Bojan + Walters: Beauty and the Beast.

There have been some unlikely double acts in football over the years. Not too long ago we had one of our very own in the form of Ricardo Fuller and Mama Sidibe. In direct comparison, the two were chalk and cheese. When combined, they were a perfect fit. Ric possessed the magic and all the attributes to create opportunities from nothing whilst Mama was the seamless foil, the player willing to put in the extra leg work and win the flick-ons, allowing his teammate to do what he did best. It may have been a selfless task but it was a pivotal job which was key to the way the system operated. At times in football, as in life, opposites attract. Players shaped from completely different make-up form the most implausible of partnerships, as is being witnessed by the latest improbable twosome in ST4….

When it comes to their respective backgrounds, the two couldn’t be further apart. One came through the youth ranks at the world’s most illustrious club, scoring over a thousand goals in the process. A product of La Masia, Barcelona’s decorated academy, there were extraordinary expectations of Bojan Krkić, who was playing regularly for the B team at the age of just 16 (finishing his first season with a record of 10 goals in 22 games). The following year saw the Catalan wonderkid fast-tracked to the first team, making his debut just 19 days after his 17th birthday, breaking Lionel Messi’s record of the youngest Barcelona player to feature in a La Liga match. A full debut quickly followed a few weeks later, with the diminutive figure getting on the scoresheet against Villarreal, before going on to cement a regular place in the starting XI. The talented teenager finished the 2007/08 campaign with a record of 10 goals in 31 league matches, beating Raul’s record of most goals scored in a debut season; collecting the accolade of La Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year in the process. The world was at the feet of the young Spanish sensation with manager Frank Rijkaard describing him as “a treasure”. The obvious comparisons were made with Messi but he never quite fulfilled the vast amount of potential he undoubtedly possessed. It’s isn’t difficult to understand why events unfolded as they did. Playing for such a high profile club has many advantages, but as a youngster trying to forge a career in the game, it also presents plenty of obstacles. His father, Bojan Krkic Sr, has openly admitted that his son struggled to cope with the pressures of the paparazzi and the attitudes of his famous teammates. Opportunities eventually dried up and his time in Spain drew to a close. A few unsuccessful loan spells around Europe ensued but it appeared Bojan had burnt out. His star had fallen and the future of one of Europe’s brightest sparks looked uncertain…

A star in the making….

Meanwhile, in a universe far far away, Jonathan Ronald Walters was on a completely different, far less illustrious path into the game. Starting out with Blackburn Rovers at the turn of the century, he was a highly regarded prospect with a seemingly bright future ahead. Events took a dramatic and unexpected twist, however, as he was booted out of the club without playing a single first-team game due to a ‘serious breach of club discipline‘ which was described as ‘totally out of character. It was a massive body blow to the youngster and an early setback in the teenager’s career. He subsequently ended up at Bolton Wanders and would make just 4 premier league appearances before being loaned out to Hull City, then plying their trade in the 3rd division, followed with another loan spell at Barnsley, then in the 2nd division. This set the tone for the formative years of his career, knocking around in the lower echelons of English football, never spending a significant amount of time at any one club as he struggled to find a place to call ‘home’. The year of 2006 would prove to be the tipping point of his journey, at the time playing for Chester City in division 2, when a huge slice of luck resulted in a big break presenting itself. The twist of fate came via an FA cup tie that Chester lost to Bury, only for the result to be overturned due to The Shakers fielding an ineligible player. Chester would go onto face Ipswich Town in the next round, giving Walters a chance to showcase his talents to his prospective suitors. It was an opportunity he grasped with both hands, “It turned out Bury had played this lad on loan from Hartlepool and he wasn’t eligible. They had drawn Ipswich but we took over the tie. It was a great draw for us. David Sheepshanks, the Ipswich chairman, sorted out a deal for me with Chester after the tie.” Walters himself was quick to admit things could have quite easily gone in a completely different direction. “A lot of the lads I played with at Wrexham and Chester are playing in non-League now. One of my best mates, Paul Linwood, was with me at Chester but he’s now with Fleetwood. I think I’ve had a bit of luck along the way. It can happen if your timing’s right and you work hard.” Signing for The Tractor Boys in January 2007, Jon finally found stability, going on to make almost 150 appearances for the club over the next 3 and half years. During his time he would become a favourite, not only with the fans but also his Manager, Jim Magilton, who saw the potential and positive traits possessed by the industrious attacker, “I feel very fortunate to have him. He is a good footballer with a real desire to get better. His work ethic is second to none. His all-round play is exemplary and he can only get better.” Walters’ excursion back to where it all began, the Premier League, was finally complete when Tony Pulis came calling in August, 2010. It was a long, hard slog which took a decade to achieve. The many knocks and setbacks along the way no doubt hardened him into the person he is today. If there is a player with more determination and bouncebackability, I have yet to see him.

