Monthly Archives: February 2014

Title hopes suffer blow at home to Lancaster

Darlington 0-2 Lancaster City

After returning to action with a win on Saturday, Darlington suffered a huge blow to their title chances with a home defeat to playoff chasing Lancaster City tonight. Darlo lined up the same as at Radcliffe Borough on Saturday, with the only change coming on the bench, Leon Scott replacing Joe Tait.

The first half was pretty evenly matched, but the Quakers will have been disappointed to have gone in behind having had the better of the chances. David Dowson was sent clear on goal and put the ball passed the Lancaster keeper only to see the ball roll past the post.

Darlo had a goal ruled out from a corner after Chris Hunter was adjudged to have committed a foul, with Alan White also seeing a header cleared off the line.

Lancaster had two chances of note in the first period, Mark Bell did well to tip a header round the post, but he was unable to stop the only goal of the first half. After the ball was given away in midfield, one pass split the defence apart, as Lancaster danger man Kilifin raced around Bell and put the ball Into the net to give the visitors the lead at half time 1-0.

Darlo started the second half well and had numerous efforts on goal without properly testing the Lancaster keeper. The best chance Darlo were able to create fell to Amar Purewal, Stephen Thompson flicked the ball on to Purewal who was unable to beat the keeper at his near post, as he could only find the side netting.

Despite having the majority of the ball , Darlo were not able to create many chances and the majority of the best chances were created on the break by the visitors while we pushed men forward. From one of these breaks Lancaster winger Ryan Winder was able to score to give them a 2-0 lead with 5 minutes to go.

Despite six minutes of stoppage time Darlo were unable to get on the score sheet,  a Thompson strike from a tight angle brought out the best from the Lancaster keeper. The visitors should have also added a further late goal when they hit the post.

The referree took a lot of stick from players,management and fans alike, particularly around an incident in which he appeared to reach for a second yellow for a Lancaster player, before realising he had already booked him and instead just giving a warning. Following the incident Darlo manager Martin Gray was sent to the stands. Personally I thought the ref was poor, but cannot be blamed for the defeat.

Lancaster looked solid throughout and hit us well on the break, the game was very similar to many of the games we have dropped points at home this season. Once the away team has something to defend, we struggle to break them down and other than Thompson we often fail to create something from nothing to change a game.

Next Darlington move onto Padiham on Saturday hoping to get back to winning ways. Tonight could prove to be very costly in our hopes of catching Curzon Ashton, however I am an optimist and there are still plenty of games to go.

Player Ratings

M.Bell – Unable to do anything about the goals, made a crucial save in the first half which on another day could have proved important – 6

S.Harrison – Put some good early balls into the box in the first half but struggled to provide an outlet in the second. -6

T.Galbraith – Always an outlet at LB but caught out of position a lot in the second half – 5

A.White – Caught out for the opener, unlucky with a first half header – 6

C.Hunter -Similar to White, unable to cope when left open on the break in the second half – 6

J.Robinson- May prove me wrong in the future, but still unconvinced by him playing defensive midfield – 5

D.Hopson – Not at his best tonight, gave too many balls away and not powerful enough in the middle -5

R.Ramshaw – Alongside Hopson caught out too often and unable to create anything when needed – 5

S.Thompson – As so often our only player looking like creating much, got frustrated in the second half  – 6

D.Dowson – Missed the best chance we created, could have lead to a different outcome – 5

A.Purewal – Had a few sights of goal but didn’t look like scoring – 5

Subs,Brown, Scott, Fisher, Unused, Jameson,Davis.

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Darlo grind out three points

Radcliffe Borough 1-2 Darlington

Darlo returned to action for the first time in three weeks, as we won away from home at relegation threatened Radcliffe Borough.

The game was very much a game of two halves, as Darlo were able to create a host of chances in the first half before tiring later on. Even before the scoring was opened we had three good efforts, both Amar Purewal and Stephen Thompson hit the woodwork, with Purewal also seeing a 1v1 stopped by the Radcliffe keeper.

