Sunday, 31 October 2010

Come Back Kings Catch Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers succumbed to their second defeat in a row last night, as they lost to the Sacramento Kings 107-104. After a blistering first half where the Cavs scored 67 points and lead the Kings by 14, Sacramento emerged from the break determined to claw their way back into the game. They did just that, outscoring the Cavs 54-37 in the second half on their way to victory.

The Cavaliers were a joy to watch in the first two quarters. Ramon Sessions finally settled down after two poor performances against Boston and Toronto, as he was dominant early on. Sessions drove the lane aggressively, but he knew when to stop and not push it too much, which was good to see. He finished the game with 21 points and looked a much better player overall. I had my doubts about Ramon after his up-and-down game against Boston and his awful trip to Toronto, but he looked composed and selective last night. If he can continue this form he can become a strong weapon in Scott's offense and make the Cavs a much more dynamic team. Sessions was not the only guard who had a good night, as Daniel "Boobie" Gibson was equally impressive. Under Byron Scott, Gibson looks like a brand new player for the Cavs. He looked very confident shooting the ball, his court vision was fantastic, and he just looks rejuvenated in this new Cavs team. I hope he can continue to flourish as I've always been a Boobie fan and would love to see him become a core player for us. Anthony Parker had a very solid night as well, as he continues his impressive play in the post-Lebron era. Parker looks like he finally belongs in this team, whereas last season he, like the rest of the squad, took a back seat to number 23 Now Parker is an important part of the team and his clinical shooting is a great asset. He'll never be a superstar but his contributions are vital to the Cavs and he had another strong showing against the Kings last night. Keep it up AP!

Unfortunately the Cavs could not sustain their brilliant play from the first half, as Sacramento shut them down for the rest of the game. The Cavs could only muster 37 points total in the third and fourth quarters, and were out-rebounded significantly. As the King's defense tightened up, so did the Cavalier's scoring opportunities. The fast-break transition points that were routine in the first half dried up as the Kings snuffed out the Cavs offense. Once Sacramento set their defense, Cleveland failed to find a way to effectively break them down and the attacks became stagnant and wasteful. The Kings had a lot of success against our defense though, as their hot shooting propelled them to the win. The Cavs tried to come back late on, and thanks to Gibson cut their way into an 11 point deficit, but were unable to finish the job and lost their second game in as many days. John Krolik (or rather Ryan Braun who filled in last night) at Cavs: the blog summed up the defeat nicely here.

So the Cavaliers continue to grow and attempt to find out what kind of team they are going to be. They play Atlanta next on Tuesday where Mo Williams is expected to make his return from injury, so here's hoping his presence can bring us a victory.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cavaliers Crush Celtics On Opening Night

What a fantastic way to start the season! Thanks to the generous folks at and their free League Pass preview offer at the moment, I was able to watch every minute of yesterday's classic between the Cavs and Celtics. I'm so glad I did.

The new-look Cavaliers team hustled to a 95-87 victory last night in front of a sellout crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena. I doubt many pundits, so-called "experts", and the majority of fans expected the young Cavs team to beat the veteran Celtics, but they went ahead and did just that. It was certainly a close game, and the Cavs could have given up in the 3rd quarter when they trailed Boston by 11 points. However, Byron Scott's dynamic Cavs side battled back against the odds to stun the Celtics and take home the win.

JJ Hickson, I player I really liked last season, became the go-to guy for the Cavs as he took over the game in the first quarter, racking up 10 points very quickly. He was moving well, setting good screens, and making shot after shot. His mid-range jumper is impressive, and he continued to be a pest to the Celtics all night as he eventually finished with 21 points on 8 of 11 shooting, with 6 rebounds. I'm really hoping Hickson can continue this form over the course of the season as his athleticism is truly something to marvel at, as he glides through the paint with ease. Hickson is my boy this year, I'll be rooting for him.

