judgements about teams coming up of course; the last couple of years have seen sides galloping through to successive promotions, or at least putting significant pressure on the top of the table. The comprehensive margin of the Addicks’ promotion last season suggests that they are best placed to take the division by storm this time, but frankly I can’t see it. There aren’t enough goals in the side, the squad is thin and the summer strengthening looks limited at the time of writing. There is clearly a decent side there – right back Chris Solly is highly sought after, and others such as former Watford target Rhoys Wiggins have good reputations but there’s relatively little experience at second tier level.  Fourteenth.

CRYSTAL PALACE

INS: Joel Ward (Portsmouth, £400,000), Peter Ramage (Queens Park Rangers, Free), Aaron Wilbraham (Norwich City, Free), Aaron Martin (Southampton, Season Loan)

OUTS: Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, Tribunal), Darren Ambrose (Birmingham City, Undisclosed), Sean Scannell (Huddersfield Town, Undisclosed), Jake Caprice (Blackpool, Free), Anthony Gardner (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Lee Hills (Stevenage, Free), Calvin Andrew, Charlie Holness, Nathaniel Pinney

OUR EX-EAGLES: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two of last season’s lowest points; a painfully easy 2-0 win in October and an incongruous hammering at Selhurst Park in February.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Speroni
Ward       McCarthy         Martin           Parr
Williams         O’Keefe                Jedinak          Moxey
Zaha               Murray

VERDICT: Palace started well last season, but only won six games in the League from late-October (when they sat third); we won 14 in the same period.  They didn’t register a win in their last nine, and the balance of players in/out as it stands doesn’t look great.  Clyne has been about to leave for a while, but a star turn has nonetheless been replaced by a steady if versatile Joel Ward.  Ambrose and Scannell may not have delivered consistently (I’ve expressed my reservations about Darren Ambrose already in the Birmingham piece) but both nonetheless created chances and scored goals, whilst in Gardner an experienced stopper has been lost.  Expecting replacements to match the contribution of the departees is optimistic… and Palace were hardly setting the world alight in any case.

That said the impressive Palace production line continues to turn out first team players – Stuart O’Keefe is established in midfield, 18 year-old starlet Jonathan Williams will get more game time and should the Eagles continue to resist offers for Zaha the only question will be where Dougie Freedman chooses to play him – he’s the squad’s only senior winger, but his contribution might be needed in the centre.  Freedman has done reasonably well in the transfer market too, Mile Jedinak and Jonathan Pore being the two big successes of last summer.  On the face of it, Palace should stay up but you worry about the resilience of the set-up if things start to go wrong.  The squad is thin, very young and reliant on a couple of key players.  Freedman has, as isn’t unusual, been extremely cautious and defensive when put under pressure.  I’ll back Palace to stay up again, but it wouldn’t take a lot…  we could have done with playing them a bit later in the season, frankly, when our squad has bedded in a bit, and theirs may be exposed.

DERBY COUNTY

INS: Paul Coutts (Preston North End, Undisclosed), Michael Jacobs (Northampton Town, Undisclosed), Richard Keogh (Coventry City, Undisclosed), James O’Connor (Doncaster Rovers, Undisclosed). Michael Hoganson (Newcastle United, Free)

OUTS: Jason Shackell (Burnley, £1,100,000), Miles Addison (AFC Bournemouth, Undisclosed), Chris Maguire (Sheffield Wednesday, Undisclosed), Ryan Connolly (Sligo Rovers, Free), Paul Green (Leeds United, Free), James Severn (Scunthorpe United, Free), Aaron Cole, Chris Jones, Callum Ball (Coventry City, Season Loan), Lee Croft (Oldham Athletic, Season Loan)

OUR EX-RAMS: John Eustace

THEIR EX-ORNS: Theo Robinson

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A smash and grab win by Derby at Vicarage Road that was more disciplined away performance and less travesty of justice than some accounts recorded, and an Alex Kacaniklic-inspired triumph at Pride Park in February.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Fielding
Brayford     Keogh       Buxton     Roberts
Coutts      Hendrick      Bryson        Jacobs
Ward           Robinson

