Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Clean Sheet 19

Clean Sheet – The race for the finals heats up in Oz

Welcome to ‘Clean Sheet’, an inside look at the ‘Number 1’ position in world football… “Goalkeeper”
As the international break of football dominates this week, I will be focusing squarely on the A-League results heading into the final round before the finals. I was lucky enough to be on hand at the Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Heart match played at a Suncorp Stadium and bathed in glorious sunshine. It was magic weather until the heavens opened as if granted permission by the referee’s final whistle and giving the Roar and Heart faithful crowd a right drenching. Melbourne Heart keeper Andrew Redmayne will have recurring nightmares after a long-range Thomas Broich belter weaved, dipped, and curled like a heat seeking missile. Michael Theo’s grittiness and heroics continued at the back notching up his eighth clean sheet of the season. I’m certain that without him in the six yard box, Roar’s chances at a finals birth would be a mere pipedream.

Michael Theo Brisbane

Brisbane Roar returned to their possession hungry best and are in a good headspace for Thursday night’s battle with Sydney FC. Both teams are playing for a spot in the finals and anything less than a win will be seen as a massive disappointment given both teams rosters. I doubt this one will end in a clean sheet for with the likes of Broich, Berisha and Alessandro Del Piero all in good form.

Well don’t you just love a Derby? Parramatta Stadium hosted its second of the season in front of almost 20,000 Red and Blue fans. I am a huge fan of football so getting to sit down with a glass of wine and soak up the atmosphere in my living room was special. The Derby concept is special in football and I do miss that the Brisbane Roar doesn’t have a rivalry outlet for their loyal fans. Hopefully in coming seasons they can introduce another side in South East Queensland. Sadly the Gold Coast franchise failed where the Western Sydney Wanderers model continues to gain an unprecedented following.    

The only other clean sheet news occurred in the Central Coast Mariners away game to Adelaide United. It was rare opportunity for reserve keepers Paul Izzo (Adelaide) and Justin Pasfield (Mariners) to showcase their wares after spending much of the season warming those flimsy white Bunnings Warehouse seats. Pasfield won the battle on the day and given the possible exit of Matt Ryan to the green pastures of Europe next season, the goalkeeping succession plan at Gosford is well and truly bedded down. Paul Izzo gained some valuable game time as his mentor and captain Eugene Galekovic joined the Socceroos camp in Sydney with Matt Ryan and Mark Schwarzer.

There is always plenty of expectation surrounding the Socceroos progression to a World Cup, and heading into their home game against Oman a win would have provided a huge boost of confidence ahead of the remaining qualifiers. Their plans however have been derailed after a disappointing opening 50 mins that saw the home side two nil down and Mark Schwarzer on the end of an unfortunate Mile Jedinak own goal. Schwarzer can be excused for the first goal after a cleverly weaved nutmeg strike by Oman’s Abdulaziz Al-Miqbali found the net in the sixth minute and put the Socceroos heavily on the back foot. Again it was left to stalwarts Tim Cahill and Brett Holman to help snatch a draw that leaves the Aussies with plenty of work to do ahead of the remaining fixtures against Japan, Jordon and Iraq.

As the analysis and criticism facing the team and manager eventually subsides, I’d like to highlight the form of our goalkeepers, which has never been better. Schwarzer has been at his brilliant best for Fulham, Galekovic is a genuine spot kick specialist, while Mat Ryan continues to head up the clean sheet tally in the A-League with 10 already this season.  So when it gets to the pointy end of qualifying, rest assured the lads at the back will do their job and continue to make those boys up front look good.

Football Quote of the Week

One of the best from Gordon Strachan

Reporter: "Gordon, can we have a quick word please?"
Strachan: "Velocity" [walks off]


Monday, 18 March 2013

Clean Sheet 18

Welcome to ‘Clean Sheet’, an inside look at the ‘Number 1’ position in world football… “Goalkeeper”.

Sadly only one clean sheet in the A-League this weekend but there is still plenty to rabbit on about. The “Big Blue” clash on Saturday evening between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC was played with plenty of passion in front of 22,233 fans. Both teams blew good chances to win the game, but it was the Victory’s Nathan Coe who stood tall and saved a penalty shot from the great Allesandro Del Perio.  A great scalp to have on your football resume and tell the grandkids about!

