Friday, 8 February 2013

The Beautiful Game: A Football Blog

By Dave McArdle

Fri 08/02/13


Last Sunday, I was in Birr for the CCFL Division 1 match between Highfield and Shinrone. Shinrone travelled the short distance into Birr knowing that a victory in their game in hand would see them move to within two points of Temple Villa at the top of the table. However, it was Highfield who started brightest – Stephen Kelly sent in a long throw after just three minutes and Martin Gallagher was first to react in the box to power home a header. Highfield felt they should have been awarded a penalty after half an hour when Eric Smith went down under a challenge from Shinrone keeper Jason Ryan – but the referee incensed the home support by waving play on. Shinrone began to carve out chances with increasing regularity and they were rewarded with an equaliser on 57 minutes. Incredibly, the Shinrone goal was almost a carbon copy of the Highfield goal – this time Michael Cordial sent in the long throw and Pio Fitzpatrick rose highest in the box to head home.

Shinrone were ahead midway through the second half. A Ray Cordial free kick was only half cleared to substitute Niall Cleary. Cleary produced a magnificent cross-field pass to pick out Philip Murphy – and Murphy kept his composure to fire into the bottom right corner of the net and give the away side the lead they so desperately sought. Four minutes later, however, and Highfield were level once more – they won a free-kick outside the box and Barry McEvoy stepped up to curl a super effort over the wall and into the back of the net. There was still time for one last decisive moment in this game though, and it came with just over ten minutes remaining. As Highfield pressed for a winner, they lost the ball high up the pitch and Philip Murphy broke at pace down the right wing for Shinrone. Murphy got to the by-line and produced a cross which fell to Derek McLoughlin – and McLoughlin made no mistake as he volleyed powerfully past Highfield keeper James Hartnett to give the away side a valuable 3-2 victory and keep them on course for the Division 1 title.

This week, I will be in Walsh Island for ‘The Inside Line’ feature game as Walsh Island Shamrocks host Killeigh Ramblers in the Dennis Delaney Division 2 Cup Quarter-finals. This promises to be an entertaining cup tie and is made all the more interesting by virtue of the fact that both these sides are at the top of the table contesting the Division 2 title. Possibly the biggest game of the weekend comes on Saturday evening as Mullingar Athletic host St.Peters in the Senior Division. Mullingar will be looking to get their title bid back on track after losing to Arlington – but they will face a tough test against a well-drilled St.Peters outfit. Another potentially exciting game takes place on Sunday afternoon in the O’Neill’s LFA Junior Cup fourth round as Willow Park take on Swords Celtic in Athlone while there are cup ties across the divisions as the sides who are not competing for league titles look to salvage something from the season.

Premier League Preview

Tottenham v Newcastle – Saturday 12:45 – Live on Sky Sports 2
After three draws in their last four league games, Tottenham will be looking to win once more on Saturday lunchtime when they welcome Newcastle to White Hart Lane. Spurs remain in fourth place but with Everton and Arsenal hot on their heels, they will be looking to extend their advantage this weekend. Newcastle, however, have enjoyed a resurgence of late and will be confident of causing an upset in London. Boosted by the French Revolution in the January transfer window, Alan Pardew’s side have won their last two on the bounce and are climbing up the table once more. Jermain Defoe joins Younes Kaboul and Sandro on the sidelines for the hosts while Emmanuel Adebayor is back from African Cup of Nations duty but he is not expected to feature as he recovers from his exertions. Alan Pardew has no new injury worries but he will still miss five players as Danny Simpson, Ryan Taylor, Hatem Ben Arfa, Haris Vukcic and Dan Gosling remain sidelined.

Chelsea v Wigan – Saturday 3pm
Saturday afternoon’s game at Stamford Bridge sees two sides meet who have been struggling of late, albeit at opposite ends of the table. Chelsea have won just two of their last six in the league to see their title challenge fade away while Wigan have won just one of their last twelve and they are firmly involved in the relegation battle. Chelsea have doubts over Petr Cech and Demba Ba – the former with a broken finger and the latter with a broken nose – but both are expected to be fit to play. Oriol Romeu remains sidelined for the Blues but Rafa Benitez can welcome back Eden Hazard after he completed the 3-match ban he picked up for his altercation with Swansea ball boy Charlie Morgan. The Latics have problems in defence with Adrian Lopez, Emmerson Boyce and Antolin Alcaraz all expected to miss out while captain Gary Caldwell is rated at 50/50. However, some good news for Roberto Martinez concerns striker Arouna Kone, who has returned from the African Cup of Nations fit and available for selection.