VERDICT: The Rams finished last season with a virtually identical record to ourselves, same points, same GD, twelfth instead of eleventh by virtue of six fewer goals scored.  Expectation is perhaps higher at Pride Park however, and patience with Nigel Clough’s steady building is running a little thin.  The bizarre sale of Jason Shackell to Burnley may prove to have been a tipping point; with the talented but injury prone skipper Shaun Barker out for the entirety of the forthcoming season it seems an odd decision and has been greeted as such.  Recruiting Coventry’s player of the season Richard Keogh won’t hurt, but Keogh was POTS in a relegated side and will be doing well if he matches Shackell’s contribution.  With Paul Green heading back to Yorkshire with Leeds, Derby look horribly short of nous and experience.  Some decent young players – Coutts and Jacobs were both sought after, Hendrick and O’Brien looked terrific at Vicarage Road a year ago – but not enough goals, and not enough cover.  Won’t be involved in the relegation scrap, but won’t be finishing top half again either in what could be a pivotal season for Clough, long-term plan or otherwise.

Season Preview Part 2 08/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Part Deux.  Next lot up Friday.  

BOLTON WANDERERS

INS: Andy Lonergan (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Matt Mills (Leicester City, Undisclosed), Keith Andrews (West Bromwich Albion, Free), Joe McKee (Burnley, Free), Benik Afobe (Arsenal, Season Loan)

OUTS: Rhys Bennett (Rochdale, Free), Robbie Blake (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Mark Connolly (Crawley Town, Free), Tom Eckersley (Accrington Stanley, Free), Jussi Jaaskelainen (West Ham United, Free), Tope Obadeyi (Rio Ave, Free), Sean Davis, Dino Fazic, Ricardo Gardner, Ivan Klasnic, Nigel Reo-Coker, Paul Robinson, Gretar Steinsson

OUR EX-TROTTERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Chris Eagles, Joe McLaughlin (scout), Marvin Sordell

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two one-nil defeats in the last Premiership season… daylight robbery at the Reebok, where a Gary Speed penalty in the sixth minute of added time gave the home side an implausible triumph, and a far more credible scoreline from the return at Vicarage Road, Nicolas Anelka the goalscorer on this occasion.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Bogdan
Mears         Ream         Mills      Ricketts
Eagles      Pratley        Andrews     Petrov
Sordell      K.Davies

VERDICT: In the end, it was all about Marvin.  We wanted Bolton to stay up because that would have secured us a bigger slice of transfer fee, and because you kind of wanted Marvin to be given a shot, to show them what he could do.  It didn’t happen, and Wanderers’ eleven-year stretch in the top flight – they were promoted with Blackburn during GT’s last season – came to an end.

Much as Owen Coyle may have lost a little of his lustre, however, you’d have to give Wanderers a better than evens shout of going straight back up.  There are similarities – up to a point – with the West Ham squad that somehow got itself relegated two years ago… there’s no Scott Parker figure, admittedly, and no unpleasant celebrity cabal running the show, but you do look at the squad and wonder how that happened.  Injuries to key players didn’t help… Lee and Holden should both be fit to contribute to this season’s efforts, although the Korean has already been linked to moves away.  But ultimately it was a lack of creativity in midfield that cost Bolton;  a solid side with a few goals in it, however, is a much likelier recipe to succeed in the second tier.  Considering the cover that Wanderers have in most positions (Lonergan in goal, Knight and Wheater at the back, Mark Davies, Lee, Holden in midfield, Ngog up front), iffy finances or no, you’d have to fancy them for automatic promotion.

