Poyet’s incredible Sunderland revival continues with 3-0 win at Newcastle

SAFC Fans

SAFC Fans

Sunderland beat Newcastle 3-0 for the second time in nine months in a pulsating Tyne-Wear derby at St James’ Park.

The victory means Gus Poyet has won 11 from 23 games with a club who were bottom of the league and without a win in seven matches when he took charge.

A first half penalty from Fabio Borini and a close-range effort from Adam Johnson gave Sunderland a half-time lead, while Jack Colback scored late in the second half.

A frantic first half was dominated in the early stages by the away side, who were better in possession and played with an urgency that Newcastle failed to deal with.

Newcastle did have opportunities wasted in good areas – both through Davide Santon – and they gifted Sunderland an opening on 18 minutes. A clumsy tackle from Vernon Anita on Phil Bardsley gave Borini the chance to put Sunderland in the lead, and the Italian duly smashed home.

The well-taken penalty into Tim Krul’s top right was Borini’s second goal in a Tyne-Wear derby since joining Sunderland on loan in September.

With St James’ Park agitated, Sunderland continued to push and probe and, within five minutes of Borini’s opener, had doubled their lead. Krul parried Colback’s shot across goal into the path of Johnson, who finished from four yards for his sixth goal in his last five games.

Jozy Altidore played a key role in the build-up to Sunderland’s second, perfectly executing a flick into the path of the on-running Colback, and the American was outstanding for Sunderland in the first half – holding up play, frustrating and bustling his way through a Newcastle defence that could not handle him.

Conversely, Sunderland dealt with the minimal threat of Shola Ameobi with ease. The home side were largely limited to shots from range, and even then they were not given the time or space for pot-shots. Hatem Ben Arfa tried and failed, repeatedly, to wriggle his way through a stubborn Sunderland defence, while Sammy Ameobi was the least effective player on the pitch.

The big openings that Newcastle had in the first half came after some rare patient build-up across the penalty area. Shola Ameobi’s attempted turn and shot was eventually mopped up by Bardsley while, with half-time looming, Ben Arfa had the chance to place the ball across but chose to smash it out for a throw-in instead.

Sunderland were better in every position in the opening 45 so it was hardly surprising when Alan Pardew made a change at half-time. Loan signing Luuk De Jong even had the first chance after the break, shooting tamely straight at Vito Mannone.

Sunderland continued to have the upper hand on their biggest rivals but actually seemed able to take the foot off the gas a little.

Phil Bardsley, particularly, starred for Sunderland, containing Ben Arfa again and again. Johnson was also a stand-out player, and at one point the Wearside-born winger jinked his way around three Newcastle defenders and fired a fierce shot against the post. Johnson is, surely, now firmly in the thoughts of England manager Roy Hodgson.

Chieck Tiote did go close for Newcastle but his shot was acrobatically saved by Mannone. And it was Sunderland academy product Colback who completed the scoring and topped off a fine afternoon for the midfielder, brilliantly placing the ball into the top corner from 10 yards.

Sunderland closed the game out with ease, with Newcastle offering little, but the Wearside team were outstanding from the first whistle. The changes that Poyet has brought in have been resoundingly successful, making further mockery of Paolo Di Canio’s disparaging remarks about the club and certain players earlier this week.

Difficult characters have, seemingly, been turned around, while players like Johnson and Ki-Sun Yeung are thriving. In Colback, Ki and new signing Liam Bridcutt – who was brilliant on his debut in such a testing fixture – Sunderland have a midfield packed with creativity, poise and hard work.

They play with a similar urgency and directness as they always have but there’s now an added precision and zip in their play. To simply get the results that Poyet has gained as Sunderland boss would be remarkable but do it in such style shows a much more shrewd approach to management than the previous manager.

While Newcastle look like enduring a tough last four months to the season with a beleaguered and tepid squad, Sunderland are now mid-table and, currently, look like a side capable of rising higher still.

Manchester City win 2012 Community Shield

Manchester City came from behind and withheld late pressure from Chelsea as they claimed their first silverware of the 2012/13 season thanks to goals from Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri.

