Friday, 14 February 2014

FA Cup Replay Marathon

It was the longest FA Cup Semi-Final tie in history, lasting for an incredible four matches.  The season is 1979-1980 and Arsenal were the defending Cup holders having beaten Manchester United in an exciting Final the year before.  There was the prospect of the first ever all-Merseyside Final as both Liverpool and Everton had made it this far, and were drawn apart too.  Current League Champions and league leaders, Liverpool were up against Arsenal, who were also chasing a place in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final having come up against Juventus at the Semi-Final stage.  In the other Semi, Everton would meet West Ham, then a Second Division side.

Liverpool had reached this round beating Grimsby, Nottingham Forest, Bury and Tottenham without conceding a goal.  Arsenal had negotiated their way past Cardiff, Brighton, Bolton and Watford, needing replays against Cardiff and Bolton to progress.  These two had already met in the Charity Shield when Liverpool put on a brilliant performance to win 3-1.  The two then played out a goalless draw at Highbury in November.  That was the precursor to what was to follow.

For Arsenal the FA Cup Semi-Final in April 1980 was their 57th match of the season with Liverpool embarking on their 52nd match.  The first meeting was at Hillsborough in front of over 50,000 fans.  It was a tight-tense affair where neither side played particularly well or dealt with the pressure of the occasion, and it was a drab goalless draw.

Back in those days replays came along three days later and so the whole circus moved to Villa Park on the following Wednesday where David Fairclough put Liverpool in front shortly after half-time.  But just over 10 minutes later his goal was cancelled out by Alan Sunderland.  After another period of extra time the two couldn’t be separated and would now go to a Third Replay again at Villa Park.

As if this marathon cup tie wasn’t enough the two clubs broke off from their FA Cup exploits to play a league match at Anfield.  Kenny Dalglish opened the scoring early in the first half but Brian Talbot equalised to force yet another draw.  The following Wednesday saw Arsenal pull off a famous victory over Juventus in Turin when substitute Paul Vaessen scored a late winner.  In the League Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the table with a win over Stoke City.  Both clubs then suffered draws in league games at the weekend, before they were back to lock horns at Villa Park on the Monday.

Fixtures were coming thick and fast, as they often did in those days.  Nearly 43,000 packed into Villa Park where just before the game began a fan ran onto the pitch, pulled his trousers down and bared his bum.  This was all forgotten pretty soon as Alan Sunderland scored the fastest goal in a Semi-Final.  It was timed at 13 seconds and was the first time Arsenal had been in front in the tie.  The Gunners remained in front deep into injury time and then Kenny Dalglish grabbed a dramatic equaliser for force yet another period of extra time.  Neither side could find a breakthrough so they would meet again on Thursday.

Highfield Road, Coventry was chosen for the venue of the Third Replay.  Coventry had just played Aston Villa there on the Tuesday and remarkably two days later, Liverpool and Arsenal turned up to try and settle this Semi-Final.  West Ham had long since booked their place in the Final after beating Everton late in extra time in their replay.  The whole country was gripped with the drama of this never-ending story, and already there were discussions over various ways settle the tie.

Brian Talbot put Arsenal in front after 11 minutes and this time they managed to hang on.  Both the two sides and the country were physically drained, and it had been a marathon never to be seen again.  These days the tie would be settled on the day with a penalty shootout and other rounds just go to the one replay.  What foreign managers would’ve made of this tussle is uncertain but you cannot imagine them putting up with it for very long.

Two days later Liverpool travelled back to Anfield and beat Aston Villa, 4-1 to retain their League title.  Arsenal, on the other hand, remained in Coventry as they had a league match at Highfield Road on the Saturday and won 1-0.  It was Coventry’s final match of the season, yet Arsenal still had three more to play as well as two Cup Finals.  The following Monday they drew at home to Nottingham Forest and then had just 5 days to prepare for the FA Cup Final against West Ham.  They were beaten by a Trevor Brooking goal and then four days later were beaten in a penalty shootout by Valencia in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final when Graham Rix’s final penalty was saved.

By the time the seaon had finished Arsenal had played 27 cup ties to go with their 42 league matches and a Charity Shield game.  An incredible 70 games and not a trophy in sight.  In comparison, Liverpool had played 60 and Nottingham Forest played 65 but both had trophies to remind them of their exploits.

