Friday 14 December 2012

‘The Beautiful Game: A Football Blog’

By Dave McArdle


Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending CK United against Pearse Celtic in the Umbro FAI Junior Cup fifth round. CK have been in fantastic form this season and they currently lead the Premier Division by three points with two games in hand on their nearest rivals. CK are a well drilled outfit and their winning mentality is highlighted by the fact that they have lost only one league game this season.

Pearse Celtic had made the long trip from Cork to Tullamore for Sunday’s game and they were under pressure from the off – CK dominating possession and winning the key battles early on. United got the game’s first goal on 17 minutes and what a goal it was. CK won a throw on the right flank and the ball was knocked out to Damien Bracken near the corner flag. Bracken let fly with a first-time volley which curled and dipped under the crossbar and into the net. This was a goal right out of the top drawer from the CK winger – if you’ re trying to picture this goal think of Marco Van Basten’s goal in the Euro ’88 final


Except it was further out on the wing!

Admittedly CK took their foot off the gas after they took the lead and they were looking quite comfortable, despite Pearse Celtic dominating second half possession, until they were cruelly beaten in the final minutes. Pearse Celtic’s pressure gave them an equaliser in the 84th minute after a corner and a goalmouth scramble. After conceding such a late goal, it seemed that CK would regroup and go on the attack once more in extra time. But extra time would not come to pass. Pearse Celtic broke quickly down the pitch in injury time and their winger Shane Spittore fired in off the post as the keeper advanced. And just like that CK were out. 

Such is life in cup football – Pearse Celtic and their travelling support celebrated wildly while CK were left to ponder what might have been. However, CK have shown this season that they are a team of real quality and if – as expected – they are promoted this season I have no doubt that they will pose problems for many sides in the Senior Division next season.

As the Combined Counties Football League draws to a close for 2012, there is just one more round of games before the Christmas break. Our feature game on Midlands 103’s ‘The Inside Line’ this Sunday sees me travel to Castletown as Noreside Celtic of Division 2 host Clonmore United of Division 1 in the John Farrell Combined Counties Cup 2nd round in what promises to be an entertaining game. On Saturday afternoon, Ballinahown face Wexford Youths in the LFA Youths Cup 3rd round while Boro Celtic host Portlaoise in the John Farrell Combined Counties Cup 2nd round. In the Senior Division on Saturday evening, top of the table Mullingar Athletic host Mountmellick United where they will seek to ensure that they preserve their position at the summit over the festive period.

On Sunday morning in the John Farrell Combined Counties Shield, Emo Celtic square up to Clara Town B while St.James host Frankford United. In the Premier Division on Sunday afternoon, Mullingar Town face Edenderry town while there are two fixtures in the Senior Division. After a dramatic cup game in midweek (which Peters won on penalties) both St. Peters and Willow Park are back in action on Sunday –Peters host second placed Clara Town while it’s third against fourth as Willow Park travel to play Monksland United.

Premier League Preview

Newcastle v Man City (Saturday 12:45 – Live on Sky Sports 2)

Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off sees two sides in desperate need of a victory square up to one another at St. James’ Park. Newcastle have lost five of their last six and sit just two points off the relegation places – a far cry from last season when they challenged the top four for most of the season. Man City, on the other hand, will be seeking to pick up three points which would keep them on the tails on Man United after they suffered their first league loss of the season against their rivals last weekend. Steven Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Johan Cabaye and Dan Gosling remain on the long-term injury list for the hosts while Alan Pardew also has a serious doubt over influential winger Hatem Ben Arfa after he aggravated a hamstring injury. City captain Vincent Kompany is set to miss out after he limped out of the Manchester derby with a groin injury. Roberto Mancini will be without Gareth Barry through suspension while Micah Richards remains sidelined with a knee injury.

