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Derby della Capitale – There’s nothing like it ….

Lazio face Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, both teams share the stadium but it’s Roma’s home game. Lazio are looking for their first ‘away’ win against their city rivals since 23rd April 1995, when Pierluigi Casiraghi and Beppe Signori scored in the 2-0 win.

Four minutes into my first ever live ‘Derby’ back in March 2003, Dejan Stankovic lobbed the Romanista keeper. The crowd erupted as he ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with his adoring fans – I’d never heard anything like it before.

That experience was spoiled when Roma got a late equalizer through Antonio Cassano; my first taste of victory came on 6th January 2005. A fantastic day, it was the game when God himself, a certain Mr Di Canio volleyed home from outside the box before taunting the Romanista in the Curva Sud. Meanwhile I celebrated on the floor of the Curva Nord with five skin heads, who’d jumped on me. The night kept getting better; we played them off the field and ended up winning 3-1. Di Canio labelled ‘Il Padrino’ aka ‘The Godfather’ was substituted just before the end where he received a much deserved standing ovation – That moment will live with me forever.

It’s the one game I’ll pay anything to get a ticket for – to beat Roma is incredible but to witness it live in the stadium is the best experience a Lazio fan can have. Sadly, this season has seen the Biancocelesti lose the home fixture and get knocked out of the Coppa Italia to their bitter rivals. Myself and other Laziale are delighted seeing our side battling for a Champions League place but realistically all that matters is that we finish above Roma at the end of the season.

Nani – A victim of his own antics

When Cristiano Ronaldo left Old Trafford in the summer of 2009, Manchester United fans worldwide were left wondering who could possibly replace their preening, petulant, prima donna.

But while the ‘Prawn Sandwich Brigade’ were panicking, Sir Alex Ferguson already had the man to fill the winker’s boots, Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha – Nani.

It wasn’t hard to see why.

Nani already had the nauseously arrogant swagger, the step-overs, the array of coloured boots, and the hair. What he didn’t have was the record on the pitch.

Ronaldo’s final season at United saw him net 26 times in 53 appearances, compared to Nani’s paltry return of just six in 31 – queue mass scepticism.

Although his form in the early part of the following season was patchy, his performances at the tail end of the campaign showed promise, and he has continued that this season to become one of the league leaders’ star performers, with nine league goals and 15 assists to date.

His penchant for losing his balance has tarnished his reputation though, another facet of his game that draws comparison with Ronaldo, and this was witnessed in last Sunday’s match at Anfield.

Jamie Carragher’s tackle was atrocious and deserving of a red card, and today it has emerged that it will put the winger out of action for up to a month during United’s crucial run-in.

But rather than garner sympathy, all Nani has been subjected to is ridicule.

His antics, mainly his contender for the ‘Charlie Sheen rant of the week award’ at the referee and THAT fall, have just made his name an idiom to be used by Sunday League football players everywhere.

It’s a classic example of how your reputation as a diver can have a detrimental effect on the referee in his decision making.

Remember – Diving, We Stand.

James Riley

Blue Square Bet Premier Betting Preview

Odds from BlueSquare.

AFC Wimbledon vs. Kidderminster Harriers

AFC are slowly slipping away from top spot and haven’t been on the best of form at home recently and with Kidderminster becoming more and more a team harder to beat, this game is more open then it may seem. A draw at 3.25 seems a confident bet despite the high odds. 6.00 on Danny Kedwell to open the scoring seems a tasty tempter with the front-man scoring a hat-trick in his last home game.

Fleetwood Town vs. Crawley Town

Fleetwood have recently struggled to keep up with the play-off pace after a good start but a good win at Newport will give them confidence of a result, however their opponents Crawley have been on sparkling form all season, however they often struggle to score away from home with recent 0-0 draws at Kidderminster & Grimsby. A 0-0 draw at 9.00 is worth a punt and Gareth Seddon to get the first goal at 7.50 is worth a try.

Forest Green Rovers vs. Barrow

This is a key battle for both these sides, a relegation six-pointer, so to call this one is very tough. Barrow have been good recently with 4 points from their last 2 games whilst Forest Green find themselves free-falling after no win in 3. But Forest Green at 1.91 seems too strong for the visiting side and Steve Guinan seems a good bet at 6.50 for first goal scorer.

Kettering Town vs. Grimsby Town

Both these sides are on similar type of form but Grimsby need the points more than Kettering which could influence the result. Grimsby at 2.30 looks a good bet and Serge Mankofo at 7.00 to score against his former side, also looks worth a shot.

