Saturday, December 20, 2008

EPL Liveblog, Pt. 2: West Ham v. Aston Villa

Well, I'm up for it this afternoon. Feeling ill in bed, I need a sense of purpose. Thus, a second liveblog of the day.

West Ham. Aston Villa. Will O'Neill get a firmer grip on 4th place, or will Zola's London renaissance continue?

Come Claret with me after the jump and make me feel loved.

West Ham: Green, Neill, Davenport, Upson, Ilunga, Collison, Noble, Parker, Behrami, Bellamy, Cole.
Subs: Lastuvka, Boa Morte, Mullins, Faubert, Tristan, Bowyer, Di Michele.

Aston Villa: Friedel, Cuellar, Davies, Laursen, Luke Young, Petrov, Milner, Sidwell, Barry, Ashley Young, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Knight, Reo-Coker, Shorey, Gardner.

They're in the tunnel getting ready to appear. I am hoping and praying that there will be goals in this one. Shit, if Sunderland can give us 4 goals by themselves, hopefully Agbo and Ashley can do the same for us here.

And we're off!

3 mins: Early corner for Villa, but Green (aka England's future #1, surely) comes out confidently to collect. This sentiment is amplified when I see how nervous David James looks when faced with any ball crossed into the 6-yard box.

5 mins: Villa are harassing the Hammers, making every simple pass across the backline seem like a chore. Ashley Young's already found some room down the left wing. Expect more of that as time goes on.

8 mins: Cagey start thus far. Both sides scrapping in midfield and trying to dictate the pace. Behrami gets hauled to ground by Barry as they battle for a 50/50 ball, giving the Hammers a free-kick 30 yards out on the right. Surely Bellamy's not looking to shoot from there, is he?

It's crossed in and headed back across goal by Davenport. Lucas Neill has enough room to shoot, but his weak half-volley lands right in Friedel's hands. Simple save. Counts as a half-chance.

10 mins: OUCH. Ilunga and Cuellar go full tilt for a loose ball and clash hard, with Ilunga's knee ending up buried in the Villa player's thigh. Cuellar is slow to get up and looks in some pain. It's a miracle he still has a right leg. O'Neill has a quick word and warms up a sub or two just in case. Not a bad idea as Cuellar hasn't managed anything above a limp since rejoining the action.

13 mins: Sh*t... the speedy malcontent Bellamy gets in behind the defense and clean through on goal, his low shot forces a fine leg save from Friedel. Should have buried that. Zola squirms in his seat, knowing that should have been 1-0. Troubling times for the visitors. Villa pour forward and win a corner off Lucas Neill. Ashley Young to swing it in...

... and while it bounces around in the area, eventually West Ham clear. Plenty of space to be had in midfield if either side is feeling brave.

3 decent efforts on goal for the Hammers thus far, nothing of note for Villa. Ashley gets around Behrami down the left and gets dragged to the floor. Young takes the free kick himself, short to Steve Sidwell, and he has a shot from the edge of the box. Tons of power, no direction whatsoever. Well off-target, 10 yards wide to the right.

25 mins: Sorry, stepped away for a few minutes to hack up a lung. Being ill over the holidays are never fun.

27 mins: As soon as I come back, Villa get a gift as Parker plays a terrible backpass that gives Ashley Young a chance one-on-one with Green. He beats Green for pace but pulls the ball too wide, and his shot at the empty net ends up hitting the post and pinging out.

28 mins: Yes, Precious Roy, they are definitely outplaying Villa. Then again, that's what it so bewitching about Villa: all they need is a half-chance to break an opponent's will, regardless of having far less possession and shots on goal. The pattern might well continue if Scott Parker plays such ridiculous backpasses without looking.

30 mins: Was that a penalty a minute ago? Lucas Neill smothers Gareth Barry in the box like a warm blanket, and no whistle.

31 mins: Gabby Agbo flops under pressure from Calum Davenport after a trademark run-right-into-traffic, and Ashley Young puts the free kick just wide of the post. Green had no chance of stopping it if it were an inch to the right. Another good chance for Villa, yet the game remains goalless.

Here's a thought: if Villa win today, they'll be 4 points out of 1st place. Should we include them in the EPL title chase? It seems foolish not to, especially with their pace up-front.

Never thought I'd ever think that, by the way.

35 mins: Well, Bellamy goes close again. He gets free down the right and forces a corner as Curtis Davies heads behind. Good pressure from the Hammers. As much as I hate him, Bellamy is finding some rare form of late.

38 mins: Nothing substantial happening at the moment. There is tension in the game as Capello watches from the stands, but you get the feeling that it'll amount to a 0-0.

Bellamy gets another good cross in from the right but no-one can get on the end. Curtis Davies looks like a titan at the back.

40 mins: Frustration for Villa as yet another crossfield pass ends up floating out for a throw-in. They look far from their usual selves, playing more errant passes than Jermaine Pennant on a good day.

43 mins: Behrami unleashes a wicked swerving volley down Friedel's throat, knocking the Yank GK off his feet in making the save.

45 mins: Robert Green is forced to show his class once again, as Villa split the defense twice. Gabby can't control initially to shoot, but Milner and Barry force two good saves within 10 seconds. Please, fire David James already, Mr. Capello.

HALF TIME: West Ham 0, Aston Villa 0
Fair result thus far. The Hammers are dictating possession and looking more inventive in midfield, but Villa's squandered three glorious chances to put the game away. Please, give this ailing liveblogger some goals.

Quick moment for some wonderful Beckham PR work as he's officially unveiled at AC Milan today:

"Meanwhile, David Beckham is officially unveiled at AC Milan. I've already fallen in love. I love the history behind great teams. It's going to be hard to leave but we all know that I play in America for the Galaxy. But I'm going to have a great time here I hope."
I love the nonchalance of his LA Galaxy reference, and the loaded language. You just know he's never coming back, right?

Subs for West Ham to start the second half: Hayden Mullins on, Scott Parker off. A substitution they've used a few times lately as Parker struggles to find full match fitness. Mullins did play a blinder against Spartak the other week.

46 mins: West Ham begin the half like they ended the first: with good possession and movement up the pitch. Ilunga gives Bellamy a glimpse of goal but he's well marked and gives Friedel a simple save.

Ashley Young barges into Behrami under a high ball, giving the Hammers a free kick in a tasty position 25-ish yards out. Noble swings it in and Upson gets a free header on it, but there's no-one on the near post to re-direct it and it goes wide. Opportunity missed.

49 mins: More Hammers pressure as Carlton Cole earns yet another corner for the home side. Lucas Neill gets a clean header from Noble's delivery but puts it yards over the bar. There's a goal coming soon, I can sense it despite my weakness...

52 mins: I don't think Villa have taken the pitch yet to start the second half. More half-hearted defending gives West Ham another corner, only for Sidwell to shank it clear. All the action is around Friedel's goal at the minute. No cohesion or comfort on the ball for O'Neill's side in this second half yet.

54 mins: A Luke Young sighting! He gets a second to cross from the wing but puts it out of play. Agbo and Ashley have been non-existent thus far, thanks to the hustle of the Hammers midfield to cut out distribution. They're definitely the EPL's form team at the moment. Parker, Noble, Mullins are a nightmare to face in front of Upson, Davenport and Neill. Nigh-on impossible to break them down.

56 mins: Time for another tactical Zola sub (Parker wasn't injured; purely tactics)... looks like Behrami will be exiting.

Here it is: Valon Behrami off, Lee Bowyer on.

Villa will take the stoppage to make a change as well: Carlos Cuellar off, Nigel Reo-Coker on. He's booed immediately with every touch he gets on the ball. Breaking the Hammers' hearts by causing a fuss and demanding a transfer away from Upton Park will do that, I guess.

60 mins: Carlton Cole, HUUUUUHH, What are you good for, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, say it again! He wastes a glorious chance to give West Ham the lead, managing to head Lucas Neill's gorgeous cross over the bar from 4 yards out.

Villa come down and cause a scare, as Luke Young's long cross to the back post misses everyone but James Milner, but he can't get on the end of it.

64 mins: The Hammers fans are rejuvenated by the appearance of Reo-Coker. Every touch is greeted with a chorus of boos and insults. I love this game. Fans never forget this stuff.

Villa waste a corner and Bellamy gets space and time on the ball in the box. His cross sits up perfectly for Carlton Cole, except Laursen nips in at the last second to divert the ball off his feet. Cole still manages a shot on the rebound, and Friedel saves with his feet. So wasteful, Mr. Cole.

Trying times for Villa. Another West Ham corner out on the right, Noble to take...

... and Davenport gets a free header, putting it just over the bar. I don't remember the last time Villa were this outmatched in the air, and this outplayed on the floor as well.

66 mins: Cole goes close again, shoving past two defenders and forcing a near-post save and clearance from Friedel. Villa counter-attack with Ashley Young, but Neill knocks him over to slow the pace and picks up a yellow card.

A West Ham goal is imminent. Surely. Remove Carlton Cole and replace with any semi-competent striker, and this game is over.

