Long shots: three pictures of the dregs… (week 21)

Of my five teams, four are currently sitting in a positionw here you’re eyeing the relegation spots while looking at how they’re doing. That said, it’s March, and I’m confident two – Metz and Spezia – will survive.

It’s possible all five will, which is quite something. Here’s how this week went down…

Fulham 1-0 v Sheffield United at home.

Sure, this might be on paper the easiest fixture of the season, but Fulham – who yes, I wrote off totally earlier this month – are starting to put the squeeze on the likes of Newcastle and Brighton.

For much of the game Sheffield United didn’t turn up here, though they did create a couple of decent chances after Lookman put Fulham ahead on the hour mark.

The goal had a bit of luck to it, particularly in Lookman breaking the tackle just before he took his shot, but another win is all Fulham will care about, and they’re looking more and more likely to put Newcastle, in particular, under serious pressure. They have a tough run coming up now, but do play Newcastle, now only three points above them, on the last day of the season.

Long shots: big wins at the bottom (week 20)

They say it’s the hope that kills you, and there’s starting to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel for some of my weakest teams. Bielefeld and Spezia both got results against really top sides this week, while Fulham closed the gap on safety with an unlikely away win at in-form Everton. There have definitely been worse weeks…

Arminia Bielefeld 3-3 away to Bayern Munich

I loved this game. Played in the snow in a way that would often result in a game being called off, it saw Arminia looks, for a while, like they might overturn the team that win the German league so consistently it’s become boring.

Bayern were just home from winning the club world cup in the Middle East, of course, but it was a lad on loan from Anderlecht who put the visitors into an unlikely lead after nine minutes, which they then doubled.

Bayern looked useless in the snow, and a lot stronger in the opening 30 minutes of the second half once it had been cleared, with the score going to 3-1 in Arminia’s favour before the Bavaraians turned on the style, but not quite enough to win it. A valuable point for Arminia, who are now level with a fading Hertha Berlin with a game in hand. Only their third draw all season, remarkably.

Review: St Pauli: Another Football Is Possible

ACABAB, reads one of the regular banners in St Pauli’s famous Hafenstrasse block. It’s not a typo, but an adaptation: All Cops Are Bastards, Apart from Boll. The banner sums up the ethos of the Hamburg club: firmly anti-authoritarian, but always making room for their own. Fabien Boll, a former St Pauli star, doubled as a police inspector.

St Pauli have never been the greatest football team. While their history is spattered with short-term appearances in the Bundesliga, the German top tier, and impassioned wins against fierce local rivals HSV, it’s what goes on off the pitch that truly makes the ‘braun-weiss’ an interesting phenomenon, one that’s right at the very heart of the ‘Against Modern Football’ movement. 

In ‘St Pauli: Another Football Is Possible’, Naxto Parra and Carles Vinas explore the journey that’s brought the Pirates of the Elbe to the point where victory on the pitch is simply not a core priority.

That sense of simply being and representing rather than chasing victory seems to stand out at every game. I visited the club five years ago, and saw them play Union Berlin, their stands draped in slogans slamming Sky Sports for moving the game to a Monday night. The space outside the stadium was crammed with ghetto blasters and punk tunes and fans supping beer, and once you got inside, the fans joined in, at times, with similarly left-leaning Union fans to chant together. The ample standing terraces had a distinct smell of cannabis, and afterwards, there was a rave under one of the stands.

It hasn’t always been this way, of course, and much of this book documents how St Pauli became a bastion of anti-corporate rebellion. The club were initially a fairly conventional side, albeit based on the fringes of Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn, a party-hub meets red light district of some repute. Along the way, we learn that the club even had some light, though disputed, links to Nazi party members in the 30s and 40s.

Long shots: points, yes, but prizes? (week 19)

A good set of results this week for my sides, though they broadly remain in trouble, with exciting survival battles (except for the fans) on the horizon. With the top five European divisions well past half way now, three of my five sides look in imminent danger of the drop.

Of the four sides that played this week, though, it was the three in trouble that got results…

Elche CF 2-2 v Villareal at home, 19th place

A sign of fight for Elche? The Catalan club went 0-2 down to Villareal at the weekend, before battling back to grab a point that isn’t quite enough right now, but certainly beats the alternative.