Mark Schwarzer

Sydney FC manager Frank Farina decided on starting with Ivan Necevski in favour of Vedran Janjetovic. Necevski relished the return to the starting side after an extended absence and will be hoping his effort will be enough to back up again for the sell out Sydney Derby against the Wanderers in Parramatta.

Moving onto the all-important clean sheets, and who else but Central Coast Mariners’ Mathew Ryan. Ryan heads up the list this year and brought up his 10th against a flat looking Brisbane Roar. Despite the lifeless Roar performance, Michael Theo wasn’t lacking in the enthusiasm department with some magical saves. For the Roar it was another missed opportunity, with the Mariners coming off a long mid week Asian Champions League road trip against Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol.  They will need to improve this week at home against a desperate Melbourne Heart who have beaten the premiers twice this season.
The top six is anyone’s guess leading into the final two rounds and depending on results the wooden spoon is an open race after the Wellington Phoenix had a rare win away from home. The Nix have been a much-improved side of late and keeper Glen Moss was the difference between the two sides with some fine saves, particularly in the first 45 minutes.

In a strange way I’m not looking forward to the finals as I have enjoyed this season so much. Even though my local side the Roar has had a disappointing year by their high standard, the emergence and the success of the Western Sydney Wanderers and their fan base has been a breath of fresh air. To see veteran Ante Covic play every minute has been special making his return to the west where it all began for him. A Grand Final appearance and win would be the cream on the cake.

To the English Premier League and some top class action in the goal keeping ranks over the weekend before the much-needed international break. The big news is the huge clean sheet pulled off by Mark Schwarzer in Fulham’s win over Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs have had the wobbles of late, but it was Schwarzer’s efforts to deny Jermain Defoe and then Thomas Carroll’s slight through-ball ahead of Gareth Bale. He then showed his class by stopping Defoe once more after a well-timed left foot stab from Gareth Bale. I might be biased but if you can view a replay it is well worth a look. Vintage Schwarzer! The win is positive news for the Socceroos stopper who joins his teammates this week ahead of their all-important qualifier against Oman in Sydney on March 26.

Norwich keeper Mark Bunn was forced to do the long walk of shame at the Stadium of Light after handling the ball to deny Southampton striker Danny Graham an equaliser. Bunn didn’t contain his displeasure hitting the showers early, dispensing with his gloves and storming up the tunnel. Number two goalkeeper Lee Camp soon joined the scene only to concede a goal to Craig Gardner from the spot.

Petr Cech added yet another clean sheet, bringing his season tally to ten after a solid performance against West Ham. Cech has only leaked 27 goals this season and his form will go a long way to Chelsea finishing in the top four. Chelsea has a tough run of fixtures that see them juggling the all-important FA Cup Europa League as well as Premier League commitments. Perhaps manager Rafa Benitez may choose to rest Cech and opt for Ross Turnbull to gain some valuable game time in the Europa encounters with Russian club Rubin Kazan.

The big news in keeping this week was the performance of Arsenal number three gloveman Lukasz Fabianski. Fabianski was brought into the Gunners side by Arsene Wenger for their do or die Champions League second leg match against Bayern Munich. It was a solid return for Fabianski who has battled injury for over 12 months, but two clean sheets in as many matches has done no harm to his chances of an all important contract extension.    
David Dea Gea helped Manchester United secure another three points and all but wrap up the league title. In an uneventful match, United did enough against a Reading side lacking in attacking flair and entrenched firmly in the relegation zone.

Football Quote of the Week

As the Socceroos are in town for the World Cup qualifier against Oman next Tuesday night I have to have a classic from Mark Viduka.
"I would not be bothered if we lost every game as long as we won the league."
Mark Viduka (Socceroos, Celtic, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Newcastle great)   

Logic was not one of Big Duke’s strong points.


