Friday, 19 December 2014

December 1996 ~ Arsenal v Aston Villa

The Master is in the host=seat for this one, as Villa travel to a “bone-chillingly cold” Highbury. He manages to get through the 3 seconds intro without having a go at Wenger for comin’ over ‘ere and taking good lads like Bruce Rioch & Stewart Houston’s jobs. I suppose the lack of recognition there’ll be for that reference shows the truth in what pretty much every political ‘round up’ of the year has agreed on: that Farage has “won” 2014 convincingly.

It was only 2013 that Des inaugurated the annual comedy song for the Ukips:
But I don’t remember there being any real fuss or attention at the time – only a year later, someone who I don’t even recognise (the Fake Mike Reed) had his go and the furore was much more. It could be just that the immense abymsality of the 2014 deserved commensurately more attention, but still does much to demonstrate the lamentable progress of Farage and his crew into “the mainstream”. And of course the 2015 slot is presumably still up for grabs – if there actually are any remaining white (obvs) male  (obvs) TV/Radio ‘personalities’ (so well-off, establishment types) from England (obvs) from the 70s or 80s who haven’t been Yewtreed, then they are probably cutting some initial demos now.
This is from the season when Wenger had just taken over – I wonder what odds you’d have got on him still being manager 18 years later would have been then, being as he was “Arsenal’s 4th manager of 1996” - and you can see as much from this transitional line-up. What must the combined age of that GK + three centre-backs have been? Neither wing-back looks especially natural for the role (nor presumably it didn’t work brilliantly as I can’t recall it being used much for the rest of his time), the front three is an interesting set-up. Overall, this is a tiny bit like Utd are shaping up at the moment in ‘real life’.
Villa, on paper, or ‘on graphic’, have actually got the more stream-lined, organised looking line-up for me. All solid players and a formation that logically suits the players in it.
Good start to the highlights, the ‘first throw in of the game’ and nothing coming from it. I thoroughly understand why Match Of The Day gives more equal time to all games now, but I have a soft-spot for a big-game being given the space to develop.
The first effort comes from the home side as a nice move end with a lovely turn by Bergkamp and an attempted chip which Mark Bosnich and his prime-example of mid-90s floppy hair are able to deal with easily enough – as they do also with a firmer effort by Parlour just after.

GOAL!! 1-0 Arsenal Wright
But Bosnich – subject of one of those absolutely useless bits of trivia that remains entrenched in my mind, Mark Bright saying to Johnny Vaughan on The Big Breakfast sports round up that he would ‘probably end up at Chelsea’ about 2 or 3 years before it actually happened – can’t do anything here as the Gunners go ahead. Savo Milosevic initially seems to have held the ball up well, but is disposed by a fearsome tackle by Vieira and Bergkamp slides a gorgeous outside-of-the-foot ball through the Villa back three which Wright gets onto, onside and drills a low finish into the bottom corner.
Great action! A very similar sequence of play follows with a Villa import, this time Nelson, being caught in possession in midfield, fantastically silly play by Bergkamp, and another sweet through ball to Wright. This time he goes round the trackie-attired Aussie but is thwarted by a heroic block by Ricardo Sciemecca. Have to disagree with John Champion’s assertion that “you’d have put your last pound on Wright scoring the moment he went past Bosnich” – there simply wouldn’t have been time to complete such an audacious wager. If a stoppage had been called to allow the mechanics of a bet to be placed, the opportunity for the defenders to get back would have increased, the tension would have would already have begun to look a foolish act of bravado before the shot was eventually taken. None of which is to say it isn’t an unexpectedly excellent bit of defending – which is what the commentator meant anyway, just dressed that sentiment up in a cliché that makes no sense when you think about it – as they are wont to do.
Another let off for Villa. Bergkamp, who looks a completely deluxe element in the game so far, gets in a shot which Bosnich sends spinning up in the air, before the unlikely combination of a Garde overhead to Bould’s head puts the ball onto the roof of the net. Arsenal could be miles ahead, buts only one as we go to HALF TIME.
Villa could equalise with the first action after the change-round. Staunton hits a long ball to Yorke who controls nicely and goes forward before putting in a low cross from which a combination of Ian Taylor and John Lukic send the ball rolling towards the net but Bould is there to get it away. Lukic, of course, is the subject of a “made up fact”, it being falsely believed in some circles that he was born on the plane that crashed at Munich. I read about another untrue “fact” this week in the media scrum to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the inventors of Trivial Pursuit having their brainstorm. Apparently in the early editions they included an answer which claimed Lt Columbo’s first name was Phillip. This isn’t the case and was included in a book of (otherwise real) facts by a researcher who placed it deliberately to see if people were ripping off his trivia, creating a high-stakes lawsuit.
End to end now: Yorke again looks classy as he goes past defenders but his cross ends up being blocked and Merson pings a ball over the top to Wright who skins Staunton but whips a left-foot shot wide across goal when he probably should have scored....

