Sunday, 4 December 2016

TLFG: 5-11 December 2016

It's been another pretty decent week for London's top clubs.

Impressive wins for Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur saw them continue to keep their places in the top five of the Premier League while Crystal Palace finally ended their terminal looking losing run with a very fine win over Southampton.

Watford lost their second game in a row but it's West Ham United who have the most to worry about following their 5-1 humbling by the Gunners at the London Stadium which left them just above the relegation zone.

In the Championship, Fulham stuffed an excellent Reading side 5-0 to get back into play-off contention while QPR and Brentford suffered defeats which left them in precarious lower midtable positions.

It was all about the FA Cup for our local League One teams. AFC Wimbledon produced the comeback of the weekend at non-league Curzon Ashton, coming back from 3-0 down with 10 minutes to go to win 4-3. Millwall shared seven goals with Braintree Town, prevailing 5-2 while Charlton were held to a goalless draw by MK Dons. 

However, the story of the round was non-league Sutton United's 2-1 win over Cheltenham Town which propelled them into the third round - a place where they made FA Cup history by beating then top-flight side Coventry City back in 1989. I'd love to see more of the same for the Gander Green Lane club - the draw is tomorrow night at 7pm when all the Premier League and Championship sides join the competition.

QPR line up a free-kick during the first half against Wolves at Loftus Road
My week saw me take in the EFL game between QPR and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Scheduled on Thursday night for TV, I debated long and hard whether I could bring myself to go when the cheapest ticket was £29. 

I love my Rangers but is paying that much to watch two struggling Championship sides on a chilly December night really worth the best part of 30 quid?

Encouraged by my wife to boycott the game, I decided I would but then made the fatal mistake of listening to this week's QPR podcast which had a one-hour interview with new boss Ian Holloway. By the end I had been inspired to bite the bullet and head to Loftus Road for the game. If he has that effect on listeners, it's understandable that he's successfully motivated several teams to promotion over the years.

The game itself wasn't great but we looked more than capable of winning it until James Perch got himself sent off with about an hour of the game remaining.

Wolves took advantage and went 2-0 up with about 25 minutes to go. At that point it looked like a cricket score could be on the cards and it probably would've happened if the absolutely brilliant Alex Smithies hadn't been in goal.

I counted at least seven major saves, some of which were of the highest quality - including at least three one-on-ones. He was undoubtedly man-of-the-match. 

Tickets for Non-League Finals Day at Wembley in May are now on sale

QPR did almost pull off a shock draw as Joel Lynch grabbed what appeared to be an 89th-minute consolation goal. However, with the referee adding on seven minutes of injury time, the hosts laid siege to the Wolves goal and created the chance for Lynch again but the defender-cum-striker fluffed his kick and the ball harmlessly rolled away - it ended 2-1.

The honeymoon period seems to be over already for Holloway and things will really look bad if QPR lose at struggling Rotherham next week.

I forgot to mention last week that tickets for this season's Non-League Finals Day at Wembley are now on sale.

For £25 you get to see the FA Vase and FA Trophy finals back-to-back at the national stadium on Sunday 21 May. Last year nearly 50,000 people attended and outsold the England game against Turkey that was taking place in Manchester the same day. It was a great family day out with kids getting in for a quid - the same price applies this time too.

Babysitting and late shifts means it's likely to be a quiet one for me on the football front this week so I hope you get to see a game or two on my behalf.

THE WEEK AHEAD
There are almost 100 matches in the London area over the next week as the Champions League and FA Trophy make their return. There is also action in the Premier League, EFL, National League and several minor league and county cup competitions.

However, please make sure you check with clubs before you travel just in case a game has been called off or venue has been changed. Also, please let me know if anything is wrong or missing.

Details on all of this week's games can be found on the following match maps. If you've never used them before, please note that when there is more than one match at a specific ground you'll only be able to see individual match pins if you zoom right in. If you don't, the pins obscure each other and you might miss them. To avoid this, you can also scroll down the list of games on the drop down menu at the top of the map page to make sure you get all the information. Games are listed from top to bottom in date order so Monday's games (yellow pin) will appear first and Sunday's (white pin) last. Games are also ranked in terms of status so the higher the division, the higher up the list they will appear on each day.


Also if you're unfamiliar with the English league structure I indicate the level at which an individual league sits in the national 'pyramid' with the Premier League at the top (Level 1) and various minor leagues at the bottom (Level 10). Typically a top level game will see crowds of anywhere between 20,000-60,000. These figures will gradually decline as you go down the leagues until you get to Levels 8-10 where attendances of 150 or less are most common.

