Premier League at the Park

The day we’ve been working towards for six seasons and one we’ve been looking forward to since the fixtures were announced. St. James Park will host it’s first ever Premier League game.

Date: Saturday 26th August 2017
Opponent: Liverpool (2nd)
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=11/5, Draw=11/5, Liverpool=Evens
Weather: Breezy, showers, 15C
Referee: Mr. Billy Siddall

The first ever Premier League game at St. James Park sees us welcome the five-time European champions. I’m expecting it to be a tougher examination than we received at Fulham as an unchanged starting XI exit the tunnel to roars of support from the Big Bank. There are extra loud cheers for Bradley Johnson (400th career league appearance) and Federico Cenci (100th league appearance for the club). Although it’s 4th hosting 2nd, it’s not being described as a title decider.

Even the best plans don’t survive first contact with the enemy. Our plan lasts 20 seconds. Ilica Perak goes down. The physio runs on and is soon signalling (no fancy mike systems for us!) to me that Perak won’t be able to continue. I look along the bench and tell Regis Olivier to quickly warm up before going on to make his debut.

Five minutes in, the situation gets worse. Sigurdsson crosses from the left and Stepanenko volleys in from 16 yards to give the visitors an early lead. Six minutes later, Sigurdsson takes an inswinging corner. Samba rises highest at the far post, but heads over from 4 yards out.

It’s not been a great start, but we carve out a chance in the 14th minute. Well, more of a half chance. Bradley Johnson is 25 yards out and looks up. He evidently doesn’t like the options ahead of him and decides to chance his arm. He shoots and hits the bar. The ball goes high up into the air and Reina safely catches the rebound.

In the 25th minute, Haas takes a free kick from the right about 10 yards into our half. He gets a bit too much on it and it sails over the head of the crowd of players around the penalty area. It looks to be going wide, but Ben Amos decides to make sure and catch the ball. It’s a catch under no pressure, but he somehow spills the ball. Sigurdsson pounces and rolls the ball into an empty net from 2 yards out. He’s unlikely to score an easier goal all season.

Haas is involved again three minutes later when he brings down Lubomir Zapotoka. Mr. Siddall decides that it warrants both a free kick and a yellow card.

Ten minutes before half time, David Bentley crosses from the right and Cenci shoots from 8 yards. Reina smothers the shot and the ball goes along the face of the goal. Alain Besse gets to the loose ball a yard out, but at a tight angle. He’s able to send the ball goalwards, but Liverpool are able to block the effort and keep their two-goal lead.

Stepanenko brings down Bentley on the halfway line in the 39th minute. Mr. Siddall blows his whistle and rushes across. He’s brandishing a card for Stepanenko. It’s red! A straight red! Stepanenko has been sent off. I was expecting a yellow card, but Mr. Siddall clearly feels it warranted more. The second game in a row where we’ve had a man advantage. Is this our way back in to the game?

There’s a chance apiece before the half time whistle. A Cenci free kick from 25 yards goes over, whilst Suarez shoots narrowly wide from 25 yards in stoppage time.

I get the troops in and look to fire them up for the second half. My words have evidently fired up Cenci, who gets his name taken by Mr. Siddall within a minute of the half starting for a foul on Samba. It’s his second booking of the season and it’s already looking likely that he’ll soon be serving a suspension.

Besse shoots from 20 yards in the 51st minute, but Reina is alert and is diving towards the ball. He gets a good hand to the ball and is able to push it wide for a corner. Suarez has a chance in the 59th minute following a cross by Lennon on the right, but his header from 10 yards goes over. Glen Johnson is booked by Mr. Siddall on the hour for a foul on Besse.

In the 63rd minute, Sigurdsson gets the ball 25 yards out. He looks up, quickly assesses his options and threads a ball through our defence. It’s perfectly weighted and Lennon runs onto it and scores from 12 yards. I respond immediately by replacing Cenci with Rainer Breu, who comes on for his debut. There seems little point in risking Cenci picking up a red card in a game beyond our reach.

