Tag Archives: birmingham city

Second Chances: Birmingham City

Big Eck has a GOB moment: "I've made a huge mistake..."

Oh Birmingham City, we’ve seen this before.  After a 16-season stint in the lower divisions, the Blues were promoted in 2002… and then finished three seasons mid-table, before enduring four more yo-yo years into the Championship and back.  Yet last season was supposed to be different. Under the guidance of Carson Yeung and Alex McLeish, Brum finished a respectable ninth in 2010 with a stingy defence and a young keeper on-loan.  Who cared if they couldn’t score? It was a new era.

Ugh. Fast forward 12 months.  Despite their first trophy in almost 50 years, and an appearance in the FA Cup semi-final, Brum rode a train of mediocrity into relegation.  Before their historic victory over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, City were 6-12-9.  The 30 points weren’t great… but it left them only a handful of wins away from the magic safety zone of 40.  But after that,  Birmingham only won twice in their last 12 matches… including three straight losses at the end to send them down, allowing Wigan (ugh) and Wolves to remain.

Now McLeish’s defection to hated Aston Villa has fans on both sides of Birmingham screaming Blue murder.   But unlike other serious rivalries, the teams’ exposure to each other has been spotty over the years… while the Second City derby features a couple of key players that have swapped shades of  blue,  with a lot of claret thrown in.

Ridgewell can't believe McLeish left him at City. COME. ON.

One such player is the sensational Liam Ridgewell, who joined Birmingham from Aston Villa in 2007.    The left back scored as many goals as the club’s strikers this season, which is probably a statement on both Ridgewell’s talent and the dire situation in Birmingham’s attack.  Ridgewell signed a new contract last summer… but West Brom have come calling, offering £3 million.   City thinks he’s worth more,  and so does this writer.  The big clubs could do worse than pick up him up.

After 200 matches, Sebastian Larsson is set to leave the Blues, having declined a new contract with the relegated side.  His father says the right winger has signed at Sunderland for Steve Bruce… the man who brought the Swede to St. Andrews in the first place. 

England back-up keeper Ben Foster is no youngster… but has always seemed a star-in-waiting.  Foster performed admirably this season, replacing his contemporary Joe Hart in net with one of the league’s highest save percentages, while facing the second-most shots.  Foster is a Premier League keeper, plain and simple.  I will make a call and say this West Midlander will follow McLeish to Villa.

Roger Johnson and Scott Dann would have received England call-ups, had it not said “Birmingham City” on their badges.  Roger Johnson started almost every match for the Brummies, while Scott Dann had his season cut short by injuries.  Both will likely get a sniff from the big clubs, including Dann, a Scouser whose name is creating rumbles at Anfield.  Meanwhile, Johnson is tough and good in the air.  Both made it onto the score sheet… and neither are afraid of a booking now and then.

Birmingham’s skipper — Stephen Carr — is 34… kind of up there in football years.  But the right back was the lynch pin for the club’s excellent defence: the Irishman started almost as many games as Johnson.  It’s likely he will stay because a) he has extended his contract by a year, and b) his former coach at Spurs and Ireland — Chris Hughton — is the front runner to take McLeish’s place.  Still… Carr’s performance this year merits another kick at the Premiership can.

Do you know which Villa player led the club in fouls and yellow cards? Ashley Young (stop snickering!).  Now that the team’s “hard man” (uncontrollable guffawing) looks bound for Manchester United, and Nigel Reo-Coker (a man who actually would give us nightmares, were we would good enough to play Premier League football) has been released, the club needs some steel in the middle.  Cue Barry Ferguson

Gardner tries the old hand-over-the-badge trick...

Finally, we have Craig Gardner — Birmingham’s answer to Steven Gerrard, circa Istanbul.  Gardner led his team in both goals and infractions this past seaon.  In a Robbie Keane-like obfuscation, Gardner has claimed to be a lifelong Villa or City fan — depending where he’s playing.  Yet he could still return to Villa Park.  After the vitriol that’s greeted Big Eck, the move would likely have Lions fans foaming at the mouth.   However, he has been linked with a move to the Northeast, either Newcastle or Sunderland.

