Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Beautiful Game: A Football Blog

By Dave McArdle


Last Sunday I was in Tullamore for the John Farrell Combined Counties Cup fourth round tie between Premier division leaders CK United and Division 2 title contenders Dynamo Town. Dynamo, despite being the away side and two divisions below their opponents, were nonetheless confident they could cause an upset after they had enjoyed a fine 5-1 victory over Senior Division Gallen United in the previous round.
However, it was CK United who started better and they found themselves in front inside two minutes. Full-back Niall Bracken broke well up the left flank and when he dug out a cross with his right foot, striker Niall Kearns was on hand to turn the ball home inside the box to give CK the lead. As Dynamo settled into the game, they began to pose a threat – mostly from set-pieces – and they were unlucky not to have found an equaliser by the time they went further behind in the 23rd minute. Paul Kinnarney swung in a corner from the left, Dynamo keeper Brian McCormack got his fingertips to it but the ball dropped for CK winger Stuart Carroll who powered home a header to extend the home side’s advantage.

As the first half drew to a close, CK were given the chance to put the tie to bed when Dynamo Captain Martin Mulhall fouled Niall Kearns in the box. Referee Adrian Martin had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and CK United Captain Brendan Bracken stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way, firing low into the bottom right corner to give CK a commanding lead heading into half time. As the second half got underway, Dynamo Town Player-Manager Liam Marum came on to try and help the away side get back into the game as Dynamo pressed high up the pitch in search of goals. However, with so many players pushed forward, Dynamo were left short at the back and CK were in on goal almost every time they broke down the pitch – Niall Kearns, Eddie Keenahen and Trevor Wright all should have done better with guilt-edged chances but the second half was summed up in injury time when, with three men totally unmarked in the box, CK United amazingly managed not to score as Stephen Kinnarney somehow contrived to fire over the top from only a couple of yards out. And so it finished, CK United march on into the last 8 of the cup while Dynamo Town can hold their heads up high after a fine cup run – final score from De Brun Park in Tullamore was CK United 3-0 Dynamo Town.

This Sunday, I will be in Athlone for ‘The Inside Line’ feature game as Willow Park face up to St.Kevin’s Boys in the LFA Senior Cup 3rd Round. Intriguingly, the winners of this game will face a glamour tie against League of Ireland side Longford Town in the next round and Willow Park will be hoping to cap their anniversary celebrations in style with a win this weekend. This weekend also sees several other interesting ties taking place across the CCFL – on Saturday in the Umbro FAI Youths Cup 4th Round Tullamore Town host Caslebar Celtic in Leah Victoria Park while Edenderry Town travel to Limerick to face Fairview Rangers. Also on Saturday, Senior Division Killavilla United host Premier Division leaders CK United in the Paddy Cotter Cup 1st Round in what should be an entertaining game while in the Senior Division Mullingar Athletic will be hoping to keep their title bid on track as they host Melville United. There is a wide range of cup action taking place on Sunday – as Gallen United host Stradbally Town, St. Peters host Willow Park B, Abbeyleix Athletic travel to Mountmellick United, Rosenallis host Mullingar Town, Birr Town travel to Arlington and Edenderry Town host Clara Town in Paddy Cotter Cup action. Meanwhile, in Dennis Delaney Division 2 Cup Quarter Finals 1st Leg matches, Gentex host Dynamo Town, Noresdie Celtic face Edenderry Town B and Coolraine host Raharney. For full details of fixtures, results and league tables, visit:

Premier League Preview

Fulham v Stoke - Saturday 12:45 – Live on Sky Sports 2

Fulham welcome Stoke to Craven Cottage in the first game of the weekend with both sides looking for a victory which would push them further towards the magical 40 point mark. Sascha Riether and Steve Sidwell are available once more for the Cottagers while Mahamadou Diarra will miss out through injury. Marc Wilson has returned to the Stoke City squad after a lengthy lay-off while Brek Shea could be in line for his Premier League debut. Cameron Jerome is expected to shake off a knock and should be okay to feature but Tony Pulis has a doubt over the fitness of striker Michael Owen.

Arsenal v Aston Villa – Saturday 3pm
Under-pressure manager Arsene wenger will be seeking a much-needed victory to prevent the vultures from circling as Arsenal welcome Aston Villa to the Emirates on Saturday afternoon. The beleaguered Arsenal manager saw calls for his head intensify after an abject performance against Bayern Munich in midweek but he will be confident his side can get back to winning ways against an Aston Villa side who are only just outside the relegation zone after a narrow victory over West Ham last time out. Arsenal will have to do without full-backs Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs - with Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson set to deputise - while Olivier Giroud is pushing for a start up front. Charles N’Zogbia should be fit enough to feature for the away side while Karim El Ahmadi and Gabriel Agbonlahor should also be fit after missing out last time through illness. Paul Lambert is also expected to welcome back Chris Herd following injury but Marc Albrighton and Richard Dunne will continue to miss out.