Monday, 11 March 2013

Clean Sheet 17

Well isn’t it a wonderful thing when a goalkeeper gets a much deserved man of the match award! That is what greeted Danny Vukovic on Friday night after his Perth Glory side made the long and familiar trek across the Nullarbor to Newcastle to take on the Newcastle Jets. Vukovic has played every minute of every Glory game this season and their form has been in stark contrast to their successful 2011-12 campaign. His sharp save from a short-range bullet strike from Adam Taggart was a contender for goal of the year and without his service at the back, the three points could have stayed in the Hunter. For now the Glory look back on track with a rare away win and if they finish the season off with three more wins and other results going their way, anything can happen in the final series.
On Saturday night I was lucky enough to be in the crowd for the Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Victory game from Suncorp Stadium. The first half was not without its chances for both sides, but it was the Victory who took the lead on the back of a wonderful header by Leigh Broxham despite Michael Theo’s acrobatic effort.  The Roar held the ball like a grandma holds a newborn and totally dominated in all stats for the match except for the scoreboard. To the Victory’s credit they hung in all match and an outstanding diving save from Nathan Coe denied Ben Halloran with the match winner. All in all it was high quality gripping football that gave the 12, 624 fans that flipped a coin on the dodgy weather around town, their money’s worth.
The Central Coast Mariner’s recent form slump continued after going down to a far more committed Sydney FC side at Allianz. Sydney is a vasty improved defensive unit from earlier in the season and has crept up to fifth spot on the ladder narrowly ahead of the Jets on goal difference. A big hats off to Vedran Janjetovic who notched up his third clean sheet for the season and must be a happy little vegemite with the back four starting to gel and tighten things up. Although the Mariners went down, Matt Ryan pulled off another fine angled save from the classy Allesandro Del Perio.
The Western Sydney Wanderers continued their march towards claiming the Premier’s Plate in the club’s inaugural year with a classy win at home against last placed Wellington Phoenix. Another bumper crowd turned up managing to top their NRL cousins Parramatta Eel’s figure which must please the bosses at the FFA no end.  The real positive is both codes are able to attract healthy crowds against out of town competition, despite the scheduling clashes. The Phoenix continue to improve under interim coach Chris Greenacre, but to be a competitive force next season they must address their appalling away record with only one win this season.
Tonight the Melbourne Heart host Adelaide United at AAMI Park in what is a must win one game for the Heart.  They have a tough run home with games against Western Sydney (at home) then a tough road trip that includes Brisbane and Central Coast. For the Heart it has been an up and down year with a host of inconsistent performances and only once recording two wins in succession. Andrew Redmayne will be looking to secure his third clean sheet in a season where he gained promotion to the starting side. Eugene Galekovic’s Adelaide will also be aiming to stop the recent rot that has plagued his team and bounce back to some form and cement a top four spot.
To the EPL and tipping this week proved harder to pick than a broken nose! The football filled week was dominated by a visit to Old Trafford by Real Madrid and ensuing discussion/debate on blogs everywhere over the Nani red card decision. Whatever your opinion, you have to say his exclusion from the game led to the wind escaping from United’s Champions League title hopes. With United all but cruising to the EPL title the focus has firmly shifted to the battle to defy relegation.  Aston Villa’s comeback against Reading was spirited after a wobbly start when Nathan Baker decided he wanted to be on the goal sheet and slotted one past a dejected Brad Guzan.  In a round interrupted by the odd FA Cup tie, only two clean sheets were recorded. Surprisingly both occurred the Norwich/Southampton game about exciting as watching live footage of the Papal conclave vote from the Vatican. (But whatever floats your boat?). The keeping highlight came for Southampton’s Artur Boruc when he stopped a Grant Holt’s dubious spot kick.  Equally Mark Bunn put in a solid showing for Norwich in the fluky and wet conditions at Carrow Road.
Joe Hart (Manchester City) still sits alone atop the clean sheet stat sheet on 13 with his nearest rival Petr Cech (Chelsea) back on 10 and a group including in form Pepe Reina (Liverpool), Simon Mignolet (Sunderland) and Asmir Begovic (Stoke City) all sitting on nine.
I will leave you this week with some utterly useless but interesting numbers. So far this season 807 goals have been scored in the EPL and an amazing 7239 shots faced by the 38 goalkeepers lucky enough to have made it out onto the pitch. This week will see some Champions League return leg games to decide the final eight. The biggest game of the week though will see Aston Villa at home to QPR. Toss a coin on this one, although the home ground fans may just help get Villa across the line for the three crucial points.
Football Quotes
“Winning doesn't really matter as long as you win. “
Vinnie Jones  (Wimbledon Great)
A rare moment of clarity for Vinnie….classic


