By Maurício Alencar, Brazilian football writer
If you put Boris Johnson, Gianni Infantino (President of FIFA), Richarlison, Richard Masters (Premier League CEO), and Alejandro Dominguez (President of CONMEBOL) in a room together, you will find some awkward stares and wry smiles being exchanged. The Premier League recently announced that clubs would block players from travelling to UK red-list countries (which means players would have to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel alone upon return) for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers. All South American countries are red-listed countries. This caused Gianni Infantino to send a letter to the Premier League and English football officials ‘calling on a show of solidarity from every member association, every league, and every club’ to allow exemption for players to travel for World Cup qualifiers. The government refused the request. It’s a power game between hopeless governing bodies.
Aston Villa have backtracked on the agreement, allowing their Argentinian players Martínez and Buendía to travel. Those selected to play for Brazil are stuck in Liverpool (Roberto Firmino, Alisson, Fabinho, and Richarlison), Manchester (Ederson, Gabriel Jesus, and Fred), Leeds (Raphinha), and London (Thiago Silva). The Chilean football federation has asked FIFA to punish Watford and Blackburn for not releasing Francisco Sierralta and Benjamin Bereton. Brazil are assessing their options for the meantime.
Boris Johnson and the England FA have potentially compromised the success of their 2030 World Cup bid. FIFA deceived themselves into a false sense of authority. And South American football’s export successes have been undermined by Eurocentric power plays. Brazil have recalled (the un-incredible) Hulk to the national squad ahead of matches against Chile, Argentina, and Peru.
Brazil comfortably lead the Qualifiers table by 6 points. Although there’s little at stake for the Seleção, and given players would have to quarantine in low-quality hotels with no spas upon return, it’s not the biggest deal in the world. However, careers are short; players justifiably want to play in those yellow shirts as many times as possible in these years. The current climate is a sign of Europe’s usurpation of power in all matters football, and the absence of Brazilian football’s power in world football politics.
Many of the Brazilian players of the past would not have had to deal with having to sit through long-haul flights from Europe watching films to pass the time. Yes, there is some pride in seeing Brazilian players add enticing flavours to European football, and Asian football, and football in the Faroe Islands. But there’s also a more palpable feeling of saudades, of longing for the days where the Brazilian league had some international pedigree, and also of some resignation in seeing Brazil’s best clubs, like Flamengo, be made up of veterans and other washed-up players who had played in Europe for years before, like Filipe Luís and Kenedy, rather than the best.
One solution some Brazilian clubs are considering involves creating a “breakaway super league” with significant investments from an American investment company. This phrase is a traumatic one for English readers, but the nature of it is to emulate the formation of the Premier League in 1992. Kudos to the conflict between Brazil’s football federation and the Premier League. So much for keeping Brazil’s elite footballers at home, fans in the country may not like the cultural degradation of the league in practice so much. Other constructive solutions are possible.
The tensions between South American football and governing bodies in Europe puts into clear perspective the disadvantages of the exportation of young Brazilian talents to other continents. The weakness and vulnerability of Brazilian footballers’ power in the negotiating rooms is just as clear to see. The Brazilian football federation (CBF) or CONMEBOL must show their own ‘show of solidarity’ for the continent’s own football, especially in a situation where there is an incentive to respond. One regulation which could go some way in improving the quality of the country’s football is increasing the age at which players move to Europe; Neymar left Santos at the age of 21, rather than 18, ready to perform at a world-class level. Yet, instead of phoenix-rising from the burning wildfires that is Brazilian football in its current state, you can expect the continent’s footballing bodies to be unreliable, corrupt, pragmatic, and also let super-reliable FIFA do some of the dirty work on their behalf.
By Finley Chung, Sutton United writer
There was some deadline day joy for Sutton United supporters as the club confirmed that Isaac Olafoe, a hero of last season’s promotion campaign, has returned to the club on a season long loan from Millwall.
‘Tanto’, as he’s affectionately known to the Sutton faithful, has penned a one-year loan deal at the VBS Community Stadium. This marks his third year on loan at Sutton, his first being the curtailed 2019-2020 campaign where he only made 5 appearances for The U’s. Last season though was where he really made his name. 14 goals across 37 matches for Sutton United in their historic promotion season saw ‘Tanto’ become an instant hit with the Gander Green Lane faithful. Millwall manager, Garry Rowett was keen for Olafoe to get out and keep putting the ball in the net, speaking to the South London Press this week, Rowett said, “The safest bet is for him to go out and play some games”.
