Jonathon Margetts: I was unsure about my Tranmere future

New Tranmere Rovers striker Jonathon Margetts says he didn’t know if his performances had convinced the club to offer him a contract.

The 21 year-old, released by Hull City, has been with the Whites for a number of weeks and signed a one-year deal yesterday after a string of impressive displays in pre-season friendlies.

Margetts was sent on at half-time on the opening weekend of pre-season against Vauxhall Motors and wowed fans with a dazzling display, scoring four goals and hitting the woodwork on more than one occasion.

But the level-headed youngster said he still didn’t know whether he had done enough to be considered as a permanent option for the Rovers squad by manager Gary Brabin.

“Even after that I wasn’t too sure,” he admitted. “I’ve been on trial at clubs before where I’ve scored two goals in one game and another goal in the next game only to be told ‘No’.

“I was once told that a club wanted to spend money on a striker instead of signing me for nothing, so I don’t really get my hopes up until the pen is on the paper because I’ve been let down a lot in the past with regards to signing for clubs.”

With the ink now dry on his Tranmere contract, Margetts is determined to make an impact at senior level on the Wirral after being prolific for Hull’s reserve team.

He said: “Everyone frowns upon reserves football, saying ‘It’s only the reserves’. I’ve come here now to prove I can score goals in a competitive league and not just in a reserve team.

“I’ve been on trial with a few clubs, but I thought Tranmere was the best option for me. It’s a fresh start, a new challenge and I think I have made the right decision.

“Only time will tell, but I’m very happy and I’m enjoying my time here already,” he added.

Although Margetts was unknown when he took to the field against Vauxhall, the attacker soon found fame with Rovers supporters as Trialist H – his name on the team-sheet that day – but quickly ended the mystique by revealing his identity on Twitter later that evening.

“I was getting more and more people asking if it was me who had scored the four goals. It was getting a bit annoying so I cleared the air and put my name out there.”

Everyone knows his name now, but it is likely that the Trialist H title will stick with him at Prenton Park – not that Margetts seems to mind too much.

“Even now, I still hear people calling me H when I’m out on the pitch!” he laughed.

“As long as the fans are behind the team, though, I’m not that bothered.”


Copa América 2015: Golden Boot Betting

Picture: SoccerLens

The Premier League season is over, the FA Cup final was nothing more than a procession and the Champions League final went the way most anticipated.

But still the football doesn’t stop.

The Women’s World Cup kicked off last week in Canada and now the Copa América is to begin in the early hours of Friday morning as hosts Chile face Ecuador in the opening game.

Ahead of the tournament, I’ve picked out a player from each group who I think will challenge for the Golden Boot award.

Group A: Enner Valencia, Ecuador (66/1; various)

ennerPicture: Squawka

The West Ham striker is a definite outsider, but showed he enjoys the pressure of a tournament by scoring three times in as many games during last summer’s World Cup in Brazil as Ecuador fell in the group stages.

They are likely to at least go one better this time around having been drawn against Chile, a Mexico side who have left key, experienced personnel at home with their focus on the Gold Cup in July, and the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, Bolivia.

There are worries about Valencia’s fitness, but if he can get into shape he has two excellent wingers providing the service in Jefferson Montero, of Swansea, and Fidel Martínez, who warmed up for the competition with a brace in a friendly against Panama.

Under the familiar tutelage of Gustavo Quinteros, who worked with the striker at Emelec during the early part of his career, the 25 year-old can flourish and be in the reckoning, even if Ecuador do not reach the latter stages.

Taking all of that into consideration, it seems the odds of 66/1 are too generous and too good to turn down, especially as an each-way selection.

Group B: Sergio Agüero, Argentina (9/1; Betway)

Picture: TalkSPORT

The little Argentine comes into the competition on the back of a stunning season for Manchester City, in which he plundered 32 goals in 42 games.

Agüero appears to have carried that form onto the international scene, helping himself to a hat-trick in a 5-0 friendly win against Bolivia. There was a notable absence from the Argentina team that night, though, as Lionel Messi was busy winning his fourth Champions League title with Barcelona in Berlin.

Messi’s return to the team could throw a spanner into the works, as could Argentina’s embarrassment of attacking riches. It is perfectly feasible that Argentina boss Gerardo Martino starts each group game with a different striker as the focal point of the attack with Agüero, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuaín all in contention for a starting berth.

Games against the unfancied pair of Paraguay and Jamaica are likely to present ample opportunity for the Argentina attackers to fill their boots and hoping that aforementioned hat-trick, as well as Agüero’s promising return of three goals from two starts and two substitute appearances at the 2011 Copa will tip the balance in favour of the Manchester City man.

