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Aston Villa 0 Liverpool 2: Away win delights Dalglish

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Dalglish makes his point.

First-half goals from Craig Bellamy and Martin Skrtel give Liverpool a com­fort­able victory and lift them to sixth in the table

by Richard Rae

That Liverpool would win this game was, given the teams’ respec­tive form going into the match, very much to be expected. Less expected was the comfort with which they would do so. Managers may con­stantly insist there are no easy games in the Premier League but this was as straight­for­ward a victory as the Reds will enjoy this season.

The only downside, from the point of view of Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, was his side’s failure to take more than two of the many chances they created against a Villa side that looked bereft of con­fi­dence, as well as their two England strikers. In the cir­cum­stances their failure to test the visitors’ defence was under­stand­able: their manifest defensive frailty was not.

Already missing the suspended Gabby Agbonlahor, Villa manager Alex McLeish could have done without losing his other England inter­na­tional forward, Darren Bent, to a hip problem. In their absence McLeish gave Emile Heskey a start against his former club, playing up front alongside Nathan Delfouneso.

The Liverpool line-up was also changed, Dalglish bringing in Craig Bellamy and Jonjo Shelvey for Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt, a selection that was amply justified after just 11 minutes.

It was already apparent that the extra man in midfield was giving the visitors more options when Stewart Downing, the manner of whose leaving Villa for Liverpool last summer ensured he was booed by the home fans from the start, won a corner on the right. Downing took it and his low, swinging delivery was flicked towards goal by Shelvey. Luis Suarez’s attempt to touch the ball home was blocked by Villa goal­keeper Brad Guzan but the rebound was turned in by Bellamy.

It was a poor goal to concede from a defensive point of view — three times in the Villa penalty area, Liverpool players had been first to the ball — but not as poor as Liverpool’s second four minutes later. Again Bellamy was involved, this time taking a corner from the left that Martin Skrtel, whose simple run towards the near post was enough to confuse both Richard Dunne and Alan Hutton, to glance a header neatly beyond Guzan and into the top corner.

The reaction of the home fans was one of res­ig­na­tion as much as anger, but the response on the field was a little more positive. Charles N’Zogbia, drifting into a central position, drove a clean shot a foot over Pepe Reina’s bar before again making the Liverpool goal­keeper scramble with a shot into the side-netting. Delfouneso then met a Marc Albrighton free kick on the six-yard line only to fail to keep his header down, but Villa were up against the team with the best defensive record in the Premier League this season and as half-time approached, Liverpool’s sense of comfort was obvious.

With a rel­a­tively inex­pe­ri­enced bench high­light­ing his club’s lack of playing resources, McLeish made no changes at half-time and almost saw his team go three down within less than a minute of the restart. Bellamy’s firmly driven cross from the left cleared the final defender but the stretch­ing Daniel Agger, arriving in at the far post, could not get his header on target.

Villa’s defending did not improve. First Hutton gave the ball away to Bellamy, and then Dunne, having appar­ently got to the resulting pass into the penalty area ahead of Suarez, allowed the Uruguyan to steal it back. Suarez then cut easily inside James Collins, but with only Guzan to beat, smashed his shot against the underside of the bar.

Stephen Warnock was the next Villa defender to give the ball away, and again his side was lucky not to be punished, Guzan diving to his right to keep out Glen Johnson’s shot. Suarez, who compared with his teammates had been looking a little out of sorts from the start, produced an out­stand­ing piece of skill to chip Guzan only to see the ball come back off the inside of the post. It was the 17th occasion Liverpool had hit the woodwork this season.

With the game in danger of becoming a pro­ces­sion. Shelvey brought another diving save from Guzan, and Charlie Adam, with Shelvey unmarked to his right, saw a goal-bound shot deflected just wide.

Aware of many tougher battles to come, Liverpool eased off. Villa’s third defeat in four home matches, lifting their visitors to sixth in the league table, had been long since assured.

Aston Villa: Guzan, Hutton, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Albrighton, Delph (Weimann 80min), Petrov, N’Zogbia, Heskey (Bannan 56min), Delfouneso

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Downing, Adam, Shelvey (Carragher 83min), Henderson, Bellamy (Kuyt 88min), Suarez (Carroll 73min)

Originally published in The Sunday Times on Sunday 18 December 2011.

