All United want for Christmas is three points

Danny-Welbeck-Aston-Villa-v-Manchester-United_3052335Having negotiated the elements against Stoke on Wednesday night, United turn their attention to the Premier League which, this weekend, sees the arrival of Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United at Old Trafford and of another set of fans whose hatred for United overcomes even that normally destined for their local rivals.

As East London’s finest make the journey up, David Moyes is left counting his injured player like a kid counting down the days to Christmas Day, albeit with a complete different attitude.

Having lost Robin Van Persie for a month, the United manager will have to do without Nani tomorrow – which, given his performances, might be a blessing in disguise – as the Portuguese winger has suffered a hamstring problem which could keep him out for part of the festive period.

Wayne Rooney, however, has a chance to feature tomorrow and West Ham must be sick of the sight of him, as the United striker has netted seven goals in the last six league meetings against the Hammers, who haven’t scored against United in six of their last eight Premier League meetings.

Profligacy in front of goal has been a recurring theme for both sides, with United scoring just eight in their first eight league games at Old Trafford this season, while West Ham haven’t found the net in nine of their first 16 league outings, which hasn’t helped their dismal away record which has seen them winning just once away from Upton Park this season.

With their striking options virtually non-existent given the long term injury to Andy Carroll, Big Sam is likely to deploy his usual strategy which, nine times out of 10, consists of parking the bus in front of the penalty box in the hope of weathering the storm, before nicking a goal on the counter.

That and United’s diabolical performances at home against Everton and Newcastle do nothing to dismiss the theory that it could be another long afternoon at Old Trafford, but consecutive away wins at Villa and Stoke leave some room for some, extremely controlled and very prudent, optimism.

Should Rooney not be passed fit, Danny Welbeck will be expected to lead the line again up-front, with Phil Jones and one between Tom Cleverley, who delivered a much needed improved performance against Stoke, and Ryan Giggs set to take their place in the middle of the park, unless Moyes opts to give Marouane Fellaini his monthly runout.

Having registered two consecutive clean sheets, Moyes isn’t likely to change much at the back, but one between Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic could replace Chris Smalling, while Jonny Evans will have to take care of former United Academy’s bad boy Ravel Morrison, who’s impressed since moving to London.

With Arsenal and Chelsea hopefully taking points off each other on Monday night and with Spurs facing a testing trip to Southampton, United – whose 16 points are their worst return after 16 games since they picked up 24 over the same amount of games in the 2001-02 season – could make up some ground and make the Christmas turkey taste just a little bit better.

Dan

Vincent Kompany tells Manchester City to prove they are the ‘real deal’

• Captain warns of complacency over Christmas period
• 'Nothing is won in December but a lot could be lost'

Vincent Kompany has urged Manchester City to show they are the "real deal" during the festive period, with the captain warning that the Premier League, FA Cup, and League Cup can all be lost during the busy Christmas and new year programme.

City travel to Fulham on Saturday, before hosting Liverpool on Boxing Day and Crystal Palace two days later. They then make the trips to Swansea City on 1 January, and Blackburn Rovers for the FA Cup third-round tie on 4 January, ahead of the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg with West Ham United three days later.

"Nothing is won in December but a lot could be lost in December," Kompany told the MEN. "At the moment we are doing the right things but nothing more than that. This is my sixth season in the Premier League and every time this has been the period when you start realising which teams might go on and win it and which teams aren't maybe the real deal.

"You don't win anything but you could lose the Capital One Cup, the FA Cup, and you could lose two or three games and be out of the title race. That is what at stake. Games come thick and fast. If you have bad form it can cost you at this time of the season. We've not won anything yet. We're behind three points [in the league] so you have to reboot every single time and put yourself back on track. You can't consider yourself a great team if you can't do that.

"I believe this is also why you want to be a Man City player. If you don't have that ambition then Man City is not the right club for you. We have done well so far but the Fulham game becomes the most important game of the season now."

For Saturday's visit to Craven Cottage Manuel Pellegrini will have no recognised right-back as Pablo Zabaleta has a hamstring injury, the same issue which also rules Micah Richards out. The manager may decide to move James Milner back or field Dedryck Boyata or Aleksandar Kolarov in the position.


theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds








Malky Mackay is behind you! Oh no he isn’t | Rob Cole

Farce descended on Cardiff City's press briefing when club officials refused to talk about their missing manager

Bluebirds Unite, altogether now to the tune of Achy Breaky Heart:

"Don't sack Mackay

Malky Mackay

You just don't seem to understand

If you sack Mackay

Malky Mackay

You're gonna have a riot on your hands!"

The latest pantomime ditty from Cardiff, the capital of farce this season when it comes to sporting drama, was ringing out around the Cardiff City Stadium just hours after it emerged that the club's owner Vincent Tan had given his manager Malky Mackay the perfect Christmas present: resign or face the sack.

If it isn't the Welsh Rugby Union fighting with its regional sides then it has to be Malaysian billionaire Tan's increasingly bizarre behaviour that has hogged the headlines over the past 12 months in Wales.

But even by their usually high standards of turning a drama into a crisis, Friday's levels of farce exceeded anything that has gone before. A weekly press briefing turned into a "hunt the manager" quest as journalists were banned from blogging, prevented from tweeting, cameras were restricted and there were even threats of the police being called to move on loiterers.

Granted, the overnight revelation that Tan had sent an email rant to Mackay on Monday calling for him to go had created a difficult situation but when the media pack are baying for blood, you have to give them a bone they can at least chew on.

Poor old Dave Kerslake, Mackay's assistant, was that bone thrown to the wolves – sent in to face the media in Mackay's absence. He did his best, but it was a pathetic attempt by the club's media manipulators to paper over the cracks.

Q: "Where is Malky?"

A: "I am here just to talk about the Liverpool game tomorrow. I came in this morning and was told to come in and do the press. Malky is in the pavilion now as we speak."

Q: "Will you be in charge at Anfield?"

A: "Nobody has said anything different to me. It has been totally as normal this week. We have been through the same training routines and the players have been just as normal – nothing has been anything different."

Q: "Are you worried about your job?"

A: "Every manager and coach knows it is a precarious job – nothing changes. Give me a question about the football match tomorrow then I will answer."

