Monday, 25 May 2009

AS Rosso Roasted

AS Rosso 2-5 Fionn MacCool's Celtic

Due to overwhelming pressure, I have decided to take some time out from talking nonsense about the holy grail that is the Premier League, and instead turn my attention to whats really important -Fionn MacCool's Celtic season opener. The writing however, will pail in comparison to those of Celtics favourite pundit, Mark Knipe, who's comedic poetry is still sorely missed by many of those who would open their inbox on a Monday morning in eager anticipation, desperate for a distraction from the working week that looms large.

After the conclusion of winter campaigns at the docks which saw both Celtic teams narrowly miss out in the final of their respective divisions, a new era beckoned for Fionn MacCool's Celtic. Courtesy of hard work behind the scenes from Jude Bredin and Mike Carney, Celtic were ready to compliment the Summer season with a new strip, ensuring a cohesive uniform instead of the rag tag of multiple brands and sponsors, usually witnessed. In addition to the new fashion statement, Celtic welcomed back long serving Desmond Tibby in to the fold as Manager, who takes on the monumental task of controlling the swollen ego's, that are only eclipsed in propotion, by that of a Premier League Squad.

While Celtic came prepared for the fixture after a grueling pre-season, which saw them pit their wits against Premier opposition, AS Rosso showed all the signs of a newly formed team, enthusiastically pacing back and forth across the pitch followed by comprehensive stretches. As the bare bones of the Celtic squad began to arrive at drip drop pace, nervous glances scoured over the unknown quantity of unfamiliar, sizable opposition.

With just enough players kitted up and ready to kick off, Celtic took to the perfectly consistent, fast paced astro turf pitch, resistant to the harsh realities of a Canadian Winter. Under the baking summer heat that disturb many a recluse from their winter hibernation, both teams tentatively sussed each other out, posturing and waiting for someone to make the first telling move.

10 minutes or so in to the game, and with the score still 0-0, tardy reinforcements arrived in the shape of Jimmy Evangelou and Raymond Curley, who were impatiently ordered to kit up and get ready to be introduced to the action. Such indiscipline's that wont go unpunished in the future, after Manager Tibby looks to reaffirm authority with the introduction of the designated "Sheriff" whom will dish out serious financial penalties for improper conduct.

After 15 minutes the deadlock was finally broke in bizarre circumstances. Curley, came off the bench adding some zest to the forward line, spread the play wide to Teague who appeared to be occupying innocuous territory down the left wing. Teague, on his weaker left foot, sliced a cross in to the box which despite being condemned mid air by the articulate commentary, "oh shit", swung towards the far corner, evading the keepers desperate reach. Due to the mid air admission, celebrations were muted given the fortuitous circumstances.

Minutes later, Celtic doubled their lead, after good work down the left wing saw Curley square the ball across the box, with Teague on hand to stab home ahead of Tibby who was loitering with intent at the back post.

With Celtic seemingly in control, after creating a 2 goal cushion, complacency set in with half time soon approaching. Unfortunately, AS Rosso managed to nick one before the half time whistle, after finding space down their right wing, the winger crossed the ball to the striker who finished admirably from an acute angle.

The second half kicked off and Celtic looked to regain their 2 goal advantage. Debutant Colin Prior looked a great acquisition, working tirelessly, setting a great standard in midfield. And the hard work soon paid off, after Mark Fitzpatrick silenced any concerns over his long term future with the hoops, by curling in a great cross from the right wing, which was met and dispatched lethargically by Curley.

Again, with Celtic seemingly in control, AS Rosso unsettled the nerves with their second goal of the game to make it 2-3. A softly awarded freekick down the Rosso left wing, was firmly met by a familiar head (forget the guys name, but I have definitely seen that country man before) leaving Fourie with no chance.

Any signs of a Rosso equaliser were soon squashed, as Celtic began to expose space on the counter attack. Bredin added a fourth after a neat 1-2 exchange on the edge of the box with Curley, left only the keeper to beat. Bredin was happy to oblige, and coolly slotted the ball in to the bottom left corner, leaving the Rosso players to plead in vain to the linesmen for offside.

Before the final whistle, their was still time for Teague to wrap up proceedings by clinching a hattrick. Again with Rosso committing men forward in search for a life line, the ball over the top left Teague though on goal, only for the trailing defender to tug his shirt before the sniper made sure he went down to claim a penalty. The penalty was dispatched, making the final score 2-5 to Celtic.

