Roy of the Rovers: Have England found their man?

So the FA have stopped dithering around and finally decided that England do need a permanent manager before Euro 2012. About two months too late. Their choice of the man to fulfil that task has come as more of a surprise though. Reports that our governing body have approached West Brom for their manager Roy Hodgson were met with more than a few raised eyebrows, especially from the red half of Merseyside.

 

The 64-year-old has previously stated he would be ‘delighted to manage his country’ in an interview with BBC Sport and it looks like he may get that opportunity as the Baggies have granted him permission to speak with the FA. Out of contract on the 30th of June, Hodgson appears to fit the bill for the FA, he has international managerial experience before with Switzerland, Finland and the United Arab Emirates. You don’t get more dugout experience than Hodgson, indeed he has racked up 18 clubs during his illustrious career, with Inter Milan and Liverpool the most eye-catching names on that list. His friendly, likeable image will give him a head start in the most challenging of jobs where facing the media is concerned (at least initially), while everyone in England is well aware of his sound tactical knowledge that helped Fulham into the Europa League final, possibly his greatest achievement of all.

You can’t help but feel that the FA are taking a rather conservative approach in appointing Hodgson. Undoubtedly, everyone expected a certain Mr Redknapp to be appointed, but perhaps his court appearance hasn’t done him any favours. ‘Arry isn’t the most savoury figure in English football and maybe a few figures in the FA (most probably the secretaries) remember Sven’s antics and the bad press inches he brought to the job that distracted attention away from the team. Redknapp may have been the people’s choice, but it appears the FA never really fancied him. There really weren’t many other candidates, especially with the determination to appoint an Englishman and the only other viable candidate was probably Stuart Pearce, who had to pick up the pieces of the Capello debacle.

Roy appears to be on the verge of landing a long-term deal, a decision which can only be described as baffling. The FA were stung by throwing that huge contract at Capello which meant they couldn’t realistically sack him after the South African disaster and Hodgson is already starting with the doubters sharpening their pens ready for failure. A poor performance at Euro 2012 and the pressure will be firmly on Hodgson, just three months into the job! The FA have made a point of insisting Hodgson was always their first choice for the role, but why didn’t they just approach West Brom immediately if that was the case. You have to wonder if Spurs’ recent awful run of form has played some part in their decision as well. You also have to question other reasoning behind this appointment. It could well be that they see Roy as a bit of a ‘yes man’ who will merely manage the team on the field without causing any embarrassing incidents off it. The FA could do without any Capello-esque situations where the England manager was determined to stamp his authority in all aspects of the job.

Hodgson will certainly throw his all at the job, there’s no doubting that, but to what success? The highest pressure environment he has worked in came at Anfield and look how that turned out. The Liverpool players never took to his methodological approach and attention to detail and Roy never managed to turn the team’s fortunes around once the fans got on his back. He may have worked wonders at Fulham, and to some extent West Brom, but is Hodgson really cut out for the high pressure situations?

It reminds me worryingly of, dare I say it, Steve McLaren’s appointment, when the FA plumped for a likeable character instead of perhaps the wisest choice. McLaren never handled the rigours of the England job and it could be that Hodgson may struggle as well. Still, he has a baptism of fire this summer and to some extent the pressure is off the England team for once in a major tournament, something that may play into their hands. If Hodgson inspires the Three Lions to European glory for the first time then hats off to him, but this seems an unlikely scenario. It will be interesting to see whether the FA still think he’s the right man for the job come what July…

Championship 2011/12: Season Review

So after 46 games, the 2011/12 season is done and dusted in the Championship. For some, it represented a great year, while others will be disappointed with their efforts. Here is the Coin Toss’s team by team season review:

 

Reading

Position: 1st

442’s August Prediction: 4th

Top Scorer: Adam Le Fondre (11)

What can you say about Brian McDermott’s men. They started the season with a playoff final hangover after their defeat to Swansea, indeed after 7 games they were 23rd in the table. However the Royals improved considerably and collected 46 points from 51 as they rose to the top of the table, sneaking past West Ham and Southampton. Jason Roberts turned out to be an inspired loan signing, while the club now has new owners after Anton Zingarevich staged a takeover. A 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest sealed their success and they can now look forward to building for next season. Nothing short of sensational.

