Hardman's Thoughts

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Ramble #16

The Derby

I wonder what it must be like to wake up on derby day morning and actually feel like your team has a chance of winning?

Everton have not won one since 2010, we’ve only won four in this millennium and the last victory at Anfield saw Francis Jeffers sent off. Our last three performances at Anfield are amongst the worst I’ve ever watched (Jagielka’s last minute leveller two years ago was brilliant but lucky). 

So I’m not excited for today. I’m not even expecting a draw. We will lose, there’s no doubt about that. Especially without Seamus Coleman and Morgan Schneiderlin. 

But BBC Breakfast’s coverage has annoyed me. They started the segment on the derby by talking about how Liverpool have lost two key players, therefore making today harder for them. But they didn’t mention in the same breath how Everton have also lost two key players (and, for the record, Funes Mori and James McCarthy as well). 

They ended it by finally talking about Coleman, except they even got that wrong. They said Koeman had an argument with Martin O’Neill over the Irish managers treatment of Seamus. I mean, did the writers ever stop to ask themselves if that made sense? The argument was about the Irish treatment of James McCarthy who they selected even though he wasn’t 100% fit. For all of O’Neill’s faults, he couldn’t predict Coleman’s leg break! 

I don’t mind that we’ll lose the derby, I’m honestly used to that. I mind when the coverage is biased and wrong. Both clubs have pretty big histories, both clubs are in the top half of the biggest league in the country. Neither have ever won the Premier League, so give both the same level of detail and fairness to your coverage. 

If organisations like BBC can’t give fair coverage, then we have to get all our news about our club from local sources and the club itself, which is far from ideal.


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My Goodison Greats: Matches

During the writing stage of last week’s two-part article, I figured I had more memories from my time at Goodison than players. A collection of wonderful, or not-so but memorable, players are great but the coming together of them to produce an exciting 90 minutes worth of action is more powerful. So, in that spirit I thought I would put together a list of my favourite matches watching at Goodison Park. I find that sometimes it’s nice to look back and share memories that are particularly special to you for one reason or another.

In some ways this was easier to write than last week’s and in some ways it was harder. The criterion for this week was easier; after all it’s not hard to remember which matches I have attended, even if it’s hard to remember who played! However, there have been so many that it’s hard to narrow down to 10. Much like Prime Memories, I had my 10 before an 11th popped into my head and refused to drop. I’ll start by mentioning a few of the ones that failed to make the cut.

  1. Any under Walter Smith. Sadly, this means saying goodbye to the time Paul Gascoigne ripped Leyton Orient apart in the FA Cup (memorable for that and the unbelievable queues that greeted us as we arrived, ticketless) and my first ever match (as I mentioned last week, a 1-0 victory over Southampton). There were no others that came close to making the cut because we were awful under Smith.
  2. Gibson’s winner against City. His first goal, a trademark thunderbolt and wonderful match to be at came in at 12th in my list. The only match on transfer deadline day I’ve been to and a very important deadline day, so it gets a mention later.
  3. So many more! Jelavic’s first goal against Tottenham, a dreadful victory over Villa but we won so I remember it fondly, scraping past Derby on my birthday and Arteta’s debut v Portsmouth were all one’s I thought about but none came close to the final 11.

I have had 3 stints of being a season ticket holder, 2 sitting in the lower Gwladys and one in the upper Bullens. The majority of these matches came while sat in the upper reaches of the stadium, with the TV crews and near the away fans although some I viewed from the Street. Only two are matches I didn’t attend on a season ticket. Let’s begin then, and we start way back in 2004…

11: Everton 3 – 4 Manchester United (7th Feb 2004):

This feature starts with a defeat. So, to be on this list it has to be pretty special and this match had almost everything in it! At half time, it was the same old Everton story. We had rolled over, conceded 3 goals and looked to be a poor non-league side bowing down at the feet of the Mancunian Gods. This was a Manchester United side boasting 2 future Everton players (Howard and Saha (who had 2 of the goals)), as well as featuring Fletcher, Keane, Scholes, Giggs and van Nistlerooy (the other goal). Everton, 3-0 down at half time, were surely toast. Bringing 3 players on at the interval, David Moyes had different ideas.

From the first minute of the second half we were fantastic. Unsworth headed home a corner, a John O’Shea own goal brought us back into it and then Kilbane struck home Gravesen’s free kick to make it 3-3. Nigel Martyn produced save after save from Scholes and co before we were cruelly denied a deserved point in the last minute thanks to Ruud Van Nistlerooy’s 101st goal for Manchester United. Nevertheless, the endeavour shown by the Everton manager that day meant for years I would say Moyes would make 3 changes at half time and change the match completely. The second half performance was probably the best under the early days of Moyes, showing our resilience and channelling the dogs of war spirit. It was absolutely heart breaking to lose, and given that all but the winner was scored at the other end to us, a seemingly strange choice for this feature however the match has always remained with me and deserves its place on here. It’s also proof that I did see Rooney play for Everton.

Everton team: Martyn, Hibbert, Stubbs, Unsworth, Pistone (Naysmith 45), Watson (Rooney 45), Gravesen, Carsley, Kilbane, Ferguson, Jeffers (Radzinski 45)

Goals: Unsworth (49), O’Shea (OG – 65), Kilbane (75)

10: Everton 5 – 3 Blackpool (5th Feb 2011):

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Almost exactly 7 years on from that United match and Louis Saha was in fine scoring form again, yet this time it was for Everton. At half time, the match was finely poised at 1-1, despite our dominance. Saha had grabbed his first after 20 minutes only to see Baptiste equalize in the 37th. Just after the break, Saha scored his second before 2 goals in 2 minutes from Blackpool around the hour mark gave the visitors a 3-2 lead.

Under Moyes, losing was just the spark we needed to glide into top gear and we did it to remarkable effect on that rainy afternoon at Goodison. On the 76th minute, Saha made it 3-3 with a header before substitute Beckford volleyed home the fourth with 10 minutes to go. At this point, I remember thinking that there were more goals in this game and we needed a fifth else we wouldn’t win. As Blackpool pressed for a, quite frankly deserved, equalizer we started to threaten more on the break and it was during one of these that Saha scored his fourth and Everton’s fifth. He instigated the break himself and rather than play Beckford in he went at it alone, running half the length of the field to slot past the Blackpool keeper. A striker scoring 4 in a match is a rare occurrence, and on top of that the match was full of quality. Every Toffee fan arrived that day wanting to beat the Tangerines, a lot left hoping Blackpool would beat the drop.

Everton team: Howard, Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines, Coleman, Bilyaletdinov (Cahill 70), Arteta, Fellaini, Rodwell (Beckford 70), Saha (Jagielka 86)

Goals: Saha (20, 47, 76, 84), Beckford (80)

9: Everton 3 – 2 Newcastle (30th Sep 2013):

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Was this match the start of the Martinez revolution? Or was it simply the sign that Barkley and Lukaku would be deadly together? More time is needed to stumble upon an answer. It’s always been my belief that night matches are best at Goodison and this is evidence of that, as it was a Monday night full of optimism, promise and the usual nail-biting finish that must come hand in hand with every Everton success.

After Lukaku steered a cross in at the near post, Barkley and the Belgian attacker produced 30 minutes or so of top class forward action. Lukaku played the pass of the night to set Barkley up for our second, and they were terrorising the shaky Newcastle defence every time we ventured forwards. In truth, Newcastle were incredibly poor and we deserved the third goal, courtesy of more defensive errors. The match could have finished 6 or 7 nil. It didn’t, and that’s why it doesn’t feature higher on this list. Cabaye pulled one back for the Toon before Remy made us sweat a bit but if we hadn’t have won this match, it would have been a travesty. This probably wouldn’t feature on many peoples list however it does on mine due to the sheer brilliance of Lukaku and Barkley. That first half was nothing short of mesmerising and had me believing Martinez was the way forward for my football club for the first time.

