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Wigan vs Manchester City: Preview

Monday 8pm, DW Stadium

Wigan 8.00 Draw 4.20 Manchester City 1.44

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Awkward little fixture for City this – despite Wigan’s deficiencies, it’s not the most appetising venue for a must-win game.

Doubts exist over David Silva(f/g) and Mario Balotelli(f/g) for Roberto Mancini, and the Toure brothers are away with the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Wigan welcome back Albert Crusat(f/g), but Mohamed Diame is also on international duty with Senegal.

Wigan are a team that needs momentum, a side that can grind through the gears and cause you problems if you let them. Roberto Martinez has seen his side hit the bottom of the league since Blackburn’s resurgence, and will ensure that his players appreciate the urgency for points.

City have not looked themselves for a while now. The stuttering performance against Liverpool, the refereeing travesty that was the derby game, and the stalemate at the Hawthorns have added up to the first semblance of doubt over their title credentials. Sunday’s encounter with Tottenham may promise bigger headlines, but victory tonight is just as important.

There’s not a lot of subtlety in the way the home side defends, and that promises much for a visiting attack stuffed with guile and creativity. If David Silva’s fit, expect him to enjoy himself – Wigan really aren’t equipped to handle that kind of player. Up front as well, I’m not sure that Franco Di Santo and Hugo Rodallega are capable of exposing the weakness felt by Vincent Kompany’s absence. All signs point to an away win, indifferent form or not.

If this is to be competitive, Wigan have to be forceful in midfield. City undeniably lose something when Yaya Toure isn’t playing, and it’s up to James McCarthy and probably Hendry Thomas to clog-up what will be an unfamiliar Barry/De Jong/Silva axis. Victor Moses has begun to show signs of why he was so coveted when at Crystal Palace, and his form this season has a lot to do with Wigan having as many points as they do – can he make an impact here though? Doubtful.

8/1 on Wigan? Only if you’ve got money to burn – City to win 3-0.

Angered by Phil Dowd’s decision during Manchester United vs Wigan

Phil Dowd’s decision to dismiss Connor Sammon angered me, it was so symptomatic of the way the game is refereed in this country.

Sometimes officials have to accept that contact between two players is incidental, and not malicious. Anybody that has played the game – to any standard – will tell you that sometimes contact occurs and that it’s perfectly plausible for it to be accidental. Given the pace with which the game is played, there has to be more common sense applied.

There’s too much of this in the Premier League, there are too many referees who see contact during an aerial battle and feel the need to get the red card out. It’s irritating; they must learn to distinguish between a fair contest and serious foul play. It’s not actually that difficult, because very rarely do you see a Premier League player deliberately swing an elbow into his opponent’s face.

There are no mitigating circumstances for Dowd either. He has a direct line of sight to the incident, neither Michael Carrick nor any other Manchester United player is demanding retribution, the crowd is unmoved, and the incident doesn’t take place at any great speed. It’s just inadequate refereeing.

“I’m at Old Trafford and I think I’ve seen a swinging arm – maybe it’s best just to send the player off. It’s only Wigan.”

I’m someone that’s reluctant to slag off referees, because the ‘conspiracy culture’ in our game is too prominent already – but when the officials are consistently making incorrect decisions, every week now, that change the course of a game, it’s hard to ignore. It’s so, so boring.

Things we’ve learned this weekend – Wigan, Blackburn, Manchester City, Swansea

Blackburn are improving

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It’s a funny thing; once a crowd have decided that they don’t want a manager, it’s almost impossible to convince them otherwise. Lose the crowd, lose your job – that should almost be the LMA’s motto.

Like many others, I’ve said for months that Steve Kean isn’t the right person for this club at this time. I’m starting to change my mind, because under almost unbearable pressure, he actually has his team performing quite well. Plus of course, given the state of the club’s ownership – or lack of clarity regarding it – he just can’t be shouldering all of the blame.

On a good day, they would have taken points of Tottenham, Chelsea, and beaten Norwich. That would leave them in 13th.

While the circumstances around Kean’s appointment still rankle, and while his transfer dealings have been largely underwhelming, he’s got this Blackburn team playing at quite a good level – which in the circumstances is miraculous.

Swansea aren’t getting enough credit

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All the talk coming out of Anfield on Saturday was of a profligate Liverpool who should have easily dispensed with Swansea. Yes, Michel Vorm made several outstanding saves to preserve a point for the Welsh side, but equally, the visitors created enough chances to have won the game.