Season Rating: 10/10

 

Southampton

Position: 2nd

442’s August Prediction: 10th

Top Scorer: Rickie Lambert (31)

For Reading, also reed Southampton. Nigel Adkins has inspired his side to back-to-back promotions in fantastic fashion, indeed the side have been in the Top Two essentially all season. They left it late in the end, only sealing promotion on the final day after a couple of poor results, but no one at the St Marys stadium will care about that now. The majority of the players that starred in League One starred again this year, Rickie Lambert continued his reputation as a fearsome goal getter, while Adam Lallana and Guly Do Prado have also been excellent. Links with Norwich are inevitable given the similarity of their rises, but Southampton would love to emulate Paul Lambert’s team. Don’t rule it out either, the Saints have a fantastic setup and good team spirit and should go well in the Premier League.

Season Rating: 10/10

 

West Ham

Position: 3rd

442’s August Prediction: 1st

Top Scorer: Carlton Cole: (14)

The Hammers’ inability to win games at home has cost them dear as they missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season. 8 draws and 4 defeats has ensured Upton Park is not the fortress the fans expected and the atmosphere at recent games has been rather frosty with manager Sam Allardyce coming in for a lot of stick for his tactics. The squad assembled in East London was certainly enough to seal an immediate return to the Premiership, especially as it still contained England internationals Rob Green and Carlton Cole. Signings like Kevin Nolan and Matty Taylor only served to increase the expectation levels at the club and if West Ham don’t go up via the playoffs, the summer could be interesting.

Season Rating: 5/10

 

Birmingham

Position: 4th

442’s August Prediction: 5th

Top Scorer: Marlon King (18)

Changes were rife at St Andrews after the Blues’s shock relegation from the Premier League. Alex McLeish left for bitter rivals Villa, while a number of key players departed the club, including influential centre backs Roger Johnson and Scott Dann. Chris Hughton was the man once again entrusted with a Championship rebuilding mission and he built an efficient squad minus the egotistical feel that West Ham’s has. Birmingham have been in and around the playoffs all year without ever threatening the automatic places, but the Blues will fancy their chances of a Wembley victory. They have a decent front line with King, Zigic and Adam Rooney all capable of fireworks, while youngster Nathan Redmond has attracted admiring Premier League glances. Promotion would be a huge bonus for the supporters, but if they fail, Birmingham look well placed for next year.

Season Rating: 8/10

 

Blackpool

Position: 5th

442’s August Prediction: 13th

Top Scorer: Kevin Phillips (17)

After their terrific year in the limelight dazzling the Premiership’s big boys off the park, it was back to earth with a bump for Blackpool, after losing key players for their Championship campaign. Ian Holloway found stars like Charlie Adam, DJ Campbell and David Vaughan impossible to replace, but he made a number of astute signings like Barry Ferguson and Kevin Phillips instead. ‘King Kev’ has really impressed, defying his ageing years to notch 17 goals, while winger Matt Phillips has provided the ammunition from out wide. Another playoff success would be an even bigger achievement for the Tangerines and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see Blackpool back on Match of the Day, just to hear Ollie’s post match interviews.

Season Rating: 9/10

 

Cardiff 

Position: 6th

442’s August Prediction: 11th

Top Scorer: Peter Whittingham (13)

After yet more playoff heartache, the Cardiff board decided changes were necessary, replacing Dave Jones with Scottish tyro Malky Mackay. He lost star forwards Jay Bothroyd and Craig Bellamy immediately, but new strikers Kenny Miller and Joe Mason have stepped up to the plate to replace them. The League Cup final defeat to Liverpool threatened to derail their season as the Bluebirds slipped out of the playoffs in March, but they recovered to bag their place on the final day. They will relish the opportunity of going into the season’s finale as underdogs for once and supporters will quietly fancy their chances of joining rivals Swansea in the Premier League. Job well done by Mackay and his boys.

Season Rating: 8/10

 

Middlesbrough

Position: 7th

442’s August Prediction: 3rd

Top Scorer: Marvin Emnes (18)

After two disappointing Championship campaigns that saw the end of Gareth Southgate and Gordon Strachan, Tony Mowbray was hoping to lead his side back into the Premiership, having established a squad of his own. It hasn’t quite gone according to plan however, as Middlesbrough’s woeful form at the Riverside (they have won just 8 games) has cost them dear, while goalscoring has also been a problem (22 in 22 games in 2012). Crowds are falling and big decisions now need to be made at the club. Rather than promotion contenders, it could well be that Middlesbrough are well on their way to sealing an unfortunate status as an average Championship team, rather than genuine promotion contenders.