Saturday 12th April 1980, Hillsborough, Sheffield.  50,174
FA Cup Semi-Final
LIVERPOOL   (0)   0
ARSENAL   (0)   0

LIVERPOOL : Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, Irwin; Case (Fairclough), Lee, Souness, R.Kennedy; Johnson, Dalglish
ARSENAL : Jennings; Rice, O’Leary, Young, Nelson (Walford); Price, Talbot, Brady, Rix; Stapleton, Sunderland

Wednesday 16th April 1980, Villa Park, Birmingham. 40,679
FA Cup Semi-Final, Replay
ARSENAL   (0)   1   (Sunderland 62)
LIVERPOOL   (0)   1   (Fairclough 51)

LIVERPOOL : Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, Irwin; Lee, Souness, R.Kennedy; Johnson, Fairclough, Dalglish
ARSENAL : Jennings; Rice, O’Leary, Young, Walford; Price, Talbot, Brady, Rix; Stapleton, Sunderland

Monday 28th April 1980, Villa Park, Birmingham. 42,975
FA Cup Semi-Final, 2nd Replay
LIVERPOOL   (0)   1   (Dalglish 90)
ARSENAL   (1)   1   (Sunderland 1)

LIVERPOOL : Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, A.Kennedy (Fairclough); Lee, McDermott, Souness, R.Kennedy; Johnson, Dalglish
ARSENAL : Jennings; Rice, O’Leary, Young, Devine; Price, Talbot, Brady, Rix; Stapleton, Sunderland

Thursday 1st May 1980, Highfield Road, Coventry. 35,335
FA Cup Semi-Final, 3rd Replay
ARSENAL   (1)   1   (Talbot 11)
LIVERPOOL   (0)   0

LIVERPOOL : Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, Cohen; Lee, McDermott, Souness, R.Kennedy; Johnson (Fairclough), Dalglish
ARSENAL : Jennings; Rice, O’Leary, Young, Devine; Price, Talbot, Brady, Rix; Stapleton, Sunderland

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Favourite Wins Against - Fulham away

Continuing the series where I look back at my five favourite wins the Liverpool’s next opponents.  Midweek fixtures this week sees Liverpool travel to Craven Cottage to meet Fulham and here are my five favourite wins from past encounters.

There have not really been enough meetings in the League to make up a Famous Five, so this just covers three of my favourite wins.

16th October 2004
FULHAM   (2)   2   (Boa Morte 24, 30)
LIVERPOOL   (0)   4   (Knight og 50, Baros 71, Alonso 79, Biscan 90)

FULHAM: van der Sar; Volz, Bocanegra, Green, Knight; Pembridge, Diop, Malbranque; Radzinski (John), McBride, Boa Morte

LIVERPOOL: Kirkland; Josemi, Hyypia, Carragher, Traore; Garcia (Warnock), Hamann, Diao (Alonso), Riise; Baros (Biscan) Cisse

Two months into Rafa Benitez new regime at Liverpool and they were still waiting for their first away win.  In fact, they’d lost their last three on the road and so were desperate to get things up and running.  Fulham were down in 12th having won just twice all season, but were on a run 1 win in their last 6.

Midway through the first half and Pembridge’s pass into the area found McBride in some space and his ball across the goal was turned in by Luis Boa Morte.  Barely six minutes later and Fulham were again on the attack as Boa Morte was played in and his low shot beat Kirkland at his near post.  Fulham were rampant and went in at the break still 2 goals up.

But as we were soon to discover, Benitez had the knack of changing things at half-time and Liverpool came out a different side in the second half.  Baros shot from 30 yards out was deflected sharply by Zat Knight and it looped over van der Sar for a goal back.  With 20 minutes to go Xabi Alonso on the left-wing floated a ball right-footed into the area where Luis Garcia’s header was saved by the Fulham keeper.  The ball bounced back out and Milan Baros was first to it to bundle it over the line for the equaliser.  Eight minutes later and Liverpool had a free-kick just outside the area.  Xabi Alonso took it and the Spaniard gave Liverpool fans a glimpse of what they would become used to as he floated a superb free-kick over the wall and past van der Sar.

The comeback was complete as the visitors were now in front and as the game reached the end, and the home side pushing men up, Liverpool came forward to finish things off.  Warnock played a square ball to Biscan on the edge of the area and his first time shot fired into the top corner to complete a fine win from a losing position.

Liverpool finished 5th in the League and won their 5th European Cup with a famous victory over Milan in Istanbul.  Fulham finished 13th.

9th May 2011
FULHAM   (0)   2   (Dembele 57, Sidwell 86)
LIVERPOOL   (3)   5   (Maxi 1, 7, 70, Kuyt 16, Suarez 75)

FULHAM: Schwarzer; Salcido, Hughes, Baird, Hangeland; Sidwell, Murphy, Dempsey, Davies (Zamora); Gudjohnsen (Johnson), Dembele (Kakuta)
LIVERPOOL: Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Flanagan; Spearing, Meireles (Shelvey), Lucas, Maxi (Cole); Kuyt, Suarez

Five months into Kenny Dalglish’s 2nd reign as manager and Liverpool were in good form.  Wins over Manchester City (3-0), Birmingham (5-0) and Newcastle (3-0) had seen them rise from 12th at Christmas to 6th coming into this match.  Fulham were 10th, although 10pts behind their opponents on this night. 