Everton team: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas (Deulofeu 73), Barkley (Naismith 88), Osman (Stones 90), Lukaku

Goals: Lukaku (5, 37), Barkley (25)

8: Everton 1 – 0 Chelsea (14th Sep 2013):

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September 2013 was a good month. We played 3 matches and won all 3, which included the victory over Newcastle I’ve mentioned and Lukaku’s winner at West Ham on his debut. However, for me, the highlight was the first match of the month. The story goes that 3 games into the season, Martinez had got 3 draws and there was a tiny bit of unrest at Goodison. All of that disappeared when on deadline day we signed James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, a wave of optimism spread across our club like winning the jackpot while in a casino. We were Everton and we were quality once again. Chelsea were the first to face the new Everton and, even though Lukaku couldn’t play, they were the first to lose.

This match was the most un-Martinez game we played at Goodison all season. Chelsea dominated almost every aspect of it, having more possession, making more passes and taking more shots. They should have been 2 or 3 up at half time, and would have been at least 1 to the good if it weren’t for new boy Barry making a huge impact by tackling future teammate Eto’o when he had an open goal to aim for. Martinez had pulled a masterstroke by putting Naismith on the right wing against Cole and told him to make a nuisance of himself. The Scot won every header, every tackle and every ball that came near him. He was on fire, and when Cole got taken off after 69 minutes it was clear his career at Chelsea was over. Naismith deserved to score the winner, and score it he did when he headed the ball home from about 2 yards on the stroke of half time. We held on, indeed looked the more comfortable side in the second half and deserved all three points. It was a masterful mix of Moyes’ resilience and Martinez’ flair.

Everton team: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Osman, Barry, Naismith (Stones 89), Barkley, Mirallas (Deulofeu 90), Jelavic (McCarthy 66)

Goal: Naismith (45)

7: Everton 1 – 0 Liverpool (11th Dec 2004):

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You always remember your first derby victory and I’m no different. I’ll be honest I don’t remember much about the match, hence why it doesn’t feature higher, but the two things I do remember, I remember very clearly.

The first: before the match was, I believe, the first time I heard Europe’s The Final Countdown and still to this day no song sends shivers down my spine like it does. I remember pumping myself up, thinking, nay knowing, that this was going to be our day. It was my second derby, the first had been a disaster and in truth, I was just experiencing what every football fan feels on derby day, the sheer belief that we are going to thrash them this time. It usually ends in disappointment but for once, Everton didn’t let us down. Secondly, I remember the goal incredibly well. Lee Carsley seemingly never scored, but there he was stroking the ball home after 68 minutes in front of the Gwladys Street. Which is where I was sat. The goal was nothing special but the crowd celebration certainly was. I’ve never hugged so many strangers, I’d never felt such ecstasy and relief in so many people before and it was a long time before I experienced anything like it again. It’s difficult to explain if you aren’t a sport fan however I’ll give it a go. It’s like an explosion, of both sound and emotion. As the ball ripples into the net, you jump up as one singular being and celebrate anyway you can. It’s the definition of heat of the moment, it’s the only time adults cast their inhibitions aside whilst sober. You don’t, you can’t forget how special that day was.

I’ve never witnessed another derby win live. In truth, I don’t mind that – nothing could possibly match the feelings of that day. It’s an iconic victory; the image of Cahill celebrating on top of an Everton pile has gone down in Everton folklore.

Everton team: Martyn, Hibbert, Stubbs, Weir, Pistone, Carsley, Osman (Watson 87), Gravesen (Yobo 83), Cahill, Kilbane, Bent (Ferguson 76)

Goal: Carsley (68)

6: Everton 4 – 0 Leeds United (28th Sep 2003):

Maybe it is slightly strange that this match comes in ahead of the Carsley derby however it’s a match I remember in a lot more detail, despite being more than a year earlier. It saw the emergence of a promising new Scottish talent, the continuation of a Scottish idol story at Everton and an unlikely hat-trick hero. It also must have been one of my first matches as a season ticket holder.

Steve Watson is far from the most famous Watson in history (or in print, to include the good Doctor John), he isn’t even the most famous Watson to play for Everton, but the 28th Sep 2003 was his day. The right back (admittedly playing in midfield) scored a wonderful hat trick, the first coming thanks to a volley after some nice play with Duncan Ferguson. The second was a stupendous lob from 30 yards after Robinson rushed out and the third came in the second half, a chip from an acute angle. None of it would have been possible if not for James McFadden. McFadden was a new signing from Motherwell and he was the biggest talent Britain had produced in years. Making his full debut, he took the Leeds defence to the cleaners with his exciting runs and promising play. He set Goodison alight that day and looked set to have a very prospering career. In between Watson’s goals was a trademark header from Big Dunc as Everton cruised to a very comfortable and enjoyable victory. When asked about matches I’ve attended at Goodison, this is one of the first I think about.

Everton team: Martyn, Hibbert, Yobo, Stubbs, Unsworth, Watson (Rooney 76), Gravesen, Carsley, McFadden (Linderoth 86), Radzinski (Kilbane 76), Ferguson

Goals: Watson (26, 37, 52), Ferguson (39)

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5: Everton 2 – 0 Chelsea (11th Feb 2012):

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People talk about how Sir Alex Ferguson had 3 teams while at Manchester United. For that to be true, there must have been dramatic periods of transition where a lot of the old guard left and the new guard began to settle. I believe Moyes had 3 teams while at Everton and I see the 2011-12 season as the transition into the third. Following Lescott out the exit door were Yobo, Arteta, Bilyaletdinov, Beckford, Vaughan, Turner and Yakubu. Saha would join them in January and it was Cahill’s last season with us as well. The first half of the season was dreadful but things began to change on the 31st January when Gibson, very much part of Moyes’ third team, blasted home the winner against Man City. We had already signed Nikica Jelavic that day and that night I lay awake frantically refreshing twitter for news regarding the return home of our favourite South African, Steven Pienaar. Confirmed minutes before the window shut, it was impossible not to get excited about! Pienaar, Cahill, Fellaini, Osman, Gibson and Neville – we had a midfield to die for again. The second half of the season was just fantastic as we narrowly missed out on Europe and found ourselves at Wembley. Moyes’ third team began in spectacular fashion on the 11th February.

Pienaar was back at Goodison Park and he was lining up alongside Cahill, Fellaini, Gibson and Donovan. It took 5 minutes for him to score. He intercepted a throw-in, Stracqualursi played the ball off a Chelsea defender and it bounced to Pienaar in the box. It was meant to be as he blasted the ball home. There was no way Chelsea were ever getting anything from this match from that moment on. Donovan was superb but it was Neville who brought about the second goal. Tackling Cole, who went off injured, Neville fed Donovan who beat Luiz and played in Denis. The Stracq couldn’t miss and he duly slotted it past Cech to register his only PL goal. He deserved that, he had worked his socks off for the team and as it turned out, it was a perfect swansong for a wonderful grafter. Chelsea never threatened to come back into it. AVB was gone by the end of the month as we were heading to a fabulous end to the season, thanks to the Jelavic and Pienaar effects.

Everton team: Howard, Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines, Gibson (Hibbert 89), Cahill, Pienaar (Drenthe 74), Fellaini, Donovan, Stracqualursi (Duffy 90)

Goals: Pienaar (5), Stracqualursi (71)

4: Everton 2 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur (9th Dec 2012):

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AVB returned to Goodison Park with a different team just 10 months later, only to leave surely hating the place. Now, there’s a big difference for me between moments and matches, and hence why this features at 4 and not 1 or 2. It was the single greatest 5 minutes that I can remember watching at Goodison but that doesn’t make it the greatest match! In fact, the rest of the match was fairly anonymous and lacking in quality from memory. Despite being the better side, we fell behind to a Dempsey strike, which deflected off Distin in the 76th minute. Tottenham should then have closed the game off but Sigurdsson could only hit the crossbar. That miss cost Spurs 3 points.

