Can Tottenham Hotspur still finish third?

Tottenham picked up a point at Stamford Bridge but is that really good enough if they want to finish third in the Premier League and challenge for the title in years to come.

Spurs couldn’t afford to lose the game and maybe this is why in the first half it was such a poor performance and they couldn’t get their normal passing game going. There were no quick counter attacks and anytime they had a chance to make a through ball the player on the ball decided to pas it square or back to the defence. However, they did create a chance right at the end of the half which Rafael Van Der Vaart should have done better but the Chelsea players did put their bodies on the line to make sure they made it to half time on level terms.

The cautious start would have seemed unnatural for Spurs but when you take a closer look at some of their score lines against teams in the top half it is not that surprising. Against Liverpool they played in exactly the same way and were fortunate to get anything from that game even though Gareth Bale missed a one on one near to the end. This is starting to be a problem for them as they also couldn’t hold onto a lead away to Newcastle United as Shola Ameobi scored a late equaliser.

A lot of people will be saying that the team aren’t performing because of the speculation about the England job and maybe that is playing on Harry Redknapp’s mind but the players are not playing to their full potential and they have to take the blame for it themselves rather than blame it on things they can’t control. They were missing Aaron Lennon today which does change the way they play but in the big games, their attacking players seem to go missing anyway. I think Bale is one of the best players in the Premier League but against their rivals he seems to be very quiet especially in the first half against Chelsea. However, in the second half he did look the most likely to make something happen and hit the bar with a header.

The second half was a massive improvement but still not as good as we have seen them this season. Emmanuel Adebayor had a chance when he rounded Petr Cech but couldn’t get it past Gary Cahill who had ran round on the cover. Luka Modric was the player that played through Adebayor but even he wasn’t as influential as he could have been today.

Man of the match went to Kyle Walker which in all honesty proves that it wasn’t a great game. He did perform well but when you are saying the right back was the best player on the pitch you know the attacking players haven’t performed brilliantly.

Tottenham should finish in the Champions League places and this should have been good enough but the fans expectations were raised as the season went on and now fourth place seems like a bit of a disappointment. None of the fans would have complained at the start of the season but now they are gutted Arsenal could finish above them, this just shows how quickly expectations change in football.

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Shola Ameobi slays Sunderland yet again

Shola Ameobi has done it again against Sunderland and secured a vital point for Newcastle in a game that seemed to be drifting away from them.

He has not always been the most liked player and has been slated by many fans over the years but when it comes to the Tyne Wear Derby you know exactly what you are going to get from him. This was his seventh goal against Sunderland in only 12 games and this is why he will always be a cult hero. Only Jackie Milburn has scored more league goals in the derby than him. He may have got a bit lucky with his goal as Mignolet should never have been beaten at his near post with such a weak effort but at least he was in the position and connected with the ball.

It was a blood and thunder derby especially in the first half with many bookings and eventually early in the second half a red card which meant that recent signing Papiss Cisse could not really get into the game and makes you wonder if Pardew made the wrong choice. Everyone knows that Sunderland are sacred of Ameobi and he should have started. He didn’t have the greatest of days, Pardew, as Davide Santon was not looking very weak at the back and maybe Ryan Taylor should have started over at left back because when Hatem Ben Arfa came on he changed the game and put Newcastle on the front foot. He has at least given himself a good chance to start in the next game just like Ameobi has.

This day is about Shola and even though his record overall isn’t the best he does add something to the team whenever he plays, it was only a few weeks ago that he was a very important player in the game against Manchester United and although he didn’t score he should have been given a lot of praise for his performance. He has been at Newcastle his whole career (apart from a short loan spell at Stoke City) and you can see how much he loves the club and will do anything for it and anything to secure points for the team.

Shola now has 7 goals against Sunderland

He has never been a prolific goal scorer with him never getting to double figures in the Premier League and this is quite remarkable as he has played a lot of games and should have a higher scoring ratio but there is no doubt that he was a vital part of the team that won the Championship and got the team back to where they belong.

