Monday, 30 January 2012

QPR set to land Cisse after adding Diakite

Mark Hughes sparked life into the transfer window today by completing the loan singing of Mali midfielder Samba Diakite and former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse is set to arrive tomorrow to add much needed frontline firepower.

Terms have been agreed with Italian side Lazio as the R’s pushed through a permanent deal thought to be in the region of £4million. The flamboyant 30 year old, will be tasked with adding much needed support to Heidar Helguson who has been offered little help from his fellow forwards to date.

Djibril Cisse 
His signing does end Hughes’ search for a striker after failing to land Brazilian Henrique due to work permit issues, and ends any chance of a sensational swoop for castaway striker Carlos Tevez.

The former Liverpool record signing is set to complete the formalities of his move in time to make his debut away at Aston Villa. It is unlikely Diakite will be involved on Wednesday as he has just returned from international duty at the African Nations Cup.

His club Nancy announced today that it would cost around the £4million mark to make the move permanent, he is highly thought of in Ligue A and will add more depth to a midfield that has been found lacking on a number of occasions.

Samba Diakite 
Tomorrow is expected to a busy day at Loftus Road as Hughes will be keen to add further to his squad after the signings of defenders Nedum Onuoha and Taye Taiwo, a number of fringe players may well be moved on also.


Sunday, 29 January 2012

Canaries dreaming of Wembley

As Norwich City left it left to book their place in the last 16, Swansea and QPR are knocked out and left to focus on league matters.

For our three promoted clubs finding a balance between preserving league status and going for cup glory was always going to be tough. It comes as no surprise that Norwich who are the team highest up the table are now the only side left in the FA Cup of the three sides.

Darren Pratley
We will start with Swansea’s trip to Bolton, where Brendan Rodgers made a number of changes to his starting XI and play off hero Darren Pratley came back to haunt the Swans.

A great finish from Luke Moore looked to have given the Welsh side the lead at half time but in added on time, Pratley headed home, Martin Petrov’s free kick to level up the tie.

From there on Bolton took control and an error from back up goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel gifted last year’s semi finalists the winner through Chris Eagles.

Despite rallying in the final ten minutes Rodgers’ fell short and they will return to league action against Chelsea on Wednesday, as they aim to ensure they remain clear of the trap door.

In a hotly contested lunch time kick off a dubious penalty from Juan Mata was enough to end QPR’s cup run.

Mata converted from twelve yards after Daniel Sturridge fell easily under Clint Hill’s challenge.

It had been agreed that there would be no handshakes between the two sides before the start of the game and thankfully the tie passed without much incident. Unlike Norwich and Swansea, Rangers are in serious trouble of going down and they will quickly move their focus to Wednesday night’s trip to Aston Villa.

Expect new faces come in for the game at Villa Park as Mark Hughes will look to add quality to his squad and also ship out some of the dead wood.

The one success of the cup weekend was in the Midlands as Norwich won at the Hawthorns for the second time in a number of weeks. This time it was Canadian international Simeon Jackson who struck the late winner to book a last sixteen tie at home to Championship big spenders Leicester City.

Jed Steer 
The Canaries will have been indebted to debutant keeper Jed Steer who produced a man of the match performance. He produced a number of fine saves including a sensational stop to deny Jerome Thomas.

19 year of Steer was on hand again late on to stop tie going to replay as he stopped Joe Mattock and Shane Long.

Earlier on captain Grant Holt had put Norwich ahead at the break. Mark Antoine Fortune levelled things up as he had done in the league meeting two weeks earlier.

Next up for Paul Lambert’s men is the live Sky clash with Sunderland on Wednesday as they look to extend their current six game unbeaten run. 

Friday, 27 January 2012

New boss starting to make his mark

Chris Coleman confirmed yesterday that fellow former Wales centre half Kit Symons is set to become part of his backroom staff, as he prepares to take charge of his first game in the Big Apple.  