69 mins: Ashley Young finally gets a bit of space to show his class. One-on-one with Neill, he cuts inside and blasts a swerving shot just wide of the far post. He had time to blast it, but went for placement instead. The Hammers exhale. 20 minutes left.

71 mins: Oh, Ashley. Barry robs Noble in midfield and gives it to Young, who cuts inside again but plays a curving cross to no-one and gives Green a goal kick. Wasteful.

72 mins: James Milner picks up a yellow for bodychecking Ilunga at full speed. Noble to take it, wide on the left...

... cleared easily.

74 mins: Great reflexes by Davenport to take the ball of Gabby's feet as he sets up to shoot from 10 yards out. The Hammers deserve at least a point, if not all 3. Can they break through in the final 15 minutes? I'll say no, if Cole stays on the pitch.

76 mins: More pressure at Friedel's end as the Hammers keep pushing.

78 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL, and what a steaming pile of bullshit it is. Villa break quickly with Young up the middle, and finds Milner out on the left. Lucas Neill closes him down easily enough, and Milner elects to cross/shoot to the far post. It loops off Neill's leg/arse area and dips under the bar at the last second, leaving Green helpless. Milner and Barry barely celebrate. Utter rubbish. The most undeserved lead for any team this season. West Ham 0, Aston Villa 1

80 mins: A heartbreaker for Zola. How will they respond? The life has just been sucked out of the home side as Villa finally assert themselves a bit in the midfield. Dare I say it, but O'Neill might well park the bus for the final 10 minutes. Zola's finally getting some strikers warmed up for his final substitution. Carlton Cole can expect an early shower.

83 mins: Ashley Young ends up on the right wing, winning a corner. It's half-cleared, and Petrov blasts the loose ball high and wide.

Substitution for West Ham, and it's not Carlton Cole! Jack Collison off, Diego Tristan on.

86 mins: Hang about, Ashley Young is dead. Davenport gets his leg up to clear a difficult cross, and his boot meets Young's face as he tries to race on the end of it. As one would expect, little to no sympathy from the home fans.

87 mins: Davenport, how did you miss that? A series of half-chances for West Ham around the box, and it breaks for Calum free on the right. He shoots for top corner and Friedel paws it around the post for a corner.

Another throw for West Ham deep in Villa territory. Neill loops it in and causes havoc in the box, but Villa clear once again.

West Ham have 8 up-front at the moment, the crowd urging them to find an equalizer. Another cross whipped in from the left, but Davies gets to it first and directs it back to Big Bald Brad. Crisis averted.

4 added minutes at Upton Park.

90 mins + 1: West Ham push again, but Bowyer mauls Ashley Young and concedes a free-kick, giving Friedel plenty of time to waste in punting it forward. I think we're just about done here.

90 mins + 2: Cole gets a chance to shoot, but it's deflected wide. He's a bit rubbish. This game could have been over by the hour mark if he'd been more gifted in the finishing department.

Still, they drag forward again. Cole botches another header.

FULL TIME: West Ham 0, Aston Villa 1
Desperately unlucky for Zola. The home side did everything right except for putting it in the net, and Milner's freakish deflected goal ends up being good enough to put Aston Villa in 3rd place for Christmas.

As Precious Roy notes in the comments, this is very much the hallmark of Top 4 clubs: win those games you're not supposed to win. Villa have played about 6 minutes of decent football today, and yet they have three points to show for it. Let's see how Liverpool and Arsenal do tomorrow, although the early game (Newcastle v. Spurs) should be entertaining as well.

Now my online feed is showing Real Madrid v. Valencia. It's 1-0 Real, 27 mins gone! (not liveblogging that one though)

Read more on "EPL Liveblog, Pt. 2: West Ham v. Aston Villa"...

EPL Live Blog: Worst fixture Saturday ever

O Deities, what hast we done to deserve this horror, this torment, this torture?

Perhaps as penance for some greater cosmic evil, we're given the worst slate of Saturday games since the sport was invented.


It's as if the EPL gods decided that a Liverpool/Arsenal match (which probably won't be very memorable anyways) was good enough for the entire fixture list, and as such, we're stuck today with the bitter dregs, all the games you would never pay to see.

Because I'm a sadist, I think I'll liveblog, depending on which game has the best streaming feed. If they're all rubbish (and that might be a blessing in disguise), we'll keep to an open thread.

Either way, please settle in and support the Worst Saturday Ever. It's enough to make Roy Keane quit his job all over again.

Come P45 with us after the jump. Fixtures, lineups, banter. You know the deal.

Saturday in the EPL
Blackburn v. Stoke
Bolton v. Portsmouth
Fulham v. Middlesbrough
Hull v. Sunderland
West Ham v. Aston Villa (12.30pm kick-off)

Actually, that Ham/Villa game might not be so bad, but to get to it, we have four clunkers. How many 0-0 draws will we get? How many chances will Defoe fluff in front of goal? Can the Ricky S express at Sunderland continue?

Blackburn v. Stoke
Blackburn: Robinson, Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock, Emerton, Dunn, Andrews, Pedersen, McCarthy, Roberts.
Subs: Brown, Kerimoglu, Khizanishvili, Mokoena, Simpson, Judge, Derbyshire.

Stoke: Sorensen, Shawcross, Sonko, Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham, Delap, Whelan, Amdy Faye, Cresswell, Pericard, Fuller.
Subs: Simonsen, Olofinjana, Soares, Pugh, Davies, Tonge, Wilkinson.

Bolton v. Portsmouth
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Cahill, Andrew O'Brien, Samuel, Davies, Nolan, McCann, Taylor, Gardner, Elmander.
Subs: Al Habsi, Muamba, Smolarek, Riga, Shittu, Basham, Obadeyi.

Portsmouth: James, Pamarot, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson, Diop, Davis, Hughes, Kranjcar, Defoe, Crouch.
Subs: Ashdown, Diarra, Nugent, Little, Kanu, Armand Traore, Wilson.

Fulham v. Middlesbrough
Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Davies, Bullard, Murphy, Gera, Dempsey, Johnson.
Subs: Zuberbuhler, Zamora, Nevland, Etuhu, Stoor, Andreasen, Kallio.

Middlesbrough: Turnbull, McMahon, Riggott, Huth, Pogatetz, Johnson, Shawky, Arca, Downing, Aliadiere, Sanli.
Subs: Jones, Taylor, Mido, Emnes, Alves, Wheater, Walker.

Hull v. Sunderland
Hull: Myhill, Mendy, Turner, Zayatte, Ricketts, Garcia, Ashbee, Boateng, Geovanni, Barmby, King.
Subs: Duke, Doyle, Windass, Halmosi, Marney, Cousin, Giannakopoulos.

Sunderland: Fulop, Bardsley, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Collins, Malbranque, Tainio, Richardson, Reid, Jones, Cisse.
Subs: Colgan, Whitehead, Edwards, Murphy, Leadbitter, Yorke, Healy.

Biggest news thus far today:
Roque Santa Cruz misses Big Sam's Blackburn debut. So... who will he be playing for in January, and how much will they pay for him?

Early reports suggest that I'll be digesting the Hull/Sunderland action. If any of 'em have the potential to erupt into goals, this would be it.

Lineups are above... see you in a few minutes.

Of course, the Hull game is now being broadcast in Arabic, so maybe I should have amended my earlier statement to read "whichever game I can find in English, I'll watch." Stay tuned, I think it might end up being Blackburn. (WHY LORD, WHY?!?!?)

Sorry folks, a few technical difficulties. Apparently I've already missed two goals in the Bolton game. Crap.

Finally found a feed for Blackburn/Stoke... let's get stuck in despite being ten minutes late.

8 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL... As soon as I turn it on, Big Sam's lads get a goal from the penalty spot. Gamst Pedersen is annihilated by Ibrahima Sonko and Benni McCarthy steps up to convert the spot kick. Great start for Allardyce! Blackburn 1, Stoke 0

10 mins: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Blackburn M.O. of scoring a goal and then looking hopeless at the back continues. Stoke pile on the pressure and Ricardo Fuller has a fair penalty shout as he gets sandwiched between Samba and Ooijer. There will be more goals in this one.

15 mins: Watching Fuller and Chris Samba tussle time and again is going to be fun. They're both about 6 ft 6 and carved from solid oak, and their clashes around the area are reminiscent of that "unstoppable force v. unmoveable object" image. Gamst gets a spot of space wide on the left, but floats a cross right into Simonsen's hands (Thomas Sorensen was injured in warm-ups). Neither team are afraid to leave acres of space in midfield. End to end stuff so far.

17 mins: More space down the left for Blackburn as Warnock gets a cross in that Stoke clear, but only just. Throw-in from the right wing.

18 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL... another for Blackburn! The quick throw-in is whipped across the face of goal and Shawcross inexplicably clears it off his shin right to Jason Roberts, who tucks it underneath Simonsen. No chance for the goalie. Shocking, shocking defending, and Big Sam has 2 goals seemingly from nothing. Blackburn 2, Stoke 0

20 mins: Fuller and Nelsen clash in midfield, leaving the Blackburn defender in a heap. Drop-ball gets us back underway, and Stoke pile on more pressure. Robinson comes out a mile to punch another inswinging cross clear, and it looks like he took out his own defender in the proceess. Andre Ooijer doesn't appear to know what time or day it is as he is slowly helped to his feet.