Cardiff's alleged three "wise" media managers, Mark Denham (football media relations manager), Barrie McAuliffe (head of communications) and Jamie DeCruz (audio visual manager), struggle to be helpful at the best of times, but in a crisis, their true colours came shining through.

You can't do this, you can't do that. We won't tell you this and we can't tell you that. Simple question, then: "Where's Malky?"

"I've spoken to him," was Denham's informed response. So why couldn't we? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

The hunt for Mackay began in the club car park, moved to the training field and then switched to the stadium 20 minutes down the road. When the photographers and journalists were spotted lingering on the pavement, hotel staff were called to move them on.

Next stop? The airport. Surely, we'd find Mackay there with his team as they boarded a plane to Liverpool for Saturday's Premier League clash. He's behind you. Oh no he isn't!

Meanwhile, the Bluebirds Unite group sang on at the stadium and Tan's private jet got ever closer to landing in London. The summit meeting is likely to be at Anfield but will that be the end of the farce?

Jack and the Beanstalk is playing at Cardiff's New Theatre, but for real pantomime there is only one place to be this Christmas – Cardiff City Stadium.


theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds








Silverbacks add local ownership group

AtlantaSilverbacksLogo1 (AtlantaSilverbacks)

By DAN KARELL

Heading into the 2014 North American Soccer League season, the Atlanta Silverbacks are not only welcoming in a new coach, but also a new ownership group.

The Silverbacks announced today that they’ve brought in a new ownership group consisting of longtime chairman Boris Jerkunica, vice-chairman John Latham, and brothers Henry and John Hardin. The Hardins run SCI Companies, a human resource corporation based out of Atlanta.

“The introduction of a new local ownership group is tremendously exciting for both the Atlanta Silverbacks organization and the local soccer community as a whole,” Jerkunica said. “Finding local ownership has been a long-term goal of ours. I couldn’t feel more honored to be a part of such a passionate and committed group of investors, which we’ll be actively looking to add to in the future.”

The new ownership replaces Traffic Sports as the majority owners of the Silverbacks. Jerkunica and Latham already owned minority shares in the club.

The Silverbacks won the NASL Spring Season title in 2013 with a record of 6-3-3, giving them the rights to host the NASL Soccer Bowl in November. Facing the New York Cosmos in the final, the Silverbacks were defeated, 1-0, after struggling through much of the Fall Season. Head coach Brian Haynes’ contract option was declined, ending his tenure after his first full season in charge.

The Silverbacks have yet to announce a replacement.

—–

What do you think of this news? Glad to see more local ownership in NASL? Think that this could boost the Silverbacks ahead of the 2014 NASL season?

Share your thoughts below.

Clint Dempsey has medical at Fulham and is ready to return on loan

• Striker can play for two months from January
• 'Clint will be a boost for us,' says Meulensteen

Clint Dempsey has undergone a medical test at Fulham and is set to return to the club on loan.

Dempsey scored 50 goals in 184 league matches for Fulham from 2007-12 but left for Tottenham before moving to the Seattle Sounders in August.

The 30-year-old Dempsey could play for two months from January because the MLS season does not resume until the second week in March.

The Fulham manager René Meulensteen said of the United States captain: "Clint will be a boost for us."


theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds








League Two 2013-14: the fans’ half-term report

The people who really know their clubs give us the lowdown on the League Two season so far
Championship 2013-14: the half-term reports
League One 2013-14: the half-term reports

Accrington Stanley

Season in one word Typical

How's it going? Accrington Stanley have never been a club that do things the easy way. This season is no different. Our first 12 games saw an accumulation of eight losses and zero wins. Frustration mounted as the Reds were evidently trying to play football the right way, but it was to no avail. Accrington fans have a stubborn refusal to become defeatist, but optimism never felt like such a chore. However, a new-found confidence resonated throughout the club after our first win against Bristol Rovers, which became a part of an eight game unbeaten run. So, our first half of the season has been a tale of two extremes; from the basement of the Football League to the top of the form table. Fans are very contented.

Who's been the star? Piero Mingoia. A player that personifies tenacity and grit and has a never-say-die attitude that has elevated him to the status of fan favourite. The man, formerly on loan from Watford, has brought a level of consistency and excitement that raises hope whenever he receives the ball. A hard working, wholehearted footballer that is proud to wear the shirt.

Biggest disappointment? The assumptions. I, admittedly, was one of the sceptics who questioned our ability to compete this season. James Beattie received gratuitous blame for our torrid start, but his tangible passion for the club and inability to lose faith in his squad has spearheaded our recent form. Beattie has not only silenced the doubters, he's gained the confidence of all attending the Store First Stadium.

All we want for Christmas ... Stanley fans would feel that their festive season was complete if they received the promise of Football League survival, a goal we look to achieve every season. I, on the other hand, would love to see a new club policy introduced to eradicate certain haircuts. Ponytails spring to mind. James Gray, this goes out to you. Failing that, a mid-table finish would suffice.

Stephen O'Mara

AFC Wimbledon

Season in one word Improving

How's it going? Solid mid-table, which is probably an overachievement given our meagre wage budget. That said performances have been a little unsteady, with occasionally impressive showings undermined by some equally shoddy ones. On the plus side most of the numerous summer signings have settled in and now look the part, but the squad is still very thin up front with us being almost completely reliant on loanees. Fortunately, one of those, Charlton's Michael Smith, has been exceptional. Worryingly it sounds like a loan extension won't be possible, leaving us a Hobson's choice of an out of favour Jack Midson or the unproven Charlie Sheringham. Over to Neal Ardley….

Who's been the star? Andy Frampton has excelled at centre-half. A title winner last season with Gillingham, he has added much needed experience and steel to a previously very porous backline. Unexpectedly, he's also scored four times, a great bonus given his previous goals came in 2009.

Biggest disappointment? George Francomb. Big things were expected after last year's accomplished loan spell from Norwich, but the season so far has been a whole lot of nothing. Nice beard though.

All we want for Christmas is … to return home. March sees Merton Council announcing a decision on our proposed move back to Plough Lane, which would be the best present ever. Hopes are high, especially as the sole rival bid is from Greyhound racing and no-one likes that any more do they?

Alex Bell

Bristol Rovers

Season in one word(ish) Déjà vu.