By backing Agüero, you’re banking on him making the most of the time he gets on the pitch but, going by his performances for City, it’s most certainly a risk worth taking.

Group C: Radamel Falcao, Colombia (20/1; Coral)

falcaoPicture: BeinSports

Yes, Falcao endured a miserable season at Manchester United, scoring just four times in 29 appearances for Louis Van Gaal’s side as he struggled to return to the devastating form he had before suffering an ACL injury in January 2014.

However, El Tigre is still an integral part of the national team, despite the excellent club form of Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca and Jackson Martínez of Porto. Indeed, Falcao is the record goalscorer for Los Cafeteros with 25 goals in 57 games and will be expected to lead the line for José Pékerman in Chile.

The group draw has been relatively generous to Colombia, with Peru and Venezuela predicted to be little threat to Pékerman’s side or Brazil. The knock-out stages could be kind for the World Cup quarter-finalists, meaning that the striker could easily get himself five games to extend his record.

At 20/1, there’s a smidgen of value in an each-way punt on Falcao and I’m going to listen to my head, which tells me that form is temporary and class is very much permanent.

Colombia Are Reaping The Benefits Of The Ewing Theory

There is a theory, devised by Dave Cirilli and Bill Simmons in the 1990’s, which suggests that sports teams can inexplicably improve despite the loss of their star player.

It is known as the Ewing Theory, named after the NBA player Patrick Ewing, whose injury saw his team, the New York Knicks, written off only for them to win three of their next four games to advance to the finals of the NBA.

The exploits of Colombia and James Rodríguez at the World Cup in Brazil have served only to illustrate that the Ewing Theory is alive and well in 2014.

There are two major elements for the theory to come into effect: the team is to have a star player who receives a lot of attention but never wins anything and then, upon the loss of said star player, the team is written off but, against the odds, goes on to win or perform unexpectedly well.

Of course, no manager would wish to lose their best player, there have been countless occasions when the individual has successfully overridden the collective, but an over-reliance on one player can be sporting suicide.

Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo unable to drag their limp body through the group stages, have already been sent packing from the World Cup and Brazil were the width of a crossbar away from being dumped out of their own tournament with the support for Neymar at a nadir since the boy wonder broke onto the international scene.

Falcao suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in January

Colombia are hardly the definition of a one-man team, but when Radamel Falcao – successful at club level but not with his country, a South American Youth Championship in 2005 aside – damaged the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee in January during a French Cup tie for his club side, Monaco, many feared that the chances of the side widely tipped as dark horses had evaporated.

The South Americans breezed through qualifying, finishing 2nd in the CONMMEBOL standings, just two points behind the winners, Argentina. Falcao’s nine goals set a Colombian record and saw him finish as the team’s top-scorer in qualifying. He was supposed to be the spearhead of the side which took Brazil by storm. It was, after all, his penalty against Chile which secured a 3-3 draw and a place at the finals.

Although he attempted to recover and make the tournament in time, it would have required a medicinal miracle for the marksman to play a meaningful part in the tournament. After being included on an initial 30-man squad list, he was cut from the fold when manager Jose Pekerman named the 23 men who would represent Los Cafeteros at the World Cup for the first time since France ’98.

‘El Tigre’ was relegated to the role of spectator and few would have predicted that his injury would turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the side ranked 8th in the world.

Without the powerful number nine, Rodríguez has been the star of the show, and the tournament, with five goals and two assists in four games. Supplementing his dazzling displays are a hat-trick of man of the match awards which have helped to take Colombia to uncharted territory: they find themselves in the quarter finals of a World Cup for the first time in their history.

Whilst Colombia are an excellent team, it was James who single-handedly fired them to the last eight, scoring both goals in the 2-0 Round of 16 victory over Uruguay. The first goal was simply stunning.

In the absence of the suspended and disgraced Luis Suárez, Uruguay were rough and rugged, their game plan to unsettle James with brute force and hope to take advantage of an error at the other end. It was going to take a spectacular strike to get through a stubborn rearguard but, after 28 minutes, Rodríguez produced one of the goals, and moments, of the tournament so far; a goal fitting of the surroundings in the Maracanã.

The ball ricocheted into the air to his chest, the control perfect, and, without allowing the ball to touch the turf, James took a quick glance behind him to ensure he had sufficient space before swiveling to let rip with a sumptuous volley that cannoned in off the underside of the bar and left the goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera, clutching at thin air.