The Fulham Academy manager is set to be appointed within the next week, and Osian Roberts is poised to remain part of the set up, although the future of Raymond Verheijen looks uncertain.

Kit Symons
Coleman confirmed that he is set to talk with the Dutchman upon his return from a break in Dubai in the coming weeks, but it is looking unlikely that he will have much of a future in the Welsh setup. 

It is believed that Verheijen and Roberts are set to take charge of Gary Speed’s memorial game against Costa Rica at the end of next month.

Coleman’s first official game in charge looks set to take place in New York in what would be a glamour friendly against Mexico.

Nothing has been confirmed yet but the 27th of May has been pencilled in along with a few venues. History could me made if the game takes place at the new Yankee Stadium home of the famous New York Yankees’, as it would be the first game of ‘soccer’ to take place at the historic venue.

The New Yankee Stadium
Wales have never beaten Mexico in their two previous encounters with their best result coming in the group stages of the 1958 World Cup, where they drew 1-1.

The schedule before the World Cup Qualifiers will be crucial for Coleman and his team as they will look to gather momentum and ensure a good start to the upcoming campaign.

Coleman is slowly going about putting his team together and you can expect more clarity after the Costa Rica game. The potential trip would not only be a once in a lifetime trip for fans it could well provide him and his team extra time with his players. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bellamy sets up dream final

A sensational performance from Cardiff born Craig Bellamy tonight, saw Liverpool get past Manchester City to secure their place in the Carling Cup final against Cardiff City at the end of next month.

Craig Bellamy

After last night’s drama in Cardiff the second semi final was a sensational encounter that was on a knife edge throughout. Liverpool simply wanted it more over the two legs and after Saturday’s awful showing at Bolton Kenny Dalglish needed his players to stand and deliver.

Having watched his boyhood Bluebirds book their place in the showpiece final there was no way he would miss out on joining them. He hounded the City backline all night, a constant menace at times unplayable.

In the early stages Bellamy tested the impressive Joe Hart who kept City in the tie, as he caused havoc.

He was his usual self continually snipping at the City players and mouthing off to his own players particularly Stuart Downing. He forced Roberto Mancini into a tactical change when Stefan Savic had to be replaced at half time as he torn apart time and time again by Bellamy.

When Edin Dzeko got on the end of Alexander Kolorov’s cross it looked like it would all in tears for Liverpool and Bellamy. Despite the hammer blow Dalglish did not panic and decided to stick with Bellamy and boy he delivered.

He showed great composure to bury his chance and finally beat his nemesis Hart and sent Liverpool to their first Wembley final since 1996.

He went off to a standing ovation in the closing minutes and the sheer respect that his former City colleagues showed him, proved how highly Bellamy is thought of by those who have played with him.

Nobody deserves a place in a showpiece final more than Bellamy, he was an unused sub in his only other final in football in Liverpool’s Champions League defeat in 2007.

His performance tonight has set up what will be memorable day for everyone involved with Welsh football but be rest assured he will not be giving his home town club an easy ride. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Bluebirds hold their nerve to book return to Wembley

Tom Heaton was the hero tonight as Cardiff City finally overcame Crystal Palace in a dramatic penalty shootout amid memorable scenes in the Welsh capital.

The former Manchester United stopper denied Jermaine Easter and then Sean Scannell to ensure that Kenny Miller’s opening miss went unpunished.

Tom Heaton 

Craig Conway, Rudy Gestede and Peter Whittingham held their nerve and the Bluebirds secured a fourth trip to the new Wembley, when Jonathan Parr blazed over to send the City of Cardiff Stadium into delirium.

Cardiff dominated the entirety of the second leg and went ahead early on when first leg hero Anthony Gardner put the ball into the back of his own net after he failed to deal with Don Cowie’s cross.

