Sean O’Driscoll Sacking (Non-Programme NFFC)

It’s fair to say that it was an eventful end to 2012 for Nottingham Forest Football Club, culminating in the sacking of Sean O’Driscoll and the subsequent appointment of Alex McLeish.

It all started with the most bizarre Boxing Day any Reds’ fan is ever likely to encounter. After witnessing one of our best overall displays of the season, beating fellow promotion contenders Leeds 4-2 at the City Ground, I was cautiously optimistic about the second half of the season. I believed we had finally turned that elusive corner and was really looking forward to the Crystal Palace game. No one could have expected the dramatic twist that followed.

Later that evening, Sean O’Driscoll was sacked.

It shocked not only those who bleed red blood, but the rest of the footballing world as well. After an impressive victory, and with Forest sitting only a point off the playoffs, this controversial move by the Al-Hasawi family was the last thing that anyone had expected. Though that in itself doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong decision for the club.

I have always been a huge advocate of the theory that continuity is the key to success in football. You only need to look at the examples of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, David Moyes at Everton or Tony Pulis at Stoke City, to see the positive impact giving a manager time can have on the fortunes of a club.

Turning a football club around isn’t easy and, as I have stated previously, the only way to achieve long term success is through the age-old combination of hard work and time. Of course, you also need to be sure that the man at the helm has vision … and the necessary tools by which to achieve it.

Although, it’s true to say that the most successful clubs are the ones that give their managers sufficient time to implement their plans, that doesn’t mean that if you leave any given manager in a job for long enough he will eventually achieve great things.

If David Platt had been left in charge at the City Ground for the past decade would we be a Champions League outfit by now? I doubt it. More likely, we’d be selling off the Trent End for scrap metal.

Giving a manager a wealth of time is definitely the right thing to do, as long as you can see overall progress within the club; as long as you still believe he’s moving things in the right direction. This is why I believe Forest were right to part company with both Steve McClaren and Steve Cotterill, the previous two incumbents of the role.

However, I cannot truthfully say that I agree with the decision to sack Sean O’Driscoll.

I know things have not been perfect during the 2012/13 season so far but I believe there were tangible signs that the team were improving and were very much in contention for a playoff place. I liked the style of football Sean O’Driscoll was trying to adopt, even though what we have seen on the pitch this season is far from the finished product. It takes longer than half a season to build a winning team from scratch.

We will be travelling to Pride Park next week, with our fifth manager in as many derby games. I do not believe such instability can possibly be the blueprint for a team who seeks a sustained period of success. By appointing Alex McLeish, Forest have made the decision to start all over again. Personally, I would have given O’Driscoll a full season at the very least.

This is just my opinion and we will never find out, for sure, where Sean O’Driscoll would have taken us. I firmly believe that the Al Hasawi family made this bold move for all the right reasons and with the best interest of the club at heart. For whatever reason, they obviously did not feel that O’Driscoll was the man to take us to the Premiership. That being the case, it was better to act before the January transfer window opened, giving Alex McLeish the chance to put his own stamp on the team, perhaps filling some of the gaps he feels the squad currently has.

Football is all about opinions. I, like many other Forest fans, didn’t agree with the decision to change managers halfway through the season. However, it’s reassuring to see that the vast majority of these supporters have continued to get fully behind the team (and the new manager) in spite of this.

As football fans we aren’t always going to agree with decisions that our made. In fact, whatever the Al Hasawi family do there will always be at least one supporter who thinks they should have done the opposite. What’s important is that we roar our troops on regardless!

You never know, as unlikely as it seems now, Alex McLeish may be the man to take us to the Promised Land!

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New Year’s Resolutions (Crystal Palace – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2013:

1)      I will limit the number of Jonathan Greening/Jesus references in my matchday column to one per month. He’s had to put up with this throughout his career … but then I suppose we all have our cross to bear.

2)      I will finally let bygones be bygones and leave Kris Commons alone. No more references to his festively plump frame, no more twisted melodies about his monstrous betrayal, no more songs about him wobbling down the left wing (or indeed wobbling down the right). He broke my leather-cased heart when he moved from Forest to Derby, but it’s time to move on.  We’ve gone our separate ways now and we’re unlikely to encounter him again.