How's it going? Just like last season, the terraces were filled with an air of optimism at the start of the campaign and, just like last season, the air has turned cloudy and grey as we find ourselves flirting with the relegation zone at the halfway stage. Manager John Ward saved us from this predicament when he joined the club in 2012 but now that he's the one that's guided us there, it creates a sticky and worrying situation. A little run could see us climb a few places, which is all well and good to say but a little harder to do when you're as inconsistent as a chameleon...

Who's been the star? While Rovers fans were delighted when we acquired the services of John-Joe O'Toole in the summer, it's goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall who's been the shining star of our season. His split-second saves have kept us in many contests so far this year and even off the pitch, he will always take a moment to make a young Gashead smile by signing autographs, taking photos or giving away his gloves.

Biggest disappointment? Where to start? The season as a whole, the handful of games we've been ahead but ended up losing, the couple of players who have actually expressed a desire to leave the club? To pinpoint just one match in a fixture lost of more lows than highs would be Burton Albion away. The 1-0 defeat was just about bearable but the ill-discipline of the two players we had sent off was the bitter pill to swallow.

All we want for Christmas is … Sainsbury's. No, really. Permission to build a Sainsbury's at the current site of the Memorial Stadium means we can finally start work building our new stadium, the plans for which have been in the pipeline for years but keep getting tangled up in litigation and 'nimbyism'. Failing that, three points will do.

Maria Hudd

Burton Albion

Season in one word Resilient

How's it going? Since promotion to the Football League in 2009, Albion have been notoriously leaky at the back. They were even guilty of shipping 65 last campaign, despite finishing fourth. Rocked by the monumental losses of star attackers Jacques Maghoma and Calvin Zola in pre-season, it was indisputable that tightening the defence was a necessity. And that they have. With eight clean sheets already bagged and only 21 goals conceded in their first 20 outings, this is certainly a more sturdy unit than that Brewers supporters have become accustomed to. However, it has come at an expense of goals and free-flowing football. Albion have been anything but pretty to watch this term and seem only capable of producing any kind of fluency in sporadic patches. That said, Albion sit in the play-offs, but it's tough to know whether to account that to Albion's efficiency or a poor standard in this season's League Two. A bit of both I'd imagine.

Who's been the star? Phil Edwards. A centre-half by trade who has been deployed at right back due to his versatility. Consistent, dependable and solid, the former Accrington player quietly goes about his business with minimal fuss, whilst producing 7/10 performances week after week. He deserves far more credit. Unsung hero.

Biggest disappointment? Our home form. Sides have generally incorporated extra measures into their game plan to prevent us from playing - understandable, when we had the best home form in the Football League last season. Regardless, performances and results haven't been up to scratch, though this has fortunately coincided with a drastic upturn in away form.

All we want for Christmas is ... A playmaker or winger who can rustle up a moment of magic. We've missed this dearly since Maghoma's departure. The Brewers' 18-year-old wonderkid, Matty Palmer, tries his utmost almost single-handedly to regenerate the attractive brand of football we crave, but he can't do it alone.

Luca Gallone @LucaMagician

Bury

Season in one word Depressing

How's it going? The much-vaunted takeover has given some stability behind the scenes but on-pitch performances under Kevin Blackwell then Ronnie Jepson simply weren't good enough. Hopefully new manager David Flitcroft can sort the wheat from the chaff in the squad and make some additions in January who will help us pull away from the trap door.

Who's been the star? Blackwell assembled a squad largely from scratch in the summer. Of his dozens of new signings, few have stood out more than Anton Forrester, though the signing of Danny Nardiello has excited.

Biggest disappointment? Blackwell had the chance to build a squad that could really challenge, based around his philosophies. He failed.

All we want for Christmas is ... To get away from the drop zone. One bad season and you're out of the league - and bigger clubs than Bury are still struggling to get back into it.

James Bentley

Cheltenham Town

Season in one word Wasteful

How's it going? It has been a season riddled by inconsistency and missed opportunities. Every time we seem to be taking a step forward, along comes an individual mistake or a poor team display to set us right back again. We have been unable to string together consistent performances, or to maintain a good half for a full 90 minutes. To have squandered 16 points from winning positions tells its own story - and seven draws at home, five of them finishing 2-2 after we have led in four of them sums that up perfectly.

Who's been the star? Difficult one this. I am struggling to find one player who has stood head and shoulders above everyone else, as they have all done well in patches and poorly in others as a microcosm of the campaign so far. Manager Mark Yates' performance has also been patchy from a tactical and transfer market point of view.

Biggest disappointment? Some of the goals we have given away, and the fact that we have failed to be consistent in a division where a decent run of form would catapult you right into the mix as no one seems to want to run away with it. I have seen no outstanding sides so far and that makes the in-out nature of our performances all the more frustrating.

All we want for Christmas is ... Two good performances back to back, and some signs that our players will start playing to the potential we think they have got. We keep being told we have a great squad on paper and we need to start seeing it transferred to the pitch on a more consistent basis or we can write this season off and look forward to finishing in 14th place.

Mark Halliwell @MarkHalliwell1

Chesterfield

Season in one word Captivating

How's it going? A record breaking start to the season, winning seven and drawing one of the first eight league games was incredible. The unbeaten run, ended by our nearest and dearest rivals Mansfield started what's been inconsistency ever since. During the summer Paul Cook gathered what must be one of the strongest squads in the division and his brand of possession football has at times been a pleasure to watch. Recent criticism by some fans can only be explained by the bar being raised due to the early season form. Sitting second in the league and in the northern area final of the JPT can only be described as a season going to plan.

Who's been the star? Difficult one this but I'm going with Sam Hird. Transfer listed in the summer after being the scapegoat for last season's failed promotion bid. He's shown real professionalism and got back in the side and has been superb. Off the list and first on the team sheet.

Biggest disappointment? It has to be the home defeat in the league against Mansfield. After going unbeaten for so long and in front of a full house at the Proact, the defeat was hard to take. Revenge did come only 10 days later in the away JPT fixture. All we need now is revenge in the league!

All we want for Christmas is ... Without doubt I'm hoping Paul Cook wakes on Christmas morning to find a newly refurbished and ready to go Jack Lester in his stocking at the end of the bed. Misfiring strikers Marc Richards and Armand Gnanduillet could do with a few more lessons from the legend who would still have done a job this season.