Speaking to Sutton United’s website, U’s manager, Matt Jay spoke on the move, “I’m delighted to get Tanto back after he done so well for us last season with his goals being so crucial to our Championship success. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in pre-season, so he won’t be available for a couple of weeks but we’re looking forward to seeing him in Sutton colours very soon. I would like to thank Millwall, especially Harvey Bussell for their help arranging the loan”.
Olafoe joins fellow new recruits, Joe Kizzi, Enzo Boldewijn, Ricky Korboa, Donovan Wilson, Richie Bennet, Filip Chalupnizcak, Alistair Smith and Adam Lovatt at the VBS, looking to help Sutton defy all the odds and escape relegation from League 2 this season. If he can match his form from last campaign, The U’s could be a real handful for some sides.
By Archie Burkinshaw, Tottenham Hotspur writer
I dont want to get too ahead of myself but, its a wonderful time to be a Tottenham fan. Thanks to a Son Heung-min free kick, Spurs top the Premier League table as the only team to have won all three matches. Nuno Espirito Santo is the first Tottenham manager to have won his opening three league matches since Arthur Rowe in 1949 and following a 5-0 thumping, Arsenal are currently sitting bottom of the league.
Who would have thought at the start of the season that a centre-back partnership of Eric Dier and Davinson Sánchez would have kept three clean sheets in as many games with one of those matches including the reigning champions Manchester City.
For the third successive Premier League game Spurs ran out 1-0 winners, this time against a resilient Watford side that made it incredibly difficult, in my preview I said this game would pose a different kind of threat to what Tottenham had faced so far and it certainly did. Watford set up in a 4-5-1 formation, encamped in their own half and looking to release the ever dangerous Ismaïla Sarr on the counter-attack. For large portions of the game it worked, especially in the first half where on balance Watford had the better chances, once again it took the world class Son to give Spurs the advantage, the South Korean free-kick deceived everyone and crept into the far corner.
Tottenhams second-half performance was really pleasing to watch, unlike last season when a 1-0 lead meant sitting deep and inviting opposition pressure, Spurs opted to play on the front foot. Both full-backs got forward, Dele Alli was coming from deep and Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min were making runs throughout, Kane dropped deep to link play between midfield and attack, resulting in plenty of chances and on another day Tottenham could have ran out three of four nil winners.
Most importantly, it was entertaining to watch and the atmosphere around the ground was one of positivity and optimism instead of the toxic feeling Mourinho had installed at the club. Tottenham are playing as a unit again, Nuno inherited a disjointed squad with their star player wanting to leave, he has done a fantastic job to get three gritty performances out of them. Tottenhams next three fixtures are London derbies against Palace, Chelsea and Arsenal, I think we will know far more what this squad is capable of after those games but for now, Spurs fans should enjoy being top of the Premier League going into the international break!
By Louis Pantziarka, Chelsea writer
Chelsea and Liverpool played out an entertaining 1-1 draw at Anfield on Saturday, in a game that was overshadowed by a controversial penalty and red card.
The first half was open and free flowing, with Chelsea just about edging it. Kai Havertz gave them the lead with a superb header in the 22nd minute, but despite their best efforts the Blues weren’t able to double their lead. Liverpool were awarded a penalty just before half time, with Reece James adjudged to have handled the ball on the line. The England full back was sent off and Mo Salah netted the equaliser.
The controversy at the end of the half will grab the headlines, but Chelsea looked the better side in the opening 45. Havertz scored his first goal since the Champions League Final, meeting James’s corner with a header that looped over the stranded Alisson. Mason Mount then missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0, after some good work from Romelu Lukaku, skewing a shot wide from inside the penalty area.
The hosts’ equaliser came after a chaotic goal mouth scramble ended in James blocking Sadio Mane’s attempt with his arm. The Liverpool players appealed and Anthony Taylor was advised by VAR to take a look at the pitch side monitor. After an incredibly quick check, the referee brandished a red card and awarded the Reds a penalty. The drama didn’t end there though – after Salah hit the back of the net, Chelsea keeper Edu Mendy became involved in an altercation with Jordan Henderson, which resulted in a booking and nearly caused a brawl. In the end the half time whistle was a welcome relief.