Kenny Miller, Filip Kiss and Aron Gunnarsson all struck the woodwork, as Palace’s backline held firm, despite the dismissal of the talismanic captain Paddy McCarthy late in the second half.

Much of the pre match talk came from Dougie Freedman, as he questioned City’s big game mentality. It seems nobody had told him that under Malky Mackay (barring a handful of players) are a new side. Freedman was unwise and ill advised in his pre game comments, and to be frank, Palace did not deserve a place at Wembley, on another night it could have been over a lot earlier.
Malky Mackay

They were on the back foot for whole game and they never looked liked creating an opening. Former Watford man Mackay has shown that he and his team do indeed have the ‘big game’ mentality that is required. Mackay has all the attributes to go a long way in management and can take Cardiff to the next level. 

Cardiff’s focus from here on in has to be promotion. Southampton’s recent dip in form has allowed a clear path into the mix up for the automatic places.

Regardless of the result against Liverpool or Manchester City, the former Watford boss has installed a new belief and winning mentality into this side and this is going to be key for the rest of the season. 

Dragons' lose top spot on bad night

Wrexham’s winning run came to an abrupt end as a Matty Taylor back heel ensured that Forest Green Rovers took all three points.

The winner came three minutes into the second half as Taylor got the end of James Norwood’s cross, and sent Joslain Mayebi the wrong way.

Dean Keats missed a golden opportunity from the spot on the final minute, after player manager Andy Morrell was brought down. Former Reds stopper Sam Russell who recently joined Rovers from crisis club Darlington, came back to haunt Wrexham, when he denied Keats from twelve yards.

Sam Russell
A win for Fleetwood Town against Braintree rounded off a miserable night for Morrell’s men as they lost their spot at the top who now trail by a single point.

Wrexham will look for an immediate return to form on Saturday when they welcome Bath City to the Racecourse. 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Mixed fortunes for our teams

As Cardiff and Wrexham’s promotion charges gather momentum, Swansea are brought back down to earth and Newport pick up a valuable point in their battle to avoid the drop.

Malky MacKay’s Bluebirds produced a stunning comeback against cash strapped Portsmouth when, Craig Conway struck a fine winner deep into injury time.

Craig Conway
Earlier on Kenny Miller had put the home side in front from an acute angle, before goals from Marko Futacs and Greg Halford either side of the break gave Pompy an unlikely lead. 

Skipper Mark Hudson got on the end of Conway’s cross to even things up and the former Dundee United midfielder rifled in a stunning winner to ensure that they went one point behind Southampton.

Meanwhile up at the Stadium of Light, Swansea were undone by two quality strikes despite dominating much of the game. The wonderful Stephane Sessegnon was a constant threat all afternoon and took his goal in spectacular fashion and was on hand to set up Craig Gardner's wonder goal, as Sunderland’s great start under Martin O’Neil continued.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, was the main threat to Sunderland all afternoon and despite having 64% of the possession Brendan Rodgers will be left ruing a chance to pick up points on the road. Scott Sinclair went close in the first half after some great work from Nathan Dyer. Chelsea loan signing Josh McEachran looked bright when he came on, in place of Sigurdsson.

The Swans now find themselves in thirteenth and eight points clear of the drop zone, although Brendan Rodgers will not get carried away until his side reach the magic forty point mark.

Andy Morrell 
As for Wrexham they picked themselves up following their midweek cup heartbreak, and stuck four past Kettering. Manager Andy Morell’s early strike gave them the lead at half time and Mark Creighton doubled the lead from close range. Kettering got themselves back into it when Djoumin Sangare finished with great aplomb, but Wrexham grew into the game. Debutant James Colbeck made an instant impact with two goals to ensure a seventh consecutive victory in the league, as Fleetwood town kept the heat on with a win at Darlington.