Dean Mansell Away End

Dagenham & Redbridge

Season in one word Surprised.

How's it going? The biggest plus point is that we've been overachieved on where we thought we'd be at this stage at the start of the season. Our canny knack of putting the ball in the net far more than last season has helped, as have the unexpected and rather welcome signings of Zavon Hines and Rhys Murphy. Our home form has been sparkling, and if we can sort out our dodgy results on the road then we should have an even brighter second half of the season.

Who's been the star? The aforementioned signings of tricky winger Hines and natural goalscorer Murphy have been the standout players. They give us a creative and cutting edge up front, where previously we had neither. Wayne Burnett deserves tremendous credit for getting them in.

Biggest disappointment? Our continual inability to defend against set-pieces. We've conceded so many goals as a result of aerial mistakes this season it's become something of a running joke. As soon as we think we've turned a corner with regards to dropping silly points, it creeps back up on us again.

All we want for Christmas is … for Santa to lock the doors and not give any other side a Hines- or Murphy-shaped present in January. If he could also spare a banjo and a barn-door for misfiring forwards Josh Scott and Chris Dickson, that'd be fantastic.

Nick Murphy @NickMurphy1995

Exeter City

Season in one word Frustrating

How's it going? A blistering start saw us playing some lovely football and dreaming of promotion but since a 4-0 demolition of Scunthorpe in mid-October we haven't won until Saturday's victory at Accrington. Such is the tight nature of League Two, we're still only four points off the play-offs, although which Exeter we'll get in 2014 is anybody's guess.

Who's been the star? Given our tight playing budget, a lot of our academy players have stepped up and outshone more senior team mates. The likes of Matt Grimes, Jordan Moore-Taylor, Matt Jay and Tom Nichols have all shown glimpses of a bright future.

Biggest disappointment? Sadly the frustration with last season's collapse combined with this season's slump has occasionally broken out into hostility between fans and the players and manager. Yes, the football's very poor at times, but the same can be said for the home atmosphere. We're still in touch for promotion, which makes it all a little self-defeating.

All we want for Christmas is … Can I come over all mushy and ask that the season of goodwill extends into the rest of 2014 at St James Park? We're a relatively decent side in transition and if everybody pulls together the play-offs are within reach. Failing that, the gift of consistency would be nice.

Gary Andrews @gafootbl

Fleetwood Town

Season in one word Promising

How's it going? After manager Graham Alexander jettisoned virtually the whole of last year's squad over summer, the Cod Army started the season surprisingly smoothly, sitting just two points off the top, in no part helped by a raft of signings from higher up the league. Bury captain Steven Schumacher, Stevenage skipper Mark Roberts and Notts Country winger Jeff Hughes have added experience to the team, while 10-year veteran Nathan Pond continues to amaze, despite joining Fleetwood one level above Sunday league. We've been promoted every two years for what seems like eternity, and with the amount of money being spent, a top three spot is eminently realistic.

Who's been the star? After losing Jamie Vardy to Leicester in 2012, we spent last year's campaign – our first ever in the Football League – lacking creativity in the final third. Thankfully, the signing of Antoni Sarcevic from Chester City has filled our treqartista-shaped hole – you can't move for Championship scouts at Highbury these days.

Biggest disappointment? For reasons to be explained below, the unfortunate teenage striker Emmanuel Dieseruvwe, signed on loan from Sheffield Wednesday. A complete inability to trap the ball hasn't exactly made him a fan favourite.

All we want for Christmas is … Our two front men (although one would suffice). Record signing Jamille Matt broke his ankle in November (entirely unrelated to the huge 8ft flag I'd just made him), and back-ups David Ball and Jon Parkin have also struggled with injuries and form. Alexander needs a target man in January, for Dieseruvwe's sake at the very least.

Alasdair Pal

Hartlepool United

Season in one word Encouraging.

How's it going? Not too bad after a slow start, it took us six league games to register our first goal and seven for our first league win which looked like it was going be another long season in store for us. However with us winning five out of six games in October, we seemed to have turned a corner under Colin Cooper. Additionally with promising young players like Luke James, Jack Baldwin and Michael Duckworth showing their potential and the team playing some good football, there's room to be positive here at The Vic.

Who's been the star? While praise should rightly go to Scott Flinders, Jack Baldwin and Luke James; I'd have to single out Michael Duckworth. Signed from Bradford Park Avenue earlier in the season, the right-back looks like he's playing professional football all his career and has a big future ahead of him.

Biggest disappointment? The slow start, I suppose. We weren't playing too badly and looked very sound defensively which made it even more frustrating.

All we want for Christmas is … Another striker would be nice, 19-year-old Luke James has hit double figures so far but there aren't many other options should he get injured or suspended etc. With wages being freed up from the departure of Steve Howard, we could hopefully see a new addition in the upcoming transfer window.

David Jolly @DavidPKL

Mansfield Town

Season in one word Steady

How's it going? Being promoted from the conference as champions came as such a relief and, considering the stability of the chairman, with ambition. He's been quoted as saying he wants another promotion and after starting surprising well, it looked likely but the usual November/December slump has set in and now we're in danger of having a very different fight on our hands. That said, Paul Cox's teams are statistically stronger after Christmas so for the majority of supporters, worry of the R word is a long way away. Stability is key, anything above that is pleasing.

Who's been the star? There's a few contenders so far, Chris Clements has been surprising whilst Jamie McGuire, despite his suspensions has impressed. Sam Clucas has notched a few goals for us but Matt Green's boots still haven't been filled so nobody is really shining to his effect yet.

Biggest disappointment? Despite Sam Clucas' efforts, the disappointing factor has been the complete failure to replace Matt Green, 57 goals in two seasons is a tough act to follow. We've signed players with promise but promises can be broken as the 300+ minute spell without a goal highlighted.

All we want for Christmas is ... Up until a few weeks ago, the answer would have been for Adam Murray and Paul Cox to kiss and make up following the clear tiff which saw Murray shipped out on loan to local non-league sides. Now they've buried the hatchet, it has to be a goal machine!

