FA Cup Round 4

The first season I started following Premier League Soccer, I got extremely confused when all of a sudden Sunderland was playing against teams that weren’t in the EPL, and the wins (or losses) wouldn’t show up in the standings.  Eventually, I learned of the Cup tournaments, which include teams from multiple levels of the various English soccer leagues and are separate from league play.

The biggest of the tournaments is the FA cup whose field is so large, it seems like all of England lined up and counted off to eleven like choosing sides in gym class.  All these teams (762 teams were accepted into the tournament this year) go through round after round of preliminaries just to reach the first round (about 90 teams are given exemptions to the qualifying rounds with half of those exempt through the third round).  At this point there are 124 clubs remaining, and we can start to draw brackets that make some sense.

This Saturday, Sunderland, having won their first match in the tournament against Barrow (one of four teams to advance to the third round from the English Conference, the fifth-highest conference in England), moves on to round 4 to take on Portsmouth, bottom-dweller in the Premier League this season.

After the jump – brackets!

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Home Sweet Home

Since I last wrote about Sunderland, they have gone 1-2 in the premier league and beat Norwich City in the opening round of the Carling Cup tournament.

BLACK CATS 1 – 3  CHELSEA

Sunderland just couldn’t hold off Chelsea after scoring early in the first half.  These matches against top-5 clubs are just brutal to follow, because you’re just waiting and hoping Chelsea doesn’t just drop the hammer on your team.  Unfortunately that’s what happened in this one.

BLACK CATS 2 – 1   BLACKBURN

These are the matches that Sunderland has to win if they want to move up the table.  Last season their record at home against teams 1-15 in the final standings was pretty poor (2 wins, 3 draws, 10 losses) which was a big reason why they had to fight off relegation late last season (more on this below).  So it’s good to get started on the right foot at home.

STOKE CITY 1 – 0  BLACK CATS

Blah.  Couldn’t get any points on the road.  Frustrating match, but that’s all I really have to say about that.

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Soccer Saturday – Sunderland v. Bolton

The English Premier League kicks off today – Sunderland starts off the season with two matches in a week.  They travel to Bolton this morning and then home against Chelsea on Tuesday afternoon.

BLACK CATS v. BOLTON

FIRST HALF

Well, that was pretty much the ideal start to the season for Sunderland.  New acquisition Darren Bent heads home the first goal of the match in the fifth minute.  One of the issues the Black Cats had last year was holding on to leads (they had the worst record in the Premiership when scoring first last season), so right away they get to work on improving that.

Most of the first half seemed to go Sunderland’s way – they had four corners to Bolton’s zero (until a couple of Bolton corners in the last minutes).  The Black Cats put quite a few shots on, but were unable to extend the lead.

45 minutes down – Sunderland leads 1-0.

SECOND HALF

Sunderland seems capable of shutting down an attack reasonably well.  Not a whole lot of action in the first 20 minutes of the half on either end.

Here comes the push by Bolton.  10 minutes to go – can the Cats hold on?  Frazier Campbell makes his first appearance for Sunderland, coming on in the 77th minute and then getting a yellow card within 10 minutes.

A close play or two, but Sunderland holds on to get three points in match one of the ’09-’10 season. A win on the road, against a mid-table team, where the lead was held for 85 minutes.  I’d call that a real positive start to the season.

Final –

1 – 0

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EPL Final Day – Relegation “Live” Blog

It all comes down to today to decide who stays in the Premier League and who goes down.  There are four clubs with a chance of being among the other two relegated along with West Bromwich.

Here’s what happens to get each side relegated:

MIDDLESBROUGH (any of the following scenarios)

  • loss
  • draw
  • win + Hull point
  • win + Newcastle point
  • win + Newcastle loss + Hull loss + Hull wins goal difference

NEWCASTLE

  • loss
  • draw + Hull point
  • win + Hull win + Sunderland win

HULL CITY

  • draw + Newcastle win
  • loss + Newcastle point
  • loss + Newcastle loss + Middlesbrough win + Middlesbrough wins goal difference

SUNDERLAND

  • draw + Hull win + Newcastle win
  • loss + Hull win + Newcastle win

Middlesbrough is essentially gone, so I’ll be focused on three matches which determine these clubs future in the EPL.  It’s important to note that none of the opponents in these games have anything to play for (the top of the table is set).  Here goes, I’m settling in for a nail-biting Sunday

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Sunderland v. Portsmouth – Relegation Watch

SUNDERLAND vs. PORTSMOUTH

Sunderland goes up against Portsmouth today, and this match will play an enormous part in determining Sunderland’s final position in the EPL table.  The current standings have Sunderland 2 points clear of the relegation line (they have 2 matches remaining, everyone else in danger has one match).