David Dowson opened the scoring on the 19th minute with a cool finish after being set through on goal by Purewal

The lead was doubled after 27 minutes when Rob Ramshaw was brought down in the box after getting behind the home defence and left back Tez Galbraith converted the penalty.

Darlington remained in control for much of the first half, but Radcliffe had a few good chances of their own, the pick of which was a fantastically struck volley from Sherlock which was well kept out by a good reaction save from Mark Bell.

Despite kicking downhill in the second half Darlo lacked the composure shown in the first period as they struggled throughout to create many further opportunities.

Radcliffe got back into the game in the 58th minute after a free kick wasn’t fully dealt with by Bell and Alan White, which allowed Burey to fire into an unguarded net to make it 2-1.

Mid way through the second half the home side were reduced to ten men after Ayres was sent off for a rash challenge from behind on substitute Nathan Fisher, it was a bad tackle yet the red was harsh when most referees would have given yellow.

After the red card the game died away with Bell being relatively untroubled in the Quakers goal and Darlo being unable to add to their lead as the game finished 2-1

A crucial victory in the end for Darlington, the first 30/35 minutes were very good, which could have seen us 4 or 5 up. However after that we fell away against a poor Radcliffe side, this could be down to the lack of competitive football this year, but still we looked comfortable and deserved the victory.

Unfortunately for Darlington the other game of note in the division saw Curzon Ashton thrash fellow promotion rivals Warrington Town away from home, 5-1,to tighten their grip on the one automatic promotion place.

Next up for Darlington is Lancaster City at home on Wednesday night.

Player Ratings

M.Bell – Solid display from Bell despite being mostly untested – 6

S.Harrison – Got forward a lot and rarely put a foot wrong at right back. Reliable as always -7

T.Galbraith – Like Harra got forward a lot, took the penalty well -7

A. White – Vocal as always strong throughout, possibly could have been in trouble early on, but ref didn’t take action. 7

C.Hunter – Great performance from a player who has improved all season long. -8 (MOTM)

J. Robinson – Sat in front of the defence and protected well without offering much going forward -6

R.Ramshaw – Good game for the youngster won the pen but tired later on -8

D.Hopson – Worked well with Ramshaw in the middle if a little light weight at times. -7

S.Thompson – Great first half involved in most moves disappeared after the break -7

D.Dowson – As always ran himself into the ground, unlucky to be booked for diving and scored the crucial first. – 8

A.Purewal – Missed a couple of chances early on he should have scored, but led the line very well throughout – 7

Subs, Fisher 7, Davis 6.
Unused, Brown, Tait,Jameson

The Premiership Title Race

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This season the Premier League title race has been harder to call then ever before, with at one stage seven teams having a realistic shot at the league title. In most seasons since the Premier League began in 1992/93, there have been two or three teams competing for the title at this stage of the season. In 2013/14, four teams can count themselves very much still in the title race. Here I assess the chances of the four sides, in what is sure to have fans up and down the country gripped till the end of the league season in May.

Current league standings

  1.        Chelsea  Played 26 Points 57 GD + 27
  2.        Arsenal Played 26 Points 56 GD + 22
  3.        Man City Played 25 Points 54 GD + 41
  4.        Liverpool Played 26 Points 53 GD + 34

 

The Big Spenders– Manchester City

Manchester City started the season as one of the favourites for the title and with Manchester United’s poor showing, they have been the title favourites throughout the campaign. City had a shaky start with away defeats to Cardiff and Aston Villa, before going on a long unbeaten run in which they have scored goals for fun at home.

Going forward they have a host of attacking options with Alvaro Negredo being a huge success so far in his first season of English football. Stevan Jovetic has just come back to full fitness and Edin Dzecko has put his bad experiences from previous manager, Mancini, behind him.  When at his best Yaya Toure still looks unplayable from midfield, seemingly controlling games on his own and the creative genius of Silva, Navas and Nasri have all shone through in spells this year.

Joe Hart struggled early in the season, but is great to see him back in form ahead of this summer’s World Cup where he travels as England’s first choice goalkeeper.

However, they do have problems, despite their attacking options, it is already showing what the absence of Sergio Aguero has on the team, he can win games on his own and with Negredo not performing as well since his shoulder injury, they are relying on Dzeko and Jovetic, a young man who has been on the injury table all season.

