Archive for September, 2012

Central Coast Mariners

Love him or hate him Graham Arnold in a highly respected manager in the A-League.  Working on a limited budget Arnold has delivered in spades to the loyal Mariners fans.  The bitter ending to last season will burn deep with those involved, and should inspire those who have joined the list.

Last year the team had an uncanny knack of walking away with the three points when not being the best team on the day, but that is the sign of a champion team.  Unfortunately I think 2012/13 could be a long season for the boys from Central Coast, with other teams out recruiting them over the off season.

PREDICTION: 7th, a massive fall from grace for last year’s premiers.  The ACL could also have a negative impact on their domestic results like it did last year.

BEST FINISH: Premiers in 2007/08 & 2011/12

THE SIGNING: Nick Montgomery appears to be a smart signing for Central Coast.  With other 350 games of experience with English club Sheffield United he will bring some hardness to the Mariners.  The defensive midfielder hasn’t come with the fanfare of other international signings but I think the signing could be another touch of genius from Arnold.

THE LOSS: The departure of Captain Alex Wilkinson to South Korea came at a surprise to most, and will frustrate Mariner fans.  This will further compound last season’s loss of Matt Simon.

THE STAR: Mat Ryan is the best keeper in the league, and the star of this Central Coast team.  A preseason trial with premier league clubs Tottenham and West Bromwich Albion will have improved the young keeper ever further.  Currently in his last year of his current contract before I believe he will make the transition to football in Europe.

THE X FACTOR: Mile Sterjovski didn’t take the ALeague by storm in Perth and had a worse time in China.  Central Coast has given the Socceroo a great opportunity to prove to the non believers that he can have a great impact on the league.  Expect an exciting season from Mile this season.

OFF THE PITCH: Not a great deal of movement off the pitch for the Mariners, but internally they should still be fuming about last year’s finals crowd of 7,572.  This simply isn’t good enough and any home crowd advantage was lacking due to these poor numbers

GOLDEN BOOT: This is a wide open race; I’m tipping Patrick Zwaansijk but only by one or two goals

THE MATCH: The final match of the season against Melbourne Heart could decide who makes the finals.  I see both clubs evenly matched this season, and a home win could secure a finals berth.

THE START: A fast start will be important for the Mariners, a ‘softish’ start for Graham Arnold’s men where they receive the honour of playing Western Sydney first up.  Perth then makes the trip to Bluetongue, where the Mariners will be looking for improvement on last season’s finish.  Central Coast could find themselves at the pointy end of the table with away matches against Newcastle and the Melbourne Heart.  A slow start early could have consequences for the team that finished top last season.

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Newcastle Jets

What a crazy off season it has been for Novocastrians.  At the end of last season owner Nathan Tinkler handed his licence back and things didn’t look good for the round ball game.  Fast forward a few months and the jets are flying, English football star Emile Heskey is on his way as the marquee man and I expect goals to be flowing.

Newcastle have the potential to give the league a shake, but I think too many youngsters and a question mark over Heskey’s effectiveness early could see the Jets miss the finals, but will cause a few sleepless nights for opposition coaches.

PREDICTION: 8th

BEST FINISH: Champions in 2007/08

THE SIGNING: England International and Premier League journeyman Emile Heskey has joined the club on a 12 month $1 million deal.  Yes we joke about his lack of effectiveness in front of goal, and his special talent to find anywhere but the back of the net; but Heskey is an immense talent and will light up the A-League.  The target man will not only score numerous goals for the Newcastle faithful but set up plenty of chances over the season.  James Brown is also a great addition.

THE LOSS: Before the Heskey signing I had Jeremy Brockie at the biggest loss for the Jets, but with his loss covered, cult hero Nikolai Topor-Stanley gets the nod.  New franchise Western Sydney have an immediate poster boy  in Topor-Stanley, but it’s not only his larger than life hair or appeal with the fans we forget that he is also a quality defender, something very thin on the ground in the league.

THE STAR: Has to be Heskey again, I expect him to take the league by storm.

THE X FACTOR: Former Melbourne Heart young star Craig Goodwin.  Last year he gave us a brief glimpse of his talent when he was named player of the match in his full debut.  Goodwin isn’t afraid to take on opposition players, and has a handy shot on him.