Norwich v Fulham – Saturday 3pm
Fulham travel to Norwich with both sides searching for a much-needed victory. Chris Hughton, who was Martin Jol’s assistant manager at Tottenham, will be desperately hoping to get his Norwich side back on track after a winless streak that has stretched to eight matches. Meanwhile, Fulham have won just three of their last seventeen games and are without a clean sheet in eleven matches. Anthony Pilkington and Alexander Tettey are doubtful for the Canaries but Ryan Bennett should be fit enough to feature while John Ruddy remains a long-term absentee for Chris Hughton’s troops. Mahamadou Diarra, Karim Frei and Eyong Enoh will all miss out for the Cottagers while Martin Jol will assess the fitness of Dimitar Berbatov before deciding if he can participate.

Stoke v Reading – Saturday 3pm
Two sides in contrasting form meet at The Brittania on Saturday as Stoke, who are without a win in 2013, face up to a Reading side who have won four of their last six in the Premier League. Brek Shea could make his debut for the Potters after signing from FC Dallas during the transfer window while Tony Pulis only major injury concern surrounds Marc Wilson, who has stepped up his rehabilitation from a broken leg and could be set to feature in the coming weeks. Goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and striker Jason Roberts remain sidelined for the Royals while Noel Hunt has recovered from injury and should be okay to feature.

Swansea v QPR – Saturday 3pm
Swansea will be hoping to bounce back from defeat against West Ham last time out when they welcome QPR to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday afternoon. QPR have drawn their last three in the league but Harry Redknapp will de desperately hoping to convert draws into wins if he is to keep the R’s in the Premier League. Neil Taylor and Kemy Agustien will miss out for the Swans while Michel Vorm and Leon Britton are doubtful. Junior Hoilett, Hogan Ephraim and Andrew Johnson will all miss out for the R’s while Nedum Onuoha and Loic Remy are doubtful.

Sunderland v Arsenal – Saturday 3pm – Live on Setanta Ireland
Arsenal travel to the Stadium of Light on Saturday with the Champions League places still firmly in their sights. The Gunners, who have won 10 of their last 18 meetings with the Mackems, could leapfrog Everton in fifth place with a win on Wearside. Wes Brown, Lee Cattermole and James McClean are all expected to miss out for the hosts while Carlos Cuellar may be fit enough to feature. Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen will definitely miss out for Arsenal while Lukasz Fabianski and Laurent Koscielny are doubtful. Gervinho has returned from African Cup of Nations duty but he is not expected to participate.

Southampton v Man City – Saturday 5:30 – Live on ESPN
Man City travel to St.Mary’s searching for a victory which would move them (at least temporarily) to within six points of leaders Man United. Southampton, who are still winless under new boss Mauricio Pochettino, will be looking to pick up the points which their performances have merited in the last number of games. Jose Fonte, Gaston Ramirez and Guly Do Prado are all expected to miss out for the hosts while Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne are doubtful. Vincent Kompany could return from injury for the visitors but Micah Richards remains sidelined. However, Roberto Mancini will be boosted by the returns of Kolo and Yaya Toure from the African Cup of Nations.

Aston Villa v West Ham – Sunday 1:30 – Live on Sky Sports 1
Aston Villa will be desperately hoping for a victory which could lift them out of the relegation zone. Villa are winless in their last eight matches but Paul Lambert and his troops will be hoping they can come out with a victory against a West Ham side who have only picked up one point in their last seven away games. Richard Dunne, Chris Herd, Marc Albrighton and Gary Gardner are all expected to miss out for the hosts while Ashley Westwood and Karim El Ahmadi are doubtful. James Collins, Daniel Potts and George McCartney will miss out for the Hammers but Sam Allardyce will be able to call upon Modibo Maiga once more after his return from African Cup of Nations duty.

Man Utd v Everton – Friday 4pm – Live on Sky Sports 1
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will look to stretch their unbeaten run to 14 in all competitions as they welcome Everton to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. The Toffees will be confident of causing an upset, however, as they defeated United 1-0 earlier in the season through a Marouane Fellaini goal. Darren Fletcher remains the only major absentee for United while Phil Jones, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young should be fit enough to feature. Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman will both miss out for David Moyes’ side while Marouane Fellaini is expected to shrug off a knock and should be fit enough to feature.

