To Boo or Not to Boo, THAT IS THE QUESTION?!

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Disgruntled fan Credit: debrafine.com

TO BOO OR NOT BOO, THAT IS THE QUESTION?!

This past weekend saw a topic brought up on social media involving two of the powerhouses of British Ice Hockey in particular, as some home fans turned against their own side and booed them off the ice, following a string of bad results and performances to boot. This, in turn, has led to one of the supporters of the sides in question asking, is booing acceptable? 

Sunday evening saw this subject come to a head, as both clubs were left in no uncertain terms of what their own fans thought about them following their respective home losses. Sections of both supporters of the Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers had their game ending with a chorus of boos ringing around both Arenas, following their home defeats to Fife in Sheffield and Belfast at Nottingham.

It has become apparent from a lot of Steelers supporters on social media nowadays, that they are clearly far from happy on how their side have been performing so far this season – after seeing them on a current losing streak of late in the league. Sheffield currently sits fifth in the league standings to date and are also six points adrift of Belfast in their conference.

The South Yorkshire club have really struggled against fellow conference rivals Nottingham, Cardiff and Belfast this year, with the Steelers sitting rock bottom in the Erhardt Conference, with only four points in conference match-ups – and lie eight-points behind third places Nottingham, with their bitter rivals having registered twelve points in their conference games too.

Fans have also vented their fury on social media in the direction of three personnel at the Steel City club, with their Head Coach and former player Paul Thompson, along with the senior management duo of Tony Smith and Dave Simms also being called out for the sides poor recruitment this year, and also their apparent lack of effort from the men in Orange on the Ice too.

Sunday night saw the Steelers fans venting their anger after an in-form Fife Flyers side flew into the FlyDSA Arena and saw the Scottish side came out 3-1 winners and had the sound of the horn at the end of the game was met by a loud chorus of boos by the home faithful and had plenty of empty seats from clips posted from the game.

Meanwhile, just 42.4 miles up the M1 (according to Google Maps) the Motorpoint Arena playing hosts to the Nottingham Panthers and the Belfast Giants. The Northern Ireland-outfit beat the hometown side 6-2 and had the hosts also met with loud boos from the Panthers Nation as well.

This time last year the Panthers qualified for the Continental Cup final round in Italy and went on to win the tournament to become the first EVER British side to win it. Much like their foes down the road, Nottingham has also been going through a bit of a bad patch of late and saw the side in ‘Primrose and Black’ only picking up a point from their last four league games with two of those losses coming against conferences opponents, Cardiff and Belfast.

Both sides have been huge forces in British Ice Hockey for some time now and has seen them fighting it out (sometimes quite literally) for league titles and domestic trophies along the way. Both fan bases have high expectations of their team and consequently, both clubs have played with rather large huge chips on their respective shoulders.

So, when that chip gets dislodged by their rivals or other teams within the league, their fans are quick to jump on them and that was pretty evident from this past weekend. The booing from two sets of fanbases was a clear indicator of them not happy and wanting things corrected almost immediately.

Having fans booing their team is nothing new in sports in truth, however, in British Ice Hockey, in particular, it is a rare occurrence. That said, the first time I recall hearing boos and not aimed at an opposing player or team, was way back in the early 2000’s when the club I supported growing up a child, the Manchester Storm, had the first instance of this occurring.

During the 2000-01 season, there was a new coach at the helm following the outgoing and most successful head coach that the Storm ever had in Kurt Kleinendorst, as former Storm boss departed for a scouting job with the New Jersey Devils of the NHL in North America. He was replaced by a coach by coach Terry Christensen who had made his name in College hockey over the pond.

From the off you could tell things weren’t good, with the side playing awful, the coach refusing to connect with the fans which had attendances dwindling by the week, with poor performances on the ice being made worse with players and the coach at loggerheads too, with former player Pierre Allard launching a scathing attack on Christiansen in the local press.

For the handful of games that I attended that season, I recall vividly the side being booed as they skated around the ghost town like MEN Arena as it was then and poor brand of hockey. it was the only time that I can ever recall a home side being booed off their own Ice in over twenty-two years of watching the game in the UK.

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‘The Boo Section’ Pic: Morningmail.com

In Europe though, booing is seen as acceptable as it is generally in football. If a home side loses or plays badly in front of their own fans, then the players and club will risk the wrath of their supporters and have them booed till out of sight.

For over quarter of a century now watching a range of all different sporting teams in Manchester; whether it is Manchester City, Manchester Storm/Phoenix/Giants, Belle Vue Aces, Sale Sharks or even Lancashire C.C.C and heck, let’s throw in the rare occasion I watched Manchester United at Old Trafford too, we have all been made to get mad or angry with our sporting sides and venting our spleens  at games too.

Based on my own experiences of hearing sides being booed off, then you have been a Man City supporter for as long as I have and went prior to the takeover of the club with the Abu Dhabi Group, then Yes, I am probably one of the better ones to ask about frustrating sides.

From being taken to my first ever game on Boxing Day 1991, right up to the present day, I saw players in sky blue shirts being world-beaters and disaster zones over the years, while also having to take the smooth with a truckload of roughness that would equate to taking some sandpaper to a house brick.

Sports fans are without doubt the most fickle of fans you will find in any walks of life, as the word fanaticism in Latin shortened is ‘Fan’, and the description of the word being states “to be ‘mad, fanatical, furious, raging, enthusiastic and ecstatic” and as a sports fan we all experience those feeling when watching.

The long and short of it I guess is that if you are willing to pay to watch something, say; a sports event, concert, film and even Gladiators back in Roman times I suppose, then you have the right to express your grievances as after all you have paid good money to watch your chosen entertainment.

Another way to look at things is, if fans are debating whether booing is deemed acceptable, then imagine if a team lost 10-0. The losing sides fans should be well within their rights to boo, whistle, jeer or show their frustration at what they watched, especially if their team didn’t show any interest what so ever.

On the flip side of things, if people aren’t allowed to boo and jeer for things when they go bad, then surely when the opposite happens and their side is winning, then the fans shouldn’t be allowed to clap, cheer or celebrate either, as surely that must be wrong too??

Much like in all sports though when a side rediscovers their winning touch again, it will see the negative comments start to fade away and be replaced with optimism – well until those losses start to occur again of course.

I’ll finish this blog off with a link to a clip from Scottish Comedian Fred MacAulay, as he loosely talks about booing in a sense.

CHUFFING BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

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Hammond OT Strike Sees Storm Take Win In Crazy Game

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 MANCHESTER STORM 8-7 COVENTRY BLAZE (After Overtime)

An overtime goal by Mike Hammond helped finally bring an end to the overtime ‘hoodoo’ that that plagued the Manchester Storm since hitting the ice three years ago, to have the home side winning 8-7 against the Coventry Blaze to see remain perfect at home after their two pre-season games.

Manchester welcomed the Blaze to the Altrincham Ice Rink for the Storm’s final pre season game before the real action begins this upcoming weekend and saw both sides playing out an incredible game, where defence for either team was really far from the fore front of anyone’s mind in the contest.  

The hosts were two forwards down for the game, as Shane Bakker was missing through injury and Chris Auger was also absent too, as he picked up a knock in the win on Sunday against Sheffield.

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‘Teams Bonding’ Photos by Mark & Aaliyah Ferriss

Both teams had chances early on in the game, but it was the visitors that took the lead against the run of play at 7.30 through a Ben Lake goal, after a pass at the side of the net by Brett Robinson saw the Blaze man tapping home for a 1-0 lead.

The home side then thought that they had scored midway through the period when shot by Luke Moffatt saw the referee deferring to the newly installed goal-line technology for the league this year, but after studied the replay the referee Liam Sewell ruled it no goal and remained in favour of Coventry. 