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Written by RichardRae

December 18th, 2011 at 4:46 pm

West Brom 0 Liverpool 2: Suarez leads the way

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Suarez — more important to Liverpool than Stevie G?

Richard Rae at The Hawthorns

Roy Hodgson’s failure at Liverpool, many Reds sup­port­ers believe, was one of style as well as results. This was a match that rep­re­sented an oppor­tu­nity to demon­strate why their support for Kenny Dalglish is based on more than memories, and the manner in which the Scot’s Liverpool totally outplayed Hodgson’s West Bromwich Albion will no doubt be seen very much as point made.

It was also, however, another game that empha­sised the vital impor­tance to Liverpool of the out­stand­ing Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan may not have scored but he created both goals and, with his wonderful touch and awareness, was a constant threat to Hodgson’s much-improved Albion defence — so much so that the absence of Jamie Carragher and, yet again, Steven Gerrard, this time with what Dalglish described as an infected ankle, was not noticed.

Which, as Dalglish pointed out, from a Liverpool point of view is reas­sur­ing: “We’re better with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in the squad, they’ve done mag­nif­i­cently for the football club and will continue to do so, but I suppose it’s a reflec­tion on the squad that we are still com­ment­ing on such a good performance.”

Even when, as he said, none of his players had cause for dis­ap­point­ment in their per­for­mance last night, he could hardly avoid singling out Suarez. “I said after a week of working with him that I’d run out of superla­tives, and that still applies. In a group of players there’s usually some who excel a little bit more than others, and for us it seems to be Luis quite often — but that’s not to say the others are too far behind.”

Dalglish declined to speculate on whether Gerrard is expected to be fit to be part of the England squad for the forth­com­ing matches against Spain and Sweden. His decision to partner Suarez with Andy Carroll up front meant that both sides played a more or less orthodox 4–4-2, and given the room Suarez found to set up Charlie Adam for a shot in only the second minute, it looked as though the tactical match-up might suit Liverpool more. Adam put the ball well over the bar but the former Blackpool mid­fielder was soon to be less wasteful.

That he was given the oppor­tu­nity, however, was con­tro­ver­sial. Judging by his lack of reaction, referee Lee Mason saw nothing wrong with the challenge by Jerome Thomas that left Suarez on the floor just inside the Albion penalty area, but assistant Gary Beswick did and signalled as much. After a con­sid­er­able delay as the Albion players made their feelings plain, Adam sent Ben Foster the wrong way from the spot. Replays did at least confirm contact.

If the decision was generous to the visitors, Albion could not blame the referee for the way in which Liverpool con­trolled the game from then on. Throughout the first half the pairing of Adam and Lucas in central midfield con­stantly brought their wingers and strikers into the game, and Liverpool should have extended their lead when Martin Skrtel, up for a corner, side­footed the loose ball back across the six-yard box only for Suarez, on the turn, to shoot over the bar.

Suarez is far from being just a finisher and in first-half stoppage time he made Liverpool’s second with a superb first-time volleyed pass from the right that sent Carroll clear down the centre. The former Newcastle United forward almost bungled it with a typically heavy first touch but was still able to get to the ball just in time to squeeze it under the advancing Foster.

Albion, in contrast, failed to make Pepe Reina produce a save, though they had their moments. The most promising came five minutes before the break when Peter Odemwingie’s lay-off enabled Tchoyi to send in a low cross that neither Odemwingie nor Thomas could quite reach. Albion improved after the break but after Tchoyi drove wide in the 47th minute, Liverpool should have picked them off any number of times on the break. Foster beat out a Carroll volley and in time added on, Stewart Downing drove the ball against the goalkeeper’s left-hand post.

Hodgson rang the changes but the one he would surely have wanted to make most of all, the removal of Suarez, was not his to make, and Albion were a beaten side long before Dalglish sent on Craig Bellamy in his place.

Hodgson had his grumble about the penalty decision — “They should be harder to earn than that,” he suggested — but went on to acknowl­edge Albion had been very much second best.

