Tag Archives: birmingham

Hammer Time?

Ba Humbug for West Ham's opposition...

It doesn’t happen very often.  But sometimes, I get it wrong.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re saying to your computer screen, “That’s not true, Brent.  You’re being modest.  Give your head a shake and have a beer on me…”

Alas, faithful readers, I have erred. It turns out that I am not the reliable prognasticator I once thought I was.  And it’s all thanks to a certain Israeli manager who manages a certain East London club.

I had predicted in early December that Avram Grant would be fired by Christmas.  West Ham were at the bottom of the table and were up against the wall.  I said how the holiday swing was going to kill the team — and the career of the gaffer.  Indeed, through December and the first half of January, with the Hammers going 2-3-3, it seemed like curtains for both Grant and the club’s Premier League hopes.

But then a couple of cup runs seemed to give the Irons a spark.  They won their 3rd round FA Cup tie against Burnley 2-0.  Then three days later, they beat fellow Premier League strugglers Birmingham in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final.  Since then, they have gone 5-2-3 in all competitions.

It could be that Avram Grant finally has a team that is “too good to go down”.   The team has scored thirteen goals in their last four games.  It’s likely no coincidence that this spurt is due to the arrival of striker Demba Ba (you don’t say his name, so much as let it spill out of your mouth) from TSG Hoffenheim in February.  In the five games he has played, both Ba and strike partner Carlton Cole have each scored four goals.

Parker does his Christian Bale impression...

But the keystone of West Ham’s mini-turnaround has to be Scott Parker.  The midfielder and captain has been bossing the centre of the park, marshalling his teammates both physically and mentally as they have clawed their way out of the relegation zone… at least for the time being.  Many of his teammates — as well as English pundits — say Parker should be named Player of the Year for his pluck in the face of West Ham’s dreadful first half of the season results.

I’m not going to say that they won’t go down.  West Ham are only just above Brum in the relegation zone… and the Blues still have two games in hand.  The Hammers still have to face Spurs, Chelsea and Man City away, as well as play first-place Manchester United at home. Plus, they still have to continue their FA Cup run, facing sinking Stoke again for the second time in a week.

With the Boleyn Ground averaging about 33-thousand fans a season — and the brand spanking new Olympic stadium waiting to be taken over — West Ham is a biggish club that thinks it has a brighter future.  I’d tell you where that future lies… but I’m afraid of being wrong again.  That would be just scary…

Brent Lanthier

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Honours even on Derby Day

Ask any fan what date they eye up first when the new fixture list comes out, and they’ll almost certainly mention the local derby. Them down the road, the enemy, the old firm, and references perhaps too colourful for this article. Whatever you call them, it’s the meeting fans dread the most, yet also relish with such anticipation.

It’s a surreal experience to feel so nervous about something you also look forward to. More than anything, one thought passes through your mind: “I’ll take losing to anyone all season, even not winning a single trophy; just don’t let us lose to them.”

Sunday’s three Premier League derbies did not disappoint. Though none of the six teams took maximum points, you can’t help but feel all concerned are mightily relieved. Despite Liverpool’s woeful second half performance, they can exhale with the knowledge they didn’t drop more points. Torres, masterful in the first period, went absent with Everton’s brute force in the second. It really was a game of two halves, lacking in style but full of substance.

Given the recent troubles at the Second City derby, the police demanded an unusually low crowd at St. Andrew’s. It didn’t contain problems though; flares and charging fans bought much drama to the occasion. As if it needed any more. Villa’s dominance paid off when they equalised with 15 minutes to go, hardly a score that will be considered for goal of the season. It was one, however, that balanced the books from an earlier scrappy goal from the Blues.

Even in the Northeast they couldn’t go home without some bad behaviour. The first half didn’t need a ball, both teams seemed just as happy to kick each other instead. A bruised Newcastle will feel hard done by to be robbed so late on by a lucky Sunderland.

So no one won the most important game of them all, but perhaps all concerned will feel better off than before hand. At least they didn’t lose.

