The idea that was to become goalfood was germinated at Euro 2004, when friends Nick & Pete travelled to the tournament but were disappointed they couldn’t find any cool football-themed t-shirts to wear on the trip. They got their creative brains together, and in late 2005, goalfood.com, an online football t-shirt store, was launched. Initially aimed primarily at family & friends (and friends of friends), word of mouth soon did its job, so by World Cup 2006 goalfood was a fully fledged site which also boasted an excellent fanzine section.


Sales grew steadily, as did the number of designs in the catalogue, whilst the fanzine went from strength to strength. We were featured in journals as diverse as The Times, When Saturday Comes and Time Out New York. Alas it was always a hobby, and eventually real life got in the way, and after a swansong at the 2010 World Cup (with some natty designs and some seriously good features), things gradually wound down.


However, many fans long carried a candle for the site, so now we are delighted to revive the fanzine section under the editorial stewardship of Jack Gordon Brown.
Stay tuned for some top football (and now cricket) writing.


A number of our classic t shirt designs are still available – please click on the t-shirt link to see what you can get and how to purchase.



A New Zealand win would be a welcome win

Basin reserve two

New Zealand isn’t a big place, and it doesn’t have many inhabitants.  In 2014, the recorded population was just over 4.5 million. That is the lowest figure of any Test playing nation, and barring the West Indies, by quite some margin.

Cricket isn’t even New Zealand’s national sport, far from it. That is Rugby, and with good reason too.

 They have two World Cups to their name in that sport. Over 7% of adult New Zealanders play cricket, but it has never commanded national attention like Rugby.  

 And as a result, the Black Caps have never really taken the world game by storm. Sure, they have had their share of great cricketers.

 Richard Hadlee was a great cricketer. He was part of that quartet of all-rounders that shone brightly in the 80’s, standing alongside Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Ian Botham.

Martin Crowe was a great batsman, one who oozed class. He has 17 test centuries to his name.  During the span of Martin Crowe’s Test career, New Zealand played 94 tests.

 In the same time frame England played 137.  Australia played 130.  Crowe could have scored many more test runs, had he been from a bigger cricketing nation.

 In the modern era, New Zealand have continued to provide some gems. Daniel Vettori has taken over 650 international wickets with his intelligent yet unspectacular brand of left arm spin, yet you would barely have noticed had you not been paying close attention.

 Shane Bond was an electrifying fast bowler, who but for injury would surely have taken countless amounts of wickets against hapless, cowering opponents.

 Stephen Fleming, who was often deprived of the services of Bond whilst captain, is generally seen as one of the great brains of modern cricket. Fleming has the most number of wins as New Zealand captain, and he led his side to their singular world title to date, the inaugural Champions trophy.

 Yet New Zealand have always remained on the periphery. If you don’t follow cricket attentively, they would barely enter your stream of consciousness.

 A consistent paucity of options means they are unable to challenge the supremacy of the bigger nations more than one series at a time.

 Barring Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the Black caps are the only Test side not to have been ranked at number 1 in in their history.

 New Zealand’s World Cup finishes have been consistent, if not remarkable. Perennial dark horses, they have reached the semi-finals in 6 out of 11 World Cups. But they have never gone one further.

 Yet you sense this time something could be different. Something has stirred in New Zealand cricket in these past 18 months. They are unbeaten in their last five test series, winning four, drawing one. 

That Draw came against Pakistan in the UAE, a result their more haughty neighbours Australia couldn’t muster months before.

New Zealand have won four of their last 5 ODI series’ as well. Brendon McCullum, a rambunctious, destructive batsman, has developed into a phlegmatic leader capable of drawing the best out the options at his disposal.

 And these options are perhaps as good as New Zealand have ever had. Alongside McCullum, the Black Caps can count on the stolid, unassuming Kane Williamson, who is quietly forging a reputation as one of the world’s next stars.

 Ross Taylor remains a stalwart of the middle order, and continues to score heavily despite the controversial loss of captaincy.

 In Corey Anderson they have the man who until recently held the record for the fastest ODI hundred, which came in 36 balls against the West Indies at Queenstown last year.

 Luke Ronchi, a wicketkeeper with little reputation, recently struck 170 off 99 balls against Sri Lanka, striding to the crease with his side 93-5.

 New Zealand are moving with the times. In a day where 300 may not be enough, the Black caps have the required firepower to make scores in excess of 330. They are lead of course, by McCullum at the top of the order.

 Their bowling unit has plenty about it too. Over the last two years in Test cricket Trent Boult and Tim Southee have formed one of the most effective opening new-ball partnerships, devilish enough to take wickets rather than just sit back and contain.

 The evergreen Kyle Mills has 240 ODI wickets under his belt, and the powerful Mitchell McClenaghan has made an impressive start to his career.

In the spin department, Daniel Vettori will do what he has always done, taking wickets at a good rate while stubbornly refusing to let the batsman dominate him.

For the first time in a long time, it feels like New Zealand have all the tools at their disposal. Just over two years ago they were  plunged into crisis when Ross Taylor was unceremoniously removed as skipper.

 He was replaced by Brendon McCullum. But once that sorry saga was put to bed, the Black Caps have not looked back. A youthful squad capable of destruction, playing on home soil, New Zealand suddenly don’t seem like dark horses anymore.

They might not win the World Cup. They might fall again at the semi-final, to the more fancied Australia or South Africa.

 If that were to happen, they would go without fuss, just as they usually do.

 But you can’t help but feel that this is their best chance yet, and who knows, it may be their best chance for the next 20 years to come.

 And for that reason, a New Zealand win would be a welcome win. 

However you look at it, Harry Redknapp failed at QPR

HR

Maybe Tim Sherwood, or whoever is next in line for the poisoned chalice that is the QPR job, won’t do a better job than Harry Redknapp.