In some ways, the career paths of the two have similarities. Both started as highly rated youngsters but lost their way due to respective circumstance. That’s probably where the similarities end mind. Our latest Nou Camp recruit cut his teeth playing alongside the likes of Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Messi, Yaya Toure, Iniesta and Ibrahimovic. Walters put the hard yards in playing for Chester City and Wrexham. You’d have been strapped in a straightjacket and thrown in a padded cell a few years ago for suggesting the two paths would eventually cross, but cross they eventually did. When Mark Hughes made the impressive coup of Bojan on the 22nd of July, 2014, to the surprise of Stoke fans and the wider footballing audience, the stage was set. The unlikely duo from opposite sides of the track were set to take up positions in the same front 4 for the 2014/15 premier league campaign.

It didn’t take long for them to hit it off either. Both players proved their worth during the impressive victory away at White Hart Lane, with a goal apiece securing the 2-1 success on the day. The first coming courtesy of an individual piece of brilliance as Bojan demonstrated better dribbling skills than a baby with teething problems, before nearly finishing past the stretched hand of Lloris. The second strike from our number 19 being a clinical, one-on-one finish to claim the spoils. It was the very next game at home to Burnley that we witnessed the first glimpses of their link-up play. El Petit Geni brought down a loose ball via a superb first touch before lashing an exquisite cross from the right flank. The delivery was one of precise beauty, delivered into the middle of the box and duly met by the diving head of Jon Walters, bravely sticking his head in amongst the bodies and the boots; a goal created by class, executed with courage. A couple of weeks later the wily wind-up merchant repaid the favour during the excellent (and customary) 3-2 triumph over Arsenal at The Britannia Stadium. The Irish International turned provider with an outstanding, bending cross dispatched with pinpoint accuracy into the danger area, between defence and keeper. The Catalan virtuoso gladly accepted, ghosting in unmarked to cooly slot past Martinez and into the back of the net. Walters himself would also get on the score sheet that day ensuring the points remained in ST4. The understanding between the two was evident once again in the 1-0 victory at The King Power Stadium as the duo linked up, putting Leicester to the sword and securing yet another valuable three points. In total, in all competitions, the pair have contributed 15 goals and 5 assists; an impressive return from an unlikely partnership which was only flourishing prior to being cut short by “that moment” at Rochdale. Fortunately for Stoke fans, the injury news isn’t as bad as first feared and our talented talisman should be firing on all cylinders come the beginning of next season.

At the peak of his powers, Bojan is poetry in motion; a thing of pure beauty and a joy to behold. At his bustling best, Walters is a force of a nature; an absolute beast and the nightmare of any defender. As individuals, the two are complete contrasts. In combination, a machine of absolute perfection…

Beauty and the Beast

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Super Jonny Walters – 200 up