How many times have we seen a newly-promoted side go to a signature ground like Anfield and shut-up shop, play as negatively as possible, and simply aim to preserve morale rather than accumulate any points? Not so with Brendan Rodgers and his side, whose expansive – yet neat – football is seemingly capable of opening up just about any side in the league.

Man-management is also clearly an attribute of the Irishman’s, because there are many who would have feared for Swansea after they threw away a two-goal lead at Molineux. Not so, they’ve rebounded nicely and that deflating experience seems thoroughly out of their system – four points out of six since their trip to Wolverhampton.

David Silva is a true example to aspiring professionals

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Not something that was learned over the weekend, but definitely still worth mentioning. A World Cup winner, an incredibly gifted player, and an extremely wealthy young man. But without a shred of ego. A joy to watch, but also a credit to his profession – it’s a mark of his upbringing and general integrity that you’ll never hear a word from the Spaniard in the press, or see so much as a sour expression when he sits on the bench.

On top of which, and the real reason for including him here, his first-touch for his goal against QPR was sublime. A highlight of the weekend.

Spitting is always unacceptable

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No excuses for Antonlin Alcaraz, none at all. I don’t care what the provocation is, I don’t care about ‘pressure’, or heated atmospheres – you can never spit at another player. Alcaraz has already, rightly, been charged by the FA, and hopefully he’ll get something akin to the six games handed down to Patrick Viera all those years ago.

Unfortunately though, I’ve read in a couple of places this morning that ‘players overreact to spitting’ – and by ‘places’ I actually mean ‘Football365′. Now, I know that deliberately taking a contrary and hence provocative view is part of their MO, but really – you can’t defend something like that.

Bad player, bad professional – this is supposed to be the Wigan captain.

Wigan vs Tottenham: Preview

Wigan 5/2 Draw 11/5 Tottenham 10/11

Saturday 3pm.

What a difference eight days can make to a season, the doom and gloom that gathered after consecutive heavy defeats to the Manchester clubs has lifted – and now the hope at White Hart Lane is of a Champions League place again. Time well tell, all talk at this stage of the season is a little premature.

Tottenham will make one change to the side that battered Liverpool, with Rafael Van der Vaart replacing the injured Niko Kranjcar. William Gallas is still not fit, so Younes Kaboul and Ledley King will continue their partnership at the heart of defence. Wigan are without Hugo Rodallega for at least another month, with Steven Gahouri and Antolin Alcaraz also missing from Roberto Martinez’s squad.

What was striking about Wigan’s late collapse against Everton was just how much they suffer when exposed to pace – not encouraging then that they know welcome the cumulatively quickest team in the league to the DW Stadium. On the positive side, Franco Di Santo is starting to add goals to his repertoire – finally – and Victor Moses is showing signs of becoming the player he was predicted to blossom into while he was at Crystal Palace.

The youth in Wigan’s team never really gets enough focus; Ben Watson, James McArthur, James McCarthy and new Chelsea loanee Patrick Van Aanholt all have ability in abundance. Unfortunately, this is a Spurs team with a lot of experience and a lot of class – and anything other than seeing the away side completely dominate midfield would be a shock.

Furthermore, the arrival of Emmanuel Adebayor seems to have rejuvenated Jermain Defoe, and the partnership between the two of them looked incredibly dangerous. Interestingly, Adebayor’s link-play last Sunday was extremely good – something you don’t often associate with him. If Spurs can get all parts of this team firing at the same time then they sky – by which we mean third place – is the limit.

Tottenham, 2-0.

N’Zogbia nears protracted Wigan exit

Has there been a point during Charles N’Zogbia’s career when he hasn’t been agitating for a transfer to a bigger team.

Ever since the winger’s acrimonious departure from Le Havre’s academy at 17, he’s never seemed to show any willingness to settle. During his fractious tenure at Newcastle, it seemed as if N’Zogbia couldn’t leave his house without telling a journalist how much he fancied a move to Arsenal.

Obviously Arsene Wenger never really responded to Charlie throwing himself in his direction, and N’Zogbia has been cutting in off his wing at Wigan for the last two years instead. Much as before though, the player has never really gone out of his way to seem in any way unavailable to other clubs.

Anyway, the latest instalment of a career that’s never really been that relevant came yesterday, as Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan revealed that:

‘There is quite a lot of interest in Zoggy. He has said to me I’ve enjoyed my time at Wigan but I want to move on to other things. He’s very proud now of playing for France again and he feels a bigger club would be better for him for selection for France, for which we have to agree and I’ve said we will not stand in his way. If a player comes in saying he’s unhappy playing for Wigan Athletic, I want to move – I’m not going to say you can’t move. I’m going to say okay, we’ll put you on the list, try to find you a club, as long as we get the right fee, we’re going to let you go.’