Liverpool v Aston Villa (Saturday 3pm)

Liverpool welcome Aston Villa to Anfield with both sides in good form of late after disastrous starts to their respective seasons. Liverpool will welcome back talismanic striker Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan served a one-game suspension last time out. Brendan Rodgers has doubts over the fitness of Jose Enrique and Nuri Sahin while Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini remain sidelined for the Reds. Darren Bent has become the latest addition to the Aston Villa injury list which already includes Ron Vlaar, Richard Dunne and Gary Gardner while Paul Lambert also has a concern over the fitness of Gabby Agbonlahor.

Norwich v Wigan (Saturday 3pm)

Norwich City welcome Wigan to Carrow Road with the Canaries on their best run of form in the top flight in 25 years. Norwich are now unbeaten in nine while Wigan will be seeking to stop a run of form that has seen them drop into the bottom three. Mark Bunn will continue to deputise for the injured John Ruddy between the posts for Norwich while Chris Hughton has doubts over Steven Whittaker, Wes Hoolahan and Alexander Tettey. Ryan Bennett, Andrew Surman and Harry Kane are also expected to miss out once more for the Canaries. Roberto Martinez will once again be without a host of players as Gary Caldwell, Antolin Alcaraz, Ivan Ramis, Ben Watson, Ryo Miyaichi and Albert Crusat will all miss out for the Latics.

Stoke City v Everton (Saturday 3pm)
Stoke welcome Everton to the Britannia on Saturday afternoon and the Potters are unbeaten in six and haven’t lost a home game all season. Tim Howard is set to make his 200th consecutive appearance and he will join compatriot Brad Friedel in achieving the milestone if he plays. Tony Pulis will once more be without Marc Wilson, Rory Delap and Michael Owen through injury while Ryan Shotton will miss out through suspension after receiving his marching orders last time out. For the Toffees, Tony Hibbert and Kevin Mirallas have joined Phil Neville and Victor Anichebe on the sidelines.

QPR v Fulham (Saturday 3pm)

Harry Redknapp’s QPR welcome Fulham hoping to break the unwanted record of being the longest winless side of the Premier League era. Indeed if the R’s fail to win on Saturday they will become the longest winless top flight side since Bolton in 1902-03. Harry Redknapp will once more be without Bobby Zamora, Andrew Johnson and Hogan Ephraim while Park Ji-Sung has also joined the injury list after picking up a knee injury.  Davies and Bryan Ruiz remain sidelined for the Cottagers while Mahamadou Diarra is a serious doubt for Martin Jol’s side.

Man United v Sunderland (Saturday 3pm – Live on Setanta Ireland)

Sunderland travel to Manchester hoping for a first victory over United in 44 years. However, there hope for the Mackems as they have, in Martin O’Neill, the only manager to have won twice at Old Trafford in the Premier League (with Leicester and Aston Villa). Sir Alex Ferguson will be able to call upon Captain Nemanja Vidic once more after he stepped up his return from a knee injury. Anderson and Nani remain sidelined for the hosts while Shinji Kagawa and Jonny Evans are also expected to miss out for the Red Devils. Adam Johnson and Danny Rose are doubtful for the Black Cats while Phil Bardsley, Wes Brown and Lee Cattermole will all miss out. Martin O’Neill is hopeful that Steven Fletcher will be ok to feature as the Scottish striker continues to struggle with an ankle injury.

Tottenham v Swansea (Sunday 1:30 – Live on Sky Sports 1)

Tottenham welcome Swansea to White Hart Lane on Sunday hoping to bounce back from a cruel late defeat at the hands of Everton last time out. Swansea are in fine form with three wins in their last five in the league and they will be hoping to cause another upset in London at lunchtime on Sunday. Younes Kaboul continues to miss out for the hosts while Andre Villas-Boas has doubts over the of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Michael Dawson, Gareth Bale and Scott Parker. Michel Vorm, Neil and Andrea Orlandi continue to miss out for the Swans while Michael Laudrup will have to make a late decision on whether to include Pablo Hernandez as he continues to struggle with a thigh injury.