Breu is involved in the action within his first five minutes. Bertin Matip takes an inswinging corner and Breu meets it at the near post with a header from 6 yards. He does everything right, heading it down. The only part that he gets wrong is the placement and it’s straight at Reina. He gets down well and makes a comfortable save in the end. Breu does have a chance from 20 yards in the 75th minute, but it ends up being a tame effort that dribbles wide.

Besse is booked by Mr. Siddall in the 78th minute for fouling Tevez. In the 82nd minute, Bradley Johnson is 25 yards out again. He elects to shoot again. This time it’s over the bar instead of rattling it. Before the goal kick is taken, Mick Byrne replaces Nathan Ake and the game fizzles out.

Result: Exeter City 0-3 Liverpool
Man of the Match: Sigurdsson
Ratings: GK-Amos (5.7), DR-Zapotoka (6.7), DCR-Ake (5.7, sub 82), DCL-Vukovic (6.7), DL-Riccardi (5.7), DMC-Perak (sub 1), MCR-Matip (6.9), MCL-Johnson (6.9), AMR-Bentley (6.7), AML-Besse (6.9, booked), ST-Cenci (6.7, booked, sub 64). Subs-Olivier (6.8, on 1), Breu (6.9, on 64), Byrne (on 82). Unused-Mello, Mora, Norwood, Hayes
Attendance: 8,105
League Position: 9th
Match Stats:

Liverpool #FM12

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Not too much for the faithful to cheer about unfortunately as Liverpool were very good and clinical in front of goal. A disappointing day, especially for the defence. A mistake from Amos and poor performances from Ake and Riccardi helped Liverpool’s cause and we struggled to put on any sustained pressure, even when we had the man advantage. Anything against big clubs such as Liverpool will be a bonus, but I’m hoping for better performances in the future. I think we’ll put it down to the occasion.

The physio reports on Ilica Perak after the game. He’s suffering from a fractured wrist and will be out for 6-7 weeks.

Carmine Mello is named the third best goalkeeper at the U20 World Cup. An excellent pick up on a Bosman for me and if Amos puts in many more performances like the Liverpool one, Mello will soon be getting a chance in the Premier League.

Daniel Berger rejects a loan move to Burnley. Busao agrees to his loan spell at Hereford United. Portsmouth offer to loan Miltos Makris for the season and I accept the offer. I also accept a season-long loan from Nocerina for Riccardo Greppi.

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Premier League Darts 2017 – Week 11 matches and predictions

Gary Anderson V Dave Chisnall – Anderson win.
Michael van Gerwen V Peter Wright – van Gerwen win.
Adrian Lewis V Raymond van Barneveld – Draw
Phil Taylor V James Wade – Taylor win
Peter Wright V Gary Anderson – Anderson win.

Share your predictions by leaving a comment.

West Ham United 2-0 Liverpool

West Ham United recorded a comfortable home victory over Liverpool. Michail Antonio opened the scoring for West Ham in the 10th minute with a header from 6 yards out. The goal was controversial, as Antonio appeared to have fouled Alberto Moreno at the other end of the pitch 20 seconds before, with Moreno staying down. Regardless of whether it was a foul or not, Liverpool should have defended better and it was a poor goal to concede. West Ham pushed on and looked likely to score just about every time they attacked, with a shot from Manuel Lanzini swerving viciously and leaving Simon Mingolet a spectator as the far post kept the score at 1-0. Lanzini went off injured and West Ham seemed to become more defensive, but Liverpool struggled to create anything; the closest they came was a shot from Emre Can on the edge of the area, which hit the crossbar and went over.