Thomas Tuchel sent Thiago Silva on for the second half and the Brazilian played his part in an immense defensive performance. Mendy made some saves from range, but the Blues’ defence held firm as Liverpool failed to push home their man advantage.
The Chelsea boss was rightly proud of his team’s performance and had this to say to BBC Sport after the game: "I cannot praise the team enough, I do not know if there is a harder stadium than City and Anfield to go one man down”.
"With pure will, we took the heat out of the game. That was team effort at its very best”.
Chelsea will take heart from a defensive masterclass as their players head off for the international break. Their next game is against Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on the 11th September.
By Juan I Giulianelli, Escritor de fútbol argentino
Antes de la llegada de Lionel Messi, el PSG ya había sumado a su equipo a otros cuatro futbolistas de primer nivel, el portero Gigi Donnarumma (ex. Milán), el defensa Sergio Ramos (ex. Real Madrid), el defensa Achraf Hakimi (ex. Inter de Milán). y el mediocampista Georgino Wijnaldum (ex. Liverpool). Todos ellos, junto a Lionel Messi jugarán la próxima temporada en el PSG y este equipo solo será comparable con un equipo creado en el modo carrera de la Play Station.
En el PSG Lionel Messi se encontrará con viejos conocidos como Ángel Di María, Neymar y Leandro Paredes, con ellos construirá un equipo de ensueño sumando jugadores que ya están en el PSG como Kylian Mbappé y Marco Verratti, entre otros. Sin duda se conformará uno de los equipos más poderosos del mundo y eso crea un "problema" a su entrenador, Mauricio Pochettino, al respecto de cómo mantener el equilibrio en todas las líneas.
La temporada pasada el equipo del PSG solía jugar con un clásico 4-3-3, a veces con un delantero centro clásico como Mauro Icardi u otras jugando con Mbappé como falso nueve y Di Maria & Neymar en los laterales. Ahora Mauricio Pochettino debe incorporar a Lionel Messi al funcionamiento del equipo y deberá modificar la distribución del equipo.
El verdadero desafío deportivo del PSG para la presente temporada será ganar la Champions League, los últimos años estuvo muy cerca pero siempre ha quedado en las últimas rondas, este año el PSG ha creado el nuevo "equipo galáctico" para finalmente ganar la UEFA Champions League, pero muchos jugadores con gran técnica no son la garantía para ganar el torneo continental europeo, el equipo debe recuperar el balón cuando los cuatro fantásticos lo pierden o el rival lo recupera, y en esta parte del campo, el entrenador debe tomar algunas decisiones complejas.
En el campeonato local y las primeras rondas de las competiciones continentales (no contra el Machester City que formara parte del grupo clasificatorio con PSG), el equipo puede jugar con dos futbolistas en el mediocampo como Verratti y Wijnaldum y utilizar a Messi como creador del fútbol, Mbappé como delantero centro y Di Maria y Neymar en los extremos, lo que será una tentación y garantizará muy buen juego en el equipo y probablemente grandes resultados en las competiciones locales y primeros pasos a las competiciones continentales. El desafío de Verratti y Wijnaldum será recuperar el balón y pasarlo a uno de los cuatro fantásticos contando con la ayuda de Hakimi y Bernat (los defensores laterales) que se sumarán al centro del campo cuando las circunstancias del fútbol lo permitan, dejando a Sergio Ramos y Marquinhos en una posición estática como defensas como lo estarán Verratti y Wijnaldum como mediocampistas, de hecho, con Messi, Mbappé, Di Maria y Neymar debería ser suficiente para desarrollar el fútbol. ¿No creen?
Desde ya que esta distribución del equipo creará espacios a espaldas de los defensores y mediocampistas laterales que deben ser explotados por los oponentes, pero no muchos equipos tienen las condiciones para lidiar con Sergio Ramos, Marquinhos Verratti y Wijnaldum, los responsables de evitar el gol en la portería de Gigi Donnarumma.
Para las competiciones locales y las primeras rondas de la Liga de Campeones funcionará muy bien jugar con los 4 fantásticos y aumentará el mito del fantástico PSG, pero en las rondas finales de las competiciones continentales los equipos de Inglaterra como Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool o Arsenal, equipos de Alemania como Bayer Munich o Borussia Dortmund y también equipos de España o Italia como Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético de Madrid, Juventus o Inter también tienen grandes equipos y suelen lidiar con este tipo de desafíos y superarlos.