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION

INS: Andrew Crofts (Norwich City, Undisclosed), Tomasz Kuszczak (Manchester United, Free), Bruno Saitor (Valencia, Free), Charlie Oatway (not that one) (no club), Wayne Bridge (Manchester City, Season Loan)

OUTS: Alan Navarro (Swindon Town, Free), Michael Poke (Torquay United, Free), Leon Redwood (Brentford, Free), Mitch Walker (Dover Athletic, Free), David Gonzalez, Ryan Simmonds, Jamie Strong, Jake Forster-Caskey (Oxford United, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-SEAGULLS: Chris Iwelumo, Mark Yeates

THEIR EX-ORNS: Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley, Will Hoskins, Tomasz Kuszczak

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Troy Deeney winning the home encounter by missing an easy chance then scraping in the rebound;  hanging on for a point in a dramatic match at the Amex in April in which Kuszczak, perhaps unfortunately, was outstanding.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Kuszczak
Bruno       El Abd           Dunk          Bridge
Noone        Bridcutt        Crofts      Vicente
Hoskins
Mackail-Smith

VERDICT: If you’re looking for a side to follow in the path of Norwich/Swansea/Reading/Southampton, a sort of well-run provincial club that’s got a shout of upsetting the yo-yoing of relegated sides and their increasingly comfortable parachute payments, it’s difficult to look beyond the Seagulls.  They may not have achieved the successive promotions that their previous season had suggested might be on the cards, but a solid tenth still represents a decent return and nobody who was at the Amex for our game at the end of last season will doubt the potential of the set-up.  They’ve added well too, of course… we know only too well what a monstrous presence Kuszczak will be at this level, and the signing of two decent full backs addresses another area perceived as a relative weakness.  The retention of Vicente is the biggie, of course, and much might depend on whether they can coax more than eleven starts from the fragile but mercurial playmaker.

If there’s a weakness, it’s in the striking positions.  Watford fan CMS might be the player many of us wish we’d signed on several occasions,  but the suspicion is that he doesn’t quite fit into Gus Poyet’s style of play, despite remaining the club’s (and Poyet’s) record signing.  Will Hoskins has been in form in pre-season but has been walking the tightrope of being the next-big-thing-just-needs-a-run for eternity without quite making it.  And of course, as both our games last season demonstrated, there’s a bit of volatile nastiness about Albion that might work against them when they don’t get the breaks.  Bloody good side though.  Third or fourth, probably, with an outside chance of automatic.

BRISTOL CITY

INS: Greg Cunningham (Manchester City, Undisclosed), Paul Anderson (Nottingham Forest, Free), Tom Heaton (Cardiff City, Free), Jody Morris (St Johnstone, Free)

OUTS: Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Notts County, Free), David Clarkson (Bristol Rovers, Free), Marlon Jackson (Hereford United, Free), Jamie McAllister (Yeovil Town, Free), Christian Ribeiro (Scunthorpe United, Free), Dan Ball, Khalifa Cissé, David James, Henry Muggeridge

OUR EX-ROBINS: Chris Iwelumo

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two matches featuring pivotal errors by the home keeper; Scott Loach’s airkick gifting City a scarcely deserved point at Vicarage Road, David James’ unchallenged punch into his own net heralding a straightforward evening for the Hornets at Ashton Gate.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Heaton
Foster                    Fontaine       Nyatanga        Cunningham
Adomah       Morris         Elliott       Anderson
Stead         Pitman

VERDICT: Sometimes, gradually, a club just develops a smell.  Like damp.  A sense that something isn’t quite right, an indication that problems haven’t been dealt with.  Such is the case with City at the moment.  Steve Coppell’s extravagance at the start of the season before last, when he committed the club to a considerable wage bill for players of questionable ability hamstrung the Robins and even now, two years on and with many of those players now departed, you get the feeling that decay has set in.  Nicky Maynard departed in January and hasn’t been replaced, and there isn’t a whole lot of threat in that side as it stands.