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Premier League: Arsenal to Blackpool

No Big Ears for you, Sir Alex. Just little wee Scottish ones...

Hello.  Remember us?  Your favourite Interweb football journos-slash-pundits-slash-hacks? We know, we know, we haven’t posted in awhile.   But that’s because we’ve been busy doing very important stuff.  Ian’s been planning his wedding… and I’ve been… well, let’s just say it’s reaaaaaallly hard to get up in the morning.  Stuff is hard. 

But since we’ve last written for your reading pleasure, the MLS has started, the European leagues have finished, Barcelona has proven they are actual Valhallian gods… and FIFA has engaged in a circle-like exercise usually reserved for fraternity initiations. 

Nevertheless, we have been paying attention.  Honest.  So now that the dust has settled, and Manchester United fans have realized that their squad won the Premier League by default this season, let’s get to my picks of the Premier League’s best…. which are not up for discussion.

"Lalalala... I can't hear jeuuw... lalalalalala..."

ARSENAL
Robin Van Persie (NED) — Sigh.  This one pains me.  Robin Van Persie bugs me.  He’s a shining example of why the people hate the Dutch… national team.  He is, quite simply, a bit of a whiner and he was injured a lot.  But when he did play, he found the back of the net almost every match.  Twenty-two goals in 27 matches.  Cesc who?

Young hears the big clubs calling for him.

ASTON VILLA
Ashley Young (ENG) — A supremely talented winger who will not be with the squad, come August.  Young was a stalwart of a team that really didn’t survive the abrupt departure of Martin O’Neill.   He lead the team in scoring in all competitions… but his real talent lays in his crosses. Rumours are that he is headed for Old Trafford.  Hopefully, Sir Alex will help him lose his Ronaldo-like habit of falling over in the box at the slightest touch.

Bye-bye Birmingham?

BIRMINGHAM
Liam Ridgewell (ENG) — A centre back by trade, Ridgewell was a shining light at left back on a defensive squad that should have been too good to go down. This writer believes he could compete with Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines for England’s LB spot.  In fact, Capello might do the whole country good by switching Ridgewell to the right, thereby ending the Glen Johnson experiment. Although Ridgewell signed a three-year deal last year, look for the East Ender to quickly return to the Prem.  Fulham, anyone?

Samba: The bright light on an awful team

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Christopher Samba (CON) — While I was tempted to pick Jason Roberts — aka the Second Coming of Alan Shearer (Ed. Note: While I writing that line, I laughed so hard, I had to get a Kleenex) — with his five goals in all competitions, I have to go with a man who was a giant on a team of footballing dwarves.  Samba stood tall in the middle of the defence on a team that missed Big Sam.  Wow… I never thought I’d write that. The blogosphere is rife with rumours that the Congolese national is heading to the Emirates.

BLACKPOOL
Charlie Adam (SCO) — A right pest in the midfield, Adam did himself a thousand favours by leaving Rangers in 2009 for a squad that had recently been promoted, and was languishing at the foot of the Championship table.  Cue Blackpool’s surprise promotion and subsequent taking of several big scalps.  Although Ian Holloway beat off the big boys clamouring for Adam’s services during the season, expect the Scotsman to join one of the Big Six teams before August.  But still the question remains: can he repeat his Tangerine Dream elsewhere?

Oh Charlie. You've turned into a right sexy bastard, haven't ye?

Tomorrow: Bolton Wanderers to Liverpool

Brent Lanthier

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The Best of Times, The Blurst of Times

Do Wolves have any legs left?

Call it the Year of the Keystone Kops… a season where clubs have been stumbling over each other to fail.   So forget about Manchester United’s mediocre march to the title (and don’t tell me they’re up for the double by winning Big Ears.  If Schalke doesn’t surprise them, Real or Barca will certainly dispatch them with maximum efficiency).  Forget about Arsenal finding new and novel ways to self-destruct, sending Arsene Wenger further along the road to Nutterville. Chelsea are old.  Man Citeh’s millions couldn’t buy a team.  ‘Arry’s mighty offence petered out.  Liverpool were already falling down the hill.  And as usual, David Moyes’ Everton started too late to matter.

