BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher

Archives for April 2011

QPR back in the big time

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Paul Fletcher | 22:23 UK time, Saturday, 30 April 2011

At Vicarage Road

The bold white print on the specially designed blue T-shirts said it all - "Rangers, back in the big time."

And it was for the time being at least, true. At Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon, QPR defeated Watford to end a 15-year exodus from the top flight of English football.

A tight and edgy contest was settled by late goals from Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith, and ensured that Neil Warnock's team will be promoted as champions.

The coaching staff embraced in the dug-out, the players hugged on the lush turf and more than a few supporters appeared unable to heed the increasingly desperate appeals for them to stay off the pitch.

Since Ray Wilkins' Rangers slipped sadly out of the top flight in 1996, the west London club has appeared to lurch from one crisis to another, often becoming a laughing stock along the way but also beset by tragedy.

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The remarkable rise of Craig Mackail-Smith

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Paul Fletcher | 11:18 UK time, Thursday, 28 April 2011

At first glance Peterborough's 2009-10 Championship campaign was an unmitigated disaster.

The club had four managers, won a pitiful eight of 46 league fixtures and finished the season bottom of the table, a massive 15 points from safety.

But out of the ashes of that miserable nine months in English football's second tier emerged a striker whose form has seen him not only linked with numerous clubs from higher divisions but also rewarded with an international cap for Scotland.

Craig Mackail-Smith is the leading scorer in League One with 26 goals and was recently named as the division's player of the year at the Football League awards.

And the successes of a golden season for the 27-year-old can be traced back to the defeats and frustrations of the failed campaign in the Championship.

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Forest strike a blow as play-off battle hots up

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Paul Fletcher | 21:01 UK time, Friday, 22 April 2011

The City Ground

Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies let out a deep sigh as he walked back to his dugout, hands buried in his pockets.

It was the midpoint in the second half of Friday's crunch Championship fixture between his team and local rivals Leicester - and the Forest boss had just seen his team needlessly squander possession yet again. Leicester struck on the break and briefly had a numerical advantage but they wasted the opportunity.

It was that sort of match - frustrating, nervy, error-strewn and edgy; the sort of contest that does nothing for the length of your fingernails but plenty to obliterate your sense of inner calm.

Forest's 3-2 victory was just their second in 12 league fixtures and lifted them back into the top six. It also effectively ended Leicester's fading hopes of promotion, leaving them six points adrift of Forest with three games left.

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Alexander the great joins the 1,000 club

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Paul Fletcher | 13:42 UK time, Sunday, 17 April 2011

A little moment of history was created at Turf Moor on Saturday when Graham Alexander became the second player to reach 1,000 competitive outfield appearances in English professional football.

Perhaps the 39-year-old Scotland international has rather limped over the line, with his latest 12 appearances coming as a substitute and none of them before the 72nd minute of a match.

But there is nothing fortunate about the extraordinary achievement of clocking up so many games and Alexander deserves enormous credit for reaching the milestone.

"It is a truly amazing landmark to reach," said Lennie Lawrence, who managed Alexander at Luton Town in the mid-1990s. "He is a fantastic fellow, a great lad and the epitome of what a professional footballer should be and how he should conduct himself."

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How Owen Coyle has transformed Bolton

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Paul Fletcher | 09:25 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

You can talk about the tactical tweaks and the changes in transfer policy, the studious preparation and the hard work done to shore up of the defence.

But when trying to work out how Owen Coyle has changed Bolton in the space of only 15 months from a team scrapping for their Premier League survival to a side on the cusp of their first FA Cup final since 1958, what really stands out is the 44-year-old's infectious personality and his truly remarkable enthusiasm for the game.

Every time I have interviewed Coyle I have felt energised and invigorated at the end of the conversation. It is impossible not to be caught up in the Scot's obvious lust for life and it is easy to imagine how players who work with him on a daily basis benefit from their proximity to him.

"The motivation of the players when they were growing up was not fancy cars or money but to be a footballer," Coyle told me. "I ask them to put the other stuff to one side and go and enjoy their football and give it everything they've got. For me, enjoyment of the game is absolutely paramount.

"All I ask from my group is that they give everything they can, every ounce of skill and desire to maximise their attributes so that they know when they go to bed that they have given everything they can to reach highest level possible."

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Brighton moving up towards a bright future

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Paul Fletcher | 00:54 UK time, Wednesday, 13 April 2011

At Withdean Stadium

As soon as the final whistle sounded confirming Brighton's promotion to the Championship, manager Gus Poyet made his way towards the sanctity of the dressing rooms with a speed that belied the calf injury he is apparently carrying.

Midfielder Liam Bridcutt was not so lucky and found himself engulfed in a pitch invasion. By the time he left the field, his top, boots, socks and shin pads had disappeared. They were not so much given away as taken, and the 21-year-old had the expression of a man who was relieved to still be wearing his shorts.

The stadium announcer at the Withdean Stadium had repeatedly asked fans to stay off the pitch but, such was the emotion generated during Brighton's thrilling 4-3 victory over Dagenham & Redbridge, his appeals were always likely to fall on deaf ears.

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Rampant Reading on the rise

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Paul Fletcher | 23:43 UK time, Tuesday, 5 April 2011

At the Madejski Stadium

The same teams had been in the Championship's top six since January until Reading gatecrashed the party on Saturday - and the newcomers look like they intend to stick around.

Brian McDermott's team are the form horse in football's second tier as the Championship moves into the home straight and they must be considered as serious contenders to end a three-season wait to return to the Premier League.

Their victory over a dogged and determined Preston at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday evening was the Royals' fifth win a row. It was a doughty and forgettable match but produced the sort of victory that is crucial in any promotion campaign.

Reading are now undefeated in nine league fixtures and their run of form has come at a time when other, arguably more credible, promotion contenders have started to falter.

The Royals took the place of Nottingham Forest in the play-off zone and Billy Davies's
team are in an alarming slump
in which they have collected only four points from eight games. The two teams meet on Saturday in what is sure to be a thunderous encounter.

Burnley have lost three of their last four, Leicester have one win in seven and, just when Watford had climbed to eighth, the Hornets have fallen away after back-to-back defeats.

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Murphy's the daddy as Carlisle win at Wembley

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Paul Fletcher | 19:44 UK time, Sunday, 3 April 2011

At Wembley

They say that everything comes to those who wait and for Carlisle United's long-serving Irishman Peter Murphy, victory in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final arrived at the fourth time of asking at Wembley on Sunday.

The commanding central defender stabbed the ball home after Francois Zoko flicked a corner into his path after 12 minutes, scoring the only goal of a largely disappointing match.

But for the 30-year-old and his team-mates the manner of victory was very much a secondary consideration to the over-riding mission of leaving Wembley with a trophy.

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The pleasure & pain of playing at Wembley

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Paul Fletcher | 09:51 UK time, Friday, 1 April 2011

League One rivals Brentford and Carlisle meet in Sunday's Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley.

The Cumbrians are set to appear in a record sixth final, the most recent of which was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Southampton last year.

That match was played on a hot spring day in front of 73,476 supporters at the new Wembley. Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davis and Carlisle counterpart Adam Collin explain the contrasting emotions of winning and losing at the national stadium.

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