Sunderland – 9 wins, 9 draws – 36 points (-17 goal differential)
Hull City – 8 wins, 11 draws – 35 points (-24 goal differential)
——————Relegation Line——————————–
Newcastle – 7 wins, 13 draws – 34 points (-18 goal differential)
Middlesbrough – 7 wins, 11 draws – 32 points (-28 goal differential)
West Bromwich – 8 wins 7 draws – 31 points (-31 goal differential)

If the Black Cats win this afternoon they will be safe from relegation.  A draw doesn’t guarantee anything because they will lose any tiebreaker with Newcastle (fewer goals scored).  For the final game of the season, Sunderland plays Chelsea, Newcastle plays Aston Villa, and Hull City plays Manchester United.  Under normal circumstances, one wouldn’t expect many points for the bottom teams, but at this point the top of the table is set in stone, so Chelsea, Man U, and Aston Villa have nothing to play for, while their opponents have everything on the line.

Chances are that Sunderland will survive this season, but they can (and, as a fan, I think they should) remove any doubt with a win this afternoon.

[UPDATE: Sunderland loses 1-3.  That makes next weekend a whole lot more interesting. Black Cats need a win or a Hull loss or a Newcastle loss or draw.  They’re not making it easy, that’s for sure.]

Relegation Watch – Three Matches Remain

Sunderland – 9 wins, 8 draws – 35 points (-17 goal differential)
Hull City – 8 wins, 10 draws – 34 points (-23 goal differential)
——————Relegation Line——————————–
Newcastle – 6 wins, 13 draws – 31 points (-19 goal differential
Middlesbrough – 7 wins, 10 draws – 31 points (-26 goal differential)
West Bromwich – 7 wins 7 draws – 28 points (-31 goal differential)

Schedule for the remaining matches –

Sunderland – Bolton / Portsmouth / Chelsea

Hull City – Stoke City / Bolton / Manchester Utd.

Middlesbrough – Newcastle / Aston Villa / West Ham

Newcastle – Middlesbrough / Fulham / Aston Villa

West Bromwich – Wigan / Liverpool / Blackburn

The Black Cats really need a win this weekend. If they get one, they’re pretty much assured of staying up for next year. If they lose and Middlesbrough/Newcastle doesn’t end in a draw, they’ll only be one point clear with two matches remaining.  Needless to say, that’s not where they want to be.

Relegation Watch

It’s been awhile since I posted anything about soccer, so here’s a quick update.

Sunderland defeated Hull City on Saturday to gain three points in the standings and pull themselves four points clear of the relegation line (helped by the Newcastle loss and the Middlesbrough draw).  Currently the bottom of the Premier League standings look like this (all teams have played 33 matches):

Sunderland – 9 wins, 8 draws – 35 points (-12 goal differential)
Hull City – 8 wins, 10 draws – 34 points (-20 goal differential)
Blackburn – 8 wins, 10 draws – 34 points (-20 goal differential)
——————Relegation Line——————————–
Middlesbrough – 7 wins, 10 draws – 31 points (-22 goal differential)
Newcastle – 6 wins, 12 draws – 30 points (-16 goal differential)
West Bromwich – 6 wins 7 draws – 25 points (-33 goal differential)

Schedule for the remaining matches –

Sunderland – West Brom. / Everton / Bolton / Portsmouth / Chelsea

Hull City – Liverpool / Aston Villa / Stoke City / Bolton / Manchester Utd.

Blackburn – Wigan / Manchester City / Portsmouth / Chelsea / West Brom.