Hickson was not the only Cavalier who helped lead the team past the Celtics. Daniel Gibson had a mixed evening but came through for us when it mattered, as he had an impressive second half to the game. He finished with 16 points, including some clutch free-throws with the game winding down, to seal the win. Gibson missed his first eight shots, as nothing seemed to be going his way, but he finally nailed a big three pointer in the 3rd quarter and he took off from there. The bench as a whole were impressive last night, as they carried the team in the second half, and really became the catalyst for victory. Ryan Hollins was particularly impressive, as he played good defense, came through on offense when he was called, and worked hard for the team all night. Anthony Parker's clutch 3 pointer with 1 second left on the shot clock late in the 4th quarter was the final nail in the coffin, to cap off a memorable Cavaliers win at the Q.

Obviously the team is far from perfect, and there is still a lot of work to do, they are not the finished article. Not every game will be like last night (unfortunately). The offense had some bad stretches, they looked lost at times as the Celtics really put the pressure on. Ramon Sessions was inconsistent for the majority of the game; he seemed to rush the break and force the offense a bit. Most of the time, Sessions should have passed the ball when he opted instead to shoot, a mistake more often than not. As a point guard, I didn't expect him to be as aggressive as he was, and Sessions consistently got called for offensive fouls. I think he needs to tone it down a bit in the future, as Gibson ended up getting more minutes than him in the second half. However, he did have a terrific 2nd quarter where he really got into his flow and finished the night with 14 points. The team are obviously still a work in progress and it will take time to get everything right. Patience will be key this season.

Overall it was a successful opening night, and a game I will remember for a long time. I really enjoyed the hustle and hard work the team put in, and the fans responded to it with multiple standing ovations and incredible noise. The team rewarded them (and me) with a fantastic upset win against what most people consider the best team in the East. Kevin Garnett, on the Cavs, commented: "I think they value that their strength is playing together." And I totally agree with Boston's big man, it is an absolute joy to watch the Cavs play as a real team now. It will ultimately be what determines their success or failure this year. Mary Schmitt Boyer at The Plain Dealer summed it up nicely: "By beating the arch-rival Eastern Conference defending champion Celtics in their first regular-season game since the departure of Lebron James, the Cavs served notice that they're still here and they can -- and will -- win with James." Not every body in the media was so positive about the Cavs' upset win, as Steve Aschburner at couldn't help but put the fire out. "The Cavaliers, with so many of the supporting cast still in place, have the special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and the sesame-seed bun. But oh, are those two all-beef patties ever conspicuously missing." The majority of the national media are not going to stop reminding us that Cleveland are a lot worse off without Lebron, but they should at least give credit where it is due and praise the team's success, which Aschburner begrudgingly does in his article. We all know Lebron has taken his skills to Miami, I think we've heard enough about him already this year, because I know I have. It's time to focus on the guys who he left behind, the players who will carry the Cavaliers flag night after night; the guys who went out and beat the favoured Boston Celtics. I think the Cavs will continue to surprise a lot of people throughout this campaign, just like they did last night.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Taking Apart The Toon

Arsene Wenger's youthful Arsenal side strolled into the Carling Cup quarter-finals tonight, with a 4-0 win away at Newcastle. It was an open, often scrappy game, which swung back and forth for it's entirety, but Arsenal ultimately prevailed as they romped to victory at St. James's Park.

The boss went with a mixture of youth and experience tonight, an early sign that Arsene may be taking the Carling Cup more seriously this season, in light of our trophy drought (which the national media LOVE reminding us). Wojciech Szczesny started in goal for us, one of our promising young keepers waiting in the wings (for Almunia to move away and Wenger to lose patience with Fabianski.) Laurent Koscielny made his return from injury, as he partnered Djourou, Gibbs and Eboue in defence. Craig Eastmond was gifted a rare start in midfield alongside Rosicky and Denilson, complete with new haircut. And finally, Bendtner, Walcott and Vela started up front.