So, for the first time in their history, Celtic managed to open the campaign with a victory. With a strong squad, competition will be fierce as Celtic look to build on this positive start, by going one better than last season, and pushing for the TSSL Media League title.

In all its glory here are the highlights......

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Drop on the Tyne

Alan Shearer's search for a remedy to the poison chalice that is the Managerial hot seat at Newcastle United, comes to a fruitless end, and with it the Magpies 16 year love affair with the Premier League.

Since their Promotion from the then Division 1, in 1993 Newcastle United have served up some priceless moments, such as Kevin Keegan's "I'd love it if we beat them rant" rant, Faustino Asprilla's rubber legs and his hattrick in the Champions League -yes Champions League! Its these kinds of moments over the years that have made Newcastle, many supporters, including myself, their second team. Being a Liverpool supporter, I will certainly miss the clashes with Newcastle, that so often produced a goal feast.

Despite all the sentimental values and moments of nostalgia from the past, at Villa Park today, and like so often over the course of the season, Newcastle fell woefully short of the standard needed to ply your trade in the Premier League, and what could be deemed an insult, even the Championship.

Watching the game, it was no surprise that Newcastle would end up being condemned to relegation, via a hugely unfortunate deflection that saw Damien Duff gifted with the misfortune of an own goal. When your battling away in the drop zone, bad luck has a tendency to follow you like a bad smell, literally rubbing your nose in it.

Quite how a club as large as Newcastle, that possess many experienced Premier League players even managed to get themselves embezzled in a relegation battle is astounding, and can only be attributed to the managerial merry go round that has seen no less than four managers at the helm of St James'. Of course, many questions will be posed to the commitment and desire of certain players at the club, but as we have seen in the past time and time again, managerial uncertainty so often fuels the descent, from previous lofty heights. I'm sure many Geordie's would disagree, but would Newcastle be in this predicament had they not fired Sam Allardyce? Allardyce may have been responsible for Newcastle's dismal start, but I think had he been given more time, he would have dug Newcastle out of trouble, albeit in the most ugly of agricultural fashions.

Prior to the anticipated mass exodus of players from St Jame's, as Newcastle begin to prepare for life in England's second tier, a decision will have to be made on the immediate and long term future of interim manager, Alan Shearer. His managerial career may have started with the unsightly stain of relegation being marked on his CV, but this could be a blessing in disguise for at least Shearer, if not Newcastle as a whole. Nobody wants to be relegated, but this will force Newcastle, if not only for financial reason, to restructure and rid some of the dead wood that has rotted in its old age.

Over the last year, more than fog has descended over Newcastle, and at times I would have rather have watched Gazza's one hit singing wonder, Fog on the Tyne, than some of the football Newcastle have offered. I hope for Newcastle sake, home town legend Alan Shearer is given a permanent contact at St James, where he can offer them some stability, before any temptations of a music career are explored.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Setanta Tear Drops

Apparently, according to Setanta Sports, or at least Setanta in North America, Manchester United did not win the Premier league title this season. For some reason, I decided to subject myself to the Manchester United v Arsenal game, in the faint hope that Arsenal would be able to stop the rot that had set in over recent weeks, and conjure up a win at Old Trafford that would at least see the Premiership go to the final day, next weekend.

Unfortunately for Liverpool, the closest Arsenal came to halting the party proceedings, was a Cesc Fabrigas effort which struck the post in the closing moments. A few minutes later, the final whistle blew, and Old Trafford lethargically managed to put down the prawn sandwich's and rise to a sing along to the usual cliche 80's "champions" Ballard's, courtesy of Tina Turner and the like.

At this point, most people (apart from Man United fans of course) would have switched the tele off in frustration and grumbled off the rest of the day in a pissy mood. I retained the mood, but for some reason I chose not to hit the standby button, and stubbornly, slumped lazily in my dressing gown, channel changer in one hand, empty cup of tea in the other, masochistically suffered the celebrations like a unhealthy fetish disorder.

During this time of quiet introspection, I noticed that the level of decibel I was producing was not far inferior to that of the Theatre of Dreams. Why was the atmosphere so subdued? Was it because that winning the Premier league was now such a normal custom, that behaving inappropriately had become a choir, or maybe the delay while the pitch staff setup the winners podium, was testing the supporters patience. All I know is, had Liverpool, or many other teams for that matter, managed to clinch the title, I, and along with everyone in the stadium, in pubs and those sat on sofas would be going mental. The 19 year Premier League absenteeism, has made my heart grow fond, very fond indeed.

