My Irish League Preview of the Week

After a two week circuit breaker in the Irish League, Dr. Grant Campbell of the ‘Campbell’s Footballs’ podcast (a.k.a. Stato) discusses his predictions for this weekend’s matches in the Danske Bank Premiership. Grant will provide his thoughts on the upcoming league matches and offers his predictions.

Saturday 23rd January – Crusaders v Larne, Seaview, KO 12.30, Sky Sports

This should be an interesting game between Crusaders and Larne which is being broadcasted on Sky Sports at 12.30pm – a real foil for the Irish League.

For as long as I can remember, I have not seen an Irish League match kick off at lunchtime on a Saturday so this game poses a big opportunity for the league to highlight it’s potential and showcase its quality.

Crusaders come into this off the back of six straight home league wins out of six, only conceding one goal in the process but Larne have picked up eight points from their twelve on the road so something, you would think, has to give here.

Larne will want to bounce back following that 1-0 defeat at home to Ballymena United before the shutdown but Crusaders could really do with winning this game to keep the pressure on Linfield and their opponents on Saturday.

Crusaders FC | Sport & Activities | Belfast & Northern Ireland
Acknowledgement: In Your Pocket

Everyone has been talking about the Blues and Larne so far this campaign whilst the Crues have been floating away under the radar, keeping themselves to themselves. If Stephen Baxter’s team win this game though, I reckon the noise will get much louder around Seaview (pictured).

The Crues played decent in their last game away at Cliftonville and deserved to take something out of the game, though I am not sure Ben Kennedy (pictured with Michael Ruddy) meant the equalising goal late on to grab a share of the spoils! It was a great ball into a dangerous area and everyone missed it with the ball floating in at the back post.

Ben Kennedy warming up for more Crusaders heroics after debut double -  BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Acknowledgement: Belfast Telegraph

If Larne are going to be challenging for the title, these are the games they need to get something out of. At Inver Park, I think they’ll be pretty strong this season but its the head to heads against Crusaders and Linfield away from home and away to the likes of Glenavon and Cliftonville where they also need to take points. That’s what aspiring champions do.

This could be a tight game and I am going bold here. I fancy the Crues to win this to keep their 100% home record going and get their elbows out and into this title race.

Stato’s Prediction: Crusaders 1-0 Larne

Saturday 23rd January – Ballymena United v Cliftonville, Ballymena Showgrounds, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

There was one team who did not need the break for two weeks and that was Ballymena United.

The Sky Blues went seven games unbeaten before the shutdown and David Jeffrey’s side had only conceded two goals in that run. Players such as Kofi Balmer and Josh Kelly (pictured) were really hitting form at the right time for Ballymena and they just looked so comfortable in a majority of matches. Jeffrey’s sides are usually fairly solid, especially in defence, and after a slow start to the campaign, they are definitely flying now.

Sadler's Peaky Blinder Irish Cup Q-finals: Glentoran come from behind to  beat Crusaders as Cliftonville and Ballymena Utd also progress - Belfast  Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Cliftonville, on the other hand, I think needed the break.

Paddy McLaughlin’s side have just won two of their last nine matches in the league and really need to find some consistency if they are going to have a strong second half to the campaign. It’s been a stop-start season for the Reds attacking players and perhaps the break will have given Joe Gormley and others such as Michael McCrudden and Ryan Curran (pictured) an opportunity to refocus and go again.

However, I have not been convinced by the Reds at all this season defensively. Cliftonville have conceded two goals in three of their last five matches and have not kept a clean sheet on the road so far this season.

Ryan Curran confident that Cliftonville can deal with their 'bread and  butter' - The Irish News
Acknowledgment: Irish News

The last encounter between these two sides saw Ballymena romp to a 4-0 win away at Solitude in one of the shock results of the season and whilst I cannot see as convincing a win as that in this game, I back DJ’s team to continue their fine form with a win.

Stato’s Prediction: Ballymena 2-1 Cliftonville

Saturday 23rd January – Carrick Rangers v Portadown, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

This is a huge game back for both teams as Carrick and Portadown strive to get away from trouble at the bottom.

Carrick’s last league game saw them lose out 3-0 at Coleraine but Niall Currie’s side played admirably in that match and the outcome could and should have been very different if Caolan Loughran (pictured) had converted from the penalty spot with the score at 0-0. I really feel sorry for the Amber Army as they simply have not had a chance to build any momentum into their season only playing nine league matches so far this campaign, the lowest of any side in the Irish League.

Irish Premiership: Larne edge out Carrick in derby - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement; BBC

Portadown aren’t exactly flying themselves either. Matthew Tipton’s men have only won one of their last seven matches and have conceded seven goals in their last two games played albeit away from home at Crusaders and Glentoran.

This weekend though is the sort of matches Portadown need to win if they are going to survive and they also need to start finding some goals again. Adam Salley (pictured) scoring before the shut down may be the confidence boost they need.

Adam Salley's #WeArePortsTV post match interview vs Knockbreda 08/02/20 -  Portadown Football Club
Acknowledgement: Portadown Football Club

Carrick have won four of the last five meetings between the sides, including a 4-1 win against the Ports earlier in the season but I see a cagey affair at Taylor’s Avenue on Saturday and therefore I will go for a score draw.

Stato’s Prediction: Carrick Rangers 1-1 Portadown

Saturday 23rd January – Coleraine v Dungannon Swifts, Coleraine Showgrounds, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

It seems to me that Coleraine are beginning to pick up ahead of steam in their campaign.

Oran Kearney’s men had won their last three games before the stoppage and were beginning to find their feet in front of goal. James McLaughlin (pictured), in particular, was finding his goal scoring touch and I’ve also been really impressed by Stewart Nixon in the wide areas. They have lost Ben Doherty to a serious injury though and that will be a big miss long term.

James McLaughlin: Coleraine forward pens new deal - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

Dungannon needed this break in my view because their form had really tailed off. The Swifts had lost their last four in a row, with three of those coming at home. They have also played the most games, apart from Warrenpoint Town, in the bottom half and have left themselves vulnerable should Carrick below them start putting together some form. In fact, Kris Lindsay’s side’s last league win came against Coleraine back in early December (pictured) when Michael Carvill and Rhyss Campbell netted the goals.

Irish Premiership: Dungannon Swifts beat Coleraine at Stangmore Park - BBC  Sport
Acknowledgement; BBC

The Bannsiders have won four of the last five matches at home against Dungannon and I expect them to win this one on Saturday too.

Stato’s Prediction: Coleraine 2-0 Dungannon Swifts

Saturday 23rd January – Linfield v Warrenpoint Town, Windsor Park, KO 15.00, BBC Sport NI

I’m really interested to see if Linfield can continue where they left off before the shutdown as they take on Warrenpoint Town this weekend.

The Blues bounced back well from their defeat at Larne with back to back victories against Dungannon and Glenavon. The latter was particularly impressive as the Blues fell a goal down at Mourneview Park so to come back and get the three points was real character from David Healy’s side, especially at a very tricky venue.

Jordan Stewart always gives you quality at the top end of the pitch and I’ve also been really impressed with the performances of Niall Quinn (pictured) at full back. Quinn reminds me of Pablo Zabaleta during his time at Manchester City. He always gives a solid 7/10 consistent performance week in week out and great teams and champions need these types of players. Quinn has also been involved in a lot of Linfield’s important play both defensively but also going forward, adding a couple of crucial goals as well at home to the Crues and at Glenavon last time out.

Linfield defender Niall Quinn happy to be unsung hero as he targets more  silverware with Blues - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

It was well documented of course that Warrenpoint won the last meeting between these two sides 2-1 at Milltown back in late November. Since then though, Barry Gray’s side have won just once and that was away at Carrick Rangers. They have a decent cushion on Carrick at the bottom but if Portadown were to start finding a few performances, they could get sucked in at the wrong end of the table which is quite extraordinary given that many, including myself, have been praising Warrenpoint a lot this season.

Alan O’Sullivan’s goals will continue to be important as will the experience of players like Danny Wallace (pictured) and Fran McCaffrey.

Warrenpoint Town FC » 23 Danny Wallace

Alas, I don’t see lightning striking twice for Point here at Windsor on Saturday and I think the Blues will pick up a fairly convincing win.

Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 4-0 Warrenpoint Town

Saturday 23rd January – Glenavon v Glentoran, Mourneview Park, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI

This week’s evening game should be an interesting one as Glentoran, who have found some form of late, face a tricky trip to Mourneview Park to take on Glenavon.

Glenavon have been really unlucky not to have accumulated more points from their last five matches.

Gary Hamilton’s men have taken seven points from their last fifteen available but they did lead at home to Linfield and away at Larne in the two games that they lost, plus they dominated the match against Cliftonville and only got a point. Danny Purkis (pictured) has found his shooting boots though having scored in his last three consecutive matches and that will be important if the Lurgan Blues are going to make the top six or higher this season.

Glenavon reward as Danny Purkis 'gamble' pays off over Cliftonville |  Belfast News Letter
Acknowledgement: Belfast News Letter

Glentoran, as I said, have found some form of late.

Since their defeat at Crusaders, the Glens have been unbeaten in their last four and have scored nine goals in that run. If results were to go Glentoran’s way on Saturday they could get into the top six and after a slow start, you would feel the pressure (some unneccesary) would begin to ease on Mick McDermott a bit. They still have a lot of work to do if they want to qualify for European football though and if they are going to do that, the goals of Paul O’Neill (pictured) and Robbie McDaid will be vital.

Glentoran striker Paul O'Neill on radar of cross-channel clubs - Belfast  Live
Acknowledgement; Belfast Live

Glentoran have only picked up two points away from home this season and this is a tough game for them here. I fancy a really good game between two sides who like to play football the right way. Glenavon got a draw at the Oval with nine men earlier in the season and if they can keep eleven players on the pitch, I think they could win this.

Stato’s Prediction: Glenavon 2-1 Glentoran

Player to scout: Lee Bonis (Portadown)

Every week, I choose one Irish League player for you to going and scout. This week I am picking Portadown’s Lee Bonis (pictured) who has impressed me so far this season for Matthew Tipton’s side.

Striker Lee Bonis Signs for Portadown - Portadown Football Club
Acknowledgement: Portadown Football Club

Lee is an exciting young striker who played for Portadown FC Youth before playing in theMid Ulster league with Portadown BBOB. Bonis then moving to Seagoe where he scored 50 goals. This impressive goal scoring form earned him a trial with Portadown to which his career has continued to grow ever since. So far this season, Bonis has netted against Glenavon and Linfield and has played an important role in linking up with teammates such as Stephen Murray, Chris Lavery and Adam Salley.

The young striker can score goals but his tenacious and determined nature will be vital for Portadown long term.

Useful Links and sources which you should check out:

NIFL Premiership Highlights Show:

The Score NI with Michael Clarke:

The Waffle – Irish League Podcast

That’s What I Call Football

Check out quality Irish League content from some of the Leagues top names:

Joel Taggart, Liam Beckett, Michael Clarke, Nicola McCarthy, Colin Hopkins, Steven Beacom, Mark McIntosh and find some of the characters I’ve interviewed so far by visiting the Campbell’s Footballs archive.

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Scottish League 1 2020/21 Review – Part 2

FALKIRK

Credit: Falkirk FC

Falkirk’s slow start to the 2019/20 campaign and the global pandemic resulting in the season being ended early meant that Falkirk would need to have one more crack at promotion back to the Championship from League 1. Co-managers David McCracken and Lee Miller turned the fortunes of the Bairns when they were appointed to replaced Ray McKinnon. The success of last season has continued on into this year’s shortened league. Losing a player like Declan McManus was always going to be difficult but despite him leaving, Falkirk sit on top of the table when the season was suspended. However, having won 6 of their opening 8 (drawing the other 2), Falkirk have not won in the last 3 with defeats to Airdrie and East Fife meaning the gap is just 2 points to second placed Cove Rangers. Before the league suspension, the transfer window would have surely given McCracken and Miller a chance to add to the squad to further boost their chances of winning League 1, and to turn around the poor form they were currently in.

FORFAR

Credit: Forfar Athletic Football Club

With just 1 win and 3 draws in their 10 matches this season, Forfar sit at the bottom of League 1. Forfar lost a number of key players at the end of last season and it would seem had recruited well with players like Scott Shepherd, Archie Thomas and Chris Antoniazzi coming in, but they haven’t performed well enough to get the Station Park side’s season going. Starting with no wins in the opening 5 (2 draws and 3 defeats), The Loons got their first win in a 1-0 win at Balmoor against Peterhead. Stuart Malcom would have thought that this may have kicked started the clubs season but since that win they have failed to score in the next 4, losing 3 and picking up a 0-0 draw away to Montrose. With just 5 goals in their 10 matches, you fear that that sort of form will end up with a relegation for Forfar. The positive is that they don’t concede many (16 conceded in 10), and if they can build on the defensive side, they could do enough to get them out of the bottom 2.

MONTROSE

Credit: Montrose Football Club

Montrose, since promotion to League 1 3 years ago, have established themselves as one of the top sides in the division with back-to-back 4th placed finishes. Despite having Partick Thistle, Cove Rangers, Airdrie and Falkirk in the same league, Montrose will be confident they can achieve a similar finish this year. Loan signings of Harry Cochrane, Chris Mochrie and Cammy Ballantyne added to an already experienced squad, and this mix of youth and experience has gone well so far for The Gable Endies. They started with no wins in 2 before winning the next two 3-2 against Forfar and Peterhead, before losing at Clyde by the same score line. Montrose had a tricky run next as they played against 3 of their promotion rivals in Partick Thistle, Cove and Airdrie, but despite losing to Partick narrowly, they then went to Cove and Airdire and won both matches. This was followed up by a thumping 4-0 win against Dumbarton. With the 3rd worst defence in the league but also being top scorers, Montrose should be there or there abouts again at the end of the season.

PARTICK

Credit: Partick Thistle Football Club

Partick, like Falkirk last season, has failed to adapt to the lower division and failed to live up to their fans expectation of bouncing straight back up again. With just 4 wins from 10, Thistle sit outside the play-off spots and 6 points from league leaders Falkirk. Ian McCall brought in experienced players like Richard Foster and Blair Spittal, but surprisingly the later hasn’t seen much action this term. One win in the opening 4 for Thistle wasn’t good enough for a team that was looking for promotion straight away, but two wins on the bounce followed against East Fife and Montrose, and some thought the tide was turning slightly. However, a second run of one win in 4, including a home defeat to Peterhead has seen Thistle slip down the table. The Jags failed to score in 3 of those matches too. Before the suspension, manager Ian McCall may have been worrying about his future, especially as his side were to play Cove, Clyde and Airdirein the next 3 fixtures. Perhaps the suspension has come at the right time for Partick, should the season restart.

PETERHEAD

Credit: Peterhead Football Club

With 8 departures from the Peterhead squad before the season started, many of them key first team players, manager Jim McInally brought in younger, untested players like Kieran Freeman, Lyall Cameron and Kyle Bailey to replace them. The key, however, was keeping players like Jason Brown, Ben Armour and captain Scott Brown. McInally has been hampered by injuries to many players this season and has yet to field a full bench. In their first 4, The Blue Toon picked up one win and 3 defeats, even though Peterhead didn’t particularly play badly in those loses. They did manage to turn it around with 3 wins from the next 5, but a narrow 1-0 loss to Forfar shows Peterhead are still too inconsistent to be challenging for a play-off spot. Beating Clyde and Partick Thistle away from home is all well and good, but then dropping home points to the likes of Montrose and Forfar won’t help. McInally has already added to his squad with Andrew McDonald and Niah Payne arriving at Balmoor before the suspension. Much needed fresh faces for Peterhead if the season starts again.

Big 6 XI v The Rest XI – The CM

Welcome back to the FootballCFB and VIZI best of the rest 11. We are now really getting into the team now with only a handful of spots left to fill. At the start of this week, I showed how good of a player Soucek had been to West Ham and how increasingly important had was to their side. Today we are moving onto his partner, who will play alongside him in our team? Another hard and difficult decision but in the end myself and the team came to a player who had to have a place, even at the expense of some fantastic Footballers. But this man has helped Southampton into 8th and genuine European contenders. It is of course James Ward-Prowse. 

Now 26 it seems to many like JWP has been around forever, his name has been brought into the England set up of the last year, but he is mostly forgotten about and cast aside as just an average player. The fact is, as a Southampton player, since 2012, he has played 297 games for the Saints, become club captain, scored 28 goals and assisted a phenomenal 37!  That’s a goal contribution at least once every five games for eight years all at premier league level!  

JWP has been one of the most instrumental players for one single team this season. James has played every single minute of the Premier League thus far and has contributed to 30% of Southampton’s goal so far this season, Four goals and four assists. Two of those assists were match winning against Brighton and champions Liverpool and two goals and another assist in Southampton’s 4-3 win against Aston Villa. This means that JWP has been directly responsible for nine points and potentially 7 positions in the league.  

As usual we are going to line up JWP against a ‘big 6’ rival. But this time it’s going to be one of the toughest yet as JWP goes head-to-head with KDB! Arguably one of the best players on the planet Kevin De Bruyne just hit his 100th assist for Manchester City and is one of if not the best playmakers on the planet! So how does James stack up against the mega star? 

Other than the clear blue block on the righthand side showcasing how good of a playmaker KDB is, is it too farfetched to suggest that overall JWP has been the better player for this season at least? The two essentially draw when it comes to final third passes, pressure regains and progressive yards, but could you have ever imagined that Ward-Prowse would have a better pass completion? With how pristine the Man City machine usually is under Pep, the fact that he doesn’t have as good a pass completion is a shock at least to me? It shows a part of how good Southampton have been under Ralph Hasenhuttl, the passing and team interplay has been phenomenal with JWP the key to all of it! If those passes don’t get made, then the whole Southampton system falls apart!  

An area I’m not too surprise to see JWP dominate in, it’s the defensive side of play. Turnovers, tackles and interceptions all belong to James, but this isn’t too much of a shock when you consider how much of an all-rounder JWP need to be. As I mentioned before he is the key to the Hasenhuttl system and without him everything falls apart because of his ability on and off the ball as well as his phenomenal work ethic. What is a surprise is that Ward-Prowse has more progressive yards! The amount of times you see De Bruyne make a run with the ball up field before taking a shot of amazing pass is endless so to consider that actually JWP does more per game is quite astonishing. 

Now look I am not saying that JWP is a better player than KDB because then I would be lying to myself, but JWP has had an exceptional season which absolutely puts him as one of the best in the league. My issue is that people are so unwilling to accept this just because he plays for Southampton, you will never convince me that Kalvin Phillips deserves to be ahead of Ward-Prowse for an England spot because the fact is he is half the player. JWP has everything, he is known as one of the best freekick takers in the league, he covers so much ground to keep up his defensive and attacking efforts all while being a phenomenal footballer.  

It would be unthinkable to make this team without James Ward-Prowse’s inclusion, so he is in and is a fantastic addition to our brilliant team! Tomorrow it’s our CAM! 

Thanks for reading!

Big 6 XI v The Rest XI – The CM

Welcome back to the best of the Rest XI so far. Finally, we are moving forward in our team. The defence has been completed and now we move into one of the toughest areas of the team, in midfield. Today we look at our first of three to make up the best of the rest midfield and today the head to heads really get tough! 

As I mentioned the midfield was really tough to pick. The ‘other 14’ have played so well this season that the number of different suggestions was quite frightening. But we have managed to Siv it down to only three, and the first of those three is the perfect partner for Aaron Cresswell yesterday, it’s his teammate Tomas Soucek! 