I hope he enjoys his goal and it lives long in the memory of the Toon fans because it has allowed them to have the bragging rights this season and if you are from the North East you understand how important not losing this game is. Sunderland will be devastated and they should feel a little ashamed of themselves especially club captain, Lee Cattermole who got himself sent off after the final whistle for verbally abusing the referee. You had your chance Sunderland and you blew it.

Solid defensive work at Newcastle United

Newcastle moved up to fifth place with a victory over Blackburn with a very good defensive performance. Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul have been getting praise and all season and rightfully so as yet again they both out in flawless performance. Mike Williamson has came back into the team in recent weeks and yes he has problems when dealing with players with a bit of pace and good movement but when the ball is in the air he is one of the best as he very rarely loses a header. With Steven Taylor missing, the club needed Williamson to step up as last year he started off very well but fell away towards the back end of the season and was dropped after a few dismal performances particularly against Liverpool at Anfield.

In the full back areas they also have players that are consistent rather than brilliant but this has worked for the team so far this season. Danny Simpson at right back at times looks very good and dependable but then at other times he looks very suspect like against Brighton in the FA Cup when he was beaten far too easily on the halfway line and it eventually led to the winning goal. He does always provide an attacking threat and constantly tries to put crosses in although his final delivery can also be very inconsistent and lack the necessary quality for the Premier League. On the other side Davide Santon has had a decent start to his Newcastle career, but like Simpson can look suspect defensively, like against Fulham when in the second half he was targeted and led to a capitulation eventually losing the game 5-2. But going forward he is confident with both feet and likes to play the ball around, he seems to be developing a good understanding with Jonas Gutierrez who in my opinion can make any left back look good because he is always helping them and providing support and not leaving them too exposed. It is a great credit to Gutierrez but you can definitely see why Santon was very highly rated at Inter Milan.

But I am going to give a lot of praise to James Perch who for long periods has been criticised by the Toon faithful because of some of his performances from the early part of last season. He tried to make tackles he couldn’t win and was inevitably booked, he was caught out of position and I’m sure not many will forget his own goal against Stoke. But this season he has turned a corner and has become a fantastic addition to the Newcastle squad as he has played at centre back and the centre of midfield and has not disappointed anyone. He came on at halftime in the game against Blackburn and deserved man of the match because he changed the game as at the end of the first half Rovers began to take control of the game and it looked as though they would get an equaliser. But Perch came on and steadied the ship and made some vital blocks and put in some good challenges and then when he had the ball played it simple.

It just shows in football how quickly opinions of certain players can change very quickly and James Perch deserves praise because he has clearly trained hard and wants to become a success at St James’ Park so he deserves a lot of credit for this and I just hope the fans will now cheer his name when it’s read out.

Young guns save Arsene Wenger and Arsenal

When you go 2-0 down at home, you look towards your experienced players to get you back into the game but not at Arsenal, although Robin Van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott all played in part in rescuing the game, all the plaudits should go to a young Englishman and a Young Welshman.

Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain may have saved Arsene Wenger’s job and kept Arsenal in the FA Cup because they both played brilliantly in the second half to get Arsenal a victory that looked very unlikely at halftime. I have been praising Ramsey all season as one of Arsenal’s best players this season and if it wasn’t for the incredible form of Van Persie he would have easily won the Player of the Year trophy at the club. He plays with football in the right way always wanting the ball to feet and most of the time plays it simple and just gives it to a teammate but he also has the quality to unlock defences with his driving runs and precise through balls. The Welsh captain has so much energy and covers the whole pitch in a game, he is a proper box to box midfielder and although he may not be the best at defending he is always prepared to get back and help out his defence. The goal that got Arsenal back into the game was from the penalty spot which Ramsey won after a clumsy challenge from Villa centre back Richard Dunne who was lucky to stay on the pitch. However, it was fortunate that Dunne flung himself into the tackle because Ramsey had taken a loose touch and the ball was trickling through to the goalkeeper.

