Terry Lane - Tuesday 23.06.15, 15:47pm
Wolves football legend Kenny Hibbitt wins Footballers’ Golf Classic
Thirteen is an unlucky number for some but not for Wolves footballing legend Kenny Hibbitt as he finally tasted victory in the Footballers’ Golf Classic at Spain’s prestigious La Manga Club at the 13th time of asking.
Kenny Hibbitt, 64, had never finished higher than sixth in his previous appearances in the popular annual event, sponsored by Stace, but he put years of disappointment behind him to romp to success on the sun-drenched fairways of the world-renowned resort in Murcia, south-east Spain.
The two-handicapper, who made 544 appearances for Wolves between 1968-84 and also played for Coventry City and Bristol Rovers, lay joint-third alongside ex-Wigan and Ipswich boss Paul Jewell after the first round of the 54-hole competition at La Manga Club with 32 Stableford points before making his decisive move on the second day.
Hibbitt’s second-round tally of 39 points gave him a two-point lead over Jewell going into the last 18 holes, and he closed out victory in impressive style by top-scoring for the second day running with 35 points to finish with a total of 106 points and lift the trophy amid emotional scenes.
Hibbitt’s final score was six points clear of former Reading, West Ham and Southampton coach Wally Downes, who surged through the field in the last round to take the runners-up spot, with ex-Aston Villa and England midfielder Lee Hendrie one point further back in third.
But Jewell had a final day to forget and could only manage 28 points on La Manga Club’s North Course to finish in sixth place, one point behind first-round leader Steve Lovell and Andy Morrison.
“I’ve been trying to win this title for 13 years but have never come close,” reflected an emotional Hibbitt, who won two League Cups with Wolves in 1974 and 1980.
“I never thought it would be possible to win off such a low handicap and to take the title with 106 points ranks alongside anything I achieved in football. As I get older, this means more than you can ever imagine.”
This year’s Footballers’ Golf Classic, the 19th time it has been staged, featured a galaxy of stars from the footballing world including former England internationals Terry Butcher, Darius Vassell and Graham Roberts and ex-Southampton duo Jason Dodd and Francis Benali, who were all making their debuts.
And joining them on La Manga Club’s famous fairways were the likes of former Liverpool, Tottenham and England striker Paul Walsh, past winners Pat Jennings and Russell Osman, ex-Chelsea and Scotland striker David Speedie and other former England internationals including Mark Wright, Luther Blissett, Ray Clemence and another Wolves’ legend, Steve Bull.
The golf classic featured four days of competitive golf: the one-day Alan Ball Trophy and the three-day main event, which was sponsored for the first time this year by construction and property consultants Stace, with competitors playing alongside a different footballer each day.
Ex-Millwall and Wales striker Steve Lovell missed out on his quest for a third title in five years but still had cause to celebrate as his sons Jon and Mark joined up with friend Lee Browning to claim victory in the overall team competition victory, with their side ‘The Lovell-Lees’ lifting the title with 242 points after a dramatic play-off with ‘The 3 Irons’.
Mike Roberts - Wednesday 17.06.15, 13:32pm
The first weekend of the 2015/16 season will start on Saturday 8th August 2015 with the following games:
Birmingham City v Reading
Blackburn Rovers v Wolves
Bolton v Derby
Brentford v Ipswich
Brighton v Nottingham Forest
Cardiff v Fulham
Charlton v QPR
Hull v Huddersfield
Leeds v Burnley
Preston v Middlesbrough
Rotherham v MK Dons
Sheffield Wednesday v Bristol City
The match at Griffin Park between the two losing playoff semi finalists looks like a contender for game of the weekend, but I wouldn’t expect all of these games to kick off at 3:00pm on Saturday afternoon. The first round of the Capital One cup was drawn on Monday, but as I’m in summer holiday mode right now I’ll let you look those games up yourselves. See you in about a month, when the season preview will appear.
Mike Roberts - Friday 22.05.15, 15:31pm
This season’s edition of The Biggest Game in the Entire History of the Universe ™ is here again and this season Middlesbrough and Norwich will compete for roughly a 50% chance of being relegated or a 90% chance of finishing in the bottom half of next season’s Premier League. That’s not me being sarcastic either: since the second tier became the Championship ten seasons ago, five playoff final winners have lasted just one season in the Premier League and only one team (West Ham in 2006) has won the final and gone on to finish in the top half of the Premier League at the end of the following season. Last season’s playoff finalists (QPR) will be rejoining the Championship in August.