The big Czech man has been on fire since he moved to the capital. Coming from relatively nowhere, someone at West Ham has certainly got a pay rise since spotting him playing for Slavia Prague in the Czech First League. He joined West Ham exactly 355 days ago and has played almost every minute since. When he joined on loan back on the 29th of January 2020 no fan could have expected that the permanent deal would ever get signed off. But 13 games and three goals later it was clear that Soucek was now an instrumental part of the West Ham midfield.  

Being a CDM Soucek’s goalscoring record is phenomenal and eclipses many strikers. In his career so far, the 6’4, 25-year-old has played 214 professional games whilst scoring 48! Putting his games to goal ratio just short of one in four! This season has been no different, 18 games into the Premier League season and Soucek has contributed to 20% of West Ham’s goals scoring 5 already this season! Meaning he is still maintaining that career record. Above that he has also played every single minute of the season so far and as his value shoots through the roof he has managed to help West Ham to 9th in the League. 

There is no question that he has been one of the better performers and best signings of 2020 but how does the Iron line up against of the League’s best players in Jordan Henderson… 

One thing is for sure from this, Henderson is a very good player and a very underrated playmaker. Pass completion, progressive yards and final third passes are all far superior, but you can mainly put this down to the two different styles of play between the players and the two teams. Henderson is the man who sits in the middle and links up all the play, whereas Soucek is the man you want to break up the opponents play whilst also contributing to a goal.  

Through the stats that is very clear to see. Soucek takes the win when it comes to pressure regains, tackles, interceptions and impressively fouls drawn. The graph, if anything, shows how well both players do their jobs, Soucek is the hard working, second line of defence which a team like West Ham so desperately need. Soucek is imperative to West Ham and for more than just his defensive work. Of the 5 goals that he has scored this season, three of them have been the winning goal and one crucial equaliser. That is 10 points which Soucek has been directly responsible for, 10 points which would see West Ham drop six places in the league without!  

So, despite the stars and bigger names which West Ham have in their side, it is clear to me that Soucek is absolute their most important player at moment. He stops the opposition but then also scores the winning goals. A brilliant and deserved edition to the best of the rest!

My mental health journey and why I am a Man on Inverclyde ambassador.

By Callum McFadden.

Mental health is a subject very close to my heart. For most of my life like many others I’ve always tried my best to look out for those I know who have battled mental health.

Up until last year it’s not something I had to deal with directly. I’ve had my challenges in life my parents split when I was young, I lost my dad at 14, lost a very close family member to leukaemia at 15 and a very close relative of my best friend at 16. All deeply upsetting and unsettling moments in my life but although they were moments that I did at times struggle with and cry a lot over, I still felt in control.

However, last year for a spell of two months all of that changed and my world turned upside down. Running CFB means the world to me and it’s a hobby that I absolutely love and take incredibly seriously.

However, last September I began to feel uneasy, horrifically unsettled and most worryingly unlike me. Anyone who knows me knows that I love my family, my girlfriend (now fiancée), my friends, my job and the sport that I admit am I obsessed with football with all of my heart.

Although, for that two month spell last year, I lost all of my sense of happiness, determination and sense of perspective on the world around me and myself. I became withdrawn and quiet – very unlike me – and found that I didn’t have any real passion towards anything that I love – for me that was the scariest feeling as I didn’t know what was causing it.

Never did I think I would have to seek advice or help as I’ve always tried to ‘man up’, ‘get on with it’ and ‘keep your problems to yourself’ like many of us do and were brought up in a world especially here in the west of Scotland where that is what we are ‘supposed’ to do.

That only worked for so long for me and last year I went through the toughest spell of my life to date and knew that I had to seek help. It was a step that I was incredibly worried about as I was scared those close to me would think I was ‘mental’ considering that I have absolutely everything my life that I need to be very happy and grateful as mentioned earlier – an incredible family, the absolute best friend and fiancée anyone could ask for and an amazing group of pals behind me.

I told my two closest confidants – my mum and my fiancée – that I was struggling to cope and they supported me in seeking some support and encouraged me every step of the way. Upon seeking support, I was told that I suffer from anxiety and that I would need support to help me control my anxiety rather than the let the anxiety control me. Something that at the time of seeking help seemed improbable and to be honest impossible in my mind.

However, I am now over a year on from what I can safely was the toughest battle of my life and can honestly say that seeking support was best thing I have ever done.

I am now in a place of unbelievable happiness and joy. I now have a range of support strategies to help me out with my anxiety and I am now in full control of it more than ever and am backed up with incredible support from those I have mentioned earlier. Without those closest to me, I wouldn’t be the person I am today as they really are the best bunch of people I could ask for in my life.

That’s not to say life hasn’t got it’s challenges for me. I set Football CFB up as I always dreamed of working in sports media when I was a teenager as football is my passion. With CFB, I carry out that dream as a hobby and I can honestly say it’s the best hobby in the world.

In 12 months, CFB has 425,000 listeners and is listened to all over the world in countries as far away from my home in Scotland as possible in countries like Vietnam, India and Reunion island. I have formed friends and met so many new people through CFB as well as covering the sport I love closer than ever before.

Football in my view can play an enormous part in aiding the mental health of others within society. I also believe that CFB and I myself can – albeit in a small way – and the work that Man On Inverclyde! do in my local community of Inverclyde is inspiring. From zoom calls, to podcasts, support groups and organising a walk and talk weekly for men to meet up socially and speak about a whole range of issues, they are making a real difference.

I have the upmost respect for every single person man or woman who wants to play a part in aiding the mental health of others. I want to play my part too and as always my emails are open to anyone struggling at footballcfb@gmail.com.

Whether you want to chat via email or over the phone I am here for you as are Man on Inverclyde!

Mitchel Megginson: I wish I had more time with McInnes

Credit: Mitch Megginson / Twitter

Written by Colin Byiers

Mitchel Megginson led Cove Rangers to promotion from the Highland League and to the League 2 title last season, but the Cove captain might not have been there had things at Aberdeen gone slightly differently.

When I spoke to him, we started by speaking about his early days at Pittodrie.

Your first season at Aberdeen in 2009/10, you played a handful of games including in Europe, what was that like to be playing in Europe at such a young age?

I’d been training with the first team for a wee while with manager Mark McGhee and we got a bit of a doing in the first leg, so the tie was away from us coming into the second leg. Mark turned to me and said “Mitch, you’re going on”, and I started to get the jelly legs! Making your debut in Europe at 17 is something you can only dream about especially as it was for my boyhood club and the club my family supports, so it was a proud moment.

You had loan spells at Arbroath and Brechin City following that, were they good experiences for you?

I look back now and think if you are a young player and you aren’t getting the games, go out on loan. You can only learn the game by playing against other professionals and to be up against men is the perfect way to learn. I went to Arbroath for the last few months and they were fighting a relegation battle in League 1 and I managed to score a few goals there and climbed up to the play-off spot but unfortunately, we were relegated on the last day. That’s something to experience especially when you are on loan because the guys that are there, relegation could mean a wage decrease or your contract not being renewed, but when you are on loan you know you are going back to a club that you know you are secure at. Kenny McLean was on loan from St Mirren at the time and you see how his career as gone since then. Jim Weir was the manager at Arbroath, and he was the manager at Brechin City when I went on loan there but the mentality was different in the club. Rory McAllister was there at the time, so it was Rory and me up front and we were pushing for promotion rather than the wrong end of the table. Unfortunately again, it didn’t end well and we lost in the play-off to get promoted to the Championship, so it was two different experiences at the opposite ends of the table but it was good for my development to see both ends and I look back on and think both decisions were the right call.

The following season, 2010/11 under Craig Brown, you didn’t go out on loan, was that a conscious decision by the club?

At this point I was more established in the first team and playing more regularly. I started more regularly too so I felt more part of the squad. It was my most consistent time at Aberdeen in terms of number of games and playing football. All you want to do at that age is play as many games as you can and that season, I felt I was doing that.

Was it a shock then you went out on loan the next season?

I think a few new boys came into the team, Ryan Fraser broke into the team and wasn’t quite as much in the picture as I was then and I wasn’t getting the game time I wanted. I just wanted to play football and I had said to Craig that if I wasn’t going to play, I wanted to go somewhere I was going to play. I was in the last year of my contract and people weren’t going to notice me sitting on the bench so I was conscious of that.

When Derek McInnes took over, was the decision to leave already made?

When I came back from being on loan at Alloa, Derek hadn’t seen me in games which was disappointing because if a new manager comes in and he doesn’t see you in games then you are already up against it. In training I thought I did well, but I think he wanted to bring in his own players to freshen things up as well as his own staff. To be fair to him, he did speak to me and asked if I thought I was getting offered a new contract or if I deserved one and naively, I said “no, because I hadn’t played enough games”. Of course, now I know I maybe should have said “yes I deserve one”. He was honest and said I wasn’t getting a new contract but would be happy to help me find a new club.

Credit: Aberdeen Football Club

I think I should have got more games at Aberdeen. There was a time under Craig Brown I played 12 or 13 games in a row, then we played the cup semi-final against Hibs and I was dropped out of the squad. 2 weeks earlier, we played Hibs at Easter Road and I played my best game for Aberdeen, I tore the right back apart that day. It didn’t make any sense why I was dropped. That was the point where I think that might have changed things. I would have liked to have still been at Aberdeen, but these things happen. I would have liked to have had longer with McInnes and his training to see how I would have developed.

I was difficult leaving that last day. There was a tear shed. You grow up with guys like Ryan Jack, Ryan Fraser, Jordon Brown, Nicky Low etc and there were loads of these guys now playing in the Aberdeen first team. It was hard to leave.

You spent the next two seasons at Dumbarton. How were they for you?

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It was one of the most enjoyable times as a footballer, especially the first season. I made the decision to move to Glasgow, to get some independence and grow up a little and learn new things. Jack Ross was the assistant manager at the time and Ian Murray was manager, two young guys trying to make a name for themselves in the managerial game. Jack is one of the best coaches I’veworked under in my career, he’s a top-class coach in terms of his coaching abilities and his man management. We were a part-time team in the Championship, and we missed out on the promotion play-off’s by losing to Queen of the South will two games to go, so it was a successful season for us. I played every game for Dumbarton in those 2 years and I felt like I was part of a squad. In the second season, Rangers came up and Hearts and Hibs were relegated so it was an extremely competitive league and we just wanted to stay in the league again because we knew one if not two would be staying in the league for next season. Playing at places like Ibrox, Tynecastle and Easter Road in front of capacity crowds is where every player wants to play.

Was the following year a difficult time for you?

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I wanted to have another crack at being full-time and I was given the chance at Raith, but the manager who wanted me there got sacked. Ray McKinnon arrived and agreed to complete the deal. I did get injured during pre-season so that did cut back on the amount of game time I was getting. I got on well with Ray, but I just wasn’t his player. I never really fulfilled my potential and it never worked out. Jack Ross was now at Alloa and he contacted me to bring me in for the last 6 months of the season. We got some big results, but we were already in the position where we would likely go down. The club ended up getting relegated to League 1. In my head I think I planned to come back to Aberdeen, and I made the decision in January that was what I was going to do. So maybe my head wasn’t in the right spot and it certainly wasn’t my best year.

Do you think there was some eyebrows raised when you dropped 4 divisions to join Cove Rangers?

Credit: Peter Moore / Balmoral Stadium – home of Cove Rangers FC / CC BY-SA 2.0

I’m sure there was! I met John Sheran, who I knew through my dad having played for Cove, and he sold me on Cove’s plan, their ambition to get into the League. The new stadium was getting built and when I heard all that, it gave me a progressive plan of what I wanted to do and achieve and I wanted to help this club do that. For me, it wasn’t a case of dropping down leagues, it was about helping Cove achieve their ambitions and goals. We are now in League 1 so it’s easy to say that it worked out well, but the plan was to get Cove out of the Highland League as soon as possible and I was still young enough to do that. It helped that my dad played for the club because I felt more passionately for the club. I became more driven and more determined to do well for Cove than I had at our clubs. There was a part of me that knew I dropped down from the Championship and I felt I had to show people I was a Championship player and still capable of playing there.

In your first season at Cove, they failed to defend the Highland League title as they lost out to Buckie Thistle on goal difference.

I remember going into the last game we needed to score 10 goals and we got off to a flyer, 4 up by half-time. Then we heard their (Buckie) score (9-0) and we knew that was it. From our side we drew too many games and some of those games we should never have drawn. We drew 1-1 with Strathspey up there and those are the kind of games if you want to win leagues you can’t afford to drop points. But in a funny way, it spurred us on to do well the next season and we felt we had to win the league next season. It was the start of Cove building an established squad to help them build for going up into the Scottish League, so it might have been to early for us to have a crack at the play-off but it would have been nice to have another Highland League medal.

Having gone on to win the Highland League in your second season, Cove went on to face Cowdenbeath in the play-off and it ended up being a fiery affair.

Credit: Cove Rangers Football Club

There was no stopping us that season, we were giving teams hidings home and away. We gave Spartans a hiding in the first play-off games but what hindered us was there was a back log of fixtures. We played 4 games in one week at the end of the season and it showed in the first leg against Cowdenbeath because we battered them but we couldn’t get a goal. Had we won the game, it becomes a different affair. We go 2-1 up at half-time and we knew what we needed to do but we lost a sloppy goal early in the second half. The 3rdgoal, I don’t know how the ref or the linesman didn’t see the trip is beyond me. It did feel like we were cheated out of it and at the end of the game, tempers were high and that got the better of us. I was difficult because we worked so hard to get to that point for it to end the way it did was hard to take.

Did that lose affect your motivation?

We knew we had to go and win the Highland League and everyone was so determined and focused even on the way back from the Cowdenbeath game. I’ve never seen squad so focused. What helped was Balmoral Park was ready. It was going to be our fortress. That pre-season we all said that this was the year we were going up. That year we were ready to go up. I think the squad we had the previous year might have struggled in League 2 and I felt we were a couple of bodies short in being ready.

That team that year was strong all over the park. Blair Yule came back after his experience in League 1 along with Jordon Brown so were strong in all areas. We were pretty much unbeatable. No-one was beating us to the league that season – No Chance!

Going onto the play-off against Berwick, we were confident. Berwick on the other hand weren’t. They had a losing mentality whereas we had a winning one. From the first whistle we absolutely battered them. I remember seeing a couple of interviews with Berwick players speaking about if they go down, and if you are confident about winning you don’t talk about going down. That was an extra confidence boost. We never let our standards drop over the two legs and we ended up very comfortable winners. Getting promoted was better than winning the Highland League because it was what we all set out to achieve.

Credit: Cove Rangers Football Club

Now that you got promoted, what were the aims in the first season in the League?

Our aim was to go and win the league. We looked at the teams in the league and we saw it as an opportunity to win the league. The style of play and the squad we had,we were confident we would beat more teams than not that season. Paul Hartley joined us too, so for the club to get him was massive. It was a big statement. His training was sharp, we enjoyed it and from a professional point of view, he already had been there and done it so the professionalism of the club got raised too.

Cove did extremely well last season, so how disappointed were you with the way in ended?

There would have been nothing better than to have that feeling of that final game to clinch the title in front of the fans and I feel the way we performed last season we deserved to do that. Delighted to get it because there was a point where it could have been null and void but that would have been a kick in the stones for all the hard work that had gone in. I think it was inevitable that we were going to win it, so it was just a matter of time before we would get it. We would have preferred to have won it on the pitch, in the right way for sure.

Now in League 1, is the ambition still to win it?

There is a big difference between League 1 and League 2. There are a couple of full-time teams and some good established teams in there too. The standards high and we’ve found that out. Our first few games we didn’t experience it but we quickly got brought back down to Earth. So, from the start of the season are aim was to consolidate but aim for a play-off spot. It’s not in our DNA to sit back and be a mid-table side, so we aim as high as we can. Adding a player like Leighton McIntosh gives us more experience and he’s a different player to what we had and enhances the team.

We’ve gone from the highs of being unbeaten in the first 4 games to being punished in games. It’s not a league you can coast through, and we found that out pretty quickly. We were too much in the mindset of we needed to pick up 3 points but actually a point here and there might not be bad.

You’ve now been at Cove for nearly 5 years, do you see yourself anywhere else?

I’ve got 6 months left on my contract so at the moment I’m unsure what’s going to happen. I’m happy where I am. It would take something special for me to move on. If I’m being honest, I don’t see the point in moving just now.

Brian Graham: Partick Thistle, Coaching and career battles

Credit: Partick Thistle Football Club

You are currently a player of Partick Thistle as well as manager Partick Thistle Women’s Team. How are you enjoying your commitments at the club and how would you describe a club such as Partick Thistle?

I recently signed for the club having come from the Scottish Premier League from Ross County and at the time I when I arrived at the club Partick Thistle were fighting relegation in the Scottish Championship and I went there with the club that I would help Partick Thistle avoid relegation and that we would survive.

As you know the whole world pandemic when COVID 19 hit and they decision with made with a game in hand that the season was finished and we got relegated unfairly and I have never dealt with anything like that before in football and it was a really hard one to take not just for myself but all my other colleagues and staff and members at the club because it hits you financially and to be unfairly relegated and nobody really caring about it but this season we have found ourselves in Scottish League One which is a bit disappointing but we need to really get out of this division this year and Partick Thistle as a whole are a big massive club in Glasgow.

Obviously, we have Celtic FC and Rangers FC and when Partick Thistle are doing well they have the fan base to match and they are a massive club to play for and I feel really connected with them in the short period of time that I have been here and everything that we have been through and we are on another journey this year in that we need to get promotion and for me as a player I was banging the drum to the players that it is important that we start well and start picking up three points on a Saturday.

I have been quite lucky that the manager and the Committee asked me to take charge of Partick Thistle Women’s team and I am training and managing them and training them on a Tuesday and Thursday night and then I have my game with Partick Thistle men’s on a Saturday and the game with the women’s team on a Sunday and it is quite busy but I am really enjoying being able to do both roles.

Credit: Big Jim Fae Scotland at English Wikipedia

You played one season at Hibernian FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights and special memories?

I loved my time at Hibernian FC and getting to work with a manager like Neil Lennon and his man management skills are brilliant. He was a joy to work with and when Neil asked me to sign for the club and I took the opportunity because when a team like Hibs come calling you do not say no to them even through they were in a lower division at the time and I managed to win the league with Hibernian FC and we got to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup and unfortunately we lost that day due to a deflected goal.

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However, I still had a year left a Hibs and the manager decided to sign an international striker and looking back personally I could not see how he was any better than me and Neil told me to fight for your place and stay around but there was an opportunity for me to go down and play in England at Cheltenham Town and I did not want to be third or fourth choice I thought I should be higher up the pecking order and I thanked Neil for having me at the club.

You don’t realise how bigger club Hibernian FC is and how much you miss the club until you leave it but I have great memories such as beating Hearts of Midlothian in the Scottish Cup in the Edinburgh derby and the crowd singing Sunshine on Leith and being with my children on the pitch when we won the league and remembering the Hibs fans and all these pictures and memories will be great to look back on years to come.

You lead me nicely on to my next question mentioning Cheltenham Town. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any special memories or highlights?