Since Manchester City have started challenging for the title in recent years, one area which has always brought critism is their defence and it could be their achilles heel in their title bid.  You only have to see the stats when captain Vincent Kompany is out of the team to see how important he is to City, but the inability to find a strong partner for him, even when he does play, could prove costly for them.  Martin Demichelis has played for the majority of this campaign, but never seems to look convincing. The Barcelona game this week has further shown this, ovbiously they will not come up against players such as Messi, Sanchez and Iniesta every week, however it highlighted their main weakness.

Pelligirini himself has come under critism this year for being one dimensional. However, it is still his first season in England and he was able to get one over on Mourinho in the FA Cup last Saturday.

Their fixtures left are not easy on paper with trips to Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton and rivals Manchester United all still to come. However, if any side has the squad to cope with the demanding fixtures left it is City.

 

The Little Horse – Chelsea

Before the start of the season I picked Chelsea to win the title, with the main reason being the Mourinho factor. Despite trailing to Manchester City and Arsenal for large parts of the season, Jose Mourinho appears to have now found the team he wants to go with, which could provide the stability they need. 

Love him or hate him, Jose Mourinho can be seen as one of the most successful managers of the modern game and he has had success wherever he has been. As he has done in his previous jobs the special one has made his mark on the Chelsea squad this season leaving key players out of the first team from last year, such as Juan Mata and Ashley Cole. While this is still questioned, it has allowed him to get a youthful side with a lot of energy to build the way he wants. In recent weeks Hazard has started to show his potential as has Willian, with Oscar being consistant throughout the campaign.

While the team is very solid at the back and full of energy in midfield the problem which was obvious when Mourinho rejoined Chelsea remains, the forwards. Fernando Torres and Demba Ba have both had torrid times since joining the Blues and the only edition has been the experienced Samuel Eto’o. The Cameroon international, who had worked with Mourinho before at Inter Milan, has been the first choice striker for the majority of the campaign, but it is clear he is well past his best. He showed a match winning performance against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, yet still this is a clear area of weakness for Chelsea. Over the summer I expect them to try and land a new striker and get rid of either Torres or Ba, or both.

John Terry has come back this season under Mourinho and despite being ruled out of an England return by Roy Hodgson it is hard to see a better English centre back this season. Alongside Terry, Gary Cahill and David Luiz have also had good seasons when called upon, despite Luiz still being prone to positional errors when starting in defence.

Despite being knocked out of the FA Cup last week, in the league Chelsea are on a good unbeaten run stretching back to a 3-2 defeat at Stoke at the start of December. In the run in they welcome Everton, Tottenham and Arsenal to Stamford Bridge, where they are yet to lose this season, as well as travelling to Anfield to face Liverpool.

The Gunners –  Arsenal

Whichever way you look at Arsenal’s season the first thing to point out is how far they have come from recent years. Arsenal have not won the Premiership crown for a decade and have barely featured in the majority of title races since. This year, however, they have led the league for large parts of the season and remain well in the title race despite being written off by the majority.  It is a far cry from where they were after the opening day of the season ,when a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa had fans calling for Arsene Wenger’s head. The only major signing they have made is Mesut Ozil, but the impact he made particular before Christmas has showed his worth. An outstanding first half of the season from Aaron Ramsey also took people by shock and he has probably made the biggest impression on their success so far.

Arsenal have been the most consistent side against the weaker teams in the division, rarely dropping points and picking up victories whether at home or away. However, against the other top sides they have struggled, results that stand out are the heavy defeats away at Manchester City 6-3 and Liverpool 5-1, which could prove costly for the Gunners.

Apart from these rare poor performances, Arsenal’s defence has been strong throughout the league this season with Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny at the heart of their defence.

 One problem which has arisen is upfront, Olivier Giroud has had a good season, despite not reaching the heights of Suarez and Negredo.  However, with no alternative to Giroud other than Nicholas Bentdner he has been played virtually every game, which in recent weeks has taken a toll on his performances.