That goal saw him become the first player to score in his first four World Cup matches since Italy’s Christian Vieri in 1998. Other names on the list include Gerd Müller and Just Fontaine; the 22 year-old is in illustrious company.

Rodríguez has been the player of the tournament

If the first goal exemplified the power of the individual, the second showed the power of Colombia’s collective. A sustained spell of possession ended when Pablo Armero flighted a cross towards Juan Cuadrado, who nodded the ball back unselfishly for Rodríguez to make himself the outright leading goalscorer of the World Cup.

As well as performing over 90 minutes, Colombia’s final group game against Japan demonstrated that James can be doubly devastating in half the time.

Shinji Okazaki’s header had cancelled out Cuadrado’s penalty leading into the break and Pekerman decided to unleash Rodríguez at the start of the second half; it took just 10 minutes for him to have an impact.

Having found a pocket of space that, to him, must have seemed like a chasm, Rodríguez gathered the ball and burst into the area. With a trio of defenders in his way, he deftly slipped the ball into the path of Jackson Martinez, who steered the ball home to regain the lead for Colombia.

Martinez’s second goal was also down to the inventiveness of the No.10. Given more space than a player of his quality should be allowed, Rodríguez played a beautiful reverse pass into the acres of space beyond the Japanese defence. Martinez hared away, cut inside and curled a superb left-foot shot into the corner. The best moment of the night, though, was yet to come.

With barely a minute left on the clock, the product of the Envigado academy was left one-on-one with Maya Yoshida; there was only ever going to be one winner. Jinking past the defender and turning him inside out, the attacker coolly chipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper in a moment of individual brilliance. The finish was exquisite and announced his arrival on the big stage: James Rodríguez is here and he is here to stay.

Lionel Messi has had his moments, as has the tournament’s poster-boy, Neymar, but this has fast become James Rodríguez’s World Cup; we’re just lucky enough to be able to watch it.

The attacking midfielder turns 23 on the eve of the World Cup final and, on current form, it would not be surprising if he had fired Colombia all the way there. If he does, he must be a surefire bet to pick up the Golden Ball award.

For now, though, he has Brazil, and Neymar, in his sights.

(All images used in the spirit of fair use)

Super Rugby Week One: Five Things We Learned

Steynless Bulls Could Be In For A Struggle

Following the departure of key Flyhalf Morné Steyn to Stade Francais, it was always going to be a struggle for the Bulls to replace the 29 year-old superstar.

Then again, how can you replace the man who holds eight kicking records in Super Rugby?

The full extent of the job on Frans Ludeke’s hands was revealed on Saturday as the Bulls went down to a 31-16 defeat against their biggest rivals, the Sharks.

Morné Steyn kicking a penaltyMorné Steyn was the Bulls’ key player (Image via PHParsons

There wasn’t so much a Steyn-shaped gap in the line-up, but instead a chasmic hole.

For a team whose style has relied heavily upon the presence of a quality kicker for so long, the Bulls struggled on the opening day in Durban.

Whilst Louis Fouché and Francois Hougaard both have a decent boot on them, Steyn was the metronome who provided the quality to elevate the three-times champions to another level.

The Bulls may have to accept a transitional season for 2014 as they get used to life without their former star.

Great White’s Sharks Are Contenders

One of the best signings in the off-season was done by the Sharks, who brought Jake White back to South Africa as Director of Rugby after two years in Australia.

The man who won the 2007 World Cup with South Africa guided the Brumbies to the final of the competition last season and has given fans reason for optimism ahead of the 2014 campaign.

The early signs are good, with a bonus-point victory over the Bulls leaving the Durban-based side at the top of the table after week one.

However, White claims that there is more to come from his side, saying: “We haven’t played as well as we could and yet we still got a bonus point. We can only get better.”

Plenty for the other 14 teams to be wary of as the Sharks try to become Super Rugby champions for the first time.

Le Roux Continues To Shine

After consolidating his breakout Super Rugby season in 2012 with an even more impressive 2013, big things are expected of Willie le Roux for the Cheetahs in 2014.

Six tries in 17 matches saw the 24 year-old called up to the South Africa squad and has impressed many with his unorthodox style in his 12 caps.

A creative force capable of turning any game on its head from the wing or at full-back, le Roux has been given a free reign this season by his coach, Naka Drotske, as the Cheetahs look to improve on their 6th-placed finish last time out.

Their season got off to a poor start, losing 21-20 to the Lions at home, but le Roux was in the thick of everything good for the Cheetahs, conjuring up the assists for both tries in the match.

The fans in Bloemfontein will hope for more magic from their mercurial talent as they take on the Bulls next Friday evening.