Monday’s game is live on Sky Sports 1 (2:00pm) with the actual football starting at 3:00pm. If you’re interested in who is going to win the last promotion place from League One, I’ll make no apologies for making a shameless plug for my League One Playoff Final preview here; why not make a Sunday afternoon of it by watching Hull and Newcastle trying to avoid relegation to the Championship earlier in the afternoon? That was sarcasm by the way…
The Curse Of Fourth appear to have ended in dramatic fashion when QPR won last season’s final with a last gasp goal from Bobby Zamora, but that was the first time a fourth placed finisher had won the final since Charlton beat Sunderland on penalties in 1998 and Rangers lasted one season in the Premier League. Boro have spent five of the last six seasons outside the top ten in the Championship and as this is only their second playoff campaign then I think it’s fair to say this game is a rare opportunity to do something unique.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Boro have a good record against the other three playoff teams and although their convincing playoff win over Brentford went to form, don’t forget that Aitor Karanka’s side lost half of their last ten aways. That’s why probably they’re in the playoffs rather than on the beach after the open topped bus parade; Boro had the best defensive record in the Championship this season (21 clean sheets) and the defence first approach that’s worked for Karanka over the past couple of seasons could work in a one off game like this. On the other hand, Middlesbrough scored the fewest total goals amongst the sides in the top six (they were shut out twice by Bournemouth, Leeds and Reading), could find it hard to replace Patrick Bamford if they go up and could struggle to come from behind on Monday.
Key player: Grant Leadbitter. A goalscoring midfielder is what every Championship club needs and the 29 year old Mackem has almost doubled his previous best total this season. Has tons of experience in the Championship but has played at the highest level in the past and could do so again. Won’t need much motivation.
Looking back at the pre-season preview for the Canaries, it strikes me that I was pretty much on the mark. Norwich began well after being relegated but were knocked off top spot at the start of October and by the end of the following month had dropped into mid table, which is more or less what I predicted. What many of us didn’t see coming was the appointment of Alex Neil in January; that was the catalyst for a sustained promotion bid and although Norwich never regained top spot, Neil’s record at this level has been very impressive. The problem is that his record also unsustainable; but the immediate issue is whether Neil is a good enough manager to win one game and on current evidence the answer is yes.
There’s no doubt that the Canaries deserve to be one game away from an immediate return to the Premier League. They beat Watford and Ipswich twice during the regular season by aggregate scores of 6-0 and 3-0 respectively. Only Bournemouth lost fewer games this season and Norwich only failed to score in three league games at Carrow Road and four times on their travels. However, here’s where the big red warning sign starts flashing. The only team that stopped Norwich scoring in both league games was Middlesbrough, who were one of only two clubs to win both games against the Canaries (for the record, the other was Reading).
Key player: John Ruddy. The giant goalkeeper made 90 Premier League appearances over the three seasons the Canaries played in the top flight after promotion in 2011 and is still young enough to make an international comeback after a broken finger ruled him out of the England squad for Euro 2012. Ever present this season and helped to keep fourteen clean sheets in 2014/15 which included five in the ten games against the other clubs in the top six.
Head to head
Norwich have only won once in their last ten games against Middlesbrough in all competitions, a 1-0 win in October 2010 that was just after Gordon Strachan’s departure from the Riverside and was also on my list of games to keep an eye on that week. Boro have won five of the remaining nine matches but have been a couple of high scoring draws that might be worth recalling on Sunday. In May 1993 they shared six goals on Teeside and almost 12 years later it finished 4-4 at Carrow Road!
This is only the fourth time the teams finishing third and fourth have met in the playoff final over the last decade. The third place finisher has won two of the last three; the last time in 2008, when Hull beat Bristol City. All three of those games finished 1-0.
Since 2005, fourth placed finishers have gone 1-3 in finals and all of those games have been settled by no more than one goal.
Six of the last ten finals have featured less than two goals and in seven of them only one team has scored. So it won’t come as much of a surprise that 1-0 has been the most common score in the last ten seasons and even less of a surprise is that eight of the last ten finals have been won by a margin of one goal. Only Watford in 2006 and Swansea in 2011 have had a higher margin of victory, which implies next season’s final might be one sided…
This will be the first final without a team from London, the South East or Lancashire taking part since 2008.
If – as seems likely looking at the stats immediately above – we’re looking at a tight, low scoring game then the advantage is with Middlesbrough. That’s also the pattern in the recent games between the sides but as I mentioned earlier in this post, if Norwich take the lead then Boro may be forced out of their comfort zone and I’m not sure that coming from behind is their strength.
All being well I should be able to update after the game. If you’re interested in who might be coming up from the League One final, why not have a wander over to Buzzin’ League One Football to read the preview.
Update: Norwich were promoted to the Premier League following a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough his afternoon. The Canaries scored twice in the first 15 minutes and as I mentioned above, Boro were unable to come back.
In other news…Leeds hired Uwe Roesler…Derby have fired Steve McClaren…Preston will be back in the Championship after thrashing Swindon 4-0…and I’ll be back next month with the first day fixtures for next season and any other housekeeping.
