McBride and Fulham’s away win too little too late?

Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey started for the Cottagers as they trounced a sad looking Reading squad. Steve Coppell’s side forgot how to attack – and you know that happened when Andre Bikey is the only one that can find a shot on net. Kasey Keller manned the nets as Roy Hodgson shattered his “only play 2 Americans at-a-time” mold. McBride’s work ethic paid off today finding chance after chance on net. Dempsey patrolled the midfield taking attention with him from Reading defenders and leaving Jimmy Bullard free to fire his long shot or two. Overall, a great day – but many wonder, is it too little, too late?? The Cottagers face a tough remaining schedule, as do Reading, and it looks likely that both (6 Americans) could be on their way down to the Championship. Bolton and Birmingham, however, are struggling down the stretch as well and if points can be taken in the last 4 games, there’s a shot. Either way, Roy Hodgson should not stay.

It was Keller and Hahnemann in net- two goalkeepers from the Pacific Northwest and apparently on the Seattle Sounders radar come 2009. Hahnemann looks the more likely decision and you could see why today. A 2-0 win for Fulham was modest, thanks to Hahnemann who got his hand to a number of chances that should have been clear goals. The Cottagers hit the post FOUR times – one being the most acrobatic volley I’ve ever seen out of the 35-year old McBride.  David Healy worked hard today, but it was sub Erik Nevland who took advantage of his chances – finishing a run down the right side in the 91st minute. Carlos Bocanegra came in for Dempsey with about 20 minutes to go and shut his marks down. Therefore, the Americans played well – but where in the world is Bobby Convey? He makes a big fuss about dooming Fulham to relegation, how it doesn’t really matter that there are other Americans on the team, and then he can’t make the damn bench…

Oh. Right. Why focus on the relegation battle? No real reason…except that it was Fulham’s first AWAY win in 34 – I repeat 34 – away games. That’s almost two full years of NOT winning away from home. Why the sudden change? The burst of energy, desire to win? Did Hodgson just say to go out and play…cause they didn’t look like Hodgson tactics today.

But once again, too little too late? They are now 4 points from safety, 4 games left, 2 away, and Liverpool’s looming. You do the math.

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Who’s Staying Up?: Relegation Battle down to the Wire

Three in the Red: Bolton, Fulham, Derby

Derby County 

It’s clear. We don’t need to discuss Derby, but it’s safe to say Paul Jewell’s January acquisitions have done little to help the prospects of a club that should have paid more attention to trying to get the most of Robert Earnshaw – who has all but vanished – and the highly coveted Giles Barnes. All that’s left with the Rams is to see whether or not they can escape the shame of holding the record for fewest points ever by an EPL squad. Sunderland sits with that record at 15 points. Derby needs 6 points out of their last 7 and a game vs. Fulham at home this Saturday could be the first three points towards their homestretch.

On we go…Fulham.

The Cottagers sit in a position they undoubtedly put themselves in. Many times this year they carried a lead into the final 15 minutes of a match only to be overtaken. Roy Hodgson has done little to turn around a team and many have said, Hodgson needs the full year to do so. The schedule is working against him though…nevermind the opponents. The Cottagers might have games against Derby and Reading coming up, but one troubling fact remains. They are away. And this is a Fulham team that hasn’t won away all year. If it was based on the personnel alone, Fulham certainly have the tools as long as they can service Brian McBride, EJ, and Dempsey properly, but when 4 of your last 7 are away that’s big. Remaining fixtures: @ Derby County, vs. Sunderland, @ Reading, vs. Liverpool, @ Manchester City, vs. Birmingham City, @ Portsmouth

Bolton

I don’t care what Gary Megson has said or wants to say. Not having Nicolas Anelka in the homestretch destroys them. Not having Jussi Jaskaleinen in the midst of a relegation battle destroys them. The Wanderers’ only saving grace is Kevin Nolan, who continues to organize Bolton’s midfield well enough to grab points here and there. Truth is, though, that Bolton’s recent tie with Manchester City at home was their first point in almost two months. Their final games see Arsenal coming to Reebok Stadium and a visit to Chelsea, Tottenham, and Aston Villa. That doesn’t paint a pretty picture, and – in all honesty – it’s about time sparkplug El-Hadji Diouf is brought down to Earth. Bolton is on their way down. Remaining Fixtures: vs. Arsenal, @ Aston Villa, vs. West Ham United, @ Middlesbrough, @ Tottenham, vs. Sunderland, @ Chelsea.