Down in Newport secured a crucial point despite playing for an hour with only ten men following Ismail Yakubu’s first half dismissal. The home side created enough chances to take all three points, but ultimately Justin Edinburgh will be satisfied with a solid defensive showing that sees his side remain one point ahead of trap door.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Coleman tasked with carrying on Speed’s legacy

Wales confirmed one of the worst kept secrets in Welsh football when they announced this afternoon, that former player and Fulham manager Chris Coleman is to take over from the late Gary Speed.

In what was a tough day for everyone involved with Welsh football, with emotions still raw from the tragic loss of Speed in November, it was simply a call from his nation, that 32 times capped Coleman could not turn down.

Chris Coleman 
In the wake of Speed’s death a lot has been made of who should continue with the fantastic start the former captain turned manager had made. Raymond Verheijen had gone on record stating that he and fellow assistant manager Osian Roberts should take over the mantle and lead Wales.

It is not clear if the two will have apart to play in the future of the national side, but the Welsh FA moved swiftly to appoint Coleman following his resignation from Greek club Larissa, who have today started legal action and will seek compensation following his appointment.

He had left the club due to financial problems that have hit Greek football badly in recent times. He had gone out there to resurrect his managerial career after not being able to pick up a role since his departure from Coventry in 2010.

Coleman had made it clear on Sunday that he was in the running for the job, when he covered Swansea’s victory against Arsenal for Sky Sports.  He was indeed given an early chance to cast an eye over a number of rising stars he will have at his disposal.

His first task will be to take charge of the squad for the memorial match being played for Gary Speed at the end of next month in Cardiff against Costa Rica. It will be an emotionally charged night in Cardiff but he only start being judged when the qualifiers kick off in September.

The FAW have given the former centre half, contract until 2014, and for me Wales have picked the right man, a young, smart and tactically aware manager. He started his managerial career very young having been forced to retire at only 32 due to injuries he sustained in a road accident.

His first job was to at Fulham, and his record at Craven Cottage was impressive and under him they achieved their highest Premier League finish to date.

If he is to be a success in the top job in Welsh football, finding the right balance is going to be if the improvement is going to continue. Although it is a predominately young side the vast majority of the team are now plying their trade in the top flight which is the first time in a long time.

He simply has to keep Craig Bellamy onside and a key element will be devising a plan to use him to maximum affect, a suitable suggestion would be to only play him in the competitive games from now on. The likes of James Collins and Danny Gabbidon are going to essential in providing the experience to this promising and exciting squad that he has at his disposal.

Aaron Ramsey 
Captain Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale will be the key men if Wales are to succeed under Coleman and Steve Morison can be relied on upfront to deliver.  

Despite the tragic circumstances that have seen him become manager, Coleman has to carry on with the legacy. He is the man to get players on side, he is only 41 and the team that he will have around him, will be crucial because you will only have a few days to get your team prepared.

These are very exciting times for Welsh football, and what a perfect way to pay tribute it would be to Speed if this team was to qualify for a major tournament after all he has helped them get back onto their feet. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Late Developer Enjoying Life at the Top

In what has been a remarkable rise up the football ladder for Welsh international Steve Morison, he looks as if he has finally found his level in the Premier League, in what has been a remarkable season for everyone connected with Norwich City.

His ninth goal of the season was enough to ensure yet another crucial three points for the Canaries in their clash at West Brom on Saturday. 

It was the third consecutive league game that the Enfield born man has found the net, in what has been a fantastic start to 2012.

Steve Morrison 
Having failed to make his mark in league football at Northampton he had to start over again in the non league first with Bishop’s Stortford on loan, which was followed by a perm move to Stevenage.

He took the Conference by storm scoring seventy league goals in three seasons, and caught the attention of Millwall and was an instant success bagging twenty one goals in his opening season and securing promotion for the New Den club.

His second and final season at Millwall saw fifteen league goals and ensured that the stayed clear of the drop, international recognition followed from Wales.

In June the big chance came around for the 6’ 2” striker as Paul Lambert paid just short of three million for him.