 Maybe if Junior Hoilett had found the top corner with those sumptuous curlers he regularly pulled out of the bag at Blackburn just a few times, then QPR wouldn’t be languishing in the relegation places.

 Instead, Hoilett seems only to fire the ball into the first defender with unerring accuracy in a hooped shirt.  

Maybe if Sandro, one of the great lads from the Spurs days, hadn’t been injured with quite such alarming regularity, Rangers would have conceded just a few less sloppy goals on the road. Who’s to say they wouldn’t even have a point to show for their gallant efforts?

 Maybe if Redknapp didn’t have to rely on the efforts of 35-year-old Richard Dunne week in, week out, QPR would find themselves in a loftier position.

 In a parallel world, he may have even signed a former Manchester United and England defender to guide us through these choppy waters.

 Maybe if new signing Jordon Mutch hadn’t been so bloody inconsistent in those six league starts of his then he wouldn’t have been sold to Crystal Palace, for a loss, six months after he walked through the talent-sapping walls of Loftus Road.

 And maybe, just maybe, if Redknapp hadn’t inherited such a disinterested rabble of mercenaries from Mark Hughes in the first place, then QPR wouldn’t be in this position at all.

 Heck, if Redknapp had taken over before Hughes, then the R’s would probably be howling at Paul Lambert as he screws Aston Villa up from our vantage point in upper-mid table utopia.

 Yet if there is one thing that is not up for debate, then it is the fact that Harry Redknapp failed in his role as QPR manager, perhaps spectacularly so.

 It is true that Tony Fernandes has taken to ownership of a football club like a shark to land rather than a duck to water. It also true that Mark Hughes was a disaster from start to finish.

 But that doesn’t wholly explain a scattergun transfer policy, inherent throughout Arry’s reign.

 Since he took over in November 2012, Redknapp has signed 21 players, spending approximately £50m. If that isn’t called a rebuilding process, then I’m at a bit of a loss as to what is.

Out of those 21 players, you can count on one hand which of those can be considered an unmitigated success. Loic Remy, Yun-Suk Young (still in early stages), Richard Dunne and Charlie Austin, god bless him.

 It can be fairly argued that Danny Simpson didn’t do much wrong before his move. Harry can have that one. Coll Donaldson was bought for the long-term, so we’ll forget him.

 The rest are; Christopher Samba, Jermaine Jenas, Karl Henry, Gary O’Neil, Matt Phillips, Oguchi Onyewu (who?), Yossi Benayoun, Aaron Hughes, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Caulker, Jordon Mutch, Leroy Fer, Jack Robinson (out on loan despite injuries to Yun and Traore), Alex McCarthy and Sandro.

 Amongst the few who arrived before he did, only really Rob Green and Joey Barton have got better. Marginally. Youngsters such as Nedum Onuha and Hoilett have continued to stagnate.

 QPR’s under-21’s ply their trade in division two development league south section, so unlike some others I find it difficult to pin the blame on Redknapp for not blooding youngsters into the team. They aren’t even mixing it with the conglomerate giants at youth level, never mind the Premier League.

 But you cannot look at that list of mediocrity that has filtered its way into squad and not ask pertinent questions. That isn’t Hughes’ mess there, it reeks of inadequate scouting and short-termism, and it has been done under the watch of Redknapp and his staff. 

 Fernandes’ general ineptness also doesn’t explain the lack of a structure and a workable strategy throughout this current campaign. Good home form has kept the club within touching distance of survival, but playing your new central midfielder out on the left wing and Chile’s main striker Eduardo Vargas on the right, simply illuminates the lack of a plan.

 Bobby Zamora’s knees may have held out to help QPR bully teams at Loftus Road for a time, but his conspicuous lack of pace has meant that playing along the floor often seems a distant memory, and playing on the break away from home has been rendered all but impossible with him in the side.

 After the Burnley game, a record-breaking 10th straight on the road, Redknapp had this to say to the newspapers:

 ”No one is more disappointed than me but it’s hard to win away. Seven or eight of that team were playing last year in the Championship and finished miles behind Burnley and 20 points behind Leicester so we can’t get carried away about who we are. We are scrapping away with the other clubs down there.”

 Forget the raft of players acquired over the summer, both signings and loanees; QPR finished behind Burnley so the fans mustn’t get carried away.  A quick glance at Burnley’s wage bill and transfer fees and it may be come clear why Redknapp should have been striving for more than a heartless relegation scrap with our Lancashire rivals.

Burnley, incidentally, are managed by a young, hungry manager, intent on siphoning the best from his squad, many of whom before the last season would have been viewed as Championship stalwarts at best.

 Sean Dyche is the polar of opposite of Redknapp, prepared to work within limits and mould a competitive team. He is exactly the type of man QPR should look to appoint.

 For Redknapp, his indifferent affair with QPR has come to an abrupt end.  The fans failed to love him, and he never really seemed to find much affection for the club in return. Maybe we will see him again, maybe we won’t.

 Maybe his knees are causing him genuine grief, and we are all showing a lack of warmth to one of the Premier League’s loyal servers.

 But maybe, just maybe, if QPR had signed Emmanuel Adebayor on loan, we wouldn’t be seeing the back of Redknapp just yet. Adebayor remains a Spurs player. Perhaps he would have reminded Harry of happier times. 

Premier League talking points: United/City, Mason, Arsenal, QPR

 

Both Manchester clubs continue to showcase their vulnerability:

 

Manchester City’s sixth win in seven Manchester derbies was barely convincing, but it at least put a halt to a three game winless run and kept them within touching distance of Chelsea. However, United’s dominance in the last twenty minutes when down to ten men will worry Manuel Pellegrini and it once again showed his sides’ brittle core against esteemed opponents. City shouldn’t have given United a sniff once they took the lead through Sergio Aguero, yet they found themselves hanging on at the end. A more encouraging sign for Pellegrini was the way in which City carved through the United defence even before Chris Smalling was sent off. Attempts from Jesus Navas and Aguero saved in quick succession by David De Gea came off the back of incisive, slick forward play that was a trademark of their title victory last season. They just need to find an extra bit of solidarity to return to their best.