In fairness to Derek McInnes, the most fundamental failing of the shocking City side that the Hornets beat effortlessly at Ashton Gate towards the end of the season has been addressed.  City’s full backs that night were both in their mid thirties and completely unable to push up to support the consequently isolated wingers – Adomah, probably the side’s most talented attacking player, was being expected to do it all himself, which never looked likely.  Greg Cunningham has been brought in for the departed McAllister, and surely stalwart centre back Louis Carey has played his last game at right back.   Nonetheless… definitely the wrong end of the table for City, who will be strong relegation candidates unless they can find some goals from somewhere.

BURNLEY

INS: Jason Shackell (Derby County, £1,100,000), Luke O’Neill (Mansfield, Undisclosed), Sam Vokes (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Undisclosed), George Porter (Leyton Orient, TBC), Joseph Mills (Reading, Season Loan)

OUTS: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton, £6,000,000), Joe McKee (Bolton Wanderers, Free), Andre Amougou, Clarke Carlisle, Brian Easton, Zavon Hines, Tom Anderson (Barrow, Six Month Loan), Joe Jackson (Barrow, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-CLARETS: Chris Iwelumo

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: More symmetry – almost – as we surrendered a 2-0 lead to draw on the opening day at Turf Moor and the Clarets went won better, losing 3-2 at the Vic having been 2-0 up shortly after half time.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Grant
Trippier        Edgar          Shackell         Mills
Stanislas       McCann         Bartley        Treacy
Ings           Austin

VERDICT: The Clarets ended the season on wobbly form, and the most eye-catching transfer they were involved in over the summer was the big money departure of Jay Rodriguez.  Despite these portents, the mood around Turf Moor seems positive – Eddie Howe is building a handy-looking side and if Rodriguez was the big departure then the incoming much-travelled Jason Shackell, who oddly spent only a year with Derby County, is a leader at the back.  The side is young, has options in most positions and has plenty of pace – they won’t be threatening the play-off places, but won’t be troubled either.  Work in progress, and a side that will probably be quite fun to support.

Season Preview Part 1 06/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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OK.  Here we go… four today, four more Wednesday morning.

BARNSLEY

INS: Ben Alnwick (Tottenham Hotspur, Free), Lee Collins (Port Vale, Free), Kelvin Etuhu (Portsmouth, Free), Jacob Mellis (Chelsea, Free), Mido (Zamalek, Free), Toni Silva (Liverpool, Free)

OUTS: Jacob Butterfield (Norwich City, Undisclosed), David Cotterill (Doncaster Rovers, Free), Nathan Doyle (Bradford City, Free), Andy Gray (Leeds United, Free), Jay McEveley (Swindon Town, Free), David Preece, Alastair Taylor

OUR EX-TYKES: Carl Dickinson

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two inconspicuous games last season… a 1-1 draw at a damp but sunny Oakwell in September, followed by a 2-1 victory courtesy of a John Eustace brace in February.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Steele
Wiseman         Edwards           Foster         Golbourne
Perkins           Dawson
Dagnall                      Mellis                        Etuhu
Davies

VERDICT: On the face of it, of course, it’s a brilliant plan for a smaller club with aspirations.  The Pozzo plan, the plan that involves recruiting rough diamonds, polishing them and selling them on when their market value nears tipping point.  You need to get past that romantically foolish notion which sees you gradually assembling a brilliant team of players that are both hugely talented and simultaneously unflinchingly loyal, of course.  But once you’ve got your head around that… it’s a no brainer. Thing is, it’s that first two bits that are tricky.  Shipping your best players is easy.

Ask Barnsley. Ricardo Vaz Té went in January, Jacob Butterfield – out of contract but under 24 – has gone to Norwich in this transfer window.  They left a side that looked solid if unspectacular in our games last season but  significantly, dropped like a stone after Vaz Té’s departure and were rather fortunate that time ran out when it did.  Coming in there are… well, punts really.  Mellis has a good reputation at junior levels but not enough potential for a Prem side to give him a contract after his ignominious exit from Chelsea.  Etuhu has looked kind of promising at a few clubs now without delivering and, at 24, really needs to establish himself.  And of course Mido;  a big name for an increasingly big man, never the most consistently motivated of players when turning out in the top flight one wonders how the Egyptian, who looks to be carrying a colossal amount of timber from pre-season pics, will take to wet January evenings in, well, Barnsley.