To be honest I did not think he would be well suited to the Premier League and it was a slow start he did not find the net until a 2-1 home win against Sunderland in September.

He had although registered his first international goal against Montenegro in a Welsh victory that went a long to secure his country of birth’s place at Euro 2012.

He has made a sensational start to 2012 and Norwich find themselves only needing four more victories for survival. As fans and pundits fret about the defensive lapses at Norwich they must be delighted with the formidable partnership Morison has formed with club captain Grant Holt.

Grant Holt
At times Morison has had to lead the line alone and is just as effective. His winner at the Hawthorns was a brilliant finish, his position and then sheer power was too much for West Brom to handle as Lambert’s men stole all three points on the break.

Despite being a late developer in the top of the game Morison keeps on improving and going from strength to strength, at club and international level he is now the focal point of all forward play and has the temperament to handle the pressures.

There will not have been many defenders who would have heard of Steve Morison in August, but you can be rest assured they are now all to aware of him now.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Rodgers’ Welsh Dragons Breathe Fire into the League

As Swansea beat Arsenal at their own game on Sunday, their exhilarating performance finally has the rest of the league standing up and taking notice.

After their opening weekend thrashing at the hands of Manchester City, not many would have had the Swans in the top half of the league, just over half way through the season.

Brendan Rodgers
The man who has worked beneath one of the best, in Jose Mourinho, refused point black to change his philosophy. Many before him have played great football Hull City and most recently Blackpool, but both sides ultimately failed in their goal of survival and growth in the top flight.

What has impressed me most is their solid defensive unit, and to their credit, their record has been immense. To date nine clean sheets is nothing short of remarkable. The signing of the season for me if Michel Vorm, an outstanding acquisition from Dutch outfit Utrecht for only £1.5 million leaving a number of clubs wondering how they missed out on him.

The captain, Ashley Williams looks like a player at ease at this level and the loan signing of Steven Caulker from Tottenham has proven to be yet another masterstroke from Rodgers and his backroom staff. Former Wrexham man Neil Taylor has emerged as one of brightest talents in Welsh football, in fact they did very well to hold of strong interest from Newcastle in the summer.

Joe Allen has been at the heart of all that is good from the Swans going forward. Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer have been the best pair of wingers the league has seen in a number of seasons. And then there is Wayne Routledge who finally found the net in their first away win of the campaign at Aston Villa.

Goals have been hard to come by at times this season but they did not panic and kept the faith with former Watford man Danny Graham who has come good and netted his seventh goal of the season to cap of a wonderful team display on Sunday.

Swansea have proved that playing as a team does get you success and sticking to your principles does pay off. It would have been easy for Rodgers to listen to the experts and stop ‘playing football’ because nothing was expected of his side.

With seventeen games left to play they are only fourteen points from the promise land of the forty points mark. Indeed they have been on runs where results have not quite gone and the best example being their home game against QPR where they were second best for the majority, but their solidity and ethos ensured they would have a share of the points.

Danny Graham
They have also turned games at key points such as they did against Fulham when Vorm denied Clint Dempsey from the spot and Graham netted a wonderful goal to secure all three points.  

Tactically Rodgers and Norwich City’s Paul Lambert, are miles ahead of the likes of Ian Holloway and the now departed Neil Warnock. They are a new breed of manager who are fantastic for the game, they want their teams to play football and are not afraid to stick with what they think is best for their sides.

Going forward Rodgers has the platform at Swansea to establish them in the top flight, and what a credit they have been to the whole of Wales, a worthy edition to the league and long may it continue. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Liverpool toothless as Stoke frustrate

As Stoke City joined a growing list of teams leaving Anfield with a share of the points, Liverpool fall further behind in their pursuit for a return to the Champions League.

Since his arrival from Feynoord in 2006 Dutch international Dirk Kuyt has won a lot of fans at Anfield but this season he has struggled with only one goal and missed from the spot in the derby, unfortunately yesterday afternoon was no different. 