Moyes changed the match after 81 minutes by bringing Apostolos Vellios on for Leon Osman. This allowed Fellaini to drop back into the centre of the park and we started dominating proceedings. But it wasn’t until the 90th minute that that dominance paid dividends. Coleman whipped in a cross, Pienaar came charging in Cahill-esque and powered a header past Lloris. 1-1, game on. As the Goodison announcer proclaimed 4 minutes of injury time to play, Gibson sprayed the ball into the box. Vellios tried an overhead kick that didn’t quite come off but instead trickled into the path of Nikica Jelavic. Poor Jela was in one of his goal droughts, however that didn’t mean he was about to miss the chance to snatch 3 points for us! His instincts took over and his second touch once again became a celebration. I mentioned that Lee Carlsey’s winner was the first time I’d felt elation and relief in one moment amongst such a vast number of people, well this was the second. And it wasn’t just the fans. Jelavic stole a guys hat, then got substituted and high fived everyone on the bench. He was delighted to score such a crucial winner for Everton despite being with us for less than a year; maybe that’s why I loved him so much. He would only score one more league goal for us, but don’t worry – that is featured on here too.

Everton team: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Gibson, Osman (Vellios 81), Pienaar, Fellaini, Mirallas (Naismith 46), Jelavic (Heitinga 90)

Goals: Pienaar (90), Jelavic (90) 

Because it’s worth seeing the hat being stolen (he did return it!):

3: Everton 3 – 0 Arsenal (6th April 2014):

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I very nearly didn’t make it to this match. It’s almost like everything was meant to go right on that day. A few weeks previous, Arsenal had lost to someone while we had won and I realised we were only 8 points behind them with 2 games in hand and, obviously, Arsenal to host at Goodison. We won the 2 games in hand then knew we would leapfrog them into the final Champions League spot with a win on my 21st birthday. Given that I grew up with Arsenal and United dominating, any win over them is special but this wasn’t just any win. This was a demolition. Which makes it amazing to think that without the spare tyre in Dad’s boot, we would never have made it.

First of all, credit to Roberto Martinez for pulling off a masterstroke. Lukaku on the right wing tore Monreal a new one with power, pace and strength in the air. He cut inside in the 14th minute to take a shot, which Szczesny could only parry to Naismith who duly opened the scoring. Naismith was the middle of a front three, with Belgians on the either side. Both Mirallas and Lukaku were causing Arsenal problems, with Lukaku scoring the second on the half-hour mark. The ball was swept out to him and he ran at the Arsenal defence, cut inside and unleashed a powerful shot into the bottom corner of the net. There was no coming back from that and Mirallas sealed the victory in the second half by instigating the third goal. That was made sweeter by the fact it was an Arteta own goal, which served him right for kissing the Arsenal badge the match at the Emirates. I have no problem with players celebrating against their ex-clubs but I thought that particular celebration was in poor taste and it tainted my opinion of him. Enough of him, this was easily the best match under Roberto Martinez to date.

Everton team: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines, Barry, McCarthy, Osman (Barkley 10), Lukaku (Deulofeu 86), Naismith (McGeady 81), Mirallas

Goals: Naismith (14), Lukaku (34), Arteta (OG, 61)

These Coleman tricks are worth a watch:

2: Everton 3 – 1 Manchester United (20th Feb 2010):

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Being born and raised in Manchester and supporting a Merseyside football club brought a plethora of problems, one of which was that it wasn’t easy to go to the matches. As a result, I had never attended a match on my own until 2010 when Dad asked me if I wanted to go to the United match on his ticket, as he could no longer go. The journey there was fine; although it was during it I became acutely aware of my slight Mancunian accent for the first time (when asking for a bus ticket in Liverpool it seemed to be much more pronounced!). Having arrived there in one piece, I saw Moyes had chosen an attacking team with Bilyaletdinov, Arteta, Pienaar, Osman and Donovan all crammed into one midfield. It turned out that Arteta and Osman were holding, Donovan on the right, Bily on the left with Pienaar in the centre. Those five were absolutely crucial to this victory.

It didn’t start well, Dimitar Berbatov scored after 16 minutes thanks to some usual lacklustre defending. However, it didn’t take long for us to restore parity as Bilyaletdinov latched onto a loose ball in the centre of the park and blasted it past Van der Sar from about 25 yards. Being honest and reading that back, I don’t do it justice – it was a phenomenal goal! It swerved and it dipped and there was nothing any goalkeeper could have done about it. Donovan, Pienaar and Bilyaletdinov starting switching places with regular aplomb, not allowing the Man U defence a chance to settle and hence stopping their attacking threat. Just when United were coming back into it, Moyes shifted things by bringing Gosling on. Gosling provided a link between Saha and the midfield and it was no surprise that he scored after good work between Pienaar and Donovan. We led, and then another substitute, Rodwell, sealed the win with a surging run from the halfway line and low shot past Van der Sar. It’s still the greatest goal he’s ever scored. Dad had never seen us beat Manchester United, I had done it on the first time I’d been to a match alone. The journey back into Manchester was a particularly special one.

Everton team: Howard, Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines, Arteta, Osman, Donovan, Pienaar (Rodwell 88), Bilyaletdinov (Gosling 70), Saha

Goals: Bilyaletdinov (19), Gosling (76), Rodwell (90) 

1: Everton 2 – 0 Manchester City (16th March 2013):

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This was just a magical 90 minutes of football, a wonderful rear-guard action in the face of intense pressure and two simply stunning goals. There was no way we ever should have won this match. No way. Just a week before, we had exited the FA cup at the quarterfinal stage with an embarrassing 3-0 home loss to eventual champions Wigan. Howard and Jagielka were missing through injury, Neville had been dropped and our bench included youngsters Springthorpe and Duffy as well as the inexperienced Barkley and Oviedo. On the other hand, City still had a slim chance of winning the title. Our season was over; theirs was starting to gather momentum.

Despite all that, we absolutely dominated Manchester City in the first half. Mirallas had a goal disallowed because he was a toe offside, before captain Leon Osman opened the scoring with a wonderful 30-yard curling effort into the top corner. It’s one of the best goals I’ve ever seen. Coleman had produced 4 or 5 step overs before laying the ball back to Osman. There was no danger, so Osman just shot and boy what a shot it was. Did he mean it? Of course he did! City responded well and were the better team by the time Pienaar, on a yellow, left his studs up when tackling Javi Garcia. Down to ten men, so steps forward stand in goalkeeper Jan Mucha. Save after save did the Slovakian make, including a fantastic double from Silva and Milner. He came off his line at the right time, he held the ball if he could or parried it to miles away from danger if not. He was a man possessed and single-handedly kept us in the contest.

Now, I’ve mentioned a few times during this series my love for Nikica Jelavic. I’ve also been trying to understand where it comes from. I think I know now, I think it’s the passion he showed while celebrating goals for us or the importance of the goals he did score in that horrid second season. His last was in the last minute of this match. Fellaini led a break, fed Jelavic in who coolly took it round a defender and curled the ball past Joe Hart. It was a wonderful goal and a totally deserved 3 points. No 90 minutes mean more to me than those that day. It was the last great victory of a special 11 years in charge for David Moyes and it was a day where we showed all our greatest assets: defending, ability on the break and spectacular goals. Rather than what happened after, this is the Moyes I’d like to remember.

Everton team: Mucha, Coleman, Heitinga, Distin, Baines, Gibson, Osman, Pienaar, Fellaini, Mirallas (Naismith 70), Anichebe (Jelavic 90)

Goals: Osman (32), Jelavic (90)

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Football matches can be good, they can be bad and they can be dreadfully boring. There are times you leave Goodison questioning your decision to attend and there can be times when you wish you could live there. Yet, when all is said and done I won’t remember the bad times, I will only be able to recall the good. All it takes is thinking or a read of a match report and all these memories came flooding back to me. It was a pleasure to reminisce and reflect upon good times in days gone by and it’s been a delight to share them with you. As you can see, there is no winning formula for a football match, although I think lots of goals and a convincing/last minute winner is a good place to start. Every football match, every sporting event or even every day could be a classic, even if the overwhelming emotion after it is sadness and therefore it’s worth still going, searching for that moment of joy when everything comes together.

