Thursday, 26 July 2012

FC Halifax Town 2 Stockport County 0

A win for Halifax in a fairly routine pre season friendly bar one incident - you can't look too much into friendlies but for what it's worth, Halifax look a pretty effective unit bar some defensive mistakes, and their new signings are already starting to slot in nicely - they're the favourites in the Conference North and there was nothing here to suggest they won't be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

Stockport meanwhile struggled near the bottom of the Conference last season, and did little attack-wise in the first half of this game but improved after the break. They'll need to improve this season else they could end up swapping divisions with Halifax - personally can see them settling into mid table this time round though.

So in the match, Halifax took the lead midway through the first half with a Seddon shot going through the goalkeeper's legs, and got the second goal late in the second half from a soft/dubious/laughable penalty.

The incident was towards the end of the first half - Dan Gardner, who'd looked very good for Halifax, was shaping up to play a pass, around 30 yards from goal. He sort of turned as he was passing, and it appeared that one foot seemed to stay stuck in the turf, as the rest of him turned and that leg didn't turn with him.. next second he was on the floor writhing in absolute agony - it looked very, very serious at that point.

He was stretchered off, but later a scan revealed he definitely hasn't broken anything. But he said in an interview that it was the worst pain he'd ever felt, and the worry for him could be that this could turn out to be ligament damage - which in terms of time out injured could turn out to be worse than a break ultimately!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Mossley 0 Oldham Athletic 3

I've learnt from previous years not to look too much into performances at friendlies - the main example from last year was when I saw Mossley beat Hyde, and on the day Mossley beat a disorganised, near-shambolic Hyde side. The obvious conclusion was that Hyde were going to be relegation strugglers. Fast forward to the end of the season, and Hyde were top of the Conference North by some distance, and mainly because they played as a super-organised unit.

So, I guess going off that I shouldn't be thinking 'here we go again' with Mossley after seeing them manage just a single shot in this entire match. A shot that cleared the stand and possibly even the school behind the stand. Yes they were missing some of their first team players and playing Oldham's full first team so the result was entirely expected, but it was the complete lack of attacking threat that was a disappointment.

Early on Oldham seemed to struggle with playing with a ground with a small fence on one side, as they managed to send the ball over it at least 5 times in the opening 10 minutes. When play was stopped for an injury Dickov brought his team over and had a word, and they stopped doing it from then on!

Shortly after Oldham got a (dodgy) penalty, and scored, and really they seized the initiative from there on in. They scored again at the start of the second half, and mainly bossed the game. Mossley finally had some solid spells of possession late on but still failed to create anything with it, and Oldham added a third goal right at the end. 

It was an easy and relaxed first run out for Oldham, so much so that they seemed to repeatedly switch off and give away possession in dangerous areas - fortunately for them Mossley were never actually going to manage to exploit any of these opportunities, so in truth it didn't really matter!

The positive for Mossley is that because they so much sat back and didn't at all make a contest out of it, the game was a manager's dream from Oldham's perspective - no risk of injuries, no risk of embarrassing loss to non league opposition. That means Oldham are likely to be more than happy to come back for another friendly next year - and with a crowd not too far short of 1000 at this game, financially this must be a big pre-season bonus for Mossley.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Best and Worst of 2011/12

So, unless today's torrential rain forces a postponement, tomorrow I'll be watching my first game of the 2012/13 season - albeit only a pre season friendly - (Mossley vs Oldham Athletic). So to draw the curtain on the last season, here's a quick 'bests and worsts' from all the grounds I visited during the course of it:

Noisiest atmosphere: For most of the season this was between Bolton and Sheffield United, and then on the final game of the season I went to the Galpharm Stadium, where the Huddersfield Town fans created a right racket for the majority of the match! Admittedly everyone was given a 'clapper' which certainly added to it, and it was a play off semi final, so I'll be interested to see in the coming season if they get close to that atmosphere in a normal match.

Best match: A tough one - I remember the second half of Manchester City vs Sporting Lisbon was very exciting, where City battled back from 3-0 behind on aggregate to bring it to 3-3 on aggregate, and then right at the end a last second Joe Hart header was narrowly pushed round the push, and the whistle went to sent Sporting through on away goals. It was a dramatic end and if that'd gone in that would've been an unbelievable moment. But I don't feel like it can be best as the first half was terrible!

I guess, and admittedly this is a highly biased choice, the most memorably exciting match was Bolton Wanderers 2 QPR 1. It had plenty of drama, and was to be mainly remembered in the media for QPR's goal that never was, but it was a riveting watch from start to finish. With the battle to stay up getting increasingly tight, this game had so much at stake, and it was Bolton leading 1-0 at half time, before Cisse grabbed a goal midway through the second half to make it 1-1.

