One on One with: Liam Ridgewell

To play the role of captain, you need to have confidence, determination and a natural ability to lead.  Liam Ridgewell has all three. He may have started his career back in England with Aston Villa, Birmingham and West Brom., but it’s in Portland, USA where he now leads by example. As captain of the Portland Timbers, Ridgewell has established himself as one of the most reliable defenders in the MLS and has fast become a vital cog in Portland’s machine, leading them to the MLS Cup. We caught up with him recently to find out how things are going in the Pacific North West, and how it all began.

BackOfTheNet: Liam, thank you for sitting down with us today.

BackOfTheNet: Not many people will know that you actually started your career at West Ham in their youth academy before leaving to join Aston Villa. As a Londoner, what was the reason behind that switch?

Liam Ridgewell: At the time their youth system was flooded with a lot of talent coming through already, e.g. Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole. So, my path to the first team would’ve been very tough and felt I needed to change as I had been there since the age of 8. Being a London boy, it was a very tough decision to leave. That’s when I went up to Aston Villa at the age of 15.

BOTN: How would you sum up your time at Aston Villa?

LR: I couldn’t have asked for much more, coming through the ranks at Aston Villa. It’s a place that is obviously very special to me, giving me the chance to fulfil my dream and I’ll always be thankful. My time spent their playing, I loved every minute of it, but by the end of it, not playing regularly as I had been under previous managers, I couldn’t sit back and watch, so felt I needed the move to keep my football career progressing. That’s when my move to Birmingham materialized.

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Liam made the break though at Villa (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: How do you feel now when you read about the financial difficulties they are having?

LR: Tough to read about their financial difficulties, obviously the relegations have been a big hit on the club, something you never want to see, especially for a club that gave you your chance. I hope they can figure out a way to get themselves right and back in the big time where they deserve to be.

BOTN: You are one of a few players to have moved from Villa to Birmingham. Did you have any hesitation in joining them due to the rivalry?

LR: Yes, I did have hesitation due to the big rivalry and I had to think about it very strongly, more for family reasons. But in needing to carry on with my progression in my career, Steve Bruce was a tough manager to turn down, given how good of a player he was in his playing career, and to spend time with him and learn, it helped me a lot. Once I had made the decision I was fully committed and loved my time there. My decision was not based on the rivalry but based on the progression of my career and being able to play week in and week out. I feel that helped with the fans and the rivalry because I think they understood why I made the switch.

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Ridgewell during his Birmingham days (image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: You had an interesting time at Birmingham with various ups (League Cup win, being named captain) and some downs (leg break, relegation). What are your underlining memories of those years? How did you cope with the highs and lows?

LR: Some unbelievable career highs with Birmingham was none other than winning the league cup against Arsenal. It’s a memory that will always stay with me as it was such a big achievement for us as players and us as a club. Being named captain at the age of 22 was a hugely proud moment for me as I never expected it at such a young age as we had some great senior players there. Coping with the pressure of that is something that I loved and took in my stride, and that is just the type of person that I am. Being the captain of a club is a big honour and responsibility.

Relegation was the biggest low in my career as we were such a good team and building a brilliant squad. I know everybody says it, but we were too good to go down and to this day I still think what kind of team we may have been if we had stayed up and managed to keep all the boys there. Breaking my leg was very tough but sometimes that’s what football brings and you have to stay mentally strong to make sure you come back from it stronger and better.

BOTN: Portland made you an offer when you became a free agent in the summer of 2014, but I’ve read you had a couple of other options on the table. What made you move to the US?

LR: Yes, I had other options to stay in the UK but after my time at West Brom. I felt I needed a change to revive my love for the game and found it when I came to the Timbers.

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In training for Portland (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram )

BOTN: Are you disappointed that the MLS still has a somewhat negative, if naive, perception back home?

LR: I think a lot of people have not watched enough of the MLS to be able to give an opinion, so the more it’s televised the bigger it will become. There is definitely still a way to go for the MLS to capture some of the audience back home.

BOTN: I saw an interview you did recently where you talked about your life in Portland with the house on the lake, etc. Does Portland now feel like home, or do you still harbour desires to go back to England?

LR: Portland life is fantastic and I’ve really enjoyed living here. It’s made the move all the easier for me and my family, but I still have desires to come back home to play before I decide to hang up my boots.