Forest fans have a new set of heroes to idolise, whilst Commons now spends his Saturdays getting beaten at home by Inverness Caledonian Thistle. All’s well that ends well!

3)      I will stop being so impulsive and getting tattoos of new signings printed on my left thigh, the minute their Range Rovers pull up at The Main Stand car park. Over the years, the players I’ve assumed will become club legends have all ended up being massive flops. My leg currently reads Silenzi Shipperley Palmer Petrachi Sonner Commons. It’s a good job we never signed Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink!

I wish it were just former players who I’ve foolishly idolised through body art. I’m having a nightmare trying to remove the artist’s impression of Steve McClaren (heroically shielding me from a tidal wave with his umbrella) from my back. I haven’t been to the swimming baths in years, out of sheer embarrassment at my inability to accurately judge player/manager potential.

 

4)      I will do everything within my jurisdiction to get Chris Cohen officially recognised as a superhero, along with the likes of Superman, Spiderman, Batman and Cheryl Cole. The man is unbelievable.

Having come back from a lengthy injury, he is just as superhumanly energetic and devastatingly dynamic as ever. On the rare occasions when he gives the ball away, Cohen’s facial expression implies that he has single-handedly caused the universe to implode. He’s a man who truly carries the fate of the team on his shoulders!

With his passion, commitment and undoubted ability, Hollywood could do a lot worse than to make the Chris Cohen story into a motion picture. Hopefully Peter Jackson will be called in to direct, so that us Forest fans can look forward to seven four-hour films, instead of the standard 90 minute job.

5)      I will not buy my wife any more presents from the club shop. Yes, they are always bringing out fantastic new products that bear the famous Forest logo, but the look she gave me when I presented her with a Forest embroidered set of car mats this Christmas could have descaled a lizard. At some point in my life, I will have to accept that she simply doesn’t like football as much as me.

6)      I need to dedicate more time to tricking my 10 year old nephew, Jimmy, into being a Forest fan. Not that long ago he gathered the family together to announce that he was a Manchester City supporter, claiming that the spirit of Manchester ran deep within his veins and that his decision was in no way connected to the fact that City had recently been crowned league champions.

I blame myself for this travesty. My efforts to make him a Forest fan have been too vague and subtle – doctored league tables and subliminal tree images are no match for the imperious performances of the magnanimous Yaya Toure!

 

7)      I will try to drink less after matches. If Forest win I claim I seek to consecrate the victory by cracking open a sextet of celebratory wines. If Forest lose I drown my sorrows, and try to forget, with a crate of commiseratory ales. This is the reasoning of a budding alcoholic and it needs to stop now!

In my most rational state I realise that the Championship season is a long and arduous process; each win or loss is not, in itself, going to define our season. As long as I can see progress, I should remain steadily content. It’s just not all that easy to avoid amplified emotions in the aftermath of a Championship clash – for such is the power and intensity of football.

 

8)      Finally, this year, I will finally overthrow the antiquated autocracy that is FIFA. Too long have I talked about revolting against Football’s governing body without taking any affirmative action. Sepp Blatter, the self-appointed dictator of the footballing world, will never stand aside of his own volition.

Rumour has it that he is currently planning to produce an heir, in a bid to eternally avoid addressing football’s most pressing issues. Unless I do something quickly, the 2032 World Cup is likely to be held at the North Pole!

Having recently watched the Twilight films, I found myself captivated by the group of characters known as the Volturi, a law-providing body of elitist vampires who sit on ostentatious thrones in a darkened ceremonial hall, feasting on the blood of unsuspecting humanity. Their likeness to FIFA is uncanny.

I won’t give the ending of the film away, suffice it to say that I now know how to end Sepp Blatter’s vampirous reign of terror. All I need are a couple of stakes and a loaf of tear n’ share garlic bread!

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR! KEEP THE RED FLAG FLYING HIGH!

 

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Boxing Day Blues (Leeds United – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)

Although I tend to bask in festive glory throughout the month of December, I’ve had my fair share of Christmas trauma over the years. When I was just eight years old, I was forced to spend Christmas Eve fending off a couple of burglars with a series of booby traps, after my parents had conveniently gone away, leaving me home alone! Lucky for them, I didn’t inform Social Services.