Kicking Is Crucial

It sounds so simple, but often the difference in a game is the quality of a kicker and the Cheetahs had to learn this lesson the hard way on Saturday afternoon as Marnitz Boshoff kicked all 21 points for the Lions in a shock win on their return to Super Rugby.

Dan Carter lines up a kickDan Carter lines up a kick (Photo via Maree Reveley)

A late drop goal sealed the fate of Naka Drotske’s side, despite them breaching an inexperienced Lions line twice thanks to tries from Raymond Rhule and Cornal Hendricks.

As mentioned earlier with Morné Steyn, having a player whose boot can keep the scoreboard ticking over is invaluable and missed penalties from Flyhalf Johan Goosen proved costly after the hooter.

The Champions Mean Business

With the Super Rugby season starting next weekend for the Australian and New Zealand sides, this was a last chance to get a friendly in before the curtain raiser between the Crusaders and the Chiefs on Friday morning.

The defending champions took on the Blues and scored six tries in a 43-19 victory with Rhys Marshal, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Nick Crosswell, James Lowe and Robbie Fruean all dotting down in Rotorua.

Although the Blues pulled the score back to 24-12 at the break thanks to a double from Charles Piutau, they were never really in the game and have plenty to do ahead of their battle with the Highlanders next weekend.

The champions, meanwhile, already look to be in imperious form ahead of their heavyweight clash in Christchurch.

Joe Thompson’s Cancer Diagnosis Gives Dose Of Reality

Every day, 890 people are diagnosed with cancer as life continues its cruel habit of dealing out a bad hand.

The sobering reality of Tranmere Rovers winger Joe Thompson being diagnosed with nodular sclerosing Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer, at the age of 24, serves only as a poignant reminder that life is short and should be cherished.

Although it is somewhat cliché, it does provide perspective and reminds us, as fans, that the players who go out onto the field wearing the shirt of our club every Saturday afternoon are human beings, too. Just like the rest of us.

Footballers are often accused of living in a bubble that separates them from the fans. The vast amount of money within the sport, particularly at the top, has taken the professional game away from its working class roots.

Long gone are the days of hopping onto the bus heading to the game only to see your star striker making the same journey. The players are no longer considered to be the equals of the fans; they have become the ‘superiors’. And far too many of them believe it.

Granted, the gulf is not as wide in League One as it is in the Premier League – Joe Thompson is no John Terry – but during those moments when we berate the goalkeeper for dropping a cross, bawl at the defender for a slip, criticise the midfielder for missing a tackle or scream at the striker for missing a chance, we lose sight of the fact that footballers are the same as those sat in the stands.

Thompson is just 24 years old and became a father last year. His world will have been rocked by the news that he has cancer. Far too often it is assumed that footballers are immune to the same problems that could befall a cleaner, a builder or a lawyer.

It was only in July after making a positive impression in a number of pre-season friendlies that the winger was happy to give up his time to talk to me about his hopes of having a big impact in this campaign for Tranmere after a frustrating debut season following his move from Rochdale.

He began the competitive season well with a brace against Crawley, equaling his tally for the whole of last season, but football is not even a secondary matter to Thompson now. Rightfully, it falls well below his health and his family in terms of importance.

Fortunately, the illness has been caught at an early stage and puts Thompson in a good position to beat it.

The outpouring of support for the former Rochdale player is touching and has demonstrated the close-knit nature of the footballing community with tribalism temporarily cast aside.

The likes of Elliott Bennett (Norwich), Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich) and Adebayo Akinfenwa (Gillingham) have all expressed their best wishes for Thompson on Twitter and the PFA are in talks with Tranmere about how they can best support him through his treatment.

Tranmere’s opponents this afternoon, Preston North End, are also playing their part by preparing a picture to go on their scoreboard in the 7th minute, when Rovers fans plan to pay tribute to their number 7, who will be in attendance.

Hopefully, after undergoing six months of chemotherapy, Thompson can make a full recovery and be back out on the field as soon as possible. In the meantime, all that is left to be said is good luck, Joe. You have the support of all Tranmere fans and all football fans in your battle.

Just remember, it can happen to anyone.

