Friday, February 24, 2012

Fantasy Football 2011/12 - The npower Championship. Update!

With just two months of the 2011/12 season remaining, I thought I would take this opportunity to update you all on my progress in this seasons Texaco sponsored Championship Fantasy Football league.

In August I selected eleven players from the second tier of English football that I felt would excel for their respective clubs this season, as I pitted my wits against friends and football fans around the country, in a 'foolish' attempt to convince myself that my knowledge of Championship football was equal to or maybe even superior to that of other football fans.

As the months have gone on, my last update was back in October, I have delved in and out of the transfer market as players have lost form, moved clubs, suffered injury or been suspended.

A lot was expected of some players this season, some have delivered whilst others have failed. There are a lot of 'experienced' players in the Championship such as West Ham's Kevin Nolan, David James of Bristol City, Leeds United's Luciano Becchio, Blackpool's Kevin Phillips and Kenny Miller of Cardiff. This season has also seen a lot of exciting young talent emerge. The likes of Birmingham's Nathan Redmond and Crystal Palace's Wilf Zaha to name just two.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Southampton and West Ham sit at the top of the league. The Saints, although a League One side last season are looking for back to back promotions, and are the Championship's top scorers. The Hammers spent heavily in the summer and are looking good for an immediate return to the Premier League.

The other relegated sides from the 2010/11 season, Birmingham and Blackpool sit 3rd and 7th respectively, and will both have a keen eye on promotion. Birmingham who started the season slowly have been in cracking form since Christmas. In fact they last lost a league game at Selhurst Park on the 19th December!
Reading like Brum started slowly but now sit 4th. Also in the play-off places are Middlesbrough, who have been up their all season and Cardiff, who take on Liverpool in this Sunday's Carling Cup Final at Wembley.

Hull, Brighton and Leeds occupy those places just outside the top six, and will be looking to take advantage of any slip ups by the teams above them as they press for a an end of season place in the play-offs.

So how has this reflected on the Championship fantasy football team since I last updated you back in October?

In October my team was as follows:

Goalkeeper: Kelvin Davies (Southampton).

Defenders: Ian Evatt (Blackpool), Jason Shackell (Derby), Anthony Gerrard (Cardiff), Jonathan Parr (Palace).

Midfield: Matt Taylor (West Ham), Ben Davies (Derby), Robert Snodgrass (Leeds and right), Adam Lallana (Southampton).

Strikers: Rickie Lambert (Southampton and Captain), Rob Earnshaw (Cardiff).

I have made twelve transfers since October and seventeen out of a possible thirty since the campaign kicked-off in August. Only the free scoring Southampton striker Rickie Lambert and Leeds United's midfield maestro Robert Snodgrass have been ever present in my side since the start of the season.

Finding a strike partner for Lambert has been a problem! I selected Cardiff's Rob Earnshaw at the start of the season, and stupidly stuck with him until around Christmas time, when I replaced him with Glenn Murray, the Palace striker. Earnshaw scored just three times and fell out of favour at his club. Murray started the season well but lost his form and starting place at Palace and scored just twice for me before I replaced him a month ago with Billy Sharp. Sharp a proven goalscorer, moved to Southamton in January but he too is struggling to hold down a starting place alongside Lambert. I had to sacrifice Kelvin Davies and bring in Birmingham's Boaz Myhill to accommodate Sharp. I think on reflection 16 goal Ross McCormack would have been the answer. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

I brought in Derby duo Jason Shackell and Ben Davies at a time when Derby where flying and looking like a good bet to be play-off candidates come the end of the season. However their season has badly fallen away, and the club now lie 15th in the league. As a result both players had to go.

In their places I transferred in Hull duo Liam Rosenior and Robert Koren. Both signings have been outstanding, with Rosenior keeping eight clean sheets in ten appearances, and Koren scoring three times and claiming three assists in his ten games. Matt Taylor has had an injury ravaged season, making just 17 appearances for West Ham and scoring just once. I replaced Taylor with the ever reliable Peter Whittingham, and the Cardiff midfielder has scored six times and claimed nine assists in his 19 games for me. Happy days!

Recently I replaced Adam Lallana the Southampton midfielder player with his team-mate, the exciting French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin to freshen things up a bit. Lallana has had a cracking season, but lately he seems to have lost his spark.

I also brought in Birmingham's Curtis Davies to replace Cardiff's Anthony Gerrard, who is seemingly unable to hold down a regular first-team place with the Bluebirds. In his thirteen appearances Gerrard kept four clean sheets. In just five starts Curtis Davies has already kept three clean sheets. Finally I replaced Blackpool's Ian Evatt who did an 'average' job keeping six clean sheets in twenty games, and I replaced him with the underrated Alex Pearce and the Reading man has already delivered, with five clean sheets and a goal in eight games. Enough said!

