Should Steven Taylor have been called up to the England squad?

Steven Taylor has been in very good form in the last couple of weeks and possibly deserved a call up to the England squad this month.

Against Anzhi, he was yet again sublime particularly when Lassana Diarra looked certain to score not once but twice. The 27 year old put in two blocks and his contribution was arguably as important as Papiss Cisse’s last minute winner. This season it has been no surprise that when Taylor has been in Newcastle’s starting 11 they have performed better and looked a lot more solid with him at the back. One thing that does go unnoticed though a lot of the time is his passing accuracy, in recent games he has been close to 100% and he clearly has learnt a lot from his regular centre back partner Fabricio Coloccini in being composed at the back and building attacks from there rather than just sending it long and pointless as others do so often.

Taylor has been around the squad for a long time now since making his debut in the 2003-04 season and may feel that in that time he has deserved a call up to the full England squad. His record at youth level has been good for England and he even has a cap at B level but that full England cap still seems to allude him. He is everything you want in a centre back, he is brave and rarely loses the ball when it is in the air and has improved immensely when strikers or quick wingers are running at him.

With England struggling for options at the back these days it is a surprise to me that he didn’t get called up this time but if he keeps his current form for the rest of the season there is no doubt in my mind that the calls for him to be included in a squad will get louder and louder. There are only a few reasons why I think he won’t get called up and they are simply because England managers, including Roy Hodgson seem reluctant to come to the North East to watch Newcastle and Sunderland games so there is very little chance of a call up from either squad. But, possibly another reason is because he sometimes does things that are very strange and his antics could be costing him. He seems to do some things to get the crowd going and to get a cheer rather than just being more professional, an example of this is when he has laid on the ground to header the ball instead of just clearing it with his foot. Also, his actions towards Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic in the recent win showed a different side to him and if he did that on a national level it would be much bigger news and he would be criticised for it.

For me though, Steven Taylor should be in this England squad and could have even started because he is in better form than Chris Smalling. With Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill given opportunities already and not really making the position there own it may have been better to try someone like Taylor. Then there is Rio Ferdinand, is he still good enough? He probably is and I think Taylor and Ferdinand would have formed a great partnership.

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Who will win the Championship playoffs?

It is that time of the year again and the unpredictability is bound to cause a lot of excitement for the neutrals but for West Ham, Birmingham City, Blackpool and Cardiff City fans it is one of the most nerve wracking times of the season.

So who is going to come out on top? West Ham will playing Cardiff at home in the second leg so does that give them an advantage over their Welsh rivals or does it not matter like in the Champions League this season where both away teams in the second leg went through. Will Blackpool’s attacking and sometimes gung ho tactics work against a hard working Birmingham side or will Chris Hughton secure a second promotion to the Premier League?

First of all, let’s start with West Ham as they finished third and were in contention of an automatic spot right up until the final day but ultimately lost out to Southampton. This can sometimes knock your confidence and the players may feel quite disappointed with their season as they were favourites to return to the top flight. But in there squad they have enough experience to steer them to Wembley and into the promised land once again. Their key player will be Kevin Nolan who is a fantastic player and in my opinion has been unlucky not to receive an England cap in his career. He can grab a goal from midfield and always seems to score important goals when he is needed, he may not have done as well as the last time he was in the Championship but he still needs to be watched and 12 goals this season has been quite a good return.

Birmingham City have had such a long season and there is a worry that they might burn out as they have played in the Europa League and took Chelsea to a replay in the FA Cup. But  don’t see this as a problem as they just keep getting better and better. With manager Chris Hughton in charge you know the camp will be in high spirits and everyone will be enjoying themselves. But maybe the speculation that West Brom are interested in Hughton might just put the players off slightly and they might lose focus but I honestly don’t think this will happen. The key player in my opinion will be Curtis Davies who has had a fantastic season and will want to play Premier League football next season. He has been a rock at the back for the club and has been crucial in their good form all season, he knows he will have to be at his best to keep out the opposition in the next few games.

Blackpool are also looking for an instant return to the Premier League under the always entertaining Ian Holloway. The way the team play their football is fantastic to watch and his players are very brave to keep playing the way they do which may give them the advantage in the playoffs and the fact they have won the playoffs with a very similar team only two years ago will also help their cause. Key player to watch for me is Kevin Phillips, he has scored 17 goals this season and is looking as threatening as ever, he may not be able to start both legs because of his age but when he is on the pitch his movement will worry defenders and like Nolan always has an important goal in him. With him on the pitch I think defenders know they need to mark him which gives more space for wingers Matt Phillips and Thomas Ince who on their day can take apart any defence in the Championship.

Cardiff City have possibly been one of the most unlucky teams in the playoffs with them losing in them time and time again. What has made it worse is that Swansea City are in the Premier League and are doing well. But manager Malky Mackay has brought together a new squad this year who look hungry and determined to get to the Premier League. The goals haven’t quite flowed as much this season as they have done previously but all that matters is that they are in the playoffs once again. Key player will be Peter Whittingham as he has really quality from midfield whether he plays out wide or in the middle and has contributed 13 goals this season as well as many assists. If he is on form it will be difficult for their opponents to stop him and he can change a game in the blink of an eye.

So now it is prediction time, I believe that the final will be between Cardiff and Birmingham with Birmingham winning the final. I just think that West Ham may crumble under the pressure and the expectations and Blackpool will be unable to break down the Birmingham defence often enough. In the final I think it will be a case of déjà vu for Cardiff and they will sadly underperform on the big stage.

Do you agree with my key players and my predictions?