Lee Sharpe once told a story, going back to his days at Manchester United, of sitting in the canteen one afternoon and hearing a dull, repetitive thud outside (no, it wasn’t Adrian Chiles). Eventually he went out to investigate and was puzzled to find Gary Neville, on his own, repeatedly throwing a ball against a brick wall. On further examination, it transpired that Neville was practising long throw-ins, “Gary’s idea of fun” according to Sharpe. Not quite. This was not Neville’s idea of fun, more the realisation of what he had to do to make the best of himself. It’s easy to ridicule that level of dedication, down to the most miniscule of detail, but it was that very commitment that helped the right back make 600 appearances for the most successful club of our generation, racking up 85 caps for England in the process. 100% effort is the minimum requirement that any supporter should expect from a professional footballer, but we’ve seen enough players squander their potential over the years to know this isn’t the case. In football, as Neville always appreciated, it needs more than just talent to sustain a career at the top; Lee Sharpe held a slightly different outlook on the game. If you compare their respective careers, it isn’t difficult to determine which individual had the correct attitude. When it comes to approach and application, we have our very own model professional on the books, a player who has carved out a successful career through unrelenting grit and determination.

“….I’m fine, just a scratch boss….”

This weekend’s match against QPR marks Jon Walters’ 200th appearance for the club since arriving in August 2010, from Ipswich Town, for a fee of £2.75million. It comes as no surprise that it was Tony Pulis who secured his services, a long-time admirer of The Tractor Boys forward. The Welshman is renowned for his outlook on the game, the expectations he has of his teams and the correct “DNA” that players should consist of. The two were a perfect fit, summed up suitably by Pulis’ assessment of his new recruit, He’s certainly my type of player. He gives everything, he never stops and whatever you’ve paid him, you know he’s earned it.” The Scouser would be become a stalwart of the starting XI immediately on arrival, missing only 2 league games of a possible 114 over a 3 year period, from 2010 onwards. On the face of it, a decidedly impressive feat, but to some, the Liverpudlian was merely a favourite of the manager. Once TP’s time in the Potteries concluded, as it did in the summer of 2012, there were sections of the fan base that expected the dominance of Walters to diminish. That myth was blown firmly out of the water when he racked up 100 consecutive premier league appearances for the Potters (the only player in the top flight at the time with an unbroken run stretching into three figures) in November, 2013; a run of games which began under Pulis and continued under the guidance of Mark Hughes. His worth didn’t waiver one iota during the transitional period, as Mark Bowen clearly put it at the time, ‘Maybe he polarises opinion, but speak to anyone in the game, and they will say you have to be mad not to see the qualities he brings to the team. The first prerequisite any manager looks for in a player is that he is prepared to give every last cent in a game. Jon does that and more. He works every day in training like it’s his last day and plays every game like it’s his last game. I just wish every player had that mentality.” Those that expected him to fall by the wayside have witnessed our Number 19 flourish under the new regime, arguably producing the best football of his career. It hasn’t always been that way of course, and there have been a few barren spells along the way, but whether in form or not, the very least you can expect is 100% commitment. There are few certainties in life; death, taxes and a wholehearted Jonny Walters shift.

The lovable, wind-up merchant has been an important player for us over the years. When he’s at his bustling best, he’s as unstoppable as the latest wing wizard on the opposite flank, Victor Moses. Look no further than Aaron Cresswell for evidence of that, the young West Ham fullback is still having nightmares after his trip to Stoke earlier this season. And who can forget that match against Ancelotti’s Chelsea back in April, 2011? Picking the ball up on the half way line, he brushed past 50 million pound man, David Luiz, with a delightful nutmeg, leaving the Brazilian squarely on his backside. With only one thing in mind, he bore down on goal, calmly cutting inside Michael Essien before dispatching the ball past Petr Cech and into the back of the net; a sensational solo goal straight out of the top drawer. Ironically, if that moment was the pièce de résistance, the rock bottom opposite would also come against The Pensioners, in January 2013. We wound up on the wrong end of a 4-0 drubbing, with Jon ‘contributing’ two own goals and a missed penalty in favour of Rafael Benitez’s side. As days at the office go, they don’t come much worse. That would have been more than enough to dent the confidence of most players or knock them off their stride. Tony Pulis admitted he had originally planned to give Walters a rest in the following game, an FA Cup replay against Crystal Palace just 3 days later, but changed his mind in light of those events; instead opting to give the player a chance to bounce back. It was an opportunity he grasped with both hands, going from zero to hero, netting himself a brace in a match-winning performance. A true test of character and testament to his resolute nature. TP accurately summed up his resoluteness after the tie, “He gives everything. He is just a very gifted individual in lots of respects, and his biggest asset is his big strong heart and the British bulldog spirit he has got.” High praise indeed.