Season Rating: 5/10

 

Hull

Position: 8th

442’s August Prediction: 14th

Top Scorer: Matty Fryatt (16)

Another season of upheaval of the KC Stadium saw Hull lose manager Nigel Pearson to Leicester in November, before replacing him with home favourite Nick Barmby. Although Barmby has no guarantees over his long-term future, he has made a decent fist of his first job, leading Hull to a top half finish. If it wasn’t for five consecutive defeats over the Easter period, Barmby could have been celebrating a playoff finish, but it wasn’t to be. Additions will be needed for the Tigers in the summer though; the squad has looked a little light at times, while they also need to hang onto their top players. Interesting summer ahead.

Season Rating: 7/10

 

Leicester

Position: 9th

442’s August Prediction: 2nd

Top Scorer: David Nugent (16)

Leicester started as many people’s tip for promotion after Sven Goran Eriksson spent a fortune assembling a squad that looked one of the strongest on paper in the division. Signings like David Nugent, Jermaine Beckford and Paul Konchesky provided the squad with a touch of Premiership class, but the squad failed to gel and Sven got the chop in November. Nigel Pearson returned to the club, but was unable to mastermind a playoff run as the Foxes languished in mid-table for the whole season. It’s been a really disappointing year and the summer could bring about more woe as Leicester look to trim their squad to fall in line with the new Financial Fair Play rules that come in soon. Pearson will need to cultivate a squad with a bit of team spirit, as throwing money at the side hasn’t worked in the slightest.

Season Rating: 3/10

 

Brighton

Position: 10th

442’s August Prediction: 12th

Top Scorer: Ashley Barnes (13)

No one quite knew what to expect of Gus Poyet’s Brighton as they fought their way out of League One emphatically. However, spending power was limited in the summer, though they did bring Craig Mackail-Smith to the Amex Stadium, winning the race for his signature ahead of several high-profile clubs. Brighton’s form has been rather inconsistent; they got off to a flyer at the start of the season, fighting for the automatic places, before fading away at the end of the season. Poyet can still look back on the year as job well done though and he will look to make sensible signings this summer to make the Seagulls a force to be reckoned with in the division next year.

Season Rating: 7/10

 

Watford

Position: 11th

442’s August Prediction: 23rd

Top Scorer: Troy Deeney (12)

It was a difficult summer for the Hornets having lost manager Malky Mackay to Cardiff and star player Danny Graham to Swansea. Many pundits tipped Watford as one of their relegation choices, but new boss Sean Dyche has worked wonders in leading his side to a top half finish. Goals have sometimes been a problem, but Troy Deeney and Marvin Sordell have chipped in on important occasions this year to keep the team ticking over. A playoff push looked possible at one point, but four successive draws saw them stay in mid-table right at the end of the season. The fans can’t complain though and they will be looking forward to seeing if the side can continue to progress under Dyche for a second year.

Season Rating: 8/10

 

Derby

Position: 12th

442’s August Prediction: 18th

Top Scorer: Steve Davies (12)

After a 19th placed finish in last year’s Championship, the Rams weren’t fancied by anyone to threaten the promotion challengers. This has proved to be the case, apart from a decent early season run of form, but Derby fans will have been pleased to have avoided the threat of relegation for an entire year for once. Nigel Clough has guided his side to a respectable mid table finish and the squad has some promising youngsters coming through like Jeff Hendrick. Derby need to hang onto their key players and with one or two quality additions, they could be an outside bet for next year. Those superb fans at Pride Park certainly deserve another promotion push.

Season Rating: 7/10

 

Burnley

Position: 13th

442’s August Prediction: 9th

Top Scorer: Jay Rodriguez (21)

A season of rebuilding was predicted for Burnley under Eddie Howe and that’s what’s happened as Burnley’s form fluctuated all season. They threatened the playoffs at times, but never really put together the run of form that could have helped them break into the Top Six. They will now regroup in the summer and fancy their chances next year. Holding onto Jay Rodriguez will be crucial to their chances, while Charlie Austin has shown some signs of what he can do up front. There is some real quality in the Claret’s squad and this year of consolidation will stand them in good stead. Expect big things next season.

