Wednesday, 29 June 2011

New Signing Profile - Stephen O'Halloran

To this viewer this signing presents United's most intriguing and risky of the summer - the added competition at left back and centre back is to be welcomed but the injury record is a concern. With a friendship group almost universally culled from the premium young talent of Solihull I've long been aware of the reputation of the Villa academy which has produced the likes of Agbonlahor, Albrighton, Clark, Bannan and, of course, Luke Moore. O'Halloran was touted as Villa and Ireland's next great left back by Steve Staunton (a man who knows a little about that role) a few years ago, his seemingly unstoppable march only stopped by a catalogue of setbacks. The next Frank Simek or another, unfortunate, Sean McDaid? Ross Mackiewicz, Villa fan and scribe for Soccerlens amongst others and Coventry mad Neil Allison, proprietor of the Sky Blues blog offer the inside track...

A Claret and Blue View

"Stephen was highly regarded at Villa during his time in the youth set-up. He was sent to Leeds United on loan in 2008 but suffered cruciate ligament damage to his knee during the warm up against Swindon Town. Unfortunately that more or less ended his prospects at the club and he has been plagued by injury ever since - prior to which he was on the verge of breaking into the first team fold.

He has been terribly unlucky but had he remained injury free, there is no doubt he could have been a Villa regular. He is highly thought of by the Irish national team but again, injuries have hampered his progression with them.

In regards to his attributes, Stephen is very aware of his tasks in hand. He has good positional awareness and does his utmost to track/mark his man. He is a little suspect when opposed to players with pace. He isn’t exactly the quickest of players and I suspect the injuries to his knees have done him no favours in that regard. Nevertheless he is a very intelligent defender who has so much potential. He is still a young man and if he can remain injury free, there is absolutely no reason why he cannot become an integral figure with Carlisle."

A Sky Blue View

"It’s fair to say Coventry fans didn’t get to see the Stephen O’Halloran that was so highly recommended when he arrived. Whether that was down to ability or circumstance is debatable. What has to be acknowledged is he mainly figured during the last (woeful) months of Aidy Boothroyd’s reign, in a period when he looked desperately short of fitness, playing with players short on confidence. Never a good combination, and unfortunately, this does have a bearing on our view of his time here.

His most notable appearance was in a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. It was one of the Sky Blues’ most impressive performances of the season, and a big talking point afterwards was the new lad O’Halloran, and just how solid he looked. He made some mistakes, which were put down to fitness, but he had a look of quality about him. We were all very keen. In many ways, he reminds me of another former Carlisle left back, Ian Harte. He doesn’t have the same ball striking quality, but his movement, positioning and the way he covers ground are all very similar. The left-back position clearly comes naturally to him.

So given how things went for the club as a whole last year, it’s more difficult than it often would be to give a definitive judgement. Providing he does something to address his fitness issues – a good pre-season ought to do the trick – there’s no reason he won’t be become a good player. He showed it in patches for City.

Just watch out for those tired legs."

An understandable mixed bag then given the injury issues but a smack of promise for sure. No doubt in my mind which words will prove most divisive in this article though - 'Ian Harte'!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Another Nice Mess

A story broke last week which may have bypassed Football League and SPL fans. It concerns the latter league's two major protagonists and my own, beloved, Carlisle United.

Over the last year the Cumbrian club have worked to strengthen links with the Glasgow giants, seeing these cross-border but near neighbours as ideal test beds for competitive reserve team fixtures and even smuggling Rangers fringe player Rory Loy down the M74 in January. The relationships have caused some consternation with some of the fanbase whose upbringing in the shadow of the two clubs has led some colour (either orange or green) to rub off over the years but the majority, and prevailing, view has been that such links with internationally renowned clubs (Carlisle also have good ties with the Uniteds of Newcastle and Manchester) are in our best interests and a solid marker of the esteem in which Carlisle are held.