Who will stay up…

Newcastle

Kevin Keegan is still cleaning up Big Sam Allardyce’s mess and, understandably, it’s hard to believe one has to do so when you have players like Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, and Mark Viduka at your forefront. And that’s precisely why the Magpies will stay up…Keegan has decided to put all three of these boys on the field. With Barton and Butt in the midfield and these three on the forward line – even working at subpar rates – Keegan’s troupe can climb their way out of the darkness. Newcastle’s 2-0 win over Fulham this past Saturday was a testament to that. Owen had countless chances, Martins created chances, and Viduka dutifully took the ones he was  given. Keegan has opted to play himself out of relegation through offense and it will work. Plus, who doesn’t love a manager that wears his heart on his sleeve game in and game out. Newcastle sits 6 points clear of Bolton – the third relegation spot. Their remaining schedule includes – @ Tottenham, vs. Reading, @ Portsmouth, vs. Sunderland, @ West Ham, vs. Chelsea, @ Everton.

Reading

Anytime that bounces back from 9 consecutive defeats to start the new year gets my nod to resist relegation. The Royals weren’t just losing games, they were losing close games. The ones where you fight until the bitter end. Reading’s talent level and tenacity on the playing field set them up for that kind of disappointment in defeat, but sheer joy when the result goes in their favor. Their nine losses – 5 came in dramatic fashion, one goal thrillers, while others came at the hands Villa [twice], Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham. The Royals have been found out…they’re not being underestimated like last season. All clubs are firmly aware this year of the rapid development of Dave Kitson, Shane Long, and Stephen Hunt. No one has questioned the form of Marcus Hahnemann, who along with Tim Howard and Brad Friedel, looks poised to grab at least a top-three in GK of the Year tallies. Reading has won two out of three as of late, losing out only to Liverpool, but I wouldn’t peg them to slide any further into the abyss. Fixtures remaining: vs. Blackburn,  @ Newcastle, vs. Fulham, @ Arsenal, @ Wigan, vs. Tottenham, @ Derby County.

Birmingham

March 1st’s 4-1 drubbing of Tottenham could have been the three points that wind up keeping Birmingham from the bottom three. Hell, before that they took points from Arsenal and Newcastle. If there’s a clear loser when it comes to remaining schedule, the Blues have got to be it. Alex McLeish has done well to instill a hard-nosed approach to every game in his squad and that approach has helped them so far, but will it withstand meetings with Manchester City, Everton, Blackburn, Villa, and Liverpool? Yep. And believe it or not, if they had Fulham’s schedule remaining – the Blues would be on their way down. Fixtures Remaining: vs. Manchester City, @ Wigan, vs. Everton, @ Aston Villa, vs. Liverpool, @ Fulham, vs. Blackburn

Two teams primed to go down, but will escape…

Wigan Athletic

Five points separate the Latics with Bolton and who is worse off? Bolton. Wigan was able to grab a 1-0 win over . If there was a team next in line behind Fulham and Bolton to go down, it’s the Latics. But Wigan hasn’t been pisspoor as of late. Yes, they were routed by Blackburn even when they had a man advantage for half the game, but they squeezed points from Arsenal and beat West Ham and Derby. More than most of these relegation battlers can claim. Their schedule doesn’t help much with 5 games against top-half club. Wigan has also made it their habit to start slow and end strong, which will not fly against the likes of Pompey, Chelsea, and ManYoo. Both Emile Heskey and Marcus Bent have returned to the line-up which could provide the jumpstart needed to slip just above the relegation zone. Verdict: Up, but barely. Remaining Schedule: @ Portsmouth, vs. Birmingham, @ Chelsea, vs. Tottenham, vs. Reading, @ Aston Villa, vs. Manchester United

Sunderland

It’s Roy Keane people. He’ll fight managers on the sideline and kids in the stands to stay up. The Black Cats started admirably and have faded in the homestretch. Kenwyne Jones has been figured out and Keane’s talent pool has all but dried up. Still Keane has shown a knack for putting in the right people at the right time and Michael Chopra’s entrance this past weekend secured a 1-0 upset win over Aston Villa, a vital three points to have. This is not the 2005/2006 Sunderland team. The difference – a battling Keane personality, a will to win in the last 15 minutes of tough matches, and a discipline that sticks against the big competition. Verdict: the Cats will remain and an infusion of talent in the offseason will make them mid-table runners next year. Remaining Fixtures: vs. West Ham United, @ Fulham, vs. Manchester City, @ Newcastle, vs. Middlesbrough, @ Bolton, vs. Arsenal

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Big Fulham supporter, but if the mentality shown against Newcastle prevails – the Cottagers are going down. Bolton and Derby are locks with seven games to go, but Fulham has the chance if they play the way they did against Everton. Hodgson also has to let Dempsey play. Jimmy Bullard was the only real threat vs. Newcastle, I agree, but it was as if Hodgson set him up that way. He might have a long shot, but Dempsey will be able to open up McBride and Eddie Johnson with outlet passes, instead of passes to their feet with a defender in tow.