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Rob Elliot: A young keeper on the Rise – The luck of the Irish

When asked to write a piece on who I felt was a young up and coming goalkeeper, I thought look no further than a fellow who recently been given his first Premier League chance. After regular Newcastle United number one Tim Krul suffered a nasty ankle injury in their recent Europa clash, in walked young reserve keeper Rob Elliot. As much as a young keeper understudy tries not to sit on the bench wishing bad luck on their senior keeper, the reality is that deep down a little part of them dreams of a tiny “break” after often spending countless months if not years waiting for that final chance to hit the pitch and show their wares.

For young 27-year-old Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot, he is a true football journeyman, playing in all four divisions of English football as well as the Conference National League.  Elliot first appeared on the football landscape by playing for little known non-league side Erith Town based in the London Borough of Bexley.
From humble football beginnings, Charlton Athletic approached Elliot in 2004 and he began living out every child’s dream of playing professional football for a club he supported from an early age. During his first season, Elliot was shipped off on loan to Bishop’s Stortford and then to the Notts Country Magpies where he debuted in the Football League.

A further stint with Conference National side Accrington Stanley proved a little more fruitful for the 6ft 3in lad, impressing many after his penalty stop secured their promotion.  His return to Charlton saw a familiar goalkeeping tale of spending countless games on a cold bench waiting for the chance to shine and impress. It is a predicament that is rarely encountered by field players as they can always grind out some pitch time in the reserves or youth leagues.

Eventually Elliot’s time at Charlton materialised after playing third and ultimately second fiddle to number one club keeper Nicky Weaver.  As Weaver’s form began to fade like an old grocery docket, Elliot was finally given a chance to impress the Addicks faithful. A bright start to his keeping campaign snowballed and management then provided what every keeper yearns… a contract extension.

A big Premier League break came when Newcastle United came knocking on Elliot’s door in the summer of 2011. His move to St James’ Park and the black and white stripes of the Magpies commenced with a memorable debut against Nottingham Forest in a League Cup game.

The odd thing about Elliot being at Newcastle is that he is an Irish national.  With Newcastle United team sheet resembling more exotic names than a French patisserie menu, having the services of an English born Irishman as your number two goalkeeper could be a seen as a steadying influence in an otherwise cosmopolitan outfit.

For now Elliot is doing a handy job filling the huge shoes left by Krul’s absence, but already is showing plenty of purpose and dedication to the cause after narrowly going down to League Cup winners Swansea at Liberty Stadium on the weekend just past. The Magpies dominated the game in the second stanza, but a comedic like mix up at the back saw Luke Moore capitalize on a regurgitated ball to awkwardly stab it slowly over the goal line.  The loss was in strong contrast to the result at home the week earlier as they thumped table foes Southampton 4-2 in Elliot’s debut game.

For now I will be watching Elliot’s progress with interest as he aims to raise his club’s position on the ladder and ally the fan’s fears of a spot in the relegation zone. On paper the Magpies team boasts far too much class to see it slip down to the Championship, but class counts for nothing when teams battle to stay in the EPL. I’m not sure how much influence and time the young Rob Elliot will have to impress the St James’ faithfull, but often learning a bit of background and journey of a relative unknown in the Premier League ranks gives more perspective to the daily grind and challenges facing a stand in keeper.

Fingers crossed he grabs a clean sheet for his efforts.


Monday, 4 March 2013

Clean Sheet 16

Welcome to ‘Clean Sheet’, an inside look at the ‘Number 1’ position in World Football… “Goalkeeper”

Well haven’t things gotten a little bit interesting in the A-League. Having a top six in a competition of only 10 teams does tend to favour mediocrity at times and cheapens the consistent performers at the top of the ladder. It does however make for great viewing and the tipping comps around the country are always thrown into turmoil as many an upset is thrown up with only four rounds remaining in the regular season.