Dirk Kuyt
Yesterday he started in a lone striker role in an unfamiliar Liverpool line up. Kenny Dalglish opted to give Sebastian Coates his first start in the Premier League since his summer move from Nacional and Jamie Carragher returned to the starting XI in place of the injured Daniel Agger.

For Kuyt it was always going to be a tough afternoon against a solid Stoke backline. For all of his hard work he lacked the creative edge that the reds have needed on so many occasions this season.

His one chance came late on, when Jose Enrique’s cross was deflected into his path but he headed just wide, it summed it his season. One goal to date in a Carling Cup tie at Brighton is his only contribution, he has never been prolific but time and time again has come up with key strikes.

Predominantly he has been used a winger at Liverpool and has been key over the last couple of seasons. His drop in form this season has certainly played a part in Liverpool’s alarming lack of goals. Simply the midfield as whole have not contributed enough goal wise and creating openings for the front men.  

At 31 Kuyt’s best years are behind him and he has been a great servant of the club, but it is time for him to move on. Liverpool are crying out for a more dynamic attacking winger. In Maxi, they do have this and let’s not forget Joe Cole who is enjoying a fine season with Lille.

But like Kuyt, both Cole and Maxi are in their early thirties and should not be bit part players, it can be argued that they have not maximised their potential. For Kuyt the opposite can be said as through sheer hard work and determination he has appeared in Champions League and World Cup finals.

In terms of where Liverpool needs to strengthen it is in the final third of the pitch.  Eden Hazard has been muted as a possible additional if not in January in the summer. For me a more realistic target would be Swansea’s Scott Sinclair who has impressed this season and will have Chelsea wondering why they let him go.

Defensively Liverpool have improved tenfold with Martin Skrtel arguably the most improved player in a red shirt and is building a formidable partnership at the heart of defence with Agger. Enrique and Glen Johnson have impressed and Coates looks to have a great future ahead of him and the new defensive unit will be overseen and guided by Carragher.

Martin Skrtel
Going forward I cannot see Liverpool consistently being strong enough to overhaul Chelsea and Arsenal into the all important fourth spot this season. Progress has been made in the cup competitions and a return to Wembley after 16 years is on the cards if they can shut out Manchester City in what promises to be a red hot atmosphere at Anfield next week.

Many will back Liverpool to overcome Manchester United in the FA Cup on the following Saturday again at home. Going back twelve months, the club is in a lot healthier position,  but as we know fans are never satisfied.

In order to build on a solid first twelve months since his return to helm, Dalglish will have eventually move on certain players and for me Kuyt unfortunately is topping the list.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Gibson Deal could spell Trouble for Everton

As Darron Gibson sealed his move from Manchester United to Everton on Friday, despite the needed addition, many believe that the exodus of top players from Goodison Park is set to continue come the summer. 

Paul Scholes’ return from retirement last Sunday in the FA Cup victory over their rivals, was the final nail in the coffin for Darron Gibson’s career at Old Trafford.

It was clear that Gibson needed to make the move in order to play football on a regular basis. For much of this season despite a string of injuries to the squad, he has been limited to cameos and cup appearances and was most recently captain of the reserves in front of 500 people in Altrincham.

Darron Gibson
This is a very good move for Gibson, as he will get a lot more game time and in doing so will secure his place in the Irish squad for the European Championships come June.

A lot has been made of the return of Scholes, many people have suggested that there is no money to spend, but realistically except for the 2006 window United have not done any significant business in January.

Sir Alex has been a long term admirer of Everton youngster Jack Rodwell who many believe is destined to follow in the footsteps of Wayne Rooney and make to switch to Manchester.

As with the vast majority of big deals they are done and planned months in advance and you get the feeling that this one is almost nailed on. Another six month’s playing time will allow him to continue in his development.