It should also be noted that the top four levels are for fully professional teams. Level 5 has a mixture of professional and semi-professional teams, while Levels 6-10 will see most players paid but it will vary from no more than travel expenses at the bottom, right up to several hundred pounds a week at the top (e.g. clubs in the Conference South).

MIDWEEK MATCH MAP
Yellow pin - Monday fixtures
Green pin - Tuesday fixtures
Magenta pin - Wednesday fixtures
Purple pin - Thursday fixtures
Black pin - Friday fixtures




WEEKEND MATCH MAP
Blue pin - Saturday fixtures
Orange pin - Sunday fixtures




TLFG DAILY DIGEST
In the following section I list, by day, what are in my opinion the most notable games of the week and give some brief reasons for my choice. Check the maps above for kick-off times, ticket info and directions.

Monday 5 December

Premier League Cup - a cup for U23 sides from various Premier League and EFL clubs. Similar to the Champions League, it has a group stage featuring 32 teams and then a knockout phase. We're still in the early stages of the group phase at the moment

Charlton Athletic v Fulham @7pm - in the other Group F game, at Greenwich Borough's ground, we have a London derby

Ryman League Division 1 South
Carshalton Athletic v Corinthian Casuals @745pm - elsewhere in south London we have a big game between two sides in the top five of this division. Each side are averaging well over two goals a game so far this season so this is where I would be headed

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Tuesday 6 December

Checkatrade Trophy - this competition pits the first XIs of League One and League Two sides against U23 teams from the Premier League and Championship in an attempt to develop young players. Again it begins with a group stage before going to a knockout phase. Widely derided by fans and some officials of the third and fourth tier teams, crowds have been very poor

AFC Wimbledon v Brighton & Hove Albion U23 @745pm - don't expect a great night out here. The Dons are among the loudest protesters about the format of this competition and have even encouraged their fans to stay away from these games. They also played on Sunday in the FA Cup so will no doubt field a weakened team. It will be cheap to get in but you might be the only person there!

Ryman League Premier Division
Dulwich Hamlet v Staines Town @745pm - you're far more likely to get a decent atmosphere and an entertaining game a little to the east at Champion Hill. Although Dulwich play four divisions below Wimbledon they've drawn a couple of 2,000+ crowds this season and play some decent football. Currently London's top side in the division, they'll look to extend their unbeaten run to eight games against a Staines side who started well but have tailed off in recent weeks

Ryman League Division 1 South
Greenwich Borough v Tooting & Mitcham United @745pm - Monday's game at Carshalton looks good but this match is even bigger as it pits third against first. Greenwich are the big spending, new boys who came up from the SCEFL last season. They've made an impressive start but are still eight points behind the Terrors who have surprised many, including their own fans, with their sustained form this season. With seven league wins on the bounce and 15 goals in their last three games they're looking formidable

Southern League Division 1 Central
Hanwell Town v AFC Dunstable @745pm - the hosts are leading the charge for promotion from a London perspective. Currently in eighth, they'll need to see off the OD's who are just three points ahead

Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division
Wembley v Hoddesdon Town @745pm - humbled by Peterborough Sports in the FA Vase on Saturday, the Lions are still in with a shout of the SSML title. Although back in fifth, they have the games in hand to get themselves firmly back in contention. Hoddesdon aren't far behind in seventh so should provide a tough test
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Wednesday 7 December

Champions League

Tottenham Hotspur v CSKA Moscow @745pm - Spurs' return to Europe's elite club competition has been disappointing with last month's loss in Monaco knocking them out with a game to spare of the group stage. On Wednesday they take on Russian opponents, who are currently bottom, in a fight for a place in the Europa League. The match is at Wembley and tickets are still available

Checkatrade Trophy
Millwall v Wycombe Wanderers @745pm - given that this match is between two sides who should field first XIs rather than U23 sides and the clubs aren't that far apart geographically (Wycombe play just outside London), there could be a half-decent turnout by this competition's very low standards. Adult tickets are also only £5

FA Vase Third Round Replay - this competition is primarily open to sides in the ninth and 10th tiers of English football. Hundreds of clubs from all over the country take part with its final at Wembley in May

Bedfont Sports v Crowborough Athletic @745pm - by getting this far, the Eagles have already smashed their previous best in the competition. Victory will earn them a place in the last 32 but Crowborough are having a fine season in the SCEFL so demand respect