En las rondas definitivas de las competencias continentales, buscar un equilibrio entre todas las líneas debe ser un desafío, y Mauricio Pochettino debe pensar en cambiar de los “cuatro fantásticos” por “tres fantásticos” y agregar un mediocampista en el equipo para compensar las líneas. Es muy pronto para decir quiénes estarán fuera del equipo, pero Di María es un firme candidato para salir y Leandro Paredes seria quien se sumaría en el medio campo moviendo la posición de Messi a los laterales y dando más flexibilidad para el pase de los centrocampistas al ataque, por supuesto, puede probar esto durante muchos de los partidos de la League 1 para estar preparado para los desafíos más grandes.
El nuevo equipo galáctico, un equipo galáctico francés, que tendrá como suplentes esperando una oportunidad a jugadores como Keylor Navas, Rafinha, Paredes o Di Maria, Icardi, etc.
By Juan I Giulianelli, Argentinian football writer
Before Lionel Messi's arrival, Paris Saint-Germain had already added to their squad another four top football players, the goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma (from AC Milan), defenders Sergio Ramos (from Real Madrid) and Achraf Hakimi (from Inter of Milan), and midfielder Georgino Wijnaldum (from Liverpool). All of them will play next season at PSG, in a team that will look like it was created on career mode on the PlayStation.
At PSG, Lionel Messi will meet up with old friends like Ángel Di María, Neymar and Leandro Paredes, with them he will build a dream team adding players already on PSG like Kylian Mbappé, Marco Verratti and so on. Undoubtedly this team is one of the most powerful in the world and this creates a "problem" for its coach, Mauricio Pochettino, on how to maintain the balance between all lines.
Last season PSG played with a classic 4-3-3, sometimes using a traditional centre forward like Mauro Icardi or others, like Mbappé, playing as a false nine and Di Maria & Neymar as forwards on the wings. Now, Mauricio Pochettino must add Lionel Messi to the team and probably will have to modify the team distribution.
The real challenge of PSG for the current season will be the Champions League, the last few years they were very near but always lost in the later rounds, this year PSG has created the new "Galácticos" to finally win the UEFA Champions league, but many players with great technique are not the warranty to win the biggest club tournament in Europe, the team must recover the ball when the Fantastic Four lose it, or the opposition recover it, and on this part of the field the coach must take some decisions.
In the French League and the first rounds of continental competitions (doesn't apply against Manchester City, who is part of Group A in the Champions League with PSG) the team can play with two in the midfield such as Verratti and Wijnaldum and use Messi as a playmaker, Mbappe as centre forward and Di Maria and Neymar on the wings. This will be a temptation and it will guarantee great football from the team, and probably great results in the domestic competitions and firsts steps to the continental competitions, the challenge of Verratti and Wijnaldum will be recover the ball and pass it to one of the fantastic four. Most likely Hakimi and Bernat as wing backs will join the midfield when the circumstances allow it leaving Sergio Ramos and Marquinhos in static positions as defenders. With Hakimi and Bernat as wide midfielders, and with Messi, Mbappe, Di Maria and Neymar in forward areas - there is enough to create beautiful football. Don't you agree?
These tactics will create spaces behind the back of the defenders and midfielders that must be exploited by the opponents, but not many teams have the skill to deal with Sergio Ramos, Marquinhos, Verratti and Wijnaldum, let alone to create shooting opportunities at the goal of Gigi Donnarumma or Keylor Navas.
For local competitions and firsts rounds on the Champions League it will work well and will increase the myth of fantastic PSG, but in the finals rounds of the continental competitions the English, German, Spanish or Italian teams have great squads too and they are used to dealing with these kinds of challenges and beating them.
In this step of the competitions trying to achieve a balance between all lines must be a challenge and Mauricio Pochettino must think about changing the fantastic four to a fantastic three, while adding a midfielder in to the team. It is very early to know who will be out of the team, but Di Maria is a firm candidate and Leandro Paredes would be added on the midfield probably moving Messi's position to the sides and giving more flexibility for the midfielders pass to the attack, of course he can test this during many matches to be prepared for the bigger challenges.
The new Galácticos, a French, not Spanish, Galácticos.
By Jude Hall, Sheffield Wednesday writer
The Owls came crashing back down to earth this weekend as they were handed their first defeat of the season away at Morecambe.