West Brom: Foster, Reid, Olsson, McAuley, Jones, Brunt, Scharner (Morrison 58min), Mulumbu (Dorrans 62min), Thomas, Odemwingie, Tchoyi (Cox 71min)

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Henderson, Adam, Lucas, Downing, Suarez (Bellamy 81min), Carroll

Originally printed by The Sunday Times

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Forest feel Tigers bite

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The letter box view from the City Ground press box

Richard Rae at the City Ground

Nottingham Forest 0 Hull City 1 (Fryatt 64)

For much of this match it was apparent that lack of quality, than lack of effort, may ulti­mately stymie both these sides in their respec­tive ambitions this season. For Forest, that must still be automatic promotion, for City the play-offs, but for long periods the lack of cre­ativ­ity on the pitch was remark­able.
Of the two clubs, it may now be Hull who will be the most confident of attaining their goal. Matty Fryatt’s calm finish shortly after the hour keeps them just about in touch with Leeds, five points ahead in
sixth, and means they are now unbeaten in 13 matches away from home, a record that demands respect.
For Forest, however, this was a bitter blow. After drawing their last three matches, Billy Davies’ faltering side badly needed all three points, but the ending of a run of 36 matches unbeaten at the City Ground leaves the Scot searching des­per­ately for a way to pull their season back round.
That neither manager needed telling draws were no longer enough was evident in the line-ups; whatever the outcome, it was clear both teams were committed to having a go. So they did, but the fact that in the entire first half neither goal­keeper was required to make a difficult save told its own story.
After Fryatt, running on to James Chester’s for­tu­nately deflected long ball, had rolled his shot beyond Forest goal­keeper Lee Camp, Forest’s efforts became frantic. But with Anthony Gerrard in superb form for Hull at the back, Forest rarely looked capable of breaching the Tigers’ defence. With two minutes remaining Radoslaw Majewski flashed an angled drive just beyond the post, but that was as close as Forest came.
“We were the dominant force and created a lot of chances, espe­cially in the first half, whereas they had one shot in the second half and that came from our pos­ses­sion,” pointed out Davies, who admitted he had been trying without success to bring in new signings on loan.
“I’m very proud of our home record, but it wasn’t going to go on for ever. We have nine players injured and we’ve lost a bit of fluency. The secret is to get to the inter­na­tional break, get the majority of our injured back for the remaining eight matches, and then it will be game on,” he said.
Hull assistant Craig Shakespeare paid par­tic­u­lar tribute to the Tigers’ defence, which lead by Gerrard dealt with every­thing Forest could throw at them with com­mend­able aplomb.
“The players are buoyant, rightly so after what they’ve achieved today,” said Shakespeare. “We’ve improved massively since the start of the season, but as far as the play-offs are concerned we’re going to have to continue to do so.”
The last away side to win at the City ground was Blackpool back in September 2009, and the Seasiders went on to win promotion via the play-offs, but Shakespeare under­stand­ably declined to accept the
com­par­i­son.
“It’s a great result, but it means nothing if we don’t take it through to our next game against Burnley,” he pointed out.

Man of the Match; Anthony Gerrard (Hull)
Booked; Dawson, Tudgay, Fryatt.

Nottingham Forest (4–4-2); Camp 6; Gunter 6, Morgan 6, Chambers 6, Konchesky 6; Anderson 6 (Adebola 77), Majewski 6, Cohen 6, McGugan 5 (McCleary 65); Earnshaw 6 (Rodney 70), Tudgay.5

Subs not used; McGoldrick, Smith, Moloney, Bennett.

Hull City (4–3-3); Mannone 7; Rosenior 7, Chester 7, Gerrard 8, Dawson 7; Harper 7, Koren 5 (Hobbs 76), Evans 6; Simpson 6 (Amoo 56,5) Fryatt 7, McLean 7 (Barmby 56, 7).

Subs not used; Oxley, Garcia, Cairney, Belaid.

Referee; S Hooper.

Originally published in The Sunday Times

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Irvine buys himself time

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Not every stand at Hillsborough was packed to the rafters

Sheffield Wednesday 4 (Potter 15, C Morrison pen 68, pen 77, Johnson 76 ) Hereford United 1 (Fleetwood 9)