So with the exception of the FA Cup final — whose implications for Europe require an engineering degree to calculate — I’m watching the relegation battle that potentially involves half the league.

Two points separate seven teams: Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom, Fulham, Stoke City, Sunderland and Birmingham.  All sit relatively safe.  Next are Blackburn and Wigan in the two spots above the relegation zone that currently contains Blackpool, West Ham and Wolves.  Newcastle and Villa (at 10th and 11th, respectively) have reached the so-called magic number of 40 points.  For the others, the next 5-6 games are critical.

Wide-eyed Woy widing high at WBA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say West Bromwich Albion are safe.  Saturday’s loss to Chelsea was their first under Roy Hodgson, and no club has scored more since his reign began. 

Hodgson’s legacy of going for the draw seems to be lingering at Fulham under Mark Hughes.  The Cottagers’ next two games are at bottom Wolves before they host Bolton, who are woeful on the road.  They should hit the 40-point mark no problem.

Stoke City and Birmingham are the Premier League’s little European embarrassments.  Birmingham is already in the Europa League, via their Carling Cup win… but whether Stoke qualifies is still up in the air.  If they win the FA Cup final, they are in.  If they lose but Citeh qualifies for the Champions League, they are in.  Otherwise the spot goes to the sixth-placed team… I think… carry the one…

Either way, both have not been playing well as of late, with each team only winning two games in their last eight.   The bad news for Stoke is that they must face three other relegation battlers — Blackpool, Wolves and Wigan — plus Arsenal and the aforementioned Citeh.  Birmingham must also face teams fighting for a spot in Europe.  I think they will both stay up… only because there are teams playing worse.  But if they drop, it means two of England’s three Europa clubs won’t be playing in the top-flight at home.

That leaves six teams fighting it out for three spots above the drop.  Wolverhampton Wanderers are 20th, but they will leapfrog Wigan into 17th if they win that game in hand against Stoke.  Many pundits say Wolves are too good to go down… and they took some serious scalps this season.  But despite their recent form, every single one of their remaining games is against a struggling club.  It could be tough going for Mick McCarthy’s men.

Bruce wonders where it went wrong

At the beginning of the season, I picked Wigan Athletic to drop, partly because they barely missed it last year… but mostly because I was irritated that such a small, unsupported club was taking up a Premier League spot.  They also have to play several games against strugglers… as well as a surging Everton.

West Ham United sit 19th.  I thought with the addition of Demba Ba, they might have a fighting shot at making it out alive.  But they remain ensconced in the drop zone due to their inability to go for the jugular.

It’s the three remaining clubs that have the most to worry about.  Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool and Sunderland have been dropping like stones.  Blackburn have performed poorly since the departure of Big Sam Allardyce.  Blackpool and Sunderland seem to be on opposite sides of a mirror.  The Black Cats haven’t been the same since they lost their best player in Darren Bent; the Tangerines have suffered without cashing in on Charlie Adam.  Out of the three clubs, only Blackpool has won a game since the end of January.

In such a topsy-turvy season, I still think we are in for some surprises on the final day of the season… on both ends of the table.  It’s either the best season in years… or English football is at it’s most mediocre.

By the way, here are my picks for the drop: Wigan, Blackpool, West Ham.

Brent Lanthier

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Crunch Time

Little Leighton feels comfortable at home....

Toffees and the Carling Cup Champs
We are heading into the home stretch and while I never, ever, recommend spending transfer money (maybe if you can’t field a starting 11 but even then it may not be worth spending four points), you have to start maximizing your weekly returns.  If you are watching the fixture list like a hawk, as you should be, then you have a spotted an opportunity.  Everton and Birmingham City both play twice this week so you should spend at least your free weekly transfer on a player from one of these teams.

Everton
Coming off a clean sheet last week, Everton’s defenders — as well as keeper Tim Howard — are pretty good bets. The Toffees are away to Newcastle and then home to Birmingham City.  Two of the top three fantasy performers on Everton are on the back line: Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.  Baines gets lots of offensive points by being the primary corner and free-kick taker, along with making some decent runs down the left side.  He’s pricey but worth it.