After a quiet Friday night with no A-League to be seen or heard on the airwaves, the Brisbane Roar travelled to Hindmarsh Stadium on a sunny Saturday to help secure a top six spot.  The Roar dominated this one with 22 goal attempts but their radar just wasn’t on song. Michael Theo notched up his third clean sheet in as many games and is now equal with Adelaide United’s Eugene Galekovic on seven, narrowly behind Matt Ryan and Ante Covic who are out in front on nine for the season. Galekovic played in his 150th A-League game, but the celebrations were a little subdued after an uninspiring and flat performance by the Reds.

The match of the round also doubled as a potential dress rehearsal for this seasons Grand Final, with the Western Sydney Wanderers and their impressive band of supporters (The RBB) making the wet trek up the F3 from Parramatta to Gosford in what was an extremely tight affair. Ante Covic took home the goalkeeping bragging rights after Matty Ryan looked to add a string to his keeping bow by demanding a rare spot kick. It was not to be, as Ryan looked a bunny in Covic’s headlights and missed with a poorly executed strike. Something tells me it might be a while before Ryan gets a chance for spot kick redemption, although if they meet in the Grand Final you never know what will pan out? Although a huge advocate of the poor misunderstood keeper, I firmly believe that barring injury or substitution, your dedicated striker must take a spot kick. It is what they do, and it’s easier to point the blame at a striker that more often than not spends more time on hair care product and exfoliant than getting their hands dirty.

Before shifting my attention to the EPL, the Melbourne Victory performance against the Newcastle Jets was nothing short of impressive. In front of their faithful fans, the Victory dished up calorie filled US sized portion of attacking dominance that will please manager Ange Postecoglou after a three losses on the trot.  Postecoglou will be looking to reverse his side’s poor showing earlier in the season when they again travel to Brisbane this weekend to take on the Roar. When they last met at Suncorp the Roar dominated by running out 5-0 winners. I’m predicting this one will go down to the wire with the Roar narrowly getting the chocolates and consolidating their position.
To the EPL and the top four looks to be settling down with in-form Tottenham cruising past Chelsea on the ladder and beginning to look the goods for a return to European football next season. Gareth Bale has been in white-hot form of late and sits in third place on 16 goals for the season.  Spurs have recorded more shots on target than any other league side and their low tally in the fouls department is also impressive.

On the clean sheet front, Chelsea’s Petr Cech added another for his club in their win over the Baggies.  Manchester United’s keeper David De Gea had a quiet night between the sticks after Shinji Kagawa bagged a hat-trick on the back of some beautiful service from Wayne Rooney. De Gea will now prepare for the Champions League second leg against Real Madrid at Old Trafford. If his form matches the first leg at the BernabĂ©u then we’re in for a salivating game. Cannot pick this one but with Real beating Barca twice in a week, their confidence will be high. Be sure to have a bib handy for this game!

West Ham were surprise winners away to Stoke at Britannia Stadium and the win helps them drift slowly away from the relegation zone. Jussi Jaaskelainen continued his fine season with the Hammers and his clean sheet has him in forth spot in the standings with eight. However he will be tested in coming weeks against the might of Manchester United and Chelsea. Swansea hit the ground running after their historic win in the Capital One League Cup Final at Wembley, disposing of a disappointing Newcastle United. The ‘Reserve’ reserve keeper for Newcastle, Rob Elliot played in only his second EPL match for the injured Tim Krul who will spend up to five weeks on the sideline after an ankle injury he sustained in the Magpies Europa win over Ukrainian opponents Metalist Kharkiv.

Finally Pepe Reina’s Liverpool dished out a football master class at the DW Stadium on the back of a Luis Suarez hat trick. It was a difficult night for Wigan’s Ali Al Habsi who saw his stats sheet cop a battering as his side only sits ever so slightly above the relegation zone on goal difference. Their fate could ultimately be decided in the last round of the season when they host Aston Villa.

Until next week I hope your team performs to your high expectations.

Football Quote of the week:

"That's exactly how you head a ball, with the head."

- Ray Wilkin (England, Chelsea, Manchester United and QPR great)