Manchester was dominating the possession, but the only stat that counted was that the Blaze were in front on the scoreboard. Matt Stanisz then levelled things up with a blast from the blue line that beat netminder Brython Preece all ends up for a 1-1 score at 16.40, and that saw the home side back in the game.

Brett Robinson then sat for two minutes in the penalty box for a holding call against him, which gave the Storm a chance to take the lead on the power play. The Storm thought got caught out while having the man advantage, which led to the visitors break quickly up ice with Ryan Dingle and Marc-Olivier Vallerand and have Vallerand finishing to restor the Blaze lead at 16.54.

The hosts still had their power play on going, and that saw captain Jay Rosehill firing home to make it 2-2 as the period looked to be heading all square. As it was, the Blaze had other ideas and scored a third goal which was much a carbon copy of their second goal. This time it saw Garrett Ladd feeding Vallerand at the far post and he coolly finished to have Coventry going into the break 3-2 up.

Ryan Finnerty then made a netminding change at the start of the second, with Declan Ryan replacing Mike Clemente in the Manchester goal and his first action was scoop the puck from out his net, after Ben Lake grabbing his second of the game after goal line technology was used once again to give the Blaze a 4-2 lead early on. 

Gerald Hanson then made it a one goal game to make it 3-4 on the Power play after the Swede cut the deficit in half, before Nate Fleming tied the game up at 4-4. The home side had the momentum swing to their side now and looked to capitalise on it too, as their hitting game moved up a notch or too and saw and the physical play being brought out more.

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Declan Ryan :Photos by Mark & Aaliyah Ferriss

Ciaran Long then scored his first goal for the club, as he put the hosts in front with 1.24 left to go in the period for 5-4 with the ex-Basingstoke man making space and firing high on Preece.

A crazy passage of play then saw the Blaze equalising before the period’s end, when defenceman Dallas Ehrhardt saw his shot hitting the post for the home side and then saw play coming back up the other end and have Jordan Pietrus netting thanks to some inventive passing by his linemate for the goal.

As the game entered the third period, it saw the sides going back and forth with waves of attack by both teams and have the game being played in a ‘gung-ho style’ for the rest of the game. Coventry then went on the power play after Luke Moffatt was called for a tripping penalty and that soon saw the Blaze making full use of the extra man with Ryan Dingle making it 6-5. 

Matt Bissonnette then grabbed the Storm’s 6th goal of the game, after a beautifully worked power play saw the Canadian forward making it all square again and turning see this game still looking like having plenty more goals to come yet.

With 12.47 to go in the third, it saw Ryan Dingle netting his second goal of the game to make it 7-6 for the visiting side, as he managed to slip the puck through the legs of Declan Ryan and have the Blaze taking the lead for the fifth time in the game.

Ryan Finnerty’s side then found themselves with a 5 on 3 power play coming their way, to which Mike Hammond found the back of the net for a tying goal and saw this extraordinary game level once more.

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Mike Hammond nets the Overtime winner ;Photos by Mark & Aaliyah Ferriss

Surprisingly, with no further scoring in the game it saw overtime needed to find a winner between the two sides. It saw a short overtime period played, as with Coventry having a couple of quick shots it saw Storm breaking up ice with Mike Hammond clear through and the former Braehead man slid it under Preece for the game winner for the Storm in a crazy, crazy game.

The goal wasn’t just a normal game winner, but it also a historic one for the Manchester Storm, as Mike Hammond became the first ever Storm player to score an overtime winner in their short history as part of their victory.

Next up for Manchester will see Ryan Finnerty coming up against his former employees along with Jay Rosehill, Matt Beca and Mike Hammond as they take on the Braehead Clan home and away game in the start of the Challenge Cup.

Is Pep Suffering his first Managerial Crisis??

 

 

With the Premier League season approaching that point of the year when the picture becomes clearer on who are the main title contenders for the crown that season, it sees the pundits preseason favourites in Manchester City going from odd’s on to take the title back in September to now being out of the championship race altogether with three months of the season left to play if you believe Pep Guardiola. When the club announced that the former Barcelona and Bayern coach was coming to the Etihad Stadium last summer, it saw a reaction that generated excitement not only for City fans but also for those associated with Premier League and the television companies especially.

With many Pundits and fans believing that the appointment of Guardiola would basically see Manchester City taking that next step and would be leaving all opposition trailing in their wake, with City steamrollering their rivals and not only dominating in England but also at European level. However things don’t always go to plan and this is a good illustration of when don’t go the way people plan. This is without doubt the first time that the footballing world has saw Pep Guardiola under pressure and struggling to solve the problem.

As things currently stand now the Blues are 13 points behind leaders Chelsea going into their game against West Ham on Wednesday night and have already been dumped out of the League Cup by their bitter-rivals in United earlier in the year, that said though they are still in the Champions League at the moment and have made it to the Fifth-Round of the FA Cup with two straightforward victories over London opposition in both West Ham and Crystal Palace respectively, but in all honesty the FA Cup is the only realistic chance that club have of lifting any silverware this season.

At the start of the season City were off and running and were like a runaway train after recording 10 wins out of their opening 11 games in all competitions, with a thrilling 3-3 draw up in Glasgow against Celtic being their only ‘blip’ on their record at that time, but then started their run of indifferent form ever since. After the huge saga that played out involving Joe Hart and the club at the start of the season, it led to the England number one being loaned out to Italian side Torino in Serie A and at the same time saw the club bringing in Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo to be number for Pep Guardiola side.

After impressive team displays in the opening five games of the season, it then saw Bravo making his debut for City at Old Trafford in the Manchester Derby of all games and was at fault for the goal that his side conceded and was also mightily lucky not to give away a penalty too with a tackle on Wayne Rooney.

As the season has gone on, it has saw the goalkeeper coming under fire for a string of costly errors which has led to the Blues slipping down the table and seeing valuable points dropped with a collection of terrible performances too boot and for someone who was deemed by Guardiola as a ‘World Class keeper’ he has failed to show a glimpse of that tag yet in City colours and looked far from that in any game..

The City boss has always liked his goalkeepers to be able to use their feet and do a bit more than traditional goalkeepers would do in making saves. This was one quality that wanted and drafted in Bravo for that exact reason and so far he has yet to show it. There have been games this season where his ability with his feet have landed him in trouble and watching him is equal to someone wading through treacle in the way he has displayed his skills with his feet and been caught out numerous times by opponents.

Fans have also been critical of the goalie for his refusal to come off his goal line and help his defenders out and has led to him being left in ‘no man’s land’ when he chooses to come out at wrong times and gifts opponents easy goals, noticeably the 4-2 loss to Leicester and then his pitiful display against Everton early on at the turn of the of the year His saving ability is up for debate too as after keeper that City have had over the years, none have ever turned away from being hit by the ball and practically allowed the ball to go past them instead of being brave and being how Schmeichel used to be years back and even Joe Hart dare we say.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the Guardiola to contend with, then he has also saw his side subjected to humiliations at away grounds where you felt they would or should be winning with all due respect to Leicester and Everton. Under Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini, these games were seen as title-winning games and you had to battle, scratch and claw for victories if you wanted to be successful and be championship material.

It isn’t just the goalkeeping situation that needs addressing, it is also his defence too as he has hardly ever kept the same back four together long enough for them to gel and develop an understanding with the keeper or any of the defence at all.

When teams have won the Premier League title down the years their has always been a strong central defensive partnership that has led their respective teams to glory. United had Bruce and Pallister, Vidic and Ferdinand during their time and Chelsea had Terry Carvalho, and Luiz. Arsenal had Adams, Bould, Kolo Toure and Campbell whilst City had Kompany and Lescott for their first title success before Demichelis replaced Lescott as their key centre-back pairing on route to their success.

