Friday, May 20, 2011

More fun in the play offs

Last night I went to Peterborough V MK Dons in the League 1 play-offs semi final second leg. The first match had ended 3-2 to MK Dons with the Posh remaining in the tie with a controversial last minute penalty. Therefore the stage was set for an exciting game that didn't disappoint.

The game was a sell-out, well apart from a few tickets that MK Dons didn't sell, and the atmosphere was electric. I have to say that I always enjoy a trip to London Road as the chance to stand on a full terrace reminds me of football gone by and last night the terrace was as full as Health and Safety allows nowadays. I think that it was the first time in ages that I have had to queue up to get into a ground in England, mainly because the games I go to at the top end are all ticket affairs with computerised tickets or are not the type of games to attract a crowd. Before the game Peterborough's owner Darragh Mac.Anthony walked around the pitch whipping the fans up; not that they really needed winding up and they make enough noise when they are 5-1 down in a game nevermind before the biggest game of the season.

Peterborough might have an old fashioned type of ground and following, although there are plans for a new all seater stadium and if they manage to get into the Championship and establish themselves an all seater stadium will become imperative, but MK Dons are the antithesis of traditional football.

I might shock a few people here though and say that I really don't have a gripe with the MK Dons. Whatever you think of them taking Wimbledon's place in the league there are a few factors that perhaps should be remembered. I honestly think that Pete Winkelman looked at the proposition from quite a practical view. There are too many clubs in London and MK is a massive place that didn't have a team. He probably showed a naive understanding of the traditions of football, but it probably made sense to him apart from that. The media really like to stick up for AFC Wimbledon, who are now one play off win from the league, but I think that a lot of Wimbledon fans of old protest a bit too much. I remember going to Plough Lane when the crowd was about 7,000 and there were 4,000 away fans in the top division so in some ways the support wasn't there. Don't get me wrong I don't have anything against AFC Wimbledon, but I also think that the vitriol aimed at MK Dons is getting a bit hackneyed. That said MK have never had the support they banked on, but surely the locals already supported a team before Milton Keynes had a club and you do wonder what the fans did before. Also the left back Dean Lewington is a git and you have to hate the name of their stadium, Stadium:MK. I mean what's that bllody colon doing there? It's almost as annoying as people who write @ for 'at' when not in an email address.

Anyway, I have digressed far too much from what was supposed to be about a superlative night of football fun and match action. As I have already said the atmosphere in the stadium was electric and the mood was expectant. It was one of the noisiest games I have been to in a long time. Not surprisingly Peterborough, who needed a goal came out firing on all cylinders and the frantic speed was only equalled by the speed that the game was playing out. Grant Mc.Cann had said in his programme notes that the first goal was critical, so he must have been satisfied when on 11 minutes he smashed in a free kick from 25 yards out to send the Posh fans into an even bigger frenzy. Posh continued to dominate the first half and what few chances MK Dons had were kept out by stand in goal keeper Dave Jones who had replaced Joe Lewis after he had been injured in the first leg. George Boyd, Mc.Cann and Craig Makail-Smith all came close for Peterborough and MK Dons managed to hit the crossbar, but at half-time the score remained 1-0 to Posh. It could have been more and everybody seemed to expect it to have been more. I have lost count of the number of reports that I have readnthat have reeled off the fact that 109 goals were scored at London Road in the regular season, meaning an average of over 4.5 goals a game. I'm not a big fan of statistics, but the number of times I've read that one it's stuck in my mind.

So when the second half got under way everybody was expecting more goals. Posh had the ball in the back of the net on 53 minutes when Lee Tomlin had the ball in the back of the net with a fine strike after the ball had been cleverly worked to him by George Boyd. Unfortunately the referee had blown for a foul on Boyd before the ball went in the net, not that anyone could hear the ref's whistle. Tomlin was keen to make amends and take the free kick, but Mc.Cann was never going to give up his free kick rights; unfortunately the kick was just wide. On 60 minutes Peterborough did have the 2 goal lead that they craved when Craig Mackail-Smith scored after Boyd's shot had been palmed away brilliantly by Dons's keeper David Martin.