Craig Priest @craigpriest14

Morecambe

Season in one word Encouraging

How's it going? A decent start to the season saw us reach the top of the table, albeit for a few minutes, after coming back from 3-0 down to win 4-3 against champions-elect Chesterfield. Unfortunately, that form could not be sustained through November and a sticky spell, particularly at home, has seen us fall just short of the play-off places. However, a very encouraging start for what must be the smallest squad in League 2. The league is extremely tight this year, anyone can beat anyone, so there is no reason we can't make a sneaky push for a top seven finish.

Who's been the star? Jim Bentley will always be a hero. As a player he always gave 100% and as such instantly earned the respect and admiration of supporters. He puts in even more as a manager, and fully deserves the success he will undoubtedly achieve. We hope that will be with us.

Biggest disappointment? Losing at home to Accrington. We have still failed to beat Accrington in every Football League encounter since our promotion. Form is thrown out of the window each time and regrettably, (even if usually with the help of a poor official) they usually show more determination than us to win the game.

All we want for Christmas is … A new signing would be great as we have struggled to name a full bench for most of the season. Failing that, for Kevin Ellison to knock back a few years and become even more prolific in front of goal – with added pace!

Jack Steer

Newport County

Season in one word Outstanding!

How's it going? I had high hopes for this season and felt we'd do well back in the league. I'm delighted that we've well exceeded those expectations. Considering that we've had a number of key injuries, heading into Christmas in the playoffs and three points off the top is a fantastic reflection on the manager's ability in particular and the spirit of the players and supporters. Our home record in particular has been really strong, and the only league game we've lost was down to a very unlucky day for one player. Away from home we've competed almost everywhere, and it shouldn't take much to turn good draws into one or two more wins. We've started to show that ability by beating Pompey 2-0 on Saturday.

Who's been the star? The manager Justin Edinburgh for me is the star man again. He's consistently made good decisions and has conjured some results out of nothing. His track record on signing players is fantastic and tactically he's got us playing great football.

Biggest disappointment? Unfortunately I probably saw this one coming, but conceding four at Kidderminster and going out of the FA Cup is the biggest disappointment. I really wouldn't want to be too critical though, it's one bad result and the season overall has been brilliant.

All we want for Christmas is ... For our key players to stop getting injured. If we get that, then we're solid contenders for the playoffs and may even sneak into the top three. We don't need much in the transfer market and anyone we bring in will be cover for our outstanding existing squad.

James Allen @jamesallenSE4

Northampton Town

Season in one word Disappointing

How's it going? Not very well. The Wembley hangover lasted through the summer and for most of the early part of the season with a clear out of players that got us into the play-off final followed by inadequate replacements and key injuries putting pay to any plans of another promotion push already. Now it's all about getting out of the bottom two with much better signings coming in on short term loans to try and get us out of the mess that we've got ourselves in.

Who's been the star? The man I feel most sorry for is goalkeeper Matt Duke who has been outstanding in the middle of some abject performances from the rest of the team. Signed in the summer from play-off final opponents Bradford, Duke has kept us in many a game and kept the score down in plenty of others.

Biggest disappointment? The summer transfer window dealings. We never properly replaced Bayo Akinfenwa and the likes of midfield battler Luke Guttridge. Fortunately, Aidy Boothroyd appears to have realised his mistakes and has started to bring in the right characters on loan to start to turn things around.

All we want for Christmas is ... Ricky Ravenhill on a permanent deal, the ability to win away from home, a miracle cure for Kelvin Langmead, Lewis Hornby and Alex Nicholls' injuries, penalty taking lessons and 50 more points.

Danny Brothers @dannybrothers

Oxford United

Season in one word Gritty

How's it going? Somehow Oxford United are top of the pile heading towards the Christmas holidays. Less of a reflection on the brilliance of The Us' squad, it probably says more about the weakness of League Two this year than anything else. Regardless, Chris Wilder has started to answer his doubters by forging a fantastic team-spirit that has seen United face up to yet another injury-ravaged campaign. Previous seasons have seen The Us falter without their key players, but with everyone seemingly pulling together this term, Wilder looks close to earning a contract-extension if he can secure a promotion spot.

Who's been the star? The Development Squad. Set up this summer by chairman Ian Lenagan, it reflects his impassioned belief that the club needs to develop home-grown players. This has gone hand-in-hand with Wilder being shackled in the loan market. Lo and behold, the youngsters have been stepping into the breach admirably and team-spirit has never been better.

Biggest disappointment? There's not a great deal to be disappointed about, though Jonathan Meades missing the entire season through injury has been a blow. Most Us fans were excited when AFC Wimbledon's Young Player of the Year signed this summer, but Meades has been sidelined with ruptured ankle ligaments since pre-season.

All we want for Christmas is ... To avoid the traditional end of season collapse. Oxford have a bad habit of throwing away healthy league positions after Christmas. Maybe some players have enjoyed a few too many helpings of turkey in the past? We're top of the league, but a Christmas miracle to keep us there wouldn't go amiss.

Antony Fallows @TonyFallows

Plymouth Argyle

Season in one word Meh

How's it going? John Sheridan's Argyle have struggled to push on after last season's final day escape from relegation, stumbling through the first half of the 2013-14 campaign. An inconsistent start preceded an alarming eight game winless streak that lasted for much of September and October, before a run of three wins and two draws in November nudged the Greens back towards the relative comfort of mid-table. The Gaffer deserves credit for stopping the rot, but further progress is unlikely to be made until Argyle – who are League Two's lowest scorers – improve their record in front of goal.

Who's been the star? Reuben Reid has battled manfully in attack, converting some of his vocal doubters whilst netting five of Argyle's (pitifully small) total of 14 league goals. If a couple of his teammates could chip in with a few more, the Greens might be able to edge their way towards the top half of the table.

Biggest disappointment? A trip to Vale Park was not quite what everyone had in mind when Argyle made it into the FA Cup third round draw for the first time since 2010. No disrespect meant to Port Vale fans, who were no doubt equally delighted to have the chance to host such a glamour tie...

All we want for Christmas is ... A few more goals, please. Ideally enough to keep us out of the relegation scrap.