BOTN: At several of the clubs you have played for, you have been named as captain. What qualities do you think you have that makes you a natural choice for leader? Do you think that a player’s position (i.e., centre half vs striker) should come into consideration when choosing a captain?

LR: No, if you have the qualities to be a captain it doesn’t matter where you play in the pitch. Personally, for me, a captain leads by example, helps people even if that person isn’t having a good game, and enjoys being the captain. And being heard 24/7 may have helped my case [laughing].

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Captain Ridgewell (Image from Liam Ridgewell Instagram)

BOTN: Is centre half your most comfortable position? We have seen you play there, but also at left back, and as a holding midfielder throughout your career.

LR: Yes, that’s where I have played most throughout my career and feel comfortable, but my time spent at left back at the back end of my time at Birmingham and at West Brom. I really did enjoy as it allowed me to be more involved in the attacking side of the game, roaming forward from left back and getting myself a goal every now and again at the back stick.

BOTN: How important is it for a player to be adaptable?

LR: Adaptability is good, but for myself I prefer to be set at one position at a club as then I know my role and can perform to my best.

BOTN: Thinking back on your entire career, what do you think is your stand out moment – being capped for England at under 21 level? Winning the league cup for Birmingham? Or the MLS Cup as captain for Portland?

LR: My most stand out moment was being capped at under 21 level and captain for my country.

BOTN: Let’s talk swimwear and in particular your company Thomas Royall that you started with Sam Saunders and John Terry. How did that come about?

LR: Myself and Sam had been talking about ideas for after football to keep us busy and came up with many, but one day Sam came up with an idea, after visiting many pool parties one summer, of starting a swimwear range. I loved the idea and so we started brainstorming on looks and designs. We then brought in a team and with our head designer, Laura Moore, we haven’t looked back and formed what you now know as Thomas Royall. John became part of the Thomas Royall team after shopping for swim shorts online for his holiday and simply loving the brand and wanting to be a part of it. This year we released the new women’s and girl’s line and still have many more ideas pending for SS19.

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Business venture with Saunders (m) and Terry (r) – Thomas Royall

BOTN: Finally, some quick-fire questions: Most complete player you played with?

LR: Gareth Barry, my time spent with him at Aston Villa.

BOTN: Hidden gem in the MLS?

LR: Darlington Nagbe who plays for Atlanta now.

BOTN: What will you do after retiring?

LR: After retiring I’m looking to go into management, but obviously with Thomas Royall going from strength to strength each year, that is something we set up for life after football.

Thanks again Liam! Good luck with the rest of the season and congratulations on the arrival of your baby girl!

For great swimwear options for this summer, check out Thomas Royall 

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The End of The Line For Stoke and West Brom?

Surviving in the Premier League is often considered a harder proposition than being successful in it. With the gap growing between the top six and the rest, the fight to remain off the bottom three at the end of the season has become more competitive than ever before. This season has been a great example of this with eight points separating eighteenth placed Southampton and tenth placed Bournemouth with only a handful of games left to go. Whilst Bournemouth (and Watford in eleventh) are unlikely to be dragged into this dog fight given that they are four points away from the magical 40 points safety mark, nine clubs are still entrenched in the battle for survival. There is a lot to play for given the financial rewards in play for staying in the division (each club earns around £40 million from the Premier Leagues lucrative TV deals).

For the two clubs below Southampton – Stoke in nineteenth and West Bromwich Albion in twentieth surviving the drop is looking increasingly less likely each passing week.  Stoke’s latest defeat to Everton; a must win game based on their remaining fixtures was a heavy blow for the club. New boss Paul Lambert, parachuted in 10 weeks ago to replace Mark Hughes has no intention of giving up but it will surely take a miracle for them to stay up now. Three  points adrift of safety in seventeenth having played an extra game than West Ham who occupy that spot, Stoke are in desperate need of a run of form in order to get them out of trouble. With only six wins all season and a goals against tally which is double their goals scored (58 vs 29), Stoke quite simply cannot win. Their last victory was a 2-0 win over Huddersfield which coincided with Lambert’s first game in charge but since then the club has returned to its pre Lambert form with four draws and three wins in the last seven.