Liverpool started the second half continuing to control the game, but not creating any real chances. West Ham extended their lead in the 55th minute as a cross from Mark Noble found Andy Carroll at the far post, who powered a header into the net, sending it back across from where it had come from. This didn’t alter the pattern of the game too much and West Ham had a couple of good chances to extend their lead further, whilst Liverpool’s best chance saw substitute Joe Allen head wide from around 10 yards out.

Liverpool sack Rodgers

After a 1-1 draw in the Merseyside derby, Liverpool sacked manager Brendan Rodgers. There has been much recent speculation about the future of Rodgers, so the sacking was not a complete surprise. However, the timing did seem strange, with Liverpool only 6 points off of 1st. Results and performances may not be as desired, but the club is certainly not in a desperate position. Also, why sack the manager after a result against rivals who are performing well in the league? Sacking him if they had lost heavily would have been more understandable.

Jurgen Klopp is the favourite to become the new manager, but has already said that he wants complete control over all transfers, something that Rodgers did not have. He will also be looking to have the club playing in his style, which is likely to take some time and require a transformation of players at the club. Klopp, assuming he does take the job, will need time and the financial backing of the owners, who will need to invest heavily to get the club back to challenging for the title.

Sporting shocks

Following Japan’s 34-32 victory over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, BBC Sport has been asking about top sporting shocks. I think that Japan’s victory is the biggest shock that I can remember, but here are some others that I can think of:

Lennox Lewis V Hasim Rahman

Lewis was the heavyweight champion of the world going into this fight in April 2001 and was expected to retain his belt against Rahman, a virtual unknown. Rahman was only fighting because Mike Tyson had been suspended and was a way of keeping the champion busy. However, Rahman had not read the script and knocked Lewis out in the fifth round and became the champion. The rematch in November 2001 saw Lewis fully prepared and he regained the title with a knockout victory in the fourth round, but the result in April had definitely been a shock.

Telford Tigers 8-3 Peterborough Phantoms

I think this is the game I am thinking of and it happened in January 2009 (although if I am wrong and anyone knows differently, please let me know). The Tigers team at the time was not the greatest and were losing most weeks. Peterborough started well and were leading 2-0 at the end of the first. The result looked to be certain, with the only question being what the losing margin would be. I can’t remember if the Phantoms made it 3-0 or not, but I do remember the Tigers producing an outstanding 2 periods of hockey to demolish the Phantoms 8-3, with power forward James Knight helping himself to 4 goals. A great and completely unexpected comeback.

The 2012 Ryder Cup

After two days, America were in a 10-6 lead over Europe (they had been leading 10-4 at one point on the Saturday) and only required 4.5 points to win the Ryder Cup. Europe dominated the singles matches on the final day and the final score saw Europe winning 14.5 to 13.5, with the result being known as ‘the Miracle at Medinah’.

Manchester United 0-0 Exeter City

The third round of the FA Cup in the 2004/05 season saw non-league Exeter City travel to Manchester United. Even with Manchester United naming a weakened side, they were still expected to win comfortably against their opponents, especially as they had home advantage. Despite dominating the game, Exeter stuck ruggedly to their task and claimed a memorable draw. For the replay at Exeter, Sir Alex Ferguson named a much stronger side who won 2-0, but the draw at Old Trafford arguably ended the Manchester United careers of several players who started that day.

Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)

The final of the Champions League saw Liverpool take on AC Milan in Istanbul. Milan scored in the first minute through the highly unlikely figure of Paolo Maldini and they extended that lead with two further goals in the second half. Convinced the game was over, some Liverpool fans were seen leaving at half time. However, 3 goals in 5 minutes in the second half saw Liverpool level the scores before going on to claim victory in the penalty shoot-out. A shock result, especially after the half time score; also, Italian teams are famed for being defensively sound, so for one of them to blow a 3-0 lead made it an even bigger shock.

Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich

A shock result because of the dramatic way that it happened; Munich were winning 1-0 in the 90th minute following a 6th minute goal by Basler and were moments away from lifting the trophy. However, Manchester United levelled in stoppage time through Sheringham and then took the lead and victory with a further goal in stoppage time from Solskjaer.

