Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lack of edge costs Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix were masters of their own downfall as they suffered a disappointing 2-0 defeat to struggling Adelaide United – a real lack of killer instinct costing the Kiwis dear. Despite controlling large parts of the game and being favourites in the live soccer betting, Wellington were unable to make the most of their dominance and allowed Adelaide to take the points, goals from Bruce Djite and Anthony Golec giving the hosts the three points.

The Phoenix’s inconsistent start to the season seems set to continue unless they can begin taking their chances and making opponents pay when they have the chance. Chris Greenacre was frustrated again as he tried to give his side the advantage, with Daniel Cross smashing the upright with his powerful header as the visitors were left wondering how they hadn’t managed to register a goal.

Coach Ricki Herbert was one of a number inside the stadium surprised to see Adelaide come out of the match with their clean sheet intact.

“I thought it was a reasonable performance. We certainly had a few chances.”

“There were a ton of balls into the box but you have to put them away.

“I thought their first goal was disappointing on our part but we had plenty of opportunities to get back on terms.”

The Phoenix have been lucky that this year’s A-League has been one of the closest in recent years. Despite an inconsistent start to the year, the New Zealanders are still in a decent position and the soccer betting tips are predicting the club to mount a challenge on the top half of the table in the new year.

PTC glory inspires Ford

Tom Ford is determined to take full advantage of his new-found confidence after securing his second professional title in Sheffield.

The 28-year-old from Leicester won the 11th Players Tour Championship (PTC) event in Sheffield after edging out Martin Gould 4-3 in a dramatic final to claim the £10,000 prize money and valuable ranking points.

It was a stunning triumph for the world number 31 and was yet more evidence of his potential, following his victory in last season’s third PTC event. People looking at the best snooker betting should remember this.

And having overcome the likes of Judd Trump and Graeme Dott in December in the penultimate PTC event in the latest campaign, Ford said: “No disrespect to the players I beat to win a PTC event last year, but I count this one as a much better victory because of the players I've beaten.

“To beat the likes of Trump and Dott gives me a lot of confidence to go on and do well in the big tournaments. Maybe last year I relaxed too much after winning the PTC, so this time I want to get my head down and keep going.

“I'm too far away from the top 16 to get in there this season. However, I can get into the low 20s."

Ford did brilliantly to oust the high-flying and recently-crowned UK champion Trump 4-1 in the quarter-finals and then went on to beat former world champion Dott 4-0 in the semi-finals.

And in the final, Ford had to dig deep to oust Gould, Power Snooker champion and world number 12, with a cool 66 clearance in the last frame after trailing 41-8.

“I made a good break in the last frame, particularly the last red along the top cushion, because I knew, if I missed it, I'd lose,” Ford added.  “I entered the tournament expecting nothing, but, after winning my first match, I got stronger."

Lewis angry at crowd

Adrian Lewis has aimed an angry swipe at the Alexandra Palace crowd who he says showed him a lack of respect by booing him in his 5-3 Ladbrokes PDC World Championship quarter-final win over Terry Jenkins on Friday.

A packed 'Ally Pally' was clearly on Jenkins' side throughout the tight clash but Lewis defied the atmosphere to come out on top and book a semi-final place.

Lesser players may have been affected by the crowd's reaction but Lewis held his nerve and eventually won to set up a New Year's Day showdown with James Wade. Those following the best online PDC darts odds will be keeping a close eye on things.

However, afterwards 'Jackpot' made it clear he was not happy with the treatment he received from the crowd and admitted he was "fuming" with the way they had got on his back in the tie.

He told Sky Sports: "I thought they were very disrespectful - every time I was throwing, they were booing.

"But, at the end of the day, I got the job done. But I wasn't very happy with them (the crowd) at all, in fact I'm fuming."

Lewis says the fans failed to show him respect as they attempted to put him off by shouting 'miss' when he was about to throw and the Stoke-born star says he was disappointed with his lack of support.

"Even when I was missing I was on the wire every time. But the crowd played a big part in that - they were shouting 'miss!' every time I was throwing," he added.

"I didn't get any respect up there. Like I say, I was disappointed."

Lewis will take on Wade in the late semi-final on Sunday and may have to put up with more hostility from the crowd - especially after these latest comments.

NBA season enjoys decent start over festive period

With the build-up to the new NBA season tainted by a bitter and extended lockout that threatened the very future and status of the sport in North America, there was more than a hint of nerves surrounding the opening fixtures at the weekend. Would basketball fans be left disillusioned by the bad feeling that characterised the lockout? Would NBA supporters look elsewhere for their sporting action fix over the long festive period? Or would they switch on their TVs or computers and watch NBA online just as before?

Happily for all those involved in the game, the answer to those two questions was an emphatic "no", with television ratings for the opening games up significantly from the figures last year at around this time. The five games played on Christmas day this year drew a total of 6.2 million viewers, compared to around 6 million in 2010.

With the clash between the LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls apparently earning its standing of being the third most-watched game during the regular season game ever to be aired on ABC, it looks likely that the NBA lockout has, if anything, only heightened the buzz and anticipation surrounding the happenings on court for basketball fans starved of game time action with plenty of viewers also tempted to bet on basketball.

Should the NBA want to prove, however, that it is keen to make amends to fans messed around by the circumstances surrounding the lockout in recent months, with supporters not always sympathetic to the reasons given for the deadlock, it'll have to ensure a high level of competition throughout the regular season, as franchises fight to prove themselves to their loyal fanbase. If that does happen, it'll no doubt be the spectators left standing as the winning party as the 2011/2012 season comes to an end, as a thrilling basketball season unfolds on court.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Robinson set for scrum-half headache

Scotland head coach Andy Robinson will be well aware that he will soon have to decide which one of his three world-class scrum-halves will be given the nod when the Six Nations gets underway. In Mike Blair, Chris Cusiter and Rory Lawson, Robinson faces a decision that many in international rugby would love to have to make.

Two of the three, Blair and Cusiter, came up against each other as Edinburgh and Glasgow produced a festive feast in their 23-23 draw at Murrayfield. The match gave Robinson to see how the two experienced number-nines fared against each other. On the evidence of the match and it will have been Cusiter that stood out most – the former Perpignan man producing some eye-catching breaks as he ran the show from behind the scrum.
Those following the heineken cup odds online should remember this.

Cusiter was the unfortunate one of the trio who took up the role of third-choice scrum-half during Scotland’s World Cup campaign – playing only 30 minutes – something that he has admitted to leaving him feeling pretty deflated and frustrated on his return. Regular game-time with the Warriors has put the spring back in Cusiter’s step and that was evident in his impressive display against Edinburgh. 

It remains to be seen who Robinson will go with for Scotland’s opening game of the Six Nations, but Cusiter’s recent form for the Warriors will certainly do his case no harm.

Can the NHL stop dangerous hits?

Who doesn’t want their favourite hockey team to get a bit physical when it seems like they are on the ropes?

However, one other question that deserves to be asked is: who wants to see their team knock opposition players out of games, or worse still, see that exact same thing happening to their own players? Sure, hits can be great fun (and rather terrifying when you are sitting right behind the glass!) but they are certainly not the be all and end all of hockey.

With Deryk Engelland the latest player to fall foul of the NHL rules on hits, surely the time has come to start clamping down on players who are going in to hurt their opponents, rather than just trying to stop their progress. Although traditionalists and those who bet on hockey will argue that those running the sport are just trying to turn it into a limited contact sport, the truth of the matter remains that there are just too many players getting hurt for the league to continue to ignore the problem of long term health consequences.

