Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Nottingham Forest Season Review 2012-13

As the dust settles on Nottingham Forest’s fifth consecutive season in the npower Championship, the players and supporters will look back on what has proved to be a crucial season in the history of the club.

Although at times it was far from a walk in the park, the 2012-13 season not only saw the return of Reds favourite Billy Davies to the City Ground dugout, but also the dawn of a new era in the form of chairman and owner Fawaz Al Hasawi and his family.

An emotional season both on and off the pitch began back on the 10th July 2012 when the Kuwaiti-based Al Hasawi family completed a deal to purchase the club after the sad and unexpected passing of Nigel Doughty in February last year.

Fawaz expressed a lifelong passion for the Reds and admitted following the triumphs of the club under Brian Clough. The Al Hasawi group soon got to work and appointed three managers during the course of the season as they searched for the perfect match.

Initially Sean O’Driscoll was installed to replace Steve Cotterill as manager back in July last year, but a decision to make a late push for promotion in January led to the appointment of Alex McLeish and later the return of Billy in February on a three-and-half-year deal following a 20-month absence.

In a fifteen-match period the Scot engineered a run of 10 games undefeated, notching up vital away victories at Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City to land the Manager of the Month accolade for March. The 48-year-old expressed his desire to complete “unfinished business” in returning Forest to the Premier League.

Yet, it was not to be as the Reds lost out to East Midlands rivals Leicester City in a pulsating game at the City Ground on the final day. Despite a close encounter the Foxes sealed a 3-2 victory in dramatic style with a late goal from French midfielder Anthony Knockaert.

The Reds finished in eighth position in the Championship table and missed out on a play-off spot by just a point - ending with a respectable tally of 67 points and six points clear of fierce rivals Derby County.

Following a season of mixed emotions Reds fans will be excited for a fresh campaign as Billy looks to bolster his squad and mount a challenge for promotion under his newfound fruitful partnership with Fawaz.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Ned Kelly: Full post-match reaction.

Nottingham Forest missed out on a play-off spot on a dramatic final day of the season today as their East Midlands rivals Leicester City struck in added time to earn a 3-2 win in a pulsating game at the City Ground.

In an exhilarating first period the Reds took the lead after just three minutes when Simon Cox struck for the first time in 27 games. However, Leicester rallied back and Matty James equalised before Andy King’s header gave the Foxes the advantage at the break.

After the interval Elliott Ward glanced home for the hosts to level things up once again but with Bolton being held at home to Blackpool, it was Forest that were made to pay late on as Leicester booked their place in the play-offs thanks to a 92nd minute goal from Frenchman Anthony Knockaert.

Click the link below to see what Forest assistant manager Ned Kelly had to say to the media after the game.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Forget the Premier League, ‘the fizzy pop league’ still has all the surprises in store...

The Championship table as it stands (31/3/13)

With Manchester United destined to lift the Premier League title for the 20th time in their history in the next coming weeks, football fans should turn their attention to the spoils of the Championship.

Sir Alex Ferguson is waiting for the formalities which will see Nemanja Vidic hold the trophy aloft, wrapped-up and sealed with crisply cut red ribbons tied around it. However, more important battles still need to be won in a tighter race just one division away – the £100 million race to reach football’s greatest league.

With just four points separating the play-off chasing pack from the automatic places, and at least nine teams still in with a chance of reaching the promised land, there is still everything to play for. And in a league which boasts world class players, expectant owners and results-driven managers, this can only be a recipe for fantastic football.

As Nottingham Forest boss Billy Davies stated last weekend after his side’s dramatic encounter with fellow play-off rivals Brighton - in this league ‘a coat of paint’ barely separates top from bottom.

Davies said: “The competition is fierce, it’s the most difficult league in the world to get out of – no doubt about it.

“Anyone can beat anybody and there is that great determination to get promoted from all the teams in the league.”

While the Scot’s team currently sit in 5th position in the table and comfortably inside the top six, that comfort is never assured. Because just a point outside the play-off positions with seven games still left to play lie rivals Leicester, who they meet on the final day of the season.

Elsewhere, Cardiff City and Hull look to be gunning for the automatic spots in hope of acquiring their own war chests to splash out on new recruits to keep them in the Premier League – IF they meet their ambitions to get there.

And there is still time for third place Watford to make up the four point gap between themselves and second place Hull. The Hornets come armed with the prowess of Championship Player of the Year Matej Vydra as they face both the league’s top two sides in their next outings.

And how can anyone forget Ian Holloway’s Crystal Palace side, who go head-to-head with Leicester at Selhurst Park in April. Holloway has done it before with Blackpool and has talented players to call on like soon-to-be Manchester United winger Wilfried Zaha.

Whatever the final month of Championship action may bring, one thing can be sure, it will provide something the Premier League title race will not – twists and turns until the VERY end.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Underhanded tactics from Montenegrins will not work

Patchwork in Podgorica for England.

Ahead of England’s vital World Cup qualifier with Montenegro it seems there has been no love lost, with the frightened Montenegrins preparing to douse their makeshift pitch with sprinklers in a lacking attempt to ruin England’s hopes.