Bhoys manager Neil Lennon sought to cement the ties by offering to send a Celtic squad to Brunton Park for pre-season friendly on the 30th of July. A chance for Carlisle's young charges to test their mettle against players of top pedigree and for the club to take advantage of hosting a Champion's League side and their fervent travelling hordes. A moneyspinner, surely?

Well, not quite.

Enter Cumbria Constabulary to voice concerns over the safety of the match. The 'local fuzz' have a track record for taking a 'safety first' view of matches at Brunton Park which has seen potential revenue raising clashes with Leeds United and Newcastle (in pre-season) clock in only just in the black. The official reason given for classing the clash as 'high risk' was the potential that Rangers fans would stop off en route from their clash with Blackpool at Bloomfield Road the day before the proposed game. The result being that the game has been mothballed with a projected crowd of around 7-8,000 even too low to cover the potential policing costs.

Forgive me for a moment for wondering if we have stepped back to the 1980s; I may be wrong but I thought the days of club 'casuals' turning up at rival team's fixtures died when the last Danny Dyer 'rumblepic' flopped at the box office. Besides, I take my hat off to any 'NED' so committed to the cause that they pull into a conveniently placed Premier Inn overnight and pay Lenny Henry's wages for the chance to be charged by a police nag. It shows more commitment than Richard Offiong did in a Blue shirt in any event.

Admittedly tensions on either side of the Clyde reached a newly worrying peak last year with the tinderbox style of Lennon seemingly the heat to complete the combustion triangle that is the Old Firm landscape but it still seems a shame that this has been allowed to spill over into the fortunes of a club based around a hundred miles, and a different league away. One hopes, perhaps, that such a churlish knock on effect may give the central actors pause for thought where the intervention of conflicted, partisan or unwanted political influence has failed in the past.

Rangers reaction has been, perhaps fairly, nonplussed. In a statement to local Cumbrian Newspaper the News & Star they spoke of their consternation at the cancellation:

"The reason this fixture has been cancelled cannot reasonably have anything to do with Rangers or our supporters.

“The suggestion that a game should be cancelled on the off chance of a small number of supporters being in the same town a day later does not make any sense.”

Part of me has sympathy with the Gers position but when I call to mind the behaviour of their fans following the 2008 Uefa Cup final, that for all the provocation of the 'Ginger Dwarf' it is Rangers fans actions, along with the hot air expunging from Lennon's mouth, which have really ramped up the heat in Glasgow. They who sent the bullets, the bombs and the veiled threats.

Whilst Cumbria Constabulary's actions have recalled those of silent movie mogul Mack Sennett's 'Keystone Kops' in their madcap, self defeating and frankly laughable handling of the situation, Rangers response to a regrettable set of affairs seems to come straight from the playbook topped 'Wisdom of Fools'.

Extending the analogy it's tempting further to see the errant Lennon, in proferring assistance, cast as the born and bred Cumbrian Stan Laurel - all non-plussed head scratching and (not so) cheerful bluster. For all their posturing Rangers come over like the bluff and lagubrious Oliver Hardy bemoaning Lennon's actions, without stopping to consider their role in the palaver - 'another nice mess' indeed.

Watching the Rangers/Celtic debacle from a distance is harrowing enough, but when your club's the stooge, taking the metaphorical custard pie in the face it really does grate at the levels of childishness at play, the impact that it can have on the most tangentially pointless event. As it is we'll merely have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and ready for the next two-reeler. It'd be refreshing to think that next year's Old Firm blockbusters will continue in this vein to resemble in plot the lines of the halcyon days of early Hollywood rather than the gangsta stylings of the modern box office leviathan; it'd reinvigorate the interest of this observer at least.

Friday, 24 June 2011

New Signing Profile: Jon-Paul McGovern

Following the excellent reception for Ben Barrett's profile of Andy Welsh I'm delighted to be able to bring similarly informed views of CUFC's second summer capture, JP McGovern. Chris Ledger custodian of the excellent 'Obscure Music & Football' blog details his days at Sheffield Wednesday while Ron Smith of Swindon blog 'The Washbag' brings us up to date. Over to them...