On the wing Alex Oxlade Chamberlain impressed me yet again after a good performance against Manchester United. His willingness to take players on and commit defenders shows that he is not scared of taking on the Premier League and maybe Wenger waited too long to put him into the action as Andrei Arshavin has had a horrendous season. In my opinion he has an outside chance of making Fabio Capello’s squad for the Euro 2012 because he would give England some additional pace and seems quite powerful especially for someone quite young. Although the problem is he will have to get past Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott, Ashley Young and Adam Johnson just to have a chance of getting in the squad. In my opinion he actually looks better than Walcott, it would be fantastic to see them in a straight race as they both have exceptional pace but I believe that Oxlade Chamberlain may possess a better final ball and in time will create more chances for teammates and score more goals.

Yes Van Persie needed to stay calm and composed to score the two penalties and Walcott did show some great skill for his goal even though it did just end up deflecting off him but the two young guns deserve more praise as even in the first half they looked the best players on the pitch. Wenger deserves credit too as his team talk must have inspired his troops and maybe even Thierry Henry had a role to play in the dressing room. This is the type of heart and desire Arsenal fans were expecting all season and they have got to hope that the players show this type of commitment for the rest of the season so they can end their long run without a trophy

Praise for Sheffield Wednesday fans

The support of Sheffield Wednesday has never been in doubt but the Owls have probably even surpassed their own expectations by selling out a game in League 1. Yes it is the Steel City Derby but this is still an astonishing achievement as teams in the Championship and Premier League will be looking at Hillsborough in envy when the two sides take to the field, only wishing they had the same passionate support as the blue and white half of Sheffield.

What makes it even more remarkable is that the game has been sold out a whole month before the fixture is going to be played. League1 will never have seen a fixture like this and will probably never see it again. 12,500 seats were sold within three days of going on general sale which means that the fans know the importance of this game because it is not only a local derby but the two teams are currently level on points in the league and pushing for an automatic promotion place.

This is most certainly the most anticipated derby for a long time as both sides know that it could determine which division they are playing in next season. However, Wednesday need to make sure they keep up their good run at home as lately they have been beaten by Charlton and let a lead slip against Hartlepool, but other than these results their home form has been close to impeccable. Gary Megson though needs to keep his players minds focused because they have some crucial games coming up including games against promotion rivals MK Dons and Stevenage. Also they have a game against Chesterfield scheduled for the week before the big derby which will be their opponents biggest game of the season and therefore they will be up for it.

The January transfer window will be closed by the time the game comes around and the players that are brought in and sold could be vital in which team wins the game. With plenty of Blades players linked away from the club, such as Ched Evans and Stephen Quinn, the team could be substantially weakened for the rest of the season not just for the game against Wednesday.

Wednesday also seem to be linked with a few players and could be in need of a more creative midfielder with the latest being Ferrie Bodde. Who was very influential in getting Swansea promoted from this division but has suffered horribly with injuries in the last couple of years. The long running transfer saga of Ben Marshall needs to be sorted too as they either need to sign him or bring in someone to replace him as they look short on the wings. However, fortunately for the Owls it seems that Jermaine Johnson is beginning to find the kind of form which will frighten the life out of the Sheffield United defenders. With two wonder goals against Hartlepool and Scunthorpe he could be seen by many as the important player in the match. As all Wednesday fans know he can be infuriating with his sometimes poor final ball but they also know that he is one of the few players at the club to get them off their seat and when he gets the ball against United there is always an expectancy from the fans. Which could be crucial when the stadium is full and if Johnsons is flying the crowd will be too.

So back to the fans, this is a tremendous effort for a team that has struggled over recent years but the fans have stuck by the club and continue to support in huge numbers which makes Sheffield Wednesday still one of the biggest clubs in England. The players need to realise how lucky they are to play in front of this magnificent crowd and it is time for them to deliver.

Big mistake from Mancini

Roberto Mancini has let Nedum Onuoha join QPR in this transfer window which could prove to be yet another terrible decision and could come back to haunt him as Craig Bellamy has done so recently.