For United, it was the same old story, as a patched up defence failed to impress once more. It is still just one clean sheet in the league so far, which came against lowly QPR. Successful moves for Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao in the summer were ominous signs of intent, but the key issue was once again criminally neglected. The Reds do not have a commanding, experienced centre half regularly fit. Jonny Evans can barely escape the treatment table, whilst Phil Jones and Chris Smalling seem inhibited by the pressure, rather than inspired by it. New signing Marcos Rojo hasn’t been a complete car crash, but he is not a defender in the same league as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who both departed this summer. He may also be more naturally suited to left back, and he faces a lengthy spell out after dislocating his shoulder. That left United relying on 19-year-old Paddy Mcnair and Michael Carrick at centre back on Sunday with Antonio Valencia at right back. Van Gaal’s men are simply not well equipped enough in defence to mount anything more than a top four push. For a side that has won many titles based on strong foundations, this continual lack of attention is dumbfounding.

 Mason right at home in Spurs midfield:

Harry Kane will grab the headlines for his deflected free-kick winner against Aston Villa, but the recent performances of Ryan Mason should not be quickly forgotten. It has taken Mason a full six years to break into the Spurs first XI, and he certainly appears to be making up for irretrievable time. The 23-year-old appears composed on the ball, unafraid of a tackle and able to make late dashes in the box. With Paulinho and Moussa Dembele both failing to kick on Mason has filled a vital hole, and he could be here to stay. He has already given us a glimpse of his long range shooting with a virtuoso effort against Nottingham Forest, his breakthrough game, and he was unlucky not to score at the Etihad Stadium after another adventurous dash into the box. He will be lucky if he doesn’t escape punishment for his part in Christian Benteke’s red card, but it would seem a waste for him to receive a suspension just as he starts to leave his mark.

Super Sanchez makes CL qualification seem a foregone conclusion:

 

After a poor start to the campaign Arsenal are all but out of the title once more, but thanks to the blistering form of Alexis Sanchez a top four finish looks a certainty this year, especially given the inconsistencies of others. This may not appease the Arsenal faithful, who constantly clamour for a proper title challenge, but it is still vital they don’t finish outside the Champions League places. Southampton may sit five points above them in second place, but given the firepower the Gunners possess it is unlikely that it will stay that way. Theo Walcott’s return should give them a boost, and alongside Sanchez and Danny Welbeck he should add the extra pace that makes Wenger’s men a devilish prospect on the break as well as a team who monopolises the ball. But for the time being Sanchez is carrying others around him, something that needs to change.

 

QPR take hope from recent performances:

 

Maybe QPR’s performance against Liverpool against Loftus Road a couple of weeks back was slightly over-hyped. After all, they ended up conceding three goals to a side that seemed totally devoid of any attacking spark against Newcastle at the weekend and finding life after Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge distressing. QPR’s last two performances should please them more. Firstly against Aston Villa, where they finally managed to get Charlie Austin, Bobby Zamora and Eduardo Vargas functioning at once, with all three dovetailing splendidly to set up a 2-0 victory. Secondly, Rangers should be pleased with the way they worried the League’s clear best side at Stamford Bridge. A wonder goal from and Oscar and a slightly dodgy penalty won and converted by Eden Hazard proved the difference, but it was a much improved away performances from the visitors after early season drubbings against Manchester United and Tottenham. In Austin QPR also seemed to have found a striker capable of scoring at the highest level. His goal against Chelsea was his fifth in nine games this season, and when he has a partner playing alongside him he seems to come alive. 

Chelsea and Mourinho look set for a prolonged spell of domestic domination

Jose Mourinho

 

Jose Mourinho has never been a man to outstay his welcome. His longest tenure as manager at any club was his first spell at Chelsea, where he spent a little over three seasons before things turned sour with Roman Abramovich.

He gives off a restless vibe, someone always pursuing a new challenge in order to enhance a glittering CV. Whether it’s due to an alleged falling out with an owner (Abramovich), a curious lack of success (Real Madrid) or a simple yearning for a bigger challenge (Porto and Inter Milan), Mourinho doesn’t do long-termism.

Yet this time it is different, and he has said so himself. In an interview with Gary Neville in the Telegraph recently, Mourinho said that if he was offered a six year contract extension by the club then he would ‘sign tomorrow’.

The 51-year-old earlier this year proclaimed that if Lewis Baker, Izzy Brown and Dominic Solanke don’t make the first team under his stewardship then he will accept the blame. Given his varied success in integrating youth in to star-studded line-ups before, this was quite the statement from Mourinho. But this time his intentions are transparent; he is here to stay.

The question is, why now? An obvious starting point would be to point out that he has frankly run out of other options. He has managed probably the biggest club in the wold in Real Madrid, and his relationship with Spain’s other colossus is, to put it mildly, strained. The Manchester United job, one that he openly craved, was somehow lost to David Moyes.

His time at Inter Milan was an unrelenting success, but there was a clear lack of feeling between him  and the Italian game as a whole. The only club big enough for his demands in Germany is Bayern Munich, where his recent foe Pep Guardiola sits on the throne.

Another feasible reason is that Mourinho has genuine warmth and affection for Chelsea and its fans. It is after all where he cemented his name as Europe’s most wanted coach, a behemoth of the modern game. He won trophy after trophy and forged special relationships with his players, most notably Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Petr Cech.