City have not established nor looked anywhere close to establishing any type of commanding centre-back partnership this season and with the captain Vincent Kompany being plagued by injuries since 2012, the side have look disorganised and leakier than a leak in a leaking house. Another challenge the manager has had to contend with since arriving at the club in the summer, has been dealing with a public spat between him and Yaya Toure’s agent Dimitri Seluk, of which Seluk has accused Pep Guardiola of being an ‘average manager’ and said that ‘anyone could manage Bayern and Barcelona and do the same as what he has done’.

The City boss refused to play the Blues talisman till he apologised to him and his team mates for the comments that were made by his agent on the manager and the club as a whole, which in effect meant that the Ivory Coast star was out of action till mid November and saw the Ivorian coming back with a bang when he scored twice in a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace.

However dropping vital points in games has seen City go from top of the tree to now just hanging in there with the chasing pack for what looks like a battle royal for a Champions League place come the end of season.

Formations, suspensions and poor officiating have all contributed to Pep Guardiola’s frustrating debut season in the Premier League to date. But the Spanish coach has given some very quite bizarre press conferences in recent times too and was quoted as saying in on press conference “perhaps i am not good enough for this job” and would further add about retiring later. If Pep had a head full of hair at the start of the season, then he would most certainly be either white as a ghost or bald as he is now with all the the stresses and strains of what English Football and media can throw at him.

The Blues didn’t make any deals in the January transfer window,. but what they did bring in was the addition of Gabriel Jesus to their club after his spell in Brazil finished and he joined his new club from Palmeiras in Brazil. It will certainly need divine intervention to help City manager getting his side back to playing the way they were at the start of the season and that also made them look like a serious title contender at that time.

With Tottenham and Liverpool being mainstays in the top four for most of this season to date, Arsenal are hovering around the 4th Champions League place and have City’s cross city rivals in United hitting form too with Jose Mourinho’s side looking looking like they may have finally found some cohesion to their squad after some very indifferent results themselves like Pep’s side has.

Of course, things can change very quickly in this game and City could go on to win the FA Cup, Champions League and even go unbeaten all season now and finish second or even win the league come May. Fickleness is word well used in football and perfectly sums up the situation too, with managers being under pressure one minute and the next be deemed a genius. A well coined phrase that was used by former Spurs and England striker Jimmy Greaves sums up it best when he said of football, ‘It’s a funny old game’.

 

Cubs Clinch Historic World Series crown To End 108 Year Title Wait

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In the early hours of Thursday Morning at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio it saw one of the most memorable and action packed Game sevens in recent World Series history finally coming to end, with the Chicago Cubs finally ending their 108-year wait for a title to win 8-7 in a heart-stopping game over the Cleveland Indians to be crowned World Series Champions for 2016. It saw the rare occasion of a World Series pitting two sides that wasn’t best known for their championship winning exploits in recent times with the Cubs and Indians. But the series more than made up for it with a thoroughly entertaining series that was full of twists and turns and needed a 10th innings to determine a winner in an epic series decider. 

In the end it saw Chicago turning a page in their somewhat tumultuous storied Franchises history and have the team from the ‘North Side’ of the Windy City, prevailing after 108 years without a success. In truth the series should have been wrapped up far earlier by the Cleveland, with the Ohio outfit looking back and wondering how on earth they didn’t put the series to bed. With the Indians having taken a 3-2 series lead back with them from Chicago on Sunday night, it was almost nailed on that Cleveland would close out the series on their home turf, with the final two games being played out of Cleveland.

However the Cubbies who have shown plenty of grit and adopted a ‘never say die’ attitude to their play in this post season and also the regular season. The Cubs shown their battling qualities going from a game down against the LA Dodgers in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) to then coming back and reaching the World Series. After the Chicago staved off elimination in Game six with a 9-3 win to tie the series after winning two successive games on the bounce, it saw the series heading to an exciting game seven. 

This was no ordinary Game 7 to a World Series, as for both these franchises it gave a chance to end their own personal droughts in Baseball and also in American Sports period. Once the game got under way it saw Dexter Fowler putting Chicago in front with a an opening home-run off Indians pitcher Corey Kluber in the opening innings to put the Cubs ahead in the ball game. Cleveland tied the game up in the bottom of the third through a Carlos Santana hit down the line, that allowed Coco Crisp to make it back for home and make it a 1-1 game.

Top of the fourth saw the Cubs going back in front again through a Kris Bryant score, with the Third Baseman sliding under the catcher to touch base and move 2-1 in front. Willson Contreras then struck a double with long fly ball that bounced off the far wall and that saw Ben Zobrist make it from third-base to give Chicago a 3-1 lead and put them firmly in the driving seat.

With the Indians not scoring in their first four innings, things only got worse for the home side as the game moved to the fifth, after Javier Baez then homered to extend their lead even further for the Cubs and go 4-1 up. Cleveland management then took Corey Kluber out of the firing line and replaced him with pitcher Andrew Miller, after Kluber had restricted the opponents to just one run in two games he had pitched in during the series. This brought the Cleveland management to mound and made the change as they wanted to try to stem the flow of runs that the Cubs were scoring at will. 

Shortly after the change, it saw Anthony Rizzo drilling a ball into right field and that allowed Kris Bryant to make his way from first base all the way home for another run and that put Chicago 5-1 up now at the top of the fifth. The home team then caught a lucky break their way when Jon Lester threw a wild pitch that bounced off the dirt and struck David Ross on the face cage of his helmet and ran away and that led to Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis both pick up runs for the Indians, to make it a 5-3 game and give the hosts a bit of hope. 

In the next innings it saw Ross who was part of the incident that gave up two-runs for Cleveland then redeeming himself, as he struck a home run to make it a 6-3 and was a perfect way to end his career on in what was his final ever play. With Jose Ramirez scoring for the Indians after a Brandon Guyer line drive to make it a closer game at 6-4, it then saw the moment that turned the game on its head. 

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Rajai Davis celebrates his home run to tie game at 6-6 Picture: MLB.com

With Aroldis Chapman then brought on by Cubs Manager Jon Maddon to close the game out, Rajai Davis then made sure that was not going to be the case and smashed a homer left field and just strayed inside the outfield to make it all-square ball at 6-6. That moment could have possibly saw Chicago seeing their moment of triumph disappear at the point and maybe to triumph at all. Cleveland seemed to have staggered their opponent who for the most of the game looked to be on course for their first World Series success in 108 years, but now found themselves having to dig deep and show their grit once again in an even game.

After a scoreless 9th for both teams it meant now that this World Series decider would be heading to extra innings to determine a winner in this topsy-turvy series. With both clubs having gone so long without a championship to speak off, it did seem like at times that the pressure or inability on both sides to seal victory was affecting both sides and seemed to be theme in the last three games of the series.

With the drama that was ongoing on the field and the tension being knock up a few notches, there was yet more drama added as the heavens opened up prior to the 10th innings and caused a rain delay that lasted nearly 20 minutes and saw the ball game going past midnight. Both teams headed to their respective locker rooms and had the coaches chatting amongst themselves with the umpires on the weather.

When play did restart it had Ben Zobrist nailing a ground ball double down the left line of the field and just evaded the third baseman to let in Albert Almora and he made it 7-6 to the Cubs and moved Anthony Rizzo onto third. The looks of joy and celebrations from Zobrist and Rizzio told their own stories, and had the Cubs seemingly edging nearer to glory and gaining momentum back their way now. Miguel Montero then struck a single which saw Rizzio touching back for base and opening up a two run lead for Chicago, as the Cubs dugout came out to urge him home and celebrate a 8-6 lead after the tenth.