Richard Rae at Hillsborough

When your chairman is Milan Mandaric, life from a manager’s point of view is simple: you either win matches or you are sacked.
The odds on Alan Irvine surviving in his position if Sheffield Wednesday had been knocked out of the Cup yesterday were therefore long, for all that the trigger-happy Serbian busi­ness­man had given the Scot the go-ahead to bring in a number of new faces during the transfer window. Getting through until the fifth round of the FA Cup should therefore buy Irvine a certain amount of time, time that he must have thought might be running out up until the point a battling Hereford United side conceded a penalty and were reduced to ten men in the 67th minute.
“It probably was a big result for me per­son­ally,” Irvine acknowl­edged after his team had gone on to win com­fort­ably. “I’d be very naïve if I didn’t think I was in a pre­car­i­ous position. But it was also a great result for the club, which is the important thing.”
It is in fact a result that takes Wednesday into the fifth round of the Cup for the first time this century, but it was a result that did not look like coming for an uncom­fort­ably long time.
The manner in which Hereford took the lead in the ninth minute must have lead Irvine to fear the worst. Jake Jervis’s low cross should have been easily cleared by either Tommy Spurr or Michael Morrison, but the two Wednesday defenders comically stepped back to let the other put boot to a ball than instead ran through to Stuart Fleetwood. The Hereford forward had all the time he needed to control the ball and smash it past Wednesday goal­keeper Nicky Weaver.
Given the mut­ter­ings from around the stands, it was as well the visitors could only hold their lead for six minutes. Wednesday left-back Daniel Jones had pre­vi­ously come forward to good effect when another run and pull-back resulted in Paul Heffernan stepping over the ball to create space for Darren Potter to drive firmly past Bulls’ goal­keeper Adam Bartlett.
For the rest of the first half Hereford were probably the better side, and Fleetwood, running clear of the Wednesday back four, missed a great chance to put them back into the lead.
Having pre­sum­ably been given something of a rocket during half-time, Wednesday were better after the break, and Clinton Morrison had already seen one shot deflected wide when he was wrestled to the ground by Joe Heath as he tried to get on the end of Gary Teale’s cross. The assistant rather than the referee, seemed to give the decision, but it meant Heath had to go and Morrison himself scored from the spot.
Forced to go forward, Hereford started leaving space at the back. Weaver’s quick throw-out gave Jermaine Johnson’ the oppor­tu­nity to run and shoot for Wednesday’s third, and Morrison, with a second penalty given slightly harshly for handball, made it a happy final ten minutes for the Wednesday crowd.
“I thought we were starting to get some momentum before the penalty, but up to that point Hereford were playing well, albeit that we gave them the encour­age­ment of the opening goal,” said Irvine.
“None of their players seemed to appeal for the first penalty,” com­plained Hereford manager Jamie Pitman. “It was a tight match up to that point, and I certainly don’t think we deserved to lose it 4–1.”

Star man; C Morrison (weds)
Booked; Rose.
Sent off; Heath.
Att; 16, 578.

Sheff Weds; Weaver 6; Spurr 5; M Morrison 5, R Johnson 6, Jones 5; J Johnson 6, Potter 6 (O‘Connor 57, 6), Coke 5 (Sedgwick 81), Teale 6; C Morrison 8 Heffernan 5.

Hereford United; Bartlett 6; Rose 6, Kovacs 7, Townsend 6, Heath 5; Colbeck 6 (Green 76), McQuilkin 7 (Thomas 80), Lunt 6 (Purdie 5), Featherstone 6; Jervis 6, Fleetwood 7.

Referee: S Tanner 4.

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Howson, Becchio and Snodgrass march on together

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The view from the Turf Moor press box. Distant is probably the mot juste.