Credit: Tom-cf at English Wikipedia

If I am being honest after driving home from leaving Hibernian FC training ground and I was driving from Edinburgh to Glasgow and it was a Wednesday and I was due to signing for Cheltenham Town on the Thursday and I at the time I had one of my teammates in the car driving him home and I got a phone call and I had found out that my brother Daniel Graham just died so my world was upside down.

I had to rush home and see my family and then I had to break the news to my Mum that I would be driving down to England in the morning and that i would be moving away and if I am being honest with you James when I was driving back to Glasgow I should have stayed at Hibs for another year but because I had already given the Cheltenham Town manager my word that I would be coming I did not want to break that and looking back on it, it had effected my football and I was away from my family and Daniel was a big loss to the family.

Credit: Анна Джалалян / soccer.ru

Two of my Hibs teammates in John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch came to my brothers funeral and I could not believe it because I never expected them to come and for them to come and show that respect towards me and my family made me feel so humbled. John McGinn has gone on to have had the career he has and I want to thank those two boys for coming that day because it meant a lot and it is something that will leave with me forever that those two players attended the funeral of my brother. I met lovely people at Cheltenham Town especially off the pitch. I became very friendly with Fergal O’Brien the horse trainer and Chris Coley invited me and my teammate Kevin Dawson to go and see their incredible stables and the horse racing tracks as they became good friends and that was a real highlight.

The football side of it I started slowly and looking back losing my brother had an effect on that and I then sustained an injury which kept me out for three months and I was just getting myself back fit and the season had come to an end and I had worked really hard to and returned for pre season really fit and with the bit between myself that I was going to do well this year.

Then, I got a phone call from Ross County who had been relegated and wanted to get back in the Scottish Premier League and they asked me to return to Scotland on a two year deal and I spoke to my wife who was also a little bit homesick herself and we said let’s return to Scotland. Cheltenham Town was a great experience and I think if it was difference circumstances I would have stayed in England for longer but that is just life sometimes you never know what is round the corner.

You have accrued a lot of experience in your playing career in Scotland and in England. Could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?

I have been lucky. I played with John McGinn who is having an amazing career now. I was also lucky to play with Andy Robertson who has gone on to do fantastic things in his career winning the Champions League and the Premier League and he was influential in taking Scotland to the Euro’s for the first time in 22 years.

Credit: Анна Джалалян / soccer.ru

Other players such as Paul Hanlon at Hibs is a fantastic player as is Louis Stevens then players such as Don Cowie who has played at the top level and another is James McFadden who I played with at St Johnstone you could see in him a guy who had played at the top and how he moved about the place and his work in the gym too. You could see what the top players had and it inspired you as a player in training and it was a privilege to be on a training pitch with such a player and play alongside him on a Saturday. It was a joy.

You have just started out in coaching and management. How are you enjoying the profession and looking forward,is there anything in particular that you would ideally like to achieve in your managerial career in future?

Obviously, it is still very early and with the women’s side of the game I am learning new things about them everyday. I even read a headline this morning where current Chelsea FC manager Frank Lampard where he stated that there are one hundred different things that go on in management and that he finds it more difficult to be a manager than a player and even in these past few weeks you see how challenging it is for a manager when other things happen with certain individuals and it is a total different aspect.

When I was a player over my career I have been lucky enough to turn up at training and everything is laid out in front of me such as ,my kit and boots and I have been pampered and now you are doing everything you are setting up the training, making sure all the girls know their meeting points when turning up for training and making sure that you have availability lists of training and then the game is on a Sunday. It is a totally different aspect of it than being a player.

Leandro Phillips: Noisefeed, Partnership with Wyscout, Working with Top European Clubs

For anyone out there who don’t know much about Noisefeed and who they are, could you shed a bit of light on what the company is about? 

“Absolutely. Noisefeed is a sport-tech startup partly owned by Wyscout (Hudl more recently) with a clear mission – to help minimise the risk involved in every transfer decision. There has been a transition in our three year process of development, but this has been the focus that we’ve wanted to take throughout the years. 

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“We developed a software platform that holds the largest online information database of the Football Industry, constantly screening all the influential sources from verified websites and social media profiles. 

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“The Noisefeed platform basically consists of two tools. The first – Noisefeed’s PR & Media monitoring – is designed for football club’s Communication, Press Office and PR Departments to always be on top on every media sentiment or leak of information matter. 

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“The second – Injuries – as the name suggests, it’s a detailed library regarding the injury history of football players. This is a recent development for us and it is being used by clubs’ Sporting Directors, Scouting departments and Medical teams to support them in the due-diligence process before signing any player. 

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 “Lastly we also work with Federations, Player Agencies and Media Broadcasters, while offering customised consultancy and reporting packages as an alternative to the platform subscription plans. There are also data companies and third parties solutions that are making most of our data in the form of API”. 

What sort of data do you provide to clubs? 

“The two datasets we offer are closely connected to the two solutions I mentioned before. 

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“With Media & PR we offer a social media & web feed with an in-built analytics section, screening all the online activity from the players – or executives, agents, family of players, journalists etc, the database is very broad and customizable – and all the global mentions that they are receiving in real-time. 

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“This kind of data is used to keep track of the media attention and where it is being generated, plus it offers a background check to learn more of the past of the player and his interactions on and off the pitch – here reconnecting to the scouting and due-diligence activity of the Technical Area. 

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“Noisefeed Injuries is very straightforward. It is a comprehensive library of all the injuries that a player has had in his career. Every injury record consists of a detailed description of the problem with valuable details such as type of injury, recovery time, doctor or surgical clinic and footage of the injury when available. 

“The injury avatar heatmap then displays a clear picture of the health of the player, which helps the club in rapidly identifying body areas at risk and that need to be addressed to the medical team prior to the signing. 

“This data is provided through our screening of online information and later verified by our global database team, based in different parts of the world with hub in Europe, US and South America”. 

How do clients use your Injury data – can you provide some examples? 

“We have different roles within a club that make use of our tools. 

“The Sporting Directors and the Scouting Departments would mainly use it during or at the end of the scouting process, when only a few potential candidates remain to choose from. 

“Physios and Medical Teams use it to create specific working plans for the newcoming athletes, basing them on their injury past. Lastly Opposition Analysts can observe and study injury trends while receiving live updates on their next opponents line-up. 

“It is useful because it saves time and effort from endless “Googling” and web searching. Our data is already organised, verified and ready to be compared with the information from the agent or phone calls within the contacts of any scouting network. 

“We have a global database team that’s in charge of the production and verification of data, aiming at unique standard requirements. Practical example – if we’re looking into a player from Brazil, we would have our Brazilian team taking care of it because of their language and league knowledge advantage. This enables us to obtain more intel than the average English (or any other foreign) scout, based off from pure online data and video analysis of games. 

“Lastly the injury data not only shows “red flags” on players, thus calling deals off. From the opposite perspective it gives clubs the opportunity to invest in a player who has maybe had less game-time over a couple of years due to injury. 

“With the Medical Team involvement and planning of an adequate treatment beforehand, a club could buy a player for way less than his actual transfer value and build a significant margin on his future move, which could easily be worth several millions”. 

You mentioned gathering background information on players. Do you gather that information with the data Noisefeed already have, or in partnership with some of the companies that you mentioned such as Wyscout? 

“We do work closely with Wyscout. After all they are a shareholder of the company. 

“We share the same player database counting over 400.000 player profiles and even though they have joined forces with American giant Hudl, we have kept the same offices in their main headquarters based in Chiavari, Italy. 

“But in terms of information gathering we kept our independence by creating our own proprietary data-sets which are something that differentiates ourselves from what is out there at the moment. This makes a separate data-provider by all means. 

“There are many service providers offering brilliant stats, videos and analysis like Wyscout, Instat, StatsBomb, SciSports, Stats Perform just to name a few. These big names help you in identifying the best player for your club based off from game information, but we’re the only ones focusing in that last yet important step of scouting and decision-making. 

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“For example, only Transfermarkt is offering a public injury history section, but their best coverage is limited to the Bundesliga and notorious players. We want to build on this difference and offer an unparalled level of detail to justify the investment on our solution”. 

What top European clubs are Noisefeed working with at the moment? 

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“We have some big names – AC Milan & Juventus in Italy as well as Benfica and Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, but we do partner also with smaller clubs with a keen eye for technology and technical scouting. 

“In England we are proud to have recently reached an agreement with Everton and Leeds United. The Injuries application introduction has been key with their onboarding process and we are looking forward to expanding the UK market further. It is really fundamental for us. 

“We do also have customers overseas – the Mexican Federation e is one of the most recent and notorious examples”. 

You touched on the pandemic, how have Noisefeed coped with working through it? 

“Well commercially speaking, it has been a problem even though we have the fortune that the Football Industry hasn’t stopped completely. We did have to slow down a bit. 

“But that gave us the chance to focus more on the product, and that’s where the Injuries project took form. 

“We  thought, ‘How can we increase our Unique Selling Proposition (USP) when we’re talking to Sporting Directors, Scouting Departments or Medical Teams?” Back then we had many users and potential clients who would have used Noisefeed’s monitoring system to find out more about injury data, and that’s how the idea for our own injury library came to be. 

“So, the pandemic has been a bit of a pivotal stage for us in that sense”.  

Are you still developing the product despite being relatively new since the Spring Lockdown? 

“Yeah it’s constantly developing, with new releases from month-to-month, thanks to the continuous feedback from the clubs and their Scouts, Medical Teams and Physios – our daily users. 

“We  try to add any feature or extra data that could help them in their daily workflow. For example, one feature we recently added is the Injuries Video Library, where we would include the video footage of the injuries so they wouldn’t have to search it again on any other video provider. 

“The development has never stopped really! (he laughs)”

How did you find yourself working at Noisefeed, and what about the job attracted you to it? 

“Mainly a very strong passion for the beautiful game, plus a bit of luck. 

“I had the chance to meet the founder who was giving a speech during a start-up competition where I was participating. So, I thought to email him saying that I’d like to learn more about his project because it sounded really interesting, and I could have lent a hand with some of my connections in the UK. 

“That’s how it started for me, from one simple email which I wasn’t really expecting much out of. I just wanted to learn more about the project, and now I’m in this position where I need to develop commercially the whole business overseas, focusing on the UK and US market”. 

What are the long-term goals for Noisefeed, and how far can the company go? 

“The feedback and interest that we’ve been getting over the last few months is showing that we’re moving in the right direction. But we cannot be pleased with the results yet as our competition landscape is everchanging with new players being introduced almost on a monthly basis. We surely need to streghten our position and visibility in the football landscape. 

“So our goal for the near future is to expand further our awareness outside the Italian and European market. I can’t stop stressing the importance for us to grow in a key market such as the Premier League, both for economical capabilities and visibility reasons. 

“But looking at the product and its development I think that it’d be key to slowly elevate our focus from the monitoring and reporting of valuable information to the prediction itself. After all, our motto has always been that knowing information is no longer an edge nowadays – it’s the speed of knowing that is essential. 

“Therefore the ability to foresee thanks to AI and the dataset that we are creating is just the natural step forward”. 

You can learn more about Noisefeed on the following platforms below:

www.noisefeed.com

https://www.linkedin.com/company/noisefeed/

https://www.instagram.com/noisefeedofficial/

https://www.facebook.com/NoiseFeedOfficial

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EXCLUSIVE: Kemar Roofe on Rangers and playing for Bielsa, Gerrard and Kompany

In a CFB exclusive, our chief football writer James Rowe sat down with Rangers striker Kemar Roofe.

You recently signed for Rangers FC. How proud are you to make such a transfer and what were the deciding factors in your decision to sign for the club?

To be honest every time I do move clubs it is a proud moment because someone has got to want you, someone has got to be impressed by you and someone must like you to want you so it is always a good sign and it gets boosted a bit more when it is the likes of Vincent Kompany, Steven Gerrard they are big names and knowing that these big names are watching and like the way you play means a lot.

Credit: @Roofe / twitter

You played three seasons for Leeds United. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?

Credit: Auz / Flickr

I enjoyed my time at Leeds United a lot and I really like the club. Leeds United are a club that will stay close to my heart. They are a massive club with an excellent fan-base as well. It was a real journey it really was each year I improved and each year the team improved and also the relationship between myself and the fans improved and I understood them and what they wanted from me as a player as well and it helps because they are the ones that will encourage you the most on the pitch and give you that extra boost and motivation to go a little bit harder at times.

You played abroad for arguably the biggest club in Belgium RSC Anderlecht. How do you look back on your time abroad and do you have any special memories or highlights?

Like you said RSC Anderlecht are the biggest club in Belgium so when they come ringing and asking for you especially with Vincent Kompany as the player manager it is a hard one to turn down and I thought why not?

These great opportunities are not going to come round every season and not many players get the opportunity to go to a club like RSC Anderlecht and play in a different country. It was a different style of football which suited me a lot. I learned a lot under Vincent Kompany and enjoyed my time at the club.

Credit: Светлана Бекетова

We had a difficult season because I went there with an injury and I was going to do my rehab, be patient and wait for my chance for when I am fully fit to be able to help the team out. There was a lot of new players that season so everyone was learning the system so that took a bit of time so the start of the season for the team was not the greatest and then Coronavirus came and stopped the season which messed us up a lot because we were only one place away from the play-offs with eleven games to go and we were growing game by game and we were getting a lot stronger and we all believed that we could have had the final push and make it to the Europa League spots.

Unfortunately Coronavirus came and stopped that and to be honest Coronavirus prevented that season from really progressing and being successful but I really enjoyed my time at RSC Anderlecht and I learned a lot and then Rangers FC came knocking and RSC Anderlecht were in a position where they needed to sell and the deal got done.

You have accrued a lot of experience in England , Belgium and now Scotland could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?

I would have to say that Vincent Kompany is just unbelievable and he makes such a difference and I learned a lot from him both on and off the pitch. The likes of Samir Nasri and Nacer Chadli. They both had a few injuries during the season so they were not able a times to hit their peak due to injury but their careers speak for itself.

Credit: Станислав Ведмидь/Stanislav Vedmid

I can imagine in your position as a winger/ striker that you have come up against difficult opponents through the years so far in your career. Could you say which opponents have stood out in terms of talent and ability?

KIt’s a hard question because I always go into games and play my game not focusing on the opposition or the defenders because I am confident enough and I believe in myself that I have done enough during the week or during my career practice wise and that I have put the work in also in the gym to be able to be positive and believe in whatever I do if I do it one hundred percent that it is going to be enough and that I am going to get through and be ok. I have never really been aware of other players of the opposition. That being said I have played against some good defenders and good teams.

Finally Kemar. Could you say who are the coaches and managers who have meant a lot to you so far and how played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?

He is not a manager but the main person is my Dad Glendon Roofe. He is the one that started it and will be there until I finish my career. He is the one that has got and had the most influence on my career. The way I play and everything that I have learned in football is ninety percent from him and the rest is obviously experience and picking up things from coaches and other managers like Marcelo Bielsa, Vincent Kompany and Steven Gerrard.

Credit: Эдгар Брещанов

I also like to pick things up from the older players, the experienced players as I mentioned, Samir Nasri, Jermain Defoe, Nacer Chadli these are players that have played at the top level and being in and around them everyday and seeing what they do, seeing how they act and seeing the little things they do in training and how they train and the way that they think as well sometimes I would think I am doing things correctly or is my opinion the same as anyone else’s and those guys that have been there and done it a lot of the time it is very similar so it is nice to kind of compare yourself to these guys.

Credit: Boxingfan1995

They way in which Marcelo Bielsa and Steven Gerrard see the game it is not let’s line up eleven against eleven and see what happens at the final whistle it is not like that. Everything is thought out and there is a reason behind why we are doing it, actual tactics and we will train a certain way to help us in the next game. We will set up a certain way and players will get certain roles and jobs to do for different games so it’s like a game of chess basically. It is not always down to who works the hardest running wise or who is strongest or skillful there is a lot more to it such as formations, positions and how to actually play certain formations. There is so much behind it and there is a lot of thought that goes into it.

Alex McLeish: A point against Rangers will give Alexander confidence

Credit: Ross Watson / Creative Commons / Share-alike license 2.0

Motherwell 1-1 Rangers. The spoils were shared at Fir Park on Sunday January 17th.

It’s only the third time that Steven Gerrard’s side have dropped points in the Scottish Premiership this season. Following the match, I spoke with Alex McLeish and David Weir for Football Pass. WATCH HERE.

Both men praised Rangers for their efforts this season but in the end agreed that a draw was a fair result.

Alex McLeish is no stranger to both football clubs having managed Motherwell from 1994 to 1998 before going on to manage Rangers later in his managerial career between 2001 and 2006.

He knows how big a result against Celtic or Rangers can be when you are managing a side out with the Glasgow giants.

Credit: Chris / wikimedia Creative Commons

McLeish told me that a point against a relentless Rangers side could be a turning point for the Steelmen in their season, “Motherwell were very effective at nullifying Rangers at the weekend particularly in the first half. The result will give Graham Alexander and his side massive confidence for the rest of the season.”

Credit: Mattythewhite

Graham Alexander will be delighted with a point against Rangers and he’ll be desperate to follow up it with a win in their next game away to Aberdeen on Sunday.

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VAR: VALUABLE, ACCURATE OR RUBBISH?

Credit: Pexels

By Alex Harvey and Daniel Geey

VAR has well and truly arrived in the Premier League and it would be fair to say it’s caused quite a stir. Despite a relatively steady (although not entirely convincing) start to life in the top flight, a recent flurry of high-profile and contentious VAR decisions has seemingly shifted public opinion away from the technology. 

Fans and pundits have become increasingly sceptical, leading to calls for VAR to be suspended or scrapped entirely. 

Gary Lineker recently tweeted, “Sick of VAR. In its present state it is killing the game… Was always going to take time to settle down but they couldn’t be getting it more wrong than they currently are”.

Jamie Carragher also explained on Sky Sports that he initially favoured giving VAR a chance, but that he can no longer support it as we’re now spending“double or triple” the amount of time talking about VAR decisionsA cursory Sunday evening search on Twitter for “VAR” would suggest Mr Carragher is not alone in his anti-VAR opinion.

The VAR Protocol and the Premier League

Before we get into the merits of VAR, it’s worth taking a step back and recapping the basics.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which acts as the independent guardian of the laws of football, created the VAR Protocol. The key principle is that VAR will only intervene in the event of a “clear and obvious error” or “serious missed incident” in relation to one of four match-changing incidents: goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity. There are no exceptions to this, so if none of these ‘trigger events’ take place, VAR will not intervene. 

The Premier League, however, has sought to implement its own nuanced interpretation of the VAR Protocol in order to minimise disruption and interference to the game. Premier League officials initially imposed a “high threshold” for VAR intervention and advised on-field referees not to use the pitch-side monitors and to trust the advice coming from Stockley Park. 

Factual decisions

Whilst some decisions will always have an element of subjectivity (i.e. fouls, red cards etc), others are more binary. The best example is the off-side rule: a player is either off-side or not, whether by 1cm or 10 yards, and VAR is expected to provide the correct answer every time. This FIFA explainer video is instructive. The problem is that human error is continuing to creep in. 

Take David Silva’s goal against Aston Villa as an example. De Bruyne’s inswinging cross went all the way through the crowd and into the back of the net. VAR wanted to check whether Silva had touched the ball; because if he did then Sterling would have been offside and the goal would have been disallowed. Despite one of the camera angles seemingly showing a touch off Silva, VAR didn’t spot it and allowed the goal the stand. VAR’s cover was blown when the dubious goals committee ruled it as a David Silva goal.

