Frustrating England

I have loved every minute of this football season up until watching England tonight.

Lacking any threat, any confidence and any energy England frustrated and disappointed in their 1-1 draw with Ukraine.

Rescued by Frank Lampard’s late penalty their blushes were spared in a game most bookmakers had down as a routine win for Roy Hodgsons men.

Long ball football into a player like Jermaine Defoe is such a waste of his real talents and while ball retention was good, too often there was little product with Glen Johnson being the main culprit.

In fact it was only when the Danny’s, Welbeck and Sturridge and Ryan Bertrand were introduced England looked to have any urgency with Welbeck getting the post and winning the penalty.

Yes we are missing players, Rooney, Wilshere, Terry, Cole and Parker to name just a few, but we need to find a Plan B to play without these key players.

Tom Cleverley looked out of his depth against an average team while too much pressure is being put on 19 year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to take England forward.

A negative formation against a team who on paper at least were poorer, is surely not the way to set out?

As soon as England went with a three pronged attack they hit the post, saw a cross flash across the box and they won a penalty.

However England’s next game is with San Marino… A game that England will probably win with ease and like Friday’s game with Moldova will mask England’s real issues.

After that they travel to Poland in a match that already is a must win game.

In World Cup qualifying you generally need an average of 25 points from 30 to go through top of the group, already England seem to be set to make hard work over something that realistically shouldn’t be.

Well… For the third best team in the world anyway…

England v West Indies

So England begin with a win. On paper a result of a five wicket win makes the test look routine for Andrew Strauss’ men.

However it was far from it.

Held up for the majority of the fourth day by Shiv Chanderpaul before being reduced to 57-4 on the final morning by a resolute West Indies side begins to tell the story of England’s laboured win.

I am not sure whether the English press didn’t realise what the West Indies packed, or as usual put England’s expectations through the roof but this was a lot closer than originally was thought.

In fact it would be interested to see what a Windies full strength team with the likes of Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Sunil Narine could have offered.

Instead we saw a team with little experience, little confidence and little depth, the latter a stark contrast to their number one ranked  opponents.

But if England are that they need to begin playing like it and the sooner the better, Stuart Broad is not going to take 11 wicket in every match, in this test they escaped, against South Africa they will not.

Winners and losers of the Premier League 2011/12 part one

A roller coaster season ended with a roller coaster Sunday with Manchester City claiming the title thanks to Sergio Aguero’s las gasp strike, however who were the real winners and losers of the closest Premier League season for several years? 

Roberto Mancini

The main victor of the season has to be Roberto Mancini, as yesterday’s game moved into injury team with his Manchester City side 2-1 down to QPR the likelihood was he would be shown the door at the Etihad stadium. 

Instead he spent today touring around Manchester on an open top bus celebrating with his players after  taking City to the their title since 1968. 

It is a massive step for Mancini and his squad, many of whom have joined since Mancini took over in 2009. 

Throw into a season marred by constant speculation around his future, Carlos Tevez’s exile to his native Argentina and Mancini’s personal battle against the troublesome Mario Balotelli and you begin to see what he has achieved this season. 

Obviously he will need more than one major trophy per season to satisfy the big wigs at the Etihad, however it is certainly a start. 

Robin van Persie

It has been another fruitless season for Arsenal however once again the Emirates was lit up on more than one occasion by the irresistable van Persie. 

37 goals over the entire campaign led Arsenal to third place and Champions League football next season, something that was unthinkable before Christmas.

Speculation has rumbled on throughout the season regarding the Dutchman’s future and now as we head into a sport filled summer the rumours will grow and it is likely van Persie will depart the Emirates in a hunt for major silverware, similar to the departure of Cesc Fabregas last season. 

Newcastle United

The suggestion that Newcastle United would finish in the European positions would have been laughed at back in August before the season kicked-off. 

However a fifth placed finish has taken everyone by suprise this season with manager Alan Pardew even being talked about for the England manager’s position following the departure of Fabio Capello. 

He has built a squad of players, few of whom are household names and let them gel as the season progressed, a Champions League position was still achievable heading into the final game of the season. 

Players such as Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cisse were unknown quantities when they were brought into the club. 

However they have been the fulcrum around which Newcastle have performed this season with Cisse netting 13 goals in 14 league games, not bad for a striker few people had heard of before his January move. 

Later in the week, the losers of the season will be analysed





England show progression with series win

Despite the success stories of English cricket in the past 18 months, their form in the 50 over format has left a lot to be desired.