Due to my inability to get my act into gear, I regrettably missed the first ten minutes of tonight's match. So I didn't see our early chances to go ahead, and I also missed Nile Ranger taking the ball around Szczesny but failing to score after a Koscielny clearance. However I did see everything else, so here we go:

I thought for the majority of the game our young keeper was excellent. Szczesny looked calm and composed, and dealt with everything thrown at him to earn himself a well deserved clean sheet. His save from Alan Smith was superb, a finger-tip effort onto the post. Every time Newcastle threatened, Szczesny was there to halt the danger. He was dominant in the air and seemed to organise the defence well. The young Polish stopper had a fine game and I'd love to see him in the first team a bit more this season; It wouldn't hurt us to have him in goal for the West Ham game this weekend, who currently lie at the bottom of the league.

It was end to end stuff for the entire 90 minutes, and the result could have gone either way. Arsenal were their usual dominant self at times, passing the ball around leisurely and keeping possession for long periods, but Newcastle had their chances. Koscielny was brilliant on his return and seemed intent on keeping the Toon at bay this evening, often intercepting Newcastle passes and wrestling back possession. He was immense, and I hope he can slot back into the side quickly. However, not every Gunner had a fine outing tonight. Craig Eastmond seemed to struggle at times, which surprised me as he looked pretty comfortable in the first team last season. Carlos Vela also put in a very forgettable performance. The young Mexican appeared disinterested at times and ultimately failed to really get into the flow of the game. A poor outing for him tonight, when he had an opportunity to show Wenger what he could do; he'll be disappointed with his effort.

Despite the open nature of tonight's game, it was Arsenal's ruthless finishing that decided the match and put Newcastle out of the competition. The Gunner's first goal came from a rather messy piece of play. From a set piece, Bendtner headed the ball back into the six-yard box where Koscielny and Eastmond both tried to nod it into the net. The ball bounced up off of Ryan Taylor, whose clearance struck Newcastle keeper Tim Krul in the back of the head, and then rolled into the back of the net to gift Arsenal a 1-0 lead just before half time. It was pretty funny to watch but I was relieved we had finally scored.

Arsenal started the second half in strong fashion and it wasn't long before the Gunners doubled their lead. A header from Koscielny made it's way into the path of a free Theo Walcott, who raced towards the Newcastle goal and clipped the ball over Krul for a delightful finish. What a lot of people didn't see, including the referee, was Bendtner wiping out Newcastle defender Mike Williamson in the process. It was a daft thing to do from the Danish striker and it was a clear foul. I know if it happened to my team I'd be outraged as a fan, but it didn't happen to me and I'll take whatever I can get (excuse me for being honest... and biased). Bendtner proceeded to annoy the Toon Army a bit more by putting the game beyond doubt in the 83rd minute. It came just at the right time too, as Newcastle had been enjoying a period of pressure and looked close to grabbing a goal back, until Saint Nic himself blasted a shot past Krul to make it 3-0. Fabregas, who had replaced Vela earlier on, stole the ball in midfield and calmly played it to Bendtner out on the left. "The Great Dane" advanced on goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot to end the game; it really was a nice goal from our Nicklas. Five minutes later, Walcott grabbed himself another goal to make it 4-0. Theo took advantage of Newcastle's high defensive line and slipped clear to slide the ball under Krul for his second goal of the night, his sixth of this season. Another lovely goal, and the game was all but over. Szczesny made two more impressive saves from the pesky Andy Carroll (who was rather good tonight - Wenger called him 'charismatic') and rough-faced Ryan Taylor before the final whistle was blown.

All in all it was an entertaining game and it's always nice to get a win away from home, especially in a place like St. James's Park. I really do hope Wenger is taking this competition more seriously this season. The Carling Cup is deemed the least prestigious of the English domestic trophies, but it's still a trophy, one that the boss has never won in his time at the club. The Carling Cup is realistically within our reach, and has been for the past few seasons as we consistently make it to the latter rounds year after year. I'm all for letting our kids get a run out, and they always do really well, but I'd like Wenger to pursue this trophy like any other and after tonight's performance it looks like he might be doing just that.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A Fantastic Day Of Sport

Well what a day I had. Two of my teams getting massive wins helped put a smile on my face that'll probably last all week. The mighty Arsenal travelled to the blue side of Manchester and returned with a morale boosting 3-0 victory. To make things better, the Browns shocked the world by beating the reigning Superbowl champions in their own stadium, recording a historic win in the process. So you could say I'm feeling pretty happy this morning.

