Monday, 30 May 2011

Hype That Was Deserved?

Something very, very rare has happened this weekend. A schedule of football matches actually came remarkably close to living up to the hype. Out of the 4 finals i wrote about on Saturday, 3 produced excellent games and the other one would have been considered good any other weekend.

Stevenage 1-0 Torquay
Stevenage managed to get their second promotion in 2 years and secure their first season in League One with a win by a single goal. John Mousinho's first half strike from outside the area was enough to settle it and it was a goal to grace any occasion, hit beautifully into the far bottom corner in front of the Stretford End at Old Trafford. It's always a remarkable effort to get back to back promotions at any level, but to end your inaugural season in League Two with another promotion is a truly worthy of any football fan's respect.

Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United
Pretty much everyone seemed to be in agreement that United were the underdogs going into the Champions League final on Saturday evening, but i doubt many expected Barcelona to win so comfortably. The most remarkable thing about the final was the way in which the Spanish champions seemed on such a different level from their English opponents. For long periods of the game it resembled an F.A cup game between a Premiership side and a League One side in terms of the dominance of possession they enjoyed and the comparative assurance when passing the ball between them.

United battled admirably and the gulf in class is definitely a comment on the sheer quality of Barcelona rather than anything the Manchester side were inherently doing wrong. Barcelona passed the ball around them in a way that at times seemed laughably easy; i can't remember seeing United outplayed to that degree, ever, not even in the 2009 final involving the same two teams, which Barca won 2-0.

Man U started quite well, looking threatening for the first few minutes and pressing the Barcelona players when they had the ball, but after that the trio of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta got into their stride and started passing and dribbling their way around the core of the United team. Messi especially looked a different class, several times making talented defensive players like Vidic, Ferdinand and Carrick look almost amateurish.

The score could quite easily have been more heavily weighted in Barcelona's favour, more than once they had a player only a toes length away from burying the ball past Van Der Sar. United didn't help themselves though; for both Messi and Villa's goals the Red Devil's defenders backed off and allowed them enough time to pick their spot, something you simply can't allow to happen when you play Barcelona.

I try to avoid getting quite as hyperbolic in my descriptions of Barcelona as a lot of people become; they are far too prone to diving and play acting, they surround the referee at every opportunity and as highlighted by some of the El Classico games this year they are quite happy to lower themselves into scrappy, gamesmanship heavy tactics when presented with a team who just seek to frustrate them.

However Saturday's game was an example of the kind of football they're capable of and the reason that pursuit of balanced coverage can be a little hard; when they play to their potential there is simply no better side to watch. They move the ball around with such ease and accuracy, yet unlike Arsenal, have a devastating end product and are solid defensively. In games like the Champions League final they tick every box you could come up with as desirable in a football team.

They completely deserved their victory on Saturday and it is slightly tough to see how anyone is going to make up the gap in quality over the next 12 months in order to deny Barcelona a 3rd success in 4 years.

Huddersfield 0-3 Peterborough
The scoreline from the League One play off final is, as scorelines often are, quite misleading. For 77 minutes the game was an entertaining and tight affair with the impetus switching from one side to the other ever 20 or so minutes. There were long periods where Peterborough seemed unable to get a foot hold in the game or bring their creative players (Boyd, Mackail-Smith and McCann) into play.

However in the 78th minute midfielder Rove flicked in a McCann free kick and sent the Peterborough fans into delirious celebrations. That joy hadn't even begun to subside before Mackail-Smith's deflected strike curled into the bottom corner; the Posh haven't been a team famed for their tight defence or negative attitude at any point this season but this played in their favour as they attacked again immediately from the kick off following their opening goal and went on to get the second.

Huddersfield looked beaten from the moment the second goal went in and they never really seemed likely to get back into it and what little hope the large crowd of fans they'd brought with them might still have harboured was erased by a freekick by midfielder Grant McCann that Beckham would have been proud of.

It seems possible that Peterborough may be establishing themselves as a yo-yo club between the Championship and League One and if they can keep the core of the team together there's no reason to believe that will change any time soon; the majority of their side is too good for the third division but not good enough for the Championship. I'd be surprised if Mackail-Smith is still wearing the blue of Peterborough next season but if he does leave then the Posh's fans should wave him farewell with gratitude as it is his goals that have seen them promoted.

Reading 2-4 Swansea
A Wembley showdown between the two best attacking sides in the Championship was on paper always likely to be a great game, which meant i sat down expecting to see a disappointing and scrappy 1-0. However, as with the weekend as a whole, this game was every bit as entertaining as i'd hoped it would be.

Swansea went 1-0 up against the run of play with a Scott Sinclair penalty and followed that with a Peterborough rivalling quick second from the same player. Reading had started well and looked the more comfortable in the opening 20 minutes but that good opening was rendered pointless when defender Khizanishvili floored Dyer in the penalty area and Sinclair stepped up to confidently slot home. Almost directly from the centre Dobbie outstripped former Leeds left back Harte down the right and crossed for Sinclair to slot home.

A little before half time Swansea got their third through Dobbie when he stroked a half volley home from around the penalty spot and made sure the Swans fan's spent the half time break dreaming of the Premiership.

However Reading started the second half incredibly well, spurred on by what i can only assume was an intense half time team talk from manager Brian McDermott. Through an own goal by Joe Allen and a towering header from Royal's centre back Matt Mills it seemed like the miracle comeback might actually be on.

They continued to press the Swansea defence but yet again were let down by a foolish tackle from Griffin on Borini that gave away a second penalty, which Sinclair buried in the corner of the goal.

Apart from a couple of headed opportunities Reading never really threatened to drag themselves back into the game yet again and Swansea got to celebrate promotion to the Premiership. Their place is deserved both for how they played in the 3 games of the Play Offs and the quality of their performances throughout the season, but it was tough on Reading who managed such an exciting second half to the season.

Today's song is chosen for 3 reasons; firstly it's simply a great tune, secondly it's by a band i'm hoping to see this summer and thirdly hearing it reminds me of one of my favourite gig based memories.

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