OFF THE PITCH: Nathan Tinkler may not have had the best year financially but the programs he and his sports group have implemented are first class.  The community engagement around Newcastle is something the bigger cities should look carefully into.

GOLDEN BOOT: Emile Heskey, he might even win the league golden boot.

THE MATCH: December 22 will be a big day for the league with not only the Melbourne derby, but the two biggest names Heskey and Del Piero go head to head in Newcastle.  Those fans that can’t wait can until December can catch a train to Sydney for the round two clash.

THE START: Three home games in the first four gives Newcastle a solid foundation to build a strong season.  Newcastle play host to Adelaide before they travel to Sydney to face Del Piero.  A tough fortnight at home then awaits the Jets with clashes with Central Coast and Melbourne Victory.  A win against Adelaide seems a must before three tough matches.

Thanks to @blindasmelon, @LukeD01_JBaus, @lyonjust and @gary_fish_newy for your contributions.

Sweet Toffees provide Premier League treat

Liverpool hosted long time rivals Manchester United in an emotion filled game at Anfield. The match was the first played in front of the Liverpool faithful after the new Hillsborough revelations with lead to a public apology from the FA. The pre game tribute was brilliantly done and should be watched by football fans around the world. This is yet another reminder of why Liverpool is a big club, regardless of their league position at any given time.

The match itself was marred by a controversial penalty decision that went in favour of Manchester United; Robin Van Persie slotted home the winner and kept United close to the top of the table. Liverpool were once again brave, forced to play the majority of the match with 10 men after Jonjo Shelvey was sent off. Just not sure how many brave efforts can keep Brendan Rodgers head off the chopping block.

Rivals Manchester City was held at home by a determined Arsenal 1-1; City had the best chances but to be fair both teams should be happy to walk away with the draw. City is now three points behind United and four points off leaders Chelsea.

Speaking of Chelsea Ashley Cole scored a late winner against Chelsea to keep them clear at the top of the table. A classy back heel from Mata set up the goal in an otherwise forgetful day of top flight football. As usual Stoke defended for their lives, but went unrewarded against one of the top clubs again.

Fulham continued their great start to the season with a win over Wigan, although Berbatov didn’t find the scoresheet he managed to setup new strike partner Hugo Rodallega in their 2-1 canter. Tottenham had Jermaine Defoe to thank for all three points against fellow London club QPR. The win puts Spurs back in reach of the top four, but leaves QPR lingering around the relegation zone.

West Brom managed to win their third straight win at home whilst also keeping another clean sheet against Reading. The R’s failed to take advantage of some great saves from stand in keeper Alex McCarthy when they went behind to a Lukaku strike late in the second half. West Ham skipper Kevin Nolan rescued a point deep in stoppage time against Sunderland. The black cats have only themselves to blame for defending too deep after Steven Fletcher once again found the net at his new club.

Everton were the best looking club of the week winning 3-0 against Swansea. David Moyes’ men could have scored five or six and are very deserving of their current third position on the table. As good as Everton were Aston Villa was bad. Falling 4-1 to new boys Southampton after leading 1-0 at half time. Things are going from bad to worse for a club that were European regulars a few years ago.

@TheHardsWord hero of the week – Liverpool crowd. Outstanding tribute to those who lost their lives at Hillsborough in one of footballs biggest tragedies.

Villain of the week – Those flogs on social media who have taken to making threats to referee Mark Halsey. The keyboard warriors were out in force after a few decisions in the Liverpool Man United encounter.

Who would you rather be: Arsenal or Tottenham. Both London clubs started off slowly but find themselves just off the pace after 5 games. Arsenal will be feeling the pressure for a top four finish this season, but Tottenham should be knocking on the door at the business end of the season.

Upcoming Week (Predictions in caps, draws in bold)

Arsenal v Chelsea

EVERTON v Southampton

Fulham v MANCHESTER CITY

Norwich v LIVERPOOL

Reading v NEWCASTLE

Stoke v Swansea

SUNDERLAND v Wigan

MANCHESTER UNITED v Tottenham

Aston Villa v WEST BROM

Queens Park Rangers v West Ham United

Until next week enjoy the action on the pitch

Adelaide United

I envisage another tough year for United, Australia’s best performers in the Asian Champions Leagues, but for one reason or another cannot switch tis to domestic success.  Losing a 2-0 lead at home last week in leg one of the quarter final will shatter any confident built up in the preseason.

