Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Mor joy for Norwich - Weekend Observations 24th-26th Sept 2011: Part Two

Part One here

Monday night saw Norwich welcome a Sunderland team managed by one of their former legends in Steve Bruce. Apparently, many moons ago, Bruce scored an own goal 30 seconds into his Norwich career. Despite some 140 odd appearances, a league cup, promotion and club captaincy, Bruce probably still feels he needs to make amends to the club for his horror debut. I mean, how else could you explain him starting with a defence consisting of Titus Bramble, Wes Brown, John O'Shea and Keiran Richardson? That backline should be mightily relieved this game only finished 2-1 to the home side.

The last time the Norfolk side were in the top flight I was sharing a house with two of their fans so naturally I was quite clued about the goings on at Carrow Road and fairly familiar with their team. Less so these days. Particularly after manager Paul Lambert's transfer tourettes this summer.

I can't imagine there are many people who could tell you much about new striker Steve Morison who scored what turned out to be the winner. Morison is one of those true rags to riches stories we all like. Having spent a great chunk of the noughties in non-league football, he finally got a big move to Millwall in 2009 before a £2m transfer to East Anglia this summer. Now scoring goals at Premier League level, such a feat would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Judging him solely on this game, it must be said that he didn't look half bad, constantly terrorising the abovementioned Bramble on a number of occasions. Morison also scored a first international goal for Wales a few weeks back. Not bad for a player who was actually playing part time little over 5 years ago.

The last time Norwich were in the top flight we were also subjected to this...

...thankfully, there was no need this time around.

Despite the win, I still expect the Canaries to struggle. However, this match may have told us that Sunderland are likely to join them in the proverbial dogfight. Having been given the backing to recruit a number of new players in the summer, one would think the Sunderland board musy be putting pressure on Bruce to deliver. Something he is quite clearly failing to do. Rumours about his potential sacking might not be as far fetched as we might have thought a few weeks back.

On the theme of supposedly under fire managers, a peculiar thing happened this weekend. Arsenal played a football match that didn't result in cries of “crisis”, questioning of Arsene Wenger and broken crest images in every tabloid sports publication. If for only a few days, the football media will not be dominated by the gooners and their apparent demise following a pretty easy looking 3-0 win over Bolton. Key man Robin van Persie's brace meant he joined the Arsenal centurions club with his 99th and hundredth goals. While 2011 has been something of a shambles for the club, the Dutchman has excelled and alerted anybody that may have doubted him after his numerous injury troubles.

That said, there have been mutterings about his future at the club. With less than two years left on his current contract Arsenal fans the world over will be hoping the board start waving a juicy new deal under his nose to stop him looking elsewhere. The player himself hasn't exactly been forthright in his enthusiasm to stay and parallels with the Samir Nasri situation are unavoidable. Given the frequency with which Arsenal haemorrhage top class players, it is not difficult to conceive that the Europe's top clubs will be sniffing around N5 like vultures to pluck van Persie from his Emirates nest - especially with the highly possible scenario of the gunners missing out on Champions League qualification next season.

Van Persie opened the scoring with a neat near post finish before drifting in the box to convert Theo Walcott's centre. Alex Song wrapped up the points with a well struck third that would put certain other players in his team to shame.

It has gone somewhat unnoticed that Bolton are currently in a state of freefall. After their emphatic opening day victory at QPR, the Trotters seem to have tied lead weights to their ankles and jumped straight into the Irish Sea having lost every league game since. Owen Coyle is constantly praised as a good manager – some people have even, quite bizarrely, suggested him as the man to take over at the Emirates if Wenger is to leave his post – but for my money needs to prove himself by getting this 'not awful' Bolton side out of their current funk. Don't worry though. Only Chelsea next week...

The fact Arsenal didn't concede any goals that would win academy awards for comedy, talks of defensive coaches and 'proper' signings can be filed away. For this week at least. Next Sunday they go to White Hart Lane for the Siete Hermanas Classico in the rare position as underdogs. As much as people speak of Arsenal's slump in recent years, the most galling thing for Islington residents would be the fact that the previously hapless neighbours have been steadily moving in the opposite direction.