It is unbelievable that Onuoha who is largely underrated by Mancini has not seen much first team action this season after impressing on loan at Sunderland last season it seemed that he at least deserved a chance, at least as backup. When Vincent Kompany was sent off against Manchester United he must have hoped that the Italian manager would have at least played him in one of the Carling Cup semi finals against Liverpool just to see if he was able to fit into his defence.

But remarkably, Mancini stuck with Stefan Savic who ultimately cost City a place in the final of the competition with two shambolic performances, firstly getting bullied by the out of sorts Andy Carroll. If Carroll was in any type of form he would have destroyed him even more, he won most things in the air and brushed him aside with ease. In the City manager’s defence everyone is allowed a bad game and he may have been nervous because of how big the game was. But then he followed up this performance with another shocker against Tottenham and when he misjudged a simple long ball it allowed Jermain Defoe to score and allowed Spurs back into the game. Fortunately, City won the game with a last minute penalty and he was let off the hook.

In the return leg against Liverpool, Onuoha was once again left out and QPR were in talks with the young defender and therefore this basically signalled the end of his career at the Etihad Stadium. But before the deal was completed Savic had another chance to prove he was good enough for the Premier League or at least a more competent defender than the QPR bound man. But he struggled against the pace of Bellamy and he can’t have been completely confident when his own manager didn’t trust him 100% and changed the formation to five at the back so he had extra cover when he inevitably made a mistake. He was still a liability and got hauled off at halftime which must make the supporters of the league leaders worried as they have spent a lot of money yet they have no decent cover in the heart of their defence which is one of the most important positions on the pitch.

Kolo Toure is passed his best, therefore, the club only have two players that have real quality in this position in Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott. Even this is quite surprising as last season there were a lot of question marks over Lescott as he had failed to live up to his price tag.

If Man City do not win the league, I will blame Mancini because everyone can see where they need to improve and it’s not as if they have little money to spend. He needs to buy a centre back sooner rather than later or it could cost him his job. I’m not saying Onuoha could have won them the league but surely he would have played a lot better than an out of depth Savic and an out of form Toure.

The worst way to win… Penalties

Penalties is the most heartbreaking way to lose a game of football especially if you went down to ten men during the game like Crystal Palace did away to Cardiff. After Patrick McCarthy got sent off for two bookings, the Palace team defended brilliantly and did everything they could to keep Cardiff from scoring.

Cardiff missed opportunities and over the two legs they probably deserved to win the tie but Crystal Palace must feel hard done as they put in a very committed display and a draw would have been fair but the rules state that the tie had to be decided that night and when it came to it their players failed to keep their cool missing three of their penalties. With Jonathan Parr missing the target completely and both Jermaine Easter and Sean Scannell seeing their spot kicks saved by Tom Heaton they must be travelling back to London deflated and absolutely devastated to have missed their best opportunity of getting to a cup final in a long time.

Tom Heaton will be seen as the hero and will grab all the headlines in the morning papers whereas Kenny Miller who actually missed for Cardiff will hardly be mentioned unlike the Palace players that missed will be portrayed as villains.

Although this isn’t directly the same it is yet another time when England have failed to win a game because of penalties. England have been knocked out by Portugal and Germany which was heartbraking both in 1990 and 1996.

So what goes into taking a penalty? The most important thing a player needs is confidence and players that put their names forward deserve great credit as they are basically putting themselves forward to be shot down as they have put all the pressure on themselves to succeed as their opposite number, the goalkeeper, can only be a hero because nobody expects him to save the penalty.

The longest walk a player must take in his career is when he knows it is his turn next and has to walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot and look at the fans behind the girl which will either be his own who will be trying to encourage him or towards the opposition fans who will be doing all they can to put off the player. That walk must be so nervous and basically takes away the majority of a players footballing ability because it is one kick and one opportunity and although people say practice makes perfect, it doesn’t matter how often you practice taking penalties, you may choke on the big stage or the keeper could pull off a great save.

Another thing that would make anyone feel nervous is when a player places the ball and is all set to take it and then the referee tells them to replace the ball, it must ruin all momentum and cause panic as the player will be focused then all of a sudden they are taken out of the zone because the referee has spoke to them as the best penalty takers block out all the noise around them and just hit the ball.

