Football

Your Summer Sport Sorted

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Darren Paul has the definitive guide to alternative summer sports viewing before the football season kicks off again.

Domestic cup competitions all over Europe have concluded and the Champions League final is all that separates fans and the end of the European football season. What could you watch to fill the void through the long, hot summer months?

Argentine football

The Argentine top two tiers are amongst the most entertaining leagues in the world. The Argentine second division is incredibly closely contested this season and the top flight is full of the most talented young South American players vying for their chance to grace the top leagues in Europe.

The stands are full of noise and colour with some of the most passionate fans on the planet. On the field are some of the most technically gifted players, playing fast-paced, physical football “in the English style” but with more flair. It is a perfect mixture of South American style with British style full blooded contests.

A big bonus (especially for the more hipster fan) is you get to see young talents before they make the leap to Europe. Bruno Zucculini, Rodrigo De Paul, Oscar Romero and Ramiro Funes Mori are just some of the talented young players to have come out of Argentina in the last few years.

Check out the goals of Luciano Vietto at Racing Club, if you’re not convinced.

Australian Rules Football

18 a side. Cricket pitch. Rugby ball. 8 goalposts. Spot fights. Mullets. You name it, Aussie rules has it. The AFL is in full swing, showcasing incredible athletes (running, jumping, kicking and punching around a cricket pitch for 2 hours) playing an incredibly physically demanding sport. Aussie Rules is a sport of hard men (and women) who have no qualms about protecting themselves with their fists, but, match that with slick team passing moves, amazing marks (catches) and great goals which get the heart pumping.

This season has seen a number of games going to the final buzzer (and beyond) to find a winner. The Hawthorn Hawks and the Sydney Swans had a tremendous battle in round 10, in one of the games of the season so far, check out the highlights below.

Canadian Football League

Do you like American Football but can’t wait until September? Do you like American Football but want to see an extra man per side, running before the snap, massive fields, a point for missing a field goal but kicking it far enough that the ball clears the end zone? Well, the CFL might just be for you!

The CFL is a much more athletic league than the NFL, where the players tend to be smaller and faster. The league doesn’t faff about with a down wasted on a no gain run, so only play 3 downs as opposed to the NFL 4. This combined with the larger field size leads to a pass focused league, which is played at a fast, exciting pace.

The CFL is a smaller league, with just 9 teams and dedicated fan bases, akin more to the lower leagues than the top flight. But on the field, the product is exciting, high tempo and full of drama. Just look at the heroics of the Eastern Conference finals.

All three sports are available easily and cheaply (or free) online. The Argentine football is easily accessed live via Youtube, all CFL games get put on youtube (with breaks edited out THANK YOU UPLOADER) and the AFL is on BT Sports with comprehensive highlights loaded to youtube within hours of the games finishing.

As well as these three fantastic sports that will fill the void of any sports fan there are the traditional summer events; Cricket, Le Mans 24 hours, Wimbledon and much more to see you through as we await the return of European football and basketball.

Check back to http://www.splitfocussports.com all summer long for coverage on the biggest events of the summer.

The EFL harms the fans yet again.

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The English Football League tonight has granted a motion put forward by Blackpool FC on Monday evening to suspend ticket sales to Leyton Orient fans for Saturday’s clash to end the season.

The motion was granted as a response to the Orient fans invading the pitch in a peaceful protest to the ownership of their famous and historic club, in much the same way that Blackpool fans have protested against the ownership of their club.

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The fans of both clubs are staring the very real possibility in the face that without significant and rapid change one or both of the clubs could cease to exist, with Orient facing a winding up order on the 12th June. The London club has already been relegated to the National league after 112 years in the football league and could be subject to a points deduction for the sit-in protest at the weekend.

The protest is one of many already conducted by fans of both clubs and the suspension of ticket sales is an attempt to prevent a larger scale organised joint protest, under the guise of fan safety, whilst neither sets of fans have no history of anything other than peaceful protests, to rescue the clubs they love.