Darren Moore’s lineup saw just one recognised central defender in Dominic Iorfa who was partnered by usual versatile fullback Liam Palmer due to injuries for Sam Hutchinson and Chey Dunkley. Lee Gregory and Dennis Adeniran returned to the starting XI on the West Coast whilst Lewis Wing was notably benched for the first time since joining the Yorkshire club.
In a dominant first half display the Owls were frustrated to go into the break level, with Jaden Brown and Lee Gregory both coming close to putting The Owls ahead. Jack Hunt was almost an unlikely source of an opener as he also came close in the first period when his cross looped over the Morecambe keeper but clipped the crossbar.
The men from South Yorkshire continued to look the more threatening side in the second half, with George Byers inches away from opening his Wednesday account when the midfielder’s spectacular 25-yard strike smashed the post.
With two goals already in the blue and white, Gregory threatened to continue his goal-scoring form. The striker was unlucky to see his volley fizz over the bar following a clever turn. Five minutes later, Gregory was played in by Barry Bannan but saw a low effort saved well by Jokull Andresson in the Shrimps goal.
With 5,481 supporters the fixture saw a record attendance at the Mazuma stadium and the hosts ensured it would be a day to remember when they took the lead on 63 minutes. Adam Phillips’ corner went into a crowd of bodies in the Wednesday box and found its way into the back of the net with the final touch adjudged to have been from Dennis Adeniran for an unfortunate own goal.
Darren Moore’s defence had finally been breached for the first time this season by newly promoted Morecambe, and The Owls seemed stunned as they stumbled to defeat.
The 1-0 win sees Stephen Robinson’s side end their run of three straight losses whilst Wednesday were knocked off top spot in League One by new leaders Sunderland. Following the conclusion on the game Darren Moore said:
“We have got to take our medicine and move on to Tuesday. When you have nine or 10 men behind the ball, it is difficult. We will analyse the video later on. There will be more games like that. I know the division and there are certain teams. Morecambe had a game plan and credit to them. They got the three points. We are disappointed because we set our stall out to get a win.”
Sheffield Wednesday fans will be looking for a reaction on Tuesday night as they host Newcastle under 21s in the Papa John’s Trophy. The Owls will have a while to wait before they can right their wrongs in League One as their fixture against Sunderland has been rescheduled due to international call-ups in the Mackem camp meaning Wednesday’s next league game is not until Saturday 11th September when they make the long trip to play Plymouth Argyle.
By Samuel Ketch, editor-in-chief
Martin Keown was repeatedly quizzed by Steve McManaman on BT’s coverage about Arsenal’s personnel and what he would do with them. ‘3, 4, 5? What would you do with them?’
Henry Winter said of Granit Xhaka on Twitter: “Why is he still at #afc anyway? One minute he’s off to Roma, the next he’s starting the season with the armband.”
People will write and write and write on Arteta’s job security, on the stupidity of Granit Xhaka, on the necessity for the Kroenke family to sell up, or even on the excellence of an effortless Manchester City side.
Not me. I would love to do so, but it’s got to be different – unique – for me. I want to say something that others might not.
It's the obvious thing but people try to overanalyse the fact: Arsenal are just not the football club they were 15 years ago, and the football club they were a decade ago – when they were thumped 8-2 by Manchester United, causing Arsene Wenger to sign Mikel Arteta – was already a shell of the club that reached the Champions League final five years prior.
When you go back to their 8-2 defeat to Manchester United in 2011, Wenger’s team was hardly filled with his first choice but it was also hardly devoid of talent. Robin van Persie, captain of Arsenal at that stage, would later go to United. Laurent Koscielny became club captain at some stage in the years after. Wojciech Szczesny and Aaron Ramsey are at Juventus. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a debutant from the bench, is at Liverpool. Tomas Rosicky was a trusted player by Wenger over the years. Theo Walcott was deemed important enough to stay at Arsenal for years afterwards.
Fast forward a decade to Arsenal’s 5-0 loss to Manchester City in 2021 and there are only a handful, if you are being very kind, of players in the squad who could move up the table (or sideways, realistically).
Bernd Leno could, but after his time at Arsenal it’s increasingly unlikely. He’s already been outshined by Emi Martinez – now of Aston Villa, rather than Arsenal – and will likely be replaced at some stage by Aaron Ramsdale.