A full pre-season for Rodwell with United next summer will give him the chance to bed in which will be crucial if he is to hit the ground running.

If he was to join now the pressure on him to go in and deliver from the off would perhaps be too much. He is potential arrival would be a plan for the next ten years, and for now, Scholes is a perfect to come in and do more than just a job.

Jack Rodwell
Unfortunately for David Moyes his hands are tied behind his back. The club cannot say no to a ‘big offer’ and they are unable to invest it all back into the squad. Gibson now adds some much needed cover to the most depleted squads in the league.

Without any investment on or off the field Everton are not going to progress and there is only so much that Moyes can do. For over a decade now, he has continually found players who buy into his ethos of playing for the team and pulling together as one. This was typified in their qualification for the Champions League in 2005.

Speaking to a number of Evertonian’s today the feeling is that they are set to lose yet another of their brightest young stars. Worryingly they have the best left back in the country in Leighton Baines and he is sure to be topping the list of a number of clubs come the summer.

The fans have now started to make their voices heard with a number of protests and the overall feeling within Goodison Park, is that Bill Kenwright needs to go. Investment is needed sooner rather than later because one the greatest clubs in the world game will be in a serious mess very soon. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Reds in control against poor City

Steven Gerrard’s first half penalty gives Liverpool a vital lead, against a lacklustre and toothless Manchester City.

A distinct lack of atmosphere at the Etihad was apparent as everyone involved with City looked as if they were still smarting from their FA Cup exit at the hands of their neighbours. This was typified by Mario Balotelli who once again didn’t seem to ‘fancy it’ against Liverpool, and City’s lack of invention was alarming.

Before Gerrard’s excellent spot kick, Joe Hart had already denied Andy Carroll and the returning captain's effort, after a smart layoff from Stuart Downing.

Steven Gerrard
Much of the talk pre match was on how City would miss Vincent Kompany and that proved to be the case, when Stefan Savic recklessly fouled Daniel Agger in the area to round off a woeful opening for the young Serbian.

In terms of goalmouth action that was it really from Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish’s gameplan had worked a treat and crucially unlike last week they had managed to take advantage of their early dominance.

Balotelli was poor and his petulance following a foul by Charlie Adam summed his nights’ work up. His replacement Samir Nasri was placid and did little to show why he would be worthy of a regular starting spot a shadow of his Arsenal form.

Pepe Reina was solid all game and saved Martin Kelly’s blushes when he blocked off Sergio Aguero’s route to goal after the Argentine had been set free, he was also on hand to deny Micah Richards’ goal bound header.

It was a case of backs to the wall for Liverpool as they soaked up the City pressure, it was reminiscent of the Benitez era in Europe and just as his sides did got what they wanted.

The lack of David Silva’s invention and creativity was apparent as Nasri and co continually came up against a sea of red, which was solidified by Jamie Carragher who ensured that the backline held firm.

The Carling Cup
Tonight Liverpool have taken a huge step towards their first visit to Wembley since 1996, but they know that Manchester City will not be that poor again. It will be like a European night at Anfield to kick off a week that will see both Manchester sides visit in cup games. The League Cup it is a trophy Liverpool ever since their second round tie at Exeter have set out to win.

The Carling Cup might not be at the forefront of Mancini’s thoughts right now but he will want to add to his growing legacy at City and knows his side has it all to do in two weeks time in what is sure to be a ferocious atmosphere. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Gardner gives Palace the advantage in all Championship battle

It was tight and for the majority a dull encounter, but Crystal Palace lead at half time as Cardiff fail to make possession count in their Carling Cup semi final first leg clash. 

In a terrific atmosphere the Bluebirds dominated much of the first half as Ben Turner and Joe Ralls went close, but over the course of the game they failed to work Julian Speroni.

The turning point, and the games only goal, came two minutes from the break when former Spurs centre half Anthony Gardner, got on the end of Darren Ambrose’s cross, after former Manchester United keeper Tom Heaton failed to deal with the danger. 