Should the likes of Sidney Crosby or other skill players be reduced to having to miss the majority of games because they enjoy a bit of fun with the puck, only to find themselves crushed up against the wall by a hit designed to tell them that they are going to be roughed up, then what is the point of watching live hockey online? Surely if you want to watch a fight you can watch boxing or UFC?

Whatever the decisions made by the heads of the NHL, hockey will surely have to change sooner rather than later or else risk becoming obsolete.

Luke Donald is player of the year

World number one Luke Donald has been awarded the Player of the Year by the Golf Writers Association of America following a remarkable season by the Englishman.
Donald became the first man in history to top the end of the season money lists on both the European Tour and US PGA Tour, as well as finishing the year ranked as the number one player in the world.

There were four titles for the 34-year old in 2011. He kicked things of by winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February in America. Two wins then followed in Europe with the BMW PGA Championship and the Barclays Scottish Open. Then finally he crucially won the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic in Florida to ensure he accumulated enough prize money to top the list across the Atlantic. People looking at the open betting odds online will be wondering what sort of season he is in for next time.

The golfer from Hertfordshire finished in the top 10 on 14 occasions from 19 tournaments this year, his best major appearance came at the Masters where he finished in a tie for fourth place at Augusta.

Donald won the award with 88% of the votes and finished ahead of US Open winner and world number two Rory McIlroy, American Webb Simpson and US PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.

Yani Tseng from Taiwan won the women’s equivalent of the award in a year that has seen her win two majors and 14 tournaments across the globe.

The final award was the Senior Player of the Year and that was handed to American Tom Lehman. He won the Regions Tradition this season as well as two other wins on the Champions Tour.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lewis maintains title dream

Adrian Lewis says it "would mean the world to him" to successfully defend his Ladbrokes PDC World Championship after he booked his last-eight place with a 4-0 hammering of Wayne Jones on Wednesday.

After some below-par performance so far in the tournament, Lewis finally showed his true form to become the first player to secure a quarter-final place at Alexandra Palace. Those following the World darts Championship odds online should remember this.

The reigning champion needed just 45 darts to take the opening set, as he landed a 106 checkout in the second leg on the way to making the perfect start.
Jones was second best throughout but eventually took his first leg of the match, thanks to double eight, at the start of the second set but failed to build on it and was 2-0 down shortly after.

Jones did his best to respond and was 2-1 up in the third set, only for 'Jackpot' to rediscover his touch when landing a 109 checkout to level it at 2-2 before a double tops in the next handed him the third set.

The fourth set was then wrapped up quickly by the Stoke-born star as he secured the 4-0 whitewash that will leave his rivals fearful Lewis is back to his best.

Afterwards he admitted his form has been patchy but is determined to keep his dream alive of retaining the title.

"In the practice room I was hitting 180s for fun, then I couldn't hit one up there," he told Sky Sports. "But I couldn't hit a double in practice, then up there you can see what I'm capable of."

"I don't think any player who has won it for the first time has then come back and defended it. To actually do that...that'd mean the world to me," he added.

Bradley eyes more majors

Keegan Bradley’s win in US PGA Championship was America’s only major winner of 2011 and was their first success since Phil Michelson won the green jacket in the US Masters in April 2010.

Bradley joined an exclusive club of three golfers to win a major on their debut alongside Ben Curtis and Francis Ouimet when he won the tournament at the Highlands Course in Georgia in his very first appearance.

The two wins on the PGA tour in 2011 was enough to secure Bradley the Rookie of the Year award. The 25-year old also had plenty of support for the top prize of Player of the Year, until Luke Donald made that trophy a one horse race when he secured top spot on the money lists on both the European and PGA tours for the first time in history. Those following the best online Masters golf betting should remember this.

Bradley’s success in the PGA Championship came after a dramatic final day at the Atlanta Athletic Club where his chances of winning the tournament looked to have ended when he triple-bogyed the 15th to fall five shots behind the leader Jason Dufner. However, the man from Vermont responded with consecutive birdies and took advantage of a slip from Dufner to force a three-hole play-off, with Bradley picking up the prize with a birdie and two pars.

The win for was enough to propel the American from 102 to 29 in the world rankings and also secure him a spot in the PGA Grand Slam where he defeated the three other major winners in 2011 Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIIroy and Darren Clarke in the four-man tournament in Bermuda.

Watson suffers training setback

Britain’s Heather Watson has had to postpone the start of her new season after spraining her ankle in training.

The British number three was set to play in the ASB Classic qualifying event in Auckland to begin her campaign on the WTA tour in 2012, but has now had to withdraw from tournament through the injury.

Watson started last season by reaching the quarter-finals of the very same event which included a win against ninth seed Carlo Suarez Navarro. She was eventually beaten in the last eight by China’s Shuai Peng after a superb run. Anyone looking at the latest tennis odds should remember this.

Watson expressed her disappointment at missing the tournament she did so well in last year through her Facebook page.

She said: "It's very frustrating but Auckland is one of my favourite tournaments of the year and I'm looking forward to playing it next year because I love the event."

Watson is now in a race against time to be fit for the Moorilla International which gets underway on January 6.

The 19-year old will also be concerned about her participation in the opening Grand Slam of 2012 in the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

The Guernsey born player is in the main draw of the Australian Open for the very first time in her career. Last year she was beaten in the second round of the qualifying tournament but her current world ranking of 92 secures her a spot automatically this time around.

Watson picked up the first Grand Slam win of her career back in June in French Open when she defeated France’s Stephanie Foretz Gacon to be become the first British woman since 1994 to reach the second round of the draw at Roland Garros.

The ones to watch in the new NBA season

With the 2011/2012 NBA season about to start, much to the relief of avid basketball fans, punters in North America and beyond are on the hunt for NBA betting tips and trying to single out the special player or two capable of lighting up the action on court this year.

The traditional stand-out names of the NBA still dominate many of the pre-season previews, with Kobe Bryant and Lebron James the obvious candidates to shine for their respective teams in LA and Miami. Bryant's credentials make for interesting reading: the player has won five championships with the Lakers as well as an Olympic gold medal for the States, and the tag of MVP almost seems synonymous with his name.

However, with the Lakers' ability to secure glory in 2012 under threat after their poor showing in the playoffs last time out, and with Bryant not getting any younger at the age of 33, those who bet on basketball may look beyond the Lakers star who may not turn out to be the man to attract the headlines this season.

James, meanwhile, possesses the additional motivation of never winning a title. For a man who has notched up individual honour after individual honour over the years, the lack of the ultimate team title in his trophy cabinet has to hurt. Should the player decide that this is the season to single-handedly drag Miami into the playoffs and beyond, he could well be the main shining light in a sport that needs to be ignited after the controversy of recent months.

Should the big guns fail to perform, a few lesser lights that might be worth keeping an eye on include the likes of Derrick Rose at Chicago, last season's MVP and a man with everything to prove...and everything to gain for his team.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Aintree the ultimate target for Welsh National hope Cappa

Welsh trainer Evan Williams reports his talented staying handicapper Cappa Bleu to be in great heart ahead of his intended Christmas period bid for the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on December 27, a race that connections hope will advertise the claims of their horse to serious consideration for top honours at Aintree in April in the John Smith's Grand National itself, writes Elliot Slater.