Sam Saunders

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Fergie’s Fantasy – Cleaning the sheets

No, this is not another column about Wayne Rooney (though did anyone notice it was the day after I published last week’s anti-Rooney rant that he came to his senses? I’m sure Wayne is a regular At The Rails reader). This column is about getting points without getting goals. And the way to do that is picking players on teams likely to deliver clean sheets. When your goalies and defenders don’t let the other team score you get four points, the same amount for a goal by a striker, so its worth the time to pick a strong back four and keeper.

The obvious choice here are players from Chelsea, who have seven clean sheets in nine games. Petr Cech might be your best bet here though because regular defenders like Ashley Cole and John Terry are pricey. Not to say they aren’t worth it, but defenders are where most fantasy managers save money in order to spend more on high priced strikers and midfielders.

The key is that it doesn’t matter how many goals a team concedes, but how many clean sheets they keep. For example, when Wigan are bad they seem to concede a pile of goals, but they have low priced defenders who have kept three clean sheets. That’s more than Liverpool (two) and Tottenham (one). The other surprise in this category is Sunderland, tied for second in the league with Manchester City in the clean sheets stat with four. Again a team where bargains on defence can pay off (and I recommend a particular player from the Black Cats below…).

Week in Review – Top Performers

Samir Nasri – the Arsenal midfielder was the top point getter in the league last week with a hat trick of sorts. He had a goal, an assist, and his team kept a clean sheet. Nasri is increasingly becoming a bigger part of the Gunners’ offence and is a solid choice as long as he stays healthy.

Javier Hernandez – the man who rescued Manchester United from another disappointing result. Hernandez scored both goals in a key 2-1 win over Stoke City. He then came on as a sub and notched the winner in United’s League Cup victory over wolves. He’s a great choice while Rooney’s hurt, but will probably see his playing time cut back when Wayne returns.

Liam Ridgewell – a goal plus a clean sheet meant Ridgewell was the top scoring defender last week. Birmingham play a strong defensive game and have notched three clean sheets themselves so expect Ridgewell to continue to be a safe fantasy bet.

Scott’s Subs:

Last week I told you to pick up Dimitar Berbatov, Rafael Van Der Vaart, and Florent Malouda. Berbatov disappointed but the other two scored so I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. The points per game average for my recommended players was 5.3. The league average was 4. The average for players I told you to steer clear of was 2. And that would have been lower except Andrey Arshavin proved me wrong and scored for Arsenal. Here are my suggested subs for this week:

IN

Didier Drogba – Yes he’s the most expensive player in the league in fantasy terms. But 43% of all fantasy teams are paying the price. Can you afford not to?

OUT

Fernando Torres – I’m sure Torres will be a golden boot winner in the coming years (perhaps in the Championship if Liverpool doesn’t start improving) but this just isn’t looking like his year. The talent is there, but right now you can pick up someone who will score just as many goals for half the price.

IN

Ahmed Elmohamady –Do I know a lot about Ahmed “Tickle Me” Elmohamady? Not really, other than that isn’t his nickname. But numbers don’t lie. He is third in points for defenders behind Chelsea’s Cole and Terry. He is the defender with the highest value in the league when you look at his points vs. cost. And his cost has risen the most of any defender so buy now.

OUT

Tony Hibbert – The Everton defender is priced like a starter, and often plays, but rarely for the full 90 minutes. Avoid him.

IN:

Nani – Wasn’t Antonio Valencia supposed to be the one to try and replace Cristiano Ronaldo? But with his injury, the weight of scoring goals  and delivering lovely crosses from the wing has fallen on Nani, who has answered handsomely. And don’t worry, you don’t lose fantasy points for players faking injuries only to be fine moments after the ref stops the play.

OUT:

Joe Cole –I know I’ve picked on Joe Cole in the past. But not in my new Scott’s subs section! I want him to do well, I really do, but he just isn’t doing well. And you should avoid him until he starts putting some balls into the back of the net.

Scott Ferguson

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Fergie’s Fantasy – Great Bargains!

Odemwingie can't believe how inexpensive he is...

Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised at the price of something you want. Or sometimes — like a Robert Green England jersey — it’s in the bargain bin for a reason. As a fantasy team manager operating within a budget, you want the highest producing players for lowest prices. Here are the top bargains so far this year and who you should avoid. For a laugh, we also look at who are the biggest statistical disappointments.

Great Bargains

Peter Odemwingie – The West Brom striker is so far the best buy in the Premier League this season. With three goals and an assist in five games at a price of only 5.1, he’s leading a revitalized West Brom attack. The Nigerian’s scored many goals in his past in the Russian and French leagues, and now it looks like he’ll continue to do the same in England.

Johan Elmander – I’m a year too late on Elmander. I stuck by him for a while last year while he struggled so I didn’t bother to pick him up. It’s been my loss as he’s also got three goals so far and looks every bit the player Bolton thought he would be when they signed him. A player finally living up to his potential at a good price of only 5.7.

Ben Foster – Helped by Birmingham’s tight defensive game, Ben Foster is another player finally living up to his potential in a way he never did when he was with Manchester United. At a price of 4.7 he’s a great choice for a back-up or maybe even a starter on any fantasy team.

Buyer Beware

Caroll may not be able to carry the Toon...

Andrew Carroll– He is the most acquired player among all fantasy teams since the season started. The Newcastle striker convinced many, including myself, with a hat trick in Week Two, followed by another goal the week after. He’s still a good buy at 5.7… but there are lingering feelings that the hat trick may have been more the exception than the rule here.

Joe Hart – Without a doubt, Joe Hart has been the Premier League’s top goalkeeper this year. It’s just that his price has risen from 6 all the way to 6.5. Eventually he’ll be too expensive: he already costs as much as Edwin Van Der Sar and Peter Cech. And while he’s earned that high price, you can get almost as many points from keepers who cost far less.

High prices, Poor Results

Joe Cole aka Joe Dirt for FFL owners

Joe Cole –  With a price of 8.7, the Liverpool midfielder should have at least done something this positive this year in his two and half games. But so far, he has zero goals, zero assists… and a red card that basically kept him out of 3 1/2 of the first four games this season.

Emmanuel Adebayor – Remember three years ago when he was fantasy gold with 24 goals for Arsenal? Now he can’t get off the bench for Manchester City. Avoid him until he sees regular playing time.

Wigan Strikers – The biggest price drops have been for Wigan strikers Hugo Rodallega and Mauro Boselli, who have one goal between them. Wigan is off to a terrible start and while Rodallega looks threatening most games, wait until he starts scoring to consider him for your team.

Wayne Rooney – The fifth-most expensive player in the league at 11.6 (he was higher but his price has dropped) should have done much more by now than score one goal. He does have three assists, but is now out for another few weeks with an injury. This doesn’t look like Wayne’s year. Transfer him out when you can. Coleen may be stuck with him… but you are not.

Scott Ferguson

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It’s grim up north

sam allardyce

Sam Allardyce recently claimed he could coach the likes of Inter Milan and Real Madrid successfully, and that in essence the jobs there are much easier than his present one at Blackburn Rovers. He even went as far to declare himself the perfect candidate as the next England boss. Well Sam, you’ve got one thing right, you’re perfect for England. That’s because they’re woeful.

Week in, week out, we football fans are subjected to the brute force and “get up ‘em” attitude that certain clubs in the North of England hand out to free-flowing teams. You know what I mean here; think Arsenal’s troubles almost every time they play Bolton and Blackburn.

And herein lies the problem. The Northwest is typical of what the game once was. Brash, unashamed, fiercely proud, and accepting only of the highest commitment. Teams such as Leeds in the 70’s would kick if it moved, or kick until it did. The strategy worked for decades.

But then came the 1990’s and the influx of foreigners and their attractive new style of play. They were quicker, smarter and an awful lot more talented.

The likes of Allardyce are perfect for England. Let’s face it, England were awful at the World Cup because they clung to the belief that if you try hard enough, you will always succeed. Sorry kids, but here’s a sobering lesson. Talent always prevails. No matter how hard you try, if you’re not good enough you’ll lore far more often than you win.