Kieran Tierney almost certainly should be in a team playing in Europe. Perhaps Celtic could get him back, if a team like Leicester or West Ham don’t get there first – or maybe even a surprise move from Man City who might need a left-back? A good left-back, who clearly defends well and can attack, Tierney is above this Arsenal team.
Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are academy prospects, and I would suggest that neither get in any of the top four teams – perhaps even the aforementioned Europa League sides for the 2021-22 season would see them not as must-have starting options.
Saka, an England international after the Euro this summer, and Smith Rowe could do with moving on to clubs who will let them play freely and be the dynamic options in attack that they want to be. But I would also say, Smith Rowe is a rotation number ten for all bar West Ham of the European teams this year while Saka is a starter for none of the top four but is for Leicester, West Ham and Tottenham.
Odegaard clearly came to Arsenal from Madrid to play football after his loan spell. It’s obvious that he can move the ball creatively, and that he could be an excellent player – much in the same way as Smith Rowe, but without the ability to help the English quota – who should probably go outside of England to play continental football. I see him as a player whose career trajectory is destined to be perennial transfer rumour to return to the elite club.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette should depart to be honest. I think neither particularly help Arteta’s side, despite their obvious quality, but – unfortunately for Arsenal – I think there is no club that needs an Aubameyang or Lacazette.
To come back into the Arsenal team there is Ben White, Hector Bellerin, Thomas Partey, and Nicolas Pepe. Partey left Atletico to join Arsenal – which Champions League team is taking him now? Bellerin wants out – to where? Pepe – £72 million, where has that quality been? White is fresh from a big money move – is he going to become worth it in a few years?
Arsenal’s squad is just mediocre. It has individuals who will carry them to victories when it matters, but if you analyse it closely the Arsenal squad has been filled with players who – like former big club players at a club of the stature of Leicester, for example – are capable of good performances 1 in every 3 games. It works beautifully when done for a ‘smaller’ club in the league, because players like Jonny Evans become recognised for being actually good players; but it’s not enough to get Evans, for example, a move back to Manchester United – in fact, it was almost enough to get him to Arsenal to really prove my point.
Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, Ainsley Maitland Niles... You get the types I am talking about.
Then there is the awful players who’ve never proved their capable to play at Arsenal. Mo Elneny, for example, somehow still plays for them. Cedric Soares is so notable in being bad at defending that Carl Anka tweeted that when Man United played Arsenal last year, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told Marcus Rashford that Cedric "cannot defend”. He just played 90 minutes against the Premier League champions.
Wenger, Emery, Arteta, Edu, the club’s ownership, whoever is responsible for the building of this squad has failed miserably.
Xhaka was supposed to leave, as mentioned in the Henry Winter tweet, and then captained the club this season. Willian and Cedric were given bumper contracts when they clearly should’ve been allowed to leave the club. William Saliba was allowed to go out on loan while Sead Kolasinac just played two matches in a week, including a centre back against City, after not playing for the club for eight months.
Arsenal should now look at eighth place and try to finish there, now known as top of the ‘non-qualification-for-European-football’ table. That means their ambition is now to finish above clubs like Leicester, West Ham and Leeds – rather than local rivals Spurs and Chelsea, and former domestic rivals Manchester City, United and Liverpool.
The Top Six had already become outdated and factually incorrect, but now the Big Six has fallen too. Arsenal are no longer big enough, arguably neither are Spurs. It’s a Big Four now, and it’s likely the Top Four too.
By Finley Chung, Sutton United writer
Sutton United were left stunned and heartbroken, as two late Oldham Athletic goals consigned the hosts to another defeat in the League. David Ajiboye looked to have given Sutton an historic first ever EFL win, but Carl Piergianni and Junior Luamba sent the Oldham fans into bedlam, while leaving Sutton to wonder what might have been.
Sutton started the brighter of the two sides in this encounter at the VBS Stadium, with 2,805 Sutton United fans packing in to see EFL action at Gander Green Lane for the first time. Enzo Boldewijn sent a curling effort just past the upright, after Louis John and Omar Bugiel guided headers over the bar in a strong opening 15 minutes for the hosts.
The hosts dangerman was Dylan Bahamoula, who’s driving run and fierce shot was Oldham’s only first half chance of note as they rarely threatened, especially when they were disrupted by an early change when the left back, Sam Hart was withdrawn due to injury. The hosts were then back on top and last week’s scorer at Scunthorpe, Donovan Wilson drilled a low cross into the box, which was scrambled away by The Latics defence, who then saw a shot fly over the crossbar after another barnstorming run from Bugiel.