Season Review: 6/10

 

Leeds

Position: 14th

442’s August Prediction: 7th

Top Scorer: Ross McCormack (19)

It wouldn’t be a normal year without any upheaval at Elland Road and this year has proved no different. Last year’s seventh placed finish raised expectation levels to new heights and the Whites put together a super run in the autumn to put them in touch with the playoffs. However, inconsistency saw Simon Grayson lose his job, with Neil Warnock chosen as his replacement. The new boss hasn’t made his mark on the Leeds team yet though, and a 7-3 defeat at home to Nottingham Forest highlighted how embarrassing their defence has been. A club record 11 defeats at home have been catastrophic for their promotion chances and the anti-Bates sentiments flying around the club hasn’t helped the players on the pitch. They need to hang on to key players Becchio and Snodgrass this summer and hope Warnock makes some astute signings to get them back on track.

Season Rating: 4/10

 

Ipswich

Position: 15th

442’s August Prediction: 8th

Top Scorer: Michael Chopra (14)

It’s been another disappointing year for Ipswich who just can’t seem to find the right balance in the Championship. A number of decent looking signings including Michael Chopra, Lee Bowyer and Jimmy Bullard increased optimism amongst supporters, and the Tractor Boys were seemingly well placed to challenge. This just hasn’t been the case though as Paul Jewell’s men just avoided their worst league finish in 50 years. They will look to make a number of new additions to the squad to try and revitalise their fortunes, but Ipswich need to show some serious improvement if they are to avoid becoming one of the division’s staple mid-table sides.

Season Rating: 3/10

 

Millwall

Position: 16th

442’s August Prediction: 16th

Top Scorer: Darius Henderson (19)

Millwall were keen to avoid second season syndrome in the Championship and despite flirting with the bottom three on occasion this year, Kenny Jackett’s men will ultimately be pleased with 16th position. Darius Henderson has been crucial for the Lions, scoring plenty of goals, but a lack of strength in depth at the Den has meant that Millwall struggled to make any real impression on the division. Securing their Championship status again though could be vital for Millwall’s progression and if they bring some real quality in over the summer, potentially through the loan market, then they could be competing a bit higher up the table next year.

Season Rating: 6/10

 

Crystal Palace

Position: 17th

442’s August Prediction: 20th

Top Scorer: Darren Ambrose (10)

A decent start to the season for Palace masked the lack of quality in their squad that meant many tippers predicted they would struggle to stay in the division this year. As it happens, Palace were never in any real danger and 17th is perhaps an unlucky reflection on their season. The Carling Cup semi-final was the highlight of the year and Dougie Freedman is a promising young manager who recognizes the positive buzz around the club currently. Selling talented youngster Wilfried Zaha could raise some much needed funds and any potential transfer fee could help make significant improvements to the squad. With Freedman in charge, the future does look promising for the Eagles and they should progress further up the league next year.

Season Rating: 7/10

 

Peterborough

Position: 18th

442’s August Prediction: 22nd

Top Scorer: Paul Taylor (11)

It was important for Peterborough to survive this year following their disastrous campaign last time around in this division. Boss Darren Ferguson suffered a blow losing Craig Mackail-Smith in the summer, while the squad on paper looked weaker than most. However, despite Posh spending all their time in the bottom half of the table, they can conclude that 2011-12 has ultimately been a successful year, while Ferguson himself would have snapped your hand off for 18th at the start of the season. Hanging on to key personnel in the summer will be crucial, though George Boyd looks like he’s set to move on and Fergie himself has been linked with the Wolves job. Their inability to keep their stars at the club has cost them dear in the past and the fans will hope this isn’t the case again.

Season Rating; 7/10

 

Nottingham Forest

Position: 19th

442’s August Prediction: 6th

Top Scorer: Garath McCleary (9)

Disaster is the only word that can describe Nottingham Forest’s season. The appointment of the ‘Wally with the Brolly’ could have been a masterstroke as Forest looked to chase their Premiership dream, but Steve McLaren once again proved why no one in England should touch him with a bargepole. An atrocious run of form at the start of the season left Forest facing the realistic possibility of League One again and although Steve Cotterill has kept them up, many expected him to lead them into a respectable mid table position. Forest have a decent squad with an embarrassment of riches up front, but no one has produced the goods. The end of the season will come as a relief and they will look to start afresh next year.