Norwich v Everton – Saturday 3pm
Norwich host Everton on Saturday with both sides in contrasting form. Norwich rose to seventh place in the league after beating Wigan last December but their failure to win any of their nine games since has seen them slide down to fourteenth in the table and only six points above the relegation zone.  Everton, on the other hand, are flying high in sixth place and their defeat against Man United last time out stands as their only defeat in their last six games. Norwich captain Grant Holt is fit and available for selection but Chris Hughton has doubts over the fitness of both Alexander Tettey and Andrew Surman. John Ruddy remains a long-term absentee for the Canaries. Victory Anichebe and Seamus Coleman are rated as doubtful for the Toffees while David Moyes will definitely have to make do without the services of full-back Tony Hibbert.

QPR v Man United – Saturday 3pm – Live on Setanta Sports 1

Harry Redknapp faces his toughest test to date as manager of QPR as the Premier League basement boys welcome league leaders Manchester United to Loftus Road. QPR are four points behind 19th placed Wigan and seven points adrift of safety but they will take heart from fantastic performances in their defeat of Chelsea along with draws against Man City and Tottenham. United, on the other hand, are 12 points clear at the top of the table and have won 12 and drawn 2 of their last 14 games. QPR striker Loic Remy is doubtful for the R’s. Junior Hoilett and Samba Diakite are available once more while Harry Redknapp will have to decide whether to start Bobby Zamora as the striker continues his comeback from injury. Wayne Rooney is set to miss out for United along with Phil Jones and Paul Scholes while Javier Hernandez could be in line for a start up front for the Red Devils.

Reading v Wigan – Saturday 3pm

Reading host Wigan at the Madejski in what is being billed as a relegation 6-pointer. Reading have won two and drawn one of their last four in the league while Wigan are without a win in six. Jimy Kebe is in line for a return for the Royals having missed the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United last time out. Mikele Leigertwood is doubtful for Brian McDermott’s men while Jason Roberts and Alex McCarthy are both set to miss out. Antolin Alcaraz could return after a six month absence for the Latics while Roberto Martinez must decide whether to risk Ryo Miyaichi and Emmerson Boyce as both have recently returned to training following injury.

West Brom v Sunderland – Saturday 3pm

West Brom welcome Sunderland to the Hawthorns as they seek to build on an impressive victory over Liverpool last time out. That win halted an awful run of eight games without a win and the Baggies will be confident that they can win again against a Sunderland side who have been poor on their travels this season. The Black Cats have lost their last two on the bounce but they will take heart from the fact that they have not lost three in a row all season. Goran Popov serves the second of his three game ban for the Baggies while Romelu Lukaku and Youssouf Mulumbu are both set to start. Peter Odemwingie could be involved once more after being left out of the last two games following his unprofessional behaviour as he sought to force through a move to QPR on deadline day. Danny Graham could be in line for his first start for Sunderland after impressing from the bench in his last couple of appearances while Danny Rose and Lee Cattermole are both doubtful for Martin O’Neill’s side.

Man City v Chelsea – Sunday 1:30pm – Live on Sky Sports 1
Manchester City could be fifteen points behind rivals Manchester United when they host Chelsea at the Etihad on Sunday lunchtime and they will be in need of a victory to keep their slim title hopes alive. Chelsea, on the other hand, will know that they could move to within one point of City if they can record a rare away win in Manchester. City are winless in their last three in the league and Roberto Mancini will check on the fitness of captain Vincent Kompany and midfielder Gareth Barry while Joe Hart and Carlos Tevez are both expected to start after being absent last time out. Ashley Cole, Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard are all expected to start after being left out against Sparta Prague last time out. Demba Ba was ineligible for their European endeavour as he is cup-tied so Rafa Benitez must decide whether to start with the Senegal international or Fernando Torres up front.

Newcastle v Southampton - Sunday 1:30pm
Southampton travel to St.James’ Park on Sunday to face a Newcastle side who only trail them in the table on goal difference. The Saints will be seeking to build on a fine victory over Man City last time out while Newcastle will be confident of recording a home win after progressing to the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday evening. Goalkeeper Tim Krul is doubtful for Newcastle after hobbling out of the game against Metalist Kharkiv. Cheick Tiote and Davide Santon could return following illness and injury respectively while Mathieu Debuchy and Yoann Gouffran are set to return after being cup-tied for Newcastle’s Europa League exploits. Gaston Ramirez and Luke Shaw are slight doubts for the Saints while Veggard Forren and Jose Fonte will hope to come into contention.