Another thing that is important to remember though and the best advice to give to someone taking a penalty is that the goalposts do not move, they are in the same place every time and you are only 12 yards away. If you are a striker and you have a chance from 12 yards unmarked you are expected to score and most good strikers do put them away and therefore every penalty should go in.

However as I have said pressure can get to everyone and if a chance falls to you in a game it is a split second moment whereas you have so much time to think about it when taking a penalty especially in a shootout.

So is a penalty shootout the best way to end a game? In my opinion, yes because games have to come to a conclusion in some way and even though it is slightly unfair, every single player is under the same pressure and therefore it just comes down to whoever can hold their nerve the most.

Haven’t we seen you before… David Nugent

David Nugent now at Leicester City was one of the hottest prospects in the Championship when he was at Preston but for some reason maybe poor decision making on his part his career fell away but now under Nigel Pearson he might just be getting his career back on track.

In March 2007 he must have been in dreamland when he made his debut and scored in the last minute for England against Andorra but since then this dream has turned into a nightmare. He left Preston that summer for Portsmouth for £6 million and was finally realising his ambition of playing in the Premier League. But his move to the south coast was a complete disaster and in the same transfer window he was already linked with a move away from the club which shows that something wasn’t right and he didn’t exactly fit in at Pompey for one reason or another. It took him 18 months to score his first goal in the league for the club and ironically it was against the man that signed him Harry Redknapp, he then followed this up with two more goals towards the end of the season but it still didn’t change the fact that he was a poor signing and was a failure. However, in his defence he is a striker and does all of his good work up top chasing the ball down and latching onto through balls but for Portsmouth he was played on the right wing and therefore his opportunities to score were clearly limited.

He then left the club on loan to join Burnley and enjoyed moderate success with six goals in his 30 Premier League games but under Brian Laws the team were relegated and left Nugent in limbo as to whether he would be joining permanently or staying at Portsmouth. In the end he stayed at Portsmouth and had his best season for a long time ending the campaign as their top scorer but he decided to leave the club that summer for Leicester City where he has again had a decent season and looks like he is getting back to the levels he was at when he was called up to the national squad.

In his role as the pantomime villain away to Southampton, he produced arguably his best performance for many years, constantly terrorising the Saints defence by running at them and linking up well with strike partner Jermaine Beckford. He showed tremendous pace throughout the game and scored the opening goal with a clinical finish from just outside the box. There is no doubt in his mind what he was going to do when he picked up the ball on the left wing and cut inside, he expertly curled the ball into the corner leaving goalkeeper Kelvin Davis with no chance.

He is never going to get back into the England squad but it is nice to see players that have struggled for a while get back to their best and he can always be proud of his one cap one goal record for England.

David Beckham signs new contract for LA Galaxy

David Beckham has signed a new two year contract at LA Galaxy ending speculation  that he could be joining a European club.

Beckham has played 81 games for the American side scoring 12 goals and providing 28 assists. He went to America to raise the profile of the game over there and it is debatable whether his arrival has had an impact however one thing that has changed is that now players coming to the end of their careers are now looking for one last big pay cheque by going over there. The most notable being Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane but both of these have returned on loan to Premier League clubs, Henry rejoining Arsenal and Keane joining Aston Villa.

Also what is worth noting is that LA Galaxy have given Beckham permission to play for Great Britain in the Olympics if he is selected by Stuart Pearce as one of the three over age players. This must have clinched the deal for the former Manchester United midfielder as he had reportedly turned down a move to PSG because of family reasons which would suggest that Victoria and the rest of the family are very happy in LA.

However, the only negative he will see is that surely now he is staying with Galaxy he has almost certainly ruled out any chance of being selected for Euro 2012 but I have a suspicion that with all the work he put in to get the Olympics in London in 2012 he would prefer to be playing for Great Britain as Stuart Pearce has already said anyone going to the Euros won’t be selected.