Mark Anderson

Portsmouth

Season in one word Struggle

How's it going? A tough half-season in League Two. We have sparked occasionally, but faltered too frequently. Bright beginnings to matches have fizzled out into dull draws and abject starts have been followed by promising performances, without success. We now find ourselves four points from the bottom of the table, following a winless streak of eight games. Maulings by Oxford and Newport were followed by home defeats to Southend and Scunthorpe. There's hope that the new management team of Richie Barker and Steve Coppell can turn things around (with encouraging words so far), but there's hardly anything to build on.

Who's been the star? Ricky Holmes has been the closest we've had to a consistent performer. He is currently the top assister in League Two (seven assists), which is decent considering our top scorer has not scored in the league since August.

Biggest disappointment? The squad failing to gel in the way that many of us convinced ourselves that it would. Community spirit and fan-ownership does not transfer into a unified team. (I should also mention the match-fixing allegations against Sam Sodje which were the last thing we needed associated in any way with the club. Dreadful.)

All we want for Christmas is ... A revival – something to cling on to and a semblance of stability. At this stage, we should forget pre-season predictions of play-offs and promotion – it's survival we're aiming for.

Benedict West

Rochdale

Season in one word: Progressive

How's it going? Despite suffering a little blip in the league at the minute, the general consensus within the Rochdale fanbase is that we will still finish in the top seven. With the most successful manager in the club's history back at the helm we've started playing football the right way again and we have some exceptional players for this level, such as Matty Lund and Scott Hogan. It's also fantastic to be in the third round of the FA Cup for the first time since the 2004-05 season and everyone at the club is looking forward to a home tie versus Leeds.

Who's been the star? Scott Hogan. Having been released by the club as a youngster, Scott's made his way back to the club through the non-league ladder and has been a fantastic addition to the squad. He's got bags of pace and skill and can finish too and at just 21 and looks set to go on to bigger and better things.

Biggest disappointment? Matty Done. When Done returned to the club for a second spell the Dale messageboards went into overdrive as he was considered one of our better players when we played in League One. So far however, he has looked desperately off the pace and nowhere near the player he was first time round.

All we want for Christmas is … Grant Holt to come home. Or Rickie Lambert. Or Chris O'Grady. Or any of our ex-forwards. Given that we've developed something of a reputation for producing strikers it's somewhat frustrating that the one thing this team lacks is a striker who can hold the ball up and bring our attacking midfield players into play.

Dean Smith

Scunthorpe United

Season in one word Eventful

How's it going? After relegation from League One many fans were hopeful that we'd build a decent team to attack League Two. A combination of former players (Andy Dawson, Matt Sparrow with Cliff Byrne and Marcus Williams coming on loan), ageing veterans (Burton and Iwelumo) and untested youngsters (Hawkridge and Waterfall) brought in by Brian Laws, who struggled to get them all playing well together and was subsequently relieved of his duties and replaced in a caretaker capacity by his number two, Russ Wilcox. Whilst the team were in a decent position in the table they were struggling to pick up points at times and the change seems to have improved the fortunes of the Iron. Playing free flowing attacking football has brought a smile back to faces of fans and players alike.

Who's been the star? So far it's been striker Sam Winnall. Released by Wolves during the summer he's scored nine goals going into the festive period. Having had the likes of Sharp, Hooper and Keogh on the clubs books in the past we always seem to come up trumps with strikers and Winnall seems to be the next to come off the Glanford Park production line.

Biggest disappointment? Chris Iwelumo. The former Scotland International (probably most famous for his glaring miss against Norway from two yards out) came in with a big reputation and a lot of optimism in the eyes of fans but his return of two goals has been somewhat of a disappointment.

All we want for Christmas is … Plans for a new stadium to come to fruition. Glanford Park is 25 years old this year and is beginning to show its age. New chairman Peter Swann is looking to expand the club in many ways, the plan for a push towards returning to the Championship look set to revolve around a new ground in north Lincolnshire.

Carl Gac

Southend United

Season in one word Promising

How's it going? The season has gone surprisingly well. Not many Southend fans expected to be chasing promotion this year, particularly as Phil Brown won just one of his eight games towards the end of last season. However, despite the constant financial restraints imposed on every Southend manager, Brown has built a solid side based on good football and hard work. There also appears to be an excellent team spirit in the squad and the mood at Roots Hall finally feels positive again. Long may it continue.

Who's been the star? Ryan Leonard. The 21 year old has moved permanently to the centre of midfield this season and excelled in his new role. Special mentions to Kevan Hurst, who has added six league goals to his usual assists this season, and the much-improved Anthony Straker – League Two's Gareth Bale, if you believe Phil Brown. Don't.

Bioggest disappointment? The FA Cup draw. After winning two tough away games in the cup, we are rewarded with Millwall at home. Pfft. On the plus side, that being the main disappointment demonstrates how good a season it has been for Southend.

All we want for Christmas is... To no longer be under a transfer embargo. We have been embargoed for the whole season and, whilst allowing us a squad of 20 – which is adequate in League Two – the ability to add to the squad in January could be crucial to the second half of the season.

Lew Carey @lewcarey25

Torquay United

Season in one word Excruciating

How's it going? Abysmally – we're bottom of the table with the worst goal difference. Our narrow victory this weekend was only our fourth of the season and our third clean sheet: both the joint-lowest in the division. While nobody expected our play-off challenges in recent years to become the norm given our relative lack of financial clout, staying out of relegation danger was the barest of minimum expectations. My sole reason for optimism is how close the division is this season: a win in our next match could see us leapfrog five other teams.

Who's been the star? Our reserve goalkeeper, Martin Rice, has stepped up admirably after the pre-season injury sustained by Michael Poke. He was man of the match in his first appearance with a string of fine saves and has maintained an assertive composure that belies his lack of experience at this level.

Biggest disappointment? Our defence has been the most culpable for our miserable season so far. We've been carved open far too easily, facing more shots from inside our six yard box than anyone in the division. We've also struggled to protect leads, taking League Two's smallest share of points from winning positions.

All we want for Christmas is ... Some locally-sourced Christmas cheer. Our festive fixture list sees us play at home to Bristol Rovers and Exeter and then away to Plymouth, so there'll be minimal travelling and a hopefully fantastic atmosphere to motivate the players. It's the perfect opportunity to build some much-needed momentum.