Note to Berahino, this is how to celebrate.

It’s easy to forget, amidst all the plaudits he receives for his character, the lad can actually play a bit too. Important goals and big performances have been delivered in the league, domestic cups and European competition to boot. For 2 of the 4 full seasons at the club he has finished as top goalscorer in all competitions (2012/13 – 11 goals + 2010/11 – 12 goals). He also tops the charts this term to date with a tally of 7, whilst also contributing more assists than any other player. The likes of Bojan and Moses have grabbed the headlines for their exploits in recent months but when it comes to end product, Walters is currently the most fruitful of all the attackers on our books. His last minute goal against Rochdale on Monday night throws up another telling statistic; that strike being his 10th FA Cup goal, coming from just 18 games played. 5 of those efforts came during the memorable run that saw us progress all the way to the FA cup final in 2011. The route to Wembley included perhaps the most remarkable match in our recent history. The 5-0 trouncing of Bolton in the semi-final was one of those special moments that we all live for as supporters. We’ve suffered enough despair and desolation over the years to appreciate the good, and that day in the sun was about as about as good as it gets. The pick of the five goals undoubtedly belonged to Walters, one of two he helped himself to on the day, with a wonder strike from 30 yards out. A brilliant goal to match a prestigious occasion.

Worldy at Wembley!

When he’s at his best, Jonathan Ronald Walters is a robust force to be reckoned with. His overall ratio is just shy of 1 in 4, with a total of 46 goals coming from 199 games for the club. On the face of it, not a record to get carried away with. When you take into consideration the majority of those games have been out on the flank, it suddenly becomes a much more credible return. Whatever your opinion on our industrious battering-ram, we should unite on Saturday to show our appreciation of a player that has never let us down. As a recently departed figure would so eloquently put it – “GOOOOOAAAARRRNNNNN JON!!”

200 up!

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Roy Hodgson, and the Ballon d’Or nominations…..

Gary Neville “It’s that time of the year again, Roy, Ballon d’Or. You need to submit your top 3 selections. Messi, Ronaldo and who else?”

Hodgson “Not so fast there, Gawy.”

Gary “What, no Messi?!”

Hodgson “Cowwect. Or that Wonaldo chappie either”

Gary “Ha ha ha. Nice one boss. Seriously though?”

Hodsgon “I’m deadly sewious, Gawy”

Gary “But Ronaldo has scored 33 goals in 28 games this season. He scored 51 in 47 over the last campaign. He won the Champions league in 2014, as well as the UEFA Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup. He’s broken record after record….he’s an absolute machine. The bloke’s out of this world……”

Hodgson “He may be the astwonaut Gawy, but what about the monkey?”

Gary “What does that even mean? Are you smoking crack?”

Hodgson “Life is like a box of chocolates, Gawy…..”

Gary “You’ve lost me Boss, lets just have your nominations…..”

Hodgson “Number one, Chwis Smalling.”

Gary “Hahaha, nice one boss. Come on now, truthfully?”

Hodgson “You can’t handle the twuth, Gawy!! Smalling is my number one pick”

Gary “He’s not even on the f****ing shortlist, ya stupid d***head. Jesus f****ing Christ.”

Hodgson “Talking of Jesus Christ, my next pick is the divine Phil Jones.”

Gary “Phil Jones?! Not even he’d believe he’s been nominated for this shit….”