Both Blackburn goals have come against the run of play, and their inability to assert themselves in the middle of the pitch is going to be a problem.

23 mins: Nice passing in midfield by Stoke amounts to nothing as Emerton breaks up the play, and now Amdy Faye is down, rubbing his head and wondering just where he went wrong in life to end up living and playing in Stoke.

Technical difficulties plague me yet again... be right back.

30 mins: GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL.... unbelievable! Big Sam gets another goal as Blackburn play their best football of the year. Roberts and McCarthy link up like the second coming of Romario and Bebeto, as Benni flicks on for Jason whose shot is saved, but his partner-in-crime is in the perfect place to drive the rebound home. Ewood Park might collapse under the weight of cheering and false hope. Blackburn 3, Stoke 0

Amazing what a new manager can do, innit? Samba takes a knock but rejoins the fray. You get the feeling that Blackburn simply don't want to stop scoring. Stoke look battered and bruised, like the chef who cooked Mike Ashley's last 10-course dinner. They've no response to the physicality, the desire, and the patented New Manager Effect (I believe our resident statistician/Chelsea fan, Autoglass, has a theory about it).

39 mins: Stoke are still looking to get forward down the wings, but Samba tidies up the mess. Stoke throw, which Delap isn't taking for some reason. Blackburn clear easily.

If you're Paul Ince, you have to wonder just why Benni McCarthy couldn't do this three weeks ago. That must be so infuriating for the fired/departed manager, to turn on the TV and see the exact same group of players putting on a masterclass worthy of Brazil '82. Ah well, at least he got severance pay.

40 mins: The game's not dead yet. Fuller is finding some room around the box as more neat Potters passing gives him an opening, but Amdy Faye takes the half-clearance and volleys it about 50 yards over the bar, and into the city center. Pulis looks perplexed. What can one do against the weight of a New Manager?

43 mins: Fuller isn't happy with the ref as he gets manhandled by Nelsen once again.

45 mins: Stoke lurch forward again, looking for their first actual shot on goal. They've had plenty of those shots that end up in orbit, and Whelan adds another moon-bound shot to the tally, ruining a nice build-up by firing well wide from 30 yards. He had some room to push further forward as well.

Shut up, u75! I was being miserable earlier. I think I predicted a boatload of goals in yesterday's predictions, thank you very much.

45 mins + 3: Fuller levels Nelsen as the header back to Robinson loses speed in the air, no card. Cresswell ends up getting into the book seconds later for a double-footed slide, which makes you wonder how Sonko didn't get sent off for nearly removing Gamst's leg inside 10 minutes.

Half Time: Blackburn 3, Stoke 0
Comfortable stuff for the home side and their shiny new manager.

Blackburn's making a list, they're checking it twice
Decided to go with Big Sam Allardyce
They're winning though Santa will be leaving town

Time to take a break as Allardyce prepares for the easiest half-time talk of his patchy career.

Quick Poll:
If I can muster up the energy to liveblog the Villa game too, will you all stick around?

What does everyone want for Christmas this year? I'd love to see Liverpool still in 1st place by New Year's Day. That'd be lovely.

They're back on the pitch, and Stoke are ready to kick-off. Do they have any hope of a comeback? Blackburn are big fans of comedy defending.

46 mins: Stoke get things started, and win an early free-kick just inside the Blackburn half. Higginbotham drifts it in, and Warnock clears for a throw. Sonko manages to put the throw out for a goal-kick. Well done indeed, Ibrahim. He's having a blinder so far.

48 mins: More Stoke pressure, and Faye wins a corner. Paul Robinson looks nervous. He's not good from set pieces...

... and it's almost disaster. Robbo comes off his line late and gets nowhere near it, relying on Samba to put it out for another corner. Whelan whips in a crap effort, and it's cleared.

50 mins: Anything Stoke can do, Blackburn can do better. Gamst enjoys another mazy, threatening run down the left, forcing Shawcross to punt it out for a throw.

52 mins: The Potters are still giving it some effort. They win a throw-in right at the touchline that Sonko fires in. Mild panic in the box as Ooijer manages to get it clear, but it falls to Delap for a wide-open shot and he volleys into the crowd. Better from Stoke, to be sure. Robinson hasn't really regained his confidence once he was shunned from Spurs, has he?

54 mins: Based on the first ten minutes of the half, you'd never believe Blackburn are winning 3-0. They are sitting back in their box, allowing wave after wave of Stoke throw-ins and corners. Here's another for Whelan - it's half-cleared and then his resultant cross ends up almost reaching the half-way line.

Shaky stuff from the home team. It says a lot when they still don't look comfortable with a 3 goal lead against Stoke. Fuller wins a free-kick 25/30 yards out after Nelsen uses Fuller as a ladder to win an aerial challenge. Whelan to take...

... sooooo close Whelan's effort shaves the post/crossbar junction, although Robinson was across to save if needed. Excellent attempt. Blackburn then manage to get into the Stoke half, but Roberts fouls Shawcross immediately and the traffic comes back the other direction. Really -- this second half is confusing. Blackburn play like they're frightened.

For those of you asking, here's Cisse's green hairstyle. Strangely enough, it's not the worst one he's ever had.

Aaaaand the feed's gone again. I'll be right back once I've killed the person responsible (and no, that doesn't mean I'll be committing suicide shortly.)

Subs for Stoke: Tonge and Soares on, Crap Delap and Pericard off.

64 mins: More chances for the Potters. Defending is not something that Blackburn know how to do. They should adopt a Detroit Lions approach and just spend all their money on strikers. Shit, if they can just score 7 goals a game, the 5 they concede won't matter.

Fuller with a great chance - a cross in from the left and Ricardo loses his marker and heads it low across goal, forcing a great reaction save from Robinson.

68 mins: Blackburn win a free-kick 35 yards out and get a chance to catch their breath. Gamst is shaping up to blast it...

... and he lifts it miles over the goal, eliciting groans and moans from the home crowd. Big Sam preps a substitute: Dunn off to a standing ovation, Tugay to enter the fray.

70 mins: Stoke break quickly and Fuller gets bundled over again. He bites his tongue against the constant fouling and jogs upfield, hoping for some good service.

A rare break for Blackburn but Gamst gives it up far too easily. They can't hold the ball for more than 60 seconds at a time, which has to make Big Sam nervous; after all, you can't be winning every game 3-0 and start acting scared.

Stoke win another corner, their 3,596th of the game, but Blackburn clear easily.

74 mins: HOW DID HE MISS THAT? Tugay plays a wonderful through-ball setting Warnock free down the left. He whips in a low cross and Roberts forces a great double-save from Simonsen, once with a volley and then again with a header.

HOW DID HE MISS THAT, vol 2 Almost immediately, Roberts is put free through the middle, and his low shot is saved at Simonsen's feet and out for a corner.

From the corner, it falls to Benni M and he hits the post. Stoke break but to no avail. Much better from Big Sam's men!

Matt Derbyshire replaces Benni McCarthy for Blackburn, while Olofinjana replaces Amdy Faye for Stoke.

80 mins: Looks like both teams blew their load there. Lots of patchy possession in midfield, but Stoke are still happy to attack...

... and they almost score! Shawcross cuts in from the right, it falls to Olofinjana who volleys hard to Robbo's right. He parries it and the rebound falls to Fuller (who's a mile offside), and justice is served as he drags the shot wide of the far post.

82 mins: Whelan has space in midfield to shoot, and he puts it well wide under pressure. Pulis can call off the dogs now. Consolation goals are overrated anyway.

Sunderland take the lead right before Hull are reduced to 10 men. This is turning out to be a great weekend for two relegation-zone teams that just cleaned out their managers.

85 mins: Messy at the back for Stoke as Roberts threatens again, but Shawcross wakes up just in time to hoot it clear. Warnock then gets time on the left to whip in a cross, and it ends up in the stands.

Sub for Blackburn: Simpson on, Emerton off.

89 mins: Stoke almost get on the scoresheet as Chris Samba's gaffe gives Cresswell a sniff at the near post, but it ends up scuffing the woodwork and going out for a goal kick. Robinson breathes again in search of the clean sheet.

BEST PART ABOUT SUNDERLAND AND BLACKBURN WINNING: It puts Manchester City in the relegation zone at 18th place. F*cking magic.

This game is just about dead. The loudspeaker announces Ryan Nelsen as Man of the Match, but we should check if managers can get the award, as Big Sam's ability to waltz in and coax 3 goals out of a team that is woeful in attack is worthy of some accolade.

90 mins + 3: Roberts gets a whiff of Goal #4, but he finishes weakly at Simonsen's feet. We're just waiting to be put out of our misery now.

Stoke try gamely once more to get down the left wing, winning a throw for their troubles.

FULL TIME: Blackburn 3, Stoke 0
I think I'll take a break before considering a Villa liveblog. That's what being ill and confined to bed will do to you: it gives you the overwhelming urge to blog.