GOAL!! 1-1 Milosevic
...and they pay for it Arsenal, as Villa level. Twice Nelson does well getting forward down the right, and from his cross Arsenal defend pretty weakly, Mark Draper heads the ball across and, coming from a slightly odd angle, Milosevic controls the finish well with his left foot, the ball rasping very satisfyingly into the net.
We’re told that makes it three goals against this opposition already for the Serb and he nearly adds another straight away with a header which is too much in the middle of goal and easily tipped over by Lukic – who was amazingly, born amid the wreckage of the Munich air disaster.

GOAL!! 2-1 Merson
Ah, you’re sick here if you’re a Villa fan. Just as they were looking on top, they go back behind. Not a goal I personally enjoyed this, it comes on the break following a ‘surging run’ by sub Steve Morrow and Merson gets pace just outside the box and hits a fractionally dipping shot that bends away from the keeper and in – contrary to the previous goal, I didn’t feel this “went in very nicely” but others may disagree – Champion has it as “a goal of the highest order”

GOAL!! 2-2 Yorke
Not surprise given how Villa were looking, but poor defending again. A straightforward pass by Milosevic put Yorke in and, left-footed, he slots under the keeper. The Villa fans go mad and with 15 mins to go anything could happen here.
Within reason. And included in that realm of possibility would be “Bergkamp to go past the defenders easily, then put too much on his shot and send it wide when you’d expect him to tuck it away” as that’s exactly what occurs next. At the other end Milosevic volleys an ambitious left-footed effort from an angle which is easily saved.
And that’s that! A rather anti-climatic feel to the final whistle there, as it seemed set for a final twist
Not sure whether it’s the knowledge of how things developed in the next few years after this as they became two of the acknowledged star performers but everything Bergkamp and Yorke did in this game looked on a different level in its pace and sharpness. A really good wintry MOTD package as attested by both managers in notable fair and balanced interviews afterwards – followed up by this clangingly unfinessed, yet winsome, “explanation” by Merson on what Arsene Wenger’s approach is:

“unbelievable belief...always positive talking and always talking, football, football”

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

May 2000 ~ Coventry City vs Sheffield Wednesday

"And what of Sheffield Wednesday?”
The first words spoken by a surprisingly modern-looking Gary Lineker, and how many great philosphers have posed the same question over the years when wondering what to write about on a morning off work. 
Its testament to his perceived ‘aged well’ reputation that its mildly unexpected that he looks younger 14 years ago than he does now – perhaps his incredibly husky voice as displayed on Sports Personality Of The Year was less a season affliction and the first point on a tick-list to enshrine himself as a full HWF.

“None of them have got any personality!”

Less unanticipated however is the perilous plight of The Owls – as Gary intones “surely they need to win their three remaining games” to have any chance of staying up. After finishes of 3rd, 7th & 7th between 1992-94, the next six seasons (with an outlier in 97, 7th again) had seen a remorseless and steady descent – as if small iron girders had been patiently applied to both feet, then two two wings and their flight had been slowly impinged: 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th..... as Lineker says, maybe not in so many words, “it looks like that sadistic torturer may finally have decided to weight down the beak and finally send this bird crashing into the ground face first in a ball of feathers and shrieking”.