Paul Lambert arrival ten weeks ago was meant to kickstart Stoke’s season (Image from Tumblr)

The defeat to Everton, who have been in indifferent form under Sam Allardyce for most of the season highlighted the issues that Lambert is battling against – starting well in the first twenty minutes before losing concentration and capitulating at the back. Midfielder Charlie Adam’s dismissal was cited as a turning point in this match but in truth Stoke’s problems started before he walked. Much was expected of Stoke this year after they spent heavily in the summer with previous boss Hughes bringing in defenders Kevin Wimmer, Kurt Zouma (albeit on loan), Bruno Martins Indi and Mortiz Bauer as well as defensive midfielders Darren Fletcher and Badou Ndiaye plus the extravagant Jese from PSG who was supposed to take Stoke to the next level. None with the exception of perhaps Fletcher and Bauer to a lesser degree have worked as Stoke huffed and puffed through most games until Hughes eventually was dismissed.

The only thing keeping Stoke off of the bottom of the table is the poorer form of West Brom. On field inefficiencies and off field high jinks have left baggies fans deflated and facing their first relegation from the Premier League in eight years. Three wins all season and ten points behind West Ham with seven games to go, it will take a miracle now for West Brom to avoid the drop. Manager Alan Pardew who arrived in November to replace Tony Pulis has been unable to turn around their fortunes and in particular solve the clubs goalscoring problem with their lead strikers Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon only finding the net five times each in the league this season. Like Stoke, West Brom spend well in the summer with hefty layouts for Rodriguez, young Scottish winger Oliver Burke, former Arsenal full back Kieran Gibbs and Egyptian Ahmed Hegazy but the team has failed to deliver when it mattered most.

Pardew has been unable to turn around West Brom’s fortunes so far (Image from Tumblr)

For Pardew it has been a disappointing spell in charge that was summed up by two incidents during his short tenure. The first was the behaviour of four senior players including club captain Jonny Evans and Gareth Barry during a winter training break to Portugal. The trip was meant to bring the players collectively together and focus their minds on the task of surviving but instead it turned into an unwanted media circus as the two fore-mentioned players plus Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill stole a taxi cab and were arrested by the police as a result. All four were suspended by the club but eventually brought back into the fold fairly swiftly by Pardew as he had little alternative given the predicament the club has found itself in and the need for experienced players at this time. Not Pardew’s finest hour but you can forgive him given his lack of other option. The second incident involved the arrival of Daniel Sturridge from Liverpool on loan during the transfer window. Signed as a fix for West Brom’s lack of potency upfront, Sturridge has only made three appearances, collectively managing 78 minutes in total and no goals. Oh and he has been injured since mid February after pulling his hamstring three minutes into their game with Chelsea.

Sturridge limped off after only 3 minutes against Chelsea (Image from Tumblr)

Both clubs face difficult run ins in their remaining fixtures with Stoke facing Arsenal, Spurs and in form Liverpool whilst West Brom face Man Utd, Liverpool and Spurs. Both clubs also face sides just above them in the table including Newcastle, Swansea, West Ham and Crystal Palace but those games could prove trickier to navigate especially as they too are fighting tooth and nail to remain in  the division. They say that hope springs eternal but for Stoke and West Brom fans that hope is slowly slipping away and being replaced with the realism that Championship football likely awaits them next season.

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Ledson Tipped For Greater Things Following Europa Performance

Ryan Ledson is tipped as a future star for Everton and England (Image from Getty)In the end the result matter little with Everton having already secured their passage into the knockout rounds after three wins and two draws. With the pressure removed, manager Roberto Martinez decided to rest some of his first team players in preparation for Monday’s clash with Queens Park Rangers. It also gave him the opportunity to give some of the clubs most promising youngster’s valuable playing time. Into the starting lineup came right back Tyias Browning, left back Luke Garbutt and striker Conor McAleny whilst Kieran Dowell, Gethin Jones and Chris Long all made appearances from the substitutes bench. It said a lot about Martinez approach that Long at 19 years old, was the oldest squad player on the Everton bench. And it almost paid off with his young team restricting their Russian opponents Krasnodar to only a handful of chances with only one trickling through under reserve goalkeeper Joel Robles to hand them the victory. The fans however did not leave Goodison disappointed as they were shown a glimpse into the clubs future with the unveiling of the latest youngsters from their youth system production line. They all gave a good account of themselves but one other youngster in particular stood out above all of them.