Read more on "EPL Live Blog: Worst fixture Saturday ever"...

Shooting from the Ip... Ip... Ip!

The Furtive One

Our latest edition of Football Managers Gone Wild takes us to lovely Portaloo Road, home to Ipswich Town FC and, at present, Gentleman Jim Magilton. It's been a rough fortnight for the gaffer. Derby disgrace at bottom-feeding Norwich set the stage for a home loss to Cardiff and now the guy's got himself into a bit of a row with the local scribes (with audio!)

**Warning: We know Joe Kinnear. Joe Kinnear is a friend of ours. Jim Magilton is no Joe Kinnear... though he tries!**

If we're to go by Derek Davis of the East Anglian Times, the tomfoolery began on Thursday, when Gentleman Jim held a closed door meeting with a select eight members of his squad. Magilton reportedly told the group that they would form the nucleus of the club going forward, all the rest be damned. Or sold. The sheep-shagging journalist Davis caught wind of the powwow and by Friday morning it had been reported as fact in the local papers.

Which I brings us to Friday's press conference. It all began innocently enough. The manager gave the latest on injuries and suspensions (among those banned from Saturday's tie: Ben Thatcher. Remember him?) It was all business until the UK Mirror's Elvin King asked if Magilton had any response to Davis's meeting story.

Transcript courtesy of Enjoy! (That girl you hear giggling off yonder is actually our own tittering Bigus)

King: “Have you anything you want to add about the story about the meeting that took place?”

Magilton: “No, nothing at all - absolutely nothing.

“If it is his opinion (pointing at Derek Davis) 'in my opinion' or 'allegedly' you are printing lies.”

Davis tries to ask, "What is a lie?"

Magilton: “Someone has told you that and he is a liar.

Davis: “But people are telling me these things.”

Magilton: “They are lying, he is a liar, he is a liar. If it is your opinion, we had this conversation before, or you say allegedly then I can live with that but you are printing it as fact.”

Davis: “You had that meeting…”

Magilton: “I had a meeting yesterday behind closed doors. I have meetings, personal meetings with my players, it is my job - Shut Up! It is my job to get to know my players as individuals and as a group.

“I had a group yesterday because I had a special friend down, closed the doors, it was behind closed doors no-one else is invited. I do it on a daily basis. End of.

“See you later. End of.”

Magilton goes to walk out

Davis: “Jim don't walk off, come on, sit down…

Magilton: "Fuck off don't you talk to me…”

Magilton then storms out.


This seems like precisely the kind of story that does not go away quickly. Especially after the Blues come out in 3-3-1 for today's match. Unless Magilton is leading the Freemasons revival in East Anglia, there's really no excuse. And even that wouldn't cut it. Secret societies have no place in football, I say. Freemason or not, Magilton does earn a place on UF's forthcoming Football Managers Gone Wild DVD set.

Read more on "Shooting from the Ip... Ip... Ip!"...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Backpasses: That's a punchin'

Now, for real.

From the tipline: FA Disciplinary committee calls Man U a bunch of big, fat liars [Telegraph]
Liverpool's boring Christmas party. WTF is Gerrard wearing? [The Sun]
SBI's first mock MLS draft. Guy from Jackass goes in the 15th slot [Soccer by Ives]

RESPECT campaign moves north of the border. Will work just as well [BBC]
Wigan get some money back from the thieving police [BBC]
Things that will not happen. Number 1: this [Soccerent]
Bosses of Medellin club in arrest shocker. Okay, not really a shocker, but it's hard to convey that you expect such an arrest to happen in snappy headline form. "arrest no-brainer"? "arrest expecteder?" I don't know [Google]

And, finally:
Don't mess with girls who play high school soccer in New York. They'll punch you [Record Online]

Read more on "Friday Backpasses: That's a punchin'"...

Colaship Review - Half Time Report.

Yeah...I was slack last week. There was no review. Sorry folks. But this week its a bumper edition to satisfy your aching desire for knowledge of what lies beyond the Premier League's cellar door. Besides, if anyone suffered from a lack of a Colaship review last week, it was Bigus. I missed a wonderful opportunity to gloat with many pictures and kind words (finally) about my beloved Norwich City. What's that? I can back-date that boastful gloating? Really? Yay! Norwich 2 Ipswich 0. Who's the pride of Anglia? Norwich..Norwich. Who's the pride of Anglia? Norwich is our name... All together now...

OK, that's enough. Let's get to it. Follow me after the jump for a look at the runners, riders, and crocked one-legged donkeys of the Coca Cola Championship as we reach the half-way point of the season.

Oh dear... How did that get in there? Sorry folks. That was weird.

Right. Onwards we shall go...

The Wolverhampton Wanderers express train to the Premier League is showing no signs of slowing down. At the half-way mark, Wolves have 53 points and they are well on course to bust 100 points and 100 goals. A real rarity. They have lost just one of their last 11 games, the 1-0 defeat to QPR at Loftus Road. Wolves have been nearly men, in and around the playoffs, for the last few years but this year it has all just clicked. Fair play to Mick McCarthy, he has done a super job and the Wolves scouting system has allowed him to nab some real bargains in players who are now coveted by Premier League teams.

But can he hold onto them come January? Sylvain Ebanks-Blake, Andy Keogh and the young keeper Hennessey have many top-flight admirers. If they can keep this pace up after Christmas they will be up by the start of April.

Birmingham City are chugging along nicely. They lost at Preston last weekend and are currently 6 points behind neighbors Wolves, but there is no need to panic. McLeish is no great manager and highly over rated in my opinion but he has a very experienced and talented squad. Before Preston they had lost just one in nine. QPR again! The West Londoners certainly have an eye for beating the top sides. Bongo FC may not gain automatic promotion, I believe that Reading will occupy the second spot come May, but they will be in the play-offs for sure.

I mentioned QPR, so let's discuss them. They have definitely underachieved this season given the amount of new players they have signed. A change of management hasn't made a lot of difference to the West Laaandon team to be honest. Since appointing Paulo Sousa, QPR are still pretty inconsistent. While they have shown they can beat the top teams like Birmingham and Wolves, they have recently lost to Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley and Watford, while drawing with Plymouth and Palace. They will need to find some form if they are to make the play-offs in the second half of the campaign as some of the teams above them are currently flying.

One of those teams is Burnley and what a season they are having. Not only have they dispatched of Fulham, Arsenal and Chelsea in the Carling Cup to reach a semi-final showdown with Spurs, they have been amazing in the colaship. They currently occupy 4th spot in the table, losing just two of their last twelve fixtures. Bloody Burnley have certainly set out their stall for a play-off spot come May.

Burnley mascot 'Stan'. He's a happy chap!

Reading have being going strong this season, they may have had the odd slip up to teams such as Southampton and Preston but they have also scored 48 goals. Only Wolves have scored more. The Royals currently sit in third, one point away from Bongo FC. I can see Reading finishing second leaving Bongo to fight it out with the play-off final hopefuls, such as Burnley, Palace and Sheffield United. Reading have lost just three of their last seventeen games. Impressive indeed.

Where did that come from? Super weird..Oh well.

At the bottom of the table it's tighter than a Wall Street wallet right now. There is just a four point gap from the bottom three to Southampton in 21st and ALL three basement dwellers are on 18 points.

Southampton are in real trouble. Financially they are proper f-cked. The sales of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Chris Baird and Kenwyne Jones to Premier League teams should have helped, but where has the cash gone? This January they will likely be forced to sell the next crop of promising youngsters. Adam Lallana and Andrew Surman will likely be flogged in an effort to balance the books. But, the three million they get for those two will not be close to enough to make a dent in their debt.

The Saints have won just once at St Mary's this season and the crowds are disappearing fast. They have also won just one of their last eight games, beating Reading if you can believe it. I see Southampton following Leeds and Leicester through the League One trap door. They can blame mismanagement at the board room level for this mess and for appointing inexperienced dutch manager Jan Poortvliet, but having an answer to the problems will be of no solace to the suffering Saints fans as money doesn't grow on trees and Jan won't turn into Johan over night.

Adam Lallana. Off in January?

Norwich are currently 5 points from the bottom and have been having a stinker of a year. Awful football and a solid defence was the state of affairs early on and now they are playing tasty football, but couldn't defend a 2-ft goal from a 3-ft beach ball. Still, while the defense is something that can be fixed, the inability to play football and to create and convert chances is something entirely different. Now City have found their attacking feet, a couple of new faces in defence should sort out the back line. City have given up some sloppy goals in recent times and lost games they should have won with suicidal defending. The midfield is in fine form and now Roeder has discovered the five man midfield with Hoolahan excelling in the hole, he should feel confident that the Canaries will start to accumulate points.

Up top, on-loan striker Leroy Lita is probably going to be sold by Reading to a lower-ranked Premiership side, and Antoine Sibierski is returning to Wigan after failing to impress on loan. Carl Cort has signed until the end of the season and if he stays fit, he is a class act. That's a BIG if though, Cort has been plagued by injury in the recent years and he was nearly forced to retire.