The following year I awoke on Christmas Morning to find that the snowman I had frolicked with the previous night had melted, leaving nothing but a tattered scarf as a memento of our time together.

Despite the emotional scars these experiences left me with, I had finally moved on and begun to enjoy my traditional English Christmases … until this year.

After a promising build up, yesterday’s seasonal celebrations were a huge disappointment!

It all started traditionally enough, unravelling a wealth of exquisitely wrapped club shop paraphernalia from underneath the glimmering lights of the Christmas tree, whilst Mother tinkered with the turkey and Dad recreated the 1979 European Cup Final using only baubles and figurines from the nativity scene. But when we all sat down, just prior to Christmas dinner, it was all too apparent that something was missing!

Where was the film ‘Escape to Victory’?

It is as much a part of the Christmas tradition as mistletoe, mince pies or Micky Quinn, and yet some greasy, Grinch-like, capitalist TV scheduler took it upon himself to banish this cinematic triumph from our screens and replace it with a God-forsaken documentary about a gang of disobedient Americanised jungle animals.

For those too young to have seen the 1981 classic, it’s set during World War II and stars some of the World’s greatest footballers, including Pele, Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and, most importantly, cult hero and renowned ladies-man John Wark. The basic premise of this critically acclaimed masterpiece, which also stars Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone, is that a group of Allied prisoners of war are to play in an exhibition match against the Germans.

The Allies agree to the game, with the intention of escaping at half-time. But their intricately woven scheme is blown to smithereens when the power of football, and the hope of victory against all odds, draws them back for the second half!

The challenge is made greater by the fact that the referee is unabashedly biased, giving every decision the way of the Germans, whilst the commentator glosses over this with sordid propaganda. I suppose it’s a bit like playing away at Old Trafford.

I won’t give the ending of the film away, suffice it to say it is more heart-warming than sharing a cup of chicken soup with Noel Edmonds himself. One year Mother brought in the Christmas ham just as the film was reaching its climax and it began to glow, without the aid of honey or apricot. True story.

Where else will our children get to see Pele score an overhead kick, whilst nursing a broken arm? Where else will our children get to see an assortment of retired footballers out-act Sylvester Stallone? And, perhaps most importantly, without ‘Escape to Victory’ what are us football addicts to do with our Christmas day?

The lack of ‘Escape to Victory’ on Christmas Day had a disastrous knock-on effect. I just didn’t feel it appropriate to mention football thereafter. There was no makeshift game of Subbuteo with a Brussels sprout for the ball and parsnips for the goalframe, nobody bothered to mention that the Christmas Pudding bore an uncanny resemblance to Kris Commons (in terms of both appearance and aroma), and I didn’t even feel it appropriate to do my Fantasy League changes for today’s fixtures.

It may sound harsh, but I blame the whole Christmas Day 2012 travesty on Sepp Blatter. Football and Christmas have always been intrinsically linked. They go together like Morecambe and Wise, holly and ivy, pigs and blankets … and yet somewhere along the way that has been lost!

I thought Christmas was supposed to be about us all coming together to celebrate Jonathan Greening’s birthday, to remember the relative success of the Christmas tree formation and to spare a thought for those less fortunate … the footballers who sacrifice their turkey and tinsel to give us a joyous Boxing Day spectacle. Without ‘Escape to Victory’, I just don’t know what Christmas is about anymore!

In its absence, there was no football at all yesterday. Without even a light-hearted Scottish Premier League match to keep us going, Christmas Day for the football addict was much like one big fat sandwich of cold turkey.

Thank God it’s Boxing Day!

(If ‘Escape to Victory’ was on another channel and I simply missed it, then please disregard all of the above.)

 

 

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Refereeing Mistakes (Burnley – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)

 

As the final whistle blew on an agonising home defeat to Hull City last week, a chorus of advent boos rang excruciatingly around the City Ground. Although it was far from a vintage Forest performance against the irritatingly compact Tigers, I’m pretty sure that the unfriendly jeers were being directed toward the three officials, who, through poor decisions, turned a goalless stalemate into a 2-1 defeat for the Reds.