Liverpool v West Brom – Monday 8pm – Live on Sky Sports 1
Liverpool, who have drawn their last two games from winning positions, will be hoping for better fortunes when they welcome West Brom to Anfield on Monday night. Martin Kelly and Jon Flanagan will miss out for the hosts while Brendan Rodgers may also have to do without Phillipe Coutinho as he is still not up to full match fitness. Daniel Sturridge, however, is expected to shake off a knock to his groin and should start. The Baggies, who have lost three of their last four in the Premier League, will once more be without Zoltan Gera and George Thorne while Goran Popov sits out the first of three games through suspension after spitting at Kyle Walker in their last game against Tottenham.

Fantasy Football
The biggest point to consider in gameweek 26 is undoubtedly the double gameweek for Swansea and Liverpool. Liverpool’s schedule is particularly appealing with two home games against West Brom and Swansea while Swansea have a home tie against QPR along with the aforementioned away fixture with Liverpool.

The main man to consider this week and the runaway captain choice is Luis Suarez. Suarez, who has 17 goals, five assists and 22 bonus points in his 24 league starts this season, must be backed to produce significant attacking returns from two home games against West Brom and Swansea. The only thing which could go against Suarez’ potential is that he may be played out wide to accommodate Daniel Sturridge in the striking position. However, fantasy managers who do not have Suarez this week could be severely punished by leaving him out of their teams if the Uruguayan produces anything close to what he is capable of in the double.

In defence, clean sheets are a distinct possibility from two home games for Liverpool. The main protagonists from an attacking perspective come from Jose Enrique (5.8) and Glen Johnson (6.5). Andre wisdom (4.3) was a serious contender for a budget transfer but his start now looks far from assured after the return of Jose Enrique from injury. In midfield, Steven Gerrard has been in fantastic form of late with 75 points accrued over his last 9 starts (8.33 points per game) and should be a serious consideration for the double. Jordan Henderson (5.4), Stewart Downing (5.7) and Raheem Sterling (5.4) could all be considered as budget options in midfield but none come close to matching the attacking output of Steven Gerrard. Up front and while Suarez is the runaway favourite for a transfer in, Daniel Sturridge is also a major consideration for fantasy managers. Sturridge has been in fantastic form since joining Liverpool in the January transfer window and at 7.7 million, his price tag is certainly appealing. The only thing potentially going against Sturridge’s acquisition is the injury he picked up against Man City last time out. However, with the game against West Brom not being played until Monday, Sturridge will be given every chance to prove his fitness and the signs are positive that he will feature.

For Swansea, the main man to consider is definitely Michu. With 13 goals, 2 assists and 11 bonus points accrued over his 24 league games this season, Michu has shown that he is well capable of producing attacking returns. Despite the fact that he has not scored in his last 6 games, many a fantasy manager will be counting on the Spaniard to return to form in the double gameweek. In defence, Ben Davies (4.6) and Angel Rangel (4.7) look the best options in terms of the potential of attacking returns. Pablo Hernandez (5.9), Wayne Routledge (5.5) and Nathan Dyer (5.2) are differential budget options in the wide midfield positions but uncertainty over which two of the trio will play limits the potential of all three. Another budget option in midfield lies with Jonathan De Guzman. The American has been pushed further forward in recent weeks to support Michu up front and his share of set pieces makes him a contender for a transfer if money is tight in the budget.

However, for those thinking of stocking up on the assets of Liverpool and Swansea, beware of the blank fixture for both sides in gameweek 27. If you have four double gameweek players in gameweek 26, you can transfer one player out next week and still field 11 players but if you have more than four double gameweek players, you will not be able to field a full 11 in gameweek 27 without spending valuable points on transfers.

Outside of the double gameweek sides, there are some other fixtures which stand out this week. Despite the fact that Chelsea have only won two of their last six, their home clash with Wigan looks appealing and the likes of Juan Mata should be seriously considered. Man City’s game away to Southampton also looks like a fixture which could produce the goals and any one of David Silva, Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero could be primed for big attacking hauls, while Tottenham’s home tie against a resurgent Newcastle could be a great chance for the in-form Gareth Bale to extend his fine run of form.

Enjoy the all the weekend’s football action and I’ll be back next week with more of the same.

You can follow Dave McArdle on Twitter @DaveMidlands103


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