Arsenal have a tough remaining fixture list including  Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City all in a row, however they are only one point off the top of the table and if their midfield starts firing like they can they have a chance.

The Outsider – Liverpool

Despite Brendan Rodgers writing off his own side’s title hopes in recent weeks, Liverpool are only four points off the top of the table and their destructive victory against Arsenal, 5-1, was one of the performances of this season. While they may lack the depth that City and Chelsea have, they have the attacking fire power to worry any defence in the world. Luis Suarez has hit back at his critics in the best way possible this season, as he is shown why he is one of the hottest propreries in world football. As an England fan there is a good chance he will tear us apart in the World Cup this summer, but all Liverpool fans will be hoping he carries on his form for the rest of the season. He is the league’s top scorer and alongside Daniel Sturridge, has struck a great partnership. Sturridge has come of age since joining Liverpool last season, having struggled at Chelsea and City previously, and has all but guaranteed himself a seat on the plane to Rio with England. The resurgence of Raheem Sterling in recent weeks has brought freshness to Liverpool’s attack and Jordan Henderson has showed why he was so sought after as a youngster.

The whole of the Liverpool set up under Brendan Rodgers is fantastic to see. Yet, amongst all these young talents he has built a great side around, is the experience and heart of the club Steven Gerrard. Despite being past his peak, Gerrard has been an ever present in the team this year and has played well sat deeper than he has previously.

Like all the top four sides they do have weaknesses, their defence has been shaky at times and inconsistency has shown such as the recent draws with West Brom and Aston Villa. Kolo Toure has at times been suspect, as has keeper Simon Mingolet and these may be areas Rodgers chooses to improve in the summer.

The remaining fixtures see them host both Chelsea and Manchester City and while they still have a trip to Old Traford to face Manchester United, the prospect does not seem as hard as it has in previous years.  The performances at Chelsea and Manchester City over Christmas, when Liverpool lost both games 2-1, showed they compete well with any side in the league and they will be eargly anticipating the return fixtures.

A top four finish will surely be Liverpool’s for the first time in years, despite Tottenham, Everton and Manchester United all still being in the race. The title may be just beyond them this season, but it should provide a platform for them to build on over the summer and into the 2014/15 season.

 

Predictions

  1. Manchester City
  2. Chelsea
  3. Liverpool
  4. Arsenal

 

Overrall I think the title race will go right down to the wire, but will ultimately be between two teams in the final weeks of the season, Chelsea and Manchester City. Liverpool and Arsenal both have had good seasons and will hopefully be able to build on this next year. Despite the defeat by Barecelona on Wednesday night I expect City will get over the line in the Premier League, no other side has been as impressive in so many games and on paper they have looked the strongest throughout and with Aguero’s return they should be at full strength for the final season run in. The Mourinho factor will be Chelsea’s biggest strength, but for this year at least I think he will have to settle for second.

Premier League Darts Week 1 Review

The opening night of the Premier league darts brought everything a darts fan could have wanted drama, excitement and shocks. With ten of the best players in the world competing weekly against each other some are bound to have good weeks and bad weeks and the opening week will be most likely remembered for the Taylor v Van Gerwen match. In five matches we saw five 99+ averages and no draws on a fantastic night in Liverpool.

Dave Chisnall 7 – 5 Robert Thornton

The night started with Dave Chisnall making his Premier league Debut against Robert Thornton, who was back for his second season in the league. A topsy tervy match ultimately led to Chisnall picking up his first win which will do  his confidence the world of good. Thornton had chances at doubles in numerous legs including on Chisnall’s throw, including the crucial 11th leg with the score at 5-5. Chizzy would hold though and punish the thorn to break in the final leg and  win the match 7-5. In a game both players will have eyed up as a winnable one, Chisnall picked up the victory which even after week one could go a long way to helping him avoid relegation.

Peter Wright 7-3 Wes Newton

In a similar match to the opener of the night, both Wright and Newton were looking to pick up a victory, Wright on his debut and Newton to forget about his last Premier League campaign. Peter Wright proved too strong for the warrior as he carried on from where he left off at the Worlds. The fan favourite came out of the gates fast and never looked back, despite Newton missing doubles at crucial times in the match. One thing is clear from this Snakebite will enjoy this competition, the fans will embrace him and if he continues to perform like this you never know.