Newport County vs. Altrincham

Newport are on a barren run with no win in 3 months and have slipped to mid-table, a different story to struggling Altrincham who have recently slipped to 3rd bottom with a shocking away record so with Newport at 1.67 to break their 2011 duck this seems a pretty certain bet. Pacy Yemi Odubade is 5.50 to score first.

Southport vs. Cambridge United

Southport’s poor form has dragged them into the relegation scrap and also Cambridge’s poor season could get worse with defeat dragging them into an unlikely relegation scrap. The visiting side is 2.87 to take all three points away but Southport threat John Paul Kissock in 13.00 to score first, a good longshot.

Tamworth vs. Hayes & Yeading

Hayes & Yeading have been yo-yoing in and out of the relegation zone all season whilst Tamworth have been consistently bad and good in patches, so a draw at 3.25 seems worth a bet. Kyle Perry of Tamworth is 5.50 to open the scoring.

Wrexham vs. Rushden & Diamonds

Wrexham are sitting in a comfortable position in the play-offs whereas Rushden often threaten to mount a promotion push but are too inconsistent. A routine home win for Wrexham is at 1.91 and Andy Mangan is 6.00 to open the scoring.  

York City vs. Eastbourne Borough

York are the form side in the division with no defeat in 5, whereas Eastbourne’s mini revival has given them hope of survival. York will certainly feel they can win comfortably and 1.50 says they do. Leon Constantine is 4.50 to score first.

Ben Blackmore

FA Cup Preview – The Last 16 and Counting!!!

Eight teams are left, seven Premier League sides and just one Championship team looking to lift the trophy in May. Arsenal will want to put their Champions League disappointment behind them when they travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United in the tie of the round.

Manchester United vs Arsenal (Saturday 12/03 @ 17.15)

Arsenal will be keen to get their season back on track, whilst there are still fighting for the FA Cup and Premier League they are clearly frustrated at losing to Birmingham and getting knocked out by of the Champions League. Manchester United have also had their own stumble after losing to firece rivals Liverpool last weekend and Chelsea before that.

Robin Van Persie is going to be fit but Arsene Wenger will have to do without skipper Cesc Fabregas who has a hamstring problem and is likely to be out for a two weeks. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny also joined an increasing injury list when he hurt his finger on Wednesday, other players missing include winger Theo Walcott and holding midfielder Alex Song.

This game is a hard one to call, but the league leaders are very good value at evens and Arsenal are a generous 3s to win on the day. Wayne Rooney and ex-Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov are 5s to score first, if Sir Alex starts Javier Hernandez as he has in previous rounds the odds of 6s for first scorer could be worth backing. 

Birmingham vs Bolton (12/03 @ 12.45)

With the Carling Cup already won, Birmingham will see this as an excellent chance of returning to Wembley, in ther last game they drew 1-1 with Everton which moved them out of the relegation zone. The Blues are currently missing Barry Ferguson and Craig Gardner who are both injured but having shown their a good cup team and being on home soil makes them worth backing at 31/16.

Bolton had an excellent 3-2 win against Aston Villa last time out, but they will be missing on loan Daniel Sturridge who is cup-tied having played for Chelsea in the third round. Even though the Lancashire club are higher in the league they are 9/5 to win due to being away from home.

Stoke vs West Ham (13/03 @ 14.00)

West Ham are the form side, they are on a run of three consecutive wins which includes beating cup opponents 3-0 last time out. Sunday should see the Hammers being too strong for Stoke, even though the game is being played at Britannia Stadium – Odds of 11/4 on a away win should be taken advantage of.

The atmosphere will lift Stoke but their form of late has been poor, they will enjoy a break from the Premier League where they are in danger of being dragged into a relegation fight.

This will be a tight affair, with very few goals making odds of 4/6 for under 2.5 goals a good bet. Demba Ba has scored four goals in as many games and is worthy backing at 7s to open the scoring, if you want to go with the home side then look at John Carew at 6s to find the net first.

Manchester City vs Reading (13/03 @ 16.45)

Despite the disappointment of losing in Ukraine, this game should be relatively straight forward for City, no disrespect to Reading but with their strength in depth they should enjoy a comfortable afternoon.

Reading are 8s to pull of an unlikely shock, and the home side are 2/5, but once again backing the number of goals scored provides good value – for over 2.5 goals you can get odds of 4/6. For first scorer Yara Toure is 9s, the ex-Barcelona midfielder is always happy to get forward.



Messi in France

Before today you wouldn’t of heard of Cédric Enjolras, and if you haven’t then you’re on the same bus as me because neither had I. That was until this morning when I read that the French binge drinker had made a slightly audacious bid to sign Lionel Messi in January for his pub team, FC Borne (nothing to do with me I hasten to add), after a heavy session on the town.