Chelsea had taken the lead through Fernando Torres just before half-time but a blistering second half blew them away, a late Ryan Bertrand goal merely a consolation in an enthralling start to the new football season.  Continue reading

Chelsea win the Champions League

 
Finally, they’ve done it. A season that looked to be disastrous under Andres Villas-Boas ends with Chelsea winning the double under Roberto Di Matteo.
At times, it wasn’t pretty. Organised and resolute defending where the team knew their strengths and weaknesses, or negative football – call it what you like, it’s effective. Chelsea have won the Champions League, beating the mighty Barcelona on the way as well as Napoli, Benfica and Bayern Munich.
They’ve had their graft and determination greeted by luck, but you make your own luck. Bayern had 43 shots on goal to Chelsea’s 9, but 22 of Bayern’s were blocked; even the most stout believer in defensive positioning coming before overplayed heroics would have to admit that that is fantastic defending. Gary Cahill and David Luiz were incredible, while Ashley Cole put in a Man of the Match performance, putting to bed (ahem) the claims that he’s finished as a top-flight full-back.
There were horrible Munich misses, with Mario Gomez perhaps the worst perpetrator. But Chelsea had an effect on some of those misses – pressure on players contributes to them snatching at shots, bodies flying in puts an attacker off. Stats won’t show that. They did have their luck, though – they’re lucky that Arjen Robben’s penalty in extra-time was dreadful. It really did just feel like it was their night.
Of course, the only stat that really matters is this: Bayern Munich 1 – 1 Chelsea after 90 minutes.
 
Munich
(picture from Markus Unger on Flickr)
The way the game was played was no real surprise; Bayern set out to retain the ball, keep possession and keep creating chances. Chelsea set out to frustrate and then counter, just as they did against Barca. They were organised and they did have periods of slight domination.
And yet, after winning the FA Cup and the Champions League, Di Matteo’s full-time job at the club – we’re told – is still not set in stone for next season.
Roman Abramovich has always wanted the Champions League, and now he’s got it. He apparently also wants the style to go with the winning; he wants to be entertained. Fine. Give Di Matteo the chance to bring in his own players, as this is still Villas-Boas’ side. Allow him to build his squad, implement the style that Roman wants and keep that winning feeling.
Cahill, Luiz, Bertrand and Mikel have all now played in a Champions League final and won. Ramires and Daniel Sturridge have played large roles in a victorious campaign. Petr Cech, Juan Mata, John Terry and Frank Lampard are all winners of the highest regard. Marko Marin is coming in in the summer, as will others no doubt. These are the foundations. They can win ugly, now give Di Matteo a season or two to make it pretty.
There were plenty of signs of good, attractive, intelligent play from Chelsea on Saturday night. There were periods where they seemed to attack at will – maybe Bayern allowed them to come out a little so that they could then counter, but it didn’t work all that well as Robben, Franck Ribery and Gomez all had poor games (partly due to Chelsea’s defending).
One move in particular showed that Chelsea can strut with the best of them: a low cross was met with a cheeky backheel from Drogba on the edge of the box; Lampard squared it intelligently for Salomon Kalou, who tested Manuel Neuer at his near post.
The late equaliser, though, after Thomas Muller had stolen in at the back post to give Munich the lead, had no perceived grace about it. A thunderous header from a thunderous man who cut a forlorn figure for most of the game but didn’t once show any sign of frustration. He chased, he harried, he lost out most of the time – but Didier Drogba knew his role. He would get his chance eventually, and good God did he take it.
And with what was possibly his last kick for Chelsea, he crowned them champions of Europe.
 
Drogba celebrates
(picture from rayand on Flickr) 

The post-match celebrations seem to irk a few which, with Twitter in its default setting of OUTRAGE, was no real surprise. EVERYTHING John Terry does is AWFUL, of course. ALL. THE. TIME. Terry decided to celebrate in his full Chelsea kit which he must have been wearing under his suit, which he was wearing in the stands due to his suspension.
 
John Terry
(picture from Ronnie Macdonald on Flickr)
Terry wasn’t the only player to do this – the other players who were banned also did it, but they came in for significantly less criticism (i.e. none) than the former England captain did. Given that Terry isn’t a likeable human being in any way, it’s hardly surprising, yet the internet’s insistence that he shouldn’t lift the trophy was ever so slightly baffling.
The Champions League isn’t just won in the final, and Terry has played a magnificent part in the European campaign, not to mention some outstanding performances in other competitions this season. John Terry, to be blunt – and putting Liverpool to one side for the moment – has been fantastic this season.
So when his club, a club he has been with for over seventeen years and a club he has made more than 300 league appearances for, wins the Champions League, he’s allowed to be a little bit happy about it. His actions in the semi-final that brought him the red card were unjustifiable but that doesn’t mean he should be stopped from performing his duty as captain in lifting the trophy.
And the Roy Keane comparison is pretty nonsensical, as people are allowed to do things differently and that doesn’t make them wrong. Just as Terry’s actions could be interpreted as arrogant and twattish, Keane could be seen as a miserable, self-centred sod who didn’t want to celebrate with his team on one their defining nights. Cheer up, Roy – it’s not all about you.
Congratulations Chelsea – Champions League winners 2012.
 