More affordable and a bit of a fantasy rule-breaking grey area is Seamus Coleman. That’s because while he is listed in the game as a defender, he’s playing as a midfielder.  This means when he scores or gets a clean sheet, your team will be credited with more points than you normally would if he was listed correctly.

Saha may light up the league this week... if he can avoid the knock...

Up front, Everton also have a couple of in -orm strikers in Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford. Beckford notched two goals last game to give him three in his last three games.  Saha came up empty but he is always deadly as he showed in his four-goal performance a few weeks ago.

The latest injury reports have the great Aussie midfielder Tim Cahill out for three weeks so avoid him, along with the giant afro-sporting Marouane Fellaini, who is out for the season.

Birmingham
The Carling Cup winners have likely just peaked on the year, but they do have some players worth considering.  This week, they are home to West Brom and away to Everton.  Their top player this season has been goalkeeper Ben Foster who would be a solid pick this week as well.

Johnson points out how he's a solid choice.

The most in-form player on the team has to be Nikola Zigic who has three goals in his last four Premier League games, including one in the Carling Cup final.  He’s also quite affordable.  Same for Barry Ferguson who is having a solid season, but he’s a better long term investment then someone who will score big points in one week. New signing David Bentley has also impressed, though I’d like to see how consistent he is before grabbing him for my squad.

Finally, if you need a defender, Roger Johnson is a solid choice at the back.  He won’t provide a lot of offence but he and Foster have a good chance of getting clean sheets against West Brom.

Scott Ferguson

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Hot Strikers

Goals don't come much better than Rooney's bicycle kick

Everybody needs a hot striker.  No, I don’t mean hot as in attractive or sexy… because that would mean leaving Wayne Rooney off the list.  I mean players who are on a hot streak, as in they look like they can score any time they get the ball.  So far, you have been pretty well served if you have had Manchester United’s Dimitar Berbatov or Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez up front. But if you want to catch the guy in front of you, it’s time to take a chance on one of the men below who are all in top form.

WAYNE ROONEY
Was last week’s bicycle kick winner over Manchester City the greatest goal of all time?  Yes, I’m biased as the owner of a Rooney jersey… but even I have stayed the heck away from him this year on my fantasy team.  After a mopey World Cup performance for England, and a sulky first half of the season, Rooney finally scored a goal that lives up to his billing as the current top team’s top player.  He now has three goals in his last three games so it looks like the slump is over.

Sturridge: Better than Torres

DANIEL STURRIDGE
Hey Chelsea, here’s the striker you need. The problem is you loaned him to Bolton.  His three goals in three games for his new squad makes the massive payment for the thus far goal-less Fernando Torres look a bit silly.

ASAMOAH GYAN
I love this guy.  He impressed last summer in the World Cup for Ghana and he’s the reason Sunderland could afford to sell Darren Bent… and he just keeps on scoring.  And while this isn’t the most manly sentence I’ll ever write, you have to admire his groovy post-goal dances as well.  Two goals in his last two games put him on a streak… and the best part for fans of the Black Cats is that he seems to score key goals when the club needs them most.

ROBIN VAN PERSIE
As far as hot streaks go, no one in the Premier League is in better form than this left-footed Dutch striker. He has nine goals in his last six games. That’s right, nine goals in his last six games: you read it correctly.  (and he has to keep scoring as 4-0 has proven not to be a safe lead for Arsenal anymore… I know, it’s a cheap shot after their big Champions League win but I couldn’t resist)

Zigic is not a robot, as far as we know...

NIKOLA ZIGIC
Birmingham’s 6 foot 7 inch striker has taken over the crown from Peter Crouch as the top-scoring ridiculously tall striker.  Three goals in the last four means you might want him on your team as well because he is available at a pretty low price.  (Yes, but can Zigic do the robot?  Crouch is still superior at  that dance/celebration as far as I can tell)

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:
Two more for your consideration… Luis Suarez looks deadly for Liverpool.  One goal so far but only a crossbar prevented another last week.  And can you have a better debut than Demba Ba?  He transferred from Germany to West Ham and notched two goals in his first start for the club.  Expect to see more of him as the Hammers fight to stay in the Premier league.

