Saturday, 19 February 2011

Seagulls with altitude sickness...

I’m one of those football fans who associate themselves with an adopted team in each of the top divisions. First and foremost, I am a Newcastle United fan, but I follow other teams loosely too...

npower Championship – Preston North End

npower League One – Brighton & Hove Albion

Blue Square Bet Premier – Bath City

You’ll notice straight away that I don’t support a League Two side, and all I can say is that I’m still searching! As for my other teams, it’s been a mixed season so far. Preston North End are rock bottom of the Championship with just 5 wins in 30 matches and are almost destined for relegation.

Brighton & Hove Albion, by contrast, are just one place behind North End in the Football League standings, sitting prettily in pole position in League One when mid-table obscurity was predicted at the beginning of the season.

Bath City are enjoying a fantastic term, happily lost in the mid-table places, well clear of the relegation zone and dreaming of play-off hope. Adie Britton has done a fantastic job with a bunch of part-time footballers!

It is Brighton though that I would like to draw closer attention to. The last time they were promoted to the Championship, they had Bobby Zamora scoring goals for fun at the Withdean Stadium. This time, it’s more of a combined effort in the goalscoring department. Kazenga Lua Lua (on loan from Newcastle) netted 4 times early on before an injury prevented him staying on the south coast. Striker Glen Murray has 14 goals to his name, Ashley Barnes has 10, and the midfielders have each contributed with three or four each.

The Seagulls have got a good all round team now with Kasper Ankergren in goal and defenders Gordon Greer and Inigo Calderon particularly impressive this season. I think they have a team that could compete in the second tier of the Football League, and it certainly looks promising thus far for the Albion.

And with a move from the often slated Withdean Stadium (which is really an Athletics Stadium, I used to have my primary school sports day there!) to the brand new, 22,500 seater Amex Stadium, they have an arena in which they will look like they belong in the Championship or even (dare I say it) the Premier League.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

World Cup Fever?

Meaningful international cricket returns this weekend with the beginning of the 2011 World Cup in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. I think the success of this particular World Cup has potentially huge ramifications on the future of 50 over cricket.

This format of the game has been slowly dropping in popularity since the creation of 20/20 cricket shortly after the turn of the Millennium, and having discussed the matters with many fans, I can see a repeated theme as to why.

The middle overs. The general flavour of the public viewpoint is that 50 over cricket is entertaining for the first powerplays (a fantastic invention by the way), and the final 10 overs are worth a watch too. For those unfamiliar with ‘powerplays’, they are five-over stints of all big hitting and wicket taking, as only two fielders are permitted to be outside the inner fielding rings, thereby encouraging batsmen to hit over the top, which inevitably leads to opportunities for the fielding side to take a wicket.

But the middle 25 overs are lacking conviction. Where’s the power or the passion of 20/20? The captain of the fielding side brings the spinners on, and the batsmen settle for nurdling the ball to the boundary fielders for three or four singles an over.

On a personal note, I like 50 over cricket, it certainly has never captured the intensity of test cricket but for spectators who are inside the ground, there are often 100 overs of cricket, nearly 600 hundred runs and wickets aplenty. The best ever ODI I have ever watched is this one.... But I do think the middle overs can(and I emphasise can because there are times when the middle overs can make riveting cricket, but I think they are the exception) be tedious, especially to budding cricket supporters who believe 20/20 is simply the more attractive brother.

Back to the matter in hand and it would certainly seem unlikely that England will win this World Cup, especially given the lack of form we bring in from the 6-1 toasting we got down under and the generally struggle to adapt to sub-continent conditions that England have found in seasons past.

Nonetheless, there is optimism in the ranks with the return of Stuart Broad (who took 5-37 in the last warm-up game) alongside the well rested James Anderson, which makes a fiery opening partnership with the new ball. Speaking of leading well from the front, it’s an exciting prospect to have Andrew Strauss partnered by the effervescent Kevin ‘KP’ Pietersen at the top of the batting order.

My hopes for the tournament are that all the big players turn up, the teams take it seriously and that England and South Africa meet in the final. Bangladesh continue to improve, and I will be watching the progress of Tamim Iqbal closely, let’s hope they put on a good show as co-hosts of the tournament. Australia have won the last 3 world cups, but I think they’ll struggle this time around. South Africa for their first World Cup win for me.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Black and White Addicks

AAn interesting article on how a modern day football club seeks to keep discipline and injury free players while in the youth academy using an ‘old fashioned’ ploy;

Thursday, 1 April 2010


Most people who know me, know I am a traditionalist when it comes to formats of cricket.

I love test cricket and wholeheartedly believe it to be the purest and most exhilirating form of the game, but I've been watching a fair amount of the Indian Premier League these last few weeks, and I think it is absolutely fantastic.

Great hits, great cricketers, and best of all, great catches.
Check this one out from David Hussey, my favourite catch so far...

This sort of cricket is wonderful, but I'm still more excited about the test cricket on offer in 2010. Bangladesh hop over briefly at the end of the month, followed by Pakistan, and then Strauss and his men pack their bags to go and give those Aussies a royal beating down under in December.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Black and White Army March On

Well, I’ll be honest here; this is undoubtedly the best season in a long time to be a Newcastle fan. I can’t remember these dizzy heights of joy since the Sir Bobby Robson reign.

For those of you far too interested in the higher echelons of English football to even warrant a glance at the Coca-Cola Championship, the Magpies are five points clear of second-place West Bromich Albion, and ten points and a game-in-hand above third placed Nottingham Forest with just eight games to go in the current season.