Cleveland knew the score now going into the bottom of the innings, anything less than two runs for the Indians and the title went Midwest. Cubs Manager Jon Maddon then made a pitching change before the innings got underway and put in Carl Edwards Jr for the outgoing Aroldis Chapman with the Cubbies looking to seal the game and take the series.

Mike Napoli struckout and saw the first out going down for the home side and when Jose Ramirez followed soon after with Addison Russell throwing to first base for Anthony Rizzo to run him out, it seemed that it was all over bar the shouting. Brandon Guyer then got walked to first base and saw Cleveland’s last bit of defiance come, when Rajai Davis hit a ball down center field and was collected by Dexter Fowler to which allowed Guyer to get back home and see it become a one run game at 8-7. 

 

 

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                       Chicago Cubs players celebrate winning World Series                           Picture: Time Magazine

Chicago then had another little conference at the mound and that saw sprung another change as Mike Montgomery came in to the ball game for Edwards Jr. Montgomery with his first pitch to Michael Martinez saw a strike and then his second pitch brought an end to proceedings and series for that matter, as Martienz hit a ground ball that saw Kris Bryant running to collect it and had Anthony Rizzo getting the last out and confirmed the Chicago Cubs as World Series winners. 

The winning out sparked wild celebrations on the field among the Cubs players and management and also in the stands with a large contingent of fans that had made the way from Chicago to be there. It was a series that by many pundits was to be a case of the Cubs having too much for the Indians overall and that the bullpen and big hitters that Chicago had would be the telling factor. Arguably the Cubs turned the series in their favour last Sunday and was the key game of the series in Game 5 at Wrigley Field, as prior to that meeting the home side had only won once in the opening four games of the series to that point and the 3-2 win for Chicago gave them a massive boost as they headed to Cleveland.

It did have the series being mainly one for the away team over the course of the series, with the home side winning just two out the seven games in the series and none were more vital than that elimination game on Sunday night at Wrigley Field. Had Cleveland shut down the Cubs in the 4th innings of that Game five and not allowed the three runs they conceded, then perhaps we may well have looked at the series being done and dusted in Chicago.

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Cubs fan celebrates his team winning Game 7  Picture: S.I .com

There is one side note to this series and one that i just touched on above, it was the fact that home advantage normally is vital for teams in the post season and for this particular series it seemed to less of a blessing and more of a curse. So in some ways the home crowd did prove to be a bit of a factor overall but not necessarily in a good way at all. For the two ball clubs it felt more like they were more relaxed on the road than they were at Progessive Field or Wrigleyville in front of their own fans. 

You could make a case that pressure got to Cleveland or that they just became complacent with their 3-1 lead when heading home for Games 6 and 7. But despite the Indians slipping up in the series, Manager Terry Francona should be applauded for taking his side to the club first World Series in 19 years after their last appearance back in 1997 and have a young squad that with some more planning could easily be back next year.

Meanwhile Chicago who was without question the ‘best team in baseball’ during the course of the regular season, they finally made transfer that to the postseason and ended the hoodoo on them clinched an elusive World Series crown after fifteenth post-season attempts since there last victory in 1908.  

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Cubs Owner Tom Ricketts lifts the World Series trophy in the Chicago locker room  Picture: MLB.COM

World Series with a difference

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This week saw the start of the World Series in Baseball taking place between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs. The series could be headlined as ‘the battle of the droughts’, as that is one thing that these two franchises share is their lack of success in the post-season and where both rank first and second for the longest wait for another title in Major League Baseball history.

Cleveland have gone 48 years without winning a championship and saw their last title success coming way back in 1948, when they defeated the Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves). For the Chicago Cubs, them and their fans have had to wait twice the as long of their opponents and more so. The Cubs have gone 108 years since they last boasted about a championship Pennant and was after they had previously over it overa two-year span between 1907 and 1908.

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Cleveland Indians logo 

Looking firstly at the Cleveland and it has witnessed their sporting sides rise and fall over the last 48 years and the ‘Forest City’ as it is sometimes known, has seen mixed fortunes. Since their last success back in 1948, it has saw their American Football side the ‘Browns’ win five titles in that time, however this was pre-Superbowl era and has saw the side being one of the worst sides in football currently in the NFL. In the case of the ‘Cavaliers’ in Basketball, it has saw them going from the ‘outhouse to the penthouse’ in the NBA, with LeBron James rejoining the side for a second time and saw him guiding his side to their first ever NBA title last season.

On the subject of Baseball and it hasn’t been great reading if you are a ‘Indians’ fan, as despite making the World Series three times since they last tasted victory back in 1948, they have had to settle for second place in 1958 and then twice in three years during the mid 90’s. A sweep by the San Francisco Giants in ‘58 saw them then returning to the Fall Classic and suffering losses to the Atlanta Braves in 1995 and then the Florida Marlins (now Miami) two years later in 1997. Back in 1995, the side had achieved their first AL (American League) pennant since 1958 after series wins over the Boston Red Sox and then the Seattle Marriners en-route to their first World Series in 37 years.

Their search for a championship would go on though, as they lost out to the Atlanta Braves in six games going down 4-2 on that occasion. Cleveland then made their way back two seasons later, and would faced the Florida Marlins in the 1997 World Series and was one that was arguably the most tightly contested series that there has been. The teams traded wins in every other game that series, with Game 7 going right down to the wire and needing extra innings to determine a winner. Florida’s Édgar Renteria proved to be the hero for the Marlins that night, as his hit down the middle brushed the glove of the pitcher for Cleveland that night and saw Craig Counsell running home for the telling score to give Florida the championship.

The franchise has always been embroiled in controversy over the use of their name and logo going as far back as 1915, when the club changed their name from the Cleveland Naps to the Cleveland Indians. They then started to then use a logo called ‘Chief Wahoo’ of which was a red-faced caricature of a Native American that many deemed to be a ‘Racist’ symbol and has led to many protests over the years, especially by Native American groups. The same argument has been levelled against the Washington Redskins in the NFL and now has many reporters in the US even refusing to mention the team name due to the nature of the discussion. However in 2013, the club took the decision to move the logo and have it as secondary for the team and was replaced with a capital “C” logo instead for Cleveland. 

Cleveland have reached the American League Championship Series (ALCS) twice in the last 10 years, and on both occasions they were beaten by the eventual winners of the World Series in the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. They set a franchise record this past July, by winning 14 straight games en route to their 8th Central divisional title and saw them making light work in the playoffs of their respective opponents. In the divisional series they swept the Boston Red Sox 3-0, before making their way to the World Series with a comfortable four games to one win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

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Chicago Cubs logo

Facing the Ohio outfit is the team dubbed by many over the years ‘the Loveable Losers’, as the Chicago Cubs will finally play in a World Series since 1945. Chicago have the most unwanted record in all of North American sports, for the longest wait to win another title by any Professional sports team within the four major sports (MLB,NHL,NBA,NFL) as the drought currently sits at just..108 years.

The Cubbies or ‘Cubs’ for short, have seen them and their long-suffering fans put through the mill so to speak time and saw them time and time again left disappointed. Chicago have suffered with so much bad luck in the post season that it is almost hard to start where it all began. They were the first Major League club to play in three straight World Series matches, as they lost out to their South City rivals in the Chicago White Sox in 1906, but would then win the following two years with a sweep of the Detroit Tigers in 1907 and then repeated their success twelve months later with a 4-1 win, again over the Tigers.