JP the Owl

'Carlisle United may well have picked up a bargain in Jon-Paul McGovern. During his time in League One, he displayed his best form at Sheffield Wednesday during the 2004-2005 season; he also won the club’s player of the season award when the aforementioned season finished. The Scottish midfielder is a dynamic and consistent player - who displays good trickery on the right wing and also has a fine eye for goal, as shown by his eight goals in 49 League One matches for the Owls.

He does lack pace, but his commitment and work ethic makes up for it. His strengths include tracking back to get the ball, and he can also defend and overlap the right back effectively. His chemistry with Lee Bullen at Hillsborough means that McGovern should form a promising partnership with Frank Simek next season. The ex-Owls favourite is also a strong character in the dressing room and this was a big reason why Sheffield Wednesday got promoted to the Championship in 2005.

McGovern was plagued by injuries in the 2005-2006 season, mainly with back problems, and was released on medical grounds in May 2006. His regular appearances for MK Dons and Swindon Town, however, seems to suggest that injuries have not affected McGovern’s post-Hillsborough career.

If there is one aspect of McGovern’s game that has divided Sheffield Wednesday fans, it is his “hit and miss” delivery of crosses and set pieces. Although his delivery is adequate enough and can create goals, they can sometimes be mediocre and miss the intended target. But, with the right training, improvements can be made.

Overall, McGovern is a useful addition to any League One side and has a superb attitude to match some good all-round play.'

JP the Robin

'JP McGovern joined Town back in August 2007 and has made over 130 appearances over four seasons. A solid first team player in his first seasons under Sturrock, JP suffered from Maurice Malpas’s poor decision to force him to play in a defensive role in midfield, which coincided with poor performances all round. Soon JP found himself behind Anthony McNamee, Mark Marshall and even Craig Easton for his natural right midfield position and begun to wonder whether his future was away from Swindon.

Even when Danny Wilson joined the club back in January 2009 JP’s position at Town was still in question. Hal Robson Kanu joined on loan from Reading and made the right wing his own for the remainder of the campaign. JP found opportunities limited and after an ankle injury in February his only other game came as a right wing back away at promoted Peterborough on the final day. At this time JP admitted he saw his days at Swindon were numbered.

So, at the beginning of 2009/10 and to everyone’s surprise, JP was thrust back into the first team following the 5-0 defeat away at Gillingham. JP capped a great performance with a moment of brilliance scoring a 35yd goal against his former team.This moment of individual skill pretty much set the ball rolling for the season to come. JP featured in every league, play-off and cup game, making a total of 55 appearances, only failing to play full 90 minutes twice and scoring two goals. McGovern became our creative linchpin with 15 assists, the most of any player in League One that year, contributing equally well by his set pieces.

As for 2010/11, JP's form hasn't been a patch on a year ago with only 3 League assists, but the same failure can be said for the whole squad. Similar to earlier days, McGovern has again suffered as a result of manager changes, also competition from Paul Caddis on the right and a narrowing midfield, JP has rarely played in his preferred wide right role so he was never going to repeat the near Play of Year performances of a year ago.

What you get from JP is a hard working wide midfielder who can whip in some fantastic crosses, although I'd wish he'd refrain from using his left foot so often are these rarely find the mark. However, he's getting older, losing pace and find the space harder to find, so whether he'll be able to keep it up in League One for Carlisle is another question.'

So a mixed bag with arguably more good than bad. Sounds like the calculated risk Greg Abbott loves to make. Here's hoping he works his alchemy and resurrects another career at Brunton Park.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Social Network

I read my most interesting story of the summer yesterday. It didn't concern the parlous state of youth football in England, the ill tempered reaction of the nation's football associations to the notion of their players taking part in the world's greatest sporting event or even the continued wranglings at the sharp end of Government. Rather it concerned a simple man with a PR gift - a man with green and white hooped blood coursing his veins - Terry Skiverton.