City will need to find a forward in January as well as an answer to the injury torn defence. If no Premiership takers come in for Lita he could join City permanently, but I can see West Brom or Stoke snapping him up when the transfer window opens. The league position Norwich City currently find themselves in is a false one for sure and Bigus isn't worried. Norwich will continue to improve throughout the new year and if they can fix the leaky defence and gain some consistency in the defensive selection (there have been seven different center-back partnerships this season), they will finish mid-table.

Oops, I have no idea how this keeps happening!

Charlton, like Southampton, are also in jeopardy of disappearing to the misery of League One. Charlton's support has been terrific this season and even though they are in a relegation dogfight and currently second from bottom, twenty thousand punters stream through the gates weekly. Charlton fired Alan Pardew two weeks ago but interim gaffer Phil Parkinson isn't doing much better. Charlton have not won a game in their last thirteen.

I hope their losing ways continue for another weekend at least as Charlton visit Norwich tomorrow. Charlton had to sell a lot of their best players during the summer but they still have enough in the locker to survive. However I reckon they will need fresh blood on the coaching staff and Phil Parkinson will have to follow Pardew through the front door before things get better at the Valley. Parkinson still represents the Pardew era and change is likely the only way out of the mess they find themselves in.

Forest have been struggling to find the net recently but now that Earnshaw is back they should pick up points. They are in a bit of a false position for me and I can see them climbing out of the bottom three over the next couple of months. They have drawn too many games that they should have won recently and if they can score a few more at home they will be alright.

Bigus' Colaship predictions

1. Wolves
2. Reading

3. Bongo FC
4. Sheffield United
5. Crystal Palace
6. Burnley

22. Southampton
23. Barnsley
24. Doncaster


Read more on "Colaship Review - Half Time Report."...

The EPL Weekend Ahead: The Return of Big Sam

How many EPL jobs can one man have before he's finally recognized as being useless?

Big Phil, move aside.

Big Sam is here, the face and charisma that launched a thousand ships. His working-class jowls and worry lines will dominate the sidelines this weekend, and if Blackburn dare get their new recycled gaffer a win, he'll dominate the headlines too.

But it's not all man boobs and malcontent in the EPL this week. No, there are a couple of Sunday humdingers that will surely underwhelm. We can hope for some excitement, scandal, intrigue or entertainment.

The thing is: will we receive it?

Blackburn v. Stoke
Never, ever, ever, ever underestimate the New Manager Effect. I reckon the lads from Ewood will be up for this one now that they have Allardyce to impress. Stoke don't have Delap, so they're essentially useless. Blackburn 1, Stoke 0

Bolton v. Portsmouth
Draw draw draw draw draw. Megson v. Adams: the battle of two tactically-challenged, inept managers. The only thing that can prevail is complete and utter boredom. Bolton 1, Portsmouth 1

Fulham v. Middlesbrough
The home side are unbeaten in six, with four consecutive draws. They've scored just one goal in the last month. Meanwhile, 'Boro have only won once in their last seven. This is another snore-fest, folks. Hodgson will sneak it. Fulham 2, 'Boro 1

Hull v. Sunderland
The Keane-less Mackems are still without a sideline general, while Phil Brown can do no wrong at the KC Stadium. After tomorrow, they'll have more disciples in Yorkshire to the Cult. Hull 3, Sunderland 0

West Ham v. Aston Villa
The battle of the Clarets, as u75 calls it. It will not, however, be much of a battle in the scoreline. The Hammers are not pushovers, but O'Neill's men have a self-belief that might just see them secure fourth place over the Christmas holidays once and for all. West Ham 1, Aston Villa 2

West Brom v. Manchester City (Sunday)
It's the Take it to the bank special! Despite being dreadful away from home, Sparky can't possibly fuck this one up, can he? Then again, Robinho's struggling with ankle-knack... West Brom 0, Manchester City 2

Newcastle v. Tottenham (Sunday)
We can look forward to the Clash of Old-School, Wily, Loud-Mouthed Managers at St. James's Park, and this should actually be worth watching, unlike all the drivel tomorrow. As much as you must feel the urge to back 'Arry and his culture of winning narrowly, there is the imminent danger of Michael Owen. He's enjoying a couple of weeks of good form before his next injury, and you can never write that off. It's the ultimate intangible! Newcastle 2, Tottenham 2

Thirdsenal v. HopefullyStillFirsterpool (Sunday)
These games always seem so loaded with tension and title implications, but they peter out when it's time to hit the pitch. Will this weekend be any different? No Torres and no guarantee as to which Adebayor will show up means this is heading for the bore/score draw. Arsenal 1, Liverpool 1

Everton v. Spartak London (Monday)
I always swore I'd never ever root for the Toffees in any capacity. This monday might be the one time where such a practice is even considered. F*ck Tim Cahill to the deepest chasms of hell, but I'll cheer if he puts Big Phil Scolari's men further off the pace heading into Christmas itself. Realism kicks in just enough to tell me that this doomsday scenario will never come to fruition. Everton 1, Spartak London 3

Read more on "The EPL Weekend Ahead: The Return of Big Sam"...

Methinks With that Name He Had Some Sort of Cosmic Advantage

First off, thanks to everyone who entered. We had about 25 total entries, which is a pretty solid voter turnout. And, given the results, I can say one thing without reservation: God, you people suck at prognosticating.

Cosmo was our winner, getting five of eight match-ups correct.

Roma v. Arsenal
Liverpool v. Real Madrid
Bayern Munich v. Sporting Lisbon
Porto v. Atletico Madrid
Man U v. Inter Milan

Well done. The rest of you were collectively pathetic.

Nobody else got more than three correct. Eight people got only two correct and seven people posted a clean sheet. Predicting the future is hard stuff.

If I were a psychic, I'd raise my rates. That's our takeaway from this anyway.

Cosmo, to collect your prize, use the email listed on the right side gutter of the page. For the rest of you, thanks for playing. Once the knock-out matches roll around in February, we'll have a bracket contest.

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Finally Some Love for Moyes?

Long time Everton target and accidental porn star Vagner Love could be on his way to Goodison Park in January. Everton are desperate for a striker and the Merseyside team tried to snare Love during the summer.

Everton are not Vagner's first Love however. The Brazilian front man would prefer a move to Real Madrid.

“Just one club has contacted me and that club is Everton. But it would be marvellous to play for Real Madrid — every player dreams of joining them. I will do everything I can to negotiate my release with the CSKA president.”- Vagner Love.

The Brazilian is no stranger to controversy after the release of an Internet porno featuring Love and his girlfriend, porn star Pamela Butt. The Butt Love (sorry, couldn't resist) video did not bother Love in the slightest and he stated so at the time...

"Hey, I'm known for being amorous, let's be honest, this reputation isn't one that unsettles me." - Vagner Love.

Love and gal pal Pamela Butt enjoy the limelight.

Love will cost around 12 million quid, not a bad price for the Russian leagues top forward in todays market. Love has found the back of the net 17 times this term.


Read more on "Finally Some Love for Moyes?"...

So, some draw happened this morning

Well folks, the results are in.

I can't wait to see how wrong everyone was once we've finished counting.

In the meantime, I bring you the full CL draw, the UEFA Cup draw (like anyone not named The Likely Lad or Keith gives a toss), and some half-assed predictions.

Whether you won our competition or not, you can't say that the draw gave us many lame fixtures.

Without further ado, who got gifted and who got screwed? These are the games to have pundits salivating in their armchairs until February.

Champions League draw, Round of 16
Spartak London vs. Juventus
Villarreal vs. Panathinaikos
Sporting Lisbon vs. Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid vs. FC Porto
Lyon vs. Barcelona
Real Madrid vs. Liverpool
Arsenal vs. Roma
Inter Milan vs. Manchester United

First up, the red-faced Scot draws his nemesis in Jose Mourinho. Easily the pick of the round, although I still reckon the Mancs will sneak on. Either way, the trash-talk will be sublime. Spartak get their former manager Claudio Ranieri in his new Turin digs and should advance, and Arsenal get the gift of AS Roma, perhaps the 2nd best draw they could have hoped for overall.

The last remaining French team is guaranteed to exit in this round thanks to pulling out Barca, which makes you wonder if they're kicking themselves at rolling over to Bayern in the meaningless final group game. Bayern trounced them, and their reward? Some Portuguese patsies.

Rafa gets two Ramos, a Raul and a tw*t in Ramon Calderon. I expect a 1-0 aggregate win for my lads, as is our custom in this competition.

Elsewhere, I see Villareal, Atletico and Bayern advancing, hopefully joining all 4 English clubs (barring some epic failures; Serie A and EPL normally ends up in favour of the English*, although Juve has the best chance of advancing, I reckon) and Barcelona in the quarter-finals.

I suppose I should mention the UEFA Cup too:

UEFA Cup, Last 32:
Paris Saint-Germain v Wolfsburg
NEC Nijmegen v Hamburg
Sampdoria v Metalist Kharkiv
Braga v Standard Liege
Lech Poznan v Udinese
Olympiakos v Saint-Etienne
Fiorentina v Ajax
Aalborg v Deportivo La Coruna
Werder Bremen v AC Milan
Bordeaux v Galatasaray
Dynamo Kiev v Valencia
Zenit St. Petersburg v Stuttgart
Marseille v FC Twente
Shakhtar Donetsk v TOTTENHAM

UEFA Cup, Last 16:
Werder Bremen or AC Milan v Olympiakos or Saint-Etienne
ASTON VILLA or CSKA Moscow v Shakhtar Donetsk or TOTTENHAM
Lech Poznan or Udinese v Zenit St Petersburg or Stuttgart
Paris Saint-Germain or Wolfsburg v Braga or Standard Liege
Dynamo Kiev or Valencia v Sampdoria or Metalist Kharkiv
Copenhagen or MANCHESTER CITY v Aalborg or Deportivo
Marseille or FC Twente v Fiorentina or Ajax
NEC Nijmegen or Hamburg v Bordeaux or Galatasaray

They do two draws at once, compounding their lameness, and the draw is kind for Mark Hughes. That said, they are good at losing when you expect them not to. The big story is that Villa and Spurs could meet in the next round should they both advance past tricky opposition. I couldn't care less. Best of luck to all involved. My money's on Valencia to win it all.

So, thoughts? Predictions? We'll have a competition winner later today.

*In recent years, the Serie A hasn't done too well against the EPL. Remember 2005, Meeelan? Seriously though, side thought: how about a pre-season tournament kinda like the College Basketball Big 10/ACC Challenge, only for Serie A and EPL to duke it out. I'd watch that from beginning to end. Or a "La Liga/EPL Challenge." Would be sweet, right?

Read more on "So, some draw happened this morning"...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Backpasses: See this one Georger?

Why the Hispanic media ignores college soccer. Hint: the last point is "It Plain Sucks" [La Liga Talk]
Scotland's best player Aiden McGeady punished by Celtic for butting heads with Wee Gordon Strachan [BBC]
Pele set to play Pele in animated film [Reuters]
Why has the 4-4-2 fallen out of favor? [Guardian]

And, finally:
Another FJM attempt at the Miami-Barcelona-MLS hookup. Both sides get pwned by the first comment [MLS Rumors]

Read more on "Thursday Backpasses: See this one Georger?"...

Last Call

You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. But before heading out, one last friendly reminder to enter our Champions League draw competition.

You can scroll down the page or just click here.

Voting closes overnight tonight. Winner gets a post on UF. Oh, and a promise that we'll start upgrading our prizes in the near future. Some last minute housekeeping after the jump.

Again, it's the second place finishers that get drawn with the group winners. You can't draw someone from your country (e.g. Inter can't draw Roma) and you can't draw the team from your group (e.g. Chelsea can't draw Roma). You're responsible for checking your math (particularly with regard to that latter provision).

Tentatively: It will be one point for each pairing you get right, no points for incorrect pairings, and minus-one for any pairings that violate the rules (same country or same group). First tie breaker? Not sure, currently thinking I'll go back and double count—give two points for each one correct—the draws for the countries that have one team (Germany, Greece, France). Second tie breaker will be to double count the coutry with two teams (Portugal). Etc.

Read more on "Last Call"...

Pass The Crack Mike

Newcastle's want away owner Mike Ashley reckons that interim manager Joe Kinnear is better than Fabio Capello. Wow, that's a bold statement, lets take a look at the two gentlemen in question and see how he came to that conclusion.

So first off I can see why Mr Ashley rates Kinnear. He has done a pretty good job at Newcastle thus far. He has helped them out the relegation zone, they have stopped leaking goals and they are picking up the points and heading in the right direction. This could just be a honeymoon period that any new manager could have achieved or maybe Kinnear is just that good. Either way, to call him 'better' than Fabio Capello takes more than some balls, it takes a large amount of crack and about 10 pints of Special Brew.

Let's compare the two.

Fabio Capello. 62 years old. Current job: England manager.

Last 4 results: Croatia 1 England 4, England 5 Kazakhstan 1, Belarus 1 England 3, Germany 1 England 2.

Honors as manager.

Seria A: 5 titles with AC Milan and Roma.

La Liga: 2 titles with Real Madrid.

4 Italian Super Cups, the European Super Cup and the Champions League.

Joe Kinnear. 61 years old. Current job: Newcastle interim manager.

Last 4 results: Chelsea 0 Newcastle 0, Middlesbrough 0 Newcastle 0, Newcastle 2 Stoke 2, Portsmouth 0 Newcastle 3.

Honors as manager.

Oh...There actually aren't any. Not one. Nada! Nichts! Ugh..This is a little embarrassing, I thought there might be something? Alas no. Nyet!

So as you can see, crack cocaine and copious amounts of booze are required to compare Joe Kinnear to Fabio Capello. Unless of course you are Mike Ashley, and then the reason is that you are a fat doofus who knows about as much about football as Clive Woodward.


Read more on "Pass The Crack Mike"...


So you have played 142 times for Brazil, won two World Cups, making a record 21 appearances at the finals and spent the last 5 years at AC Milan. You have had a glittering career and played for clubs such as Roma and Sao Paulo. Whats your next move? Signing to play for non-league Garforth Town of the Northern Premier League Division One North of course!

It is likely Cafu (38) will sign for the miners and play in April, although rumors are circulating that he will in fact arrive in January. How did this happen you ask? How does lil' old Garforth Town manage to sign legendary right back Cafu?

Garforth Town are owned by a gentleman named Simon Clifford. Mr Clifford has many connections in Brazil after he set up Futebol de Salao in the U.K.

So how far down the leagues is Cafu's new Northern Premier League Division One North team?
A quick glance at the Football Pyramid finds them in the eighth tier of English football.

Other famous Brazilians Mr Clifford has brought to play in the small Yorkshire town of Garforth include Socrates and Careca.


Read more on "Garforthaldinho"...

Headline Cage Match: Only One Will Survive

As you know, Big Sam Allardyce is filling in for the deposed Governor Paul Ince at Blackburn. This isn't news. But, the British rags can't quite agree about what role Roque Santa Claus Cruz will play in the new administration. Two newspapers will duke it out in the cage, but only one will come out.

The Daily Mail claims that Big Sam is going to sell the Santa man for 20 million quid likely to the new oilmen in Manchester.

However, The Sun claims Big Sam only agreed to take the job if they agreed not to sell the Paraguayan strike.

So, who's correct? I don't know, but I can't imagine Santa Cruz wants to stay on at a sinking ship. We shall know, however, no later than the end of January.

Read more on "Headline Cage Match: Only One Will Survive"...

Osaka scored in the midnight hour, that's when Rooney goes tumbling down

While you were tucked up in bed dreaming of all the transfers your team won't make in January, that FIFA Club World Cup Trophyship TourneyShield was taking place over in Japan, and with an almost full-strength Man United XI on display, one would expect the score to have been rather emphatic.

Instead, the final result had a touch of Benny Hill to it. But seriously, 6 goals in 17 minutes?

Of course, United still prevailed by the score of 5-3, but not before some late fun from both teams in the second half, giving the match more of an NBA All-Star Game feel thanks to its invisible defense.

Rooney's contribution was perhaps best of all, summing him up in his brief 17-minute appearance (yes - as soon as he came on, the goals began). Young Wayne managed 2 goals and 1 yellow card within 4 minutes. He's nothing if not efficient.

Hideo Yashimoto's injury-time strike was the pick of the litter. Anyone think Roman might buy him for 8 million? Meanwhile, Fergie's men will play LDU Quito in the final.

Read more on "Osaka scored in the midnight hour, that's when Rooney goes tumbling down"...

UF Quick Throw: The Football League votes

The Football League has just voted yes on the 'homegrown players' rule, to be implemented from the beginning of the 09/10 season. The rule determines that at least 4 players in each 16-man matchday squad must have been registered domestically for a minimum of three years before their 21st birthday.

So much for the impending arrival of hundreds of second-rate Scandinavian footballers.

What do you lot think? Could you ever imagine the EPL following suit?

[BBC Sport]

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: The Football League votes"...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday Backpasses: This is an appropriate fit

The Twelve Days of Scottish Christmas [Inside Left]
AC Milan players want Becks' package for Christmas [The Sun]
Italian football and sex, linked forever in skeeziness. Sadly, this is not a Cassano story [The Spoiler]

Robbie Keane does not believe Lawro [Sky Sports]
Platini wants Sports Police. Well, Cheap Trick had Dream Police, so why can't this work? [iGaming Business] (yeah, that's a real site)
Closure in a Becks story we did not cover [E! Online]

And, finally:
Guardian's The Knowledge is awesome. Here they write up some Christmas party shenanigans from years past [Guardian]

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: This is an appropriate fit"...

Champions League Draw Contest

The draw for the knock out stages of the Champions League is Friday. So this is the chance for you to use your powers of Kreskin and let us milk some free content out it.

What could be more win-win?

Plenty. But we're still going to have a contest because few things in life rival the joy of watching old white guys watch some stage candy pull ping pong balls from a bin. So pick the most pairs correctly and you can win your very own post on Unprofessional Foul.

Groups and rules after the jump.

Group Winners: AS Roma (ITA), Panathanaikos (GRE), FC Barcelona (ESP), Liverpool FC (ENG), FC Bayern Munich (GER), FC Porto (POR), Juventus (ITA), Manchester United (ENG)

Group Runners-Up: Chelsea FC (ENG), FC Internazionale Milano (ITA), Sporting Club de Portugal (POR), Atletico Madrid (ESP), Villarreal CF (ESP), Olympique Lyonnais (FRA), Arsenal FC (ENG), Real Madrid (ESP).

Clubs from the same association must not be drawn against each other (e.g. EPL teams can't draw each other). The winners and runners-up of the same group must not be drawn against each other (i.e. you can't draw the team from your group).

For example, Barcelona can't be drawn against Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, or Real Madrid (same association—La Liga); or Sporting (runner-up from same group).

Here's the boring minutiae from the UEFA Website:

Under the draw procedure, eight blue balls containing the names of the group runners-up are placed in a bowl. A first ball is drawn from the bowl containing the group runners-up. The team drawn is placed as the home team of match 1. In accordance with the conditions of the draw, the computer will then show which group winners are eligible to play the runners-up of match 1. A bowl will be prepared with white balls containing the names of the group winners which are eligible to be drawn against the runners-up of match 1. A ball will be drawn from this bowl to complete the pairing of match 1. The team drawn is placed as the visiting team of match 1. This procedure is repeated for the remaining matches. If the computer indicates that only one group winner can be drawn, there will be no draw.

Great, now if you want to replicate the process at home, all you need are some blue balls.

Anyway, we're not even certain how we are going to break ties for our contest. We like making shit up as we go along. It gives us the latitude to be arbitrary. One thing is certain, you get no credit for predicting that Arsenal draw Barcelona, as that one is pretty much a metaphysical certainty.

The only tip I can offer is to maybe sing the Champions League anthem in your head when you are making your picks. So, pair away, put your guesses in the comments. We'll close the contest Thursday and have a winner posted after the draw.

Read more on "Champions League Draw Contest"...

A speedy UEFA Cup Round-up

"Yep, remember when we could have won this Cup but played the dullest football known to mankind in the final? Ahh, good times..."

Well, it's the middle of the week and nothing else is happening in the world of soccer, so it's the perfect time for the Little Euro Cup to peek its ugly head out.

So, how did everyone get on today?

Portsmouth 3, Heerenveen 0
Solid performance from the newly Diarra-less Pompey, including a brace from Peter Crouch, who no doubt celebrated with some delicious nachos. The Eredivisie side aren't up to much, but Pompey came in this evening knowing they were already eliminated from the competition, so the lack of pressure brought out their flair. Good thing they're not advancing considering all the players they'll lose in January.

AC Milan 2, Wolfsburg 2
The Rossonieri sure do love their score draws! At least this time round, they led in the match instead of waiting until the last 10 minutes to score twice (like they did at Fratton Park).

Hamburg 3, Aston Villa 1
O'Neill's men were manhandled, but what does it matter? They had safe passage wrapped up weeks ago. A late scrappy goal for young'un Nathan Delfouneso (seriously, if Villa has any more speedy young wingers/forward, they should declare them at Customs) wasn't enough to counter Ivica Olic's double and Mladen Petric's volley.

Ajax 2, Sparta Prague 2
Look, last minute penalty equalizers! The Dutch left it late but were through anyway.

St. Etienne 2, Valencia 2
Hey look, Fernando Morientes scored. Remember that guy at Anfield? Yeah, perhaps best not to.

Club Brugge 0, FC Copenhagen 1
Why am I still recapping?

Deportivo La Coruna 1, Nancy 0
Ha, Nancy. Of course the Gallic pansies went down limply.

Feyenoord 0, Lech Poznan 1
Goal! Ivan Djurdjevic must have a foot like a traction engine. The cagey win puts the Poles into the next round.

Read more on "A speedy UEFA Cup Round-up"...

The saddest soccer crime ever.

Snake Eyes!

Poor, poor Scotland. I realize that times are tough for the world economy, but with soccer players north of the border in the SPL pulling in a lean $2500 a week (sad, I know), it's no wonder they're lashing out in frustration.

Like Hibernian winger Filipe Morais (the haircut fanatic in the pic above). He's in trouble for using his kicking skills the wrong way at an Edinburgh casino.

From the Beeb:
"He [Morais] got into an argument with Robert Brown on a night out at Maxims casino in York Place on 26 September at about 0530 GMT. Morais, who earns £1,300 a week, has not played for the team since August. Witnesses saw Morais and his companions speaking to Mr Brown and an argument broke out at the casino. Mr Brown was punched in the face and knocked to the ground during a scuffle and Morais kicked his head as he lay on the ground. He suffered a burst nose and a split lip and was treated by the Scottish Ambulance Service."
Not too good, is it? One wonders if it was part of his training while languishing in the reserves.

Seriously though, no good can come of this, although his lawyer, the wonderfully-named George More (the "More" presumably referring to the number of billable hours he's always pushing for), tries hard to spin the incident into something so distressing that heck, if any of us had been in Felipe's boots shoes, we'd have done exactly the same:
"Young footballers are quite often harassed or picked on or spoken to when they go out and my client went out that evening for a drink with a friend. My client kicked out when he was down as an act of frustration because the last part of his evening had been utterly spoiled by these two men. He was immediately regretful that he had done it."
Man, it ain't easy being a footballer. It's all gambling, drinking, and 90 minutes of weekend work. Maybe they were teasing him because his salary seems so tiny?

So, the former Chelsea/MK Dons/Millwall/St. Johnstone player is going to be punished in the wallet, losing $1000 in fines, a further $1600 to the club for being out the night before a match (not exactly the best way to get back into the team), and possibly another two weeks' wages for his off-hours casino kickabout.

No word yet on whether he'll be able to pay his electric bill next month.

Read more on "The saddest soccer crime ever."...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

To date, I have stayed away from goalkeeper's shirts for a couple of reasons. One, they are too easy of a mark. Two, there's just so many bad ones out there. Look, I could spend a couple of months eye-raping you with Jorge Campos specials. Then I would move on to the Petr Cech special Chelsea shirt before I went back and revisited the early-90s adidas line. You wouldn't be happy, and I would be sick of it.

So why break it this week? Simply put, this isn't like the rest of them I've come across. Sure, it's busy, but it's not bright, so that's a start. Plus it's a short sleeve keeper shirt (which I traditionally hate), so you could wear it out if you like. Plus it has Cyrillic writing. Game over.

We could play a game with this. Kind of life those web ads which ask how many triangles do you see (the answer will surprise you!). How many stars do you see? The answer will hurt you. Look, we get it about the stars, alright? Red Star is the club name, and then you have a whole bunch of stars on your shirt. Yay for literalism. Boo for my eyes.

To me, and maybe it's just the season, this looks like a poinsettia. Yeah, it's probably just the season. I don't remember having seen a red, white and black poinsettia before.

One other thing struck me about this shirt. To see it, you will probably have to click on the shirt to enlarge it, or just follow this link. Looking at the badge, I was struck by the Cyrillic letters ФК. My base knowledge of the sounds of the language, confirmed through the internets, tell me that these letters correspond to F and (duh) K. Was that a tiny message to other clubs? Or am I just reading into things and placing vowels in the middle based on my dirty mind habits? That missing vowel could make it FaK, FeK, FiK, FoK, FyK, or one other one.

Turns out that those crazy Cyrils (I don't think that's right) transliterate Club as Klub. They don't need a stupid hard C to do K's job. They do, however, use a soft K to do a soft C's job. So, yeah, FK is Football Klub, and then you read the red star, and that's the club name. Stupid Cyrils.

My answer is 12, by the way, though I'm not sure how many stars are on the back. Remind me to never do keeper shirts again.

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

If At First You Fail... Fail, Fail Again

It's probably the highest compliment to the now defunct Fire Joe Morgan that their blog name spawned a verb. Now, when we receive something epically dumb, someone around here usually offers to FJM it.

So yes, our theft of their schtick is pure flattery.

Anyway today we're going to talk MLS expansion. The collective UF is fairly ambivalent on most the cities up for a team. We like some places more than others, but we don't think there is any bid that should be trashed straightaway.

So with that in mind we give you this piece from the Orlando Sentinel on Miami's bid for a second MLS franchise.

Play along after the jump as we deconstruct Uncle Ed. And not that's not a euphemism (but it's also not a stone as I am well aware that I blog under the moniker of Precious Roy).

No matter where I go it seems every news article, blog or discussion board has a large group of haters just waiting to comment with something negative about a Major League Soccer team being awarded to Miami... and I wonder why?

Dude, that's so true. That shit also happens to me no matter where I go. Just today I was taking my morning poo, when suddenly a blog post that was full of negativity about soccer in Miami appeared out of nowhere. Blogs, articles, message boards, I can't get away from them. They're like Jehovah's Witnesses.