Season Rating: 1/10

 

Bristol City

Position: 20th

442’s August Prediction: 17th

Top Scorer: Nicky Maynard

It’s fair to say that Bristol City are still suffering from a Steve Coppell hangover, indeed they never seem to have recovered from his decision to pull out of a move to Ashton Gate. The club looked set for a slide through the trapdoor under former boss Keith Millen, but replacing him with Derek McInnes has turned out to be a good decision. The Scot has hauled them out of the drop zone, but only just and the Robins fans have endured a torrid time this season, only sealing their Championship status last weekend. Goals have been a massive issue, indeed Nicky Maynard finished as top scorer despite leaving for West Ham in January. McInnes now needs to stamp his mark on the squad and clear out the driftwood to avoid a repeat of this season. City really should be doing better.

Season Rating: 3/10

 

Barnsley

Position: 21st

442’s August Prediction: 24th

Top Scorer: Ricardo Vaz Te (12)

Perennial strugglers Barnsley once again flattered to deceive in the Championship, but for the first half of the season, it looked like it might be a different story. The Tykes were pushing for a top half place but they tailed off badly and in reality, they have Portsmouth’s financial woes to thank for their Championship status. Manager Keith Hill is optimistic about some of the young players coming through but talented youngster Jacob Butterfield is set to leave in the summer. You have to fear for Barnsley next year again with such a weak squad, but don’t bet against them to survive by the skin of their teeth once more.

Season Rating: 5/10

 

Portsmouth

Position: 22th

442’s August Prediction: 15th

Top Scorer: David Norris (8)

You have to feel for the Pompey fans who have been shafted once again by their glory chasing Chairmen. Although their threadbare squad still had some quality players in it, Pompey were always up against it, losing a number of crucial individuals last summer. This has meant they have struggled to compete and Steve Cotterill departed a sinking ship for Forest, leaving Michael Appleton with an uphill battle to save the club. In the end, the points deduction has sunk Pompey, they would have stayed up otherwise and therefore credit has to go to the manager and the players who have tried all season. You can only fear for the future of the club now as they slide further down the football league and their mere existence is under serious question now.

Season Rating: 4/10

 

Coventry

Position: 23rd

442’s August Prediction: 19th

Top Scorer: Gary McSheffrey/ Lukas Jutkiewicz (9)

Coventry’s steady decline since Premiership relegation has been firmly confirmed this year as they slipped into the third division of English football for the first time since 1964. Manager Andy Thorn has had his hands tied by financial problems at the club, while supporters are dismayed at the way the club has been handled. The squad just wasn’t good enough to survive, especially when Jutkiewicz exited for Middlesbrough in January. The Sky Blues never looked like staying up right from the start of the season and you can’t see how they will bounce back next year with the major problems behind the scenes. Worrying times at the Ricoh Arena.

Season Rating; 2/10

 

Doncaster

Position: 24th

442’s August Position: 21st

Top Scorer: Billy Sharp (10)

Atrocious campaign from start to finish for the Yorkshire club who, after several seasons consolidating their position in the Championship, have literally chucked it down the drain this year. Sacking manager Sean O’Driscoll turned out to be a poor decision and Dean Saunders has not provided the spark needed to keep them up. Combined with a bizarre transfer policy that basically employed agent Willie McKay to bring every overrated player over 30 that he could find to the Keepmoat Stadium, it’s been a season to forget for Rovers. There will be plenty of changes at the club in the summer, but they have the potential to bounce back if Chairman John Ryan rediscovers his senses.

Season Rating: 1/10

Top 10 Football Films

The beautiful game looks fantastic on TV, indeed Sky’s takeover of football in 1992 paved the way for a whole new era of watching from your sofa. However, football has never quite adapted to the big screen, despite numerous attempts to make films about various aspects of life in the footballing world. Some efforts are commendable, whereas others are simply embarrassing. Here are the Top 10 Football Films (5 best and 5 worst).