Another binary decision is whether the ball hits an attacking player’s arm/hand in the lead up to a goal (think Gabriel Jesus’ injury time strike against Tottenham). This is a new rule introduced by IFABand the expectation is that VAR should have a 100% record in this area too. However, again, mistakes have shown that VAR is not immune from human error in these “black and white” decisions, as Fabian Schar’s equalizer for Newcastle against Watford back in August should have been disallowed because of a hand ball by Isaac Hayden in the build-up.

Subjective decisions

The nature of football dictates that, for other incidents, subjectivity will always remain. What some people see as a foul, red card or deliberate handball, others may not. For these decisions, significant weight will be given to the on-field referee’s initial, real-time perception of an incident and VAR will only intervene where there has been a “clear and obvious error”. As mentioned above, at the outset of the 2019/20 season the Premier League initially at least appeared to be imposing its own “high threshold” for clear and obvious interventions.

The issue with these subjective decisions is that there will always be an element of subjectivity. VAR has simply shifted the lines.

Whereas the question was previously, “is that a foul?

The question is now, “has the referee made a clear and obvious error in not awarding a foul?

Both are subjective decisions. A recent Twitter exchange with Gary Lineker illustrates the point, where we debated the question of whether Divock Origi was fouled in the build up to Manchester United’s opener against Liverpool.

Interestingly, the early criticism levelled at VAR was that the threshold for intervention was being set too high. In the first 9 rounds of Premier League games, no penalty or red card was awarded by VAR. Indeed, Premier League referee chief Mike Riley later admitted that VAR should have intervened on four occasions in the opening weeks; three of which related to subjective decisions. 

As winter has approached, however, there seems to have been a shift, with VAR seemingly applying a far lower ‘clear and obvious’ threshold for intervention. One example was the decision to award Brighton a penalty after Everton’s Michael Keane was judged to have fouled Aaron Connolly by stepping on his foot. Another was the decision to give Man United a penalty at Norwich after Daniel James went down in the box. 

The concern among many, including the authors, is that an on-field subjective decision is simply being replaced with a second subjective view. The difference is that fans expect the VAR subjective review to be rolled out consistently across all matches. It is this potential inconsistency which has led many to articulate their frustrations.

Just You Wait…..

It’s coming, and when it does, it will be a defining moment in the VAR story. The situation almost occurred in the Liverpool v Manchester City game at Anfield in early November. Bernardo Silva darted into the Liverpool box, the ball ricocheted off Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren back onto Silva’s arm before then hitting Liverpool defender Trent Alexander Arnold (TAA) on the arm. 

Much to the frustration of the City players no penalty was awarded, only for Liverpool to go down the other end and score the opening goal 22 seconds later through Fabinho’s long range strike. As soon as the goal went in, the City players asked referee Michael Oliver to check with VAR as to the rejected handball decision; with the distinct possibility of Liverpool’s goal being disallowed and a penalty being awarded to City. At the time of writing, the disallowing of a goal and the award of a penalty to the other team has not yet occurred in the Premier League. When it does, the VAR debate will inevitably erupt again.

The fascinating element of the TAA handball incident was that it encompassed so many different VAR intersections. There was the overall controversy; if the handball had been given, Liverpool’s goal would have been disallowed and City would’ve had the chance to score from the penalty spot. But even within the TAA handball there were at least three nuanced considerations for the referee and the VAR official to consider (the Silva handball, the ricochet onto TAA’s arm and whether TAA’s arm was in an unnatural position when the ball struck). 

  1. Silva’s Handball: Many first reactions to the Silva handball from Lovren’s attempted clearance was to suggest that a handball offence had occurred as an attacking player had handled the ball in the lead up to goal scoring opportunity. However, IFAB Law 12 designates that if Silva did not deliberately handle the ball, it is only an offence if the attacking player “gains possession/control of the ball after it has touched their hand/arm” (emphasis added). As Silva did not have control of the ball after it hit his arm, no offence could have been committed. 
  2. TAA’s Handball: If there was no offence by Silva, the real question was whether TAA’s action was an offence. Firstly, how did the ricochet from Silva’s arm affect the referee’s interpretation? The Premier League in its guidance suggests that players will be “allowed extra leeway when it comes to ricocheted handballs”, and specifically “a handball will not be awarded if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player who is close/nearby” (emphasis added). The subjective element is what “close/nearby” means[1]. Secondly, the referee and the VAR official then needed to consider whether there was an offence if the player “touches the ball with their hand/arm when: the hand/arm has made their body unnaturally bigger”. If it is deemed that the player does make his hand/arm unnaturally bigger, then the guidance deems that an offence. On this occasion, the Premier League confirmed that TAA’s arm was not in an unnatural position. A subjective call.

Conclusion

The intricacies of the above mean that, although through a relatively unusually complex example, human error in the interpretation and confluence of various VAR rules and guidance may still occur. 

It may be that the Premier League evolves and tweaks the VAR process, including the “high threshold” applied for overruling clear and obvious errors. Regardless of any changes, however, VAR will still be left in the unenvious position of having to deal with multiple rule issues that require subjective judgment calls in a matter of seconds. Some have argued for only objective decisions to be VAR reviewable but at least in the short term, VAR will continue to play a major part in outcomes of Premier League matches.


[1] As well as the fact that the ricochet came off Silva’s arm which doesn’t explicitly appear in the drafting of the rule (i.e. only head/body/foot are mentioned).

Systems starting point and reference point

Credit: Pexels

There are many views about systems of play from a rigid perspective to being unimportant in the minds of others. In this short writing, the idea will be laid out that systems are simply starting points and reference points in the modern game.

            Looking at history, the game shows at one point in the game if a player played right back that played in a certain area of the field and for the most part did not deviate from that particular of field. As the game evolved with Dutch Football leading to the idea of total Football whereby players had various characteristics that allow many players within the squad to have qualities that saw players interchanging positions frequently.

            Fast forward to the game of today clearly some players have the ability to play multiple positions. While evaluating the system of 4-2-3-1 playing with inverted wingers it is clear players have the ability to play in the central areas of the field as well in the wide areas of the field. Take a think about Raheem Sterling he has the ability to play as a traditional winger taking players on in wide areas or coming inside as a central player. This one movement opens space for another player to fill the space vacated by Sterling. Continuing the ideas of interchanging positions Kevin De Bruyne fills the space opened by Sterling movements which now goes to the point of this article systems in the modern game are starting points and reference points for players.

            Going back a few years in the height of Barcelona’s success it is clear that what made the club so dangerous was the ability to use a system as a starting position for players as well as a reference point. The use of possession to dominate the opponent Barcelona needed to exploit the idea a system is a starting point and reference point as a player under pressure would trust the knowledge based on the ball location players would be in particular areas that the player in possession could connect a pass. This use of a system as a starting point for players and reference points for other players is a vital reason why Barcelona could maintain possession at the rate it did during the club’s period of great success. Without question, the quality in Barcelona’s team at the time was a significant factor as the quality in every position allowed the team to make consistent high-level plays.

            The idea of systems brings much debate as to which one is best. The truth is systems are important providing players at a minimum opportunity to scan the field seeing the team set up knowing the strong points and weak points of a certain system. When the game starts teams attack and defend some better than others, goals are given up as well as scored with the system and yes, the system has a role in all that, but there are so many other aspects of the game to take into consideration before simply saying the system determined the outcome of the match. The ultimate reality is what players do and do not do on the field determines the outcome. Therefore, it is better to see a system as a starting point for players and a reference point, but the best system for a team is one that highlights the players allowing each to impose ability on the game at a high level providing the team the best opportunity to win the game.

John Bleasdale on Neil Doncaster and the SPFL

This is my own personal view on leadership of the SPFL.

The final straw for Neil Doncaster, time to go

WHAT does Neil Doncaster have to do for SPFL clubs to vote for his removal as Chief Executive of the League?

Over eleven years since he took up the post, then with the SPL before they and the SFL merged in 2013, Doncaster has presided over some of the most challenging times in Scottish Football, and has not handled them well. From the “Armageddon” blackmail to lower league clubs over where the reformed Rangers began their journey, through two periods of no sponsorship, through his palming off of league reconstruction to Ann Budge, the charge sheet against him is endless.

This week alone has brought three more cases to back up fans claims that he should be removed from his position. Firstly, the fallout over the Celtic Dubai fiasco and the leagues role in approving the unnecessary trip. Rearranging a match against Hibs from the Saturday to the Monday behind the Easter Road clubs back was nothing short of disgraceful, and palming it off as “in line with previous procedure” was just baffling. Previous procedure did not include the middle of a global pandemic, even before a new strain of coronavirus accelerated cases this trip was ill advisable. It was not essential for Celtic to go to Dubai, they were not travelling to play in a competition, and the league should have been reminding them of the fact they have THREE games in hand to rearrange. The fact that Hibs weren’t consulted was the most sickening part, and to rub salt in the wound it was the Hibees who were threatened with a 3-0 defeat for daring to suggest that Celtic players got tested before their game on Monday. It was justice that they snatched a late equaliser in injury time.

The second controversy that he has been involved in was the decision taken by the SFA to impose a three week suspension on the whole of Scottish Football – outwith the top two leagues. Whilst the decision itself was not made by the SPFL, the clubs affected tried to raise their concerns in a Zoom meeting, but Doncaster muted their microphones and refused to allow requests from chairmen/chairwomen to voice their opinions. Of course, Doncaster refutes this and claims that emails were invited before the meeting. With all due respect, but the purpose of a meeting is to have an adult discussion to raise concerns over the way a business or organisation is being run, and not allowing people to speak up is grossly unfair.

Lastly, the SPFL have had the embarrassment of seeing St Mirren and Kilmarnock win their appeals against forfeited matches, which saw them handed 3-0 defeats in three games respectively, two to Motherwell and one to Hamilton. When you consider that Aston Villa v Newcastle and Tottenham v Fulham in England’s top flight were quickly rearranged, the SPFL punishment was ridiculous to say the least. St Mirren and Kilmarnock admitted breaches relating to team buses, car sharing and sitting together at meals, teams being given 3-0 wins on a plate was not the way to go about it. The whole Celtic debacle played right into their hands, plus what was going on in England, and the right decision was made by the SFA. Instead of rearranging games at the time, it took Doncaster and his board six weeks to make the awful decision that’s now come back to bite him, and now clubs will be trying to rearrange games at a time where it’s uncertain that the top flight will be able to carry on for much longer if the number of positive cases continues to rise.

Now it can be argued that Doncaster is merely following rules put in by the clubs, and that club power restricts what he can do. However, he is paid a near £400k annual salary to make recommendations to the clubs and put them into place, and he isn’t doing nearly enough to justify that salary. The fact the league is without a sponsor for the second time in his tenure is criminal, it is his job to sell the league to companies to convince them that it’s worth investing in Scottish Football, which has a lot going for it on the park. You can only argue the impact of Covid-19 to a point because he’d known for sometime that the Ladbrokes sponsorship was coming to an end, and a new sponsor should’ve been in place before the impact of the pandemic hit our country.

His handling of the end of season and reconstruction debate was scandalous. Knowing the impact on clubs, he should’ve put forward a proposal of 14-10-10-10 at the same time as plans to call the season. Instead, once he got his way on the latter, he palmed off the league reconstruction task force in the hands of Ann Budge, which was never going to go down well considering she had the most at stake. His leadership was spineless, and he’s now in further danger of contradiction by publicly declaring that he can’t rule out a null and void scenario this season.

Of course, it would be unfair to pass all of the blame on Neil Doncaster’s door. The way most clubs behaved during the end of season discussions was childish and the self interest came through in droves at a time where the welfare of Scottish Football should’ve been paramount. It proves that the current system is not fit for purpose and that our game will not move on whilst clubs have their say. The SPFL and SFA boards need wholly independent people not directly involved with individual clubs to make the big decisions, they will more likely have the whole of Scottish Football at the heart of their discussions, whereas club representatives continue to put their interests first, as they showed during the end of season and reconstruction discussions.

However, those sticky points don’t dissolve Neil Doncaster of blame throughout his eleven year tenure. As Chief Executive, he is supposed to be the main marketing drive for our game and showcase Scottish Football to willing advertisers and broadcasters. Instead, he constantly downplays our game with the Armageddon scenarios he paints and his inability to deal with the key issues in our game. The rubber stamping of Celtic’s trip against Hibs wishes, contempt for League One and Two clubs over the suspension of their season, and diabolical handling of the St Mirren and Kilmarnock disciplinary procedures should be the final nail in his coffin.

Scottish Football is in need of major reform, and getting rid of Neil Doncaster is a good place to start.

Big 6 XI v The Rest XI – The LB

Welcome back to the best of the Rest XI so far. In this series we have been partnered with ViZi to help put together a team of the best players in the Premier League season thus far, but only from the ‘Other 14’. Today we finish the defensive line up for the team by adding a LB to an already formidable backline and keeper. 

No position in this defence was easy to pick, there was multiple contenders everywhere, and LB was particularly hard because, unlike RB where we had a linty of choices and options, there were far fewer options, but all have been playing at a high level. After a long discussion there was two possible options, but we realised with the two player per team constraint that there was really only one option. West Ham United’s Aaron Cresswell. 

Cresswell has played every minute of this Premier League season so far with West Ham and has already proved to be a valuable asset to the club, continuing brilliant form that he has had ever since he joined West Ham six years ago! 

 Ever since joining the club, Creswell has made 205 Premier League appearances whilst also contributing 30 goal, meaning he contributes a goal on average every 6.8 games! Which is phenomenal from a defender. Already this season is Cresswell ranking up the assists with 4 in 17 games, helping West Ham to victories over the likes of Leicester, Wolves, Villa and Everton.  

Cresswell often gets overlooked in my eyes, when you think of players who are underrated, I think that Cresswell is up there. The fact that a player of his quality has only had 3 England caps is quite astonishing and I think had Cresswell been playing for ‘Big 6’ side we would have seen him in the team a lot more! Because let’s face it, is he not up to the level of Chilwell and Shaw? 

Well let’s find out as we pair him up against one of the more praised LB’s in the League this season, Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney. Despite Arsenal being placed a spot below West Ham in the League you would be forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t so especially with the coverage of both Tierney and Cresswell. That being Tierney get lots of plaudits and being called the next Arsenal captain whilst Cresswell is only spoken about when West Ham win. So, let’s put the two London rivals to the test. LB v LB, West Ham v Arsenal and England v Scotland: 

Well, it would seem to me that the graph is pretty conclusive. Both players clearly have a very similar style of play with the two charts looking almost identical. Pressures, interceptions and tackles all looking remarkably similar between the two players. 

But overall, it is Cresswell who quite comfortably wins this fight; he is four times higher with assists, gives away half the turnovers and fouls as well as doubling the number of passes in the final third. Both players are seen as attacking wing backs and that is clear to see, Tierney does far dribbles while Cresswell gets himself into the final third far more often.  

Another way to look at this is that now at 31 Cresswell is far more experienced than Teirney, who is 23, so maybe this is why Teirney gets all the plaudits while Cresswell gets overlooked. But the experience is showing here, the less turnovers and the less fouls are testament to that. 

Either way the fact is Cresswell has been a baller so far this season for West Ham and is having a brilliant season, he has contributed to 16% of West Ham’s goals this season and is directly responsible for at least 5 points. It is clear to see why we picked him and makes up a World Class back line from the teams in the other 14!  

Martinez 

Lamptey – Fofana – Vestergaard – Cresswell  

Shorter one today but it was much clearer than usual, tomorrow we will begin the midfield, who do you think will be in?  

Thanks for reading!

My Top Ten Favourite Northern Irish Football League matches since 2015

Dr. Grant Campbell of the ‘Campbell’s Footballs’ podcast (a.k.a. Stato) discusses his thoughts each week in the Danske Bank Premiership in Northern Ireland.

This week, in a special written piece for Football CFB, Grant has picked some of his favourite NIFL League matches since following the League in 2015.

These are in no particular order so feel free to contribute with more to this list in the comments section below or interact on Twitter.

Carrick Rangers 2-1 Ballinamallard United, April, 2016, Taylor’s Avenue

Carrick Rangers pulled off a remarkable escape from relegation after a 2-1 win over Ballinamallard United on the final day of the Irish League season in 2016.

Trailing by a goal scored by former Hibernian player Ivan Sproule, Carrick completed a stunning comeback when Mark Surgenor equalised with a header before veteran Miguel Chines (pictured) grabbed a sensational stoppage-time winner with an overhead kick to send the Taylor’s Avenue faithful into raptures.

Carrick beat Ballinamallard to stay in Premiership - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

It completed a remarkable escape by the Amber Army and their manager Gary Haveron.

Gary talks vividly about that game in my discussion on Campbell’s Footballs. Head to the podcast chat here.

Warrenpoint Town 2-1 Linfield, 28th November 2020, Milltown

In November last year, Warrenpoint Town beat Linfield for the first time as they came back from a goal down to win 2-1 at Milltown.

It perhaps wasn’t the greatest watch in this list but in terms of history making, it has to be in here for me.

It looked like being a comfortable evening for the Blues as Kirk Millar gave them the lead with a clever first-half free-kick.

WARRENPOINT GIVE LINFIELD THE BLUES
Acknowledgement; NIFL

However, David Healy’s men failed to capitalise on their superiority and were punished as goals from Alan O’Sullivan (pictured) and Kealan Dillon turned the game around for Warrenpoint. Milltown is often regarded as one of the toughest places to go and get a result in the Irish League and this result late in 2020 sent shockwaves through the league.

It was a first Irish Premiership defeat of the season for holders Linfield but also a remarkable win for Barry Gray’s side.

Crusaders 4-3 Cliftonville, 1st October 2016, Seaview

This game is quite simply one of the best comebacks i’ve seen in my time watching the Irish Premiership.

The leaders in 2016 Crusaders were 3-0 down in this game to bitter rivals Cliftonville after well taken goals from Daniel Hughes, Jay Donnelly and Ruairi Harkin.

Irish Premiership: Crusaders 4-3 Cliftonville - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

However, in a remarkable turnaround, two goals from Jordan Owens, one from Michael Carvill and a last gasp winner from David Cushley (pictured) completed a sensational victory for Stephen Baxter’s side.

I felt for former guest of Campbell’s Footballs Gerard Lyttle, the Cliftonville manager that day, as his side were absolutely brilliant for over an hour at Seaview. However, you have to credit Baxter and his team for never giving up and always keeping the faith.

This isn’t the first time Cushley is mentioned in here in terms of important goals.

Ballymena United 1-2 Cliftonville, Windsor Park, County Antrim Shield Final, 21st January 2020

I’ve included a couple of County Antrim Shield finals in this list because, even though some fans in Northern Ireland may not regard the tournament as vital, any success is still merited. This first pick had all the drama at the end and some!

Ballymena took the lead in this game courtesy of Leroy Millar tapping home an excellent Andy McGrory cross.

With time ticking down, it looked all set for one of the maestro’s of Irish League management David Jeffrey, to be once again manage a side to success in a cup final. However, Cliftonville were to pick themselves up off the canvas courtesy of substitute Thomas Maguire’s equaliser in the fifth minute of injury-time.

Alas, that wasn’t the end of the action.

Cliftonville Football Club » Late launch
Acknowledgement: Cliftonville FC

Just under 90 seconds later, Ryan Curran struck a dramatic winner to break Ballymena hearts and spark wild celebrations for the red half of Belfast.