West Ham v Tottenham – Monday 8pm – Live on Sky Sports 1
West Ham welcome Tottenham to Upton Park on Monday evening for a London derby which promises to be an entertaining spectacle. The Hammers come into the game in poor form having lost three of their last four in the Premier League while Spurs will be confident having won their last two in the league along with a last minute goal on Thursday evening which saw them through to the last 16 in the Europa League. Joey O’Brien, George McCartney and James Collins are all doubtful for the hosts while Dan Potts will definitely miss out. Jermaine Defoe is expected to miss out for Spurs, who will also be without Younes Kaboul and Sandro. Tom Huddlestone is working his way back to fitness and Andre Villas-Boas may decide to leave him out once more.

Fantasy Football

The main point to consider in gameweek 27 is the blank gameweek for both Liverpool and Swansea. Due of Swansea’s participation in the Capitol One Cup Final on Sunday, both these sides had a double gameweek last week to make up for the blank fixture this week. For those of us that had three double gameweek players or more last week, squad strength comes to the fore this week. It is during weeks like these when your squad is thin on the ground that your lesser players become important. If your cheaper players who normally warm the bench are regular starters for their clubs and can give you the potential of points, they can be the difference between having 11 players playing versus 8 or 9.

The main contenders for the captain’s armband this week are Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott. United travel to bottom side QPR on an unbeaten run of fourteen games in the league and with Alex Ferguson’s assertion that Wayne Rooney is unlikely to recover from a sinus problem, Van Persie is surely set to lead the line against QPR. And as the leading Fantasy Premier League performer this season, Van Persie will surely get the nod by many managers. Another intriguing prospect for captaincy this week is Theo Walcott. Walcott has been in excellent form of late and if he can retain his starting berth up front, then he could produce an explosive haul against an Aston Villa rearguard that has leaked a staggering amount of goals this season. Another strong candidate for the captaincy comes in the form of Gareth Bale. The Welshman has been in superb form of late and he has shown that he can produce the goods in any game, so the short trip across London to face West Ham will not faze him in the slightest.

In terms of a transfer in this week (along with the three captain contenders above), Newcastle face Southampton at home and Moussa Sissoko and Papiss Cisse look particularly inticing prospects. Cisse has failed to live up to his amazing form of last season but since Demba Ba’s departure to Chelsea, Cisse has played consistently in the centre forward position and looks to be coming back to form. Sissoko, on the other hand, has made an immediate impact since his move in the January transfer window with 25 points from just 3 appearances so far and he looks a real candidate for selection until the end of the season. Also worth considering is that Newcastle’s fixtures are good in the short term with a run of Southampton and Stoke at home along with away trips to Swansea and Wigan in their next four games which should harvest plenty of points. Another contender for a cheeky budget transfer this week could be Adam LeFondre. Coming in at just in the FPL game and with 30 points in his last 5 appearances, LeFondre has shown that he is a strong budget option that can score points and free up funds for big-hitters elsewhere in the team. Home clashes with Wigan and Aston Villa in two of Reading’s next three fixtures should provide the Royals with plenty of chances and if they are to score a few goals, LeFondre is bound to be in the thick of things.

Liverpool and Swansea (as mentioned above) do not have a game this week so they have been left out of my consideration. Man City versus Chelsea seems too close to call and this is why I have not recommended any of their players. Also, a big point worth considering is that due to certain club’s progress in the FA Cup and other club’s progress in Europe, there will be at least four teams with a blank week in gameweek 29 – with Man City, Man United, Wigan and West Ham all facing a blank. Arsenal’s game with Everton is also under threat and is likely to be postponed if Everton can overcome Oldham in their FA Cup replay. With this massive blank only a couple of gameweeks away, it would be wise to start preparing for it now by saving transfers, resisting transferring in players from the above mentioned teams and possibly even transferring out players from the above teams. This large blank, and the subsequent massive double gameweek that is likely to be announced in the coming weeks, could be pivotal in this season’s game and could be the difference in many a mini-league.

Also, I can’t finish this week without alluding to the fact that I am now top of the Midlands Sport league. I refer to this now because by the time I write my blog next week, I may well be back down the pecking order once more. There is plenty of competition in this league and there are plenty of interesting times ahead – but I have to say I am glad to be on top (even if it’s only for one week!)

Join me again next week for more news and views from the world of football.

You can follow Dave McArdle on Twitter: @DaveMidlands103  


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