The season has gone through the motions with minimal fuss so far this season. At the beginning of the season, Alan Shearer declared that he was interested in what seemed to be a vacant manager’s hot seat at St James’ Park (or is that St James Park Stadium?), but Chris Hughton has made the ‘poisoned chalice’ his with spectacular consistency in both performance and results, which has been lacking for a number of years.

Roberto Di Matteo’s West Brom have been superb on the attack, but questions are still be asked of their shaky defence which has seen them leak 42 goals in defence, in comparison to the 28 that Newcastle have let through.

It represents a remarkable turn-around in fortunes for the back four at St James’ Park. During Newcastle’s 17-year stay in the top flight, defence was the constant source of criticism from pundits all over the media. To name but a few of the defenders famous for leaking goals; Titus Bramble, Jean-Alain Boumsong, Craig Moore, Oguchi Onyewu, Claudio Cacapa, Olivier Bernard and many more.

But now stability has been found. Can it be retained in the Premier League next season? Only time will tell. Either way, it’s been a great season.

The authoritative voice of Nigel Adkins, Scunthorpe United manager, commented after their recent 3-0 loss to the Magpies; "That's a Premier League side you have just seen out there, end of story, so we don't need to get too disillusioned about the result because that is a Premier League side and a very, very good one."

While it is nice to hear of the fear that Hughton’s men are instilling in opposition teams, I cannot help but disagree with Adkins on this matter. We may just about qualify for Premier League quality at a stretch, but to say we are a ‘very, very good one’ is complete hyperbole. Andrew Carroll, Peter Lovenkrands, Nile Ranger, Leon Best and Shola Ameobi represent an astounding strike force in the Championship, but move them up a league and they are distinctly, distinctly average.

Looking back on my previous blog post about Premier League relegation, I still think that Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth will be ejected based on a lack of quality and ability to win matches that really matter. These three teams currently occupy the bottom three, and Burnley have been in absolute freefall since Owen Coyle left, and any side with an away form of one point out of a possible 48 is asking an improbable task from their home form to keep them up.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Tis the season to be 'olly

The Barclays Premier League is widely considered the best league in the world, and we certainly have a classic on our hands this season.

In the upper regions, we suddenly have a three-horse title race on our hands, following an Arsenal revival and a dip in Chelsea’s form. Carlo Ancelloti’s men also have the daunting prospect of losing several key players for the African Cup of Nations, which starts on January 10 in Angola. Man Utd don’t exactly look like settling the world alight with a distinctly average midfield by their standards. It will be interesting to see if Arsenal can keep up the pace on the front runners. It’s been impressive to see the form of Aaron Ramsey, Manuel Almunia, Abou Diaby and the rest. The problem seems to be in the forwards department, does Eduardo have what it takes to replace the goal machine Robin van Persie? Perhaps Arsenal will sign a forward in the January window, or we may see more of the young Carlos Vela in the new year.

There is an excellent contest for the much coveted fourth Champions’ League spot in the Premier League this season. Liverpool have played poorly and probably deserve the 7th position they currently occupy. Realistically it’s a wide open race, with Aston Villa, Man City, Tottenham Hotspur and dare I even add Fulham into the equation to contend with the Reds?

And at the bottom end, we’ve got all sorts going on! After the travesty of Newcastle going down last year, I’d like to see Hull get relegated, which is a realistic scenario in my humble opinion. Pompey are four points from safety but are looking much stronger since Avram Grant became manager. Only five points separate 19th placed Hull and 10th placed Sunderland; any of the teams between could go down, but my favourites for the drop are Hull, Portsmouth and Burnley. Everton, Blackburn, Stoke and Sunderland will pull well clear by May, and I think Bolton have enough about them to stay up. Wigan and Wolves are definite candidates to drop to the Championship.

And in Europe’s second best league, the Coca-Cola Championship, it looks as if Newcastle and West Brom are a cut above the rest. It would be interesting to see if Nottingham Forest can continue their good form; they look very solid indeed under Billy Davies. I think the funniest scenario would be to see the Tangerines (aka Blackpool) move into the Premier League, just to see Ian Holloway on Match of The Day.

And this is why...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Killing in the name of...

Christmas time is generally child-friendly in the UK. We have chocolate calendars, Cliff Richard’s music, Christmas tree fairies, Macaulay Culkin’s films and Santa Claus. In Carol Services, everyone loves having the kids on show doing the nativity drama.

I was thinking the other day about the real message of Christmas, which in many ways is anything but child-friendly. The nativity, although a lovely scene, isn’t the complete message of Christmas. Far from it. Christmas points to Easter for Christians, the birth of the Lord Jesus is in fact a pointer to his death. The Saviour comes into this world in the nativity. But he can only save us through his death on the cross.

Imagine an Easter ‘Nativity’ scene. There would be no baby Jesus, no manger and no smiling wise men with gifts. The baby Jesus has grown up! There’d be a full grown man with a beard, beaten and bruised, a crown of thorns, a wooden cross and an empty tomb. A brutal death instead of a cute birth.

The Bible calls this ‘good news of great joy’. Why? Because through the perfect life of Jesus, every human being who has rejected God (that’s all of us) can be forgiven and can begin a relationship with him. All of our wrong is exchanged for Jesus’ perfection, so God can see us as perfect. The relationship we were meant for can begin. And that my friends, is the greatest news in the world.

More on this good news... click here