5 Oscar worthy displays:

  1. The Damned United – Based on David Pearce’s novel, the Damned United covers Brian Clough’s disastrous 44 days at Leeds, while incorporating flashbacks of his successful spell in charge of Derby County. Michael Sheen captures ‘Ol’ Big Head’ himself perfectly, whilst highlighting the important relationship between Clough and assistant Peter Taylor effectively. Enjoyable for everyone, not just football fans, The Damned United is certainly one of the best efforts knocking around the box office.
  1. Mike Bassett: England Manager – Rather like marmite this one, you either love it or you hate it. A satirical take on the woes of English football, where director Steve Barron pokes fun at the red tape bureaucrats in the FA, the tabloid’s shameful treatment of the England team and old fashioned managers. Ricky Tomlinson provides a barrel fun of laughs as the x-rated Mike Bassett, while the plot features the assistant manager lamping Bassett, drunken affairs with transsexuals and a brawl with Ireland and Scotland, the ‘England B-teams.’ What are the chances of a repeat performance this summer?
  1. Bend it like Beckham – The film captures many of the prejudices of English football, including the role of women and the limited participation of Asians in the game. The drama is of decent quality, even if some of the football action is rather forced, making Bend it like Beckham a good natured watch. Goldenballs himself even makes a tiny cameo at the end. You’d be lying though if you said Keira Knightley wasn’t the main attraction of the film…
  1. There’s only one Jimmy Gribble – Robert Carlyle took time out from starring as Hitler or in James Bond films to make this 2000 film about Jimmy Grimble, an unlucky 15-year-old in Manchester. Once you look past the rubbishy plot, boy gets lucky boots blah blah blah, this film has the feel-good factor about it and actually makes decent cinema. There’s an appearance from Maria off Corrie as Jimmy’s love interest, while Ray Winstone pops up on our screens not offering us the best half-time odds for once. Jimmy Grimble 8-1 next scorer? Tenner on that please.
  1. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait – Not one for all the family I’m afraid. Unless you’re football mad, this could be the most boring thing on TV since Simon Cowell left the X-Factor. The documentary features a game between Real Madrid and Villareal in 2005 from the perspective of the French legend, showing his memorising ability, though in true Zidane fashion he gets sent off at the end. Pity the camera couldn’t have been on Marco Materazzi’s chest in the World Cup Final instead…

And 5 Films even Orlando Bloom would have been embarrassed to appear in:

  1. When Saturday Comes – We all know Sean Bean is an avid Sheffield United fan, but he didn’t have to make a film to remind the world. Bean plays Jimmy Muir, a talented footballer intent on throwing his career away thanks to his party lifestyle. After his brother’s death, Muir gets his act together and earns a deal at the Blades. Ridiculously corny, with some awfully shot football action to boot, it shows why Sean Bean should stick to wielding a sword around his head.
  1. Goal – The traditional rags to riches story about an American footballer who makes it in the Premiership with Newcastle United. The only good thing about this film are the cameo appearances from many of the game’s professionals, though it features Newcastle making the Champions League (foreshadow anybody?). Unrealistic and quite frankly boring, it epitomises American attitudes to ‘soccer’, indeed Goal wasn’t even that successful at the box office. So they decided to make two more…
  1. Escape to Victory – Brilliant cast, awful film. Escape to Victory comes under the ‘so bad, it’s good’ list that features other classics like Lesbian Vampire Killers or Hobo with a Shotgun. The plot is a good idea, featuring Allied prisoners of war as the subject of German propaganda. The only propaganda going on here though was using the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Bobby Moore and Pele to sell the film, as the acting is wooden and the plot loses direction very quickly. Oh, and Stallone is the worst goalkeeper since Massimo Taibi. Couldn’t he have stuck to making Rocky 16 or whatever we’re on now?
  1. Fever Pitch – Colin Firth in a film about football? No thanks. Football and rom coms aren’t meant to mix, but rom coms greatest ever plays an Arsenal fan whose relationship is affected by his love for football. The book, by Nick Hornby, is actually a cracker, but doesn’t translate very well to screen. My tip for football and relationships? Just don’t go out with an Arsenal fan.
  1. Green Street– Football Hooliganism and films are as common as gravy these days, some are enjoyable (see Football Factory), whereas others are not quite so good. Green Street is undoubtedly one of the worst though, featuring Elijah Wood in the West Ham firm. Yes, you did read that correctly. Elijah Wood. The best bit about Green Street is watching a hobbit trying to throw a punch. Not gonna find the ring in East London I’m afraid.

Top 10 Penalties that never landed

Another contribution from Unibet, this time featuring the best penalties that never landed. Believe it or not, Sergio Ramos’ spot-kick against Bayern isn’t the first to go into orbit.

1. Sergio Ramos, 2012

The Real right-back shanks his penalty high, wide and not very handsome against Bayern. Oops.

Made even funnier by Jose Mourinho’s reaction.