First up was the Arsenal - City game which kicked off at 4pm. I was still at work when the game began but slyly managed to follow the game through BBC Sport's updates on the internet. As soon as the clock struck 5pm, I was out the door and quickly in the pub for the second half. I missed Nasri put us 1-0 up but have since seen the goal and it was a real beauty, a lovely finish from a confident player who has started this season brilliantly. I of course missed Man City's red card too but I have heard it was deserved. And last of all I also missed Cesc's penalty miss, not one of his best efforts I understand. However, I did catch the second half, so I feel obliged to comment on what I did see.

Despite City playing with 10 men the game had a very open feel to it and they looked pretty dangerous going forward even thought they had the disadvantage. But as the game wore on, it was obvious City just didn't have it on the day. Arsenal soon began to dominate possession and ensured the win when Alex Song put us into a 2-0 lead. A ball into Chamakh was cut out by the City defence but thankfully it fell to Song on the edge of the box who rifled it past Joe Hart for his second league goal of the season, and his second in the space of a week. City pressed on but couldn't break through thanks to Fabianski. The young Polish stopper had a great day, recording a deserved clean sheet, which is apparently our first one away from home for 10 months. His saves against Silva and Boateng were particularly impressive. With the came coming to a close, Wenger gave a run-out to Theo and Bendtner and it was the latter who rounded the match off with a delightful finish. The tireless Nasri managed to keep the ball from going out and then played a superb ball into the path of Bendtner, who calmly slotted the ball around the onrushing Hart to make it 3-0. A fantastic away win and just what the Gunners needed to re-establish our title aspirations, while putting Manchester City firmly in their place at the same time. You can have as much money as you like, but it will take some time before they gel as a team and start winning trophies.

After Arsenal's victory, it was time to turn my attention to the day's NFL games and the Browns. There was no way Eric Mangini's men were waltzing into New Orleans and beating the Superbowl champions I thought, and I was not alone; Nobody expected a Browns win, certainly not the people around me in the pub and the pundits on the TV. But the Browns came through for me, and battled to a hard fought 30-17 win. Unfortunately I was not in a position to watch the game. At the pub, my friends and I had to make do with the Rams - Buccaneers game, which was entertaining but obviously I would have preferred to have been watching our miraculous victory at the Superdome. Still, the Rams lost in the last 10 seconds, and my friend Simon (the only Rams fan in the room) nearly broke down in tears at his team's collapse. Commiserations mate, I feel your pain.

So it's now established that Reggie Hodges is the best punter in NFL history, right? My tongue-in-cheek comment aside, that fake punt and his amazing run was really something special, especially the way he glided past Lance Moore and kept chugging his way to the 10 yard line where he was finally stopped. His 68 yard run set up a Browns field goal and as we know every point counts in the NFL, especially when you're facing the Saints in their house. In fact, the Browns had a very successful day as far as trick plays were concerned. Cribbs's lateral pass to Eric Wright on a punt return was impressive, as was Peyton Hillis's pass to Colt McCoy. When plays like that come off and work to perfection, you really have to give credit to the players for executing, as well as Mangini for taking the risk. Of course, credit must also go to Rex Ryan and his defense. When was the last time Drew Brees threw 4 interceptions in a game?! I doubt he even did that in high school! Obviously Brees had an off day, but you have to give major props to the Browns for being there in the right positions to make those big defensive stops. David Bowens is feeling on top of the world no doubt, with his two interception returns putting the cherry on top of yesterday's win. Just an amazing day for the Browns and I feel so proud to be one of the faithful. I don't care if I'm from Cleveland or not, there's no reason for me not to celebrate this win like any other Browns supporter. I love it.

So the Browns head into their bye week full of confidence and Arsenal are back to second in the league, hot on the heels of Chelsea. Sunday October 24th 2010 was a fine day indeed, one I expect I'll remember for some time.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Sayonara Shakhtar

Arsenal cruised to another Champions League victory last night at the Emirates, where they easily dispatched the Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. The Gunners strolled to a 5-1 win, with former Arsenal man Eduardo grabbing a late consolation for his new team.

