BBC BLOGS - Phil McNulty

Archives for January 2011

Hughes reign takes shape as Spurs suffer

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Phil McNulty | 21:44 UK time, Sunday, 30 January 2011

Craven Cottage

Harry Redknapp described his low-slung vantage point at Craven Cottage as "the worst viewing position I have ever been in my life." On this day it was a blessing in disguise.

The less Redknapp saw of Tottenham being taken to the cleaners by Fulham on the banks of the Thames the better - from first to last this was an eyesore of a performance.

If Fulham's impressive passage into the FA Cup fifth round marked the high point of Mark Hughes' fledgling tenure as manager, it was a rare low in Redknapp's reign at Spurs.

Fulham's 4-0 victory margin, with all goals scored in a spectacular first 45 minutes, was an understatement of their superiority and almost constituted a light escape for dismal Spurs.

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Torres bid tests Liverpool and Chelsea

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Phil McNulty | 14:54 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

Chelsea's pursuit of Fernando Torres - and how this attempted transfer is concluded over the coming days - will tell us much about the hunger of Roman Abramovich and his new counterparts at Liverpool.

Abramovich has been accused of taking his eye off the ball at Stamford Bridge and presiding over an ageing and declining squad after pulling in his purse strings. At worst he has been charged with losing interest in the club he once funded so lavishly.

The first stirrings that Abramovich may be ready to rekindle his desire to back coach Carlo Ancelotti came with the move for Benfica's David Luiz, but a better measure will be provided by how seriously he goes for Torres after an offer of about £35m was rejected by Liverpool.

Abramovich's arrival on Anfield's doorstep is also a test for Liverpool's new owners, who make up the Fenway Sports Group, as they attempt to shape a new era and philosophy.

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Can FA Cup cheer Moyes and Ancelotti?

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Phil McNulty | 09:18 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

If the stakes were high when Everton met Chelsea in the 2009 FA Cup final at Wembley, then there will still be plenty riding on the outcome when the two clubs meet again in fourth-round combat at Goodison Park on Saturday.

Should Everton go out to the holders and last season's Double winners, Toffees manager David Moyes knows, for all the admiration he has won for fighting the financial odds at the impoverished Merseysiders, his reign might be measured by not landing a trophy.

If the men from Goodison Park lose, Moyes' next chance to get his hands on silverware will come around about the 10th anniversary of his arrival from Preston. For all the Scot's fine work, this is a stark and sobering statistic and one which may cause the 47-year-old to reflect on the direction in which his tenure is heading.

The FA Cup also has serious appeal for Moyes' Chelsea counterpart Carlo Ancelotti, with a collapse in form handing the Premier League initiative to Manchester United - the Red Devils are 10 points clear of the West Londoners at the top of the table - and Barcelona presenting an imposing obstacle for anyone with sights on the Champions League.

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McLeish outwits Grant for Wembley prize

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Phil McNulty | 06:30 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

St Andrew's

Birmingham City were true to both the words of their club anthem and mantra of manager Alex McLeish as they reached their first major Wembley final in 55 years.

When West Ham United walked off at half-time with an extended lead in the Carling Cup semi-final and the sound of the home fans turning on their own players, all Avram Grant's recent traumas seemed a world away.

But as the strains of "Keep Right On To The End Of The Road" rang around St Andrew's in a call to action, McLeish reacted by ordering his Birmingham players to have no regrets when they returned to the dressing room after the final whistle.

What Grant told his West Ham players is a mystery - but there was no doubt who won the battle of the managers and with it a place in the Carling Cup final against Arsenal.

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Adam class can't halt Man Utd

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Phil McNulty | 00:45 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Bloomfield Road

Blackpool Pleasure Beach stood eerie and deserted as a biting wind howled along the Golden Mile - but a Bloomfield Road classic illuminated the slumbering old seaside town.

As Ian Holloway requested a hammer and a pen-knife to build a statue to Charlie Adam after he added lustre to his reputation and millions to his price tag, Manchester United were erecting a new monument to the indomitable spirit fostered by manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Adam, coveted by Liverpool and Aston Villa but valued far in excess of the £4m currently on offer, was the inspiration behind 72 magical minutes that placed Blackpool on course to wreck United's unbeaten record in the Premier League this season.

And yet, in a match stretched to 100 minutes by an injury to Rafael da Silva, United again performed their time-honoured trick of manouevring themselves out of the tight corner they had been backed into by a brilliant Blackpool performance, running out 3-2 winners.