One thing you cannot go past at Adelaide is there fans, 10k plus midweek last week sets up a tremendous platform for the supporters to build on.  Home games were hardly a fortress last season where fans saw many a lead slip from their grasp which only resulted in two home wins all season.  A very unpredictable team, but I see them missing out on the post season once again.

PREDICTION: Ninth

BEST FINISH: Premiers 2005/06

THE SIGNING: Very disappointing in this regard, Adelaide has failed to make many signings in the off season relying on their already existing squad.  Jeronimo Neumann is a playmaker who from Argentina, he has good credentials but I can’t say I know too much about him.

THE LOSS: Speculation is that Sergio Van Dijk is on his way out of Adelaide but nothing is confirmed just yet.  Seeing Flores go to rivals Victory was a huge loss for fans, and will only add to Adelaide’s frustrations when he finds the back of the net against his old team.

THE STAR: Eugene Galekovic was the standout last season and should continue to save face at Adelaide.  It’s never great when your keeper is your most consistent shining light, but that’s the current situation at Adelaide.  Dario Vidosic will be looking for a better year and should give the fans something to cheer about.

THE X FACTOR: Bruce Djite, find me a harder working striker in the league and you are doing well.  Whilst Djite’s work rate is impressive his ability to find the back of the next is surprisingly lacking.  If this problem is rectified Adelaide could make an unlikely run to the finals.

OFF THE PITCH: The loss of the Coopers sponsorship was just another reason for the fans to lose faith in the league and those running it.  Adelaide has been some of the best fans in the land, but their attendance took a dramatic fall last season.  Poor results, the primary reason for the drop but the bean counters in the City of churches will be looking towards 10k plus crowds all season.

GOLDEN BOOT: If Djite can find the net early he will win this award, if he can’t this could be anyone’s award.  Confidence is a dangerous thing and Bruce needs to find his rather quickly.

THE MATCH: Who else but Melbourne Victory, Marcos Flores will only add fuel to the fire, but we know the history between the two clubs and the existing state rivalries.  All three clashes will be heated and great to watch.

THE START: Playing Newcastle first up will be a blessing in disguise, as the Jets should be without Heskey in the early part of the season.  The following round sees them take on newcomers Western Sydney at home, three points is a must here.  Then however the assignment start to become harder facing rivals Victory away.  To round off the first month Adelaide gets a visit from Wellington who never play well away from home.  7 points in the first month could see Adelaide give their loyal supporters some hope for the year ahead, anything less could be a sign of things to come.

Western Sydney Wanderers

PREDICTION: Last, very much an unknown line up without a standout.  This team will surprise most in their debut season (including me) and look solid defensively.

The signing of Michael Ballack could prove pivotal, and not only on the pitch.  The German superstar is renowned around the world and his hard working reputation combined with silky skills could see West Sydney make the post season in their debut season.  I am still tipping them to come last but with the A-League so close a finish anywhere from 6-10 is possible.

BEST FINISH: Debut Season

THE SIGNING: The entire list is new signings but the standout is Ante Covic.  Had a fantastic year last season with Melbourne Victory and I was very surprised to see him part ways.  In many ways kept the Victory season alive, but will once again be at his best for the Wanderers to have any say come playoff time.

THE LOSS: No losses, but missing out the signing of Socceroos captain Lucas Neill was disappointing.

THE STAR: Shannon Cole is a very talented player, who struggled with injury to cement a place in the Sydney FC line up last season.  Falling just five appearances short of 100, Cole has been a solid contributor to the Sky Blues and should become a fan favourite in the Red and Black Bloc

THE X FACTOR: Aaron Mooy is an unknown quantity with great potential.  Spending the last few years in Scotland with St Mirren he has hardly set the world on fire, but he has youth on his side at only 21 years.   What better chance than starting fresh with a brand new club.

OFF THE PITCH: If you build it they will come, for years people have been calling for a team in the ‘football heartland’ of Western Sydney, well here it is people now it’s your turn to show up in great numbers.  I expect crowds of 7,500 + in their infancy, including some well supported crowds at the much anticipated Sydney Derby.

GOLDEN BOOT: Dare I say it, Mark Bridge.  With over 30 career goals in the A-League Bridge will be looking to build on that.  Whilst finding the back of the net has been scarce in recent years, I expect things to change for the hard working forward.