Final Verdict: the same three we got now, Fulham, Bolton, and Derby.

What do you think?

McBride keeps Cottagers alive…Fulham 1, Everton 0

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Brian McBride entered today’s match looking to find the ever-elusive first goal since returning from long-term injury. Timmy Howard entered the match looking to extend Everton’s run of EPL form and let go of the heartbreak that was their loss in penalty kicks to Fiorentina in the UEFA Cup. Both definitely showed up to play. Problem was, McBride has support, Howard didn’t.

Everton played NOTHING like a team chasing a UEFA Champions League spot. Fulham played exactly how they should have – determined, gritty, and for their dear Premiership lives. McBride, however, has had the problem of not getting the service he needs to put goals away. Simon Davies remedied that today and delivered the pinpoint cross that McBride powered past an outstretched Howard for a 67th minute stunner.

Eddie Johnson has been playing well for the Cottagers. Unfortunately, when your fighting against relegation, goals and goals only are used as the measuring stick for how “well” one is playing. Johnson hasn’t found the net yet since coming over joining Clint Dempsey in the goal drought territory. All 5 Americans saw time in today’s game – Keller, McBride, and Johnson started – while Dempsey came in for McBride late and Bocanegra worked a solid part of the 2nd half.

The Cottagers have a stretch of four games that they could certainly win, but it will involve more performances like the one against Everton today. Next 4 games – @ Derby County, @ Newcastle, vs. Sunderland, @ Reading. Good performances away from home are hard to find…especially when Fulham has yet to win away. Hmmm…

What do you think their chances of avoiding relegation are? If relegated, which Americans will stick around in the English Championship? 

I’ll get more up on Olympic Qualifying and this weekend in the EPL tomorrow. If need more input on USA’s 1-0 win over Honduras yesterday, check out Jeff’s take and the live blog of the match, featuring a female streaker.

Yakubu out to prove he’s no Craig Bellamy: Everton 2, Manchester City 0

The big Nigerian striker provided the first goal in a 2-0 shutout of Sven’s sliding Citeh (and his 16th of the still young season). Last month’s CHI Best XI pick Joleon Lescott added another less than 10 minutes later as the Toffees rode their first half efforts into fourth place, surpassing Liverpool no less. Now they stand within a stone’s throw of Chelsea and their momentum is dangerous. Everyone keeps waiting for this team to have a terrible year, but David Moyes has them extremely consistent and that’s with long bouts with injury over the past season for their talisman Tim Cahill and the African Nations Cup absence and subsequent late return of Yakubu. Lee Carsley was the man of the match and is often neglected for many of his performances, which are never particularly pretty. Regardless, his efforts led to the second goal. The bald headed maniac kept his eye on a ball much of the Man City defense thought to be dead. His resulting cross led to Lescott’s nod-in, catching Richard Dunne on the backpedal.

Is it safe to say yet that Tim Howard is the best keeper in the English Premier League right now? Who’s better? Edwin Van der Sar? Brad Friedel? Fabio Capello’s possible pick for new English goalkeeper – Joe Hart – didn’t exactly have the greatest showing but is certainly showing greater upside than an aged David James, errant Paul Robinson, and equally as inconsistent Robert Green.

England win, EPL goes even more foreign?

ENG vs. SWI: England got by a mediocre Switzerland side led by teenager (and now cap-tied, thankfully) Eron Derdiyok. The Three Lions’ 2-1 win over the Swiss featured old David James and a “there’s only one David Beckham” chant, the return of Jermaine Jenas and Matthew Upson, and a final reflection of Capello amounting to “we need lots of work”. Only several on the field showed any sort of urgency – the two Coles (Joe and Ashley), Steven Gerrard fought to get things moving in the midfield, and Shaun Wright-Phillips came on and ultimately provided the winner. Wayne Rooney was shut-down by Senderos until he found enough time to provide Gerrard with space to hit SW-P for the winner. There was little flash and pizazz showcased by the English and if any were expecting that, they clearly forget that Fabio Capello is at the helm now. This is the same guy that was axed from Real Madrid after not playing Madrid’s fluid, attacking style (still winning La Liga no less, and clearly there were more factors than just tactics). Either way, England is going to have a whole spring and summer to improve as they make their charge towards World Cup 2010 without a European Championship to play for.