Teams such as Bolton and Blackburn (them again) have supporters who fall in line with the English mentality of football. I’ve been to games at Ewood Park and heard them chant “Get into them!” In short they mean, “Yes, we might not win, but at least we can give them a damn good hiding.” Well I’m sorry, but that really only applies to war.

So while Chelsea prevail with foreigners in the Premier League, and the Spanish win the World Cup by not retaliating to Dutch brutality, the likes of Rovers and England will never grasp what it means to win with satisfaction.

Aaron Ramsey injury

It’s no coincidence that all of Arsenal’s major injuries in recent years have occurred north of the Watford Gap: Eduardo (Birmingham), Diaby (Sunderland) and Ramsey (Stoke). It happens because of the continued aggression faced and, dare I say it, the violence dished out. Every one one of those injuries was avoidable. Sadly, each guilty culprit was an Englishman.

So while Allardyce may think he’s a great candidate for any top-flight job, the footballing elite will just smirk and overlook him. He’s stuck in a time warp. Go back to the 1970’s Sam, and take your boxing gloves with you.

Sam Saunders

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Fergie’s Fantasy: Safe Bets for Big Four (Five?)

Flashback all the way to last Saturday morning. The Ferguson household was quiet. Manchester United was playing the early game, so I snuck downstairs with my Rooney jersey on, eager to see the Red Devils take on Everton (it takes more than cheating on your pregnant wife to before I’ll stop wearing your jersey… I also own a Tiger Woods hat).  

But lo and behold, there was a very unexpected decision from my distant relative Sir Alex Ferguson (an unconfirmed presumption of mine): Wayne Rooney would not be playing. 

While, for roughly 85 minutes or so, it seemed like the idea would work out, it was always going to be bad for fantasy managers like me. It turned out to be bad for Man United as well, as they gave up two late goals and settled for a draw.

The decision to rest Wayne Rooney was made more to protect him from the jeers of fans of his former club. But Sir Alex likely also had the Champions League in mind…  as did other top teams who rested or limited minutes to stars to get them ready for games in Europe.

Few players are hotter than Florent Malouda but he only played about 10 minutes last week for Chelsea. This is the danger you run into, choosing players from the Big Four and Tottenham. You pay a high price for the players and these teams are deep enough — and play in enough competitions — that they rotate bench players into the lineup more often than mid-table squads.

However, there are a few players (besides the goalkeepers) that manage to keep their spot in the lineup every week… even on these teams. Remember, they can’t earn you points if they aren’t playing… and yes, I still count Liverpool in the Big Four.

Essien and Cole have been fantasy league gold

Chelsea
Defender Ashley Cole and midfielder John Obi Mikel have played every minute of this season so far, while John Terry is not far behind. Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, and Nicolas Anelka have all shown offensive flair this year along with playing most of every game this season.

Arsenal
No one has played every minute of every game for Arsenal… but midfielder Andrey Arshavin and new striker Maroune Chamakh have come close. Some discipline and injury issues have caused Arsene Wenger to rotate defenders but Bacary Sanga and Gael Clichy are likely to be there for most games.

Manchester United
There’s been a lot of consistency on the back line for Man United so far this season, with John O’Shea and Nemanja Vidic playing every minute along with midfielder Darren Fletcher.  Patrice Evra has been a constant presence at left back and Dimitar Berbatov has logged a lot of time up front. Some thought the signing of Javier Hernandez would limit his minutes, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Gareth Bale's a bit "special"... just look at 'em...

Tottenham
The main stalwarts for Tottenham have been midfielders Gareth Bale and Tom Huddlestone. Close behind them is midfielder Aaron Lennon. The defenders are settling into a pattern… but no one has played more than the equivalent of three out of four games this season and the strikers are being rotated a lot, due to injuries.

Liverpool
With Rafael Benitez gone, fantasy managers have enjoyed a more consistent lineup from Liverpool with a few players logging the full 360 minutes of the season so far. They include defenders Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, and Jamie Carragher, and midfielder Steven Gerrard. Also logging a lot of time are strikers Milan Jovanovic and Fernando Torres, who will be a fixture as long as he’s healthy.