THE MATCH: No brainer, October 20, 2012 the inaugural Sydney Derby.  With so many players that have crossed over to the Western part of town expect a fierce contest.

THE START: A challenging start to say the least, the Wanderers play host to Central Coast in their first A-League appearance, then make the tough trip to Adelaide then back to Sydney for the Derby.  A week later that face back to back champions Brisbane.  The first month is very tough for the new boys, but at least they will know what is expected at this level.

Thoughts from a confused fan…

Season 8, Season 2012/13 call it what you want I’m not too fussed really, it’s like the football/soccer argument.  For years I have tried to argue to point that if it’s ok for millions of fans around the world to call the game football why can’t we, their counter argument normally mentions something about the Socceroos as our national nickname, either way that’s not important I’m getting off track; much like those who are running the great game in this country.

This season coming up for football in this Country (and New Zealand) represents the most significant season of domestic football ever, yes that’s right even more important that the relaunch of the domestic competition almost 10 years ago.  For years I have seen administrators, clubs and supporters making crucial errors of judgement in various facets of the game and not learn from previous mistakes.  2012/13 could very well make or break the A-League and we need to excel on and off the pitch for this to happen.

Today is a prime example of how wrong those who run the league have got it once again.  Announcing September 21st as ‘Del Piero Day’ is staggering, yes he is a great player and Sydney FC have pulled off one of the great sports signings in Australian history, but a league that promote an individual player just doesn’t feel right.  If the marketing came from the club I would fully understand but it is just another example of how out of touch some of those who sit in the boardroom are from those who they want to pack the terraces.

If I have learnt one thing in my years of sports viewing it’s that clubs are far bigger than the individual, especially in football.  The ALeaugue is a very transient league; one only has to look at the club career of Michael Beauchamp over the last few season, three clubs in three years and he isn’t a rarity in domestic football.  Promote the game first, followed by the club, and finally the individual.

Another head scratcher was the decision to let outgoing CEO Ben Buckley negotiate the television rights for the league.  In my mind it’s a bit like letting your ex wife redecorate your house before she moves out.  Once you go through with the concept the next person’s hands are tied.  The future direction should be decided by those coming into the role, especially when we are talking over such an extended time frame.  One only has to look at the Etihad stadium deal that Melbourne Victory have.  Five times a year the club is forced to use an unsuitable venue whilst a purpose built 30,000 seater stadium sits across town empty.

The A-League must get this season right, they have gone above and beyond and created a fantastic 90 second promotion, the best one I have seen to date, but if you aren’t on social media you probably have not managed to see it yet.  Why 90 seconds, why not stick to the traditional 30 second time slot and run the promotion on free to air television, this may be happening but we are only two weeks out from season launch and I have seen ZERO promotion.  Yes we are in the midst of AFL/NRL finals prime time but what are we going to do, run a few ads on the Tuesday afternoon before the season kicks off?

I believe we have finally got the right mix of 10 teams to give the game in this country the best possible chance of financial success.  Apologies to North Queensland and Gold Coast but you are not ideal football markets.  From day one our two biggest cities Melbourne and Sydney should have been hosting cross town derbies.  I expect the six derbies to all be in the top 10 attendance records at the end of the season.

We know we are not the biggest sport in this country; therefore we have to grasp every opportunity and run with it.  Those who read this are probably football fans anyway and will attend games regardless of how the league is run but remember to think smarter this season when introducing your mates to our great league.  Take them to a game that will evoke passion, entertain them for 90 minutes and bring them through the turnstiles once again.  At the moment I believe those who run the game are failing the fans, and as fans we need to take charge and lead the way.

Don’t sit back and expect things to happen.  For the sake of our (and my sanity) take charge, lead the way and make Football in this country what is should be, great.

Manchester United, Scolding hot in Pauls 700th

Marathon man Paul Scholes celebrated his 700th Manchester United appearance with a goal in their 4-0 win against Wigan.  A missed penalty from Hernandez in the 6th minute was the football karma event of the weekend.  Wigan managed to keep United scoreless for the first half but the floodgates opened as Sir Alex’s men gained two points on City and Chelsea whilst keeping a clean sheet.