This had the odd sensation of being played mostly at one end, with Villareal dominating the first half, in which their key man Gerard Moreno could have had four (and did score two), as they outpassed Elche.

Both of Elche’s goals had more of a ‘scrappy’ feel to them than holding marks of pure quality. It’s now been 15 league games dating back to October since they won, a really worrying stat, and one that’ll have to end in the coming weeks of they’re to survive.

Long shots: Metz stand out again (week 18)

Things started well, but they often do for promoted clubs. Now it looks like there’s a real risk of four of my five teams being relegated, with Metz once again the stand out. Par for the course? Well yes, it is really. Here’s how the latest week of football for five European strugglers went down…

Fulham 2-2 v West Brom away, 0-2 v Leicester at home.

Fulham actually aren’t playing too badly at the moment, but their chances of Premier League survival have, in my opinion, slid away in the last few weeks. It’d take a massive turn around to come out of things now.

They badly needed to get something out of the consecutive games against the teams that they need to beat: Brighton, Burnley and West Brom. In the last of those at the weekend, against West Brom, Fulham were seriously unlucky, creating the chances to come out well on top in a 2-2 draw, but that seems to be the way when it’s not happening for you.

Leicester on current form was always going to be a big ask, and so it proved – very comfortable for Leicester, who might well be in with an outside chance of winning the title again this year. Fulham now a full 8 points adrift, with even Sheffield United below them coming back.

Long shots: Patterns Repeat (week 17)

As we get towards the midde of the seasonm the same teams seem to be struggling and suceeding from amid my army of long shots. Metz continue to charge. Fulham falter. Here’s the latest…

FC Metz 2-0 v Nantes at home, 8th place

Nantes great run now represents their best first 20 or so games of the season since the 90s – not bad for a team that were heavily odds on to go down.

This one saw Nantes in control in the early stages, though there was little in the way of chances at either end. Metz took over towards half time, scoring a goal that looked offside to take the lead.

From then on it was tit for tat for most of the second half, with a piledriver of a second for Metz late on to confirm the points and lift them to a season-high of 8th. No risk of relegation here.

Long shots: 100 goals scored (week 16)

It’s taken roughly 88 games (it depends who you consider to have played ‘first’), but my teams have now collectively scored 100 goals this season, and some of them are running really well.

Metz, for example, pulled off a smash and grab this week against league leaders Lyon in France to move up to the top half, while Arminia grabbed a 3-0 win in Germany to open a gap on automatic relegation. Fulham look in the most trouble…

Spezia 13th place, 0-0 away to Torino.

What Spezia really need is to just keep chipping away towards a points total that will keep them up for an unlikely second season in Serie A, and this one is a great example. They were down to ten men after just 8 minutes – their third red card in four games – Luca Vignali the culprit this time.

After that it was always going to be tough, but oddly Spezia had the better of the chances in the first half and a couple of decent looks in the second half, too, before Torino started to dominate as they tired. Spezia have been consistently good away, but this has to be classed as a top result all things considered. They go up to 13th. A midweek win away to Roma in the Copa Italia, 4-2, didn’t do any harm either.

Long shots: Fulham Love to Draw… (Week 15)

The Christmas season is in some ways a turning point in a footballing year. A good couple of weeks (crammed with games) can certainly be the difference between relegation and a relatively comfortably end of the season, and my five strugglers went in distinctly different directions over the holidays.

Fulham are looking more realistic survivors, for example, while Metz go from strength to strength compared to expectations. Elche and Arminia Bielefeld, though, have slipped into trouble. It’s back to normality this week instead of the big round ups. Here’s how it went down…

Fulham 18th, 1-1 away to Tottenham

Fulham drew their fifth game on the trot away to Tottenham, and it’s kind of working for them, as they slowly but surely close the gap in Burnley and Brighton ahead of them with games in hand, too.

In truth, Tottenham should really have been out of sight in this one, with Kane putting them ahead after numerous decent chances. Spurs have that very Mourinho habit of trying to sit on leads, though, and they did it again here. By the time Fulham got level with 15 to go, they deserved it. A 2-0 away win to QPR in the cup won’t do confidence any harm, either.