Ben Mayhew @GreenwichGull

Wycombe Wanderers

Season in one word Inconsistent

How's it going? After three consecutive victories in September, Wanderers hit the dizzy heights of 8th in the League Two table but subsequent form has been awful. Two victories in 13 League games and no wins from the last eight has seen Gareth Ainsworth's side fall to 15th place in the table – only Mansfield have a worse record in the same period. The poor form has been coupled with a disciplinary record that has seen 57 yellow and six red cards picked up in all competitions to date this season. Ainsworth says he won't compromise on his style of play to trim the bookings but the run of winless games will be a concern for the former QPR midfielder who has been experimenting with a squad rotation system this season. Some supporters have voiced their concerns but in the main, Ainsworth is well liked and should pull Wanderers away from the danger zone.

Who's been the star? Former youth team goalkeeper Matt Ingram. Thrown into the first team spotlight during the latter stages of last season aged 19 and never looked out of place. Ever present this season and if his ever growing confidence and impressive form continues, Wycombe will do well to keep hold of him for much longing that the current campaign.

Biggest disappointment? The poor home form that has seen Wanderers register just three home league victories in ten attempts so far this season. That's hit the crowds too, with our lowest ever Football League attendance (2,357) being recorded at Adams Park when Exeter City were the visitors in November.

All we want for Christmas is ... With the budget restricted, we can't expect too much to come our way in terms of a new striker, so our best hope is for the current forwards to hit some decent form. Top scorer Dean Morgan (five goals) has not scored since bagging five in five during August and September. Natural scorer Matt McClure has chipped in with four league goals but both players will hope to remain injury free for the remainder of the season and start hitting the net on a regular basis.

Paul Lewis

York City

Season in one word Disappointing

How's it going? Not well. We have shown a few glimpses of where Nigel Worthington wants us to be but we seem to shoot ourselves in the foot time after time. Our over-reliance on the loan market is especially highlighted in the defence where four out of the back five are borrowed from other clubs. Worthington strengthened the forwards in the summer and that is the one area we can be pleased with. The problem is further back where a leaky defence have conceded 28 times so far, the fourth worst tally in the division.

Who's been the star? Tough one, but Ryan Jarvis joined to a mixed reception but started the season well. His hard work has proved effective and his knack of being in the right place at the right time has soon started to win the crowd round.

Biggest disappointment? Richard Cresswell's homecoming really got the City faithful excited especially after joining on loan towards the end of last season and helping steer the club to safety. His few performances at the start of this season, however, left a lot to be desired. Maybe it was fitting of our season that he announced his retirement a few weeks ago after failing to shake off an on-going eye injury.

All we want for Christmas is ... A City fan to come into some money and pledge to refurbish Bootham Crescent would be our Christmas miracle. If not that then a time machine for David McGurk so we can get a younger, healthier version would be nice.

Shaun Wathey @Wathey


theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds








Chris’ stats column: pass completion and fouls per game better at predicting points totals per season than shots or possession

(See Chris’ previous two columns on Home Form and Why Possession Doesn’t Matter)

Last week we went over the features the Premier League regression model rejected — Possession % and Shots per Game. While the model rejected two features in both datasets, it also selected three: Goal Differential (GD), Passing Completion %, and Fouls Per Game.

Our first universal feature, goal differential, doesn’t merit much discussion because quite frankly, it’s incredibly obvious. If any of us were to pick one feature we were sure would be included before running the feature selection script, GD would likely have been top of everyone’s list, and quite rightly so. Teams that score more goals and conceded fewer goals do well. This isn’t news to anyone.

Passing percentage on the other hand is a curious feature to select, especially considering possession was dropped by the model. However, when one considers the role accurate passing plays in creating goal scoring opportunities, it doesn’t seem that odd a feature to select at all. As the summary of the model showed, Goal Differential was the best feature selected because it had an average p-value of 0. A p-value this low helps us reject the Null Hypothesis, which in our case is that these features share no correlation predicting points.

Passing the ball at a high rate can lead to more clear cut chances. We’d need more granular data here to make more specific assumptions, but on the surface we can understand how passing the ball accurately might lead to more goal scoring opportunities, which feeds right back into goal differential. Its why teams like Arsenal are so good at creating chances. Accurating passing not only can set up chances directly in and around the box, but it can also bypass defending players, create number advantages and open up opposition defenses.

Fouls per game are similar in that they have the ability to feed right into goal differential. On the goals scored side of the equation, fouls lead to set pieces, and as Arsenal fans we all know how powerful set pieces can be as over the past four season the Gunners have been undone by them time and time again (not to mention in the two games we lost in Manchester this season). On the other side of it, we’ve heralded the return of Mathieu Flamini because he shields the back four. Sure he does this with well timed tackles and interceptions. But both he and Arteta are not afraid to take a professional foul, even eating a Yellow Card to break up an opposition attack and prevent a potential goal scoring opportunity.

There is, of course, a lot of nuance to this as none of these statistics in and of themselves are perfect predictors. This is where our experience as Arsenal fans, and Premier League fans more generally, comes quite in handy when interpreting results. Stoke and West Ham, for example, led the league last year in fouls per game. When you look at their league table position, both were in the lower half. Yet looking at the goal differential of these teams you see that West Ham at -8 and Stoke at -11 have two of the better goal differentials in the bottom half of the table. When you add into the mix that both were in the top half of teams on number of goals from set pieces (Stoke scored 15 last season whilst West Ham scored 12) and in the bottom half of goals scored from open play (Stoke was dead last) you can see how fouls can have a serious impact on both sides of Goal Differential.

As the model is starting to show there are a myriad of general team features that feed into predicting points totals throughout the season. With some refactoring and additional feature collection we could paint a much more vivid image of what statistics matter, but even with these more general team statistics we can start to make a lot of sense of different tactics and decisions throughout the course of a season. Next week I’ll discuss home specific features and how they fit into our model for predicting points totals. Until then, you can always view the source materials hosted on Github (linked below) and follow me on twitter: @triplec1988.

* This project is fully summarized here: http://triplec1988.github.io/regressionBPL/#!. All source code, datasets, images, presentation and analysis is hosted on GitHub, licensed under Apache 2.0 Software License.

Nike signs extension with U.S. Soccer to remain official uniform provider

HerculezGomezUSMNT1-CostaRicaSnow (Getty)

By DAN KARELL

Players and coaches have come and gone through U.S. Soccer, but there’s been one constant since 1995.