However a change of leadership and a fresh youthful line-up has seen England hint towards replicating their outstanding performances in the test arena.

Alastair Cook was given the captaincy after England’s poor performance in March’s World Cup and since then has lead England to two  series wins one over World Cup Winners India.

Similar to the test team, the selectors have built a core team of five players who they have built a squad of 15 around with England strength in depth shining at the moment.

The likes of Jimmy Anderson, Ian Bell Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott along with Twenty20 skipper Stuart Broad are the platform around which England are planning the build looking ahead to the next World Cup.

This series against India which England won 3-0 has highlighted this strength in depth expertly with the likes of Jade Dernbach, Tim Bresnan and Ravi Bopara all sealing their places for the reverse tour which starts in the sub-continent next month.

And with exciting prospects such as Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow waiting in the wings along with seamer Steve Finn England will be hoping this fresh young One Day set up may emulate their test counterparts.

Surreal afternoon at the Bank

I was not sure what I was expecting to be honest.

I’d never seen a team fight for their football league survival before and upon leaving Sincil Bank at 5pm today I still had not.

There was an air of inevitability around Sincil Bank before kick-off and during the game that this Lincoln City team were not good enough to stay up on there own.

And on the basis of the 11 games previous where Steve Tilson’s have not won a single game it seemed for the Imps to keep their league status they would need Barnet to slip up at home to Port Vale.

However after a goalless first half at Sincil Bank in which Lincoln missed several chances you got a sense of what was to happen in the final 45 minutes.

As news filtered through of Barnet’s 48th minute penalty the Sincil Bank crowd became hushed as a tentative second half began.

And as they have on so many occasions this season when Lincoln concede they lose the smidgen of confidence they have.

Danny Hylton’s penalty just before the hour mark saw the Lincoln heads drop, the Sincil Bank faithful began to lambast the players not encourage them and what had seemed inevitable before the game was now becoming reality.

Mistakes began to creep further into the Lincoln play and before long they’d conceded again as the 7,932 fans inside Sincil Bank were starting to realise they were on the brink of seeing the Imps seal their own fate.

But the factor of the afternoon I could not understand was the reaction of the majority of people inside the ground.

Few seemed to care about it at all.

Despite warnings throughout the afternoon about encroaching the field at the end of the game a good 1,00o strong mob launched themselves over the hoardings on the first blow of the final whistle.

They seemed more bothered about getting on the pitch and in front of the TV cameras than the fact their hometown club had ended a 24-year stay in the Football League.

And what is more frustrating for the club is that those fans that turned up today regardless of whether their attendance was one hundred per cent to support the club is that they will not be there next season as the club begin life in the non-league.

A beginner goes Orienteering

Standing in a room full of people dressed in lycra talking about maps, dibbers and compasses is not a situation I had been in many times before.

Despite being a keen sportsman Orienteering is never one that has featured too highly on my agenda, my only experience being on year seven camp at school 11 years ago.

Yet there I was fully decked out in tracky bottoms and trainers stood nervously anticipating what the next 45 minutes would bring as I made my debut at score orienteering.

I had been invited along by the Lincoln Orienteering Group to the final event of the four race series at Riseholme Park to give it a try and see how I got along.

As it was my first time as an O’er I was going to be going around with Ally Wright, the groups publicity officer who told me we’d be running around 5km if we complete the full course.

This came as a shock to someone who’s only exercise in three and a half years at university was a couple of appearances for a friends five-a-side football team to make the numbers up.

The plan for the evening was to try and find all 25 checkpoints located around the Riseholme campus in the 45 minute time allowance.

Before we got started all the competitors checked-in their dibbers which are an electronic device that logged you in and out of each checkpoint to show where you had been.

As the countdown began Ally and I quickly planned a quick route to the nearest point and off we went.

Now I must explain this type of Orienteering is different to the usual line format, where you follow a set of numbered points in a line and whoever does it fast enough wins.

Here there is no set course meaning you can do it in whatever order you want and that proved a further challenge given the terrain of Riseholme.

Orienteering maps are different to Ordinance Survey maps as they show different terrain in different colours based on how passable to route is.

For example thick vegetation is coloured dark green so it tells you although you might only be metres away from the next checkpoint, there is no way you could battle through the thick bramble bush that stands in your way.

And that is the challenge you have to find your way around the course navigating your way with nothing but a map and a headlamp.