Unless! Unless they can see off Coventry City at Highfield Road.
 Here are those stellar line-ups. Coventry looks a very care-free, attacking set-up to me: probably a kind of 4-1-3-2 with McAllister sitting behind a very fluid and interchangeable front five. Peter Shreeves, we are informed, keeps the same side that played Leeds last time (I think Harry Kewell scored a peach in that), and I interpret that as a very of-the-era 3-5-2 approach, with Hinchcliffe and Alexandersson supplying the width. Alan Quinn will need to get about a fair bit in midfield as Horne and Jonk at this stage of their careers promise to be as mobile as a rusted Communist era battleship abandoned in Siberia – and a lot less evocative.
The first action, on a gorgeous spring day, looks like it could set the tone: wandering play by Noel Whelan on the left ends with some nice interplay between Zuniga & Hadji, with the latter firing in a shot which Kevin Pressman beats away.
GOAL!! 1-0 Coventry McAllister
Terrible defending by Wednesday and already Coventry look to be a different level here. This is McAllister’s 12th of the season, so no excuse for Wednesday to not be aware of his forward runs even if he was nominally the furthest back of this flowing midfield unit. Robbie Keane opens the gap with a clever dummy, Zuniga’s involved again, laying the ball off to his captain who storms forward and slots past Pressman to give the home side a 38th minute lead.
HALF-TIME. Wow, must have been some action there..... or is it one of those where the 2nd period so incident packed they back-load the highlights? Only one way to find out....
It’s a promising start. Hinchliffe clips a neat ball down the line where Giles de Bilde holds it up well, then slips in a really clever back-heel, which Quinn, as we said he needed to do, gallops forward to run on to, hitting  first-time shot which goes not far wide of 42-year old Steve Ogrizovic’s post.
Substitution – Haslam for Walker for Wednesday. Is that an attacking move? You’d have to assume so, not many players could be less forward-inclined than a player who scored 1 goal in over 700 professional games.
what is this wall even supposed to block/stop??
And no sooner had that change been made than Wednesday nearly found themselves two down. Paul Gerrard sadly obviously never saw this fantastic effort by McAllister, as from 35 yards or so out, with “everyone” expecting a cross, a shot is unleashed which Pressman has to get back across to, tipping the ball onto the bar and perilously close to being over the line as it bounces down. Commentator John Champion doesn’t acknowledge the keeper’s touch either live or on the replay but I’m sure he saves it.
GOAL!! 2-0 Coventry Zuniga
Fantastic stuff by McAllister again, after Keane runs the left hand channel intelligently and cuts inside, no-one gets near the veteran Scot, allowing him to outside-of-foot an arching effort fromm the edge of the box which, again, hits the bar and bounces down, only this time the little Peruvian Zuniga reacts well to dive in and head the ball into the net. On the replay, Champers this time does me a favour, by confirming I was right about that Kewell strike. The tense this is being written in is more all over the place at this point than Shreeves' Stoppers
GOAL!! 3-0 Coventry McAllister
This is shocking by Wednesday, Coventry rampant and McAllister utterly running the show. Hadji gets free in exactly the same space Keane did on the previous goal, does very similarly in turning back inside and laying the ball off for McAllister running onto the ball. No need for anyone else to follow up this time as the finish gives the keeper no chance and is drilled into the bottom corner. Champion misses the point somewhat, putting it down to “being in the right place at the right time” which doesn’t really cover any of the excellent play we’ve seen.
And Woody Allen loves what he’s seeing out there.
GOAL!! 4-0 Coventry Hadji
Mind-numbingly inept play by Haslam as Wednesday for a moment got into the other half, but he dallies and has the ball pinched off him, the Sky Blues speed forward again...look at this position, it 4 attackers against 1 defender
In a way they end up ‘not scoring as easily as they possibly might have done’ – a microscopically  small a glimmer of hope for Wednesday I suppose: “at least we got back” – Hadji plays in Zungia, the beleaguered Pressman repels the first shot but Hadji follows up and slices neatly into the far corner with outside of his left-foot.
Exposed at the back
GOAL!! 4-1 de Bilde for Wednesday
Is there hope yet?! Wim Jonk slides a ball through a defence which seems to be enjoying the carnival atmosphere a bit prematurely and de Bilde skirts past Ogrizovic nicely and tucks home. Its refereed to, in that slightly odd tone often struck by pundits/experts where it implies some far greater shame or malice than the crowd simply being pissed off, on commentary that the travelling supporters were booing their team in the build up to the goal. After what we’ve seen, getting ragged by Israel Zuniga and outpaced by a 36 year old AOTS, they were entitled to be a bit grumpy.
And, no, there was no hope yet as that’s the end of a fairly brief highlights package. Well, I’ve been screwed over there: 6 minutes into the billed 14:38 running time and it’s all over, 4-1 Coventry.
Ah, okay, is one of those ones where it’s intercutting between different Relegation-haunted strugglers. Possibly should have done some very basic research before embarking on this – how often do you get interviews with both Terry Burton & Peter Shreeves in the same package?? I wouldn’t recommend massively sticking it out to the end of the analysis, but as it goes Trevor Brooking seems breezily confident Wimbledon will stay up whereas Mark Lawrenson implies he thinks Bradford could beat Liverpool actually – which ended up being right as it goes. Wednesday alas, went down with Watford & Wimbledon.