Sutton had the best chance of the half however, the ever tricky, Ajiboye fed Boldewijn after a brilliant run, only for the latter’s shot to spin off a Oldham defender, up into the path of Adjiboye who continued his run but only managed to steer his unchallenged header over the bar in the final chance of the half.
The visitors made another switch at the break, Davis Kellior-Dunn replaced Harry Vaughan. Oldham were in further trouble just 5 minutes into the second half, with Dylan Fage limped off and Oldham were onto their third left back of the game. Ajiboye was causing more trouble, having penalty appeals turned down by the referee, Darren Drysdale. Sutton were on top and at last, their fairy-tale moment arrived on the 62nd minute. Rob Milsom’s cross that was sent over was hacked away, only as far as Craig Eastmond, who’s seering shot smashed back off the crossbar and the onrushing Ajiboye who’s first effort was smothered by the keeper, but the second kissed the back of the net and sent the amber army into delirium.
QPR loanee, Faysal Bettache who had replaced Fage joined Dylan Bahamboula as Oldham’s biggest threats to The U’s slender lead, both firing shots well over Dean Bouzanis goal. Sutton did have more chances to kill the game, Bugiel firing over when he probably should’ve slipped in Boldewijn who was well placed.
Oldham kept huffing and puffing however and with just 2 minutes separating Sutton United and a first ever EFL win, they had their hearts broken, Kellior-Dunn drove at Ben White who had replaced the injured Milsom, hung up his cross which was met by the head of Carl Piergianni who’s headed hit the post and crept into the net to spark wild scenes of celebration for The Latics who looked to have snatched a point away from Sutton.
However, there was yet more drama at the VBS right at the end, after 5 minutes of added time, Sutton won a corner off Piergianni, who in turn headed the corner away and Oldham sprung a counter, Bettache released Bahamboula who sprung away from the Sutton defence, exchanged passes again with the QPR loanee before his shot looped up in the air, dropped to Kellior-Dunn, who found Luamba who fired low past Dean Bouzanis to break Sutton United hearts and send Oldham back up north, with all three points and consign Sutton, to another League 2 defeat.
By Lewis Williamson, Stoke City writer
Stoke went into Saturday’s game at Craven Cottage hot off a six-game unbeaten streak and looked ready to challenge a Fulham side that had yet to lose in the league just like the Potters.
However, it wasn’t meant to be and the afternoon would end in heartache as the home side pulled away with a 3-0 win over a Stoke side that looked unimaginative upfront with only three shots on target.
Michael O’Neill’s side featured no changes from the 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest seven days ago, giving fans the hope that a repeat of the result would follow.
Fulham put to rest any notions of a win for Michael O’Neill’s lads straight away with a fifth-minute opener from Harry Wilson off the back of a lovely passing move from the left-hand side, seeing the Welsh youngster teed up by Mitrovic in the middle of the eighteen-yard box.
Stoke held on despite the early setback and through some stalwart defending managed to keep the Cottagers at bay, even answering the call at the other end with a shot from young wing-back Josh Tymon palmed away by Paulo Gazzaniga between the sticks for the home side.
Josef Bursik kept hopes of a renewal alive for the Potters with three fantastic saves within the first half, stopping two world-class shots from outside the box and a close-up header on the end of a freekick. This fine form kept the score as low as it was.
The second goal came in the 53rd minute as Mitrovic cut inside to hit a soft shot at Bursik who palmed it out to the hoof of Bobby Reid that lacked any hesitation as he put the home side 2-0 up.
Stoke pressed on undeterred playing some good possession-based football but this was for naught as Mitrovic found himself on the score sheet this time in the 72nd minute, capitalising on a rush out from Bursik to clear the ball which found its way across the empty net to the prolific goal scorer running onto the back post.
3-0 down and with the game all but over in the 93rd minute Bursik brought down Neeskens Kebano in the area, giving Mitrovic the chance to double his goal tally but Bursik rectified his mistake saving the Potters from a thrashing once again despite previous errors.
All-round a poor outing from Michael O’Neill’s lads as they look to challenge for promotion this year. However, there is no shame in losing to the possible champions this time round.