The Latest — Tom Ross's Goalzone

The Latest — Tom Ross's Goalzone

What a brilliant day we had at St Andrews last Saturday in aid of former Blues defender Joey Hutchinson who is paralysed from the waist down following an accident while on holiday.

The Millennium Legends played a Joey Hutchinson X1 made up of much younger players such as Darren Carter, Tony Capaldi, Jimmy Harhoff, Peter Gilbert, Peter Till etc.

Due to Trevor Francis being understandably unavailable it was a privilege for me to manage the Millennium Legends if manage is the right word? The legends consisted of those players who reached the Worthington Cup final in 2001 where they drew 1-1 with Liverpool before losing a penalty shootout 5-4. By the way in that final Blues were denied a clear cut penalty by referee David Elleray when Andy Johnson was brought down in the box in extra tine. I am not bitter (much) and am over it now (not).

The dressing room at St Andrews was just continual top class banter from the likes of Danny Sonner, Ian Bennett, Martin O’Connor, Martin Grainger, Jon McCarthy, Darren Purse, Nicky Eaden, and Michael Johnson. It was as if they were still training together every day. Only Stan Lazaridis was missing from the cup final starting X1

What shone through was that they were a “team” in the truest sense of the word, with lion hearts and a togetherness that is all too often missing in the game today.

Dodgy knees and bad backs and a few extra pounds aside they rolled back the years to beat a much younger team 4-3 which included a trademark Martin Grainger free kick.

They came from all parts of the country with Danny Sonner flying in from the USA to take part in the game-that says a lot about the togetherness, camaraderie and team spirit that is still there in abundance.

After all these years I now know how a team of decent players managed to reach the cup final and take a brilliant Liverpool team to a penalty shootout? Just being in the dressing room last Saturday told me all I needed to know.

 

For Bruce, Lambert and Redknapp the hard work begins now.

For Bruce, Lambert and Redknapp the hard work begins now.

Now the season is over the hard work begins for Steve Bruce, Paul Lambert and Harry Redknapp (even though he has yet to put pen to paper on a contract at Blues) as they plan for an assault on promotion next season. All of them will have to bring in new players but will have to spend wisely with funds set to be limited.

Without any fear of argument it will be tougher to win promotion next season than ever before and of course fans expectations will be higher.

A good start is essential and home grounds will have to be the platform for achieving the objective-promotion. If automatic promotion is the goal then you have to win at least two points a game on average to achieve that dream. To reach the playoffs you will need no worse than 1.7 points per game.

This season Villa achieved 1.35 points per game, Wolves 1.26 and Blues 1.15 so all have some improving to do if they want to be a serious threat next season.

Squads also have to be stronger in depth to cope with the relentless Sat/Tues games and the injuries and suspensions that will undoubtedly happen. But their is an air of optimism as all three clubs will start the season with a new manager in charge while at Blues it will be their third man in the hot seat. All three are experienced and will want to bring in some players with Premier League experience-it will be interesting to see what players they manage to attract. It is a players and agents world so the better players can pick and choose.

This season has only just finished in the Championship and already I can't wait for next season to kick off.

Integrity of the game-don't make me laugh

Integrity of the game-don't make me laugh

I am very anti any club, team or manager who deliberately picks an under strength team in any competition. I think they owe the fans who pay good money the opportunity to see the most competitive team and the best players.

I am not talking about one or two changes due to form or injury, however in my opinion it is just wrong when a team makes ten changes just because they have a big game the following week. You owe it to everyone to do the best you can to win every single game you play in.

This was the subject of much pontificating after the Huddersfield manager David Wagner made ten changes for the game against Blues last Saturday. Other managers etc. were upset because Blues were battling against relegation while Huddersfield had already clinched their place in the championship playoffs.

I am old school and believe that you should pick your best eleven so had some sympathy with the other teams in the relegation zone.

However what has really got to me over the last few weeks is the constant bleating and hypocrisy from managers and pundits about the integrity of the game being damaged by Huddersfield’s actions. Are you sure?

Let’s be serious here, the game has been morally bankrupt for a long time from top to bottom. Where would you like me to start? FIFA, Drugs, Bribery, match-fixing, third party ownership, Racism on and off the pitch, tax evasion, corruption, cheating, diving, child sex abuse, bullying, just to name a few. So please all those holier than thou integrity protesters tell me where the hell the integrity is in this greatest of all sports. The ninety minutes are one of the greatest pleasures known to man. It’s all the nonsense around it that drives me barmy.

So before any football manager, owner or chairman starts spouting off about the integrity of the game I suggest he or she takes a long look in the mirror and asks himself or herself if he or she has done enough to keep the values of “integrity” alive in the professional game?

 

Now the hard work begins for Villa, Blures and Wolves.

Now the hard work begins for Villa, Blures and Wolves.

Well done to Blues on winning at Bristol City to ensure Championship football at St Andrews next season. However in my opinion, the division will be even tougher than it has been this season for any team whose aim is to be promoted. That is the daunting prospect facing our teams who must be prepared to invest in better players! That is an absolute must if any of them are to be in with a shout of reaching the Premier League.

Two big clubs are coming up from League One, Bolton and Sheffield United and add to that the three teams coming down from the Premier League Sunderland, and any two from the six teams battling it out near the bottom of the table, Middlesbrough, Swansea, Hull, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Burnley. You can see just how tough a prospect next season will be for our clubs.

Of course Villa, Wolves and Blues are big enough to compete for promotion but all of them will have to do a lot of work on the squads in the summer if they realistically want to be involved in the promotion chase come next May be it automatic or through the playoffs. Any of our teams owners who might think that promotion with their current squads is a foregone conclusion are in for a massive wake up call.

One thing is certain and that is that Villa, Wolves and Blues will need the fans to make their home grounds veritable fortresses. Home form is without doubt the key to promotion in any league.

UGO RIP

UGO RIP

Just a word about former Villa and England defender Ugo Ehiogu who sadly passed away at the young age of 44 just a few days ago. In football you meet many nice guys but rarely one as unassuming as UGO. I had the pleasure of interviewing him on many occasions and while I found him to be an intimidating, feared and aggressive man on the pitch he was a polite quiet gentle giant off it. In the days before press officers I would go to Bodymore Heath and sit having a bite to eat with the players while John Gregory was busy. Ugo was always polite but had little mischievous way about him and he loved the banter usually at my expense and usually about Blues. RIP top man.