West Ham and Norwich shared the spoils at Carrow road during an entertaining 0-0 draw, if there is such a thing.  Both keepers were the stars of the show making numerous saves during the encounter.  Norwich fans will feel hard done by with a close penalty call, but the referee was spot on when he awarded a first half free kick just inches out of the penalty area.  Norwich youngster Harry Kane showed wasn’t able, when he missed a late chance to give the canaries all three points.

Fulham fans worried about the Michael Jackson statue should start petitioning for it to be changed to Dimitar Berbatov if this form continues throughout the season.  The Bulgarian proved the difference between the two teams with his two first half goals.  West Brom fans will be disappointed with the Peter Odemwingie outburst that led to a first half yellow card and a three week holiday.  Fulham were too good during the entire 90 minutes running out 3-0 winners.

Arsenal reminded the rest of the league how dangerous they could be with a 6-1 mauling of Southampton.  It was a day that Saints fans would like to forget with two own goals contributing to the score line.  Southampton will be glad their month of hell appears to be over for now, while Arsenal is back entrenched in the top few positions.  Lukas Podolski once again looked very dangerous and will continue to frustrate opposition defenders.  Arsenal managed to get six past Southampton in a match that reminded us of the gunner’s firepower.

Did he or didn’t he, the answer is he didn’t.  QPR’s Anton Ferdinand still refused to shake the hand of John Terry in their match at Loftus Road.  That was the only talking point that came from this drab 0-0 affair.  Chelsea didn’t look like scoring, with Fernando Torres subbed during the second half after a below par performance.

Out of favour English and Stoke striker Peter Crouch found the back of the net against champions Manchester City had two great chances in the dying minutes of the game but were denied by a world class save by keeper Begovic, then a goal line clearance from Ryan Shawcross.  City was well below their best and will consider these two points dropped.

High flying Swansea couldn’t keep up their early momentum against strugglers Aston Villa.  2-0 was the final score to Villa as they jump out of the relegation zone.  Great news for Socceroos fans with Brett Holman picking up the sponsors man of the match award.

Liverpool managed to rescue a point after a very tough week for all involved at the club.  New Hillsborough revelations were announced this week making the week extremely tough for all involved at the proud club.  Sunderland started off well and new signing Steven Fletcher once again proved his worth putting the home side up in the first half.  Liverpool’s only current avenue to goal Luis Suarez managed to find a 71st minute equaliser in a result which further compounded Liverpool’s poor start.

Tottenham provided us with a reminder of the gulf in class between European contenders and Premiership newcomers.  Jermaine Defoe managed to find the back of the net twice against a helpless Reading defence.  New keeper Alex McCarthy won’t provide Aussie Adam Federici with any sleepless nights on that performance.  Full credit to the Reading fans who created a fantastic atmosphere for the 90 minute ‘contest’.

Everton fans will not only be frustrated with officials with a clear goal missed, but their absent defence in the dying minutes of their clash against Newcastle.  Demba Ba was always going to score at least once after a certain blog writer transferred him out of his dream team.  Everton will be kicking themselves after dropping two points, but should bounce back against Swansea this week.

@TheHardsWord Hero of the week – How can you go past Paul Scholes, the man scored in his 700th appearance for his beloved Manchester United.  Ryan Shawcross you were very unlucky, your last second goal line clearance was spectacular, and I’m sure Paul Scholes and his team mates will be thankful.

Villain of the week – Pretty easy this week, Peter Odemwingie.  The West Brom goal scorer not only cost his team any chance of winning against Fulham, but will miss crucial games against Reading, Aston Villa and QPR.

Who would you rather be – Southampton and QPR are both struggling in the bottom three but have shown signs of life so far this season.  For clubs at the lower end of the table it’s a race to 40 points but Southampton haven’t got off the mark yet, and QPR are only 2 points better off.  I’d still rather be QPR but both teams need some quick points.

Upcoming Week (Predictions in caps, draws in bold)

Swansea v EVERTON

CHELSEA v Stoke

Southampton v Aston Villa

West Brom v Reading

WEST HAM v Sunderland

Wigan v FULHAM

Liverpool v MAN UTD

NEWCASTLE v Norwich

Man City v Arsenal

TOTTENHAM v Queens Park Rangers

Until next week enjoy the action on the pitch, and don’t forget Champions league action is back.8