It was revealed this week that the Podgorica men will drench their own field in the hope of recreating a similar playing surface to the one England struggled on against Poland last October, managing just a 1-1 draw.

A similar result for Montenegro in their capital tomorrow evening would ensure that Branko Brnovic’s side maintain their place as Group H leaders. They currently sit just two points clear of England.

When tactics are coming down to such lows as ruining the surface of play it is time to admit you are worried about the opposition’s strengths – but instead Brnovic passed the buck.

He told the BBC this week: “We have [Fiorentina striker] Stevan Jovetic and [Juventus forward] Mirko Vucinic. Maybe England are more scared of this game than we are.”

The Montenegro coach also accused the England players of using the conditions of the pitch as a potential excuse in case they are defeated in the game. Although most fans of the national team would usually frown upon the players using the pitch as an excuse, this time they may have a valid point.

But despite the conditions, the Three Lions have enough quality in the squad to easily see off the challenge of Montenegro – especially on the back of a confidence-boosting 8-0 drumming of minnows San Marino.

The England central defensive partnership of Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling may not have had regular places in their respective teams this season, but they have shown individually that they are both talented defenders, and will relish the chance to prove their abilities to boss Roy Hodgson.

England have moved on since the draw against Poland last year – the most important of these advancements has seen more young talent emerging through the squad – including the likes of Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge, Tom Cleverley and Kyle Walker.

With this in mind the future for English football is looking brighter than ever - and a drizzly pitch in Southeast Europe is going to be very hard pressed to stop that. Prediction? England win.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Cheltenham: Make horse racing safer, but don’t ban it!
The carnage at Becher's Brook, Aintree in 1989

Following the deaths of five horses at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and further concerns from animal rights protestors ahead of the meeting this time around, the time has come to make horse racing safer.

“Football has Wembley, tennis has Wimbledon, jump racing has Cheltenham.”

Those were the words of Cheltenham Festival aficionado Chris Flavell this week as horse racing fans flocked to the South West for a packed four days of atmosphere, anticipation and action in one of racing’s biggest calendar events.

Last year jockey Tony McCoy won the Gold Cup on the final day aboard champion gelding ‘Synchronised’ – but just months later the horse was led to his death in the Grand National after unseating McCoy at the infamous Becher’s Brook fence.

Obviously such events are a rare and tragic circumstance of National Hunt racing, but they serve to highlight that measures must be put in place to make racing safer and ensure the true sporting spectacle can continue to be enjoyed for many years to come.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claim that more than 400 horses die racing in the UK each year. Many of these fatalities can be avoided and occur because the courses are too testing on the animals and landing areas are not secure.

Both the courses at Cheltenham and at Aintree, which is used for the Grand National, have been slowly altered over time to increase safety - but these modifications are always too little, too late. It is time for the steeplechase bigwigs to realise we are not living in 1989 anymore and make safety a top priority!

Whipping rules have recently been brought into place, but again these are insufficient. Horses can still be fiercely whipped eight times during flat racing and nine times on the jumps. Horse racing does not need whipping and some jockeys refuse to use whips and still win convincingly. They should be banned altogether.

70,000 spectators will be cheering on the Gold Cup winner this Friday in Cheltenham’s grand finale - let us all hope that horse racing can soon become safer, before it risks facing its own final curtain call.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mark Clattenburg: The Premier League’s egotistic chump

All hail the Clattenburg
A keen collector of spare media spotlight, Mr Controversy, the celebrity official, the Premier League’s right-hand man, the ruler of the refereeing roost, or even megalomaniac Mark, brand the fame-hungry narcissist whatever you like – but please, NEVER call Mark Clattenburg a competent referee.

Then again, he might well just enjoy it - at least it will give his ego a massage and grab a few lines in the corner of the Sunday Sport. You see, being a man always at the centre of every footballing storm (many of which he himself fashions), Mark enjoys being spread across the mass media more than Sepp Blatter enjoys ‘special handshakes’.

President of FIFA Sepp Blatter shows the BBC's Ore Oduba his 'special handshake'.

And if you don’t believe me, go and watch Mr Battenberg flex his marzipan yourself. Keep your eyes peeled in the build-up to the game he is officiating. Watch those measured pauses as he stops by the touchline during laps around the pitch with fellow officials in his pre-match ‘warm-up’ – there’s always time for a playful smile to the cameras.

Even before he was all over the newspapers and on the TV following the Clattenburg-gate/John Mikel Obi saga, the 37-year had long been settled into his certified role of apple-polishing the Premier League’s elite players. If he’s lucky, his favourite stars even offer compliments back – but, of course, Mark fails to hear them over the sound of his own awesomeness.

"Do you fancy a game of kerby later?"
Unlike the run-of-the-mill referee, Mark is not content to finish a game without spending a large part of it having a giggle with Wayne Rooney or chucking a witless anecdote in the way of Frank Lampard. In fact, I'm beginning to feel sorry for Mr Clattenburg, he seems to forget that he can’t have his FIFA-blessed cake AND eat it.