Oh yes did I forget to say? We began at 7pm on a crisp early March evening meaning we were running in pitch black darkness, your pathway lit up by a miner’s headlamp strapped on your head.

We set off at a steady jog pace on the hunt for the first checkpoint which was strapped to the rear of campus building.

Ally was teaching me the basics such as what symbols meant and how to work the compass and as she guided us round the first couple I began to get the hang of this.

As we moved out in the grassy areas of the campus the compass was passed on to the trainee as I had a go at finding a checkpoint.

Looking at the key on the map, checkpoint 50 was located in a forest area around 30 metres in from the path.

Off we set counting our steps as we ran to see how far we were trekking knowing at some point we’d be diving into the woody landscape.

We navigated our way through the trees and within seconds could see the checkpoint, up we ran, clicked our dibbers and off we went again.

Still in charge of the map and buoyed by my successful first attempt I picked the next point and deciphered a route to it.

One bonus of night racing was the headlamps everyone was wearing and fortunately for us there were two heading our way as we progressed to the next check, meaning we were going in the right direction.

However they went by in a flash, the steady jog me and Ally were using was outpaced by the other competitors seemingly haring round the course.

We had now picked a good chunk of the checkpoints and decided to complete the loop at the top right of the campus before heading back to the meeting point as the clock ticked over the half hour mark.

It was after clambering my way through a pond while clawing away bramble bushes I asked Ally why she found the activity enjoyable.

“The feeling of accomplishment went you find the checkpoints,” she replied.

Whether it was the lactic acid I could feeling burning its way through my unfit thighs or the constant need of the water bottle I had left back at the control point, I decided I couldn’t agree with her.

I was told before I went out that Orienteering is like an Easter Egg Hunt you went on when you were a child. All I could think was what is the point of an Egg Hunt if there are no eggs?

And as I sat and watched the presentation of awards at the end of the night surrounded by people covered from head to toe in mud and sweat that was my thinking, what was the point?

Clearly these people saw it already busily planning there next outing some even eager to go and collect the control points as it meant they could get there compasses out again but not me.

I reached a respectable 14 out of 25 control points in the 45 minutes allowed, but as my muddy trainers are once more redundant outside my back door two weeks on, I fear it could be another 11 years at least until my next orienteering expedition.

Bresnan developing nicely for England

He has probably been the most interviewed England player since taking the wicket that meant England retained the Ashes, but Tim Bresnan is quietly progressing into a strong international player.

Having already nailed down his position in England’s limited overs side with a series of strong performances over the past year, he is now showing genuine promise in the test area.

Yesterday he helped England limit Australia to just 134-4 on day one of the fifth test in Sydney taking 2-47, almost a week since his spell of 3-2 in 15 balls wrecked the Aussie top order.

Tim Bresnan celebrates the wicket of Shane Watson last week at the MCG

Now 2-47 from 16 overs may not seem amazing, but when you consider his first spell was 5-0-22-0, in the afternoon and evening sessions he bowled 12-4-25-2, which included some fine swing bowling.

Even though he is described by team-mate Graeme Swann as being as ‘thick as a plank’ he is an intelligent bowler, varying his line and length in the One Day format to make scoring difficult, whilst persisting with a nagging off-stump line in the longer game, similar to old county colleague Matthew Hoggard.

The 25-year-old is getting into the nack of taking big wickets too, last week it was Ricky Ponting, Shane Watson and Mike Hussey, this week it was Watson and stand in skipper Michael Clarke.

Now Watson had barely played at anything outside the off-stump, he had progressed nicely to 40 with minimal fuss, before he played forward to a ball on a length from Bresnan. The ball just nipped away, clipped the edge and was pouched at first slip by Andrew Strauss.

It was clever from Bresnan, knowing Watson wasn’t wanting to play balls outside his off-stump, the seamer angled one  and nipped it away off the seam, snaring the edge.

Granted at full strength, a fully fit Steven Finn and Stuart Broad may be ahead of Tim Bresnan in the England pecking order, but if he carries on taking wickets like this, it gives Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss a real headache. However a much nicer one than last week after retaining the Ashes I’m sure.

With a World Cup coming up in the coming months and the possibility of no Broad, Bresnan could get his chance to be one of the first names on the team sheet, maybe even opening the attack and batting at seven.

All he has to do is keep taking wickets, fortunately for him, he seems to be quite good at that.