Gray: International Football Is Helping Me To Improve

Accrington striker James Gray believes that the club is seeing the benefits of the time spent with his national side.
The 21 year-old, who has two goals in nine caps at under-21 level for Northern Ireland, was instrumental in Stanley’s first league win of the season against Bristol Rovers and believes his development is helped by being with Steve Robinson’s side.
“When I’ve gone away on international duty, it’s a different type of football,” he said.
“You’re playing against some of the top players in the world so I think that has helped me.
“We played Belgium home and away, which were both tough games and I managed to score against Serbia which was really pleasing. When I went away with Northern Ireland last time I scored for Stanley after coming back and I’ve done it again.”
Speaking after scoring his third goal of the season to get Stanley back on terms against the Gas, Gray was cautiously optimistic about his chances of a call-up to the senior squad.
“I don’t want to get carried away but the senior manager [Michael O’Neill] has seen me play and he does like me.
“He’s said that if I keep scoring goals and playing the way that I am then there isn’t a big pool to pick from the country’s point of view.
“If I keep playing well and scoring goals for club and country hopefully the senior call-up will come which would be a massive thing for me,” he added.
The striker admits that the juggling act between club and country is difficult, but hopes he can use the time with Northern Ireland as a catalyst for good form in the red shirt.
“It’s disappointing because I have missed games for Accrington but when your country calls, it’s a massive honour and they’ve done a lot for me. I’ve benefited a lot from going away [with Northern Ireland].
“I’ve been in the setup for a long time and I think they’ve given me that bit of confidence that I’ve needed and when I’ve come back I’ve wanted to take that and use it for my club.”
Having predominantly been used as an impact substitute so far this season, Gray has started the last three home games, scoring twice.
The frontman is relishing the starting role but knows that competition for places is tough, particularly with the addition of George Bowerman.
“I wanted to repay the gaffer, Stevo and Lodgey for putting me into the team. They’ve been saying when you’re in there, you’ve got to stay in there. It’s a lot harder to stay in the team than it is to get into it.”

Webber Glad To Be Back

For Danny Webber, the goalless draw against Oxford at the weekend was pleasing for more than one reason.
As well as it being another valuable point on the board for Stanley, it was the striker’s first appearance for six weeks after returning from a hamstring injury to replace the suspended Kayode Odejayi in the starting line-up.
“From a fitness point of view, it’s great to be back out there and enjoying my football,” he said, speaking after the game.
“Obviously I blew up early in the second half because I haven’t played for six weeks but the more games I have, the better I will get.”
The 31 year-old’s Stanley career is yet to get off the ground – a red card at Bury in the third game of the season was followed with a hamstring injury at Chesterfield.
However, having watched from the stands in recent weeks, the former Sheffield United man says that he has seen improvement across the team, particularly in defence.
“We’re starting to get a foundation now where we’re not conceding so it’s frustrating that we didn’t create enough chances to nick it. I want us to win games and it’s very important that we win games.” he commented.
“I think the foundation has to be not to concede. I’ve played in teams over the years where, if things don’t go right for a few games, you go back to the basics of not conceding and trying to steal a goal.
“At a minimum, you keep a clean sheet and then you’ve got something to build on.”
A clean sheet was exactly what James Beattie’s men got on Saturday afternoon and Webber was full of praise for the solidity shown by the defensive unit.
“Marcus Bettinelli was excellent again today,” he said “He made some great saves and the rest of the boys at the back applied themselves very well. It’s good that we’re looking tighter and it’s the foundation that we need to work on.
“The next step for us now is to go forward and attack with a little more courage.”
Stanley were good value for a point against Oxford and created chances but were unable to convert them and Webber says that the side need to be more clinical in front of goal.
“When we’re on the front foot, like we were in the first half, we need to capitalise on it. We need to be creating and keeping teams under pressure because they’ll try and do that to us so it’s a case of making sure that we get the first goal.
“It’s no good just talking about it, we need to do it.”
Webber has just one goal in the red shirt so far, on the opening day at Newport, but he is not concerned about his run of five games without a goal.
“It’s more frustrating when you aren’t getting chances,” he explained. “If you’re there and it’s just not going for you then you don’t lose heart because you know that the chances are there.
“It’s most frustrating as a striker when you aren’t getting chances and you’re feeding on scraps.”
Despite the team being winless in their opening 12 games of the league season, the summer signing says that the team are working hard towards picking up that first maximum.
“As a professional footballer, what other people say shouldn’t matter because you have your own desire to win games. Personally, I have a desire to be a part of a winning team and I see that throughout the squad that we’ve got here.”
“It’s a good dressing room. I’ve seen it grow from the first day I walked in until now – it’s become even more tight-knit,” he added.
“I can see what the boss is trying to create here and everybody is buying into it. Nothing happens overnight but nothing happens without people applying themselves either.
“We’re all applying ourselves and reading from the same hymn sheet and I think it’s starting to show with the togetherness on the pitch.”