Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Away Days: Tranmere Rovers v Wolverhampton Wanderers

Posted in Away Days, UK Football by peterbein on January 4, 2010
Tranmere Rovers

Prenton Park, the home of English third tier club Tranmere Rovers FC

Anybody familiar with the German football magazine “11 Freunde” will have noticed a monthly section called “Auswärtsspiel” (lit. “away game”) whereby various reporters and contributors will report on random matches, anywhere in the world, which they have been to in a particular month. Whether it be a high pressure, top quality English Premier League match, a bottom of the table six-pointer in the South Korean second division or a fifth-league mid-table clash in Peru, football has the unique ability to be so universal and yet project different cultures and atmospheres to the wider world. “Stoppage Time” has, shamelessly, copied this idea and is hoping that our readers can enjoy a similar experience to which German readers are accustomed. In the first of an irregular series, “Away Days” focuses on the FA Cup, third round match played between Tranmere Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday, January 3rd:

I arrived in O’Neill’s Irish Bar in Liverpool just before midday ready to sample two interesting matches on television. The Old Firm derby between Celtic and Rangers kicked-off at 12:30 followed by the Manchester United v Leeds United match at 12:45. Me and my four German friends Jörg, Simon, Markus and Matthias, all of whom taking the opportunity to indulge in a bit of Groundhopping during the Bundesliga winter break having been to Everton’s Goodison Park stadium the day before, had already sampled many beers before the shock at the events at Old Trafford were confirmed before our soon to be blurry eyes; a 1-0 victory for Leeds United. The locals were buzzing with the result as, in theory, the chances of local giants Liverpool and Everton going to Wembley had increased slightly thanks to their near neighbours misfortune. It was on the back of this result that we got into a taxi to go ‘over the water’ (i.e. ‘across the river’ in local parlance) and to get ready for a less glamourous, but no less important, cup match taking place at Prenton Park (pictured).

Tranmere Rovers are very much the third force in Merseyside football currently residing in England’s Coca-Cola League One (i.e. third league). The glory days of the mid-1990’s and early 2000’s when Tranmere rose from from the then Third Division to the second tier of English football as well as playing in a string of Wembley Play-Off and cup finals (most famously the 2000 League Cup final which they lost 2-1 to Leicester City), are increasingly a distant memory. Since then the club have suffered demotion back to the third tier and, like many clubs in England, are facing great financial difficulty. Having sacked their previous coach John Barnes after only four months in charge, former club physio Les Parry has slowly got the team playing as a unit and have risen from bottom of the table to third bottom, just four points from the safety zone. Their opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers are experiencing something of a renaissance since their promotion back to the Premier League in 2008-09. Under the leadership of Mick McCarthy “Wolves” have steadily built into a team that are finding their feet in the top flight again (they currently lie 15th in the Premier League) and recently faced criticism for playing a severely weakened side in a league game against Manchester United, choosing to save the bulk of the players for other games they thought it easier to win. Despite this McCarthy has been pragmatic in his approach and he still has the fans on his side after what has been, thus far, a difficult season.

Another friend of ours, Liam, belatedly joined us in the Prenton Park pub just outside the stadium before the game kicked-off. After another couple of beers were enjoyed the six of us set out to take our seats in the Johnny King Stand (named after Tranmere’s most successful coach) and, on a bitterly cold evening, the last game of the FA Cup third round got under way. After what was a largely uneventful first twenty minutes news came through the stadium that the draw for the fourth round had just been made. A voice some rows behind me shouted “Crystal Palace at home, next round”. Maybe one of the players close to the touchline heard the news as it was from this point that the game began to improve with a few half chances, Wolves’ Sylvain Ebanks-Blake having the best opportunity after his close range header was stopped by Rovers’ keeper Luke Daniels. The second half started at a good old pace and it was the home side who looked the most dangerous. The best chance fell to Tranmere striker Terry Gornell who, after he’d beaten Wolves ‘keeper Wayne Hennessey to the ball in the eighteen yard box, stabbed his effort just wide and it was from then that things looked like they wouldn’t go for Tranmere. This was to be proved in the 78th minute after a killer through ball from Wolves’ midfielder Nenad Milijas was driven home from just outside the penalty area by Matt Jarvis. This was particulary harsh on Tranmere who had put a lot of effort into a game which, according to a steward at half-time, might not have gone ahead due to the extreme temperatures making the pitch very tough. Despite this though the crowd of 7,500 gave both teams a standing ovation in what was a competitive game played in a good spirit. Wolves may have won but they were certainly made to work for it from a club who are two divisions down the English football ladder.

From there it was back to the Prenton Park pub for a couple more beers to round off what had been a good day. Now I can look forward to my next away day: 1. FC Nürnberg v Eintracht Frankfurt on January 23rd. Until then, and to my Groundhopping friends from Germany, “auf wiedersehen!”

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Festive Football Round-Up

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on December 28, 2009
Kenny Miller

Kenny Miller scores for Glasgow Rangers in their 4-1 win away at Hibernian FC

Should football pause for Christmas? Give me a break! Football in the UK is as much of a tradition as the Queen’s Speech, Mince Pies and Santa Claus and this weekend has been no exception. With further football to come in the next couple of days “Stoppage Time” takes a look back and looks forward to the action to come in our English and Scottish football festive round-up.