Roy “That’s my selection and I stand by it, Gawy”

Gary “Jesus, this is like pulling teeth. You’re not getting this, are you Rain Man? You need to pick from the fu**ing shortlist provided….”

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An open response to Jon, Arsenal fan.

Hi Jon,

Hope all is well across the pond? I recently had the pleasure of reading your fantastic open letter addressed to our captain, Ryan Shawcross. Firstly, can I take the opportunity to congratulate you on the elegance and grace in which you styled your piece? The points you raised glided effortlessly together and there was a subtle ebb to your words, much like an Arsene Wenger side in full flow, in fact. It is certainly understandable to see why your fell in love with Arsenal Football Club.

The way you adoringly speak of “clever through-balls”, “lofted crosses” and the all-round “artistry” of the game gives you an evident affinity with your idols. It is, however, noteworthy that the letter did not contain a single mention of the basics of football. Not once did you reference the “art” of defending, the importance of having strength in your team or a spine you can depend on to be resilient in the face of adversity. If you cast your mind back (I know, it was a long, long time ago), Arsenal used to actually have a squad that won a thing or two. Yes, they had the Bergkamp’s and Henry’s of this world, but the success was built on the firm foundations at the back. There was nothing sultry or sublime in the way Tony Adams and Martin Keown used to go about their business. Nor was there anything beautiful or elegant surrounding the nature of Vieira and Petit as they got stuck into their opponents and dictated the play. It’s all well and good having the fancy-dan’s at one end of the pitch but it counts for very little without the players to do the dirty work at the other.

The Beautiful Game…

Back to Ryan for a brief moment, and the point you raised regarding yellow cards, you are absolutely correct; he has collated 4 cautions this season to date. The tally of 4 also happens to be the same number that your current hero holds, Aaron Ramsey. If you look further afield you will quickly see that the delightful and charismatic Jack Wilshire suprasses that measly sum with a magnificent 7 to his name, a figure that Calum Chambers matches with an equally majestic effort. As you say, let’s hope these incumbents are also on their best behaviour for tomorrow’s match as our latest arrival from Barcelona, Bojan, actually wants to play a bit of football. Obviously Arsenal players are only interested in the beautiful game so one can only assume that the 14 yellow cards that Wislhire and Chambers have amassed between them were all errors of judgements made by the various officials in question. An Arsene Wenger side simply doesn’t get involved in the “dirty” side of the game.

Over 100 red cards during his tenure. Tiki-taka at its very best….

Looking at the discontent amongst the Gooners this season, as they languish outside the top 4, it appears Jose Mourinho was bang on the money when he declared Wenger a specialist in failure. A more intelligent person than myself would suggest that you require a more resilient and robust player at the heart of your defence, perhaps somebody cut from the same cloth as Tony Adams. A dominant figure prepared to lead from the back. Somebody willing to put his head in amongst the boots and throw his body on the line. A player perhaps not capable, or interested, in dinking lovely through balls or lofting gracious 30 yard balls, but somebody you could rely on to stand up and be counted when it matters. Unfortunately for you lot, Ryan Shawcross is not for sale.


All the best mate and make sure you enjoy the annual tradition of the ever consistent “Arsenal Collapse”.

Merry Christmas pal. The kindest of kind regards,


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Hartson: “Moses is a cheat.”

As part of the BBC’s wholly unbiased and impartial post-match assessment of Stoke’s 2-1 victory over Gary Monk’s side yesterday, they chose lifelong Swansea fan John Hartson to give his neutral opinions on Match of the Day 2.