Denmark 1992

A complete shock at Euro 92, as Denmark beat Germany 2-0 in the final. Whilst that result was a shock, the bigger shock was that Denmark were there at all; they had not qualified for the tournament and only knew they were competing 11 days before the tournament started, replacing a banned Yugoslavia following the civil war there.

Brazil 1-7 Germany

Germany beating Brazil is perhaps not a shock, but the emphatic nature of the scoreline coupled with it being in the semi-final of a World Cup being hosted in Brazil made it arguably one of the most shocking results in perhaps not only the history of the World Cup but of football history itself.

Greece 2004

A highly unfancied Greek side somehow claimed victory at Euro 2004, managing to grind out results. Greece’s victory was arguably more shocking than the Danish victory of 1992 as the Greek side did not appear to have any standout players, relying instead on a strong, disciplined defensive game. It was rarely pretty, but highly effective.

Germany 1-5 England

Qualifying for the 2002 World Cup saw Germany and England in the same qualifying group. Whilst not the strongest German side ever, they claimed victory in the final match at the old Wembley (which resulted in Kevin Keegan resigning as England manager). The return fixture in Germany saw them take an early lead, before 5 English goals saw a shocking scoreline. I can remember the general sense of disbelief after the game.

I have only included shocks that I can remember seeing or having read about, thus not including other notable sporting shocks from the past.

Manchester United 3-1 Liverpool

Manchester United recorded a 3-1 victory over rivals Liverpool and moved up to second in the league after a game of two halves. The first half was instantly forgettable, with Manchester United seemingly content to have possession of the ball but not do much with it and Liverpool happy to let them do so. The only way a goal seemed likely was either from the left (Shaw and Depay worked well and looked the most dangerous) or from a Liverpool mistake.

Ashley Young was brought on for Depay at half time and he won the free kick that opened the scoring; the free kick was rolled along and the box and a great hit from Blind found the top corner. The game became more open after this and the pace increased. Manchester United doubled their lead in the 70th minute when a lunging tackle from Gomez resulted in a penalty, which was emphatically dispatched by Ander Herrera. The result seemed to be beyond doubt, but an acrobatic scissor kick from Benteke looked set to create a grandstand final five minutes. However, moments later, Martial picked the ball up in the left channel, cut inside and tied Skrtel in knots before rolling the ball into the far post for a well-deserved victory.

The game needed a change at half time and Manchester United were able to provide that, increasing the tempo of the game and looking more threatening; too often in the first half they seemed happy to keep the ball without looking to create chances or take defenders on. Liverpool never looked like winning the game. It is clear that Rodgers wants Liverpool to keep the ball, but Mignolet and Skrtel in particular were terrible in distributing the ball and too often Liverpool gave the ball back to Manchester United with a poor pass after two or three passes. At other times, they tried to go long to Benteke, but with the other players being so deep, he was isolated and again the ball was soon back in the possession of Manchester United. It was difficult from the game today to see how either side could manage a sustained challenge against early pacesetters Manchester City.

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool

Aston Villa are through to the FA Cup Final following a dominant display over a lacklustre Liverpool side. Liverpool drew first blood after Villa failed several times to clear a ball, with Coutinho sliding the ball nicely past an onrushing Shay Given. However, the lead did not last long, with good play down the left wing between Delph and Grealish finding Benteke unmarked 14 yards out and he made no mistake. Delph scored the winning goal in the second half by slotting past Mignolet after a fine backheel by Benteke and good pass from Grealish.

Apart from the five minutes or so after Nathan Baker went off injured, Villa were by far the better side on the day. Their play seemed to have purpose and they were constantly probing, with Delph running the game from midfield and Benteke and Grealish looking dangerous throughout. In contrast, it would be difficult to pick out a Liverpool player who had a good game; there were some good individual moments, but overall there was very little shown.