Just over 25,000 watched Liverpool, on a warm early summer Monday night, make a stunning start.  Fulham kicked off and played a long ball forward which Flanagan cut out and eventually the ball fell to Lucas midway through inside his own half.  With Suarez on the left wing, Lucas threads a perfectly weighted ball beyond the Fulham defence and Suarez was away.  He gets all the way to the edge of the 6-yard box and plays the ball across the area where Fulham make a real hash of defending it. The ball runs free to Maxi Rodriguez who fires a low shot into the net.  Barely 30 seconds into the game and it was a dream start. 

Fulham had hardly a chance to find their feet when Johnson was put away down the right and his cross to the far post was fired in by Maxi for his 2nd goal.  Seven minutes into the game and Liverpool lead 2-0.  Ten minutes later and Maxi was again involved in a sweeping move from left to right, where Meireles found Kuyt.  His progress was halted but Johnson was first to the ball and he played Kuyt back in and from a tight-angle Kuyt beats Schwarzer on the near post.  Sixteen minutes gone and now they were 3 goals up and the game was gone.  The home side, then managed by Mark Hughes, were stunned and never recovered.

During the second half, which predictably lacked the intensity of the first, Fulham got a goal back after a slick passing move saw Dembele slide the ball in from the edge of the area, but the celebrations were muted.  With 20 minutes to go, the visitors restored their 3-goal advantage as Flanagan intercepted a crossfield pass and set off.  He tried to play a one-two with Maxi, but when the Argentinian’s return pass was blocked, Maxi took the ball on himself and from 25 yards hit a screamer into the top right corner of the net to complete his hat-trick.  He’d scored a hat-trick in the Birmingham game and grabbed a goal in the win against Newcastle, and to everyone’s amazement the Argentine had finally come alive.  But Liverpool weren’t finished as they stole the ball in midfield and Shelvey surged forward.  He played a lovely through-ball for Suarez to round the keeper and slip the ball home for Liverpool’s 5th.

Sidwell hit a real screamer from outside the area to get another consolation goal but Liverpool were comfortable winners.  They finished the season in 6th with Fulham just two places below them.

12th May 2013
FULHAM   (1)   1   (Berbatov 33)
LIVERPOOL   (1)   3   (Sturridge 36, 62, 85)

FULHAM: Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland, Hughes, Richardson (Emanuelson); Duff, Karagounis (Riise), Enoh, Kacaniklic (Petric); Ruiz, Berbatov
LIVERPOOL: Reina; Wisdom (Enrique), Coates, Carragher; Johnson, Henderson, Lucas; Shelvey (Borini), Downing; Coutinho (Coady), Sturridge

The penultimate game of the season for both these sides and Liverpool were sitting in 7th with Fulham down in 12th.  Since beating QPR at the beginning of April, Fulham had suffered an alarming drop in form with no win in their last 6 and picking up just 1pt.  Liverpool were unbeaten in their last 6 and this was their 3rd game without Luis Suarez, but they had coped well since his ban with a 6-0 win at Newcastle.

Fulham took the lead when Berbatov headed in a right-wing cross from Riether after 33 minutes.  It was a poor goal to concede as Berbatov was unchallenged despite standing between Wisdom and Coates.  But Liverpool were soon back level when Daniel Sturridge ran onto a ball from the back by Wisdom.  He twisted and turned, giving Aaron Hughes a torrid time, and then fired right-footed past Schwarzer.  The two sides were still level going into the break.

In the second half it was Liverpool who looked the more likely to score next but it took until the 62nd minute for them to take the lead.  Another long ball forward which Fulham again struggled to defend and Coutinho’s shot was half-stopped and the ball ran to Sturridge where the striker made no mistake as he slipped the ball past Schwarzer for his 2nd.

Then with just 5 minutes to go Liverpool completed the victory when they counter-attacked again with a precision and incisiveness we’ve come accustomed to this season.  Coutinho was inevitably involved as he continued to pull the strings in midfield.  From the centre circle he played a beautiful ball with the outside of his right foot for Sturridge to run onto, and he got there before Schwarzer and clipped the ball over the keeper for a wonderful hat-trick.  It was Sturridge’s 5th goal in the 3 matches since Suarez was banned and Liverpool were finishing the season on a high enabling them to go into the following one with great optimism.