When finally the stage had been constructed, the fireworks and bottles of champagne readied, all that was left was for the United squad to reemerge from the tunnel, and administer my final whips of pain. Fortunately for me, and I am assuming more realistically because of Broadcasting rights, Setanta saved me from my own torment, and decided to compensate by cutting to generic shots of the Trafford crowd, and then even more astonishingly, to a take a far more important broadcasting assignment in Arsène Wenger's interview, in French -may I add, with Canal +!!!

What ever reasons for Setanta's baffling coverage, whether it be broadcasting rights or other, surely their must have been a more appropriate alternative than interviews not even in the channels language. Had Setanta's recent financial troubles left them short staffed over the weekend, leaving only the interns nervous fingers gingerly hovering over the producers dials?

I will take it as a blessing in disguise, and probably a happy coincidence that will do my mental state a world of good, probably more than the hollow victory for Liverpool at the Hawthorns did, which also indirectly resigned Albion to the Championship next season.

For every neutral or non Man United supporter, attention can be turned to next season, and more importantly, hoping that Sir Alex Ferguson will hang up his managerial boots some time soon, a fate that I think won't occur until Liverpool's now joint record of 18 league titles is eclipsed.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Ronaldo Theatre of Sanctuary

The formula would appear to be very simple, score over 20 goals a season and gain immunity from Alex Ferguson's gum chewing wrath. Perhaps in the privacy of the changing room, Cristiano Ronaldo's claim of sanctuary may not be quite so safe.

In the public arena however, Ferguson and all of Ronaldo's followers will blissfully ignore the petulance shown after being substituted during the Manchester derby, arguing it demonstrates just how much the "boy" wants to play, and his passion for the Manchester United cause.

From the enlightened neutrals perspective though, Ronaldo's antics make it increasingly difficult to appreciate his talent. Obviously, no player wants to be substituted with half an hour still on the clock in a derby match, and plenty will illustrate their dissatisfaction, but snatching your coat from the hospitable kit bag guy, and then pouting in the dug out for rest of the game, was naive at best and disrespectful at worst, and didn't win over any opposition fans who just jump at the chance to have a pop at the Worlds best player. Much as I am doing right now.

Being a Liverpool supporter, having any admiration for a United player, irrespective of the undoubted talent is hard to concede, and in Ronaldo, we have the unfortunate combination of talent and over inflated ego in equal proportion. In Ronaldo's defense, being popular among non Trafford devotees, is probably not among his top concerns. The same can be said for any professional, but others do manage to balance their talent and legions, while still earning respect even from their rivals.

Which, is why I have to do the disloyal deed, and heap praise on Carlos Tevez. Apart from Sheffield United fans, how can you not admire the guy? I was wondering how the acquisition of Berbatov last summer, would effect United's team line up and how they would cater for four quality forwards. Unfortunately for the hard working Tevez, it would appear, rather unfairly that his Goal haul the previous season didn't grant him immunity from Ferguson.

Despite all the pre-match tabloid squalor, prior to the Manchester derby, Tevez did start the match, and notably celebrated in Ferguson direction after scoring a cracking right foot effort, curled in off the post from the edge of the box. Such is the determination of Tevez, that he was even willing to head the post in an effort to get his second and a United third! Fortunately for Manchester City, the post won that battle against Tevez -this time.

For City, if they ever needed motivation in a derby, derailing United's Premier league title aspirations would suffice. Unfortunately, toothless finishing in front of goal by the Premier League's most expensive player Robinho, has already started the rumour mill that Tevez will be plying his trade over at Eastlands next season.

For all the Tevez brilliance, Ronaldo petulance and City impotence here are the highlights.

Manchester United V Manchester City

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Sick as a Drog

That is the stomach churning feeling that almost every supporter has at some point felt. The utter disbelief that, after enduring almost entire 90 minutes plus, the unthinkable happens and your team concedes. Its like being on the edge of nervous euphoria, only for one single moment of irreversible brilliance from the toe end of the opponent, to cruelly rob,what you thought was rightfully yours. A sickening joke, that no one around you expresses even the slightest hint of comic appreciation.

Emotionally, and probably because I am bit on the soft side, I am empathetic towards Chelsea. Michael Essien's goal alone, was enough to warrant a place in the final regardless of all the "should have been 4 penalties" claims. Its a bitter pill to swallow, and a pill that is unlikely to remedy the feelings of nausea. Being that close to booking your place in the final, and seeing your opponents registering only one shot on target is difficult to take. I would be devastated, inconsolable. But, that is where my empathy ends....