I wonder if Steven Gerrard learned a lot from McAllister? If you look at everything the latter does in this game, you could picture the former doing in a very similar way and style...
Woody Allen Coventry films:
~ Marcus Hall
~ Everything You Wanted To Know About Jess (But Were Afraid To Ask)
~ Another Hedman
~ Deconstructing Huckerby
~ The Purple Rose Of Chippo
~ Everyone Says Ndlovu 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Single Issue Rushed Filler (Everton v Hull)
Ten past five on a busy weekday, crossing The Strand (remember they used to have walk ways over it? They got knocked down in November 2007 didn't they? It was "The Basement Party" night, we played Sunderland and won 7-1 the next day. They were grotty things - as the photographer of the above notes "it stank of piss", there was often an unexplained pile of shorn hair lying around on a Monday morning, and it seemed fairly inevitable and accepted when they were dismantled. Really, though, who did that help? Pedestrians have to wait longer to cross, and the traffic.....has to wait longer because the pedestrians stop traffic to cross. Couldn't they have just de-pissed the footbridges a bit?) and the traffic, as it is wont to be, is relentless. This is literally an everyday occurrence but tonight for some reason a guy next to was fuming and doing 'look how exasperated I am' deep breaths. Eventually he turned to me and implored "what is up with all this frigging traffic eh lad?!"
I mused on it for a second and offered "well....its a very busy road and its rush-hour so..."
He didnt find any fault in that per se, but stomped ahead of me when 'eventually' the lights did change, leaving me with "too frigging sensible you lad". 
Dont have them anymore either -for some reason - bus lanes
Annoyance at a purely factual answer is a bit mean isnt it? Like when people say of the game that launched the "Fergie-time" phenomenon "why on earth were there seven minutes stoppage time anyway?!" - 'well the referee got injured and had to be substituted in the second half, and the delay took about 6 and a half minutes...' 
That's possibly the second most often asked question about Steve Bruce, and the most common is one which has also, co-incidentally,  posed by the metaphorical & quite often literal 'man on the street' - "what happened to Steve Bruce, he looked like he'd been battered when he was on telly last night...""
This? I've had worse tickling my kitten with cotton wool man. Just a tiny bit of nonsense. 
If you ever get pestered about this, you must always fall back on the straight answer "well, what happened was....someone tried to steal his daughter's car, he got in a scrap, saved the car, but took a bit of a whack"

'Ah. Yeah, no I meant the other night, that was a few years ago that happened?'

"No, the exact same thing happened again"

'How many times is that now? Must be the sixth or seventh!'