2. Roberto Baggio, 1994

The most famous penalty miss of all time? Possibly. The Devine Ponytail hands Brazil the 1994 World Cup with this miss, then hangs his head in shame.

3. Jaap Stam, 2000

In Holland, a skied penalty is now referred to as a ‘Jaap Stam’ after this howler against Italy in Euro 2000.

4. David Beckham, 2004

Wasn’t long before an England player featured on this list, obviously. First one is D-Becks for this slicer against Portugal.

5. Charlie Adam, 2012

Ah Charlie, lighting up the Carling Cup final with this shoot-out miss in 2012 against Cardiff. The Reds still went on to win.

To see the rest of this cracking list, please visit:
http://bet.unibet.com/football/champions-league/2012/04/26/top-10-penalties-never-landed/35.

Mackay's Bluebirds eye Promotion

Malky Mackay is approaching a year in charge of Cardiff City. Saturday’s fixture with Crystal Palace could well determine how much of a success this first season has turned out to be for the Scot.

 

The Bluebirds made an ambitious decision in replacing experienced boss Dave Jones with Mackay, whose only previous job was helping to revitalise Watford, transforming their fortunes to steer them away from relegation trouble. There was a feeling surrounding the Cardiff City Stadium that Jones had rather lost his touch, after yet another playoff failure. To make matters worse, rivals Swansea City became the first Welsh side to reach the Premier League, despite Cardiff’s numerous years of battling it out at the top of the Championship.

Cardiff therefore saw enough potential in Mackay to pay £300,000 in compensation to snatch him from the Hornets to finally help realise their Premier League dream. Mackay made a brilliant start to his career in South Wales, winning the Championship’s Manager of the Month for both September and November. An 11 game unbeaten run saw the Bluebirds sitting in third position in the table after the New Year and Mackay signed a new three deal in February.

The highlight of the season was undoubtedly the trip to Wembley that saw Cardiff highly unfortunate to lose on penalties to Liverpool after Anthony Gerrard missed the deciding spot kick. The defeat was a decent learning curve for Mackay and his players and they will hope to return to the same ground via the playoffs come June. However, Cardiff seemed to suffer a Wembley hangover, winning just one of eight games in March as they slipped out of touch with the top two and at one point, even out of the playoff places.

April has seen a improvement in fortunes for Mackay and his side and they would have sealed a playoff position had Luciano Becchio not snatched an equaliser for Leeds United at the weekend. A point at Selhurst Park should therefore seal sixth position given Cardiff’s superior goal difference over Middlesbrough and give Mackay a shot at the Promised Land.

It’s fair to say Mackay should be proud of his efforts after his first year in charge. Replacing Dave Jones was never going to be an easy task after such a long time in charge, while key players such as Jay Bothroyd and Craig Bellamy left in the summer after the failure to gain promotion. New players have been integrated into the side, with Scotland striker Kenny Miller leading the line to good effect, while stalwart Peter Whittingham still reproduces his excellent form week in, week out. However the real find of the season has been Irish striker Joe Mason, who is Cardiff’s top scorer with 12 goals. The 20-year-old has kept Welsh international Robbie Earnshaw out of the starting XI, establishing himself as a key player for Mackay’s side. There are the makings of a strong squad at the Cardiff City Stadium; players like Mark Hudson, Ben Turner and Aron Gunnarsson could all potentially make the step up to the top flight, though if Cardiff were to get promoted, the squad would still need strengthening significantly.

Mackay needs to get his players firing on all cylinders for the playoffs, too many times have Cardiff gone into the end of the season climax and failed. However, with West Ham, Birmingham and Blackpool also in the mix,Cardiff, perhaps for the first time in a while, will not go in with the tag of favourites hung firmly round their necks. This will benefit Mackay and his boys and just like the League Cup final, his side can go in and really give their all. It almost came off at Wembley last time, could Cardiff use that experience and join bitter rivals Swansea in the Premier League?