BOXING DAY

English Premier League leaders Chelsea got the ball rolling in their tough away tie at Birmingham City. Both sets of Blues had their chances to win but, in the end, perhaps a 0-0 draw was a fair result. The next game to finish was the important six pointer at the bottom of the table between West Ham and Portsmouth. The “Hammers” claimed a 2-0 home win over a Portsmouth side who had beaten Liverpool just seven days earlier. After the drama surrounding Mark Hughes’ sacking it was the football that took centre stage as Manchester City, under new coach Roberto Mancini, claimed a comfortable 2-0 win against Stoke City thanks to Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez. In the other games Liverpool got back to winning ways but only after their opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers had Stephen Ward sent off on 52 minutes. Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun scored the goals in a laboured 2-0 victory. Everton left it late to claim a point away at Sunderland. Marouane Fellaini scored with five minutes left on the clock to give Everton a share of the points after Darren Bent had given the Black Cats an early lead. The remaining three games finished as draws, a London derby between Fulham and Tottenham ended goalless whilst two clashes between North West clubs saw Burnley v Bolton and Wigan v Blackburn finish 1-1. In the Scottish Premier League Glasgow Celtic kept up their pursuit of champions and league leaders Glasgow Rangers with an 2-0 win at home to Hamilton. A last-minute strike from Niall McGinn made sure of the points as Celtic found it hard to finish their opponents off. Dundee United title hopes have dipped in the last couple of games. A 3-0 home defeat to Rangers was followed with a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Kilmarnock. Csaba Laszlo’s Hearts side kept up their recent upturn in form by beating Falkirk 1-0 away to lift them into fifth place. In the final match of the day newly promoted St. Johnstone claimed all three points in a 3-1 win at Motherwell. After struggling at the bottom of the table for many weeks the Saints now lie seventh in the SPL.

DECEMBER 27TH

Although only a few matches were played on this day they all had some significance at the top of the table. In Scotland Hibernian were hoping to keep up a title challenge by beating champions Rangers and after twelve seconds the Edinburgh side were in dreamland as Anthony Stokes gave the home side a dramatic lead. However the champions came back after a difficult first twenty minutes. Rangers’ Kenny Miller (pictured) equalised after 21 minutes and top scorer Kris Boyd gave them the lead eight minutes before half-time. Any hopes of a Hibs comeback after the break were dashed as Nacho Novo increased Rangers lead on 53 minutes and Miller got his second of the game after 66 minutes. With no further scoring Rangers boss Walter Smith was delighted that his charges had opened up a four point lead over nearest challengers Celtic with Hibernian a further four points behind. In the English Premier League Arsenal were finding it difficult to break down a dogged Aston Villa side who have high hopes of a top four finish. However the introduction of Cesc Febragas in the second half proved the difference as his 25 yard free-kick on 65 minutes was followed by his second nine minutes before time. In the act of scoring his second the Spaniard injured himself and had to come off but the impact had already been made. Vassiriki Diaby made it 3-0 for the Gunners in stoppage time and Aston Villa’s hopes of beating all of the Big Four this season were temporarily halted (they’d already beaten Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United so far). At the KC Stadium champions Manchester United, despite Wayne Rooney giving away a penalty, were too strong against their opponents Hull City. United had the lead at half-time thanks to a stoppage time Wayne Rooney strike. After the break the United star’s pass back was significant in United giving away a penalty, converted by Craig Fagan to restore parity on the hour mark. After that it was Rooney who made the telling difference in the latter stages of the match. Rooney’s low cross into the box on 73 minutes was turned into the net by Hull City defender Michael Dawson to give United a 2-1 lead and the game was sealed after Rooney set up Dimitar Berbatov for Uited’s third goal. The win lifted United up to second place, just two points behind Chelsea, but Arsenal are two points behind United with a game in hand.

DECEMBER 28TH

Today sees six games in the English Premier League with the most interesting being the West London derby between Chelsea and Fulham at Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti’s men can’t afford too many more slip ups if they are to win their fourth championship title. Roy Hodgson’s Fulham go into the game unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions including a 3-0 demolition of Manchester United. The other fixtures are Tottenham v West Ham, Blackburn v Sunderland, Everton v Burnley, Stoke City v Birmingham City and the late kick-off at Molineux where Wolverhampton plays against Manchester City.

DECEMBER 29TH

In England Aston Villa will hope to get over their drubbing at Arsenal by attempting to the double over Liverpool who have failed to win two matches in a row in the Premier League since September. The other game sees Bolton Wanderers and Hull City in a match that will have importance in the bottom half of the table. In Scotland there is just one game as Aberdeen play Falkirk at Pittodrie.

DECEMBER 30TH

Two of the title contenders, Manchester United and Arsenal, will hope to increase their championship hopes with a win against Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth respectively. There are five matches in Scotland, the best of which involves champions Rangers at home to fourth place Dundee United. Celtic won’t want to lose points in what appears an easy game against second bottom Kilmarnock. The other games are St. Johnstone v Hibernian, Hamilton v St. Mirren and Hearts v Motherwell.