It was an assured performance from Wenger's men on the night. I was expecting the match to be a bit closer but Arsenal soon put any fears I had to rest. The opening few minutes were cagey, as both sides appeared to be testing each other out but it wasn't long before Arsenal capitalised and took the lead. After the Shakhtar keeper spilled a corner (doing his best Fabianski impression), Djourou pounced on the loose ball and poked it into the path of Alex Song, who ambitiously attempted a Cristiano Ronaldo-like 'Rabona' shot, which deflected off the defender and bounced kindly into the back of the net to give us a 1-0 lead after 19 minutes. It was pretty funny to see Song attempt such a move but he got the result he wanted, a good goal in the end. I think Song had a decent night, he made no mistakes that I could see, but I do worry that with his increase in confidence over the last 18 months or so, he maybe thinks he's a bit better than he really is, especially going forward in attack. I just have concerns that his constant need to join in on the attack will some day hurt him, as the back four becomes instantly vulnerable when Song leaves his position. But hey, I have no complaints about him until he makes that mistake; Song is a quality player for us. Speaking of the defence, I was very impressed with our pair of centre backs last night, especially Djourou. I know the guy has had injury problems over the last few years, but I have always been a fan of Johan and it has irritated me in the past when Wenger would go with Silvestre over Djourou, for one example; beyond frustrating. He performed well last night with Squillaci, as Shakhtar looked pretty toothless in attack overall. They even made Fabianski look good, who to be fair to him made a very good save in the early minutes of the second half. More games like that in the near future please.

Arsenal continued to press after the first goal and doubled their lead just before half time with a beautiful goal from Samir Nasri. An Alex Song cross was expertly controlled by our young Frenchman, who calmly got the ball down and lashed a shot past the helpless Shakhtar keeper for a two goal lead. Nasri has impressed many fans so far this season, as he continues to carry over his form from last season. The guy can't put a foot wrong. Leading 2-0 at the half, we were cruising and the game was pretty much done and dusted.

After Fabianski's save from Adriano just after the restart, Arsenal took control of the game and never relinquished it. With just over half an hour to go in the game, Djourou was brought down in the box and Captain Cesc stepped up to take the penalty, comfortably scoring from the spot to put the game to bed, 3-0. I was glad Wenger took the decision to start Fabregas and he deserved his goal. You could sense he was a bit rusty early on in the match, which is to be expected after a three week break, but Cesc quickly returned to his normal playmaking self. Denilson replaced him after the penalty, where I expect Wenger had an eye on this weekend's game against Man City; we all want the captain to be fit and rested ahead of that crucial clash.

After going ahead by three goals courtesy of Cesc, the floodgates opened up. Jack Wilshere, who played his last game for a couple of weeks ahead of his impending suspension, had a brilliant outing and thoroughly deserved his goal. After some good work with Rosicky, Jack took a rather heavy touch but still maintained enough poise to calmly lob the ball over Shakhtar's keeper to make it 4-0. Probably the best goal of the night, it was so well taken, and the build up was vintage Arsenal. Only minutes later it was 5-0. Nasri chipped the ball over the Shakhtar defence into the path of Chamakh, who after glancing at the linesmen rolled the ball into the corner of the net for a deserved goal. Everybody including Chamakh thought he was offside, but thanks to a great decision by the linesmen the goal stood and the game was over. Nasri's pass was a thing of beauty too.

To cap off the evening, the returning Eduardo entered the fray for Shakhtar and scored an absolute peach with eight minutes to go. An innocuous ball entered the Arsenal box where Squillaci couldn't quite get to it, but Eduardo connected perfectly with a superb effort which flew past Fabianski to make it 5-1. It was a really nice moment for our former number 9, as the fans, Arsenal and Shakhtar, rose to applaud Eduardo for his well taken goal. It really is a shame that we got rid of him this summer, as he obviously still has feelings for the club and many fans still hold him in high regards. I hope he can resume his career in Ukraine and find success there.