You might have expected Posh to shut up shop after this, but this is the team with the best scoring and one of the worst defensive records in the whole league, so the game continued with Posh attacking like their lives depended on it. The Dons didn't really threaten but the Posh fans must have been nervous about the cavalier attitude and to be honest the whole second half felt like it was about 5 minutes long. Even when the time was ticking off there wasn't much of playing it simple and keeping posession. Tomlin clearly wanted to get his name on the scoreboard and Mackail-Smith hit the bar in the last minute.

The game finished 2-0 to the Posh, so it wasn't the goalfest many predicted, but the Posh fans weren't complaining and now they face Huddersfield in the final. Hopefully they will be able to do what Ebbsfleet did and gain promotion and hopefully the Posh will be playing Birmingham City next season.

I didn't get a chance to take any photos, but at the top is a shot of Craig Mackail-Smith celebrating his goal from the Press. It looks likely that he will soon be on his way to pastures new though, but let's hope if he does leave he signs off with yet another goal in the final.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ranbir Marwa speaks to the press

Ranbir Marwa is interviewed after the match

Post-match celebrations at Ebbsfleet

Top: Clint Easton celebrates at the end of the match.
Middle: The kids are on the pitch. A good natured and friendly pitch invasion mainly by Ebbsfleet's younger fans.
Bottom: 'Over land and sea... and Essex.' The Ebbsfleet fans celebrate getting in the final.

Ebbsfleet on the attack

Here's some first half action from Ebbsfleet v Chelmsford. The top image is the first corner, the second an early attack and at the bottom is the free kick which Michael West scored from.

More pictures from Stonebridge Road

Pictures from Ebbsfleet's Stonebridge Road before the game

Play-off heaven

On Sunday I went to Ebbsfleet United V Chelmsford City in the second leg of the Blue Square South Semifinal play-offs. The reason I was there was that I am planning to do some work with the club for a DVD for work. I have to admit I've at times been pessimistic and skeptical about the Internet ownership at Ebbsfleet, but I thought that it was as interesting subject to cover for work. After Sunday I have to say that I have a lot of respect for what they are trying to do and can't thank them enough for how helpful and open they are being. They got through to the play-off final and I really hope they can go one better at Farnborough in the final next week. I was given a lift by one of the members from Cambridge and was able to spend plenty of time getting an insight into the club and the role of My FC.

Going into the match Ebbsfleet must have been feeling confident after winning 4-1 away at Chelmsford in the first leg. In the Non-league Paper though the Chelmsford manager was pretty upbeat though, as the Clarets had managed to beat the Fleet 3-1 at their place a few weeks ago and seemed to be in bullish mood. I don't know whether the Chelmsford fans shared his optimism though, as they had cancelled to of their coaches going to the game and the attendance of a slightly disappointing 1,556 probably illustrated that most fans saw it as a dead rubber.

Any confidence that Chelmsford had going into the game must have soon evaporated as they struggled to get into the Fleet's half and Callum Willock and Ranbir Marwa looked set to punish the Chelmsford defence. It was Michael West who put the Fleet ahead though on 27 minutes and then on 34 minutes he scored an amazing freekick to put Ebbsfleet 2-0 up and the tie, if there was any, completely beyond doubt. The Fleet hadn't had enough though and Marwa and Willock continued to punish the Chelmsford defenc up until the break.

The second half was a lot quieter and Ebbsfleet knew they were edging close to the final. Chelmsford did manage a concillatory goal, which led to the singing of 'Shall we celebrate for you?' Ebbsfleet still looked the more likely to add to their tally although Marwa and Willock were later substituted probably to keep them ready for next Sunday. Meanwhile Giannoulis Fakinos, a Business student from Greece who has played for Panathinaikos lived up to his club nickname of Cesc.

A thoroughly enjoyable day out with a great bunch of people, a great team and a great club. Manager Liam Daish is used to having to rebuild the squad every year due to budget constraints, but hopefully he will be able to keep this club together and they can bounce back to non-league's summit after last year's relegation. They deserve to bounce back.