Middlesbrough -Arsenal / Manchester Utd. / Newcastle / Aston Villa / West Ham

Newcastle – Portsmouth / Liverpool / Middlesbrough / Fulham / Aston Villa

West Bromwich – Sunderland / Tottenham Hotspur / Wigan / Liverpool / Blackburn

If the Black Cats can get two wins (6 points) out of those five (probably West Bromwich and Bolton or Portsmouth) I have to figure they will be safe.  That would force Hull City, Middlesbrough, and Newcastle all to get a win against a top-5 club (Liverpool, Aston Villa, Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea) to pass them, which is about as unlikely as it gets.  Of course if Sunderland only gets 3 or 4 points it becomes a little bit easier to fall below that line.

A Win, A Loss, and A Draw

Last Saturday – Aston Villa 2, Sunderland 1

Would have been fantastic to earn a point here, and from what I read it sounded like they played well enough. Of course points are tough to come by against Aston Villa and the rest of the EPL’s top five teams. In the last two years, those 5 teams have taken points in each of the 16 matches against the Black Cats, with only 2 draws (Arsenal this season, Aston Villa last year).

Record against top-5 Goals For Goals Against
Arsenal 0-2-1 3 5
A. Villa 0-3-1 3 6
Liverpool 0-3 0 6
Man U 0-3 0 6
Chelsea 0-3 0 8

This Saturday – Blackburn 0, Sunderland 0 (FA Cup)

Ugh, we get another match against Blackburn (5th of the year, so far both sides 1-1-2) next week (Wednesday). This scoreless draw wasn’t really what we were looking for, but considering neither Kenwyne Jones nor Djibril Cisse started, it’s not terribly surprising. With the rematch being the 4th of 5 games in two weeks, it’s possible they will rest again. Blackburn is in the same boat, schedule-wise, so it will be interesting to see who plays and who sits.

Winner of the rematch gets Coventry City in the next round. Coventry is currently in the middle of the pack in the Champions League, and are one of nine non-EPL teams remaining in the FA Cup.

Tuesday – Fulham 0, Sunderland 1

Kenwyne Jones was the story of the day. First off he signed a 4+ year deal to stay with Sunderland, quelling rumors of interest from other clubs. Then he knocked in a rebound to give Sunderland a big win. With that they are 5 points clear of relegation, with 8 clubs below them in the standings. That win makes this a positive week and a half, but there are still plenty of goals left to be accomplished.

With 15 matches to go, the Black Cats have 9 of the current top 10 clubs remaining on the schedule, if they want to get to 42 points (the relegation cutoff hasn’t been higher than 42 in the last seven years) they still need another 16 points. Other than the teams currently ahead of them in the league standings, they have 6 matches (i.e. – 18 possible points) against West Brom., Stoke, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle, Portsmouth, and Bolton, all in the bottom half of the EPL standings. 16 of 18 points in those games is a tough task, so either points need to be stolen against the top teams, or they need wins in winnable matches, starting with the Wear-Tyne derby this weekend against Newcastle.

With two wins this week, the Cats will be on to the round of 16 in the FA Cup, will have swept rival Newcastle in derbies this season, and will be well clear of relegation. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but that would be pretty sweet.

The Weekend That Was

Wild Blue Jackets Hockey

Wild: This is completely anecdotal, and has no basis in fact, it is only my own observation, but whenever a team plays well over a stretch and then loses a game to a good team, people rationalize it with, “oh well, they were playing well, this is surely just a bump in the road, surely they will be right back next game.”  Except then they go out and give up a hat trick to a rookie for the Columbus Blue Jackets and lose 4-1. This always happens.  The Twins win the first two of a series and drop the third and everyone’s thinking 2 of 3 ain’t bad, and then they go out and lose the next series.  Each loss counts the same, you don’t play a different game against the Flyers just because you took 7 of 8 points against some good competition in the last four.

You can’t lose your perspective after every loss, but at the same time I think sometimes a little too much perspective is a bad thing.  Focus on the game in front of you is my advice.  Having said that I’m going to look ahead to the end of the season and say that I am willing to predict right now that this team will not earn anything higher than a 7 seed in the playoffs.  That means a first round date with Detroit or San Jose.  I don’t think any Wild fan likes the chances of success in those series.

On the plus side I’m going to attend the Wild’s home game against the Ducks this upcoming Saturday, so then I’ll be able to see it all first hand.  Perhaps that will make me more optimistic.