There are some tough, experienced players here; Barnsley shouldn’t be written off altogether.  Playing with an ever more limited hand, however, keeping Barnsley up would be a big achievement for the erratic Keith Hill.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

INS: Darren Ambrose (Crystal Palace, Undisclosed), Peter Lovenkrands (Newcastle United, Free), David Lucas (Rochdale, Free), Hayden Mullins (Portsmouth, Free), Ben Gordon (Chelsea, Six Month Loan)

OUTS: Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion, Undisclosed), Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City, Undisclosed), Luke Hubbins (AFC Telford United, Free), Caleb Folan, Cian Hughton, Ashley Sammons, Enric Valles

OUR EX-BLUES: Martin Taylor

THEIR EX-ORNS: Marlon King

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A2-2 draw in Jonthan Hogg’s August debut (this fixture the August bank holiday game once more this season) at the end of which two goals dug out by Marvin Sordell glossed over a rather lumpy performance.  And a 3-0 tonking at St Andrews in January; our third league reverse on the hop and the week before Spurs in the Cup, this was arguably our lowest point of the season.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Butland
Carr         Davies           Caldwell       Gordon
Burke         Mullins           Gomis          Ambrose
King          Zigic

VERDICT: Clubs in crisis.  Clubs in post-crisis meltdown.  Clubs that aren’t quite in crisis but that everyone knows are avoiding an issue and hoping it goes away.  Clubs that were once in crisis but have come through and are now scraping a living together.  Clubs that were once in crisis but have found a new benefactor.  Hell, I’m not sure I know where we fit in that list any more, let alone anyone else.

So, Birmingham then.  A year or two ago they’d be in the stick-or-twist position that clubs relegated from the top flight inevitably faced if they failed to secure immediate promotion; nowadays, a thicker slab of parachute payments is spread over four years so, whatever is going on in Hong Kong, the pressures from the domestic football infrastructure aren’t there.

The Blues made the play-offs last time round;  that’s got to go down as a decent outcome given the turbulent backdrop they faced.  Since then they’ve replaced their manager and brought in Lee Clark, who was the recipient of public sympathy when dumped by Huddersfield last season but significantly and interestingly seemed to be regarded rather less warmly by correspondents from West Yorkshire.  His signings so far this summer have been solid cogs but not game changers;  Hayden Mullins is hugely experienced but is 33 and was relegated amidst the Pompey chaos last season.  Darren Ambrose has done for us often enough, but is more used to being a star player in a poor team than he is to chasing promotion;  the last four years have seen him relegated with Charlton and struggling with Palace, it’s not since the early years of his career that he spent a year at the right end of any division. Overall…  the Blues’ first team looks strong, of course, and there are kids like Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland, if he stays, bubbling under.  I just can’t see the Blues being any stronger or more convincing than they were last year.  Play-offs with a prevailing wind, but my money would be on top half but no cigar.


BLACKBURN ROVERS

INS: Leon Best (Newcastle United, £3,000,000), Dickson Etuhu (Fulham, Undisclosed), Edinho Junior (Olhanense, Undisclosed), Paulo Jorge (Porto B, Undisclosed), Fabio Nunes (Portimonese, Undisclosed), Nuno Gomes (Braga, Free), Danny Murphy (Fulham, Free)

OUTS: Yakubu (Guangzhou, Undisclosed), Junior Hoilett (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Matty Pearson (Rochdale, Free), Michel Salgado, Ryan Edwards (Rochdale, Six Month Loan)

OUR EX-ROVERS: Joe Garner, Martin Taylor

THEIR EX-ORNS: None

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A first win in eleven during the last Premiership season during which Jay DeMerit scored the winner and Robbie Savage broke his leg, and a comprehensive defeat of a bedraggled Watford side at Ewood Park at the end of the season, the week after both sides had lost in the FA Cup Semi Finals.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Robinson
Orr         Dann           Hanley         Henley
Etuhu           Murphy
Pedersen                   Dunn                        Nunes
Gomes

VERDICT: Well who the hell knows, frankly.  Looking at the squad list, and even guessing that a few of the names that remain at the time of writing will be on their way by the end of August, Rovers should be as strong as anyone.  The recruitment doesn’t look too shabby either (even if, as someone suggested elsewhere, it looks as if their strategy has been determined in part by a ten year old version of Football Manager).