 

After two controversial penalty decisions made it 1-1, the winning goal was bundled in by the hand of Paul McShane. Forest fans left the ground feeling aggrieved, having lost a game that we deserved at least a draw from.

 

As I walked along the River Trent, I heard one man cautiously whisper an age-old football adage to his disconsolate son, “These things even themselves out over the course of a season.”

 

But do they really even themselves out, or is it just another of Sepp Blatter’s old wives’ tales, used to mask the incompetence of referees and delay the need for radical reform within the game? I took the trouble to investigate further, using Forest’s 2012/13 campaign as a case study.

 

I trawled through the footage of our twenty games so far this season to try and discover how incorrect refereeing decisions had impacted upon our progress.

 

First and foremost, I was surprised to find out how few of this season’s ‘major decisions’ were actually wrong! By ‘major decisions’ I mean red cards (awarded or avoided), penalties (given or not given) and goals (allowed or disallowed).

 

Obviously in every game there are dubious decisions that go for and against teams (throw-ins given the wrong way, harsh free kicks, etc). I have stuck to the aforementioned ‘major decisions’ for two reasons. Firstly, because these are the decisions that actually directly change the course of a game and, secondly, because sitting in my Batman pyjamas tallying up every single bad decision from 30+ hours of football, whilst my wife is at work, may well lead to unscheduled divorce proceedings.

 

The results of my streamlined research are as follows. So far, during our 2012/13 campaign, there have only been two cast-iron, indisputable ‘major decision’ errors and both have gone against Forest. There are a further five decisions (including last week’s two penalty calls) which I personally believe were wrong but which cannot conclusively be called errors – three of these decisions went against Forest and two went in Forest’s favour.

 

The cast-iron incorrect decisions that cost Forest goals were the aforementioned Paul McShane winner for Hull City and the blatant Kevin Davies push that led to Bolton Wanderers’ first goal at the Reebok Stadium, back in August. In terms of these categorical mistakes, things haven’t evened themselves out for Forest so far this season.

 

But one of the big problems with this sort of analysis is that the majority of decisions are largely subjective. For example, Adlene Guedioura’s booking against Cardiff City seemed grossly unfair to me, as he appeared to simply lose his footing, but some spectators would interpret the situation as an attempt to unfairly win a free kick. This booking eventually led to a sending off.

 

Dexter Blackstock’s sending off against Derby County was a total injustice, in my opinion, but some neutrals feel that, if following the letter of the law, a red card was warranted. Similarly, the penalty Billy Sharp won against Leicester City seemed very fortuitous, but even after all the slow motion replays there was still a fraction of doubt as to what the correct decision should have been.

 

It would appear, whether looking at concrete cases or less clear-cut examples, that Forest have been a little unlucky with ‘major decisions’ this season. But that is as far as the analysis can possibly go! If you were to ask me where Forest would sit in the table, if all the wrongs were somehow righted, I wouldn’t have a clue!

 

If you delve deep enough online you’re sure to come across league tables that show the impact of bad refereeing decisions in the Premiership this season. I came across an ‘altered league table’, which suggests that, by correcting refereeing mistakes, Chelsea  should have been top when Roberto Di Matteo got the sack. I find it very hard to see how any such conclusion could have possibly been reached.

 

Firstly, the majority of decisions are so subjective that it is impossible to approach the task of re-calculating the league table without putting your own slant on things. There are just too many grey areas within football.

Secondly, even in the most clear-cut of cases, there is no way of determining what the effect of a reverse decision might be. Had Paul McShane’s goal been chalked off, the game would have inevitably panned out completely differently. Either Forest or Hull may have gone on to score the winner … or the game may have stayed at 1-1. This goes for any game; for that is the nature of football.

 

Although I have shown categorical refereeing mistakes to be few and far between, one thing is for sure … these errors do not necessarily even themselves out! Over the course of a season there will be winners and losers on account of poor decisions. The more they can get right, the better!

 

Having said that, the impact of these bad decisions is small and virtually impossible to measure; the best teams are the ones that don’t allow the performance of referees to be an excuse for failure!

 

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Fans Leaving Early (Hull City – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)

One of the most perfect moments a football fan can experience is to see their team score a last-minute winner.

