Newcastle United will be a major force in the Premier League next season

After a long Championship season, Newcastle were one more game away from the big time. On a tense night at St James’ Park, nerves were eased just after the hour after Preston’s Paul Gallagher handled on the line, gifting Newcastle a penalty that Matt Ritchie cooly dispatched. The party could begin, Rafael Benitez had done his job, Newcastle were back in the Premier League.

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Job Done Rafa (Image from Tumblr)

The potential of Newcastle United, may finally be realized. There is a reason a manager like Benitez, who left Real Madrid just two months earlier, took the job of resurrecting Newcastle. They are a massive club with huge prospects. With Newcastle back where they belong, they will be a major force in the Premier League next year. After the disappointment of relegation, Benitez identified Championship specialists and bought in the likes of Mohamed Diamé, Grant Hanley and Daryl Murphy to get them back up. Only run away leaders Brighton have stopped them winning the Championship.

The arrival of players like Murphy has helped Newcastle navigate the Championship with ease (Image from Tumblr)

Newcastle aren’t like any other team being promoted from the Championship, they are a club with enormous potential. When promoted in 1992, Kevin Keegan took the Toon to 3rd in the Premier League as a newly promoted side. Even Alan Pardew took Newcastle to 5th a year after they returned to the top flight. Newcastle have unbelievable resources and can easily compete in the top ten in the Premier League. Their fan base is one of the largest in the UK, with St James Park regularly getting 50,000 through the door. To gain promotion, Newcastle spent nearly £60m on new recruits. In the Premier League only the current top six sides plus Leicester City, fresh from winning the Premier League, spent more than that. Even when they were relegated, Newcastle spent over £80m. They are one of the richest sides in Europe. And it won’t be long before top players are signing for Newcastle wanting to work for a manager like Benitez.

Premier League bound Ayoze Perez (Image from Tumblr)

Premier League bound Ayoze Perez (Image from Tumblr)

After years of mismanagement, Newcastle are now on to something and the difference is Benitez; he’s one of the best managers in Europe. Benitez knows the Premier League inside out after two successful spells with Liverpool and Chelsea and now he is back in charge with one of the biggest sides in England. Newcastle United, the sleeping giant of English football, may finally be waking up.

Post by Tough Tackler – @thetoughtackler (www.toughtackler.co.uk)

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Swindon Books Final Place in Ten Goal Play Off Thriller

Swindon progress to Wembley after epic game (Image from Getty)With a place in the League One play off final at stake, Swindon Town entertained Sheffield United at the City Ground in the second league of their semi final clash. Swindon held a 2-1 advantage going into the match with manager Mark Cooper knowing that a draw would be enough for the Robins to confirm their place at the Wembley showcase. Sheffield United, who finished eight points behind Swindon in 5th place in the League knew that they would have to attack the game and score at least twice to win (there is no away goal rule in the playoffs). With the match balancing on a knife edge, the crowd made its way to their seats expecting a nervous clash between two evenly balanced sides. To their surprise what followed in the next ninety minutes was one of the most dramatic high scoring playoff matches of all time. As the referee blew his full time whistle, few could believe what they had just seen – a ten goal thriller that was high paced and full of action from the 1st minute to the last.

The game was on a knife edge heading into the second leg  (Image from Sky Sports

The game was on a knife edge heading into the second leg
(Image from Sky Sports

It was Swindon who came charging out of the blocks first using their five man midfield as a battering ram against Sheffield’s bewildered back line. The pressure paid off with Swindon taking the lead within four minutes. Some clever play down the right hand side resulted in Nathan Byrne whipping the ball into the box only for Craig Alcock to head it clear from inside his six yard box. Unfortunately for Alcock his header fell to the right boot of Ben Gladwin who rifled the ball into the net from 18 yards. The 22 year old midfielder, brought in two seasons ago from Hayes & Yeading in the Conference league has been in superb form this season and he added to his tally with his second goal of the game only six minutes later.  With Sheffield failing to clear their lines, Nathan Byrne capitalized by chasing down what looked to be a lost ball before crossing it across the face of the goal for the easiest tap in for Gladwin. Sheffield United were in disarray so when Swindon added a third on 18 minutes, the game looked all but over. Again it was that man Byrne on the right hand side causing the problems with another delightful cross into the box which the Sheffield defensive failed to clear properly once again. Picking up the loose ball, striker Michael Smith turned his marker before rifling his shot past Mark Howard in the United goal.