In no way came you blame Whelan for that, because of course he’s going to cash in on an asset that’s such a perennial ball-ache – but hopefully he doesn’t believe the ‘international selection’ reasoning that ‘Zoggy’ is hiding behind.

If Wigan had been relegated this season then fine, but if you’ve recently been selected for your first cap while playing for one club, then you probably don’t need a transfer to another to secure a second appearance.

Current favourites to sign him? Newcastle at 6/4. Some people will never learn.

Blackpool: Three Moments That Defined A Season

The opening day battering handed to Wigan…

The halcyon days of August, the sun’s out, you’re wrecking betting coupons, and everyone thinks you’re a ‘breath of fresh air’ for the league. The 4-0 destruction at The DW Stadium would be symbolic of Ian Holloway’s attacking philosophies throughout the season; go forward and disguise the team’s defensive frailties at all times. 9 months on, Blackpool are are in a relegation ‘battle’ rather than already being down because of the positive start that they made – 28 of their league points came between August and January, only 11 have come since.

The surrender of a two goal lead against Manchester United…

Craig Cathcart and DJ Campbell’s goals had given Blackpool a lead at Bloomfield Road over a sputtering Man United, and the first half saw the future Champions steamrollered at Bloomfield Road. The typically poor Darron Gibson was withdrawn in favour of Ryan Giggs at the start of the second half, and a still misfiring Wayne Rooney followed him down the tunnel shortly after the hour – United’s influence grew and grew until a complete turnaround became almost inevitable. If there was one part of this game that was memorable above all others, it was just how tired Blackpool looked from the hour mark onwards – and how willingly the rolled over and died. As if their long journey from Championship to Premier League had finally caught up with them, Dimitar Berbatov’s momentum shifting goal on 72 minutes was met with no resistance at all by the home side, and Javier Hernandez’s equaliser two minutes later was like night following day. United would go on to win the game, but the effect on Blackpool seemed to be far more long-term than just the loss of three points – the loss sucked the energy out of the crowd and the belief out of the players. When a team like Blackpool gets promoted – more specifically a team that should on paper go straight back down with no resistance – they play with the enthusiasm of someone with nothing to lose, and an adrenaline that will see them take points in unlikely places against superior teams. But there’s always a point where the momentum from the novelty factor and the previous season come to a shuddering halt, and this was that moment for Blackpool.

The Charlie Adam transfer saga in January…

If reports are to be believed, Blackpool’s talisman was watching his phone for most of transfer deadline day – even telling the Sky Sports News reporter that had been designated to him at one point that he was ‘all set’ for a move elsewhere. What did that say to the other players at Bloomfield Road – and the fans, because no amount of well-struck penalties and badge-kissing can make them forget how forcefully he tried to engineer a move away from the club. If he’d waited until the end of the season and Blackpool had gone down, then in all likelihood the supporters would have been more understanding of the player’s wish to remain at the highest level – a level at which he clearly belongs. As it was, you were left with the impression that Adam became so enamoured with the hyperbole about him in the press that he forgot where his primary commitments lay. Purely theory as it may be, but as an outsider looking in on Blackpool you have to believe that this had a compromising effect on team unity.

Sunday Morning Notes: Man Utd, Patrice Evra, and relegation scenarios

During the dressing room champagne spraying footage after Man United clinched the title at Blackburn, did anybody else see Patrice Evra make a hasty dash to protect something from getting wet? Watch it again.

Whether a penalty or not, how many people knew as soon as they saw most of the United team surround Phil Dowd and his linesman that a spot-kick would be given? Referees still have to be stronger with the bigger teams, because whether true or not, it still appears that big-name players can influence an official’s decision. It’s got to be cut out.

Right, some relegation scenarios for you….

If West Ham fail to win today, then they will be relegated.

If Birmingham win or draw, West Ham will go down regardless.

If Birmingham win, and West Ham and Wigan draw – both teams fall through the trap-door.

If West Ham win, and Birmingham draw, then Wigan are down.

Premier League Highlights: Wednesday 30th December

All the highlights from yesterday’s games, maybe try and ignore the grindingly tedious deja vu of watching Chelsea getting yet more favourable decisions at Stamford Bridge…

Chelsea 1 – 0 Bolton

http://www.footytube.com/v/NjkwMzE=

Wigan 2 – 2 Arsenal

http://www.footytube.com/v/NjkwMzA=

Liverpool 0 – 1 Wolves

http://www.footytube.com/v/NjkwMjk=

Good Referee/Bad Referee

Determining the abilities of individual referees is a difficult process, but yesterday’s action provided a perfect basis for performing such a comparison. Two similar incidents, two different outcomes, and two contrasting conclusions about the referees involved.