Nike, the team’s official uniform provider, announced today that it has signed a new contract with U.S. Soccer to continue that partnership through 2022. Nike will continue to design both the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team jerseys for the next nine years.

“Nike is extremely proud to continue our longstanding partnership with U.S. Soccer,” Nike brand president Trevor Edwards said in a statement. “The partnership reinforces Nike’s leadership in soccer, as we continue to deliver game-changing innovations on the pitch and share the same vision to further grow the sport as a whole in the U.S.”

Nike, an official partner of U.S. Soccer since 1995, has designed the team’s uniforms for for the last four men’s and women’s World Cups and other international competitions. The USMNT debuted their latest jersey, the white uniform featuring a retro crest in honor of U.S. Soccer’s centennial, last March ahead of World Cup qualifying matches against Costa Rica and Mexico.

—–

What do you think of this news? Glad to see U.S. Soccer continue with Nike? Would you rather see them in Adidas uniforms? Think it makes a difference?

Share your thoughts below.

Cardiff say Mackay stays in charge

• Vincent Tan flying in for match at Anfield
• Owner and chairman to meet on Friday evening

Cardiff City insist that Malky Mackay will still be in the Cardiff City dugout at Anfield on Saturday despite a demand from his chairman to either resign or face the sack.

Mackay boarded the team's flight to Liverpool for Saturday's game knowing that the billionaire owner Vincent Tan was on his way from Malaysia to meet with his chairman Mehmet Dalman in London on Friday evening.

Tan had sent the 41-year-old Mackay a dossier of complaints in an e-mail that included criticisms of his work on signings, transfer budgets, results on the pitch and his conservative style of play and ordered him to tender his resignation or face being fired.

His work to date at the club may have been good enough to earn them the Championship title last season, and to earn 17 points from 16 games to remain four points off the relegation zone in 15th place in the Premier League, but that has obviously not impressed the owner.

The week-long Christmas pantomime involving the two men took another farcical twist when the assistant manager Dave Kerslake was thrust into centre stage at Friday morning's pre-match press conference, at which Mackay was a "no-show". The press were barred from filming outside the room and from tweeting and blogging during the conference.

"Unfortunately, we've been blocked from bringing you events as they happen, but stay tuned, and we'll have a bulletin from the presser as soon as we can," said a message on the Wales Online website.

The week began for Mackay when he was publicly criticised by Tan in a club statement and told "not a single penny" would be available to spend in the January transfer window.

Mackay had suggested after his side defeated West Bromwich Albion on Saturday that he wanted to bring in three players in the January transfer window – a defender, a midfielder and a striker.

"I will talk to my chairman who will then discuss it with his board of directors and our owner and I will take my lead from them," he had said. "It's up to them then what financially they want to spend in January. I've got my lists of players whether they be targets or loans and for various positions."

The chief executive Simon Lim responded in a statement in which he said: "Tan Sri Vincent Tan was extremely upset to read quotes from the manager concerning the possibility of new recruits, before he had been informed whether funds would be made available," Lim said. "He believes that doing so unfairly raises supporter expectations, placing unnecessary pressure on the club."

Kerslake, who came to Cardiff with Mackay from Watford in June, 2011, was given the unenviable task of playing a straight bat to a media pack looking for straight answers.

"I am here just to talk about the Liverpool game tomorrow. I came in this morning and was told to come in and do the press. Malky is in the pavilion now as we speak," said Kerslake.

"As far as we are concerned it is just another game in which we face a wonderfully talented team. We have prepared all this week as professionally as always.

"The manager prepares his team the same way every week. We have enjoyed all season putting ourselves into battle against the best."

So, will Kerslake be in charge at Anfield? "Nobody has said anything different to me. It has been totally as normal this week. We have been though the same training routines and the players have been just as normal – nothing has been anything different," he said.

"Without being boring it has been a normal week for us. We are looking forward to going to Anfield. We are going to be really tested, but we have done well this season, competed in every game and we will go there looking for a result."

Kerslake said he did not expect the spat between the manager and the owner to have any effect on the players and did not appear to be too concerned about his own position.

"Every manager and coach knows it is a precarious job – nothing changes. Give me a question about the football match tomorrow then I will answer," he added.

"Malky is unavailable to speak and I have been asked to come and do the press for the game tomorrow. Malky is unavailable to speak."

A red-faced Cardiff City press officer Mark Denham finally brought the surreal five minutes, 24 seconds conference to an end with a curt "we'll end it there" after pressure to reveal who would be in charge on Saturday, although he did say he had spoken to Mackay.

Later, around 60 fans turned up at Cardiff's stadium to protest against Tan and his running of the club.


theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds








José Mourinho avoids public criticism of Ashley Cole over Arsenal party

• Chelsea full-back set to be on bench for Emirates game
• 'I can't control what they do when they are not with me'

José Mourinho refused to criticise Ashley Cole publicly for attending Arsenal's Christmas party this week, but does not plan to select the England left-back for Chelsea's top-of-the-table trip to the Emirates Stadium.

Chelsea entertain Arsenal on Monday hoping for a victory that could take them top of the Premier League at Christmas.

Cole, who made a controversial move from Arsenal to Chelsea during Mourinho's first spell as manager, has been out of favour in recent months and is likely to be on the substitutes' bench at best on Monday.

Mourinho said: "I have my opinion, but I keep [it to] myself. It was a free day for them, so I'm not a father, I'm a manager, and I can't control what they do when they are not with me."

Cole played in Tuesday's Capital One Cup loss at Sunderland, when Cesar Azpilicueta was at right-back due to the suspension of Branislav Ivanovic.

With Ivanovic available again at Arsenal, the Spain right-back Azpilicueta will revert to left-back, where he has performed well in recent weeks, keeping Cole out of the side.

Mourinho added: "From the beginning Ashley's not playing, [but] today is Friday, the game is Monday. Something can happen in between.

"I play Ivanovic right-back, I play Azpilicueta left-back. I play John Terry and I have to choose between [Gary] Cahill and David Luiz."

He added: "Not even to Ashley Cole have I given my opinion, because I don't have to.

"It was his free day, it was his free night. The next morning we didn't train, we trained only in the afternoon.

"I have no right to make any kind of comment."


theguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds