BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher

Archives for May 2011

Swansea - an asset to the Premier League

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Paul Fletcher | 18:52 UK time, Monday, 30 May 2011

Wembley Stadium

Their style of play, their fascinating manager, the noisy fans at their atmospheric stadium and the dignity with which they seem to go about their business - there is much to suggest that Swansea will be a welcome addition to the Premier League.

The Swans became the first Welsh side to reach the top flight in the Premier League era when they defeated Reading 4-2 in a pulsating Championship play-off final at Wembley on Monday afternoon.

They almost went out of business nine years ago and were a League Two club until 2005 but their incredible journey means that they can now look forward to rubbing shoulders as equals with the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.

"It means everything," said central defender Ashley Williams. "All of our lives will change now, we can say we are Premier league players and ultimately that is what we have wanted since we were little kids playing out on the park."

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Darren salvages the Fergusons' weekend

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Paul Fletcher | 20:56 UK time, Sunday, 29 May 2011

Old Trafford

Perhaps the weekend wasn't a complete disaster for the Ferguson family after all, as Darren's Peterborough team won the League One play-off final at Old Trafford to bounce straight back into the Championship.

Sir Alex's Manchester United might have been given a hiding by Barcelona at Wembley on Saturday night, but Posh left Huddersfield Town stunned and shell-shocked with a burst of three goals in seven minutes late in their contest to settle what had been a feisty and fairly even match.

The Posh squad had spent the evening before their outing at Old Trafford watching the Champions League final at their hotel. Full-back Mark Little is one of several United fans in the Posh ranks and he wore the Manchester club's shirt, while Darren apparently returned to his room when his dad's team conceded their second goal.

But for Posh's United supporters at least, Saturday's disappointment was forgotten as they clinched victory at Old Trafford.

"It was a really important game, especially after watching dad lose on Saturday night," said Ferguson. "I have just spoken to him and he is delighted for me. It has put a smile back on his face. At least one of us has got a result this weekend."

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Stevenage revel in their remarkable success

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Paul Fletcher | 21:19 UK time, Saturday, 28 May 2011

The remarkable, undeniable fact is that Stevenage did not lose a single game throughout their 2010-11 League Two campaign after they had taken the lead.

It was the same story at a windy Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon as the Hertfordshire club became the first team since Exeter in 2009 to complete back-to-back promotions from the Blue Square Bet Premier to League One.

Their performance as they defeated Torquay United 1-0 in front of a sparse but noisy crowd of 11,484 in the League Two play-off final featured many of the qualities that have propelled Stevenage straight out of the fourth tier.

They were well-organised, competitive and determined. There is no such thing for a Stevenage player as a lost cause and they have an admirable togetherness and a team spirit that is formed in part through the long hours they spend every day on the training pitch and in the gym.

"The lads achieve incredible things," said skipper Mark Roberts.

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Modest McDermott the right fit for Reading

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Paul Fletcher | 16:46 UK time, Friday, 27 May 2011

A curious twist of fate will see Reading manager Brian McDermott face the man he replaced at the Madejski Stadium when the Royals take on Swansea in Monday's eagerly-anticipated Championship play-off final.

McDermott stepped up from his role of chief scout when Brendan Rodgers was sacked in December 2009 after only 23 games at the helm.

Superficially at least, the initial signs were not all that promising as Reading failed to win in their first four league games while McDermott was in temporary charge. However, his team defeated Premier League duo Liverpool and Burnley in the FA Cup to convince the board the 50-year-old was the right man to steer the club back into the top flight.

McDermott signed a rolling 12-month contract in January 2010 and the club's brave decision to appoint from within rather than seek out someone with a proven managerial track record is looking extremely shrewd.

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Westley steering Stevenage to new heights

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Paul Fletcher | 01:06 UK time, Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Crown Ground

Stevenage manager Graham Westley may not be everyone's cup of tea but he is now on the brink of steering his team to back-to-back promotions.

His side won 1-0 at the intimate and homely Crown Ground in Accrington on Friday evening to secure a 3-0 aggregate victory and book their place in the League Two play-off final, where they will take on Torquay at Old Trafford next Saturday.

When Stanley boss John Coleman was asked on the eve of the second leg what he expected from his team's opponents he suggested they would try to waste time, feign injury and foul their opponents at every opportunity.

"We know what to expect, they think they have their own laws - breaking up the game to get tactics to the players and get drinks on," said Coleman.

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Ferguson Jr relishes play-off return to Old Trafford

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Paul Fletcher | 01:04 UK time, Friday, 20 May 2011

London Road

Not in his wildest dreams would Darren Ferguson have gone into the current season thinking that it would end in promotion, but he now finds himself 90 minutes away from achieving just that.

The twist in the tale is that the 39-year-old was the manager of Championship side Preston North End when the campaign kicked off, but since mid-January he has been back at League One Peterborough for his second spell in charge.