Cédric was out with the lads on the drink when they got the wise idea that they should make a formal request to sign the Argentine wizard. What’s the worst that could happen after all; they get an official rejection letter from Barca? You would think so… but instead the move backfired when the French Federation took a break from slating their atrocious national side to block the deal reaching Barca’s board room.

In the ultimate egg-on-face moment, the French FA then suspended Enjolras for six months and a none-amused spokesman revealed that they ‘could not accept such behaviour.’ In the words of compatriot Wenger, he didn’t see that one coming, and now Borne face months of uncertainty.

Messi, who scored twice as the Catalans taught a weary Arsenal how to play football on Tuesday night, is unlikely to fancy a move to the south of France. That said it seems very harsh to suspend FC Borne’s chief for what should ultimately be a free system.

Needless to say, the King’s Head of Lanchester, (Durham) have withdrawn their approach for Kaka…

Simon Bourne!/I3orny 

The United and Arsenal clash

Battle to avoid mediocrity. The Untied and Arsenal clash.

Saturday’s FA cup match up features two of the premier league’s most followed clubs the world over. Matches between these two rarely end without incident. Viera and Keane have come and gone but the rivalry still remains between these clubs with different approaches to the game. The biggest club from Manchester with an attitude that any means justify the end having had the better of Arsenal in their last meeting at Old Trafford  looking slight favourites to win based on their home form this season. Arsenal’s naïve approach to the game I feel has cost them a lot of silverware because football is more than attacking football at which without a doubt the London club are one of the best. Their attacking football will not matter much if they fail to sort out their apparent defensive frailties. Most fans would have preferred the two teams to meet in the final but we will take a match between these two any time. What we hope for is incident, controversy and entertaining football which both clubs are capable of delivering.

Arsenal are looking to a fit Van persie to head the attack and continue with his blazing goal scoring form .The future of English football Jack Wilshere never disappoints and will want to bounce back from that nightmare in the Nou Camp with a victory against the red devils. This might be the tonic that Arsenal needs to drive them in this final stretch of the season. It looks like the gunners will miss their captain Fabregas but a team challenging for top honours should be able to cope.

Man utd welcome back long term absentee Valencia and their back line might be back to the normal four that we are used to .Rio’s back and I am sure his tweeps will be pleased to see him donning the red of United to partner Vidic at the back. Ryan Giggs should start, in an effort to provide the creative spark that United are running short of with the loss of Nani to injury.       

So it is all set up to be a match far from mediocre with both teams wanting positive displays.

Thandaninkosi  Moyo!/Thandaninkosi

I can’t believe it’s not better!

Just when I think this could be our year, I remember we are Manchester City. The lacklustre performance last night against Dynamo Kiev resulted in a 2-0 first legged loss giving us not a big mountain but a mountain to climb all the same to reach the UEFA Cup quarter finals.

After that result I had the dreaded thought of the worst week in the season becoming a reality, a defeat to Reading and then crashing out of the UEFA cup the following Thursday and like a digital clock, the number 35 flicking becoming 36.

Maybe a bit pessimistic you say, but from years of experience of being let down in this situation plenty of times mainly in the quarter finals of the FA Cup and more recently the quarter final in UEFA against Hamburg and the Carling cup to United, I and many others could see this being ‘typical city’ yet again, then again, we are that unpredictable at times, you never know what you get with us blues.

I suppose it could have been worse, it could have been a score incapable of matching in the home leg. I will still have a bit of hope and ‘keep the faith’, a phrase I know too well and have been doing for a while, how long are we supposed to keep this faith?

Unfortunately no matter how much you hate your team at times, you love them so much more, I guess its roll on Sunday.

Please City………..for me!

Where did Wednesday go wrong?

How are the mighty fallen is phrase often said about the current state of League One side Sheffield Wednesday FC.

League cup winners and FA cup finalists in the early 90s is a distant memory from the lowly depth of 15th in League One where they currently reside. Having faced a winding up order three times over 2010 they were staring administration in the face. Fast forward 5 months and there’s a new chairman in charge, Milan Manderic, but Sheffield Wednesday are sitting just 6 positions away from relegation to League Two. The question has to be asked, exactly what has happened to Sheffield Wednesday?

New manager, Gary Megson, was installed by Manderic in February 2010, after Alan Irvine left the club by mutual consent having not won a league game between mid December and February.  The festive period hit the Owls hard as they were sitting comfortably in the play off places but with all games being postponed they soon began to slip down the league.

Now occupying 15th position Megson has admitted his task in hand is harder than he first thought:

“We’re going two goals down in every game – we were two goals down against MK Dons yet we came back.

“At Rochdale we were two goals down at half time, we didn’t come back in terms of the result but we came back in terms of performance so there’s got to be a lot more desire to start games in that fashion.”

Megson has described Wednesday’s recent defending as ‘suicidal’ and has urged each individual player to start “playing a bit better”:

“We’re trying everything we possibly can to bring in loan players but it’s like being in the jungle, all the vultures have got the carcass already and there’s no meat left for us, but we are trying to bring players in.

“So we’ve got what we’ve got and every single one of them has got to start playing a bit better.”

After being relegated from the Championship in May the Owls were on the brink of administration and being deducted 10 points after being served with their first winding up in July with the payment of £750,000 required within 15days, however, the High Court ruled an adjournment as the Owls were involved in extensive talks with Chicago based Club 9 who were trying to buy the club for an estimated £11m – which was eventually turned down.

The club owe CO-OP bank an estimated £28 million debt, along with £1.8m owed VAT and PAYE to the Inland Revenue. The final winding up order was issued in November with the Inland Revenue now owed £1.5m to be paid within 15 days, or else face administration unless a serious investor came in.

Cue 72-year-old, former Portsmouth and Leicester City chairman Manderic, who said: ‘my football heart ruled my business head’, possibly being optimistic or admitting defeat before he had even started his journey at Sheffield Wednesday, Manderic faces a lengthy time in the directors box if he is to turn the club around and back into a Premier League side. Former Owls right-back and fans favourite Mel Sterland – who was capped once for England – believes Manderic is the right man for the job.

“Mr Manderic has got plenty of money and in this day and age you need plenty of money to build teams, get the players in that you want to play for the football club. I’d have to say it’ll be 10-12 years before Sheffield Wednesday get back into the Premier League.

“No disrespect to the other clubs in League One but it’s a poor league but the main thing is to try and get promotion but they’re finding it difficult. “

He added: “Now it’s just a matter of repaying the guy back who’s put a lot of money into the club to get Sheffield Wednesday back where they belong.”

It’s not all doom and gloom though, the Owls have picked up some form and momentum and created two wins and a draw against promotion favourites Bournemouth across February and March, having previously taken hammerings against Tranmere, Rochdale, Exeter City and Leyton Orient. Clubs that don’t quite have the same calibre as the Premier League sides Sheffield Wednesday once faced like in cup finals such as Manchester United and Arsenal. Striker and stand-in captain Clinton Morrison thinks their current position is embarrassing:

“No disrespect but we should be challenging for the league. Obviously our chins are on the floor, we didn’t get a win in the league since mid December at Bristol Rovers until the end of February, and for a club like Sheffield Wednesday that’s not good enough and we know that as a group of players.”

This is not unfamiliar territory for Wednesday though as they were relegated to the third tier of English football in the 2004-05 season. Over a decade has passed since relegation from the Premier League and the Owls have been demoted to the third tier twice in that time, so why are the staff, players and fans still convinced Sheffield Wednesday are a big club?

Yes, they are a big club in terms of their rich history, big stadium and loyal fan base. But games are unfortunately not won by history and fans. Since the 99-00 season Wednesday have had 8 managers and 7 different chairmen, none of whom have been able to restore the pride that Sheffield Wednesday once had as a ‘big club’.

There is no one person to pin point the blame on, but it has been a series of bad decisions after bad decisions that has led to their downfall; the infamous Wim Jonk is a classic example. Netherland international Jonk was bought by Danny Wilson for £2.5million in the 98-99 season. Jonk made a promising start to his Hillsborough career but his injuries worsened and left him unfit, however he was still able to pick up his £5,000 match fee as part of a stipulation in his contract.

Since Premier League relegation behind the scenes the Owls finances have progressively worsened, which ultimately caused the winding up orders received in 2010. Without money the Owls have been unable to attract top quality players to the club since the days of Wim Jonk, Paolo Di Canio and Benito Carbone. However, now with the financial backing of Milan Manderic there is hope and optimism around the club that Sheffield Wednesday will regain their position as one of the great teams in England.

But first and foremost the club has to accept that Wednesday are now a League One club, and their league position does not lie. BBC Radio Sheffield’s Seth Bennett believes they still are a big club, just not on the pitch:

“The fact that they’re still drawing in 20,000 fans every week to go and watch dross is in League One would suggest that probably you should still call them a big club.

“Sheffield Wednesday have competed at the highest level, they’ve won the FA cup, the league cup, they’ve also been away and represented England in Europe and as a ground Hillsborough has hosted international football and FA cup finals and they fit every criteria to be called a big club.”

He added: “Form is temporary, class is permanent, and Sheffield Wednesday still are a classy football club.”

It is a marathon not a sprint back to the Championship, let alone Premier League, and as a club Sheffield Wednesday needs to accept that, or else they may never get out of League One.

Jessica Bridge