Thing is… it’s difficult to envisage success for a club so obviously in turmoil, where the ferocity of distrust between supporters and owners/management is so palpable.  And that’s without even considering the bases for this disquiet – far more than mere on-field underperformance.  Newcastle were promoted comfortably a few years back, of course, when Mike Ashley had started the season as the focus of no small vitriol.  But this feels different… remote ownership, appalling communication and rash decision making at a club that was until recently so well run that you kind of forgot that they were really punching above their weight as a solid, mid-table top flight side.

Based on the names on the roster alone you’d be predicting a play-off place for Rovers, but the last couple of years have seen well-run clubs dominate squads with more illustrious names, by and large, and the serious injury to Leon Best, who looked a surprisingly pragmatic signing, won’t help matters.  Given the backdrop at Ewood Park, this is one of those situations where it’s difficult to conceive of an outcome to the season that doesn’t feel plausible at this point in time.  I’ll say ninth.

BLACKPOOL

INS: Isaiah Osbourne (Hibernian, Undisclosed), Jake Caprice (Crystal Palace, Free), Tiago Gomes (Hercules, Free), Scott Robertson (Dundee United, Free)

OUTS: Keith Southern (Huddersfield Town, £300,000), Daniel Bogdanovic (FC Mosta, Free), Matt Hill (Sheffield United, Free), Stephen Husband (Dunfermline Athletic, Free), Lomano Lua Lua (Karabukspor, Free), Brett Ormerod (Wrexham, Free)

OUR EX-SEASIDERS: None

THEIR EX-ORNS: Craig Cathcart, Keith Millen (Head of Coaching & Development), Kevin Phillips

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A point won at Bloomfield Road in December and our only defeat of the final two months of the season on Good Friday to a deserving but irritating Blackpool side.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:

Gilks
Eardley         Evatt         Baptiste      Crainey
Robertson      Ferguson        Angel
M.Phillips      Taylor-Fletcher       Ince

VERDICT: Comfortably the most impressive visitors to Vicarage Road last season not to have gained promotion, the Seasiders missed out in the play offs but Ian Holloway nonetheless takes huge credit for riding the loss of key players last summer, coping with the inevitable turbulence brought about by relegation and rebuilding his side which came out looking competitive and credible the other side.  Plenty of clubs have failed to respond as positively to a season in the top flight, we should know.

The cost of failing to gain promotion, of course, is increased attention on the Seasiders’ bigger name players with Alex Baptiste and Matt Phillips linked with a move (albeit still at Bloomfield Road at the time of writing).  Blackpool forums suggest that Phillips Jr isn’t quite the world beater that transfer tittle-tattle suggests just yet; nonetheless, the pace of Phillips and Ince on the break was a key part of Blackpool’s lethal counter-attacking at Vicarage Road at Easter and wouldn’t be trivial to replace.  With Stephen Dobbie, who spent a significant second loan spell at Bloomfield Road at the tail end of the season, back at Swansea and Lua Lua, a popular sub last term, another departee it’s the attacking positions that look weakest.  It’s tempting to suggest that the Seasiders’ best chance went last season with a strong set of sides entering the division from either direction, but Ian Holloway’s pre-season tone is chipper.  You wouldn’t write them off – there or thereabouts.