Maybe it is time for Clattenburg to concentrate on doing exactly what he is paid to do – and effectively referee. However, he seems to struggle with that. Let us walk through the destruction left in the wake of Mark’s years of refereeing blunders so far and recall how his rise from zero to zero began.

Back in 2005 it was our very own Mark who failed to spot Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll fumbling Pedro Mendes’ lob well over the line, much to Sir Alex Ferguson’s delight. The Portuguese midfielder’s ‘goal’ provoked widespread outrage as many made a mockery of Clattenburg and his cronies for their lack of, well, eyes.

The ' ghost goal' that never stood at Old Trafford
And in 2007, Mark appeared to take the view of his good mate Steven Gerrard into consideration when taking charge of the Merseyside derby. Clattenburg was initially reaching for a yellow card for Everton defender Tony Hibbert, but after the Liverpool midfielder had stern words with him, keeping his friends close, Mark immediately upgraded the card to a red.

The County Durham-born referee hit the headlines again in December 2009. The press reported Clattenburg had allegedly asked the Manchester City bench: "How do you work with Craig Bellamy all week?" before then booking the Welsh frontman twice, the second for diving, although replays suggested he was actually fouled.

At Old Trafford in 2010 Mark was also in the middle, allowing United winger Nani to take advantage of a peculiar mistake by Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, who thought his side were awarded a free-kick. Nani tapped the ball into the empty net and Clattenburg refused to rule out the goal.

More recently, the referee was cleared of racial abuse by the FA after accusations made by Chelsea midfielder Mikel following the clash between Manchester United and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last October.

The whole incident developed after Javier Hernandez was allowed to score for United from a clearly offside position and Clattenburg failed to rule out the goal. Earlier in the match the referee had also incorrectly dismissed Chelsea striker Fernando Torres for simulating contact.

Despite his faults, as long as the world of high-class football continues to be associated with glistening Bentleys and diamond-clad watches, one thing is for sure, our favourite referee will be somewhere to be found - batting his eyelashes amidst the glitz and glamour of football’s greatest league.

Let’s just hope that one day, he can start being as fruitful in officiating as he is in tomfoolery.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Ricky Hatton should have quit long ago...

The end of another road for Hatton as Senchenko brings him to his knees in the ninth.

Like many other fighters of his generation, Ricky Hatton should have realised his time in the ring was over – but instead the Manchester boxer met with the blue canvas once more.

After a 48-fight career, the Hitman had become a recognisable household name, reaching the highs and falling to desperate lows, both in and out of the ring.

But when Hatton stepped back into the harsh world of boxing, following a comeback from retirement to fight Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senchenko, he did so with almost every critic doubting his ability, and rightly so.

The 34-year-old may have relished in the roars from his adoring fans as the bout began last Saturday at the Manchester Arena, but even the most diehard of Hatton fans instinctively questioned whether the boxer could rise again.

The only man inside the 20,000-strong packed venue who did believe he could reinvent his youth was the one who wore the blue shorts, etched with Manchester City’s emblem inside the ring – Richard John Hatton.

The Hyde-born boxer had already reached the top of his sport from his rise to fame back in 2005, when the heavy underdog battled to victory to become the IBF Light Welterweight Champion against Kostya Tszyu.

Fast forward two years and four more titles and the Hitman found himself in the Welterweight division preparing for a trip to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas - facing none other than American champion Floyd Mayweather Jnr.

Although the fight ended in defeat Hatton had made it, before the fight he was an undefeated champion and already one of a kind in British boxing. Thousands of fans travelled to Las Vegas to cheer on the man from Manchester and millions more tuned in via TV from home, this for Hatton was as good as it would get.

However, his defeat to Filipino southpaw Manny Pacquiao in 2009 marked the beginning of the end as depression and alcohol use took control of his life. Boxing had taken its toll on Hatton’s private life and he was right to forget the sport, looking back with pride.

By 2011, Hatton had got things back on track and began work as a boxing promoter, managing a host of promising young fighters. This is where he should have drawn the line. At the age of 34 and with his place fully cemented in the sport’s history, there was nothing more to prove for Ricky.

But like many other ageing fighters, the man who grew up on a Greater Manchester council estate wanted one last shot in ring; he felt he still had demons to put to bed.

He couldn't have been more wrong, it was time to call it a day.

Hatton’s last hurrah was finished brutally - with a powerful body shot from Senchenko that left the Briton wincing on his knees during a ninth-round count out. How many people were winking and nudging the person next to them saying ‘I told you so’?

Ironically, the fighter’s new understudy, youngster Scott Quigg, was on the undercard the same night and became the WBA interim champion with a first knockdown on 32-year-old Rendall Munroe. And the final blow? A body shot.

Champions, such as 35-year-old IBF super-middleweight champion Carl Froch, have proven that if the talent and desire is there then age is just a number. But for a man who has fought much of his career under the media glare like Hatton, it was hard to know when to hang up the gloves and shackle those cravings to do the impossible.

Munroe, the former European and Commonwealth champion, was wise to announce he may retire after the defeat by Quigg.

It is hard not to think that this is something Hatton should have done, a very long time ago.