Since that time though, the Cubs have failed to make it back to another World Series and so has started this prolonged wait to see them reaching this point again. They did go on to win the National League Pennant another eight times since their victory in 1908, but they have failed to take the extra step and been runners-up instead on the other occasions. Their luck or lack of it, would take an even stranger twist during their 1945 World Series match up with the Detroit Tigers, when a Greek Immigrant that came to watch and brought his pet goat along, would lead to one of the bizarre and talked about curses in Baseball history and sports in general.

During Game 4 of the 1945 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago, a Greek gentleman by the name of Billy Sianis who had emigrated to the United States from Greece, saw him owning a bar in down in the Illinois area called the Billy Goat Tavern and had Mr Sianis taking in a game and watching the Cubs. However, Sianis decided to bring his pet Billy Goat ‘Murphy’ along and was asked by those from the Cubs to remove the goat from the stadium and leave. This was due to complaints by people watching the game and was subjected to the bad odor that his pet goat was giving off. The request by the club angered Sianis, to which he is believed to have said “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more”. This has led to speculation over what he meant by this, as some interpret it as never winning a Pennant or that he meant another World Series success or winning a World Series game.

Chicago would go on to lose the game in question and then lost the following two games to the Tigers and went down 4-2 overall to Detroit. The North Siders have failed to reach another World Series since that year and the phrase that used get rolled out every year is ‘The Curse of the Billy Goat’ whenever it s featuring the Cubs. Over the decades though, it has seen a few strange incidents occurring during Cubs games in the postseason or just linked with the ball club, with the 2003 National League Championship game really bringing the curse to the attention of every baseball fan.

This is certain moments that have been said to be down to the so-called curse of the Billy Goat. On September 9th 1969, it saw the Chicago Cubs facing the New York Mets in a Pennant game and witnessed a stray black cat running out onto the field of play and going between the Cubs Captain at the time in Ron Santo and the Chicago dugout. After this incident, New York would win the game and moved ahead of the Cubs in the series and beat Chicago as the Mets went on to become the champions that year.  

In 1984 it saw Chicago then facing the San Diego Padres and after going two games up in a best-of-five series, the Cubs would lose the next two games and in the deciding Game 7, it saw first baseman for the Cubs in Leon Durham having a ball get past his glove and allowed the Padres to score and would see them eliminating Chicago. One of the most famous incidents in all of baseball came back in October 25th 1986, when the New York Mets faced off against the Boston Red Sox. Boston had picked up Chicago’s Bill Buckner in a trade during the 1984 season and so with Boston having their own Curse to deal with, with ‘the curse of the Bambino’, with the Bambino being Babe Ruth’s nickname. Ruth had been sold to their rivals the New York Yankees and Boston go from a winning team to a losing one and many said it was down to Babe Ruth being moved on.

During Game 6 of the 1986 World Series it saw Bill Buckner making a huge error, as a ground ball slipped through his legs and allowed a Mets player to run to home base and give New York the victory. It saw apparently Buckner wearing a Cubs batting glove under his catching mitt as when the replay of the error was shown on television.

Without doubt though the most famous or infamous moment in recent times came during the 2003 National League Championship Series (NLCS) against the Florida Marlins in Game 6. With Chicago leading 3-2 in the series and 3-0 up in the eighth Inning and were just four outs from reaching winning the Pennant, it saw Marlins Luis Castillo hitting a fly ball down the line towards the foul line and saw one of the most played moments in baseball occur. It looked to be going a foul ball and with the Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou looking to try to make a possible catch and leave the visitors having one out remaining, a couple of fans tried to grab the ball and in doing so stopped the ball from being caught and had Alou furious with the fans. This then led to a fan who had a headset on with a green turtleneck sweater and blue baseball cap, becoming a well-known figure to everyone from that point on wards due to the resulting actions.

Television stations that were showing the game kept showing the image of this baseball fan cutting a lonely figure and would later be named as Steve Bartman. Bartman was lambasted by the commentators at the time for stopping the catch and bad mouthed him and made reference to the ‘Goat curse’ and that this fan had cost his team. The whole incident is documented on a brilliant ESPN 30 for 30 film, entitled ‘Catching Hell’ and shows just some of the abuse this poor fan got from his fellow Chicago supporters over that incident. Things spiralled against the Cubs and saw them walloped by Florida 8-3 and would see the Marlins take the series in Game 7 too.   

The team would flounder along for a while with a couple of trips to the playoffs, before being swept in successive seasons by firstly the Arizona Diamondbacks and then the LA Dodgers in the 2007 and 2008 post seasons. By 2013 there seemed to be some light finally at the end of the tunnel for the ‘North Siders’, as in 2009 the club got new owners in the Ricketts family and was led by chairman Thomas S. Ricketts, who seemed to begin getting the wheels in motion for awaking a sleeping giant from it slumber. Players in Chicago’s Minor-League started to impressed and saw the Cubs acquiring first baseman from the San Diego Padres in Anthony Rizzo, while the likes of Javier Baez and Jorge Soler were all progressing nicely as the 2014 season came around.

November 2, 2014 saw Joe Maddon stepping into the Chicago hot seat, after he put pen to paper on a five-year deal to become the new Cubs Coach. One of his first movements was to bring in Free-Agent Jon Lester and also brought in former Houston Astros center fielder in Dexter Fowler, with both being very shrewd signings by Maddon. Three rookies were added to the organisation by mid-June of 2015, with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber all in the line up for the Cubs. Last year saw the emergence of pitcher Jake Arrieta having a breakout year and earlier this season, Arrieta threw for his second no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds back in April.

Chicago made it to the National League Championship Series once again, after they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card game in Pittsburgh and then defeated their bitter rivals in the St Louis Cardinals 3-1. Sadly Chicago would be swept by the New York Mets in the NLCS and was to denied a place again in the World Series. CHowever twelve months later and it has seen a stunning year for the Cubs side, as this season had them celebrating 100 years at Wrigley Field and saw them saw them finishing the regular season with the best record in the Major League. Chicago also passed the 100 wins barrier, as they finished with 103 victories over the season and was the first time they had done that since 1935, plus also achieved the most wins the franchise has won since 1910.

This post season was to be the acid test for the Chicago side and whether they could grit it out and prove handle the pressure of being the favourites to lift the championship. It saw them facing stern opposition in the National League playoffs, as their first foes were the San Francisco Giants and it saw the Cubs beating the Giants in California in Game 4 and taking the series 3-1. In the National League Championship Series game, they met the LA Dodgers and despite winning the first game at home, they would then drop the following two games to the Dodgers while also being shutout 1-0 and 6-0 in Games 2 and 3. This saw the Cubs falling behind for the first time in the playoffs and had fans worrying if they were going to fail again in an NLCS series. Those worries were put to bed in Games 4 and 5 in Los Angeles, as the Cubs beat the Dodgers twice with two big wins to see them moving 3-2 ahead in the series.

Clayton Kershaw who had put on a clinic of pitching against the Chicago side in Game 2 and shut them out at Wrigley Field, saw the Dodgers coaching team putting him in for the Game 6. However talk before the game was of good pitching needed by either side to win the game from all the broadcast journalists and writers, and it saw a marvellous performance by Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who saw hit only twice in the game and led his side to their first World Series with a dominant 5-0 win and a chance to “Fly the W” once more. 

What this series also represents, is a break to one of these teams respective droughts and will see a long streak snapped by either Cleveland or Chicago. Whoever it is, it is bound to be an exciting series with twists and turns through out. 

Column: England’s Men v England’s Women- The Differences

England players react after Australia's Bernard Foley scored his second try during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Australia at Twickenham stadium in London, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

(editors note: This piece was written prior to Stuart Lancaster stepping down)

 

With the Rugby World Cup now a few weeks past it saw yet another nail driven into the coffin of English team sports, courtesy of Australia’s win over Stuart Lancaster’s under-performing side and had an all too familiar scenario of an England squad going out at the group stages without a whimper. 