LDX – Watford 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (05/08/2012) 05/08/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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Five thunks from Lloyd Doyley’s testimonial game…

1- A decent turnout for a pre-season game, it’s reasonable to suppose that few were left on the edge of their seats by the spectacle. That’s what pre-season games are like of course, the pace tends to be rather lacking irrespective of the score or the standard… but limited as the excitement was, we acquitted ourselves reasonably well in the first half. The emphasis on possession was immediately evident, we looked confident enough with the system and there was a suggestion of chances being created. The lack of focal point was painful, however, and a little ominous. Far too early to evaluate things of course – a non-competitive match against top flight opposition whilst missing, presumably, a good number of our senior squad (see below) doesn’t tick many boxes. Work in progress- fine. But still things to do, clearly.

2- As regards the new boys… slightly disappointing to only see two of the confirmed seven involved, and ominous that so many have “fitness issues” so early; Vydra, Hall and Beleck fall into this category, we’re told, no explanation as yet for the missing Abdi and Anya, difficult to believe that players were being saved for Tuesday’s final friendly at Gillingham. Daniel Pudil did start, but limped off within ten minutes with what looked like a tweaked hamstring. Within that time he had been caught cold by an admittedly sharp passing move down Spurs’ right. This left Manuel Almunia, who made an immediate impression in the first half despite not having a shot to save with a bellow that carried to the back of the Upper Rous and scarcely let up for the duration. In the second period he dealt nervously with one bouncing back pass but was alert to one clouted shot from Andros Townsend with a fine parry. So far so good for the Spaniard.

3- Spurs were a bit of a disappointment all told; much has been made over the summer of their limited striking options and certainly they didn’t threaten as often as they’d have liked. Nor did they look altogether comfortable at the back though, and will be concerned with how relatively easily chances were suggested even if we weren’t always sharp enough to capitalise. The prominent Jake Livermore was more than once forced to concede fouls in a midfield that he patrolled almost single-handedly in the first half, nominally alongside the invisible Jenas. And then, after the break, a reminder of what the top flight is like. A slip of concentration, a sharp move down the right, Defoe is unmarked and Almunia is helpless. David Bentley has time to come on, give the ball away with a comically extravagant flick and that’s that. Admittedly not a full-strength Spurs side, but not one that suggested that people will be talking about a title tilt at any point this season, optimistically or otherwise.

4- Of the old(er) guard, a few stood out. Hogg, who looked tired at the end of the last campaign, was sharp and alert and enjoying himself. Murray was bold and confident, and stood up to some early bullying from Livermore to impose himself on the first half. Taylor looked assured for the most part, comfortable enough with bringing the ball out (even if the dogged insistence on playing it short might cause us some anxious moments on this evidence). And Mark Yeates, who I must confess I never thought I’d see in a yellow shirt again, benefited from the flexibility of the system, looking far more convincing when coming inside. In the end, eleven second-half substitutions (plus three at the interval) interrupted the flow, of course, and left us rather weaker on balance whilst leaving Spurs, who had brought on Sigurdsson, Vertonghen, Walker and Huddlestone amongst others, rather stronger. We fashioned a couple of chances to pull level, most significantly Yeates appearing on the left to drive across the face of goal, but never really looked like levelling the game.

5- As for the man himself – applauded onto the pitch by a guard of honour – he did what he always does. Worked hard, stuck to his guns. We’d spoken to him before the game, he’d expressed two hopes – that he’d manage 60 minutes, having been injured and therefore behind in his training – and that Gareth Bale wasn’t playing, necessitating a lot of running around. Bale did play, and was largely suffocated by Doyley out on the left, having far more luck when switching with Lennon and coming down Spurs’ right. Lloyd played 75 utterly competent minutes, almost entirely unflashy. Almost, there was one moment of self-indulgence, a furious charge down the right flank into space, hoping to be played in. Instead the ball went centrally to Chris Iwelumo, who was offside. It was that sort of game. Notwithstanding which, few players have earned a testimonial quite so comprehensively, having been written off by so many managers over ten years and won them all over. There’ll be people writing him off in the comments section that follows. They’ll be wrong, too. Thanks, Lloyd.