Today’s opponents Manchester City have solid football people at the helm and they have done wonderfully well to recover from what seems only yesterday when they went out of Division One on a Saturday afternoon at Stoke.
Since that time Joe Royle, with his trusty partner Willie Donachie, has worked determinedly and skilfully to build Manchester City back up with their inspired support to become a Premiership club again.
Willie Donachie is a very good football coach who spent days in Belgium in the summer looking at potential players for his club and also analysing systems of play at the European Championships. Joe and Willie deserve success but hopefully we will return to winning ways this afternoon.
Last Saturday I watched our Academy side play very skilfully against Southampton, particularly on the left hand side of the field where they looked well balanced with players who have the ability to unlock doors. When games are tight it is that extra little bit of skill than can produce the result.
So far this season our Under-17 team are undefeated and they are confirming my hopes that next year’s FA Youth Cup side will be one that has a chance of producing real success.
The crowd support against West Ham United in our last game here helped produce a spirited second half performance where our midfield trio of Tim Sherwood, Steffen Freund and Oyvind Leonhardsen gradually overcame the younger legs of Cole, Carrick and Lampard. It was a fascinating game that showed the value of good team spirit.
The Vialli saga at Chelsea has created and produced many headlines and the outcome, from a distance, is of a club that, despite spending fortunes, cannot be guaranteed success. Vialli seemed a gentleman and was the leader during a very good spell. It seems sad that he wasn’t given an opportunity to build on that success and it only proves that instability of management causes clubs untold problems.
Early season form suggests that supporters of clubs other than Manchester United must come to terms with the fact that there can only be one League Championship side at the end of the season and if anyone wrests the title off United it would be a tremendous feat. Everyone should have realistic goals and ours must be to regain a European place this season.
Last week, Andrejs Rubins, an outside left from Latvia, trained with us for a couple of days. He plays for Skonta Riga and is a very quick player who is still young. His colleague at club and international level, Igor Stepanovs, signed for Arsenal two weeks ago in a £1 million deal and we will, no doubt, be looking at Andrejs again shortly in a couple of international fixtures.
I was pleased that Alton Thelwell, Gary Doherty and Simon Davies were all involved in the manager’s squad that went to Charlton and Matthew Etherington was on the bench and possibly going to receive an opportunity against Brentford last Tuesday. We need our young players to impose themselves and progress and prove that we have other talents within the ranks who can take a lead from the example set by the likes of Stephen Carr.
On that subject, I am currently speaking to Stephen’s agent about an extended contract but our supporters can relax in the knowledge that Stephen has several seasons further to run on his existing contract.
Unfortunately for Ian Walker, his situation has changed slightly and although we would not stand in Ian’s way if we had a good offer for him, it has been made clear to Ian, and also all our supporters should understand, that we do not release any player unless we feel that we have a satisfactory replacement. As a consequence of this our scouting eyes will be looking a little in the goalkeeping direction but we know how events can turn and we hope that Ian stays here, fights for his place and, if he regains the position, he will prove what a fine goalkeeper he is.
We need to get ourselves back on the Premiership road this afternoon after the disappointment of receiving no reward from Charlton when our second-half determined attacking deserved more although Dean Kiely, in the home goal, must take some of the credit for that.