Nigel Cloughs side needed a miracle to turn this around. Now trailing 5-1 on aggregate, Sheffield needed a quick response if they were to stay in the game and they got it pretty much from the restart thanks to some good link up play down the right with two of the six Scottish players (Flynn and McNulty) in the Sheffield United starting lineup combining to set up the goal.  McNulty’s defense splitting pass was met by Jamie Murphy whose weak effort was bundled into the net thanks  to a deflection off Swindon defender Nathan Thompson. Sheffield were now on the attack and added a second just before the break with Robert Harris setting up Chris Basham to head home with a superb diving header. Both sides decide against making changes at the break but it would appear as though the half time team talks were the same; go out and kill this game off. The second half started with the same energy and drive as the first had ended. Sheffield with the bit between their teeth were pushing hard for an equalizer when the ball got turned over and caught them out of position. A long kick by Swindon goalkeeper Wesley Foderingham put Sheffield under extreme pressure with their defensive frailties showing again. First Smith was pulled over by Alcock as the pair chased the bouncing before Jermaine Hylton was bundled over in the box by Howard. Smith dusted himself off to covert the resulting penalty and put Swindon 4-2 ahead. Sheffield heads did not drop however and when left back Harris, who had been a constant threat with his crossing abilities picked up the ball and whipped in a beautifully curled cross towards substitute Steve Davies, there was only one outcome. His header gave Sheffield hope with 25 minutes left to play.

The superb Nathan Byrne battles with Ryan Flynn for the ball  (Image from AP)

The superb Nathan Byrne battles with Ryan Flynn for the ball
(Image from AP)

That hope however was eventually dashed as substitute Jonathan Obika sealed Swindon’s passage to the final with a delightful move. Breaking out of defence Swindon drove the ball up field with Australian Matt Luongo leading the charge. Sheffield, who had thrown everyone forward in hopes of getting the goals they needed were caught short once again at the back so when Luongo threaded a pass to Obika, the former Tottenham youth player only had Alcock and the keeper to beat. Bringing the ball back inside to beat Alcock, he coolly slotted past Howard sending the Swindon fans into hysteria. Sheffield needed three goals to send the game into extra time and they almost managed it, grabbing two late goals thanks to a Matt Done close range finish and a stunning solo effort by Che Adams but in the end they simply ran out of time. Swindon now travels to Wembley on the 24th May to face Preston N.E. with the winner earning a place in the Championship next season. For Sheffield it is another play off heartbreak making it their eighth successive playoff defeat and consigning them to yet another season in League One. However Nigel Clough’s men can be proud of the way that they rallied in the game after going behind and never gave up. That attitude and approach next season could end their Championship hiatus once and for all.

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Giant Slaying In FA Cup as Bradford and Middlesbourgh Progress

Bradford City shocked Chelsea by coming back from 2-1 down to win (Image from Getty)Humbling, embarrassing, shocking – all words used to describe the FA Cup exits of the Premierships’ two top clubs Chelsea and Manchester City over the weekend to lower league opponents. Despite leading 2-1 at half time, Chelsea folded in the second half eventually losing 4-2 to an impressive Bradford City.  Jose Mourinho gave his team the silent treatment following their disastrous second half performance and rightly so. The current Premiership leaders have been in great form to date but failed to show up in the second half with League One side Bradford taking advantage. Three goals in fifteen thrilling minutes won the game with former Chelsea’s youth player Filipe Morais starting the rout. Further goals from Scottish midfielder Andy Halliday and Mark Yates sealed the win for Phil Parkinson’s side and continues their journey in the cup.  Chelsea did rotate their squad in preparation for the match but the quality was still apparent and should have been enough to dispatch Bradford. But in the end, Bradford wanted it more and were rewarded for their efforts with the win.

Similarly not at the races, Manchester City crashed out of the cup thanks to two superb goals from Middlesbourgh. It’s debatable whether City even cared about this competition given that they only arrived back from Abu Dhabi the day before.  Having spent the week in the Arab state, City flew back on Friday arriving late that night which is hardly ideal given that they had the option to return the day before. City lined up with a strong enough team but most of their players still looked like they were on the beach enjoying the Middle East sunshine. Middlesboro, who are flying high in the Championship under the tutelage of Aitor Karanka looked weary of their jetlagged opponents at the start but did managed to hold off the Premiership Champions until the break.  Several great save from Thomas Mejias and some solid defending prevented City from breaking the duck early on in the match but soon Middelsbourgh rallied sensing that City were there for the taking. In the second half, Middlesbourgh were transformed and on the attack from the first kick of the ball. It was clear that they wanted it more and were duly rewarded with a goal courtesy of Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford on the 53rd minute. After some messy play in the centre of the park with City failing to clear its lines the ball fell to Albert Adomah who was clear through on goal only to be challenged woefully by City stopper Wily Caballero. Failing to clear the danger the ball ricocheted off of the Middlesbourgh midfielder and towards the goal. The race was now on between Bamford and Kompany to see who could get to the loose ball.  Despite having half a yard on Bamford, Kompany struggled to get back and watched as Bamford knocked the ball in.