Main picture from rayand on Flickr.

New York Knicks 79 – 96 Toronto Raptors: DeRozanity ends Knicks run

Toronto Raptors crushed New York Knicks with a terrific performance to bring an end to their unbeaten record under Mike Woodson.

DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bagnari impressed while Knicks’ Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony struggled to have a real impact on the game at all.

The Knicks were looking for their sixth straight win under interim coach Woodson but the fluidity and strength of recent games vanished at the Air Canada Centre, with an explosive Bagnari helping Toronto to an 11-4 lead within minutes of the tip-off. The Italian set the pace for the high intensity Raptors, scoring from the three-point line and with two free-throws with 10:40 of the 1stquarter left.
That quarter must surely go down as the worst quarter of the Woodson era. Toronto were nine up (16-25), with DeRozan and Bagnari combining for 18 and Toronto shooting at 46% from the floor. Knicks were at 39% with Amar’e Stoudemire on five points, the highest of their quarter.
New York, missing Jared Jeffries due to his troublesome knee, allowed Toronto to increase their lead to 12 and then cut it back down to six with seven minutes of the half to go. Stoudemire, Knicks’ ray of sunshine throughout, put a superb block in in defence and then raced down court to make the layup.
Woodson’s side did manage to prevent Toronto from scoring a field goal for three minutes, pulling the deficit back to four at one point, but Bagnari brilliantly hit a three-pointer over Tyson Chandler for his 11th point of the match, with four minutes left of the half. James Johnson then took advantage of a Jeremy Lin stumble and turnover to drive to the rim to smash in.
Lin struggled here. At the height of Linsanity, it was the point guard who netted in the dying seconds for three to give the Knicks the win when these sides met in February. Here, though, he was booed by the Canadian crowd and, although his turnover count was at a respectable three, his general use of the ball was poor and he was only given 25 minutes on the court.
Both sides were poor offensively – and the Knicks were mostly dire defensively – but the Raptors were ahead at half-time despite hitting 34% of field goals (Knicks were hitting 36% at that point). Anthony – back to his sluggish worst, and this time Mike D’Antoni can’t be to blame – and Stoudemire combined for a measly 10, while Bagnari and DeRozan had 23 points between them.
And it was DeRozan that was beginning to run the show by the second half. A huge alley-oop took him to 20 points, shooting 6-for-11 from the floor. The Raptors went on a 10-2 run here, with the Knicks lacking in energy, particularly Carmelo, who made his fourth foul with five minutes left of the third quarter and was promptly replaced.
DeRozanity (too easy?) continued deep into the third quarter, the shooting guard hitting 8-for-13 from the floor, 8-from-9 free throws and 24 points as the Raptors took a 53-70 lead going into the final quarter.
The Raptors main man hit 30 points, smashing in after Gary Forbes had played it off the glass, and Forbes himself scored almost straight away after wasteful passing from the Knicks.
DeRozan finished on 30, limping off into the locker room after colliding with his own teammate, but the win was comfortable for Toronto. The only quarter where the Knicks even got close to matching Toronto (and managed to get above 20) was the fourth, although the Raptors, by then, were playing the game with ease.
The Knicks offense was poor, particularly from the three-point line where, if Novak were to be taken out of calculations, they wouldn’t have hit one all night. This was the first time Knicks had scored below 80 since December 28, 2011 when they faced Golden State.
Their defence, so impressive in recent games, looked loose here. Fatigue could have been a problem – eight games in 13 days must surely take its toll – so maybe the result can be moved on from. Maybe the outstanding Stoudemire overshadows the lacklustre Carmelo, or the waning Lin. Or maybe it will merely paper over the cracks.

Seattle Sounders 2 – 0 Houston Dynamo

Seattle Sounders scored two first half goals to maintain their 100% start to MLS 2012, condemning Houston to their first loss of the season.

