Monday, 28 February 2011

Significance this weekend at Wembley and in the Premier League

4-nil. The two most emphatic scorelines of this Premier League weekend carry a weight of significance and destiny for both the winners and losers.

Manchester United didn't even play well at Wigan, but it's a win which hoists them above the chasing pack in the title race and consigns the journeymen and mercenaries of Wigan to life in the Championship (or an impending transfer to a German or Turkish club, more like).

And Wolves' thrashing of fellow strugglers Blackpool shows Mick McCarthy's men can produce results when they apply themselves, while showing up the Tangerine's inability to defend. The Kingson Cops, you might say!

Wolves fans will be dreaming of kicking off next season at home to Arsenal rather than away to Bournemouth or Brighton. Blackpool will surely be making travel arrangements to those other seaside resorts.

The other noteworthy result unrolled at Wembley as plucky Birmingham City showed grit, determination and muscular resolve to beat off pretty Arsenal, 2-1.

Blues deserved their trophy (and I say this is an Aston Villa fan who's spent his 43 years laughing at their constant failure). They deserved it because despite being outclassed in quality, possession and creation, Arsenal couldn't compete with them in terms of their gameplan; one cut of desire, of physicality - and of threat.

Make no mistake, Arsenal are a team of great quality who play their football the right way. In Jack Wilshere, England has a player fluid of movement and fluent of mind. Arsene Wenger's team will pick themselves up from this. They have to. One minute Blues, the next Barcelona in the Camp Nou.

But the misunderstanding between Koscielny and Szcezny which gifted Obafemi Martins his last-ditch tap-in, was borne of Birmingham's bullying rather than of their own making; an above board piece of gamesmanship as muscle crushed craft.

Their victory is also affirmation of the glory of winning silverware. Newcastle and Manchester City aside, there's no club who've failed more than Birmingham City. Fourth is no longer the new first as those joyous Wembley celebrations showed.

I've been to many games at the new stadium and I can honestly say, this was the best one played there since it was rebuilt.

The weekend's action demonstrated application, fitness and unity overcomes all. It's not great news for the football purist; but it is a rebirth of why the English game perpetually keeps us on the edge of our seats.

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Monday, 14 February 2011

Richard Keys & Andy Gray: first moments on talkSPORT

Here are the first three minutes of Keys and Gray's return to work. Any ship in a storm? certainly not and the disgraced pair can count themselves lucky that talkSPORT wanted them. As one door closes, another opens as my Grandma Estelle always said, and the former Sky Sports duo took to the national speech station like a duck to water.

The dynamic between Keys and Gray will certainly change. The fiery Scot will have to become accustomed to a support pundit role, as Coventry Keys will link at the controls, but I'm sure it'll settle down into a top class show.

Richard's steady style doesn't need much tweaking from his TV demeanour. In any event, he can draw on experience gained at Liverpool's Radio City two decades ago. But Gray needs to inject something into his delivery. That'll come. But he seemed a little miserable on his first day.

talkSPORT acted cannily in signing the pair quickly - and as if to demonstrate the sudden market flurry in radio talent, Mike Parry who quit Hatfields after a decade, pairs up with Robbie Savage to present 6-0-6 this Saturday evening.

A week is a long time in national radio!

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Friday, 11 February 2011

Time for Villa to play Ashley Young as a striker

Ashley Young's realising his potential as a senior player. His first international goal in Denmark and a burgeoning partnership with Darren Bent (for both Villa and England), point to a man rejuvenated and focused on his game.

After two wilderness years at Villa Park, frustrated by Martin O'Neill's complicated tactics and often played out of position, Young's being allowed to express himself, behind the front man as a striker.

Anyone who watched Villa in the last months of O'Neill's tenure would've seen a patient, but frustrated Ash forced to swap wings mid-game. The Irishman gesticulated and jumped around on the touchline kicking every ball, disrupting Ash's flow.

Now Young, who only played as a striker at Watford before winging it at Villa says, “I’m really enjoying playing in the middle. Playing just behind that main striker you can get yourself in the box more and have more shots.

“I did that and I got the rewards, scoring my first goal for England. I would be delighted to play there. As a kid I was a striker. Ian Wright was my idol. He was a proper striker.
WONDERFUL COPENHAGEN! Ash's quickfire finish for a 1st international goal in Denmark
‘‘I’ve loved every minute of playing in the hole. It gives me more freedom to go and get the ball and to join in more. Hopefully, I will continue to keep playing there.” Ash's migration from striker to wing is the pole opposite to the progression that took Thierry Henry from unrealised talent to world beater at Arsenal.

And Gerard Houllier should take a leaf out of his mate Arsene Wenger's book and unlock the potential in Young. The boy's a born striker.

And if Villa's latest boss did that, he'd unlock more than just Young's ability on the field.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with the Villa squad in Spain during the club's victorious Peace Cup campaign in 2009. I was struck by Young's infectious personality. When he loves his football, he's a really positive force around the squad.

A new manager at Villa, the arrival of Darren Bent at both club and international level, and a renewed opportunity to play high-profile games in the forward position he knows and loves.

Everything has come together to produce the perfect storm for Ash. Let's hope Houllier completes the circle by playing him "in the hole".