Both teams had big opportunities to get the crucial win, and then in the 86th minute Klasnic was put through clean on goal... it was one of those moments where time seems to slow down, as he ran at the keeper and finally side-footed the ball towards goal and perfectly into the corner, and thus the Reebok Stadium erupted. Cue the most nail biting period of time added on I'd experienced in a long time!

Worst match: There were a couple of dismal Mossley games I put up with towards the beginning of the season, but in the preliminary round of the FA Cup, Mossley 0 Runcorn Linnets 0 was absolutely dire from start to finish. Now I enjoy following the FA Cup round by round where possible and was looking forward to seeing if my local team could get another run going, having got to the last stage before the 1st round the season before, but this was lifeless utter rubbish that completely went against the 'magic of the FA cup'. The replay was no better from a Mossley perspective, as they were dumped out 4-0 (remember this was against a team from the division below).

Best cheese and onion pie: By a country mile, Glossop North End. It was their steak pie that won an best football pie award a couple of years ago, but this one is ridiculously good.

Worst cheese and onion pie: Oldham Athletic. Their solution to how bad it is seems to be to give you something that's so ridiculously hot, you can't even taste it for a quarter of an hour after buying it. But, leave it to cool till it's edible, and you're left with mush in pastry!

Best league ground: With the Reebok Stadium a very close second, this goes to Man City's Etihad Stadium.

Best non league ground: I'm a big fan of Lancaster City's Giant Axe. It just has real character and a feel to it, which is added to with the backdrop of the train station and Lancaster Castle.

Worst league ground: Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park is looking dilapidated with it's missing stand and general lack of any refurbishment, it's a depressing mess at present.

Worst non league ground: Woodley Sports' Neil Rourke Stadium. (they've now renamed themselves to Stockport Sports having been knocked down a division because their ground didn't match the division's regulations). At the time I visited it was a plastic pitch in the middle of a building site on all sides, it was just a total mess. We'll see if they can developed it into something remotely respectable to match their ambitions.

Best goal: One of those frustrating non league moments where no one was filming so only the people at the match will ever see it - in the second minute of Chorley 2 Whitby Town 2, Jimmy Beadle gets the ball 40+ yards from goal with nothing on, and in a "what is he thinking?" moment, shapes to shoot. The ball goes high and then dips perfectly into the top right corner, impossible to stop.

Best moment: The minute's applause for Muamba at Bolton vs Blackburn. I think minute's silences/applause are overdone and frequently can feel forced and like they gain little, but complete with the stunning 'MUAMBA 6' mosaic and the ripples of chanting of his name, this really was one of those moments that lives with you and gives you goosebumps even when you look back on it months later.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Bolton in the Championship

So despite Manchester City's dramatic late turnaround to beat QPR 3-2, Bolton finished just below QPR after drawing 2-2 away at Stoke, and thus Bolton were relegated. So how will the team I support fare in the Championship?

Within a week of being relegated, the sinking feeling was made all the worse for the fans. as Bolton were faced with the need to significantly cut the wage bill to cope with the sudden drop in income. 16 players either left or were released, including Jussi Jaaskelainen, Ricardo Gardner, Gretar Steinsson, Ivan Klasnic and Nigel Reo-Coker. Not only had some reliable first team regulars gone, there was also little or no squad depth left in several positions.

Bolton have lately brought in two players to begin to add more options, with Matt Mills added to their defence and Keith Andrews in midfield. To me these are strong signings at Championship level, and strong battling type players will add a backbone to the team and perhaps replace the likes of Nigel Reo-Coker and David Wheater (still with Bolton, but recovering from a major ligament injury).

The hope with Bolton is they have more luck with injuries this time round - with all the players to pick from, I'd be confident this team would be right near the top of the table all season. But another series of unlucky injuries would expose the gaps in squad depth.

Last time round, both Chung Yong Lee and Stuart Holden (arguably two of Bolton's best players) were pretty much out all season long with major injuries. Various other smaller injuries disrupted the team throughout the season, and of course I don't even need to say what happened to Fabrice Muamba. The hope is that Bolton were dealt such a bad hand in terms of luck last season, surely they're due some fortune this time round?

Anyway fixtures were announced a few weeks ago, and of all the games they could possibly start with, incredibly Bolton begin away at Burnley - a bit of a local rivalry to start with, but lately much more so since Owen Coyle moved from Burnley to become Bolton manager. Burnley, having started so well in the Premier League, went on to plummet down the table to relegation without Coyle, and have been stuck mid-table in the Championship since.