The goals came within four minutes of each other in what was a hectic first half, with Dynamo the dominant side but Sounders the more threatening.
An intense atmosphere at CenturyLink Field was matched by frantic football from both sides, which made for end-to-end lunacy in the first half and scrappy play in the second.
Houston had the early chances, Brad Davis showing great play on the wing and crossing dangerously to no-one, while Geoff Cameron struck over the bar from an inswinging corner.
Seattle looked better equipped going forward and, with Dynamo keeping the ball in areas that threatened Sounders little, they did break through on occasions, Brad Evans making a lung-busting run to be found with a brilliant through ball, only for Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall to stop the cross.
It was Seattle, though, who took the lead after 22 minutes. David Estrada – fresh from his hat-trick last week – volleyed from the edge of the area only for a Dynamo leg to divert the ball into the opposite corner.
And, soon after, Sounders doubled their lead. Defender Patrick Ianni was pushed over in the penalty area at a corner, and Evans stroked in the resulting spot-kick.
The two goals were the first Dynamo had conceded having won both of their first two games 1-0, which maybe hints at issues of scoring goals. Will Bruin looks to be an exciting player and has a fierce shot on him – he forced Michael Gspurning into a fantastic save early on – while Brian Ching’s quality is well known, but it is the service and general final ball that is the problem. Clear cut chances just weren’t created, although a spirited Sounders defence should take credit for that as much as Dynamo should be criticised for it.
Despite the goals, though, Houston did look the more impressive side. They started better and were playing some lovely football, just not in the right areas to really hurt Seattle.
And their defence, at times, was far too easily opened, Roger Levesque somehow skewing a shot wide from the edge of the area with just the ‘keeper to beat in plenty of space. Late on, Fredy Montero – a man well aware that he’s a Designated Player – held the ball up well and eventually poked a pass through to Alvaro Fernandez, who curled over the bar.
Seattle were never entirely comfortable as such but they certainly weren’t threatened, while Houston came away disappointed with the result and frustrated with the performance in the final third – but everything up to then was nothing but promising.

Picture from JoeBrokken

West Brom win but are struggling under Hodgson

A late Graham Dorrans strike against Stoke gave West Brom their seventh win of the season but, while there were positives to draw from the match, Roy Hodgson’s side are right in the mire that is the Premier League relegation battle.

 

The Baggies have missed the creativity of Zoltan Gera this season, who picked up a knee injury in November, and have looked one-dimensional and one-paced for the last few months. They are not particularly pleasant on the eye for any fan of the passing game; this, of course, isn’t necessarily a major problem, as long their style is effective.
Four wins since November and only 20 goals scored in the league this season would suggest that West Brom are struggling this season. While they might not be favourites to go down, this is perhaps only because of the astoundingly poor quality below them: it would be a quite astonishing fall from grace if a mid-table team became worse than Blackburn, Bolton or Wigan in the space of six months.
The most worrying thing for West Brom fans in recent weeks, though, has been that Hodgson has seemed incredibly reluctant to change things. He’s been reliant to an almost stubborn level on the 4-4-2 formation, a set-up which has failed to get the best out of certain players, including Peter Odemwingie, who has only scored four goals in 17 games, a poor return from a player who starred last season.
The Nigerian hasn’t been able to forge a cohesive partnership with top scorer Shane Long (6 in 17 games), but both were left on the bench for the away trip to Stoke, with Hodgson reverting to an almostfluid 4-5-1 formation. Marc-Antoine Fortune was given his first start of the season in a move that was surely designed to battle against the physical features of Stoke’s defence. Simon Cox played out on the wing but came inside to play as a kind of second striker.
A central midfield three of Graham Dorrans, James Morrison and Youssuf Mulumbu worked well as a unit, attacking well and defending resolutely when needed. Jerome Thomas was lively on the left wing.
Both Stoke and West Brom looked to power the ball forward as soon as possible, with Nicky Shorey in particular desperate to hit a sometimes isolated Fortune, whether there were better options on or not. This contented refusal with possession football was always going to be problematic with the wind causing both sides problems, most notably playing a part in Morrison’s poor shot dribbling past a hapless Thomas Sorensen into the net.
That goal was only West Brom’s 21st of the season in what was their 22ndgame, but while they’ve struggled to score goals this term, they’ve been impressively tight in defence. Jonas Olsson, unyielding against the Potters, marshals the defence well and has become West Brom’s version of what Christopher Samba is at Blackburn – dominant, omnipresent and consistently leading by example (although Olsson looks to actually be committed to his club). And behind him, the excellent Ben Foster is a reassuring presence.
The fact remains, though, that the team who finished 11th last season now find themselves amongst relegation candidates and are in a similar situation to QPR and Wolves, both in terms of league position – hovering dangerously above the bottom three, their situation far from safe – and playing quality.
Many fans have now started to ask if owner Jeremy Peace needs to start investing more money into the playing squad or whether a new owner needs to come in to give Hodgson more to work with.
There has to be criticism for Hodgson, though, and, while today’s performance against Stoke was promising and gave them a much-needed three points, the problems are still there. The offensive play is predictable and, with that lack of cutting edge, WBA struggle to open teams up. Almost half (49%) of West Brom’s shots this season have come from outside the box; their best chance today and the two goals were strikes from range, Morrison hitting the post in the second half with a volley and Dorrans’ free-kick, which Stoke should have dealt with better.
Of course, this is not to say that Hodgson is failing as such. This is certainly not a call for his head – for one, it is difficult to imagine who would come in and be an improvement on the Englishman. Hodgson needs more time to build and there maybe has been a lack of investment, but that doesn’t mean he’s without fault.