By now Skiverton's invite to the Yeovil Town faithful to send him ideas for signings via his Twitter site (he's @terryskiverton if any League One fans would care to mention Richard Offiong to him) is well publicised having been covered on the BBC sport website and by Talksport. His 'mentions mailbag' will be positively rippling with recommendations, from the outrageous (wags suggesting Lionel Messi) to the prosaic ('my mate Dave who's quite good at kick ups'). The cynic in me wonders if he's even reading them, but when I pause to consider it, does it really matter?

Skiverton's statement was at once both blithe and compelling. By sharing the state of Yeovil's scouting system with the fans he was managing expectations of the season ahead in a subtle and nuanced fashion, by inviting them into his circle he was making a deep and personal connection with every single one of them.

In the interests of full disclosure I must confess to being an out and proud 'Skivo' fan. He always seems to greet defeat and crushing victory with the same amount of grace. He blends his status as West Country folk hero with an obvious and transparent intelligence which allows him to bely his inexperience and, to this outsider at least, should see him attract higher level suitors sooner, not later. I'm clearly not his only fan either - both Tottenham Hotspur and Reading trust him with development of their young charges with the likes of Jon Obika passing through the gates of Huish Park in recent seasons.

When I posted on Carlisle messageboards about Skiverton's idea it was met with immediate ridicule - this highlighted that he couldn't do his job properly; that he was desperate, an idiot. I did wonder for a moment if they'd brought their prejudices against our own manager to bear on the situation. But why shouldn't it work? Skiverton is only one man and there are only 24 hours in the day, he can't watch every DVD and from his Western outpost can't always make the schlep to Norwich to follow that lead on a youth team left back. By opening the door to the ex-pat community he may just find that a Town fan studying English in Newcastle is a regular at Magpies reserve games; that there's Yeovil born architects in Aalborg who can recommend the latest Danish wunderkind. By reaching out to these, and to all fans, Terry Skiverton is indulging the armchair scout, the Football Manager obsessive, in all of us.

I don't think this idea is for everyone - the mixed opinions of Greg Abbott for instance, as well as Carlisle's well developed scouting network - would leave him open to ridicule. The status of Skiverton in Yeovil negates this impact and shows a brave, innovative young man with a striking grasp of his importance to the town he outwardly represents.

Yeovil today announced the signing of 21 year old former Everton frontman Kieran Agard; the product said Skiverton of a recommendation from a fan. Having seen Agard turn the game for the Toffees against Carlisle in last year's FA Cup 3rd round I know he'll bring plenty to their wafer thin squad - he's a player I'm sure was on many radars but that jogging of memory has helped him end up on the South coast.

In recent years football clubs, from Manchester United down, have hired teams of creative thinkers and Shoreditch hipsters to enhance their web presence; to exploit commercial opportunity and to connect with fans. There's a certain poetic irony that Skiverton, himself a product of the East End, a journeyman pro at an unfashionable club could beat them into a cocked hat with a throwaway remark.

Terry Skiverton - I salute you.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

New Signing Profile - Andy Welsh

The first good news of the summer came last Wednesday as the signing of Yeovil winger Andy Welsh was announced, the wideman penning a 2 year deal at Brunton Park with the Cumbrians beating off competition from League One rivals. Welsh's loss sounds like it will be keenly felt at Huish Park where he'd become a ynchpin of Terry Skiverton's side. I asked my contemporary at 'the seventy two' and 'Two Unfortunates', Yeovil blogger Ben Barrett to provide his thoughts on the newboy...

"Andy Welsh has announced he was leaving Yeovil Town for Carlisle United.

The Cumbrians can count themselves lucky to be getting a player of Andy’s quality, for free. Andy has proved to be a success on and off the pitch during his time in Somerset.

