Viva La France As Football World Unites

After the atrocities in Paris on Friday night when terrorists massacred 129 people at various locations around the French capital, thoughts of football were rightly placed on the back burner.The whole of France and indeed the global community at large is in a state of mourning following these vicious attacks as police hunt for those responsible. The nightmare began early evening as Parsian’s headed out for the night in an effort to wind down and get ready for the weekend. Many headed to the Bataclan Concert Hall to see US band Eagles of Death fronted by Josh Homme perform whilst others made their way to nearby restaurants and bars or to the national stadium, the Stade de France where France were taking on the world champions Germany. The game was attended by a sold out crowd of 80,000 which included French President Francois Hollande. Twenty minutes after kick off at 9.20pm local time, the first attack happened on the stadium with a suicide bomber detonating himself after failing to gain entry to the stadium. He was stopped by a security guard who detected the explosives strapped to the terrorists body  which probably saved thousands of lives. The blast, which killed the terrorist and a passer-by was heard inside the stadium and was picked up on TV for those watching at home. Ten minutes later another terrorist detonated outside the stadium near a different entrance again after failing to find a way in. A third blew himself up at a fast food outlet near the stadium 23 minutes after that.

Inside the stadium, the game continued with many unaware of what was happening outside. The blasts sounded like fireworks which startled many inside but as the game played on, few left. At half time, both national managers were informed of what had occurred but decided to play on after consulting with security in regards to what was safest for the players and the crowd. In the end France ran out 2-0 victors but the result meant little as the players left the field only to find out what had being happening in the city that night on monitors inside the tunnel. Both teams looked visibly shocked as the news flooded in that gunmen had terrorized the city killing many, including 89 at the Bataclan. The fans who had just watched the match unfold now started to stream onto the pitch as they heard the news filter through. Many hugged each other and cried in fear of what many happen next but by that point the stadium was on lockdown. They would eventually be allowed to leave once the area was secured but both teams remained at the venue until the early hours of the morning until they knew that it was safe for them to leave. The following day news broke that two players on the French team,  Lassana Diarra and Antonie Griezmann had been directly affect with relatives caught up in the tragedy. Diarra’s cousin was killed by the gunmen whilst Griezmann’s sister had been at the Bataclan when the gunman had burst in and started shooting. Luckily she managed to escape but many didn’t in what is now considered to be one of the worst attacks on France in its history.

Mourners gather outside the Bataclan Concert Hall (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Mourners gather outside the Bataclan Concert Hall (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

With France now in three days of official mourning and still on lockdown, its hard to know when the country will be able to return to a state of normality. But the French are resilient and refuse to lie down to these terrorist acts. For that reason, France has decided to go ahead with Tuesday night’s international friendly with England at Wembley. All 23 players who reported for the Germany game have travelled to London including Diarra and Griezmann in a unite front. The result of the game is not important but the significance of it taking place is. It’s a defiant stand to show that the terrorists cannot win and that the UK like many other nations across the world stands shoulder to shoulder with France. The stadium whilst under tight security will be lit up in the tricolore in honour of the visitors whilst the home fans will join their French rivals in the emotional singing the national anthem of France, La Marseillasie.

#PrayforParis

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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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Bradford Disappoint Villa to Reach Historic Cup Final

ITroubled Times for Paul Lambert (Image from AP)t’s been a torrid season for Paul Lambert and his struggling Aston Villa side. Misfiring in the league and now every much involved in a relegation dogfight, their season looked to be imploding but for one shining light – their Capitol One cup run. Facing league Two Bradford in the semi finals, Villa fans could be excused for thinking about a trip to Wembley for their club for the first time since the Birmingham club walked away with the League cup in 1996. If Lambert could deliver silverware in his first season in charge, then perhaps owner Randy Lerner would afford him more time to rectify his mistakes in the league. But the nightmare for Villa continued as Bradford secured their place in the final, despite a valid attempt at a resurrection by Lambert’s men on Tuesday night. Ultimately it was their first leg performance that let Villa down and left them with too much to recover from. Trailing 3-1 going into Tuesday’s game, Villa knew that two goals and a clean sheet would put them through and end Bradford’s fairytale run.

Bradford City Fans Have a Finalto Look Forward To (Image from The Guardian.co.uk)

Bradford City Fans Are On Their Way To Wembley
(Image from The Guardian.co.uk)

But it wasn’t to be as Villa yet again conceded a costly goal that they couldn’t recover from. Despite winning the match 2-1, Bradford was left to celebrate reaching their first final since 1939. They also managed to pour salt to the wound by become the first League Two side to ever reach a final, an embarrassing  statistic that will haunt Aston Villa for a long time.  Bradford should be congratulated as their path to the final has not been easy, beating two other Premiership sides, Wigan and Arsenal along the way. Manager Phil Parkinson has called the achievement “the biggest moment in the clubs history” and one that ”will take some doing for anyone to do this again”. With Swansea beating Chelsea in the other semi final, Bradford fans must believe they have a better chance of winning the cup, now that they face the welsh side instead of the current Champions League holders. No disrespect to Swansea though who deserve their place after a fantastic run and will themselves be looking to put their names in the record books by winning the trophy.

Cup opposition, Swansea (Image from AFP)

Cup opposition, Swansea
(Image from AFP)

So what now for Paul Lambert? With the transfer window close to closing and his side still languishing in the bottom three of the Premier League, one thing he doesn’t have is time. Lerner has been supportive and continues to back the former Celtic, Borussia Dortmund and Scotland midfielder, but if the slump continues, he will need to act to prevent Villa from near certain relegation. In a game ruled by money, relegation is a scary prospect for any club but for Villa even more so. As one of the only teams to have never been relegated from the Premiership, the club has a high wage bill that would have to be dramatically slashed if they drop down a division, with the sale of key assets like Christian Benteke and Charles N’Zogbia likely to be the way to do that. Lambert has started to plan for the future by investing in youth players but with a view to them playing in the Premier League, not in the competitive Championship. Granted Newcastle benefited overall from relegation some season ago, allowing them to restructure the club from the ground up and move towards a more stable baseline, but it’s unlikely that Lerner will see relegation as the best reason to kick off this process.

Time to Stick or Twist Randy Lerner (Image from The Guardian.co.uk)

Time to Stick or Twist Randy Lerner
(Image from The Guardian.co.uk)

For Bradford, their season is improving all the time. Not only are they playing well in the league and looking towards potential promotion to League One but now they have a cup final to prepare for. It will likely be the highlight of many of their players careers with most looking forward to just playing in the game, not necessarily winning it. As huge underdogs, they will have a task ahead of them to turn over Swansea and come out victorious after ninety minutes but it also takes all the pressure off of the Bantams. Parkinson is likely to relish the underdog tag and with the pressure lifted, they may just take that final step towards cup success and proved yet another shock by beating Swansea. It will be a difficult day for Paul Lambert as Bradford and Swansea walk out onto the pitch at Wembley next month, knowing fair well that this was a tournament there for the taking for Villa. Whether Lambert Is still the boss of Villa come the final is up to Lerner but it doesn’t look good at the moment for the Scotsman.