Burnley was an away trip I was pondering before the fixture announcement, but the home fans will be wound up given the circumstances and it being the opening fixture, and thus the idiots may also come along looking to cause trouble (and that's in both the home and away ends). I'm not sure if I'm looking into it too much or whether I'm just best giving this one a miss!

Whatever the result in this I feel the most important thing in the start of the new season will be the next two matches - at home to Derby County on Tuesday evening, and then Nottingham Forest on Friday evening (live on Sky). I say this as in previous seasons, the Reebok Stadium was widely seen as a difficult away game for many teams - there was a confidence that Bolton had at home that meant even major sides like Arsenal and Tottenham were intimidated into regularly losing/drawing there.

For once this didn't happen for Bolton last season, with just 4 wins from 19 home games. A poor start at home seemed to take away the confidence they'd built up over the seasons. But they've got the chance, in these difficult but potentially fairly attack-friendly opening home games, to make a statement to the other Championship clubs that the Reebok Stadium will be a really difficult away day for everyone. And of course some good early home performances can also lift the crowd to build up a big, noisy and potentially intimidating atmosphere for all visitors!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Football's almost back!

Summer is difficult when you're trying to keep a football blog up to date - do you leave it untouched for months and hope your viewers come back when the next season begins, or try to make posts with little to talk about and risk filling your blog with boring ramble?

Euro 2012 somewhat filled the gap between the seasons, and now with just over a month until the majority of the leagues begin, it's time for pre-season to start to kick in. Pre-season of course never compares to competitive football in terms of entertainment and atmosphere, but it can just be nice to be back at the grounds and enjoy the simple things you don't get from seeing it on tv.

For me a return to going to competitive matches happens before the new season starts however, as I'm at a couple of the Olympic football games at Old Trafford.  I've heard it all with the whole 'yeah but it's not taken seriously' 'it's mostly youth players so it'll be rubbish' etc, but for £20 for a ticket it seems well worth it to me.

First on the 29th July I see a double header in the group stages, Egypt vs New Zealand and Brazil vs Belarus (and seeing the Brazil team will contain the likes of Pato, Neymar, Hulk, Marcelo and Thiago Silva that seems an attractive prospect!).

Then on 4th August I see the first of the quarter finals, the winner of Group D vs the runner up of Group C. Group C is the four countries I mentioned above so it would be optimistic to think there'd be any chance of Brazil only being runners up, but Group D contains a strong Spain team (Mata, Alba, Martinez) so I've got my fingers crossed I'll be seeing them!

In the meantime I'll be at the local pre season matches, starting with Mossley vs Oldham Athletic this Wednesday at 7pm. As with last year Oldham are planning on taking their full first team, which is excellent for Mossley in terms of getting a decent crowd paying admission and buying food and drink - think I'll be getting one of their excellent cheese and onion pies too!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Galpharm Stadium - Huddersfield Town (pictures)

Pictures taken in the run-up, during and immediately after the end of Huddersfield Town vs Milton Keynes Dons from Tuesday evening. (including the fans on the pitch at the end, but was too high up to get a pic of Alan Smith fighting with fans!) Was an entertaining encounter and it's an excellent ground with some similarities to the Reebok Stadium. It's odd as you approach the stadium as you get close to it and then go downhill or down steps to get to it, making it difficult to get a picture from far away - as in the first pic below, the lower half of the ground is below the car park, so the ground looks small on the walk to it!

The Huddersfield fans were very loud, the atmosphere was intense, and that alone makes the ground worth a visit. Definitely thinking whoever wins the league one play off final (Sheffield United vs Huddersfield) will be at the top of my list of Bolton away matches to possibly go to next season, both stadiums are superb in different ways!

Britannia Stadium - Stoke City (pictures)

Pictures on Sunday in the run-up to Stoke City 2 Bolton Wanderers 2 are below. Got to the Britannia from the train station by walking along the canal by the way - it's a two and a half mile walk so not one to do in a rush, but canal leads to right next to the stadium so it's a very uncomplicated route, would recommend it to visiting fans.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Late goals leave Bolton on the brink of relegation

The relegation situation changed in a space of minutes on Sunday, leading to Bolton needing a win at Stoke City combined with QPR losing at Man City, otherwise it's Championship football next season.

Bolton had at one point been leading 2-0, but in all honesty it wasn't deserved. West Brom were the better team in the first half and Bolton were lucky to not concede several goals - instead a Martin Petrov penalty made it a very fortunate 1-0 at half time. It continued this way in the second half, as West Brom continued to look like scoring, and then a comedy moment from them, as one defender skewed a clearance straight into another defender's face, and this sent the ball into the net for a super fortunate 2-0.

So it was no surprise when West Brom got a goal back minutes later, 2-1. And from this point on the West Brom dominance went up several notches - it became all one way pressure.

As the match approached the last few minutes, the person sat next to me, who'd been half listening to his radio for most of the second half, announced that QPR had taken a late lead at home to Stoke. I think my response was "oh S**T". I don't see Bolton getting anything at Stoke, so felt that Bolton needed to better QPR's result on the day - this QPR goal made Bolton's win suddenly seem a little irrelevant.

And then the pressure told, and West Brom got their equaliser. It had felt quite inevitable from the 80th minute onwards, Bolton had been doing nothing other than unorganised and frequently chaotic defending, with everyone going back to defend so no-one to keep the ball when it was desperately smashed clear.

So in the space of a couple of minutes it went from Bolton going 2 points above QPR, to QPR going 2 points clear of Bolton. Thankfully West Brom were happy to stick with a 2-2 draw, as if they'd continued their full on attacking for the 5 minutes of added time there was chance they would have scored again. Bolton attempted to push forward but failed to create anything of note.

So at least Bolton go into the final game of the season with something to play for - but a win at Stoke seems so unlikely after recent performances. Bolton fans of course know all too well about Stoke causing them misery after Stoke beat them 5-0 in the FA Cup semi final last year... however Bolton did get revenge by beating Stoke 5-0 earlier this season. The problem is Stoke are such a better team at home.

I'll be at the Britannia with the Bolton fans on Sunday, and in truth at the moment I'm mainly feeling dread about this one - I just can't see anything other than Bolton going down and the day ending in misery (and the vociferous Stoke fans will be more than happy to rub in that misery from what I've been told about them!). But I'm sure my hopes will build a little by the time the match begins, and after Blackburn were relegated tonight, I guess in a way it's a relief that Bolton have any hope left at all for the last game of the season.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

So what's going on with Bolton?

To bring things round to tomorrow's crucial set of matches, here's the latest with Bolton.

My last blog post about Bolton was their 2-1 defeat at home to Wigan, but since then some results improved, starting with a 2-1 victory over QPR courtesy of a late Klasnic goal, albeit with the aid of a fortunate goal-that-never-was.

This was followed by a 2-1 victory over Blackburn, where the atmosphere was near deafening, not due to this being a local rivalry but because this was the first match since Muamba collapsed with a cardiac arrest, and was technically dead for 78 minutes. The picture above I took of the fantastic 'Muamba 6' mosaic, and below are just some of the tributes outside the Reebok Stadium on the day.

They continued the winning 3-2 at Wolves, before a disappointing 3-0 defeat at home to Fulham and a predictable 2-0 loss at Newcastle. A 1-1 draw against Swansea was little help, but a vital 2-1 win at Aston Villa followed by a 2-2 at Sunderland gave Bolton big hopes.

I was at the home game midweek versus Tottenham, and Bolton deserved to be 1-0 behind at half time - a fairly disappointing and scrappy first half in truth. But they really came out fired up in the second half, and after Nigel Reo-Coker got the equaliser they were on top, and coming close to getting another goal to take the lead. Next thing Tottenham got two quick goals to make it 1-3, and some after it as 1-4 and the game was over from there.

So, with crucial games coming up tomorrow, where do Bolton find themselves? Well personally, I'm expecting in 8 days QPR will lose at Man City, and Bolton lose at Stoke (however I've got a ticket for that game and hoping they don't). So, with Bolton and QPR joint on points and QPR having a superior goal difference, it's likely that whoever is above the other after tomorrow's games will be the one who stays in the Premier League.

Bolton are at home to West Bromwich Albion, QPR at home to Stoke. It's difficult for both, but both WBA and Stoke are very unpredictable especially in away matches... It'll especially be interesting to see how the announcement of Roy Hodgson as England manager will affect the WBA team's performance - will it cause a dip in form as with Harry Redknapp's Spurs, or will the sudden building up of profile of Hodgson be a sort of extra motivation for the players to impress, or perhaps an extra motivation for Hodgson to push for a result in a game that's essentially otherwise meaningless for WBA?

And of course whilst all this goes on in the Premier League, there's also the small matter of a team from Manchester travelling to Newcastle, and later on some other Manchester team playing at home to Swansea...