Darren Ambrose 
The hero of Old Trafford was by far the most creative on the field although he will be disappointed that his side do not hold a greater advantage after spurning numerous set piece opportunities.

Dougie Freedman will have been delighted in the defensive show his side put on and the way they restricted Cardiff to so few openings.

Malky Mackay will be quietly confident that in two weeks time his side will be able to turn around the result and make their fourth appearance at the new Wembley. In Kenny Miller he has a man who he can call on to deliver, the Scottish international will have to have more of an influence on matters, after being left frustrated by Palace’s determined backline.

Kenny Miller and Malky Mackay 
At the end of the day first legs are difficult to judge because no one wants to be out of it, in this case both sets of fans will be confident of making their way to Wembley in February and potentially head off on a European adventure next season.  

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Return of the King rounds off memorable Third Round weekend

As Thierry Henry buried his 227th goal for in the red of Arsenal the Emirates erupted amid emotional scenes, it was pure drama and theatre it just had to happen didn’t it?

Arsenal were poor it was as it was all set up for Henry’s moment in the spotlight. Arsene Wenger fielded a strong starting team albeit resting Robin Van Persie, a signal of intent that this is a competition that he targets to end their trophy drought.

Theirry Henry 
Back at the club where a statue of him had been erected last month it immediately felt like he was back where he belonged. On a number of occasions this season the Gunners have struggled to break teams down and perhaps tonight it was the Henry effect but in all honesty what harm can a twenty minute cameo have at the end of a game that is heading nowhere?

It worked tonight and even at this stage the deal looks to have been a masterstroke by Wenger, look at the effect Gary McAllister and Henrik Larsson had in the North West when many had written them off.

For what it was worth Leeds were fantastic and he can be immensely proud of his team as they battled hard and their great support can head back up north with a pride in their youthful side.

Leeds’ are overdue a return to the big time their fans have suffered more than most over the last decade when it looked like they had the world at their feet.   

They now must turn their attentions to the chase for promotion to the Premier League only one point outside the playoffs and if they battle like they did tonight they should do so and Grayson is the right man to do that.

Simon Grayson
It was not a classic to round up the third round weekend but it is a game and a moment of genuis that will long live in the memory of Arsenal fans right across the globe. 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Safety comes first

Tony Fernandes described it as the toughest decision of his life, but the decision to sack Neil Warnock may well prove to be the right one come May.

QPR’s recent form two points from their last eight games is poor and having needed a late goal to save their blushes in the FA cup at the MK Dons yesterday something needed to be done before it was too late.

For me there is a similarity with what the West Brom board did twelve months ago when they removed Roberto Di Matteo out of the blue. At the time the baggies had impressed in the opening part of the season but had only won one out of Di Matteo’s last ten games in charge.

Neil Warnock
Under Warnock they were set for a return to the Championship. He is an entertaining man certainly, but at the top of the game he just is not quite up to it, there is no doubt he deserved this final shot at the big time.

He has been let down badly by the players he brought in over the last few days of the window, Joey Barton and Shaun Wright Phillips have come in on big money and have not delivered.

Having said this it was never going to last, throughout the summer there were constant rumours of various big name managers being drafted in I am surprised he managed to see in 2012 in all honesty.

The QPR board will have taken a look at the Martin O’Neil appointment at Sunderland and they way he has lifted them easily away from the drop zone, and will be looking for a similar impact when the new man comes in.

Going forward from here there is only one man for me who can do the job and that is Mark Hughes. Forget your big European names Hughes is the man for QPR. He has the connections and I am amazed that he has not been snapped up by another club since his departure from Craven Cottage.

Mark Hughes
Whoever is appointed the deal will be done very quickly because the board will want to give enough time to bring in players. 

Over the next couple of weeks you can expect something of a revolving door at Loftus Road as they will need to ensure their top flight status.