As it stands today my current team is as follows:

Goalkeeper: Boaz Myhill (Birmingham).

Defenders: Alex Pearce (Reading), Liam Rosenior (Hull), Curtis Davies (Birmingham and captain), Jonathan Parr (Palace).

Midfield: Robert Koren (Hull), Peter Whittingham (Cardiff and right), Robert Snodgrass (Leeds), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton).

Strikers: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Billy Sharp (Southampton).

I am 393rd overall in the whole competition, 2nd of 28 players in the 'Holmesdale Radio' private league, 9th of 752 in the 'Official Crystal Palace FC' private league and 3rd of 99 in the 'Where Eagles Dare' private league.

Between now and the end of the season............good luck!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sexy London Bars! - Part Deux

This time last month I started my quest to dispel any myth that London was dull and lacked imagination when it came to hip and trendy watering holes. It was more a case of finding out where these illicit, hidden venues were located. I started off by introducing you to Mark's Bar at Hix in Soho. A very cool and stylish cocktail bar laced with a New York feel to it.

Today I am going to possibly surprise you by bringing to your attention a bar/restaurant in South London - and yes before you ask, South London does boast a selection of modish establishments.

Serving Number Two:

The Lost Angel
Address: 339 Battersea Park Road, London, SW11 4LS.
Telephone: 0207 622 2112.
How to get there: Queenstown Road and Battersea Park rail stations.
Opening hours: Tues and Wed: 5pm - 11pm, Thurs: 5pm - 1am, Fri: 4pm - 2am, Sat: 12pm - 2am, Sun: 12pm - 11pm. Closed Monday.
Happy Hours: Tues and Wed 5pm - 8pm, Thurs all night and Friday 5pm - 9pm.
Music: On Fri and Sat DJ's play from 9pm and on Sunday's they have acoustic live music.
Door Policy/House Rules: Over 23's at the weekends.

The Lost Angel venue has a history. Back in the 1980's this Battersea Park Road milieu was a pub with it's very own on site micro-brewery. Now however it is split into three parts: the bar, the restaurant and the garden, courtesy of award winning designer Lee Broom who created the concept for The Lost Angel, sister bar to Lost Society. Broom said: "We wanted to pay homage to the old pubs of London whilst creating a design that was a nod to everything eccentric and British." So think trumpets as light fixtures, stuffed pheasants, a white telephone box, a piano, a forest indoors, a fireplace outdoors and all looked on by a ten foot portrait of Her Majesty The Queen.

Although this place is predominantly a bar, The Lost Angel serves some awesome food. A year ago Head Chef Jindra Vrbka created a surprisingly diverse menu, with an assortment of food for all occasions. They serve traditional pub food, snacks, canaps, a buffet, an a la carte menu, along with cracking roast dinners on a Sunday.

I popped in to LA on Wednesday and it was steak night. As I was only staying an hour or so I kicked things off with a bottle of Singh, a Thai lager, whilst my work colleague ordered a pint of real ale. We chose to share some bar snacks and the breaded squid with aioli and the baked camembert in a box with toasted Tortana bread were superb. Cocktails were up next and the LA cocktail menu was brash and loud and did not disappoint!

They have a selection of classic, contemporary and the bartenders own choice of cocktails. My colleague opted for a classic, a 'Raspberry Cosmopolitan' with Belvedere Black Raspberry Vodka, Cointreau, fresh lime and a touch of cranberry, flamed orange. I went for something completely different, a house special called 'The 69th Rockstar.' Tequila reposado infused with chili and thyme, parsley, and fresh passion fruit muddled with agave and passion fruit syrups, Velvet Falernum, and pineapple juice. Long and sexy spiciness!
At £7.50 each they were both good value and they really hit the spot!

Just to prove what a diverse operation they have at The Lost Angel, they also run cocktail classes, so you too can learn how to make great cocktails in a fun and informal environment.

The wine list, although not extensive is interesting, and conservatively priced. The wine is from £14.90 a bottle, with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at £27.00 and an Australian Black Shiraz at £19.90. Champagne and dessert wines are also available.

Overall a terrific venue, offering a sublime selection of food and drinks at reasonable prices. Although Battersea is probably not a place you would normally expect to find a 'sexy bar,' they certainly have one! Battersea itself may be a little bleak and out of the way, but in The Lost Angel you have a truly exquisite, almost wacky venue, and it is without a doubt well worth a visit. The atmosphere is laid back with a fun edge and the staff are polite, friendly and very knowledgeable.

You can follow 'The Lost Angel' on twitter or facebook

I will introduce you to more 'sexy drinking establishments' over the coming stay aboard to see if I can locate you, your very own guilty pleasure!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

English Football's Shortest Managerial Reigns.......EVER!