Once the first goal went in, Middlesbourgh looked the more likely to add further misery to City especially when Lee Tomlin spun round Kompany and curled a shot past Caballero with the outside of his right foot. However the post came to City’s rescue, keeping the Premiership side in the running. In a rare attack, Frank Lampard almost drew his side level with a superb curling effort that bounced back off of the far post, much to the relief of Mejias in goal. That near miss spurred Middlesbourgh on who eventually made the win certain with a well worked second goal from substitute Kike.

Goal scorers Bamford and Kike celebrate  (Image from Getty)

Goal scorers Bamford and Kike celebrate
(Image from Getty)

Both Bradford and Middlesbourgh now go into the next round in what is becoming one of the most open FA Cups in recent years. They are joined by fellow lower league sides Preston, Rochdale, Sheffield United, Blackburn, Bolton, Derby, Fulham and Reading with Cambridge United also in with a shout if they can dispatch Manchester United in their Fourth round replay. The magic of the cup is very much alive, at least for another round.

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Spanish lifeline Offers Moyes Redemption Opportunity

Spain bound? David Moyes (Image from Getty)Real Sociedad could be set to offer David Moyes a route back into football management after they sacked their coach Jagoba Arrasate at the weekend. Moyes, who has been out of work since his sacking by Manchester United in May has had several job offers over the past few months but none have appealed to the Scotsman. But a move to Spain with Sociedad could prove to be compelling enough for Moyes to end his forced sabbatical. With a young, talented yet raw squad Sociedad are a perfect fit for Moyes who will be able to craft them into a tough to beat side much like he did at Everton and Preston.

Upfront Mexican Carlos Vela leads the line  (Image from Getty)

Upfront Mexican Carlos Vela leads the line
(Image from Getty)

Moyes would be following in the footsteps of Horace “Harry” Lowe, John Toshack and Chris Coleman who both had spells in charge at the Anoeta Stadium. The Spanish clubs love affair with British coaches began back in the 1930’s when Lowe was appointed. The former Tottenham and Fulham centre half managed the club for five years before leaving to manage RCD Espanyol for a further campaign. It was 50 years later that John Toshack arrived for his first of three stints in charge. In total the former Wales boss held the top job at Real Sociedad for nine years and during that time led to their first Copa del Rey success in 75 years. After the club sacked Miguel Angel Lotina in June 2007, they turned once again to Toshack who rejected their advances but did recommend that they take a look at another British coach, fellow Welshman Chris Coleman. Having been sacked months earlier by Fulham, Coleman jumped at the chance to manage the then Segunda Division side and duly signed a contract with them on July 1st 2007. Coleman’s spell in charge, much to contrary belief was successful in Spain and his departure was only the result of the club electing a new president who wanted to return the club to its Spanish roots. Now managerless once again, Real Sociedad are eying up a return to the UK for their fourth British manager with Moyes identified as the man to take the club to the next level.

Toshack spent nine years at Sociedad over three spells  (Image from Getty)

Toshack spent nine years at Sociedad over three spells
(Image from Getty)

Despite struggling in La Liga this season, Sociedad have all the ingredients necessary to be successful. With an exciting mix of youthful exuberance and established seasoned professionals, Moyes would inherit a squad that requires little tinkering in terms of personnel but in desperate need of tactical guidance.  Funds will be available during January to strengthen the squad but the need for new faces is not so apparent when you look at their squad. In defence, Real Sociedad has one of Spain’s hottest prospects in Inigo Martinez. The 23 year old centre half has been on the cusps of greatness for a while now with a move to Barcelona on the cards before Gerardo Martino was dismissed. Now a full Spanish international, Martinez is one of many hot young prospects at the club. Midfielders Ruben Pardo and Pablo Hervias have impressed so far in what has been a difficult campaign whilst up front Iker Hernandez, who hasn’t played so far this season is itching to show exactly what he can do. Helping these youngsters mature into better players would be a key part of Moyes role but he would be supported well by defenders Carols Martinez and Dani Estrada and influential captain Xabi Preto. At 31, Preto is the heart and soul of the club having been at Sociedad for his entire career and is the perfect player to help Moyes craft the side if he gets the job. Upfront, Sociedad have the fire power to get them back up the league with former Arsenal striker Carlos Vela leading the line alongside Icelandic sensation Alfreo Finnbogason or Spaniard Imanol Agirretxe.

Inigo Martinez is one of Spain's best prospects  (Image from AFP)

Inigo Martinez is one of Spain’s best prospects
(Image from AFP)

Unlike the pressure he faced at United, there are little expectations on how Sociedad will perform this season. Currently sitting in 19th in La Liga, it looks like a grim challenge however the season is still fairly fresh and the gap between the bottom three and mid table remains realistic at only 6 points. That is not to say that the club has no ambitions and rightly believes that a Europa League place is well within their grasps. With a new manager installed and a new direction to their play, Real Sociedad will be expected to climb up the table and back to a more realistic place among Spain’s top clubs. The offer has yet to be made to Moyes but for the Scot, it could be the perfect position for him to ease back in to the game.

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