Ledson commanded the Everton midfield against Krasnodar  (Image from PA)

Ledson commanded the Everton midfield against Krasnodar
(Image from PA)

Defensive midfielder Ryan Ledson is seen by the club as one of the brightest prospects to have ever emerged at the club. He took up position at the heart of the midfield alongside seasoned veteran Gareth Barry and demonstrated exactly why the club rates him so highly. Ledson controlled the game with a maturity well beyond his 17 years and looked confident on the ball throughout. His passing both short and long was exceptional with 91% of the 56 passes he made hitting their mark whilst his superb positioning at all times help Everton to retain its shape especially when under pressure from the five man Krasnodar midfield. Having been at Everton since the age of five, Ledson is very much at home at the club and is pushing hard to get into the first team as a regular squad member. Progress has been quicker than expected with Everton keen to secure the player for the long run rather than lose him to potential suitors like Manchester City and Tottenham who have been rumoured to be interested. It would appear though that Ledson has no intentions of playing for anyone else by signing his first professional contract with Everton in August. This was swiftly followed by a first team bench appearance against Southampton, and although he didn’t make it on to the pitch it was a signal of intent by Martinez that he sees Ledson very much in his plans. England are also keen to ensure that Ledson is part of their long term plans having already watched him excel at Under 17 level. Ledson played a significant role as captain as he led the England Under 17 national team to European Championship success last season. Now very much part of Gareth Southgate’s Under 21 squad, it won’t be long until he follows in Ross Barkley’s footsteps into Roy Hodgson’s full team.

Ledson signed his first pro deal in August (Image from Getty)

Ledson signed his first pro deal in August (Image from Getty)

Before that happens, Ledson knows that he must establish himself as a regular starter at Everton. His performance against Krasnodar will go a long way to helping this transition with Roberto Martinez praising the way that he played. This won’t be the last time that we see him pull the strings for Everton at the heart of their midfield.

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Would Scrapping The Loan System Be Such A Bad Idea?

Time to ditch loan deal? (Image from wikipedia)With transfer fees climbing year after year, there appears to be little solace for clubs who are barely struggling to make ends meet. The gap between those who have and those who have not is widening at an alarming pace, with a few clubs pulling away from the crowd thanks in part to their wealthy owners. The Bosman ruling, which came into effective in 1995, was meant to offer some rest bite from the fast pace rise of transfer fees, with clubs now able to pick up a player at no cost when their contract expired. The ruling offer hope to many that dreamed of making a star signing but could not afford it and for a time, it looked to be the case. But now the Bosman is working against clubs who are watching in vein as the top clubs stockpile the best talent in over bloated squads.

Bosman ruling allowed for freedom of movement when a contract expires(Image from PA)

Bosman ruling allowed for freedom of movement when a contract expires(Image from PA)

Placing limitations on squad sizes and requirements around the percentage of home grown talent as part of that squad will go some way to helping the problem. But by limitations, we do not mean the current guidelines in place. In the Premier League, teams are required to submit a list of 25 players, of which 8 must be home grown (defined as anyone who has been registered with any club in the English or Welsh leagues for three seasons prior to their 21st birthday). In the Premiership, the five biggest clubs – Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City employ between them 167 first team players and are currently loaning out 95 players to other clubs. This 95 is made up in its majority by Under 21 players but also includes international players like Gareth Barry, Pepe Reina, Romelu Lukaku, Marko Marin, Park Chu Young and Wilfred Zaha. These players in particular have left their respective clubs in search of first team football but the club does not want to let them go fully as they may need them at a later date. The clubs have figured out how to retain the top talent but also adhere to the Premier League rules and regulations around squad sizing, making a mockery of the entire system. The loan deal between two clubs allows the player to go and play for another club for a set period of time, sometimes for an agreed fee or a percentage of that player’s wage.

Gareth Barry - Everton player by loan  (Image from Getty)

Gareth Barry – Everton player by loan
(Image from Getty)

From a football prospective this makes complete sense but in the business world, it would be absurd. Football is a job and the players are employees of a company much like any other business but when was the last time you heard of a company allowing one of its employees to go and work for a competitor? Would Google ever lend a programmer to Microsoft or Adidas allow a designer to go and be creative for Nike? No, of course they wouldn’t. But in football the loan system is a legitimate business transaction. Clubs in the lower leagues rely on loan deals as they cannot afford to buy players so clubs will argue that the loan system is crucial. Larger clubs will argue that it gives their younger players first team football and the ability to further develop their skill sets before being exposed to first team football at their own clubs.