The nine-year-old, who has been very lightly raced throughout his career having been seen just six times to date, put up a tremendous performance after an absence of 20 months to make a winning return to the racetrack at Haydock last month when coming with a wet sail in the closing stages of the three-mile Betfair Multiples Handicap Chase to beat David Pipe's Tamarinbleu in a pulsation finish by a neck. People placing Grand National bets online should remember this.

The step up in trip for the Welsh marathon appears to hold no fears for Williams who is confident his charge will be staying on when plenty of others have hoisted the white flag, the trainer pointing outing that Cappa Bleu was an impressive winner of the Christies Foxhunter Chase at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival when he came home strongest of all over the extended three-and-a-quarter-miles to beat Turthen by an impressive 12-lengths.

Plagued by niggling training setbacks ever since, Cappa Bleu showed at Haydock that he appears to retain just about all of his considerable  ability and at odds of 16/1 he arguably represents some of the best value in the ante-post market for the feature Chepstow contest. Looking further ahead, Cappa Bleu can be backed at 50/1 for the Grand National at Aintree, although he would probably have to rise in the handicap before February to be sure to make the cut for the 'world's greatest steeplechase'.

Grand National 2001: A horse racing odyssey

More than ever in this year the Aintree Grand National Meeting became the focus of the National Hunt season –  the foot-and-mouth crisis had blitzed the country and robbed racing aficionados of their Cheltenham Festival fix so all eyes turned to Liverpool to salvage a bitterly disappointing season.

The 1990s had produced two of the heaviest ground Nationals ever in 1994 and 1998 but in all probability the 2001 version was the toughest test that we have seen for many a year. Three days of torrential rain made conditions extremely testing and on National Day itself it was touch-and-go as to whether the course was actually raceable. It also looked as though we would be missing an Irish challenge due to the foot-and-mouth crisis but restrictions were lifted at the last minute and the Irish horses were allowed to take part. Punters were clearly going to need to look for horses that had abundant stamina and had a real liking for the prevailing heavy going. This resulted in three co- favourites in the Grand National odds all of whom fitted the bill – Edmond, Moral Support and Inis Cara.

Incredibly Martin Pipe saddled a quarter of the 40 strong field with Blowing Wind the pick of the ten and then there was Red Marauder a horse that had been here before in 2000, but jumped poorly, however his form was much better in 2001. Needless to say that in desperate conditions the race was not without incident, the major one being Paddy’s Return attempting to take out the field when riderless at the Canal Turn – he managed to take out ten and with the conditions taking their toll we were quickly reduced to a single number of protagonists.

Various other incidents then quickly saw the 2001 Grand National reduced to a match between Red Marauder and Smarty as they galloped towards Becher’s for the second time. Gradually it became evident that Red Marauder partnered by Richard Guest was going better than Smarty and despite a couple of tired jumps at the last two fences he came home a distance clear of Smarty who was the only other horse to complete the course with an unblemished record with the eventual third and fourth Blowing Wind and 2000 Grand National winner being the only others to complete the course.

Guest described Red Marauder as perhaps the worst jumper to complete the course but in desperate conditions he refused to give in and delivered a gritty and resilient performance. The course may have come in for some criticism about the state of the ground but the race itself provided a gripping spectacle but it was the loose horse – Paddy’s Return – who caused most of the carnage and all of the horses returned safely. The 2001 Grand National provided another rich chapter in the history of the nation’s favourite race.

Sens may be back but they still have a lot to do

OK, so it's fair to say that Ottawa are doing alright this season. "Alright" is only that though: alright. Over the last few years, Senators fans have been willing to accept a slightly less than ideal set of results from their team, and this year they had almost no expectations of any grandeur set for them whatsoever, with the majority of pundits and experts not including them in their NHL betting tips and predicting that they would be languishing at the bottom of the Eastern conference and wouldn't stand a chance of getting anywhere near the play-off spots.

So far these predictions have fallen flat on their face, despite an initial terrible start to the season, and the players have left many experts wondering just why and how the Senators have managed to pull things together against all the odds.

Although it's fairly tricky to deduce the reason behind their current success, the sad truth for the Sens is that their success has been based on the work ethic and skill of old time players such as Daniel Alfredsson, who provide a great deal of support for the younger members of the team.

With long term success based on getting the right balance between youth and experience, the Sens GM Bryan Murray knows that he will need to have a really good think about how to use his draft picks or veteran players in order to maximise the future of the franchise. Although the likes of Alfredsson are clearly an integral part of the Sens' current side, they may still be able to be traded in for decent draft picks or a larger group of experienced players who can provide that extra quality that the youngsters lack. Because of that, those who watch live hockey online remain cautious about the future

If, and only if, the Sens can work this balance out, then we may well be talking about the Sens being back in the big time.

Sturridge maintains his title dream

Chelsea's in form striker Daniel Strurridge believes his side are still in the hunt for the Premier League title this season, despite dropping points over the weekend.

The Blues looked set to record another victory in the top flight on Saturday against Wigan Athletic but with two minutes of normal time remaining an uncharacteristic fumble from goalkeeper Petr Cech allowed Jordi Gomez to bag a late equaliser. People gambling on football will remember how poor it was.

With Premier League frontrunners Manchester City battling for a 1-0 victory over Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, Chelsea now find themselves nine points off the pace.

Having beaten City in their previous outing, it was crucial the west London outfit maintained the pressure on the league leaders but Chelsea succumbed to the banana skin at the DW Stadium.

Despite the setback against the Latics Sturridge, who has taken the role as one of Chelsea's first choice strikers, believes the Stamford Bridge club can still challenge for the all-important Premier League title this term. People looking at the football predictions should bear this in mind.

The 22-year-old told the club's website: "It is frustrating for everyone and it is important that we bounce back, which we will.

"It is the best league in the world because every team in the top six can win it. We are one of them and I believe we can.

"There are still five months to go and I think people would be stupid to assume Chelsea are out of the title race. We are going to fight to the very last game."

Kean keen to bolster squad

Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean has insisted he will be looking to bring in fresh legs in the January transfer window, as the Lancashire outfit continue to struggle near the bottom of the Premier League table.

The under pressure manager saw his side come away with nothing from their last outing against West Brom on Saturday at Ewood Park and they now find themselves four points off safety with a huge game coming up on Tuesday. People looking at the football betting need to bear this in mind.

A Lancashire derby between Blackburn and Bolton Wanderers always has a bit of extra spice but with these sides at 19th and 20th in the league respectively, this has become an massive game for both clubs.

Bolton boss Owen Coyle is also under plenty of pressure to keep his club in the top flight and there have been suggestions that if someone loses the clash at Ewood Park, then it could be curtains for the team’s manager. Those following the Premier League best odds should remember this.

However Kean has been defiant regarding his position with Rovers and, despite pressure to leave from the club’s loyal supporters, the Scotsman already has one eye on transfer targets to bring in next month.

He said: "I spoke with the owners for about 45 minutes yesterday (Sunday).

"We had a real good conversation, mentioning again the health of some of the players because we have got a few that are falling at the moment.

"We will look forward to the transfer window opening and see if we can get a few bodies in that can hit the ground running straight away and make an impact."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Higginson positive despite patchy campaign

Andrew Higginson is in upbeat mood and is focusing on his strong finish to the year to help inspire him to eventually claim a top-16 place.

Widnes' top cueman has had a mixed campaign and despite being short of the elite ranking places by three spots, the 34-year-old is satisfied with most of his performances.

A 4-1 triumph over John Higgins in the fifth Players Tour Championship event is the stand out highlight for the 2007 Welsh Open finalist in the current campaign, a result that handed Higginson his first professional title in his 16-year career. Those looking at the latest snooker odds will be wondering if he can push on.