 But one trophy eluded him at Chelsea, the European Cup. Maybe he feels he owes it to the fans. Maybe he feels he owes it to himself. Maybe he feels cheated that it was Roberto Di Matteo that lifted the crown after Drogba converted the decivisive spot kick.

But Mourinho is a man of logic, not a man of sentimentality. The main reason he is back at Stamford Bridge for the foreseeable future is staring us right in the face; Chelsea are more primed than they ever have been to join Europe’s band of elite clubs. Success in the English game doesn’t automatically translate to success on the European stage, but Mourinho and many of his team have been here before.

Everyone knows by now why Chelsea didn’t win the Premier League last season. They had the best defensive record in the league and enjoyed some excellent results against the other big sides, but they didn’t’t have a clinical goalscorer to see them over the line against some of the smaller clubs. In the last three months of the last campaign Chelsea lost to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland.

That simply won’t happen again. Diego Costa, provided he stays injury free, is too much of a force of nature, and Loic Remy  is a worthy second striker.  Cesc Fabregas has added an extra layer of wondrous creativity behind the ever-maturing front three of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian. Nemanja Matic is now firmly entrenched in the holding role, allowing Fabregas to venture into more dangerous territories. Mourinho’s teams have often been seen as a little prosaic, but this side is full of vivacity and flair.

Add that to the fact that they have the sturdiest defence in the league and you’re on to a winner. Thiabut Cortouis’ command of his area is a lesson to all other goalkeepers, whilst John Terry and Gary Cahill continue to provide a strong base for the rest of the team to work from. Branislav Ivanovic can slot in at both full back and centre back perfectly, and Cesar Azplicueta and Felipe Luis make up the other spot.

Against Burnley in their first game of the season, Chelsea fielded just two players over the age of 28, Terry and Ivanonvic, yet none of the players that started that day were under the age of 23, something that must be a clear worry to teams in England and across Europe. Chelsea’s attacking players are continuing to mature, ergo Chelsea are reaching their peak at an alarming speed.

As we have already discovered this season, Manchester City are the only team who can realistically stay with Chelsea, but even they are are finding things tough going, and they are yet to find a winning formula in Europe.

Without Luis Suarez and the injured Daniel Sturridge Liverpool have dropped way off the pace, and Arsenal continue to promise everything and deliver nothing. Manchester United have been slightly reinvigorated under Louis Van Gaal but their leaky defence is a pressing concern, added to the fact that Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie are perhaps a little past their highest level.

Chelsea have only conceded four points so far this season from nine games this season, both in the dying stages away to Manchester City and United. It shows that they are fallible, and despite Mourinho’s diligence when coaching his defence, they will still make mistakes. But they are offering precious little in the way of hope for opposition sides, and it the rare event they don’t dominate a game with the ball they can fall back on a safe back-line. Their pre-emimence in England is becoming more obvious by the week.

While he cannot afford to take his eye off the Premier League, Mourinho will undoubtedly be devoting a lot of his time to the European Cup. Despite the class of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona, you feel no one is safe from a Chelsea team that has added a level of ruthlessness  to a well-oiled machine. It isn’t hard to see why their Portuguese boss fancies sticking around for a while. 

 

Sterling gives us all a timely reminder of his precocious ability

raheem sterling

Raheem Sterling was once again instrumental in a Liverpool victory, but everyone must work together to protect England’s chief talent…

It is fair to say that it hasn’t been the easiest of weeks for young Raheem Sterling. Rested against Estonia due to tiredness, the 19-year-old has suffered a backlash over the internet for a supposed lack of desire to represent his country. Alan Shearer was amongst those who felt the need to criticise England’s brightest talent, trotting out the tiresome line that the average working man does not want to hear a privileged professional complain of being tired. Given that Mr Shearer gave up international football at the age of 29 at the peak of his powers, you feel he maybe the wrong man to dish out such criticism.

Rather than lambasting Sterling we should be lavishing praise on him for the way he has blossomed into such a key player at such a young age for club and country. Many players who join England’s elite clubs during the inchoate stages of their career often get lost in the academy maze, never to be seen to be seen again. It will continue to happen time and time again whilst clubs continue to deal in big bucks, so Sterling should be attracting extra plaudits for making himself such a figure importance at Liverpool, a club back amongst the giants of Europe.

With Luis Suarez now having vacated Anfield and Daniel Sturridge injured, Sterling has taken up an even more prominent role in Liverpool’s three-pronged front line, and he once again proved the difference on Sunday as Liverpool overcame lowly QPR with a distinct lack of conviction. Sterling’s performance up until Liverpool’s second goal had been patchy, much like the rest of his team, yet he never lost his zeal, constantly willing to attack his man and create chances for his out of sort’s team mates.

For Liverpool’s second goal Sterling picked up the ball inside his own half after a set piece was cleared away, and drove purposefully at the QPR defence. His pace and directness drew the opposition defence out of position, allowing Steven Gerrard to find Phillipe Coutinho on the edge of the box, who duly slotted home. For Liverpool’s third Sterling this time made a breakneck run beyond the QPR defence, collecting the ball from Coutinho and playing the ball across the face of goal where Steven Caulker inadvertently put the ball into his own net.

Sterling had also been heavily involved in the first goal, his quick thinking from a free kick allowing Glen Johnson to deliver a ball across the face of goal that caused Richard Dunne to turn the ball into his own net. The former QPR man had not had his best of games, but his devilment had once again struck fear into the heart of a shaky defence, ultimately winning his side the game. No English younger has had such a seismic effect on the league since Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene for Everton.

Yet while the temptation not to rest him must be hard to suppress, Liverpool and England must tread carefully. It is easy to forget that this time last year Sterling was in and out of the Liverpool side, yet to leave an indelible mark on his club side. It has been a rapid transformation. Squeezing every last ounce of energy out of him will only result in a drop in performance level, something that both could do without given their brittle state.