All in all it was a good night of football. Arsenal are now 3 from 3 in the group stage, and barring any meltdowns we look sure to make it into the knockout stages for another year. Next up is a tough trip to Manchester to face Mancini's City. I will be at work unfortunately (GRRRRR) but hopefully I can make it to the pub for the second half. Fingers crossed!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Counting On Colt

First things first; I have a confession to make. Unfortunately I haven't been able to keep tabs on my beloved Brownies so far this season, not really. The week 1 game against Tampa Bay... I was in Spain. Every other game since... I've been here in Bath with no internet access for close to a month. I've managed to catch some highlights on friend's laptops, I've followed games on my girlfriend's Blackberry, but it's not been much fun to tell you the truth. I was even able to watch other live games in a pub in town, but not the Browns.

Alas, I have finally arrived into the 21st century with broadband back in my possession, complete with my beautiful yet flawed Cleveland Browns. Let's get you up to speed with what I know so far:

Peyton Hillis. The man is an absolute beast. Despite knowing bugger all about how our season has been going, I made absolutely sure I knew about him. He has been a revelation this year and I love it. I was pretty shocked the other day when I read that Jerome Harrison had been flogged to the Eagles but my worries subsided immediately when I remembered we have a battering, bruiser of a running back with the number 40 emblazoned across his chest (and back). It's clear to all that Hillis is going to be the go-to guy now until Montario Hardesty is ready to start his pro career, which won't be until next year anyway. In fact, with the injuries in Cleveland mounting every day, Hillis has become the focal point of the offense, and is single handedly keeping the Browns in each game they play. Long may Hillis's success continue in Browns Town, I'm still getting over that one handed catch he made last week... stunning.

And that's about it. My 2010 Browns knowledge ends there. I understand our defense has been pretty shoddy (no change there then). I know we beat the Bengals in a close one, and have been pretty competitive in the other games we have lost. But still, any fan hates to see their team sitting at 1-4, and it doesn't make things any better when a trip to Pittsburgh is up next.

I hate the Steelers and I'm not even from Cleveland. I have no affiliation to the city apart from my child-like love for their sports teams, yet, I still despise the Steelers as much as any die hard Browns fan does abroad. I'll never forget our 13-6 victory against them last year; I celebrated that win with as much vigour as I do when Arsenal smash United or Spurs. Plus, it was amazing to see Big Ben get sacked so many times that night... oh how his o-line struggled.

However, eager as I am to see the Browns play, I am not expecting a repeat result from 2009. Our quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are suffering from ankle injuries which means the Colt McCoy era begins ahead of schedule, tomorrow night in Pittsburgh. Our rookie QB is being thrust into the deep end for his professional debut, by facing one of the top defenses in the NFL. Our young Colt was never expected to see much action this season, apart from holding a clipboard on the sidelines in an effort to learn the professional game, but things change quickly in the pro's and Colt will have to adapt quickly It's going to be some task for him to guide the team to a victory but stranger things have happened. Look at Max Hall last weekend, who made his first NFL start in an upset win for the Cardinals over the reigning champs Saints. Who saw that one coming?

So we're all counting on Colt now, and I wish him the best of luck in tomorrow's contest; he's gonna need it. Our offensive players can help him out by playing out of their skins, and our defense can help by not giving him such a mountain to climb. Here's hoping anyway.

My next post will likely be on Wednesday, where I'll write something about Arsenal's Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk. I'm hoping I can get to the pub Tuesday night for that one. I missed the Gunner's comeback win against Birmingham today as I was at work, so I'm not really in the position to comment on their performance and victory.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 11 October 2010

I Am Still Alive

And so is this blog, for anyone wandering where I've been for weeks. Since moving to my new digs for my final year at uni, my housemates and I have had a nightmare trying to get our broadband set up. Hopefully this will all be sorted out by the end of the week, and I'll be back blogging again soon.

It's amazing how much you miss having no internet access for a couple of weeks. It'll all be better soon though...