Burnley 2 Leeds United 3

Richard Rae at Turf Moor

TO suggest the Championship appears to be much of a muchness is most def­i­nitely not to damn the division with faint praise. The fact that with perhaps a couple of excep­tions each team is capable of beating another, and playing good football in doing so, is adding real unpre­dictabil­ity to most fixtures, and this was a match of genuine drama involving a Leeds’ comeback of such spirit and skill that the Yorkshire club will surely be among those there or there­abouts come the end of the season.
“All we’ve done is extend our unbeaten run to eight games, but we’re playing with a lot of belief and con­fi­dence,” acknowl­edged United manager Simon Grayson.
“We had to play with more energy in the second half, but after we got one back we went from strength to strength.”
The visitors should have taken the lead within 90 seconds of the start, but with only Burnley goal­keeper Lee Grant to beat, Max Gradel, unmarked on the left side of the penalty area, volleyed wide.
No better chance was created during the opening quarter, though it was Burnley, whose mid­field­ers were quicker to provide sole striker Chris Iwelumo with support than Leeds offered Luciano Becchio, who enjoyed the greater share of pos­ses­sion. The visitors looked com­fort­able enough though, and downright dangerous when they broke; with Becchio having lost his marker in the middle, Gradel should have done far better than land his cross on to the roof of the net.
That the opening goal should come from a Burnley set-piece, then, was something of a surprise. Andre Bikey met Ross Wallace’s corner with a header which was blocked on the line, and full-back Brian Easton hooked it into the net.
Poor defending by Alex Bruce meant the Clarets went into the break two ahead. The Leeds centre-half had plenty of time to deal with Clarke Carlisle’s hoof downfield, but initial inde­ci­sion followed by downright clum­si­ness left Jay Rodriguez with only United goal­keeper Schmeichel to beat. The Burnley-born striker with a Spanish father made no mistake.
With 4,000 trav­el­ling sup­port­ers reminding them force­fully the game was far from over, Leeds began the second half with real intent, and Gradel, set up by the ever-aware Becchio, redeemed his earlier miss by volleying past Grant.
Iwelumo, from the six yard line and with only Schmeichel to beat, somehow headed wide, and the impor­tance of the miss was empha­sised when Leeds scored the best goal of the game, Paul Connolly and Jonathan Howson combining down the right before Connolly squared for Becchio to score from close range.
By now Leeds were ripping Burnley apart every time they went forward. Johnson fired wide, and Snodgrass, with the goal gaping, curled his shot on to instead of under the bar, but with six minutes remaining Howson, with Snodgrass drawing the cover to his right, ran from inside his own half before shooting beyond Grant from fully 22 yards.
“Words have been said because we shouldn’t be talking about a defeat. The manager takes the rap, but the players must take some because of the casual way they approached the second half,” said Burnley manager Brian Laws.

Star man; Becchio (Leeds)
Booked; Collins, Howson, Johnson
Att; 20,453.

Burnley (4–1-4–1); Grant 5; Mears 5, Clarke 5, Bikey 5, Easton 6; Cork 7; Rodriguez 7, Elliott 6, Marney 6, Wallace 6 (Guidetti 78); Iwelumo 4 (Thompson 72).
Subs not used; Duff, Alexander, Edgar, Harvey, Jensen.

Leeds United (4–5-1); Schmeichel 6; Connolly 6, Bruce 5, Collins 5, McCartney 6; Kilkenny 5 (McCormack 64), Johnson 7, Snodgrass 7, Howson 6, Gradel 5; Becchio 8 (Faye 90).

Originally published in The Sunday Times

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Key decisions go Potters way (for once)

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The Potters got the breaks at West Brom

West Brom 0 Stoke City 3 (Etherington pen 55, Walters pen 85, Jones 90)

Richard Rae at The Hawthorns

STOKE City manager Tony Pulis has com­plained with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that teams like his tend not to get their share of ref­er­ee­ing decisions. The Welshman had no com­plaints after the Potters won their third suc­ces­sive victory after being awarded two penalties, both of which even the most-one eyed Stoke supporter would probably concede were on the generous side.
“I just hope they were penalties,” said Pulis after­wards, diplo­mat­i­cally and con­ve­niently insisting he had seen neither. “What I would say is that we’ve now had three penalties in 92 Premier League games. Arsenal have had nine already.”
Albion manager Roberto di Matteo did see them, of course, and thought both harsh at best.
Unsurprisingly, Pulis named the same side that beat Liverpool in their previous match, a result that lifted the Potters to tenth in the table, with the same number of points as West Brom.
A con­tin­u­ing concern for Pulis, however, was that away from the Brittannia Stadium Stoke had won just once, though if any team has been the foot­balling equiv­a­lent of a bowler’s bunny over the years, Albion have been Stoke’s. Of their last 26 league meetings between the clubs, Stoke had lost only one.
All of which is a way of reporting that about the only mean­ing­ful action of the first half saw the unfor­tu­nate Jermaine Pennant limping off clutching a hamstring. Otherwise there was much effort but depress­ingly little quality. Ricardo Fuller’s clever touch to put Matthew Etherington clear down the left was a rare exception; more typical was Etherington’s sub­se­quent cross, which with Tuncay waiting at the far post, was spooned high over the bar.
Albion’s wide men, Giles Barnes and Jerome Thomas, at least got the ball into the box from time to time, but as a tactic, it was ques­tion­able; Stoke do not lack big men at the back, and Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth had few problems dealing with the ball in the air. On the ground it was a different matter, and Peter Odemwingie’s trickery left Huth on his backside, but having made space, the forward’s shot was dis­ap­point­ingly tame.
In fact neither goal­keeper had been required to make a save worthy of the name before the game changed nine minutes into the second-half, after Dean Whitehead had picked out Etherington’s run down the left with a fine pass.
The low cross was con­trolled by Fuller before arriving at the feet of the unmarked Kenwyne Jones, but the Trinidadian’s first touch was heavy, and tempted Albion goal­keeper Scott Carson to charge off his line and dive for the ball. Jones touched it away from him, and made enough of the slight sub­se­quent contact to prompt referee Chris Foy to point to the spot. Etherington made no mistake.
Nor did Jon Walters five minutes from time, after Mr Foy decided Whitehead had been fouled by Simon Cox as he ran on to Tuncay’s pass in the Albion penalty area. That was that, and City’s third, again scored by Walters after Carson had saved his first close-range effort, merely empha­sised the fact.

