March 31, 2010
Gallas goes off against Barca
© Getty Images
Arsenal may have shown a fighting spirit few thought they possessed in coming from behind against a rampant Barcelona side, but their chances of progressing into the semi-finals remain slim.
• Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona: Gunners grab a lifeline
• Palmer: Barca prove class
• Fabregas broken leg fear following Barca clash
• Wenger waits on injury diagnosis
• Inter 1-0 CSKA Moscow: Milito breaks deadlock
Yes, Barcelona will go into the return at the Nou Camp on Tuesday without the suspended central defensive duo of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, but it's not as if they can only call on Mikael Silvestre and Sol Campbell in reserve.
Remember, this is a side which went into the final last season with both full-backs, Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, suspended but they still had little trouble in dispensing with Manchester United, complete with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Rafael Marquez, who also missed that game in Rome with a knee injury, and Gabriel Milito are likely to step into the breach.
Arsenal's problems are far more deep-seated. Although the loss of skipper Francesc Fabregas, who was distressed at picking up his third card of the campaign and then suffered a suspected broken leg, will clearly make most of the headlines, it is in Arsenal's defence where the true story lies.
William Gallas, playing his first game since February 10 due to a calf injury, failed to complete the first half. It was telling that manager Arsene Wenger chose to move Alex Song back into defence and bring on Denilson in midfielder rather than subject the veteran Sol Campbell to the pace of Lionel Messi and the power of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
There's little doubt that Campbell, who had problems against FC Porto's attack let alone one of Europe's best, would be a liability. Wenger may have a few sleepless nights deciding who to deploy alongside Thomas Vermaelen should, as seems likely, Gallas fail to recover in time.
Then you take a look at the Gunners' options going forward. Fabregas' suspension is clearly a body blow, and his natural creative replacement in the heart of the midfield, Andrei Arshavin, only lasted 27 minutes. It seems unlikely that Samir Nasri or Thomas Rosicky will be able to pull the same strings in what could be a game of few and crucial chances.
And this leads directly onto Arsenal's other problem: Nicklas Bendtner. The Danish Football of the Year - which makes you wonder how they qualified for the World Cup finals - missed a catalogue of gilt-edged opportunities. Two of those chances may have come after he had been flagged offside, but they provide a snapshot of just why he is not a top-level striker. His free header in the second half was the worst of another classic Bendtner collection. If only Robin van Persie could be back in time.
Arsenal cannot afford to waste such chances in the Nou Camp, but you can't help but feel it won't matter with Barcelona's attacking riches against the Gunners' shaky rearguard.
March 17, 2010
Dowie failed at Newcastle with Alan Shearer © Getty Images
Hull City fans have endured the most bizarre 48 hours of their brief tenure in the Premier League. No doubt about it, this is now a crisis.
• Dowie handed Hull role
• Iain Dowie manager profile
Phil Brown's sacking on Monday could have had at least a shred of sense about it, but only with a big appointment. The press linked Mark Hughes, the fans wanted Kevin Keegan. They got Ian Dowie as their ephemera.
No amount of on-pitch lambasting or fisticuffs in front of members of the Women's Institute can compare to appointing Dowie as your saviour. It's hardly a clarion call of the club's action plan, and the halcyon days of wins at Arsenal and Tottenham are now a distant memory.
There is no mistake: chairman Adam Pearson believes Dowie is the inspirational figure who can lift the Tigers from 19th place and to safety when the season comes to a close on May 9.
This momentary appointment has the fans up in arms, in despair at the direction their club is taking. It's difficult to see how he is better than Brown, who made the KC into something of a fortress of late despite Saturday's late loss to Arsenal.
This is the very same Dowie who emerged as Alan Shearer's acolyte, just under a year to the day, to perform a very similar job. Newcastle won one of their eight games, losing five, and were relegated - which coincidentally resulted in Hull escaping the drop. A similar record at the KC Stadium would leave the Tigers will no hope of booking a third season among the elite.
The counterpoint is that Dowie was once seen as one of the game's most promising managers. Dowie led Crystal Palace into the Premier League, but his career has never recovered from a defection to Charlton Athletic in the summer of 2006 that resulted in a High Court ruling that he had lied when negotiating his way out of his contract.
It's 18 months since Dowie last took charge of a team, one of the many to go through the revolving door at Queen Park Rangers. He lasted 15 matches but had an excellent win ratio of 53% before boardroom matters beat him into submission.
He would surely have jumped red lights to get to Hull and prove that he is not a spent force in the managerial game.
Pearson, who tried to appoint Dowie in December 2006 when Brown was merely Hull's caretaker, clearly hopes that his new man can do the same at Hull, as that would likely keep them up. He also had an instant impact when taking over at Palace, which led to their promotion.
And although the former Northern Ireland international may only be at the KC until the end of the season, he will surely remain if successful in his task.
The fixtures seem to give Dowie every chance. Portsmouth come first followed by Fulham, Stoke City, Burnley, Birmingham, Sunderland and Wigan Athletic before they end the season at home to Liverpool. Their home game with Aston Villa has yet to be rearranged.
At least Dowie will have with him Tim Flowers - last seen as part-time goalkeeping coach at Northampton Town - and Steve Wigley, part of the Gary Megson's backroom staff at Bolton but best known for a short and horrendous stint at the helm of Southampton.
That said, Wigley is the Football Association's National Coach, assuming responsibility for the 17-21 age groups.
You can't help but think this will end in tears, on the terraces, when the season is over.
March 15, 2010
Phil Brown has been sacked.
© Getty Images
It could only happen to Phil Brown. Just a day or so after a battling performance against Arsenal almost netted a valuable point for Hull, he is relieved of his duties just when nobody expects it.
Battling of a different kind (between his players Jimmy Bullard and Nicky Barmby), took all the headlines as they scrapped in front of the Women’s Institute last week, but now ‘Phil Orange’, as he has become known in some press circles, will take the attention away from his side’s off-pitch misdemeanours.
It is a decision that the Hull board have put down to their hopes for Premier League survival. But perhaps there is something deeper here about his handling of his players? Certainly, if Hull were going to make a decision based on their results, then choosing the end of October would have given them a fighting chance.
Rumours persisted that Brown had actually been sacked back then, but they came to nothing as his friend and former colleague Adam Pearson was installed in the Tigers’ boardroom. Now Pearson has opted to pull the trigger, but the timing is odd.
Yes, Hull have won just five of their 29 Premier League games this season and have looked like relegation candidates all season, but that cannot be seen as much of a surprise given their dismal run at the end of last campaign.
If anything, the club had actually been on the up of late, with their vitally important home form seeing an improvement that yielded just a single defeat in their last ten games at the KC Stadium before the visit of Arsenal.
Now, a new man must come in and make an immediate impact. Having to win over the dressing-room, adapt to new surroundings and ensure that the results on the pitch are enough to keep the club in the Premier League and it may be a task too far.
Hull have missed the boat. If they wanted to affect a change at the club, then before Christmas would have been the time. In acting so late, it may be that the Tigers have just released their only chance of staying up.