Next time: The final week, this time a look at some of the better goals I’ve seen scored.


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Europa League: Round of 32 results

Last week the Europa League became a knockout tournament. As explained in the draw for this stage, the 8 Champions League third placed teams join the 24 Europa League group winners and second placed sides. From now on in, every match (bar the final) will consist of two legs: a home and away one. The winner of the tie will be determined by aggregate and away goals count (i.e. winning 2-1 at home but losing 1-0 away means you would depart due to the other team scoring that away goal). If the scores are the same after both lots of 90 minutes, such as a 1-0 home win in both legs, then the match progresses to extra time and potentially penalties. Away goals still count in extra time.

In my article, Europa League: Round of 32 draw, I gave you the details regarding the draw for this round. Last thursday (19th Feb) saw the first legs being played and this article will provide you with the details of those results as well as being updated following this weeks matches to show who went through. For some, tonight (26th Feb) should be a formality. It is hard to see how Everton and Napoli (with 4 away goals apiece) will fail to be in the round of 16 however this is football and stranger things have happened in the past. For those reading this before the fixtures tonight, I shall state which British TV channels are showing which matches. All times are the kick off times in Britain.

Anderlecht Belgium v Dynamo Moscow Russia :

First leg (20:05): Anderlecht 0 – 0 Dynamo Moscow

Second leg (17:00): Dynamo Moscow 3 – 1 Anderlecht

  • Mitrović (Anderlecht, 29′)
  • Kozlov (Moscow, 47′)
  • Yusupov (Moscow, 64′)
  • Kurányi (Moscow, 90+5′)

Russia Dynamo Moscow advance 3 – 1 on aggregate

PSV Eindhoven Netherlands v Zenit St Petersburg Russia :

First leg (18:00): PSV 0 – 1 Zenit

  • Hulk (Zenit, 64′)

Second leg (17:00): Zenit 3 – 0 PSV

  • Rondón (Zenit, 29′,67′)
  • Hulk (Zenit, 48′)

Russia Zenit St Petersburg advance 4 – 0 on aggregate

Sevilla Spain v Borussia Mönchengladbach Germany :

First leg (20:05): Sevilla 1 – 0 Mönchengladbach

  • Iborra (Sevilla, 70′)

Second leg (18:00): Mönchengladbach 2 – 3 Sevilla

  • Bacca (Sevilla, 8′)
  • Xhaka (Mönchengladbach, 19′)
  • Vitolo (Sevilla, 26′, 79′)
  • Hazard (Mönchengladbach, 29′)

Spain Sevilla advance 4 – 2 on aggregate

Ajax Netherlands v Legia Warsaw Poland :

First leg (20:05): Ajax 1 – 0 Legia Warsaw

  • Milik (Ajax, 35′)

Second leg (18:00): Legia Warsaw 0 – 3 Ajax

  • Milik (Ajax, 11′, 43′)
  • Viergever (Ajax, 13′)

Netherlands Ajax advance 4 – 0 on aggregate

Guingamp France v Dynamo Kyiv Ukraine :

First leg (20:05): Guingamp 2 – 1 Dynamo Kyiv

  • Veloso (Kyiv, 19′)
  • Beauvue (Guingamp, 72′)
  • Diallo (Guingamp, 75′)

Second leg (18:00): Dynamo Kyiv 3 – 1 Guingamp

  • Teodorcyzk (Kyiv, 31′)
  • Buyalskyi (Kyiv, 46′)
  • Mandanne (Guingamp, 68′)
  • Husyev (Kyiv, 75′ pen)

Ukraine Dyanmo Kyiv advance 4 – 3 on aggregate

Villarreal Spain v Red Bull Salzburg  Austria :

First leg (20:05): Villarreal 2 – 1 Red Bull

  • Uche (Villarreal, 32′)
  • Soriano (Red Bull, 48′ pen)
  • Cheryshev (Villarreal, 54′)

Second leg (18:00): Red Bull 1 – 3 Villarreal

  • Djuricin (Red Bull, 18′)
  • Vietto (Villarreal, 33′, 76′)
  • Dos Santos (Villarreal 79′)

Spain Villarreal advance 5 – 2 on aggregate

Liverpool England v Beşiktaş Turkey :

First leg (20:05): Liverpool 1 – 0 Beşiktaş

  • Balotelli (Liverpool, 85′ pen)

Second leg (18:00 – ITV4): Beşiktaş 1 – 0 Liverpool (AET)

  • Arslan (Beşiktaş, 72′)

1-1 on aggregate, Turkey Beşiktaş advance 5 – 4 on penalties

Tottenham Hotspur England v Fiorentina Italy :

First leg (20:05): Spurs 1 – 1 Fiorentina

  • Soldado (Spurs, 6′)
  • Basanta (Fiorentina, 36′)

Second leg (18:00 – BT Sport 2): Fiorentina 2 – 0 Spurs

  • Gómez (Fiorentina, 54′)
  • Salah (Fiorentina, 71′)

Italy Fiorentina advance 3 – 1 on aggregate

Celtic Scotland v Inter Milan Italy :

First leg (20:05): Celtic 3 – 3 Inter Milan

  • Shaqiri (Inter, 4′)
  • Palacio (Inter, 13′, 45′)
  • Armstrong (Celtic, 24′)
  • Campagnaro (Celtic, 26′ OG)
  • Guidetti (Celtic, 90+3′)

Second leg (18:00 – BT Sport 1): Inter Milan 1 – 0 Celtic

  • Guarín (Inter, 88′)

Italy Inter Milan advance 4 – 3 on aggregate

Young Boys Switzerland v Everton England :

First leg (18:00): Young Boys 1 – 4 Everton

  • Haorau (YB, 10′)
  • Lukaku (Everton, 24′, 39′, 58′)
  • Coleman (Everton, 28′)

Second leg (20:05 – ITV): Everton 3 – 1 Young Boys

  • Sanogo (YB, 13′)
  • Lukaku (Everton, 25′ pen, 30′)
  • Mirallas (Everton, 42′)

England Everton advance 7 – 2 on aggregate

Torino Italy v Athletic Bilbao Spain :

First leg (18:00): Torino 2 – 2 Bilbao

  • Williams (Bilbao, 9′)
  • Lòpez (Torino, 18′, 42′)
  • Gurpegi (Bilbao, 73′)

Second leg (20:05 – BT Sport 2): Bilbao 2 – 3 Torino

  • Quagliarella (Torino, 16′ pen)
  • Iraola (Bilbao, 44′)
  • Lòpez (Torino, 45′)
  • De Marcos (Bilbao, 61′)
  • Darmian (Torino, 67′)

Italy Torino advance 5 – 4 on aggregate

Wolfsburg Germany v Sporting Lisbon Portugal :

First leg (18:00): Wolfsburg 2 – 0 Sporting

  • Dost (Wolfsburg, 46′, 73′)

Second leg (20:05): Sporting 0 – 0 Wolfsburg

Germany Wolfsburg advance 2 – 0 on aggregate

AaB Denmark v Club Brugge Belgium :

First leg (18:00): AaB 1 – 3 Brugge

  • Oulare (Brugge, 25′)
  • Refaelov (Brugge, 29′)
  • Petersen (Brugge, 61′ OG)
  • Helenius (AaB, 71′ pen)

Second leg (20:05): Brugge 3 – 0 AaB

  • Vázquez (Brugge, 11′)
  • Oularé (Brugge, 64′)
  • Bolingoli-Mbombo (Brugge, 74′)

Belgium Club Brugge advance 6 – 1 on aggregate

Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk Ukraine v Olympiakos Greece :

First leg (18:00): Dnipro 2 – 0 Olympiakos

  • Kankava (Dnipro, 50′)
  • Rotan (Dnipro, 54′)

Second leg (20:05): Olympiakos 2 – 2 Dnipro

  • Mitroglou (Olympiakos, 14′)
  • Fedetski (Dnipro, 22′)
  • Domínquez (Olympiakos, 89′ pen)
  • Kalinić (Dnipro, 90′)