Raymond Van Barneveld 7-2 Gary Anderson

Well I have already been proved wrong, I thought Barney would struggle this year, but on the opening night he has already suggested otherwise. This was a display from Barney back to his best, Anderson did not even play badly, averaging 100, but was blown away by the Dutchman. For the first few legs Barney was averaging a staggering 120+ and even though this dipped in the last few legs he still managed to average 108. I still think Anderson will have a good campaign, but if Barney can keep this form up he will challenge.

Michael Van Gerwen 7 -0 Phil Taylor

One of the most incredible score lines in darts history. Phil Taylor is a man who over the years has whitewashed players of all standards, but last night he himself was whitewashed in quite remarkable fashion. Taylor was nowhere near his best, but still averaged 99, Van Gerwen was just too strong. Taylor will get better with match practice with his new darts and he could have easily won a few legs in the match, such as the final leg. Michael Van Gerwen though goes from strength to strength. A 109 average, which as he noted in his interview post game was better than his friend Van Barneveld’s, doesn’t tell half the story, he was clinical on the doubles and won the first five legs with his first five double attempts. Both these players will be in the top four in the league, but last night was a huge statement of intent by the new World Champion.

Adrian Lewis 7-1 Simon Whitlock

In the final match of the night Adrian Lewis showed what he is capable of against an out of sorts wizard.  For the first time in the premier league we nearly had back to back whitewashes, as Lewis raced into a 6-0 lead before Whitlock finally got a leg on the board. Lewis was back to his best and continued his form over recent months as he attempts to improve on his disappointing outing in the premier league last year.

Premier League Darts Preview

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Tonight marks the start of the tenth Premier League Darts, an event which has risen in prestige to the second most converted title on the PDC calendar after the World Championships. Ten players will compete for the title in weekly events every Thursday from now till the finals night at the O2 in London at the end of May.   Last year I was fortunate enough to have a great night at the Newcastle leg of the tournament and I already can’t wait for it again this year.

In 2013 the event was expanded from eight to ten players, a format which sees all ten players meeting each other once over the first nine nights of darts, with the bottom two players then leaving the competition. The eight  remaining play each other again to try and secure a top four spot for finals night in London.

The line-up of players selected has brought much discussion among the darting world with James Wade the most notable name to miss out. The top four players on the PDC order of Merit automatically qualified, Michael Van Gerwen, Phil Taylor, Simon Whitlock and Adrian Lewis. The PDC picked four wildcards, Dave Chisnall, Peter Wright, Wes Newton and Robert Thorton. With the final two picks coming from Sky Sports, Raymond Van Barenveld and Gary Anderson.

The controversial decision to leave Wade out was met with surprise as he has appeared in the previous six premier league competitions, including 2009 when he won the tournament. During PDC chairman Barry Hearns interview in which he announced the line-up, he stated Wade had been given a rest to enable him more time to gain treatment for his health issues, a statement that Wade strongly disagreed with. Elsewhere Andy Hamilton and Kim Huybrechts both also missed on a place.

The competition as always will favour the most consistent players over the fifteen weeks with the opening event coming from Liverpool. Below is my quick guide to the ten players in the event.

Michael Ver Gerwen – Premier League Champion Odds(Skybet) –  7/4

Prediction – Winner

The favourite for the 2014 premier league crown is last year’s champion Michael Van Gerwen. Having dominated the league last year, becoming the first player other than Phil Taylor to win the league stage, he went on to be crowned champion. Following his premier league win Michael went on to have a fantastic year, which was capped off when he claimed his first World Championship at the Ally Pally on New Year’s Day.   As well as winning the Premier League and World Championship, Van Gerwen also claimed the Players Championship after beating Phil Taylor in the final. Irrespective of where he finishes after the league phase, as long as he finishes in the top four he will be favourite to go on to the win the title and I fully expect him to do so. In the opening event of the year, the German Darts Championship he lost in the quarter finals to fellow Dutchman Jelle Klaasen, 6-5.