FERGIE’S FIVE:

Let’s review last week’s column. Even in a week where there were few goals, I gave you some gems to add into your fantasy team. Did any other fantasy column in the world predict that West Brom’s Chris Brunt would get on the board against Tottenham? Ahem… Or how about that sage advice that Birmingham’s Ben Foster had something to prove this season? Foster rewarded myself and the managers who chose him with a clean sheet vs. Liverpool.

Here are five players to watch for this weekend:

THE CAPTAIN: I promise to pick someone different next week… but how can you go wrong with making Didier Drogba your captain when Chelsea is at home to Blackpool (and is it me or has Chelsea had a very friendly schedule so far this season…). If you don’t have Drogba, make any other Chelsea player your captain!

HOT STREAKS:Bolton’s Johan Elmander is finally living up to his potential as a goal scorer. Surprisingly he’s been more deadly around the net than Kevin Davies this season, giving Bolton a strong attacking duo up front.

One Dembele... there's only one Dembele...

Fulham’s Moussa Dembele has two goals and two assists in his last two games and will be asked to carry an even heavier load after the injury to Bobby Zamora.

BARGAINS:Even though he’s going up against Chelsea, it must be said that Blackpool’s Charlie Adam has been one of the most efficient players early in the season. Adam has a goal and two assists in the first four games from the midfield position.

And though he’s only owned by only 4% of teams in the fantasy league, Birmingham midfielder Craig Gardner already has three goals. Can he keep it up? Probably not, but it won’t cost you much to find out.

Scott Ferguson

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Growing middle class on deadline day

Let’s be honest. Who really thought Sunderland, Stoke and Birmingham would be the clubs making the biggest splashes on the final day of the summer transfer window? Sure, England’s biggest teams had taken care of most of their business already. But it was still a surprise, as the final hours ticked away, to see a club-record 13 million pounds splashed out to bring Ghanian World Cup star Asamoah Gyan to Wearside from French club Rennes. Who knew the Black Cats even had that kind of cash? You’ve sure got to turn over a lot of couch cushions to come up with that kind of loose change.

Only slightly less surprising was the triple swoop made by Birmingham, who landed former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb on a season-long loan from Barcelona, defender Martin Jiranek on a one-year deal from Spartak Moscow and Chilean winger Jean Beausejour from Club America in the Mexican League.

The Potters, meanwhile, added four players to a team yet to record its first league points of the season, with Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen joining on a season-long loan from Monaco and former Arsenal, Birmingham and Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant coming over on loan from Spain’s Real Zaragoza until January.

The combined effect is a serious thickening of quality for some of the Prem’s mid-table teams. There aren’t many easy weeks in the EPL, even for those at the top, and those teams should all be strengthened by their deadline day dealings. The moves also make life harder for the unlucky few clubs left scraping to stay in the top flight.

Tottenham, as usual, left it late, leaving fans to play the ‘vaiting game’ over the status of Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, whose cut-price, 8-million pound move from Real Madrid reportedly requires Premier League approval, given that Arry and co. didn’t even start  on things until two hours remained in the transfer window. Yids will be hoping the deal gets done, if only so that Sylvie van der Vaart, his lovely missus, can brighten up the scene down the Lane.

As they prepare for a debut season of Champions League football, with Inter Milan looming large in Group A, Spurs decided not to parcel anyone out of North London, holding on to Robbie Keane and Jermaine Jenas, and bolstered their goalkeeping corps by finalizing the long-awaited arrival of Croatian Stipe Pletikosa on a season-long loan from Spartak Moscow. Things didn’t pan out yet for Tottenham’s other trialist, South African defender Bongani Khumalo, but he may still join in January.

Elsewhere, Man. City said so long to Brazilian bust Robinho, who set sail for AC Milan, Everton’s Joseph Yobo was loaned out to Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Liverpool finalized the signing of Paul Konchesky from Fulham (so much for Uncle Woy’s pledge not to plunder the Londoners) while letting Emiliano Insua leave for Galatasaray.

So, no more moves until the New Year, and we now await the naming of 25-man rosters for the next four months on Wednesday. Could be some difficult decisions to make at some clubs. Stay tuned.

Ian Harrison

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