Ukraine Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk advance 4 – 2 on aggregate

Trabzonspor Turkey v Napoli Italy :

First leg (18:00): Trabzonspor 0 – 4 Napoli

  • Henrique (Napoli, 6′)
  • Higuaín (Napoli, 20′)
  • Gabbiadini (Napoli, 27′)
  • Zapata (Napoli, 90+2′)

Second leg (20:05): Napoli 1 – 0 Trabzonspor

  • De Guzmán (Napoli, 19′)

Italy Napoli advance 5 – 0 on aggregate

Roma Italy v Feyenoord Netherlands :

First leg (18:00): Roma 1 – 1 Feyenoord

  • Gervinho (Roma, 22′)
  • Kazim-Richards (Feyenoord, 55′)

Second leg (20:05): Feyenoord 1 – 2 Roma

  • Ljajić (Roma, 45′)
  • Manu (Feyenoord, 57′)
  • Gervinho (Roma, 60′)

Italy Roma advance 3 – 2 on aggregate

Of the remaining 16 teams, 5 are from Italy. All Italian teams, Roma, Inter, Fiorentina, Napoli and Torino all made it through and it would be safe money to bet on one of them going all the way. The 2 Russian sides, Zenit and Dyanmo Moscow are competent sides and will be a threat to anyone. Those sides are joined in the next round by a Belgian outfit (Club Brugge), a Turkish threat (Beşiktaş) and a couple of Ukranian teams (Dnipro and Kyiv). Of the remaining powerhouses, Germany saw Mönchengladbach depart but Wolfsburg progress, Spain have Sevilla and Villarreal in the next round but not Bilbao whilst Britain lost all of their representatives except Everton. The final side entering the next stage will be Ajax.

So, as 16 intriguing ties come to an end, another 8 must begin. As with all competitions, the quality will increase with each round gone. As there are fewer and fewer teams, there is more chance of big teams facing each other. Keep checking this blog for updates on European’s second competition.

Next time: the round of 16 draw in full


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Do Champions League sides in the Europa League help or hinder the competition?

For a while now, at varying stages, the 3rd placed finishers in the group stage of the Champions League have entered the Europa League. UEFA’s aim is to promote the smaller tournament by giving it higher quality teams as well as to give some of the bigger teams a longer shot at European glory. The first few years have been successful, allowing the later stages to be watched by a higher number of viewers and increasing the quality of football. However, there are a few people who believe the quality of football is already good enough at this stage of the tournament as well as saying that teams shouldn’t be allowed two shots at Europe once they’ve qualified for a group stage. With the tournament resuming this week, I believe it’s time to take a look at the debate in more detail and allow you to make your own mind up on it.

Before looking at the arguments for and against, it is worth taking a look at the records of Champions League sides in the Europa League. To define, by UCL sides I mean sides that have qualified for or entered at the Champions League group stage. This does not include sides that lost in any of the qualifying rounds for the UCL and qualified for the Europa League as a result. Since the tradition of entry into the UEFA Cup following a third-placed finish in the UCL group stages began in 1999-2000 there has only been four years when any side that dropped down has failed to make the final. Despite this, in each of these years one side progressed to the semi-finals. So that means in every year since it began at least one side from the UCL has graced the semi-finals. Is it fair to say they dominate? Yes, to an extent the bigger sides do. However, in the 15 seasons it has been a part of the competition only 6 UCL sides have lifted the trophy. Four of these finals were UCL sides beating other UCL sides, so the general rule is that sides who stay in the competition for the longest tend to win it.

It is apparent early on that there are positives to this arrangement. Chelsea used the drop into the “ugly sister” of European competitions to great effect by winning the competition to boost their trophy cabinet. Viewing figures are increasing year on year, a probable result of the higher calibre of sides dropping down following the increase of quality in Europe as a whole. Champions League groups are competitive as a rule, so finishing third is not usually an embarrassment and therefore you should be allowed to continue in European competitions. Backing this theory up is the fact that recent entrants include Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Atlético Madrid. Benfica, the most successful European side to have never won a trophy, have fallen into the competition 5 times, two of which ended in the final and one in the semi-finals.

As a case study, the 2009-10 Europa League is a perfect example of how clubs are still competitive with the UCL sides thrown in. Fulham reached the final by beating Juventus and Wolfsburg along the way. Both sides had finished third in their respective Champions League groups. The other UCL sides that year were Liverpool, Unirea, Marseille, Rubin Kazan, Standard Liege and Atlético. Four made the quarter finals while only Liverpool and Atlético made the semi’s, with Atlètico going on to win. This only happened because Fulham lost energy following their run and the extra time period. This year does not stand-alone; the majority of the Europa League sides are competitive when playing UCL ones however the quality of the UCL does usually shine through eventually.

Better days for Fulham fans

Better days for Fulham fans

The way I see it, the UCL sides are mainly split into three categories. The first, boasting sides such as City and United, don’t take it seriously and use it as a European competition to play fringe players and good youth prospects. Sides such as Benfica, Shakthar Donetsk and Atlético have used it to improve their European pedigree to get favourable UCL group stage draws in the future whilst the final category (Rangers, Celtic etc) are clearly not good enough for the Champions League and always aimed to take a stab at the Europa League instead. It appears to me that the second and third groups actively promote and enhance the UEL whilst the first stunts it. How then, do you rid or improve the first group while retaining the second and third and keeping the competition open to those who have been in it from the start?

One of the main reasons for UCL sides not being overly successful in the secondary competition is because there have been little incentives for them to participate in it. Of the 6 winners, I would class only Chelsea as a side who broke the mould of their stature. The bigger sides, such as Chelsea, usually don’t want to risk participation in Europe’s secondary competition harming their league bid for the UCL through injury and fixture congestion. To fix this problem, UEFA have now handed UCL qualification automatically to the winners of the UEL. This was a wonderful move as it has made every participating team take it more seriously. However, it would appear unfair if a side that wasn’t good enough for this year’s UCL qualify for next years simply by winning a different European competition. If UEFA are serious about keeping the big sides in and interested in the Europa League then they should take into consideration the possibility of reducing the knockout ties to one leg.

Now we’ve had a brief look at how these sides help the Europa League, how do they hinder it? Well the main idea to stem from this thought is the apparent unfairness to sides participating in the Europa League from the start, as I’ve touched briefly upon numerous times already. To back this up, I take my line of argument from the 2004-05 UEFA Cup. Sporting Lisbon reached the final that year, beating Feyenoord, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and AZ along the way. All of those sides had competed in the Europa League group stage yet the side that Sporting lost to in the final, CSKA, hadn’t. Coincidentally, CSKA didn’t face a fellow UCL side at all during their time in the Europa League. This reaffirms my belief that sides deserve a fair shot at succeeding in the tournament they qualified for rather than losing to a side that failed in their initial competition. There is something not right about a side winning a tournament who weren’t present when the first round proper began. Before you throw the FA Cup argument at me, the first round is more like the second first qualifying round – many agree the competition doesn’t really begin until the third round, plus the Premier League and Championship sides haven’t been previously involved in a parent competition.

With the introduction of qualification for the champions league on offer for the winners came the widely held belief that sides would now play full strength teams throughout the tournament. If this is true and in the next few years the UCL sides dominate then all this will do is stunt the growth of sides that regularly qualify for the final stages of the UEL but meet the dropouts and lose. Rather than be incentive for clubs to improve and grow in European stature, it will allow the great to get better and the good to stagnate. For a side like Everton, it was a valid way to test ourselves in the Champions League qualification however now with the introduction of Liverpool, Roma and Sporting Lisbon, all of whom have good enough squads to win and incentive to, the job has got so much harder. Is that fair? Well, not really – especially on Wolfsburg, second in the Bundesliga but facing Lisbon in the first knockout round of the Europa League. Of course, UEFA will argue the best will always rise to the top and if that happens to be one of the Europa League group qualifiers then the system works.

How do Inter feel with the influx of UCL teams?