The endless conjecture over the decision to rest Sterling shows the fragile nature of the national team after an early exit in this summer’s World Cup. In times of need fans will look for a saviour, but managers and supporters alike must resist heaping the burden on such a young lad. After all, Adam Lallana, who replaced Sterling in Tallinn, is a more than capable back-up. We haven’t got the expanse of talent at our disposal that we did five years ago, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough talent in the absence of Sterling to overcome the likes of Estonia.

In the last few days there have thankfully been plenty of voices of reason in the media. Gary Neville spoke yesterday of how he was sent for a week’s holiday at the beginning of the 1998-99 season after the World Cup after complaining of being ‘knackered’, and he also spoke of how Sir Alex Ferguson would regularly gave a young Cristiano Ronaldo a week off around Christmas time. There aren’t many better examples than the most feared player on the planet. Fans shouldn’t be offended by a kids’ need to rest, they should instead be encouraged that the men in charge are willing to protect their players with one eye on a future that promises so much. Listening to the needs of a youngster is in everyone’s best interests.

Questions aplenty for Lancashire ahead of Division Two return

In the end, at least Lancashire can console themselves with the fact that they took it down to the very last day of the season. Had the heavens not opened straight after Junaid Khan trapped Eoin Morgan LBW on the final day, they may still even remain in Division One of the County Championship. But it wasn’t to be, with Middlesex eventually securing a precious draw after four days of teetering on the edge, and Glen Chapple’s men were condemned to a second relegation in three seasons, another reality check for this famous club.

The primary problem for Lancashire has been their batting. Their inability to post big first innings scores has clearly hampered their attempts to keep afloat this season, with only lowly Northants scoring fewer batting points. Only twice were they dismissed for under 200 in their first innings, yet only twice did they get past the 350 mark, highlighting an alarming inability from batsmen to kick on and make big hundreds and genuinely match-winning contributions. Lancashire were rarely blown away, but a steady stream of mediocre totals first time round meant they were often playing catch up with a more ruthless standard  of opposition. A slow death if you like.

Without an experienced overseas player like Simon Katich the year before, the onus was firmly on home-grown talent to make the runs, something that ultimately proved costly. Players such as Luis Reece, Karl Brown and Luke Procter’s careers have all simultaneously stagnated, and although the form of Tom Smith and latterly Steven Croft has been impressive, the batting malaise for some of the club’s youngsters is the main worry, something that Director of Cricket Mike Watkinson realises.

‘‘For whatever reason the squad had grown a little big this season, and we needed to answer some questions about one or two players, and I think we’ve probably done that this season by giving them the opportunity. The fact that half way through the season there was a handful of players with a combined average of about 10, it made you think right we need to do something now, we’ve exposed these guys, we’ve answered one or two questions and we then brought Usman Khawaja in’’.

Watkinson will now cast an inquisitive eye over some of these players in his season review, and it would not be a surprise if some of the year’s underperformers were moved on swiftly. If Lancashire are to get back amongst the county elite then an overseas batsmen is a must to boost the performances of those around him, whilst also helping the next batch of players develop, with England under-17 international Hasseeb Hameed one likely to make inroads into the team at some point next season, alongside second teamer Liam Livingstone. The return of top run –scorer Ashwell Prince is a welcome one, but Lancashire should look to add another overseas batsman. Since the Championship win in 2011 the current crop of youth has failed to improve exponentially, but it is obvious that the current coaching staff will not stop picking players from the talent-rich academy, and rightly so.

While the batting has continued to falter, Lancashire’s bowling is also a pressing and urgent issue. Kyle Hogg, one of the most reliable bowlers on the county circuit, has been forced into a premature retirement with a serious back injury, and Kabir Ali’s regular injuries means that he cannot be relied on to take 50 plus wickets at any level. Kyle Jarvis has had a chastening first season in England, a combination of injury and bad form restricting him to just two four-day games and two wickets. Tom Smith’s 54 wickets at 20.46 at least added a level of potency that was otherwise severely lacking, but the absence of a real ‘strike’ bowler has placed him under increased pressure.

In testing times Lancashire usually term to their star twirler Simon Kerrigan, but ever since his tumultuous England debut he hasn’t quite hit his old heights. Kerrigan still took over 40 championship wickets, yet the old spark seems to have deserted him somewhat, with spells regularly blighted by inconsistency,  something Chapple remains well aware of, ‘‘we’ll have a sit down with Simon and work out what’s best for him. He’s been great the last half the season. He had a blip in form around the time he was challenging for a place in the test team, but he’s been fantastic in his attitude and his hunger to play, and he’s still been right up there in terms of every other spinner around, it’s just that Simon has potential to be a lot better than that and that is the frustrating thing for him at the moment’’.

Lancashire have already secured the services of Leicestershire’s Nathan Buck, but his modest First Class record of 150 wickets at 37.78 and a poor injury record means that he has a lot to improve on before he becomes the man to rejuvenate a beleaguered attack. Tom Bailey, a lithe right arm medium fast bowler, can expect to feature on a more consistent basis after performing well against Middlesex in the final game. It is unlikely that Lancashire will struggle to bowl Division Two sides out, but with one eye on the future the club will need to create a bowling attack that can cause sufficient damage when up against powerful, more seasoned opponents. This year’s attack rarely threatened to bowl teams out cheaply.

Most importantly of all, what will become of Chapple? The Yorkshire-born Lancashire legend bowled himself into the ground once again this campaign, whilst also taking over coaching duties at the last minute after Peter Moores defected to England, and the board must decide whether he is better off as coach or as player. His bowling is still sharp enough and more importantly his body is still in good enough shape, but he freely admits that doing both roles this season was far from ideal and that the situation cannot continue as it is.