West Brom v West Ham (Sunday 4pm – Live on Sky Sports 1)

High-flying West Brom welcome West Ham to the Hawthorns on Sunday afternoon with both sides having suffered defeats in their last Premier League outings. The Baggies will be boosted after Ben Foster, Liam Ridgewell and Claudio Jacob returned to training but Craig Dawson continues to miss out with an eye injury. For the Hammers, George McCartney is the latest to join an injury list which already includes Mohamed Diame, Yossi Benayoun, Alou Diarra, Jack Collison, Ricardo Vaz Te and Andy Carroll.

Reading v Arsenal (Monday 8pm – Live on Sky Sports 1)

Reading will be seeking a much needed victory on Monday evening as they currently languish in the drop zone a full six points from safety. Arsenal are in indifferent form and they will be seeking to bounce back after an embarrassing defeat against Bradford in the Capitol One Cup in midweek. Alex McCarthy and Sean Morrison continue to miss out for the Royals while Hal Robson-Kanu, Jimmy Kebe, Jem Karacan, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Jason Roberts are all rated as doubtful. Lukasz Fabianski, Andre Santos, Ignasi Miquel and Abou Diaby are all expected to miss out for the Gunners while Arsene Wenger has doubts over Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott.

Fifa Club World Cup Final (Sunday 10:30am – Live on BBC2)

Chelsea face Corinthians on Sunday morning hoping to win the Club World Cup for the first time in their history against Brazilian side Corinthians. After a comfortable victory against Mexican side Monterrey last time out, the Blues will be confident of adding the title to their trophy cabinet. Rafa Benitez will be hoping Fernando Torres can continue his fine form under the interim Chelsea manager and secure Benitez his second Club World Cup title (he also won with Inter Milan after only a couple of months in charge). Chelsea will also have the chance to see reported transfer target Paulinho up close as the midfielder is the Brazilian side’s main most impressive talent.

Fantasy Football

Undoubtedly the main point to consider in Gameweek 17 is the blank fixture for both Chelsea and Southampton, which is due to Chelsea’s participation in the Club World Cup Final. Fantasy managers will now have to bench any Chelsea or Southampton players in their squads – which is exactly why having backup players who at least start regularly begins to become important. The clear favourites for the Captain’s armband come in the shape of Robin Van Persie (Home to Sunderland) and Luis Suarez (Home to Aston Villa). However, the emergence of Wayne Rooney in recent weeks as a big- hitter again in fantasy terms means that he also now has to be seriously considered for a transfer in and also for the captaincy.

In terms of clean sheets this week, Man United and Liverpool, with the above fixtures, look the main contenders for shut-outs while Norwich (Home to Wigan), Stoke (Home to Everton) and Tottenham (Home to Swansea) should also be considered. In terms of fixtures in the next six games, United, Tottenham and West Brom look strong in the weeks ahead. United have home games with Sunderland, Newcastle, West Brom and Liverpool while away games against Swansea and Wigan should hold little fear for the Red Devils. Spurs have home games against Swansea, Stoke and Reading along with away games against Aston Villa, Sunderland and QPR which should produce plenty of points. And West Brom have strong possibilities of clean sheets in home games against West Ham, Norwich and Fulham along with away games against QPR and Reading – the only really difficult game for the Baggies in the short-term being the Gameweek 20 fixture at Old Trafford.

In our own Midlands Sport league, Alan Holohan’s side ‘FC Twente Benson’ continue to lead the way with 936 points and with his side sitting inside the top 2000 in the overall game Mr.Holohan must be very happy indeed. Snapping at his coat-tails in second place is Liam Dugdale’s side ‘Hardly Athletic’ on 925 points but Dugdale will miss his Chelsea players this week – with both Juan Mata and Fernando Torres having to be either transferred out or benched. My own team currently lie in third place but with only 10 points separating third and ninth I will not be taking my position for granted. Many fascinating gameweeks are surely ahead in the fantasy game.

Enjoy this weekend’s football action and I’ll be back again next week.

You can follow Dave McArdle on Twitter @DaveMidlands103


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