How do Inter feel with the influx of UCL teams?

Could the Europa League progress without the introduction at this stage of the UCL sides? Well, logistically the tweak would be to let the 8 best third placed finishers from the groups qualify for the next round and as a knock-on effect let the 8 best second placed sides be seeded. I believe that third placed finishers should be rewarded in some shape or form; however dropping them into a completely different competition seems a little unfair (despite the coupling of the two being increased by the new prize for the winners). Logistically it would work fine, so how about financially? It’s difficult to say what impact the Champions League sides actually have upon the finances and viewing figures of the EL. It’s clear that there is some positive impact however with the increasing stature of the competition plus increasing quality of football being played, it’s realistic to say that their effect is negligible, even without the figures in front of me. The major problem for the Europa League is the negative press it receives and placing failed Champions League sides does nothing but maximise that. UEFA should be brave enough to allow it to stand on its own two feet and show the world just what a competitive and quality competition it is.

I believe there is little need for UCL sides in the Europa League once the Champions League group stage has kicked off. At that point, the two competitions should be kept separate, as this would allow the sides in the Europa League to flourish and win some silverware. Under my proposed change, Sevilla, Wolfsburg, Villarreal and Tottenham would all be seeded in the first knockout round along with the likes of Inter Milan, Feyenoord, Napoli and Everton. Would this be such a bad thing? The quarter-final line up could well be those 8 teams, and the majority of them wouldn’t look out of place in a Champions League group. By dropping Champions League sides into this competition, UEFA degrade it when there is no apparent need to.

Liverpool were dreadful in the Champions League but with an upturn in fortunes in the league they are now one of the favourites in the Europa League. Fair?

Liverpool were dreadful in the Champions League but with an upturn in fortunes in the league they are now one of the favourites in the Europa League. Fair?

Of course, like every scenario there are positives and the point of this article was to highlight the key arguments for both sides. It is wonderful that sides remain competitive; proving the gap between the two tournaments is not big by any stretch, yet that competition could be being stretched by the extra incentive this year. On the other hand, the better players could raise the game of sides such as Napoli, Inter and Sevilla improving the competition further. In truth, the UCL sides both hinder and help the competition in different ways. What is for sure is that the next few years will tell us whether their continued inclusion will allow the Europa League to grow or stagnate. This debate isn’t one for now, yet one for five years time.

Keep tuned for updates on how the knockout rounds progress.


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Predicting the unpredictable

The conclusion of the January transfer window seems like an ideal time to assess and predict the remainder of the 2014/15 Premier League season. All of the teams have now had the chance to strengthen, which some took more advantage of than others. In truth, January is a tough time to do business as the players most clubs want all cost too much. Clubs are much more reluctant to sell in January, with the window being only open for a month the time to draft in replacements runs out fast. On top of that, the FA Cup starts for the big clubs and the Premier League is in full flow hence there are more matches than August meaning managers time is away from transfers and on winning football matches.

This window was the most boring one I can remember. Deadline day petered out with little drama compared to even previous January deadline days. Liverpool, Tottenham, the Manchester clubs and Newcastle chose not to take part with Chelsea concluding their dealings as quick as they could, Everton brought one person in and Southampton made one more loan signing (another – because Everton last year was cheating but Southampton doing it is fine. The hypocrisy in our media is sickening). Even Harry Redknapp couldn’t wind his window down to spite his usual rubbish to Sky Sports. The reporters, who are usually like salivating dogs waiting for their favourite treat, were more like broken records, repeating news about the same deals hour after hour. Essentially, deadline day did nothing to change my opinions on this season.

What are those opinions? Well, before I go into details, the table as it stands is worth a glance:

Pos Team Pld W D L GD Pts
1 Chelsea 23 16 5 2 +32 53
2 Manchester City 23 14 6 3 +23 48
3 Manchester United 23 12 7 4 +17 43
4 Southampton 23 13 3 7 +20 42
5 Arsenal 23 12 6 5 +19 42
6 Tottenham Hotspur 23 12 4 7 +5 40
7 Liverpool 23 11 5 7 +6 38
8 West Ham United 23 10 6 7 +8 36
9 Swansea City 23 9 6 8 −3 33
10 Stoke City 23 9 5 9 −2 32
11 Newcastle United 23 8 6 9 −6 30
12 Everton 23 6 8 9 −3 26
13 Crystal Palace 23 5 8 10 −9 23
14 Sunderland 23 4 11 8 −12 23
15 West Bromwich Albion 23 5 7 11 −12 22
16 Aston Villa 23 5 7 11 −19 22
17 Burnley 23 4 8 11 −17 20
18 Hull City 23 4 7 12 −13 19
19 Queens Park Rangers 23 5 4 14 −18 19
20 Leicester City 23 4 5 14 −16 17

Title: Chelsea

Costa, Fabregas and Courtois have been revelations for Chelsea this season

Costa, Fabregas and Courtois have been revelations for Chelsea this season

Being five points clear and having played their nearest rivals Manchester City twice, this was a simple prediction to make. I’ve said all along that Chelsea will win the league this year. All that was wrong last year was the lack of a regular goal scorer and the inability to beat sides in the lower half of the table. This season they’ve signed Costa and Fabregas as well as improving their consistency. On top of that, Courtois is probably the best goalkeeper in the country. Defence solid, midfield electric and strikers reliable, it’s tough to see them throwing this away.

With that being said, it is worth pointing out that there is still a chance for Manchester City. I admire Wilfried Bony, he has a real eye for goal and that can only get better now he’s playing alongside Silva, Navas, Nasri et al. Can they close the gap? It is no longer in their hands. Chelsea need to drop points but any team can lose at any time in this league, it is unpredictable at the best of times. For example, Tottenham tore Chelsea apart on New Year’s Day, giving City hope. There’s a chance but it’s slim and I fully expect Mourinho’s experience, pragmatism and confidence to see Chelsea home.

Top Four: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham

Can Harry Kane's goals promote Tottenham to the Champions League?

Can Harry Kane’s goals promote Tottenham to the Champions League?

The first two were obvious, the second not so. The race for fourth is as fascinating as ever, with United, Southampton, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and even arguably West Ham in the hunt for two spaces. I believe United will nail third place down for the simple reason that they have no European commitments and therefore very few midweek matches. With Di Maria, Falcao, Van Persie, Rooney, Mata and De Gea they really should be getting champions league football. On top of that, the signings of Rojo and Blind have given them the defensive steel they needed. Blind is a player I rate incredibly highly; he can play in midfield or at left back with equal aplomb. His passing is sublime and work rate admirable; he could be the key difference in the race for champions league football.

I said that United will finish third because they have no mid-week matches, well I believe Tottenham will secure fourth because they do have mid-week matches. Bucking the usual trend, the Europa League has improved Tottenham this season. Lamela, Eriksen and Kane have used it to force their way into the first team and now those three are the most exciting attacking trio in the Premier League. Pochettino is a talented young manager who plays an attractive brand of football. He’s getting the best out of last season’s failures (except Soldado who is beyond hopeless) and they have only lost once since the beginning of December. That run could be because the Europa League has gone on a break and the run could finish when europe resumes at the end of this month however it also could be because they have the quality to reach fourth place, which I think is more likely.

It’s worth briefly mentioning my reasons for not including the others here. The team who I think will push Tottenham closest are Arsenal, the deciding factor between the two for me was my gut. The gunners possess the firepower required for fourth and higher; Sanchez, Welbeck, Ozil, Walcott and the Ox are more than adequate for the Champions League however they lack the togetherness that I feel from Tottenham right now. This weekend’s derby will tell us a lot, as my prediction could be based on good form rather than better quality. Liverpool have crept from nowhere to become very much a factor in this race again and with Sturridge back from injury they will feel they have enough to make the leap and secure Champions League football again. They are as good as the teams above them however I see them just falling short. Unfortunately I feel that Southampton will fall away, the sides that aren’t used to Champions League tend to and Southampton won’t be an exception to that. They are unbelievably close to doing something remarkable and I hope Koeman stays to improve them further next season.