Yeovil’s loss is Carlisle’s gain.

Being one of the mainstays of the Glovers side for the last few years, Welshy has become one of the first names on the team sheet, his work ethic and ability to run and run… and run has proved a welcome addition to the side, following in the footsteps of Paul Warne and Marcus Stewart.

On the pitch, it is easy to say that someone can work hard, but if they haven’t got the talent to go alongside it. Andy definitely has it.

What struck me about him this season was his ability to deliver set pieces and put a ball on a centre back’s forehead from 20-yards away.

I haven’t seen a left peg quite as sweet in a while. Having balance in the side is vital, Andy added a vital left footed alternative to a strong right-sided squad.

A couple of Andy weaknesses were his lack of goals and his aerial ability, what makes his move slightly bitter to taste is that he had improved on both of these this season.

Welsh came out publicly and said his time at Yeovil had been good, but that his family would probably come first in deciding his future.

A new baby coincided with a chance to return close to his Manchester and Glasgow roots, something Yeovil fans believe was just too good to turn down.

Andy had options down south, but stated that if he was to remain in the south it would have been with Yeovil.

Carlisle have won the battle on destination and circumstances, when the respective contract offers may have been similar or even slightly in the Glovers favour.

For me, there is no question regarding the loyalty of Andy, it is quite clear that he enjoyed his time in Somerset but it was the right time to move on.

He packs his bags not just full of nappies, but with the well wishes of all the Yeovil fans.

… right time to find a replacement for his Number 11 shirt."

Effort and determination in spades?! Sounds like he'll fit in fine with GA's 'good, honest bunch'.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Rumour Mill - Mostafa Abdellaoue in Profile

As one of the more esoteric names linked to Brunton Park this summer I consulted my usual encyclopaedia to find out more - the Twitter hive mind. Luckily Nordic football expert Charlie Anderson who provides insight and whimsy in equal measure at the superb gibfootballshow podcast answered the clarion. Here are Charlie's thoughts...

"Mostafa Abdellaoue shouldn’t be playing for Tromsø.

It’s not that “Mos” isn’t good enough – he palpably is, or TIL wouldn’t be top of the league – but that he should never have been loaned out there in the first place. The decision was bewildering at the time, and the run of play has upgraded it to inexplicable.

The 22-year-old’s parent club, Vålerenga of Oslo, finished second in Norway’s Tippeligaen last season, but they’re enduring a difficult 2011 and are the lowest scorers outside the relegation zone. Just eight goals from nine games tells its own story, as does the fact that only one player – a midfielder, Bojan Zajić – has scored more than one goal for VIF.

It would be simplistic, though, to say that Abdellaoue would have transformed Vålerenga into a good side. The striker has, after all, only scored two league goals in his eight appearances for Tromsø.

But he’s only one half a fearsome strike duo. The other comes in the considerable form of Sigurd Rushfeldt, the 38-year-old who recently became the all-time leading goalscorer in Norwegian league football.

Rushfeldt is an enormous bull of a striker with an Inzaghian sense of timing. He doesn’t move much, but when he does it usually counts. The wiry and pacy Abdellaoue is the perfect foil, stretching the play and distracting defenders. Abdellaoue is the cloak, Rushfeldt the dagger.

Abdellaoue’s older brother Mohammed – or “Moa”, hence little brother’s similar nickname – moved to Hannover last summer enjoyed had a successful début season in the Bundesliga. Mohammed is much more of a pure goalscorer, so it’s unfair to compare the two, but Mostafa has some way to go to reach similar heights. Winning the league alongside one of Norway’s all-time greats, though, wouldn’t be such a shabby way to start."

Both Charlie and fellow Norway expert Brendan Husebo reckon 'Mos' has potential to play in the Championship. He also doesn't sound like he'd bring attributes which CUFC don't possess - Curran, Loy and Madden can all run all day. Will it happen? Doubtful, but it's nice to learn a little more about a promising young player.