10 Things the Premiership taught us this week

  1. Maybe pressure affects Manchester United after all. Next week’s derby could now be very interesting. Game on.
  1. Roy Hodgson must be the happiest man in England this week, Anfield well and truly silenced by his return.
  1. Newcastle United? They can’t do it surely. Can they…?
  1. It’s been a sorry season for Wolves. I even feel bad for Terry Connor now.
  1. Since when could Everton score goals? 4 at Old Trafford? David Moyes really is working miracles.
  1. Steve Kean is still keeping his side in it. If Rovers stay up, some fans really do owe him an apology.
  1. Do we really want Redknapp as England manager? Standard Spurs run of form. 6th place beckons…
  1. Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie? The England man is racking up the goals at the business end of the season. Robin has just been named Player of the Year. The race is on for the Golden Boot.
  1. Theo Walcott is facing a race to be fit for Euro 2012 after suffering a hamstring injury. Rumours are unconfirmed that he pulled up in shock after actually finding a man with one of his crosses.
  1. Everyone keeps talking about Papiss Cisse, but what about Fulham’s Pavel Pogrebnyak? 6 goals in 8 games for the Russian frontman.

Promotion for Powell is only the start

Ask anyone the question who did Sven Goran Eriksson pick at left back for his first match in charge for England against Spain 2001 and the vast majority of people will get it wrong. Not Ashley Cole, the bright young talent on the scene at the time. Not Phil Neville, the Manchester United stalwart. Nor even Graeme Le Saux, a man who played 36 times for his country in that position. The answer is in fact, Chris Powell, a cult hero at both Southend United and Charlton Athletic, not often the hallmarks of your average England international.

 

Powell though, is something different. He may have only won five caps for his country, but there is obviously something about special about the man. He has seemingly transformed his success on the playing field to success in the dugout, having just guided Charlton Athletic back into the Championship, three years after their relegation to League One in the 2008/09 season.

It’s easy to forget that Charlton were once an established force in the Premier League, under the guidance of Alan Curbishley, boasting the goals of Darren Bent to keep them in a comfortable mid-table position. The 2006/07 season after Curbishley’s decision to leave the Valley proved to be disastrous, with Iain Dowie, Les Reed and Alan Pardew all failing to motivate their sides into any sort of form, with the club eventually relegated. Charlton failed to deal with the drop in divisions, and the Addicks never really put up a fight for a return to the Premiership, eventually following in the footsteps of Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City and completing a drop into the third tier of English football.

Despite the manager at the time, Phil Parkinson, leading his side to the League One playoffs at the first time of asking, a defeat to Swindon in the semi-final of the playoffs was followed by a disappointing start to the next season, culminating in Parkinson and assistant Mark Kinsella losing their jobs. The board turned to club legend Powell, who made 244 appearances at the Valley during three different spells. Powell, whose only previous managerial experience came as caretaker boss of Leicester after Paulo Sousa was sacked in October 2010, could only manage a mid-table finish after his appointment in January.

The new owners, Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, decided to keep faith with Powell and gave him the backing to put a new side together capable of challenging for promotion once again. 18 new faces arrived at the Valley last summer, though the risk of assembling an entire new squad has paid off handsomely. Charlton didn’t lose a game until mid-October, after Stevenage beat them 1-0, but this minor setback didn’t stop Powell and his side from racking up the points thereafter. The Addicks have only lost five games all season and finally sealed promotion on Saturday, moving ten points clear of third placed Sheffield Wednesday thanks to a Bradley Wright-Phillips goal against Carlisle.

Wright-Phillips has epitomised everything good about Charlton this year. The striker seemed to be letting his obvious talent go to waste with a series of misdemeanours, but Powell appears to have breathed new life into his forward, who has subsequently bagged 22 goals this season as the division’s third top scorer. Yann Kermorgant has provided the perfect foil up top for Wright Phillips, scoring 10 goals himself and the skipper, Johnnie Jackson has led from the front, bagging 13 from midfield. There is obvious quality throughout the squad; indeed full backs Rhoys Wiggins and Chris Solly have caught the eyes of scouts higher up the football pyramid, while goalkeeper Ben Hamer has made a bit of a name for himself, keeping 17 clean sheets this season.

Bearing in mind the strength of the squad available to Powell, it’s not unreasonable for supporters to dream of doing a Norwich or a Southampton and aiming for back-to-back promotion. The Addicks are no strangers to the higher echelons of the Football League and they are sure to provide some stiff competition for Championship sides next season. Sven Goran Eriksson obviously had faith for Powell as a player by picking him for England and he obviously has faith for Powell as a manager too, telling everyone when he inherited Powell’s role at Leicester that he was ‘destined for big things.’ The wily old Swede could just be right as well, as Powell has set Charlton back on a familiar path that Curbishley and co. trod all those years before.