Villa and Wigan teams enter the pitch

The famous Holte End

The Holte End, luckily quite a long time before kick off.

William McGregor

Sean and the statue of William McGregor, founder of the Football League and Aston Villa.

Outside Villa Park

Photos from Villa Park

I always take a few and this trip was no different a few more to follow.

Trip to Villa Park

The first trip of the weekend was to see Villa take on Wigan in the Premier League. Unfortunately nowadays a trip to Villa Park is a bit of a rare treat. We usually look for games to go to that Villa will probably win, however the season has been that disappointing even a game against a poor Wigan side could be a struggle.

It was a good day out, but the result was a draw, which didn't do Wigan any favours but more or less made Villa safe from the drop. It seems strange that it's still basically the nucleas of a aquad that finished sixth for 3 seasons in a row and this season has flirted with relegation. The problems seem to stem from poor tactics rather than poor players and the players that looked out of sorts seemed to have been given poor instructions.

Villa started off brightly enough, but went behind to a goal by Charles N'Zogbia after only 10 minutes. I don't think anybody expected it or expected that that would be the end of the scoring. It wasn's as 6 minutes later Ashley Young whipped in a beautfully placed free kick to level the scores. After this Villa dominated for long periods, but Heskey and Bent didn't seem to look able to move into space and Villa seemed short on ideas. Despite the domination Villa looked vulnerable and at one point managed to turn a well worked attack into a corner and a scoring possibility for Wigan. Also worringly Kyle Walker at right back seemed to always be too far forward and neglecting his defensive responsibilities. I'm also not sure why right back Luke Young is playing left back when Carlos Cuellar can play there and Stephen Warnock, who was in the England squad last year has just been frozen out.

There were a couple of moments of controversy in the first half with Emile Heskey losing his rag so much when he got fouled that he had to be substituted at half time and a foul on Ashley Young that looked like a clear cut penalty being turned down.

The second half was not the most exciting of affairs with Villa looking like the most likely to score but Young not fitting into his role in the centre and Albrighton who was on for Heskey looking inaffective. Petrov and Reo-Coker bossed the midfield, but the defence and forwards didn't deliver.

It was still a good day out but unfortunately didn't produce the home win that we had longed for.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The bumper football weekend continues

Yesterday I went to see Villa draw 1-1 with Wigan and now today it's off to Ebbsfleet United v Chelmsford in the Second Leg of the Blue Square South Play-off semi finals. Ebbsfleet won 4-1 away in the first leg. I'll catch up with all the news from these two games when I'm not actually at the football.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Shirt History -- Wigan Athletic

When Wigan Athletic were formed in 1931 they started off wearing red and white halves, which is the same colour as the perhaps more famous Rugby League club.

They didn't start wearing their more familiar blue and white strip until 1947. The reason for the change in colour being that there was a clothing shortage on at the time and the kit suppliers could only manage to provide them with blue and white.

Since then they have always worn some combination of blue and white, with a special kit being manufactured in 1973 for their appearance in the FA Trophy final. At the time Wigan were in the Northern Premier League and unfortunately for them they went down 2-1 to Scarborough.

One exception to them wearing blue and white came when they introduced a blue and black kit for the 1993 - 1994 season.

In 1995 with Wigan close to bankrupcy Dave Whelan of JJB sports fame took control of the club and they started their climb up the divisions. He did start to make some changes to the kit too, as the blue colour was altered slightly and green was added to match the company colours.

In 2004 Whelan stopped his involvement in JJB and Wigan went back to their original blue and got rid of the green.

Here's their current kit at the time of writing.

For more information on the club history:

Wigan Athletic again

For some reason the odd Premier League fixture that I have been able to attend this season has always featured Wigan Athletic. On Saturday it's Wigan who take on Aston Villa at Villa Park. Hopefully Wigan won't win, but as they have already featured in a club focus, I'm now going to have a look at the history of their shirts.