Star man; Shawcross (Stoke City)
Att; 24,164.

West Brom: Carson 5; Jara 5, Tamas 6, Ibanez 6, Cech 6; Barnes 6 (Tchoyi 66), Morrison 5 (Cox 55, 5), Mulumbu 6 (Dorrans 79), Scharner 6, Thomas 5; Odemwingie 6.

Subs not used: Myhill, Reid, Shorey, Fortune, Cox.

Stoke City; Begovic 6; Wilkinson 7, Shawcross 8, Huth 7, Collins 6; Pennant 6 (Tuncay 11, 6), Delap 6, Whitehead 7, Etherington 6 (Walters 78); Jones 7, Fuller 6 (Wilson 83).

Subs not used: Sorensen, Higginbotham, Whelan, Gudjohnsen.

Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside) 6.

Originally posted at The Sunday Times

Sunday 21 November 2010

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Written by RichardRae

November 25th, 2010 at 10:12 am

Fast-talker Coyle makes the right changes

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April 17, 2010

Matt Taylor moves Bolton nearer to safety with victory over Stoke

Stoke 1 Bolton 2:Richard Rae at Britannia Stadium

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The opinion of many a football supporter notwith­stand­ing, sometimes managers really do earn their corn, and Bolton manager Owen Coyle earned his yesterday.

Mind you, he needed to. His side came in at half-time fortunate to be only one behind, a fifth suc­ces­sive league defeat an apparent formality. Relegation was becoming a genuine possibility.

Having let his players know what he thought of them, however, Coyle made changes. The five-man midfield that had been effective at Chelsea in midweek having failed to result in a single effort on goal, Coyle switched to 4–4-2, sending on Ivan Klasnic to partner Kevin Davies up front, and dropping Jack Wilshere deeper. The second half was a different story, espe­cially after Coyle added Vladimir Weiss to the mix, and though Stoke should have won — the Potters spurned chance after chance after Dave Kitson had put them ahead — Bolton were a genuine attacking threat.

Coyle said: “Sometimes managers get lucky, and sometimes people perceive you as a tactical genius. We got lucky today.”

After Kitson’s opener, Liam Lawrence, Danny Higginbotham and Dean Whitehead should all have scored before Jussi Jaaskelainen touched Tuncay’s effort on to the post. From no more than a yard, Kitson shinned the rebound too high, and with five minutes remaining Bolton equalised. Weiss was tripped 20 yards from goal and Matt Taylor, inset, drove the ball under the wall and into the net.

Three minutes later Weiss was instru­men­tal again, beating Danny Collins and crossing to the near post for Taylor to squeeze the ball beyond City goal­keeper Thomas Sorensen. Even then Abdoulaye Faye side-footed another simple chance over the bar.

I thought our players were brilliant, but there you are, it was one of those games and you take it on the chin,” said City manager Tony Pulis. Whether he would have been quite so sanguine if Stoke were not already safe is a moot point.