The engine to United's car

The engine to United’s car

Europa League: Liverpool, Arsenal (possibly Southampton too depending on FA Cup)

The problem with the previous paragraph is that it has outlined my reasons for these spots in the league. Liverpool are currently four points behind Southampton, so why do I think they will overhaul that deficit? Simply put, experience of being in and around the top of the table. I believe Koeman is a better manager than Rodgers however Liverpool possess the better players. The key difference between Arsenal & Liverpool and Southampton is the strike force. Pelle has proved himself to be a good goalscorer however is he in Sturridge’s, Sterling’s, Welbeck’s or Sanchez’s league? No, he isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Southampton are an incredible side who have surprised everyone this season and I am praying that they finish fourth, I just can’t see it happening. A positive for Southampton should be that they’ve recently come through a tough set of fixtures while remaining in fourth place. If, and it’s a big if, they continue to pick up wins then they might just upset the apple cart.

Now, I contradicted myself by saying Arsenal would push Tottenham closest however then stating they will finish sixth. I’ve done that because if one team can push a side close for fourth and then drop away to finish sixth, it will almost certainly be Arsenal (or Everton). Despite all their positive qualities, the flaw that still remains is the ability to self-destruct and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them finish behind Liverpool by a point after being ahead of Tottenham by 3 or 4 going into April.

Relegation: Aston Villa, QPR, Leicester

Too good to go down? Give me a break

Too good to go down? Give me a break

Firstly, Palace and West Brom both did the sensible thing and appointed Pardew and Pulis respectively at the right time in the season and that will be enough to see both safe. They were proactive rather than reactive and that attitude is rewarded more often than not. Another side that were proactive in January was Sunderland, who probably did the best business out of any of the 20 by swapping Altidore for Defoe. In goal-scoring terms that is like swapping a Ford Focus for a Bugatti Veyron, replacing a Henry with a Dyson. It’s not that Altidore is a bad player; it’s more that he lacks the striker’s instinct to score goals.

Hull and Burnley are in deep trouble. Hull’s supposed strengthening in the summer hasn’t helped and Bruce’s men look closer and closer towards the exit door of the premier league. I, however, think they will pull themselves out of it at the very death of the season. I haven’t looked at fixtures, nor is it time to yet. I simply believe that a strike force of Jelavic and Hernandez will get you goals more games than not and that will be enough for them to survive. Burnley would be the favourites to replace them in the drop zone but it is more hope than good judgement that I’ve plumped for Villa instead. I admire Sean Dyche and would love nothing more than to see the plucky underdogs defy the pre-season expectations and stay in the promised land. Using logical arguments to back this theory up, they’ve gambled on losing Ings on a free by keeping him until the end of the season. Goals, goals, goals are what survival in this division is all about. Sunderland have Defoe, Hull Jelavic and Burnley Ings. Goals are money in this league and the transfer fee received for Ings wouldn’t have covered the money survival brings. It is once again sensible thought from a club who seem very grounded.

Going down

Going down

Goals are precisely what Aston Villa lack. In Benteke, Weimann and Agbonlahor they have the best strikers of teams in the mix but they can’t buy a goal this season. They are currently on their second goalless run of the season, having failed to score between the 13th September and the 2nd November (thereby cancelling their October goal of the month award); they now haven’t scored since the 20th December (presumably they haven’t bothered with a January award either). In recent weeks they have lost to West Brom and Leicester and for me, I can’t see how they can turn this around and survive. As for the other two, QPR and Leicester both appear down already. While mathematically that is far from the case, both sides lack the required quality in all departments to match those directly above them. If either will pull themselves out of the mess they are in, it will be Leicester. QPR’s financial problems meant they weren’t able to spend money on players during the window and a load more were reluctant to come on loan. Despite what their chairman says, they are a side full of mercenary’s who care little beyond the amount of money they receive at the end of the week and I won’t be sad to see them depart this division. The saving grace for them is that finally the biggest fraud and nastiest man in football has resigned, maybe with a better manager they will improve but I highly doubt it, Redknapp has ruined yet another football club

And Finally… Everton

A very rare victory

A very rare taste of victory

Where will we finish? Safely mid table, probably the top half and hopefully 8th. Disappointing in many ways is the way we haven’t been able to keep up with Tottenham, Liverpool and Southampton as we have the squad to challenge them. Unless we win the Europa League (we won’t) there is no way we will be in Europe next season, which will probably see Mirallas and one or two others leave. This will break up the best Everton squad of my lifetime, which will obviously be a massive shame. You can do nothing but shrug your shoulders and say “hey ho, this happens every now and then”. It’s frustrating but life goes on. If we can keep McCarthy, Coleman, Lukaku, Stones and Jagielka fit then there is a small chance we will make it into 7th place but it will require something spectacular from now until the end.

So, there we have it – my thoughts on how the premier league will finish up. No, it’s not hugely controversial and it is incredibly unlikely to all be right however at this point in time this is the most likely outcome of this season. The EPL has a way of throwing up results you don’t see coming and therefore I still expect a few twists and turns in the last 15 games of the season. Usually the place you occupy now is one or two away from where you finish however recent seasons has shown this is not always the case. If a side goes on a good run, they could finish anywhere. Let me know what you think about this, I want to hear disagreements (or agreements) and your reasoning why. The beauty of sport is the many different angles you can approach while trying to predict it. I believe goals will decide this season’s standings while someone out there will believe it to be defences. For that reason, I encourage you to get in touch and ridicule or praise my views.


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Prime Memories – 8. Dan Gosling’s Derby Goal, ’09

8

Surely there can’t be a scenario where your favourite aspects of a sport combine in a moment of pure genius? Well, for me there was!

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about whether watching sport was illogical or not. I concluded that the endorphins released when victorious produce a much greater feeling than those produced when losing  and therefore you carry on watching it. In many ways, Harmison’s wicket that I talked about last week is one of these examples. That morning had been painful and then, all of a sudden, it was one of the greatest sporting moments I had watched. This week’s instalment in Prime Memories is a, please excuse this, prime example of what I meant in that article.

I love the FA Cup. I believe it is a truly magical tournament, one of the few remaining cups where you genuinely feel that anyone can beat anyone if they play well. Now that the good old days where you could put together a good manager and team and win the league title have gone, the FA cup is all that’s left for old fashioned football fans who prefer to see team spirit and underdogs prevailing over the favourites. I don’t remember those days, mainly because I wasn’t born, yet I see that the sheer overload of money into our game has ruined the romance and theatre of it. The FA Cup therefore has always been my solace, something to look forward to, admire and want to win. As an Everton fan in this day and age, the silverware opportunities are limited to the cups and therefore it takes more importance.

I enjoy last minute winners a lot as well. There is nothing quite as wonderful as watching your side score one of these. Jelavic’s against Tottenham is the one that immediately springs to mind when people ask me for my favourites as well as Baines’ equalising free kick against Chelsea, not quite a winner but a very important goal! Last minute winners are enjoyable when they aren’t even for your team (although fairly rubbish if against your team!). For example, on the 10th August 2013, I was watching Forest away at Blackburn with ForestJosh and the atmosphere when Darius Henderson whacked home a winner in the 92nd minute was truly infectious.

I truly savour victories over Liverpool, although defeats against them are hard to take and therefore I don’t tend to relish Derby days. The good Derby days will stay with me forever, with my favourite being the 3-0 victory at Goodison, when Andy Johnson scored twice. There haven’t been many good Derby days at Anfield, given that Everton haven’t won there since 1999 when Kevin Campbell scored the only goal. I don’t remember that match and so the closest I have come to seeing a victory there was when we had a disallowed goal last season! One day soon that has to change, but this article isn’t going to look at when that could be!