"Looking back on the first half of the season overall, I'm very pleased with my consistency," Higginson told World Snooker.

"I've won at least one match in every tournament except the UK, including all 12 PTC events, and I don't think there are many other players who have done that. Plus I've won a PTC event and put myself in a good position in the rankings."

After failing to make the 2011 World Championship with defeat in the final qualifying round against Andrew Pagett, Higginson will be desperate to go one better in 2012.

After losing to Shaun Murphy at the Australian Open and Mark Williams in Shanghai this year, Higginson insisted he would do everything in his power to ensure his performances improved on the big stages.

"The disappointing thing is that I haven't performed well at the main venues," he added. "While there are no easy draws, some are tougher than others. That's been the only downside and it's something I am looking to improve on next year.

"I will be setting some New Year resolutions, but the main aim will just be to keep going with the same level of consistency."

Snooker chief backs Q School

The annual qualifying tournament known as Q School is the fairest method for all snooker players aiming to become a professional, says the chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA).

As well as more tournaments and increased prize money, the World Snooker Qualifying School was introduced by chief Barry Hearn as an incentive to raise standards and provide an equal opportunity for all amateurs attempting to play on the Main Tour. Anyone looking at the best snooker bets will be wondering if anyone can make a breakthrough.

WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said: “Q School was staged for the first time last year and we consider it the best and fairest way to give all players the chance to qualify for the tour.

“Rookies such as Sheffield's Adam Duffy and China's Li Yan came through the system, and both have since climbed quickly up the world rankings, so that shows what players can do if they have the talent and the dedication.”

The event is similar to that seen in golf with the first snooker qualifying event held in Sheffield in May 2011 with 12 players who reached the semi-final stage awarded tour cards.

Next year’s tournament will be staged at the WSA in Sheffield from 13 May where 128 players will battle for a two-season pro tour ticket for 2012-13 and 2013-14 snooker circuits.

A new Q School ranking list is also being introduced and will be finalised on the basis of a one point per frame win.

“Snooker is rapidly becoming a global sport, with more tournaments, more prize money and more players,” Ferguson added. “We are increasing the tour from 96 to 128 players in season 2013-14, so the opportunities to qualify for the main tour have increased dramatically.”

Q School 2012 will feature three events and amateurs can enter the events with just a £1,000 entrance fee. Four semi-finalists from each event will qualify for a two-year pro tour.

Leafs still have the golden touch

Although the Toronto Maple leafs have struggled to do almost anything on the ice rink in recent years, their standing off the ice, and in the local community, has continued to be respected far and wide.

With few players creating excitement or drama for those who like to bet on hockey, almost no real success coming as a result of the action on the ice, and the fact that it has been a tough time financially recently for the average hockey fan in Canada, the continued commercial success of the Leafs shows just how important the franchise is to the identity and daily lifestyle of people living in and around Toronto.

With the Leafs recently able to persuade the teen global superstar Justin Bieber to join them on the ice (even managing to convince him to have a shot or two at goal - sign him up now GM!), they managed to, in effect, retaliate against another franchise with an extremely famous and well-known fanbase: the Vancouver Canucks.

Although the Canucks have been more successful in recent years, the reality is that the Leafs still remain first choice among NHL picks and manage to hold that special draw and appeal that somehow eludes teams such as the Canucks, and even the Senators, a franchise who have never really grabbed the public’s imagination despite their best efforts.

Should the Leafs manage to turn that off ice success into on ice success sometime soon, their long suffering fanbase, and the city as a whole, would truly enjoy revelling in the success while looking optimistically towards a far brighter future for the hockey community as a whole in the city.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pardew wants ACON stars to stick around

Alan Pardew hopes Newcastle can hold on to their African Cup of Nations players for just a little bit longer.

Several Premier League stars will be heading off to Africa for the competition which takes place between January 21st and February 12th, but the Magpies look particularly vulnerable as they are set to lose key players Demba Ba and Chieck Tiote.

Ba has bagged 13 goals in just 16 Premier League games, while Tiote is a vital figure in the centre of the park for the side, controlling the side’s play and breaking up opposition attacks. Those looking at the best African Cup of Nations odds should bear this in mind.

Their respective nations are entitled to ask the players to join up with the squad two weeks before the competition gets underway, but Pardew is hoping he will be able to reach an agreement which will see them staying at Newcastle until January 15th.

Pardew said: "The scheduling isn't great for us. But we knew about it before the start of the season so we aren't going to moan about it. It was there and is something that has been on our mind.

"I still think our squad is big enough to cope."

However, with Newcastle now winless in six Premier League games after a 3-2 defeat to West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night it seems likely fans will demand reinforcements before long.

Pardew himself has admitted that the squad is not big enough to maintain a European push, but with their leading goalscorer heading off for almost a month things may be about to get even tough.

Races for Ryder cup spots hots up

The race for a place in the European Ryder Cup team continues in 2012 with qualification differing from the last competition in 2010 where Europe defeated the USA 14 ½ -13 ½ at Celtic Manor.

The team of 12 for the 2012 European team will be led by Jose Marie Olazabal and there are three ways of making it into the side. The top five players from Ryder Cup European Points List will automatically qualify for the tournament in Chicago. The next five players will be taken from the Ryder Cup World Points List, with the individuals with the highest standing at the end of qualifying period making the line up. Olazabal will then hand places to two other players, as oppose to the three captain’s picks that were available to Colin Montgomerie in 2010. Anyone following the US Masters betting online should remember that people will be playing with one eye on the Ryder Cup too.

Paul Casey and Justin Rose will be two of the players that will be desperate to make the European team next year after missing out two years ago in Wales.

Olazabal could have a big decision to make with regards to his two captain’s picks. Casey, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Miguel Angel Jiminez all sit outside the qualifying positions so would be relying on the nod from the European captain if they don’t accumulate enough points in early stages of 2012.

The USA captain David Love III will have the luxury of choosing four wild card picks, with the remaining eight players coming from the top end of the Ryder Cup Points List for the competition that gets under way next year on September 25 from the Medinah Country Club.

Injury Boost for United

Manchester Untied have been sweating over the fitness of Phil Jones over the last couple of days since he had to be brought off in the 5-0 win at Fulham, in the stanjames betting special, due to a an elbow in the face by Clint Dempsey. Fortunately for United though, the injury is not as bad as first feared with the United medical team fearing he may have fractured his cheekbone, but the 19 year old will be back in time for the boxing day fixture with Wigan and Man United are clear favourites to pick up all 3 points with stan james betting
It's great news or United who are already without Nemanja Vidic for the rest of the season, Rio Ferdinand for the next couple of weeks who is suffering from and ankle injury, and the Da Silva twins are also both out for extended spells. That is just in the defense where Jones started the game on Wednesday night but, he has also played a leading role in the midfield of United, and so he would have been a great miss to the team.

On the downside for United however, Phil Jones' replacement on Wednesday Ashely Young will miss
will miss the festive period after picking up a knee injury at Craven Cottage following a tackle by Dickson Etuhu.

Alex Ferguson said;

"It's not so good for Ashley Young, He'll be out for a few weeks. Ashley was tripped as he went into the next tackle. He wasn't positioned to go into that next tackle - he was half falling at the time.
"The second tackle was a hard tackle - not a bad tackle - it was just the way he went into Ashley. He's taken a real clump and has a knee injury that will keep him out for a few weeks."
United have been forced to deal with a crippling injury list in recent weeks, but Ferguson believes they have coped well at losing a number of key players.
"As we get one back, we're losing one," continued Ferguson. "It's not an easy spell for us. We just have to get on with it. The squad has handled the situation quite well."