100% neutral and reporting for duty

The former West Ham and Celtic Striker, born and bred in Swansea, didn’t hold back in his views and opinions either, especially when it came to Victor Moses and the penalty incident that drew the home side level. The Nigerian winger was labelled a “cheat” after a “blatant dive” which displayed a “total lack of professionalism” for his actions. That kind of stinging criticism would have you believe, without a scrap of doubt, that Moses had conned the referee into awarding a penalty under no contact or obstruction from the opposition player, which is blatantly not the case. It’s fair to say that the former Wales International didn’t reach that conclusion without sentiment affecting his judgement, and if anyone should have any doubt that this is the case, then you need to look no further than his comments in 2013 of where his allegiances lie: –

“Swansea is in my heart. I’m a Swansea fan and I was born and bred in Swansea. I played for some of the biggest clubs in Britain with Celtic and Arsenal. But Swansea is always the club I have looked out for. I’m back living in Swansea with my family and they’ve all got season tickets. I’ve personally got two season tickets for me and my son who is currently playing for the Swansea academy. So it’s my club.”

Unfortunately for Moses, the damage to his reputation is probably already done. The seed of doubt has been planted and it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to suggest he will have his card marked by referee’s in future matches and that could definitely count against him.

Spot the infringement, John?

Putting aside Hartson’s sour grapes and big-girl-blousery, and looking at the evidence (pictured above), it is apparent that Rangel did have a handful of Moses shirt as he broke into the box. To take that one step further, you can argue whether he went down too easily or not but you then enter the murky world and grey areas of what is and what isn’t a penalty. There’s a massive difference between a blatant dive under no contact, and one where a player may have gone down too easily when clipped or pulled. That isn’t for pundits to decide beyond all reasonable doubt and the comments can certainly be attributed to the individuals’ support of the club on the receiving end of the penalty decision.

In an ideal world, the BBC will acknowledge the errors of their ways and issue a full apology to Stoke City Football Club and, in particular, Victor Moses. They got it massively wrong when selecting Hartson as the pundit to deliver the cutting verdict and the onus is now on them to make amends.

Having dealt with the accusations of being a “cheat” and executing a “blatant dive”, that just leaves us with the final insult that Moses displayed a “total lack of professionalism”. If we’re being honest, Hartson has that one bang on the money and we can have no complaints whatsoever. The former Arsenal man had a long and illustrious career, of which he maintained impeccable standards throughout. All players in the game should strive to live up to the imperious values and morals upheld by John Hartson. Let’s kick cheats out of football.

Let’s kick cheats out of football….

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Newcastle review: Massive result, Moses flying + Shawcross for England!

Vital 3 points

After suffering back-to-back defeats at The Britannia Stadium this was a critical, if not emphatic, victory on home soil. If we’d have lost 3 games on the bounce, all against teams in that mid-table melee, we’d have had a mini-crisis on our hands with a massive dent to the players’ confidence to boot. It was imperative we didn’t allow that to happen and the performance level was very much of secondary importance on the night. It’s too early in the season for kneejerk reactions but that doesn’t detract from the importance of stopping the mini-rot that was hampering us at what became almost a fortress over the previous campaign.

It was a far from faultless display and the same problems are still evident for all to see. We should’ve put the game to bed long before those nervy final 10 or 15 minutes when it seemed like we were going to drop 2 points once again, as we did in the previous match at Loftus Road. We simply have to be more ruthless in front of goal and secure that 2-goal-cushion that has eluded us thus far. We are making things far too difficult for ourselves at present and that has to be the focus for improvement on the training ground. It isn’t all bad news of course as we are creating opportunities at will; we just have to be much more efficient when those chances arise.

Crouchie heads home the winner

Moses to the rescue.

Finding the back of the net on a regular basis may be a struggle at the moment, but it isn’t for a want of trying by our latest recruit from Stamford Bridge. Victor Moses is probably wondering how he isn’t into double figures for assists already, after only a handful of matches since joining the club on loan. It was his individual brilliance that created both of our goals at QPR and he was also the player on hand to deliver the pinpoint cross for Crouchie’s winner, piling more misery onto Alan Pardew in the process. He should’ve really had a couple more to his name come the full time whistle though. On two separate occasions in the first half the Nigerian international broke brilliantly up the field at lightning speed, putting the opposition firmly on the back foot. Both times he slid Crouch into great positions but indecision and hesitation meant that neither resulted in any meaningful end product. You could make the argument that both should’ve culminated in goals. If you were to give him the benefit of the doubt, one from two would’ve been acceptable. The fact we didn’t manage a single shot on target from either was extremely disappointing to say the least. Having said that, it is still difficult to be overly critical on Crouch. That’s 2 goals in 2 games for the big man and it was his header that ultimately secured the all-important 3 points. It is, however, impossible to ignore his limitations and he just doesn’t suit a counter attacking team, and this appears to be the route Hughes is taking us down (to potentially great effect).