Scott Ferguson

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Fergie’s Fantasy – Rating the Transfers

Bent already has one goal to show for his kit change

You may have notice the jerseys on some of the players on your fantasy team have changed colour.   This is not because they were bored with what they were wearing.  It means your man has been transferred to a new squad in the January transfer window.

A move can be good or bad news in terms of fantasy points.  A benchwarmer on one team could be a starter on another and vice versa.  Here’s a few of the more notable transfers and what they mean for you…

Darren Bent – Sunderland to Aston Villa
Bent immediately became Aston Villa’s deadliest striker upon his arrival and he showed it, scoring moments into his first game with the club.  I don’t think he will regain his amazing form from last year, but I see more goals in his future.  Buy him if you need a striker.

This transfer is also good news for owners of other Sunderland forwards Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck who will reap the awards of more playing time in Bent’s absence.

John Carew – Aston Villa to Stoke City
Carew has struggled this year for playing time, which has resulted in the once-powerful striker having a grand total of zero goals so far.  The change of scenery might help, but a better option would be his cheaper and more proficient teammate Kenwyne Jones.

David Bentley – Tottenham to Birmingham
I’ve always thought Bentley was better than he showed in his limited playing time with Tottenham. But without a born goal scorer up front,who is going to get on the end of his crosses at Birmingham?  I’d steer clear for now.

Steven Pienaar – Everton to Tottenham
The speedy South African midfielder finds himself in a very crowded midfield with the likes of Gareth Bale, Rafael Van der Vaart, Aaron Lennon, and Luka Modric.  Again, I’d steer clear until we see whether he gets enough playing time to merit picking him for your squad.

It's like he never left...

Roque Santa Cruz – Manchester City to Blackburn Rovers
I like this one.  RSC is bound to get more playing time with Blackburn and he’s a proven goal scorer.  He can be picked up right now for a bargain price.

Wayne Bridge – Manchester City to West Ham United
I want to say something nice about Wayne Bridge because he’s had a tough go of it lately.  But you don’t want any West Ham defenders on your squad right now.  Just don’t trade him in for John Terry because that’s been done and it was awkward for all involved…

Scott Ferguson

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The Middling Midlands

Coventry ended its punchline status in 1987

Midlands teams haven’t had much to sing about lately.  They don’t have the glitz and glamour of clubs from Swinging London and they don’t have the pedigree of the Northern teams.  The teams from England’s soft creamy middle have almost made a habit of being also-rans. 

There are exceptions, of course.  Brian Clough took little Derby County and won the league with them in 1972.  He would outdo himself at the end of the decade, taking local rivals Nottingham Forest to the League title… and then on to two consecutive European Championships.  Aston Villa then followed with  League and European wins in 1981 and 1982, respectively.  But since then, there has been a distinct lack of silverware… unless you count the League Cup… which I don’t. 

In fact, in the last 50 years, a Midlands team has only won the league four times, and the FA Cup three times.

Here’s the current breakdown of the nine major teams:

Aston Villa (currently 8th)
The biggest of the Midland clubs,  Villa appears to still be in turmoil, months after Martin O’Neill left the club over a disagreement with owner Randy Lerner over transfer funding. They have finished 6th the last three seasons, qualifying for the UEFA Cup each time.

But O’Neill was right: the squad is small and injuries have devastated the side that Gerard Houllier now helms. A string of recent draws and near-misses show that this young team gets tired easy and are prone to taking their foot off the gas.

Trophy Case: 7 Titles, 7 FA Cups, 1 European Championship, 5 League Cups
Last Trophy Won: 2000 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2010 League Cup final

League Cup: It kind of looks like Mickey Mouse...

Stoke City (currently 10th)
Now entering its third season in the Prem, the league’s second-oldest club is hanging in there by playing tight defensive football.  In fact, last season was their best finish in 30 years.  No one expects the former club of Sir Stanley Matthews to do much except survive.