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The Football League needs to do much more to protect these historic institutions from being destroyed by owners who have no interest in the footballing success of the teams. The fat cats who care not for the history of them or the fans who have the clubs in their DNA but will not relinquish them for status or financial reasons. Once again the Football League are punishing the fans who have already suffered more than enough, thanks to the EFL’s lack of effective governance of the sport.

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The league once again finds a way to harm its most important part of the sport, the fans. Football is being ripped away from the fans yet again and given to those who are destroying the game, the clubs, the history. The likes of the Oystons and Becchittis are a blight on the game. The two sets of fans came together in their last fixture to protest the atrocious way their clubs are being driven into the ground, and the Oystons will be fearful of what another fan protest, especially if it is a pitch invasion. Blackpool has a suspended fine of £50,000 looming over their heads if there is another postponement.

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The EFL will release an update at 18:00 on Tuesday. With any luck they will have seen sense and allow the Orient fans purchase tickets, to see their club in what could very well be their last ever fixture as Leyton Orient Football Club. If the league has any more sense, they will find a way to prevent the likes of the Oystons, the Becchittis from ever being allowed near these cherished institutions ever again.

Quick Read: Histon cause havoc to keep survival hopes alive

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Histon strengthened their survival chances with a massive home win 3-2 over Uxbridge on Saturday.

The visitors took the lead midway through the first half. A cross, from leading scorer Abobaker Eisa, was turned in at the near post by Thomas past a stranded Sam Roach.

The second half was a drastic improvement in the quality of football being played. Histon had an equaliser just minutes after the restart, Lewis Clayton bundling the ball just over the line after a long throw caused problems from Uxbridge.

Histon would take the lead in the 73rd minute. Another long throw was not dealt with by the visitors and Simon Unwin was on hand to rifle the ball into the net. Histon were not finished and they doubled their advantage on 75 minutes. A free kick was mishandled by Paul McCarthy and James Carman punished him to make it 3-1.

Histon played the last ten minutes a man down after Lewis Clayton received a second yellow for pulling back the Uxbridge skipper.

Uxbridge pulled back a late goal from the spot, Eisa netting his 20th goal of the season but it was Histon who rightly took all 3 points to keep their survival hopes alive.

Match Report: Histon 3 – 2 Uxbridge – Stutes still fighting for survival.

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Ten-man Histon helped their survival chances massively as they beat Uxbridge by a final score of 3-2, in front of 143 fans on a beautiful April afternoon at home.

Histon headed into today’s game with their manager Lance Key’s demands for a win ringing in their ears. Anything less than a win today all but secures their relegation from the EvoStik League Southern Division 1 Central. They hosted an Uxbridge side short of recent form coming off a heavy 3-1 defeat away to Aylesbury.  

Histon manager Lance Key was able to call upon on Leyton Orient’s 17-year-old keeper Sam Roach.

The first half was a tight affair with very few clear cut chances for either side. Histon lined up with a back 3 and looked to flood the midfield, targeting the right side of the Uxbridge as a particular weakness. Uxbridge lined up in a 4-4-2, relying greatly on the pace of full back Andy Dean, leading scorer Abobaker Eisa and right winger David Manul.

It was the link up of Dean and Eisa which lead to the opening goal on 23 minutes. Dean collected a ball in the left back position and brought it forward for Eisa to drive and play an excellent low cross into the box. Uxbridge had flooded the area on the counter attack and the ball was knocked in by Anthony Thomas at the near post.

Histon only had half chances in the opening 45, the best of those falling to Tommy Wright, but his shots lacked power and conviction and were easily dealt with by the Uxbridge defenders and failed to trouble Paul McCarthy in the Reds’ goal.

Uxbridge ended the half with the better of the play applying late pressure to the home side’s goal, but could not create any clear chances to convert their possession.

The second half was a much more open game after Lewis Clayton equalised five minutes in, scrambling the ball just over the line after a long ball into the box caused problems for the Uxbridge defenders. Paul McCarthy thought he had saved the shot but the linesman confirmed the goal.

Histon had the lead on 73 minutes. Another long throw into the area wasn’t dealt with by the Uxbridge defenders and was rifled in by Simon Unwin.