To end ninety minutes of coiled endeavour by springing up in magic salute; to escape the grim clutch of mediocrity and grasp victory at the death, just as it seemed the opportunity had wisped away; to drink champagne at the last chance saloon, while opposition fans lie bleak and broken beneath our rising cloud of jubilation. That is, of course, unless you left early to beat the traffic!

If I could script an ending to today’s encounter, Lee Camp would score the winner with a 30 yard bicycle kick from a 94th minute corner … but how many would still be here to marvel at it?

A significant number of supporters, all around the country, leave many minutes before the referee has blown his whistle, regardless of whether the game hangs in the balance or not.

Perhaps, today’s real dream ending would be for all to remain, no matter what the climax holds. Nowadays, some fans don’t even give it until half-time!

The most entertaining game of the season so far has been Reading against Arsenal, in the League Cup, at the Madejski Stadium. Reading were 4-0 up after 37 minutes, at which point a battalion of disgruntled cockneys could be seen making their way toward the exits. After a series of scintillating twists and turns, Arsenal finally won the tie 7-5!

Did those who chose to leave early regret their decision? We will probably never know. Few dare to concede that they have ever left a game before the bitter end, least not when it turns out to be a twelve goal thriller. The premature exit is the dirty secret of many loyal supporters and you’re unlikely to hear any of them admit it out loud. Perhaps such sacrilege is reserved for the priest’s confessional.

Despite seeing bowed heads bob shiftily toward the turnstiles around the 85 minute mark every week, I have only ever known one supporter to be out (of the stadium) and proud!

The man in question, one of my best mates, was a Wolves Season Ticket Holder for over ten years and was famous for leaving games ridiculously early. He once travelled all the way to Old Trafford, watched seven minutes of action, declared “We’re never gonna score today” and promptly headed back down the motorway.

He also ventured home at half-time during Wolves’ Premiership encounter with Leicester back in October 2003. They were 3-0 down at the time, but went on to win 4-3!

Having so consistently made such reckless and regrettable decisions, he was the subject of near-biblical ribbings, yet still stands by these impulsive decisions. “Beat the traffic though, dae I?” will forever be his unyielding Black Country retort. Can avoiding a traffic jam prove eternal justification for such heinous crimes against football, and against his own wallet?

Most fans that leave early do so simply to get home that bit sooner and I can’t, in truth, offer any moral objection to their decision. I just wonder how they can possibly feel fulfilled without having seen the game play out to a close.

Do these same people leave the cinema ten minutes before the end? Do they even know that the Planet of the Apes was Earth all along … or that Bruce Willis was dead throughout ‘The Sixth Sense’ … or that Voldemort was really Harry Potter’s biological father? What I’m really asking is how can you truly experience something, if you don’t see it through to the end?

Those using this programme to disguise their face, whilst shiftily side-stepping toward the exit stairway, probably think I’m some sort of football elitist, dictating how supporters ought to behave. This is not the case.

Although I choose to stay to the end of games, I do so only because I think I might miss out otherwise. Each individual supporter is perfectly entitled to do as they please and enjoy football in their own unique way. Leaving the stadium early does not make someone less of a fan!

I brought the slightly tenuous cinema analogy into the equation, not to attack the early departers, rather to try and defend them. For, you see, I have a dirty secret too.

Many years ago, I walked out of the film ‘My Super Ex-Girlfriend’, without so much as a glance back in remorse. I don’t regret it, I don’t feel guilty about it and neither do I expect to be chastised for it – the film was irritating, styleless and ill-thought out. (In fact, it had much in common with Robbie Savage’s hair.)

As paying customers, football fans have every right to leave the ground as and when they please. Unfortunately, many of us are cursed with an inherent guilt that makes us feel obliged to stay until we’ve applauded our players off the pitch. But this is not the reason that I’m imploring fans to stay until the final whistle!

I suppose what I don’t understand is what the great rush to get home is? Is it really worth potentially missing a moment of pure football gold for? I could understand a little better if Gladiators was still on the telly, but now there’s nothing worthwhile until Match of the Day (and you’re very unlikely to miss that.)