FOREIGN GAMES?: The 2011-2012 EPL season looks to be one to remember if the Premier League goes through with an outlined plan they have set up a press conference to announce today. There is expected to be an addition of 1 extra game for each of the 20 squads, in a foreign destination. This is to take advantage of the growing worldwide interest of the EPL. Ultimately, on and even under the surface, this just looks like another way for EPL to make more cash…and I don’t think they’ll even deny that. The EPL has a home and away structure right now – why add an odd game in there against an opponent picked out of a hat, in a location they could play a friendly at and STILL make the same amount of money (apparently, the ‘Big Four’ would be kept from playing each other. That’s acknowledging the fact that it’s only a four horse race all year and the parity in the EPL is for shit). The report referenced a successful NFL match-up between the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins held at Wembley Stadium – but what they didn’t mention was the fact that it was WORKED into the existing schedule structure. The NFL didn’t add a game to make things work. Listen, would it be cool to see Manchester United take on Reading in New York City? Sure…hell, it would be heaven for some. But to add another game to do it? Let me know what you think…

Here are the pros.

EPL Window Shut – A Recap, Winners, Losers, Spenders…

Most EPL followers are sitting here bummed that there were no real high-profile moves in the January transfer window. No Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid. No David Villa to Liverpool. Hell, Manchester United didn’t even make one single move. But why should they?

Somehow, $300 million were spent on new players by EPL clubs, breaking the previous January record set last year of $130 million. Most of the spending was done rather harmlessly. There was no $100 million spent by Chelsea (about $50 million) and ManYoo, Arsenal, and Liverpool kept themselves from overspending. Who are the big spenders, winners, and losers then?

TOP 5 TRANSFER WINNERS (January 2008)

1. TOTTENHAM – New boss, new money and a team that started the season dismally is now on its way up the ranks. Jonathan Woodgate was brought in from Middlesbrough for a believed $15 million, while right fullback Alan Hutton came from Rangers for $16 million. Young Chris Gunter arrived for $4 million early in January and has already made several appearances, while Gilberto (Hertha Berlin) was a truly ‘deadline’ deal. The long and short of it is that weaknesses were addressed. Gilberto, a strong Brazilian left back, will fill the gaps until Gareth Bale returns to health. Hutton could push Chimbonda into the middle or replace him all together. Both have the attacking prowess that suits Juande Ramos’ style of play too. Going out was a good amount of the dead weight that has only been hurting the wage bill as of late – Hossam Ghaly to Derby on loan, Paul Stalteri on loan to Fulham, the $25 million departure of Jermain Defoe to Portsmouth, underplayed winger Wayne Routledge to Aston Villa, and last but not least Anthony Gardner on loan to Everton. Spent – around $40 million.

2. CHELSEA – It’s too early to tell but the Blues seem to have gotten their man in Nicolas Anelka. $30 million was what it cost to pry him away from Reebok Stadium, but he has already shown – in 2 appearances – what kind of attention is drawn to him on field. If Anelka doesn’t work out, wait a year or two, and new $7 million striker Franco di Santo will gladly take his place. Highly coveted after the U-20 World Cup, this guy has a really promising future. On the defensive side, realizing their mistake with Tal Ben-Haim was the biggest reason Serbian Branoslav Ivanovic was brought in from Lokomotiv Moscow. Depth at defense is a big problem for Chelsea and Ivanovic (with the hope that the 23-year old will be Chelsea’s Nemanja Vidic) will help address that – more so with his versatility at right back, centreback, and in a defensive midfielder role. Spent – $48 million.

3. MANCHESTER CITY – Doing next to nothing was good for a City team that has become a bit erratic but generally has stuck to the course. A big coup for Sven’s men was the arrival of winger Nery Castillo from Shakhtar. Castillo gives them a viable winger option that will draw the pressure and attention away from Elano, whose form has dropped as he struggles to deal with the physical nature of the EPL. City then were in an inch away from grabbing Benjani from Portsmouth for about $24 million, but it fell through at the deadline. Instead, Felipe Caicedo – a 19-year old Ecuadorian from Basel in Switzerland – has come in to help replace the losses of wantaways Giorgios Samaras to Celtic and Rolando Bianchi on loan to Lazio. His prospects are huge as Juventus and AC Milan have both been tracking the youngster at Basel for the past several years. The price tag was a cool $10.5 million. Overall, two big upgrades for a rather tame price. Not bad on Eriksson’s part. Spent – around $15 million.

Biggest Busts

1. NEWCASTLE – Kevin Keegan promised high-profile, new faces. Magpie fans got Ben Tozer, Wesley Ngo Baheng, and Tomas Kadar. Heard of’em?