Trophy Case: 1 League Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1972 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2010 FA Cup Quarterfinals

West Bromwich Albion (currently in 12th)
Like many of the Midlands teams, the Baggies’ best years are behind them. They used to be the darlings of the FA Cup, with five… as many as Everton and more than Manchester City.  But they’ve become a yo-yo club, having been relegated three times in the last seven seasons.  They have taken some impressive scalps this year: a draw at Old Trafford and a win away to Arsenal.  Those are a far cry from their opening game: a 6-0 loss to Chelsea.

Trophy Case: 1 League Title, 5 FA Cups, 1 League Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1968 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2008 FA Cup Semi-Finals

Birmingham City (currently in 18th)
The second team in the Second City, Birmingham are not the most glamourous club. Although they had their best finish in over 50 years last season, the same old Brum seems to be coming out. The Blues sit in the relegation zone, and will need to get over their confounded habit of drawing games to pull themselves up.

Trophy Case: 1 League Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1963 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2010 FA Cup Quarterfinals

Wolverhampton Wanderers (currently in 19th)
Mick McCarthy’s side is a far cry from the mighty Wolves teams of the 1950’s, that finished in the top 3 in eight of nine seasons. They barely survived relegation last season, and look destined to drop in May.  They can’t score and they can’t defend. ‘Nuff said.

Trophy Case: 3 League titles, 4 FA Cups, 2 League Cups
Last Trophy Won: 1980 League Cup
Last Time in Contention:  2003 FA Cup Quarterfinals

Derby County (currently 4th – Championship)
The team that Cloughie built has since gone through tough times. They were relegated from the Premier League in March 2008, after only one season. It was the earliest ever relegation from the Prem, with the lowest-ever points total (15), and the Rams equalled Loughborough’s 108-year-old record of only one win in a season. But so far, they are scoring in an extremely crowded Championship. Let’s see if they can sustain it until the playoffs.

Trophy Case: 2 League Titles, 1 FA Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1975 League Champions
Last Time in Contention: 2009 League Cup Semi-Finals

Nottingham Forest (currently in 10th – Championship)
The other side in the Brian Clough derby, Forest have perhaps fallen the farthest.  The two-time European Champions were relegated in the Premier League’s inaugural season, bounced back up the next year, finished third the following season, and then dropped two years later.  They would make a final appearance in the top flight again in 1998-1999, but went into free fall after that.  They lost their playoff tie last season to Blackpool, who are now scrapping with the big boys.

Trophy Case: 1 League Title, 2 European Championships, 2 FA Cups, 4 League Cups
Last Trophy Won: 1990 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 1996 UEFA Cup Quarterfinals, 1996 FA Cup Quarterfinals

Coventry City (currently 11th – Championship)
Before they were relegated a decade ago, Cov spent 34 straight seasons in England’s first division.  It wasn’t always pretty but they found a way to stay up.  They even found a way to win the 1987 FA Cup, ending their legacy as the punchline of a Monty Python bit. That trophy is the last major title won by a Midlands team.

Since their drop, they’ve kept to the same formula in the Championship: not good enough to go up, not terrible enough to go down, just enough to stay in the middle. It’s kind of like Goldilocks, frankly.

Trophy Case: 1 FA Cup
Last Trophy Won: 1987 FA Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2009 FA Cup Quarterfinals

Leicester City (currently in 15th – Championship)
At the turn of the millenium, Leicester kept themselves in the top half of the Premier League table, won a couple of League Cups, and made brief appearances in the UEFA Cup.  But then they started to yo-yo more than West Brom, and even spent a season in League One.  Last season, they lost their playoff tie with Cardiff on penalties. This year, they started poorly, winning only one of their first nine games.  But they seem to have experienced a bit of resurgence under Sven-Goren Eriksson.

Trophy Case: 3 League Cups
Last Trophy Won: 2000 League Cup
Last Time in Contention: 2005 FA Cup Quaterfinals

Brent Lanthier

Cloughie is gone... and so are the dynasties he built

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