His Posh side defeated MK Dons 2-0 at a vibrant London Road on Thursday to win their semi-final tie 4-3 on aggregate. The victory secured their place in the League One play-off final at Old Trafford, a venue synonymous with the family name and where he himself started his career as a player, for a clash with Huddersfield.

Win that game and one of football's more ironic twists will see the Scot moving in the opposite direction to North End, who sacked Ferguson at the turn of the year but nonetheless ended the season relegated after a decade of second-tier football.

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Reading reap rewards of the Long game

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Paul Fletcher | 08:48 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Cardiff City Stadium

Reading manager Brian McDermott could not bring himself to look as Shane Long approached the penalty spot - but the 50-year-old had no need to worry.

Long checked his approach and watched Cardiff goalkeeper Stephen Bywater dive one way before coolly slotting his spot kick in the opposite corner to give the Royals a crucial two-goal cushion on the stroke of half time in their Championship play-off.

It was Long's second goal of the match, following his opportunistic first-time strike from the edge of the box after a cruel comedy of errors in the Bluebirds defence.

Cardiff tried to force their way back into the contest but they never recovered from Long's brace and their promotion hopes were eventually extinguished when Jobi McAnuff struck a third 10 minutes from time to seal Reading's place in the play-off final.

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Swansea and Forest serve up a treat

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Paul Fletcher | 01:05 UK time, Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Liberty Stadium

It was the type of game that reminded me why I fell in love with football in the first place.

Swansea defeated Nottingham Forest 3-1 on Monday to book their place in the Championship play-off final, but to reduce the match to a statistic would be to do a huge disservice to a contest packed with emotion and entertainment.

There was awesome skill and attacking flair, missed chances, battered woodwork, controversial refereeing decisions and, at the end of it all, a goal from the half-way line to finally extinguish Forest's fire.

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World Cup heroics inspire Accrington

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Paul Fletcher | 09:00 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

It was while watching the latter stages of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa that Accrington Stanley boss John Coleman first thought about implementing a 4-2-3-1 formation.

"I was sat very high in the stadium for the final so I could see a lot of the pitch and I was very impressed with the work rate," Coleman told me. "It got me thinking - could I translate this to League Two?"

Fast forward 11 months and the answer would appear to be an emphatic yes.

Stanley have tasted defeat once in their last 19 games, a run of form that has seen the Lancashire side surge up the table and get into the play-offs, where they will take on Stevenage for a place in the final at Old Trafford.

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QPR and Barnet savour final day to remember

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Paul Fletcher | 21:04 UK time, Saturday, 7 May 2011

Loftus Road and (eventually) Underhill

QPR waved goodbye to the Football League on Saturday with the same enthusiasm that Barnet celebrated being able to stay in it.

Rangers will play Premier League football next season after winning the Championship, while the Bees will be in League Two after ensuring survival with a dramatic last-day victory at Underhill.

The cash-rich, ambitious west Londoners and the modest outfit from the northern extremities of the capital might not have all that much in common, but they were unquestionably united by their collective sense of relief on Saturday.

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Barnet & Lincoln - staring into the abyss

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Paul Fletcher | 06:30 UK time, Friday, 6 May 2011

A few outstanding matters of business will be settled when the Football League regular season ends this weekend.

Two relegation places remain to be filled in League One, while either Wycombe or Shrewsbury will claim the third and final automatic promotion spot in League Two.

Torquay, Stevenage and Gillingham are battling it out for two play-off places in the same division, but without question the most significant issue is to be found at the bottom of English football's fourth tier.

Stockport have already been consigned to the uncertainty of life outside the Football League, their 106-year stay ending on 30 April, and either Lincoln City or Barnet will follow them into the Blue Square Bet Premier next season.

The club that survives will be able to dust itself down over the summer and start again with renewed hope next season, but the consequences for the club that joins the Hatters will be severe.

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Paul Lambert revels in Norwich 'miracle'

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Paul Fletcher | 07:00 UK time, Tuesday, 3 May 2011

At Fratton Park

As Norwich manager Paul Lambert tried to get to grips with his team's promotion to the Premier League at Portsmouth on a windswept Bank Holiday Monday, he repeated one word over and over again.

"It is a miracle," said the 41-year-old after his team's 1-0 victory secured second place in the Championship. "An absolute miracle."

I have rarely seen Lambert look overawed but he did seem a little stunned, perhaps even a touch perplexed, as he tried to absorb what had happened since the start of the 2009-10 season.

Little wonder, when you consider that 632 days previously he had been in charge of a Colchester team that inflicted a 7-1 thrashing on Norwich at Carrow Road on the opening day of the 2009-10 campaign.

Ten days after that defeat manager Bryan Gunn had left and Norwich had persuaded Lambert to quit Colchester for Carrow Road, starting a sequence of events that would conclude with Norwich becoming the first team since Manchester City 11 years ago to complete back-to-back promotions to the Premier League.

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