I'm guessing the author doesn't go anyplace besides the Internet.

Did someone from Miami treat them bad? Maybe their vacation in Miami was that terrible? Perhaps it was an ex-girlfriend from Miami?

This is either attempted humor, or the silliest list of motivations for writing about pro sports expansion ever put together. I've actually spent time thinking about it and I can't decide which it is.

Whatever the case I'm here to Finally confront these mere pathetic mortals with a little reality!

Are there immortals writing about MLS expansion? Anyway, most of the stuff I've come across has been deferential to the Miami bid, and almost solely because it has ties to FC Barcelona. The only thing I've read that raised concerns was a piece in SI. Here, this one. Now, granted my sample versus your sample isn't very intellectually compelling, but the onus is on you here. If you're arguing against the "haters" then you should probably establish that a) they exist and b) they are the majority of people commenting on the possible MLS bid in Miami. You didn't do either.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Folks, I'm sorry most of you live in Cold places

Where is Cold? I'm going to guess North Dakota. I bet that whole fucking state in under ice like 72% of the year.

If you turn "cold" from a proper noun back into an improper noun, then that statement is not relevant. It might also be false. The population shift in the US over the last 40 years is away from cold weather climes to warm ones.

Also, where can I get a random proper noun generator?

I'm sorry our women are beautiful

Also not relevant.

I'm sorry that one of the two new teams that will be part of Major League Soccer will be a team out of Miami.

Apologizing for things that have yet to happen? If this is something you will regret, but it hasn't happened, then shouldn't you instead work to make it not happen? That way you could avoid having to apologize.

Sucks to be you but thats just the way the cookie crumbles!

Boom! Scoreboard. You. Sucks to be us. Man, there is no recovering from that one. We're just going to stop right here. We've lost. And that cookies crumbles bit? You sir are like Shakespeare and Hunter Thompson, only combined into one person.

Sure, go ahead and comment about how the last team in Miami failed (It was actually in Ft Lauderdale)

The New York Giants play in New Jersey and sell out every game. The L.A. Galaxy play in Carson and lead the league in attendance. What's your point? That people won't go someplace to see a team that's different from the city that the team has in its name? My point is that I came up with two counterexamples without having to think about it.

go ahead and cry about how the fans didn't show up (In the last year of the Miami Fusion; attendance went up almost 50%),

Finally, now we've got data, or rather datum. But he's got a number to help back up his claim, and even better, it's accurate. The average attendance at Fusion games indeed jumped 50%. It went from two fans to three.

In 2000, the Fusion drew an average of 7460 fans. That was dead last—12th out of 12—in attendance, and the lowest number in the (admittedly brief) league history. The next season, when the Fusion had the best regular season record in the league, attendance jumped to 11,177. While a nice jump in absolute terms (and yes almost a 50% increase) it was still only good for 9th best in the league, and just slightly better than half of what league leaders D.C. United averaged in attendance (21,518).

Just for the sake of completeness, here are the Fusion attendance numbers (with the rank in parenthesis).

• 1998: 10,284 - (11th of 12)
• 1999: 8,689 - (11th of 12)
• 2000: 7,460 - (12th of 12)
• 2001: 11,177 - (9th of 12)

So the Fusion were last or next to last in attendance every year of their existence save one. That one year, they were pretty good. That more people come out to support a winner isn't the least bit surprising.

The two years they finished next to last, the only team below them was Kansas City. So Miami, a city with a metro area population of about 5.4 million people barely outdrew a city about 35% of its size (Kansas City is about 1.9 million people).

complain about the weather (I got nothing on that except it doesn't snow here and thats still great!).

Actually, it does snow in Miami.

No Stadium to play in? FIU's brand new stadium is there, regulation Fifa size and everything! Why all the complaining? Jealous people my friends, because when it gets down to it.... Where do most people want to go?

Because when it comes down to it... insert an ellipsis.

God I'm so envious of Miami with it's hurricanes and plastic surgery-addled population. Wait, I know how I'll get back at them, I'll write that they don't deserve an MLS team. By helping to keep a sport out of the area that nobody ever attended the first time it was there I'll have my revenge. Bwa ha ha ha.

That works best if you envision me screaming it with a Herbert Lom as Chief Inspector Dreyfus eye twitch. Anyway I certainly hope the author is kidding because that's one of the three dumbest arguments I've ever heard in my life.

Let me see some hands...who wants to go to Canada?

Let's play along... I do. Vancouver is absolutely beautiful. One of the better cities in North America.

Anyone for St Louis?

Eh, I've spent a few nights in St. Louis. Not a preferred destination, but I can think of worse places to be exiled.


Another great city. Totally livable. Good people. If you gave me a good job in Portland, I'd move there tomorrow.


I'll pass. I'm not too big on sprawl. But if hot babes is central to your argument, Atlanta grades out well in that department.

Ok, ok, Miami, Florida anyone.

Been there twice. It was okay. But if I never went back it wouldn't bother me in the least bit. Plenty of places have nice weather and hot babes. Miami is not particularly special in this regard.

The argument here seems to be: I like Miami, so they should have an MLS team. Me? I like Sydney. So they should have an MLS team. I also like Reykjavik. Can we put one there?

So why will it be different this time? Deep pockets! Miami Fusions last owner didn't have them and wasn't willing to stick it out

Miami's last owner was a guy named Ken Horowitz. He was an early investor in the wireless industry. He co-founded Cellular One and purchased cell phone licenses for central New York. He then sold 1.3 million potential customers to Southwestern Bell. For his troubles, he pocketed $250 million according to this article here.

I'm not sure about any of Horowitz's other investments, or how much he made in all of his wireless business, but a quarter of a billion dollars seems like plenty deep pockets for MLS in the late 90s.

so it wasn't the fans that failed the team, the fans were there.

No they weren't. Back up a couple of sections if you missed that.

If the MLS could take it back I'm sure they would have kept Miami because of Location, location, location. Thats why they always wanted to come back.

So nobody was really going to games, and the Fusion (or the Fusion's share in the league as the league owns all the teams) were probably hemorrhaging cash because of it, so they folded up shop. But that was actually a mistake because, hey what nice weather, and check out that cans on that bimbo.

The difference today is that Barcelona of Spain is one of the investors.

Not to be confused with Barcelona of Utah. I'm assuming he means F.C. Barcelona as I don't think the municipality of Barcelona will be investing in MLS.

It probably does make a difference that FCB, as opposed to some wireless tycoon—oh wait, that's the co-investor this time around—wants to get in to the league, especially from the league standpoint. In fact that alone might be enough for MLS to want to go back to Miami. How can they pass up the opportunity to have FC Barcelona invested in the league? But what, beyond the name, is Barca really going to provide? I don't mean that rhetorically. What have they committed to that will make this substantially more appealing both to the league and to the fans? Despite having an enormous fan base in Southern California, Chivas de Guadalajara providing the name as part of their ownership in MLS hasn't been a boon to popularity for the American side as Chivas USA is 8th (of 14) in average attendance (see the SI article linked above). That lags about 11,000 fans per game behind their cross-venue rivals, the Galaxy. Certainly some of that difference can be attributed to the presence of David Beckham, but it's still eighth.

The difference today is that Soccer in this town is being played more then ever! In every park, empty lot, back yard, kids, adults, animals, you name it! They are all playing the game.

People are playing soccer (sorry, Soccer) in kids? Okay, parallel structure issues aside, if you can quantify the purchasing power of pets in Miami, and give me an estimate of how much of that is likely to be spent on MLS, I'd be interested in hearing that.

We have a large support group in the Miami Ultras Fan Club, (Go and join!) We have Soccer academys from Homestead to the Palm Beaches! Things are better organized.

That doesn't mean people will go to games. It might help things be better if the MLS goes back, but better is relative. Will they jump from next-to-last to next-to-next-to-last in attendance?

When the news comes in January; I'll be very surprised if Miami doesn't get a team. Shocked is the word.

I thought "Grease" is the word. Okay, I'll flagellate myself for that. In any event, if it's going to shock you then MLS certainly must give it to Miami. Best argument I've heard yet. Sarcasm.

At the end of the day Miami is where its going to be.

That sentence makes me want to stab you. And I'm a pacifist.

Because if you ask any player in the world, where would you want to play if given a choice in the USA? It would be Miami.

I'm resisting going back to sic this thing up. I'm thinking that if I asked any player in the world where they'd want to play in the USA very few of them would say Miami, primarily because Miami doesn't have a team. Even if it did, I'd wager a good percentage of players would say New York or L.A. Shit, you pay a player enough, you can make them want to go anywhere, even Columbus.

If you haven't already Go to the Miami FCB website and check it out! Become a fan, reserve your seats!

So the argument never got more sophisticated than: I like Miami, ergo MLS should put a team in Miami. Oh, and reserve your seats. So that makes this either the least logically compelling thing I've read this calendar year or the worst piece of thinly veiled public relations propaganda I have ever read. And I worked in the music industry, which is overpopulated with the illiterate. So, it's a tough choice.

Read more on "If At First You Fail... Fail, Fail Again"...