HEAD TO HEAD at Craven Cottage/Loftus Road

Matches: 28
Liverpool win: 13
Fulham win: 9
Draws: 6

Liverpool goals: 43
Fulham goals: 36

Monday, 10 February 2014

Relegation Derby

This is a short piece on the final part of the battle against relegation being played out in Premier League stadiums up and down the country.

There are 11 clubs who are still looking over their shoulder from Swansea (10th) downwards.  The Swans are only 4pts from the drop zone but then there are 7 clubs between them and the dreaded bottom three.  Just 7pts separate ‘the accused’ and so they are all in the dock with a realistic chance of ‘going down’ or a stay of execution.

I looked at the remaining fixtures for each team and the current league positions for their opponents.  Then I added up those positions to try and work out which teams had the easier or tougher finish.  The lower the score, the more you will come up against teams from top half of the table.  I also looked at the difference between opponents at home and away.  As the season draws to an end I think you would rather come up against another relegation-threatened team at home rather than away.  You may also sacrifice a defeat away to a top half club, in return for a win against a rival.

This analysis throws up a number of observations.

·         West Ham has most games against top sides.
·         Hull has most games against bottom sides.
·         All but one of Palace’s home games are against top sides.
·         Palace plays all but one of their games against sides around them, away from home.
·         Sunderland has most home games against sides in bottom 12, yet nearly all their away games are against top 7 sides

Looking at the fixtures in the last few matches also throws up some interesting points;

On the Final Day, there will be three fixtures which may be relegation play-offs.

Fulham v Crystal Palace; West Brom v Stoke; Sunderland v Swansea;

Fulham’s final 3 matches are Hull (h), Stoke (a), Palace (h)
Norwich’s final 4 games are Liverpool (h), Man Utd (a), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h)
None of Aston Villa’s final 3 games are against sides lower than 11th

I have worked through the fixtures and made my predictions of the results I expect and in my opinion I cannot see Cardiff or Fulham winning another match for the rest of the season.  That may reflect their current form and of course does not allow for some desperate, frantic performances which may see last minute goals turning games.  But this may also reflect a rather unusual feature of this season.  With so many clubs in danger of dropping back to The Championship, I feel it is more likely those clubs just around mid-table are going to provide a much sterner test and be keener for the points than maybe would be the case in an ‘ordinary’ season.

So that’s two of the relegation places sorted.  The other one looks to be between West Ham, West Brom, Crystal Palace, Norwich and Swansea.  The game between Swansea and Norwich at the end of March could be crucial.  At this stage I can see a draw, but if Swansea can win they may just stave off the drop.  For West Ham to avoid the drop their home games against Norwich and Crystal Palace could be crucial.  Right now I can see them drawing both, but again that could be after Norwich’s battling draw against Man City yesterday, whereas had I been working this out a few days ago I could see a West Ham win. 

How Swansea fare is also uncertain given they have just ditched their manager and replaced him with a man who, not only has little playing experience in the Premier League, but no managerial experience at any level.  Personally, I can only see them winning one more game and a final day trip to Sunderland may not save them.  Swansea has three key games at home with Palace, West Brom and Norwich visiting and they may only win one of them, but to win two out of three may just keep them up.

West Brom could ultimately fill that third spot and mainly because of their choice, and timing of managerial change.  Pepe Mel is still to register a win but visits to The Hawthorns of Cardiff and Fulham should produce that and maybe their squad has enough fight left in them to pull off a result when West Ham visit.  Their final match is at home to Stoke, who should be safe by then and may be less concerned with the points than their hosts.

What is very difficult to predict is the freak result.  There will be some, but where is almost impossible to work out.  Chelsea and Liverpool are in such good form, although Liverpool still has the ability to produce a poor performance against a side from the bottom half.  Norwich, Palace, West Ham, Cardiff and Fulham all host Liverpool and any of them could produce a strong enough performance to bring 3pts.  At this stage of the season, I cannot see Man City or Chelsea slipping up against any of the clubs down the bottom but with European and domestic cup fixtures to negotiate then who knows.

Of course my prediction could well be weighted towards the fact I cannot see what any club gains by changing a manager in the second half of the season, albeit Clarke and Jol were binned before mid-December.  There are a few instances of managers actually making enough of a difference to keep teams up but these are few and far between, but nonetheless enough to convince Chairmen of the need for a change.  It seems more likely to me that Crystal Palace and Sunderland may well have timed it better to make changes.  Swansea may only stay up on goal difference and the fact that the outgoing manager had already stashed away enough points in the bag before his dismissal.

My relegation prediction: Fulham, Cardiff and West Brom