Thank you Andrés Iniesta.

I know, in theory, being English I should be supporting the English team over Barcelona. Had Porto/Arsenal done the honorable thing and knocked out Manchester United, I would have put my support behind Chelsea. Having a repeat of the all English final of last year was just one to many English, even for me. Also, the dramatic late away goal by Barcelona, still keeps my bold prediction that Barca will win the title in Rome alive. I know its far from going out on a limb, given that Barcelona are the bookies favourites, but my predictions have a tendency to go shy when the time of reckoning is here. In fact, if you want any betting tips from me, bet the exact opposite of what I say -apart from just now.

I suppose the good news for Chelsea, or at least for Guus Hiddink, is that he can now resume his post with Russia, hassle free! There is still the possibility of silverware for Hiddink with the FA cup, but I think had he gone on to win the Champions League, ignoring the cries for a permanent contract from the Chelsea faithful, would have been to strong to turn down. Unfortunately for Chelsea, preventing Hiddink from keeping his word and departing for Moscow will now become even more difficult, despite having the Russian Billionaire whispering in his ear. I hope, for Chelsea sake, that a deal can be struck that will fit both Hiddink's Russian and Chelsea agendas.

For the Champions League final in Rome, my prediction of Barcelona being European Champions is still on course. I think they will improve vastly in comparison to the Chelsea game, and will have enough in them to prevent Manchester United from back to back European Cup victories. Although, having said that, given that I want Barcelona to win, maybe I should be putting all my support behind Manchester United. Nah, no chance.

I think Manchester United will fancy themselves, as their confidence must have returned to the sky high limits it once was, prior to the Liverpool defeat. However, I think the win against Arsenal was flattering, even fortuitous. Arsenal started that game the better team, but the unfortunate slip -not mistake, by young Kieran Gibbs was a sucker punch. Equally, the ridiculous long range freekick from humble Ronaldo, should have been saved by Almunia. Don't get me wrong the freekick was unbelievable, but someone with Almunia's experience should have done better. If the first goal was a sucker punch the second was the knockout. There was no way back for Arsenal.

For Manchester United, and with most Champions, you need a bit of luck on your side and they will need a bit more of that good fortune in the final, if they are to rob me of a rare correct prediction.

Watch Chelsea v Barcelona in Sports  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Keane as Mustard

I am venturing dangerously close to becoming vaguely obsessed with the Coca Cola Championship, after this my second consecutive post on the subject. The growing obsession however, was vindicated by Roy Keane's decision to shave off his patchy gray goaty, (unlike Rafael Benitez who's baffling persistence sees his continuing uncanny resemblance to "Max" of "Max and Paddy's road to know where") and, arguably more importantly his return to management with Ipswich Town.

Despite the new clean shaven look, I am having trouble visualizing Keane jumping on a tractor and ploughing his way from Manchester to East Anglia. Sure, sporting a pair of wellies and slinging a double barrel shot gun over his shoulder will have Keane looking the part, its just that I was expecting something a little more glamorous, or at least an appointment to a Premiership club, upon his return to football.

Ipswich obviously have the potential to become a Premiership side following Marcus Evans' takeover in 2007 and subsequent investment of £44m in to the club. Keane has also been in familiar territory before, when he managed to gain promotion to the Premiership with Sunderland and spent a notable £80m. Evans may have wealth, but I don't think he has the desire to sink that much money into Ipswich, after stating that he wants to see a return on his initial investment within 5 years. Expecting to gain promotion and become an established premier league side without the continual investment of millions is highly ambitious to say the least.

In what is equally as ambitious, is Keane's desired goal of promotion next season. After confirming his move to Ipswich Keane said "Ive signed a two year contract but I'd like to try and get promotion in one year." This is the kind of determination and self imposed demands we come to expect of Keane, but working with a smaller budget and club than Sunderland will be a true test on his managerial potential. I believe he will get Ipswich promoted, but I am sceptical that he will deliver on the one year time frame.

Since his arrival, he has already managed to win the two remaining fixtures against Cardiff and Coventry, albeit meaningless games that see the Tractor Boys finish in mid table mediocrity. The championship and Ipswich will look forward to next season having gained a valuable character in Keane, and time will tell how long both of those relationships last. For now, and while Keane begins to re-shape his squad for next seasons promotion push, his dog will earn a well deserved rest from arduous Roy Keane walks, endured since last December.
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