Fans ought only to do what makes them happy, but I’ve witnessed enough last minute moments of ecstasy, and indeed agony, to know that staying to the death is the only option for me.

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Possession (Sheffield Wednesday – NFFC Programme Notes 2012/13)

Like many Forest fans, I watched our away encounter against Leicester City from the comfort of my own living room. When Cox converted the equalising penalty, I jumped up and screamed out his name in jubilation. Despite my next door neighbours now believing me to have a mild form of Tourette’s, I don’t regret the over-exuberant celebration one little bit. It was an invaluable point against one of the favourites for promotion.

My honest view of the game was that Forest showed tremendous character and resolve to salvage a point, having been outperformed, for the first time this season, by the menacingly impressive Foxes. After the match, I was surprised to discover that a significant body of supporters had a completely different perspective.

Some fellow reds are convinced that Forest dominated the game and deserved to win it. The reason being the possession stats that were published a short time after the match had finished.

The value of possession in football has recently been brought into sharp focus by Celtic’s miraculous home win against Barcelona in the Champion’s League. During this historic encounter Barcelona had a staggering 84% of possession and yet still fell to a 2-1 defeat.

Anyone who watched the game would have to admit that Barcelona completely dominated and, on the balance of play, deserved to win handsomely. But part of football’s irrepressible charm is that the ‘dominant’ team does not always prevail; Celtic may not have seen as much of the ball but they deployed a counter-attacking strategy effectively, ruthlessly converting their chances. It proves that football is not all about keeping possession; there are many ways to skin a Catalan!

Celtic’s giant-killing exploits show that impressive possession stats don’t necessarily win you football matches … but what I’m really interested in is whether or not a higher proportion of possession is necessarily indicative of a team’s dominance?

Despite Forest having 53% of possession, I’m still convinced that we were second best at the King Prawn Stadium last Saturday. Our passing wasn’t incisive, we struggled to create chances and, when we lost the ball, Leicester carved us open like a festive goose.

Although I tend to trust my own eyes above the match stats, I still wanted to find out where the discrepancy between the two lay. Basically, there are at least a couple of factors that skew the possession statistics, in this instance creating the illusion that Forest were the marginally better side last weekend.

Firstly, Leicester played a more direct fast passing style – most of their attacks starting with Kasper Schmeichel launching the ball into the opposing half. By contrast, Forest tried to pass the ball out from the back whenever possible. On the day, Leicester’s style proved more effective, but it meant they spent less time on the ball. Their first goal, for example, resulted from only seven seconds (three passes) of possession.

Another factor to consider is that for large periods of time Forest were a goal behind, and therefore chasing the game. Statistically speaking, when two relatively even teams are competing, it is much more likely that the team who has fallen behind will have a greater share of possession. The other team can afford to sit back and try and hit their opponents on the break. This is a common pattern for Championship games to take.

Think back to when Forest won 3-1 against Cardiff at the City Ground, earlier in the season. Forest looked easily the better side but because Cardiff were two or three goals behind for the majority of the match, they actually secured 51% of the overall possession.

During the Leicester game, one particular phase of play acutely demonstrated the problem of using possession stats to try and measure a team’s dominance. I am referring to Elliott Ward’s fantastic goal-line clearance from Martyn Waghorn’s close range shot. Prior to this eventuality, Forest had enjoyed 30 seconds of possession in and around their own penalty area, stringing together a sequence of 14 passes. Leicester won the ball and 6 seconds (one single pass) later Forest were inches away from disaster!

If you examine this small phase of play in isolation, Forest would appear to be dominating, but in reality we were penned into our own half, much more likely to concede than to score. Football is a game where possession means very little unless you can hurt the opposition with it.

I’m not claiming that keeping possession of the ball is not important, nor am I implying that this particular statistic ought to be overlooked when analysis of a game is undertaken. But one of my pet football hates is people trying to use possession stats, in isolation, to prove which team has performed better. Proportion of possession is just one element of analysis that can be used to paint a picture of how a game has transpired.

There is a key difference between ‘possession’ and ‘meaningful possession’; therein lies the reason that statistics and interpretation don’t always marry up. My advice is to trust your own football brain above all else!

Follow Me on Twitter: @Dave_Abbiss