We're playing Hull aren't we? That's the "point". Looking to extend a 100% home record against 'The Tigers'. The first encounter was January 2009, which we won with a header by Fellaini (overshadowed by him receiving a very harsh booking which meant he was suspended for, as it was, the looming double-header with League Leaders Liverpool) and an outstanding 30 yard 'Ronaldo~esque' instep free-kick by Arteta. 
The former of those two since sold midfielders looked to have a good game at the weekend, now starting six games in a row for Utd, the last four of which have been wins, with another goal tonight. One of the odder episodes of recent times must be his handling last year by a manager who should have known exactly how to get the best out of him, yet got him to look worse than ever before.
That 3-0 stroll looked in every way a harking back to far flung sepia tinged olden days of two years ago when teams went to Old Trafford and meekly took a two or three nil loss and 'got out alive'. A complete cop-out and dereliction of duty by the visiting manager, even against the genuinley top drawer Utd teams. If you look up "FUTILITY" in the dictionary, there's an image of Moyes giving instructions to Tony Hibbert as he prepares to replace Lucas Neill after 84 minutes, when 0-3 down there in 2009. 
Incidentally, Bruce has never beaten Utd as a manager in 21 games. So, them going there on Saturday was less likley to end well than a couple of scals eyeing up his youngest's new Owosso Pulse.
The next year, we routed Hull 5-1 with Arteta getting two (one after a lovely backheel by Pienaar), a wet squib of an own goal by someone, then two nice late finishes by Rodwell & Donovan to give us a cushion we very rarely enjoy. I remember Heitinga actually having a really stylish game playing in midfield here, so its fair to assume the opposition must have been pretty bleak. The main signifigance of this one, hopefully, is that it came on the back of a frustrating and avoidable 1-2 defeat at Tottenham in the previous game. 
Last season was a 2-1 victory very similar to the recent West Ham game: a lucky/offside first goal, equaliser, fiesty challenges, escaping a possible red card, then a sudden flash of class and a lighting break involving a sub who's recently come on and a thoroughly satisfying winning goal. In this case, it was Pienaar the sub who actually slid the finish in, not merely set it up as with Etoo the other week. This was also Kone's last outing - an odd cameo in which he actually did pretty well and made his best contribution since coming - then spoiled it by missing an absolute sitter. Not really the last thing you'd want anyone to be able to remember you doing...
I hope Martinez resists the temptation to go fiddly or hedge his bets for this one with City to come on Saturday. I would pick the current best line-up, and say barring something quite significant they're playing both of these games - we've then got (assuming we play a complete second-string XI for the non-event Krasnodar home game) 9 days to rest before the next league game, so no excuse really for getting too ahead of ourselves. 

We've not won enough games - winning at home to a horribly struggling relegation-fight bound rag-bag team is simply a must. We're 11th as I type and back below a Liverpool side everyone is keen to say have been largely atrocious.  

I could understand Mirallas getting taken off the other day fitness-wise, but when someone's in as good form as he is, he needs to be on the pitch as much we can get away with - 5 goals in his last 6 starts (barring the brief appearance at Anfield) and looking like he could add to that at any point. His approach is what a few of the others need to mimmick - I'd like to see Barkley unload a few mad shots - as without Deulofeu from last season's squad we have reverted to passy-passy slow build stuff a tad at times - Gary Neville picked up on this failing very well the other day. 
0-1 Quinn 72 it is then
Hull havent won for 6 games - Steve Bruce teams always lose form around this time of year - he was sacked by Sunderland at the start of December 3 years ago. The nights draw in, the kids have nothing to do, and it becomes a seige at times - its no wonder his team's begin to lose focus as their manager spends less time working on tactics and more and more time defending his family's property like a medieval moat guardian on the lookout for encroaching hordes. 
The mini-preview in The Guardian today said that their fans have been clamouring in the local paper for Stephen Quinn and David Meyler to be restored to the team, which should tell you everything about how they've been playing. Thankfully, even with a few unresolved injuries, we'ev got a few more enticing options than that. 
I'd move Barkley back in behind Lukaku , drop Eto'o and start Mirallas and McGeady with the idea being to do everything just that bit quicker and commit defenders more. 
Its fantastic to have Eto'o available but, as a personal opinion, he should either play upfront or be on the bench. When he plays deeper he seems (aside form the header at Burnley, admittedly probably our best goal of the season) to me to exaggerate how sensible and team-orientated he an be. There were times at Spurs where crosses wnet in and he was far deeper than any player who is one of the front 4 should be in the box, let alone one who is one of the best goalscorers of the past decade in Europe. At the end of the day, you dont sign Samuel Eto'o to have him doing a Leon Osman impression - without the forward runs. 

Its Goodison, at night, in winter, its getting on for a sell-out, opposition are garbage - it should be boss. And ,as much as it would be neat to note that I'm "too frigging sensible" to think such things ever go to plan, I am think it actually will work out in such a way this time if we play approach it correctly- with a resounding 3-0 win to kick off the festive period.