There's no greater sign of this upward mobility than the fact that two of the last four league meetings have gone the way of the Lilliwhites following a run of ten years without a single win in this fixture. Just a few years ago, when Arsenal where breaking records like plates at a Greek wedding, the idea of Tottenham in the Champions League would have been unthinkable. Not only did Spurs get further than their rivals in the competition last season, but right now I would doubt there is a single person either side of the North London divide that would even be remotely surprised to see 'Arry Redknapp's team muscle Wenger's team out of those coveted top four places.

After a shaky start to the season, Tottenham are looking ominously menacing as they ascend the league table. This weekend, they faced a potential banana skin at Wigan where previous incarnations of Spurs would not be have come away with the three points. Things have changed. Two of the team's star performers last season, Rafael Van der Vaart and Garath Bale got the goals in a valuable 2-1 win.

Luka Modric continued his faux 'redemption' or whatever with an assist for Bale's header while Emmanuel Adebayor further endeared himself to the Spurs faithful with an assist for the Dutch forward's opener. Is there a more certain outcome in football than the Togolese striker piling the misery on his former club by scoring next Sunday? Bet literally everything you have on it. Everything!

It was a tale of three penalties at Loftus Road as Neil Warnock was left fuming as pubescent referee Michael Oliver not only awarded a soft penalty to Aston Villa but failed to spot not one, but TWO handballs by Alan Hutton as the Villians rode their luck in the second half of a 1-1 draw on Sunday.

The spot kick that was awarded came as Armand Traore was deemed to have tugged the shirt of Gabriel Agbonlahor. In fairness, the benefit of replays showed that Oliver was right but he would have to have had supersonic vision (is that a thing? I'm saying it's a thing) to see it. The Sky commentators, as well as Warnock himself, made the point that when the supposed infringement took place, neither the Villa fans behind the goal, nor the Villa players appealed for a foul. That said, however 'soft' it may have been, if you tug someone's shirt, it's a foul and if you do it in the area, it is therefore a penalty. Don't really see why there was so much debate.

At the other end, Hutton, someone many are yet to be convinced is a competent outfield player, proved himself to be almost a better goalkeeper than Shay Given as he escaped two appeals for handball – the first potentially preventing a QPR goal. Typically, Neil Warnock showed his class by bleating away in TWO post match interviews on Sky. Have to say, listening to him go on and on makes it difficult to have a great deal of sympathy.

Justice was achieved in stoppage time however as a Richard Dunne own goal meant the points were shared. Amusingly, Gary Neville had just named Dunne, a defender I've never understood the hype around, as Man of the Match. That should teach broadcasters about making such premature announcements before the final whistle. This was also Richard Dunne's 314th career own goal or something, putting him ahead at the top of this unwanted scoring chart.

A draw was probably a fair result. QPR huffed and puffed but lacked any sort of cutting edge. Jay Bothroyd is unfortunately not a Premier League striker and the longer they rely on him as the spearhead of their attack, goals are going to continue to be hard to come by.

Alex McLiesh's team took 45 minutes to come alive and eventually made something of a game of it having been completely anonymous before half time. In similar vein to Pardew as I mentioned in part one, it's a minor miracle the former Birmingham manager has been able to keep Villa unbeaten after the loss of key players in the summer. That said, their approach isn't pretty and but on the whole they are horrible to watch. But for the controversy, this game would have yielded no talking points at all. Not sure how many people, Villa fans included, will be tuning in when they are on TV again.

Interestingly, no QPR player has scored a goal at their home ground this season. Superhoops fans will thanking their lucky stars that Tony Fernandes came in and torpedoed the outrageous ticket price rises put in by the previous owners because charing upwards of 70 quid a game to watch Rangers at present would probably see the club guilty of the kind of daylight robbery not unfamiliar to the local residents in the Shepherd's Bush area.

Finally, West Brom, with former Fulham manager Roy Hodgson, took on a Fulham side managed by former West Brom player Martin Jol in a game between two adventurous sides with suspect defences. The kind of game that would promise goals, right? Right??? Wrong.

Get your Tweets out for the lads!

1 comment:

Henry Tribe said...

CANNOT WAIT FOR SUNDAY! Think you are right about a certain Adebayor goal...