Phil Taylor –  Premier League Champion Odds –2/1

Prediction – Semi Finals

The Power will be hungry for success after seeing three notable titles slip from his grasp in the past year,  The Premier League and World Championship crowns,  as well as his world number one spot on the order of merit.  In the past week Phil has announced that he has switched his sponsor to Target Darts ending his long association with Unicorn. The five year deal will see Taylor remain on the circuit for the time being and at least for now quieten talk on his retirement. The switch means Taylor will not have had much practice with his latest set of Darts before he faces Van Gerwen on the opening night in Liverpool, but it still should be the highlight of the night.  Phil has proved over the years though that he is capable of coming back when people have doubted him and he is far from finished. In terms of tournaments won he still managed to win six titles since last year’s competition, including the UK Open,  the World Matchplay, World Grand Prix and the Grand Slam. The World Matchplay final in which he beat Adrian Lewis must stand out as a highlight for any darts fan from 2013 with the quality on show in the match.

Taylor is too good a player to miss out on the semi’s and he will ease into the top four and a place at the O2.

Adrian Lewis – Premier League Champion Odds –4/1

Pediction –Runner Up

Adrian Lewis is considered by most to be the third best player in the world, behind Van Gerwen and Taylor.  Lewis had an up and down year in 2013, but finished strongly in the final few months. He first reached the World Match Play final beating Van Gerwen on route to the final before losing to Phil Taylor. He also performed well at the World Championships before being blown away in the semi-finals by Van Gerwen. The two time World Champion has always been comfortable on the big stage, as he has shown winning the world championship twice, but has yet to enjoy success  in the premier league competition.  In his six appearances so far he has only progressed from the group stages twice, in 2008 and 2011 when he lost to Gary Anderson in the final. In last year’s competition Lewis struggled throughout only winning four of his sixteen matches to finish eighth.

Lewis should be capable of following on from where he finished 2013 and show the potential everyone knows he has. My prediction is that he will come through the group stage in second or third and squeeze through to the final.

The Rest

Simon Whitlock goes into the tournament as the number three in the world and rightfully so, he is one of the most consistent players on the circuit and always performs at a similar level. While this has seen him fail to land a major tv title so far, he consistently reaches the later stages of tournaments and I think he will reach the semi-finals in the premier league. With a lot of players in the competition very good at their best, but inconsistent at the moment, I think he will be able to grab the fourth spot at the O2. He reached the final of this tournament two years ago before losing to Taylor and in the recent World Championships managed to reach the semi-finals, losing to Peter Wright.

Gary Anderson is my outside tip to do well in premier league and could push for a semi-final place having picked up a little bit of form in recent months. A good showing at the World Championships in which he should have beaten Van Gerwen, was followed by a tournament win in Germany last weekend which will hopefully give him the confidence he sometimes lacks.

Peter Wright should come into the Premier League flying high after being runner up in the World Championships and a character like his is made for this event in which he will get the crowd going in every venue. If he shows his form from the Worlds he like Anderson will challenge for a semi-final spot.

Raymond Van Barneveld had a very mixed bag in 2013 and he could turn up a different player every week, but one thing is for certain it will be great to see him in the league once again. No player is more popular amongst the fans and no matter if Barney is winning or losing he always has the crowd on his side week in week out. If he can re-create some of his form from last year’s premier league he may have a chance.

Robert Thorton is often overlooked, but like Simon Whitlock is a very consistent performer who has showed in the past that he can win a tv major. He performed well in this competition last year only just missing out on the top four.

Wes Newton is not in the top eight in the world for no reason and he has retained his place in the premier league despite a poor showing last year in which he finished second bottom. It will do his confidence the world of good to be back in it again and the experience from last year should give him a better shot this time around.

Finally Dave Chisnall makes his first appearance in a competition which he could have been involved in long before now. Chisnall is fifth on the order of merit rankings and was runner up to Taylor in the World Grand Prix last year. He will be wrote off by most in the completion, but with his scoring power he may be able to spring a surprise or two even if he will struggle to make the top four.