We are now in February, the recent transfer window is now firmly closed (aside from loan deals), yet many clubs up and down the country are having disappointing seasons for various reasons. If a club is underachieving what can the club owners do to revive its fortunes between now and May in an effort to save their season?

Have the football club owners lost faith in their manager, has the manager lost the respect of the players and are the fans venting their frustration? Are the club beset with injuries? Did the club lose some of their better players to other clubs and fail to replace them, or did the club not have the funds to strengthen an already depleted and small squad? Whatever the reason for a teams abject performances on the pitch, there is no place to hide as their failings are normally reflected in their results.

The most high profile sackings of recent months have been Steve Bruce at Sunderland, Neil Warnock at Queens Park Rangers and Leeds United's Simon Grayson. Managers under pressure at the moment in the top two tiers of English football include Steve Kean at Blackburn Rovers, Mick McCarthy at Wolves and Nottingham Forest's Steve Cotterill.

Yes, the buck 'usually' stops with the football club manager, however it can be said it is sometimes not exclusively down to poor results, and that one man and one man alone is not always the reason for an unsuccessful managerial tenure at a club!

To show you this I have put together a list of some of the shortest football managerial reigns in the history of the English game, that were not solely dictated by results ON the pitch:

1. LEROY ROSENIOR - Torquay United 2007 - Ten minutes.

Ex-player Leroy was appointed boss of struggling Torquay United replacing Keith Curle on 17th May 2007 - then was sacked after ten minutes or 600 seconds! The former West Ham and Fulham striker broke the record for English football's shortest managerial reign after being introduced with a fanfare by Torquay United.

Sports journalists were summoned to a press conference which finished at 3.30pm. Then at 3.40pm Leroy was told by the chairman of the Devon club, who were at the time in talks with a business consortium, that it had just been sold, and the new consortium wanted their own man at the helm of the club. As a result the new consortium immediately sacked Rosenior and installed Colin Lee as Chief Executive, and Lee then appointed former Gulls player and Exeter City assistant manager Paul Buckle as manager.

Leroy said at the time: "For it to happen ten minutes after I finished the press conference was a bit of a shock. But we had a good laugh about it afterwards." He joked, "Obviously they thought I had done a fantastic job after ten minutes and let me go."

Torquay United though did agree to pay him compensation.

2. BILL LAMBTON – Scunthorpe United 1959 - 3 days.

Former Doncaster Rovers goalkeeper Bill Lambton managed just three official league appearances as a player before retiring. He moved into coaching and had spells with KB Copenhagen, Scunthorpe and Grimsby Town before Lambton was appointed Leeds United manager in December 1958. He stayed there for just four months, a lengthy tenure compared to his next job at Glanford Park in April 1959. Lambton took over as Scunthorpe United manager and saw his reign brought to a very swift end, three days after it had begun, following a 3-0 defeat to Huddersfield in his first game.

3. DAVE BASSETT – Crystal Palace 1984 - 4 days.

In June 1984 Bassett 'accepted' an offer to become manager of Second Division club Crystal Palace, but remarkably changed his mind, refused to sign the contract at Selhurst Park and walked four days later. He returned to Wimbledon, stating that "I gave it some serious thought, but in the end it just did not feel right. We have unfinished business, and I didn't really want to leave here." Luckily for him, the Plough Lane club had not yet lined up a replacement so he was welcomed back. It must be pointed out however that Bassett's initial appointment at Palace was a verbal agreement, and at no time did he put pen to paper and sign a legally binding contract.

However Bassett did officially take a managerial role at Crystal Palace twelve years later, on the 8th February 1996, but he left a year later to join Nottingham Forest.

4 & 5. KEVIN CULLIS / MICKY ADAMS - Both Swansea City - 1996/1997 - 7 days/13 days.

A period of six managers in 18 months for Swansea City saw two brief cameos.
Hardly a household name, but Kevin Cullis who had a growing reputation as one of the country’s up and coming PE teachers was appointed manager of Swansea City on the 7th February 1996, by new chairman Michael Thompson, as the club languished in Division Three. He had never played professional football and his only previous managerial experience came as the youth coach of non-league Cradley Town in the West Midlands. In his second match against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road, Cullis’ half-time team talk was apparently ignored as the players took control. Cullis’s shortcomings were soon realised by the players and he left the Vetch Field after seven days and two defeats.

In April 2003, Cullis was jailed for nine months for fraud and deception at after falsely claiming to be a highly-paid marketing consultant. He was jailed again, for a further nine months, in September 2004 for handling a stolen insurance certificate and using it with intent to deceive.

Shortly after his dismissal from Fulham in 1997, Adams made a quick return to management with Swansea City in Division Three, but left after thirteen days and three matches in charge. Adams claimed that the money he had been promised to strengthen the team had not been forthcoming.