Star man: Matt Taylor (Bolton) Yellow cards: Stoke: Whelan Bolton: Muamba, Wilshere Referee: S Attwell Attendance: 27,250 Stoke: Sorensen 6, Huth 7, Faye 7, Higginbotham 7, Collins 7, Lawrence 6 (Etherington 71min), Whitehead 7, Whelan 6, Delap 7, Tuncay 7 (Fuller 77min), Kitson 7 (Beattie 82min) Bolton: Jaaskelainen 6, Steinsson 5, Cahill 5, Knight 5, Robinson 5, Lee 5 (Weiss 71min), Ricketts 5 (Klasnic h-t, 7), Muamba 6 (M Davies 83min), Wilshere 7, Taylor 8, K Davies 7

Originally published in The Sunday Times

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Written by RichardRae

April 25th, 2010 at 6:45 am

Err nerr .….

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April 11, 2010

Graham Alexander keeps Burnley survival hopes alive

Hull 1 Burnley 4

Richard Rae at KC stadium

FOR ALL Burnley’s cel­e­bra­tions at the final whistle, this is a result that probably means only one thing. Hull, along with Burnley and Portsmouth, will be relegated and on this evidence, the Tigers deserve nothing less.

Offered a goal start against a team whose dis­or­gan­i­sa­tion had to be seen to be believed, Hull were neither good enough nor brave enough to take advantage. Burnley, by contrast, once they twigged they were up against a team as poor as them­selves, found something of the drive that served them so well in the first part of the season.

It is surely too late, though there was, of course, no telling Brian Laws that. A second win in his 14th league match in charge was a redemp­tive moment at the end of a week in which the club had appeared close to meltdown off the pitch, as well as on it.

We needed belief, and that win will give us a great lift because being in the Premier League is a dream we’re not going to give up easily,” said Laws, who awoke yesterday morning to read accu­sa­tions he had “lost the dressing room” made by one of the club’s own players, Joey Gudjonsson.

It’s been a tough week to say the least, but the players have responded with real strength of character,” Laws said. The impres­sion that Burnley was a club in chaos appeared to be confirmed within three minutes of the start when Kevin Kilbane was unmarked before heading Jozy Altidore’s cross past Burnley goal­keeper, Brian Jensen.

The recrim­i­na­tions between the Burnley players were almost as embar­rass­ing. Unlike Manchester City last week, however, Hull simply didn’t have the players to make it count. The nearest they came was when Altidore turned Michael Duff and saw his shot blocked by Jensen’s face before Jimmy Bullard poked the rebound over the bar.

Burnley began to pull them­selves together, and were rewarded when Tyrone Mears played the ball into Martin Paterson. The Northern Ireland inter­na­tional turned and shot to beat Boaz Myhill to the goalkeeper’s right.

Duff should have already put Burnley ahead when he was fouled by Ibrahima Sonko. It was a penalty, as it was seven minutes later when David Nugent burst past Sonko before being pulled back by Bernard Mendy. In neither case did the infal­li­ble Graham Alexander miss from the spot.

The final goal, curled in by Wade Elliott, was seen by rel­a­tively few City fans; most had long since left. “I didn’t see that per­for­mance coming in training,” admitted Hull “man­age­ment con­sul­tant” Iain Dowie.

Star man: Graham Alexander (Burnley)
Yellow cards: Hull: Altidore, Fagan, Mendy, Barmby, Boateng. Burnley: Mears
Referee: M Atkinson Attendance: 24,369
Hull: Myhill 5, McShane 6 (Geovanni 67min), Sonko 6, Mouyokolo 6, Dawson 6 (Barmby 50min, 5), Mendy 6, Bullard 5, Boateng 6, Kilbane 6, Fagan 6 (Vennegoor of Hesselink 74min), Altidore 6
Burnley: Jensen 7, Mears 6, Duff 7 (Caldwell 85min), Cort 6, Fox 6, Alexander 8, Paterson 6, Elliott 6, Cork 6, Nugent 7 (Thompson 90min), Fletcher 6 (Bikey 86min)

Originally published in The Sunday Times

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Written by RichardRae

April 15th, 2010 at 9:58 am

Dorrans is one to watch

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The chaps were quietly pleased