It will certainly be a huge test for them over the christmas period as they look to keep the pressure on their rivals Manchester City who lead them by 2 points!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keys, Levine Secure Aussie Open Spots

American youngsters, Jesse Levine and Madison Keys, have been handed early Christmas presents from the US Tennis Association (USTA), in the form of wildcard entries to the upcoming Australian Open. The development means that the United States has filled its quota of wildcards of the first Grand Slam of the year.

The States, and also, the French, are allowed to put two wildcard players apiece forward for inclusion in the Aussie Open, as part of a “reciprocal agreement” between the tennis associations of Australia, and the host nations of the French and US Opens. However, wildcards must be fought for by eligible players.

Prior to the start of major tournaments, the USTA hosts a series of play-offs to determine which individuals are worthy of a free pass to the next Grand Slam. The winners, Keys and Levine, defeated Gail Brodsky and Robby Ginepri, respectively, to secure a shot at the Australian Open. Those placing tennis free bets will be wondering if they can cause any upsets.

Keys triumphed 6-3, 6-4 over Brodsky earlier this week. The youngster, who is alleged to have picked up a racquet to pursue an interest in tennis dresses, is famed for her vicious serve, despite being just 16-years-old. She has made collecting wildcards something of a hobby, in recent months; the Illinois-born player attended the 2011 US Open as a wildcard, as well.

Jesse Levine, 24, had the rather more difficult task of dispatching veteran tennis player, Robby Ginepri, in order to claim his wildcard. Levine triumphed 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 to book his place in the Australian Open, which begins on January 16.

The occasion will give Levine, and indeed, Keys, the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the most famous faces in tennis, such as the latter player's idol, Roger Federer.

Binocular to bid to retain Christmas Hurdle title

Although he was made favourite for the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on his seasonal reappearance last month, it didn’t come as the greatest surprise to see former champion hurdler Binocular go down to defeat at the hands of Overturn, Nicky Henderson’s charge having also failed to win first-time out on the previous two seasons, writes Elliot Slater.

Last term, after finishing third to Peddlers Cross in the ‘Fighting Fifth’, Binocular went on to land a three-and-three-quarter-length success over old rival Overturn in the rescheduled Christmas Hurdle in mid-January before following up in a conditions race at Sandown the following month. A setback ruled him out of defending his Cheltenham crown and he wasn’t seen again until Aintree in April when patently failing to stay on his first attempt at two and a half miles in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle won by Oscar Whisky. Those following the Cheltenham festival odds online need to remember this.

This term it was to be expected that the gelded son of Enrique would come on for his seasonal bow, and after travelling well for much of the contest under Tony McCoy the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old couldn’t quicken with the race fit Overturn and went down to a four-and-a-half-length defeat at the hands of Donald McCain’s tough as teak dual purpose performer.

Expectations are high in the Henderson camp that they will reverse form with Overturn and also prove good enough to see off the up-and-coming Rock On Ruby, (amongst others), in a race that will have some impact on the ante-post market for the Champion Hurdle in 11 weeks time. Bookmakers currently rate Binocular a top price 16/1 shot to regain his title.

Boston Bob fires Cheltenham Festival warning

Willie Mullins unveiled a potential star staying hurdler of the future as his Boston Bob easily accounted for Mount Benbulben in the Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle on only the second outing of his career over timber, writes Elliot Slater.

There was a great deal to like about the way the Graham Wylie-owned gelding went about his business giving the impression he had been doing the job all his life when in fact he is still very much a newcomer to the National Hunt game. Settling nicely under Ruby Walsh, the 9/4 second-favourite was dropped in at the rear of the field before being asked to make his move after the third last in the two-and-a-half-mile contest.

Sweeping past the odds-on Mount Benbulben at the second from home, the six-year-old soon had matters under control and came away to win as he pleased by a very comfortable four-and-a-half-lengths from the favourite who found little once coming under pressure and proved a shade disappointing under Paul Carberry. People looking at the ante-post Cheltenham betting odds should bear this in mind.

Mullins was delighted with the performance from the son of Bob Back who had only once previously raced over timber when scoring over course and distance five weeks earlier in maiden company. It is rare that a horse is asked to step up so markedly after just one experience of hurdling but it is a mark of the respect that the Irish champion trainer has for Boston Bob that he had no qualms about taking on a high-class performer and duly proved more than up to the task.

Bookmakers slashed the odds of a victory for Boston Bob in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March to just 12/1 (from 25’s), whilst he was also cut for the Neptune Investment Managers Novices Hurdle at the same fixture and is now a best priced 16/1 chance having previously been available at 20/1.

Manchester Clubs Setting The Pace!

It was another great night of English Premier League action last night, and once again as Victor Chandler predicted, both Manchester clubs put in convincing performances to maintain their lead at the top of the table.

Manchester City are top of the league and were once again totally dominant against a Stoke side who went to the Etihad Stadium purely to defend and were never in any position to cause a vc bet upset. They set themselves up with a 6 man defense from start to finish and Manchester City had a very easy night. They had possession for most of the game, weren't caused any problems by the Stoke attack and cut through the defense on numerous occasions.

Sergio Aguero scored two goals while Adam Johnson also got on the score sheet in a fantastic performance as he tries to cement his place in the Manchester City line up. He certainly did himself a few favors and it will give Mancini something to think about in the next game. On the whole, Manchester City look very very strong, and will go into Christmas at the top of the table which is often a good sign for those that have previously gone on to win the league in a similar position.

Manchester United kept up the pressure however with a 5 star performance at Fulham. It took them just 5 minutes before Danny Wellbeck put them one nil up, and goals from Nani and Ryan Giggs gave them a 3-0 lead at half time. It was all United in the second half too as Rooney and Berbatov added late goals to take it to 5-0.

Manchester United are looking like they are getting their form back after some unconvincing displays earlier in the season. Fortunately for them, they have still managed to pick up wins despite not playing well which is a true trait of champions.

There isn't any doubt that Sir Alex Fergusons men will be right behind City all the way, but they will be hoping that the Blue Side of Manchester slips up some time soon, but right now it doesn't look like happening.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

King George to shake up Gold Cup market

Whatever the outcome of the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day the result is almost certain to result in some significant changes to the ante-post odds available for the principal candidates for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a race for which last year's winner Long Run is currently the solid 5/2 market leader, writes Elliot Slater.

Long Run, a strong favourite to land the Kempton feature event for the second year running at the main expense of four-time previous winner Kauto Star, will surely be significantly trimmed to retain his crown if all goes well on Boxing Day with odds of around 7/4 or shorter being likely if he manages to confirm last year's form with Kauto Star who he beat by some 19-lengths into third place in a stunning display at the Sunbury circuit. Those looking at the ante-post Cheltenham Gold Cup betting online should remember this.

The ante-post odds for Kauto Star, generally a 12/1 second favourite to win the Gold Cup (a race he landed both in 2007 and 2009), would certainly contract if he gets close to or actually beats Long Run in the King George, the veteran having proved the doubters all wrong in putting up a tremendous display on his seasonal reappearance to run the finish out of Long Run and score by a stunning eight-lengths in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in November.

Captain Chris, winner of last year's Arkle Chase and currently a 16/1 third favourite for the Gold Cup will also be taking his chance at Kempton, and with connections sounding confident that he will stay the extra distance his odds could also be trimmed if he shows the necessary stamina at Kempton that would suggest he has what it takes to see out the three-and-a-quarter-miles and the stiff uphill finish of the Cheltenham showcase contest.