Southern Counties East League Premier Division
AFC Croydon Athletic v Croydon @745pm - it's derby day in south London. As former league leaders, the hosts will start as favourites. The SCEFL title race is wide open with only five points separating the top six

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Thursday 8 December

Southern Combination Cup
Staines Town v Worcester Park @745pm - to my knowledge this is the only game on Thursday. Don't expect a classic - very little information exists on Staines' website at the present time and it's likely they'll play quite a few youngsters and reserves. Only go if you really are a football addict and check the details with Staines before you travel
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Friday 9 December

Essex Senior League
Redbridge v West Essex @745pm - there's a nice bit of Friday night football to look forward to over in the Ilford area. Neither side are really impressing this season but Oakside is one of the easiest grounds to get to in London, located right next to Barkingside Tube station on the Central Line

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Saturday 10 December

Premier League
Arsenal v Stoke City @3pm - the Gunners have the longest unbeaten run of any side in the Premier League at the moment. They played a hapless West Ham side off the park on Saturday and should be too good for an improving Stoke side who have crept up to ninth
Watford v Everton @3pm - the Hornets got themselves into the top eight but three defeats in four have seen them slide back into the bottom half. The Toffees are just ahead of them but are winless in four themselves and can be beaten

Championship
Brentford v Burton Albion @3pm - things looked rosey for Bees fans when they beat arch rivals QPR at the end of October but it's been defeats all the way ever since. Now just three points above the relegation zone, this match against fellow strugglers Burton has become pretty crucial

League One
Millwall v Shrewsbury Town @3pm - the Lions welcome bottom club Shrewsbury to the Den on Saturday meaning they'll have few better chances to break back into the play-off places which lie just one point above them

League Two
Leyton Orient v Accrington Stanley @3pm - already out of the FA Cup, the O's have had a week off to rest up ahead of this relegation 'six-pointer' against another team who have found things tough going. Stanley have gone six league games without a win but picked up a morale-boosting victory at Woking in the FA Cup on Sunday

FA Trophy First Round - at this stage of this national competition for sides in the fifth to eighth tiers, all the clubs in the fifth tier (National League) join the draw. Their presence takes the total number of teams left in the competition to 64. The winners of each tie pocket a cheque for £5,000 and move one step closer to a dream Wembley final in May

Boreham Wood v Maidstone United @3pm - one of the ties of the round in the south-east sees these two National League clubs meet at Meadow Park. Both have enjoyed promotions from the Ryman League in recent years and it's the Wood who are currently faring better. However, Maidstone won the league game between the two back in August so will travel with some confidence
Sutton United v Bath City @3pm - after their FA Cup heroics on Saturday, you can see the U's in FA competition again in a competition they could very conceivably win. Bath are a midtable side from the division below so should be defeated
Dartford v Dover Athletic @3pm - there's a very interesting Kent derby at the well appointed Princes Park where promotion chasing sides from the National League South and National League go head-to-head
Wealdstone v Wingate & Finchley @3pm - this has a bit of derby feel to it and there is some bad blood between the fans after an unsavoury incident a few years ago when the sides were both in the Ryman League. The Stones should win but have been embarrassed by Wingate before

Ryman League Premier Division
Enfield Town v Needham Market @3pm - the Towners are starting to build up a decent head of steam and have climbed into the top six where they have games in hand on several of those above them. One such side are third placed Needham Market who could go top with victory here

Ryman League Division 1 South
Walton Casuals v Tooting & Mitcham United @3pm - I've already mentioned what hot form the Terrors are in but the Stags are having a pretty good season themselves. Playing at Whyteleafe's ground while there's is being redeveloped, they've climbed to eighth

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Sunday 11 December

Premier League

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion @12pm - most seasons this would look like a pretty unremarkable fixture that would probably end up being a bit one-sided. It could well play out that way this time too especially with the Blues in such ominously good form at the top of the table. However, a Matt Phillips inspired Baggies side are now up in the top six and could give this a real go

Southern Counties East League Premier Division
Erith & Belvedere v Sheppey United @3pm - the much cheaper non-league alternative to the above takes place in Welling where the midtable Deres welcome the leaders

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GET INVOLVED
If you're going to see a game, whether you're a local or a visitor, please let me know what you've been up to. If you're interested in reviewing a ground within the London area for this blog then get in touch. I also very much welcome photos of your football travels.

Got any questions about visiting London? Don't hesitate to ask - be they football or more general travel/touristy queries.

You can contact TLFG through the comments section below or via FacebookTwitter or even by good old email.

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