At St Andrews, Ramires crumples in the home penalty area under the weight of a perfectly timed challenge from Roger Johnson. Naturally, the Chelsea fans behind the goal, and the Chelsea players themselves all howl in unison for a penalty. Referee Mark Halsey was unimpressed though, and remained strong in turning away the protests. To fans of all clubs apart from Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United, there’s something inevitable about an appeal for a penalty from one of those teams – almost as if, regardless of the severity or validity of the claim, a penalty is more likely to be given. Mark Halsey was simply applying the rules of the game, yet we still swelled with righteousness as we saw him send the blue-clad protesters away.

On to Old Trafford. Charles N’Zogbia turns Nemanja Vidic at the byline, and heads for the penalty area. But before he can get there, the Serb grabs a fist of his shirt and tugs him back and to the ground. We’re not going to debate whether or not it should have been a penalty, but just that it was quite obviously a foul. Martin Atkinson remains unmoved. When you see something like this happen, you get that very familiar feeling deep inside – that you’ve seen this before so many times that it’s barely even noteworthy any more. Big teams being given the benefit of the doubt. As an extension of that, most fans know only too well what would’ve happened had the incident occurred at the other end of the pitch. Conversely, would Rafael have been dismissed if he had committed the foul that Hugo Rodallega was dismissed for? No, he would have probably just received a yellow card.

We go on about this kind of thing too much, but that’s only because it happens nearly every week now. If a referee is not big enough to make decisions at against big teams, then he shouldn’t be appointed to those games. Well done Mark Halsey, shocking as it is, we found it refreshing not to see a Sky team favoured against a unfashionable one.

5 things we’ve learnt

Liverpool have work to do…

Beating Chelsea at home is not an acid test for any football team. The players are up for it, the crowd is even more so – it’s an artificial reality. Take three Pepe Reina saves out of the game, and Chelsea may well have headed back to London with more than just a sense of frustration.
On Wednesday night, Liverpool will travel to the DW Stadium and face an improving Wigan – the same fixture in which last year the away side were abjectly poor in defeat. The reality for Roy Hodgson is this; beat the marquee teams in the league and he’ll extend his honeymoon period with John Henry, but fail to perform against the league’s also-rans and his Anfield life-expectancy will plummet dramatically. A feature of his predecessor’s reign at the club was his ability to take points of the top teams home and away, but drop them again in routine games. Hodgson will do well to ensure that the playing intensity from yesterday afternoon is just as visible in those less glamorous, non-televised fixtures that really make or break a season.

West Ham were the unluckiest team of the weekend

For two reasons; Ben Foster and the referee. Winning at St Andrews, despite Birmingham’s current lack of form, is a difficult task for any team. West Ham played well-enough to earn three points, that they ran into a goalkeeper who made a string of outstanding saves, and a referee without the strength to give a clear penalty in their favour, is a stinging slap in the face for a team in need of points fast. It has to be said, that if Jean Beausejour’s tug on Lars Jacobsen had occurred at Old Trafford, and Jacobsen had been a Manchester United player, referee Oliver would have pointed to the penalty spot without any hesitation.
If a referee is not big enough to make decisions that are going to be unpopular with a home crowd, he shouldn’t be officiating. Week after week we see this, and it shows no sign of disappearing. Dull and predictable.

Tottenham will get nowhere near the Champions League this year.

Not if they play like they did against Bolton again. Within ninety minutes at the Reebok Stadium, the memory of the demolition of Inter Milan had faded even further, and normal Spurs performances had been resumed. What will grate Tottenham fans more than anything else, will be how predictable this defeat was. Currently, Bale, Modric, and Van der Vaart aside, the players’ attitude towards the bread and butter of the Premier League is simply not acceptable. Losses to Wigan at home, West Ham away, and Bolton away don’t lie.

Asamoah Gyan is now one of favourite players

Much as we said about Javier Hernandez a few weeks ago, it’s just so refreshing to watch a player who loves playing the game…and one who celebrates the way that he does. It’s a sign of times that such a basic attribute means so much, but so be it.

We can still be ashamed of football crowds

Minority group or not, an utterly revolting and disgusting lack of respect for those who have lost their life in conflict. Religion has no place on this blog at all, and shall never be mentioned again, but to the idiotic few; go back to Wikipedia and study the Catholic church’s history a little more carefully before embarking on a path of such embarrassing self-righteousness.