This was the first piece of silverware for manager Paddy McLaughlin since arriving from Institute and you can tell in the pictures and videos what it meant to him, his squad and the fans (pictured).

Cliftonville 1-3 Coleraine, 5th May 2018, Windsor Park, Irish Cup Final

This was one of the first Irish Cup finals I watched from start to finish since following the Irish League and the final was everything I could have wished for and more.

It ended with Coleraine securing a sixth Irish Cup success by beating Cliftonville 3-1 at Windsor Park. This was the Bannsiders first cup triumph since 2003 and what a way to do it.

Darren McCauley’s stunning strike early in the second half gave Coleraine the lead but Rory Donnelly equalised almost immediately for the Reds.

Substitute Aaron Burns was to restore Coleraine’s lead with less than fifteen minutes remaining before Eoin Bradley fired home the clincher in stoppage-time with one of the all time iconic Irish Cup final goals. Eoin speaks about this so vividly in my Campbell’s Footballs chat.

The victory represented a first trophy success for manager Oran Kearney and sparked extraordinary celebrations (pictured).

Cliftonville 1-3 Coleraine: The story of the 2018 Tennent's Irish Cup Final  - Belfast Live
Acknowledgement: Belfast Live

Coleraine came so close to toppling Crusaders in the league that season having finished second despite only losing one domestic game. This final success was fitting and much deserved for all associated with the Ballycastle Road side.

Glenavon 2-2 Linfield, 5th November 2016, Mourneview Park

This was a game that ended up having huge significance in the title race that season between Linfield and Crusaders but also goes in this list for a quite extraordinary turn around for the Blues as they fought back from two goals and two men down to grab a point.

Referee Tim Marshall had sent off Matthew Clarke and then goalkeeper Roy Carroll with the game at 0-0 early in the first half. With defender Mark Haughey having to go in goal for the Belfast side in replacement of Carroll, Paddy McCourt gave Glenavon the lead before Greg Moorhouse doubled the home side’s advantage as the Lurgan Blues seemed to have taken control.

However, an Andy Waterworth strike gave David Healy’s men hope before a last-gasp Paul Smyth equaliser rescued a point for the nine-men. This goal proved to be a big moment in the career of Smyth (pictured) who ended up moving on across the water at the end of the campaign to join QPR where he is continuing to do well.

Irish Premiership Highlights: Glenavon 2-2 Linfield - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

Larne 2-3 Glentoran, 18th October 2019, Inver Park

I’ve picked this game for three reasons: 1) Every game involving Larne usually guarantees you goals 2) This game in particular had five really good goals but 3) the winner was simply incredible and from an unlikely source too!

Mark Randall’s early free-kick gave Larne the lead before a quick Paul O’Neill double turned the game in Glentoran’s favour.

Larne 2-3 Glentoran: Patrick McClean's overhead kick sinks Invermen in  five-goal thriller - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

Sean Graham made it 2-2 before Glentoran defender Paddy McLean (pictured with teammates) scored arguably one of the best goals of his career to settle proceedings at Inver Park.

This was a terrific game of football and another real advert for the Irish League.

Crusaders 4-3 Linfield, Seaview, 12th March 2019, County Antrim Shield Final

I said this wasn’t the first time David Cushley would get a mention in this. He loves important goals and they aren’t tap-ins either!

In this game, defending County Antrim Shield champions Crusaders had fallen 3-1 down to rivals Linfield. Mark Stafford, Kirk Millar and a freak own goal by Colin Coates had put David Healy’s side in control despite Cushley’s strike for the Crues. However, Coates then netted at the right end to spark an extraordinary fightback for Stephen Baxter’s side.

Jordan Forsythe levelled it up at 3-3 before Cushley headed home the winner two minutes into added time to settle a quite sensational finish to a game played in gale force conditions. The Crues had defended the County Antrim Shield title and how (pictured).

County Antrim Shield final: Late double sees Crusaders beat Linfield 4-3 in  thriller - BBC Sport

The commentary from Michael Clarke just tells the whole story of a quite sensational game.

Crusaders 3-4 Glenavon, Windsor Park, 1st April 2016, Irish Cup semi final

Glenavon are often regarded as a decent league outfit but a really good cup team and this game proved just that.

They could not have done it though without the performance of one man – veteran striker Kevin Braniff (pictured).

Irish Cup semi-final: Braniff scores four as Glenavon win 4-3 to make final  - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

Braniff scored all four goals in this game to put Glenavon into a second Irish Cup final in three seasons and end Crusaders’ hopes of a league and cup double that season.

Baxter’s side led twice in the first half through a man now playing for the Lurgan Blues, Matthew Snoddy. However, Braniff superbly netted twice for the 2014 winners to make it 2-2 at half time.

Paul Heatley restored Crusaders advantage after the break before Braniff equalised again and then scored a sensational winner to secure a thrilling Windsor Park win.

It has to go down as one of the best individual performances from a player in a cup match.

Is it the best though? My final selection may make you think about that.

Coleraine 0-3 Linfield, Windsor Park, Irish Cup Final, 6th May 2017

Linfield ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in the 2017 final against Coleraine to complete a successful one for the Belfast Blues as they cleaned up for the first time since 2012.

However, I’ve picked this selection due to the historical individual performance by Andy Waterworth (pictured, right).

Irish Cup final: As it happened - Live - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement; BBC Sport

Waterworth’s hat-trick in the 2017 final was the first since 1969 when Billy McAvoy scored 4 that day for Ards in a 4-2 win in 1969. Andy is a Linfield legend and that afternoon for him capped an amazing season for Linfield and himself personally. The great thing about it is he still feels he should have got the four goals that day too! Go back to listen to my chat with the big man here.

Some Honourable Mentions

I feel bad falling out with Larne having picked one game in here they lost but in recent times their 3-1 home win against Linfield before the pandemic struck was a superb result for Tiernan Lynch’s side.

Dungannon have not been mentioned in here either which I also feel bad about but their 4-4 draw with Warrenpoint Town last season was an absolute goalfest.

Portadown have also been a mainstay of the Irish League for many years. It is great to have them back in the top flight and their 4-2 away win at Glenavon on the opening weekend must go in there for a simply superb performance from Matthew Tipton’s men.

Institute also had some great times in the top flight. This superb 6-4 win over Cliftonville in 2018 also gets in this section. Michael McCrudden, now at Cliftonville netted four times in this game, a quite brilliant feat.

Last, but not least, Ards need to get a mention. They sensationally beat Linfield in 2018 2-1 to cause a massive upset.

Useful Links and sources which you should check out:

NIFL Premiership Highlights Show:

The Score NI with Michael Clarke:

The Waffle – Irish League Podcast

That’s What I Call Football

Check out quality Irish League content from some of the Leagues top names:

Joel Taggart, Liam Beckett, Michael Clarke, Nicola McCarthy, Colin Hopkins, Steven Beacom, Mark McIntosh and find some of the characters I’ve interviewed so far by visiting the Campbell’s Footballs archive.

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Scott Agnew: East Fife, developing at Rangers and goal scoring memories

You are currently at East Fife under Darren Young. How much are you enjoying live at Bayview?

I’m absolutely loving it. Darren Young has put his trust in me and I know that I’m going to play an important part in his side which has given me a lot of confidence to take onto the pitch. I’m playing regularly and scoring goals which is all you want as a footballer.

At 33, I’m one of the more experienced players in the team and I’m the vice captain of the side which is a great honour. I really enjoy leading the side and helping the younger players that we have at the club. We have some very good players at the club and it’s just a shame that things have been cut short at this moment in time but we are all raring to go again when it’s safe to do so.

What would you say are your most memorable moments at the club so far from a person perspective?

There’s a fair few. We have a very good record against Raith Rovers in my time at the club which is something that the club didn’t have for a number of years. That makes me proud as this group of players has beaten them quite well a few times and the game in which Aaron Dunsmore scored an injury time winner springs to mind as a great day. Playing in derby matches like that is something I enjoy doing.

I’ve enjoyed scoring goals for the club and to have scored a hat-trick in my last game was an amazing moment. Winning the player of the month award for league 1 was another moment that meant a lot to me and shows just how much I’m enjoying my football.

Credit: Fife Today / East Fife Football Club

You started your career as an academy player at Rangers. How much did you learn from that experience?

Credit: G Laird / The Rangers Football Centre – Murray Park / CC BY-SA 2.0

I learned an awful lot. I carry a lot of what I learned at Rangers into my game to this day. Back then there was a big focus on discipline and looking after yourself which served me well on and off the pitch.

It was a difficult experience for many young players as at that time the club had Ronald De Boer and players like that so breaking in was always going to be tough. Although, I have to say that being in the same building as these guys was such a great learning experience.

Following Rangers, you make the move to Hamilton Accies. How important was it for you to go out and get games in senior football under your belt?

It was an eye opening experience for me to be honest as being at Murray Park and being looked after as well as we were was all that a knew before going to Accies.

Credit: Alasdair Middleton

When I arrived at Hamilton, I very quickly realised that it was all about winning three points on a Saturday that really mattered. Billy Reid was the manager and he was great with me. I played for the first team under him and with hindsight it was probably a bit early for me but despite that I really enjoyed my time at the club.

You played for Alloa in two different spells, what are your memories of playing for the wasps?

Alloa was another positive experience as it was the first time I became a regular first team players. Allan Maitland gave me a platform to play and allowed to go and express myself which is the perfect grounding for a young player.

Following Alloa, Ayr United came calling. It seemed like a frustrating time for you. How do you reflect on it now?

It was a frustrating time to be honest as coming from regular football at Alloa to signing a two year deal at Ayr was exciting. However, I was in and out of the team and didn’t get the opportunity to play too many games in a row.

The team were playing well and I couldn’t break in. We won promotion from league 1 when I was at the club and I knew that I wouldn’t play a lot in the championship as I wasn’t a part of the plans in league 1 so a loan move was the next step for me at that time.

You go on loan to Stranraer and turn that move into a permanent one. How important was it for you to regain your place in a side and play regular football?

Credit: Fragglerock52

I arrived in the Christmas time and during my loan spell I scored a lot of goals and enjoyed it. It was the wake up call I needed at the time if I’m honest. Playing in League 2 for six months made me think to myself that I had to improve my game as I didn’t want my career to go in the wrong direction.

That move was the best thing I could have done as it gave me the hunger to revitalise my career and attract interest from other clubs.

That interest comes from Dumbarton and others. Your spell at Dumbarton was a successful one for you individually and for the team as a whole. How proud are you of that time in your career?

My first season at Dumbarton was my best season in football. I was well into double figures for both goals and assists which led to me winning the clubs player of the year award. I was absolutely loving my football and to win promotion to the championship was incredible as we weren’t expected to do that.

Ian Murray was the manager of Dumbarton during your time at the club. What was he like as a manager because that spell was a successful one for him in management?

Credit: Jmorrison230582

Ian was very, very good and brought professionalism to the club. His attitude was refreshing and everyone bought into it as he has played at a very high level himself and clearly knew what he wanted from us as players.

We had a great run under Ian in the championship and secured our survival in the division which for a club of our size at that time was a phenomenal achievement.

Craig Gordon trained with Dumbarton when you were at the club. What was he like on the training field?

Credit: Lee Sie

He came in for four weeks to coach and learn the ropes of coaching. He played now and again but unfortunately he was never going to sign for us.

When he trained with us, he was superb and it was amazing to train with someone of his calibre.

Your performances caught the eye of St Mirren and you make the move to Paisley. Was that move one that you realistically couldn’t turn down?

Credit: Fragglerock52

At the time it was. It was strange in many ways as I was playing under Ian Murray at Dumbarton and wanted to sign a new contract. In between me and the club agreeing the deal, Ian moved to St Mirren and asked me to join him at the club. It was too big a club and an opportunity to turn down.

Obviously in hindsight it didn’t really work out and if it has been a smaller full time club that wanted me then in all honesty I’d have stayed at Dumbarton but I had to take the chance to join St Mirren because when you have interest for a club like St Mirren who had ambitions to play in the top flight its very hard to say no to.

You had a great start to your St Mirren career by scoring two goals on your debut against Berwick Rangers alongside the likes of Lewis Morgan and Stevie Mallan. How proud were you of your start at the flub?

In all honestly Callum, I probably got off to a start that was too good (laughs) by scoring both goals. I also scored a good goal against Dumbarton in my first few weeks at the club too but ultimately results didn’t go our way which led to the team changing a lot.

Certainly, my start was a positive one but Ian Murray then loses his job and we have a managerial change and things didn’t work out from there.

You played alongside current St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin. Was it obvious even then that he would go on to be a manager?

Credit: Alasdair Middleton

I’ve got a great relationship with him and people forget just how good a footballer he was. He’s also a great person. You won’t meet a nicer man which is something people might be shocked by given his aggressive style of play.

He was always going to go on and be a manager and I’m not surprised he’s having success as a manager with St Mirren as he was a true leader in the dressing room.

After St Mirren you returned to Stranraer. What was the motivation for that move?

I had a bad injury at st Mirren and the Stranraer chairman has always been very supportive towards me and he asked me to come back to the club to find my love of the game again.

I had options in the championship but I felt that Stranraer could challenge in league one and that’s why I went there.

We had a good changing room but it didn’t click for us as a squad and Brian Reid lost his job as the manager. Stevie Farrell came in until the end of the season and we played better as group which was good.

A few quick fire questions to end Scott. Who are the best players you’ve played with in your career so far?

Ross McCormack at Rangers as he was the best player at my age group and he’s had a very good career. Chris Turner at Dumbarton was a superb midfielder and of course I have to mention Lewis Morgan and Stevie Mallan who were scarily good technically.

Credit: Werner100359

On the flip side of that question, who would you say your toughest opponent has been so far?

Scott Allan was a superb player in the seasons that Hibs played in the championship. Easter road was a very tough place to go and he would go down as my toughest opponent. His movement was so impressive.

Credit: Will bcfc

Last but not least, which coaches have really helped you in your journey so far?

Ian Murray was great for me and Jack Ross was a superb assistant manager who I played under too.

My current manager Darren Young has to be mentioned too because the trust that he has in me as a senior player is special and he gives me the autonomy to go and play to my best.

Big 6 XI v The Rest XI – The CB

Welcome back to the best of the Rest XI so far. Yesterday revealed that French Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana was the first CB in our team and today we reveal his partner in the strongly contested Centre Half position. 

As mentioned yesterday, the centre back position was very hotly contested, but in truth it was only the second spot that was hard to pick, the first spot was pretty easy choose. Not only has he been one of the best CB’s in the other 14 teams this season, but he has also been one of if not this best CB in the whole league this year! We are obviously talking about Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard. 

Everyone knows how good the scouting system at Southampton is, the vivid in-depth analysis of overseas players to whittle out the best for their team whilst on a budget is second to none! So, when he was signed for Southampton from Gladbach back in 2018- there was never any doubt he would be up to the challenge. The man-monolith is a truly brilliant player, when he is on the field the Dane who stands at 6’6 is completely commanding and when he comes up for a set piece you know you are in trouble.   

Recently Vestergaard has been out through injury, like most defenders in the league this year, but his performances before getting injured were second to none and at one point even helped Southampton to the very top of the table. Now in 7th Southampton are still putting themselves forward as serious European contenders and when Vestergaard returns, their chances will only go up!  

Vestergaard has scored three goals this season and has helped Southampton keep 5 clean sheets in the 13 games he has played. Today we put him up against a defender who has really improved this season and has started to finally look like the player we all expected when he made a move to Man City. That player is obviously John Stones.  

Man City have been looking for defender for some time with Vestergaard’s name having appeared in some rumours especially this season, so let’s see how he stacks up against a potential rival:

The stats show that the two are extremely close in most areas, Man City’s superior passing shines through, but other than that what we can see is something genuinely quite interesting. Yesterday we compared 20-year-old Wesley Fofana to 34-year-old veteran Thiago Silva, in that we showed how Wesley was already beating Silva in some but in others we chalked it down to age and experience. But in a quite shocking realisation this chart is identical to yesterdays! In every area, other than clearances, which Fofana beat Silva, Vestergaard beat Stones and in every area which Silva beat Fofana, Stones beat Vestergaard! But we can’t put today’s results down to age and experience because Vestergaard is two years older than Stones. So, what could this mean? 

All stats are completely individual, and we could have picked a multitude of players to face off against each other, in many different combinations and in the last two days all four players have come from four different clubs so for the ‘Big 6’ players and the other 14 players to match almost identically is incredible, especially in a season where results have been so unpredictable. 

I do have a theory; I believe that what we are seeing is outcome of an almost predetermined style of play which separates the ‘big 6’ from the other 14. The possession based and more thorough style of play which Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool ect all try to play, means that their players styles all mould to suit a certain blend meanwhile the other 14 play a freer flowing counter attacking style which allows players, especially in defence to express themselves more often, this would explain why Vestergaard and Fofana both dribbles more often and get more interceptions for example. 

But unlike Fofana, what we can see from Vestergaard here is that when he wins in a category, he dominates in it, and when he loses, he is not far behind. In an average game Vestergaard will win double the number of headers than Stones, double his tackles and double his interceptions. What we can see if anything is that Vestergaard is a machine. He commits less than 1 foul and turns the ball over less than once per 90 whilst always contributing to Southampton’s defensive effort, which the same can’t be said for Stones who averages less than a tackle per game. 

Despite any creepy patterns, Vestergaard is an obvious choice for this team and would be an obvious choice for any team, he is a centre half who would start in any team within the Prem, big 6 or not. A truly fantastic player who I wait eagerly for the return of. 

Tomorrow we reveal the final edition to our back line with the Left Back position!

The Scottish Football Review of the Week

Written by Dr. Grant Campbell – @stato_grant

The host of Campbell’s Footballs Dr. Grant Campbell has been casting his eye over an incident packed week in Scottish Football, giving his comments on some of the major talking points over the weekend’s matches. Feel free to discuss and debate the views on various social media channels.

IMPROVING MOTHERWELL DEVELOP STUBBORNESS UNDER ALEXANDER AS GERS DROP POINTS

Since Graham Alexander (pictured) has come into the Motherwell dugout, he has definitely seen an upsurge in fortunes for the Steelmen.

Graham Alexander coaching sessions - Elite Soccer
Acknowledgement: Elite Soccer Coaching

Motherwell were unlucky to draw at St Mirren last week after leading from early on in the game down at Paisley but against Rangers they showed their mettle and were well drilled, frustrating Steven Gerrard’s side especially in the first half at Fir Park. The first half perfection for Well was complete with Devante Cole opened the scoring after finishing off a fine flowing move as well.

The second half Motherwell had to do their fair share of defending and although Cedric Itten (pictured) breached their defence, I think Alexander can take a lot of positives from the game, notably the performance of Liam Kelly and Tony Watt. Rangers have been ruthless so far this season but at Fir Park they did not get things all their own way and Motherwell shut them down well throughout.

Arthur Numan gives verdict on Rangers striker Cedric Itten after scouting  Swiss star for AZ | HeraldScotland
Acknowledgement: The Herald

Defensively, Rangers were poor in conceding that opening goal and on the front foot, for much of the first half, they lacked invention and ideas. It was not until the introduction of Itten for Ianis Hagi than Rangers upped their game. It is testament to how well Rangers have played this season that we are criticizing them dropping points at Motherwell, only the third time this season. They still have a commanding lead at the top of the table and I do not think many in blue will be panicking after today’s result.

I am sure they will want to rediscover their ruthless streak in the next few games though.