2. MIDDLESBROUGH – A great signing in Afonso Alves, but with it they might have brought themselves legal problems. Not to mention, WHY would you not address your biggest weakness…defense. Still Alves and Tuncay (as I’ve said before), can make something happen up front.

3. LIVERPOOL – Got a decent centerback in Slovakian Martin Skrtel (who debuted with an own goal), but they lost Momo Sissoko to Juventus and failed to sign Javier Mascherano permanently. All the while Ryan Babel has come out and said he’s not cut out for EPL style play. Recent form doesn’t help either. Hopefully, they can rebound but it looks like it’s a three way horse race for the title and Liverpool are once again left behind. Now the fans are hoping to oust Hicks and Gillett by pooling their money together and buying the club!

MOST ACTIVE

1. DERBY – Brought in no less than 7 players, none of which have helped the cause so far. Key arrivals – Hossam Ghaly from Tottenham, Emmanuel Villa from Tecos, Alan Stubbs from Everton, Mile Sterjovski from Gencerbiligi, Danny Mills from Man City, etc.

2. FULHAM – See a pattern? Cellar dwellars = most active, Fulham opted for 7 new players as well. Key arrivals – Eddie Johnson from the Kansas City Wizards, Brede Hangeland from Copenhagen, Leon Andreason from Werder Bremen, Toni Kallio from Young Boys, Jari Litmanen, Erik Nevland from Groningen, and Canadian Paul Stalteri on loan from Tottenham.

3. WIGAN ATHLETIC – I can’t see Wigan staying up, but there doing their damnedest to try. Three CONCACAF stars in Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios (remember him from CD Olimpia vs. DC United?) and Marlon King have arrived. One on loan, one finally permanently, the other costing $10 million. Seasoned left back Erik Edman came in from Rennes and Norwegian Erik Hagen from Zenit St. Petersburg come in to shore up the defense. Lastly, young Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia arrives from Villareal and is a great grab by the Latics.

Can anyone stop Adebayor? Fulham sputters…

1. Newcastle’s defense certainly couldn’t – they almost looked like they needed Oguchi Onyewu who played pretty poorly on loan with them about a year ago.

2. Not even his own teammates can stop him – and as you saw, Nicklas Bendtner tried.

What many people forget is that Adebayor was not a high-profile signing. Sure he helped Monaco reach the Champions League final in 2004, but it wasn’t scoring goals at the rate he is right now. The Gunners dispatched Kevin Keegan’s pet project Newcastle in yet another 3-0 romp. Adebayor started off the scoring – his 9th in his last 7 appearances and 19th overall. All that he’s done has prompted Cesc Fabregas to go all man-love on him with Arsene Wenger unleashing the praise as well. Mathieu Flamini and Cesc himself scored the other two goals.

In other action…

Sunderland 2, Birmingham 0

New signing Rade Prica made the difference for Roy Keane. Put in for a struggling Dwight Yorke, Prica pounced on a chance with 30 minutes to go, effectively putting a come-back out of the reaches of the Blues. Daryl Murphy started off the scoring, however, as the Black Cats move 3 points out of relegation. 20-year old Argentinian Mauro Zarate got his first minutes for the Blues, coming on for Cameron Jerome in the 66th minute.

Fulham 0, Bolton 0

The Cottagers had a prime chance to grab three much-needed points. Eddie Johnson was not eligible as paperwork is still being processed, but Clint Dempsey was there and Carlos Bocanegra came on late for new signing Leon Andreasen. It was even through the first half, but with about thirty minutes to go it became Bolton’s game. Fulham’s new defensive hires Andreasen and Brede Hangeland held their own though – helping to stave off a last second defensive lapse (which has been the Fulham trademark this season). Dempsey hasn’t hit the back of the net in over a month. Hopefully the added extra American influence can pick his game back up.

Middlesbrough 1, Wigan 0

An early goal from Jeremie Aliadiere (who doesn’t score much to begin with) proved to be the decider as Boro held off relegation battlers Wigan. I’m sure many were expecting a severely depleted back four with the loss of Jonathan Woodgate to Tottenham, but it held remarkably well (for now). That is certainly not saying that Wigan didn’t have their chances. Marlon King found himself free a couple times with Emile Heskey doing his best to resurrect his productive days. Ultimately, if Boro is going to keep surviving – Afonso Alves is needed up front with Tuncay and they need to make Stewart Downing happy (which isn’t going to happen, to Tottenham maybe?). I have lost interest in Wigan’s relegation fight; their demotion is foregone conclusion to me.