Gladbach stroll to victory past hapless Wolfsburg

Gladbach celebrate – picture from Eurosport

Last season was the great escape, a remarkable turnaround of fortunes that saw them stave off relegation right at the death. Gladbach have maintained that momentum, winning their first game of the season against an admittedly off-colour Bayern Munich and drawing with Stuttgart last week.

With three key players – centre-backs Roel Brouwers and Martin Stranzl and striker Igor de Camargo – all missing for BMG, Felix Magath would have been looking for his Wolfsburg side to bounce back from the controversial 1-0 loss to Bayern at the weekend.
It, emphatically, wasn’t to be. Gladbach were stern at the back, tough in midfield and pulsating going forward – Marco Reus and Raúl Bobadilla providing the problems for a, at times, lacklustre Wolfsburg defence.
Filip Daems, as always, lead from the back, always making that left-hand side look so much stronger, as did Tony Jantschke on the other side – these two continue to be unsung heroes for Gladbach.
Because of the attacking mentality of the pair – Daems particularly – Makoto Hasebe and Marcel Schäfer were pushed back continually for Wolfsburg, while Reus and Juan Arango played major roles in sending BMG to the top of  the Bundesliga, if only for Friday evening alone.
Magath should be worried. His side were demolished by Gladbach, well-and-truly beaten – not even want-away Diego, despite his clear ability to inspire teams to victory, could have saved them here.
Perhaps one of the most distressing things for Magath is the fact that Wolfsburg started so well – and then proceeded to crumble in just week three of the new season; the optimism that comes with a new season should give a side confidence to stand up and push on – not fall apart.
It was Hasebo who gave the away side the lead – volleying in with all the precision and confidence of an experienced centre-forward. Unfortunately, the man next to him in defence wasn’t quite so good with his feet – Simon Kjaer’s slip allowing Marco Reus to eventually tap in the equaliser just minutes later.
And it was Reus who was the main protagonist in giving Gladbach the lead after wonderful interplay with the BMG midfield – only to be fouled by Michael Schulze, who had only recently come on for the injured Hasan Salihamidžić, inside the area. Daems comfortably tucked away the penalty.
After Raúl Bobadilla’s fantastic wing work was wasted with a lack of composure shown from Mike Hanke from four yards, Bobadilla himself sent BMG into the half-time break leading by two goals, nodding in from close range.
Wolfsburg struggled to defend against the quick movement of Bobadillia, Hanke and the sheer pace and quality of Reus. Bobadillia showed quick feet in the area a few times, first forcing BMG ‘keeper ter Stegen into a fine save and, moments later, allowing Roman Neustädter to fire just over. The impressive Juan Arango then saw his volley hit the post – via the head of a Wolf.
Arango then provided a moment of genius for the Borussia-Park crowd, curling a delicious ball with the outside of his foot, which was met by the laces of Reus who, ghosting in at the back post, emphatically volleyed home to all-but end the match as a contest with just sixty-five minutes gone.
After their early goal, Wolfsburg barely threatened the BMG goal. Thomas Hitzlsperger, on his debut, waywardly volleyed over and, with ten minutes to go, Patrick Helmes found himself one-on-one with the ‘keeper – only to see his shot tipped wide by Diego Benaglio.
Gladbach have done well to carry the momentum from last season into this season as Lucien Favre’s stock continues to rise – the former Manager of the Year has now seen his side stretch their unbeaten run to seven Bundesliga games (five wins and two draws). The Foals have only conceded ten goals in the league games under Favre (14) – the last time they conceded more than one in a game, coincidently, was away at Wolfsburg in February.
This is the first time that Gladbach have beaten Wolfsburg in their last seven attempts – only once registering a draw – so a thrashing of Magath’s side will have sent the Mönchengladbach Crowd home happy – and when they get home, they will all undoubtedly be taking a screenshot of the league table.