Nike and Adidas ae unlikely to allow job sharing  (Image from Getty)

Nike and Adidas are unlikely to allow job sharing
(Image from Getty)

If the loan system was abolished and clubs were held to tighter reins on squad sizes, including limitations on the volume ownership of players over 21, clubs would have to be more selective on who they chose. This would mean that purchasing would be limited to filling the available spots and more players would be available for transfer. With less demand, prices should fall making them more affordable clubs with tighter budgets. The benefits remain the same, with quality players like Gareth Barry getting regular first team games at Everton but as an Everton player rather than being still a Manchester City player. The move would also force English clubs to follow their French counterparts in fielding more home grown youth players instead of sending them out on loans. Exposure at the top levels will speed up their development quicker than playing at a slower pace against arguably weaker opposition week in week out. Look at Cesc Fabergas or Wayne Rooney as examples of young players who were thrown into the deep end in the Premiership at an early age instead of being sent out on loan and how they blossomed into the players they are today. Yes both were unique talents but taking more risks will help England to discover the next Ross Barkley or Luke Shaw quicker than before. The French benefited from this enforced change by watching their national team 10 years later lifting the World Cup on home soil with players who emerged based on these rule changes.

Discovering the next Ross Barkley by ditching loans?  (Image from PA)

Discovering the next Ross Barkley by ditching loans?
(Image from PA)

There are arguments for and against the loan system including some well known ones such as journalist Martin Samuel and Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger who both believe the loan system is damaging the game. Managers like Roberto Martinez see the benefits of the system mostly because they are using it to their advantage. Others agree arguing that the game will suffer and lower league football will be killed off if the loan system disappeared but those voices appear to be coming more from the bigger clubs rather than the football league teams themselves. The football world feared the Bosman ruling when it happened but the positive effect of it was that it changed the way that clubs treated players and their contracts, preferring to renegotiate and keep them rather than lose them for nothing. Scrapping the loan system may have a similar affect, this time on the transfer market, helping to lower the cost of transfers in the long term but like the Bosman ruling or the changes made to squad sizes in France, we will only find out if it is introduced sooner rather than later.

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Fellani joins United but as a fourth choice signing?

Fellaini signs for United (Image from MUFC)As the transfer window slammed shut, Marouane Fellaini sat back and watched the ink dry on a dream £27.5million move to Manchester United from Everton. After handing in a formal transfer request at Everton early on transfer deadline day, reuniting with former boss David Moyes at United was always the only thing the Belgian actually wanted that day but was it the same for Moyes? The timing of the signing and the final amount paid suggest not and has made a few question if indeed Fellaini was in fact Moyes primary midfield target or actually his fourth choice?

Moyes and Fellaini reunited  (Image from Getty)

Moyes and Fellaini reunited
(Image from Getty)

When the shock announcement came in May that Sir Alex Ferguson was to leave Old Trafford and be replaced by fellow Scot Moyes, speculation began over who would be the new manager’s first signings.  Three names were banded around – one in sheer hope (Cristiano Ronaldo) but the other two made sense as both moves would see Moyes return to Goodison for players he knew well – Baines and Fellaini. As Everton’s stand out players, Moyes knew everything he needed to know about the duo including their strengthens and weaknesses. Moyes probably had a chance to speak to both of them privately between the period of finding out he was the new United boss in May and officially taking the reins on July 1st. The pair have both spoken publically about their interest in a move to United and about linking up with Moyes again but it wasn’t until mid July that United made their first move with a £9million bid for Baines which was turned down by Everton.  Whilst the left back position was identified as an area of concern for United, with the aging Evra unable to continue to play with the same tenacity much longer and Dutch replacement Alexander Büttner looking less impressive by the day, it was the gap in central midfield that should have taken key priority. Indeed Moyes after two weeks in charge and now suffering from the news that Darren Fletcher would not be back as expected for pre season following a flare up of his IBS, Moyes put his first bid in but it wasn’t for Fellaini, instead Barcelona’s Thiago. The talented Spanish midfielder looked to be on his way before performing an expected U Turn when mentor Pep Guardiola came calling from Germany. Moyes, reeling from the failure to snag Thiago went on the hunt again but once more shunned Fellaini in favour of former Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas. This time the player said no, leaving Moyes with no choice but to look again. Fellaini by now was biting at the bit to join United but refused to put in a transfer request, presumably as he wasn’t sure that it would do any good. With the window now weeks away from closing, Moyes stepped up his hunt putting in an unsuccessful bid for Roma’s Danielle Di Rossi and enquiries about Real Madrid trio Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Luka Modric before eventually turning to Fellaini to solve his central midfield headache.