Sunderland Black Cats: A late score earned them a draw with Middlesbrough.  I wish they would just rattle off a couple in a row to get themselves a bit more clear of the relegation zone, but at least we earned a point on the road this weekend.  The three teams currently bringing up the rear of the league (Tottenham, Blackburn, and West Brom) combined for zero points, so Sunderland is three points clear in a four-way tie at 23 points (6 wins 5 draws in 21 games).

The Cats have Aston Villa and Fulham remaining in January in addition to an FA Cup matchup with Blackburn.  Hopefully we can get at least 2 or 3 points in the standings and another Cup victory.

thewrestlerposterWent to see The Wrestler on Friday night.  First off, Mickey Rourke is great, I’m not arguing with anything that’s been said about his performance.  Initially, walking out of the theater I was a bit disappointed in the movie as a whole.  But after giving it a couple of days, I think that I have upgraded it from disappointment, to a pretty good movie.  Rourke (Randy the Ram) and his love interest (Marisa Tomei as stripper Pam, stage name Cassidy), both have two personas, but while Pam keeps tightly defined lines around “the club” and “the real world”, Randy only wants the stage persona (witness his anguish when his nametag at his other job uses his given name Robin in the place of Randy).  As he ages and weakens, it’s killing Randy that he can’t hold on to the only part of his life that seems good to him.  He makes an honest effort to embrace the mundane life, but that leads to the mixing of Pam’s two worlds.  How the two of them deal with their alternate personalities and their real-world burdens make the movie interesting.  Initially however, it was easy to get distracted by the brutality of both their careers, and I think that may be why it took me some time to let this movie grow on me.

**We’ve got some baseball stuff coming up this week, so make sure you check back in for that.**

Wild Help Me Avoid Public Embarrassment

Wild. It was a pretty good weekend for the Wild. After beating San Jose in overtime, they capitalized on that momentum and took the Red Wings to overtime, and the Red Wings even had to cheat (photo from Russo’s Rants) to push it that far. Most importantly, watching the Wild-Wings game with my friend from Michigan wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as it could have been, and it was downright fun for the first minute or so of the 3rd period when the Wild scored twice right out of the gate. Then a solid 2-0 win over Colorado on Sunday night. Owen Nolan had 3 of the Wild’s 4 goals this weekend, 2 of them power-play scores.

Some Owen Nolan PPG facts:

Since returning on New Year’s Eve Nolan has a PP goal in each of the three games.

One of every 6 power-play goals for the Wild comes from Nolan (6 of 36) and he has scored all 6 of his power-play goals in his last 9 games (granted he has missed time, only playing in 9 of the Wild’s 19 games in that span).

In the last 20 games, the Wild have 20 PPG. In the 10 games Nolan was inactive the Wild have 4 PPG and a 2-7-1 record. With Nolan active they have 16 PPG in 10 games (6 from Nolan himself) and a 6-3-1 record.

Another goal-scoring fact that doesn’t involve Owen Nolan at all:

Andrew Brunette has one goal in the last fourteen games with more than 15 minutes of ice time per game. Nonetheless he’s still second on the team in goals (ugh, the Wild can come up with some depressing statistics now and then).

Sunderland Black Cats. I started following them last year, but that’s a story for another time. They won their initial FA Cup match on Saturday over Bolton, a fellow Premier League team, so that felt pretty good. After last years early exits in both the Carling Cup and the FA Cup (one and done in both), it was good to see them reach the round of 16 in the Carling Cup and put a victory on the board in the FA Cup this year.

The draw for round 4 has taken place and the Cats get either Blackburn (from the EPL) or Blyth (from Conference North, the 6th tier of English soccer) who play each other on Monday (around 1 PM here in Chicago). As a Sunderland fan, I’m getting awfully tired of seeing Blackburn in these things, they were the opponent that knocked the Cats out of the Carling Cup this season. Couple that with two meetings already in the Premiership season (Sunderland took 4 of 6 possible points in those matches), and we could be seeing the true rubber match of this matchup soon.

Twins. More on them coming later this week. I’m reading Josh’s Top 50 Twins Prospects list as he puts them up. It’s some really interesting reading, and I’m looking forward to heading back to Beloit this summer for some Snappers games if I get the chance. This summer is going to be a little bit crazy though, so we’ll see how often I can get away.

Vikings. They just keep doing well enough that they won’t change their approach, but not well enough to go anywhere. I find myself caring less and less every year.