Thursday, 18 May 2017

Out damned spot! In praise of the penalty

It's been a good week for penalty incidents. First Southampton's Fraser Forster put off Liverpool's James Milner by standing right in front of him as Milner attempted to place the ball on the spot. Forster towered over Milner and just his sheer size must have intimidated the left-back. Then James Ward-Prowse delayed things further by taking a drink from a bottle in the back of the goal, receiving a yellow card. When Milner did finally get to take the spot kick he hit it hard and low, but Forster guessed right to pull off a fine save, having successfully out-psyched the taker. It's wasn't quite Corinithian spirit, but most fans do like good bit of gamesmanship. 

Perhaps the most famous bit of penalty gamesmanship was Liverpool's Bruce Grobbelaar performing his "'spaghetti legs" routine — wobbling his legs in mock terror —  in the 1984 European Cup Final, forcing AS Roma's Graziani to graze the top of the bar with his kick. More recently in the Bundesliga in 2015, Augsburg goalkeeper Marwin Hitz slyly damaged the penalty spot by raking his studs on the turf. Cologne's taker Anthony Modeste slipped on the area Hitz had damaged and missed. Hitz later apologised and was, bizarrely, billed £89 by Cologne for damaging their pitch. 

This week we also saw Riyad Mahrez have a penalty ruled out for Leicester at Man City for taking two touches. As his standing foot slipped Mahrez inadvertantly kicked the ball against his other foot while shooting. Although he still netted referee Bobby Madley disallowed it, proved that all referees are really the spiritual descendants of Blakey from On The Buses. Madley was technically correct, but since Mahrez wasn't trying to get an advantage, most footbal fans would have preferred him to pretend he hadn't seen it and let the goal stand.

The final penalty drama came with a penalty shoot out between Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield in the Play-Off Semi-Final. Huddersfield custodian Danny Ward saved Forestieri's penalty and then provided the memorable sight of a goalkeeper in pink kit running the length of the pitch to do a knee-slide before the delirious Terriers' fans. Of course an £80 million final or vital Premier League points shouldn't really depend on whether your man bottles it from ten yards or the keeper performs a little skulduggery or makes a great save — but it's certainly fun for the rest of us. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Can Moyes get his mojo back?

Do managers lose confidence in the way that players do? Sunderland's David Moyes looks thoroughly chastened after relegation and you wonder if he's ever recovered from his traumatic season at Manchester United, where he didn't actually do that much worse than Luis Van Gaal. Having various current and ex-United legends leaking stories to the press portraying him as an amateur in Fergie's shoes can't have helped his self-belief. 

Who now recalls that Match of the Day clip of Moyes arriving at Everton? When David Ginola looked a bit sulky after getting subbed, Moyes rushed over to remonstrate with the player and point out with a jabbing Glaswegian finger who was in charge. It was Moyes who signed players such as Seamus Coleman, Tim Cahill, Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini for Everton. The club had ten years of top half finishes and managed to finish fourth and reach the Champions League qualifying round in 2004-05 on very limited resources.

Yet after sackings at Man United and Real Sociedad he's looked tired of the struggle at Sunderland. He gave the players an excuse to underperform after two games by saying the club was in a relegation struggle.While signing players from his old clubs looked too conservative. Paddy McNair is a promising centre back to judge by his time at Old Trafford and a good signing long term, but signing Everton old boys Pienaar, Anichebe and Oviedo merely strengthened the belief he had run out of ideas. Add to that the signing of Joleon Lescott, which after his troubles at Aston Villa with defending and texting images of fast cars last season, was the transfer equivalent of a suicide note. 

His attempt at dressing-room type 'banter' with the Sun's Vicki Sparks merely made him look even more reactionary and landed an FA charge. While he's not been helped by Hull's new boss Marco Silva coming in to the job and reshaping the side with seven imaginative signings after selling his best players Snodgrass and Livermore.

You would trust the dynamic Everton boss to rebuild Sunderland. But can the current David Moyes do the job? It's hard not to feel sorry for Moyesy. He's a man who looks like he needs a break from the game to get his hunger and confidence back. If he is entrusted with the Sunderland job next season he needs to find his positivity again.