Former Bristol City lad Leroy Lita has made quite an impact this season so far scoring thirteen goals already. That is quite a step up going from Bristol to Reading in the summer of 2005 when they were in the Championship to then being amongst the top scorers this season a season later with the best of them; at the cost of £1 million it appears they got themselves a bargain. This has put him in high demand and I am not sure if we are being linked with him or not but should he be able to emulate this season year in year out then I wouldn`t mind having him for sure. One person that we were linked with earlier this season was Kevin Doyle. He might not have scored quite as many but he is still having a good season with ten goals to his name.
I was sad to hear that Blackburn legend Jackie 'Nudge` Campbell died aged 84 but I guess he had a good innings and lived to a good old age. He played for us between 1946-1955 and made over two-hundred appearances. I'm sure he was living it up nicely in Spain and he was always visiting for games and social functions, proving to be a popular master of ceremonies and sounds like he was a right laugh and the soul of the party. He leaves behind many great friends and will always be remembered by the club. R.I.P. Nudge.
David Dunn gave us a bit of a scare when he came limping off and I thought to myself oh bugger not again but thankfully it is said to be nothing more serious than a dead leg causing discomfort. This is good news that we all wanted to hear as firstly it is not serious so we will not be having him sidelined some more and secondly we are quite short in midfield as it is with Robbie Savage and Steven Reid out long term as well as Morten Gamst Pedersen being out for probably the next couple of games. As it is not serious Hughes expects to have him playing on Wednesday against Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of our two UEFA Cup meetings which is ideal as we will be looking for him to show us what we know he can do and provide that creativity.
Reports are today linking us with nineteen-year-old Burnley striker Kyle Lafferty who was linked to Liverpool and Celtic during the transfer window, yet nothing materialised. It is thought Celtic offered £500,000 for him but that fell well short of what was desired and it is even being said that should we want to steel the Northern Irish youngster from our neighbours we could be looking at paying upto a staggering £6 million which is crazy money considering he is not tried at this level and I cannot see us or many other Premiership clubs paying that for someone untested no matter how good he is.
Our ladies look set to have a tough FA Cup semi final lined up as they were today drawn against Charlton. We managed to avoid holders Arsenal who I remember last year ripping Leeds apart in the final (who we beat the weekend 2-1 in the quarter final.) Although we managed to avoid the champions, this encounter will be tough as Charlton are sitting second in the league but following our quarter final win which was considered a shock win, no doubt they will go into the match full of confidence and believing they can win and perhaps go all the way and as I said before do an FA Cup double with our lads.
Tuesday 13th February 07
It is good having Jason Roberts available now after the troublesome season he has had with injuries. It must have been very frustrating not being able to play, especially as one of the reasons for him joining us was to play European football. The sixteen minutes of European football he did play looked very good though and he was part of the build up for David Bentley's winning goal. Perhaps he will play some part in Wednesdays match; a match winning goal would be nice.
Apparently the secret to our European success this season is due to David Bentley`s lucky jock strap pants…god help us! He wore them for our first UEFA match which we won and has worn them for European matches ever since and will continue to do so as long as we are in the competition. I'm with Hughes and not so sure I believe these superstitions but then again with match days I will not wash my shirt whilst we are not losing; the moment we lose a game the shirt goes in the wash ready to start afresh.
Maybe Bentley's lucky pants will help us tomorrow and hopefully David Dunn will be fit enough to play as well and do his bit, which looks promising due to the fact he is travelling with the squad to Germany. He is still a doubt though as there is still some swelling and is not quite as good as hoped but he will have right up until the match to prove himself fit. Stephen Warnock is set to make his European debut and the Admiral will finally get to taste European football for the first time and is raring to go.
It is good that Hughes is going into tomorrows match with high spirits and why should he not as we have been playing well in Europe so have a right to be confident. It will no doubt be a tough match though; by far our toughest yet as Bayer Leverkusen are a very good team and will have the home advantage. Although it will be a tough game, we are fast gaining experience in Europe and like Hughes said when we play well we can be a tough team to score against.
Wednesday 14th February 07
Benni McCarthy is having a fine first year with us and this is by no means a fluke as he has proved himself at many levels including being a Champions League winner with FC Porto and hopefully he can be a UEFA Cup winner with us. He has hailed Hughes and believes that he has helped make him a better player. He predicts that good times lay ahead under Hughes' leadership and I for one believe him as Hughes is proving to be a fine manager. Hopefully Benni can be a big part of this and help us move onto that next level.
Hughes is hoping that we can go on to emulate the success that previous clubs have had over the years. Middlesbrough did far better than anyone would have expected reaching the final last year, even though they did have a disappointing final and Bolton also had a good run. We have had a bit of luck with last minute goals in two of our UEFA games but you could argue that's from being consistent and not giving in which I think are the qualities of a good team.
