Tag Archives: newcastle

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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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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Bound for Bhoys? Don’t ask TFC

Sign this or I'll sign for Celtic!

Besides the fact that Tottenham can apparently defend as well with 10 men as they can with 11, the strangest story in football this week has to be Dwayne De Rosario’s dalliance with Celtic, and how little Toronto FC claim to know about it. As surprise announcements go, it’s a saga with far more grips, twists and turns than Newcastle’s Jose Enrique’s taking to the Twitterverse to spread news of an injury.

DeRo, who you might remember from his “show me the money” cheque-signing celebration after a superb goal this season, also caught his team off guard, or so they’d have us think, when news broke that he was to have a one-week trial with the Glaswegians. TFC first denied the story, but having their player get off a plane in Scotland made that look foolish, so they claimed it was news to them, too.

De Rosario is under contract for two more years, but his brother insists TFC was aware of the move, and happily made it sound as though the Scarborough-born Canadian international could make a long-term move to the SPL.  “If it’s long-term for a loan or he comes back has yet to be determined,” Mark De Rosario told the Toronto Star. “If it works out, fine, we’ll work on the particulars (between TFC and Celtic) later.”

Someone is full of shit here, maybe both sides, and it stinks pretty bad. Expect this one to get weirder before it makes sense. It’s hard to blame De Rosario for wanting to bail on the rudderless ship that is Toronto FC, still listing along without a coach or full-time GM. But while fans may wish the somewhat mercurial DeRo the best, they should be sharpening their knives for the stuffed-shirt stooges who run the team.

Ian Harrison

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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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Fergie’s Fantasy: So You Got That Promotion…

Newcastle's Steven Taylor will likely play every week

In your regular life outside of fantasy football, you probably find those who have been recently promoted rather annoying and smug.   But in the fantasy world, you need to make friends with them and bring them on to your side.

On paper, the three newly-promoted squads may look like the Premier League equivalent of the kids who always got picked last on the playground pitch. But in reality, even if the teams are getting beat up on a weekly basis in real life, Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion, and Blackpool all have players that are affordable — that will play every week — and that will even chip in points on occasion.

You want the grinders that will earn points on the cheap so you can afford the big stars. What you are looking for is someone who will give you the performances we saw last year from Wolves defender Jody Craddock — Birmingham’s Lee Bowyer — or Joe Hart, who shone in goal for Birmingham while on loan from Manchester City.

Anybody can pick Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney.  But it takes skill and guts to pick up and start the right players from the newly promoted
squads. Here are some players worth considering…

Goalkeepers:
This is a risky proposition…  but it should be noted that after only two weeks, all three keepers from the promoted sides have one clean sheet. Sure, two of the three also let in six goals in their other game (eep!)…  but let’s focus on the clean sheets.

Newcastle’s Steven Harper is a quality premier league goalie and with his team likely poised to avoid relegation, he is the pick of this group.

Scott Carson: Man of Constant Sorrow? Or Points?

That said, I also like West Brom’s Scott Carson.  He has Premier League experience, comes at a very low price, and is guaranteed to face a lot of shots. He may not get many clean sheets, but in most games, he will get you a bonus point for making three saves.  And he’s already played his road game against Chelsea so you don’t have to worry about that fixture.

I would avoid Blackpool’s Matthew Gilks.  I just don’t trust that Blackpool are going to have the kind of success their drubbing of Wigan in Week One would suggest.

Defenders:
Again, assuming Newcastle have a strong season, you can count on Fabricio
Coloccini being a constant presence along their back four.  You can’t miss him, he’s the one with the huge mane of curly hair.

Jonas Olsson had a pair of goals and lots of playing time during West Brom’s last season in the Premier League two years ago.

Catchart traded Devil Red for Tangerine

And if you want to take a chance on a real cheap player, there is the rock bottom price for Craig Cathcart of Blackpool.  I do think Blackpool will concede the most goals in the league this year, but Cathcart spent years training with Manchester United.  Though he played very little with the Red Devils, he has played every minute of this young season with Blackpool.

Midfielders:
I have sung his praises in previous columns — and it has yet to pay off — but Chris Brunt of West Brom is a pleasure to watch.  He signalled his intentions last weekend with a long range strike that was only kept from the highlight reel by the woodwork.  He’s the most expensive player you can buy from West Brom — but still very cheap when compared to quality midfielders on other teams.

Barton: Solid tash, solid points earner

With two goals last week, Kevin Nolan is off to a strong start for Newcastle. The Magpies boast a solid midfield that also includes Joey Barton and Jonas Gutierrez.  Barton scored a highlight reel goal last weekend, and there’s every reason to think we could see more of the same from him.  Jonas is more of a grinder but does get a ton of playing time.

Strikers:
I don’t really trust any of West Brom’s strikers to score a lot of fantasy points and I still don’t know what to make of Blackpool’s Marlon Harewood.  He’s puzzling.  He’s kicked around on a few different teams in the Premier and Championship leagues over the past few seasons, but his two goals in Week One showed he could prove himself as a player who belongs in the top flight.  At this point he is still a bit of a risk… but at least he’s a cheap one.