Cheltenham hopes set to meet in Navan Novice Hurdle

Gordon Elliott is expecting a good performance from his Mount Benbullen who will face a maximum of three rivals, including the very promising Boston Bob, in the Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle on Sunday, writes Elliot Slater.

The former winning point-to-pointer established himself as a smart bumper performer last season scoring at Thurles in February before following up in fine style in beating the highly regarded but ultimately ill-fated Lovethehigherlaw at Limerick in March. After an unfortunate start to his hurdles career when slipping up at Galway in October Elliott’s six-year-old won nicely at Thurles at the start of November before stepping up in class to land a Navan Grade 2 contest over two-and-a-half miles, beating Rebel Fitz under a fine ride from Davy Condon. Even those looking at the online Cheltenham Gold Cup odds should bear this in mind.

Mount Benbullen is under serious consideration for the Neptune Novices Hurdle (for which he is currently available at up to 20/1), whilst bookies rate him just an 11/1 chance for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle over three miles at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Elliott’s charge should find Boston Bob his biggest rival on Sunday, the Willie Mullins-trained gelding having joined the champion Irish trainer this autumn upon the disqualification Howard Johnson, for whom he won a Hexham bumper in March in impressive fashion.

After having reportedly schooled well ahead of his hurdling bow the Graham Wylie-owned son of Bob Back was sent off a hot favourite to win at Navan in November, duly obliging with the minimum of fuss in defeating Six Senses by three-and-a-quarter lengths and is expected to take high rank amongst the leading Irish novice hurdlers this term. Like Mount Benbullen, Bob Back is a 20/1 shot for the Neptune Novices Hurdle ahead of the Navan contest and can still be backed at 14/1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle in three months time, prices which would certainly tumble should he keep his unbeaten record over timber intact.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Furyk hangs on by the skin of his teeth

Former US Open winner Jim Furyk narrowly avoided falling outside the world’s top 50 players at the end of this season, as the American finished the year number 50 in the standings, meaning he will automatically qualify for the US Masters at Augusta in April.

The 41-year old was voted the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2010, in which he also won the FedEx Cup. However, the last 12 months have not been the best of his career, with no tournament wins of any sort for the first time since 1994. People looking at the best US Open golf betting odds will be wondering what has happened to him.

The 2003 US Open winner is usually in contention for majors but could no better than a tie for 24th place in the Masters back in April.

Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa is the unfortunate player to just miss out on a top 50 spot. He will now have to try and qualify for the opening major of the year via one of the alternative routes.

One big name that may not be at Augusta this year could be Ernie Else. The South African has slipped to number 56 in the rankings and has not missed the Masters tournament since 1993.

The three-time major winner has yet to win the green jacket, although he has come second twice in the prestigious tournament in 1994 and 1997.

Retif Goosen is another South African who has found himself outside the elusive top 50 players in the world. The 42-year old is a two-time US Open winner, and like his compatriot Els, has finished second twice at Augusta so is danger of missing the event this time around.

No perfect season for Packers

Green Bay Packers are determined to bounce back after losing for the first time this season at the weekend when they were surprisingly beaten by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Packers, winners of last season's Super Bowl, had been in superlative form this term, winning their first 13 matches and were expected to brush aside a Chiefs side that had struggled this year. People looking at the online super bowl betting will know this.

However, the Chiefs ended Green Bay's run by pulling off a shock 19-14 victory at the Arrowhead Stadium.

To add to the Packers' disappointment, their injury list is starting to grow with Bryan Bulaga picking up a left knee sprain and Derek Sherrod breaking his right leg.

Wide receiver Greg Jennings picked up a sprained MCL in the previous week's game against the Oakland Raiders but is expected to recover in time to feature in the play-offs.

Despite all their injury problems, the Packers remains one of the favourites to win this season's Super Bowl but Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted it had been a disappointing weekend, saying: "It was a very quiet plane ride home, and understandably so.

"Everybody's disappointed with the loss and the opportunity to have an undefeated season. But the reality is upon us."

The Packers have two games of their regular season left, both at home, against the Chicago Bears on Christmas Day evening and the Detroit Lions on New Year's Day.

They hope to have veteran left tackle Chad Clifton back for those two games as he has finally recovered from the hamstring injury he sustained against Atlanta more than two months ago. His recuperation had been delayed after he picked up a back problem during the rehabilitation process.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Surgery ends Green's season

Boston Celtics will be without Jeff Green for the entire season after the forward was forced to endure surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm.

It is hoped that Green will be able to resume his NBA career next season as a result of the operation which may well have saved the 25-year-old's life.

"While we are saddened that Jeff will not be able to play this season, the most important thing is his health," said Celtics president Danny Ainge. Anyone placing an online NBA bet should remember this.

"We were fortunate to have access to an amazing team of specialists to evaluate Jeff's case."

Green's aneurysm was detected during his physical after he reported for a training camp earlier this month. If Green had not had the operation and the aorta had ruptured, it could have been fatal.

Green averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds last season after joining the Celtics from Oklahoma City Thunder.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers has intimated that he will rely on Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic to replace Green for the time being.

Daniels is fit again after having surgery to repair his spine earlier in the year while Pavlovic only signed a new one-year deal last week. The Celtics have little money to play with to sign a new player to replace Green as, even with the forward's $9million salary voided, they are still over the salary cap.

They have been linked with former player James Posey, who is currently without a team after being waived by the Indiana Pacers through the amnesty clause. Posey played with the Celtics in 2008.

Zaidpour maintains hot streak this season

Zaidpour continued his rich vein of form this season when sauntering to an impressive 10-length win over Benash in the Grade 2 Tara Hurdle at Navan on Sunday and remains on course for a return trip to the Cheltenham Festival in March, writes Elliot Slater.

Willie Mullins' five-year-old had already signalled his intentions this season when proving a different class to his rivals in the Rock of Cashel Hurdle at Thurles last month, beating Bowland's Corner by an easy eight-lengths to justify odds of 3/10 favourite. Once again among horse racing betting tips and sent off at thin odds (1/3f) at Navan, Ruby Walsh always appeared to be travelling best in the two-and-a-half-mile affair,breezing into the lead at the second from home before effortlessly pulling away to win as he pleased.

 Although punters who bet on racing will have probably learned little new from this latest victory it at least confirmed that Zaidpour is in great heart and connections were quick to state that he remains on course for a repeat visit to the Cheltenham Festival having finished seventh behind Al Ferof in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last spring. The son of Red Ransom appears to have both speed and stamina to burn so Mullins has a wide choice of option available to him with a horse he has long believed could turn out to be top class.

Hinting strongly that Zaidpour will not run over the Christmas period, Mullins suggested that he wouldn't be afraid to go up to three-miles with the horse, but also reminded all listening that his charge has so much pace he wouldn't be out of place taking his chance in the Champion Hurdle, for which he is currently on offer at a general offer of 25/1.

Coyle denies sack worries

Bolton Wanderers manager Owen Coyle is adamant he is not fazed by reports in the media he must guide his side to victory over Blackburn on Tuesday or face the sack.
The Trotters have made a torrid start to the Premier League campaign having picked up just nine points from their first 16 games this season.

In their three victories this term Bolton have scored 12 goals and only conceded one, however three points have been extremely hard for the Lancashire club to come by as they currently sit rock bottom of the Premier League table ahead of the festive period. People who bet on Premier League games should bear this in mind.