Chapple commands great respect around Old Trafford, and a full-time coaching role would allow him to adopt a more hands-on policy from a coaching point of view, but can a new-look bowling attack prepare to dispense with his reliable services ahead of the new campaign? We are about to find out as Watkinson and co plan ahead for 2015.

England crumble in pursuit of another lofty chase after Raina ton

 

Just over 7,500 miles away in Harare, Zimbabwe, Australia and South Africa were outlining their credentials as World Cup favourites in a blistering One Day International game that saw 655 runs posted in a little over 96 overs. The South African pairing of Francois Du Plessis and AB De Villiers both scored hundreds at a strike rate of over 100 to ensure their side cantered home with more than three overs to spare. The game acted as a perfect snapshot for the modern game, whilst also providing a glimpse into the future.

The trend of large totals continued at a wet and gloomy Swalec stadium as India biffed their English counterparts to all parts, making 304 in their allotted 50 overs. They were indebted to a stunning century from Suresh Raina, akin to many of the innings he has played in the IPL, unashamedly ambitious and adept against all types of bowling in the absence of the regular short ball barrage he is subject to in Test matches. Raina and co had amassed 148 in the last 15 overs against English bowling seriously lacking in variety. 

It is generally thought that the scores just over the mark of 300 are now thoroughly gettable since the introduction of the new rules, one of which allow only four fielders outside the circle during the powerplay overs, rather than five. The rule, captain and players alike have claimed would particularly affect spinners, who perhaps need greater protection from the big bats and biceps that belong to the modern day batsman.

 From this viewpoint the hardy fans that braved the miserable Cardiff conditions may have expected more of a fight from Alistair Cook and his charges. Instead they got yet another abject display against spin bowling, in bitter conditions that are usually not suited to the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandwan Ashwin. In 19.1 overs Jadeja, Ashwin and Raina took 7 wickets for the loss of just 78 runs. New era, same old England.

The day couldn’t have started much better for the hosts, with James Anderson and Chris Woakes combining to make intelligent use of the new ball. After 5 overs of wafting outside his off stump the beleaguered Shikhar Dhawan finally edged a Woakes delivery through to Buttler and he was swiftly followed by Virat Kohli, who drove his third ball straight to Cook at Mid-off. It was hard to blame Kohli for his overt positivity after a torrid summer, and you feel in time his obvious one-day talent will rise swiftly to the fore in this series and beyond. 19 centuries at the tender age of 25 screams that that will be the case.

With India slightly reeling at 19-2 it was left to Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma to rebuild in a brisk fashion until the ever-dependable James Tredwell had the former stumped and the latter caught at long-off in quick succession, Sharma losing concentration in all too typical fashion. Yet it was Raina and Dhoni that punished the England bowlers with a 144-run partnership, plundering 62 runs off the batting powerplay alone. Chris Jordan compounded England’s problems with an 11-ball over that saw five wides. Jordan’s performances against India have been littered with erratic spells, something that will be a grave concern, especially given Steven Finn’s disastrous Ashes tour just months ago.

Chris Woakes and James Tredwell both performed in an admirable manner, but India had seized the advantage going into the interval against England’s one dimensional bowling. On an eagerly anticipated debut Alex Hales showed his worth, punishing the Indian pace attack both on the front and back foot. Cook appeared less comfortable, and it was his dismissal, LBW to Mohammad Shami, that sparked a monumental collapse. In the same over Ian Bell left a delivery that cannoned into off-stump, and soon after Joe Root would join him in the pavilion as he failed to keep out a jaffer from Bhuvneshwar Kumar. 

England’s collapse prompted Dhoni to use his trump cards, and they did not disappoint. Hales, who had become bogged down due to the dismissal of his colleagues, top edged Ashwin straight into the ever-darkening sky, before Buttler chipped Jadeja meekly to cover. Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes rallied briefly, yet both holed out as India’s ominous total slowly slipped away. By the time Tredwell was dismissed by Ashwin England had gone from 54-0 to 161 all out, failing to chase a score of over 250 for the ninth consecutive time. The more England play, the more the same questions keep popping up.

Is too much faith being placed in test regulars such as Cook, Bell and Root? Why are James Taylor and Gary Ballance, both with averages over 50 and strike rates above 80 in List A cricket, being left out? Has Hales been brought in a year later than he should have been? Is there enough faith being placed in the talented Lions squad? Why have the all-round skills of Ravi Bopara been discarded with so abruptly? How do we deal with our inability to play spin in the middle overs? Where is the variation in our own bowling?

England may consider themselves fortunate that this World Cup will not take place on the subcontinent, but a team in such disarray without a clear game plan when chasing will struggle to have any resonating impact on the biggest one day stage of them all. You can’t help but get the feeling it will be another opportunity squandered?

Broad and Anderson rip through the heart of India

An Ishant Sharma-inspired India may have blown England away in roaring style at Lords to go 1-0 up in the series, but victory in such a splendid manner was clearly not enough to fully erase recent memories of shoddy performances away from home. The fact remains that MS Dhoni’s men have not won a Test series on tour since 2011, and a dismal performance at the Rose Bowl re-opened some unwanted scars.

Here at Old Trafford their captain set the tone with a bold decision to bat under grey Manchester skies, yet his charges failed to react to his rallying cry. Instead what we saw was a wretched performance with the bat that echoed many efforts of the 2011 tour, where they succumbed 4-0 to the same opponent. Once again it was the irrepressible Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad who exposed the technical deficiencies of the Indian top order.

In truth there was no recovering from 8-4, no matter how hard Dhoni tried. England’s opening pair were relentless, making up for their poor showing on a green top at Lords a couple of weeks ago. Gautam Ghambir was playing his first match of the series in place of fellow left-hander Shikhar Dhawan, who had looked all at sea outside his off stump throughout the summer. Yet the underworked Ghambir fared no better, with a leading edge off the bowling of Broad flying to Joe Root at gully.

The score was on eight at the time, and would remain the same while the next three wickets fell. Murali Vijay, who has adapted to conditions well thus far, was tempted by a full swinging delivery outside the off stump. His dismissal was perhaps forgivable, but Virat Kohli’s was not. Many see Kohli as the jewel in the crown of the Indian line-up, the prize wicket. Yet he has not fully imposed his game on Test cricket yet, and he was once again guilty of hanging his bat out to dry away from his body, Anderson once again the man. Kohli will have to find a way to correct his unnecessary largesse around the line of fourth stump; otherwise a place among the greats of the game will be unattainable.

Pujara then edged Broad to slip, to bring to an end a quite woeful first half an hour. Ajinkya Rahane, the batsman who has asserted his game on the English bowler this summer more than any of his team mates, provided some much needed resistance alongside his captain, who must have been wondering what he had let himself in for by electing to bat.

Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan, making up England’s four-pronged pace attack, couldn’t inject the same venom as their predecessors, and India looked as if they would make lunch without any further damage. But Jordan managed to get one full and swinging and subsequently Rahane lost his shape, suffering the fate as his fellow top order batsmen. It had been a morning of rigorous practice for England’s slip fielders.

Straight after the break Anderson got the breakthrough he would have really craved, trapping Ravindra Jadeja LBW, a perfect example of how to set an opponent up, three outswingers followed by the deadly inswinger. Ravichandwan Ashwin, scandalously overlooked before this match, added some impetuous with a valuable 40, but his wicket effectively ended Indian resistance, leaving Dhoni to swing from the hip while his partners lay like sitting ducks. His ingenuity meant they mustered 150, but it wasn’t to be enough.

India had plenty of time left in the day to make inroads into the England innings and thanks to the genuine pace and bite of Varun Aaron they picked up three scalps. Sam Robson may be the only member of the England team to sleep well tonight, as his barren run continued. Gary Ballance fell just before the close of play left the score at 112-3, but trailing by just 41 runs England have a monumental advantage at the end of the first day.

Chanceless Rahane defies inconsistent England

India 290-9 (Rahane 103, Anderson 4-55)

 

Upon arrival on English shores in June, the microscope was firmly honed in on two Indian batsmen, as the tourists began their quest to win their first test series away from home since 2011. Cheteshwar Pujara, seen as Rahul Dravid mark two, and Virat Kohli, one of the world’s most devilish young talents, were pinpointed as the two key batsmen for MS Dhoni’s team on a notoriously difficult tour.

In comparison to India’s two bright hopes, there was no real pressure resting on the shoulders of Ajinkya Rahane, an unassuming middle order batsman with just one test century against New Zealand to his name. Yet it was the man from Maharashtra who saved his team with a supremely graceful century on day one of the second test at Lords.

Rahane, yet another graduate from the Indian one day side, looked right at home on an uncommonly green wicket, happy to play on the front foot yet equally capable of punishing the all too frequent short ball from the England bowlers. His ability to shift through the gears after a watchful start meant his side had the better of the day, with his dismissal just before the close failing to take the shine off a wonderful knock.

For England, a day that promised so much once again ended in an unsatisfactory manner, with the last session costing 150 runs for just three wickets. A good afternoon session was neutralised by two poor bowling performances in the morning and the evening, after Alistair Cook had gleefully asked his opposite number to bat on a pitch that was sure to offer plenty after five turgid days at Trent Bridge. The most baffling aspect of England’s bowling masterplan was Liam Plunkett’s decision to bowl round the wicket and dig the ball in short shortly after tea, when there was plenty of reward for full bowling around off stump. Plunkett, a capable bowler, must learn how to play the situation. On wickets like this he must have more than a mean short ball in his armoury.

The opening spell from James Anderson and Stuart Broad was wayward, apart from one hooping delivery from Anderson that slanted across Shikhar Dhawan and took his edge, Gary Ballance taking a good low catch. Murali Vijay and Pujara were rarely made to play outside off stump for the ball, and England seemed unable to capitalise on helpful conditions. They somewhat fortuitously picked up a second before lunch, Plunkett taking Vijay’s edge after the opener tried to force the ball into the leg side. It was another smart catch from Ballance, who looks right at home in England’s slip cordon.

Despite losing two wickets the morning session was shaded by India, especially after Matt Prior failed to hold onto the final ball before lunch after Moeen Ali had induced the edge from Kohli, ending a bad session for Cook’s trusted lieutenant. Prior still looks to be struggling with his troublesome right Achilles heel. Luckily for him the drop just before lunch didn’t prove too costly, as Kohli edged a full Anderson ball, continuing his poor start to the series. England seemed to be atoning for their morning’s errors, and three wickets fell for just 15 runs as the home side seized control. Pujara, who had toiled his way to 28, was undone by a lovely Ben Stokes delivery, the ball just nipping back through the gate.

MS Dhoni’s problems against Stuart Broad continued as he suffered the same fate as most of his team mates, edging a full delivery behind. Next in was Ravindra Jadeja, who had to endure the oddity of being booed by a usually conservative Lords crowd, retribution for his part in a spat with Anderson at Trent Bridge, which has seen the Burnley fast bowler facing a potential two game ban, after he was alleged to have shoved the left-hander.

Jadeja wouldn’t last long, and despite Shane Warne’s calls for Cook to bring Anderson into the attack, it was Ali who trapped him LBW. It had been an excellent session for the home side. Stuart Binny was the victim of a dodgy LBW decision shortly after the tea interval, the delivery from Anderson appearing to go over the top of the stumps on replay. It was a daily reminder to India of the need for DRS, the technology they continually refuse to accommodate.

But despite Binny being the last of the recognised batsmen India continued to push on, with the rate at over four runs an over at one stage. Bhuvneshwar Kumar once again proved his capabilities with the bat, facing 84 balls, aiding Rahane’s nifty quest for a century, the latter scoring at a run a ball once past the fifty mark. Rahane fell in the 87th over of the day, as Anderson held on to a sharp return catch, but Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami held on till the end of the day, signifying the end of a tough period for Cook’s men.

As Sharma blocked the last ball of the day, Broad gave the ball a firm kick. The irritation was there for all to see.

Brazil 2-1 Colombia: Brazil scrape through on yet another emotionally charged night

David luiz brazil

 

Ever get the feeling that Brazil might just win the World Cup on home soil without producing a single convincing performance? The way events are currently unfolding; this just may well turn out to be the case. In fact, the manner of the hosts’ 2-1 victory over Colombia in Fortaleza bordered on the downright ugly at times, with referee Carloss Velasco Carballo happy to let tackling with a vicious edge go without any major ramifications. Yet Luis Felipe Scolari’s men march into the semi-final to take on Germany, and with each tentative step they get ever closer to the one trophy they truly covert, one that they firmly believe belongs to them. Yet surely they can’t go any further playing so poorly.

Aside from a stunning David Luiz free kick which sealed their passage, this was another ragged performance from Brazil. Colombia, much like Chile before them, once again proved that the pre-tournament favourites are a side with many flaws, especially at the base of midfield. Without Luis Gustavo, the five-time champions could never truly control the game, leaving Thiago Silva and David Luiz to face the brunt of the opposition onslaught on a far too regular basis.  

Brazil’s problems do not lie solely in central midfield. Upfront Fred continues his quest to be Brazil’s worst ever forward, while Oscar retreats further into his shell after a super opening game. Hulk was more energetic and lively in previous appearances, but remains wasteful in front of goal. Neymar has been slightly subdued since the group stages, but if his injury suffered at the end of the game is anything as serious as it looks, Brazil are in the mire. Thiago Silva will definitely not face Germany after a needless booking.

As for their daring opponents Colombia, the World Cup will undoubtedly feel a pang of regret in their absence, especially the wonderful James Rodriguez. Colombia’s star man departs the tournament with six goals, two ahead of any other play. Lionel Messi may yet have a say in this, but one thing is for certain: Rodriguez has cemented himself as a true star of the world game.  It was his penalty that gave his side a fighting chance with ten minutes remaining in this contest, but it wasn’t enough. It is also worth sparing a thought for Jose Pekerman, who was knocked at the same stage eight years earlier with his native Argentina. Football can be a cruel game.

Unlike its predecessor, Germany against France, this game got off to a roaring, breathless start. A test of true champions is the way they respond to their critics, and from the outset Brazil seemed determined to banish any doubts about their star quality. It took just seven minutes to break the deadlock, the hosts playing to their set piece strength once more.

It was a simple whipped delivery from the left by Neymar, but crucially the ball eluded the first set of defenders. Carlos Sanchez, tasked with marking Thiago Silva at the back post, was half asleep and allowed his opponent to drift in behind and bundle the ball home. It felt like a particularly defining moment, given the stick the PSG defender has taken during the week after seemingly failing to keep his emotions in check in the previous game.

Fernandinho made sure he left his mark on James Rodriguez early on, merely a sample of things to come. Pablo Armero made sure the game was not out of his sides reach, as he denied David Luiz at the back post with a last gap challenge, after a scuffed Hulk cross. The Colombians were yet to snap out of their daze.

Brazil’s intensity soon turned into a move of rare fluidity, Hulk and Neymar neatly combining down the left, Hulk bursting into the box and testing David Ospina with a rasping drive. In between extended bouts of Brazilian pressure Rodriguez weaved his magic, breaking past two defenders on the half way line before finding Juan Cuadrado on the right hand side. Unfortunately for Rodriguez and his side Cuadrado wasted a golden opportunity and Brazil were back in control.

Hulk found himself in an identical position to his last opportunity, this time forcing Ospina to save low down to his left. It was to be the last opportunity before half time, a relentless one that had largely belonged to the side willed on by unrelenting support.

The opening gambits of the second period belonged more too rash challenges and players niggling away at each other rather than genuine goalmouth action. Yet the game was still dangling in the balance, one slip away from presenting a totally different complexion. Adrian Ramos, a substitute at half time, was offering more physical presence for Colombia, allowing Teo Gutierrez to play off him.

The first booking of the night was long overdue, but it was a worthy one. As Ospina set himself to boot the ball up field in search of another break away, Silva came dashing in to knock the ball to the floor. Clear obstruction, Brazil lose their talismanic centre-half for a daunting semi-final clash. It smacked of nerves from Silva, revealing how stretched they felt by their vibrant opponents.

But for all his good work, it was Rodriguez who dived in late on Hulk to prevent Brazil with a free kick 25 yards from goal. David Luiz stepped up to the mark like he has throughout the tournament, and straight from the Didier Drogba School dipped the ball perfectly into the top corner. Bedlam in Fortaleza, surely there was no way back for Jose Pekerman’s men?

But Rodriguez had one moment of inspiration left in his battered tank, sliding Carlos Bacca through with another perfectly timed ball. Bacca got to the ball ahead of Julio Cesar, and the hero of the last round was perhaps lucky to escape red, and Rodriguez slotted home, setting up a frenetic last ten minutes.

But perhaps the most significant point of the match from Brazil’s point of view was saved till the end, as Neymar was stretchered off following a robust challenge from Juan Zuniga. Brazil’s boy prince has been taken to hospital, and Scolari has confirmed he is likely to miss the semi-final.

So Brazil live to fight another inevitably traumatic day, against a side that strikes fear into every international side they play (perhaps discounting the Italians). The time has come for Brazil to prove it is their time once more. It will be even harder without their main hope, the one they all look upon to deliver glory at a time of desperate need.