The cream of this crop is Newcastle’s Andrew Carroll.  I feel a bit stupid on this one, because I gave strong consideration to putting him on my team based on his strong numbers in the Championship last season. But I didn’t do it, fearing what I’ve seen from other strikers who have flopped in the Premier League after good Championship seasons (Sylvan Ebanks-Blake for example).  Nothing like a hat trick to boost your confidence though, and with his performance last week I think Carroll will continue to have a fine campaign.

And not to gloat but…

I selected five players for you to consider last week and four had huge weeks. Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Gareth Bale, and Joe Hart all
put up big numbers.  Only Marlon Harewood was a bust.

This week with Chelsea at home to Stoke City, you still can’t go wrong with Malouda or Drogba.  Fulham’s David Stockdale may be a fine bargain — he is on the road in net against Blackpool. The only risk with him is whether Mark Schwarzer returns to his starting role, but rumours persist that he will be transferred to Arsenal.

Speaking of the Gooners, Theo Walcott is looking good after his hat trick last week.  His price is rising and now may be the time to pick him up while it’s still reasonable.

Scott Ferguson

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Living the Tangerine dream

By Colin Wood

The Premier League kicks off this Saturday with a proper old fashioned derby, a Lancashire derby.

Never mind champions Chelsea hosting West Brom, Liverpool’s opener against Arsenal on Sunday or Manchester United hosting Newcastle’s return to the top flight on Monday. The ‘derby’ match between Everton and Blackburn is irrelevant too (they both used to be Lancashire clubs until Liverpool was given its own Metropolitan authority of Merseyside).

No, the match of note to kick off the world’s most popular domestic football competition will take place in the unglamorous surrounds of Wigan (ok, so that’s inside the boundaries of Greater Manchester these days but who cares?) as the newest Premier League team, Blackpool, travel 38 miles from their seaside home to whatever the Latics’ stadium is called these days.

Last time these two sides met in league competition was in English football’s third tier just seven years ago. Having seen the Lancashire rivals play out a 1-1 draw in February 2003, nobody in their right mind would have dreamt that both these teams would have been promoted twice since then to duel in the Premier League in 2010.

Ok, so Wigan started their march up the Football League pyramid being bankrolled by Dave Whelan – they finished the season top of the then ‘Division Two’ on 100 points – but Blackpool were destined for another uninspiring mid-table finish. Their half-renovated stadium was a jumble of the past and the future – one side and one end were decrepit and falling apart and the Stanley Matthews Stand and Mortenson Kop had been opened in 2002 as a hopeful sign for a brighter (orange) future. The second half of the redevelopment has ground along like a tortoise going the wrong way on a treadmill.

Six years on in August 2009 those ‘new’ orange seats were pretty faded when the Tangerines, then in the Championship (having been promoted after a third-place League One finish in 2006/07), notched an impressive 4-1 League Cup win over their Premier League counterparts from across the county. It was one of those results that, if Wigan had been any other Premier League team, could have been described as a giant killing.

Blackpool went on an impressive run of results though and were contemplating the dizzy heights of the Championship playoff zone by Christmas. Everyone expected their season to implode or fizzle out, even those within the club were not dreaming of the Tangerines reaching the Premier League. The attitude was more ‘Let’s get 53 points to avoid relegation and then we can relax.’

But Blackpool kept marching on, they finished in the top six, beat Nottingham Forest in the playoff semi-finals before a 3-2 defeat of Cardiff City at Wembley sent the Seasiders into the promised land of Premier League football – and all this was done on one of the lowest budgets in second tier football.

So, Saturday’s match at the DW Stadium will play host to the minnows of the world’s most televised club football competition. But this is why English football is just so enticing – it proves you can afford to dream, whatever your perceived level.

Just like last year, Blackpool will be favourites for relegation. This year they will be playing a league higher than before, in a league they shouldn’t logically have contemplated playing in. Blackpool are in the Premier League! They’ll be playing at Bloomfield Road, which still hasn’t finished being built, a stadium that averaged around 8,600 spectators last season. Can the reality of this really kick in?

The Tangerine dream may not last long but it will be worth indulging every minute for those Seasiders fans who have not seen any top level success since Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortenson steered Blackpool to one of the memorable FA Cup wins of all time in 1953.

Much has changed in 57 years since and the 2010/11 campaign will now expose Blackpool’s unpredictable, erratic and entertaining manager, Ian Holloway to the world. Now that will be worth watching…

A former newspaper reporter in the UK, Colin Wood spent more than a decade working in communications & media relations for his hometown club, Colchester United, the A-League’s Perth Glory and Sheffield Wednesday. He lives in Perth, Australia, with his wife and infant son. Read more of Colin’s thoughts on footy at his blog, Off the Woodwork.

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