We really need a song for this lad!

The Welshman has already experimented with Odemwingie in the centre forward role over the latter stages of the previous term and, with the additions of Bojan and Diouf, it is apparent he wants a different kind of player operating in that role. Until one of those players steps up to the plate and proves they can execute the role effectively it may be that Crouch continues to lead the line but I am positive the Manager has a plan to evolve away from that style of play. Nevertheless, we’re in very safe hands until we reach that point.

A case for the defence.

The back 5 have come in for a fair bit of criticism from a section of supporters over the opening handful of games, a lot of it unjust in my humble opinion. There have been a couple of uncharacteristic sloppy mistakes but, overall, we’ve been pretty solid at the back to date. We may have had a slice of fortune when Colback hit the woodwork late on but it’s fair to say it was another good day at the office for the backline; the star of the show being the imperious Ryan Shawcross. Our captain and leader was commanding throughout and gave a display nothing short of exceptional. Every aerial challenge was won and every tackle on the deck successfully completed. Some of his blocks and interceptions were timed to absolute perfection and our number 17 was a worthy recipient of the Man of the Match accolade. It may be going over old ground, but it really is farcical that he is continually overlooked by the England Manager. The fact Roy Hodgson didn’t even bother to turn up at the Britannia Stadium, when there were no other premier league matches being played out, is at best an oversight; at worst completely negligent. The job of international manager is very much a part-time vocation, which is handsomely rewarded to the tune of millions of pounds each and every year. You’d think at the very least Roy Hodgson could take a few hours out of his hectic schedule to give Ryan the once over and see what kind of form he is in? Whatever happened to being selected for your country based on form anyway? When did selection become based purely on reputation?!

Captain Fantastic!

Ryan Shawcross has been the stalwart of a defence that has leaked just 5 goals in 6 Premier League games this Season (the second best record in the entire division). He has marshalled a backline that has allowed opposition teams the fewest amount of attempts on our goal in the process, no doubt in part due to some of his heroic last gasp tackles, brilliantly timed interceptions and brave body-on-the-line blocks. All of which seems completely irrelevant to the England manager, who was no doubt at Old Trafford over the weekend hoping that Paddy McNair has a Great-great-great grandma with a cat from old blighty…..

Fine line between success and failure.

Going into last night’s match we were hovering precariously above the bottom 3. A defeat would’ve seen us drop down into the relegation zone with the lowest points return over the first 6 games since our first year back in the top flight. Had that been the case, some of the more impatient vultures would have started to circle and the nerves would’ve started to creep in. As it stands, with victory secured, we have leapfrogged into mid-table ahead of both Liverpool and Everton and on the same tally as Spurs and Man Utd; with a winnable last 16 home cup tie on the horizon to boot. We may still be a work-in-progress with some of the new additions taking time to adjust, but things aren’t half as bad as some fans may have you believe. The defence isn’t leaking many at the back and we’re creating chances galore at the opposite end of the pitch. I have no doubt that Mark Hughes has a clear idea of the route he is taking us down and he has all the attributes required to succeed. If last year taught us anything, it’s that patience is very much a virtue. The evidence is there that we’re very much on the right track and it won’t be too long before we bear the fruits of our labour.

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Humble in victory, gracious in defeat.

In the aftermath of Chelsea’s recent 1-1 draw with Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini accused Mourinho’s side of playing like a “small team” and compared the performance to that of Stoke’s just a couple of weeks earlier. The comments were clearly intended as a derogative towards the current Premier League leaders after they had managed to stifle the home side for large periods of the match. The fact Chelsea didn’t merely allow the opposition to have things all their own way clearly upset ‘The Engineer’ and he was quick to make his feelings known.