Even though he is playing in a league that is well below the level he could still play at, he has made a good choice as he is trying to do good in the game by getting more people in America involved in the sport instead of it being behind American Football, Basketball, Baseball and possibly even Hockey. Only a small minority play soccer in American and if they could get more players involved they would produce some of the best players in the world just because of the sheer size of the country.

Back to the former England captain, it would have been good to have seen him back playing in the Premier League before he retired but that seems unlikely now. He did say he wouldn’t play for another club in England apart from Manchester United and he must have been thinking after watching Paul Scholes return and some bets (yes actual money) being placed on Phil Neville to return from Everton, that Sir Alex Ferguson may be tempted to pick up the phone and give him one final chance at Old Trafford.

It would not be surprising to have to call him Sir David Beckham in years to come as his services to football, charity and getting the Olympics to London have been nothing short of outstanding. He has always been a model professional and always wore the shirt of whichever team he was playing for with pride.

Finally can anyone remember a better moment in the last 20 years for England when he scored that penalty against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup? Because I can’t and for this moment alone he should be remembered as a fantastic player and captain for England.

The sleeping giants- Sheffield Wednesday

A fascinating battle is developing in League 1 this season as to who is going to get promoted, but the more intriguing battle in League 1 is who is going to finish highest out of the two Sheffield clubs

Both Wednesday and United are battling it out at the top of the table and after United’s 4-0 win tonight over Yeovil they have overtaken the Owls by a single point but have now played a game more. This is Wednesday’s second season in League 1 and after a disappointing season last year under Alan Irvine, Gary Megson came in and has made the team into a title challenging side, although most Owls fans would have been happy with a playoff challenge given the fact that the majority of players from last year underperformed. Quite well known players were at Hillsborough last season such as Gary Teale and Tommy Miller but both largely failed to secure promotion for Wednesday and eventually finished in a less than satisfactory mid table. The club faced many problems over the season off the pitch and were saved by Milan Mandaric who quickly brought in former Wednesday player Megson who has shipped out players that he felt were not good enough for the club and didn’t have the heart to perform for the team.

They do still have experience in their squad with Clinton Morrison, Rob Jones and Nicky Weaver but it has been the performances of some of the less experienced players that have really caught the eye of the fans and on looking scouts, such as Gary Madine. Megson has used his contacts in the game to bring in young players that are hungry and have a lot of potential. With Ben Marshall on loan from Stoke City, they have a winger that is most certainly a class above League 1 and they will need to keep hold of him if they are going to succeed this season and gain promotion. Danny Batth also deserves credit because he is only a young centre back but he is playing like he is a seasoned professional, getting better and better with each game and produced one of his best performances in the recent FA Cup victory over West Ham.

Possibly the signing of the season in League 1 has to be Jose Semedo who’s work can sometimes go unnoticed as he is a holding midfielder but he has been in sensational form this season and even though Charlton are top of the league, they must be regretting letting him go. He has been a player Wednesday have missed for many years, someone that does the hard work in the middle of the park and brings a lot of energy and desire every time he steps on the pitch.

Wednesday should be looking for promotion this year as they have two solid goalkeepers for this level in Nicky Weaver and Stephen Bywater, probably the best right back in the division when fit Lewis Buxton and a tough tackling left back in Reda Johnson who can also chip in with a goal. In the midfield they have the unpredictability of Jermaine Johnson who delights fans with his mazy runs but also infuriates them at the same time with his sometimes poor final ball, add this to Semedo and Marshall and you have a good midfield even though Johnson has struggled to get in the side consistently this season, they also have Chris Lines who is experienced in the lower leagues and David Prutton who has played in the Premier League. Up front they have many options with the fantastic finishing ability of Gary Madine, the strength and power of Chris O’Grady, the clever and crafty Ryan Lowe and Clinton Morrison, if he can get back to his best, he will score goals in this division.

So their biggest challenge is to get out of the division but first they have to topple the Blades and the way the season is shaping up, it may not be the easiest thing to do but they are still unbeaten at home and this stands them in good stead for the rest of the season. They are one of the biggest clubs in England and it is time for the sleeping giant to wake up.