BELEAGUERED CELTIC STUMBLE AGAIN

Celtic’s beleagured season is spiralling out of control.

After their controversial trip to Dubai saw them return with a COVID-19 positive test for Christopher Jullien, leading to many first team players and staff having to self isolate, the Champions have stumbled to two more disappointing home draws in the space of six days.

After succumbing to a late Kevin Nisbet goal on Monday night in their rearranged game against Hibernian, stand in manager Gavin Strachan could only watch on as his side struggled to a goalless draw at home to flying Livingston.

Celtic 0-0 Livingston: Celtic title hopes take another hit – STV News
Acknowledgement: STV News

Had it not been for a sensational save from Conor Hazard (pictured), David Martindale’s side would have gone away from Parkhead with all three points. Celtic have struggle for consistency and creativity throughout the season but also have been really poor defensively and this game once again reiterated how badly they need to sort things out as a club moving forward.

The title is well and truly gone for Celtic and you wonder if other sides had been more consistent this season, second may not have been as done a deal as well. It’s been a season to forget for Neil Lennon, Peter Lawell, Dermot Desmond and everyone associated with Celtic Football Club.

Massive change on and off the pitch is surely only a matter of time.

LIONS GRAB EXCELLENT PARKHEAD POINT AHEAD OF BIG WEEK

This is the first time Celtic will play Livingston this week and on the evidence of yesterday’s game, if Martindale’s side play as well as that, you have to think they have a chance at the Tony Macaroni in midweek.

Livingston’s upsurge in fortunes to me is down to renewed belief in individuals and the club as a whole on and off the pitch and whilst Martindale deserves all the plaudits, the players themselves deserve a big pat on the back too.

The performances of Maksymilian Stryjek in goal (pictured), Jon Guthrie at the back and Scott Robinson in attack are just three of those who have been a factor in the Lions great form at the moment.

Celtic 0-0 Livingston: Makeshift Celtic held at home - BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

It is a big week for Livingston as after this Celtic game they have a semi final on Sunday against St Mirren to look forward to in the League Cup. Long term, they also have to be in the reckoning for finishing third ahead of Aberdeen and Hibernian.

There is definitely plenty to play for in the coming weeks and months for the West Lothian side.

COUNTY OFF BOTTOM WITH IMPRESSIVE VICTORY

Ross County are definitely a different side these days under John Hughes.

Since the arrival of Yogi, his side have taken seven points from the eighteen available and that has included wins at Hibernian and at home to yesterday’s opponents Aberdeen.

It was a brilliant performance from the Staggies who got off to the perfect start when Ollie Shaw scored inside the opening minute before Charlie Lakin (pictred), on loan from Birmingham City, made it 2-0.

Ross County 4-1 Aberdeen: Staggies climb off foot of the table | Football  News | Sky Sports
Acknowledgment; Sky Sports

Despite conceding an own goal before half time, Hughes’s side withstood increasing Dons pressure and scored two late goals themselves to complete an emphatic performance. Shaw netted his second before Jermaine Hylton netted a fourth late on.

There is no doubt Hughes is getting some rewards with this group of players and you sense now they have a great chance of staying alive in this division when it looked all doom and gloom just before Christmas. The end of February will be a good checkpoint to see if they can put themselves in an even stronger position. After Rangers away next week, the Staggies have four of their next five matches against sides outside the top four.

DEFENSIVE DISASTER FOR DISMAL DONS

Where do you start with Aberdeen on Saturday in Dingwall? Derek McInnes’ side had a nightmare from start to finish.

Every goal they conceded was a defensive disaster, starting with the opening goal where Andy Considine and Tommy Hoban got in a mess. The second goal everyone seemed to stop as Lakin had all the time in the world to net number two.

Even though the Dons got back in the game, they huffed and puffed as they tried to get level before succumbing to two late goals from Shaw (pictured) and Hylton. It was a nightmare of a third goal to concede and Joe Lewis didn’t cover himself in glory for the final goal.

Ross County 4-1 Aberdeen: Shaw bags brace in Dingwall – STV News
Acknowledgement: STV News

Every goal Aberdeen conceded yesterday was avoidable and at the other end of the pitch they are struggling for inspiration and goals. Sam Cosgrove looks a man well off the pace and injuries to Ross McCrorie and Jonny Hayes added to McInnes’ wows on a rotten afternoon for the Granite City side. Curtis Main is also struggling for goals. The current saga to Scott Wright’s future as well is also having an impact on the team. The only player who looks capable of making things happen consistently for the Dons in my view is Ryan Hedges and he was suspended for this match.

There is no doubt displeasure and frustration is growing within the Red Army support and the next few months could be critical in the long term future of McInnes.

GOGIC SCREAMER GIVES HIBERNIAN MUCH NEEDED WIN

Hibernian’s season was in danger of running away from them of late but they got back to winning ways on Saturday thanks to a much needed win over Kilmarnock.

The opening goal of the game was a scrappy own goal from Alan Power but the second goal from Alex Gogic (pictured) was a thing of beauty- a rasper into the top corner.

Hibernian 2-0 Kilmarnock: Hibs climb to third with hard-fought win |  Football News | Sky Sports
Acknowledgement: Sky Sports

Hibernian hadn’t been their usual selves at Easter Road lately after their recent home defeats to Livingston and Ross County but this win and performance will be just the tonic Jack Ross will take ahead of a big cup semi final against St Johnstone next week.

KILLIE RECOVERY TAKES TURN FOR WORSE

After a much needed home win last week against Hamilton, Kilmarnock took a step back this week.

The game was a struggle for Alex Dyer’s side as they failed to seriously test Matt Macey in the Hibernian goal and did not have a shot on target in the ninety minutes at Easter Road.

Hibernian 2-0 Kilmarnock: Edinburgh side move above Aberdeen into third -  BBC Sport
Acknowledgement: BBC

They really missed Yousouff Mulumbu in the midfield yesterday and had it not been for goalkeeper Danny Rogers who produced a couple of excellent saves, it could have been an even worse day for Dyer’s team.

Killie have now lost six of their last nine games and face three tough games next with Livingston away before St Johnstone and Celtic at home.

SCRAPPY SAINTS WIN PROVIDES REQUIRED BOOST FOR DAVIDSON

Talking of sides who needed a result, Callum Davidson and St Johnstone needed one yesterday at home to St Mirren and they got it.

Davidson himself referred to the win as “scrappy” but St Johnstone picked up their first league win since another 1-0 win at home to Kilmarnock at the start of November. Danny McNamara scored that day and is now no longer at the Perth Saints.

St Johnstone win came from 'one of worst performances' as St Mirren hit out  at red card | The Scotsman
Acknowledgement: The Scotsman

For Davidson though, his side haven’t been playing badly in games but they do draw too many matches and are not clinical enough on a consistent basis.

Chris Kane scored the only goal yesterday to add to the one he scored in midweek against Dundee United. Davidson will want more from him as well as other players such as Guy Melamed, Stevie May and Craig Conway ahead of that semi final against Hibernian next week.

NO LEAGUE WINS IN FOUR FOR BUDDIES

2021 has got off to a slow start for Jim Goodwin’s (pictured) St Mirren but I am not too worried about the Buddies at the moment.

They are not playing badly in matches and are not conceding too many themselves which gives them a chance in most matches. However, this was another game where they passed up too many chances. New signing Eamonn Brophy from Kilmarnock may be a good bit of business long term but he’ll need time to settle in.

Jim Goodwin questions refereeing after St Mirren beaten at St Johnstone |  BT Sport
Acknowledgement; BT.com

It’s Livingston next for St Mirren in the Cup semi final and after great performances against Aberdeen and Rangers in previous rounds, this game provides a big opportunity for Goodwin and his team to emulate the side of 2013. It’ll be tough for them though as Livingston are playing so well at the moment.

ACCIES AND TERRORS CANCEL EACH OUT

This was not a great watch between Hamilton and Dundee United but I think, on balance, both teams will be happy with a point (pictured).

Hamilton were well beaten at Kilmarnock last week but defended stoutly against United and got stuck in to make life difficult for Micky Mellon’s side. It’s five points from the last twelve available for Brian Rice’s side and four points from six out of their two home games so far in 2021. Accies, if they are going to stay up, cannot afford to lose too many game at home.

Hamilton 0 - 0 Dundee U - Match Report & Highlights
Acknowledgement; Sky Sports

Dundee United will perhaps look on this game as another missed opportunity on the road as they drew their third match in four away from Tannadice but it is also a second clean sheet in their last three games and Mellon’s side are still very much competing in a majority of matches. Only Rangers and Celtic have beaten Dundee United since mid December and considering they have had to go to Easter Road and Pittodrie in that run, I think that is an excellent return.

OPEN BETFRED CUP REACHES SEMI FINAL STAGE

Next weekend, the BetFred Cup semi finals take place at Hampden Park with St Johnstone taking on Hibernian on Saturday evening before Livingston and St Mirren face off on Sunday afternoon.

These games, for me, are two evenly matched encounters and all four sides will fancy their chances of making the final later in the year. Every side has a story in this run so far and whoever goes onto win it, you can be sure there will be another story delightfully being told.

Acknowledgement: Grant Campbell/ SPFL42 on Twitter

As part of this, the SPFL42 show will be hosting a fan/podcast special where a recipient from each of the four associated clubs will join me on the show to talk up their side’s chances of a place in the BetFred Cup final. Tune in to the podcast when it comes out on Wednesday this week!

Scottish Professional Football League - Wikipedia

Copa Libertadores- The Story of Two Breathtaking Spectacles

The Semi-Final second legs took place on Wednesday and left many football fans across the world speechless. Both games were filled with goals, chaos and drama, making them a perfect advertisement for South American football

Palmeiras 0-2 River Plate

Credit: Footballia

Palmeiras thought they had cemented their place in the final after winning the first leg 3-0, however, River Plate were not going to go down without a fight.

From the first minute the Argentinian side looked to overpower the opposition with a high press and quick passing play. Midfielders Nicolas De La Cruz and Ignacio Fernandez were constantly looking to create opportunities by driving at defenders or unlocking the defensive line with a perfect ball.

Palmeiras conceded a corner in the 28th minute which was whipped in by De La Cruz. As the ball was just arriving on the penalty spot Robert Rojas thundered it into the top corner with a stunning header. After the first goal went in it looked as though the River players believed they could overcome the odds and reach the final.

Then two minutes before half-time De La Cruz attempted a cross from the right wing which was really poorly defended by Palmeiras. The ball managed to bounce through the centre-back’s legs to striker Rafael Borre who was arriving at the other side of the six-yard-box. The Colombian comfortably clipped the ball into the bottom corner whilst goalkeeper Weverton did his best to put the forward off. The team from Brazil were crumbling under the pressure and their woes would continue in the second half.

River picked up from where they left off as they continued to dominate possession. Six minutes after the restart and River looked as though they had done the impossible. Another cross was sent into the Palmeiras box, this time from the left, it was met with a wonderful volley from wing-back Gonzalo Montiel. After the jubilation, not only shown by the players but by the coaching staff on the bench, VAR disallowed the goal. A River player was shown to have his left foot in an offside position during the build-up play which led to the goal.

Robert Rojas was the hero of the first half but the villain of the second. The Paraguayan was easily turned by Palmeiras forward Rony, instead of allowing the striker to run through he pulled him down. Rojas was given a second yellow and River Plate were down to 10 men. Although Los Millionairos were a man down they continued to play like they had nothing to lose.

With only 15 minutes left forward Matias Suarez decided to take matters into his own hands and drive his way into the box looking for an equaliser. Luan Garcia attempted to pickpocket the ball away from the oncoming striker but Suarez ended up on the floor and a penalty was given. VAR was once again called into action and on closer inspection it looked as though the Argentinian was falling to the ground before contact was made so the decision was overturned.

With 97 minutes now on the clock there was still enough time for another heart-stopping bit of drama. As a hopeful pass was sent into the box by River Plate a defender from the home side did his best to shield the ball but he was put under huge pressure from a player desperate for a place in the final. Both players went down and a free kick for the defensive team was given but the voice in the referee’s ear suggested that there was a potential penalty to be given. As the official made his way to the pitch-side monitor the stadium was silent. After what seemed like an eternity, the original decision stood and River’s last chance to reach the final had been denied.

River Plate put on a footballing masterclass but somehow Palmeiras managed to make it to the final by the skin of their teeth. The Verdao will now look to win the competition for the second time in their history, however, they will have to put in a much better performance in the final than they did in this game to have a chance at silverware.

Santos 3-0 Boca Juniors

The last leg of this tie was an extremely dull and lacklustre affair which resulted in a goalless draw. This time around the game was action-packed, fast-paced and chaotic.

Santos looked to take advantage of their opponents sluggish start with a shot coming off the post in the first minute.

On the 15 minute mark a shot towards the Boca goal seemed to come off a defenders hand, however, before a decision had to be made striker Diego Pituca pounced on the deflected ball and cooly placed it into the bottom corner.

Winger Jefferson Soteldo doubled the lead four minutes into the second half with a wonderful strike. The Venezuelan cut in from the left onto his right-foot and rocketed the ball into the roof of the net. During the chaos of the celebrations Santos coach, Cuca, revealed an eye catching t-shirt with the Virgin Mary front and centre.

Three minutes later a one-two led to Marinho making his way into the box and setting up his team mate, Lucas Braga, with an easy tap-in from just outside the six-yard-box. After the third, Boca lost their discipline and looked as though they also lost hope.

Midfielder Frank Fabra put what very little chance Boca had of reaching the final to bed after he got himself sent off for a brutal stamp to the chest of Marinho. The Argentinian side were now dropping deep to make sure that the result wasn’t going to be any more embarrassing than it already was.

18-year-old Santos wonderkid Kai Jorge looked to get his name on the scoresheet after he managed to latch onto a ball which put him through on goal. The shot he fired goal-wards was denied by the head of the Boca goalkeeper, Andrada.

Santos thoroughly deserve their place in the final after they brushed Carlos Tevez’s Boca Juniors aside. The Brazilian team will now be looking to win the competition for the first time since a young Neymar was in its ranks in 2011.

These two results have set up a fairytale final with the two most successful clubs in the history of Brazilian football competing for the biggest trophy on the continent in the most iconic stadium in the Brazil, the Maracana. This final has the makings of an all-time classic and is a must watch for any football fanatic. It is just unfortunate there will be no fans in attendance because the atmosphere would be electric. The final takes place on the 30th of January and it is broadcast for free on the BBC Sport app.

Big 6 XI v The Rest XI – The CB

Welcome back to the best of the Rest XI so far. Yesterday revealed that Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey was our choice for the teams RB and today we select our first Centre Half to the team.  

In our group chat picking most of the team was pretty easy, we would all say who we think deserved to be in the team for each position and the player picked most frequently would be agreed on. For 90% of the team this was a simple process. However, when it came to the CB’s there was a large range of players selected and we had to go to an individual vote just for the CB’s. What this means is you may not like the choices that we have made but ultimately these are the two players who came out on top! 

So, our first choice for CB is Leicester’s Wesley Fofana. Fofana joined Leicester from St Etienne back in the summer when he was only 19 years old after having only played 20 games for the French side where he started his career. At the start of the season Wesley couldn’t have imagined the chances that he would have got at the club with a back line already recognised as one of the most formidable in the League. Fortunately for Fofana this is the craziest season recorded and like many others Leicester went through an injury crisis which ravaged their back line.  

This meant that Fofana was plunged into the deep end but ever since his debut he has undoubtedly risen to the challenge. In the 18 games he has played for the Fox’s he has helped the club keep 7 clean sheets, 7 Premier League victories and even bagged himself an assist against Spurs whilst also performing above and beyond all expectations in every game.  

As always with thanks to VIZI we have the opportunity to put Fofana head-to-head with a big 6 foe, and who better than a player who embodies everything that Fofana will hope to be, Thiago Silva. He was made predominantly in the French League, won countless trophies and is regarded as one of the best centre half’s of a generation. Now in his swansong Silva is a Chelsea but is still showing some of the class that took him to the top. Let’s look at how Fofana racks up against a player 14 years his elder: 

Immediately we can see two players who are playing at the highest quality but also, we see two players who are very evenly matched. As we discussed yesterday with Reece James, Chelsea’s setup seems to mould their defenders in a certain way. Once again like Reece James we can see a player who players a litany of long balls every game and likes to get into the final third of the pitch.  

But for Fofana we can see some phenomenal stats and a brilliantly well-rounded player for someone who is only 20 years old! But his youth in this case may be what gives him the advantage in some areas. More dribbles, more tackles, more interceptions and more pressures are the signs of a very hardworking player who likes to commit himself and get stuck in. This fact is only certified when you look at Aerial Duels won and Aerial dule win %, despite the fact the two stats sound the same the results show something important. Fofana has won more dules per 90 in total, but Silva is almost 20% more likely to win a duel than Fofana! This shows to me the energetic but also naive nature of a young player who goes in to win every single header and will win a lot but only 50% of the time. Whereas Thiago Silva wins far more often because he experience allows him to know when a battle is and when it isn’t worth it.  

Silva’s experience also shows as he commits less fouls and is far less susceptible to giving the ball away than Fofana. But to me we are seeing a graph of a phenomenal 20-year-old. One who is already performing way above his age for the position he is in. As time passes and Fofana becomes a smarter player you will also undoubtably see him catch up to Silva and even overtake him in some areas. He will become smarter on the ball meaning his passing will get better and he is less likely to give the ball away. We can see that the lad has a lot of room for improvement, which in itself is scary considering how well he is already doing. He has years left before he reaches his physical and mental peak as a player so looking at this there is a real possibility that Fofana could be one of the best CB’s on earth if continues playing and improving as he has so far for Leicester City. And that is why he is in our squad! 

Tomorrow we will see who partners Fofana in what is going to be a world class back line… 

Thanks for reading!

Scottish League 1 2020/21 Round Up – Part 1

AIRDRIE

Airdrie, at the start of the season, would have been one of the favourites for promotion, certainly a play-off spot, and adding players like Max Currie and Thomas Robert to an already impressive squad added to that optimism. Having started with a 2-0 home win over Peterhead, Ian Murray’s men slipped to back-to-back defeats for the first time since September 2018, when they lost to promotion rivals Partick Thistle then Dumbarton.

They did bounce back with an impressive 5-0 win over Clyde, with Callum Gallacher and Dale Carrick both netting twice, then a 3-1 victory at Forfar, again Carrick among the goals. Airdrie’s inconsistency this season showed when they failed to win in their next 3 matches and scoring just once, before beating league leaders Falkirk and Clyde away from home. Airdrie currently sit in the play-off spots in 4th and the vital victory over Falkirk means they are 5 points from the Bairns with a game in hand. If they are to challenge for the title, Airdrie must be more consistent especially against the teams below them.

CLYDE

Credit: Clyde FC

Danny Lennon wasn’t particularly busy in the transfer market before the season started with Jamie Bain from Forfar the only notable signing. However, with players like David Goodwillie, David Mitchell and Ally Love still at the club, Clyde fans would be thinking they would been onto a better season this than last. The Bully Wee started brilliantly with a 1-0 win over Partick Thistle in the league opener but then lost the next 3 to Peterhead, Dumbarton and Airdrie, conceding 8 and failing to score in those 3. One more victory came with a 3-2 win over Montrose with captain Goodwillie scoring a hattrick.