Histon doubled their advantage two minutes later with a similarly worked goal, this time from a long throw. Paul McCarthy in the Uxbridge goal came for the ball but mishandled it. His defenders failed to clear in the aftermath and James Carman was on hand to finish into the unguarded net. Carman’s delight was clear to see as he sprinted shirtless into a group of fans pitchside, picking up a yellow for his troubles.

There was more drama on 80 minutes as Histon’s Lewis Clayton collected his second yellow card for pulling back Uxbridge’s captain Wayne Carter. This lead Keys to make a double sub, replacing Chambers-Shaw and Carman with Joe Carden and Marcus Hall.

Uxbridge made the man advantage tell as they attacked relentlessly in the final minutes, but some confident goalkeeping from Sam Roach kept the Reds at bay. Uxbridge had another one back deep into injury time as Uxbridge’s leading scorer Eisa buried a penalty the to bottom left of Sam Roach, but Histon would hold out to get a richly deserved win.

After the game Lance Key was critical of some the referee’s performance, “At times I think he was poor, but one thing I did like was he gave you a reason for the decision.” and was understandably unhappy with the sending-off “I think Lewis Clayton getting sent off for two yellow cards was a bit harsh.”

For Key, the biggest issue of the first 45 was a lack of tempted, and not putting pressure on Uxbridge. At halftime he told the players, “The next 45 is crucial to our season, we’ve come this far.” and to play with “no regrets, go out there and do what you’ve been doing for the last three or four game

Clearly, for Key, the break brought about a change in tempo and play from his players, “Second half we got them turned, we put balls in the box and created a bit of havoc. At this level of football that’s all it can take this time to score goals sometimes.” and that the win was “fully deserved.”.

Captain Max York on the feeling of the players pre-game ” I think it was always going to be a difficult game knowing we had to win, sometimes we put the pressure on ourselves to win.”

Few people in the ground had as good a view on the penalty award as York, “It was a harsh, harsh penalty. But like Lance has said I think the referee was poor today. It comes down to us digging in and scoring the goals that we scored. We beat them fair.”

 

United ease past Boro to keep pressure on top 4.

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Manchester United extend their unbeaten streak in the league thanks to goals from Fellaini, Lingard and Valencia. Mourinho’s men rode their luck in the closing stages but made the most of their chances against a wasteful Middlesbrough.

Manchester United entered the Riverside in their clash with managerless Middlesbrough needing a win to keep within touching distance of the fourth-placed Liverpool.  Victor Valdes was forced into a wonderful save after just 6 minutes as Rashford broke the Boro line to for a one on one chance.

Gaston Ramirez forced a fantastic save out of David De Gea in the United goal after a good run from left back from Fabio and a neat pass from Leadbetter allowed Ramirez a look in at the United goal. Ramirez was able to create separation from Bailly and shoot hard with his right a thunderous shot met well by the United stopper. The link up of Fabio and Gaston down the left wing was a source of trouble for United in the early running.

Valdes, formerly of Manchester United,  made an incredible double save to keep the scorelines level as Mata centres a ball to Rashford who put the ball on goal from meters out, bringing a reaction save with the foot of Valdez. The ball spun out to the feet of Valencia who hit the target with a first-time shot, which was somehow saved on the line again by the Spanish legend.

Marouane Fellaini broke the deadlock with a cushioned header on the half hour mark, an excellent cross from Young on the right wing was met at the backpost by the unmarked Belgian, to score his first league goal this season.

Alvaro Negredo should have had the game tied up just a minute later as a wonderful floated ball made it to the back post, but Negredo’s header trickled harmlessly across the United goal. Gaston Ramirez maintained the pressure on the United defenders creating half chances for Boro throughout the half, but the visitors stood firm throughout the remainder of the half.

Neither side made any changes at the half, and it was the hosts who made the best of the early second half running, winning a corner after more good work down the left wing. Manchester United’s pace was a massive issue for Boro all game, with Lingard and Rashford destroying the Boro backline for pace time and again, but the lack of support from the midfield limited the visitor’s effectiveness going forward.

Jesse Lingard doubled United’s advantage with a goal of season contending strike of the ball. The United front three broke at pace with Lingard driving through the middle of the field before shooting on the run from 25 yards out past the grounded Valdes into the keeper’s top left corner.

Gaston was a major danger man for Boro before he was withdrawn in the 67th minute, his last act a perfectly weighted cross into the area met by the head of Negredo, but the Spaniard’s effort trickled bounced wide. Middlesbrough, already dominating the possession stats, took over the game after Mourinho brought off Mata to be replaced by Rojo, forcing the visitors to sit deeper and invite pressure from their hosts.

Rudy Gestede scored Middlesbrough’s 20th goal of the season as United were unable to clear their lines the ball fell to Gestede who fired a first-time shot through the legs of De Gea. Chris Smalling had a poor day for United, as he was easily beaten by Alvaro Negredo in the closing moments, only for Phil Jones to execute a perfect sliding challenge to snuff out the danger.

There was late drama as Rudy Gestede appeared to grab Bailly around the neck which caused a shoving match between the two sides, as Middlesbrough were looking to turn the screw and look for an equaliser.

There was one more shocking moment in the closing minutes are Antonia Valencia finished off Middlesbrough as his tenacious running forced a howler from Victor Valdes. A back pass chased down by Valencia forced a backtracking Valdes to slip over, Valencia was on hand to collect the ball and walk it into the empty net.

Leicester City shocks the Globe, again!

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Leicester City made history as they enter the draw for the quarter finals of the champions league thanks to the heroics of Kasper Schmeichel and goals from Albrighton and Morgan. The Foxes continue their incredible journey with a dominant 2-0 victory at home against Spanish giants Sevilla.

Leicester City entered the biggest game in their history Tuesday evening knowing that conceding a goal would effectively kill off the tie. Craig Shakespeare picked a full strengthed side in their trademark 4-4-2 looking to beat Sevilla on the wings and in the air.

The reigning English champions started the game strongly, with the best of the early running, pinning back the Europa league holders in their final third whilst failing to really test Rico in the Sevilla goal. Despite the pressure being applied by the Foxes, it was the visitors who tested Schmeichel early with a powerful shot from Nasri low to the keepers left.

The early stages of the game set the tone for a full-blooded affair, both sides knowing what was it at stake. the Italian referee was allowing a lot more go than you would expect to see in a domestic British game which at first seemed to unsettle Leicester as they tried to get the measure of what the ref would allow.

Wes Morgan brought the King Power to its feet on 26 minutes as he knees the ball in at the back post to put Leicester in the lead on the night and levelled the tie. Vardy had won a free kick on the edge of the area after a foul from the Sevilla captain Iborra. Riyad Mahrez delivered a pinpoint perfect cross to the back post and Captain Morgan was on hand to tap in from close range.

The following ten minutes after the goal was a tense affair for Leicester with chances for Sevilla who looked calm in the face of elimination, safe in the knowledge that scoring one goal would put them back in control of the tie.

Sevilla made two changes at the break and started the brighter of the two sides and rattled the bar as Escudero is allowed too much space and took a shot from over 30 yards out. Leicester City doubled their advantage on 54 minutes as Mark Albrighton rifled in a shot from the edge of the area after Sevilla failed to clear a ball.

Jamie Vardy had the perfect chance to kill off the tie of 66 minutes as Rico makes a good block on a cross from Slimani, the England striker could only scuff his effort wide. As the second half ticked on, the tension was rising as Sevilla pushed forward looking for a goal, Leicester sat deeper and deeper leaving Vardy and Slimani high to break on the counter.

Schmeichel once again on 71 minutes came to Leicester’s rescue as he palmed away a fierce effort from close range by Corea. Samir Nasri senselessly but a dent in his team’s chances of winning as he received his marching orders moments later for a headbutt on Jamie Vardy that also saw the Foxes man carded.

On the 78th minute, the referee awarded Sevilla a lifeline as he awarded a penalty as Schmeichel brought down the onrushing  Vitolo. Nzonzi’s penalty was poorly taken but brilliantly saved by the Great Dane reminiscent of his Father’s famous save in the FA Cup Semi-Final replay in 99.

There was no time to celebrate as Sevilla were again hammering against the Leicester defences, but they held firm. With just minutes remaining Sevilla’s manager Sampaoli was sent to the stands by the referee who had an excellent game.

Rico kept Sevilla in the game in the final stages time and again with a reaction save from a Vardy and a perfectly timed dive at the feet of Slimani to rob the onrushing forward. To the death Leicester continued to play their way, looking to keep it tight and pounce on the counter attack but Vardy’s composure failed him at the key moments as he ballooned his one on one chance high into the stands, but in the end it didn’t matter as Leicester held on for their most famous victory.

It is Keown who is out of order

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Martin Keown this weekend claimed that interim Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare was “almost out of order” in wanting the job on a permanent basis. Martin Keown is wrong.

Leicester is unbeaten in the two games under Shakespeare, the former assistant to both Pearson and Ranieri. The Foxes put three goals past both Liverpool and Hull in a pair of stunning victories that have done wonders for their chances of staying in the top flight.  And yet, according to Keown, Craig Shakespeare is “out of order” and “not a big enough name” for the job. Keown hammers home his point by informing viewers and his bemused co-hosts that “they’re playing in the Champions league”.

The idiocy of the comments from Martin Keown leaps out immediately as being contrary to the British media ideals of a manager. Shakespeare is a former assistant coach, knows the club well and is English. One would assume the media in Britain would be lining up to give him the job. 

The normal line trotted out by the likes of Keown tend to be, “why don’t young British managers get a look in at big jobs?” Just this morning Garry Richardson on Five Live was bemoaning the lack of chances for Shaun Dyche or Eddie Howe at a top 4 side. And here we have a British (albeit not especially young) manager, with some pedigree attempting to get a managerial job in the top flight. 

The Case for Craig Shakespeare

Shakespeare, 53, had a professional playing career spanning roughly 20 years. Shakespeare has held coaching positions at top flight clubs, West Brom and Hull, and has been with Leicester for the best part of a decade. He is an established member of the Leicester City backroom staff and is obviously held in high regard, as he has outlasted two managers. So, Shakespeare has bags of experience, knows the club and the players well,  has got them playing attacking football in a system that works and is British. Shakespeare has also had experience in the England coaching set-up under manager Sam Allardyce.

If Ryan Giggs or Tim Sherwood was in the post instead of Shakespeare the likes of Keown would be screaming for them to be appointed the manager, even though neither of them is nearly as qualified for this particular job. Ryan Giggs has about the same number of games managed as Shakespeare and was an assistant into Van Gaal in a poor United team for 2 seasons. Giggs has since been sacked by Mourinho and instead of taking a job down the divisions or as an assistant elsewhere has sat on a sofa and written for newspapers. Glad to see this inspiring young British manager taking the job hunt seriously. 

The assertion that Leicester needs a manager who is “bigger and has more experience” is laughable. Craig Shakespeare is the perfect man to lead Leicester City forward at this point, at least to the end of the season. Bringing in a new man to the club at this late stage could completely backfire on their hopes of survival. Look for example at Palace, Swansea and Hull. All three sides brought in new men and have seen their fortunes barely change. Swansea and Palace especially struggled with new men in charge, forcing Swansea’s owners to sack Bob Bradley after just 3 months in charge. 

The solution for the Foxes looks ready made. Shakespeare offers a continuity to their championship winning success, a knowledge and assessment of the players based on years of experience with them. Shakespeare knows how Leicester want to play football and how best to pick and set a side to play in that spirit. He isn’t a big name, nor does he have top-flight experience, but look at the revolving door of managerial appointments and sackings. Ask yourself, would Steve Bruce or Pardew be any better for Leicester right now?

The comments of Martin Keown are caught between two schools of British media thought when it comes to managerial appointments. If Shakespeare was 10 years younger, Keown would be jumping up and down Tom Cruise style on the Match of the Day sofa calling for him to get the job. On the other hand, Keown is calling for a big name with experience to be appointed because Leicester is playing in Europe for potentially 90 more minutes.

The question posed for Keown should be, how can young(relatively speaking) British managers not get experience if they’re not given chances, especially if they’re the best man for the job?