Thiago chose Bayern over United  (Image from Getty)

Thiago chose Bayern over United
(Image from Getty)

Fellaini eventually arrived at the club for £27.5million but United fans will be wondering why Moyes took so long especially as the Belgian could have been acquired for £4million less if he had acted sooner. It has come to light that Fellaini had a transfer release clause in his contract that would have allowed United to sign the powerful midfielder for £23.5million but they had to do so before a July 31st deadline. Moyes knew about the clause as he was the one who requested it be put in Fellaini’s contract in the first place so why did he hesitate? Either Moyes didn’t believe Fellaini was worth £23.5million, questioning why he would then pay more for the player or more likely Moyes believed he could get a better player than Fellaini for the same money.  Arguably Thiago, Fabregas and Di Rossi are all better options than Fellaini but none of them looked likely to join United this summer whereas Fellaini was already packed and ready to go. Granted Moyes put in a joint bid for Fellaini and Baines but it’s looking increasing more like Baines was the player of interest and Fellaini was a bonus.

Baines and Fellaini were the subject of a joint United bid  (Image from Getty)

Baines and Fellaini were the subject of a joint United bid
(Image from Getty)

 Everton wasted little time replacing Fellaini with accomplished midfielder Gareth Barry and rising Irish star James McCarthy but the loss of the iconic player will tell over time. The Belgian is a fantastic player, comfortable both in front of the defence as he is behind the striker and will give United more options than they currently have. Moyes spoke of his delight in capturing Fellaini yesterday but reading between the lines, Moyes is likely to be disappointed not to have secured one of his first three options instead of the perm haired Belgian.

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United Fightback Stuns Newcastle As Rivals City Lose

Alex FergsuonIt was the tale of two cities this past Boxing day. In Manchester, United entertained a Newcastle side short on form and well out of luck. Having dropped points against Swansea at the weekend, Alex Ferguson’s men were keen to get back to winning ways against Pardew’s team who had lost 3 of their last 4 games coming into the match. But Newcastle showed spirit from the off and were ahead after only 4 minutes thanks to James Perch. And so began a thrilling match that would see Newcastle lead three times only to be pegged back three times and eventually dealt a sucker blow with Hernandez’s 90th minutes strike. It was a hard pill for Pardew to swallow as for so much of the game, Newcastle looked worthy of a point, if not 3. For the first time in more than a month, the Toon Army were given a glimpse of last season’s form that has so far deluded the team this year.

Hernandez late strike sinks Newcastle

Hernandez late strike sinks Newcastle
(Image: bleacherreport.com)

Up in Sunderland, Manchester City were looking to put a poor performance against Reading behind them, where they snatched the three points thanks only to a later Gareth Barry goal. They faced Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland who lie mid table but have hardly shown the form that they are capable of. Indeed Steven Fletcher’s influence and goals looks like one of the few reasons why Sunderland aren’t involved in this years relegation battle. City struggled early on in the match to find their gear and fell behind in the early part of the second half to a goal scored by former City player Adam Johnson. Johnson, who joined City from Middlesbourgh in the January 2010 window for a reported £7m, failed to hold down a first team place under Mancini and was sold this summer to Sunderland for a reduced fee. A pacey winger, Johnson has flourished at Sunderland with some fine performances, including yesterday’s one against his old club. Mancini’s team were unable to get the equalizer they needed and left the Stadium of Light without any points and now sit 7 points behind rivals United.

Johnson returns to haunt City

Johnson returns to haunt City
(image: Getty)

With Chelsea picking up three points with a 1-0 victory over Norwich and Tottenham and Everton continuing their form with victories, the pressure must surely be on Mancini. Out of the Champions League and desperate to retain the league title again, Mancini knows that City’s wealthy owners are running out of patience and quickly. With the January transfer window approaching, Mancini will look to strengthen his squad but may not be given the chance if the owners feel that now is the perfect time to change leaders. Guardiola is rumoured to be open to discussing new opportunities and the potential for him to succeed Mancini may be too much to look past. Across the city, Ferguson will know the importance of Hernandez’s 90th minute goal and the psychological effect it will have on the title race. United will know that if they can maintain good form in the last half of the season and hold off the chasing pack, they could see themselves lifting a record 13th Premiership title in May.