Clyde have suffered the most with call offs this campaign and have played only 8 times, 3 less than most. Should the season restart, Clyde will have to play Saturday, Midweek, Saturday, Midweek for a number of weeks to catch up. Sitting 9th might be a “false” position with 3 games in hand but they will need to make those games count to get away from the bottom end. More importantly, they will need to find goals from somewhere in the team other than Goodwillie.

COVE RANGERS

Credit: Cove Rangers Football Club

Cove Rangers’ promotion to League One may not have been a surprise to many, but some may have been surprised with the start they have made to life in League 1. Adding a player like Leighton McIntosh who knows this League having played there for Peterhead as well as young guys like Seb Ross and Adam Livingstone to a solid squad makes Cove real favourites for promotion. Getting off to a blistering start, Paul Hartley led his team to 4 wins in 4, with only 1 goal being conceded.

However, following the completion of the League Cup, Cove lost 4 of their next 5 picking up just 1 point from the game against Airdrie. The home lose to Clyde after being 2-1 up was a hard one and one nobody really would have seen coming. Before the suspension, Cove did get back on the winning trail, although they were in two unconvincing 1-0 wins over Forfar and Peterhead, which helped them back up to 2n place. Much like Clyde, Cove will need to find goals from other parts of the squad as their 15 goals have been scored by just 5 different scores. If Cove can produce the performances they did at the start of the season, they should be up there in contention for the league title.

DUMBARTON

Credit: Troll Football . me

Having back-to-back 6th place finishes in the last two season’s another mid-table finish looks on the cards for Jim Duffy’s men. Dumbarton lost the spine of their team in the summer with players like Connor Brennan, Isaac Layne, Kyle Hutton and Joe McKee moving on, it would be hard for the Son’s to compete any higher. They did manage to draft in Sam Wardrop, Nat Wedderburn and Denny Johnstone although the later has yet to score for his new side.

Dumbarton did start well, earning 7 points from the first 3 games with 3 clean sheets to boot. That was then followed up by 3 defeats, two of which were against East Fife and Peterhead, with just 1 goal scored. They did manage a surprise win over title contenders Cove Rangers to stop the rot somewhat. Dumbarton are the lowest scorers in the league with just 5 goals in their 9 matches and scoring more than 1 goal just once so far. If they are to avoid a relegation battle, Dumbarton will need to start making those chances count.

EAST FIFE

Credit: East Fife Football Club

Unbeaten at home and lost every game away from home shows exactly where East Fife are. Danny Swanson was the stand out signing for the Bayview side, although the former St Johnstone man hasn’t featured too much this year. Jack Hamilton was a revelation during his loan spell scoring 7 in 9 league games until Livingston recalled him earlier this month. He will be a huge lose to Darren Young’s side and replacing his goals will be critical in maintaining a top half push.

East Fife started off poorly with just one win in the opening 5 matches, but have now won 3 of their last 4 to push them up to 6th in the table. Wins at home against Dumbarton, Airdrie, Forfar and Falkirk shows that Bayview is a tough place for any side to get anything from, so it’ll be the away form that will need to be looked at if the Fifers are to achieve a play-off spot.

Mark Robertson: Burnley, Dundee and against Juan Riquelme

Credit: Dundee Football Club

You retired in 2009. How are you enjoying retirement from professional football and how is life for you these days?

Life is good these days and I will not lie to you James it was very tough at the beginning when I retired because I retired early in my career and I felt that I had a whole lot more to do and achieve and I had ten operations in total on my body and to retire at 29 years old was pretty disappointing in all honesty because I started at 16 years of age as a professional footballer and it was never the case of through ability I was restricted through my body as opposed to being just too old to play.

Such a scenario hot my a lot and I had a lot of depression years after that and it was not after until I got into coaching that I was able to get my head around retirement and go back and say put that to bed you are never going to play the game at the the top level again and you will never have the adrenaline of the crowd, coaches, boys and the dressing room but can I now help and educate others to do so. I have never looked back since I started coaching to be honest.

You played two seasons for Burnley FC in England. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights and special memories?

Credit: Alexander P Kapp / The Jimmy Mcllroy Stand, Turf Moor, Burnley FC / CC BY-SA 2.0

Yes and my wife and I often talk about it. When I came to England from Australia Chris Waddle signed me in 1997 after I played in the World Youth Championships in Malaysia and my girlfriend who is now my with wife came across from Australia and we still say to this day that it was the best club to have started at. We brought into the ethos of Burnley FC as a town and we brought a house there and I go to know all the locals and I throughly enjoyed my time at Burnley FC.

Unfortunately at the end I would have loved Burnley FC to have been the only club that I played for and to have gone through the levels with them. But things off the pitch were not going the way I would have wanted to go because anybody that knows me or has seen my play knows that I give everything to the football team that I am playing for.

Credit: Shane Rounce

Chris Waddle and Glen Roeder loved it and I had a love hate relationship with Stan Ternent and that transpired on me saying to him if that is going to be the relationship we are going to have then it is best that I move on so I did and everybody at the football club was sad to see me go because I was still really good friends with the likes of Paul Weller, Andy Cooke, Glen Little and that was quite hard. But I have had great experiences at clubs all across the world at different football clubs to go with it.

You played two seasons for Dundee FC in Scotland. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?

Credit: FHL2

Yes, Not many people know but my Dad Alex Robertson is Scottish and he was born and raised in Edinburgh and his first football club was Dundee FC and he got signed by the club and traveled through on a Sunday night and went into digs on the Sunday and left on the Friday and returned to Edinburgh after the game at the weekend and he and Gordon Strachan were in digs together at Dundee FC so my affiliation with the football club is that when I signed there everybody was like wow your Dad played for the club and now you have come from Australia and you are playing for the club.

With my heart I played for that football club for my Dad basically and I thought it I could go on and achieve good things with this football club my Dad would be proud of me because that was his very first professional club so when I played for that club we had lots of foreign players, we had a great fanbase and we played in Europe in the InterToto Cup and in the UEFA Cup too as well as Scottish Cup Finals.

I had a fantastic time at Dundee FC and I am still friends with a lot of the guys and the football club holds a place in my heart as opposed to just being a football club. I felt like I was part of the family and part of the woodwork as soon as I walked through the doors of the club.

You accrued a lot of experience at club level playing in different countries and being capped by your country. When you look back on your career could you say who were among the best players you played alongside?

Yes, I was fortunate enough to playing in Australia with Angelo Colombo and he was a superstar for AC Milan back in the day along with Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini and my manager was Andrea Iccardi who with another AC Milan legend so I was 16 coming through and playing in the first team with these players. I went into the youth national teams of Australia and played with the likes of Hayden Fox who played for West Ham United and Portsmouth FC. Lucas Neil was our captain for a long time. Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka were also fantastic players.

Credit: David Luu from Sydney, Australia

I played with Ian Wright at Burnley FC and Claudio Cannigia and Fabrizio Ravenelli up in Dundee and even getting to play with a legend on Chris Waddle when he signed me. To be able to play alongside him and for him to teach me the ropes and teach me how to play English football because when I first came to England the pace of the game was just extravagant compared to Australia.

Credit: Jon Candy from Cardiff, Wales

Gavin Rae who I also played with at Dundee FC is now my Brother in Law and Fabián Caballero also at Dundee FC was an excellent player and even my time at Stockport County playing with Rickie Lambert, Ashley Williams, Alfie Le Fondre, Aaron Willbraham and Warren Feeney. All these guys make up the friends that I have today and I still speak to them. I was also fortunate to captain a few clubs that I was at and people see me as a leader both on and off the pitch. I contributed a lot and overall all of these teammates I have mentioned are the ones that pop into my mind as fantastic teammates and they will always have a place in my heart.

I can imagine in your position as a midfielder that you come up against many difficult opponents through the years, could you say which opponents stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?

I was just coming through Marconi Stallions and we played against Jubilo Iwata and they had a plethora of players and my first game at professional level was against Dunga who was the Brazilian captain and not long before I played against him he was holding the World Cup aloft so I was thinking to myself how I am going to pitch myself against this guy and does this reflect my career going forward if I can handle the pace against him.

Credit: Paul Blank

I also played against Michael Laudrup very early on in my career Bastio Elvasaro so to play against three players who had been at the top, top level so early on in my career that I knew after that I have got something here and I have definitely got the ability and mental strength to go on and be a player at the top level.

Not long after that I played against Esteban Cambiasso and Juan Riquelme at international level and that was a tough game and I always look at my midfield battles and Riquelme was just so beautiful on the ball and he had great balance and I like to think I had a good game that day. Going forward players that gave me a tough game were Ray Houghton and although he was older than me I just through wow this guy just keeps going with one and two touch and I could not really get near him.

I played against Ľubomír Moravčík at Celtic FC and although he was small in stature but I could not really get near him to use my physical attributes. He was just too good and too quick on the ball. I played against Paul Merson and I thought I would have him in the bag but it was just one touch football that really got to me and Paul in particular had a great eye for a pass. Playing again Japan and Shunsuke Nakamura was a lesson because they were unbelievably sharp. The players that were quick in the brain that would cause the problems and a lot of the players I mentioned were very bright and intelligent footballers.

Finally Mark you mentioned Chris Waddle when you look back on your career could you say who were the coaches and managers who meant a lot to do and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?

Yes, To start with and to have Chris Waddle sign me he showed a lot of faith and paid a lot of money to Marconi Stallions to sign me and I was so disappointed that he only lasted a season because when you first come in and you sign a three year deal and the manager only last the season it does make things really tough and his coaching staff was Glen Roeder, Gordon Cowans and Chris Woods and if you look at that superstar coaching lineup that should stay at the football club and go on to have great careers as managers.

Chris Woods is the only one currently involved at West Ham United. Chris Waddle never coached after that Glen Roeder went on to have a bit part career. Chris Waddle for me was fantastic he was a player manager he treated me very well and he even went on to say many years later that I was a player he signed and that he loved working with me.

Credit: Stew jones

I thought that was a really nice touch and Sammy McIlroy signed me for Stockport County and me and Sammy just hit it off straight away he made me captain of the club and we have had a great relationship but again Sammy only lasted a season and I do not know If I was the bad omen. They are two managers that I held in high regard.

Dillon Donnelly: The Top 3 Exciting Youngsters in Europe

Credit: Pexels

This year football continues to be the only constant in a world still recovering from the impact of COVID-19 over the past 10 months. There are a number of exciting players throughout Europe that will be looking to catch the eye and impress especially with the postponed 2020 European Championships now potentially taking place this coming June. The list below will look closely at the three most exciting young players in Europe and who will no doubt be household names by the end of theyear.

3. Jude Bellingham (England –Age: 17 years old Position: Central Midfield Current Club: Borussia Dortmund)

Credit: Struway2

Jude Bellingham has achieved so much in his short remarkable career so far it is quite hard to believe he is still only 17 years old. Bellingham joined his boyhood club Birmingham City as an under-8, becoming the club’s youngest ever first team player when he made his senior debut in August 2019 at the age of 16 years and 38 days old against Portsmouth in the Carabao Cup. The talented youngster impressed playing 44 games in central midfield under manager Pep Clotet during his breakthrough 2019/20 season for the Blues scoring 4 goals.

His exceptional performances during his first season playing for Birmingham caught the eye of the top European clubs with the likes of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund enquiring about his potential availability. Despite the Red Devils best efforts to sign him, the ambitious young English man chose a move to Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund last summer in a deal worth around £30 million.

Bellingham is close friends with BorussiaDortmund and England ace Jadon Sancho which was a huge contributing factor in him deciding to move to Germany. Bellingham and his family were impressed after seeing Sancho’s rapid development with consistent game time in the North Rhine-Westpahlia region in Germany.

Bellingham has made an instant impact in Dortmund in his first season making 20 appearances and scoring once and becoming the youngest English player to ever play in the UEFA Champions League this season. England manager Gareth Southgate has been a huge fan of the exceptional young England midfield and handed Bellingham his international debut last November in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland. Bellingham became the third youngest full international for the England senior team at 17 years and 136 days old only surpassed by the legendary Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott. The talented youngster has achieved so much in such a short career and looks to have a very bright future ahead of him.

He will be hoping a successful debut season playing in Germany will put him in contention for a potential place in the upcoming European Championship squad for Gareth Southgate’s side. Jude Bellingham is the real deal and this year could potentially be the year everyone realises how special the kid from Birmingham really is.

2. Wesley Fofana (France – Age: 20 years old -Position: Centre Half – Current Club: Leicester City)

Credit: Leicester City Football Club

Wesley Fofana is the latest prospect from the infamous St. Etienne Les Verts’ academy never ending conveyor belt of talent. St. Etienne’s academy has developed and nurtured a number of world recognised players such as World Cup winning midfielder BlaiseMatuidi, Chelsea central defender Kurt Zouma and current Arsenal captain Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. The imposing centre half made his debut for the club in a 3-0 Ligue 1 win over OGC Nice on the 18th May 2019 at the end of the 2018/19 season. The following season Fofana made the breakthrough to the first team and became a regular starter at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichardmaking 23 appearances in all competitions in the 2019/20 season.

St. Etienne were having a poor season under the guidance of former Leicester City manager Claude Puel with Les Verts’ sitting one position above the relegation places before the season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one of the bright sparks was the outstanding performances of Wesley Fofana in the heart of the defence which coincided with a number of top European clubs enquiring about his potential availability in the summer transfer window. The three clubs scouting and monitoring Fofana for a potential move were former Premier League champions Leicester City, La Ligachasing Atletico Madrid and German side R.B Leipzig.

Wesley Fofana is primarily a right side centre half and is most notably known for his intuitive reading of the game. He has an impressive ability to get in front of his man and intercept the ball, which is evident from his positioning and his ability for predicting the movements of opposition players and teams.

Another important trait the six foot two inch centre half is his aerial dominance which you can see from his statistics during the 2019/20 season. His 6.62 aerial duels per in Ligue 1 during the 2019/20 is inside the division’s top 25 players, but his success rate was really impressive with 72.92% of battles won in the air which was the second-best record in the Ligue 1.

Leicester City have been known to sign relatively unknown players from the French divisions and develop them into top class players such as the meteoric rise of Ngolo Kante and Riyad Mahrez who lead scout Steve Walsh brought to the club. Kanta and Mahrez developed into world class players for the Foxes and starred in their amazing 2015/16 Premier League winning season under Italian manager Claudio Ranieri. The Foxes won the race for the highly talented young French centre half and paid St. Etienne £30 million for his services on the 2nd of October 2020. Brendan Rodgers has eased Fofana into the Premier League gradually but an injury to key defender Caglar Soyuncu gave the youngster his opportunity to make his debut against Aston Villa.

The French man has looked superb and developed a good central defensive partnership with veteran defender Jonny Evans as the Foxes chase a top four finish this season. During his early career Wesley Fofana has showcased that he has the ability to play at the highest level, which is evident in his excellent performances for his new club Leicester City in the Premier League. If the impressive centre half continues to stand out in the Premier League it won’t be long before a potential international call up to World Cup winners France in the future.

1.Phil Foden (England – Age: 20 – Position: Central Attacking Midfielder – Current Club: Manchester City)

Credit: Brad Tutterow

Manchester City’s diminutive midfielder Phil Foden tops the list for the most exciting young player to watch in Europe in 2021. Manchester City manager praised Foden as a “generational talent” at the age of 17 and the Stockport born midfielder has become a key member of City’s squad so far this season since DavidSilva left the club last summer to return to Spain.

Despite his rather skinny frame and 5’5” height the versatile Foden can operate across a number of different positions such as an advanced midfielder, right winger and as a false 9. His low centre of gravity is one of his key strengths and is often seen gliding across the field and cutting in from the right flank. Foden has excellent close-control, balance, co-ordination and often displays his dynamism in midfield which has earned him comparisons to Manchester City legend David Silva. Guadiola has also praised the youngsters passing ability and range of passing which have been showcased since he came into the Manchester City first team squad.

Phil Foden made his Manchester Debut on the 21stof November 2017 in the Champions League game against Feyenoord at the age of 17 years 177 days old. He became the fourth youngest English player to make an appearance in the Champions League and the excellent youngster broke another record previously held by Josh McEachran becoming the youngest English player at the age of 17 years and 192 days old to start a Champions League match.

After his excellent displays in the Champions League, Manchester City manager Guardiola handed Foden his Premier League debut against Spurs on the 16th December 2017. The England star topped off a remarkable 2017 by winning the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year. Despite only being 20 years old Foden has made 96 appearances for Manchester City, winning eight trophies and became the youngest recipient of a Premier Leagues medal in 2019.

Since David Silva’s exit from the club Guardiola has turned to Phil Foden to replace the Spaniard which has been evident from the youngster’s impressive first half of the season so far. He is enjoying his best goal scoring season so far with an impressive 8 goals in 22 appearances with some important goals along the way. England manager Gareth Southgate has always praised Foden’s natural ability and his fine form was acknowledged when he was called up to the England senior set up in August 2020.

The City midfielder made his full international debut for the Three Lions against Iceland on the 5th September 2020 in the UEFA Nations League tournament. He continued to impress with the national team scoring two goals in his third appearance against Iceland at Wembley stadium in the November International break. Phil Foden has achieved so much in his remarkable career already and this year under managers Guardiola and Southgate will be hoping to continue to develop into one of Europe’s best young players.

Wayne Rooney: A new era at Derby and the end of an era for Rooney the player

Credit: Derby County Football Club

Credit: vagueonthehow from Tadcaster, York, England

Manchester United and England legend Wayne Rooney has retired from football to become the full time manager of Derby County. He takes up the position on a two-and-half-year deal which will run until the summer of 2023.

Rooney stepped up to lead Derby’s coaching team towards the end of November following the departure of previous manager Phillip Cocu.

He was supported by Liam Rosenior, Shay Given and Justin Walker. All three men retain their positions on Rooney’s staff moving forward.

Liam Rosenior takes up the role of assistant manager, while Shay Given will move to the position of first-team coach. Justin Walker will remain as first-team development coach, while Academy goalkeeping coach Jason Pearcey has been appointed as the club’s first-team goalkeeping coach.

Steve McClaren will work with Rooney as Derby’s technical director.

Rooney was in interim charge of Derby for nine matches in total. His interim period saw three wins, four draws and two defeats.

Rooney has elected to call time on his illustrious playing career to fully focus on his role as the full time manager of Derby.

Credit: Oli Kay / Twitter
Credit: Илья Хохлов / Football ua

England and Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer, with over 700 professional appearances to his name, joined Derby in January 2020 and appeared in a Rams shirt on 35 occasions.

Credit: Squawka / Twitter

Rooney told the Derby County official website: “When I first arrived back in the United Kingdom I was completely blown away by the potential of Derby County Football Club. The Stadium, Training Ground, the quality of the playing staff and the young players coming through and of course the fan base that has remained loyal and supportive.

“Despite other offers I knew instinctively Derby County was the place for me.

Credit: Derby County Football Club

“To be given the opportunity to follow the likes of Brian Clough, Jim Smith, Frank Lampard and Phillip Cocu is such an honour and I can promise everyone involved in the club and all our fans, my staff and I will leave no stone unturned in achieving the potential I have witnessed over the last 12 months of this historic football club.”

Tributes to Rooney have flowed in from around the footballing fraternity as a true icon of football retires from the game and starts a new journey within it.

Celtic FC: 5 Forwards for Forward Thinking

Following the recent news that Odsonne Edouard has joined up with player agency Stellar Football Ltd, Celtic may have to delve back into the transfer market for another striker come the summertime.