Tuesday throws up a classic relegation 'six-pointer' as the Whites get set to make the short trip from the Reebok Stadium to Ewood Park to take on fellow strugglers Blackburn.

There has been plenty of speculation regarding Coyle's future with Bolton after a disappointing start to the season which sees the club five points away from safety. Anyone betting on football needs to remember this.

The Scotsman could face the sack if his side doesn't get a positive result on Tuesday night, however he is not concerned with media reports.

Coyle said: "Everyone has an opinion and loves a negative story.

"We all have jobs to do and as long as no-one gets personal about anyone at my club we will not have a problem about that.

"But what I do know is by going and winning points you can turn that opinion very quickly. It is a great opportunity as far as I am concerned."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Motherwell the best of the rest

There is almost a competition within a competition in the SPL. The other ten clubs have accepted they won’t be able to catch Rangers or Celtic unless something drastic changes, so they compete in their own mini-league.

Since its inception in 1998, the SPL has been won by just two clubs. Only once has a side disrupted the Old Firm dominance during that period – Hearts finished second behind Celtic in 2005-06.

Taking all that into account, the highest a club outside of the Old Firm can expect to finish in the table is third. With third spot comes a place in the Europa Cup. During difficult financial times, that extra revenue would come as welcome relief for SPL clubs. Anyone following the best Scottish Premier League betting online should remember this.

Motherwell are the team in pole position going into the festive period. They sit seven points clear of St Johnstone in third, with a game in hand. They will be delighted with their start to the season after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign where they failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in four years. Ambitious Motherwell boss Stuart McCall will be confident of securing a European place this season.

Can anybody catch Motherwell? St Johnstone are the closest challengers but lost 3-0 at home to Motherwell last time out and don’t look like threatening. Likewise, Hearts and Kilmarnock are struggling to make any real impression this season.

It would seem third place is Motherwell’s to lose. With no real threat coming from behind them, perhaps they should concentrate on breaking into the top two. If they win their game in hand, they would find themselves five points behind Celtic. A lofty ambition, but that is what McCall will be striving for.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cleveland protest their innocence

Cleveland Browns President Mike Holmgren insists the club did nothing wrong amid accusations that Colt McCoy was not given a standard concussion test after taking a blow to the head during the recent clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

McCoy played on after being involved in a helmet-to-facemask hit from Steelers linebacker James Harrison as team doctors and trainers were unaware of the severity of the blow because they were tending to other injured players at the time of the incident.

Harrison was handed a one-game suspension by the NFL while Holmgren says McCoy only showed concussion symptoms after the game. Those following the best American football odds will be wondering what exactly went on.

This week McCoy has complained of headaches and is not expected to play in Sunday's game in Arizona.

Holmgren said: "Our medical staff and our training staff are getting slammed pretty good, along with our head coach. It's unfair.”

Doctors and representatives of the NFL and NFL Players Association visited the Browns earlier in the week, but Holmgren thinks the whole incident has been blown out of proportion, adding: "The medical staff got out to McCoy and he was lucid, he was talking.

"His body language, I guess, didn't look real great. They talked to him and he talked to them. He was not unconscious when they got out there."

McCoy returned to the action after missing two plays and almost four minutes of elapsed time and was on the field for 18 plays after suffering the concussion.
Holmgren does not expect the Browns to be disciplined by the league, although that remains a possibility.

The Grand National: Getting round the track

Over the years we have seen some remarkably small numbers of finishers in the Grand National but with the recent course modifications, the class of horse that contests the race getting better and better and with the course unlikely to face the atrocious conditions that have been prevalent in past small field Nationals we should not be confronted with the same situation as happened in 1928 when Tipperary Tim, the first 100-1 winner of the race beat the remounted Billy Barton by a distance. Easter Hero getting stuck on top of the Canal Turn fence caused the majority of the problems and the atrocious conditions proved a contributory factor to see just those two finish from the 42 that set out.

Other years have had small numbers of finishers also in 1913 and 1951 we had just the three finishers, in 1951 nearly a third of the field came down at the first and the rest of the course took its predictable toll to see just a trio finish.

Although there were eventually 17 finishers one of the most famous National pile-ups occurred in the 1967 event when the riderless Popham Down stopped most of the field in their tracks at the 23rd fence and outsider and trailer Foinavon circumvented the entire mess and had gained an unassailable lead by the time the rest of the field got going again. The fence that caused all the trouble is now named after the 1967 winner. Anyone looking at the best online Grand National odds will know it continues to cause problems to this very day.

The majority of the small field finishes since have been down to heavy ground Ben Nevis led home just four finishers in 1980 while 2001 became a race that you couldn't take your eyes off as plenty of the field were taken out by Paddy's Return at the first Bechers and heavy conditions managed to put pay to the rest of the field apart from Red Marauder and Smarty who were the only two horses to negotiate the 30 fences at the first attempt, but both Blowing Wind and Papillion were remounted after coming to grief at the 19th – just the four eventually finishing.

To flip the coin over for the moment the highest number of finishers saw 23 complete in 1984 when Hallo Dandy led the field home, with 40 having set out. There were 22 finishers from 47 starters in 1963 and 22 from 40 in both 1987 and 1992, the going being good and good-to-soft on those occasions.

The last five Nationals have all seen double figure numbers completing from the maximum field allowed these days -40, and last year 19 came home when Ballabriggs led home those gallant finishers and Piraya brought up the rear.

Without heavy ground and the recent modifications it looks likely that we'll see a similar number of finishers in the 2012 Grand National.

Charlie Longsdon –Stable Focus

Five seasons ago in his rookie season Charlie Longsdon produced nine winners from 59 runners, the next season produced a further 20winners and the upward curve looked set to continue in the year’s after that. However progressed stalled with the next two campaigns producing 17 winners apiece but trainers like horses once they have shown that they have the talent then they will continue to produce and mount a comeback.

That comeback for Longsdon came when he moved to purpose-built premises in Oxfordshire at Over Norton and the 2010-11 National Hunt season produced a career best 44 winners at a strike-rate of 19%. That season has provided the springboard to move up a few divisions in the training ranks and although he isn’t in the Premier League yet he can’t be far off promotion. Already this year Longsdon has produced 40 winners and his strike-rate has improved to 24%. Those following the horse racing odds online should remember this.

The yard bought plenty of youngsters and most of them have won so far and lots of them have contributed to the total so far. October saw Longsdon register 14 winners from 50 runners at a strike-rate of 28%, November saw a dip in the output from the stable when it looked like the stable had some problems but they have bounced back strongly in December. Four winners have come in the early days of the month and the first winner of the month with Trafalgar Road saw a tremendous training performance as the fragile but talented horse came back to winning ways. Making his chase debut over Sandown’s tricky fences the Bob’s Return gelding jumped with great √©lan and fluency and looks as though he’ll really come on for that outing.

Despite having plenty of unexposed talent in his team, Longsdon has plenty of solid and more experienced talent with ten of his string rated 130-plus and it will not be a surprise to see the emerging talent that is Hazy Tom heading much higher than his current mark of 143. Hazy Tom looks as though he’ll be heading to Ascot for his next assignment for the 2M novice hurdle that Medermit won three years ago.

Others to look out from the yard are Hayjack, Paintball, Time For Spring and Hidden Keel, all of whom will have a good future from the up and coming yard of Charlie Longsdon.

Dalglish coy on skipper return

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish will not be drawn into a debate on when the club’s star midfielder Steven Gerrard will return to action.