“What are you doing?! Stop making it difficult for us!!”

It’s a shame Pellegrini didn’t expand on his comments though, in order to explain exactly what is so offensive and petty about a team going to The Etihad with a clear game plan. Perhaps the pressure is beginning to tell even at this early point of the campaign? Both Managers were certainly vindicated in the tactic by successfully achieving positive results at a ground that oversaw 17 home wins and only 1 defeat over the 19 games of the previous campaign. Leicester City themselves have just recorded an outstanding 5-3 victory over Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United. It would have been easy for the latest media darling to point to the soft penalty awarded against his team as an excuse, or even get involved in immature bickering similar to his Manchester counterpart. Instead, he chose to aim his disappointment closer to home and admit that the better team won. That’s not such a difficult trait to acquire, is it?

Even NumbNuts can show a bit of humility.

It’s easy to be humble when your side goes out and spanks a lower league team for 7 in the cup, or even when you stick 3 past Liverpool on home turf. It’s an utterly different ball game when your team (which was assembled at a cost of hundreds of millions of the Queens English, courtesy of a Billionaire benefactor) is outdone by a “small team” from the Potteries.

I’m not sure if Mark Hughes will offer a retort to the slight by the Manchester City manager. In all honesty, he’s probably not arsed. He had a clear idea of what his strategy would be, he drilled his players as to what was required and it was completely justified when they ran out victors. It’s entirely his prerogative to set up his side how he sees fit, and it isn’t difficult to see why “containment” would be a part of that approach when making a trip to Manchester City. There’s nothing “small team” about it, nor should it be viewed as such. It goes without saying that the neutrals want to watch a goal-fest, and Jug Ears on Match of the Day may expect us to just roll over and allow that to happen, but the minnows from ST4 have other priorities. The fact that Chelsea went there with a similar game plan, themselves having spent a vast amount of money in recent years, points to the very validity of such an approach. There certainly won’t be many sides that go to The Etihad this season and come away 3 points; that much I am sure of.

“Pellegrini called us what?!……Yeah, I’m not arsed”

It was interesting to see Pellegrini take his team to Bayern Munich in the Champions League only a few days ago too. The home team dominated on the night, in terms of both possession and shots on goal, and would’ve ran out winners by a much wider margin had it not been for an impressive display from Joe Hart. You could argue that Pellegrini’s team were outclassed to the point where they simply couldn’t get out of their own half for the majority of the match. Other people would suggest it was a clear gameplan from the visiting Manager in an attempt to stifle the opposition, trying to smother the life out of the game and leave with a point (or even snatch all 3 on the break). It’s interesting to note that Manchester City have made a habit of starting with 2 up front in the premier league under the tenure of the Chilean. Arsenal away aside, two from Jovetic, Aguero and Dzeko have started every game this season in fact; it’s very much a staple of how he sets up his side in domestic competition. Given that consistent positive intent, I wonder what prompted him to resort to playing just 1 up front (Dzeko) at The Allianz Arena? Is it a stretch to propose that it was his intention to suppress the attacking element of the home side and try and snatch something on the counter attack? Nahhhhh, that’s obviously a tactic that a “big club” would never utilise and it’d be extremely cynical to suggest otherwise….

Pellegrini will undeniably oversee some emphatic victories this Season, and no doubt he’ll be all sunshine and rainbows in his post-match interviews in the process. It’s easy to be humble in victory; it’s a much sterner test of character to be gracious in defeat. We won’t be the last team to go there this season with the aim of containing the home side and looking to grab something on the break. If other teams do manage to succeed in doing just that, I’m sure Manuel will be quick to accuse them of having the temerity of attempting such a method instead of looking for inadequacies in his own camp. It just goes to show, you can have all the money in the world, but it will never buy you class.

He who laughs lasts, laughs longest…..

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