Edouard joins fellow highly rated countryman Edouardo Camavinga, alongisde Jack Grealish, Gareth Bale, and former Celtic team-mate Kieran Tierney in Stellar Football Ltd’s impressive roster.

The Parkhead side won’t be short of strikers when the time comes for Edouard to move on. However, the reliability of those remaining is the questioning factor. Leigh Griffiths, who Neil Lennon claimed was ‘overweight’ and didn’t travel to France with Celtic in July is a certainty to get goals, yes, but having seemingly let Celtic down so frequently, the chances that he will lead the line again are very slim.

Albian Ajeti is joint-eighth in the list of the highest transfer fees paid from Celtic to acquire a player. The ex-Basel and West Ham striker was seen as somewhat of a marquee signing in the summer, after Celtic shelled out £4.5 million for the Swiss International. Ajeti started the season off very well indeed, with an impressive 5 goals in 6 league fixtures – including a late winner against Dundee United – he seemed to be instantly worth the investment. Since then however, he hasn’t scored a single goal. His last coming in September, a fantastic strike against Hibernian in a 3-0 win, but his drop off in form has been indicative of Celtic’s struggles this season.

Lastly, we have Vakoun Issouf Bayo and Patryk Klimala. It would come as a surprise for many to see Bayo in a green and white hooped shirt again. Currently on loan to Toulouse, the Ivorian has 2 goals in 12, and it doesn’t look like there’s a place for him in the Celtic side upon return. Klimala on the other hand, has shown various signs of promise and will believe that he can stake a claim to get more minutes not only next season, but this season too. He may need coached a little more to brush up on what seems like a lot of raw talent, but time will tell whether Klimala has a future with Celtic or not.

Having analysed the current striking situation at Celtic, here are five players that I believe Celtic should be looking at to bolster their attacking options next season:

No.1 – Jamal Lowe (Swansea)

Jamal Lowe has been crucial to Swansea in their push for promotion to the English Premier League this season. The Englishman has bagged 8 goals in 23 league appearance so far this season, and has looked very impressive over the last two months.

The former Celtic target can play either side of the attack, as well as the centre-forward role that has seen him flourish in recent times (7 goals in 19 appearances as striker). Standing at 6ft tall, Lowe provides an excellent aerial threat yet his pace and agility is unaffected. Playing primarily on the right side of the attack in his Portsmouth days, he would often drive into dangerous areas and finish with excellent technique across the face of goal.

Lowe is currently outperforming his expected goals (xG) for the season which is at 7.03, if he sustains this throughout the season, he should roughly finish the season with 18 goals. Not a bad tally if the current trend is anything to go by. One cause for concern however, could be his current lack of assists. This season, Lowe hasn’t managed to assist any goals for his teammates, but allowances can be made for adjusting to a new position. In years gone by for Lowe, assisting has been one of his key attributes, with an average of 7.66 assists per season since 17/18 (his breakthrough season).

The 26 year old still has two and a half years left on his contract, but if The Swans fail in their push for promotion this season, the attacker may feel he needs a fresh start. With a rebuild looking likely for Celtic and the opportunity to play European football, it may be a great destination for him.

No.2 – Ike Ugbo (Cercle Brugge/Chelsea)

Credit: Transfermarkt – https://www.transfermarkt.com/ike-ugbo/profil/spieler/339943

Ike Ugbo is just one of a number of players who have came through the youth ranks at Chelsea, but have been sent out to various clubs on loan.

At 22 years of age, Ugbo is currently at his 5th consecutive club on yet another loan deal – and he’s smashing it. With 10 goals in 18 Belgian First Division games this season, Ugbo has been attracting a lot of interest from clubs in the English Championship. This campaign, the striker has faced Celtic’s Jack Hendry (on loan to Oostende) and plays in the same team as former Rangers defender, David Bates.

Last season, Ugbo bagged himself 13 goals in 28 games in the Dutch 2nd Division, and he is showing that season by season he can take his game to the next level.

You’ll find Ugbo in and around the six yard box. Although he scores what may seem to be ‘poachers goals’, the Englishman is constantly running, and looking to play on the shoulder of the last defender which his pace allows him to do. Impressively, he is averaging a goal every 0.26 shots he takes, which is effectively one goal in every four shots. Even more impressive than that, is that he is expected to score with every 0.64 shots on target. According to xG, he doesn’t just shoot for the sake of it.

With his contract set to expire in Summer 2022, Celtic could find themselves with the chance to bring Ugbo to the club on a relatively cheap deal. He would definitely bring goals to the team, and fits in line with Celtic’s recruitment strategy of buying to make a profit within a few years. Whether or not he can make the jump to European Football, remains to be seen.

No.3 – Armando Broja (Vitesse/Chelsea)

Credit: Transfermarkt – https://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/armando-broja/profil/spieler/571743

Armando Broja is not long from becoming a household name amongst football fans. Another Chelsea youth talent, (currently out on loan at Vitesse) has already made one Premier League appearance, coming on as a late substitute to replace Olivier Giroud in March 2020.

The Albanian has bagged himself 5 goals in 12 games in the Eredivisie this season, and is earning a lot of plaudits along the way. Broja stands at 6ft 3, yet possesses a brilliant mix of pace, strength, power, dribbling and finishing. He is an early development of the ‘complete striker’.

Now not to get too carried away, it is worth noting that although Broja’s contract expires in the Summer of 2022, Chelsea will very likely offer him a new deal. Having played in the aforementioned Premier League fixture, albeit for four minutes, the 19 year-old is staking a claim to be in the long-term plans of The Blues.

What this does mean for Celtic though is that there may be another option to bring Broja in on loan next season, as history would suggest that Chelsea aren’t happy with a player only having one loan spell before breaking into the first team. Celtic would be a better fit for Broja if that were to be the case next season, playing in front of (hopefully) 60,000 fans and again the European Football factor which often draws young players to Parkhead.

Time will tell with Broja however, as it seems ever more likely that Olivier Giroud will be departing London for Turin to join Juventus, maybe his time will come sooner rather than later. Keep your eye on it.

No.4 – Kevin Nisbet (Hibernian FC)

Credit: Hibernian FC – https://www.hibernianfc.co.uk/player/kevin-nisbet-15

Joint top scorer of the Scottish Premiership this season, Kevin Nisbet has been firing on all cylinders for Jack Ross’ Hibernian. Nisbet got his move to the Hibees after two incredible seasons back-to-back with Raith Rovers and Dunfermline Athletic.

With Raith Rovers, Nisbet scored a spectacular 29 goals in 34 Scottish League One games, adding 4 assists into the mix. Following that season, Scottish Championship side Dunfermline secured his services where he played 25 league games – scoring 18 goals and grabbing 3 assists – not to mention 5 goals in as many Betfred Cup appearances too.

In the aforementioned season, he rivaled Dundee United’s Lawrence Shankland for the top goalscorer, but Shankland ran away with it in the end, with 24 goals in comparison to Nisbet’s 18. As disappointed as I’m sure Nisbet would have been about this, it has been the Hibs man who has stepped up to the plate in the Scottish Premiership. So far, the striker has 11 goals in 21 matches, averaging 0.55 goals/game, not to mention 4 assists – taking his goal contributions to 15 in 21 matches.

The 23 year-old has been highly impressive for Hibs in the current campaign, and seems to be only getting better with each passing season. His key qualities include his quick acceleration, his natural instincts in the box and the ability to break defensive lines – not to mention his experiences in Scottish Football too, which can only be a good thing for a Celtic target.

I would be very surprised if this was the last we heard of the Nisbet x Celtic links, as I’m sure his goal-scoring run will continue as the season goes on. His late equaliser at Celtic Park in their 1-1 draw on Monday would have been quite the audition too.

No.5 – Daryl Dike (Orlando City)

Credit: MLS Soccer – https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2020/10/22/how-daryl-dike-fell-orlando-city-sc-draft-and-whats-next-forward-tom-bogert

It’s only a matter of time before European clubs come calling for Daryl Dike. The 2020 MLS Campaign saw the Nigerian-American make his full professional debut season with Orlando City where his striking rival was Robinho (yes, that Robinho).

The 20 year-old played 17 MLS League games – scoring 8 goals and grabbing 3 assists. Standing at 6ft 2, the striker has an incredible physical presence and hold-up play. He would bring a similar type of presence to which Moussa Dembélé most recently brought to Celtic; fast, powerful, strong, and a deadly finisher inside the box. Impressively, Dike was called up to the USA National Team in December 2020 for a friendly against El Salvador and would have featured had it not been for a minor injury which ruled him out of the tie.

The MLS is a league in which we see Celtic operate in more frequently these days, Mark McKenzie being the recent ‘could have’ and probably ‘should have’ signing. McKenzie opted for a move to Genk, with Celtic reportedly not doing enough to secure the centre-back’s highly rated services.

Dike may be one for Celtic to keep an eye on to see how his development unfolds as he prepares for his second full season as a professional, however, if the club are looking at bringing Daryl Dike to Parkhead, they may need to do it sooner than later. His stock will only continue to rise.

Marcus Rashford receives FWA tribute award

Content courtesy of the FWA, Carrie Brown and Paul McCarthy. Watch the FULL interview here.

Normally at this time of year, the FWA would be preparing for one of the highlights of the season, their Tribute Award Dinner at The Savoy. While getting together socially is not an option, the FWA are determined the tradition of celebrating somebody who has contributed so much to the fabric of the game should continue.

This year, there can truly only be one recipient – and that’s Marcus Rashford. His unstinting efforts and campaigning have shone a necessary light on child poverty and hunger, helped tackle a societal problem and shamed the Government into numerous U-turns on policy.

Legendary Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson led the tributes to Rashford who was moved by the iconic managers words.

Sir Alex told the FWA: ‘I have known him since being a kid of 7 years of age, and seen him develop through the ranks of Manchester United into a truly wonderful person.

‘Apart from his football life, what he has achieved in the last few months is quite astonishing, how he has helped the people in need is a truly amazing achievement.

‘I would like to congratulate him on that. He has shown to young people in particular there is a different way of dealing with life.

‘He has shown great humility, he has shown courage to do what he did, so this achievement is well deserved and should be recognised with what he has done.

‘So Marcus, well done on a fantastic achievement.

After receiving the award Marcus told Carrie: ‘For me it was an unbelievable experience and I think for me that is probably the only regret I have ever had in my career, never having the chance to play under Sir Alex.

‘It is something which is probably never going to happen now but to be on the phone with him and just have 10 or 15 minutes conversation with him was amazing and I am pleased he was aware of the situation and he wanted to help as well, so it was brilliant.

‘He has always, from the beginning really, backed me with what I am doing.

‘Probably when other people in sports were telling me not to do it and just focus on football, he said if I believed in that, and I believe it is the right thing to do, then he is behind it. Those words from him are an amazing feeling to hear that.’

I am a proud member of the FWA and I want to personally say that I have the upmost respect for the role that Paul and Carrie play within the organisation as secretary and chair. I thank them for allowing me to share these words.

I echo their view that Marcus Rashford fully deserves this recognition because during these tough times we need to stick together as a society and help each other when we can. Marcus has certainly done that for so many vulnerable families and it makes me very proud as a lover of football.

Big 6 XI v The Rest XI – The Goalkeeper

To celebrate the 1000th follower to CFB football statistical partners VIZI.  We at Football CFB have once against come together to release a Premier League Team of The Season so far, with a twist. The team we have put together is solely made from teams other than the ‘Big 6’ or ‘The other 14’, also we decided in order to give the best spread, that there could only be two players from each club. I group of Football CFB writers came together and spent many an hour putting this team together until we had a full XI. Now selected we are going to reveal one player every day for the next 11 days and obviously because this is a VIZi piece we are going to compare them to an alternative player from one of the ‘Big 6’ clubs (Under the same rules, two per team) to see who comes out on top.  

In all honesty I don’t think we could have chosen to do this team at a better time. So far, the 2020/21 season has been one of the most unpredictable, crazy seasons that we as Football fans have seen in a long time, for so many reasons. The least of those is how tight the Premier League table currently is. With only a handful of games to go before the mid-point in the season 10 points separates 1st from 12th and with team having games in hand all over the place the table is changing rapidly all the time! But the other highlight of this season has been how well so of ‘The other 14’ have performed and how poorly ‘The Big 6’ have performed. This means that player comparison between the Big 6 and the Rest is genuinely very interesting. Also, if you have any gripes about who is in the team and who shouldn’t be in the team remember the rules, only two from each side, this means that some players have missed out, but you’ll have to see who over the next two weeks. Now let’s begin with the Goalkeeper.

GK- Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa)

Credit: @emimartinezz21 / twitter

Just like deciding who should be in goal for this team, the life of a Goalkeeper is hard. If you have ever read Lutz Pfannenstiel’s book “the unstoppable keeper” you’ll know about the trials and the patience that a Goalkeeper sometimes must go through to get their chance. At 28 years old, Argentine Emiliano Martinez is no exception. When he joined Arsenal in 2010 as an 18-year-old Martinez would have never imagined that in 10 years he would have averaged only 10 games every season. Six consecutive loan spells and no consistent first team Football for Emiliano meant that he was pushed to the back of the line at Arsenal without a thought. That was until, his rival today, Bernd Leno was injured towards the back end of last season which saw Martinez put back into the side. He performances for Arsenal were brilliant and made some crucial saves for Arsenal which then saw the club win the FA Cup. The first major honour and medal that Martinez has ever won. 10 year into his pro career. 

Yet despite his time in the first team with Leno coming back from injury it seemed as though Martinez was destined to be side-lined again. Not satisfied with his first team chances Martinez made a £20 Million move to Aston Villa, and has since become one of the signings of the season! 

Since joining the club he has helped Aston Villa become one of the performers of the season keeping 8 Priemer League clean sheets in 15 games giving Martinez a clean sheet rate of 57%! So, despite criticisms that the price tag was too high for an unproven keeper he is clearly showing his value for money and is the clear choice for our shot stopper of ‘The Rest XI’. But let’s look at the stats: 

Thanks to the brilliant work from Vizi we have been able to compare Martinez to his once GK rival Bernd Leno. From a quick glance it is clear to see who the better keeper has been this season but let’s take a deeper look into the stats. Also, with some teams having played more than others the statistics are shown ‘Per-90mins’ rather than totals as to not disadvantage teams with less games.

Credit: @Bernd_leno / twitter

First stat I want to highlight is the one positive which Leno betters Martinez and that is “Sweeper actions” or as I like to call it, the Manuel Neuer stat. Both keepers are pretty impartial to leaving their box it seems with both coming in below 1 per 90, but Leno is double as likely to leave the area than Martinez. Maybe this is something to do with the way that Arsenal, under Arteta, are trying to play. Attempting to play the old Arsenal passing style with everyone getting involved really hasn’t worked for Arteta’s side this season and this shows when we look to clean sheets. Leno’s 5 in 17 isn’t coming close to Matinez’s 8 in 15, but this stat is strange when you consider that statistically Aston Villa are more likely to concede more goals per game than Arsenal? So why do Aston Villa have so many more clean sheets? Well, the answer is simple, Emiliano Martinez.  

His performances have been so good that if even when you look at the stats it is clear to see how crucial he has been to Aston Villa. Shots saved, Save %, Saves per goal conceded and Crosses stopped all show an Aston Villa defence which is, like Arsenal’s leaky, and yet because they have Martinez between the sticks, they have been able to avoid dropping down the table and have the 3rd best defensive record in the league.  

The fact is that Martinez is saving far more shots per 90 than Leno. Teams are getting passed the Aston Villa defence, but they are failing to beat Martinez! He has been so crucial to Aston Villa this season and I seriously think that had they not signed him they could find themselves in the bottom six rather than fighting for a place in the top 6! 

Consider; 1-1 at Chelsea where Martinez faced 5 shots on target, 0-0 with Burnley where he faced 4 shots on target, 1-0 at Wolves seven shots on target and MOTM, 1-0 at Leicester another 5 shots on target and his debut for Villa 1-0 against Sheffield United, a penalty saves, MOTM performance!  We’re talking about a potential 8-point swing and a drop to 15th!  

A phenomenal season so far for a world class keeper! Tomorow we will reveal our choice RB!

Big 6 XI v The Rest XI – The RB

Welcome back to the Team of the season so far XI of teams outside the top 6. Need to come up with a better name. Yesterday revealed that Aston Villa’s Martinez was our choice for Goalkeeper and today we begin setting up the outfield by setting up our backline.  

This phrase will probably crop up more frequently, but this was one of the hard choices in the team. The Premier League and England is inundated with RB’s with all of them playing at an exceptionally high level. But after all the suggestions were made there was only one winner and that was our mate, Tariq Lamptey.

Credit: Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club

The 20-year-old English man’s market value has gone through the roof since his £3 Million move from Chelsea to Brighton 1 year ago. He started the 20/21 season in phenomenal form, getting three assists in his first three consecutive games. For Brighton Lamptey offers an unexpected outlet. For a team that’s defence is made up of two-man mountains in Dan Burn and Lewis Dunk, Lamptey is the player that Brighton needs to shift defence into attack without playing route one football. 

The standard to which Lamptey has been playing for Brighton really shows when you consider that he has missed out on the back end of this season through injury. He really is a phenomenal wing-back for such a young age and in his absence, Brighton have failed to win a game. 

Once again with help from VIZI we wanted to take a look at Lamptey’s stats against a player that means something. So, for this head-to-head we have put Lamptey against the player that denied him a spot in the Chelsea squad and a one of his many rivals for an England place. So, we have gone for Reece James of Chelsea.

Credit: Chelsea Football Club

Now it is also worth highlighting that unlike yesterday’s matchup these two teams are not close to each other in the table. Chelsea sit 8 places and 12 points higher than Brighton, plus despite decent performances Brighton have not had a good season. Only two wins leaves them just three points above the drop and eight draws is the most in the division. Yet despite this the star graph upon first glance may still be deceiving, so let’s take a deeper look at what this means. 

First off let’s address the big spike coming out of the bottom left corner, dribbles. As I mentioned earlier, Lamptey offers an attack threat for Brighton despite being a RB, for team who are facing relegation he is a crucial player to help shift the ball up field when under pressure, this is something that their relegation rivals do not have. Hence why he is doing more dribbling, but this stat is also compounded by Long Balls on the right of the graph. Reece James at Chelsea in an average game will hit three times as many balls up field than Lamptey so it is clear to see the two very different styles of play. But as we can see this more aggressive style of play means that Lamptey is much more susceptible to turning over the ball and then you would imagine committing a foul which would explain the measures at the top left of the graph. 

The fact is even though it doesn’t look like it, Reece James and Lamptey are two very similar players, and maybe Tariq has fallen foul of his injury in terms of this stats. But the two are very evenly matched in a number of areas.  

Lamptey has a slight edge of James when it comes to interceptions and tackling dribblers and you would imagine both of these stats are down to the speed that Lamptey has. The two also cut it close when it comes to Assists and expected assists with Lamptey slightly behind on pass completion and pressures per game. James clearly has a lot more success higher up the field than Lamptey with final third passes and expected assists but maybe this can be put down to Chelsea’s world class strike force compared to Brighton’s.  

It is clear that this season so far James has an edge on Lamptey, but when you remember that Lamptey is playing for team with far less recourses and has missed a handful of the games the fact that he is not far behind James in many of the stats I think shows how good of a player Lamptey has been this season, and that is why he makes the best of the rest so far! 

Tomorrow we begin on the hotly contested spot of CB and this really was a tough one to call… 

Thanks for reading.