Mike Roberts - Friday 15.05.15, 13:33pm
Last weekend was an eventful one: Burnley and QPR will be rejoining the Championship after one season away after both were relegated from the Premier League. Rangers’ position may be precarious due to FFP rules, but I’ll cover that when necessary; the Clarets will have learned a lot from their experience and should be amongst next season’s favourites.
In the playoffs, two goals in five minutes before the interval at Portman Road meant that Ipswich and Norwich go into their second leg at Carrow Road all square (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1). Brentford came from behind against Middlesbrough and that game looked like a stalemate until substitute Fernando Amorbieta scored a very late winner. The return is tomorrow (Sky Sports 1, 12:15pm).
In the League One final, Preston will play Swindon. I’ll update this post as soon as the Old Farm derby is over tomorrow and there’ll be a full preview of the Sky Bet Championship playoff final next week.
Update: the Sky Bet Championship playoff final will be between Middlesbrough and Norwich, who won their second legs comfortably.
Mike Roberts - Friday 08.05.15, 14:44pm
Over the last few seasons, I’ve spent a fair amount of time musing about The Curse Of Fourth but then QPR earned a jammy victor over Derby a year ago and so this year it’ll have to be The Disadvantage Of Finishing Fourth. Unfortunately, my old laptop has finally given up the ghost and may have taken all my spreadsheets with it; as I also have a family birthday to attend this weekend, this preview is an overview. With any luck, I’ll be able to write a comprehensive preview for the final.
Last ten games: 4-4-2
Record against the other playoff teams: 1-1-4 (lost twice to Middesbrough, failed to score in both games)
Playoff record: losing semi finalists 1990/91, 1994/95, 2004/05, 2005/06 (third tier), losing finalists 1996/97, 2001/02, 2012/13 (third tier)
Doesn’t look good does it? You don’t qualify for the playoffs by being an average team but it’s pretty clear to me that those four defeats in six games against their immediate rivals indicate that the Bees aren’t good enough to go any further this season. How they react to any potential disappointment will be crucial, especially as Mark Warburton will be leaving as soon as the season is over. Getting this far might be the high point in this particuar era at Griffin Park; the Bees are the first team to reach the Championship playoffs after having won promotion from League One at the end of the previous season since Bristol City in 2008 and that didn’t end well for the Robins.
Last ten games: 5-2-3
Record against the other playoff teams: 2-1-3 (lost twice to Norwich, failed to score in either game)
Playoff record: losing semi finalists 1986/87, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 2003/04, 2004/05 (all second tier)
The signs of a revival in the fortunes of the Tractor Boys started when Mick McCarthy took over the reigns at Portman Road in November 2012 and the incremental improvement – including a very good defensive record at home – has resulted in their first playoff spot for a decade, but the sad truth is that Ipswich have been victimised by their near neighbours recently. Their playoff history is disastrous and sixth placed teams do not have a good record in the Championship playoffs. Last winners: Blackpool in 2010. Even if Town don’t go up, I doubt they’ll be playing in League One in five years time.
Last ten games: 6-1-3
Record against the other playoff teams: 5-0-1 (beat Brentford by an aggregate score of 5-0)
Playoff record: losing semi finalists 1990/91 (second tier)
In form, good record against the other three teams but although there’s no longer a full blown Curse of Fourth, it’s fair to say that over the last decade fourth placed teams have not done well. One win – last season – and three losses in four finals in that period does not bode well. That being said, Boro had the best defensive record in the Championship in 2014/15 based on a very tight record at the Riverside (only Sheffield Wednesday scored more than twice) and my initial doubts about Aitor Karanka’s suitability for the job have long since disappeared. So basically in a good position to return to the Premier League after six seasons in the second tier, just as long as Karanka doesn’t send Dimitrios Konstantinopoulous up for a corner…
Last ten games: 6-3-1
Record against the other playoff teams: 3-0-3 – only one side scored in all of those games, which the punters amongst you might want to take note of.
Playoff record: none.
Arguably the in form team of the quartet, but their form against the other three teams is either boom or bust and they have no previous form in the post season. Not only that they somehow managed to lose twice against an unremarkable Reading side this season, but the Canaries failed to beat Rotherham and also lost both games against Middlesbrough without scoring. Alex Neil has been an excellent appointment but he may have to finish the job next season. Third placed clubs have reached the final in eight of the last ten seasons, but have only won half of those finals. The last triumph in the Championship playoffs by a third placed team was West Ham, who’d also been relegated from the Premier League at the end of theprevious season.
Verdict: Norwich are the favourites to reach the final at the very least, but over the last decade newly relegated teams are three times more likely to lose in the semis as they are to win the whole thing. That leaves the door open for Middlesbrough, who ultimately lost out on automatic promotion after that mad game at Fulham but who weren’t that far off the pace of either Bournemouth or Watford. Ipswich are an intriguing prospect and could be amongst the pacesetters in the autumn; Brentford are a genuine wild card, but both of them face an uphill battle in the semi finals.