We may have lost the first round UEFA tie today against Bayer Leverkusen but that late second away goal by Shabani Nonda has definitely given us hope and I believe that we are capable of clawing back when we play them in the Ewood kingdom next Thursday. Bentley`s lucky jocks got him another cup goal and we did not play a bad game and had our chances, even though not as many in the second half. But should we continue to mount the pressure at home I believe we can get through this.
Thursday 15th February 07
We now know that we will be returning once again to the Emirates stadium on Saturday to face Arsenal after they just about scraped through in a thrilling encounter against Bolton in extra time. Hopefully we can have a just as entertaining match with hopefully a victory. No doubt our boys will have tired legs after returning from Germany but that is the price you pay if you want success.
Like Bentley I feel we the missed chances that we had were costly and we gave away some bad goals. Nonda's late goal is very crucial and gives us great hope. Should we want to march on then we cannot afford to give away these kind of goals and will definitely have to capitalise with our opportunities as we will not have any second chances.
One person who will not feature for us in our second round tie is Aaron Mokoena as he received his third yellow card of the tournament so will serve a one-match ban. He was an important part of the build up to Nonda's crucial goal and no doubt he will be hoping more so than usual that we can be victorious as I am sure he does not want yesterdays match to be his last taste of the pie.
Friday 16th February 07
Nonda is still hoping that he will do enough to win himself a permanent move to Ewood Park. Some people are doubting if he is good enough (myself included) or not and he has not scored the goals that he had previously for previous clubs with a second to none strike rate. I think he could be good enough and I am hoping that he is going to win everyone over but it will take something special. He still has eleven games to show this as well as FA Cup and Europe. It might be made harder for him though as Matt Derbyshire has been playing well and should he continue to do so then he might keep Nonda out.
When we face Arsenal tomorrow we will be without top scorer McCarthy and the maestro Tugay. McCarthy picked up a knock on Wednesday and Tugay by the sounds of it is close to conking out following a busy run of games including an unexpected recall for Turkey recently so his old legs arte being rested. Hughes believes that McCarthy's knock could be a blessing as he has been the key striker and perhaps not been quite as sharp due to being tired so the rest might do him good and have him looking sharper for next weeks second leg home tie. Good news is though that Derbyshire is back training and could be available to play some part tomorrow; hopefully we will see our lad getting a run about.
Saturday 17th February 07
I was pleased with our brave lads as they battled Arsenal to a goalless draw and a home replay, even though it was not the prettiest of matches on our behalf. Arsenal no doubt produced the majority of the chances and looked most likely to win as you think to yourself no matter how hard you battle in defence, against the likes of Arsenal there is always that chance they will break you with their quality. But our lads did themselves proud standing tall and restricted the Gunners to mainly longer-range efforts. Brad Friedel was a hero towards the end with a string of saves to deny the home team including a fine double save that showing his quality. Young Matty Derbyshire had our best chance with a hooked shot that almost dipped in under the bar before being tipped over. Our lads did us proud and hopefully they can again in the replay as well as Thursday UEFA second leg.
Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas was a bit of a prat after the final whistle when we had a run-in with Hughes. He asked Hughes if he had played for Barcelona to which Hughes obviously replied yes. The cheeky Gunner then responded by saying we didn't play Barcelona football. Firstly we are not Barcelona and secondly you do not disrespect a four-times FA Cup winner with the quality of Hughes. He's just cheesed off that they've got another match on their hands, especially following the long replay they had midweek against Bolton; it's no surprise that Hughes was cheesed off with him, even though he did later apologise.
Hughes was very pleased with the way our lads performed. He did not deny that we were playing defensive from the onset as we did not want to expose ourselves again like we did last time we were there when we lost 6-2. Friedel was well covered and did not really have to do much until the end which kept us in it and the result was even better due to the fact that we had at least six or seven players out injured or rested. We have another game on our hands now but that is okay and at least it is at home; nine out of our last eleven have been away ties and we have done really well.
Sunday 18th February 07
Hughes was full of praise for new boy Chris Samba as he was solid at the back standing tall like a giant…literally and that is an understatement. Along with Ryan Nelsen they looked very solid and helped us become the first English club to stop Arsenal scoring at the Emirates stadium. It was only the third time Samba had lined up with the Admiral but it did not show that it was a new partnership. He was a bargain at £400,000 and if he continues to perform like that and was to attract interest from other clubs then his value would surely rocket, not that we would want to sell him I hope.
Cesc Fabregas has apologised to Mark Hughes following his disrespectful comments about our display. Luckily for him Hughes has accepted his apology which I'm not sure he would have done immediately after the game as it made him furious that someone could be so disrespectful. Fabregas has since said that he will have to learn from this and his comments were due to being frustrated. But I think he has undermined our performance not realising what a solid team effort it takes to keep a team of their calibre at bay and it was by no means an easy task, especially following the six they fired past us last time when we had a stronger team. Nevertheless good on Fabregas for being the bigger man and saying he was in the wrong.