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Bent makes dream start at Villa

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Phil McNulty | 22:11 UK time, Saturday, 22 January 2011

Villa Park

The natural gift that persuaded Gerard Houllier to part with £24m was encapsulated in Darren Bent's first - and indeed only - significant contribution of a triumphant Aston Villa debut.

Bent made contact with the ball a mere 27 times in 90 minutes, but his appeal to Villa was illustrated in the decisive touch that beat Manchester City and made the first repayment on Houllier's lavish investment.

He was barely seen before or after the 18th minute when he reacted first to a loose ball as City keeper Joe Hart pushed out Ashley Young's shot, scoring with the minimum of fuss from an angle in a moment in which the match was won.

Bent's critics paint a picture of a player of limitations, but Houllier and Villa will be happy to work within them if his strike rate remains as efficient as it was here.

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Bent spearheads new Houllier era

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Phil McNulty | 17:20 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Harry Redknapp may once have compared Darren Bent unfavourably to his wife when judging the player's goalscoring prowess - but Aston Villa's desire to strike a £24m deal with Sunderland shows he remains one of the Premier League's most desirable commodities.

Gerard Houllier's biggest move in the transfer market since his arrival at Villa Park has been to secure the services of a forward who comes with a guarantee of goals. The deal is also an emphatic show of faith in his manager from Villa owner Randy Lerner.

The shock transfer has already been portrayed as either a panic move by a Villa hierarchy fearing relegation or a coup that has stunned their rivals and makes a spectacular statement of intent about the future under Houllier.

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Ferguson's fighters still standing

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Phil McNulty | 07:20 UK time, Monday, 17 January 2011

White Hart Lane

Harry Redknapp evoked memories of the notorious 1984 Olympics clash between Mary Decker and Zola Budd to describe the most contentious moment of the stalemate between Tottenham and Manchester United.

He likened Rafael's tangle with Benoit Assou-Ekotto that brought United's defender a harsh red card to the moment Los Angeles stopped as Budd, a South African athlete running for Great Britain, unwittingly brought the American sweetheart to the floor in the 3,000m final to became a nation's villain.

Nice line from Harry - and delivered after his maturing Spurs became the latest side to try and fail to make the Premier League's own frontrunners stumble and fall.

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Holloway's winning ways

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Phil McNulty | 11:24 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

Jimmy Armfield jokes that when the fixtures were published for Blackpool's return to English football's top tier after a 40-year absence he studied them with great care - to work out when they might win their first corner.

Blackpool were every pundit's favourites for relegation and most realists in the grand old seaside town were bracing themselves for a one-season ride on the domestic game's equivalent of the "Big One".

And yet, under the inspirational leadership of manager Ian Holloway, the Seasiders have emerged as one of the stories of the Premier League campaign, capped by a 2-1 win over Liverpool at Bloomfield Road on Wednesday that gave them the double over the Anfield giants.

Blackpool have already secured 28 points towards the recognised survival target of 40 - seven points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, if you are real romantic - and club legend Armfield is marvelling at the feats achieved by Holloway and his players.

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Hodgson left to walk alone

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Phil McNulty | 12:22 UK time, Saturday, 8 January 2011

When Roy Hodgson sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" on his final Anfield appearance as Liverpool manager against Bolton Wanderers, he may have been too wrapped up in his own perilous position to appreciate the irony.

If ever a man walked alone and out of tune with Anfield's anthem it was Hodgson - an invisible presence to The Kop for most of his Liverpool reign and deserted by so many of his players in his hours of need.

The only time Hodgson attracted attention was when Liverpool's supporters demanded his removal or the return of Kenny Dalglish to the managerial chair the 63-year-old has occupied so uncomfortably since July.

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What would Beckham bring to Spurs?

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Phil McNulty | 06:00 UK time, Thursday, 6 January 2011

Goodison Park

If Harry Redknapp required a public prod to persuade Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy of the wisdom of his pursuit of David Beckham, he may just use the defeat at Everton as his prime exhibit.

Redknapp's desire to hand Beckham a brief return to the Premier League spotlight has raised familiar questions about the former England captain's true worth at this level in the twilight of an illustrious career.

How would a developing Spurs team built around the pace and width of Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale in tandem with the midfield subtlety of Luka Modric and the thrust and threat of Rafael van der Vaart accommodate a 35-year-old whose best days are inevitably in the past?

Redknapp will not have enjoyed the loss against an enigmatic Everton side, but the consolation was that it allowed him to present his case for Beckham's capture on loan.

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