Finally, I appreciate when a youngster can make an impact on a game. A youngster who isn’t known outside of the club, maybe not even one that has been talked about by people as a prospect although any youngster making an impact deserves to be applauded. Everton have had many an example of these down the years, with possibly none introducing themselves as dramatically as Wayne Rooney did against Arsenal – people certainly remembered the name! Joe Royle played for us when he was 16, which was the age James Vaughan was when he became, and he still is, the Premier League youngest goalscorer (Everton have three players on the top 10 list) whereas the current crop includes Barkley and Duffy. Not all have come through the academy but Everton nonetheless have a proud record of youngsters playing for the first team.

Surely there can’t have been a situation where a youngster scores a last minute winner in an FA Cup match against Liverpool?

The line ups from the tie at Anfield

The line ups from the tie at Anfield

The FA cup of 2008/09 started in an unremarkable fashion for Everton. Playing Macclesfield away, they weren’t fluent and scraped a 1-0 victory. If Everton wanted to have a cup run, they would need to play a lot better as you could guarantee the opposition would get harder. On the 4th January 2009, these suspicions were confirmed when Everton were pitted away to their bitter rivals, Liverpool. Unsurprisingly the match was chosen for TV, being shown as a lunchtime kick off on Sunday 25th January. The match was a fairly boring affair, with Everton choosing, in very David Moyes style tactics, to sit back and defend. Everton favoured avoiding losing rather than winning, a plan that is not necessarily a bad thing and indeed worked for many years with us. There was a bit of surprise when, in the 27th minute, Joleon Lescott turned in a Steven Pienaar corner after Cahill had flicked it on. When Tim Howard let Gerrard’s shot squirm through his body on the 54th minute, Liverpool looked the better team and probably deserved to win. Everton held on for a draw and took the tie back to Goodison.

After Lescott put Everton ahead in the first half, Gerrard equalised in the second

After Lescott put Everton ahead in the first half, Gerrard equalised in the second

The fifth round draw threw up very few ties that whetted the excitement and so tabloids and media outlets were drawn to the possibility that one of the Merseyside teams would face Aston Villa, going well in the Premier League, should Villa win their own replay. I mention this because I remember being annoyed at a headline  I saw, and unfortunately I can’t remember where otherwise I would find it, which declared “Liverpool play Villa as fifth round draw fails to excite”. This was one of the first times I had come across the assumption that Liverpool would always beat Everton and it rattled me to the extent where I had never felt so passionate about a football match. In my opening paragraphs where I talked about my favourite aspects to football, I failed to mention my love for mid-week matches. This match was a mid-week match, being on Wednesday 4th February, and I had spent the whole day trying to stay calm, although I had found no method that worked!

The lineups for the tie at Goodison

The lineups for the tie at Goodison

The match was scrappy, as many expected, and clear cut chances were few and far between. It was far from being a classic however Everton were given the first boost of the night when Gerrard limped off injured in the 16th minute. Yellow cards were more apparent in the first hour than sights of goal with Cahill, Pienaar, Neville and Lucas all going into the referee’s notebook. David Moyes made his first change in the 52nd minute when he took the ineffective Fellaini off and replaced him with young star Dan Gosling. Gosling had been a regular substitute for Everton and while he hadn’t done anything remarkable, his all round play had been enough for Everton fans to believe there was potential there. Liverpool created the first opportunity of real note when Howard smothered a shot from Riera, an obscure 00’s footballer if ever there was one, after a mistake from Jagielka. It was Everton, however, who came closest to breaking the deadlock when Arteta and Osman combined only for the latter to whack the post from a tight-ish angle. Red cards have become a sadly inevitable part of Merseyside Derbies and Liverpool were the team on the receiving end here when Lucas got sent off, a second yellow, for an innocuous, but definite, trip on Lescott. Everton then started taking the initiative by playing with more intent and purpose however they couldn’t find the breakthrough before the end of the 90 minutes.

Gerrard's injury and Lucas' red card turned the tie in Everton's favour

Gerrard’s injury and Lucas’ red card turned the tie in Everton’s favour

As this was a replay, extra time occurred and from the first whistle of the first period it was clear that Everton were going to go for the win, while Liverpool were prepared to settle for the penalty shoot out.  Osman again fashioned an opportunity, but a smart save from Reina denied him who then recovered to save from Gosling. A corner was the result and Cahill headed it wide, inches away from finding that all important breakthrough. As Everton grew more frantic and their fans grew increasingly restless, Moyes decided to turn to Andy Van der Meyde. By taking off Neville, Moyes sacrificed a likely penalty taker for someone who would offer more width and attacking intent. In a moment of genius, Moyes had reignited Everton’s push for a win in extra time, although it wouldn’t be easy.

118 minutes into the match, Everton were nicely passing it around the centre circle before Lescott got the ball and my screen went black. ITV’s coverage cut to Eon’s title screen for their sponsorship before my feed returned to the match. Van der Meyde had the ball and he crossed it into the area where it fell at the feet of Dan Gosling. Now, it has to be said that Gosling showed remarkable composure for a 19 year old here. His first touch was slightly wrong which allowed a Liverpool defender, Arbeloa, to get back to him. In the space of seconds he had gone from having a clear sight of goal to having three defenders surrounding him. Did he panic? Not one bit! He calmly jinxed the ball one way and then the other before curling it, via a couple of deflections, into the top corner of the net. I went crazy; possibly waking the whole street up, Goodison went crazy, while the red half of Liverpool went silent. Not only was this a last minute winner in a derby match, it was a wonderful goal too. As the ITV commentator, Clive Tyldesley, put it, it was the finish of a seasoned professional. One of my later thoughts was towards the journalist who presumed Liverpool would win!

The goal led to wild celebrations from the Everton players

The goal led to wild celebrations from the Everton players

Little did I know that half the country had missed the goal; what I had presumed to be a glitch in the ITV system had turned into a full scale advert break and when pictures returned, Everton players were celebrating. The fall-out from that rather overshadowed a fantastic victory for Everton but at least it highlighted just how poor ITV are at showing sport. The footage that half the country received made its way onto you-tube and so I will include a link to this video at the bottom of the article.

"On yer head" Half the country saw completely different to Dan Gosling's goal

“On yer head” Half the country saw completely different to Dan Gosling’s goal

For the reasons detailed in the first 5 paragraphs, this goal is deserving of a place on the list. The only reason it isn’t higher is due to the fact that this was only the fourth round and realistically, a fifth round appearance in a cup shouldn’t be seen as a successful return for Everton. There was still work to do in that regard but the cup run had been set up in perfect fashion. Dan Gosling didn’t do much else in his Everton career but I will always be grateful for him due to this goal. It is a goal that I never get tired of watching for both its class and its importance. Nights really don’t get much better than that one, although it would have been a lot better had I been at Goodison!

Gareth’s Awards:

Legacy of the Goal: I can’t even consider Gosling for this, sadly, as all he did after this was score a goal against Manchester United, get injured and force us to remove him from his contract – leaving him free to join Newcastle United and bench-warm. It wasn’t the reason for Rafa’s departure from Liverpool and it wasn’t the click that Van der Meyde needed so I have to look further than the football field. Step forward tic-tacs. Their advert was the one which ITV cut to and so, as a way of apology, the company that owns them filmed an advert that was a mock-up of the goal. Once again I’ll include a link to a you-tube clip of this advert at the end of this article.

A screen-shot of the apology video

A screen-shot of the apology video

Reason for the Goal: Gerrad’s injuries and Lucas’ red card definitely inspired Everton and gave them the belief that they could win however I don’t like saying that other team’s mistakes/frailties were the reasons for our victories. I would give this to Moyes for changing the team tactically by bringing both Gosling and Van der Meyde on but I want to give this instead to one of the guys I have just mentioned. Specifically Van der Meyde. He came on, gave us width and managed to find just one cross that reached another player. He changed the dimension of our player and during his torrid time at Goodison, this was his definite highlight. Thanks Shandy!

Played Shandy! The substitution that provided the catalyst for the goal

Played Shandy! The substitution that provided the catalyst for the goal

Video clips:

General highlights of the match: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeGVA2JWoGo

ITV’s stream during the goal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qUx3RPdlcM

Tic-tac mock advert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evkrLX8Vltk