The Reds captain has been on the sidelines since October with a nasty ankle infection and his side have missed his influence in the middle of the park.

With the loss of Brazil international Lucas for the rest of the Premier League campaign, there is even more anticipation surrounding Gerrard’s return. Those looking at the Premier League betting predictions should remember this.

The England international has struggled with injuries in recent seasons and came through two groin operations before he picked up the ankle problem earlier in the campaign. People who bet on Premier League weekend games should bear this in mind.

Gerrard is nearing a return and could possible feature in Liverpool’s next Premier League outing, when they face Aston Villa on Sunday.

However Dalglish will not put a date on when his skipper will make his comeback or whether he will make an appearance at Villa Park this weekend.

The Scottish boss said: "Steven is progressing and training really well. Everybody is delighted with his progress, so that is positive as well.

"We'll wait and see [if he's available for Villa]. We won't set any targets for Sunday that we won't reach. When he's ready he'll be ready.

"It's fantastic for him that he's progressing as well as he is and great for us as well."

The Reds are currently sixth in the Premier League table and will be determined to keep in touching distance on the top four with a win against Villa this weekend.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chelsea deny Cole taunts as title race hots up

Chelsea have strongly denied newspaper reports that Ashley Cole taunted Manchester City players in the tunnel following their clash at Stamford Bridge on Monday.

Cole was alleged to have chanted ‘Thursday night, Channel Five’ at the City players, a slight aimed at their participation in the Europa League following their failure to qualify for the Champions League knock-out stages.

However, Chelsea have since denied any incident took place, with a statement on the club’s website saying: ‘Contrary to reports, Ashley Cole did not say anything to the opposition in the tunnel after Monday's game. Ashley has huge respect for the players and staff at Manchester City, many of whom he knows personally and calls friends.'

The game was a thrilling one and Cole's jubilant move justified, with Chelsea coming from behind to win 2-1 and give their premier league odds a real shot in the arm.

They remain seven points behind Roberto Mancini’s men but they confidence gained from halting the big-spending juggernaut could prove invaluable.

City now for the first-time this season have to prove a point. They have steam-rollered everyone in sight so far, but defeats to Napoli in the Champions League and now to Chelsea represent a real test.

They now host in-form Arsenal in what could be one of the matches of the season to date – they could even begin the game in second place with rivals United playing earlier in the day.

It looks set to be a bumper day for those who Live Football Online or on TV at home, with three games in-a-row live in a taster for the annual bumper festive programme, which thanks to Sky TV means there is a match on everyday during the Christmas holidays.

Being top on the 25th doesn’t guarantee much (and it doesn’t carry the stigma of Christmas on the bottom of the league) but it would certainly be a psychological boost in a fascinating title race that looks like going right to the wire.

Hart Memorial Trophy Candidates

As the NHL moves through the first quarter of the season it seems like a good time to look at the top candidates for the Hart Memorial Trophy given, not to the league MVP or best player, but rather the player most valuable to his team. It’s an important distinction otherwise we hand over the trophy every year to Sidney Crosby. These candidates are certainly worth noting for NHL betting tips.

1. Jonathan Toews – Chicago Blackhawks
The best player on what is shaping up to be the best team in the league and still only 23 years old. Toews, the Blackhawks captain, anchors the top line for Chicago and is tied with NHL scoring leader Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

2. Phil Kessel – Toronto Maple Leafs
Taken two picks below Toews in the 2006 NHL draft by the Boston Bruins, Kessel has slowed a little after his red hot start to the season, but still leads the league in goals and points. Moreover his play has elevated that of line mate Joffrey Lupul who appears to be on his way to a career year after bouncing around the league with the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers.

3. Claude Giroux – Philadelphia Flyers
Yet another skater from what is turning out to be a very good 2006 NHL draft that also included the Penguins Jordan Staal and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, Giroux was selected 22nd overall by the Flyers. The first line center may ultimately edge out Toews and Kessel if all-around play is also taken into consideration.

4. Pavel Datsyuk – Detroit Red Wings
Datsyuk suffers in the race for the Hart Memorial because of the belief that he is surrounded by superior talent in Detroit. That may be so, but the value of the best two-way forward in the league cannot be diminished so easily. Not only is he great for NHL picks, but is one of the great value picks of all time, Datsyuk lasted until the sixth round of the 1998 draft.

5. Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning
On pace for a 100-point season the former top pick overall in 2008 has lived up to all the hype and finds himself at 21 the best player on a Tampa team that also features Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Stamkos will not win the Hart this year, but pencil him in as the early favorite for next.

Packers looking good to defend Super Bowl title

The Green Bay Packers are looking the best team in the NFL by a wide margin and look a great chance of defending their Super Bowl title in Indianapolis come February.
Cheeseheads all over are celebrating the Packers booking their play-off by continuing their unbeaten run with a 38-35 win against New York Giants – courtesy of a last minute 30-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.

That means they are 12 games undefeated in the season and looking like steamrollering their way to Super Bowl XVLI in Indianapolis, which takes place on February 5th. People looking at the Superbowl odds should remember this.

The way the Packers came through the Giants test showed how resilient they are and answered any lingering questions about how they would react in a tight game. That vital win, coupled with the fact Detroit lost to New Orleans, ensured the Packers won the NFC North title.

A third consecutive playoff berth and the fourth in the six-year era under head coach Mike McCarthy pays testament to the quality Green Bay have and, while they have not often been really tested this season, the defending Super Bowl champions look capable of scoring for fun and steamrollering their way through teams. The Super Bowl betting reflects this.

McCarthy is refusing to get too carried away at the superlatives being thrown at the Packers and the fact they are the side picked by most onlookers to win Super Bowl XVLI, while there is also the question regarding whether they can push on to finish 16-0 and boast an unbeaten campaign.

"You stay focused on what's at hand, because every week it's going to be a challenge. We're 12-0, but we need to get to 13-0," said the coach.

"We have other goals in front of us before we can even entertain that. So I hope we are in position to talk about that. But right now, we really aren't."

NBC have confirmed that Madonna will perform at the Super Bowl XVLI half-time show in Indianapolis, with the half-time show becoming almost as big a deal as the Championship match for many fans and also advertisers.

Barca still on top

Real Madrid were billed as favourites in some quarters going into their clash with Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. Fifteen straight wins and scoring goals for fun – surely they would halt Barcelona’s El Clasico dominance?

The home side got off to a dream start. Not even 30 seconds were on the clock when Karim Benzema gave his side the lead from a Victor Valdes error. The majority of the 80,000 fans packed inside the stadium were dreaming of a victory which would have taken them six points clear of their fierce rivals. Those following the Spanish football betting will have known this.

Real were buoyant and pressed Barcelona at every opportunity. The Catalan giants looked rattled.

You can never keep a good side down, though, and Barca found a way back into the game after half an hour. The mercurial Lionel Messi fed Alexis Sanchez, who finished brilliantly past Iker Casillas.

The goal took the wind out of Real’s sails and they never recovered. They will point to a moment just before half-time when Messi was lucky to avoid a second yellow card, but, in truth, they were second best after Barcelona settled into the game.

Xavi scored with a deflected effort from outside the box to give Barca the lead, before Cesc Fabregas rounded off an excellent move to make the game safe.

Not for the first time, Messi completely outplayed Cristiano Ronaldo and led his side to victory over their bitterest of rivals. Question marks will remain over Ronaldo’s big-game temperament, while Messi can do little wrong. Even the referees can’t bear to see him leave the field.