BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher

Archives for December 2010

Lancashire rivals pin new year hopes on new bosses

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Paul Fletcher | 21:36 UK time, Wednesday, 29 December 2010

There is not much common ground between supporters of Lancashire rivals Burnley and Preston but they were united in their mutual disillusion on Tuesday afternoon.

The Clarets fans, desperate for an immediate return to the Premier League, saw their team outplayed as they suffered a 2-0 reverse against struggling Scunthorpe at Turf Moor. It was no better at Deepdale, where North End supporters watched their team surrender a 1-0 lead as they went down 3-1 against Championship relegation rivals Middlesbrough.

The final whistle at both grounds brought with it the sound of booing - and within 24 hours both Brian Laws at Burnley and then Preston boss Darren Ferguson had been sacked.

Let's start with Burnley. Laws was asked to stand down in a telephone conversation with chairman Barry Kilby, who is currently out of the country.

Laws was in charge at Turf Moor for less than a year. He was sacked by Sheffield Wednesday, then a struggling Championship side, on 13 December 2009 and walked into Burnley to become a Premier League boss for the first time on 13 January 2010

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Happy Christmas?

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Paul Fletcher | 09:16 UK time, Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Normally by this stage of a long and demanding season, the heady optimism of the summer months has become a distant and wistful memory for supporters of many of the Football League's 72 clubs.

Dreams of promotion have died long ago, with the uninspiring comfort of mid-table suggesting the season will be over in any aspirational sense long before it actually finishes.

For others, their clubs cut adrift at the bottom of the table like a motorist on a Scottish motorway, the Christmas turkey provides but a momentary distraction from the already inevitable relegation.

Last Christmas, Darlington were 11 points adrift of safety in League Two, Stockport were nine short in League One and Plymouth six shy of fourth-bottom in the Championship. All three clubs were relegated.

This season, no team is more than six points adrift as we go into Christmas, with that dubious honour falling to League One Yeovil. Hereford are four points short in League Two and Preston only two points shy of safety in the Championship.

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Norwich & Coventry - genuine contenders?

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Paul Fletcher | 18:42 UK time, Saturday, 18 December 2010

At the Ricoh Arena.

Norwich City manager Paul Lambert is refusing to discuss the prospect of his team winning promotion. Instead, he answers every question about his team's lofty position by stating that he is simply focused on securing enough points to avoid relegation.

In stark contrast, Coventry boss Aidy Boothroyd has recently been talking in terms of his team not only remaining in the top six but keeping the pressure on the top two.

Their words perhaps reflect their different personalities more than the relative prospects of their club's ending the season celebrating promotion.

Lambert is a cagey Scot, committed and passionate but careful with his words. He does not elaborate with his answers when a short and crisp reply will suffice.

Boothroyd is affable, witty and extraordinarily positive and upbeat. He is prone to management speak - 'possible impossibles' being one such example - but it is difficult not to like a man who is happy to discuss his team with great passion.

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Countdown king relishing PFA role

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Paul Fletcher | 14:55 UK time, Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Burnley defender Clarke Carlisle hit the headlines earlier this year when he twice triumphed on Channel Four quiz show Countdown before succumbing to an agonising 89-86 defeat third time around.

The 31-year-old still has the teapot he won but has decided it will never see active service. Instead, it remains stashed away in a cupboard, destined to remain a pristine souvenir of the time when Carlisle fulfilled a lifetime ambition.

"I love puzzles and word problems so I really enjoyed Countdown but once you do something like that it is really hard to shake it off," Carlisle told me. "It does forever stick."

That would be a shame because there is much more to Carlisle than taxing conundrums (he led in his third Countdown appearance until the final conundrum of the show) and family-friendly banter with host Jeff Stelling.

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Can Paul Ince cut it at Notts County?

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Paul Fletcher | 22:06 UK time, Saturday, 11 December 2010

At Meadow Lane

Paul Ince seemed determined to keep his emotions in check after son Thomas scored his first goal in professional football on Saturday afternoon to put Notts County in the lead late in their match against MK Dons.

It was a brilliant left-footed strike from Thomas, an 18-year-old currently on loan from Liverpool, and it ensured that a game meandering towards a goalless draw was transformed into a victory that saw the Magpies record back-to-back wins for the first time this season.

His dad quipped afterwards that he did not want to talk about the goal because he was sure he would spend the rest of the evening hearing all about it. But there was much for the manager to be pleased about as he assessed a result that lifted the Magpies out of the League One relegation zone and up to 19th in the League One table.

"I do not want to get carried away," said Ince. "But the last 20 minutes of the first half was the best I have seen from a team in this league."

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Watford break the mould in youth development

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Paul Fletcher | 17:53 UK time, Thursday, 9 December 2010

Harefield Academy, Uxbridge

Those who know Gavin Massey say he looked nervous when he came off the bench for the final minutes of Watford's 3-2 win over Leicester on Saturday.

It was the 17-year-old's second appearance for the Hornets first team after his debut on the final day of last season.

To many, it was an unremarkable event. Yet I would argue it was of great significance for the reason that Massey, a young striker who lives within 200 yards of Vicarage Road, is a product of the club's unique partnership with Harefield Academy, a secondary school down the road from the Championship club.

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