England’s embarrassing exit at their own World Cup didn’t stop just there, not only they did lose to a weakened Wales side and their enemy in Australia, but their failure was even more embarrassing when they became the first host nation in the competition’s 28-year history to go out at the group stage and set up a dead rubber game against Uruguay.   

The last 13 months has seen all the men’s national sides in their own respective World Cup’s setting a worrying trend.  Where none of England’s national sides progressed through to the knockout stages of the three big tournaments (Football, Cricket or Rugby) as they all went out due to poor performances which were deeply disappointing.


KIEV, UKRAINE - JUNE 24:  Steven Gerrard of England consoles Ashley Young after missing his penalty during the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter final match between England and Italy at The Olympic Stadium on June 24, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

 

 

If we go back in time to last year’s World Cup in Brazil it saw England travel to South America to compete in the Football tournament, but in truth they really should have made it to the round of sixteen at the very least especially when looking at it on paper.  

When the draw was made and seen them grouped with Uruguay and Costa Rica, it was the ‘easiest’ group in the tournament and should have saw them go through. Those within the media had already plotted their quarter-finals route before a ball had been kicked and had footballing journalists and ex professionals predicting England would get through without too much trouble at all, but as we now know that never happened at all.

With the football team heading home after  the first stage of the World Cup finals, it saw a lot of criticism coming the way of manager Roy Hodgson and had his misfiring players and tactics and changes he made being pulled apart by some circles in the media. 

Players were condemned by all supporters and the media people back home, with the ‘red top’ newspapers slaughtering them for lack of effort and questioning their commitment in these big tournaments and whether they were just interested in picking up a wage instead of success.

People will always use the excuse of ‘too many foreigners in the English game’, but there is always two ways of looking at things.  One is that players abroad cost a heck of a lot less than some of these so called ‘big name’ English players and the most overused phrase in the English game to describe them is that of being ‘World Class’. 

You have to go back three tournaments to see the last time an Englishman appeared in an All-star team at any major event, with John Terry being named in the 2006 World Cup dream team in Germany.

The second point to be used and one that seems most likely in my own personal view, is that English players in general and British players in a sense, are not up to a level of their counterparts in Europe or even the world. 

After a previous disappointing tournament by England in South Africa back in the 2010 World Cup,  the F.A tried to inspire new coaches to have them play a new way and get them to mature the new crop of players in this country quickly as they tried to replicate what Spain have achieved.

Germany struggled for years in their respective tournaments after 1996, but the footballing authorities over there were happy to give the team time and eventually saw their long awaited plans came to fruition,  with the Germans winning the World Cup and having players within the game buying into it.

We could see the ‘Three Lions’ somewhere down the road roaring once again, but looking from the outside in it looks a very long way off with everyone associated with England wanting results straight away.

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However lacking passion and having no belief are two things that you cannot level against their female counterparts though, as only a few months ago the England Women travelled to Canada for the Women’s World Cup and in all truth, weren’t expected to anything at all at tournament and didn’t have high hopes going into as such of doing too well.   

They were led by Mark Sampson, a Welshman who was in charge of Bristol Academy and who led them to a second place finish, their highest ever in the Women’s Super League (WSL) and also took them to two successive Women’s F.A cup finals in tenure.

 He had big shoes to fill though with the outgoing Hope Powell stepping down after 15 years in charge of the national side, and who did almost everything on limited resources from the F.A  during her time in charge.

Sampson led his side to their third straight World Cup Finals, in which they won all 10 group games and had a brilliant defensive record in qualifying, which saw scoring 52 goals and conceding just one in which came in their final group game against the Ukraine.

They started off their World Cup campaign with a sluggish 1-0 loss to France and followed that up with two successive wins against South American opposition by the same score of 2-1 and saw them moving on into the round of 16 once more.


In the second round they faced Norway in the knockout stages and had the Manchester City duo of Captain Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze both netting in a 2-1 win for the Lionesses, to see England move into the quarter finals for the first time ever. 

Momentum is a great thing and saw England’s new found confidence reaching fever pitch with a stunning 2-1 win over the home nation in Canada and set up a semi-final clash with Japan.

Japan was the proverbial red-hot favourites to get the better of England and saw Mark Sampson’s side as the biggest underdogs in the final four. Japan though struggled throughout the contest with the ‘Lionesses’ and saw the Japanese awarded a very controversial penalty to see them go ahead, but Fara Williams then levelled for England and with the game reaching it’s climax, the Japanese looked dead on their feet as extra time approached and as what has been accustomed to with England in the past we saw a heartbreaking incident.

A bizarre fluke of an own goal by Laura Bassett in the 92nd minute saw her help Japan advance through and saw England cruelly missing out on the World Cup Final.

Three days later after their heartbreaking loss in the semi-finals, they faced off against a German side that they had failed to beat in their previous 20 attempts. One thing that saw them gaining popularity back home was their passion and never say die attitude that a few of the male players have been long accused of lacking when it comes to pulling on the ‘Three Lions’ shirt.

The game saw the Lionesses finally laying their past ghosts to rest and beat a German side that was expected to be far too strong for the English side, but instead their battling qualities saw them overcoming German and finished third in the 3rd/4th playoff game, thanks to a Fara Williams penalty in extra time.

England’s tournament was a huge success and has seen the Women’s game getting more coverage with BT Sports doing a great job of promoting the WSL (Women’s Super League), sadly though the BBC haven’t really made more of the Women’s success and despite screening the FA Cup final a month later, they haven’t bothered to try and get the highlights of the European qualifiers.

 

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Turning to Cricket and it has to be said that England are the ‘sleeping giants’ when it comes to the 50 over form of the game. They have been the most frustrating side to follow over the years and yet despite have bagful of talent in them to win the big games, more often than not though they come up short or collapse to dramatic standards.

You have to go back as long ago as 23-years ago for the last time England was make any impression at a World Cup, when they fell to a very good Pakistan team in the World Cup final.  

Since then though, they haven’t remotely come close to even repeating that feat as they haven’t even been past the quarter finals or even got out of the group stages either since 1992.

They have had some very poor tournaments and been annihilated by some teams in the past. However the scale of which they performed at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, was embarrassing and beyond disastrous.

England has failed to reach the semi finals in the six previous World Cup’s and they have looked extremely poor and been lacking tactically too, especially when Alastair Cook was in charge as he was far too defensive for the shorter form of the game.

England have reached two finals in the last 11 years though, with a losing display against the West Indies in the ICC Champions Trophy back in 2004 on home soil.

Then In 2010 they faced Australia in the final of the ICC T20 tournament over in the West Indies, and on that occasion saw them finally getting the monkey off their back of trying to win a major final.

The Test matches have saw them flip flop from their one day form, with Ashes wins being more frequent and had them not to long ago earning the tag of the ‘Number One Test playing nation in the world’.

One big plus for England is having Eoin Morgan as captain, as for the World Cup he wasn’t given enough time to put his vision into practice for the tournament down under and was nearly made to be the scapegoat.  

But over this past summer they had a great series with NZ and Australia and shown signs of them improving a hell of a lot in a short space of time.

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england_2465457bFor the England Women’s side, they have shown to be a major force in the game and have always been successful or up or around there when it comes to the crunch.  Ever since they beat Australia for the Ashes back in 2005, the Women’s side have just improved and only suffered one or two blips along the way.

2009 saw the World Cup taking place in Australia and despite losing their opening game to the hosts, they would go on to win the tournament beating New Zealand in the final and capturing a major title.

They then became the holders of the Inaugural Twenty/20 World Championships on home soil, with them once again beating New Zealand in the final.

For the World Twenty20 back in 2012, it saw England as big favourites to win the tournament and saw them making it through to the final against their arch enemy in Australia, but on this occasion the Aussies came out on top and ended the English run of major wins. 

A year later they travelled to India to defend their World Cup title and saw them having to settle for a 3rd/4th place match with New Zealand, as they needed an Australian win over the West Indies to see a return meeting in the final between the two powerhouses in Women’s cricket in the final group game. 

Instead the West Indies pulled off a ‘remarkable’ victory to see them facing off against Australia in the final, while England had to settle with beating the ‘Black Ferns’ to take 3rd place in the tournament and saw a disappointing event for them.

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With the recent Rugby World Cup concluding a few weeks ago, if we look at the Women’s Rugby World Cup we see that the current holders of the trophy isn’t that of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or even a Southern hemisphere team at all.

The current champions are England and seen them crowned champions in 2014 after they defeated a tough Canadian team to lift the trophy for the second time.

England’s Women have dominated the scene in the Northern hemisphere form for many years including a title reign that lasted for 7 straight season, that was up until Ireland broke that streak and hasn’t seen the ‘Red Rose’ nation regaining the title ever since.

The previous World Cup’s have seen England reaching the final and coming second best on three previous occasions, with each time losing out to New Zealand. However the 2014 World Cup saw a different result and finally saw them lifting the title beating Canada 21-9 in France.

The men have in all forms of the ‘big 3’ sports have all massively disappointed in tournaments and in the case of football, a lot of people within media circles and fans alike question their passion and interest for honours.

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For cricket and rugby they don’t lack in effort as such, what they do just lack is the ability to put it altogether and also the mental toughness being a bit of a contributing factor.  

Of course the last World Cup victory that the men enjoyed was back in Autumn of 2003, with that magical drop goal by Johnny Wilkinson delivering a knock-out blow to the host nation in the Rugby World Cup in Australia, and written themselves into England sporting folklore.

Hopefully in the near future someone can write a new chapter in English sporting history and it not being another case of ‘close, yet so far’.

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ICE HOCKEY: Phoenix Spooked and Plundered!

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Manchester Phoenix   2                     Peterborough Phantoms   5


This past weekend was anything but ‘home sweet home’ in their double header fixtures being played out of Deeside Ice Rink with two home losses in successive days.

Saturday night Manchester Phoenix playing the first of their double header at ‘home’ at Deeside, as they welcomed the side that beat them in the playoffs final last year in the Peterborough Phantoms.

Phantoms struck first in the game through James Ferrara in the 13th minute before Michael Satek responded for the hosts to level up before the break.

In the second two goals in 90 seconds by Phantoms Craig Scott and Ales Padelek gave the visitors a two goal cushion in the match with less than five minutes gone in the period.

Dan Wheldon then made it 4-1 with Tony Hand calling a timeout to regather and it looked to do trick, as Michal Satek pounce on a rebound from a Robin Kovar shot to see Phoenix get it to within two.

With the Phantoms getting into penalty trouble in the third, Phoenix couldn’t break their defences and saw Lloyd Gibson adding a 5th for the Cambridgeshire side to leave with two points.

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MANCHESTER PHOENIX   1         HULL PIRATES  2

    (AFTER OVERTIME)

Sunday night saw the win-less Hull Pirates making their first visit to Deeside and on paper it should have been a formality, sadly hockey isn’t played on paper and saw the Phoenix guilty of not taking chances.

Manchester tested the Pirates goalie Jon Baston with some early shots, but he dealt with them easily as they weren’t really difficult those that he faced.  Steve Fone then had to make a stunning save to prevent the visitors taking the lead.

Phoenix though then took the lead through Simon Furnival of the Deeside Dragons, after his shot found a way in past Baston. ChancesChances came and went for the the home side and saw them wasting a hatful of chances when in decent positions, but even then they came up against an inform Steve Baston between the pipes for the Pirates.

Hull just didn’t seem to be able to mount a decent attack in the first period, with the Phoenix holding their opponents at arm’s length. Robin Kovar went close to increasing the lead to 2-0 when the Czech forward latched onto a long pass up ice and saw his effort ping off the post.

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A shock start to the second period witnessed the Hull Pirates getting back on level terms through Tommi Laine’s rebound, after Steve Fone had made the initial save from Warren Tait effort on goal. Tempers slightly frayed with Dominic Osman and James Archer at the front of the Pirates nets as both players received roughing calls for their trouble.

Third period saw Manchester constantly camped in the Pirates zone and yet again it saw the Phoenix attackers taking shots, but they were either off target or straight at the goalie.  Hull had a couple of chances and were turned away by Fone, while Baston was having one of the most incredible games too in net as he seemed to repelled every shot and even used his head to stop the puck going in.

Overtime came and in fairness Phoenix should have had game well and truly sewn up by the second period, but their inability to finish would come back to haunt them. With Manchester looking the better team in the extra period, it saw the rearguard action of Hull making some key stops and thwarting the advancing Phoenix.

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Jon Baston skates off to celebrate with his team after Warren Tait’s OT winner for the Pirates

 

Pirates had grown in confidence during the game and so with a point guaranteed for the Humberside team, it was to get even better for them as Warren Tait scored from a lapse in the home side defensive zone to which the former GB man fired past Fone to stun the home fans and spark wild celebrations from the visitors.

With the Phoenix players looking dejected it saw the Pirates players celebrating a battling win and was a case of Tony Hand’s men throwing away a brilliant opportunity of a win to try and gain ground on those above them in the table.

Football: City Womens ‘SIX’-y football sees them set up Title decider

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MANCHESTER CITY WOMEN  6   BRISTOL ACADEMY  1

Manchester City Women made sure that the destination of this season’s FA Women’s Super League will go down to the wire after a 6-1 thumping of Bristol Academy at the Academy Stadium on Sunday.

City knew nothing less than a win would see them extending the title race with Chelsea for final week. Things got of to a bit of shaky start for the home side, with Bristol putting up a good fight as they tried to keep their WSL 1 status, as a loss for them would condemn the West country side to relegation.

Passing and attacks weren’t as fluid or accurate as they normally have been this season for City, but you have to credit the ‘Vixens’ for their stifling play and applying pressure in the middle of the park on the their opponents. Nick Cushing saw his side finally getting into the groove and began to cause problems along the way for the away side.

In the 9th minute of play Jill Scott scored her first goal for City, after a nice team move saw Natasha Harding’s cushioned header into the path of Scott from a long ball by Krystal Johnston, and that the Sunderland native converting it to see the home side lead.

Scott nearly doubled her total minutes later, when the England midfielder volleyed over the bar. The hosts then got a fair bit of luck for their second goal of the game, when a chested down pass by goal scorer Jill Scott saw England’s newest call up in Isobel Christensen, have her shot deflected into the far side of the net past goalkeeper Mary Earps for 2-0.

Another England Lioness got on the score sheet for City four minutes later, with Lucy Bronze smashing home from close range to make it 3-0 and the game was now all but sewn up. City Captain Steph Houghton really should have made it four before the half time break, when a ball into the area saw the England Captain unmarked and yet somehow managed to put it over the bar from close range.

In the second half the title challengers made it 4-0 thanks to a Nikita Parris goal, as the striker smashed it high into the roof of the net and ended her run of 3 games without and goal and you could tell how much it get on the score sheet from her celebrations. 

Bristol then pulled a consolation goal back not long after, when some very slack defending in the Blues penalty area allowed Caroline Weir to score at the second attempt and give the travelling Vixens a rare bit joy in this encounter.

Lucy Bronze was then upended in the penalty area by Marije Brummel which saw City awarded a penalty and was despatched by Izzy Christiansen for her second goal of the afternoon and fifth for the home side.