Dorrans stars as West Bromwich do it hard way

Richard Rae at The Hawthorns

West Bromwich Albion 3 Preston North End 2

IF, as a Football League ceremony last week concluded, Graham Dorrans
is only the second best player in the Championship, the winner of the
award, Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan, must be playing out of his skin.
Dorrans was genuinely out­stand­ing yesterday, and whether Albion are
promoted or not, will surely be playing in the Premier League next
season. Given this win, their fourth in suc­ces­sion, keeps the Baggies
eight points clear of Nottingham Forest in third, the odds are staying
at The Hawthorns will def­i­nitely be an option for the 22-year-old
Scottish mid­fielder.
Whether the 30-yard free-kick stroked home during an extra­or­di­nary
first half was better than the slide rule pass that bisected Preston’s
defence to enable Chris Brunt to score Albion’s second goal is
debatable. Less palatable to the Albion sup­port­ers were the defensive
lapses which kept Preston in the game after Ben Watson had opened the
scoring after just seven minutes. If Albion could defend half as well
as they attack, promotion would have been assured long ago.
“People who come to watch us get their money’s worth, but it’s not the
game plan,” said Albion head coach Roberto Di Matteo. “We need to
improve defen­sively, but we’ve had to change the back four quite
often, and we don’t get much time to work on the training field.”
That Albion’s four wins have come in the space of just ten days
empha­sises the point, and they play again in midweek. “It makes it
very difficult to keep going at full pace for 90 minutes,” said Di
Matteo.
Darren Ferguson’s Preston had actually looked mar­gin­ally the better
team before suddenly finding them­selves two down before the tenth
minute. If Albion’s first goal was fortunate, Ishmael Miller’s poor
control resulting in the ball rebound­ing for Robert Koren to give Ben
Watson the chance to steer the ball past North End goal­keeper Andy
Lonergan, the second, set up by Dorrans’ superb through ball and
deci­sively finished by Brunt, was incisive.
Sean St.Ledger, who had played Brunt onside, made up for his lapse by
losing his marker Gabriel Tamas to head a corner past Albion
goal­keeper Scott Carson soon after­wards, but Dorrans free-kick on the
half hour, his 16th goal of the season, was worthy of winning any
game.
It did so, but only just. Neil Mellor beat the offside trap to pull
back a second for Preston shortly before half-time, and Carson had to
react smartly to save Richard Chaplow’s free-kick at his near post
five minutes after the break.
“When Albion get it right they’re good, but you can get at them if
they don’t,” said Ferguson, a statement which the fact that Albion
have conceded 42 times tends to support. If and when they do go up, it
is not hard to work out where Di Matteo’s pri­or­i­ties will lie.
For Preston, defeat probably means an end to any lingering hopes of
forcing their way into play-off con­tention. “I’m a positive person,
and any team which goes on a run still has a chance, but we’re drawing
too many games, and it’s probably going to cost us,” Ferguson
admitted.

Originally posted at The Sunday Times[caption id=“attachment_138” align=“alignleft” width=“150”

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Re-assessing the role of the sub

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Tired eyes today

The last few days working for BBC Sport Interactive have given me a new per­spec­tive on, and respect for, the role of sub-editor. For ten years ‘subs’ have been the unseen hands who’ve been there, as far as I was concerned, solely to keep me out of trouble, for example by cor­rect­ing a misspelt name. Those who took it upon them­selves to change copy, almost always — again, as far as I was concerned — did so wholly without jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.
Well, today I ‘subbed’ something like 15 stories written by BBC jour­nal­ists, largely from local radio stations but some dedicated on-line jour­nal­ists. Some were fine, most needed tinkering with, and several needed com­pletely rewriting to make any sense at all. That’s before you start making sure the headlines, pictures, and all the other ‘furniture’ that should make up a BBC web page are in place. These days, of course, that includes embedding audio and video.
By the end of the day I was knackered, not to mention boss-eyed.
I would like to think, of course, that I don’t put the poor indi­vid­u­als who sub my copy through that sort of mill. Of the news­pa­pers I work for, the Sunday Times is probably the best in terms of leaving copy alone. The Indy is pretty good too, although that’s possibly because they’re so over-worked they don’t have time to change anything. The Guardian is probably the worst for unnec­es­sary fiddling.
Anyway, I’ll try and remember to print off a few examples over the next few days of the worst sort of copy that arrives on the screens at the BBC’s Birmingham ‘HUB’, as it is known.

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Written by RichardRae

March 17th, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Posted in Sport

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