6. PAUL HART - Queens Park Rangers 2009 - 28 days.

Jim Magilton left QPR after a falling out with the player Akos Buzsaky, and Queens Park Rangers moved to appoint Paul Hart as their new boss ion 17th December 2009. Hart had a nine month tenure on the South Coast as Portsmouth manager prior to this role, but even that could not have prepared him for what proved to be a brief stay in West London, as he became exasperated by interference from flamboyant owner Flavio Briatore.

Indeed, questions were raised over whether Hart was actually Briatore's choice to replace Jim Magilton in the first place. It is also understood Hart and Briatore disagreed over which players to target during the transfer window. In addition, it appears Briatore had already decided not to extend Hart's six-month contract just two games into his brief stay, such was the speed of the breakdown in relations.

On the pitch things did not go well under Hart as QPR won one of his five Championship matches in charge and the manager was heavily criticised for poor tactics and player selections by Briatore.

Hart then had a bust up with one of the playing staff, Adel Taarabt, who was said to have voiced his displeasure at having only started twice in Hart's five games as manager, before Hart left the 'Hoops' on the 14th January 2010, less than a month after his appointment.
However, it seems his bust-ups with Briatore were the real reason why the former Portsmouth and Nottingham Forest manager felt he had no choice but to turn his back on Loftus Road after such a brief spell at the helm.

7. STEVE COPPELL - Manchester City 1996 - 33 days.

Steve Coppell twice walked out early on clubs during his managerial career. In October 1996, sandwiched between his second and third spells as Crystal Palace boss, he lasted just six games and 33 days in the job, before he left Manchester City, citing stress as the reason for his sudden departure. Unsurprisingly, his tenure is the shortest of any City manager to date.

Fourteen years later, Coppell, who was appointed Crystal Palace manager on four separate occasions, announced his resignation at Bristol City – only three months after taking charge. Coppell explained that he no longer had the requisite passion for the job and announced he would retire from management altogether.

8. GARY MEGSON - Leicester City 2007 - 41 days

During Milan Mandaric’s spell as owner of Leicester City, it seemed the club changed manager every week. The reality was of course nowhere near that bad, but it wasn’t great either as seven managers occupied the dugout at the Walkers Stadium in a four year period. The fourth of those was Gary Megson, who arrived on September 13th 2007.

He guided the Foxes to their first league win in early October, beating Sheffield Wednesday away 2-0 but was soon attracting interest from Premier League Bolton Wanderers. Mandaric rejected a first approach from Bolton but the Trotters publicly stated Megson as their number one choice as a second approach was rebuffed by the Foxes.

After Bolton made another move Megson was given permission to speak to the Trotters and on the 24th October 2007 he left Leicester City to take over at the Reebok – 41 days and nine league games after joining the club.

9. LES REED - Charlton Athletic 2006 - 41 days.

After working as a consultant, Les Reed returned to Charlton to become Iain Dowie's assistant manager in the summer of 2006. After Dowie's sacking on 14 November 2006, Reed was promoted to the manager's post. During his six-week spell in charge, Reed managed just one victory and his Charlton side were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Football League Two side Wycombe Wanderers.

Reed's spell at Charlton became infamous as the media attacked him on a regular basis, nicknaming him "Les Misérables" and "Santa Clueless," and he was later voted in an unofficial online poll "the worst manager of all time." Reed was replaced by Alan Pardew as manager on 24 December 2006, leaving Charlton Athletic by mutual consent.

10. BRIAN CLOUGH - Leeds United 1974 - 44 days.

On 30th July 1974, Brian Clough left Brighton & Hove Albion to become manager of Leeds United, following Don Revie's departure to become manager of England. Clough famously endured 44 dismal days as Leeds manager, an episode now recorded on the page and screen. Clough was a surprise appointment at Elland Road; he was already an unpopular figure, given his previous outspoken criticism of both Revie, for whom Clough made no secret of his deep disdain, and the successful Leeds team's playing style, which Clough lambasted as being "dirty" for their overly aggressive style but also effectively illegal, in his opinion.

Clough failed to win over the dressing room after alienating many of Leeds's star players, notably Johnny Giles, Norman Hunter and Billy Bremner, all of whom were fiercely loyal to Revie and Clough was sacked by the Leeds directors on the 12th September 1974, after only one win in six games.
His pay-off was estimated at £98,000, a huge amount at the time.

Other notable short managerial stints include:

Attilio Lombardo - Crystal Palace (47 days, 1998)
Dave Penny - Bristol Rovers (57 days, 2011)
Martin Allen - Leicester City (66 days, 2007)
Colin Todd – Derby County (98 days, 2001/02).

Wednesday, February 01, 2012