The rout was completed twelve minutes from time however, when substitute Georgia Stanway scored arguably the goal of the game for the hosts, with the striker controlling a rising ball from a Jill Scott cross that was deflected and saw her fire it into the far corner for a 6-1 score. 

It meant with City winning that it relegated Bristol Academy to WSL 2, but it keeps Manchester City Womens title hopes alive going into the final game of the season at home to Notts County next Sunday, where a win and a slip up by Chelsea against Sunderland, will see the Sky Blues lifting their maiden WSL league title next weekend. 

Before that though, Nick Cushing and his side face Arsenal Ladies on Thursday evening in the quarter-finals of the Continental Cup, with revenge on the minds of Arsenal. It was City that stopped the run of Arsenal claiming consecutive Cup wins in that competition, with Christiansen strike proving to be the difference.

FOOTBALL: City Women Give Liverpool The ‘BLUES’

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MANCHESTER CITY  WOMEN    2     0   LIVERPOOL LADIES 


Manchester City Women kept the pressure on Chelsea Ladies with a battling 2-0 win at the Academy Stadium on Thursday night, with a stunning strike by Izzy Christiansen before half time and Natasha Harding in the second half.

Nick Cushing’s side knew that no less than a win would do for the Citizens, with City five points behind the leaders prior to kick off. Liverpool had previously beaten the hosts early on in the season and were beaten only a few weeks ago in the Continental Cup, where Toni Duggan picked up an ankle injury that that since ruled the striker out for the remainder of the season.

City dominated the possession game from first to final minute, but the home side weren’t able make use of the ball in the opening quarter of an hour. Liverpool defended very well and kept the hosts to the flanks, with crosses coming in and not causing Libby Stout any trouble at all in the visitors goal.

Some chances then began to fall the way of the home side, with Jill Scott heading just over the bar and then Nikita Parris went close too, but Stout denying her. Jennifer Beattie then saw her header come back off the bar for the home side and cleared away from danger, as the hosts were getting closer to breaking the deadlock in the game.

Eventually the pressure told and when City Captain Steph Houghton sent a ball down the Liverpool left, it set Lucy Bronze away and her pass towards the edge of the penalty box saw Izzy Christiansen celebrating her recent England call up, with a beautiful curling away goal that found the far corner for a City lead. Liverpool however were left fuming, as they felt a foul should have been given on their player in the build up to the goal for the home side.

Liverpool were unable to get much play going at all in this match, with the home side bossing the game and breaking up any threatening plays that the Reds had when in attack. Nikita Parris nearly made it 2-0 for the home side, when the on loan striker tricked her opponent and then then tried to bend a ball in and saw Libby Stout having to tip it over for a corner.

Jill Scott then produced a great charging run at the Liverpool defence and had them in trouble, Scott though tried to be unselfish and laid a pass off for Christansen and her shot on target was well saved by Stout once again.

Scott was in the thick of it once more, when the England midfielder dispossessed Katrin Omarsdottir in the middle of the park and then slid in a lovely ball for Natasha Harding, but once again Libby Stout made herself big to deny the Welsh international from doubling the lead and then had Gemma Bonner making a save on the line from Parris rebound.

Finally the traveling away supporters saw their side creating a rare opportunity in the game, when Ingrid Ryland’s shot went wide of the target and that was pretty much as good as it got for the league champions. City then eased the worries of the home fans in the 75th minute, with Georgia Stanway low cross into the area and Harding was on hand to finish it with a little flick at the front of the net.

The Citizens were rarely threatened in the game in truth by their opponents, as Liverpool lacked a cutting edge to their play and some indecisiveness at times too. Victory for the Sky Blues puts them two points behind Chelsea with two games to go, but you can be sure that they will be more than ready to make the most of a slip up by the South-West London club.


ICE HOCKEY: Salazar & Storm hands out ‘CAPITAL’ punishment to Edinburgh

Updated_New_Manchester_Storm_Logo_2015  Edinburgh_Capitals_logo.svg

MANCHESTER STORM   8    EDINBURGH CAPITALS   1

Manchester Storm thundered their way to the top of the Elite League table Sunday night, with a stunning 8-1 victory over the Edinburgh Capitals at the Altrincham ice dome. The Storm were looking to bounce back from their opening league match in 13 years, after the Cardiff Devils welcomed the Storm back with a thumping 5-1 win.

Storm welcomed the Edinburgh Capitals to Altrincham and saw the home side come out strong in the first period with the forwards testing the Capitals netminder in Carsen Chubak, and saw Chubak proving to be difficult to break down at first.

Mathew Paton then broke away for the home side and with a one on one saw the Storm man being robbed by Chubak. Mathew Sisca then went close for the Storm with his effort, but once again the visiting netminder made another good stop from the home forwards.

Edinburgh had a few attacks on the Storm net, but they came up against an in-form Zane Kalemba in between the pipes for Manchester.  Manchester then took the lead in the 11th minute of the game through Matt Sisca, as the forward forced home the puck with Vinny Scarsella and Matty Davies getting assists.

The Capitals then stepped up their physical play and had the Storm very disciplined in not retaliating back to some of the heavy hits and some plays that strayed over the line.  Minutes later and another chance for the Storm went begging, after Mathew Sisca got by the last line of defence with a dash up ice and had his shot deflect off the crossbar and go high into the netting.

Storm went into the first intermission a goal up, but should have been out of sight in all honesty and had it not been for Chubak they would have been. Edinburgh then against the run of play tied the game up at 25.59, after the Caps had just killed off a penalty and saw Kyle Bigos rejoining the play on a 3 on 1 counter attack. Paul Zanette then skated down the left wing and with one defenceman back in support, Zanette played a pass across goal and was lifted over Kalemba by Trevor Gering for the Edinburgh goal.

Storm then retook the lead minutes later, when Riley Emmerson was in the box serving a Hooking call and the power play saw Grant Toulmin making a pass from behind the net to the side of the net for Luke Salazar to put home for a 2-1 score.

Goal 3 for the Storm came courtesy of the ‘blueline’, as Mathew Sisca and Matty Davies both combined for Vinny Scarsella to finish off a beautifully constructed move.  Slovakian defenseman Igor Bobcek then made it 4-1 just before the break, after Matt Paton sent a pass into the path of Bobcek and his shot went right through Chubak into the Caps goals.

In the third period, the home side fired 4 goals into the Capitals net, with Luke Salazar ripping a one timer from the blue line to see the Storm 5-1 to the good. Tempers frayed a bit when a hit off Callum Boyd on Gal Koran, drew Omar Pacha over to vent his displeasure and saw a scrum develop over the incident.

Mathew Sisca made it 6-1 at 54.51, after some very precise and lovely puck movement  saw David Philips and Matty Davies combine to find Luke Salazar, and his pass towards the front of the net was diverted in by Sisca for a good team goal.

The Storm rumbled on with Grant Toulmin making it 7-1 with a neat little flick past Carsen Chubak for another goal, then Luke Salazar completed his hat trick at 57.02 to make it 8-1 with Paul Phillips and Patrick Valcak picking up the assists on the goal.

That wasn’t quite the end of the action though, as Storm Player-Coach Omar Pacha and Riley Emmerson had a disagreement and saw both picking up penalties on the play, with Emmerson deciding to release his frustration out on the Storm man and had both picking up five minutes Major penalties for Fighting and also cross checking and slashing calls respectively.

With their crushing victory over the Capitals, it means the Storm occupy top spot in the Elite League after the first weekend of the season and will be pleasing for the ‘new’ franchise to have the early bragging rights in the league. Manchester coach Omar Pacha will certainly know that his